Saturday, December 24, 2011

This Christmas, I am going to do something a little different than usual (not that being in Africa is all that "same" as usual). This Christmas, in light of some of the tragedies occurring around me, including and especially the death of 2 young peace corps volunteers in neighboring Mozambique, I want to remember the blessings of my (now) 25 years of life...

So here's a Christmas toast to... being alive and safe... the prolonged celebration of my 25th birthday... being with new friends that ease the ache of the unknown and make you look forward to the next day... having old friends and good family that somehow know when to call or what to send... receiving phone calls from local friends updating me on the happenings of their lives... angry elephants on the side of the road and the men who are brave enough to step out of their trucks to scare them off... standing among a wilddog pack as it rips apart the remnants of an eland's insides and knowing that 5 brawny alpha-men are watching my back... a hand-raised meercat that took a cat nap in my lap... massive dogs who think that they are lap dogs and try to crawl into your lap... lions that start to pounce on you just to hear you scream...

...trips with crazy companions into strange countries... discovering that in Botswana there is, indeed, fine wine and good food and interesting company, especially when you least expect it... toasts with glasses of ten dollar bubbly in pink plastic cups... making thai green curry with pork found (with a yelp and a cheer) in the supermarket... watching iron chef duck challenge... my parents who helped me to appreciate Elvis Presley, Brahms, and Schumann before I discovered the likes NSync, Smashing Pumpkins, and Bon Jovi... Charles Schultz' Christmas Special... the hope of a storm on Christmas Day to cool off the ground as rain hits the pavement with a sizzle and a steam... Christmas music stashed on my computer as a last minute thought from friends and family... Christmas cookies... and of course, an infinite God who became finite and still watches over us even though we've distilled his life to weekly spectacles in a misguided steeples, silver bells, and silent nights

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ga go na "nna" mo "teame"

Dec 7, 2011, a camp with youth. Teaching them to work together-- actually, learning that the lesson will have to be more basic than that: work. Complaints that the activity is too hard, that the challenges were set up incorrectly, that we are not telling them how to succeed. The work is too dirty, we haven't been provided with tea, we're too tired, and my personal favorite, I haven't dressed correctly for this exercise, you didn't tell me to. Lesson #2: life is hard-- obstacles to what they want to achieve will be much larger than a gum pole, much heavier than a rock, much more difficult to maneuver through than a couple of ropes and a tire swing. To succeed, they will have to get dirtier, make more sacrifices, fail more often, and stop pointing fingers at those too meek to defend themselves. Day 2, 11 AM: Question posed. Change your attitude and keep going, or end this now? Commit, or walk away? I want to tell them, this is their choice. Don't do this to please me. This is not my mandate, not my community, not my life. Whether they succeed or fail has no consequence on me. This is not my fight. But instead, I keep my mouth shut as the facilitator brings each team member down notch by notch. Exposing their egos until they are forced to themselves as they are. Forced to decide: do I change, or do I go? Day 3, 6PM. A truck appears at the campsite with 3 young boys blasting music with wide grins. Thinking they can come crash our party for some free food and a tent to sleep in. I watch as the team's egos abruptly return, eager to please the young visitors. I send them home. The next day, I get a rude visit from the young driver I sent home and some youth, my youth. He's angry because I refused to pay for his little visit yesterday, that I told his boss about his rude behavior. I am given a verbal slashing, each of my questions met with more excuses, excuses so large I can feel the weight of them clamping my brain shut. Without the security and isolation of a remote camping ground, I can find no confidence to fight back. I lose face in front of the youth, my youth. I gesture with my arms. They point fingers at me, at the boss, at the facilitator. Finally I've had enough, take it up with your boss, this has nothing to do with me. Just get the hell out of here. As the truck drives away, I turn and punch the air with my fists. This is not my fight.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

10 Babies

I only have a brief few minutes to pen this cause i'm trying to conserve battery life for those inevitable idle hours when the sun is about set and the only thing I want to do is zone out with the Duffy family...

This week, New Xade received a lot of new residents, folks who used to be squatters in Ghanzi. The government is relocating them back to the settlements. My youth friend says this is going to have a lot of unintended negative consequences as most of the relocatees are elderly, poor, or orphans (also known to my horror as the Ghanzi streetkids). The New Xade kids are curious enough, but these kids have been a particular cause of stress in my life. The Ghanzi streetkids are the gangs of tiny people who roam the streets of Ghanzi diggin through garbage cans, climbing into white people's trucks, and touching me in inappropriate places if I don't give them food or money. Now they are here. In my village. In my home. They have already broke into the boarding master's house (in daylight in front of the guards?) and ransacked his place. My tent (which was being stored there) was taken out of its bag and kids attempted to set it up. The tent's bag and the rain guard are still missing, but luckily, it's still usable. So i don't really care. I just feel bad for the boarding master. He received notice of transfer a couple of weeks ago, so I wouldn't be surprised if he just decided "Good riddance..."  and hightailed it out of here with the traditional ceremonious drunken party. I got to meet one of the new relocated families today at the clinic. A really sweet wrinkled looking middle aged couple who smiled at me through the nurse's english introduction and laughed nervously when I acknowledged them. Skinny as twigs, with a newborn baby. Baby was born on 10/31/2011 but looked like he was only a week old. Baby is baby #10 and, to the nurse's chagrin, all 9 siblings are still alive and kicking. Which means, they need assistance. Furthermore, mother's milk producing abilities is severely limited, meaning that the baby needs formula, and asap. The nurse asked me where my counterpart (the social worker) was, so she could get them some help. I shrugged-- "Ghanzi."  I answered. "but I'll call her and tell her to come back..."

In other news, I had 2 simultaneous meetings today. One with the youth, we are going on a team building outing next week. And one with the OVC caretakers who are discussing a community garden. I'm not pushing too hard for any of these projects to come to fruition, but once in a while someone says something that gives me a glimmer of hope and a taste of excitement. Then, I can't help but be dreamy eyed for a moment and wonder at the possibilities...

I just hope no one breaks into my house while I'm gone.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

SA Pictures

A car-tripping, wine-tasting, chocolate-eating, hill-rolling, garden-browsing, trampoline-jumping, beach-walking, penguin petting, zebra seeing, warthog watching, french-food eating, fashion shopping, mountain climbing- great time!

