Monday, July 30, 2012

So I got peed on today...but this is what else is happening

Today has been such a great day!
Which is pretty odd..considering it’s a Monday. 
Let me fill you in a bit on what’s been going on in Gobojango this past week:
My counterpart is still on leave, which makes me sad, because I usually just sit in the consulting room with him during the day and talk and joke. But it’s given me an opportunity to actually accomplish some work in the clinic.  I scheduled a series of health talks to begin today (which they did) and also arranged an aerobics class (to begin tomorrow).
I’ve met with the Village Development Committee, the Social & Community Development Officer, and Primary school and have begun to make arrangements with them to focus on some goals to accomplish during my two years here.  Near-sightedly thinking, I am hoping to build shade for the Primary School’s new recreational park, and in the future, I would love to begin the arrangements of applying for funding for a new Library in Gobojango. This would not only help the out of school youth to have somewhere to be besides the bars, but also bring a sense of unity between the community and the schools.  The ideal operation would be to get internet as well. This week, I still must meet with the Junior Secondary School to schedule when I will be going there for the next couple years and meet with the village kgosi (or chief) to get some information regarding the history and logistics of my village.
Enough of the boring stuff! Let me fill you in on today!
So I was originally planning to hold my health talks at 8:00am when the majority of the patients were waiting for the doctor to arrive, but as I stepped into the waiting area and faced with an empty room, I decided to change the time to 9:00am.  I am so happy I did.  Once the doctor arrived at around 9, the swarm of patients arrived as well.  The whole staff congregated near the front of the room, and I began my discussion about maternal health.  This morning, I threw together a poster with some material that I had printed out last week.  It served as my guide, and as I spoke, more and more people came to listen.  I tried as best as I could to speak in Setswana, but unfortunately, words like “preconception” and “postnatal care” are not quite in my vocabulary yet.  Therefore, I had the head nurse of the health post translate for me.
After the session, a number of people asked questions, and I provided them with Jolly Ranchers as a special surprise for participating.  The doctor filmed as much as he could, and everyone left with a bit more information than they had originally intended. 
It felt glorious.
A couple weeks from now, my counterpart is throwing a small get together for me.  Of course, I invited my buddies from the Central District and Topo invited a couple of his as well.  It will be a fun braii!
Also, in-service training is coming up! Which means I’ll be able to travel to Gabs for a couple weeks and see everyone again.  I’m finding myself missing everyone here and there, so IST will be a good time for me to decompress and catch some r&r. 
A child just peed on me.
But other than that, things are going good.
THE BEST PART:                                                                                              
My parents bought me a ticket to come home for Christmas/New Years!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
No number of words or exclamation points can portray my excitement at being able to see everyone again and, shoot, maybe even take a shower!
Here’s my itinerary for those of you who are curious:
Departure from Africa…
TUESDAY Dec. 18:              Depart Johannesburg, South Africa at 8:15pm
WEDNESDAY Dec. 19:        Arrive Frankfurt, Germany at 6:15am
                                               Depart Frankfurt, Germany at 10:00 am
                                                Arrive Dallas/Ft Worth, TX at 2:15pm
                                                Depart Dallas/Ft Worth, TX at 3:55pm
                                                Arrive DENVER, CO at 4:59pm
Total Travel time: 29 hours, 44 minutes
Arrival to Africa…THURSDAY Jan. 3:               Depart Denver, Co at 2:55pm
FRIDAY Jan 4:                      Arrive to Frankfurt, Germany at 8:30am
                                                Depart Frankfurt, Germany at 8:45pm
SATURDAY Jan. 5:               Arrive to Johannesburg, South Africa at 8:30am
Total Travel time: 32 hours, 35 minutes
Then, at some point, I have to figure out the bus system from Jo-burg to Palapye, since it only takes a few hours to get from Gobojango to Bobonong to Palapye.
I’m hoping that when I’m in Germany, I can see my dear old friend Rainer.  I looked online, and it appears he lives only a couple hours away and there is a train that takes from Stuttgart to Frankfurt.  AH! How cool! I’m going to Germany! It will be really entertaining to go from the scourges of heat to the blistering cold in just a matter of hours, but I couldn’t ask for another plan.
Well, besides the being peed on part, this day has been great.  I will update you again soon!
Have a fabulous day!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sick to my stomach...with homesickness

You can kiss your family & friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time, you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world, but a world lives in you. -Frederick Buechner

There have been a few times since I’ve arrived that I wish more than anything I could be back home with my family, sitting on my comfortable bed in my wonderfully-smelling house with Geoffrey playing games in the room next to me, my mom watching Ellen downstairs, and my dad cooking a delicious dinner. 

