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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Girls: U Can Prevent Pregnancy/HIV!

At the school where we live in Botswana, Africa, there is a mural with a caption in big red letters: "Girls: U Can Prevent Pregnancy/HIV". I tried to film a video of me talking in front of the mural about how the words send a flawed message to high school students. Basically, the mural's words imply that HIV and teen pregnancy prevention falls solely on teenage girls' shoulders. It is an issue here in Botswana that is too complex to try and sum up in a few words for a video camera, so I decided to write about it instead. Because the gender issues surrounding HIV are so dear to my heart and purpose in the Peace Corps, I am sure this will be a topic that I revisit time and again during my two years here in Botswana.

Unfortunately, teenage pregnancy and several types of sexually transmitted infections including HIV are prevalent for Botswana teens. It is unfair for a mural to depict prevention as an issue for girls only. There are many people who influence or affect this situation including: boys, men, and women in the community, parents, teachers, school counselors, health professionals, local and national government, media, foreign aid, etc. (The list could go on and on.) However, teenage girls are blamed for unwanted pregnancy or for bringing HIV “into the family”. When a girl becomes pregnant, she must take an HIV test at the clinic or hospital where she receives antenatal care. If found to be HIV +, the partner or family often blame the girl/woman for bringing the virus into the family/relationship and accuse her of acting promiscuously. However, rape and defilement are often culprits of teenage pregnancy. During my staff meetings at the hospitals, it is not uncommon for me to hear about young girls being raped by their uncles, friends, or other acquaintances, so it is important to note that most rape cases occur domestically and by someone the girl is very close to.

Additionally, there are “transactional relationships” that influence teenage pregnancy and HIV infection. This is when young girls are enticed by older men to sleep with them in exchange for some gift such as a cell phone, food, clothes, etc. Sometimes families are even aware of these relationships and do nothing to prosecute them as defilement cases because they know the girl is bringing goods into the household or they consider the man to be worthy of marriage and trick themselves into thinking that the daughter will marry the man someday. Some families even encourage girls to enter these relationships for “the sake of the family”. Since the girls are much younger than the men in these transactional relationships by anywhere from 10-40 years and because of long standing gender inequalities surrounding sexual behavior, girls are unable to make the man wear a condom. In addition, men often tell the girls that since they are getting a provision of some sort for the sex, it is not their place to stipulate condom use.

Girls who want to attend secondary school (high school) but live too far away from the villages the schools are located in must live at the school as a boarder. This can be a dangerous situation for girls because they are often sexually abused by the boys who board at the school. This is an infrastructure problem because of the way the boarding houses are managed and because of how close together the boys and girls dormitories are located. In some situations, there are only one or two “boarding masters” for 200-400 children living at any one school. These boarding masters are supposed to keep a close watch on the children after school hours but are not always “manning their posts” properly or are unable to regulate all illegal and dangerous behavior of hundreds of children at once.

Gender inequalities, poverty and economic opportunities, and education are just three of the major areas that go into preventing such a deep seeded issue like rising teenage pregnancy rates and HIV infection in Botswana. I am not by any means the foremost expert on the issue and have only lived in Botswana for four months, so I'm afraid I have not done the issue justice with this short note. I hope to readdress the topic at some time in the near future. However, I hope I have driven the point home that girls face a tremendous amount of stigma surrounding teen pregnancy and HIV in Botswana and that this issue is one that falls on the shoulders of many different people, not just girls.

If you would like to get a better understanding on why the HIV prevalence is the second highest in the world here in Botswana, please check out a book called, The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS by Helen Epstein, particularly the chapters on Southern Africa. The book is not about Botswana only but it does address the contributing factors in Botswana. Also, you can read Saturday is for Funerals by Unity Dow that is strictly about the HIV epidemic in Botswana and is written by a Motswana writer.

Thank you for taking the time to read about this issue that is so dear to my heart and I hope you will continue to follow our blogs and facebook postings!


Friday, December 9, 2011

10 Things you learn after moving to Botswana

1.) Get yourself on "Africa Time" asap; it can be quite nice if you learn to embrace it

2.) Expect everything to happen or nothing to happen at any given moment

3.) African insects are genetically superior to all other insects around the world

4.) Carry toilet paper or kleenex with you everywhere b/c all toilets and latrines are without TP

5.) Carry handi-wipes or soap with you b/c even hospitals do not have soap in the bathrooms

6.) Livestock animals are everywhere; get used to it and go ahead and embrace them using your yard as a giant litter box

7.) Pretend those roosters crowing outside your window from 2:30-6:30 AM are a sound machine, lulling you back to sleep

8.) Learning everyone's Setswana name is next to impossible but you must keep trying even when you feel like an idiot for asking people to repeat their names five times

9.) Drinking room temperature water (90-100 F) in the Kalahari Desert will drive anyone crazy after three months

10.) Just relax. You live in Africa now and to survive, you have to go with the flow

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Good Day – December 4th, 2011

