I am officially a Peace Corps volunteer! We had a ceremony to commemorate the end of training on the 7th. The US Ambassador to Botswana swore us in as volunteers. Four of us got the privilege of speaking at the ceremony. I read a poem that I wrote in Setswana and English. It was really great. All of the host parents that were there loved it. It felt good to be able to put some of my Setswana skills to use. I can’t put the video up now, but hopefully I will be able to figure out how to do it once I have internet at my place.
On the 8th, I left Kanye for Shoshong. It was sad leaving my Kanye family, but I know I will come back and visit them. I can’t see leave for at least two months, though, because we are on “lockdown.” We can’t leave our villages other than buying food, if we need to go elsewhere for that. We have this big assignment to do, which is pretty much a “how-to” in terms of getting integrated into our community. The idea is to do it slowly, meeting with all the important people and just getting to know people in the village.
I took Thursday the 9th and Friday the 10th completely off from the clinic. I didn’t even leave my house. I needed to clean, unpack and start to make it feel like home. Sometimes I am my mother’s daughter and those days were no exception. I actually scrubbed the walls. I am still waiting for my furniture, which should arrive early next week. One thing I did to make it feel like home was to make a collage of photos on the wall. I brought a bunch of photos with me from home. I am also putting up cards and photos people send me while I’m here. On a separate wall, I am starting a Botswana collage so I can put up pictures of fun memories from training and service.
The other big news is that I am a mother to a kitten that I named Tsatsi. Letsatsi means “sun” in Setswana so it is a nickname from that. She is adorable. I will put up pictures of Tsatsi as well as my photo collage next blog post. The internet at the library is just loading too slowly for me to do it now.
Although it doesn’t seem like it, there is a lot of change going on in my life right now. The last couple days have been pretty emotionally challenging, but not for any reason in particular. I haven’t been upset about anything, but I have spontaneously broken down in tears multiple times. When I tell some people that, the reaction is concern. But I don’t think that crying is necessarily a bad thing. It is just the way my body is expressing the stress and uncertainty of this new time in my life. And I think that’s okay. All the volunteers that have been here for a while have told me that the first couple months at site can be rough, but it will continue to get better.
This had led me to conclude that Peace Corps service is difficult. That seems obvious, but it’s hard for reasons I didn’t expect it to be. I expected difficulty acclimating to the culture, getting to know the people and adjusting to the lifestyle, ie external factors. But those have been the least challenging parts about being in Botswana so far. I think what it’s really about—and what it will continue to be about—is learning how to understand and love ourselves…to identify our faults, confront our issues, challenge our beliefs and solidify our values. We spend so much time pushing ourselves to change, to adjust, to be more flexible. Rarely do we allow ourselves to validate our own feelings and just let them be.
I know that Peace Corps service is not just about helping others, but that it is also about self-discovery. For me that means being as kind to, and understanding of ourselves, as we are of the people we are trying to help. That’s a lot more daunting and overwhelming than I thought it would be. But that’s the whole point, right?
On Saturday afternoon I met an older woman who told me that I had to come “check” her Sunday afternoon once she heard that I was working on HIV/AIDS in Shoshong. “Checking” is the Batswana way of saying “come over.” So Sunday around 4 pm I walked to her place. Of course I didn’t really know how to get there but I stumbled upon some other nice people who showed me the way. I sat down with her and her husband, who is HIV-positive. He asked me questions about whether or not he should be drinking and smoking while on ARVs. I then explained to him what CD4 count and viral load are, and why they are important to monitor. I spent about 45 minutes there.
After I left, I realized how cool it was. I explained some of it in Setswana, some in English. You make a difference even with those conversations. And I had the first inkling of thinking that I really could be happy here. We want to stay isolated because it’s “easy,” but the more we go out into the community and meet people, the happier we become. We just have to push ourselves to do it.