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.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Who Says Botswana is Flat?

Well, it is. Except for Shoshong. The village of Shoshong is surrounded by magnificent hills. It is so beautiful. I fell in love with it on the bus ride over. I brought food and things to cook with because I was told that my house was all set up. When I arrived, I quickly discovered that my stove, refrigerator, drawers, and couches were still MIA. So I had to do all of my cooking inside of the big house. I actually live on a compound, but more on that later.

I also bought an electric kettle (BEST PURCHASE EVER). My house technically has running hot water if you turn on a geezer and let it warm up, but over the 5 days I was there, I never experienced hot running water. No big deal. Up side: my house has electricity and running cold water. I have an inside toilet (SCORE). Down side: I won’t have a sink in my kitchen (which will also double as my living room). That means I will have to wash all of my dishes in a big bucket. Not the most convenient thing ever, but again, no big deal.

So, like I aforementioned, I live in a spare house on another woman’s property. Her name is Mma Mosinyi. She works at the clinic with me and can drive us both there every morning (SCORE). Mma Mosinyi is also absolutely amazing. Her late husband used to be the kgosi (chief) of Shoshong so she is very well respected within the community. Her adult son, Mosinyi, also lives with her in the main house. He attended university until he was inspired to return home and become a traditional healer. My brother, as we call him, uses the second spare house as a space for his ceremonies and rituals. This means that there are constantly people walking around the compound, coming into the main house to get food, etc. There are pros and cons to this. Cons: I won’t have as much privacy as I envisioned because I will have to greet all these people everyday. I have to be careful with making sure my house is secure and locked. Pros: I get to experience really cool cultural things. On the other side of the security issue, being on a compound inherently makes everything safer. There is a lot smaller chance that a stranger will come and break in.

Things I did this past week:

-Met clinic staff at my job, the assistant kgosi, a councilman, the village development council chairman, senior police station commander, elders in the community
-Visited the post office, animal health center, library, police station, kgotla (customary court)
-Introduced myself to dozens of unassuming Batswana walking around Shoshong
-Found a local counterpart for a great garden project at the clinic (to especially benefit HIV-positive individuals on anti-retroviral treatment, in my opinion)
-Made tea for a man who seemed to be having a stroke, and his four nieces
-Rejected a few marriage proposals
-Learned how to enter HIV-related data (CD4 count, CD4%, viral load) into the database provided by the government
-Witnessed the pre-funeral ritual of bringing the casket into the home the night before
-Attended a cultural event in my village. This was important enough that the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism came to make a speech. We walked around Old Shoshong, where the current President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama Ian Khama’s great grandfather, had his initial settlement.
-Took part in a traditional healing ceremony—the idea being that appeasing the ancestors will cure a woman of her ailments. We had to remove our shoes. Mosinyi’s friend put ash on my forehead, along with the other 10 people present (kind of like Ash Wednesday). We all then threw ash onto a goat, which was later killed. The guys then cooked the meat on the fire. Later, everyone ate the goat meat and drank traditional brew. The women then sang and danced to the ancestors. Although I went to sleep before the eating, singing and dancing, I could hear them from my bedroom.

Botswana continues to be a country pulled between tradition and modernity. I look forward to seeing other manifestations of this.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

This Would Only Happen Here: Part 1

A few days ago, I misplaced my cell phone. On Saturday, after class, a few of us went to a cafe (I use that term loosely) in downtown Kanye, when I realized that it was not in my bag. The last place I remember it being was on top of a desk in our classroom. I am great with my cell phone and never lose it, so I was surprised. I called a friend to look for it and continued on my way. I figured she would easily find it in our classroom.

I called my friend back an hour later, only to discover my phone was nowhere to be found. I decided to call a Peace Corps staff member. He said he would look for it, and enlisted the help of 3 other staff members. No phone.

I got home around 4 pm. I was going to just going to look for my phone on Monday, but I remembered that my parents call from the states on Sunday and I didn't want to miss it. So Florah and I went back to school to look for it.

We searched all around the room. No phone. People kept calling it, but it was busy. Right when we were about to give up, we heard it. Florah found it outside of this 10-foot tall cement wall surrounding the classroom. None of us have ever been over there.

Now, we are lucky enough to have monkeys all around our classroom. They had been spotted inside playing with the cups we use to make tea everyday. And one of the trainees said that she saw monkeys in the classroom as we came back in to collect our things on Saturday.

I made one conclusion: the monkeys took my cell phone. It was obvious. There is no way I could have dropped my cell phone outside the window of our classroom and over a cement wall. I can only guess that they realized it wasn't food and then dropped it. Where else would this happen?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Address in Shoshong

I have a new address at my site, so if you want to send anything from now on, send it to:

Amelia "Nnete" Plant
P.O. Box 69

I love letters! If you want a letter or a postcard, let me know! Remember that it can take a month or more to get mail.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Strike

Intra-African politics don't always reach international news, especially in America. All we see are the wars, inflation and economic decline. Since independence, Botswana has mostly been immune to these situations. But that is slightly changing and I wanted to share it all with you.

We were not allowed to visit our sites because of the government strike that began in April. There have been some riots, as all primary and secondary schools have been closed. Unlike schools in the United States, all teachers are government workers, as are nurses at clinics and all hospital staff. This has created quite a conundrum for the government. The workers are striking because the price of goods continues to go up, but they have not had a salary increase in three years.

