Thursday, May 31, 2012

VIEWER'S WARNING: SOME CONTENT MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR THE EASILY QUEASED

The past couple days have been quite pleasant and fun-filled!

I had a great weekend, mostly spent my time walking around Kanye and meeting different people. Then I spent a lot of time at Kogae Café (the “likoa” hang out apparently) with my friends and shared some friendly conversations and drinks.  I was even able to have a few full-on Skype conversations with my parents, TJ, and Ben! It completely brightens my day when that happens. 
Sunday in it of itself was quite the adventure for me.  While I awoke early to do laundry and attend church, I decided after I had changed into my “church-going” clothes that I was in fact too lazy to do so.  I changed into jeans and a t-shirt and decided to take a box of Kraft mac’n’cheese over to my friend Jessica’s house.  We cooked, ate some yummy comfort food, and watched Back to the Future on my laptop.  It was the most normal afternoon I’ve had in a while. 
(Well, I don’t know if you can call it entirely “normal” since there was a bucket of cow blood sitting on the counter behind us and they were slaughtering a cow in the front yard…)


A year after someone passes away In Botswana; it is customary to have a ceremony to pass out the late relative’s clothes to the family.  In order to do so, there must be a LOT of food (since ceremonies here always involve feeding EVERYONE that attends, and due to the fact that there are no invitations besides “word of mouth”, the list of attendees gets quite long).  Hence, the cow carcass was being spliced and gutted while the fresh flesh was slung over the wooden fence.  Out of curiosity, I grabbed my camera and jogged over to the bloody scene.  Once I arrived, I instantly regretted my decision.  Appendages were being shaved clean with sharp machetes and the stench made my eyes water.  It was dreadfully gruesome and something I never wish to relive.  (Of course, after talking to my dad, the hunting enthusiast, on Skype, he said that I should learn how to do it…YEAH RIGHT!)

I was glad to leave the grisly cow slaughter far behind me as I left to the Education Center and met with a couple of my peers for our very own “Creative Outlets Club”.  I learned quickly that we have a pretty talented bunch of individuals here in our group of 46 volunteers.  I enjoyed sitting on the roof of the Center, listening to the singing and ukulele-strumming of my fellow trainees, and reading a couple of my poems.  (A girl named Chelsea even let me take her ukulele home with her so I can learn!)
Anyway, minus the deplorable cow butchery scene, I had a really great weekend. 
Although today day wasn’t particularly intriguing, a couple things really made me smile. 
First, I have been walking almost every morning to the Education Center with my friend Jessica.  It’s a great way to start the day, the air is just brisk enough that it’s not too hot and not too cold, I love the stares/conversations we share along the way, and it gives me at least an hour to get into a good mood and wake up before I get to the Education Center. 
Secondly, today was condom-demonstration day at training! We had a long lecture about the technicalities of condom allocation throughout Botswana (they are provided free by the government, although the actual distribution part becomes extremely shady).  Then, after handing out phallic-shaped objects to practice on, our presenter showed us the exact way to roll on a male condom.   He proceeded to grab my water bottle and roll a condom over the bottom of it to show how stretchy they can be!
My favorite part was that he proceeded to demonstrate the proper way to utilize, insert, and remove a female condom.  Although they are not as widely distributed here in Bots, I learned that the female condom is an extremely clever option to safer sex and female empowerment.  I am a bit embarrassed to say that I hadn’t even seen one before today, but now that I have, I feel much more comfortable teaching it as an option to women and girls not only as a family planning option, but as an extra precaution to preventing HIV/AIDS (considering a woman can put it in up to 8 hours before having sex). 
Even past all of this, the highlight of my day came when I Skyped with my Tia Janet’s 4th grade class!  (We are a part of the Coverdell World Wise Correspondence Match Program, to learn more about it, please click here).  I met each one of her students and learned a little about them.  It was so nice to put faces to names from all of the great questions I’ve been receiving on my blog!  We are supposed to speak again tomorrow after my training session just as their school day is starting.  I’m hoping I’ll be able to answer questions they may have regarding Botswana, volunteerism, Peace Corps, or anything in general. 
So like I said, the past few days have been fun-filled and eventful.  What else? I do want to send a shout-out to my cousin Natasha, who just turned 25 (a quarter of a century old!) and has a brand new grown-up job.  She’s paving the way to making a name for herself in the architectural world! More shout outs to my cousin Amanda who is nation-trotting and geologically excavating with a geological engineering company (not quite sure the specifics..? But still excited!) and to my cousin Hannah (aka Bonanza) who has overcome so many great obstacles in the past couple months and is moving into her own place soon!  I’m so proud and honored to call these great women not only my cousins but my best friends.  Even though I can’t see them as often as I need, and we don’t necessarily speak as much as I’d like, I know that we are all making our own marks in the sand, and we’ll eventually meet for a bonfire on the beach in the future.  Ha, look at me getting all poetic.  (Cheers to Andre as well and his new grown-up job in the DTC!)
I think that’s really it for now…I will be going to a brie (pronounced “BRY”, it’s what the Batswana call a bar-b-que) at the local dam this weekend, so I’ll be sure to bring my camera.  Apparently, there are supposed to be lots of baboons near the water, so that will be fun to see.  I’ll also be headed to the village of Molepolole with one of my friends on Sunday so she can pick up her new cat (and so I can just see what the village of Moleps is all about).  Oh! We are also headed to a diamond mine/diamond exchange on Friday, so I’ll keep you posted about that.
Tsamaya sentle bagaetso! (Remain well, everyone)
Boroko (goodnight),
~Nina

