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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

United States and Identity

Many of us [PCVs] have started thinking about what we may want to do after Peace Corps service.  We have exactly 9 months left in Botswana.  Sometimes it seems like a long time.  But lately, it seems incredibly short.  For those of us wanting to go to graduate school, we must think about taking entrance exams, writing essays and submitting applications.  At the time when our service is heating up and we may feel busier than before, our minds begin to take us away from Botswana.

For me, part of the question of “what’s next” isn’t just about what I will do.  It’s also about where I will live.  How do I feel about going back to the states?  I have been talking a bit with some of the volunteers who left Botswana in June.  Some have transitioned back really well, are happily reunited with family, friends and significant others.  Yet, some have really struggled to feel at home in what everyone else considers “home” for us.

People say that home is where the heart is.  For those of us that are in our twenties, Peace Corps may be the first significant thing we did after college.  Although American values shaped us as we grew up, life feels much broader than that now.  When I left for Peace Corps, I was happy to get away from the hustle and bustle of life in the states, and how seriously people took politics and other social issues.  After four years of Brown and a nonstop year of thesis writing, sleep deprivation and over-caffeinating, I was ready for a break.

But instead of feeling ready to get back into that world, I have no desire to.  I enjoy discussions about international affairs and human rights issues are still important for sure.  Yet, I find myself not taking it all too seriously.  And I constantly wonder, what is the big deal?  What is everyone getting so worked up about?  I could say that not having running water for weeks or seeing the way people live puts things into perspective.  But it’s bigger than that.  It’s not just my view of the world or of the United States that has changed.  I am different.  I view things differently.  I value my human relationships more than anything else.  I no longer want to work in a fast-paced, demanding job.  I want to support people; I want to do what I can.  But I know where that begins and where it ends.  I will never again kill myself to get something in on time or skip a meal because I have to work.  Nothing seems that serious to me anymore.

One returned volunteer was telling me that she felt like a foreigner in her own country.  I anticipate feeling similarly.  I did feel that way when I first returned for a few weeks back in February.  People say that you reintegrate, get used to it again.  I am sure that I will.  But for now, Botswana is home.  And in some ways, I think it always will be, even if I no longer live here.

Friday, August 17, 2012

How We View Africa

I just came back from an amazing vacation visiting a good friend of mine in Indonesia.  I spent a day in Jakarta, the capital, a week and a half in Bali and another couple days in Jogjakarta.  I stayed with my friend in Bali and slept in hostels in Jakarta and Jogjakarta.  Hostels are interesting places.  Inevitably, you run into characters from all walks of life.  Many are backpackers treking through the region.  Some are just having short vacations.  Hostels oftentimes organize tours to cultural places that would be difficult to get to otherwise.

On Tuesday, August 14th, I went to Borobudur, a Buddhist temple built in the 9th century (photos to come in other posts).  A van took us from the hostel.  On the way back, one of my fellow travelers and I began talking about our travels and my PC service.  He was from the Netherlands.

At one point, he made a comment to me assuming that policemen and women in Botswana are corrupt.  When I informed him that they are actually pretty good in that category, he was surprised.  He said something like, "Well, when I think about Africa, I think about war and poverty so corruption naturally goes along with that."  I smiled and responded, "Yeah.  That is the problem with our [western] reporting about Africa.  Not all of Africa is the same thing."

I know I should expect this, but it still surprises me.  Not all Westerners think of Africa in this way.  Not all Americans think of Africa in this way.  Yet, it is a trend I see time and time again.  And when I say I am working in HIV/AIDS in Botswana, people say, "Oh yeah, there is a lot of that there, huh?"  Although the HIV prevalence rate in Botswana is rather high compared to other countries in the world, that does not tell begin to tell the real story.  But I know that the more I try to describe the nuances and the beauty that I see here, most people will never get beyond their view of Africa as a war-torn, AIDS-infested continent full of suffering victims.