Photos of vacation days in Durban, Addo, Franschoek, Stellenbosch, and Capetown, South Africa. Damn straight, you better be jealous ;)

I am traveling to a larger town to purchase some items this weekend. Normally, out of necessity, I split the trip into 2 days because of the bus schedule, but it just so happened that my first lift said he was going almost all the way to my final destination, according to his schedule, we would arrive no later than 8PM. So I decided to go with him.

We would have arrived at 8PM, except that along the way we stopped to help a truck who was stuck in the mud. My lift, a naked American Semi-truck was a powerful machine with no cargo. The truck that was a stuck was a flatbed truck with 3 trailors (not as powerful but still pretty damn big). It had tried to make a u-turn and got stuck in deep deep sand. So, my driver, me, and a fellow hitchhiker set to towing this guy (and all his cargo) out using only a neon orange nylon packing rope (no tow rope?). Naturally, 2 hours later, the rope was ripped to shreds, the victim truck moved about 3 inches, and we had attracted an impressive gathering of male egos (and their tiny little sedans) all attempting to help by shouting out advice: Attach the rope there! Why don't you try wedging rocks under that tire? No, attach the rope to the trailor? Use larger rocks! Give it more power! No rock the truck back and forth. Move forward! FORWARD! Support the horse! Anyone have a chain? Anyone have a chain, indeed. By our calculations, the tow would've taken less than 10 minutes had we had a proper chain to begin with.

As night fell and the truck and all its cargo came no closer to freedom, my driver decided to abandon this guy to the crowd of useless dogooders and get on our way. Rain clouds grew thick, the sun went down, and wild animals began to emerge from the bush to drink from the cool puddles in the pavement. I arrived at my final destination at midnight after driving countless goats and bulls off the road and stopping for a moment to admire the illuminated bulk of a large elephant (complete with curving white tusks) as it ambled its way across the highway.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A friend sent this to me, New Xade in National Geographic

Monday, November 21, 2011


I dont know why, but for some deluded reason when I'm lying in bed at night and I hear a mosquito next to my face, i think that somehow if I flail my arms around until I sweat, I stand a chance of squashing said bug. It never works.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

As i stepped out this of my house at 6AM in the refreshingly cool morning air and I saw a thin metal tipped arrow sitting in my front yard, I couldn't help but realize how exceptionally unique my peace corps site is. Yeah, things don't work as well in a settlement as they do in proper villages, we may not have tarred roads, grocery stories, reliable water, or a post office, but not many people have the opportunity to live for 2 years in an area with a unique group of people with a unique set of challenges. Yeah, these challenges are often not overcome, but sometimes, I allow myself the slightest peep of hope when I see a bright young student exhibit faithfulness in a small responsibility, or a government worker look at a person I've been working with and say, "hey, that kid. he's special. he's going to make it."

My solar panels were unceremoniously torn from my walls and roof yesterday in preparation for proper electricity. For the time being, I am living in the dark, relying on headlamps, candles, friends and neighbors and my previously -charged AA batteries (thank you dear brother for having the foresight to send me with those). Other than the extreme heat and multiple bouts of boredom, I'm getting along fairly well. I'm EXTREMELY lucky that the rain has come this weekend or I would be crying in my bathtub trying to get cool. Someone here said that God has heard my cries. I'm trying to just take it for what it's worth and not think skeptically, well if God heard this white person's cries for weather relief, what about all those other cries for things like food, water, poverty and pain relief? When things get really bad (and so far they haven't, even when I was lying in bed at 7PM last night wondering what on earth I could do without electricity), I can always sit and ponder the hope that one day soon I will have proper electricity, enough to run lights, high-velocity fans, and best of all, run a refrigerator. (Cold water, iced coffee, unspoilt milk, and the ability to preserve leftovers! HERE I COME baby!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Water To Wine

A few weeks ago, I went to Gaborone City to celebrate the Peace Corps' 50th Anniversary with a bunch of volunteers and Peace Corps friends. The celebration involved lots of inspirational videos, an open bar, and a craft shop. I brought a bunch of stuff from artisans that I'm friends with, sold a lot of it, then had a drink, and promptly felt woozy and dizzy from the heat and dehydration. I spent the activity lying in the shade of a very nice American home in Gabs.

The next day, I traveled to Kanye, a large village nearby, to hang out with the new group of peace corps trainees. I answered questions about living in the bush, being a volunteer, and other things (activities, technology, the San, food and travel options...) and then back to Gabs for a day of medical appointments (Good news, my teeth are not going to fall out but apparently I clench my teeth so hard that I popped out a filling. I have to continue wearing a mouth guard for the foreseeable future.)

Finally, finally, when all this was over, I boarded an early morning bus to Johannesburg, South Africa for a nice long vacation. From Jo'burg, my friends and I argued over taxi fare with a taxi driver who drove us to the airport where we caught a flight to Durban. At Durban, we rented a car and spent a week relaxing on the beachfront (thanks to Amanda and Todd's family for the timeshare!).

From there, we drove to the Addo Elephant sanctuary where we stayed in a converted (haunted) castle-tower B&B in an orange orchard, picked citrus, and drove through the animal reserve watching elephants spray each other with water and warthogs run. We even got to see lions...

From Addo, we drove to Franchoek, a wine making french inspired village situated in the valley of 2 gorgeous mountains. We tasted wine, ate good food, and walked around the neatly trimmed streets admiring the local crafts. It was at Franchoek that one of us noticed just how clear and gorgeous the tap water was, and we cheered over glasses of it during our fancy seafood dinner.

From Franchoek, we wine-tasted our way to Stellenbosch, another wine making community that was also home to a SA university. It had a very university campus feel. Coffee shops, art stores, gelato, clothing, fashion, bikers and runners, liquor stores, and the occasional street-man asking for change.

Then from Stellenbosch we drove to Capetown where we hiked table mountain, met the penguin colony on boulder beach, and said goodbye to civilization. A flight, bus drive, overnight, early morning taxi, and bus drive away, I arrived exhausted in Ghanzi only to be met by the harassing street kids, a man who shoved his penis in my face, and an old man who begged away half of my lunch. Back in Ghanzi.

