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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hukuntsi and Kang: More Photos

Tracy and I at the Junior Secondary School (Hukuntsi)

Me in Tate's house (Kang).  Tate had friendship bracelet-making string.  We had a beautiful return to childhood.  I taught Tate how to make the kind of bracelet shown in this picture, a butterfly bracelet.  Since coming back from Kang and receiving some string from my mom in the mail, I have taught a bunch of people in Shoshong how to make these as well. 

Tate in Pep.  She had just moved into her house and was still buying necessary items, like an ocean-themed cup to hold her toothbrush.  Taking photos in stores and laughing obnoxiously while random customers stare at us?  Yep.  Sounds about right.
Tate next to a BIG cactus on our way to visit Jan, another Peace Corps volunteer serving in Kang.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Seasons of Love

In Botswana, few people have cell phone plans.  We buy airtime, use it up and buy more.  There are different cell phone companies that we use – Mascom, Orange or Bemobile.  I use Bemobile.  It has this great service on the weekends where I can call other Bemobile users for free.  I use that time to catch up with friends—both volunteers and locals.

Being in contact with other volunteers can be a source of both great support and also confusion about one’s service.  It is nice to know that others can understand what you are going through to some extent.  However, seeing what other volunteers are doing can make you question your own service, asking things like:

Am I going enough?
Am I being lazy?
What is wrong with me that I have not been as “successful” within my own community?
Should I change what I am doing in some way?

Conversely, you can get great ideas to use in your own village based on other volunteers’ work.

In America, we are used to measuring success by the same barometers as other people.  We (well, some of us) had steady jobs or we attended school.  There were concrete ways to know if we were doing what we were supposed to be doing.  That concept does not apply to Peace Corps service.  What works in one community could be a terrible idea in another.  So it is not possible—nor is it healthy—to judge oneself and one’s work based on that of other people.

But we are human, so inherently we find ourselves doing just that at times.  And that has brought about a surprising, but nice realization for me: I will not be the best at everything I do.  And that is not only okay, but actually quite beautiful.  I am surrounded by people who are more intelligent, innovative and experienced than I am.  There are times when I am the more intelligent, innovative and experienced person.

I was talking about this (on my Bemobile free weekend time) with a fellow volunteer yesterday.  We were both remarking on how lucky we are to have been able to do everything we wanted in life.  We graduated from college, studied what we wanted, and can return to the states and pursue any career path we choose.  How unbelievable is that?  There are few people in the world that can claim that.  We both realized that Peace Corps is the first time in which things aren’t quite going according to plan.  And thank goodness for this experience to show us that…to make us okay with the unexpected, okay with redefining success.

At one point, my friend said that we may not end up achieving what we “set out to do” in Botswana.  That made me pause and wonder what exactly it was that I set out to do.  Surely I wanted to help people.  Surely I knew that I would grow in the process.  But I am a better human being now than I was before I came to Peace Corps.  I can say that unequivocally.  I am kinder.  I am easier to work with.  I appreciate more and worry less.

It’s not just Peace Corps or Shoshong that has brought about these changes within me.  It is also the self-learning I have had time to do while here.  A while ago, I wrote about wishing that I would find the right religion for me.  Although I wouldn’t define it as a religion, I have found a philosophy that fills that void.  It is called Taoism.  There is a peace in my life that I never experienced before.  I encourage everyone (of all religious and spiritual backgrounds) to read the Stephen Miller translation of the Tao Te Ching.

The main philosophy of Taoism is to understand the way of the world and work within it, rather than against it.  When those negative questions come into my head, making me wonder if I am “doing enough,” I attempt to recognize where they come from…an American-imposed notion of success that I can shrug off anytime.  And I shall.

Although PC Washington may measure my service by the number of people I reach each quarter, I will not.  I will measure it by smiles, by the children that run after me knowing my name, by the people who say thank you, by the times locals confide in me, by the joys of weddings and funerals and dancing, by the all-encompassing love that this world has to offer.

So, “how do you measure, measure a year?  In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee?  In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?  In 525 thousand 600 minutes?  How do you measure a year in the life? How about love?”

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mini Vacation III: Hukuntsi and Kang

At about the one year mark of service, each group gets back together for a mid-service training (MST).  Last month, Bots 10 convened in Gaborone for a few days of training.  We also saw the dentist and PC doctors for a check-up.  I took the opportunity to visit some friends a few hours west of Gaborone.

First, I visited John and Tracy in Hukuntsi.  They are Bots 11s, which means that they arrived in Botswana in September (5 months after me).  John officially works in a junior secondary school as a Life Skills volunteer and Tracy works at the District AIDS Coordinating (DAC) Office.  Like me, they do other things in the community other than their primary placements.

