Friday, April 27, 2012

5 Weeks 6 Days left and I'm still not Mother Teresa

They say the first 3 months of service and the last 3 months of service are a roller coaster. I'd have to disagree with this statement and say that the first 2 4 months of service are a roller coaster, the last 3 months so far have been the most consistent... in fact this last 3 months feels like a straight, constant acceleration to hell.

The past couple weeks or so have been a slooooow painful blur of anguish, frustration, and mostly anger.  Nothing in Botswana has changed, except me. When confronted by a project I once long ago was involved in, I respond with a sigh, or a grunt, or a disinterested mumble if I have to do something. Even my facebook status updates and comments are filled with petty, unjustified digs at the people around me.

I had a wake up call yesterday. I have those periodically when a friend, stranger, family member slaps me upside the head and says, "hey! you! wake up!! you're being petty and we can't stand it any longer!"

I realized what was really bothering me: I'm leaving... and I can't wait to leave.

What bothers me isn't that I'm leaving, is that I am so head over heels ready to go. I joined the Peace Corps as an idealistic middle class suburban Jersey girl under the disillusioned idea that I was beginning my journey towards being the next great martyr for society, a new Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, that lady scientist who lived with the apes. I thought I would discover a new home, I would adopt a new family, I would learn the language, customs, cultures, I would come home with my suitcases delicately balanced on my head, wearing leathers, and dancing to the beat of African drums, one child on each arm. Instead, I came, I saw, I cowered. I peeked out from my fortress of solitude, with heavy double curtains to block out the hot african sun and peering african eyes, I saw poverty and my heart was overwhelmed. I did what I could, but there is so much need, it could never be enough. I can never do enough.

Here's a metaphor...
Last week, my parents' generous friends sent a box of children's toys to the school, including 7 plastic kites. Worried that the kites would walk off on their own, I decided to introduce the kites to the kids myself. But there are nearly 300 kids in that school, and I have 7 kites. Being great and generous and wanting to serve the poor is wonderful, but when approached by a crowd of hungry people when you only have 1 basket containing 5 bread loaves and 2 fish and no Jesus-miracle in sight... you have 3 choices:

1. give everyone a crumb and then get torn to pieces
2. leave the basket and run for your life before the crowd tears you to pieces
3. stay and turn those 5 loaves and 2 fish into feast yourself

The past 2 years, I have been defaulting to option #2. Leave the basket and run. Literally. I've been bringing in small programs, activities, and supplies and dropping them like a sniper would target a victim out of a large crowd, drop him, and move on. Why, just the other day, I brought in 2 footballs to the hostel students, all 100 of them, left them with the matron, and before the kids could see me, ran. Within days the balls were deflated.

I wish I had had more courage to stand and face the onslaught this past 2 years. Maybe, if I had opened myself and become more vulnerable, I would be prouder of myself, prouder of the village, closer to its people, more satisfied, more ready to go home. Instead, I'm ashamed. I'm not Mother Teresa. And I'm unlikely to reach her level of sainthood, at least not anytime soon.

Peace Corps has been a humbling experience. Even though people tell you your whole lives just how insignificant you are, somehow, you want to believe that you're special, that you can make a difference, that you can be the change. But effort after effort, you realize, the world is just too big. Yours is just a drop in the bucket of change. Not even Mother Teresa could cure suffering in Calcutta, she could only relieve it for some, but she inspired a generation.

Today, I am grateful for the efforts of the over 200,000 currently serving and return Peace Corps Volunteers, for all the missionaries, sponsors, volunteers, teachers, tutors, and after school program assistants I know who are doing what they can to contribute to that bucket, to help our society become the equal, wonderful, peaceful place I hope it can be one day in the future. It's salvation to know that my puny efforts are not all there is.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Yesterday, 4 children ran away from the hostels, among them, a 7 year old girl who is still missing. The search party looked until nightfall, but could only find her footprints, circling theirs. They gave up at 8:30 PM. It rained last night, and I lay under layers of sheets wondering about that girl in the rain.