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Value of Patience


Hello again friends!

I write you now with less than three weeks to go until I move to Gobojango.  For the past few days I’ve done some things worth writing about…

First:  last weekend was our group’s visit to the cultural lodge.  We arrived to the village after about an hour in a bus from Kanye.  For the following couple hours, we had the great fortune to be able to watch some traditional dances.  As we arrived, women singing and holding drums awaited us at the entrance to the kgotla (wall-less hut). We entered and all took our seats as the presenters took their places in a line in front of us.  Then, the kgosi (chief), who walked with a cane, proceeded to dance for us as his peers sang behind him.  Next, they taught us how to grind sorghum between two rocks.  Selecting only a few people from the audience, the main presenter allowed Tate, TJ, and some other volunteers to happily walk to the front to give it a try.  After that, we circled around a hollowed out tree stump filled with water-drenched sorghum.  They then proceeded to teach us how to pound it with large sticks, as they sang a song to keep us motivated.  After all, this is the way the Basarwa (or Bush People) used to pound sorghum back in the day. 

After that, a group of children approached us and began dancing for us in the style of the old traditional dance.  I took a video of the whole thing and will try to upload it sometime so you can all see what it’s like.

Then, the next exciting chapter in our adventure came when the group of older kids came prancing in and danced for us for about an hour or so.  It was awesome.  I also filmed a lot of these, but I was sad that my camera decided to stop working at exactly the time the dancing started getting extravagant!

We finished the outing by eating a deliciously-prepared buffet of local foods including digkobe (beans and samp), motogo (sorghum), morogo (leafy greens with veggies), diphaphata (savory bread), and more.   We also mingled with the dancers and I was able to practice my Setswana.  It was a great end to a great day.

Yesterday I had another opportunity to experience a cultural outing of a different nature.  We started the day with language classes, and though my brain feels French-fried in terms of learning Setswana, I felt pretty comfortable with the way my class is going.  Then, after “tea” break, we broke into groups of four and took busses to our respective assignment areas.  I went with Tate, Elsa, and Ryan to the Kanye Main Clinic for the day.  We waited to meet with the head nurse and I mingled with some of the patients along the way.  I learned that it’s not a good idea to ask people within the clinic how they were doing (“O tsigole jang?”: a common thing to ask someone, and one of the things I feel most comfortable saying in Setswana) because it opens Pandora’s Box of Setswana words that I do not understand as a response and I am left agape as the person looks at me, perplexed.  Finally, when we went into the room with the nurse, we interviewed her and learned all about the clinic. 

Now, although Kanye Main Clinic is a much more fast-paced, multi-faceted clinic than where I will be working in Gobos (Gobojango), I was happy to get some basic questions answered.  I do feel a little more at ease about working at a clinic than I originally had when I arrived here. 

What else has happened since I’ve been here?  I’ve found the reason for my lack of packages from home.  The person who had originally accepted my money for customs had turned in his resignation and none of the other volunteers knew until today.  So now, I created a list of those of us awaiting packages (there are about 8 of us) and it will be handed to the head boss.  He will then proceed to the post office and retrieve the packages himself.  They say we will have answers by Monday…. One valuable trait I’ve adopted in my time in Peace Corps is patience.  Patience and flexibility.  Patience, flexibility, and understanding. Okay, haha, I guess it’s safe to say I’ve learned quite a bit so far in terms of valuable life skills…

Who would have known that it would take me going halfway across the world to finally appreciate the value and virtue of patience? 