This moment is out shadowing all of those times.

The shooting in Colorado only makes it more real how far away I really am.  I’ve spent the majority of the day pondering the episode in my mind, and it hasn’t really hit me until now that it really happened.  I can’t stop thinking about my poor cousins, what they’ve seen, the unfortunate families who have suffered losses, the pain everyone must be feeling, and all of the hatred that penetrated from this incident. It breaks my heart; I normally try to find the goodness in everything and occurrences like these really and truly make my heart shatter.

How can there be so much suffering from the unreasonably insane actions of one individual?

I am feeling very lonely right now, my friend.  Though I have made very good acquaintances in my village, I have no one’s house I can really go to and cry.  My Peace Corps family is only a phone call away…and yet the phone servers have been down for the majority of the evening, which also means I am unable to access any internet. The only thing keeping me from feeling entirely alone right now is a little black and white puppy whose tail wags every time I look at him. 

Moments like these remind me of the sadness and hopelessness I felt when we lost Meghan and I wanted more than anything to be with my family in the hospital rather than a 2 hour plane ride away.

Only now I’m an 8 hour bus ride and an 18 hour plane ride away. 


I’m supposed to be having “movie night” with the neighborhood children tonight, but right now all I really want to do is crawl into bed and watch a feel-good movie that reminds me of home. 

I need to pick myself back up and thank my lucky stars that I am able to communicate with my family and that everything is okay for the now. I need to realize how thankful I am that I was sent to such a peaceful country with such understanding and warm people.  How, even though these brief moments of weakness may seem like they last forever, they are only brief paragraphs in this wonderful story I’m able to live. 

My friend Tate sent me a beautiful array of quotes the other day, one of which resonated with me deeply:

"Everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons.”

Being so far away has really truly made me appreciate and love my home for the little things that I took advantage of before. 

And imagining being home again has made me appreciate new reasons to love being here.

Every little thing will be okay.

My heart goes out to those affected by the shooting in Aurora. May their souls find peace and may time heal their hurt.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Moment by Moment

I’m discovering that oftentimes the smallest things make the biggest impact on this whole experience.  It’s a process of learning to cherish those minute details that I probably would have overlooked before, and overlooking the big details that probably would have bothered me before. 

As I walked to work, I was surprised to find Gobojango bustling with more people than usual (normally there are 1800 people here.  Today there were about 1850 people haha).  I later discovered the reason was that there are to be two weddings in Gobas this weekend.  An entire herd (?) of cattle had been rounded up in the local kraal to be offered both as lobola (dowry paid by the groom to the bride’s family) or to be slaughtered for the ceremonies.  An old woman wearing a toothless smile approached me, grabbed my hand, and walked with me half way to the clinic, passionately telling me this grand story in Setswana that I could hardly understand. 

Once at the clinic, I sat down in the waiting area, took a breath, and looked around at the walls.  Since I’ve arrived, I’ve tried my best to make the building look a lot less barren and bit more comforting.  I found fulfillment in the fact that posters and colorful informational signs hung, staring back at me, encouraging positive behavior.  It’s not often that we are able to see a visual representation of our success here in Peace Corps Botswana, so it felt rewarding to see that. 

The blustery winds whooshed through the windows, as the clouds overhead sheltered any sun from reaching the village.  It was a nice change of weather and I found solace in the dimness.  I sat in the main consultation room and began writing letters back home.  When my counterpart had finished drawing blood, Topo came and sat with me and asked me to help him learn how to type without looking at the keyboard.  What was supposed to be a few minute lesson turned into us speaking and listening to music and therefore missing lunch by almost an hour.  We decided to part our ways and take a late lunch.

For lunch I ate a delicious pastrami and gouda sandwich and completed a survey for the Peace Corps.  Boom. Another thing accomplished.  By the time I had returned to the clinic, the power in the entire village had shut off so I pulled out my ipod and clicked on some music to move to.  Right when I was about to turn it off, I looked around at the people I work with and noticed that every single one of them was either bobbing their head or shaking their shoulders.  Needless to say, we had an all-out dance party in the darkness of the Maternal Health room.  I was so happy. The people I work with are so splendid. Meleko, the sanitation assistant, proceeded to bring a large Tupperware container filled with food for the five of us to share. 
Above is the picture of everyone whom I work with at the Health Post.  Starting from the top left is Kgomotso, one of the drivers, then Mma Seleke, the head nurse, Letho the cleaner, Meleko, the sanitation assitant, me, Oratile the Maternal and Child Health attendant, then the bottom left is Moilwa the other driver, and Topo, my counterpart.  They are a great group of people =)
“Kitso, come and wash your hands.  Re tla ja nama jwaneng jwana” (we will eat meat, now now.)