Today, the young boy I've been helping, the one he says that he's 19, the one that cleaned my yard, the one that I'm trying to get back into school, the one who hangs out with 8 year-olds and comes up to my chest in height, who looks like he could be 8 himself. He came over and asked me for condoms. Then he told me he was 24, and that I was 25. And that he was hungry. I gave him condoms and told him to find food elsewhere. I asked him if he was having sex. He nodded. He said, after the sun goes down, he has sex in the huts. I said who with. He shrugged, I don't know, he said. I told him to look for a girl who is not young, a girl his age, a girl who he cares about. He said yes. yes yes. I told him to always use a condom. To always ask. Not to rape. Yes, yes yes. I asked him if he knew how to use a condom. Yes. I asked him if he knew what i was saying. He said yes. Then he told me again. He was 24. There are no girls in Xade that are my age. He said. You are 25. I said yes. He said, I'm hungry in sects. What? I asked. I'm hungry, he  said. In sex.

I stood there, leaning on the screen door, classical music wafting out of my house. The screen door squeaked as I tried to hold it still against the wind. Who takes care of you? I asked after a short pause. He looked confused. Who do you live with? No one. He said. Your mother? Yes. Your sister? Yes. You should find someone to talk to about these things, an older man. Yes, he said. Serala? (his uncle). Serala is in Ghanzi. He said. I turned my head to look away from him. How old are you? 24 he said. You told me you were 19, then you told me you were 16. What year were you born? What's that? He asked. Your birthday, when is your birthday. Ninteen... Nineteen Ninety One he said. And this year is what? I asked. Two Oh One... Two. He nodded. So you are... nineteen. I told him. Yes. He said. How old are you? Nineteen, he said. Ok...

We stood  there, the screen door squeaking, and then I turned my head away from him and stared at nothing, thinking about what my neighbors have told me about his drunken mom and his younger siblings. Wondering if it would be the right thing for me to cry, or if it would be the wrong thing not to cry, for him, for the girl, for the future. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him, bending his back over my porch railing. For a moment, he no longer resembled the young boy who I've been giving jobs to and talking to, trying to mentor. He was an old wrinkled man, just like the many old wrinkled men in the village. No shoes, tattered clothing, the smell of tobacco, alcohol, and smoke clinging to him like body odor. Bent over. With no name, with no age. Soliciting me for sex. 6 in 10 are HIV positive. I realized that despite all of my half-ass attempts to change his life, this young boy who knew barely any English was going to turn into that old man, was already that old man.

Despite my feeble attempts, young children are still going to run away from here and men are still going to resign to stay here for the rest of their lives. I hadn't tried very hard, I hadn't tried hard enough, or there was nothing I could do anyway. Me, this naive girl traveling around the world and throwing money at problems because I'm too afraid to really care.

Oh yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy'd,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

LIV, In Memoriam A.H.H., Tennyson

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sean T's Rock Hard Abs

If I knew as many curse words as Artie Goldstein on Entourage, I would insert them here.

I've been cranky lately. And on top of it, working hard. After tireless photo sessions, countless walks back and forth to the school, and many many phone calls, I managed to procure the oh, 20 documents I needed to make a claim on the damaged computers. Except I made one fatal error--

"After having relayed the matter to Insurers & assessing the merits of the claim, it is noted that the incident is covered by Insurance Certificate 120000000038. However, the claim amount falls below the agreed deductible (Excess); therefore we are unfortunately unable to assist you in this particular instance."

