Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It's noon time in the Kalahari Winter and I'm watching a manic ant panic around in circles on my front porch. It reminds me of a donkey that got shot in the ass and is running around in circles unsure of where the shot came from and why his ass hurts. I'm afraid it's D-Day for this ant, I wonder if ants can go insane.

It's too hot to sit outside anymore, but it's way too cold to sit inside. So I mosey inbetween the two. I sit outside with my book until I'm so hot I sweat and break out in rashes, then I sit inside and wrap myself up in a scarf, hat, and gloves until I think my neighbors must think I'm crazy for sitting inside. Usually it's 2 minutes in and 2 minutes out. I'm not getting much done.
Well, I just got back from our MST, or "Mid-service training" with the peace corps in gaborone. Afterthat, I helped a friend to start off a map project in a Baobab school in Gabs, and then after that, I went to a Meet n Greet with Michelle Obama, and then collected 12 boxes of books for my village. Then, it was back on the bus and off to New Xade. It was an exhausting week, but a productive one.

Unfortunately, no one in my village will ever really know what I've been doing. All the comments I ever get are, "Where have you been?" "How was the U.K.?" and "I thought you transferred." I dont know where they get these ideas. I haven't been on vacation for months. sigh. One lady even went so far as to deny me a ride home yesterday, saying the ambulance was full. What a degrading feeling. Sometimes I don't know why I'm here or why I even try to work so hard. That's the biggest problem with being from the states, we try so hard to be efficient and effective, but in this particular post, there are so few resources and projects to work with, it's hard to be efficient and effective. A lot of the work we do as Peace Corps volunteers is behind the scenes, maybe even not "work" but just getting to know people at our own houses. Just because people don't seem me throwing big events and at the front of a large crowd doesnt mean that I haven't given up a lot to be here. What they really want here, I guess, is for me to sit outside and shoot the shit with the locals.

In other news, I have internet access now, after months of running around, gathering bank statements, residence permits, photocopies of passports, making phone calls, visiting the Botswana Telecommunications Center, and calling the lady at the Be-mobile store in the mall (who knows me by name and account number now-- she has photographic memory). I was so happy the day I submitted my contract, then months later, I received my mobile modem, today 4 days later, the modem actually works. Now, for the small price of P290 a month, I can connect with friends and family across the world, submit reports as timely as possible, and look up grant and project opportunities from the ease and comfort of my own (cold) couch. My friend fears I will become addicted soon-- I think she's right. I already feel my mind running 5x faster than normal, running through the possibilities, making lists of people to email, sites to visit, and things to research. Of course it isn't nearly all work, a lot of fun and games too. Let's just say facebook and gmail haven't seen this much activity on my account in one year.

I don't regret not having internet for the past year. In a way, I almost regret getting internet now. My respect goes out to those who still don't have internet or cell phone service and chooose to live that way. I'm not going to sound needlessly down on myself, I have to admit that honestly, my site is one of the more challenging ones, but I have friends here who still don't have electricity or running water. WIth this one development, such a weight has been lifted and I realize just how posh my life is, aside from the terrible transportation situation and the misconceptions (or cynisicm) of my community, I'm pretty well off.

I've picked up a project that I think is much more worth my time now. The New Xade Craft Shop. The Shop is called "Khimahe," in seganacui it means, "To stand on one's own." This enterprise if the baby of a group of people in New Xade how form the board for this organization. The shop buys up products such as eggshells from an ostrich farm nearby and hires local craftmakers to turn the products into jewelry, hunting sets, costumes, or skins such as these:

A peace corps volunteer in Maun has set up an online craft shop with the help of a company in the states. If we can get our quality of goods up, we'll post some things on there soon.

As usual, thanks for all the encouraging letters, comments, emails, and postcards. It's really great to hear from you all and I miss you a lot. Thanks for keeping up with my blog! Given that I'm just over the 1 year mark, I expect I should be writing something a little more introspective and dramatic soon, once I've had some time to digest what's happened to me. For now, i'll just leave you with this haiku:

5 months, no cell phone
12 months, without internet
See you in one year!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The day before June 16, The Day of the African Child, I went with my friend Kago to slaughter the 3 cows we purchased. Some how, the first cow escaped the crawl, so me and 12 guys jumped into a caged pick up and went chasing after it through thorns and over trees, bush, and rock with a shot gun. We were 3 KM into the bush when we got a flat tire and the cow escaped. What a day.

