The opinions expressed in this blog are mine, and mine alone. They do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Life Progressing

I have been an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) for two months, even though I technically haven't returned anywhere.  I am still in Botswana, living in the capital, Gaborone.  The last two months have been busy, to say the least.  Mom and dad visited.  Right after them, a friend of mine from Germany came.  I have been living with friends with bags scattered in a few different houses.  I haven't wanted to sign a lease on a place until I knew for sure that I would be staying here for a while.

Good news is that I got a job that I really enjoy!  I am program assistant for CIEE Gaborone, which stands for the Center for International Educational Exchange.  We organize programs for students and faculty who wish to visit Botswana.  The students come for a semester or summer study abroad session; the faculty for week-long seminars.  It feels good to be personally responsible for something again.  One challenge of Peace Corps is that we are not in control of the success or failure of a project.  We aren't supposed to just call someone up and make it happen.  We are supposed to be building capacity so others can organize events and projects in our absence.  If we do it ourselves, how would things be sustainable?

[Yet, over the course of Peace Corps service many volunteers questioned the notion of building capacity.  A volunteer I really admire said that she taught best by being a good role model.  She worked with partners at her organization, but was responsible for organizing events.  She didn't wait for others to do it.  And sure, perhaps it didn't all continue after she left, but she made an impact in the meantime.  I always liked that and sometimes wished I had done a bit more of that myself.  And as an aside, most of our projects don't continue after we leave, regardless of how many locals we involve.  It's just the reality.]

Lately people have been asking me what was most challenging about PC or what I liked the most.  Luckily I don't have to answer often.  Since I am still in Botswana, I only face these questions with the occasional ex-pat encounter.  It is more difficult to come up with those answers than the questioners realize.  Distilling two years of frustration, small victories, anxiety, pain, tears, learning, growing, and self-realizations into one sentence is almost hurtful.  But it seems like people almost expect that--like we should be rehearsing our answers in the mirror before we go and face the world.  God forbid we're not quite sure what to tell people who have no conception of this experience.  But I digress.

I am 24, almost 25, with a real sense of new opportunities and responsibilities.  I don't yet have the feeling of getting older or time ticking.  Yet, somehow, people have a lot of advice about what I should be doing to "plan for the future" and "build something" as if life is a race that I can win or lose.  I have learned that people have their own idea of what denotes success in life.  That's fine.  And we women are still asserting our right to satisfying careers, attempting to bring home the bacon and mother the kids at the same time.  In the states, the first question we ask someone is "what do you do?" as if someone's job is the sole marker of their worth as a human being.  And once we reach that comfortable point in our career, then what?  We just sit there for 20 years trying to create new goals, new ways to enhance the mind and keep the juices flowing?

I really like that I don't have a goal in mind.  At this point, I can envision no perfect job for myself.  All I know is what brings me joy.  And I have realized that is how I want to live my life.  My universal goal will be to do what makes me happy and fulfilled.  I mean that with humility rather than selfishness.  I want to make enough money to live, that is true.  But I will get there at my own pace.  Life is all about the journey.  It's a waste if it's not enjoyed.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Eat, Pray Love -- Just Don't Join Peace Corps

A lot of Peace Corps volunteers increase our reading habits while in service.  Recently, I picked up "Eat, Pray, Love."  Like many people presumably felt, I thought, "Ooohh...I wanna do that!  I wanna have the money to just go traveling for a year, be immersed in other cultures..."  Many of you may be thinking, "But just did were a Peace Corps volunteer.  You did it for TWO years!  And you really became immersed in the culture because you were living at the village level helping people.  It wasn't like 'Eat, Pray, Love's 4 months here, 4 months there."