I'm afraid that I'm losing myself. Recently my attitude has suddenly changed from the all-obliging volunteer to the cranky indignant American. People come over and I'm immediately pissed because people here don't inform you beforehand that they're coming, and even if you did there's a 1 in 2 chance they won't come at all and a 1 in 4 chance they'll come late or the next day or send someone else in their stead to charge their phone or pick up meat or ask you to do them a favor. If you don't answer the door immediately, they knock incessantly and ask "were you sleeping??" and regardless of whether or not you were indeed sleeping, they walk right in (even if you're physically blocking the doorway, or you're eating dinner, or you're standing there in a towel about to take a shower, or a dump for that matter); they sit down, and look through every bag, book, box, and binder that's within arm's reach as if your house is a child's museum. Welcome to the exploratorium! Go ahead, touch everything I own and ask me if you can have it. I resist the urge to snatch whatever item is of interest and say "That's not for you," every time. 

On top of it all, I'm also suddenly super sensitive to the attitude certain people take with me, expectant, lording, indignant, supervising. It's as if suddenly my eyes have been opened to the different way people treat me here, especially when you compare the way they treat white men. When a white man walks into the room, everyone almost literally cowers. People are afraid to speak, everything the man says is right! But when I'm alone with them, the attitude suddenly becomes superior and at times bullying and I have no choice but to get defensive or submissive. 

I.e. it takes me 2 years to get the attention of my supervisors to fix my pipe, a man from PC calls and suddenly, they're on it! And I look completely inept, because it's assumed that I just wasn't aggressive enough with them. Another example? A motswana visits MY village and then scolds me for not accepting a chair (apparently a cultural faux pas) by literally pushing her finger into my chest. "You have to adapt to OUR culture" she tells me. But as soon as a white man walks in to discuss work matters, she grows as silent as a mouse, then gets up to fetch the men tea. I wanted to bite her. 

AND this proves to be particularly difficult if you're trying to work with both a white man and a local woman, because they won't directly and clearly communicate with each other! The white man walks away and you're left with the local womansuddenly asking you all these questions that should be directed to the white man. When you ask the white man for clarification he looks at you and says, I'm confused didn't we clear that up? And when the white man is supposed to get a lift from a local truck, and the local truck somehow can't manage to give that person a lift because he's too afraid to communicate what the problem is, you get a phone call 30 minutes before you're supposed to meet saying "hey so and so never called me and I'm stuck here... 108km away, where is he?" and you have to be the person to find out what happened and say "hey, sorry, so and so left already."

I am a bearer of grants here to provide people with freebies and make pizza and boil tea. Please, oh dear country, walk alllll over me, because I am a woman and it is my honor in life to serve YOU, dear man. And, Oh you're griping to me that you have to clean your own house because you don't have a WIFE? I'm soooo sorry for you!!! POOOR BABY!!

*It wouldn't be fair though, dear readers, if I just left you with this impression of Botswana though. There are plenty of people who are great, intelligent, kind, generous people who understand that I'm not just here to give them stuff. And to them, I am eternally grateful for making my life here as enjoyable as possible.

I used to work out to blow off steam, but lately, I have been pushing the limits of my body and still can't do what I want to do. So in addition to being mad at the whole world, I want to punch Sean Friggin T in his rock hard abs for making me do push up abs

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Insurance Claims and Ellipses...

Some days I'm amazed at how productive one can be in one day and still have so much free time to be bored...

I collected documents and sent pictures to the computer insurance company today. I'm trying to claim insurance on one CPU unit and 2 monitors that broke pretty badly on the way from the UK to Africa. They should be worth about 200 US Bucks; every little bit counts when we're living in the bush. We could use that money to buy power supplies and other things if we can't physically replace those computers. I've been in touch with the freight company, the computer donation company, and the school trying to coordinate papers and other things. We're also missing a couple of wires...

In between emails, I read, watched Gossip Girl, ate, caught up on news, and lay out in the sun purposefully for the first time in a long time to try to get rid of my horrendous tan lines. I'm not normally one to care about these things, but there's a strapless dress my mom bought me right before I left that I'd like to fit into and look good in when I get home... and when your mind is at home 50% of the time you're here and you haven't looked nice in anything for 2 years, you tend to think and act on things like this...