Well, thank you for reading; I’ll keep you posted about everything else that happens

Until next time! Be kind to one another =D

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I've met my counterpart


So it has been quite a while since my last detailed blog post, sorry about that! Things have been pretty crazy recently!

Let me back track to about a couple of weeks ago and my visit to Pandamatenga.  I had one of the best weeks of my life!  The transportation up there was a little unnecessary…15 hours in a crammed bus with hardly any pit stops was just too much to handle in one day.  But when I did get to Panda (which was just two silos and a dirt road), Christina and her boyfriend Coenie were waiting for me.  They then took me to a local lodge where we immediately saw an entire herd of sable.  It was beautiful.  Then, right as we were sitting down to eat; I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.  Out in the distance was a giraffe drinking water. It was so surreal! 

The rest of the week seemed to fly by.  But in the course of only a couple days, I visited a local women’s group meeting, walked to Zimbabwe, gardened with primary school children, and learned the farming systems of Panda.  One of the nights, we visited another lodge called the Kazuma Lodge.  Now let me just say that this lodge was one of the most amazing places I had ever been, it normally costs $700 USD to stay there but since it was the off season, he let us spend the evening there for free.  The entire lodge is a dark wood floor with an elaborate tarp cascading the top.  The north and east walls were shelves filled with old books and colloquial antiques from when Britain ruled Botswana, while the other two walls were open to the African bush.  As we sat on cushioned pillows under the stars and around the fire, we ate the most savory guinea fowl stew (that had been hunted that afternoon). At one point in the night, I looked over at the watering hole next to the lodge and was startled to find a herd of 7 elephants drinking water.  It was probably one of my most special moments that I will remember for the rest of my life.   

Anyway, the next morning, we awoke early and jumped in Coenie’s truck (they call it a “buggy” here).  We drove to his farms, and I learned about farming sunflowers, chickpeas, and sorghum.  Then we set off for Kasane.  When we got there, we stopped by a massive plot of land called Chobe Farms. Chobe Farms provides the country with the majority of its vegetable and fruit production.  There, Christina offered me a chance to go with them and run errands or to stay with AJ, the owner of Chobe Farms and learn about farming.  Well, those of you who know me well can imagine what I did.

For those of you who don’t, I ended up jumping in AJ’s buggy and took a tour of Chobe Farms.  At one point, AJ took me to a point where I could see Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.  After the tour had finished, Christina was still running errands so AJ took me to a different house in Kasane. This house was gorgeous.  There was a pool in the backyard and a lush garden; from the backyard you could see the bright blue of the Zambezi River.  Turns out, the owner of this house is the owner of all of the Spar’s throughout Botswana (Spar is a grocery store chain similar to Kroger).  So it had hardly been a couple hours and I had already met two of the most prominent businessmen in Kasane!

Needless to say, I made good friends with the Spar’s owner’s daughter, we exchanged phone numbers, and AJ took me to a river-side lodge where we met Christina and Coenie for lunch.  That was the first time I had eaten pizza since I arrived to Botswana and it was YUMMMMY!

Next, we jumped in Coenie’s buggy again and set off for the next lodge where we would depart on our boat cruise of the Chobe River. Here, we met up with the other two volunteers in the area, Octavius and Shelly, as well as their trainees, Bridgette and Mignon.  For only about $20 each (because Octavius knew the captain), the six of us hopped on a small speed boat and set off on the Chobe River.  On the ride, we saw some of the most majestic, purely natural animals in their environments.  We saw impala, kudu, baboons, crocodile, hippos, elephants, Cape buffalo, and I don’t even know how many species of birds.  In fact, one of the coolest things happened just as we were about to turn the boat around.  The captain paused and declared, “LOOK! THERE’s A LION!” We spent about 10 minutes switching off with the binoculars trying to spot this lion ear.  (Seeing lions is a rarity since they’re such private animals, in fact Christina had only seen 5 in over a year).  Then, as if in a National Geographic video, the lion submerged from the brush and began stalking a huge herd of Cape buffalo.  We all held our breaths as we watched two more lionesses prowl.  In total, the pride of 9 lionesses surrounded the herd of buffalo.  We actually had to turn around before any of the action could go down, since the crocodiles and hippos swim at night, but it was still such a phenomenal sight.

That night, I stayed in Kazangula with Octavius and Bridgette.  We were supposed to leave early the next morning and head to Francistown.  (As we waited at the bus rink, wild boars rummaged through the trash cans) So we loaded onto yet another crowded, overfilled bus and took off, leaving all of the lush green vegetation and vivacious animals behind. 