Today we spent the day satisfying a couple of invitations that had been extended to us earlier in the week. First was lunch at the home of Indian immigrants that Hayley passes by on her way home from work. She often stops and talks with the lady of the house (Sumaya) when she sees her in the front yard watching her two children (Azan and Ayan). After becoming acquainted, the family asked us to join them for lunch and we gladly accepted (the family is very kind and friendly, and we love Indian food!). At the luncheon we learned that they have lived together in our village for over five years, and that the husband (Nasim) has been here nearly eleven. He owns and operates a food deli that sells meat pies and other quick meal options to the people that work in the downtown—downvillage—area. Needless to say, the food was fantastic and Hayley is looking forward to helping Sumaya cook some dishes in the future.
After eating we sat and talked with the family for another hour before heading back home to wait for our ride to pick us up and take us to a recreation lodge on the outskirts of the village (earlier in the week an Afrikaner woman named Cornel had picked up Hayley as she was home and gave her a ride. After getting to our house they sat in the car and talked for a bit and Cornel invited us to go with her to a lodge outside of town on Sunday). The lodge is setup in the countryside with some cabins and camping areas and offers visitors the chance to see some of the animals that live in the area (this includes: an Alpha lion and two young male lions that are vying for the chance to take over as the current Alpha becomes older, many different birds, blue wildebeest, aardvark, ostrich, various antelope, and many other typical African animals excluding elephants and Rhinos which avoid the desert locale and instead live up in the wetter regions of Northern Botswana).
The lodge is operated by a pillar of the community (Jill) that has an amazing history of work and study throughout the region of Southern Africa. She has worked as a nurse, biologist, and community leader for much of her life and even spent time living with a KhoiSan settlement as part of a team put together by a group in London to catalogue social, environmental, and linguistic information on some of the most at-risk indigenous societies of the world (Native Americans, Indigenous tribes in South America, Inuit, aborigine, and the San bushmen).
Our ride to the bush lodge was provided by Cornel, her two children, and a friend of hers. They often go out to the lodge for a few hours on the weekend to relax, enjoy the scenery, and chat with Jill and others that might be staying at the lodge. We ate a Jell-O cake while enjoying good company in the cool air of the late Botswana afternoon. Normally, the weather is not so cool but the past week’s heat was broken up by rainstorms which were brought in by merciful cold fronts that brought the temperature down to bearable levels!
We got to see some pretty birds and pet some friendly dogs that live at the lodge. After being in Botswana for around three months we have been deprived of quality time with friendly well behaved dogs, because the standard care for dogs in Botswana in severely lacking and most of the dogs are hyper and/or terrified of humans because of the mistreatment they are subjected to. However the dogs we met today, owned by Afrikaners, were like so many of the dogs we loved to pet back home. They included some small, fluffy terriers, a laidback hunting dog mix named Blue, and a Boerbol (named Lola) that must have weight at least 140lbs!.
The warmth and openness that these people, and others, in the community have showed us over our first few weeks here have given us a lot of hope for our future in the village and made the transition much more enjoyable as we try to figure out how best we can be of service here. These experiences are not unique to us as volunteers in Botswana. Many of our fellow volunteers have said the same thing about their communities and experiences. This shows that, for the most part, the people of Botswana are very friendly and eager to bring visiting strangers into their homes and show them a level of hospitality that is rarely seen today.

Monday, November 28, 2011

An update... Finally! - Moving from Training to our Permanent Site

We apologize for the backlog of posts. This is the accumulation of a
few weeks of adventures, so it is very long!

Jwaneng Mine – Novemeber 4th, 2011
We arrived at the education center very early in the morning to begin
our trip to Jwaneng Diamond Mine, the 2nd largest open-pit mine in the
world, and soon to be the largest. The town of Jwaneng began as a
settlement town housing workers are the mine, but as the mine grew to
be more productive than the other three top producing diamond mines in
the world, the town grew and is now one of the larger towns in
Southern Botswana. In fact, Jwaneng will be one of our shopping
villages when we move to our permanent site this Thursday. The reason
our training coordinators wanted to take us to the mine is because it
is the source for over half of the country's income.
At the mine we were welcomed by the head of commercial and public
affairs and shown a brief introductory video of the diamond mining
process and our guide also gave us the rundown of the rules we were to
follow during our tour: 1) don't touch any rocks 2)Don't pick up
anything from the ground, even if you drop your sunglasses you have to
ask an official for assistance 3) don't even look like you might be
eyeing a particular rock or you will be sent back to the bus an 4)
refer to the previous three rules…
We were given boots, helmets, and eye protection as we set off to see
the mining site. As we rode a bus down around the rim of the pit we
passed by massive earth mover trucks (340ton and 400ton versions) and
we also passed by even larger piles of rock debris and kimberlitic ore
(the rock that diamonds are found in). We stopped at an observation
point at one of the far ends of the pit and from there we were able to
see the entire operation all the way down to the crews running cranes
and trucks at the bottom of the 300m pit. The number of diamonds that
come out of any one truck filled with ore is said to average around
1carat/ton, which we were told is amazingly high!
After hearing more about the mine and taking in the view, we were
driven over to a section on the rim of the pit to see the mineral rich
ore and giant trucks up close. The piles of green/grey rock were
littered with sparkles, which of course were the diamonds in the
rough. And the earth mover trucks nearby were even larger than they
had seemed as we drove by them on our tour of the pit. They stood
nearly as large as 3-4 story buildings!
At the end of the day, only one person in the tour group had been
caught pointing dangerously close to a rock and was sent back to the
bus until the next stop on the tour. They take security and safety
very seriously at the mine and, all in all, the mine was an impressive
sight to behold.