Photo: New Xade Dance troupe before the June 16 performance

A few nights ago, I received a call from a friend in New Xade at 7:30 PM. Ditau raises chickens and paints pictures like me. He paints abstracts about HIV and its effect on the people of Botswana. He bought a copy of "The Gods Must be Crazy" just to show me. "Are you watching the lunar eclipse?" he asked. No. But i didn't tell him that I was already in my pajamas and snuggling up to my blankets in bed. I crawled out of my warm comfort and stood outside in socks and flipflops, my glasses perched on my nose, my breath coming in frost puffs, and looked up at the night sky. Milky way, stars, comets, and most prominent, a bright orange moon looking very much like a half eaten cookie-- the Lunar Eclipse. I got a text from Hannah in Groogtlate and I sent one to another friend in Botswana, "Go Outside. Look at the Moon. It's the Lunar Eclipse." For a moment, I felt like the big blue sky was no longer an infinite stretch of universes, but that it was small and comforting, like a baby blanket I used to hide under as a child, or my dorm room ceiling which I spent countless hours staring at and pasting small plastic glow in the dark stars on. For a moment the sky wasn't a vast stretch of unknown nothingness, but it was the one thing that connected me with everyone I love so far away. It was a moment I never want to forget.

"We don't remember days, we remember moments."

"Remember this moment," my friends here tell me. Good ones are few and far between, but we need them to get by, to remind us of why we're here.


Today was a ridiculous day. Woke up at 5AM after dreaming all night about my top teeth falling out to catch a ride that was supposed to leave at 6AM. I sat outside in the cold morning air staring at the milkyway until the truck pulled out and I cursed my exposed toes for existing and my deluded mind for wearing sandals in a Botswana winter morning. We arrived in Ghanzi just after 8AM, when I quickly bee-lined my way to the Botswana Telecommunications Company to ask them why the data card I put in my iphone last week does not allow me to connect to the internet. The nice lady asked me to call the customer service line who immediately after looking up my account asked me, "are you using an iphone?" Why, yes. I said. She said that they are unable to automatically configure it, but she could give me instructions on how to manually configure it myself. I thanked her profusely, told her she has no idea how much this means to me, and pulled out a pen.

Instructions, simple. Settings> General> Network> APN= "internet.be", Username and Password= Blank. Turn it off, then turn it back on. "Ok!" I said, thanked her again and asked her name. "You are speaking with Wame" she said. "Wame!" I exclaimed, "My Setswana name is Wame!" "AO!" she exclaimed back, "really!" I felt like we bonded and that finally the universe may be smiling at my existence in Xade.

After I hung up on Wame, I tried the simple instructions. Turned my phone off and held my breath. When the phone dinged back on, I turned on safari— no avail, but would I like to connect to the wireless network Thompson718blahblahblahblah? I tried again, Settings, Off, On, Safari. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. Again Nothing. Finally, I connected onto the wifi network in the store and sat, dejected, reading the little snippets of emails that google conveniently shows you on the inbox screen. After a few minutes of surfing my messages but not comprehending much of what I was reading, I returned to the kind lady at the counter and told her, at her inquisitive glance, no, the phone doesn't work, but I guess I didn't expect it to. I'll have to buy another handset. She said, maybe you can try the sim card in another handset. Yes, thank you. I said. And I left the store. At least I tried.

