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Sunday, November 4, 2012

New Facebook Photo Album Links

Below are a few new facebook photo albums of our time here in Botswana.

form 3 grad party - The oldest class at our school is moving on to the Senior Secondary School (junior/senrior grade level) next year. These are pictures from their farewell party.

lesotho - we recently took a trip to Lesotho. In case you missed the pictures we shared from them, here they are again!

kgalagadi south EBP 2012 - Hayley recently went on a retreat with district coordinators for some evidence-based planning meetings.

health education outreach

women's empowerment group with US Ambassador - a few months ago the US ambassador to Botswana visited our village and asked us to coordinate some events for her to attend. Here are pictures from one of those events.

Junior Secondary PACT Club - the PACT Club continues to be one of the things we are highly involved in during our time in Botswana. The goal of the club is to empower student members to be student leaders and peer counselors.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Put Down That Classic Novel, and Watch a Classic Movie!

To whom it may concern...

This blog post will not convey any of the details of our Peace Corps
service. It is a submission I recently made to the Peace Corps
Botswana newsletter in the hopes that i could share my passion for
movies with other volunteers.

During a week of shadowing back in October 2011, Hayley and I stayed
with a currently serving volunteer in order to learn more about the
life of a volunteer first hard. Our host was great, and one of the
most important things that i learned during the time was: be ready for
everything, and ready for nothing...

Our host gave us this piece of advice in order to help us understand
that at times Peace Corps service will be EXTREMELY hectic! And this
has come true on many occasions in which we spend a lot of time
pushing to get projects accomplished but keep running into local
resistance, but eventually things come around and then all the
projects you had been working on come to fruition all at the same
time! Again, "be ready for everything..."

But, you must also be ready for nothing meaning sometime you will have
ample time with which to entertain yourself and this can be a
challenge for volunteers from American in that we are from a
consumer-entertainment culture and many of the avenues for
entertainment are not available to us anymore.

So, with a focus on the challenge of entertaining yourself, I put
together a list of short movie reviews of classic movies in order to
give my fellow volunteers some recommendations of great movies they
should check out in between stints of reading classic books!

Here is my article:

Many volunteers take on the challenge of reading 100 books while in
the Peace Corps, or at least getting through all those long classics
they have been avoiding since high school. However, watching movies is
another great way to entertain yourself and experience the classics of
cinema during your service.

Below is a short list of a variety of films that are readily available
among the media collections of Peace Corps Botswana volunteers. At
times, selecting movies from another volunteer's collection can be
tricky but after looking through this list you might find a few films
you won't want to miss!

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Three main story arcs make up this movie's narrative (primitive
humankind, modern humankind, and future humankind), but the primary,
character-driven story deals with a sentient computer system named
HAL. Even though the movie was made in the 60's, HAL continues to
serve as a poignant representation of the risks involved in handing
over our everyday responsibilities to technological innovations. This
film is famous for its mostly successful attempt to capture the broad
expanse of humankind's evolution from prehistoric days into the
distant future. The scope of this film is unchallenged by any other
film, and it is the director's intention that it should be viewed as
an audio/visual symphony rather than just a science-fiction film.

Rear Window (1954)
Mystery, Thriller
Hitchcock was a master of intrigue, mystery, suspense, and all other
nail-biting genres. This film is set within an apartment complex and
has a lot to say about voyeurism. In an attempt to ease his cabin
fever, a man stuck at home with a broken leg starts to observe the
goings-on of his apartment block. One day he thinks he witnesses a
murder, and from there the plot thickens! Very few modern films
involving stakeouts and voyeurism (e.g., The Burbs (1989) and
Disturbia (2007)) have failed to pay homage to Rear Window in one way
or another. Above all else, this film highlights the "life in a
fishbowl" that every volunteer can appreciate!

Amélie (2001)
Quirky Romance
This is a movie full of happiness! It tells the story of a young girl
who, deprived of love and affection from her father, has grown into a
woman that finds joy in anonymously bringing happiness to others in
need. The film tells its story in the fashion of a lighthearted
fantasy where we get to share in the main characters wonder at the
world around her. Along with the inimitable joy found within this
movie, its place among the classics of cinema is founded upon the
creative ways in which the director fuses the camerawork, color, and
sound into such creative presentations that viewers cannot but help to
feel some of the bliss and wonder contained within the film.

Before Sunrise (1995)
Romance, Travel
A young American man travelling abroad meets a French woman on a train
to Vienna. The two hit it off and have a single day to spend together.
They fill their time with intimate discussions about worldviews, love,
and existence as they explore the city. The discussions and
experiences that these characters have are so naturally written that
most everyone that watches the movie finds at least one sympathetic
connection with the film's two main characters. Unlike most films that
revel in the grandness of cinema, this film finds a magical and
engaging way to show two ordinary people, have ordinary conversations,
during an ordinary chance meeting.

Nosferatu (1922)
Silent, Horror, Romance
For many, the recent culmination of Stephanie Meyers's vampire
quadrilogy exhausted the vampire mythos and essentially was the final
nail in the vampire-genre's coffin… but give the genre one more chance
with the original vampire flick! The film is loosely based on Bram
Stoker's novel Dracula, it is the only silent film on this list. It is
a historically important film in that it was the first to shoot on
location and utilize a new camera filter technology to film scenes in
both day and night settings. Further, the silence of the characters
adds a brooding atmosphere to the viewing experience. Consider the way
in which the actors of the silent era practiced a craft wholly
different from the craft we see actors practicing today (i.e., tell a
story without the emotive power of their voices), yet its influence on
contemporary cinema is incalculable.

Singin' In the Rain (1952)
Musical, Comedy
This film is the perfect follow up to the silent film Nosferatu in
that Singin' in the Rain is the story of Hollywood's reluctant and
rocky transition from silent movies to 'talkies'. The film's fame is
founded upon its quick witted comedic dialog as well as its intricate
song and dance numbers. I cannot explain the greatness of this film
any more succinctly than one reviewer (Bryant Frazer, already has, "… Singin' in the Rain is a genuine
national treasure—a single text proving for posterity what a wondrous
thing the Hollywood studio system could be when it was firing on all
cylinders. It's the quintessential studio picture and smart as hell
about its own nature. Unpretentious and unabashedly entertaining, it's
a simultaneously self-reflexive product of the same filmmaking process
it simultaneously documents and lampoons."

Casablanca (1942)
Drama, Romance, War
Casablanca is the story of a cynical American expat., living in the
Moroccan city of Casablanca and operating a night club during the
early years of World War I. The plot focuses on the appearance of a
set of traveling-documents that will allow the possessor to freely
leave the city without being arrested by the city's German occupiers.
The main character must decide whether to help his former love and her
resistance leader husband leave the city or to attempt to continue
re-kindling his relationship with her. The fame of the movie comes
from its solid screenplay which establishes both characters we all can
empathize with, and a story deep with wartime romance, intrigue, and
suspense. It does all of this through the execution of some of the
most iconic scenes in movie history.

Say Anything (1989)
Comedy, Drama
Set firmly in the 80's, teen-centered films, this is a classic story
of a boy and girl from opposite sides of the track. The film is iconic
for a scene in which on of the main characters holds a boom-box over
his head, but the social commentaries are another timeless aspect of
this film. This is a film about teenage romance, and the challenges
that we all face in life after graduation (whether that be from high
school or college). One of the main characters famously states: "I
don't want to buy anything, sell anything, or process anything as a
career," this form of idealism perfectly captures anyone of a
generation that has already, or is coming into, a time in life when
the go-to question of "what's your major" transitions into "what do
you do". Say Anything has become a classic in virtue of its humanity
and honesty; where romantic comedies of the 80, 90's and 2000's
consistently tell the story of generalized archetypal characters
(i.e., the jock, the nerd, the pretty girl, etc), Say Anything tells a
story about two ordinary teens and their experiences in fostering a
relationship and trying to figure out whether or not their lives are
on the same path or not and, more importantly, if that question really
demands an answer where matters of the heart are concerned.