I understand the tendency to look at Peace Corps as an escape, another world, freedom from the responsibilities of life in the states.  And in some ways, it is.  You don't have to worry about health insurance, car insurance, car payments, rent or mortgage payments...etc etc.  Peace Corps is many things, all different for different people.  But one thing it is not is personal freedom.  The rules they have in place for safety and security have you calling in every night you sleep away from your site.  Are you the kind of traveler who likes to go somewhere for a spur-of-the-moment weekend trip?  If you were somewhere where the nearest country border was 30 minutes away, would you cross the border for dinner some night?  Well, you can't in Peace Corps...if you wanna follow the rules anyway :)

Even though I have done Peace Corps, that deep desire to flee and just live with bare necessities in some island village is still there.  Peace Corps has not fulfilled that.  As a PCV, you cannot do whatever you want all the time.  You must fill quarterly reports and let PC know how your projects are going.  And in reality, you have to have internet to do that.  The ability to stay in touch with family and friends was admittedly great, but I know that a lot of us perhaps secretly wanted to know what it would be like to be REALLY cut off from the news of the world for long pockets of time.  But that Peace Corps experience doesn't exist in most countries anymore.  And most importantly: you have to do some projects.  You can't just sit around on the beach having drinks with umbrellas in them 24/7.  Peace Corps is not vacation, and it isn't even hard work that you would want to do if you weren't working, like staying home everyday tending your own garden, reading a book and looking out at the Pacific (notice how the ocean is always encompassed in these fantasies of mine).

Peace Corps is something worth doing.  Just know that it's not two years of freedom. It is a lot of being told what to Peace Corps staff, by locals.  And that can be really hard to take.  It's two years of representing the US and being a government employee.  And having that hanging over your head can be challenging.  It can make you feel like you can't be yourself.  It's not New York City.  You are under a microscope and there are consequences for the things that you do, many of them larger than your individual service.  You can't yell "F U" to someone on the street and think it's not going to come back to you in some unforeseen way...or reflect poorly on the PCVs around you.

If you want to spend a couple years discovering yourself at your own pace, being able to travel where you want and do projects that are fully under your control (not following a government-sanctioned community focus), then do just that.  Travel alone, with friends or other organizations.  But Peace Corps is not the best vehicle by which to do that.  Peace Corps is great because it provides that support and security.  But just understand that it's a two-way street.

Friday, May 17, 2013


The last weeks of Peace Corps are curious.  Staff says not to start any new projects.  Actually, we shouldn't really be starting any new projects the last three months we are at site.  We should be wrapping things up, saying goodbyes, etc.  But, as most things in life, nothing really goes the way that you planned.  People come up to you asking to help them with this and that.  So that is how I found myself yesterday, finishing up a proposal for a gender-based violence workshop in Shoshong next month.  Am I going to be here for the workshop?  Definitely not as a Peace Corps volunteer, but perhaps I will try to come back, just to see how it turns out.

I haven't packed at all.  I have a whole other week for it.  I think I'm lucky, though.  Since I am just moving to Gaborone, I don't have to fit my entire house into two suitcases like most of us ending service and going back to the states.  Yet, the amount of stuff that I have accumulated and have to transport is quite overwhelming.  Just thinking about taking all the photos off the walls is pretty crazy.  Gonna try to get someone to help me with that so I can focus on shoving clothes into suitcases and books into boxes.

Because I am moving to Gabs, I don't feel a huge sense of loss.  I feel like I'll be coming back to Shoshong (or at least I can if I want to).  I have other friends that are happy to get the hell out of here and some that are really sad.  There are things we are all going to miss, of course.  But surprisingly I haven't tapped into it that much because mentally I am still here.

Yet, all of this is making me reminisce.  I'm not thinking much about my service in its entirety, but rather just the beginning.  I am remembering the moment I got off the plane, thinking that it was pretty hot when I boarded that bus.  Little did I know I hadn't seen nothin' yet!  I remember the first few days at Big Five Lodge, first impressions and trying to learn Setswana, all of us being really nervous for home stay matching ceremony.  I remember how we played a name game with all of the staff.  The number of Batswana was incredible and I thought, "How am I ever going to remember all of these names?!"  But I did.  I remember all of us trying to practice our Setswana with workers at the lodge, stumbling over "tsogile" and "jang."

I remember the smells, the hot air, the lack of humidity that has made my hair a sight to behold these last two years (in a good way).  I remember how little I knew and how I kept progressively thinking I knew more and more as time went on.  But I suppose that is life's trick, right?  The minute you think you have something figured out, another aspect of life smacks you across the face and says, "Oh yeah...well take a look at this!"  I find that absolutely wonderful.

