Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Learning to Dance in the Rain

Aish, it has been far too long since my last post, and for that, I apologize!

Usually when so many good things are happening, it’s hard for me to take the time to sit down and reflect over them! However, this cloudy/rainy morning, I’m curled up on my couch with Caesar, listening to some good music and ready to dispense an overview of the past month!

          Let me first begin by saying that the Peace Corps is a journey that has lead me through some of the most trying times of my life.  I’ve learned so much about myself and the world that we live that it’s oftentimes been extremely difficult to digest it all.  I’ve worked so hard to come this far, and in doing so, I feel as if I cannot allow myself to fail.  So when a small project is unable to see its completion, I feel like I’ve failed on a personal level.  It’s been a learning experience to be able to grow and not take the fault in small disappointments.  I’ve learned that a lot of times there are so many outlying factors that determine the accomplishment of something that even if I’ve set everything on my end up for success, and it doesn’t see its way through, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t try my hardest.  Hopefully in a few years, when I look back on this experience, I’ll be saying, “I remember when I tried everything for that to succeed” rather than “I remember when that failed”… Though I’m usually a glass-half-full person, so I’m sure that’ll happen anyway!

On a lighter note, let me tell you about the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans a few weeks ago!  I spent the night in Palapye with a group of volunteers before heading up that way.  It was fun! We met, drank, ate, and were merry.  Then the next morning, all ten of us hitched rides to Francistown and boarded busses to go further north past Nata.  At long last, we arrived at a wonderful location called Planet Baobab seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  What was originally going to be a small group of us camping turned into the entire camping lot being speckled with Peace Corps volunteers’ tents.  25 volunteers came from all over Botswana to soak in the sun, sit by the pool, and spend time with one another. It was such a wondrous vacation! My favorite times spent were sitting around the fire as the sun set with the other PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers), eating yummy food, laughing, drinking, and singing to the tune of guitars.  Nate, a Bots11, even brought tambourines and other fun noise-makers to assist in the sing-alongs.  Those nights felt like I was living in a movie. 
Piling in to get to Planet Baobab

On the second-to-last day, a big group of us all went on an ATV expedition through the Ntwetwe Salt Pan.  We woke up early (a little too early for my liking), jumped in the back of jeeps, drove through the brush and learned about different flora and fauna of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.  After about an hour we arrived at the site where the ATVs were, were assigned a bike per couple, given a brief introduction on how to maneuver the thing, and then took off.  I’ve driven an ATV before, but I was a bit nervous so I told Stacey to drive first.  We followed the cue as it snaked through the dust and sand of the pans, then, once our adrenaline started pumping, Stacey and I began screaming hoots and hollers into the nothing of our surroundings.  It was exhilarating! At the top of our lungs, we screamed the Lion King Song, Bohemian Rhapsody, Spice Girls, and more.  (It’s probably a good thing no one could hear us over the sound of the engine because we sounded hilarious!)  Once we arrived at a clearing, we all walked over to where a group of meerkats lived.  I was surprised at how small the little things were! Silly Lion King led me to believe that Timon was about the same size as Pumba! Alas, I discovered that meerkats are merely the size of little ferrets and behave like little groundhogs. We then were served a yummy picnic breakfast and took off again on the ATVs (this time I drove…) }=)  We drove out to the middle of the pans, stopped, and all stared with mouths agape. This was literally the middle of nowhere.  The crystalized ground crumbled under our feet, the sky stretched to no end, and nothingness swallowed us whole.  I ran out as fast as I could into the void, and felt the emptiness of the pans envelope me. 
In the middle of the Ntwetwe Salt Pan
 It was therapeutic to be able to experience a feeling of such immensity, while at the same time feeling so miniscule.  It felt as if all of my concerns and worries were minute compared to the vastness of the universe.  After our individual realizations of the colossality of the world, we reconvened, took some fun pictures, and left. 

 By the time we had returned back to Planet Baobab, many of the volunteers had already packed up and left and only a few of us remained.  That night, we made spaghetti, pulled our sleeping bags from our tents, and slept under the stars.  It was just what I needed to have a relaxing, fun vacation.  

Sleeping under the Stars

So that happened near the end of September.  Let’s see what has happened since my last post?  I went to the Health Fair in Bobonong and demonstrated the proper way to apply condoms (both male AND female), I hosted a new PC trainee as part of the shadowing process, I began planting my garden, and I took a trip across the country to the Namibian border!

In order to swear-in as a volunteer, Peace Corps requires each trainee to stay with a volunteer for an entire week to see what life is like.  I was selected to act as hostess for a trainee, and in doing so, was thrilled to share my life with someone else! I planned all of these great activities, including staying at the nearby private Tuli Safari Block (fo’ free!) Though my shadowee wasn’t as appreciative as I’d have hoped, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and my fellow PCV and her trainee were delighted! 