Dogville (2003)
Drama, Experimental
The gritty tale of an outsider exploring the social and moral
ecosystems of a small town. The movie was filmed entirely on an open
soundstage with only chalk outlines to designate the various locales
of the town (and even the town dog!). Through all of this, the actors
play their scenes as if they cannot see into the rooms and houses next
to them (yet another commentary on "living in a fishbowl"). This film
is contemporary, cinematic pop art in full form, and as the main
character is slowly subjected to the shadier aspects of the village
the film presents some challenging scenes. The film is morose, but
remains a classic due to its achievements in experimental cinema and
uncompromising investigation of the darker side of the human psyche.

The Lives of Others (2006)
Drama, Suspense
Set in the Orwellian world of Berlin in the 1980's, The Lives of
Others tells the story of a surveillance officer in East Berlin and
his work in monitoring the underground art scene. The film focuses on
the officer rather than the artists, and from this we watch as the
lives of those he is monitoring begin to influence him. Aside from the
unique storyline set in the world of a Berlin divided, the film's use
of color and set design create stark contrasts between the vibrant,
expressive lives of the artists and the grey, dull world of the
surveillance officer. The suspense is top notch, as an artist works to
export his literary work across the wall, and through all of this the
film fosters lingering connections between you the viewer and the
characters that you are observing on screen.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Comedy, Romance
Woody Allen, the film's director, subscribes to the professional
self-declared policy of quantity over quality. That is, he prefers to
remain a prolific moviemaker in the hopes that at least some of his
works will strike a chord with audiences. And, lucky for us, his
methods have produced a lot of quality films (which made it a
challenge to choose just one…). The Purple Rose of Cairo is a film
about a woman stuck in a bad marriage who finds an escape in going to
the movies. After attending countless showing of a film called The
Purple Rose of Cairo, she notices that the characters on the screen
begin to address her and then the star of the film actually steps off
the screen and into the real world and doesn't want to go back! As
with most of Allen's features, its place among the classics is
established by his unique humor and ability to integrate his
characteristic witty commentary into a heartfelt, real-world romance.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
While Night of the Living Dead is not the first movie of the zombie
genre, it is the movie credited with the genre's long standing
popularity. Night of the Living Dead tells the story of a small group
of survivors that hole up in an abandoned farm house in the first days
of a zombie apocalypse. The majority of the film takes place in the
house and, like all good zombie flicks, has little to do with the
zombies and more to do with the band of survivors trying to understand
each other and establish a plan for survival. This film's importance
in movie history lies in its use of the zombie apocalypse as a
metaphor for longstanding social issues such as the civil rights and
distrust of the government. What's more, the movie stands as an
archetype on which countless contemporary social issues can be

The Seven Samurai (1954)
Epic, Adventure, Drama
The Seven Samurai created its own genre and defines the word epic. Set
in Japan, 1587, the film depicts a rag-tag band of wandering samurai
that come together to defend a small village from raiders. In a now
common trope recently made in vogue by films such as Ocean's Trilogy
(2001-2007) and Inglorious Basterds (2009), you get to know each
member of the group of samurai as they are recruited for their unique
skill sets. The structure of the film finds time to both allow the
viewer to come to care about the future of the villagers and to
appreciate the samurais' own personal issues (they live as social
pariahs in a world that no longer seems to require their services)
while also depicting scenes of supremely choreographed battles.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Return from Lesotho

October 10, 2012

We have just returned from an amazing, yet very short trip to Lesotho. Lesotho is an enclave (a country within the borders of another country) that is located in the eastern region of South Africa and is governed by a monarchy. The country is located in a mountainous region and offers some amazing hiking opportunities. Just as our trip to the Okavango delta reminded us how refreshing it can be to exist in the presence of water, it was a relaxing experience to be in the presence of mountains and trees again too! The region of the Kalahari Desert that we live in has its own forms of beauty to offer, but it has been nice to take breaks from it and experience the lush flood plains and mountains of the surrounding regions of Sub-Saharan Africa.
We traveled to Lesotho with seven other volunteers in a private combi (minivan/bus). It had been assumed that the drivers would be a little more aware of the route we needed to take to get to our destination, so when our group only brought vague directions and no detailed road maps we set ourselves up for plenty of scenic detours! Although the detours could be frustrating at times, they still offered us more time to hang out with our traveling group. Like any road trip, the time in a cramped car eventually gets to you but the destination was definitely worth the trip! We spent two days in Lesotho staying at Malealea Lodge and going on two hiking excursions led by guides. The first hike was 6 hours and took through a gorge to see a waterfall and then led us into the mountains to see some ancient rock paintings! The second excusion took us into another gorge to swim in some rock pools and then took us up the side of small mountain. We were exhausted during from all of the hiking (especially because our desert home does not offer much in the way of high elevation hiking..) but we all had a great time and hope to go back again someday. Pictures will soon be posted on facebook.

Now that we are back in Botswana, we are hosting a Peace Corps  shadowee. After one month in Peace Corps Botswana, trainees are sent out to spend a week living with a current volunteer in order to get a break from training sessions and also to learn firsthand was volunteer life and work is actually like. It is always a fun time, getting to hang out with a new volunteer and introduce them to the aspects of your village life! We spent our first night making pizza and getting to know each other more, and with the remainder of our time we will try to cook more unique meals and give the shadowee plenty of time at the school in order for them to have a better idea of what school work is like because this most recent group of volunteers is comprised of school volunteers. Along with getting experience at the school, we plan to meet up with other volunteers and shadowees in the area for a joint trip to the local Camel Park which is one of the tourism based operations currently available in our region (the Trans-Kalahari Frontier park is nearby, however it is inaccessible without a good 4x4 vehicle).

Again, be on the lookout for pictures from our recent adventures in Sub-Saharan Africa!

-          Michael

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Don’t Go Outside!

Don't Go Outside!
The Spring season is in full swing in Botswana. The season is
characterized by dramatic temperature changes and windy weather (with
a about 2 very short rain showers thrown in as well). The gusty winds
kick-up the sand into big clouds that make walking into and out of the
village pretty miserable because you get covered in a layer of dust
and sand for the rest of the day.
Aside from the weather, Hayley and I have been busy with projects and
planning a trip for ourselves and my sister and her husband when they
come to visit Southern Africa during their honeymoon! We have plans to
see Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, experience an over night camping
safari in Chobe National Park, and also to spend some time in South
Africa swimming with Great White Sharks, exploring Table Mountain, and
enjoying some relaxing beach time! After a little over 1-yr in
Botswana, we have not really taken much time to travel because: 1) we
have been saving our money for epic trips like the one described
above, and 2) travel in Botswana without a private vehicle is pretty
painful given the effort it takes to travel out of our area of
Botswana via public transportation (the buses are very good at
sticking to their schedule and charging American's the standard rates,
but the long distances that have to be traveled in packed buses and
mini-vans is rough, to say the least!).
These next few months mark the end of the school year, and that means
the students at my school have been gearing up for final exams since
the beginning of the semester. A group of college-aged volunteers
(Eduvolunteers is the name of their group), that is funded by the
Botswana Ministry of Education, has visited my school on multiple
occasions because after their first visit they discovered that many
students are over one full year behind in their course work. So the
volunteers are back for a thirst visit to continue offering their
tutoring services for a few days.
As has been stated in the past, the reason for the students being so
far behind in their course work is the teachers' Industrial Action"
that ended just before Hayley and I arrived in Botswana in September
2012. The Industrial Action is a polite term for the teachers' strike
that left the students without teachers for much of the last half of
the school year. And even once the strike ended, it has been a slow
process of getting teachers back into the habit of teaching their
classes and offering the students feedback on their work in a timely
Even amongst these hardships, we have still met many inspirational and
hardworking individual professionals and students in Botswana that are
also aware of these shortcomings and are working tirelessly to mend
them! It is because of these friends and colleagues that we continue
to find the support and energy to keep up with our lives as Peace
Corps Volunteers!
Lastly, my Birthday came and went earlier this month and, along with
the many packages we received (Tami & Mitch, Gma/Gpa Holthus, Gma/Gpa
Johnson, Dad Stolzle, Gma and Mom Knopick, Sister and
Bro-in-Law-To-Be) Hayley and I celebrated together in our village with
the exploration of a part of the village we had not yet seen. We also
made cake and other special foods from the packages we received, and
watched lots and lots of movies and TV shows! It was a fun and
relaxing day to see a little more of our home village and also enjoy
the tastes and entrainments of our home culture in the US. Thank to
everyone that send their love through packages, cards, and facebook!

