Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I have a theory that for every activity we do in life, there is a
certain amount of confidence that we must need in order to do it. Each
activity calls for a certain level of confidence to perform. I call
this confidence the "confidence level of activation", for short C sub
A or CA—sort of like the activation energy of a chemical reaction.
At any given moment we have a certain level of overall confidence
(a.k.a. C) that is comprised of two confidences: 1. Confidence in the
self or CI, and 2. Confidence in the outside world, CE, Confidence of
the self is the confidence you have in your own abilities,
competencies, experiences, and energies. Confidences of the outside
world are made up of your confidence in the abilities of others,
including the kindness of strangers, your partners, team members, and
friends, confidence in the situation the specific activity calls for,
and confidence in randomness, luck, God, kharma, the universe or
whatever philosophy of the world you prescribe to.
In order for us to attempt a desired activity, our total confidence
level (C) must meet or exceed the confidence level of activation for
that activity, (CA). Thus, if C ≥ CA, then an activity happens.
It stands to follow that for us to succeed as Peace Corps Volunteers,
the following MUST hold true:
CI + CE ≥ CA
Or else, we will most likely be found stuck in our homes all day
watching the same Friends episodes over and over again.
Example: You are a Peace Corps Volunteer living in a very busy and
urban city. The city is known for its high danger levels. Almost every
day a white person like you is robbed while the locals stand by and
watch (they think you're rich). Your CE is low. BUT, this week, you
have been working out and you feel really good about yourself. You
have confidence in your large impressive body, your ability to fight,
and your keen observation and judgment skills, your CI is high. Every
morning, you have to leave your house at 6am to go to work.
Currently, the sun rises at 5:30 so you have no trouble seeing far
distances that early in the morning. Plus there is a fair amount of
human traffic at that time. The CA for going to work in the morning is
fairly low. Thus when you add CE and CI to get your overall confidence
level C, C is still ≥ CA. You are able to go outside this morning
and walk your regular route to work.
Example 2: You live in a sad little rural village. You've had a rough
few months. Everyone feels sorry for your situation. You can't stop
whining about how things are going. You cry a lot. You feel like
there's something wrong with you, you feel stupid, inept, and a
whiner. You hate whining but you have to do it anyway. Whine, whine,
whine. Nothing you have tried so far has succeeded. You question your
very existence. Your CI is low. You are traveling this week to a place
you don't know. It is a very urban place full of strange looking
people. They speak a language you don't understand; strangers are
stopping you on the street to sell you things, harassing you for
blocks as you walk to get away from them. Every few minutes, you sense
someone's hand in your backpack fishing for your wallet or cell phone.
Your CE is also low. At the end of your travels, you have to go to the
bus rank and start your journey home, but something holds you back.
You don't what it is. The CA for bus travel is fairly low, after all,
all it takes is sitting for a few hours. You're baffled at your
paralysis until you realize… the sum of your CI + CE is far too low to
reach the CA threshold for bus travel. You're screwed. That's an
overly dramatic version of what happened to me on my way home for
Victoria Falls a few weeks ago. But I made it, alive. How? I increased
my CI by theorizing really dorky and inane mathematical equations for
why I am being such a wuss.
Today was "TB DAY" or Tuberculosis Commemoration Day. It was put on by
the VMSAC—I think, though I do believe it was the brainchild of one
motivated person. I was asked to come, though I was busy running
around doing other things during the event. The event "started" at
6:30. 7AM found me moseying to the event site. 8AM found me still
waiting alone at the event site. 10AM found me walking away to another
meeting while the originally scheduled 7AM event was still happening.
1PM found me moseying back to the event just in time for snacks. 2PM
found me going home, lunch still not served. 4PM now finds me sitting
in front of the fan typing this entry and wondering if I should tape a
sign to my door, "Danger: Tired Lekhoa, please come back tomorrow."
