Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Year 2

I've been told year 2 of Peace Corps service can start out slow. I don't doubt that. Things have come to a standstill as the government strike wears on our tired souls. Schools have reopened but the Xade primary school still runs at half capacity, and with exams on the way,the remaining teachers are worried that our kids won't be able to pass on to the next level of schooling. As a result, priority is given to preparing students for exams and my english club and pen pal program are on hiatus. no news yet on grants for our OVC group either, which is just fine since our volunteers are no where to be found in the first place. the Youth organization fell into a premature coma as secondary students left the village in a mass exodus for the new school term. And I sit at home day after day, typing up a grant proposal one painful letter at a time, sometimes with just my 2 index fingers for dramatic effect. The weather has turned traumatically cold and as one travels throughout botswana, the changing colors of leaves are a nice relief to the normal monotony of greens and browns of the usual desert schematic. it is an awful irony to be sitting on the front porch at 6 in the morning, watching droplets of your breath busily freeze into misty white crystals while pondering what type of nothing you will spend your day doing today. usually after my morning cup of coffee, i crawl back into bed and only get up when I feel inspired to do something.

not all things are down though, the click-botswana blog has gone up and the people there have done an excellent job creating the site http://www.click-botswana.com/blogs.php i'm quite happy with the way it looks, though i think the writing currently leaves something to be desired. my friend Lucie and I came up with the blog title: Stepping up for Botswana.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Greetings! Penpal letters from Spain!

Photo on Left: The chicken Diana and I slaughtered when she visited.

I wish I could post more photos tonight, but internet isn't great. To those of you who receive my newsletters, sorry for the long delay for the April issue! Things have been rather chaotic the past few weeks.

The good news is, the Botswana Book Project has gathered the funding it needs and has sent a shipment of books to Botswana. We will receive them by the end of June and all 3 of the New Xade projects have been selected as book recipients! That means that if I manage to get transportation for our books, the primary school library will receive 7 boxes of books, the adult education center will receive 7 boxes of books, and the S&CD OVC project will receive 7 boxes of books!

I have not yet managed to write something for the click-botswana blog. I'm having difficulty thinking of something to write about and getting inspiration for it. Unfortunately, I have to meet with my friend this week and I was hoping to have something to show him by tomorrow... help?

Our standard 7 students finished their first letters to their penpals in Spain last week! I sent them out a couple days ago and am excited for the schools' response to them. I have to admit, I was a little discouraged about the content of the letters. A lot of students did their best and wrote about their lives, the community, and the school, but a lot of other students copied each other, copied the letters that they received (including sentences like "I am from Spain" and "I am a sikh") and asked for things like clothing, electronics, and a plane ticket to Spain to live with the other students. They wrote things like "We are the poor people," "We don't have money for food," "We are hungry" and other statements like that. In the end these same students signed off with comments like "I want to be your best friend," "I love you 100%" and other words of admiration.

It was disheartened to read some of these letters and a little upset. It would be one thing if people were starving on the street, but I don't believe they are... I think some people in my area, especially some of the kids in my village, have been so conditioned to manipulate outsiders' perspective of their situation for handouts that they feel no qualms about asking anyone and everyone for handouts... and using any method of convincing to do so. I constantly get approached by people on the road or in the clinic, "Wame, I am hungry. Give me food." And it makes me mad that these kids would do this to another kid who lives across the world from them who just wants to be their friend and engage in cultural exchange. Once again-- different if it were true and they really were desperate, but I don't believe they are. The government does too good a job handing out foodbaskets and feeding kids at school. Speaking in such dramatic tones makes a mockery of real suffering. All too common occurrence here in Botswana: I'll walk into an office and see someone working. I'll comment, "Wow, you're working hard" and they'll respond, "Yes, too hard. We are suffering." Suffering. Some people don't really know what suffering is... it makes me sad to people use the word so liberally when there really are people out there suffering.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Truck Breaks Down!