In an attempt to keep these blog updates shorter and more readable, I
will stop here. But expect more updates soon!

- Michael

Friday, August 31, 2012

4 Botswana Cultural Practices I Admire and Embrace

1.) Greet people ALWAYS- Greetings are huge in Botswana. They mean the world to people and are a significant part of any relationship. I also like how it is expected to greet people before you ask for help or ask them to do something for you. This does not always happen but it is considered impolite to not first recognize the individual as a person (and not a means to an end). On days when I am not super busy at work, I love to go and “check” all my coworkers and friends in the community just to let them know I care about them and recognize their importance in my life. Every time I travel to the capitol city where such extended greetings are not common, I always experience a bit of culture shock.

2.) Sing or dance whenever you want and wherever you want- Tswana culture is full of the celebration of life with its continual expression and rhythm. People are not afraid to randomly break into song or dance and love it when you do, too! Songs are used to open school assemblies, work meetings, casual community meetings and about everything else in between. And when you ask people what they enjoy doing they will often say dancing and singing. They will then proceed to break into song and dance for you.

3.)  Share your food- Food is also a huge part of building relationships with people. At first I found it difficult to openly share my food especially with the limited volunteer allowance we are given and the expense of food in our village of Tsabong where a bag of apples costs 29 pula and only costs 9 pula in villages closer to the capitol. However, once you see how it brings people together your heart is opened and it is a nice experience. There are times where you are offered food you don’t really want like gemsbok liver or cow intestine and there are times where it’s a delightful experience like honey sucked straight out of a freshly gathered honey comb. Recently on the bus home from the capitol, I witnessed my seatmate (a 25 year old woman) share her bag of chips with a snotty-nosed little girl standing next to us in the aisle. The girl was obviously starving and very sick with some sort of bad chest cold. The little girl couldn’t have been more than 4 and was traveling with her mother and two younger siblings. I can’t imagine trying to take three small children on a crowded 7 hour bus ride but the mother was helped by the women around her who took turns holding them.

4.) Hold or Clap someone’s hand when you talk-  Even grown men will be seen walking down the road holding hands and chatting it up. When I first arrived here, I found it awkward and weird but now I even do it to others and find it to be quite pleasant. When you are really excited to see people, you usually give them a hug and then hold their hand for a few seconds while you chat. It’s also very common for people to do what I would equate to a fist bump in the states during the middle of a conversation. You do it after you or they say something funny or after something you agree on. The hand slap is just a clap of the hands with a little thumb touch at the end. It’s hard to put into words but it’s like doing a secret handshake with your best friend growing up except you regularly do it in mid-conversation with everyone from your closest friends to complete strangers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Marital Rape Still Legal in Botswana

One of the hardest things for me to face as a woman working on gender issues here in Botswana is the issue of marital rape. It is technically still legal for men to rape their spouses. Thanks to the Domestic Violence Act of 2008, women can now prosecute the husband’s rape as a civil lawsuit. However, the rape cannot be tried as a criminal lawsuit and is not recognized as a criminal offense.

Recently, I gave a sexual abuse training to doctors, nurses and administration at the primary hospital where I work. Afterwards, one of the doctors asked how one of his patients who is married and a mother of four with her husband can claim to have been “raped” by him. The doctor was dead serious when he asked, too. As politely as I could…I explained that women can be raped no matter what their relationship status and that it’s not his job to decide whether she was raped or not. I told him that based on my presentation, he now knows what he should do in this case which would be to examine the woman for signs of rape, do a rape kit, treat her, note her chart and then take her to social work for counseling. I further explained that it’s up to him to take those first steps and then it’s out of his hands. It is not his place to decide whether she was actually raped or not. That is for the social workers and police to decide after extensive counseling and investigation.  His response was simply shaking his head as if doing what he is required by law to do is too burdensome in this case. The Chief Medical Officer did have my back, though, and encouraged the other doctors to always follow through with a rape case even if it’s a married woman reporting rape.

I am not sure what else to say except that I hope this demonstrates what we are up against here with challenging such viewpoints on women’s rights when even doctors do not acknowledge or take the time to report cases of rape for married women. I hope to write another blog soon addressing marriage dynamics and why women are likely to experience marital rape.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Photo Gallery Update

We have been posting pictures of our time here in Botswana on our Facebook pages.

In case you have missed the new photos that we have posted, or are interested in checking out the older ones, we have posted links to all of our Facebook photo galleries in the sidebar on the right side of the screen our blog ( You are not required to have a Facebook account in order to view them, they are open to anyone to view.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August 2012 Update!