As I tried masticating the gamey-tasting meat, I attempted to conceal my repugnance.  The red meat was grimy to the taste and fibrous in texture.  It was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before.  As I realized they had all been intently watching my reaction, I immediately knew that we were eating something out of the ordinary.  They all started speaking Setswana and laughing while my mind began racing with images of what types of animal could be traveling through my digestive system at that moment.  I never quite got a definitive answer, however.  Apparently it could have been goat.

Or jackal.

Anyway, the two older women working in the clinic, Oratile and Letho, left to attend the wedding festivities, Meleko disappeared and Topo and I migrated into the consultation room where I proceeded to remove my handy dandy deck of cards out of my back pack.  I taught him how to play continental, while he taught me to play crazy 8.  I taught him to play King’s cup, and awed him with some card tricks.  (I feel like Forrest Gump, “she taught me how to read, I taught her how to dangle…haha)

We played cards for hours.  The moment we both realized the sun was going down, he walked me halfway home, I received a phone call from someone I haven’t heard from in weeks (TJ), and I picked up Caesar, and settled into my comfy little home.

Finally, the electricity came back on and I turned on my computer.  To my ultimate surprise and elation, I was able to access internet and speak to my Uncle James and little cousins Alana, Mackenzie, Sydney, and JJ.  Though the video isn’t as accessible as I’d like it to be, I couldn’t stop smiling just hearing their voices.  I must have looked like a fool cooking dinner for myself with an ear-to-ear grin on my face. Even while I was bathing Caesar I caught myself smiling. 

Like I said, nothing huge happened today.  Lots of small things, really.  But how lucky am I to have these little puzzle pieces of goodness to make me feel happy throughout the day? Let me tell you, they really help to brighten gloomy weather. 

One thing that I’ve learned for sure is that “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”.  So even if I can’t quite find my matches one day, by golly I’ll improvise with a flint stick or something if I have to.  As long as I don’t allow the darkness to take over, everything is gonna be alright.

And I’m going to take this adventure one day at a time.

And one happy moment at a time.

Sending positive vibes and light your way!

Thursday, July 12, 2012


This past weekend I went to Palapye for our regional meeting.  It was a blast being able to be surrounded by like-minded individuals once again.  After discussing our probable projects, we drank, cooked, danced, and sang for the whole night and felt normal once again.  It was wonderful!

All of these things paled in comparison to my astonishment at the travel system here in Botswana.  Let me begin by saying that this transportation thing is something that is still very new to me and I’m learning to navigate the system, even three months in.  Secondly, I’ve learned that nothing is set in stone.  For example, I have asked at least 10 people what times the bus picks up from Gobojango to Bobonong and I have gotten at least 10 definitive answers. And with reason! The times that I’ve attempted to travel to Bobs, the bus never shows up on time (if at all!) and I’ve ended up settling for the next easiest option: hitchhiking.

Now before I go on, let me interject here and inform you that hitchhiking is a completely normal phenomenon here in Botswana.  People look to it more as a business transaction than anything else, since you’re expected to pay the regular bus fare when they drop you off.  In fact, there is a bus stop as well as a hitching post for those (frequent) times the bus driver decides he’s not coming back.  Peace Corps doesn’t necessarily encourage hitching, though they do recognize that in some villages it is a must.

Okay, well as we were getting ready to leave Palapye, we discovered that our bus to Bobonong didn’t actually leave until around 11:30 so we thought we would try the hitching post.  After car after car headed to Francistown, we finally decided to head back to the bus rank.  We stood there as I watched and listened to everything going on around us.

Bus ranks here are a really interesting thing.  They simply look like really big parking lots with tons of people congregating around them.  Around the edges, people have stands (that appear to have been put together with whatever they could find) selling a multitude of goodies including hand-made beanies, t-shirts, sweets, peanuts, airtime for phones, fruit, and fried chicken.  That’s right, you read correctly, already-bought, and re-sold packages of fried chicken from the local fast food restaurant Chicken Licken.  When a bus pulls up, men and women carrying their products on their heads approach it and sell things to patrons through the windows.  If you think I’m joking, just take a look at this picture!

Another thing that I’ve found pretty hilarious is that, even though people stand in a relatively neat line awaiting the bus, it turns into a free-for-all the moment the bus arrives.  Needless to say it is quite the experience. 

