Friday, May 25, 2012

PCV Guilt

I've been running. Can you believe it? I have asthma and I live in a
desert with sand as deep as I am tall, but I've been running. Slowly
at first. And now... still slowly, but for longer periods of time. I
can run! I'm super excited... which means that as soon as I got home
from my run today, I went online and browsed all the fun cool
accessories that a "runner" can buy. I'm looking at shoes now. Shoes,
beautiful shoes. Barefoot shoes. Trail running shoes. Road shoes.
Lightweight shoes, Ankle support shoes. One shoe, two shoes... Red
shoes. Blue shoes. Lo and behold, I have found my perfect shoe.
I want to buy it. I want to buy it badly. But I feel stupid. I just
gave away nearly 5 pairs of shoes (granted 3 of those pairs were $5
flipflops from Old Navy) and watched kids fight over an old sweatshirt
whose sleeves no longer have elastic and whose elbows have holes
burned into them... and i want to buy $100 shoes online? The angel on
my shoulder is pouting, if you have to buy them, can't you wait till I
at least get home? But the devil has a point. You want them. And you
want them now.

PCV Guilt.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Before I came here, I didn't watch the Gods Must Be Crazy (1980). I've only just seen it now. It's good. It's like an Adam Sandler movie. Funny, but with heart. I can't believe it's 32 years old. Everything in it is almost exactly like it is now. Of course there are some differences. Mainly, Botswana is a lot more flat and a lot less fertile, and the Batswana don't wear the kind of clothes they wear in that movie... and now the Bushmen drink a lot and no longer have the life they used to live... but other than that it is very accurate. Especially the trucks that don't have brakes and will stall if you let them and drive through puddles and get stuck in ditches, and the endless amount of rickety wooden gates that you have to stop and open on hot dusty roads, and the smiles. oh the smiles. The smiles of the people here will melt your heart and make you want to laugh and dance. I'll miss the smiles of the old men that see me at the clinic.I wish I could go "door to door" (except many of them don't have
doors...) and say bye one by one. But I don't know if they know who I am. Or if I have the energy for that, cause to be honest, when it's time to go, I'll be more than ready. in fact, I think my brain has
already left.

I have mixed feelings about this movie. I like the ideas in it. Ownership begets jealousy begets fighting begets evil. I understand it, I feel it. But unfortunately, we live in a world where ownership is necessary for survival. I see now why people here can't seem to get on their feet. Why they fight a lot. Why they drink a lot... ownership is something they don't do. We've already corrupted the world with our materialistic ways, it seems inevitable that the San should join us... or perish. Lest we stick them back into the reserve and let them fend on their own like a rare sort of animal, but that hardly seems fair. Nothing seems fair nowadays. I bet that's what these little girls are thinking who just left my house. They followed me home, babbled something to me in Setswana, grabbed my rake, cleaned up some poo, and five minutes later, came storming in here asking for money. I may not speak much Setswana but I do understand something that girl said as the other urged her to leave, "I'm going to get money from this lekhoa."

Now I smell like children and my arms are covered in something sticky. Not that I don't like children. I will love my own children, but they will smell like roses and will always be clean.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Let's go fly a kite

Today was a milestone day in my life here in New Xade. Mma Wabobi, Mma Moselakatsi, and I gathered the OVC's and I gave them almost all of my clothes. As we passed them out according to size, they put them on, layer after layer. One lucky girl (because she was one of the biggest) ended up getting so many items she had nearly 3 layers on.

Then I showed them how to fly kites. Well I tried to show them, but it's been so long that I made a bit of a mess of it. Since there was little to no wind, the kite didn't really fly, but it's ok. It was more a demonstration than anything else. I only spent about 1.5 hours with them, and we didn't do a thing that was educational, but I have to say, it was probably one of my satisfying days.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Enjoying a hot cup of coffee, listening to the sounds of Beyonce-mixed techno and the thunk thunk thunk of grain being ground in a wooden mortar and pestle, Sunday morning.

I just said goodbye for now to Thato. I gave her some things I had lying around my house for her and her kid. Charlotte used to run around my house and pick through my magazines, flipping the pages like a bored woman in a waiting room. She points to the pictures and tells stories about them. Thato looks at her with mild entertainment. I'm fascinated. I didn't actually say goodbye to Thato. I said see you later. It's always see you later. There is always a later.

What is the customary way of saying goodbye in Botswana? You know what I realized this morning-- there probably isn't a customary way. Botswana is so small, I bet 99.99% of goodbyes between 2 people are really just "see you later"s. I bet it's rare that someone actually leaves for good. I wonder what they think of us, so many of us, coming in and saying goodbye. Saying goodbye for good. How has knowing I'd leave in 2 years affected my friendships here, from the start... from day 1? I am just 7 in a stream of many. I brought mild entertainment, I built a garden, I gave away my shoes. My shoes wouldn't even fit Thato cause they're too small. I wonder what they think of me?