Here is a much delayed update!
The one-year mark of our service is coming up. There is a trend among
Peace Corps volunteers where around the one-year mark, your service
work really starts to pick up speed. This trend has proven to be true
with us as well. It really has taken about a year to integrate
ourselves into Botswana's culture and systems of business. Over the
last year our service has been comprised mostly of building
relationships and learning the do's and don't's of life here. But now
that we have reached this point, a lot of our initiatives and projects
are coming to fruition much quicker than we anticipated. This is
probably because the people that we work with have gotten to know us
to a degree that they are more comfortable trying new projects with us
and allow us to support them in leading their our projects as well.
When I first arrived at the school, most teachers were not quite sure
what I was there to do. When I sat in on classes to observe the
standard approach to teaching most teachers were initially defensive
because they assumed I was there to audit them and file reports about
their weaknesses to the Ministry of Education. But After building
deeper relationships with my fellow teachers, they started to see that
my primary focus was on setting up programs and initiatives for the
students' benefit. And after a year of small projects, teachers are
now starting to buy into my work here and show an interest in
bettering the school themselves. This is a really important step
because my school has a very very poor pass-rate (meaning barely 50%
of the students received passing grades at the end of the school last
Novemebr). The Ministry of Education has been putting a lot of
pressure on the schools of Botswana that had such low pass-rates, and
have especially been placing a lot of blame on the teachers for doing
a poor job of engaging their students. The teachers subsequently focus
the blame on the students who "don't want to learn". It is a difficult
issues to overcome, but I do believe the handful of teachers at my
school that are showing a real interest in helping the students
perform better will pave the way to higher scores this November
(although, change happens slowly and I don't expect a large
improvement this time around..maybe next year!).
Aside from work in our villages, Hayley and I have been traveling
between our home village and Gaborone (the Botswana capitol) to work
on various projects and committees. Hayley is part of a very active
Gender Committee for the Peace Corps which works on researching gender
issues in Botswana and providing information and training to Peace
Corps Volunteers in the hope that we will all be more educated and
qualified in ways to help address the gender issues here. Some of our
older volunteers liken Botswana current social structure to the US
life and culture of the 60's. Women's rights were still (and still
are) needing improvement, and the society was patriarchal in that most
positions of power were filled by men and minority opinions lacked
strong representation.
Hayley will also be traveling to Gaborone in order to help lead some
sessions at the Bots12 In-Service Training which is a training given
to recently arrived volunteers after they have spent 2-months at their
sites. And, the newest batch of volunteers (Bots13) will be arriving
next month so she and the rest of the gender committee will likely be
preparing some sessions for their arrival training as well.
As for me, my latest project outside of the village has been helping
to create a set of introductory Setswana language training videos. Two
other volunteers and I collaborated with the Peace Corps Botswana
administration to put together a series of language videos that could
better prepare incoming volunteers for learning the Setswana language.
Because Setswana is a Bantu language it is complete foreign to more
English speakers due to the fact that we come from a heritage of
Romantic languages that are derived from their Latin/Roman language
heritage. Along with the challenge of learning a Bantu based language
like Setswana, the English language is widely spoken in Botswana which
makes learning Setswana even harder because you are never forced to
learn it. It is very easy to speak English with people at school,
work, and even the grocery store. So, many volunteers, such as myself,
don't progress very far beyond basic sentences and greetings. These
reasons help to explain why Peace Corps Botswana has such low scores
when it comes to language uptake by its volunteers. Our language
trainings pale in comparison to the language trainings of other
countries in which learning the local language is ESSENTIAL for
survival and success. But, it is the hope of the Peace Corps Botswana
administration that these language videos will give incoming
volunteers a leg up on Setswana before moving here so that further
language learning will be much easier for them in the future! You can
check out our finished product at this address:
I am currently working with a group of dedicated students on a
twice-daily study group. We meet every morning before school and every
afternoon after school in order to study various subjects in
preparation for their exit exams this November. Students graduate from
Junior Secondary Schools like mine, and move on to Senior Secondary
Schools before going on to college. Basically, my school is the
equivalent of 8th-10th grade and in order to go on to 11th and 12th
grade students must receive a passing grade when all of their final
exam scores have been averaged together. Keep in mind that the
Botswana grade scale is shifted about 10 points down from the standard
scale used in American schools. So, 80-100 is an A. 70-80 is a B. etc.
Unfortunately, for students in the Kgalgadi region of Botswana there
is only one Senior Secondary School in the region for them to go to
and this school is usually described as more of a refugee camp than an
actual school! The living and learning conditions at the school are
very poor and the Peace Corps Volunteers that work at the school and
in its surrounding village are planning some monumental camps and
projects that just might be able to help students and teachers at the
school improve things a little bit. Most of the volunteers in our
region are planning to go to the school early next year for a GLOW
camp (Girls Leading Our World) in which we will provide a number of
girls with further education about their rights, health, and education
in the hope that they will acquire the tools and confidence necessary
to help Botswana move towards a less patriarchal society and into a
more egalitarian one.
I am also working on starting a school newsletter. My hope is to have
the letter at least be a monthly production at the school written and
edited by teachers and students. It will mostly likely only be a one
page, two-sided publication but I think that it will be a great way to
increase people's awareness of the goings-on at the school. Currently,
I hope to have each newsletter include: A message from the School
Head, an article by a student, an article by a teacher or other
professional, and also some bits of life skills/health tips, and
lastly a section that promotes any events at the school or community
that would have a positive influence on the students and teachers at
the school. This project is currently in the 'buy-in' phrase in which
I am working with the head of the school's language department to get
one English teacher interested in the project so that I can work with
her/him to put together a team of students to create the newsletter.
Over all, we are loving our experience here in Botswana. The
relationships that we are building with co-workers, community members,
and students make it very easy to move through frustrating
circumstances and remain inspired to help our new friends. Even with
frustrating systems of protocol that impede our efforts to change
things, we are able to see that we are having a positive influence on
the lives of the people we befriend and work with here in Botswana.
But more importantly, we are seeing myriad ways in which the people we
befriend and work with have a positive influence on us as well.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Long Awaited Videos

Hi All,

There has not been much to report on about our lives in Botswana
lately, so I am posting a link to another volunteers blog post which
contains a few videos from our Pre-Service Training (PST).
These videos were made to catalog out training experience, so they
date back to September - November 2011.

- Michael

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

it's time for Botswana updates!

Greetings All!

It's been a long while since our last blog update, and in the absence
most of our adventures have been pretty standard for our life here. We
under went about a week without running water which we made it through
by using the slew of 2-liter bottles that we had filled with spare
water. And, to make it less intense there were a few nights when the
water would come on as a trickle sometimes in the middle of the night
so we were able to replenish our bottles.

Hayley has been doing some travel back and forth between our home
village and the capitol for various committees that she is serving on.
She will also be traveling to a "language week " event in the near
future. A "language week" is an event in which a volunteer invites
five other volunteers over to their home for a week. Once the five
volunteers all confirm their plans to attend, the Peace Corps arranges
to have a language teacher sent over to their house for the week where
the teacher will give lessons for a few hours each day and then they
are all able to hang out and have fun in the afternoons and evenings.
So, its five days of practicing the language with an experienced
teacher and hanging out with some of your fellow volunteer friends. It
will also be another bit of proof that Hayley is both more capable and
also dedicated to learning the Setswana language than I am. Life in
Botswana does require some use of Setswana, but fluency is very very
hard to come by because the Peace Corps lack of focus on teaching it
to volunteers during training. The Wide use of English in Botswana
also makes it very easy to carry on life in a safe and effective way
without much knowledge of Setswana.

Another upcoming event that we are working on is an event hosting the
US Ambassador to Botswana, Michelle Gavin. The Ambassador is coming to
our village next month in order to meet us and see our region of the
country. She is interested in learning more about the needs of youth
in the Kgalagadi district (the Kgalagadi is known as the Kalahari in
US-English). During her visit, she has asked the volunteers from
around our district to host an event with the youth of the Kgalagadi
in order to have some fun with them teaching them about HIV&AIDS and
also learning more about their needs so that the US is better able to
do what it can to help.

I have become good friends with the IT guy at the school I am assigned
to, and we have plans to install a long-range wireless router in the
coming weeks. This router will help to allow computers in the
buildings and offices that are on the far edges of the school grounds.
Most of the computers are consolidated to the administration building
and computer lab, but a few other departments could be improved by
giving them network access as well because it would make it easier for
teachers to have more open access to the internet which might go on to
improve their work as teachers through the integration of wireless
internet access.

An interesting phenomenon regarding the internet in Africa is that
regular access to the internet has only become a more common part of
life for most African countries in the last decade. And, this means
that most African countries have made the jump from highly limited
internet exposure to wireless/cellular internet access. Many countries
have skipped the time consuming and expensive process of setting up
wired cable connections across their countries (Botswana is included
in this), and instead most citizens of African countries either access
the internet through their cell phones or through computers that have
some sort of satellite based connection. The increased use of cellular
based internet has led to a boom in mobile apps and internet browsing.
There is a lot of speculation about what this means for the Internet
in Africa in general, but overall there is an expectation that many
people in countries like Botswana will do most of their internet using
through cell phone apps and will never be forced to learn the ins and
outs of computers and typing. What's most exciting about all of this
is that the potential for connecting the developing countries of
Africa to the global internet-based exchange of information is already
becoming a reality with relatively little extra effort on the part of
big telecommunication companies.