Tswee Tswee, Please, Kelapile. Ke kopa go boa Kamoso, I'm tired,
please return tomorrow…
When I walk through the school or see children on the street now,
instead of looking at me suspiciously and whispering, they all give me
thumbs up and big smiles. Today, while I was waiting for the TB event
to happen, a group of 12 children were singing songs, and one of them
was dancing on the way to school. They saw me, paused to coordinate
their musical talents, and then began a roaring rendition of a popular
local song using my name. The kids waved and gave me thumbs up's as
they walked past. When I walked through the school yard yesterday, the
tiniest little people emerged in the doorway, first grade heads
fighting to see me and give me the "thumbs-up." Even the school guard
flicks me his thumb at me as I walk past. I'd like to say I didn't
start this little trend, I'd like to say that I did start this little
trend. Truth is, I don't know how we started this little trend… but,
after 10 months at site, it's kinda sweet when the babies are no
longer running away from me out of sheer horror.
Today, someone called me fat. This time, I said, "Nope. I'm the same.
I'm just wearing a sweatshirt." Take that! insert cheeky thumbs-up
I started to clean the Makgunda from my lawn again. Thato says, now is
the time to do it cause they're still small. They pods don't fall out
as easily, and so the work is less painful and actually somewhat
enjoyable. After the rain the soil is so loose, you can actually walk
around the yard and kick the Makgunda out of the ground. Yesterday, I
spent 3-4 hours bent over pulling Makgunda out from the ground with my
bare hands. It was surprisingly easy and incredibly rewarding. I was
amazed at my own ability to stay bent over like that for so long—that
is until I couldn't walk the next morning.
In one of the forgotten corners of my yard (my plot is shaped in such
an awkward manner that there are many of these forgotten corners) I
noticed that I've not been the only casualty of the Makgunda war.
Spread out among thick patches of makgunda thorns, impaled like
corpses on pikes that ancient cultures used to scare away intruders,
were all manner of buglife—a dead butterfly, a dungbeetle in
mid-flight, a lady bug, bugs with delicate, exposed wings who had the
misfortune of getting snagged on a tiny makgunda spike and left to
shrivel up and die in the hot African sun.
As so much of the tone of this blog has been inadvertently shaped by
this particular weed, I wanted to share a recently discovered fact
about Makgunda that I thought you'd all like. My friend and science
buff Ketelelo says that the Makgunda invasion is a recent phenomenon
and, in fact, when people moved here in 1997, there were no makgunda
plants. Seems domestication and development has had some unforeseen
side-effects. My theory? Due to all the new gated plots protected from
domestic and wild animals alike, makgunda roam free, their growth
ungoverned by the all-important laws of nature.
I woke up this morning and watched a tiny lizard chase mosquitos
around my window. I didn't think I'd be able to sleep last night, I
have a lot on my mind. For one, I wish I had internet access. I really
miss all of my friends and the instant access I used to have to them
and everything that comes with them, escape, familiarity, comfort.
For two (Is that a phrase?) I'm experiencing a situation that seems to
have no right answer. And for three (might as well continue), I am
supposed to go to the CKGR today with the hostel students except no
one has told me what I need to bring, or when we're leaving, or who
I'm going with…
Number one pretty much explains itself. Chances are, if you know me
and we've talked or written sometime in the past 10 months, I've been
thinking of you. Recently I've been craving someone to talk to. Not to
complain or whine but just to talk, to have some semblance of
normality, to laugh. But given that my phone doesn't text to
international phone numbers and I have no email access, I've had to
settle for talking to my brother or blabbing my uncontrollably through
texts to friends here. If you know me, you know that's never good.
Hannah, my friend in a similar remote situation, and I have been
looking into the option of getting a small device called a d-o-n-g-l-e
that would open the portal to the internet world. Unfortunately, she
was recently told by our phone company that such a device is not
available for people in our situation, though internet is not
impossible. If we wanted, we could spend P500 on a modem + P1 for
every MB we download. Fantastic, if we were rich. So for now, internet
is out of my grasp.
2—I have a habit of letting people use my fridge and my electricity. I
try to live my life by the golden rule: do unto others as you would
have them do unto you (Despite popular culture, guys, this rule does
not come from the Bible. I've watched a lot of movies lately that
reference this from the Bible, I don't know where they get that from.
This is more like Kharma, very different from Bible.) Anywho… since
I've been working a lot with the youth lately and enjoy their company,
I've been letting them hang out in my house, even when I'm not home.