Mr. Khan's Braii – November 5th, 2011
A community leader invited the training group over to his
home/business compound for a BBQ (called a Braii here). Mr. Khan owns
a butchery, and is a prominent member of his community. Over the last
few years he had become more aware of the Peace Corps's presence in
the city and was excited to lend his support and thus started hosting
braii's for each semester's training group.
When we arrived at the location of the Braii, we were greeted with the
scene of cattle being slaughtered for the holy day of Sacrifice. This
Muslim holiday commemorates the story of Abraham and Isaac in which
Abraham was presented with an animal to slaughter in place of his son.
And so, on this day Mr. Khan had many cows slaughtered and was
planning to give the meat to people in need throughout the community.
Cows, being a form of wealth in Botswana culture, are a very high
commodity (Our language and culture teacher even said that the average
dowry is around 8 cows). Six cows were slaughtered and prepared for
delivery around the community that night.
Many of us stood and observed the slaughtering of one cow, but decided
to take a break from watching the rest of the cows meet their end. The
scene of slaughter was a powerful sight because in order to keep the
meat fresh and clean for human consumption the men must allow the
still beating heart to pump out the majority of the blood from the
cows body by creating a large incision at the cows throat after
hog-tying it and laying it down on an incline so that the blood can
run off into a drainage gutter. They do everything they can to insure
the process is as humane as possible, but it is still hard to not be
affected by the spectacle (both the sight and smell of the affair are
The cows that were slaughtered were not for us, other meat had already
been prepared for grilling and so after the slaughtering was completed
everyone returned from their areas of refuge away from the bloody
scene to enjoy a great meal of Tandoori seasoned chicken, lamb, and
goat with coleslaw, chips (French fries), potato salad, and beets. The
meal was one of the best we have had during training. Along with the
great food, was the great company of Mr. Khan, his employees, family
and friends, as well as some of our language and culture teachers, and
training staff. Mr. Khan is a very open and giving person and even in
first meeting him he presents you with an openness that makes you feel
as if you are old friends.
A second stop by Mr. Khan's house a few nights later with some
volunteers found us eating the single best Indian meal we have ever
had! It was especially nice to take home some leftover rice and dhal
with vegetables to snack on the next day while we waited to leave for
our permanent site.

Swearing in – November 9th, 2011
We arrived at the Education Center early in the morning and waited
around in one of the rooms for a couple of hours before the event
began. It was a nice chance to talk with the other trainees and get
some last minute pictures in while we were all dressed up. Some people
even had traditional garments to wear that were made for them by their
host families!
The event was about 2.5hrs long and consisted of a bunch of speeches
(two of which were given by trainees that had prepared speeches in
Setswana). And then Michelle Gavin, the US Ambassador to Botswana led
us through the oath of service. FYI, contrary to popular belief, now
that we are volunteers we are not employees of the US Government,
technically. Although we are supported financially by tax money and
funds from the government of Botswana (GoB), we are serving as
volunteers for the US government and are in no way considered under
the umbrella of federal workers or diplomats.
After the event a small luncheon was provided for us at the service
where we had a chance to eat with the members of our host families
that had attended the swearing in ceremony. The meal was the standard
Botswana faire: chicken/beef cooked in stew-like spices, rice, poleche
(a very stiff and plain version of polenta), coleslaw, and beets.
After the lunch we went home and began packing so that we would have
free time in the evening to attend celebrations with the rest of the
volunteers. The celebrations were a great chance to say goodbye to all
of the people we have gotten to know and come to love over these past
couple of months. It has been amazing how fast you make friends when a
group of people is placed under such strenuous circumstances for such
a limited amount of time. The day was also shared by a few birthdays
and we had fun honoring those as well throughout the night with a stop
at a local bar, and then a braii (BBQ) at a volunteer's host-family's