If it sounds weird to think that many people in Botswana will never
have to work with computers to use the internet, just look at the
common practices of today's teenagers in the US. Many have grown up in
a world of iPhone apps and Android phones that are just as powerful as
the standard home computer and they are allowed a much more private
and personalized experience of the internet and its riches. I am
excited to see what new developments will have come around in the US
after we complete our Peace Corps service and return home. The
potential for new technologies that might further help the world
provide aid the developing countries is great, and I can't wait to see
what's next!

All of these thoughts are based off of a blog article titled: How
Africa is embracing "the cloud" on its own terms

That's enough technology ranting for now. Our cat Nola is keeping up a
regular schedule of napping most of the day and having freak out
sessions in the evenings. She has some trouble getting much traction
on the linoleum tiles of our house but she is very skilled at showing
off her parkour skills by running around our living room area without
touching the ground in her own version of the beloved childhood game
"The Floor is Lava"!

The schools are on a tri-mester system which means they have three
terms a year with varied amount of break time in between. Term two
ends at the end of this week and the schools will be closed down for a
little more than a month. I plan to spend a good bit of that time
trying to keep in contact with responsible local students that will be
in the area and can help me make sure we have some students that
remember to come to the Ambassador event we are putting on next month.
I will also do what I can to continue helping a local organization
called the Center for Excellence whose local leader needs help
learning about how to use a computer. The Center for Excellence is an
organization that offers support to people both infected and/or
influenced by HIV. They work to provide chickens and other goods to
people that come to them for help.
That's it for now. We hope to share more in the near future!

- Michael

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Overview of our Experiences Thus Far

I was recently asked by a friend to write a little about our work
here, so I thought I would share the short overview of our work and
experience with the Peace Corps in Botswana.

In Botswana, everything that the Peace Corps is involved in is
centered around addressing the HIV epidemic that has hit the country
so hard.

(there are many theories about why the southern africa has been the
worst hit by far, and currently the best explanation centers around
the cultural practice of having multiple concurrent sexual partners.
HIV is most communicable during the first few months of infection. In
Botswana and other regions of Southern Africa it is a common practice
for people to have multiple sexual partners at the same time and
because this means the disease has a "super-highway" for transmission
because as soon as someone is infected they unknowingly pass the
infection on to all of their other partners. To make matters worse,
the disease is often not detectable during the first few months of
infection. Thus, during its most communicable time period the disease
is also difficult to test for and with people sleeping with multiple
partners it has spread fast, or so the theory goes).

Even though the prevalence of HIV is extremely high in the country, it
is still a very taboo subject and although students have rote
memorization of all of the basic information regarding the disease,
people are still reluctant to ever acknowledge actual infections and
deaths that are related to HIV. Botswana has the 2nd highest
prevalence of HIV infection in the world. There are three categories
of volunteers: NGO, Health, and Education. I fall under the education
category and have been assigned to work at Tsabong Junior Secondary
School (students are the equivalent of 7th-9th grade aged) where my
primary assignment is to work with the guidance and counseling staff
to improve the students education in life skills which covers just
about everything that falls under "good to know in order to live a
happier healthier life". I teach a few classes each week with
different classes of students where I try to incorporate games and
activities while teaching them about nutrition, relationships,
contraceptives, personal finance, etc.

The country is on its way to falling under the "first-world"
classification and so people here have access to running water, paved
roads in most towns, satellite television, and internet which has
helped them begin to connect with the global community more and more.
The students are all very interested in American media (movies, TV,
music) and we have had a lot of fun talking about things from back
home. A secondary project that I am doing at the school is to improve
the students' computer awareness. The school I am at is lucky enough
to have a sort-of-up-to-date computer lab with limited access to the
internet. So the computers work well for teaching computer basics but
are not very functional when it comes to teaching the students to do
more than send emails and setup facebook pages (which most already
have figured out anyways). I focus on teaching typing skills and using
the Microsoft office programs.

Those are some basics regarding my work here. Hayley's job is involved
in using her Masters of Public Health degree experience to work with
the district health management team to plan and coordinate initiatives
and events. She is currently attempting to compose a questionnaire
that will yield statistically valid data for further analysis and
planning with regards to community health needs.

Our daily life consists of walking to most places that we need to go
around our village which is home to 7000 residents and is about 5
square miles in size. Most volunteers live in villages that do not
have grocery stores so they take weekly or bi-weekly trips to the
nearest large village to do their shopping. Our village, however, does
have its own store and we walk about 30min to get there and then 30min
back with our groceries. It has been an adjustment to be car-less but
we have found that life in Lawrence, KS had helped prepare us for some
of the walking because we used to walk to campus and Mass St a lot. We
had considered getting bikes, but have scrapped the idea for now
because there is no law enforcement of the speed limits on the roads
here and the legal blood alcohol level for driving is 3x that of the
US standard and it is common for drivers to be drinking and or clearly
drunk while operating their vehicle, especially during the after work
hours and at night. But Botswana has a basic public transportation
system that is well regulated and allows us to travel around the
country when we need to.

Our free time is mostly spent relaxing at home, especially in the
summers when it is around 90 degrees both day and night and we just
want to stay out of the sun. But now that winter is starting it is in
the 40's and 50's in the mornings and at nights while the days are
usually in the 70's. We hear that it will eventually be 40 degrees all
the time, and without any airconditioning/heating in the houses here
we are prepared to spend most of our time in a sub-zero rated Marmot
sleeping bags!

We watch a lot of movies and TV's shows on our computer and also read
books on our Kindles. While we have only made it through 6 or so books
each, we can proudly claim to have watched over 100 movies and every
more TV show episodes! I think that clearly indicates where our
priorities lie... :)

I hope that this information has helped to answer a few of your
curiosities about our lives and work here. I am happy to answer other
questions anytime!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Easter Holiday