At first, I noticed small things. The books on my shelf were out of
order, dishes had been used (but washed!). I didn't say anything. I
figured I should be happy that people feel comfortable in my house.
Then my ipod was getting used, sometimes even taken from my bedroom.
My 2 earbuds are broken. Though in my heart of hearts, I trust the
guys who use my house implicitly, I couldn't help but begin to get
paranoid, noticing things that might have been moved, used, or taken.
Anywho, I wasn't expecting to lend anyone my keys yesterday, but one
thing led to another, and when I came home in the afternoon, my
computer had been used and unplugged, and my ipod harassed. I sent an
sms out that said, Hey I like that you feel comfortable in my house,
but try not to use my stuff…
Another story, I went to the cattlepost with another youth yesterday.
The cattle post is basically a large stretch of land that people have,
in addition to their own homes "in town," where people keep their
goats and cows. I have a youth-friend whose mother stays at the
cattlepost fulltime. I asked her to take me there yesterday, as part
of a language lesson. Normally it's a pretty long walk, a few
kilometers, a few hours. People here sometimes do it every day,
carrying jugs of water, blankets, food, or other items!
The cattle post was so cool. I met my friend's mom, a smart looking
san woman who was playing a traditional guitar-type instrument made
out of an old can, sticks, and wire. I asked her if I could take a
picture or video, and she held her hands out as if to ask for money.
No, mom. Is what I would've said if I were in my friend's position.
I'm not sure what they discussed exactly, but my friend did have a
talk with her mom. After the talk, mom acquiesced and later asked me
take a video so she could see herself. On the way home, we took a
donkey cart. The donkeys were so stupid and terrified by their
situation, that they actually ran into a few bushes and got us stuck.
The donkeys were beaten so badly during the trip that one was bleeding
from a few places. Luckily, my animal-rights convictions aren't very
strong or I would've abandoned ship. One of the ladies who was with us
protested on behalf of the animal and actually did leave.
Overall, the trip was awesome and the donkey ride was so cool. But at
some point last night while I was recalling all this to my brother, I
remembered that during the walk, my friend had my phone and checked
how much airtime I had. She said, wow you have a lot of airtime, and I
thought, I better drill it into her head that that airtime is not for
her to use and that I am not rich. So I launched into a lengthy
explanation of why I had so much airtime on me. Last night as I was
thinking about this, I actually got mad. Why would she think it was ok
to check my airtime? That's just rude. On top of the snooping around
my house, taking of small things, and using my stuff that these youth
already do while I'm gone.
Well anyway, this is my 2nd dilemma. I trust that these guys don't
mean any harm, but I can't live like this anymore. I feel like that
teacher in high school who tries too hard to be everyone's friend. The
horrible thing is, I know that if I stopped being so cool, these kids
really wouldn't come over anymore. And that's sad. So… how do I win?
Can we find a middle ground?
And finally, #3, the CKGR. A few days ago, my counterpart asked me if
I wanted to go with her to the CKGR to deliver the hostel students
back to their parents. I've been wanting to go since the start of my
service, so I immediately said yes. I even stuck to "yes" when, a few
days later, she called to tell me that she could no longer make it,
could I go without her. She said I would be going either Friday or
Saturay, whenever she could finish the arrangements. Every time I
asked her what was up she said she'd tell me later. As of now, I still
have no news about what time I'm going, what I need to bring, and if I
need to prepare my own water or food, pots, bowls, etc. The only news
I have heard is, I might be able to borrow a tent from Tamaga and that
Tamaga will tell me what I need to bring. Well Tamaga, o kae? Where
are you? Lol, I'm sure they're much too busy to worry about little ole
me, so I'll just sit tight until they get around to it.
Oh and I now have a bug infestation. They've gotten into my cereals.
Sad thing is, I'm still eating the cereals anyway. Can't afford not
to. Milk with a side of breakfast bug anyone?
I know this has been a long entry, but I hope you stuck to it so far!
Cause it's worth it. I just got back from the CKGR yesterday and it
was such an amazing trip. Now that I've been there and seen what all
the fuss is about, I feel like I really understand the
relocation/development situation more. And the best news is, people
have been treating me differently since I got back, or maybe I've had
a change in attitude as well?