After being here for two years, I am still learning more and more about this culture and the way people relate to each other.  Entering the professional world in Gaborone will be a new step in learning about how to survive here.  New rules.  New procedures.  At least I have been primed for waiting by life in the village.  Now I know the trick: always bring a book.  You'll never be bored!  You could wait for hours!  No big deal!  It's brilliant.

Moving always causes a small amount of anxiety, regardless the circumstances.  But I am happy that I am not returning to the states.  Thinking of going back almost scares me.  The thought of food excites me, REAL italian food and a DECENT martini for once, dairy ice cream instead of vegetable fat...the list goes on.  But the things I miss about America are pleasure-related (food, museums, site-seeing).  I suppose I miss the efficiency, but I don't miss the attitude that goes with it, the frustration, the stress, and the feeling that I AM THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD SO WHY AREN'T YOU DOING WHAT I WANT.  Reading about American news makes my head spin.  I am away from that world and I still can't stand hearing about it.  How am I going to feel when I am back there again?  No, thank you.  I will take another year or two before I decide I can live in America full time again.

Perhaps I will blog more, perhaps not.  For those of you who have been reading my blog since the beginning, I hope you have enjoyed it and have learned along with me.  All we can do is learn and hope that we make good decisions in our lives that positively affect those around us.

So here's to the next chapter.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Pics of Northern Botswana

During February and March, I did some traveling to the northern parts of Botswana.  I went to Maun, the Okavango Delta and Shakawe.  These are some of the most people parts of Botswana.  Here are some photos:


I saw this advertising airtime in a shop window.  It is promoting buying airtime as an act of love for your significant other.  It is quite funny because this is viewed as one way your significant other showcases his/her love, by buying you airtime for your phone.  And it is strongly linked to HIV because it is commonly believed that people (especially women) will stay in unsafe relationships and will consent to not use a condom because their partner is buying them gifts.  Stay in the relationship for the airtime!

This is a sign outside of Bateman's Fine Wine and Liquor.  I have ordered cases of wine from South Africa for friends of mine through this wine distributor.  It's a great store with a great selection.  And I just love this sign.

While in Maun, I took a one-day mokoro ride through the southern part of the Okavango Delta.  Here is my view from my mokoro.

My mokoro had some holes in the back.  So the man driving the boat had this big sponge that he would mop up the water with.  I got to sit on some straw so I never got wet.

This is one of those lily pad stalks in the Delta.  And that little white thing is a frog!  They were so cute!

We also went on a game walk.  Game walks are amazing if you are able to see animals because you really feel like you are one with them.  In a car you can easily get away (and can also get a lot closer).  But game walks are special and make you feel like you are part of nature.  Here a zebra is the designated lookout, making sure that we pose no threat.

The Delta

A PCV named Dinah organized a half-marathon/5k all-day event to raise money for an ambulance in Shakawe.  Tate and I (pictured above) are getting ready to run the 5k.  Or in my case...more like jog/walk.

After the half-marathon and 5k, there were performances, prizes given out, and many tables with people giving out information about health.  Here, some PCVs are doing face painting.

The Shakawe Clinic health tent.  Here one of the nurses is seated with condoms, informational pamphlets and penis/pelvic models all around her.  Obviously this is where I sat.

A bunch of us stayed with a married couple (volunteers) who live in Shakawe as well.  Since it was around Easter, they organized everything for us to make Easter eggs!  It was really sweet.

The next day, a bunch of us took the trip to Tsodilo Hills.  Tsodilo Hills is actually the birthplace of homosapiens.  It was amazing to be there.  The place is beautiful.  And there are rock paintings from thousands of years ago.  The ones pictured above are dated about 1000 AD by the San peoples.  The guide told us what materials people used to paint the different animals but I forget.  Here Danielle and I are posing at the beginning of the hike (which was really more like mountain climbing).

It got a bit treacherous!

Some of the rock paintings.  I was quite surprised to see a penguin and a whale depicted there.  But these tribes were nomadic and apparently some people had gone down to South Africa.  They painted the animals that they heard about from those South African travelers...or perhaps they even saw them themselves!  There are also white paintings by Bantu-speaking peoples but they aren't pictured here.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Peace Corps keeps us in a bubble.  It’s almost like middle school.  You can’t drive, you have to tell someone everywhere you go and you have to be home before dark.  Those of us who are younger may have our parents to help us when we get home from Peace Corps.  Many older volunteers don’t even have that.  But parents or not, leaving Peace Corps is daunting.  We’ve had health insurance and a paycheck covered for two years.  We haven’t had to worry about car payments, life insurance, or repayment of student loans.  Coming to Peace Corps wasn’t like moving the next state over.  Many of us sold personal possessions, some even cars and houses.  Some of us aren’t even sure where we are going to spend our first nights after Peace Corps.