Home alone again for what feels like the first time in months. I’m falling into my old routine again, office, school, learning center, walking around, coming home, eating, eating, cleaning, swatting away little children. After an unwelcome visit by 10 children or so, who, for this first time since I’ve been here I actually see as children and not mysterious little creatures from the bush (which is actually not a good thing since now I’m not hesitant to just kick them out when I want), I’m sitting at home trying to decide what to write about for my first blog entry on click-botswana.com. I’m finding it difficult to figure out. Especially since another child just came over… He literally stood in my door talking and talking and talking while I physically took him by the shoulder and guided him out, then ignored him, then told him straight up to go on home (all of course with a lovely smile). But he didn’t leave. He kept popping his head in and out in and out, talking to me, begging me for things, asking me for things, not leaving, what is this, what is that, what is this called, who gave you that? Can I have a pen (I gave him one last week which he didn’t return) Can I have a book? Can I can I can I... GOOD GOD CHILD, LEAVE.

Thoughts like this one is why I’m finding it difficult to write a public blog… people would think I’m a child-hater.

AUGH. Good energy gone. The time for inspired writing is gone. Now I’m just sleepy and annoyed. Good mood bad. Poop.


What an exciting past few days. I went to Ghanzi yesterday to retrieve some packages. (Thanks so much Dan and Jeannie for the care packages!! I was in material heaven last night sitting a sea of ramen noodles, graham crackers, candy, and other goodies!) I only got like 6 hours of sleep the night before, so I decided to make this trip as simple as possible. Get in, get the packages, get out.

I arrived at the clinic around 7:30am to wait for a ride. I sat there watching cars go by until 9:30. We left some time later and arrived in Ghanzi around 10:30; except we arrived at the hospital which is at least 2k from town. So I and the policewoman had to find a lift into town. I finally got to the post office at 11:30 only to meet a huuugee line. Though the strike is technically over, the employees didn’t get what they wanted so they are continuing the strike, some, like our teachers, are still striking, others have returned to work but are doing a “slow down” that is, they’re sitting there but they’re not working. (I’m told that nationally, 4 people have already died in this country due to the strike. Not sure if that’s true). The post office must’ve been in slow down mode—or I hope so, but I’m not sure cause the post office is usually hella slow anyway. In any case, I waited at the clinic for 2 hours. I didn’t get out till 1:30PM. I’ve learned early on not to count the number of people waiting in line in front of you when you’re in Botswana. The Batswana have a habit of saving their spots, leaving the line, and returning once their spot is closer to the front, so for us that means that as soon as we get in front of the line, people start to appear out of the woodwork, cutting you, the people in front of you, and the people in front of them. It’s miserable if you’ve been waiting on your feet in a crowded, unventilated post office for over 2 hours.

I finally got my package and thought, well it took me 4 hours to get here, 2 hours to get my package, maybe I’ll only have to wait 1 hour for a lift, and then the drive will only take half an hour! Wishful thinking, but it’s nice to wish sometimes. Surprisingly, I really didn’t mind the wait except that my legs were hurting from standing and sitting in an uncomfortable position either on the floor or in a truck all day. I went to the hiking stop and sat down with my book and waited for the ambulance to come. The ambulance came and left and then came back again at 4PM. We departed Ghanzi, made a few obligatory stops at the gas station for paraffin and the grocery store for food, and then we were on our way. I fell asleep cause I was so exhausted and only woke up when the truck shook violently a few times, banging my head on a grab bar on the side of the truck and leaving a couple nasty bruises. About 1.5 hours into the ride the truck shoot again violently then rumbled to a stop on the side of the road. Soon the driver came and let us out of the truck. We stretched and some of us started walking in one direction, I didn’t know what was going on till I saw the truck. The wheel had spun clean off and the truck was at a crazy angle on the dirt road, the exposed gears dug into the sand. Shit, I thought. One of the men with me, who had sat in the front of the truck, said he had prayed to Jesus that we’d be ok in the accident. He told me this with a smile. Then he said, I am Jesus! I am Jesus! I think I knew what he meant but I couldn’t help but be a bit turned off by the way he was proclaiming himself.