The victims are there, for they are everywhere.  But so are the heroes and the intellectuals and the people who would NEVER accept being thought of as a victim.  There are people who care more and work harder and love life more than most people I have met in the states.

We [Americans] get annoyed when people talk about the states in one way.  How many times have you found yourself trying to explain the difference between Texas and New England, California and Indiana?  We are so diverse.  Why do we think that other countries are less so?  Someone may get murdered in New York City one Friday night.  And that story should be told.  But so should the one about the spelling bee and the talent show in the high school ten blocks over.  Africa is no different.

Here is a great article about journalism in Africa and how we can better our perspective and our reporting for a more holistic view of what Africa is really like.  Check it out!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Language Week in Kasane II: Animals!

The perk of holding language week in Kasane was the opportunity to tour through Chobe National Park one of the days.  We saw plenty of animals, learning many of the Setswana words for them.

First, we saw vultures circling.  That is always exciting because it means that there could be a fresh kill ahead.  If there is a fresh kill, there is a greater chance of seeing lions and other cats!  Unfortunately following the vultures led nowhere.

One of the things one instinctively knows is not to yell loudly when going through Chobe.  The animals are all around in their natural habitat.  In order to see them, one wants to AVOID scaring them away.  So, as we were attempting to follow the vultures (which kept circling in different places, never a good sign that there is actually something of interest) we passed a car.  The tourists in the other car shouted, "GO BACK THAT WAY!  LIONSSS!"  We were hoping their yelling hadn't scared away the lions.  So we doubled back near a small watering hole and lo and behold, saw a lion!

Lion is Setswana is "Tau"

In this photo, she looks relatively docile.  What I couldn't capture was the moment when she thought we were a threat because we were following her in the car.  At that moment, she crouched down like she would pounce on us.  That was pretty scary.  But we turned around.  Crisis averted!

Next, we happened upon some meerkats.  We met many Americans in Kasane studying meerkats.  What exactly they are doing and why I will never know.  But here they are, in case you are interested.

We saw LOTS of buffalo!

Buffalo in Setswana is "Nare"

All of those animals were interesting (especially the lion), but I really wanted to see elephants.  That was my goal for the day.  And they tell you that the best time to see animals is early in the morning or near dusk.  So, as the hours wore on and there were no elephants in site, I began to be a little bummed out.  Then, around noon, as we were heading out, we came upon a whole herd (is that the right word?) of elephants!  They are BEAUTIFUL.  I love them!

Elephant in Setswana is "Tlou"

Elephants are unbelievable creatures.  Looking into their eyes, it's almost like you can see a personality and a soul.  They are so powerful, though, so trying to touch them is absolutely prohibited, especially if a mother has her baby nearby.  They are protective of their young.  Christina knows a lot about animals and she was telling us that elephants have lifespans similar to that of humans.  They live to be around 65 years old.  And when the young male elephants get to be teenagers, they are kicked out of the herd to make their own bachelor herd.  This helps to prevent inbreeding.  Then they must join a different herd.

We hadn't seen zebras throughout the day, so we were surprised to come near some.  Zebras are very skiddish so they turned and ran when they began to hear our car.

Zebra is Setswana is "Pitse yanaga" - "Pitse" means horse

The giraffes were just co-mingling with the elephants.  I have seen giraffes in other places so I didn't take too many photos of them.

Giraffe in Setswana is "Thutlwa"

Later that day, we went on a boat tour.  Pictured below is Goitsemodimo, our tour guide.  Goitsemodimo means "to know God."  All Setswana names have meanings, oftentimes related to God.

Amanda, me, Christina and Shelley.  I was DYING to buy Shelley's hat but I haven't been able to find it yet.

Too many elephants are never enough!

On the boat tour, we were able to see some animals that we didn't see much of on land in Chobe.  One was the crocodile.  The water was clean and beautiful, but unswimmable (I don't think that's a word but I like it so I am going to use it) because of crocs.