Around lunchtime, the phone network went out and I am embarrassed to say that I panicked. You never know when things go out
here when they'll come back on. Last time the phones went out, I was without communication for over 2 weeks. Which is all fine and dandy if you're prepared for it, but if you're in the middle of making a well-delayed insurance claim and you don't know if someone's trying to reach you, or you have deadlines, or if your email actually went through with all of its 20 or so attachments, you start to panic...

Makes me realize how I took so many things for granted in the states... and to think that almost everyone now has a smart phone? My friend laughs when I tell her that I don't think I'm going to get one when I get home. YOU? she asks, incredulously. She has a point. I like being connected, but connected, all the time? What's the point? And how am I going to afford it anyway...

This is an ellipses day...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I'm sorry for the relative wordiness of my last blog entry. I read somewhere that one way to cope with my impending departure is to blog every day. Yesterday was a long day.

I'm realizing now what it means to live in the moment. To appreciate every second of your day. And for me, that doesn't necessarily mean being outside in the sun all day, walking around and meeting people. I used to think that was what I was supposed to do. One of the last volunteers here knew almost everyone, spoke the language, was always out getting sun, meeting people. I used to feel guilty when I stayed at home. I realize now, I'm not that special. I'm not "the world's best PCV," I'm me.

My heart and my mind straddle the gap between being here and being at home. Today I was "in and out" of New Xade, Botswana. When I spend time "in" New Xade, first it's a little scary, I'm constantly wondering who I'll meet, what I'll have to say, what kind of cultural faux pas I will commit today... then it's comfortable, I remember that I've been a part of this community for years, I recognize friendly faces, people forgive me for my American obnoxiousness... then I'm reminded of why I am disenchanted by this place in the first place, as people start to ask me for my clothes, for my supplies, for my number, for me to cook them dinner; finally, I retreat back to the comfort of my home. I recollect, I connect with friends who keep me grounded, I find my smile again.

--a cycle that I have come to understand and accept more and more. I guess part of growing up is realizing your limitations. In a way, I wish I had joined the Peace Corps when I was older and more mature. I would've been able to integrate more, accept people's shortcomings, get deeper into my service... but life is what it is, and being a young PCV, I am able to handle some things better than I probably would have if I were older, i.e. the rough transport, the lack of food options, the initial absence of phone service and electricity.

I think tomorrow will be a stay at home and recollect day.

It's amazing what kind of connections your mind makes out of bullshit when you're tired at night. Last night I had all sorts of interesting wonderful things floating in my head, at least I thought they were interesting and wonderful... This morning I woke up tired and lethargic and curious, what one earth was I so excited about last night?

Yesterday, I went to Ghanzi to meet with the Permaculture folks, an organization I am working with to help start a garden at the school. I woke up, went to the street outside my office at 7:30 am and waited there for a lift. 20 minutes later, I walked to the space in front of my office and waited there for a lift. 20 minutes later, I walked to yet another corner and waited there. 20 minutes later I moved even further away. The idea is, if you know someone from the government who is leaving, you can hang out near them (clinic, offices, kgotla, etc.) and see if they go. If they don't go, you can move further away towards the edge of town and try to catch private vehicles. But the catch is, if a government vehicle passes you and see you with a lot of people waiting for a private vehicle, even if they want to take you, they won't stop because there are too many people there. I couldn't decide what to do, so I basically paced the length of New Xade for 2 hours.

Finally at hour 2, I found Parks, our S&CD driver and all the students he's supposed to take back to Ghanzi today. I waited with them, and asked him for a lift. The truck was super crowded, but my counterpart gave his seat up for me. He would go to Ghanzi in the afternoon. Score!