The sun was setting a bright crimson red, a sphere of blinding light that I just couldn’t help but stare at as it disappeared beyond the dusty horizon. It was eerily quiet. No sound of animals or birds or insects, just quiet, until a lonely cricket began to chirp. Shortly before the sun completely disappeared, I began walking in the direction of Xade, leaving everyone else behind. I was looking at the wild melons growing on the side of the road and wondering if they were ripe to pick. I wasn’t thirsty though. After I was far enough away, I took a smoke, ate some cookies I had on me, and looked at my phone… 2 bars. I didn’t know who to call or how to ask for help, or even if anyone had called for help already. I glanced back at my company, some sitting and eating, tending their kids, and others wandering around with their phones stretched out like they were looking for water with a stick. I texted another Peace Corps volunteer, the last person I spoke to… “Ride broke down. I’m stuck on the road to Xade.” Useless. I didn’t know who else to call. A teacher? My counterpart? Peace Corps? Finally, I waved over a young girl. “Network!” I said. She replied with a shrug. “Network,” I said again, “e teng” (It is here). She shrugged again and gave me the Botswana sign for “there is nothing.” I insisted again. She responded. “No network.” Finally I waved at my phone, Tla Kwano, come here, Bona, see, Go na network, there is network. She came over, then waved at another girl who also came over. “Call someone” she said. “Who? I don’t know anyone” Call Ofense. She said. I don’t know Ofense’s number. She rattled off the numbers, I pushed them into my phone and then handed it to her, “You talk to him…” A brief conversation, and the girl hung up. He is calling someone to come for us. BX is coming, she said.

Moments later a car passed by headed toward Ghanzi. It stopped to talk to our driver and then kept going. Then another car passed, another, and then another—all in the wrong direction. Some stopped, others kept going. It was getting dark, I was cold, but the stars were out and I wasn’t anxious. Finally, an open pick up truck arrived and stopped. The back was empty. People started talking, The girl pointed at me. I grinned not knowing what to say and pointed to my phone. Was this Ofense? Or had someone called someone else? Did I cause trouble? We climbed in, I lugged my bag full of care packages and goodies with me, suddenly feeling very foolish when there was barely space enough for all of us to fit inside. An old man next to me with his knees up to his chin began coughing and spitting out foamy white sputum. He smoked. I was sure he had TB. His cane poked into my foot as we settled in, and then we started moving. Slowly at first, the wind was cold but the sky was gorgeous. Then a large flatbed rattled in. Pax. Someone had called Pax. The clinic driver jumped out and said he would go with him. Someone else wanted to go to, but one of the young men laughed, you want to sit in Pax’s truck? (I figured he was saying) You’ll freeze by yourself! There was a mumble of assent and we were on our way again. The wind whipping in my hair, the dust getting into my eyes. As we drove, Pax’s tall headlamps followed us all the way to Xade, illuminating the dust that the truck kicked up. Aside from an occasional rumble when the trucks hit gravel, the road was silent. For such a large vehicle, the quiet was odd to me. It was eery. At once the truck’s lights looked like a ghost following us, and an angel. I couldn’t decide which it was, then I decided it was best not to think of these things as I have lately been terrified of the dark.

We arrived in Xade around 7:30, everyone got out of the truck early on except me, the girl I was with, and another man. We stopped at the hostels, the girl came out and we appeared to be waiting for her. Should I get out here? I asked. No the man said. Then we waited some more. Someone came by and shone a flashlight into the truck. Who is there? He asked. The man answered “Roy Sesana, Sefofane, and lekhoa.” Lekhoa, that’s me. I double took—Roy Sesana? The Roy Sesana? Roy Sesana is a famous founding member of the First Peoples of The Kalagadi, the political group that first fought for the San’s rights against relocation. I was sitting in the truck this whole time with Roy Sesana? And Sefofane! A once incredibly active community leader for OVC activities! I was sitting in the truck with my personal heroes, my New Xade legends this whole time! For the rest of the ride, I barely uttered a peep, but when I got out of the truck, I bowed a lot and said a lot of gracious thank yous. They thought nothing of me, helped me out of the car, and were on their way. When I got home, I couldn’t help but shake my head and wonder what opportunities I missed—but then again, I realized that this is me. And I can’t help but be who I am in a place like this. The only things I have here is myself and I’ve to be true to that. I’m a shy, introverted, private person who does not do well with intimidating public figures. I did my best, I didn’t screw up. At least I wasn’t complaining.