Moving to our Permanent Site – November 11th, 2011
We left for our site a day later than was planned, but it turned out
that many volunteers had hiccups in their plans as well and were
picked up a day or two later than had been scheduled originally. The
school that Michael will be working for coordinated with the hospital
that Hayley will be working for to send a small SUV to pick us up. The
drive to our site took approximately 4hrs and was cramped for the
first half of the trip until we were able to meet up with a second
truck to disperse some of our bags to make more room for the extra
groceries and supplies that we picked up in Jwaneng along the way.
We stopped for a bite to eat for lunch at Nando's Chicken in Jwaneng
(the same town that is home to the enormous diamond mine of Botswana).
After the quick stop we drove over to a strip-mall in town and bought
some groceries, a fan, and cleaning supplies for our new home.
Upon arriving at our new home we were happy to find that it was
standing and had a few pieces of furniture that we need to start our
life here. The only major items missing were a refrigerator, a gas
cylinder to fuel our stove, and a mattress. (The mattress we had was
simply a 2cm thick pad placed upon a wooden slatted frame.) We both
commented that we had slept on cots, floors, and even grounds more
comfortable than our "bed." We will probably put a request in for a
fridge, but it is not a mandatory item and we can make do without it.
And the gas cylinder will be delivered soon, but until then we will go
out and buy a hotplate to cook meals on. As for the mattress we will
need to have the Peace Corps doctor write a letter explaining our need
for it and then we will have to collect three or four quotes for the
price of suitable mattress so that the ministry of education can
decide which one to buy.
The house is a concrete one bedroom home with a kitchen, bathroom, and
large living room. There were no curtains in the house, but we had
heard that this might be an issue and so we brought along some extra
bed sheets that we hung over the doors and windows to create some
privacy. We also spent a lot of time hanging up our mosquito net
because the area seems to have a lot of mosquitos at the moment (they
are probably trying to escape the oppressive heat of 40-43 degrees
Celsius -- 90's-100's Fahrenheit). After all of the work, we made our
first dinner at the new house. It was a camping lasagna meal (just add
boiling water!). It was a simple meal, but it is a big comfort to
enjoy familiar foods and tastes whenever we can!
Soon, we hope to meet up with the other volunteer that is currently
serving in this community so that she might be able to show us around
town and help us get acquainted with our new village.

Two Days after moving in – November 13th, 2011
After a few days of cleaning and unpacking, our home is coming closer
to a state of being as settled in as it can be. We are still without a
refrigerator or gas for our stove so when we do cook we either use our
electric kettle to boil water or we use our hotplate to cook meals. We
met two of our neighbors, both are teachers at the school (one teaches
Setswana and the other is a temporary math teacher that is hoping to
have a permanent contract beginning next year.
Today we were invited to go over to the other current volunteer's
house for brunch. The walk was long, but was totally worth it because
it was great to get to know the volunteer and she had cooked some
great brunch dishes using the cookbook that the Peace Corps gave us.
We had focaccia, soda cake, pumpkin muffins, apples and pears, and
iced tea!
The walk to the volunteer's house also gave us a glimpse of a new part
of the town. For being such a small village (~7000 people) the town
businesses are spread out a lot so it is starting to look like we will
have at least a 30 min. walk to reach any stores and without any taxis
around, the heat of the summer might keep us from travelling around
too much.

The First Days of Work – November 14th, 2011
Today we each went to our respective jobs. Michael walked the brief 20
m down the road to the school grounds where he spent the day getting
tours of the school and hanging out in the teacher's lounge talking
with the various teachers that were there preparing to give their
students final exams throughout the day. This is the final week of
classes, and the school closes on November 25th, so Michael only has a
few days to get to know the teachers that he will be working alongside
before they leave for about month during their summer break. There are
a lot of people at the school to get to know, and the first day was
filled with an overwhelming amount of information and names to
process. But he already has a lot of prospective teachers that will be
enthusiastic to take on projects with him and his official counterpart
is great! She is a former science teacher that has taken on the role
of Senior Teacher of Guidance and Counseling. Counselors in the
Botswana school system also serve as the school nurses and teachers of
life skills lessons and helping with the life skills curriculum will
be Michael's primary assignment.
An interesting note about the Botswana school system is that students
pass from grade to grade regardless of their performance and grades in
class. This goes on from Standard 1-7 (the equivalent of grades 1-7)
and then they go through Forms 1-3 (grades 8-10) without anyone being
held back due to low grades. To move on to Forms 4-5 (grades 11-12)
students must have high enough scores, and if they get good grades all
the way through their years at school many are given the option of
having a government sponsored college education (they can continue on
full government scholarship in order to earn a degree of certificate
of their choosing).
We moved in with only one week remaining in the current school year,
so Michael has been observing the school and its teachers and students
during their week of final exams. It seems like a majority of the
students perform poorly on their exams, and that this may be a
repercussion of the students never having serious emphasis placed on
them to earn passing grades. The United States has plenty of its own
issues regarding effective education, and all of this is just an
observation made from one week of working at the school. To really
come to any real position on the matter will require years of working
closely with students, teachers, and administrators but at the moment
many teachers have expressed concern over many of the students' lack
of effort in school.
The Month Long Week – November 20, 2011
After completing the first full week of time at our permanent site, we
had a hard time remembering how long we had been here. The number of
new people we met, the multiple conversations about what to eat and
where we could get it, and the other innumerable new experiences all
added up to what seemed like months of time.
Our permanent village has most of the supplies that we need and/or
desire available within 30min of walking. The town does not have any
cabs, but occasionally we are picked up on the road by colleagues and
friendly strangers and given rides around town. Internet has not been
very easy to access and so our ability to respond to emails and update
our blog will continue to be varied and unreliable, but the school
that we live at does have a large computer lab that is hooked up to
the internet. However, the times that it is available for use are
during the peak hours of internet usage for this region of the country
and so the internet is unmanageably slow. We have heard that the
library has internet available as well, so we will try to make our way
downtown soon to check it out.
We ran into an issue with the storage of trash, recently. There is a
landfill just outside of town, but it is too far to walk to. The issue
came about when we decided to set our full trash bag outside so that
we wouldn't have to smell it while waiting for a chance to get a ride
to the landfill to drop off our trash. But, in the middle of the night
the bag of trash was irresistible to the giant pig that wanders our
neighborhood at night… So on Saturday morning we woke up to find our
trash scattered all over the sandy yard that surrounds our house.
We were told that the pigs seen in the area are the remnants of an
abandoned pig farm that used to operate in the area. For whatever
reason, the farm was left to its own devices and rather than starve to
death the pigs found a way out and have inhabited our side of the
village for years now. Nobody claims them, and so they are free to
roam the area like the rest of the farm animals that have made up a
vast majority of sightings of animals in Africa. We are still looking
forward to the day when we will get a glimpse of some of the more
famous creatures of Africa, but for now we are happy to hear that our
village is home to camels! They live on the opposite side of town, but
we saw a few of them by the side of the road as we came into town for
the first time a week ago.
On a final note, over the last couple of months here, we have mastered
the fine art of bucket bathing. The home that we lived in during
training and our current home at our permanent site have both had bath
tubs but in the interest of saving water and not spending hours
heating up a lot of water we routinely heat up a small amount of water
and add it to some cold water in a medium sized bucket. Then, while in
the empty bath tub we use the bucket of warm water to get wet and then
we lather up with soap and finally rinse off using the remaining water
in the bucket. It has been impressive to see that we can manage to
complete our baths with just one bucket of water which starkly
contrasts the amount of water we used during the average shower in the