Hopefully, we will be able to visit our sites next week. There have been no deaths (although there are rumors of such), and we are all safe. So not to worry. But if you are interested in reading more, here are some sites:

Just google "Botswana strike" and there is a wealth of information.

I will update again after I am able to visit Shoshong!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shoshong for TWO YEARS!

On Saturday we found out where we will be placed for the next two years. See the red dot in the middle of the map above? That's me!

I will be in Shoshong, which is in between Gaborone and Francistown. Shoshong is a relatively large village, with over 5,000 people. I haven't gotten a confirmation on the actual size, so that's not a firm number. I will be based at a large clinic. It has 16 nurses, not including staff and other health care workers. The clinic is open 24 hours/day, with the nurses all on rotation. This is the first clinic I have seen of this size, so I am so excited. Today, I met my counterpart. Our counterparts are the Batswana we will be directly working with at our primary job site. Her name is Radiboe and she is a nurse/midwife. She is so nice.

On Wednesday, Radiboe and I travel to Shoshong. Apparently my house is already set up, so I will be staying there through Sunday. I will be greeting my neighbors, getting slowly acquainted with my community, and meeting everyone at the clinic. Although I am based at the clinic, my first couple months will be spent primarily touching base with all of the stakeholders in the community and doing a community assessment. From that, I can start projects that community members have identified would be helpful to tackle HIV/AIDS in Shoshong.

Being at a clinic is useful in so many ways. I can work on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, anti-retroviral drug adherence, and get to know the people most affected by HIV in the community. But my work in the community won't only be at the clinic. I can initiate awareness campaigns, co-facilitate support groups...the list is endless. The important thing is to have the community invested in my projects, and have local partners to continue the projects after I leave.

Needless to say, I am so excited. The placement really is ideal for me. Mahalapye is 30 kilometers away and two of my fellow volunteers are being placed there. It will be great to have the support of that proximity to other Americans. I understand, though, how important it is to create lasting relationships with the Batswana in my community. And this week's trip is the beginning of that journey.

Pictures from Shadowing and Cultural Village

This is main road in Nata, the village I visited a couple weeks ago. Nata is at a crossroads between three of the largest towns in Botswana: Maun, Kasane, and Francistown. A lot of travelers come through Nata, so the main strip has a handful of gas stations and a couple restaurants (but the menus are really more fast food-esque).

This is a picture from the cultural village we visited last weekend. The dancing was spectacular. Unlike other African dance traditions, the dancers make their own beats. They do not use drums or other instruments, which makes the dancing even more exciting because the sounds are all man-made.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Lesson #1: Bus rides in Botswana are cramped and hot

Last weekend, all trainees ventured out into Botswana to shadow current volunteers. Maggie and I went to visit Sydney in northeastern Botswana. We first rode a six-hour coach bus (without a bathroom) to Francistown, then took a minibus (fit maybe 20 people) another 2 hours to our site. Even in the heat, Batswana believe that opening the windows can give you a cold. So we constantly played window wars with fellow passengers trying to keep the windows open. We also have to get used to a general lack of personal space in Botswana. People stand in the aisle of the bus, bumping into you when the bus turns. The up side: the bus stops a couple times and you can run to the bathroom if you know what you are doing. Also, Batswana are really nice, which helps to make up for the lack of personal space.

Lesson #2: Moving slowly is preferable in all aspects of life

I had a great time shadowing Sydney. She showed us what she does on a daily basis, and it helped me realize how flexible my service can be. I can spend lots of time at my clinic or social work office, or I could be very involved in the schools, etc. It made me really excited about the types of projects I can do when I go to my community. She also gave Maggie and I great info on how to integrate into our communities, who we should get to know, and tips for doing a thorough community assessment. It made me feel more confident that I will be able to actually do this job. Also, there is no rush to get things done. We walked slowly everywhere and I loved it.

Lesson #3: Umbrellas are useful for the sun and the rain

The first day I was shadowing, I actually got pretty fatigued from the sun. It was a lot hotter than it had been down south. I felt pretty sick. From that point on, I vowed to use an umbrella in the sun. Most Batswana women do so and now I understand why. The heat probably also contributes to the slower pace. I couldn’t imagine trying to walk anywhere quickly in this heat.

Lesson #4: Cooking bread is harder than it looks

For one of our assignments after we got back from shadowing, groups of trainees were tasked with preparing original meals. We then brought them all together and tried them this past Saturday. For our dish, my group decided to make madombe, or steamed bread. It turns out that steaming bread is pretty difficult unsupervised. We had the right recipe, but I think the portions were just too big. After three hours of effort, we ended up with a plate full of half-cooked bread. And yes, we still ate some of them. Our dish did not win first prize, however.

Lesson #5: African dancing is awesome, no matter the country of origin

Later on Saturday, we all went to a Botswana cultural village. Locals showed us how Batswana lived hundreds of years ago. We saw leather making, blacksmith, basket weaving and brewing demonstrations. But the best part was definitely traditional dance. My senior year of college, I took a Malian dance class, so I was interested to see the difference. Botswana dance is really cool – instead of using drums, the dancers have beads on their legs that make noise as they dance. They make the music themselves by singing and stomping. It was great.

I find out my site placement this coming weekend! Very exciting.