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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!