At hour 3, we still hadn't left and I was starting to wonder if I should go at all. Finally, at 11AM, I watched as over 100 students piled into the back of this vehicle with Parks supervising the whole way. Parks was stressed. Too many students, not enough space. Ideally, he would take half and then drop the other half off, but he was also asked to go to another village that day, so he refused to split the trip in 2. In the kids crammed. First all of their stuff went on the floor of the truck. Then, methodically (thanks to Parks improvised tree-whip and the fact that he sat at the back of the truck and threw shit at the people who disobeyed him), the kids got in and sat in each other's laps in neat rows. The extra kids squeezed in on the sides and on top of the trucks and gas barrels. I was scared for them, especially since a couple of my friends were the ones who sat thus precariously perched. I looked at Isaiah, the lorry attendant and asked him if they'd be ok. "No," he answered. "If we tipped then these guys are gone." He pointed to the kids with their legs hanging out like breadsticks out of a bread basket. "How about them?" I pointed at my friends 30 feet above us rocking back and forth on top of the gas barrel. "They're fine."

We headed off, stopping every few minutes at first to let Parks grab his tree branch and whip the legs and feet hanging out the edge of the truck. Finally, we arrived in Ghanzi at 12:30PM. I called the woman I was going to meet but she was already in another meeting. I was starving, so, naturally, I went grocery shopping and bought way too much food, including a random find: lamb legs for P17, around 2 bucks. Then I grabbed a packed lunch from the grocery stores, a mix of bean and maize called "Dichobe," chicken grease called "Sauce," and coleslaw and beet root, called "Salade." I made my way to a friend's place, even though she was on vacation. Luckily she let me her key so I could use her house in her absence. I sat outside and ate lunch with her dog and fed her bits of beef gristle.

When I went inside, I was confronted with a nasty nasty smell and a puddle of blood under her fridge. I went back outside and chose to finish my lunch before figuring out what to do. In my head, I debated, clean this or leave clean this or leave. I couldn't just leave it. So I held my breath, and went in to investigate. The fridge was hot and everything inside felt like it had just been cooked. The meat in her freezer (including bits of a cow's udder) had melted and left the blood all over the floor. Flies buzzed. I grabbed a mop and went to work, then threw everything out, propped the fridge open, and got out of there. Before I left, I remember to grab 5 hula hoops that my friend, Chloe, made from PVC piping. I had asked her to make it so I could give it to the hostel kids for some after school recreation.

Thus leaden with bags of groceries and 5 hula hoops wrapped around my neck, I rushed to the Rural Administration Center with "my" dog in tow. The Dog followed me into the offices with the stares of people which I ignored. At the RAC, I was meeting my friend Tshepo, the youth officer for New Xade. She asked me to bring some of the officers some money and airtime. I, in turn, made photocopies and asked her to bring the hula hoops when she comes to New Xade. I unloaded and headed off to the post office where I was to pick up a package and meet Permaculture.

At the Post Office the line was long and I was high on adrenaline (and accompanied by a dog). So I stood in the back until I saw the Post Office attendant, who immediately waved and said "Yeah Wame!" and I yelled back quickly, "I'm here to pick up a package do I have to wait?" I suspected that the package was a box of toy donations from friends of my parents. I handed him the package slip and he disappeared for a while. I sat with my dog. Finally he returned, "You actually have 3 packages, and they're bigger than you!" he said. As he hoisted the first box on the counter he announced, "AND HEAVIER THAN YOU!!"

Luckily, Permaculture has a truck, and in the interest of time, I had asked them to meet me here. LUCKILY.

I signed for my 3 packages, paid my package handling fees, and met my friend Margret from Permaculture outside. We put my stuff in the back of her truck and headed to the hiking stop to unload. There we met my friend Itekeng who I asked to look after my boxes. I went back into the truck and Margret and I went to her offices. At the offices, Margret, Mr. Mokwati, the founder of Permaculture, and I discussed concerned they had for my garden project proposal. Then, as I was about to leave, my friend Dieter, who was also involved in the project, appeared. i sat back down, hands flirting with my phone to make sure I didn't miss a lift. Once the conversation dove into the technical aspects of the project, Mr Mokwati, sensing my panic, told Margret to send me back.

