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.