Once we arrived to our hotel in Francistown, we completely agreed that we would be staying another night.  Because, though the hotel itself was beautiful, complete with a full-service bar and three pools, it had hot, running water…AND a shower if you can believe it!

Well, that was an amazing weekend that completely felt like a vacation so I was refreshed and rejuvenated to come back to Kanye and discover my site placement.

As I said in my previous post, I will be headed to a small, rural village called Gobojango.  It is on the eastern most point of Botswana, about 15km from Zimbabwe and close to the National Tuli Game Reserve.  The village is comprised of just above 1000 people, and has a primary school, a boarding secondary school, a clinic, and that’s about it.  There’s not even shops: I must travel to the closest village called Babonong in order to get groceries and anything else I may need!  I will have my own one-bedroom house on a compound that’s about 500 meters from the clinic.  In my house, I will have a bedroom, bathroom (with a tub), living room, dining room, and….this is the best part….RUNNING, HOT WATER AND ELECTRICITY!  Though I’m not sure how reliable the water situation is, I’m still not sure how I got so lucky. 

In terms of my job assignment, I will be primarily working out of the Gobojango Health Clinic and helping them to organize their system.  In June, there will be a new hospital opening in the village (before, HIV/AIDS patients would have to commute to a neighboring village called Semolale) that would enable the ARV distribution process to become much easier so I’m tasked with assisting in that capacity.  My counterpart has also told me that there is a big problem with teen pregnancy within my village so he would love to use my knowledge and experience with youth to begin a youth empowerment project.  Pretty much for the first few months of me being there, I will be conducting a community assessment to see where I could be most useful.  I’m the very first volunteer in Gobo, so I’m so excited to begin, words cannot even express it. 

That’s another great thing about my assignment as well: my counterpart.  He is such a neat individual, very laid back, and extremely eager to hear my ideas and suggestions.  We just had a two-day workshop at the education center with our counterparts, and I was extremely nervous at first since he seemed so quiet.  But it turns out Topoyame (or Topo, as he likes to be called), and my personalities are extremely compatible.  He’s one of the two nurses at the clinic.  In fact, when we were discussing priorities for the community and the clinic, one of the questions was, “What is the number one thing your community needs?”  As I was thinking of broad topics like “organizational skills”, “computer knowledge” or “a new garden” he kinda paused and looked at me and said, “you”. 

This is going to be awesome.

And another great thing is that he told me it’s a great idea to have a dog at my site.  My neighbors or he will even watch it for me when I leave for IST (in-service training) in August for two weeks!  Now I just need to focus on arriving to my home safely and then I can worry about the pet thing.

It is exactly three weeks until our swearing-in ceremony.  Though it feels like the days are so long, these past weeks have literally flown by.  Next thing I know, I’ll be at my site, posting pictures of how I’m making the house my home and becoming involved within the community.

=)

I’m sorry again it has been so long since my last post, I promise I’ll make more of a conscientious effort in updating more often so you won’t have so much to read next time!

My new address is as follows: Janina Yates PO Box 13 Gobojango, Botswana.

From now on, please send all mail to this address.  And even if you didn’t send it to the Gabs address please send me mail! It will help to fill the empty spaces that I feel when I’m missing home!

Thank you for reading!  I’ll post more soon!

Peace, love, doodles, and happiness!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Site announcement!

I've discovered where I will be living for the next two years!

Gobojango is my home from now on =)

Below is a picture of my own, one-bedroom house that I will have allllllll to myself! (it is the house on the left)


I'm about 15 km from Zimbabwe and very close to the Northern Tuli Game Preserve/Safari Area. 

I will definitely update later when I have more time, but for now, here is a navigable link of my future home village.

Thinking about you all always!
<3 Nina

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Heading North

So, this weekend I will actually wash my clothes can you believe it!! Haha, there are no washer machines so I'm learning the good ol' fashion way, with a little elbow grease and hanging wire. 