She drove me back to my stuff and there was the clinic ambulance waiting. I talked to the driver who said he'd give me a lift no problem, and left the larger than life package with Margret, since she'd be coming to New Xade tomorrow. Problem solved, so lucky.

I waited there with my peace corps friend Hannah who was also in from the settlements and swatted bees from my ginger beer (a soda made from ginger and sugar). After she left, I ventured off quickly in search for P20 airtime which my friend Mhaka had asked me to pick up for him. There was no airtime in New Xade, apparently. I found a teenage girl who ran a street shop. She had P20 airtime, but didn't have change for my P100 bill. So in an effort to live in the moment and save some time, I bought 3 P20 airtime cards and a bag of local spinach for P67 and took the rest of her change. She was so happy that I could speak setswana, she just smiled and smiled. When I got back to the hiking spot, my friend Serala arrived. Serala is an electricity worker for Ghanzi and uncle of one of the kids who frequents my house. We discussed matters from the school, to travel, to living in tents, to the kid's future schooling. He left, and soon after, we were on our way.

In the back of the ambulance, we were crammed like sardines, which was awesome when we stopped to pick up another person. The driver had to chase away other hikers, saying that Parks was coming, which indeed he was. He was right behind us. The ambulance was full of one person, a large lady whose boobs were so big they rested on her thighs when she lay down. She wasn't really sick though, or maybe she was but she had a good attitude. She was laughing and eating fried chicken. Then I found out why she was laughing, the whole back of the ambulance was sharing a six pack of beer. They told me not to tell the authorities and as they finished the bottles they threw the evidence out the window. Sitting across from me in the ambulance was a man who screamed at me to be heard. I still didn't hear him. I learned he was a cowboy from the other side of the country, he was a kalanga. He learned english from a Peace Corps volunteer in Dukwi when he was little. He talked and talked and talked between sips of beer and I nodded even though the rattle of the truck reverberated in my head louder than anything he was saying. Finally I pretended to fall asleep and rested my eyes and tried not to get car sick.

We arrived in Xade as the sun was setting and as usual, I got let off at my side gate which is usually locked. But today it wasnt. the Lock had broke and was sitting there looking pathetic.

At home, I unloaded my goodies in the fridge (YAY I have a fridge!) and went online in search of company. An hour later, my friend Kago arrived. Lately we've been working out together every night for about 30 minutes. Simple things, just to get him started on the road to being buff. He's been visiting the doctor pretty often for random pains in his chest and I had started to worry about him. We worked out. and it was short, and usually it's easy, but I was so tired I was surprised how difficult it was. Afterwards both he and I just lay there for a few minutes.

I'm going to write more about the packages I received later when I can give it due attention. But I want to say now that even with the excitement of yesterday, the highlight of my day was the generosity I experienced from the package senders. Boxes of toys and school supplies from people I've never met. Who have never been to New Xade, who just felt in their hearts it was good to give. Kites and Lego's and stuffed bears, things that the kids here have never ever seen before in their lives. My dad sent me an email later that night saying that, when he was a kid, missionaries had brought over small things like Christmas Cards that he remembered even now.

Before I left Ghanzi, I showed the kites and a make your own volcano kit to Ketelelo, the youth who works with the orphans in New Xade. He loves science and yet he's never seen anything like these items. His eyes grew wide. I wish he were in New Xade full time, so I could play with these things with him now, but he went back to school yesterday. I told him I'd leave them for him, in case I dont see him here before I leave. I wish I could be around when he gathers the little kids around him and explodes the volcano... or stands outside and lets the first kite go up in the air. The excitement on the kids faces... it would be like something out of a movie. That night, Kago looked at the kites too. He said that when he was a kid, they used to watch white kids flying kites from afar. They tried to copy the kites by making their own, but this was his first time actually touching one.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

This morning, I was watching an episode of Good Eats about crabs when I heard the pitter patter of feet and the sound of squealy voices. Soon, the noises reached my front porch and I heard a young boy, "We are visiting Wame!"