Luckily I don’t have that problem.  I know where I will be staying in Gaborone for at least my first few weeks after closing my service.  I don’t have a job yet, but I have been talking with a few companies and organizations.  I am confident that something is going to work out.  And I am shopping for a car.  A lot is still up in the air and probably will be for most of the month of June.  But I feel such a sense of awe and excitement.

Peace Corps volunteers in Botswana will tell you that we watch a lot of movies and television.  It passes the time and it’s nice to catch up on shows you may have missed.  I have spent the last few weeks watching “Boy Meets World,” one of my favorite shows growing up.  At this point, Cory and Topanga have just gotten married.  They hate their apartment.  It’s a dump.  And they go crying to their parents for help, complaining about bad plumbing and bugs.  We have all done that at some point, but I am happy to say that I am doing this on my own.  My parents may still have to help me with some things, like health insurance.  I’m not sure.  But I do know that I am getting my own car, my own job and my own place to stay.  I did this before Peace Corps as well, for the year after college.  But that was in Providence, where I attended Brown.

This is different.  This is new.  No more Peace Corps watching my back.  No more parents an hour’s drive away.  Real life.  Adulthood.  Wow.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Further Thoughts on "The Voice" Article

I have shared the article from "The Voice" mentioned in the previous post with a few friends.  It sparked good conversation.  Most of them felt that few people actually feel the same as the men in the article.  But the topic of sex and its place within a relationship garnered a lot of opinions.

One friend of mine said that he was talking about this with his co-workers, all married men in their 30s and 40s.  They said that he "just doesn't understand" because he isn't married yet.  But they assured him that when he gets married, he will know the frustrations when his wife doesn't want to "give him" sex.  They cited examples of coming home from long trips, missing their wives and having their wives not in the mood day after day.  One day, the excuse would be "I'm tired," the next, "I have a headache," etc.  So the men were asking my friend, "When does it become forcing your partner?  What are we supposed to do if our wives continue to say they don't want to have sex?"

I don't believe these men were saying that they physically rape their wives.  I think they were saying that perhaps they try to verbally cajole their partners into having sex because they are sick of the excuses.  They asked my friend, "Why do our wives keep saying no?  We try to ask them what is wrong and they say 'Nothing.'" 

My friend then asked these men, "Are you sure your wives still love you?"  That made me laugh.  And I think it's a great question.  I am a lover of "Sex and the City."  At one point one of the characters says, "Sex is a barometer for how everything else is going in your relationship."  If one or both of the partners repeatedly does not want to have sex, the problem is probably outside of the bedroom.  And this is what I told my friend he should tell his co-workers.  Perhaps the women get home from work, their husbands ignore them and watch TV all night.  And then when they get into bed, the men turn on the charm and expect lovin.'  But we all need to feel appreciated in life, not just in the bedroom.  So the problem for these men could be that they aren't showing their wives that attention in the way their wives need.

And this brought up a larger issue: communication within the relationship.  We both agreed that these couples need to work on it.  I also didn't like the way they talked about sex...saying that the women "give it."  Sex should be something that two people decide on and talk about.  It is not that one is giving and one is receiving.  It is a partnership.  And that notion seems to be lacking within the discourse on sex in general.

Although articles like the one in "The Voice" may represent extreme views, they reveal things about us within relationships and how we can improve the dialogue.  And isn't that what good journalism is supposed to do?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cultural Values of Sexual Dynamics Within Marriage

Yesterday I was reading a local newspaper, "The Voice," when I came upon this short article.  It was apparently a conversation between two men and a woman overheard in a combi.  Combis are 15-passenger vans that carry people around in larger towns.  They have set routes like buses and you only have to pay a set price.  Here is the article, called "The Worth of a Woman."  Any notes in brackets were added by me to aid in understanding.