Secret Pals – November 24th, 2011
Today was the final day of school in Tsabong, and the teachers
celebrated with a Secret Pals party (AKA Secret Santa). We were each
given the name of a staff member at the school to buy a P100 present
for. The event was held at the end of the night, and started at 6pm
Africa Time (which means it really got started 3 hours later). Once
things did get going, though, we had a great steak dinner and then a
very entertaining gift exchange. There was a lot of dancing and
singing and laughing. Michael received a space heater and Hayley
received a pair of traditional woven baskets.
After the Secret Pals party there was a going-away party for a member
of the teaching staff that is planning to move back to his home
country of Zambia. He is a very good painter and has taught art in
Botswana for a very long time. Many of the murals and decorations
around the school that we live at were done by him, so if anyone
reading this happens to visit we will be sure to point out all of his
great works!
The party was an extension of the braii (BBQ) that started off the
Secret Pals party. They continued to grill the meat that was not used
for the first party, built a nice bon fire, and moved the DJ equipment
over to the departing teacher's home. DJ's in Botswana tend to play a
lot of House Music side because that is what many people that go to
clubs here expect to hear. But the DJ's at this party were fellow
teachers that are DJ's on the side and they kept the mix of music
interesting by including popular songs from the US, Zambia, and

The Final School Dismissal Assembly – November 25th, 2011
Even though all of the school work and cleaning had been completed,
the students were required to attend one final assembly at the school
this morning. The assembly lasted about 10minutes, and was used for
last minute announcements, a song, and the official dismissal from
school. The assembly was very short but it got started late and this
allowed me (Michael) to talk with the students one last time before
they moved away from town during the holiday season. All of the
students have fun calling my name (Tshepo, which is pronounced
(tsae-po), and so it requires me to work hard to remember as many of
their names as I can. There are many groups of talkative students that
have kept me company through the afternoons at school when I do not
have much else to do. I am excited to have a chance to engage them in
projects and activities next year when school starts on January 10th!
The students like to discuss US culture and to hear how different life
in the States actually is in comparison with their views that all
Americans are rich which was built off of the movies, TV, and music
they enjoy from the US. Many students have been sad to hear that I am
not, in fact, friends with Lil Wayne and Beyoncé. Recently, a group of
students have continually led me into discussions about vampires and
werewolves because they have had fun reading the Twilight series and
watching the movies too. And, because I was lucky enough to spend a
year studying the philosophy of film as well as the history of vampire
lore with Dr. Coplan, these discussions are right up my alley and are
actually some of the last conversions that I would have ever expected
to be having in Africa. This seems to be some bit of proof that the
globalization of information technologies and communication really is
connecting people and ideas across all of the far-reaching parts of
world, including those that live in the furthest South West corner of
the Kalahari Desert!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shadowing and More!