The CKGR is beautiful and I had the honor of visiting every one of the
settlements there. We were dropping the kids off at their homes for
the school break. We drove the students in a flatbed truck, but they
were so happy to be going back that they didn't seem to mind. I
believe most of them stood up and sang the whole way there! Every time
we got close to a village, the kids would start to scream and sing and
shout out the driver's name. Hurry up! Let's go!! I've never seen the
kids so happy. Best of all, their families seemed equally happy to see
them. I did not see a drop of alcohol out there, and to my surprise
everyone seemed not only sober, but well nourished, well clothed,
busy, and overall, well, happy.
I also got to see some animals. In total, I saw ostriches, springbok,
eland, wildebeasts, gemsbok, snakes, vultures, lots of assorted birds
and bugs, and (supposedly) lions (everyone else saw them, but my eyes
are spoilt by hours in front of the computer monitor so I couldn't see
them ). Unfortunately, I didn't whip out my ultra-cool Nikon D50 and
instead shot photos with my handy Canon Super-Old-Powershot, so I
don't have any quality pictures of animals.
The trip took 4 days and 3 nights to complete. The first 2 nights, the
"crew" and I pitched our tents in the settlements. The 3rd night, we
slept by the side of the highway. Each morning, we'd wake up, break up
camp, start a fire, cook some breakfast (bread, pb&j, beans and
chakalaka (spicy vegetables), and maybe potato chips (French fries)).
We'd drive for a few hours, stopping periodically to let the trucks
cool off (the grass kept getting stuck in the radiator, causing the
engine to overheat). We'd stop mid morning to collect firewood, and
then carry on to the next village. We'd stop for lunch, cook something
simple for the kids (paleche or rice and butternut squash), then we'd
carry on till mid afternoon, pick up some more firewood and then
continue on to our final destination. I tell ya, sitting in a huge
flatbed truck all day can be mad tiring! At night, I would bathe by
moonlight using only a small bowl of water and a washcloth. It was
tough, but it was so worth it.
A few final notes, I got to see lots of snakes getting killed. It was
terrifying. The kids would go running from the trucks every time we
stopped to pee, gather wild berries or fruits, and hunt snakes for
fun. They came out of the bush ones carrying a really fat 4' long
snake that they had just killed and asking me to take a picture. I
didn't want to encourage them (how noble of me ) so I didn't take
any pictures. But the thing was a monstrosity. And finally, I found
out today my mom went to the hospital yesterday from pain. The doctor
thinks it has something to do with her last surgery, something
(hopefully) minor. In any case, if you're the praying kind, please
keep her in your prayers, if not, keep her in your thoughts. Let's
hope that it remains minor.
It's not normal for a 24 year old grown "woman" to be afraid of
thunderstorms. Something got into me last night and I shook like a
child. I used to be deathly afraid of the dark. I would hide under
layers of blankets until I fell asleep sweaty and exhausted at night.
My dad installed a night-light and curtains for me, to give me the
illusion of safety, but the noises of the wind at night scratching
against my windows and doors and the shadows cast by my furniture,
clothing, and even the bed itself would sometimes haunt me until sleep
overcame. The one feeling I know now that characterized this fear was
loneliness. I would sometimes scream, but most nights I lay in quiet,
my mind telling me that my imagination was being irrational. I learned
at an early age to overcome fear in solitude. Even if I screamed, I
knew no one would come for me but my own boogeyman, humiliation and
shame, and worst, dependency.
I regressed last night. It's like my mind wasn't even in my own head.
I was 8 years old again, hiding under the blankets. The darkness of
the sky took hold of my house and shook it with a force I'd
experienced many times before but not in this way. Even as I lay in my
bed with my eyes wide open, I could see nothing. It was like being
dropped in a hole a mile deep, like lying awake in hell. Once in a
while, lightening lit up the sky and my room and I saw shadows,
glimpses of what was there and what wasn't. Up until my teenage years,
I imagined uncontrollably that a man was following me around
everywhere I went, his twisted, boney face blurred by the window panes
at night. Last night, he didn't return, but other things did,
characters that seemed intimately familiar but I couldn't recognize, a
man with his mouth stitched shut, the crusts of blood and dirt still
clinging to his pallid face where a dirty needle penetrated his skin,
a woman, a corpse of her past, haunted by melancholy, the very
personification of loneliness and gloom, my greatest fear of becoming.