My stomach has been completely spoiled the past 2 weeks and I couldn't bring myself to buy anything other than the basics for food which is fine cause I still dont have a fridge and it is so f*ing hot here that I don't want to eat anyway. I waited 6 hours for a hitch, crammed in the back of a truck with my souveniers of wine and olives, and arrived at home at 9PM exhausted and gross after the long truck ride (with at least 3 pairs of dirty feet shoved into my new linen shorts the whole way). Sunny can't have nice things. Sipping on tap water here, my first reaction was to wretch. It tasted like sewage. Since when did I get so picky?

Back at site today, a lot has happened while I was gone. For 1, 3 teachers have transferred out. Our boarding master is being replaced by another man and a matron, and my friend Thato received a transfer notice for Ghanzi. The electricians are also making quick work of our solar panels to make way for proper electricity. Which means that they're taking away my precious electricity and replacing it who knows when. I'm devastated. I'm planning on hiding from these guys until the very very last minute.

A rumor has reached the ears of New Xade residents. An herb trader in Maun has been turned into a snake via witchcraft. I am assured that the lady-victim has not COMPLETELY turned into a snake, rather, just her body from neck down (and phew, I was worried).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Goat Attack

Last Saturday, Peace Corps Botswana had a party for the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary. Lots of folks came to celebrate the anniversary, including RPCV's who were here with the first wave of PCV's back in 97. After the party, I went to the training site for the new group and hung around, answering questions and sharing stories of what it's like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana.

The Peace Corps gave me a lift today from the training site to the capital, where i have some medical appointments and on the way, we hit a goat in slow motion. We were crossing a bridge and suddenly the beast was standing in the middle of the road. staring us down. There was nothing we could do but watch as the goat approached. Before the collision, our driver even had time to say, "... there's nothing I can do. Sorry!" and "THUNK!" or more like "THANK!" the goat went down. We stopped as abruptly as we could, and turned to look back. There was the goat... on all 4 legs looking shocked but none too worse for the wear except for a blotch of red on its head. Scattered in the street was our front license plate and one of the goat's horns. Goaty promptly ran off, stunned, leaving his horn in the road like a discarded junk food wrapper. Luckily for all of us, the truck was big, or the goat would've rolled over the windshield and crushed the car, instead it just got de-horned. De-horned. Ouch, I wonder if it feels like getting your nails ripped out...

Picture: Trainees in training

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ke a sha (I am burning)

It's 12PM and I'm sitting in my darkened living room in my underwear. Too much information? Probably, but I don't care. Ever since moving to New Xade, I have been forced to be ok with my body, my friends' bodies, complete strangers' bodies. In my house, in friends' houses, on combis, busses, and grocery stories. Male and female appendages everywhere. And it's hot. Too hot. So hot that walking home puts you in a trance, but you know you have to keep going or you won't live to see tomorrow. Ke a sha, I am burning.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

NXYO Movie Show

At 4 PM on a Saturday Night, when the streets of New Xade are usually filled with little boys with wire trucks and old men with beer bottles, a mob of children are crowding around the entrance of the dilapidated Community Hall, begging passers-by for 1 pula to see the Television-Show. What is going on? The New Xade Youth are having their first weekly film screenings.

Beginning at 3PM every Friday night and ending at 7PM on Sunday, the youth are screening movies to the community at the low rate of P1 (approximately US 13 cents) for children, P3 for adults (and P2 for youth committee members). If you are lucky enough to scrounge up P1 worth of coins, you can push your way past the sticky fingers of unlucky children, enter the darkened room of the community hall, pick your own plastic lawnchair, and enjoy the audio and visual effects of Terminator 3, The Green Zone, and other such Action Movie "Classics."

An advertisement on the wall of the building reads "Come enjoy films of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee!" But really, we all know that no one cares if it's Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, or Matt Daemon, so long as there is action, suspense, and lots and lots of noise. And just in case I forget to mention, unlike the bar down the street, this busy establishment is 100% alcohol-free (as a I told a young teenager standing outside defiantly sucking on a large bottle of black label). At 8PM last night, the exhausted youth returned to my house clutching P24.50 worth of coins, in the American equivalent of pennies and nickles. We may have broken even financially, but for all intents and purposes, this activity was pure profit.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

After 1.5 months in country, I still do not know the proper response to a knock at the door when I'm lying stark naked in the bathtub...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Bunch of Little Hair Things

My hair is long enough now that I can hold it up using 3 small hair things. I was putting my hair up today when I thought, there must be something profound about this movement...

Here it is: Life is sometimes like those hair-things. You need more than 1 small elastic to hold your life together.

In my case, there are lots of small things that hold me together. Food is one. Coffee is another. The dream of going to graduate school is yet another. My constant SMS's to friends here, the hope of seeing one good project to completion, the garden in my backyard, all small things that, in large concentrated doses sometimes give me much grief, but in combination, hold me in one piece, keep me from going insane.

I woke up this morning with the full intention on spending the entire day out in the community giving our village development committee computer training. I waited for them all morning, working on grad school applications, next thing I know, it's 4PM and I've been staring at admissions websites all day, eyes bugging out of my head. How did this happen? Where did the day go? Too much of a good thing can really drive someone crazy...

Monday, October 3, 2011

a rock and a hard place

lately i've been finding myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. or is that all the time and lately i've been more noticing of it? Maybe one end of botswana there's a big rock, and at the other end there's a huge hard thing.


anyway. I find myself not enjoying going out and not enjoying staying in. I have funding for projects that are not yet ready for funding and waiting for funding for projects that don't have any sort of funding. There is simultaneously a lot going on and nothing going on. A lot happening that isn't right, but would take forever if it were right. My garden has stunted growth, so i locked my gate, yet the goats are jumping the fence now with more and more ease (it's like one of my nighttime fantasies-oh-wait-is-this-real episodes when I'm trying to fall asleep, counting goats jumping my gate, then of course getting their leg caught and screaming for help all night). I am social and yet i have no idea what's happening in the village at any given time. I have friends, yet I find myself helpless when I need help...

in a nutshell, i miss home and i'm running out of things that help bring relief.
8 months till home.
Not that I don't love it here. But the men and the phone calls, the solicitations, the toner-less printers, the bureaucracy, the rules, the boob grabbing, fat calling, begging for food, water, airtime, money, and the absolute indisputable truth that murphy's law (everything that can go wrong will go wrong precisely at the wrong time) is the only thing that is ever reliable... it's getting tiresome.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

From my facebook

ME: someone just came to my door and started laughing, "were you sleeping?!" he asked between guffaws. Is that his way of saying that I look like shit?

