Wednesday, January 26, 2011

3 Stories One Lesson

1/25/2011 3 Stories, 1 Lesson.

Unfortunately I am well aware of how lame I sound when I say that for
the past 2 weeks, my gardening has kept me alive and occupied. Though
plans had failed, meetings were abandoned, and projects forgotten,
twice and sometimes three times a day, I could look forward to
bucket-watering my watermelon and squash plants, watching my tomato,
pumpkin, and herb sprouts grow, and devising plans to build a fence.
During the days I could not get out of my bed, let alone stand the
heat of the sunlight against my eyes and skin, the garden got me
outside, sweating, tanning, and moving—and yes, sometimes I would even
pull out a chair and sit next to the garden, staring at the plants and
hoping to see them grow just a little bit.

Of course, if you follow my blog, you know that after a mundane story
like this, I have to say something overly dramatic, negative, and
disastrous. Well here it is: I hate goats. They came into my yard this
weekend and trampled everything, leaving piles of goat poo smashed
into my front porch with long white goat hairs clinging to them. I
came home yesterday and found that the part of my garden where my
beautiful squash plants were growing—my pride and joy—were completely
destroyed. There are 3 small stubs remaining, their leaves all eaten
off, the 2-month old bodies of their brothers and sisters strewn
across the sand as the sun zaps whatever is left of their short lives.
The other plants were also trampled, but I care about them less… what
baffles me is that the ugly, yellow, wilting watermelon plants were
left untouched even though they were only inches away. I guess squash
leaves are tasty—reminder to self, if the squash plants start growing
again, eat their leaves before the goats get to them.

This is going to sound totally whiney, but I spent this morning locked
in my house unwilling to do anything but watch tv shows and leaf
through the Tai-Chi and Yoga books my brother sent me. I deluded
myself into believing that I was "learning" these forms, and thus,
spending my day in a productive manner. In actuality, I couldn't face
the sight of the garden outside. Around one o'clock, I heard my
Setswana name from the porch and met 3 girls who often come over to
goof around. The littlest one, the newest of the gang, I'll call her
"Wee-wee," always asks me for money, for food, for sweets, water,
whatever I happen to have in my hand. She said "Mpha!" give me, and
another girl, who is normally a pain in my butt, I'll call her
"Wah-wah," surprised me by scolding Wee-wee. "Nyaaa! Nyaa!" Wah-wah
said. And then Wah-wah looked at me and smiled and repeated, "Nya!"

I have trained them.

For that, I smiled and sat outside with them and watched them play for
15 minutes or so. And by "play" what they did was sweep the massive
amounts of goat poo and goat hairs from my front porch. After Wah-wah
and Wee-wee left, I went outside and repaired my garden.

Who would've thought that the horrors of my first few months here
would turn out to be my saving grace?

Yesterday, I had my first English Club. Well, sort of. I arrived at
the school at 3PM only to find the teachers in a meeting. They had
said they would do English Club with me but perhaps they forgot I was
coming. I didn't really care, this is what I expect nowadays whenever
I have an appointment, or meeting, or project. Things don't really
happen the way they do in the states. I sat at the school and chatted
with the cleaning ladies who are friends of mine. When the teacher I
work with finally came out, she apologized for the inconvenience and
suggested that we start next week, in the meantime, would I be willing
to do something with the standard 7 students? Surely, I said. I was
in a good mood. I went to the Standard 7 classroom where the teacher
introduced me (but really, do I need an introduction? Everyone knew
who I was). I was left alone with 30 7th graders. First, I went around
and asked everyone to stand up, tell me their names, ages, and
something interesting about themselves. Boy, was that a mistake. The
first kid stood up, said his name was peter, he was 13, and…. and…
and… if he weren't a dark shade of brown, he would've turned bright
red. He stared at the table and everyone in the room laughed at him.

"Can someone help Peter? What is interesting about him?" I asked the
class, drawing on techniques that my own teachers used to use on me.
"Anyone?" There was a small meeting at Peter's table and Peter
finally looked up and muttered, "I Am A Boy," each word emphasized as
if being read for the first time. "Thank you, Peter," I said, "that
is… interesting!"

I looked at the student next to Peter who stood up, said his name was,
"blah blah," and announced to the class, "I am 13... I am a boy."
Thank you blah blah… next?

Thirty 13 to 16 year olds then went one by one around the room, told
me their indistinguishable click-filled names, their ages, and their
genders. Oh boy.