They wandered around my room, in the windows, in the shadows, looking
for nothing in particular, silent, as if in a daze, figments of my
imagination, and they knew it. As soon as they came, they would
disappear, like the lightening as it struck earth. I fell asleep with
my hall light on and my ipod shouting in my ears. When I woke up, the
sky was calm and the moon was bright once again.
When your impression of the world pops like a bubble…
Go for a walk.
That seems to be my MO. When things get overwhelming, I walk in one
direction without stopping until I am too tired to keep going. It
gives me time to think, something new to see, mellows me out to get
away by myself, feel adventurous, maybe a little dangerous. Back in
the states, I used to just get in my car and get lost somewhere in the
city. Senior year of college, during exam week, I drove west along
Lake Michigan until it got dark. Today I went into the Bush north of
home and kept walking, following the cattle tracks, until I could no
longer decide whether to keep going or turn back. So I sat where I was
in silence for a few moments. Who'd have thought that way out there in
the bush, there would be so many people? I ran across a bush house
complete with fence, metal doorframe and metal door. It was just out
there, no tire tracks, no footprints leading to the front door. It was
a little eery. And actually, I first noticed a wad of rags and
clothing stored up in a tree near the house. I was scared for a moment
because I thought there was a person up there watching me, taking a
nap, or worse, dead. Then I noticed all the spiderwebs on it and
figured, it was just a bunch of rags. I kept going and ran into a
hobbled donkey who stared at me for as long as I stared at him. It
felt like it should've been one of those enchanted moments where
little red riding hood wanders into the woods and meets a magical
talking creature. The donkey didn't talk, nor did it impart or
otherwise inspire any wisdom. It just freaked out a little bit and
hobbled away awkwardly behind a bush. It had a cowbell strapped to its
neck. I guess somewhere out there, someone doesn't want to lose this
particular donkey. I think it watched me walk away from behind the
shrubbery, like I used to do when I was a kid spying on other kids and
I thought no one could see me if I hid behind a tree. A few minutes
later, I heard people's voices. I couldn't figure out where it came
from, but I tried to hide behind a bush. I felt ridiculous. I mean,
who tries to hide from a bushman in the bush? They probably knew
exactly where I was before I even heard them coming. Once the people
got close, I tried to hide behind a shrub, turns out they were just
kids and they started running away as soon as they got near me. So my
little adventure into the bush wasn't so adventurous after all, turns
out I was in someone's back yard the whole time. Here's the kicker, I
even had cell phone reception.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
When I decided to accept my peace corps invitation back in february 2010, I remember thinking to myself, Hell, girl, this isn't going to be easy. But I consoled myself by telling everyone else, I'm not doing this for the day to day enjoyment, I'm doing it for who I'll be when I get back.
I can tell you now, after 10 months, the statement still holds true, but in a lot different a way than I expected. When I left Philly so many months ago, I left a confident, cocky, tight-assed, woman with a mandate to send a message to the world. I wasn't exactly sure what that message would be, but whatever it was, I figured, would be phenomonal, world changing, in-your-face type stuff. I was a rebel without a cause, a self proclaimed lonely savior of society, the bearer of some cosmic truth. I was a punk.
Today, as I sit on a friends' couch and contemplate the past months, I realize that I am no longer that woman. In a way, I am a deflated shell of that person-past. Here, I am nothing. I have nothing going for me. I have no special talents, I don't have a sparkling personality. I am neither respected for my skills nor admired for my intellect or humour or good will. My shortcomings are not only blown out of proportion here but take more precedence in the way I am esteemed by every person I pass on the street-- I am short, I am fat, I am asian-looking, I have no lineal claim to American identity, I am good for two things-- making babies and giving an african man a passport to the states. In short, I feel sometimes like a piece of meat.