SOMEONEHERE: yah.its a polite Tswana way of saying u r looking awful

2 nights ago, I stayed up till 11:30 PM working on my grad school resumes (11:30 is super late, relative to my normal 8PM bedtime). Prior to 7AM the next morning, I was awoken by our weekly "driver convention" next door. Blasting music, 10 or so guys, lots of trucks. Couldn't get back to sleep so I reluctantly got up and went about my day. Couldn't focus on anything, couldn't finish any task I started. Sat around, lay down, worked out, read, sat around, sat some more, felt miserable. After my daily work out (which was punctuated with lots of pauses, heaving, pacing, and brow-wiping) my body ached all over and I decided the day was doomed. Housework would have to wait.

I went to bed (after watching Die Hard I, Die Hard II is scheduled to run in the Sunny Theater tonight) at the healthy hour of 8PM last night and woke up at 8AM reluctantly refreshed. Half an hour later, I got a knock at my door from a friend come to charge his phone at the Sunny Cell-Phone Charging Stand, and the above facebook situation happened.

So, I look a little haggard lately. I guess that's what comes from being drained. It's amazing how little I can do here compared the bustling crazy person I was back at home, every moment of every day scheduled to the max. I've been told lately to enjoy the next 8 months, do everything I want to do and not look back and say I wasted my time. But it's hard. I'm limited. Physically, emotionally, opportunistically. My village isn't exactly "the village."

A friend lent me the book "The Boy who Harnessed the Wind" and I finished it in a few days. It was a good, uplifting read. For those of you who haven't heard of it, the book is written by a boy from a small farming village in Malawi who survived a famine, had to drop out of school, and built a windmill out of junkyard scraps. People thought he was crazy, but out of sheer will power and creativity and a knack for engineering, the boy finished the windmill, generated a lot of press, and got sponsorship to go to school (he was 2007 TED fellow).

It's amazing how one child in a tiny resource-less village could do something so amazing. It gives me hope and makes me want to go out there a build a windmill. Or at least help some young genius boy to build a windmill. His story could never have happened without a lot of help from his friends and later, strangers who heard his story. Life is funny isn't it?

Sorry this isn't one of my more poignant entries. I'm mostly rambling. I've lately been questioning my role and my impact here. William Kamkwamba's story and the story of most of the youth here has made me realize that people can not "be made," they can only be given lucky breaks to become the people they were meant to become. Maybe that's what we Peace Corps volunteers (and not just PCV's but anyone in the right place at the right time) is meant to do, help someone else get to the next step in their life journey.

Case and Point: "Leon" is a pastor from Zimbabwe who, when he wad a child, was asked by a local PCV to water his garden while he was on vacation. Though the whole community laughed at the PCV, saying the boy was too young, Leon relished the responsibility and grew up to be a pastor and humanitarian, working to help relieve poverty among the San living in squatter camps by giving them jobs, relocating them to better plots in proper settlements, handing out food and plastic sheets to those who live in shacks made of grocery bags.

Case #2: My friend Dr. Chawarwa is a native-Zimbabwe scholar and teacher for D'kar, a nearby settlement. He fills various capacities, so it is hard to give him an actual title. On a long 8-hour car trip to Gaborone one day, he told me the story of how he got his big break, or rather, many many small breaks. He was originally enrolled in a University in Southern Africa. One winter, after visiting various offices in search of better opportunities, his nagging paid off, he got a break, a one-way ticket to America. Unfortunately, without a round-trip ticket, he wasn't eligible for a U.S. visa. So a friend in England turned his one-way into a roundtrip to London, where someone else traded it in for a roundtrip to America. He then forged an invitation letter from a Peace Corps volunteer who was his teacher when he was younger, got a visa, and showed up on the front steps of his PCV friend who had no idea that he was coming. The PCV was teaching (or enrolled in?) a university somewhere in the midwest, where Dr. Chawarwa (then a young teenage Mister Chawarwa) got a partial scholarship to study. Mr. Chawarwa got his degree while working full time as a dish-waster. Eventually, Mr. Chawarwa got a scholarship from a local church to pursue his doctorate, and now he is Dr. Chawarwa with a lovely wife and 2 beautiful daughters making a huge impact in the D'kar area.

After telling me his story, Dr. Chawarwa went on to impart some wisdom. "Some people are put into your life just to help you get on to the next step. When that step is done, you may never see them again, but it is okay to let them go."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bakery Handover

I read an article today about a mobile TB X-Ray van that is traveling around places in Europe checking at-risk populations (homeless people, drug users, etc.) for TB. I wonder if such a tool could be rolled out here in Botswana, or more specifically, here in the Ghanzi settlements. TB is the biggest health risk for people here, as many of them are far from clinics or health posts and live in places with poor ventilation in close proximity with others.

I helped a little bit at an event in Xade this morning (and I'm likely to return in the afternoon to help break down). This event has riddled me with weariness and a little unease all week-- culminating yesterday morning, when a local government employee reproached me for not showing up at an 8AM planning meeting. The friend I was walking with and I responded quite indignantly-- how can we come to a meeting we were never informed about? I have to admit, that response was loaded with more meaning than I meant it to be. The fact is, I did not find out about this extremely important event until 5 days prior, and only when an officer from Ghanzi asked if she could stay at my place this week while she prepared. And even then, I was not told why she needed accommodation. I only found out later when someone asked "if I were going."