Trip to Maun
Recently, we travelled to Maun over the Easter Holiday. Maun is a
large tourism-centered village in northern Botswana. It is the seat to
most of the country's Okavango eco-tourism, and while we were there we
made sure to get in some excursions to see the wildlife of Botswana.
We stayed at The Old Bridge Backpackers lodged and paid a small fee to
setup a tent and camp there. The lodge offered bathroom and bathing
facilities so we weren't roughing it too much. There was also a bar
and a restaurant that allowed us to enjoy burgers, wraps, and pizza
most all of the day!
A batch of our fellow Bots11 volunteers joined us at the lodge and it
was fun to see our friends and go on excursions with them. Also,
during our time at the lodge our group became friends with some other
backpackers that were travelling through the area. Cameron and Jake
were a couple of Australian guys that had be travelling through
Namibia, S. Africa, and Botswana on a holiday. We all got along great
and their research of the areas offerings allowed us to do some things
we might not otherwise have known we could do. Firstly, we went with
them on a plane ride over the Okavango where we were able to take in
the vastness of the region and also see some animals (hippos, crocs,
elephants, zebras, impalas, giraffe). The one hour plane flight cost
~P500, which is a little expensive in terms of our meager Peace Corps
allowance, but it was worth it! Later that day we also took a relaxing
boat ride through some of the Okavango tributaries that were near our
lodge which was located on the bank of one of the rivers.
After a day of rest, we embarked on a full day 4x4 trek through the
Moremi game reserve. The Moremi reserve is one of the three major
reserves of Botswana's Okavango region. The drive started at 6am, the
open air truck we were sitting in with 6 other volunteers was pretty
chilly as we drove the hour or so to the reserve. Once we arrived at
the reserve our tour guides setup a cereal and coffee breakfast for us
and after eating we got started with the game drive.
During the drive through the Moremi reserve we first saw a small herd
of zebra and impala grazing only ~10m from the side of the trail! And
then up ahead we were able to spot our first giraffe and elephants.
The animals were generally uninterested in us but would occasionally
watch us closely for a few minutes and then would walk off into the
brush. The impala, giraffe, and zebra were plentiful for most of the
drive, and on the way back through the game reserve at the end of the
day we encountered a lot more elephants that were making their way
from the shade of the trees out into the open areas were they could
get more water and food.
Lunch was setup at the turning-back-point of the game drive in a large
open field. In the distance a large herd of elephants enjoyed their
time at a watering hole and it was the most memorable lunch we have
had in our time here thus far!
After lunch we loaded up in the trucks and made out way back through
the game reserve hoping that some large cats would be out as the day
was beginning to cool down. However, no cats were spotted that day but
the other truck took an alternate route home and happened across a
wildcat which is a species of cat that looks strikingly like a house
cat but is actually 100% pure wild animal (it is not to be confused
with feral cats, which are domesticated varieties that have adapted to
life in the wild). We were told that the wildcat was about twice the
size of a standard house cat and was napping under a bush near the
Instead of seeing a wildcat on our truck's drive back through the
reserve we were treated to an up-close hippo sighting. The hippo was
grazing a little ways away from its waterhole, and as we sat and
watched it grazing it began to make its way back to the water. The
hippo was accompanied by oxpecker birds, or something like them, that
hopped around on its body eating debris and bugs and also picking at a
pretty large gash on the hippos side. The guide said that lone
elephants and hippos are usually male because unless they are breeding
they tend to live solitary lives in their own separate territories.
The hippo was surprisingly graceful in its walk and stopped to stare
us down after sliding back into the water. As many of you might
already know, the hippo is Africa's most dangerous animal in terms of
actual attacks and deaths each year. They are notoriously territorial
and highly aggressive and kill more people than any other large
animals here. But the hippo we saw wasn't too interested in us and
allowed us to go on our way without any fuss.
After the hippo sighting we game across another large herd of impala
and learned that most heard as populated by many females and a single
dominant male. The male is interchangeable and often challenged by
other lone males that are looking for a harem of females to travel
The last major sighting of the trip was a large herd of 20+ elephants
that were making their way across the trail. They were led by the
dominant female elephant and a small calf. And as the female came to
the road about 10m in front of our truck she turned and balked at us
by stomping her foot, flaring her ears, and snorting. After their
gesture the rest of the herd stopped coming our way and turned around
and quickly retreated back into the trees. The instance was very
intimidating, given that the female was about twice the size of our
truck. But, as the guide explained, she was just unsure about what we
were up to and so decided to gesture towards us to make sure we
weren't planning on doing anything threatening to her and her herd.
After checking us out from a distance she and the calf retreated into
the trees again too.
That is all of the stories we have regarding our animal adventures.
The rest of the weekend we were able to relax and enjoy life near the
water. It was shocking how much relief we were able to enjoy was being
near a large body of water. The sounds of the water and its wildlife
along with all of the green vegetation and trees were therapeutic for
us and all of the other volunteers from our group that are stationed
in the desert regions of the country! At out site we rarely see water
outside of our sinks as it only rains about one time a month and
usually for only a short amount of time.
The trip from our village to Maun took us an entire day, and required
us to hitchhike for about half of the journey. But, as we have
mentioned before hitching is an expected part of travel in the remote
regions of the country because the national bus system's coverage is
sparse on the western side of the country. If you live on the Eastern
side, near the larger villages you are able to find taxis, buses, and
combi's (mini-buses and vans) that run regular routes all over the
place). But, when hitching you are usually able to negotiate with the
driver so that you only have to pay the price of the bus fare for your
distance of travel. Although there are some fancier cars in this
country most people either drive beatup Japanese trucks or corollas.
After spending most of my driving life in my own Toyota Corolla, it
was been a strange experience to see so many around and to be riding
around in cars just like the one I used to drive back in the US.
All in all, while travel in Botswana is usually an exhausting day-long
event, the time we had in Maun with the wildlife and our good friends
we well worth the effort! And we are looking forward to seeing more of
the country soon. But for now, school is starting up again and we are
both back at work. However, the maintenance people that have been
slowly working through each of the teachers' houses have finally made
it to our home. They are painting the interiors and also replacing the
kitchen counters and cabinets. To insure the safety and respect of our
property I have stayed home and worked on the computer while the men
went about their business updating our home.
Each day during this maintenance process goes as follows: 8am, the
painter shows up and starts mixing his paint bucket and then
disappears for an hour or two. During his absence the counter and
cabinet replacers may or may not show up. But eventually they will
make an appearance before leaving for 10:30 tea break. Everyone
returns for a flurry of work around 11am and then leaves again for
lunch around 12:30pm. By this time about 1 full hour of work has been
done on any one job. After lunch, the painter really gets going and
usually finishes up a room (our home has a living room, bathroom,
kitchen, bedroom, and short hallway). Needless to say, I will never
ever ever take American work ethic for granted when it comes to
contracting laborers for maintenance jobs. Even if there might be call
for complaint if workers leave a mess or are a little slow in the US,
it is a night and day difference when compared with the efficiency and
thoroughness of work in the US. I am sure this blanket statement
doesn't go for all of the maintenance workers of Botswana, but the
ones that have been contracted at our school leave a lot to be
desired. But, with that complaining aside, we are about a half a week
away from having our place to ourselves again were we will be able to
enjoy a nice fixed-up home.
And to top it off, we have a kitten to share our home with now too! Of
the three kittens we attempted to rescue and hand raise from the time
they were about 3 days old, only one of the kittens has survived. The
first kitten only made it a day or two and passed away. But the second
kitten was the one we had hoped to keep while giving the third to
another volunteer. However, after returning from Maun we collected our
two kittens from the volunteer we had left them with and brought them
home. The one we were going to keep (named Gizmo, after we noted the
similarity in the noises he made with the noises made by the cute
mogwai in the movie Gremlins) was not gaining weight and growing like
the other kitten was. And seemed to be developing some respiratory
issues. We consulted online/email vets and did as much research as we
could online but were never able to find a way that we could do much
to help our kitten get better without veterinary assistance. There are
vets located in Botswana, but they are in the larger villages that are
a days travel from our site. And after a night of labored breathing,
Gizmo died. It was a traumatic experience and after all of the work
and love that we have put into raising these kittens we are pretty
sure that we will never attempt hand-raising orphaned kittens again.
But the experience has been interesting and it has given us a new
distraction from the stresses of service.
The remaining kitten is doing very well and has transitioned into the
learning-to-pounce-and-stalk phase, so we have had a lot of fun
playing with her and trying to not let her get too used to playing
with our hands (as we have heard that too much hand-play can create a
cat that loves to bite and play with hands when they get older). We
are still working on picking out the perfect name for our kitten, but
here are a few of the names we are trying out: beardy, grey beard,
motsomi (hunter in setswana), girlfriend, one tusk, and fang. The list
goes on, but we will eventually settle on whatever seems to fit her
best. But for now, she will just be the kitten with a thousand names.
I will let my rambling account of the past few weeks experiences end
here. We are always available to talk by phone or email so if you have
any other questions or just want to say he, let us know!