I tend to be slightly cruel to kids here, I make them work for my company. That is to say, if I see children coming, I don't meet them at the door, I make them come to me, knock politely, and state what they want. These kids don't know that yet. So they stood on my door step for a very very long time, talking to each other, bouncing around, climbing the walls and saying, "We are visiting Wame! We are visiting Wame!" I paused Good Eats, sat inside sipping my coffee and listened to them move around. Finally, finally, I heard the faintest little tap on the door and answered.

At the door was an 11 year old boy and a 5 year old girl. The boy introduced himself, and then pointed to the girl, "this is my uncle" he said. I smiled, nodded, and made small talk while we enjoyed the cool morning air. Then, after he exhausted all of his, "Do you have water/food/ball/jump rope/toy cars..."questions, he went off to have tea. He came back a few minutes later with a teenie tiny baby, the size of an American football except with a little sweatshirt and limbs. The baby, upon seeing me, broke into a huge wail and the boy started laughing and shoving the baby in my face. Poor baby. I picked the infant up (which irked me a little because he wore no pants and I rarely enjoy the pleasure of touching a baby's bare bottom) and the baby wailed some more, tears streaming down his face, little arms fighting to push me away. This is not the first time a kid brought an infant to my house. It seems to be something they enjoy doing here, bringing me children and seeing them freak out upon seeing a white face.

The baby broke loose and started hobbling away for his life. Wearing no shoes, he stepped immediately onto a small thorny weed and broke out crying again. I backed away slowly, like one would when stumbling upon a grizzly bear, and started clearing my driveway of weeds with a heavy shovel. Soon, all the kids were on their hands and knees (including the infant), weeding my yard, pointing out spikey things, and exclaiming, "ke a go thuso wame!" (I am helping wame!)

When I arrived here, I never would have let kids help me with yardwork, but after experiencing child after child come over when I'm weeding, pick up a shovel, and go at a weed or a large bush, I let them, just for fun...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chunk by Chunk

It's only 10:30 am on a Saturday morning in Xade and I'm already
bored. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do while I brush
my teeth is run around my house and check...

Electricity, check.
Phone service, check.
Water, check.
Refrigeration, check.
Cooking gas? check.
I boil water for coffee, finish brushing my teeth, and sit down in
front of my computer.

Today's morning activity was apartment extras. I say extras because I
already found my soon to be apartment in the states. I've already
walked around it a dozen times using google maps (at a rate of about 1
frame every 10 minutes because my internet is so slow), I've already
checked out reviews of the local restaurants, found parking permits in
the area, and traveled the route to my soon to be university campus in
my mind. It's exactly 0.9 miles away, and the reviews say it takes
about 5 minutes to walk. Until I'm actually there I can't actually
walk it, but in my head and in my dreams and in the night time while
I'm falling asleep I'm walking, biking, driving around the streets of
Pittsburgh, exploring it's restaurants, cafes, boutique grocery
stores, clubs, working out at the school gym, taking notes at
lectures, meeting professors, looking for a part-time job...

They say that the end of Peace Corps service can often be like this.
You disengage, you begin to feel anxiety about the future, you start
daydreaming. I suspect the solution to this is to write farewell
letters, say goodbye, force yourself to be here. I see now why so many
volunteers have parties when they leave. It's an designated time to say
goodbye to everyone we've ever met here, big or small: people who have
had profound impacts on our lives but we take them for granted every
day. People like the post office attendants who know my name, the
grocery store lady who shares my lunch, the drivers who act as my
bodyguards when I travel.