Crocodile in Setswana is "Kwena"

Christina, Amanda, Shelley, me and Patrick with elephants in the background

Finally we saw hippos!  Goitsemodimo told us that hippos are very territorial so we couldn't get too close in the boat.  Hippos are known for destroying boats and attacking when feeling even the slightest bit provoked.

Hippo in Setswana is "Kubu"

Hippo yawn!

All in all, the Kasane trip was amazing.  Kasane is also right across the border from Victoria Falls.  So if you visit the Falls, I urge you to come down and see some of the animals in Kasane.  Seeing animals in their natural environment, away from the zoo, is really special.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Language Week in Kasane I: Setswana and Exploring

The Peace Corps facilitates trainings throughout our service for continuing education.  One offering is the language week.  You can get together with up to 5 of your friends anywhere in the country and learn Setswana for a week.  PC pays for an LCF (Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator) to join you.

In the beginning of July, Patrick, Amanda, Octavius, Shelley, Christina and I spent the week together in Kasane.  We learned a lot of Setswana, especially more everyday phrases that we hadn't known before.  We also were able to explore Kasane and see a bunch of animals (which get their own blog post).  Kasane is at the northeastern tip of Botswana, right near Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe.  Victoria Falls is right over the border.  It is gorgeous and a big destination in Botswana for tourism.  Needless to say, it was a great week.

Tonic, our fearless LCF

The first day in Kasane, we decided to walk around a bit and get to know the place.  This attractive building is the Botswana Centre for Human Rights (with Patrick and Shelley).

One cannot explore Kasane without at least taking a look at the lodges and seeing where most of the tourists stay (we all stayed in Octavius's house for the most part).  I took this photo of two tourists with their HUGE cameras because they were rude to us.  Two separate groups of tourists yelled at us in a two-hour span.  These tourists pushed us out of the way because they wanted to take an important photograph of a bird.  We didn't become friends with them, surprise surprise.

Octavius, with warthogs in the background (yes, like Pumbaa in "Lion King")

We played many games to facilitate language learning.  Here, we are just playing Apples to Apples.  But we also played Bananagrams in Setswana which was a lot of fun.  Left to Right: Patrick, Shelley, Christina and Amanda

Then we had a hair cutting session.  This happens at most Peace Corps get-togethers

I braided Shelley's and my hair...why not?

Amanda and Octavius were our cooks extraordinaire.  Over the course of the week, we made snickerdoodles, cinnamon buns, cheeseburgers and other amazing food that Octavius made every morning.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Dorcas Center

A few months ago, a woman named Keletso Mokongwa approached me with an idea: to open up an after school center for orphans and vulnerable children in Shoshong. She identified an abandoned building and has been funding the entire thing from her own pocket. We got a lot of the community involved in painting and cleaning the house. The idea behind the center (named the Dorcas Centre) is to provide some needy children with support that they may not otherwise have. Everyday after school they come to the Centre, get a hot meal, play games or get tutored in subjects they are having trouble with.

The other beautiful part of planning to open the Centre was the ability to do manual labor on a daily basis.  For the past 3 months, I painted every few days.  It was great staying busy.  And because I was there most days, it created a lot of awareness about the Centre.  Everyone was asking what we were planning.  It was great exposure for Keletso's cause.

Keletso and Dikgang before we got started (Dikgang is a good friend of mine and one of the people who helped us plan and paint from the beginning)

Here I am blocking my face because the house was SO dirty.  Before we cleaned it, the ceiling was filled with bat droppings and the entire place was a mess.  Keletso got a cute pic of me here cleaning.

Scraping off the old paint and starting afresh

Boitshepi and others

Tumelo and Nonofo

My PC friends Stephanie, Cassie and Amanda came for a day to help paint

If you need any convincing that it gets COLD in Botswana, check out what we're wearing!