- Michael

Sunday, April 1, 2012

End of a Term and the Start of Winter

As the first term of the school year comes to an end, we have
completed the first 6 months of our service. The reality of Peace
Corps service being about relationship building is very clear now that
we have finished the first quarter of our time here, and we are still
primarily trying to build relationships and understand the current
systems that we work within.
The relationships that I have been focusing on are with the students,
teachers, and administrators at the school I work with. Unfortunately,
after becoming close friends with some of the teachers at my school,
many of them have received their long awaited transfers to work in
other schools closer to their homes and families (alright, so it is
unfortunate for me but it is definitely very good news for them!).
My current plans are to continue working with the PACT club (a peer
counseling club) and to create clubs for bother English and Test
Taking/Study Skills. The teachers and administrators at my school
believe that creating these clubs will help improve the 56% passrate
at the school because students will become better readers of English
which is the language that their tests are written in. As it stands
right now, many students simply do not understand the questions posed
to them on tests and I often see tests in which the student has
rewritten the test questions in the spaces provided for their answers.
The students and English teachers also hope to create a school
newsletter in the English Club. Aside from that, I plan to incorporate
movies, internet, and various reading materials to help the students
become more comfortable reading English through materials that they
are interested in.
Next month, the new group of volunteers is scheduled to arrive in
Botswana. They will be Bots12, and have a very active Facebook group
already. Only 7 months ago Hayley and I were trying to come to grips
with the idea of moving to Botswana after two years of wading through
the Peace Corps system and were frantically talking with people on our
facebook group to learn more about what we were getting into. And this
seems to be exactly what the upcoming group is doing as well. I do not
envy their task of packing their suitcases! It was a two week process
of packing, weighing, unpacking, eliminating items, repacking, and
reweighing suitcases into the early hours of the morning.
As some may have already seen on Facebook, we have taken in a few new
born kittens. They had been crying through the night for a couple of
days in the abandoned lot next to our house. So once we were able to
locate them we kept tabs on them a day to see if there was any sign of
a mother and when we saw they were unattended to, we decided to adopt
them and try to take care of them. After two days one of the kittens
stopped eating and remained asleep all the time until it died. We put
it in an empty hot chocolate box and buried it a little over 1ft under
the sand in our backyard. We even took the time to make the grave with
an old floor tile that had been trashed in our backyard. After two
years, we discovered that the box had been exhumed and the kitten had
been eaten… We suspect the pack of dogs that roams the school grounds
at night. They are friendly dogs during the day that pal around and
get into trouble afterhours.
The other two kittens are doing very well. One has a grey tabby patter
and the other is black and white. The past week has been spent
beginning the weaning process and we are relieved that they are
finally starting to eat on their own now. Getting the kittens to
transition from bottle to wet food has taken a lot of time and almost
more patience than we could spare! I have a new found appreciation for
mother cats, and all mothers in general, for their innate ability to
care for kittens, and babies in general. I had not idea how much time
and effort goes into feeding and cleaning new borns until now!
We mash up dried cat food and mix it with milk because there is not
kitten food or wet cat food available in our village. Like all things
gourmet, items like fancy cheese, wine, wet cat food, etc are
available in plenty in the major cities of Botswana, but we live too
far away to take advantage of these offerings.
We plan to keep one of the kittens. News travels very fast through the
Peace Corps Volunteer grapevine, and another volunteer asked if she
could adopt the other one only a few days after we had made the
facebook posting about our new found kittens!

Although I began this post while school was still in session, I am
wrapping it up now that school is closed. The last week of school was
a free-for-all for the students because they had completed their end
of term exams over the previous two weeks and during the final week of
school the teachers spent their time in an in-school workshop and also
grading tests and inputting the grades into the schools networked
database. During this time the students were mostly left to their own
devices and spent their time talking with friends and playing games.
Now that the equinox has passed, the weather is changing noticeably
from week to week. Three weeks ago the morning began to be very cool
while the days remained hot. Two weeks ago the equinox passed and the
days were filled with very nice cool breezes. And now over the past
week the days have been on the cold side. We were disappointed to see
that the enjoyably cool temperatures of fall only lasted about a week
and not we are on a speeding freight train into the coldness of
winter. However, I am not sure if they are actually cold or they just
feel cold relative to the extreme heat we have become accustomed to.
At the moment we don't have a thermometer and so are unable to really
gauge the day to day temperatures be they feel like they are in the
60'sF which probably wouldn't feel so cold if these temperatures had
been more of a gradual change and had not been dropped on us within a
week. Anyways, the we were told that the winters are extremely cold,
especially in the desert region (the geological and environmental
conditions conducive to creating desert regions are known to bring
about extreme heat in the summer and cold in the winter) that we live
in and we are now starting to appreciate just how cold things will
become over the next month or so. One of the major downsides to the
winter season that we are starting to see is the fact that our clothes
take at least a full 24hrs to dry when in the summer time they took
only an hour or two.
Finally, we are planning to visit the Okavango region soon and so we
have high hopes for seeing the famous wildlife of Africa! So, soon we
will share pictures and stories from our first R&R excursion in
We continue to receive packages from family and friends on an almost
weekly basis! And they are all very much appreciated. These points of
contact with our home culture and love ones make the tough times more
bearable and the good times even better!
- Michael

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It's Been Sixth Months, and Now It's Time to Get to Work!

Current State of Life in Botswana

I have just returned from a two-week mandatory workshop put on by the
Ministry of Education for myself and the other Life Skills volunteers
that work in schools around Botswana (our counterparts were also in
attendance). The upside of the workshops was that we were able to
spend two weeks working closely with our counterparts (we are each
assigned a counterpart to work with at our school), and we also had
some interesting cross-cultural exchanges. But, overall the workshop
was not very educational which may be due to the fact that it was
planned at the last minute in order for the Ministry to use up some
extra funds before the end of the fiscal year.
The cross cultural exchange gave us an interesting look at the way our
two cultures approach critical thinking and constructive criticism.
The workshop was focused on the topics of Guidance and Counseling
along with Emotional Intelligence. During the Emotional Intelligence
workshop we were given a very scripted presentation that included a
lot of semi-dated information and was mostly aimed at being a
self-help seminar for us and our counterparts rather than being
formatted to teach us more about how to help our students. Emotional
Intelligence, or the ability to deal with emotional issues in a
healthy way, is something that many of the students in schools here
need. And, in fact, this need also extends to many of the teachers
because emotional intelligence and life skills education is still a
growing field in the school system here which means that many adults
here have not been exposed to healthy ways to manage the emotional
pressures that they face. This state of affairs is one of the primary
reasons we have been assigned to enrich the impact of the life skills
curriculum at our schools because this could prove to have a positive
impact on the HIV/AIDS concerns in Botswana.

As I mentioned earlier, the Peace Corps volunteers were always eager
to learn more from the presenters by asking further questions about
the slides and information they were showing. However, the questions
which were aimed at critically assessing the information we were being
given were often glanced over or ignored altogether. In fact, during
the first week's workshop these questions were taken as an affront to
the presenters and there were moments of poor cross-cultural debate
when this happened. During the second week's workshop, which was led
by a different group put together by the ministry of education, the
questions were mostly ignored and the scripted format was stuck to.
Our counterparts often mentioned outside of class that they agreed
that some of the information was mistaken and/or that certain aspects
of the workshops were poorly planned and unorganized. However, they
added that it is a cultural norm to show the presenters respect by
taking in everything they say and not asking critical questions. The
tension between the peace corps volunteers' desire to delve further
into the information and the presenters' desire to share their
information and be done with the workshop kept things on edge, but
things never got too hostile, save for a few confrontations during the
first days of the workshop.

