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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!