When I first got here 2 years ago, unpacked my things, cleaned out the cupboards, and sat on my front porch cellphone-less, electricity-less, and friend-less. Thato came and connected my water pipes, "This one's pretty" she told my counterpart. I thought to myself, "This one...?"

In order to survive here the past 2 years, I've had to pretend that I was the main character in this story. I've had to make my service about what I can do, what I can offer, what I can learn. But now that my role here is diminishing, I am happy to give back my script and realize the truth: I'm not the protagonist of this story. It was never about me, my adventure, my life journey. I came, I played my part, and now it's time to move on. This story is much longer than me, it began centuries ago in the Okavango Delta, spread out across Southern Africa, escaped to survive in one of the most hostile environments in the world, and finally settled in a 5 x 5 km area that a foreign tribe named "New Xade."

2 weeks 2 days until I go home. I like to think that this adventure in my life is over, that my Peace Corps service is finally ending now and I can return home to continue my normal life, but I have a suspicion... I'll be watching the story of New Xade for the rest of my life.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Digging a big hole

I dug a big hole today. Literally. 

Day 3 and Day 4 of the workshop was more practical for the kids than day 1 and day 2. We planted manure, sowed seeds, and transplanted manure. While the teaching part was boring-- or maybe I just thought so because 1.) I wasn't teaching and 2.) the teaching was all in setswana (snore!) the practical part was fun. We got down in the sand and got real dirty. Anton, one of the boys got so carried away "cultivating" (airing at the ground) that he went around the whole garden plot and cultivated all the little tree-lings that were around.

On the morning of Day 4, I dug a big hole and buried a water drum (for a back up supply when the water goes out). We buried it cause we figured that it would go missing after a couple days. Even sitting in my house, I got a couple offers to buy it. I was glad to have it removed from my house finally after sitting in the corner of my living room for months. 

In the afternoon, we taught the kids basic economics, supply and demand. It was a complicated lesson and from what I understood of it, they basically learned one thing: 10 thebe biscuits are cheaper than 5 thebe biscuits. We tried to show them "competition." Later, we taught them how to use an excel spreadsheet to track the progress of their garden plants. I hope that the teacher continues to use this tool. Watching the kids use the computer for the first time was so exciting. The would literally look at me each time I told them to "click" to make sure they were clicking correctly. They ended up forming a team. 3 people took one half of the keyboard, 3 people took the other half, and 1 boy took the mouse. In this fashion we filled out a sample spreadsheet of fake growth lengths and harvest quantities.

Unfortunately, the electricity still isn't ready for the computer lab, so I had to set up a mini lab in the kitchen. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be, lugging 3 units there, testing the electricity, and cleaning all of the leftover food scraps from the table to make a safe space for the electronic equipment. Even the teachers were fascinated by the computers-- basic computer training is needed though. One of the teachers tried to turn off the computer by pressing the button on top multiple times cause she couldn't see anything on the monitor (the monitor wasn't even on). Then, after I showed her how to power down Windows, she pushed the button again to "switch it off" which, of course, turned it right back on...

Corn Cricket. Mmm!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

OVC Garden Project

Day 0
After a long Friday in Ghanzi, I managed to submit a letter allowing our driver, Pax, and lorry attendant, Isaiah to get overtime on Sunday to help me transport items for our OVC garden at the school. On Sunday, Day 0, I went to Pax at 7:30 to leave. But he wasn't ready. So I went home and played with his kids, drawing, until 9. At 9:30 I tore the kids away from my house, went to Pax's and waited there for him to arrive. We left New Xade around 10 and arrived in Ghanzi around 11:30, ran some errands and then off to D'kar to meet my friend Dieter and pick up the supplies.

Pax's Kids drawing on my front porch

At Dieter's we were met by his huge dog, Kwena, an Anatolian Shepard. Kwena, meaning Crocodile, is a huge bear-like dog with a gentle personality. He met me with a big hug and kiss and growled at poor Pax and Isaiah, strangers, as we loaded the truck.

At 2PM, Isaiah, Pax, and I lounged in the cabin of our giant truck and ate beef with our fingers and watched the people scurrying by. I enjoyed every minute of it.

Day 1
Dieter arrived the night before, and early in the morning he and I went to the school and started the garden set up. PVC piping, glue, connectors, lots of dirt and digging. The frame went up, despite 1 or 2 hiccups (missing or misused items) and connected the shade netting-- me on the top of a hand made ladder being supported by a team of teenagers. The rungs of the ladder were tied on by old rags and I was terrified.