So all week I've been going about my regular business, checking in only at night to see how preparations were going. At first I felt guilty for not being more involved with an event that my department was helping to run. Then I was a little indignant that no one asked me for help or sent me a proper invitation, the Botswana way of notifying important people of important events. The only official invitations I've ever received here are for social things like baby or bridal showers. I guess I'm not an important person. So this morning, the morning of, I wandered the streets of New Xade looking for some way to help. I found it in the kitchen, peeling and dicing over 10km of carrots and onions. My arm felt sore and stiff after who knows how long, and, inside, my pride was hurt that this was all I could contribute. My counterparts had all but left me alone in the kitchen with boxes of vegetables, so after I finished carving up the last carrot in my possession (there were plenty more, but I'd have been darned if I were caught in the kitchen alone much longer) I wandered off muttering under my breath about "what I really came here for" and "I wasn't going to be the only one working."

Truth is, I wasn't the only one working. People all around me were working (albeit at their own paces), they were just socializing with each other too. And I, being too lazy to attempt to decipher their words, felt neglected and unimportant. I watched "Devil Wears Prada" for the umpteenth time last night and Stanley Tucci's words had been echoing in my ears ever since, "...this place, where so many people would die to work, you only deign to work."

Do I only deign to work in New Xade, being awed by the place I am in and the people I am with only when it brings me some sort of prestige or importance? A white photographer was at the event today and I couldn't help but try to stare him down-- what are you doing in my settlement, I thought. Don't you know this is my territory? My pictures are so much better than yours. Yeah you get to sit at the head table, but I, I choose to sit with the people. And then I purposefully started a conversation with the person next to me just to look important.

At the end of the day, there was nothing that I did that made me stand out as an important person, nothing that would warrant me a special introduction to the District Commissioner or get my photo taken by the white photographer. In fact, one of the "ordinary people" even yelled at me to get them food since I was in the "important person food line." I realized then that there was nothing I really could have done to make me stand out, that I am, indeed, just as ordinary or even more ordinary than the next person. All I really did today was cut come carrots and encourage those behind the scenes to take breaks, eat lunch, sit down for a moment. I stood and smiled at the VIP's as they piled their plates high with the food that a handful of women and men have been slaving over before the crack of dawn this morning. I stood behind the serving lines as the "regular people" came for their portions, surging the serving window and then the kitchen door until both had to be closed. I nodded at those who stepped forward to do odd jobs that they saw were needed, wipe down the chairs, stack the plates, refill the food bowls, get more drinks. I stood and watched and thought about the person I used to be (the one who always had to be the hardest worker and the best performer) and the person I was today (the one who stood out of the way and avoided eye contact with intimidating-looking officials, who waited to see if someone else was going to do that first.)

I didn't come here to work someone else out of a job, I came here to help create jobs. But, odd, that wasn't what was going through my head as I helped to dice and dish and clean. I saw the privilege that comes with position in this world. Food was piled high on plates and then left uneaten moments before the everyday people food ran out and people searched the trash for discarded scraps. Even the weight differences between the first eaters and the last eaters was apparent. This must be what America looks like to foreigners, we are the head table who gets their first pick in everything from food to technology, religious ideals, computer equipment, healthcare, and they get whatever is leftover. Our excess. I'm not saying that this system is fair or unfair, or that this perception is even true. It's just the way it is perceived here. No wonder my penpal students have no hesitation about asking their friends in Spain for their old, used things.

History has shown us that progress and technology can only be achieved when there is time for luxury created by excess (take for example the industrial revolution which led to a surge in technology, arts and culture). Unfortunately, excess is not a luxury many people can afford here.

Photos from top to bottom: the "every day" people line up at the foot of the bakery doors to watch the event, a local artisan displays her ostrich eggshell jewelry craft (best quality I've seen so far), a choir team shows off their dance moves.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Party Pooper

I opted not to go to a party last night in preference to my warm bed at 7PM. I was feeling stupid and lame until I got a phone call from a friend at 9. It was about a favor I did for her on friday, but still, a phone call from a friend who wasn't at the party either. I felt better about myself and was able to go back to sleep. And good thing too cause the party is still going on. I was woken at 6:30 by music outside creeping its way past my green foam earplugs.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Yard Clearing Take 2

I cleared my yard again for a couple hours today. Oddly though, it wasn't as enjoyable as it was last week. In fact, it was a little on the side of painful, especially in the lower back area. The whole time, I was thinking about what a friend of mine said last time he saw me cleaning. "You are fighting a losing battle." Though the sun sucked, the dust sucked, and the thorns really sucked, I decided in the end: better to fight a losing battle than not fight at all.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Long Rides Home

The ride to and from Ghanzi does not get any more bearable over time. Indeed, on some days, it seems to have gotten worse. But what has changed is how quickly I forget the pain after I land. Afterall, what's the point on dwelling on your pain and suffering if it's over and you can't do anything to change it?

We drove home today in an open back pick up. I remember as a kid, I would watch movies where people rode in the backs of pick ups (usually with a yellow lab or a golden retriever). I thought it was so cool. I remember my first back of a pick up ride. It was in my dad's big black toyota tacoma. The wind blowing in my hair, the sun on my face, the thrill of using your full body to brace yourself against potential dangers. We made it all of 5 yards down the driveway before my mom freaked out.

Now, I readily and happily pop in the front seat if it's offered to me (and that's rarely). The ride home today, in all aspects but length, was exactly the same as my first truck ride, except after how many times? the experience was so much more different. The wind knotted my hair, the sun burned my lips, and oh, I got the full body experience as my muscles tensed and sweat dripped from every crease in my body... my limbs braced against potential dangers, gravel flying and smacking me in the arm like sharp bee bee's, leaving small white scars that I find days later once my skin has browned to a crisp and think, "where the heck did that come from?!"

But as soon as we landed at the front steps of my house, I leapt out, unpacked and cursed at my squashed bananas, stripped of my day clothes into my work-out clothes, and pumped bottles of sand (my make-shift weights) for half an hour. I'm actually looking forward to my next trip to Ghanzi, I didn't have time this trip to stop at the liquor store. ;)
(Photo: my friend Ntamo grinning at me from the coveted front seat)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lethargy Strikes

I was supposed to go to Ghanzi today to collect some papers and go grocery shopping. I have 3 eggs and half a liter of warm unrefrigerated milk in my open non-working fridge.

