Tuesday, December 10, 2013

12 Reasons to Date a Peace Corps Volunteer

I am so sorry, dear reading base, that it has been so long since I last updated.  My computer screen was cracked and I therefore had no access to any internet in months.  On the up side, my screen has been fixed and I promise to write a new blog entry soon! 

For now, let me entertain you with a little diddy I found online....;)

12 reasons to date a Peace Corps Volunteer:
  1. We can woo you in multiple languages. Who else is going to whisper sweet nothings to you in everything from Albanian to Hausa to Quechua to Xhosa? That’s right. Only a Peace Corps Volunteer.
  2. We’re pretty good dancers. Yeah, we don’t like to brag, but after 27 months in Latin America or Africa we know how to move it.
  3. We’ll eat anything. Seriously. No matter how bad your cooking, Peace Corps Volunteers have had worse and will eat it with nary a blink. Sheep’s eyeball? Water buffalo gall bladder? Grasshoppers? Bush rat? Bring it.
  4. We know all about safe sex, thanks to our very thorough Peace Corps health training. In fact, there’s a chance that we’ve stood unblushingly in front of hundreds of villagers and demonstrated good condom technique with a large wooden phallus.
  5. We’ll kill spiders for you. Well, actually, we’ll nonchalantly scoop them up and put them out of sight. Same goes for mice, geckos, frogs, snakes. Critters don’t faze Volunteers.
  6. We have great date ideas: wandering a street market, checking out a foreign film, taking in a world music concert, volunteering…. Romantic getaway? Our passport is updated and our suitcase is packed. With us, life is always an adventure.
  7. We like you for “you”… not your paycheck. Especially if we are freshly back from service, a local joint with “character” will win out over a pretentious eatery. Living in a group house? No problem. Does it have running hot water? What luxury!
  8. You won’t get lost when you’re with a Peace Corps Volunteer. Navigating local markets on four continents, we’ve honed an uncanny sense of direction. Or else we’ll ask for directions. We’re not afraid to talk to “strangers.”
  9. Waiting for a late train or bus with us? Don’t worry. Been there, done that. We can share lots of funny stories about “the bus ride from hell” that will make the time go quickly and put it all into perspective.
  10. Our low-maintenance fashion style. Peace Corps Volunteer guys are secure in their manhood and don’t mind rocking a sarong. Women often prefer flip flops to high heels. We don’t spend hours in front of a mirror getting ready to go out.
  11. Marry us, and you won’t just get one family — you’ll get two! When we refer to our “brother” or “mom,” you’ll want to be certain we’re talking about our American one or our Peace Corps one. You might even get two wedding ceremonies, one in the U.S. and one back in our Peace Corps country.
  12. And last but not least … we aren’t afraid to get dirty.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cribs: Botswana Edition


So I've realized that even after 17 months of living in this splendorous country, many people back home are unable to wrap their minds around where it is that I'm living or even what my village looks like. I understand, as the majority of the pictures I take are when I'm on vacation or doing a project outside of my village...so for this, friends, I apologize!

I have had numerous requests to post more pictures of my village from many close friends so now that I have fast internet, I will now take this opportunity to rectify the wrongs and show you, with in-depth pictures, what Gobojango looks like and the walk I take every morning to the clinic. Please bear with me (and for those of you who are not familiar with the tv show "Cribs" feel free to click here for more information).

Hello and welcome to Kitso's rendition of Cribs! On this episode I'll take you through the crispy, dry wonderland that is known as Gobojango, Botswana!

Life in Gobojango is quite relaxed, with nothing to fulfill a day but a trip to the clinic or meandering over to your neighbor's house to catch up on the most up-to-date gossip over lunch preparations. 
Ladies preparing a meal and sharing in one another's lives.

Throughout the day and night one might find themselves entranced by the sounds of roosters crowing, donkeys baying their breathless "hee-haw", and dogs barking.  Oftentimes, the clanging of a cowbell and the whimpering of a baby goat who has lost her way will creep into the crevices of your mind while the smell of smoke from nearby burning trash will infest your nose. If you're lucky, you will overhear the morning prayer songs from the primary school children or the laughter of the older women and men at the "kgotla" (community courthouse).


A community's kgotla is a place for people to gather and share ideas. It is common knowledge that women are not allowed to enter any kgotla unless they are wearing a dress or a skirt that is longer than their knees.


While some of you may think that my houses look like one of the following...

The beginnings of a mud hut.  Sticks are placed around the base to assist in the formation of the structure then "moo" (water, mud, and cow dung) are added around it to form a solid-standing structure.

or like this....
Some basadi bogolo (old ladies) conversing around their traditional hut.  When it's cold outside, a fire will be started inside the hut to prepare afternoon tea or supper.
I am in fact one of the more lucky volunteers in Botswana.  My house is endowed with electricity, running water (when there is water in the village), an inside flush toilet, AND bathtub.  I also have tile floor, a front and a back door, and I live alone on a compound. This means that I don't have anyone next door to me constantly knocking on my door for sugar or on those days when I simply want to go home and collapse I have no one whom I have to greet on my compound before arriving to my front door. Of course, there is always two sides of a coin.  Because there is no one else on my compound, I am also more susceptible to loneliness, and must keep constant tabs on who comes to "check me".  (One of the reasons having a dog is such a plus, she barks strangers away).
 