Aside from enduring the two-week workshop sessions during the day, the
life skills volunteers were treated to two-weeks of time to reconnect
and be with our friends/fellow volunteers. We have a great group of
people with a diverse range of backgrounds that has coalesced into a
fantastic group of supportive friends. Most of the nights were spent
having dinner at the lodge or eating at restaurants nearby. Our meal
expenses are supposed to be covered by the ministry through a
reimbursement process. However, like most all reimbursement processes
(both in the US and in Botswana) things can get complicated quickly
and often payments are delayed for excessive amounts of time. I am
just now beginning the process of wading through the countless forms
that I need to fill out.

The workshop also presented Hayley and I with an interesting
experience in that Hayley's program is not Life Skills education like
mine. So, she stayed behind at our site while I traveled 8hrs away to
Molepolole to attend the workshop. The time away was a new experience
for us because we had rarely had reason to spend 2 weeks apart in our
lives in the US. But we stayed in contact by phone and were very happy
to be back together when the workshop was over and I made it back to
my home village.

So, now that the workshop is over and I have returned to my site
Bots11 (the group of volunteers that I came over here with) have just
passed the 6 month service. At times, it feels like we have been here
much long because of the sheer immensity of new experiences and
interactions that we encounter each day. However, when I look back at
my actual work accomplishments it feels like I have only just begun.
The standard Peace Corps approach to looking at your service is that
most of your first year is spent relationship building and testing the
waters for projects that will only really get into gear during the
second year of service.

The feeling of having not gotten much done is made worse by the fact
that the timing of our arrival in Botswana put us into a meeting cycle
that has only given us a total of a few solid months at site. After
Pre-Service Training we were sent to our sites for 3 months in order
to conduct community assessments. During this time we were instructed
to not become engaged in the work of our primary assignments, instead
our job was to get to know the community and our places of work. After
Pre-Service Training we were called into Gaborone for In-Service
Training for 10 days where we processes our first few months at site.
After this we were given another month or so at site and then were
called in to participate in Regional Meetings where we met with
volunteers serving in our area of Botswana (the farthest southern
portions). This lasted over a weekend, and then the Life Skills
volunteers were sent to Molepolole to participate in the Ministry of
Education's workshop (the one spoken about at length above). Amidst
all of these workshops we have not been able to really get projects
going, because the ones that we have attempted to start get
interrupted by our having to leave site for workshops. Now, the hope
for any and all of our efforts here in Botswana is that our projects
will be sustainable. Meaning, they will continue on without needing
our presence to keep them going. Building sustainable partnerships
within the community requires a lot of time, however, and so we are
still working towards the goal of sustainability and we are really
hoping that next block of time that we have at our site will allow us
to get things going in a sustainable way (we don't have another
official Peace Corps meeting until the beginning of next summer here,
which would be the beginning of next winter in the US).
That's all for now! Thank you for reading, and please let us know what
you think!

- Michael

Sunday, January 29, 2012

IST - in-service training and processing the first few months at site

January 29, 2012
In-Service Training
Recently, we were brought into Gaborone for a workshop that has lasted about 10 days. The focus of the workshop was to give us further training sessions and also to help us process the first couple of months that we had spent at our permanent sites. Mostly, though, everyone in our Bots11 group has been focused on reconnecting and having fun with all of our fellow volunteers.
In an experiment in light packing, we decided to try only bringing a few sets of clothes. So far it has been manageable but washing out clothes in a sink with a bar of soap has been interesting. This part of the country is much cooler, and on top of that our rooms at the lodge are air-conditioned, so the things we wash don't dry near as fast as they do at our home in the Kalahari Desert.
The lodge has a few odd animals that wander around the area inside its walls. One is a large leopard tortoise that walks around the edge of the area by the wall doing orbits of the lodge's campus. There is also a small flock of guinea fowl that are pretty noisy in the morning and in the evening when they go through there territorial rituals. Lastly there is a pair of white rabbits that seem almost tame but act like cats when you approach by just barely staying out of reach. It has been a nice change of pace to see these animals in place of the usual batch of goats, cows, and chickens that we usually see at our house.
We recently took a trip into the downtown area to purchase a mobile USB modem from one of the local cell phone service providers but didn't have any luck because all of the shops closed early due to the African Cup of Nations soccer tournament that Botswana is playing in. The mall we went to is a lot like a smaller version of the Town East Mall in Wichita, KS. Facing the masses of people and heavy traffic has been a very strange experience after spending the past couple of months at our home village in a rural section of the Kalahari Desert. During these first few months we were tasked with conducting a community assessment which we were trained to do by conducting interviews, making friends, and shadowing people at work. Basically, it has been a time to get to know our new home and start integrating into community. I spent most of my days at the school. However, we arrived in our village two weeks before the schools closed for the Christmas break and classes started about two weeks before we had to leave for Gaborone in order to attend the In-Service Training that we are currently at.
The beginning of the school year here is interesting because it seems like most of the administrative work and scheduling of classes/teachers doesn't really get done until classes are supposed to have started. So, during the first two weeks of school the students have been left to sit in their classes rooms and go to classes in which there is usually no teacher. Sometimes the teacher doesn't show up because the schedule isn't completed and other times I have observed teachers cutting classes because they don't really feel like working. This fact of life here is one of the things that I intend to put a lot of time into addressing. The general lack of teacher motivation is somewhat understandable given the poor teaching salaries and the general neglect of the ministry of education in listening to and supporting the teachers. But, in the end I would like to think that working with the kids of the school would supercede these issues and that the teachers would continue to work hard in the face of the challenges that they are facing, but this doesn't seem to be the case (of course, not all teachers skip classes and neglect their responsibilities. There are some teachers at my school that are passionate about their jobs and are eager to help the students).
One last experience that I have had in the schools that has had an impact on me is witnessing the implantation of corporal punishment (hitting kids with switches). This punishment is executed on a daily basis on any students that cause trouble in one way or another. During the first to weeks of school, when the students were generally left unattended, corporal punishment was very common. This was because in being unattended and unsure about where they were supposed to be and where their teachers were the students had to manage things by themselves. Usually, the students stayed in their classrooms. Some classes would actually work on studying their past years notes and others were full of commotion and students terrorizing the classrooms. Thus, the teachers were randomly patrol the classrooms and make examples of the more troublesome students by beating them in the front of the classroom. One teacher described this practice as "an African solution, for an African problem".
I am very opposed to corporal punish in any part of life, but I am certainly going to put some effort into the issue here in the hopes of improving the Teacher-Student relationships. As it stands right now, most all of the students are terrified of their teachers and this has had many obvious ramifications on the students' ability to perform in the school. This is because they are less eager to participate in class, and are especially afraid to approach teachers outside of class when they need help with homework or want assistance with some other issue that they are facing.
After two losses (the second of which was really bad 1-6 when Botswana played New Guinea) the Botswana team only has one more game and it isn't looking like they will make it into the next round of the tournament. This reality does not seem to disappoint the locals too much, which is probably because Botswana has never had a team that was able to perform well on the international level. But news stories do talk about the country's efforts to improve their professional sports programs in the hopes of putting together an Olympic team. The prospects of this, however, do not look to promising because there is currently is little to no sports training taking place in the schools here. After a teacher strike a few months before we arrived, the teachers have stopped doing any extra work to coach school teams and lead sports clubs in after school activities. This is because the teachers feel that these types of endeavors should come with extra paychecks and until the ministry of education pays them more there will not be much of a chance of getting sports back into the schools. The students here make due with pick-up games of soccer whenever they have a chance, and one teacher at my school even continues to conduct Karate classes a few times each week.
I apologize for the long lapse in our posts. Once we are able to obtain a mobile modem we should be able to keep you all updated on our activities and experiences!