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!

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