My friend Ketelelo came over last night. He'll be going back to
secondary school in a couple days, after that, I may not see him
again. I gave him all my old art supplies and a moleskin sketchbook.
He gave me a card that he wrote and illustrated. It was very creative,
very beautiful. At the risk of embarrassing him if he finds this blog,
I want to share what he wrote on top because it was touching, "My New
Xade, Our Wame." (Wame is my setswana name). The sentiment wasn't what
touched me, sentiment rarely does. Rather it was the simplicity of the
message that brought my racing Pittsburgh-bound mind to a halt and
forced me to take stock of where I am and who I'm with. It was sweet,
it was simple, it was not necessary nor expected.

No one has ever actually told me, "Hey, I know it sucks, but thanks
for being here." I hadn't realized that the sentiment even existed.
Now that I know it does, I realize I have to be careful. I can't just
whiz in and out of here without saying goodbye. It's something that I will
regret later, on the plane ride home 2 months from now, lying in my
new bed in Pittsburgh 6 months from now, popping up in my mind as I'm
studying for a test a year from now. 2 years is nothing to sneeze at,
and if you're going to say goodbye, you better do it right.

I've boxed up my souvenirs, taken pictures off my walls, and every
time someone comes over, they leave crating a box full of my old
stuff. My life here is walking away from me chunk by chunk...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Life in the Peace Corps: COS'ing Time

I have 8 weeks left before I get to board that plane and go home. School is out and projects are stalled, which means I'm scraping the bottom of my mental barrel for motivation to keep going. Luckily, phone network is back and electricity is up, though my water and pipes are still broken.

I believe that during my whole 24 months here, I can count on my fingers how many months I've actually had the golden 3: water, electricity, and cell phone service. I've gone long stretches without one or the other and it looks like another long stretch is still on the horizon. Still, I'm so impressed with these maintenance guys for actually making it out here after 2 years of meekish complaining that I'm happy with their work. As long as they get my toilet flushable by the weekend, and some sort of tap on, I'll be content as a clam. Who cares if I have to wash my face in a bucket and brush my teeth with a tin can!

There are 5 workers here today. 2 for doing actual work and 3 to just stand around, watch, and nod. It's hard work. They already dug up all the pipes in my backyard and are currently in the process of replacing each one.

I came out this morning snotty nosed and sleepy eyed at 8:30 AM and was immediately told by the 1 female worker that I should use the toilet. What she meant was, I CAN use the toilet. But, being so accustomed to my mom's bossing around, I immediately turned around, headed inside, and pee'd. She says I can flush, but I'm going to wait to do that. Since there are 5 men in the backyard monitoring my every move, I don't want them to know that I used the can. For some reason, despite having bathed by moonlight, dumped in the bushes, and sweated like a man while spending 5 days in a truck without bathing, I still feel the need to exhibit some sort of dainty female propriety around others. I still don't fart around strangers, unless I'm asleep.

Last weekend was Easter weekend, and while children at home to the delight of their parents ran around the yards finding colorful easter eggs, my friends and I were reading online about the origins of the easter egg and other easter treats. It was a jolly good time, we even roasted a chicken! On the way there, I took the bus. Disillusioned by the sight of a full bus station, I was rushing, stepped onto the curb and fell flat on my face, scraping my knee for the first time since I was out of a training bra. I've been watching the scab heal with deep fascination for the past few days. Like seeing an ant farm for the first time, every few minutes I glance down to see how far the healing process has come, if it's changed colors, or if any of the ants have sprouted wings yet.

On the way home, I chose instead to hitchhike. Before I even got to the hiking spot, a car was already waiting for me. "Get in," the man in the front said, like something out of a stick up or kidnapping. Like the good asian daughter I am, I immediately obeyed, grabbed the door handle, and then stopped, "Wait, where are we going?"

As we headed down the highway I asked the man, "You pick me because I'm not white wait yes white I am?" What I meant to say was, "How did you know I was going to town? Is it because I'm white?" He answered back, "... no?" and then said, "You're not white, you're pink!" We all 4 in the car giggled. Then he asked if I had a boyfriend. "Yes, a very big man from New York City and he misses me very much." And we traveled the rest of the way in blissful silence...