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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.