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.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ngwaga o Mosha!

Ngwaga o mosha or Happy new year!

2012 has been an amazing year...the "long stretch" of Peace Corps service.  Volunteers have said that when you begin the January to December part of service, it can seem like it will never end.  But as most things do, it feels like it has gone by in a flash.  I can't believe I will be ending my time in Shoshong in less than 5 months.  But I don't want my adventure in Botswana to be done quite yet.

I do hope to extend my service in Botswana another full year.  There are a few options when one decides to do this.  One may apply to stay in one's village or go elsewhere.  One may work in the same kind of organization/job or choose a different path.  One may work in one organization or split time between a couple.  I am applying to work outside of Shoshong.  I am not exactly sure what kind of organization I would work for.  It all depends on how many other volunteers are applying and what they would like to do.  I won't find out if I have been accepted for a couple months.

Reflections will become stronger after the two years, I am sure.  But there are a few things I have been thinking about lately.  The first is if I would ever do Peace Corps service again.  An NGO called World Spine Care opened up a clinic in Shoshong.  It is very exciting.  There have been many American and Canadian volunteers over the past 8 months.  The most recent one asked me where my next Peace Corps post is.  I laughed and said that I go home after Peace Corps Botswana.  And then I said I will never do Peace Corps service again.  She looked a bit surprised, as if I meant that my experience had been so bad that I could never dream of doing it again.

However, it is just the opposite.  Peace Corps service is different than getting a great job in which you travel to London, Cairo, Berlin, etc.  Peace Corps service isn't just seeing the world.  It is becoming a part of a community.  For me, it meant learning a language.  Although we will never fully integrate into our communities or become fluent in the local language, we can become very close with people around us.  And that is very different than living in a big city.  It is an amazingly special experience.  And it is also very difficult at times.  I have had a beautiful experience in Shoshong and I wouldn't trade it for the world.  Similarly, I wouldn't want to try to do this again.  I am now a child of America and a child of Botswana.  Splitting my heart between the two is enough.

It is difficult for someone to understand what I mean when they only do a summer abroad or spend a month volunteering somewhere.  Spending two years of your life is a real committment.  And once is enough for me, I think.  Things can always change, of I shall never say never.  But at this point, I am satisfied with one tour of Peace Corps.

The other thought I have had of late is about Botswana culture.  I have written extensively about it in this blog, trying to point out similarities and differences to life in America.  That process has merit and I understand it.  When we experience something new, we inherently categorize it with what we already know.  It's how our brains work as humans.  We try to understand the world around us based on the framework that we know.  But there are moments in which I think, "This aspect of Botswana culture is a contradiction."  One example is how community-focused they are in general.  Food is shared within the family.  There is a lot of community support, especially at funerals.  That being said, families can often be a source of real hardship.  Many people I have worked with feel a lack of understanding, and even strong judgments from their family members.  Why does it seem like there is so much love on the one hand, but a lack of trust and empathy on the other?  It seems to not make sense.

And then I realize that it doesn't make sense because I am trying to interpret peoples' behavior within my understanding of "normal" behavior in the United States.  Cultures cannot be compared to one another because they evolve separately.  Each is unique and must be understood in that context.  Nothing is weird or a's just the way it is.


  1. Very interesting train of thought. Like comparing Botswana with America. Apples and oranges. Good to think about to come to this point. You have had an incredible experience in Shoshong. I'm blessed to be a witness to your journey. Love you, Mama

  2. Hi Honey - I am so proud of you and love you so much. You have grown through your Peace Corps experience in ways you have yet to discover as you move ahead in life. Your insight into cultures is big - not weird or wrong, just the way it is. Applies within cutlures as well. The kids I work with are Samoan, Chinese, Central American, Mexican, African American, White - they are all "American" but with such different cultural norms - gang culture, parenting, sex, gender roles, education, work ethic, respect, violence, diet, music, clothes, cars, art, etc etc etc. Big deal to step outside our own cultural box in non-judgmental way. Most of these norms all start from some real life need or situation (like Jewish koshe diet restrictions) - but so long ago that the original root gets lost and only the practise remains as "tradition". Primo Levi wrote great book "The Periodic Table" that touches this.

    Hard to believe you are coming up on two years there. May be three by time you finish, yes? and then, it's a wide open world. What a life you have already led. And the best is yet to come - a rich rich life. Love, Dad

  3. You have wonderful parents! I love their comments.

    What your dad wrote is HUGE and SO true, "Big deal to step outside our own cultural box in non-judgmental way." I remember thinking, "Setswana culture is wrong because of xyz." and trying to catch myself and rethinking, "It's okay to note differences and even not like some things in different cultures as long as we are respectful" - just what you said. I am from the South and I am sure my familial and collegiate culture are worlds apart from yours in Rhode Island :)

    I am so sorry I am such an awful writer. I have a letter I started to you in July still sitting here unfinished :(
    Does it help to know at all that you are loved and thought of often in my week? :)

    YOU ARE EXTENDING???!!! There is chance I could come visit? My dream might be realized? Yeah, I'm dreaming big here :/ I don't think our budget or leave time from work allow such a trip, but I WILL keep dreaming!


  4. Itumeleng/Jenny,

    Thanks for the comment! It is important to step back and remember to be non-judgmental. I also catch myself being like, "Why are they like this?" The latest example is getting off the bus. Batswana can wait for HOURS in long lines and they don't mind. But getting off a bus, they push and push you and (in my opinion) are oftentimes rude. And I just think it is so inconsistent. But it's just the way some people are. Humans are complicated. We are all inconsistent in some ways.

    I could be better at communicating as well..sorry about that! But I am sending you something soon. And you are more than welcome to visit next year! I hope I will be in Gabs but I can't be sure about anything at this point. Will definitely keep you posted.

    Love, Amelia