"Two weeks ago this publication reported on a woman who was stabbed by her boyfriend for refusing to satisfy his sexual desires because she was tired.
Voice reporter happened to join the company of two men discussing  what could have possibly upset the lover so much that he assaulted his girlfriend and nearly killed her.
Checkered Shirt: There’s more to this issue than meets the eye. He did not stab her because he was denied sex; there is a deeper root cause.
Light blue shirt:  As an African man lobola [bride price] empowers me to get  whatever I want any time I want it from my wife. Of course not in an aggressive manner, but when I say I want sex I should get it from the woman I have paid for.
Checkered shirt: African women are even taught how to treat  their husbands. You are told never to tell your husband that you are tired! Whichever or whatever the circumstances you should just abide by the rules or the demands of your partner.
Lady in glasses: Guys!  Guys!  Are you saying a woman is not supposed to get tired? She is a human being  too just like you, remember!
Light blue shirt:  Yes!  Even if she has spent the whole day at the fields she has to try by all means to honour the request and submit to her man’s sexual advances.
Lady in specs: So all you men expect from us is to give it you??(Looks puzzled)
Checkered Shirt: Yes! (Nodding his head) because if she doesn’t it might leads to there questions like  who made you tired and why are you tired?  Which you may not have answers for.  (Laughter).
Lady in Glasses: So this man’s action is justified according to you?
Checkered Shirt: What he did as a punishment is not okay, he overacted actually.
Light blue shirt: But his over action is based on an African context. In our culture he is justified.
Lady in specs:  If your wife were to say she is tired what would you do?
Checkered shirt: Aah! My wife cannot say she is tired simply because she is  coming from work? I would ask her who is coming from home because I would also be from work! But the problem arises when I knock off go home and she arrives home maybe two hours after me and when I want sex she tells me she is tired!
Light blue shirt: I start having many questions as to who could have made her tired and what made her tired?
Lady in specs: From your views women are horses that just keep on going even when they feel they have no strength. So what should they do?
Both men in unison:  They just have to submit!
Checkered shirt: They must submit and then maybe afterward say I did it but I was tired and that is why my performance was not so good.
Lady in specs: How dare you? You even have an evaluation after she has submitted? (Laughter)
Checkered Shirt: An African woman even when she is ill, she has not been well for a week she must still give me what is my right. But obviously It would be my prerogative to be reasonable enough to establish whether her type of illness is the one which wouldn’t be able to render me the benefits I deserve. (Burst into laughter).
Checkered shirt: You can say that again!
Lady in specs: But the lady in the story is not married. He was just a boyfriend.
Checkered  shirt:  But they were staying together. Cohabiting. People who cohabit are enjoying the benefits just like any married couple. In Zimbabwe where am from if a man and a woman stay together for six or seven months they are automatically declared husband and wife.
Lady in specs (Looking very concerned): Seriously would it not be best  to rest for a few hours when one is tired and then get up later and get on with the business?
Checkered Shirt: tjo tjo! You can’t because we are dealing with feelings here (interrupted)
Lady in specs: Tiredness is also a feeling. Is it not reasonable?
Checkered  shirt: But you have to understand who has a stronger feeling. The two feelings have to be weighed. And the man’s feeling is stronger and…….
Lady in specs:  (Interrupting) It has to be satisfied immediately. (Shakes her head).
Checkered  Shirt:  There’s something you people do not understand when a man says to a woman I want to stay with you, this statement is very meaningful. It becomes very expensive to stay with a woman. But a man says I have decided to stay with you and to cater for your even if its expensive, because I now want you full time. Now if you are saying today you are tired, tomorrow you are tired it’s no longer full time. Do you then allow me, when you are tired to go outside and get someone who is not tired?
(Lady in specs laughs)
Lady in specs: Of course not. No woman in her right senses would allow such craziness!
Checkered Shirt: So you better provide!
Lady in specs: Don’t you men get tired?
Shirt: We do get tired but if you say that’s what you want I will perform my duty as a man. This couple’s fight was because they no longer had the same feelings for each other. The woman no longer felt like having the man everyday while he still wanted her daily. She deserves nothing better than this (pointing to the picture in the newspaper)
Lady in specs: (Alarmed) but this is domestic violence.  Do you want to tell us that some acts of violence are warranted?
Checkered Shirt:  No, but don’t forget domestic violence is not only when people start to fight. It begins with the person who provokes the act. If this lady had allowed the man to do what he wanted to do. There wasn’t going to be a fight and she was not going to lose anything. Are you saying the man was the first to be subjected to domestic violence?
Shirt : Yes! The man was the first to be subjected to domestic violence. He had been suffering from it much longer
Lady in specs (Stands up and walks away): This conversation will not take us anyway. The sun will set and no conclusion will be reached"