PVC piping for the 2nd house gets laid down
Me pretending to be a super hero. Hoisted up to attach shade netting to the frame

Halfway through the morning, a loud noise could be heard from the kgotla. I dropped what I was doing and stared off, wondering what was happening. I finally decided to text my friend, "what's going on at the kgotla?" I asked. "Kgotla meeting" he said. "Why is it so loud?" I returned. "Food" he said (in quotes) "you know what it does to our people..."

Moments later, our facilitator called and said he would be arriving late. Too late. I told him to forget about it and come tomorrow and plan to stay an extra day. That decided, the teachers also chose to bail on today's activities and attend a workshop in another classroom. Luckily, my friend Mhaka, the agricultural demonstrator, came, so I wasn't left with the kids all by myself.

Day 2 Lectures

At 2pm, the children arrived. 30 or so kids in their uniforms. A list had been posted the day before with the names of the children selected for our OVC garden program. They had not been told what the activity was, however, so they dressed for the best. The teacher told me that they dress in their uniforms in order to hide how poor their regular clothes are. As the afternoon continued, our numbers grew until I decided to talk to the teacher and figure out exactly how many students we were supposed to have and what their names were. She gave me a list and I returned to kick people out. Later that afternoon, as we were having refreshments after a long hot session of stitching together shade nets (Thanks so much to Mhaka!), my teacher, Mma Wabobi arrived with an exclaimed look on her face. "Ao!" she said in setswana, "You are not supposed to be here! or you! or you! or you!" She said with her characteristic big smile on her face, chasing around the kids. The kids giggled and ran off.

Kids stitch together the shade nets

Wabobi joins us

Mma Wabobi stayed to help us finish up and take pictures. Then she sent some kids to bring us fresh boiled Meade (or Mealie in Afrikaans, or Maize in English). It was delicious.

Fresh Mealie!

Day 2
The morning began the same, a short work out, and then Dieter and I ran off to the school to complete the garden structures. First the standpipe was modified with an extra output for the irrigation system. This involved calling my friend Thato and initiating a 2-wrench, 3-person system of pushing, pulling, and twisting, until the tap came out with a gush of water. Then a quick wrap with plumbing tape and the renovated tap was screwed on.

Thato helps us with the tap

Then we realized that we couldn't complete the project because a whole bag of our materials was stolen. With this news fresh in my heart, the facilitators from Ghanzi arrived (late) and I crankily argued with them the topics of the day and schedule. I got scolded for not following proper protocol, inviting the kgosi, VDC, PTA, etc. And we threw together a last minute "Ceremony" for the opening of the project over lunch. I cooked lunch by the way, setswana style, lots of starch and a meat stew (that was slightly undercooked). I cooked for 7 people. I'm quite proud of myself...

Despite the bumpy start to the morning, we managed to finish what we could, install a kick ass irrigation system, and train the students on the basics of theoretical gardening. We took the students out in the late afternoon to talk about shade nets and irrigation and to encourage them to police the garden for robbers, animals, and pests. Dieter scared away a child who had wandered into the garden and was digging at the shade netting, and Mma Wabobi and I discussed security issues. Tomorrow, the fence is coming down and going back up, properly. Hopefully the kids won't also steal garden supplies out of the actual garden. Though... we had to chase one kid out already...

Freaky ass half squished Corn Cricket

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bots 12

This week, I met the new Peace Corps Volunteers, Bots 12. This is the 4th group to arrive in country, increasing our grand total to about 150 people concurrently serving in country. If you ask me, it's something of feat that our staff is able to keep tabs on all of us at once.

The new group is lovely, and very new. I remember the last 2 groups being similarly lovely and new, lots of questions, wide-eyed except when they're exhausted and sleepy, excited, eager, and complete blank slates. I'd forgotten what it's like to be a trainee and to be so bombarded with information. I was reminded on Tuesday when I did a presentation, asked for questions, and was met by a quiet room with lots of big eyes staring back at me.

I'm heading back to New Xade in a day or two, and I'm very glad to have made the trip down here and met these guys. Their enthusiasm will hopefully rub off on me as I get ready to leave. Haha, "off on," what a funny oxymoron.

Tomorrow I'm going to attend a wedding of a PCV friend, Mary Duggan, as of yesterday officially Mary "Konege." She's getting married to a man from her village who seems very nice. In Botswana, there's a song that is played on every combi, phone, and radio station that goes, "it's a wedding! a wedding! oooh ooooh, my love."

The rest of the verses make no sense, and go, "If I marry you, will you marry me..." but this weekend, I will choose not to dwell on such idiocies, and enjoy the merging of 2 rich cultures.

P.S. I was so homesick last month, that I spent nearly 600 mb of data browsing various pieces of furniture, jewelry, and handbags to purchase when I get home, it cost me nearly 100 US dollars to pay my internet account balance. For that price, I could've BOUGHT one of those things I was admiring from so far. OUCH.