Tracy and John in front of the goats near their house

They showed me around Hukuntsi.  We attended a celebration at the kgotla that weekend for the Day of the African Child.

Traditional drama at the kgotla in Hukuntsi

Exercise class - the teacher invited a bunch of kids from the audience to join in.  They had a blast!

Tracy, John and I visited a primary school in Hukuntsi to talk with one of the guidance teachers about some projects they wanted to partner on.  There, we learned about the Circles of Support program to assist teachers in better learning how to support needy students.  We also saw a great exercise class.  They also got to perform at the kgotla.

Like me, Tracy has taught people how to play cards.  So we went to the junior secondary school and played with some of the students.  A lot of them board at the school and there isn’t much entertainment to keep them out of trouble on the weekends.

After Hukuntsi, I stopped through Kang on my way back to Gaborone for training.  I visited two volunteers there, Jan and Tate.  Jan is a Bots 11 Life Skills volunteer.  Tate had just arrived at site the week before I visited.  She is a Bots 12, and was also the trainee who shadowed me a couple months ago.

I love Tate.  We bonded so much when she shadowed me.  And we renewed our vows of friendship by re-living childhood.  We did things like making friendship bracelets and taking photos in stores and laughing incessantly.

It was a lovely mini vacation before MST!  Pictures of Kang won't load...will put them up next time.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

For the Record

In case anyone thought otherwise, I would like to take this time to set the record straight on a few things:

1.  There is nothing sexy, quaint or rustic about washing clothes by hand.  ESPECIALLY socks.  I washed 13 pairs today, using 26 pegs to hang them on the line.  And I am not…done…yet.  Regardless of what happens and how much laundry I can do in a day, all of my socks are NEVER clean.  And even the ones that are “clean” always have a faint dirt stain on them.  Needless to say, black socks are the way to go.

2.  The authors of any and all books about life on the farm were wrong.  For your information, roosters do not just crow at dawn.  They crow WHENEVER they want.  Usually you’ll hear one next to you crow in response to a far away crow.  They will continue to communicate like this ALL DAY.  On behalf of book buyers everywhere, I would like my money back please.

3.  I love that people are interested in my service in Botswana.  I try to share my experiences as accurately as I can.  That being said, asking me “how is Africa” or “how is Botswana” is kind of a bummer.  “How is Botswana” is better because it at least recognizes that Africa is not one entity.  Africa is HUGE and the countries are as varied as one can imagine.  I could not speak on anything but the small parts of Africa I have visited.  “Well, Amelia,” you may ask, “I want to know what/how your life is like but I don’t know what to say.”  Good point.  Here are just a few alternative questions:*
  • What is a typical day in Shoshong like?
  • Have you spent much time in other parts of Botswana?  Other parts of Africa?
  • What is the most fulfilling thing you have done?
  •  What is your biggest challenge so far?
  •  How are weddings/funerals/social events different than they are in the states?
  • Based on this experience, do you have any idea what you would like to do in the future?
  • Have you made any good friends there?  What are they like?
  • What do people eat in Botswana?
  • Is it difficult to learn/speak Setswana?  Do you like it?  Is that the only language they speak in Botswana?
  • Are you happy?
  • What is the education system like?  Is it similar to that in the states? …etc…. 

*These also work in place of similarly broad questions like “how is study abroad/college/any life-changing experience”

4.  The United States may be cold in the winter and hot in the summer.  But there is one important difference between those temperatures and the ones in Shoshong: we have indoor heat and air conditioning in America.  The temperature outside is roughly the temperature in my house in Botswana.  Usually that means it is either too hot or too cold.  So don’t be surprised if I simply look at you and smile when you complain about walking from your air-conditioned car to your air-conditioned office.  I have nothing against air conditioning of course.  But for the record, I prefer to sleep with frozen water bottles.  My attempts to sleep in the summer months greatly improved after this realization.

5.  It is quite remarkable which aspects of American culture cross the globe.  Batswana youth love Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Lil’ Wayne, among other popular music artists.  What I didn’t expect what hearing a whole lot of Dolly Parton and Celine Dion.  You go girls!

6.  Batswana dress VERY well when going to work.  If I lived in Gaborone (the capital), I would easily be the worst dressed person.  The women can walk through sand in stilettos to get to work.  I am always impressed.

7.  People do not eat dog here.  Yet, in the north, they do eat lion.  It is a delicacy and sells out immediately after it is available, I am told.  And they eat elephant sometimes…although poaching is illegal (yay!).

I am sure other observations will come in time…