That’s it for now!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Good things are happening!

Hello again!

So here’s a quick update about the goings-on in Gobas: the IDCC opening was a great success.  Yesterday I spent the day in my neighboring village of Semolale with the doctor, Doctor Mashini, learning the process of how an official ARV day  is supposed to run.  He taught me the ins and outs of the system and recommended I teach everyone in Gobojango.  After transferring some patients from Semolale to Gobojango, learning to schedule appointments, and to take vital signs, the doctor then invited me to his house for a late lunch.  There, I met the doctor’s lovely wife and ate probably one of the most delicious meals I’ve had since I’ve arrived in Botswana.  Since Mr. and Mrs. Mashini are from DRC, they grow plants from their home country and cook with them.  I helped myself to seconds and even tried spring bock meat (which wasn’t necessarily my favorite). 

Once I returned to the Gobas Health Post, I proceeded to find a corner stuffed with posters that everyone had forgotten where they were.  So I spent the rest of my day hanging colorful, decorative, and informative posters around the new building. 

So this morning arrived.  BIG day; our first registration of the transfer patients and what happens?  Both the Semolale and Gobojango ambulances are nowhere near the village to transport the doctor to Gobojango.  Patients kept filtering in, and even began waiting outside while the one nurse who was on duty, Topo (my counterpart), attempted to start seeing general health patients while arranging transport for the doctor. 

It was half past 10 when the doctor and head nurse from Semolale finally arrived.  They helped us through the process of registering patients into the computer system and the next thing I know, it’s already 3:30pm and we were so busy that we hadn’t taken any breaks.  Dr. Mashini and Topo were talking about how they could make ARV day more organized when I mentioned scheduling timed appointments.

With their reaction, you would have thought I had discovered gravity.  We sat for another hour while I explained time blocks and fifteen minute appointment times to them and they suggested I draft a framework to help them bring it about.  They also mentioned that if this process works, we will transfer it to our general health patients, then they will have me perfect the system and teach it to other clinics in the Bobirwa subdistrict.

It was an extremely successful day.  In fact, I just finished putting together the appointment folder and feel quite proud of myself.

Many of the volunteers who advised us during training said that the first few months at site are slow-going and uneventful.  I feel so fortunate to have been placed here.  I’m at the beginning stages of such great things to come in the future. 

I spend my afternoons with my neighbor and friend Lorato.  She is baking traditional bread every day for the entire month of July for the drought relief workers that are working in Gobojango.  I sit with her and Caesar, enjoying the company and often looking up at the stars. 

Yesterday her cousin was visiting from South Africa.  He told me that he would like to start an adult education program that reached out to the illiterate population in nearby cattle posts.  He asked for me to assist him and direct his funding in a certain way. I'd love to get involved, so i told him to draft a proposal and then we'd go from there. I don't want to spread myself too thin, after all.

In terms of other news, I will be travelling this weekend to a village called Palapye for our regional volunteer meeting.  This is an informal opportunity for volunteers within the Central District to get to know one another and ask questions and network.  I was given Friday off from work, so I will spend the morning washing my clothes and head to Bobonong in the afternoon.  There, I will meet Jessica, Hollis, and Leia and spend the night at Leia’s house. Early Saturday morning we will head to Palapye and meet up with other volunteers. I will spend that night at Mignon’s house and then head back to Gobas on Sunday. 

The following weekend I will be hosting three other volunteers here in Gobojango for a wedding! 

Such great things to look forward to =)

It’s pretty late now, but I’ll update more soon!

Be kind to one another =D

Monday, July 2, 2012

It's been so long!

I apologize it has been so long since my last post, many things have been happening and the network has been down this whole time so I haven’t been able to update!

Let me start off by saying that I am safe and sound in Gobojango (Gobas) and I’m in my comfortable, beautiful home.  Slowly I am learning the individuals that live here, though the names are quite difficult to remember.  Whenever someone says, “Dumela Kitso!” (Hello Kitso), I simply respond, “Dumela tsala yame!” (Hello my friend!).  It seems to help in getting me out of an awkward situation.  I’ve mapped my community and continue to add onto the map as I venture out more and more into the cattle posts and farms surrounding my village.

Next, my work at the clinic has begun.  My tasks change daily as the needs of the clinic change as well. For example, yesterday I assisted the lay counselor with conducting rapid HIV tests all morning while today I’m in an office counting pills.  Luckily for me, the clinic gets extremely busy in the mornings (from 7:30-12:30) and then is completely dead from 12:30 on.  This will give me many opportunities to work with the community and begin implementing programs.