Some women here have managed to rise above the catcalls on the street, the constant feeling of dirtiness and nothingness. Some people don't mind having to flirt with 10 different ment in order to get signatures. I feel like a dirty whore. Some people manage to laugh about the situation, some people find projects to get invested in, people to become friends with, a grant proposal or job report to become immersed in, children to bceome obsessed with. I see the children in my schools and towns, and their tattered clothes and greedy eyes, dirty hands, hungry hearts don't shake me up inside anymore. I look away, I avoid contact, I walk faster, I cross the street. I enter the schools and recognize children by their ripped clothes, the same pink underwear or old donated boy scout uniform they wear each day and I am thankful for the familiarity.
Before,everyday, I felt like I had a future. A place to be, a destination to reach, a rainbow at the end of my journey, and at the end of that rainbow, a pot of gold guarded by the soldier of hard work and good fortune. Today, my future is today's evening. My present is my past. My past is an unattainable blur. Each day brings small successes or great deflating failures. The unexpected can be adventurous, even if it is something as small as a bat in the living room, a knock on the front door, or a new flower on an old plant. I have become someone who turns to anyone and everyone for support and advice. I have become someone who strains to listen intently to every conversation, take notes on people's suggestions, and gives no advice, brags no success story, and has no words of wisdom. I do what I can when I can and on days where things are just not going right, I cut my losses short and head home for the bubble bath.
Progress to me means getting a ride out of my village with a different truck, rather than the same old naueating lifts. Progress means getting a gas tank with less than 48 hours of grueling footwork to get quotations, paperwork, signatures, and carbon copies. Progress to me means stepping out of a classroom feeling as though one student out there got something out my lesson, even if 10 failed to show up at all. Progress is learning Jessica's name and encouraging her to write even though she may be one of our worst students. Progress is receiving an email from an unknown stranger who found my blog or sitting in a bus next to an educated motswana and having a conversation about the village I'm in and receiving an unexpected blessing and word of gratitiude.
I came to school last Monday afternoon for English Club and found that not only the teacher I was working with wasn't there, but neither were the students. I wasn't suprised. I merely smiled at the kids milling around the school yard, sat down on an old tire under a tree, and opened a chidlren's book I borrowed from the local educaion center. I started to read "the Giving Tree" out loud and a crowd gather to look at the pictures and repeat every sentence I read out loud. It was probably the best English Club I've ever had.
I guess moments like these is what makes the Peace Corps the "peace" "corps." I'm finally starting to accept in my heart that to survive in this service, you have to give up all hopes of a grandiose and trumpeting celebration of the service of humanity and instead realize that it's the day to day life that matters the most here.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
This is the first of a number of updates directed to all of you who
are registered as recipients of the 2011 Book Container, which is
tentatively arriving at the end of June. As soon as I have a better
ETA, I'll send it.
The selection in this container should be the best EVER as I am
spending 3 weeks in Atlanta Georgia, home of the BFA warehouse (my
supplier). I am personally selecting the majority of books, although
the Kirkwood High School in Missouri has collected 5,000 children's
books in a massive book drive and they are delivering them to me this
week. That means I only need to choose about 20,000 from the warehouse
Such back breaking work but such fun, too!
I've been updating the Botswana Book Project website with the latest progress…
The only snag left at this point is that we are short by $5,000 in our
shipping fund at Books For Africa…so we need cash before we ship!
I'm asking you all to contact anyone at home (USA), family or friends,
who might contribute even $10.00 to the fund. The little donations
add up as I found out last year, when over $6,000 was donated in small
amounts by generous Americans over an 8 week period.
All they need to do is look at www.booksforafrica.org and click
"DONATE TO PROJECT", then click "BOTSWANA".
The instructions there are clear as to how to make an online donation.
Be sure to check out the www.botswanabookproject.org website to read
some of the letters sent by Peace Corps volunteers. Those letters
keep me going with my efforts. They are so eloquent as to the need
If you wonder what the warehouse looks like, I'll be updating the
website every night with photos…over the past 2 days I selected and
volunteers boxed over 3,000 books… Hundreds of picture storybooks,
easy readers, novels for young readers and for teens, health and
medical books, and many general library books. Everything in
excellent condition! I will continue to select books until the 20
pallets are full...about 25,000 books