We have a new teacher at the primary school. Her name is Mabubi (ma-boo-bee). I can not make this shit up.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Snapshot of my life

I'm sitting on dried curly nuts under a tree tapping into an ngo's
wireless internet that somehow someone forgot to put security on and
now on one in the village has the IT nohow to fix it. I'm stuck
outside of New Xade because the lift I came with broke down. I have
welts on my face from the mosquitos that bit me up last night. I look
like I got into a bad fight. I have cigarettes in one pocket and a box
of matches and my phone in the other. I smell horrible. I haven't
spent quality time in my village in weeks. I have two alternatives
now, wait at the hitching post for who knows how many hours for a ride
(it took me 7 hours to get out of New Xade on Saturday), or go to the
bank, insert my American ATM Card, take out P300 and lend it to the
man who gave me a ride last week so he can buy petrol and bring me
home. I've already lent out P200 to another man to buy car parts. At
this point in my service, pretending that I'm broke is not worth the
cost of being stuck here for much longer. I'm not sure if I'm looking
forward to going home. On the one hand, it's home, I can sleep, I can
wash my clothes, I can bathe. I can eat my own food. On the other
hand, there's no cell phone service, there are bugs galore, and there
are children who harass me for sweets, apples, tea, peace jobs and tv.
It's time to accept it and proclaim it: I am a rich american.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Killing Chickens, Newborn Babies, & Child Labor

I came home from vacation and met Diana, a Peace Corps Trainee who
arrived for service only 3 weeks ago. Diana, a.k.a. Mpho, is one of
around 30 new volunteers who are currently undergoing the 2 months of
grueling language and culture training that me and my friends went
through exactly 1 year ago. I still cannot believe it's been a full
year already.

Diana came home with me to New Xade to see what it's like to be a
Peace Corps volunteer. In keeping with the tradition of shadowing, I
gave her a full tour of New Xade, introduced her to my friends and
counterparts, ran her through a quick synopsis of my weekly schedule
(Uh… I spend a lot of time working from home…) and then had her kill a
chicken for dinner. Though… we didn't exactly kill it. One of my
little friends Bilal (16 y.o. but is so small he could pass for a 10
y.o., when I met him he had dropped out of school and was running
around the neighborhood with a wheelbarrow collecting water and
firewood for his family. Since then, he has reentered school and is
now speaking in broken English.), ran into us at the local bar and
sold us a P25 live chicken which we brought home and tried to butcher
for dinner. After several pictures and many unsuccessful tries, I
realized that we lekhoa are just incapable of killing our own food. I
asked Thato for help. Thato introduced me to Qaasi, a san lady with a
small child on her back who came over and killed the chicken

Batswana style is the most terrifying way of killing an animal I have
ever heard of. Qaasi grabbed our poor chicken (who already had minor
cuts on its neck due to our unsuccessful attempts to give it a quick,
merciful death) by the head and swung it around and around a few
times, like a key lanyard on a college campus. But the chicken didn't
die there. Neck broken and dizzy, it lay there in the dirt opening and
closing its eyes and refusing to pass away peacefully. In the end,
Qaasi had to do this twice before I gave in and cut its throat. The
chicken lay there dying and bleeding as we watched in horror for
nearly 10 minutes. In its final moment, it spazzed, throwing itself
into the puddle of its own blood before finally expelling its last
breath. All the while, Qaasi had a newborn baby tied to her back,
cooing softly. It was the oddest irony I've experienced in a while.
The baby watching us and the chicken with her big eyes the chicken
blinking back, staring at its killers, trying to deny death. The old
cock gasping its final breaths, neck broken. In the end, I told Diana,
I think every American should at one point kill their own food. If I
really took the time to think about it, I probably would become a
vegetarian after this. But no, instead, I took a long time butchering
the animal with Qaasi, defeathering the chicken, cleaning out the
guts, and making chicken fajitas, chicken soup, and roasted chicken.