Picking lemons from a nearby tree
We were able to take showers, stay in beautiful guest houses, eat a delicious braii (bar-b-que), and go on at least three game drives where we saw a vast array of animals.  My favorite drive was the night-time game drive.  Here in Botswana, there are these hilarious-looking creatures that look as if their creator was Dr. Frankenstein himself! They have the head and body of a typical rabbit, but their hind legs are those of a kangaroo, and their tails are bushy like a fox’s.  When they run, they hop around with the posture of a tyrannosaurus rex.  The first time I saw them, I laughed so hard I couldn’t stop crying!!  Then, I pulled a full-grown African moth out of my friend Johan’s ear, and we came across a family of elephants bathing in the local watering hole.

Kangaroo Rabbit

What's next?  I now have a full-on vegetable garden in my back yard!  Complete with watermelon, lerotse (Botswana cooking melon), maize, sweet reed (sugar cane), onion, purple lettuce, carrot, green beans, green pepper, pati-pans, gem squash, and Jacob’s fruit, the seedlings are beginning to peer through the soil and reach towards the sky.  This feels like a huge accomplishment, since I’ve never gardened before in my life (besides attempting to grow a tomato plant in my studio in Tucson) and one of my personal goals for joining the Peace Corps was to learn to garden.  

Plowing in my back yard
Don’t let me fool you, I’ve had the immense help of my neighbors Lorato, Mothusi, and Charity, but it still feels great to be able to see the fruits of my labor (in this case, the veggies of my labor) pay off =D. Also! I’ve planted herbs in little egg cartons in my kitchen (thyme and basil) and moringa trees in Chibuku boxes as well.  In an attempt to fix my fence to keep the chickens and goats out, I also was introduced to the creepy crawly creatures that live around me (including scorpions, maggoty-looking ants, and a freaky scorpion/ant/spider hybrid called the roman spider).  

Last Wednesday I set off on a journey to visit some friends on the west side of the country.  It was so much fun! I literally went from where I live in Gobojango (15kms from Zimbabwe), to the Western-most village in Botswana called Charleshill (8kms from Namibia).  Now, the 14-hour bus travel wasn’t very much fun…but it was exciting to see another side of Botswana that I had not yet had the opportunity to experience.  I saw people from different tribes including Herero and Saan and also spent some time with volunteers whom I had not yet had much time with (including TJ, Maureen, Ryan, and Shanta).  One of the things that I loved was that Maureen loves to cook and bake as much as I do, and she’s phenomenal at it!  We had a small get-together one night at her house, and while the ladies cooked, we made the gentlemen clean the kitchen. The way she put it: “this may be Botswana, but this house is American, and when one person cooks, the other cleans. So get to it, boys!”  It was fun being able to let loose and enjoy one another’s company. Though after so much travelling, I was happy to finally be home in Gobas. 
Ready to cook =)

Today I’m waiting for one of my Program Managers to call me to discuss the grant I wrote for the Primary School’s Shade Project.  I’m hoping it will be a success, since it’s been over three weeks since I submitted it and I really don’t want to revise it too much.  Otherwise everything else is going really well here, the aerobics class has been moved to the Junior Secondary School Hall where we’re able to use the sound system and alternate teachers. Today we are starting a month-long “Biggest Loser Challenge” in which we will weigh ourselves once a week and the person who loses the most weight over the course of 4 weeks wins a pot of money.  I weighed myself yesterday and was pleased to discover that I’ve lost 14 pounds since I’ve arrived in Botswana.  The best part is that I haven’t even really been trying…we’ll see how this competition goes!

The weather has been satisfyingly chilly, with afternoon showers yesterday and cloudy, windy skies.  Last night, I made a nice hot cup of hot cocoa, and was about to snuggle up in bed to watch a movie when I spilled my nice, hot, boiling cup of chocolate all over my legs, feet, and bed.  I’m glad no one was around because I think I cursed in over three languages and probably would have offended someone…or their mother. 

I really think Caesar notices when I’ve been gone for a while, because when I return, he never wants to leave my side.  Yesterday, he walked with me to the clinic, and coiled at my feet for the entire day.  He’s still a puppy, but is pretty well-behaved most of the time.  I like playing the “what will Caesar be chewing on today” game.  In the past, the result has been a severed donkey’s hoof (bone still attached), and a quarter of a cow's jaw bone (teeth still in).  Yesterday I was horrified and mortified to find that he had found a skull somewhere and was eagerly wagging his tail, awaiting me to let him into the house.  After assessing the teeth and the shape of the skull, I assumed the its prior owner was probably another dog, so I scolded Caesar for cannibalism and sent him inside with his tail between his legs and with his mouth free of any remains. 

I’m no longer able to join some other volunteers on the trip to Namibia for Oktoberfest and instead am going to Francistown for a Halloween party this coming Friday.  Unfortunately, I’m usually pretty crafty when it comes to Halloween costumes…but I’m having such difficulties trying to decide what to make! I’m thinking if I can find a bowler cap, I might just be Charlie Chaplain…stay tuned for more pictures. 

Well, I think I’ve exhausted every topic I have for now.  I’ll keep you posted more frequently so my posts aren’t so encumbered with information!  I hope you have a fabulous rest of your day!

In the spirit of this weather, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain”
Getting some air time at the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans with some of my favorite people