Oct 10th
We were supposed to go on a trip to a smaller village in Botswana to
shadow a current volunteer for one week, but we came down with some
intense flu-like symptoms Monday and Tuesday. But after two days we
had recovered enough to make the 5 hour trip to visit the volunteer
for about two days before returning home. We had been through a
session on traveling in Botswana and were expecting it to be a lot
more challenging that it turned out to be. We got a ride to the Bus
Rank in town and waited around for an hour until the combi left one
the first leg of our journey. Combis are mini-van style vehicles that
are used for transport between villages. They use charter buses for
more popular destinations, and taxis are also available but are very
expensive when traveling outside village limits. The first leg of the
trip was about 2 hours long and was a very cramped experience because
16 people were seated in a combi made for 12 people! After that ride
we got to wander around the bus rank area of Molepolole until the next
combi left on the next leg of our journey heading West across Botswana
(we have been advised to be vague about our travel destinations for
security purposes). The next two combis were just as crowded as the
first, but we made it to our destination without any major issues
other than the usual dehydration that we are constantly battling
because the dry air evaporates our sweat so quickly we often do not
realize how much water we are losing.
During the one full day that we were at our shadowing site we got to
visit the school that our host has been working at for the past 1.5
years. The school was a boarding school with hundreds of students from
the surrounding villages that live at the school when it is in
session. Like this school, most schools teach only in English, so we
were able to sit in during a few class sessions and observe the
teachers at work. Over all the classroom experience seems comparable
to the United States in that it varies greatly from teacher to teacher
depending on the methods that they use. At the end of the day we were
assigned to complete a focus group discussion with some students at
the school in order to gain more data for the Peace Corps regarding
the current knowledge and needs of communities around Botswana. Our
focus group was comprised of some very well-spoken students that had a
lot to say regarding the current state of Botswana's economy, social
issues, and corporal punishment in schools.
Also, during our stay with our host we were treated to some great
meals! They were simple, but their similarity to dishes we ate at home
made them a very welcome treat in our diets! Our host had made pizza
from ingredients she bought while visiting Gaborone recently. She also
made spaghetti one night. Both dishes tasted great, and were a very
nice break from the usual cornmeal, cabbage, beets, and tough meat
that we usually have. Our diets at home have kept us full, but we are
always craving the comforts of familiar tastes from home.

October 25th
Last week we learned the location of our permanent site. The village
we will be moving to has a population of about 7000 people and is in
the Southern Kalahadi District which is home to the sand dunes of the
Kalahari desert. We will be living in the teacher housing of the
school that Michael will be working at with the guidance counselor and
Hayley will be traveling across town to work with the district health
office. We were pretty sad to learn that our village has us separated
from everyone in our Botswana Group 11, so we don't expect to have
much of an opportunity to see the people that we have gotten to know
so well over the past weeks of training. But, there are a few other
current volunteers in our area that are very nice and we look forward
to getting to know them better and collaborating with them on projects
with them.
More information on our permanent sites and the things we are learning
about it will be posted soon! And on an unrelated note, we have yet to
experience much of the stereotypical African wildlife (so far we just
see birds, cows, goats, and chickens every day). But a group of
trainees that we usually walk with to school came across a bright
green chameleon crossing the road before we met up with them!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A second update!

During the first week with our host family, we had the chance to meet
all but one of the members of our new family. A brilliant aspect of
Botswana's education system is that many people in the country are
bilingual. English is taught to students throughout the years of their
education. This results in many Batswana being fluent in English, or
at least highly proficient. This aspect of the Batswana culture has
made the transition for us much easier, but it may become a crutch as
we get further in our Setswana language learning.
While our host family is very large with an extended network of
"drop-ins", I will only highlight those members who live with us on a
daily basis. There is our host mother who is in her 50's and works 70+
hours as a supermarket assistant manager. She is amazing and provides
financially for everyone! She has six sons, two of which live at home
(ages 27 and 29). There is also a niece (22) who moved in many years
ago to do all the cooking and cleaning for the family. Additionally,
there is another female relative (32) who has been living here
temporarily to help out with the cooking and cleaning. She has a very
cute 1 year old daughter. Then there is our host mother's 5 year old
granddaughter. Her father lives in Gabarone but the child lives here
and goes to a local preschool. We enjoy interacting with the kids and
it makes us miss our niece back in the states who is at about the same
stage developmentally as the 1 year old.
Regular language classes have finally started this week. We have been
assigned to small groups of four trainees and one teacher, and we meet
at one of our fellow trainee's homes for language classes during the
first part of each day. So far we have had instruction in the basics
of greeting people, introducing ourselves and our profession and
purpose in Botswana and taking leave. (Ex. Dumela, mma. Leina lame ke
Hayley. Ke tswa kwa U.S. Ke nna mo Kanye. Ke moithaopi wa Peace Corps.
Translation= Hello miss. My name is Hayley. I am from the U.S. I am
staying in Kanye. I am a Peace Corps volunteer.) Soon, we will begin
learning grammar, but for now we are learning vocab and phrases. The
language has not been terribly difficult, but as with any new language
it isn't easy either. Setswana is a tonal language with high and low
tones for the same phrase or word which results in different meanings.
Our teacher is very good, and we have a great language group, making
our Setswana classes very rewarding.
After our morning language sessions, we walk to the education center
and attend various presentations by the Peace Corps in-country staff.
The topics cover everything from security, safety, and cross cultural
differences to programmatic principles and the administrative aspects
of the Peace Corps. The most interesting sessions have been the ones
that cover Botswana's and the Peace Corps's in-country approach to
HIV/AIDS and the sessions discussing cross-cultural differences
between the US and Botswana. It is amazing to be reminded that we are
in the midst of a centuries' old culture that has been around longer
than much of what we think of as "ancient" in the West.
On two occasions we were taken to the Kgotla (the town's cultural
center) where we were introduced to the various chiefs in the area. As
per tradition, women are required to wear long skirts or dresses at
the Kgotla and men are expected to dress as nice as possible. On a
particularly eventful night, the Peace Corps changed our schedule at
the last minute as we were wrapping up for the day so that we could
all be taken to the Tourism Day celebration at the main Kgotla in
Kanye. The event is held to celebrate tourism among the nations of
Africa and there were representatives from local traditional dancing
and choir groups as well as people from Angola, Ghana, and other
countries in Africa. Seeing the traditional dance known as setapa was
one of the most amazing experiences we have had so far. It is a very
rhythmic dance in which the dancers wear shakers on their ankles and
sing songs while completing choreographed dances that involve slapping
the inner parts of their calves in various rhythms. The food at the
event was a dish called seswaa. Given that it contained mashed beef
and intestines, it left most of the volunteers uneasy and ready for a
snack when they got home that night. During dinner, the men all
gathered on stage to eat their meals separate from the women. The men
were given seconds and thirds straight from the pot while the women
remained in their seats and received a much smaller serving.
Early this next morning (Sept. 27th), we will leave for Gaborone to
complete our immigration process. We will only be there for half a day
and have been told that we will not be given any free time to enjoy
the city, which is a disappointment for many of us because certain
food cravings have been overwhelming the group over the past week. In
particular, many of us are in withdrawal from the lack of familiar
foods like pizza and just an overall lack of food variety. There is,
however, one restaurant here in Kanye called the Ko Gae Café where you
can enjoy to local version of a burger or garden salad. On our Peace
Corps living allowance, though, dining out is hard to budget and we
have to rely on the local foods that our host family provides or that
we cook for ourselves. So far our diets have been extremely heavy on
starches (maize meal, samp, rice, cabbage, potatoes) and fat (goat,
cow, chicken, mayonnaise, oil) with very little fresh fruits and
vegetables. Therefore, many of us are experiencing the frustration of
lacking a balanced diet and the occasional foods we would rather pass
up such as tripe (boiled intestine).
It looks like our internet access will remain constricted throughout
training. So we will probably only be able to respond to emails and
blog replies once a week at the most. And thus far, we have been
unable to utilize a secure enough source to check our real gmail
accounts. We are working on that, though, and hope to take our laptop
to the town center this weekend instead of having to use the desktop
computers located in the internet café. But we can receive calls and
texts at any time, so feel free to communicate with us by phone!