That afternoon, when Bilal came to drop off the chicken, he and the
chicken's owner a man whose sobriety was slightly questionable, asked
to be given the peace job of cleaning my yard. Alas, after spending
over P500 cleaning my yard this year, the damned weeds are back. He
and Bilal offered to do it for P150, which is P50 less than my last
"employees." Sure, I said. Bilal then tried to bargain with me, "P60,
P60" he said, motioning to him and his older friend. The man made a
look like "Oh my god… no no" he said, "P150". I clarified to Bilal
"P75, P75." And he nodded, thrilled to be given a real job.

Come early tomorrow morning, I told them. Bilal came at 7AM and woke
me up with a gentle call of my name, saying his older friend was out
"drinking tea." Sure, I said. I'm going to clean here, he said,
dressed in an oversized trench coat that reached the ground. Sure, I
said. He confirmed the price, "P75, p75" Sure I said, and went back to
sleep. Bilal woke me up again at 8AM asking for matches. I gave him
some matches and some candy and he disappeared again. At 10:30 AM, I
came out of the house matchless and no one was around. The old man
never showed up. I wasn't surprised, I was actually quite relieved, I
didn't want to pay a man just so he could turn around and drink it
off. I like the young kid and I didn't like the influence these
alcoholics might have on him.

At 12:30 Bilal showed up again with another young boy, this one didn't
look like he could be older than 12. "2" he said, "P150, P75 P75
each!" He said. Sure, I said, and remembered to smile at the kids, and
then went inside. Twenty minutes later, another knock. This time 6
boys at my door. "4!" Bilal said. This one this one this one, not this
one, not this one, he pointed to the youngest boys. The youngest boys
yelled out "5! 6!" in protest. "ok, 4," I said. "You're in charge."
Bilal nodded and then pointed to the boys and motioned to the areas
they were in charge of cleaning. Sure, I said.

Ten minutes later, Bilal again. "I am going to get my wheel barrow."
Sure. 5 minutes later, "those boys are fighting." I came outside, and
the boys argued in mixed Sesarwa and English in front of me. "He wants
to go home!" the one pointed at Bilal and accused. "No, I don't" Bilal
said. They looked at me expectantly and I just stared back. "Aren't
you going to get your wheelbarrow?" Bilal didn't answer. Instead they
two started arguing again, taking the argument out onto the lawn. I
played with the youngest ones until Bilal came back and motioned to
his friends, "The guys are sharp" he said, "Sharp guys! Sharp guys! I
am coming." And he started walking to my gate.

I called after him, sure. Then I reminded him, "You're the boss. You're boss."

"I am boss" he said. "I am working" he said, pounded his shirtless
chest and puffed himself up.

Yesterday, Diana and I went to visit the school. Classes are still in
session, but the teachers are no longer teaching, since they're on
strike. The students are just sitting there, I'm told. As we walked
through the school yard, the kids screamed and poked their heads out,
yelling my name, yelling out Lekhoa and pointing, and asking us for
sweets. As I entered the school office, I caught a glimpse of the
teacher I'm working with. She was at school! I was so thrilled. Last
time I talked to her she said she was on strike and we couldn't do the
program we wanted to because of it.

"You're not on strike!" I said, coming into her classroom with the
wide-eyed Standard 1 students, happy to see her, giving her a hug. The
hug felt natural, it felt right. "I decided not to strike anymore" she
said, "I realized it was useless. We're not going to get anything." I
was so proud of her for working when everyone else wasn't. My old
counterpart, Ntamo, also is refusing to strike. Quality people,
quality friends, I thought to myself. I sure do know how to pick 'em.
As we left the school, we were stopped by a small mob of young girls.
"Wame!" they called out. And we talked in Setswana, me, Diana, and the
girls. I was so proud of my girls, proud of Diana even, proud of
myself for knowing Setswana. They gave us hugs and held our hands and
for the first time since I got here, I didn't feel like they just
wanted something from me. It felt nice to be hugged. It felt nice to
see their smiles. Even the shy ones spoke.

Cough it up to the one year mark, to Diana's presence, to a nice
Easter vacation… must we really ruin things by trying to identify the
cause for this sudden pleasantness of life?