This is a widespread attitude in Botswana, by men and women alike.  Obviously there are Batswana who think this is abhorrent, but many would agree with the men in this combi.  And the law supports it.  After you are married, the law says that a woman must give her husband sex when he wants it (and vice-versa, I think).  There are circumstances in which she is excused, like if she is suffering a severe illness or a family member has just died.  But the prevailing attitude is spoken by the men in the combi--if my wife is tired, she must be having sex with someone else.  And if she will not give me sex, I have the right to go out and find it elsewhere.

In Botswana, it is also against the law to have any "sex contrary to nature," which basically means that any sex that does not have the possibility of producing a child is prohibited.  That probably means masturbation, but definitely includes sex between people of the same gender, which is mentioned alongside beastiality in the statute.

Botswana is changing.  There are openly gay people here.  This same newspaper, "The Voice," featured an article about a motswana who is marrying another man from Namibia.  So Botswana is becoming more progressive in some ways.  Yet, the traditional views about the place of a woman within the marriage still hold a lot of power.  And then we wonder why rapes are happening more and more frequently...when men are taught that it is okay to take whatever they want from their wife, how are they able to respect the bodily integrity of women in general?

After I read this article, I engaged in a conversation about it with a man.  He is about 40 years old, I'd say.  We were in the home of a neighbor of mine, a woman.  He was questioning us as to why the wife would ever deny sex.  If a couple is married, they must always be on the same page about those things.  I asked him, "So if I go to a movie with my husband, we must both like it because we are married?  No...we are two different people with two different feelings.  I may want to do something and he does not, and vice-versa."  This man responded that a husband and wife should always have love and understanding for each other, so I should have sex with my husband even if I don't want to.  I followed with, "Why must I, as the woman, understand my husband's needs yet he does not need to understand mine?"  It is as if the wife's role within a marriage is seen only as a sex partner.  That if she is not engaging in sex with her husband, she is not fulfilling her the men in the combi stated, the husband is not having her "full time."  The man continued by saying, "Well, if you say you are tired, then it becomes a habit.  You just always say you are tired."  And he mentioned the law in Botswana, that it supports submitting to your husband if he wants it.  I said, "In America, slavery and segregation were legal at times.  Just because something is legal, doesn't make it right."

There is no way to sugar-coat this.  I could be balanced and anthropological and say that we cannot impose our own moral values on other cultures.  But there is no way around this one for me.  I think it is awful that people think this.  And it's not just in Botswana.  It is all over the world.  It is happening in America when boys put up photos and videos online of girls they have sexually assaulted.  It is forced marriages of 13 year old girls.  It is female genital mutilation.  I understand that there is sexual assault between men, between women, and perpetrated by women against men.  But here I am focusing on the most common--perpetrated by men against women.  

Women are humans, just like men.  No one--man or woman--should be forced to have sex if he or she doesn't want to.  What happened to enthusiastic consent?  What happened to not wanting to have sex if my partner doesn't want it?  I think we need to reframe the conversation about sexuality so that it is not women having to fight to say no.  Shouldn't the men make sure that their women really want it?  The man I was talking with said that there needs to be love within a marriage.  I completely agree.  But his definition of that is the woman understanding the man's needs and giving him what he wants.  To me, love means that each of you must take into account the other's needs.  There is compromise in general, of course.  Sometimes you probably will do it when you are tired, but it doesn't mean you should be forced to if you don't want to.

No matter where you are from, don't settle for someone who doesn't treat you the way you want within your relationship.  And if you are a Peace Corps volunteer, don't be afraid to get into these conversations with locals around you.  I am not saying we can change the culture, nor that we necessarily should.  But we can be the catalyst to get people thinking about what is right and wrong in the world.  And that's always the beginning of change.