October 2nd
We had our first adventure in family cooking today when we were
suddenly tasked with cooking lunch/dinner after returning from a walk.
We ended up trying to make a spaghetti sauce using tomatoes onions and
salt, along with boiling some spaghetti pasta, and cooking some
chicken using the small bottle of Gates BBQ sauce we brought. In the
end, the sauce must have contained at least a weeks-worth of sodium
(we added chicken noodle soup spice hoping it would make up for the
lack of Italian seasoning like oregano and basil…but it didn't help),
but our host family did seem to like the BBQ chicken. The dog ate very
well tonight.
This week we will be learning where we will be completing the
shadowing portion of our training. We are going to be assigned to stay
with a current volunteer next week, so that we can see what our jobs
might be like and how they have adjusted during their time as a Peace
Corps volunteer. It sounds like we will be split up during this
portion of training because we each have different job assignments
(Michael is assigned to work with school counselors on implementing
Life Skills curriculum and Hayley is going to work as a District
Health Supervisor).

Oct. 7th. (Kgosi Coronation Ceremony Day)
"Don't take the last piece of bread from the table because someone may
still come who is truly hungry."
We were lucky enough to attend the Coronation of the Paramount Chief
of our district. This is a traditional public position that is passed
down from father to eldest son. Disagreements and conflicts within the
community often are taken to the chief for resolution before the
governmental courts are involved. The event was about six hours long,
and because we'd only applied one layer of SPF30 sunscreen we were
pretty sunburned by the end of the event, along with most of the rest
of our group. In attendance were hundreds of people, including
international diplomats (ambassadors etc) as well as national
diplomats like President Ian Khama and his ministers. After the event
wrapped up we were invited to a catered lunch, however by the time we
made it through the line most of the plates were gone and the food had
been thoroughly picked over. Luckily our Language and Cultural
Facilitator (Lesego) saw that we had missed out on the food and
managed to get some for us. Along with this, many of our fellow Peace
Corps members offered to share food with us as well. Over all, the day
was another of many days in which we were forced into Africa-time
which is much more laidback and distinct from the standard American
sense of time and efficiency.

We have been given a shadowing assignment in which we will be spending
the next week with a Peace Corps Volunteer that is already established
within his/her community. After talking with our shadowing host, we
have learned that we are traveling to a very small village in which
only 30% of the local school population continues their education
beyond elementary school. This means that most people speak little to
no English, so we will finally feel some pressure to become more
comfortable conversing in Setswana. So far, life in Kanye has made the
transition from English to Setswana very low-impact because most
everyone here is fluent in English. We are excited to see what
volunteer life is like in Botswana and also to meet a new volunteer.
We have become very close with most of our Botswana Group 11 members
and we look forward to getting a sense for our place within the larger
picture of Peace Corps efforts in Botswana.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Travels to Botswana

September 13th
We got on a plane from Kansas City to Philadelphia at 6am. After arriving in Philadelphia and catching a bus to the Holiday Garden Inn, we checked into our room and had 1hr to rest before the staging event began. Meeting people at the staging event was exciting because everyone was very friendly. The group contains a wide variety of ages and experiences.