Tomorrow is a big day here in Gobas.  But before I tell you why, let me give you a little background on the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate here within my community.  I am living in the Bobirwa subdistrict which encompasses the entire eastern “nose” of Botswana up to the town of Phikwe.  Here, the HIV rate is the highest in all of Botswana; and everyone who is administered to the HAART program (or a strict cocktail of different antiretroviral medicine {especially for those with a CD4 count below 350}) must go to the clinic to take their ARVs (antiretroviral medicine) once a week.  Normally, there are various facets of reactions to this weekly dosage of ARVs.  When I was staying in Kanye, people would have to line up every Tuesday in front of the clinic to await their treatment.  This, in turn, sparked a continuous stigma associated with the individuals in that line; and would therefore encourage people to either travel to different clinics to take their medication or, more rarely, to simply not take it at all.

Here in Gobojango, the reactions are a bit different.  Though there isn’t particularly that stigma associated with those taking ARVs, the individuals do not have access to the medication within their immediate village.  Hence, those who are infected by HIV/AIDS must pay 20 Pula a week to travel to and from the closest village of Bobonong where the ARV clinic is located. If, perhaps, one week an individual cannot afford to travel as far, they simply cannot afford to take their medicines that week.  A whole other dilemma arises. 

Now back to the story of Gobas.  Tomorrow, the official IDCC (Infectious Disease Control Center) of Gobojango will be opening.  With the opening of this clinic, it will mean that those individuals who have been consistent in taking their ARVs will now have immediate access within their own village to the medication.  It’s a huge step for Gobojango, and hopefully for the individuals within the village.  I have been put in charge of writing the program as well as decorating the clinic for the VIPs who will be coming.  The past week has been focused around the opening and has therefore kept us all busy!

Tomorrow morning, I am also supposed to go to the Junior Secondary school to meet all of the students! On top of all that, my landlady is supposed to be coming tomorrow as well, which means I must discuss with her the rent situation.  I think I’ll be doing more tomorrow alone than I’ve done in the past two weeks that I’ve lived in Gobas!

But then, Saturday I am planning to go to Phikwe with my neighboring volunteers Jessica and Hollis for a nice, relaxing day in the town.  I will be able to see Tsetsejbe (where Jess stays) and learn to better navigate the bus system. My hope is that I will be able to find out about getting internet for my house, because I’ve felt so out of the loop out here with no communication with the outside world!

I think it’s quite funny that my mom cannot fathom the fact that I am not able to buy stamps here in Gobas.  Or bottled water.  It’s just that small of a village!

The other day, my friend Lorato came and took me out of the comfort of my home and walked me to her family’s “garden”.  What she called a “garden” turned out to be hectares of land bursting with freshly growing veggies!  We walked around her family’s compound, I met her aunts and cousins, drank some tea, then returned to the garden.  Before leaving, her little sister (Josephine) approached me with her arms overflowing with carrots, tomatoes, beets, and kale greens just for me.    We both walked back to my house, brimming with veggies, while Lorato showed me how to clean and prepare some of the food in a traditional way.  We ate a yummy lunch and she left me satisfied and happy.

Oh gosh! I almost forgot to tell you one of the biggest things that’s happened to me! I HAVE A NEW PUPPY! Last weekend, I accompanied the ambulance driver to Phikwe to run a couple errands.  There, I was able to sit in on an internet café, eat a yummy lunch with some police officers, and explore a bit.  Along the way, I mentioned to the woman from my clinic how lonely I felt in my big old house all by myself and she made a phone call and told me to come with her.  We hopped in her cousin’s car, drove to his house, and were taken to a cluster of puppies in which she turned to me and said, “Take your pick!” At this point, I was pinching myself because I didn’t know whether or not this was really happening.  These puppies were not even 8 weeks old and already they wanted me to take one! Needless to say, I now have a buddy named Caesar; he’s a teeny tiny little black and white pooch with a fat belly, pink nose and paws, and short legs.  I take him with me to the clinic every day after lunch so he can get out into the sunshine.  He’s so small that I have to carry him half the way since he tires so easily.  The first couple nights were torture as he yelped and whined and screamed for his mom, but we have come a long way and now I’m undertaking the task of potty training him.  Luckily for me, he’s about the size of a small kitten so I plan on taking him with me on the bus this Saturday to Phikwe. 

What else can I tell you? I think that’s everything for now. I’ll just show you a picture of the sunset outside my back window. =) (more pictures to come soon!)

Au revoire!