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.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Heating Up

My life in Shoshong is heating up…literally and figuratively. It still feels a little cool when I am getting dressed around 7 am. But I know better than to wear pants or even leggings. Because when I am walking around in the heat of the day, it is hotter than 80 degrees. Luckily it is pretty windy in Shoshong. Up until today my umbrella was broken, which was a significant disadvantage. I bought one today at a local shop. I am sure the wind will destroy this one as well, but umbrellas are necessary. Even hats don’t provide enough shade, and I have heard that the next 5 months can get pretty brutal.

September is officially my favorite month so far. It is pretty warm, but I can still wear a light sweater (if I am wearing a dress with no sleeves or a tank top) and not feel like I am dying. And there is the perfect amount of wind to make walking around bearable. But the best part is the incessant smell of jasmine EVERYWHERE. Jasmine is my favorite natural scent. When I went to China my senior year of college, I bought jasmine tea. One of my favorite lotions smells like jasmine. So when I walk around Shoshong I am reminded of these memories. It is amazing. I am not sure exactly what makes the scent, but pictured below is one of the culprits.

Wiser volunteers have told me that there is an ebb and flow of service. Sometimes life will be so hectic, we won’t feel like we even have time to stop and say hello to our neighbors. Other times we will be twiddling our thumbs and wish for ANYTHING to do. I am pleasantly in the middle of these two extremes.

I am busy everyday. I have people to meet, things to do and a comfortable amount of work hanging over my head. I rarely feel stressed to get to an appointment, but I do my best to be on time. And I have been involved in exciting and fun things.

#1: I attended a talent show at one of the primary schools. Of course, one of the judges was MIA so I got roped into doing it. The kids are such great dancers. It was so much fun! Of course I forgot my camera, so I don’t have any photos (sorry mom).

#2: My peer education group is going really well. I am not yet sure how we will actually teach peer education (how it will be organized in the village and how we will ensure that the same people come so we can do sequential classes), but I know that the people I am teaching are learning something. And they are learning it from each other, not from me. So if it doesn’t come to fruition, at least 30 people are bettering their HIV knowledge and public speaking skills. Not bad.

#3: I have continued teaching study skills to some classes at the junior secondary. I have become close to a couple of students, one of whom actually told me she wanted me to be her role model. Let’s hope I don’t screw this one up.

#4: I think I am reasonably well-liked in the village. Second thing I hope not to screw up.

#5: A couple weeks ago I attended a training to be able to facilitate films about HIV/AIDS. One of my favorite Motswana, Keoagile Ralepape, attended with me. He used to work at my clinic in the PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV) program until his funding ran out. He is now my counterpart for showing these videos and leading discussions. We just watched an AMAZING video called Mother to Child (pictured below) that we hope to show to women both at Shoshong Clinic and at health posts in surrounding areas.

If you want to purchase this 45-minute video, or see what these are all about, go to

Life is good.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Gettin' My Hair Done!

As I was walking around Shoshong meeting people my first couple of months at site, I met numerous women who owned hair salons. Apparently there are 6 in Shoshong. One of them, Bakadzi, asked if she could braid my hair. I said sure, with no intention of going through with it. A few days ago, I changed my mind. I decided it would be a great idea. I would experience what many Batswana women experience every month. And if it turned out terribly and ruined my hair, I am going to London in about a week and a half so I can get a hair cut and fix any damage then. Good plan!

All in all, it took about 5 hours over two sittings to finish my hair. And even after it was done, a few hours later, some of the braids came out. So I had to go back and Bakadzi tied the ends of my braids with string. She said she would "know better for next time."

Bakadzi and I

Top view

Side view

Also, as you can see from these last couple of shots, Bakadzi didn't just use my hair. She also added wool into it (at least I think that's what they use). It is helping to keep the braids together and strengthen the hold, especially on the top. But it makes my hair a lot stiffer than usual.

So many Batswana women get their hair done--either by braiding it (this is actually called plaiting--when you add in the wool) or adding in actual hair pieces. One young Motswana man told me that women do this because they are trying to look like white women. I will have to investigate to find out if that is true so I can't comment on that now. Regardless, it was fun (and pretty painful actually) to experience this part of Botswana female culture.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


A couple weeks ago, rakgadi (my aunt) died. By aunt, I really mean my host mom’s late husband’s aunt. She was 99 years old. Rakgadi lived right next door so this was my first time experiencing all of the rituals leading up to the funeral. Funerals are held Saturday mornings. For the week before, they held prayers at 7 am and 5 pm. Family and other community members stayed on the compound round the clock. Women and men mostly sat separately. They set up this fence (pictured below) around a part of the compound. The men sat behind this around a fire. After prayer everyone was served tea and bread.

The prayers were held in a small house surrounded by

a tent.

The women in white are the churchgoers.

At the 5 pm prayer service on Friday, the funeral home brings the corpse in.

When that is over, the women begin to prepare food that will be cooked around 9 pm. The cooks must prepare enough food for the hundreds of people who will inevitably come to the funeral. You do not need to be invited to a funeral in Botswana, so there is no real way to know exactly how many people to prepare for. Note: Mma Mosinyi (my host mom) is in front with the red dress on.

The cooking is such a huge undertaking. Some people stay at the funeral headquarters cooking until around 4 am Saturday morning. I was not much help cooking, although I did stay around until about midnight.

While the cooking preparations are happening Friday afternoon/evening, a few men are digging the grave at the cemetery.

Everyone comes back to the compound at 5:30 am if they want to view the corpse (their version of the wake). I returned at about 6:30. Pallbearers brought the corpse out from inside the house and set it in front of all of us under the tent. It was pretty cold that morning. I wore a traditional Setswana skirt (pictured below).

Then rakgadi was eulogized until about 7:30. We then all went over to the cemetery to bury her.

One thing about Botswana funerals that is different than those in the states, is that attendees usually do not show much emotion. Not many Batswana cry at funerals. In this case, rakgadi’s granddaughters were both visibly upset. It was almost beautiful to see the outpouring of emotion that isn’t always shown. Another difference is that everyone stays at the cemetery while men shovel dirt onto the grave and actually bury the deceased. And everyone sings church songs while this is happening. It is quite moving.

Then we eat! It is quite a site to behold with everyone on the compound. I helped the young women wash hands and serve food. It feels good to be useful.

All in all, the experience was amazing. It was interesting to see the cultural differences between Botswana and the US. I am always in awe with the number of people who help during events in Botswana. It is because the entire community feels responsible for things like weddings, funerals, and the rearing of children. It is a beautiful aspect of the culture here that I admire very much.