After the staging event (which briefed us on various Peace Corps policies) we were given the rest of the evening off until we were to be picked up by a bus at 2am for the ride to JFK airport in New York. We were already exhausted from the day’s flight and staging event and so we stayed at the hotel and had dinner before trying to get some sleep. Unfortunately, our bags managed to unpack themselves very quickly in a small amount of time and so we were left with a lot of repacking to do, and were too anxious and excited to sleep much.
September 15th
So, with even more exhausted systems we got up at 1:30am and got on the bus to NYC at around 2:30am. On the ride in through the gloaming of the early morning we were able to spot a few of the sights of NYC (Brooklyn Bridge and Chrysler Building).

At the airport we had about 4hrs to kill until we were able to check in for our flight and so we were able to chat with more volunteers and continue to get to know everyone a little better. This time reaffirmed the fact that our group is comprised of great people and we cannot wait to begin our training on Monday.

The flight from NYC to Johannesburg was pretty miserable (as is to be expected with any flights that last more than 5hrs, and this one was 16hrs long! The first few hours went well as we watched movies and napped. And then stiffness began to set in and only got worse as the flight went on. Hayley’s back did well, though, because she had heat packs and got up every two hours to stretch and walk. The flight also started rationing water in the last 5hrs, and our travel dehydration only got worse. But, once we landed we were able to use US Dollars to purchase bottled watered at the Johannesburg International Airport.

After a 3hr layover in Johannesburg we got on a plane to Gaborone (Ha-Bore-On-ae) we took a 45min plane ride to the capitol of Botswana and were greeted by the in-country Peace Corps staff. We and our luggage were loaded onto busses and driven to the local hotel that we were told would be the fanciest location we would stay in during our time in Botswana (we would later find that our host family has set us up with very nice accommodations!). After unloading at the hotel we had about 30min to prepare for more orientation and ice-breakers (I can say that I am worn out on the use of skits to convey information, because I get distracted from the pertinent information. Or maybe it’s because acting has never been my thing).  We were given a shot and assigned a malaria drug at the end of the night.

September 16th
The next morning we had breakfast and were then given our medical kits, mosquito nets, and cell phones (contact us via email if you would like our numbers. It is free for us to receive calls and texts, so we will answer whenever we can!) The US could learn a lot from Botswana’s cellular system because it is very straight forward and affordable, which starkly contrasts the complicated and overpriced mess we use in the US). We then got on a bus to travele to the town (Kanye) where we would meet our host families and move in with them. To say it simply, we were extremely nervous and it turned out that the families themselves seemed just as anxious to meet us.

The host-family ceremony began with speeches from the leaders of Botswana (e.g. chiefs “kgotsi” from the various districts and representatives for even the country’s President, Seretse Khama Ian Khama!). After the speeches they called out numbers that we had been assigned earlier along with the name of our host parents. When each trainee’s number was called they were asked to come up to the microphone along with their host family. At the microphone the family first said our name and them we said theirs. Our names can be a lot more complicated than we realize (although as Stolzles, we have become used to mispronunciations).

We met our host mother who warmly greeted us and has immediately made us feel a part of the family. The family also contains some men and women around our age along with a few younger children. ALL of the people we are now connected with as family have been very welcoming and helpful to us! They are a relaxed family that gives us a great balance between having our own space and keeping us involved in the daily life here. We are currently trying to build a vocabulary and learn our way around the neighborhood and so far everyone has been very helpful with all of it!

September 17th
The roosters start crowing around 3am and really get going by 6am. But as a heavy sleeper, Michael does not have much of an issue catching up on sleep. Hayley combats roosters and dogs barking with her ear plugs. After waking up we had a small bite to eat (the Peace Corps had not yet dropped off our weekly food baskets, which they provide to compensate the family’s food supply so that they are not burdened by having to provide for us) and were led on a walk around one part of neighborhood by one of our host-brothers. Tomorrow we plan to check out the other half.

More of our host family traveled in from out of town so we have gotten meet even more people! After a lot of trial and error we have learned everyone’s name and can pronounce them clearly enough. But it has been a tremendous help to find that most everyone in the family speaks at least some English (which will be hard to get away from once we start our language lessons in Setswana). The rest of the day was spent resting, listening to music with our host brother, and eating a great dinner of beef, maizemeal, and a vinegar cabbage dish.
On Monday we are supposed to be picked up at a nearby 4-way stop, however, neither us nor our host-families are clear about which 4-way stop this refers to… We will have to work on getting a hold of someone tomorrow in hopes of figuring out where to catch the Peace Corps van to our Medical Interviews and first day of training (where we are supposed to be given more immunizations and provide any extra information about our health status to the medical officers of the Peace Corps here).

These stories are just accounts of our trip to Botswana. We are currently in the middle of our first week of Peace Corps Training and we will update this blog with stories about those experiences soon!