But something's been fighting me for a few weeks and yesterday it started winning. I slept little last night and had lots of strange, intense dreams. Woke up with a crick in my neck when it was still dark outside and decided that today I would hide. There was some internal struggle, but gradually I realized that no one cares whether I go to Ghanzi today or go to Ghanzi tomorrow. No one knows what I do on a day to day basis anyway. I could catch up on my grant writing today. My blog writing. My letter writing...
Or I could just watch movies and stay in bed.

I tried being productive, but without coffee (I'm out of coffee... I tried drinking that nescafe stuff but for some reason i couldn't even swallow it. What's happened to me? Have I gotten picky?) productivity is a fruitless endeavor. Thank goodness for phone service, I was actually able to get quite a bit of stuff done over the phone.

Tomorrow is a new day. Besides if I had gone to Ghanzi, I wouldn't have found out that the projects have gotten more donations! So thank you everyone who has donated (see progress to the right). It's a wonderful contribution to an otherwise fruitless day.

Photos of our penpal kids after receiving a package of T-shirts and books from our partner school in Spain. Aren't they goofy? :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tour Ya Botswana

Tour Ya Botswana is an annual road cycling challenge that raises money for causes in Botswana.

This September, Tour Ya Botswana will raise funds for the Kings Foundation, a Christian organization that trains community leaders in running recreational activities for youth. I've asked the Kings Foundation to consider coming to New Xade to help train our OVC support group leaders. One of our volunteers, was trained by the Kings Foundation several years ago. I have seen for myself the kind of confidence, leadership skills, and practical skills they can offer.

Please consider supporting the Kings Foundation or Tour Ya Botswana

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I just spent a couple hours outside in the morning sun (natura tanning) sweeping my massive driveway. And yes, I said sweeping and I said massive.

If you've been following my blog you know that i have a minor obsession with my yard. The first thing I noticed when i arrived in Botswana was everyone else's obsession with their yards. Every morning, it is the eldest daughter's duty to sweep the entire compound with a straw broom. (Traditional brooms here have no handles, so women are bent over double doing this, sometimes with a child on her back. Ouch). So, I made it one of my 2 year goals to maintain my own yard, as a gesture of integration. It's good for the body, good for the spirit, and, as an added bonus, not attractive to the little ones. Though oddly, whenever Botswana men find me doing yardwork, they tend to think that I'm open for "hitting on." I think that visions of domestic bliss dance through their heads.

So far, it's worked pretty well. I've met many people by spending time outside sweeping and weeding. I've gotten a lot of comments (my favorite being, "you're not afraid to work hard!") including one this morning from a guy who taught me the setswana word for sweeping the yard. I dutifully repeated the word and promptly forgot it. Nodded and smiled, and continued my sweeping. I think it started with a "T..."

It took hours and I think I disturbed a beetle nest, as around 30 large (about 1") yellow reddish cockroach-like beetles swarmed my broom at some point. But, despite the inevitable temptation to think of this work as a little bit pointless (C'mon, sweeping Sand? in a Desert?!), I persevered as part of my new "healthy body healthy mind" Peace Corps attitude. (Plus, I had a brownie this morning and felt like earning some extra calorie-burning points.) I felt like a cross between a batswana housewife and Will Smith's son from the Karate Kid. Wax on, wax off. I did Tai Chi with my broom. Sweep Sweep Swoosh Swoosh. I was Avatar, the last wind bender. I was Poe, the Panda. I was Jackie Chan in his younger films when he was the Tom Cruise of Asian Actors (before white people turned him into a cartoon character). I evicted plants, thorns, dust, and dirt from my yard with a single blow from my fearless broom. Kachow.

Sweeping Time is definitely a good time to think about life. It's almost like a meditation (except it can be slightly painful if you're not paying attention because of all the spikey plants). Not claiming that sweeping leads to enlightenment, but after watching the entire Avatar Series and Kung Fu Panda this week, and having  a bit of a confrontation with some of my inner demons, I began to think a little about my family's heritage, my own cultural identity and psychology. Peace Corps service definitely shits on your image of yourself. It takes all of your insecurities and, in 2 years, tweezes out each thread of pain in your life and wrings it like a wet towel. I'm not sure if I'll come out of this a better person, whatever "better" means, but I'm pretty sure I'll come out alive. And much changed.

One definitive conclusion I came to today, those who hard on themselves are often hard on others.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Books Books Everywhere...

Bookeths Bookeths Everywhere, but alas cantst thou not findeth me a booketh to read?

Thanks to the Botswana Book Project, New Xade has oodles of wonderful (and relevant, and some not so relevant) books for the community! Ranging from Young Adult Historical Fiction to agricultural techniques to craft making (and my personal favorite, volume 12 of a dermatology encyclopedia).

Unfortunately, it don't fit. We need more bookshelves!

I'm raising money for book shelves (the price is higher than in the states because, funny story, one can not purchase wood in the middle of a dry sandy desert!). We are going for chip board here and they have to be custom built because, funny story, one can not purchase bookshelves in the middle of a dry sandy desert!

Please consider making a contribution to the starved readers of New Xade. The books are many, the workers are few (but mighty), the funds are zero.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Santa Klaus of the Kalahari

Today, I came to our classroom to deliver color copies of letters that have been written by our Pen Pal School in Spain. In addition to letters though, they sent some books, t-shirts, and a special package for one of our students as well. I felt strange, walking to school with a big box, and even stranger walking into the classroom with this big box and not opening the box for the students to see. We decided to let the students look at the books tomorrow when I have my camera, but of course, the teachers had to look at everything first. I was trying not to feel appalled when 2 teachers on 2 separate occasions took the special package (some clothing and books for one of the students from her penpal) and dumped the contents on their desks, looking at every item of clothing and making comments in Setswana, it's like they'd never seen a turtleneck before, the entire rest of the class gathered in a large circle around the desk. I know it's not polite of me to comment on these things, and I'm trying to find some rationale for understanding why these things happen here and why in particular I feel like they shouldn't happen here. The student was present, nothing was stolen, and the student didn't seem in any way upset by the public pronouncement of her gifts. In fact, when I gave the bag to her, it seemed like her smile could have lifted her into the air, it was so big. We are holding a random drawing for the t-shirts tomorrow. The names of all of the students who participated in the letter exchanges "seriously" are going to be put in a hat and drawn at random. "Serious" participation was determined by the teachers and based on whether or not the student wrote back to their penpals consistently. I know I have my favorite students… maybe that's why I felt like the system was a bit subjective. If it were up to me, I would've rigged it so that the students I like, the ones that I feel are doing an honest job of writing letters, would benefit the most. I guess that's why I'm not a teacher. I couldn't handle the pressure! Also, I STILL can't remember most of my kids' names...