My next stop was the RAC where I had to type and print letters regarding the 10L an hour leak in my bathtub, and a letter requesting assistance from the buildings department for my OVC centre plans. My office—hell no. I went straight to my friend Sentile, and walked in on her having a conversation with her good friend who just accepted a multi-pula job offer with a private American investment company. After she finished her phone call, she looked at me and said, "Wow. My friend thought that the news would make my day, but I think it made me more disappointed. Do you need to use the internet?" She asked. No, just print something. "Go ahead," she said, "I'm going to step outside." Out she went and I took over her computer, scanning her computer for viruses first and updating her anti-virus software as courtesy to her kindness. Letters done and printed, Sentile came back and we vented to each other about our responsibilities and how we always we feel like we have our hands tied. Frustrating. I left her with a convince-less word of encouragement and left to get photocopies, signatures, and deliveries. The photocopies required a mild amount of flirting, a certain about a charm, and a lot of thick skin as I had to appeal to a group of skeptical smile-less women to help me out. "Who are you and what are you doing this for?" they asked me. I'm a volunteer… I said… then quickly added, "With S&CD!" And they silently raised their eyebrows—meaning "OK" in Botswana.

Photocopies made, I walked over to the S&CD offices in search of my supervisor. She was rushing around making coffee or something and refused to look at me for a few minutes. Finally I addressed her in the hallway, do you have a few minutes? No. she said. I am busy. And she ran off again. Ok that's fine. Patience. I thought. Patience. I sat in her office and texted a friend, "Tell me it's ok to crap on my supervisor's desk…" When her office was taken over by a group of people who paid no attention to me, I moved to another office, then another office, then another office, finally ending up in the Chief's office, the head of the department, the man whose office is actually respected. The Chief is a tall man with good looking facial features, thick framed glasses and no hair, always meticulously dressed in a dark suit. I'm scared of him. I sat there for 20 minutes before I realized that no one was looking for me and I ventured out again. I found my supervisor, finally alone in someone else's office and showed her my papers. She responded by asking me about projects that she wants me to do but I haven't done. Then told me I have to find the chief to sign these papers. Um. Ok.

Where is the chief? I asked someone passing by, he's in a meeting. Um. Ok. Well I need these papers signed, it's super quick, just a reimbursement letter. He's in a meeting in old council (6 blocks away), why don't you just have your supervisor sign it. Cause she won't. OH, ok. When will the chief get back? I don't know, he's been there all day. You should just go there. I should just go there. So I went there and I pulled the chief of the department out of a huge important meeting just so he could sign my water reimbursement papers and I cursed my supervisor every step of the way. I came back to Sentile's office to vent. Did you manage? She asked. I told her they made me run around in circles. "Oh shame," she said. Then in walked a new peace corps volunteer whose office Sephiwe shares. Dan, the PCV, and I got to talking as Sentile quickly excused herself, "I think I'm going to cry, I'll let you two catch up" she said and she went out the door.

Yah, things are a little frustrating here, I told Dan. But… doable. Dan and I met other PCV's for lunch at the local lodge where I tried my best to paste a cynical but honest smile on my face and encourage the new ones in their new adventure over the same bland tasting pizza and bland tasting alcohol they serve every time I come here—but at least this place is my own. I call this lodge my home and the servers and receptionists all know me. I relaxed a bit. Then I ran off and the rest of the day pretty much went the same.

Flirting and charming my way into the letter delivery room, having to defend myself against some guy who claimed that I ignored his call one day. Looking for photocopy machines, being bounced from room to room, department to department, asked suspiciously, "who sent you here?" and asked flirtatiously "who are you?" I wound up ride-lessly at the post office to pick up 6 care packages my brother sent me, only to be chased into the office by my friend Kago asking me, "Are you almost done? Pax is leaving now and they are waiting for you outside!!" Ten minutes of waiting later, Isaiah came in with a stern look on his sunglassed face tapping his watchless wrist. A few more minutes of waiting later, we all 3 watched as the Post Office attendant meticulously enter all the packages into the computer system, check the codes, checked the price, stamp stamp stamp stamp stamp, sign sign sign sign sign, and finally give me my ten cents of change before he let us grab the packages and scram. And indeed the truck was waiting. The flatbed pickup truck with no less than 20 local sitting inside staring at me with no less than 20 pairs of local eyes. Isaiah, Kago, and I dragged my care packages behind us in 2 huge bags and tossed them into the truck before climbing in. If I hadn't been already red from the one drink I had at lunch time with the americans, I would've turned bright red just then. But Kago commented merely by saying, " if you were my sister I would do the same." So to my amazing brother, thousands of miles away, thanks. I love you, man.