The next exercise I did with the kids is an exercise I learned from
another PCV here, a cognitive behavioral psychologist named Pat. Pat
works in the schools. One day she sat down with her kids and asked
them, "How are you doing?" The class said in unison, "I Am Fine." Pat
laughed, the students laughed, and Pat said, "How are all of you fine?
Certainly you can't all be fine!" She then talked about the importance
of thinking outside the box. Everyone here always answers. "I am fine"
to the question "How are you?" She went around the class and asked
each student to provide another answer to "how are you" that wasn't
"I'm fine." Some students said "I am not fine!" or "I am happy!" or "I
am cool!" one enthusiastic student even shouted, "I am Fantastic!"
Pat's personal focus here is to teach the people of Botswana how to
think critically, or as we've abbreviated in our talks, how to think.

I started my talk to the class by telling them that I wanted to talk
to them today about "how to think." They stared at me like "ok crazy
lady…" The next 40 minutes felt like pulling teeth. For the first 20
minutes, the only answer I could get out of these kids to "how are
you?" was "I am fine." Only one student really got the point of the
talk, and she responded, beaming with pride, "I am fine. How are you?"
I couldn't disappoint her so I said… "Ok, that's good… anyone else?"

After picking on a handful of poor students whose names I could
remember, I started going crazy and throwing out suggestions like "I
feel like dancing!" and dancing around the room a bit. The kids loved
that. Eventually we came up with the following short list of answers
to the question "how are you?":

How are you?
I am fine. How are you?.
I am not fine because I have a headache.
I am not fine because I do not feel well.
I am shy.
and my own personal contribution, "Fantastic!" (after which I had to
explain to them what "fantastic" meant)

By the end of the 40 minutes, though, I am proud to say that I think
at least one student really got into my talk. It's a shame I have the
memory of an ant cause I can't remember her name, but I was happy that
she and her friends came up to me after class and asked for my number
and if they could visit on Saturday. It's not much, but it's a start!!

After Wee-wee and Wah-wah visited today, I thought, "I guess this is
what Peace Corps is about. Being here long enough that kids can feel
safe enough to come to your house even if you don't do a thing with
them but watch them play."


The day before yesterday, I was in Ghanzi to meet some representatives
from the U.S. Embassy. These officers came to do some first-hand
scouting of the settlements to investigate the possibility of forming
Community Trusts for San villages such as New Xade. They gave me a
lift to New Xade in a sweet air-conditioned silver 4x4 equipped with
GPS, electric fridge, and satellite phone; and I showed them a bit of
the Village while men, women, and children alike followed us around
and asked for money. One old guy actually stood there for a good 20
minutes just staring at the truck, finally he had the balls to walk up
to it and touch it. Ironically, he did this while we were discussion
the development of the San and how, before they were relocated, some
of the Batswana had brought them to Ghanzi, shown them a house and a
car, and said, "You will have things like this."

We had some good talks and I learned some things I didn't know, but
most importantly, I learned a lot of things that I already knew. It
felt good to think that the conclusions I came to myself were
supported by the opinions of the people here. It amused me that the
Americans pulled out their little gadgets and maps as soon as we
pulled onto the dirt road. It's exactly what I would've done if I had
just arrived from the States. It's exactly what my brother and father
will do when they visit me. Oh how we westerners love our gizmos and
gadgets; I realize that now, I can probably do just fine without them!
As I was saying goodbye to the Embassy men in the late afternoon, we
shook hands and one of them politely commented, "You're one of the top
notch PCV's for positivity." I asked him if he was kidding. He said,
not at all. What a validation! "I'll be living off of that for
months," I beamed at him.

All that said, I'm going to try to do what my friend Lucie has told me
to do and not focus on the negatives. So, a toast to the casualties of
my trampled garden: here's to the future, to new beginnings, new
sprouts, lessons learned, compliments on my positivity, and an
opportunity to… well to do what I'm not exactly sure, but I'm sure
it'll come to me after a few more drinks! Clink Clink! (I'm drinking
ice water. I finally got my fridge working again. Oddly enough, on
very hot days, cold water has the same effect on me as alcohol.

Oh, and this weekend, I got bitten by a tick! It was gross and creepy
and painful… and actually kind of cool, but that's a story for another
day. 'Cause How am I? I am tired.


  1. Sunny! That's so exciting! I'm so proud of you.

  2. good info, I like it and add insight, thanks friend, greeting from Indonesian bloggers.