In other news, I signed onto facebook today and was greeted with this message:

...and I still do.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


If anyone wants to give me problems about not being able to learn the language here beyond a simple greeting, I want to give you the names of the people I am working with in the craft shop here... it might shut you up.

Mmutla Maipelo, Gabomphie Lobelo, Dipolelo Talelo, Kebonetswe Gakeitsewe, Mosadiwadikgaba Xerabe, Sekaka Sebetsaphuduhudu, Qubae Xhurukhwe, Kadishuba Tuela, Nxautwe Modisa, Lesheto Senkelathipane

Friday, August 26, 2011

Among Odd Days...

Today was an odd day among odd days. I woke up earlier than usual and went to school as soon as it opened to collect letters from our Pen Pal exchange Program. Then I reluctantly climbed in the back of a pick up truck and went to Ghanzi to do 5 things:

1. look up how to get an exemption certificate for tax and duty fees
2. collect boxes of donations for the kids
3. get a signature for water reimbursement
4. find out when the assistant district aids coordinator is coming to visit
5. collect a letter of support from the district aids coordinator.

1. we can't get a certificate until the day the items are delivered
2. the lady who has the key to the storage room is out at a funeral
3. the chief who signs my papers is out at a workshop
4. the ADAC is out at a site visit
5. the DAC is out sick.

So I sat in a lodge and ate pizza with some PCV's all day.

TADA! The end.

Thanks to everyone who has donated and who plans on donating and who might just donate on a whim. I very much appreciate it!!!!!!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Computer Project, Live Donations!

I am happy to report that:
Donations for the New Xade computer project have gone live!

Please visit this link to donate:

That said, I saw a baby goat today. My friend said it was probably born just this morning. Its umbilical cord was still attached and the mom looked like "she's still waiting for the afterbirth to drop." I could've done without that last detail (and the new dead bird on my porch that i have yet to clean up...)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cheering Squad

It's good during weeks like these to know that I have a cheering squad back at home for me.

A long time ago, a good friend once told me, "The world does not revolve around you." It was one of the most defining moments of my life.

Right now, I am sitting in my house, working on my blue linoleum dining table off of my solar electricity, listening to my ipod spew out last year's music, the same albums over and over again because that's what I'm comfortable with. I'm fighting feelings of guilt, frustration, loneliness, anger, and resentment. Guilt because I am here and not outside doing what I think I "should" be doing-- whatever that is. Frustration because I'm not capable of doing more, better, faster; that the food here is so not to my liking that I'd rather not eat, that my projects are at a standstill or the teachers are too busy to work with me. Loneliness because I can't relate right now to the people outside my windows, to the children who climb over my gate despite my threats to call the police. Anger because things don't go as I think they should here, they are always too slow, too inefficient, too many papers have been lost and it's too damn impossible to get anything printed. Resentment, because sometimes I DO think to myself, "it's because of these people that I am here." These people. This term is not something I ever thought I'd utter, yet it pops into my head more often than it should. Every time I look out the window and see my gate left open and a cow munching on my garden plants, I think: these people, every time someone wakes me up in the middle of the night to charge their phone, these people, every time I hear a horror story about a child raped or woman beat up, these people. Every time an obnoxious man hits on me or a drunken woman walks down my street singing out loud to herself, these people.

The reality is, it's easier to be frustrated and point fingers at people than it is to go out there and experience and re-experience the reality that people here live in every day. It's not as simple as the picture that the commercials paint on TV of crying naked children covered in layers of mud and dung, but it certainly isn't the linoleum blue dining table and ipod reality that I live in on a daily basis. On a day like this when the wind is howling so hard that I have to strain to get the door open and chase the windows shut, people have to huddle under a bunch of sticks to keep the sand out of their breath. These people.

The world does not revolve around me. I am just as unrelated-able to these people as they are to me. I sit here in my concrete bubble so sure that the world out there is out to get me, that people are talking about me, why doesn't she come to the office? Why doesn't she like sitting here with us and shooting the shit? When is that grant coming? Why isn't she doing more, better, faster? And maybe some people are, but I'm willing to bet that the majority of people aren't. They're more worried about getting firewood for nighttime, passing the day pleasantly, wondering how their family is. The reality is, I'm sitting here doing the exact same thing, wondering about my next meal, my next vacation, my family at home. It's a horrible experience to realize this about yourself, that you're a self-centered, self-righteous wimp... It's hard lesson to learn, to accept that I'm not superhuman and that I can't and don't have to be completely perfect and happy and adventurous here all the time. Maybe if I finally accept that, I'll be able to be happy and perfect and adventure again sooner rather than later... maybe then I won't be so scared of these people... but for today, I'm going to give myself some slack. Besides, the wind is so strong, I'd probably pull a Mary Poppins the instant I stepped outside.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Ramones

I haven't posted music lyrics on my blog since I was a kid, but today this one seems wildly appropriate. I woke up with this song on my brain. All I wanna do today is listen to this song and finishing the movie "The Tourist" which I saw the first few minutes of in a bus. Of course, I don't have these two items in my collection, even though I have all sorts of media that I'm never going to watch, like various car shows and horror movies and music that drives me insane (Backstreet Boys, Elevator Jazz, the Soundtrack of Romeo and Juliet, the Ballet) that come on at the most inopportune times, like now, coming in after an infuriating wrestling session in my garden with a bunch of crooked sticks, string, and shade netting to Billy Gilman singing a joyous rendition of "One Horse Open Sleigh" ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding!

Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go I wanna be sedated
Nothin' to do and no where to go-o-oh I wanna be sedated
Just get me to the airport put me on a plane
Hurry hurry hurry before I go insane
I can't control my fingers I can't control my brain
Oh no no no no no

Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go I wanna be sedated
Nothin' to do and no where to go-o-o I wanna be sedated
Just put me in a wheelchair get me to the show
Hurry hurry hurry before I go loco
I can't control my fingers I can't control my toes

Oh no no no no no

Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go...
Just put me in a wheelchair...
Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba I wanna be sedated
Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba I wanna be sedated
Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba I wanna be sedated
Ba-ba-bamp-ba ba-ba-ba-bamp-ba I wanna be sedated

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I found 2 dead birds in my yard. I tried to scoop them up 3 times but was too freaked out. Dead birds freak me out more than anything else dead. Finally I used my rake and a broken bucket and poked them inside, screaming. Then dumped them on the other side of my fence. I was in my yard gardening later that day when I saw kids walking by and pick up the birds, talk about it, show it to me, and then leave with it... I wonder what they're going to do with them.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Waiting Game

I'm still waiting to hear back from Peace Corps about the next steps for this grant, but so far, I'm feeling really good about it. Thanks you guys!

I'm finally (finally?) starting to exhibit some wear and tear from all of these crazy truck rides. My back is hurting, and not my lower back which usually hurts, but my upper back/shoulder area. It's painful and I've been spending some time each day to stretch it out, though I'm probably the last person to know what kind of stretches are good and what kind are bad. I'm pretty sure my tail bone has been bruised too.

This all became acutely clear today after I traveled an hour in one direction just to get a bar of chocolate. And then of course an hour back with melted chocolate. Not to mention the day of waiting in-between. I got crammed behind a very oblivious and large young man who made me want to poke him when he fell asleep with his legs spread out among the 18 of us stuck in that truck. He rolled over and kicked and crushed our bags, our food, our appendages. He was so obnoxious, even in his sleep, that we all stared at him for most of the ride. I particularly enjoyed pondering the grease trail that his head left on the window where his head rolled. It was like tracking the sludge marks of a sea snail...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Great Cow Escape

The sun is rising over New Xade this morning. I woke up at 6AM and couldn't get back to sleep. The chickens are crowing, I bet they're thirsty. The water is still out, though the water department did send relief trucks this week to fill the water tower for us. That means that at 2pm yesterday, we all rushed to the pipes with buckets and bottles to fill whatever vessels we could with water.

I went to the office yesterday morning and met my friend Gakeleswe who was dancing around the slippery steps. You're dancing! Your're happy! I said. Yes! she answered. If someone is so happy, he or she could die! She laughed and then danced around more. I met one of my counterparts for the first time in weeks. He pulled me to him while we talked, Everything is just ok, he said, I'm just thirsty.

I came home to news that one of our peace corps family fell off a horse and broke her leg. This comes on the heels of hearing that another of our volunteers had to go home on emergency leave because there was a death in her immediate family. My head has been in a daze ever since. Then I got an email about the OVC grant I wrote months ago, I have to send in 3 quotations for every item in our budget and a support letter from the district aids coordination (DAC) office. This would be all fine and dandy, except that we have no stores in New Xade and no transportation. I anticipated this months ago, but I guess I forgot, and things have changed within the support group. I no longer have the enthusiasm I used to.

I spent the afternoon blowing steam off in what's left of my garden, replanting a once- successful tomato plant that the cows and goats ate to a pathetic little stump. I planted big branches into the ground as a makeshift fence and ran string along side it. It's no defense against goats and other livestock, but at least it makes me feel good. It's temporary until I can get my hands on some shade-netting. As a final measure, I cut down acacia thorn branches (thorns as long as 2") and spread them out along the fence perimeter.

Last night I heard noises outside my house that sounded like construction. I thought perhaps someone was lifting lumber... in the middle of the night. I tried to ignore it until 8PM, when I grabbed a flashlight and, shaking, went out into the moon-absent darkness to check it out. I stood at the corner of my front porch shining the light into the recesses of my yard trying to see what was going on, looking at neighbors, looking down the street. Nothing out of the ordinary. Some kids playing, a donkey eating a tree by my fence. I couldn't figure out where the noise came from, so i took a step forward into the side yard, then around the corner, there, surrounded by bush, I came face to face with a large black cow who was drinking from the leaky pond in my backyard. I freaked out. He freaked out. He started running and I bent down to pick up a rock. I chased the cow around my yard until he tried to escape via the back gate which was closed. Stupid cow. I opened the front gate and tried to chase him out there, but he went back to the water pool, which coincidentally is right next to my newly renovated garden and precious tomato stumps.

When I went back to get him, I found 2 more cows. They freaked, I freaked out more and threw rock after rock at them, chasing them from my garden. Don't worry, I wasn't shooting to kill. I was afraid I would get trampled. Sometimes I lost sight of the black cow, until it's glinting eye caught the light. I chased the cows around in circles in my pajamas and flip flops until they finally left and I retired to my house, hoping no one saw the crazy white person. When I came in, I saw that my new warm sweat pants (gifted to me by steph) was covered in makgunda thorns and my flip flops were poked through with acacia thorns.Bird feathers and animal shit clung to the thorns like bits of sticky caramel popcorn. Defeated, I shed my shoes and did what I could with my pants. I went to sleep feeling dirty, the sharp ends of makgunda making it's way from pants to skin to bloodstream. I have no clean clothes. There is no water.

I spent the night inbetween sleep, trying not to clench my teeth, dreaming about quotations, the DAC office, and friends from the clinic back at home. I had bitter sweet dreams, sweet dreams, and just plain annoying ones where my dreams mimicked the hectic days of my life, chasing down store owners for donations and officers for signatures. I plotted and planned how to proceed with this grant. How to itemize the budget in such a way as to facilitate the collection of quotations. How to get transportation to collect quotations. How to get transport to bring the supplies back to New Xade. How to get out of this without a hit on my own finances. One trip to get quotations alone can cost me upwards of 50 bucks. How to get people to help me. Who can I count on? What am I doing? Who am I doing it for? There are currently 3 mac computers at the school for the teachers. The teachers say that they are broken. Sketto thinks they are lying. An old New Xade PCV says they simply don't know how to use Macs. What is a mac doing in the middle of nowhere anyway?