Today we spent the majority of the morning under a mesh tarp learning how to perma-garden (those of you who are interested can click the link for more info).  I didn't want to be one of the trainees sitting on the side watching everyone else doing the work so I jumped right in with a shovel and dug a 6ftx3ftx1ft sized hole.  That was considered our "first dig", then we continued with pick-axes and dug even deeper, softened the hard red clay, and added dried chicken manuer to provide nutrients to the dry dirt.  Finally, after re-filling the hole, carving a damn around the large mound of dirt, and adding more chicken manuer, we planted two rows of spinach! Throughout the process, I became filthy.  Like no lie, my legs are seriously orange right now. But it was fun! I hope to bring this experience with me to my post and maybe even have a garden of my own =)

Wednesday we had our Language Placement Interviews, and while some came out feeling very uneasy about Setswana, I came out extremely confident (I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing...) In my opinion, I did the best that I could do.  In two weeks, they will let us know not only our permanent site placement but our new groups (depending on how we did in our interview and our placements). 

We also discovered where we will be going to shadow for a week! I will be heading to a village called Pandamatenga (isn't that fun to say?) to stay with a girl named Christina.  I'm getting so excited because this means that I will be leaving my little niche here in southern Kanye on a 15 hour bus trip north.  While we are required to run a series of workshops and even a focus group while we're there, Christina has promised me that she will coordinate with the other two volunteers in that northern region and we can go on a game drive (which is like a mini-safari without paying). So I'll be sure to  bring my camera and take TONS of pictures of the elephants and giraffes that I see.  She also told me that if we can muster it, she's going to arrange for us to go on a cruise of the Okavango Delta! The Delta is the richest region in Botswana, not only in wildlife but plantlife as well! It provides the majority of the agriculture throughout the country, and is known for its lush areas.  No lies, I'm SO excited!!!

Here is a picture of me and my shadowing placement site.  Clearly, I'm very excited!

 

Another great thing that has happened while I've been here is I've befriended a group of 10-14 year old girls.  It's awesome, they wait for me every day in front of my compound for me to get home from school.  They like to braid my hair (here they call it "plait my hair") and teach me Setswana.  I even made them a dish called scone bread and they practically licked the container clean.  My fellow trainees and neighbors Jeff and Elsa called me the Pied Piper, HAHA!


I would like to interject and just congratulate my little cousin Alana Marie on achieving a leadership position at her school! I knew she would get it, and her perseverance and hard work has finally paid off!!  I would also like to tell my cousin Bree suuuper good luck on her play, I know she's going to be great!

I am feeling the pang of homesickness here and there.  Especially when it gets dark outside and the bar across the street from my house stops pounding the music and I'm left with nothing but my thoughts.  I feel so disconnected at times, and I wish that I could just pick up my computer and Skype someone or even Facebook. But I know that this is something I've wanted to do my entire life and I feel so rejuvenated living here amongst the Batswana.

 I've never really "stuck out" before...but living here sure does make me feel like a superstar.  As I'm walking the 45 minute walk to the Education Center (where we train), I receive countless amounts of attention my way, either from children wanting to wave at me to men wanting to marry me (I've received at least 7 marriage proposals since I've arrived).  Even when I walk to the supermarket down the street from my house, I am approached by individuals wanting to practice their English or just wanting to know why I'm here.  Being a lekoa (white person) may make me easily distinguishable, but it's got its perks for sure.  If I'm ever feeling lonely, all I have to do is go outside and smile at people and I'm already feeling better.  Luckily for me, a smile goes a LOOOONG way in Botswana.

Well, I think I've summed up the past week for you, really we are in the Education Center from 8:30-5 every day from Monday to Saturday so I don't have much adventure stories to tell you.

OH! Besides the hilarity of me taking my Malaria medication!  So I was prescribed Mefloquin (which is apparently the strongest one offered, but with the most side effects) because I was going so far north.  They recommend that you take it with food so that your stomach doesn't get upset.  I waited until after dinner to take it and then I went to bed without a second thought.  Well, at one point in the night, my eyes SHOT open, my heart was POUNDING and I was sweating profusely.  I jumped out of bed, clearly concerned about something and scrambled for my phone.  When I saw that the face of the phone flashed: 22:15, I convinced myself that I was dreaming since there was no way it could be 22o'clock.  When I sat down and caught my breath and reread the Mefloquin packet, I realized that it was in fact 10:15 pm and the side effects of Mefloquin include vivid dreams and acute paranoia.  Boom.  The drug had fooled me! The rest of the night passed very well, in fact one of the best nights I've had in a while.  Once more I awoke because I was talking too loudly in my sleep and I thought someone was speaking to me, but other than that it was amazing. 

Okay, well now I REALLY feel as if I've summed up my week so far.  Please write me if you'd like me to ellaborate on one specific area of my service so far and I would be glad to answer it! (Really, i would be happy to receive any emails!)

I miss you all very very much!
O tsamaya sentle, bomma le borra! (Remain well, everyone!)

~Kitso