 
Anyway, back to Cribs. Above is the picture of my humble abode. While there is an apparent satellite dish on the front of my house, I have no television so it does not behoove me in any way. The piles of dirt and rock have since been made into concrete cinderblocks that will be placed around my compound to form a tall fence.  For now, the chicken wire will do.  To the right of my house is the larger house on the compound, also one of the nicer ones in Gobojango, it is a three-bedroom vacation home meaning that my landlord and his family only come to visit during holidays.
 
To the left, you will see my neighbors' pit latrine, as well as the homes of the families that live nearby.  If you follow that direction, it will eventually lead you to the primary school and the one tar road that runs through Gobojango.
 
Unfortunately, I don't have a direct picture of the primary school, but here is the completed shade (yayy!) found on the premises as well as the "school bus" that takes the choir children to competitions.
 
 
Our tar road! =D (with Cleo strutting about the bus stop/hitching post)
Once on the tar road, one may head due east a few meters and look out into the vast expanse of the village. Gobojango is one of three villages in the northeastern catchment of Bobonong. Though it is about 42 kilometers from the larger village, it is only about 15 kilometers from Zimbabwe, and 30 kilometers from South Africa.  While it is said to be home to 2,100 people, the majority of its inhabitants live at their respective "cattle posts" (plots of land far from the village)  and the village center sees the same 100-200 people daily.
 
Looking out on Gobojango from the tar road.
The village has no stores, only "tuck shops" (small huts reserved for selling small necessities like cooking oil and phone credit/airtime).
There is a single bar that sits on the side of the road, as if aimlessly waiting for a hitch to Bobonong. 

Its music can sometimes be heard echoing throughout the village near the end of the month, and you just know that men doubled over with age are reaping their profits from their welfare checks by throwing back one or two beers and boisterously placing their coins in the jukebox to listen to music such as "kwasa kwasa" or "stonkana".
If you continue walking east, you will come across the proud post office, which stands on the opposite side of the road from the bar.  It's bowing fence fell years ago and has yet to be repaired. 

While the six windows along either side suggest a welcoming house of well-functioning government post, the reality is that the woman who runs the building is rarely present and the open-mouthed gates are usually empty throughout the month.
Just past the post office, the road will curve and at the spout of the curve, you will encounter the Gobojango kgotla.  My first month in Gobojango, I assisted in the painting and "refurbishing" if you will of this meeting area.  It stands effortlessly as one of the nicer kgotlas in the area and is shaded by a large mophane tree.  "Pula", as written on the side wall, not only means 'rain' but is also the name for Botswana's currency and is an exclamation of excitement and pride.
During village meetings, VIPs will sit in chairs in the cemented/stage-looking part while the villagers will bring blankets and sit upon the ground beneath the tree.
If you follow the curve, you will be taken the village corral (kraal) on the right and the clinic.  Further down the tar road (about 1.5 kilometers), you will run into the Gobojango Junior Secondary School and then meet up with the larger tar road that takes to the nearby villages Semolale and Mabolwe.

If you are a lekgoa (white person) like me, and are daring enough to do this walk on a daily basis, you will not be surprised to hear small children screaming "LEKGOA!!! LEKGOOOOAAA!!" from different compounds on your way to work. The funniest part, however, is when you try to near these small children to tell them your real name is not lekgoa and you actually have a name they can pronounce, the reactions are similar to these....

 
 

 











...You'd think from their mortified faces that I'd be sitting there offering them a snake or making faces or something...not that that's something I would do, of course...


...what's even worse is that their mothers usually encourage them to go and touch us or get closer. When the child screams even louder, this is usually the expression on the faces of the parents....




Anyway, although it is rare, you always will have the opportunity to run into this smiling face, Samantha, my daily dose of happiness.  No matter how blue I am, all I have to do is go to my neighbor's house and encounter this cheeky 5 year old and my day will improve.


So let me finish telling you a bit more about where I live. The individuals who inhabit Gobojango are all a part of (or married into) the Sebirwa tribe.  A rich and vibrant culture whose dialect is a mixture of Ndebele from Zimbabwe and the Bangwato Setswana, the Babirwa are a welcoming people who practice the culture of herding livestock and keeping farms. The traditional dance in this area is similar to that of the dancing found throughout Botswana with drums and vocals to accompany the rattling of the seeds wrapped around the ankles, though the colors of the dancers are much more effervescent and each dancer is clad with a staff.

 
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
As I said before, most Batswana practice the life of owning land. I've learned that it's very important to have livestock (usually cattle), land, and to build a house on said land.   
 
A house that may be found on a cattle post
An example of a house found in a home village
Usually, on this land (the aforementioned "cattle post"), they will have one small hut where the men stay while caring for the livestock and then have another house in their home village where the women will stay with the children.

 
Since families here encompass not only the nuclear but the extended family as well, a lot of the cooking has to be done in mass amounts.  Therefore, the process of boiling water and cooking with "three-legged pots" over an open fire is customary.  This proved to be difficult for me when I wanted to cook for my neighbors (since in the United States we are so used to having smaller portions of more varieties of foods) and here in Botswana, the portions are usually just meat and starch doused in insurmountable amounts of oil and salt.
 
 


With all of these things to consider and mull over, I hope I have given you a better glimpse at what my life here in Gobojango and in Botswana is like.  My village, although seemingly bare and flora-free, has hidden beauty in each of its corners and faces. 

I am always taken by surprise by some of the things I encounter on a daily basis in Gobojango.  The sunsets, for example, always leave me breathless. On most days, when I'm sitting in my living room watching meaningless media on my computer, and my room turns orange from the setting sun outside, I only grab my camera and place myself on my back stoop to see what entertainment the sky has in hold for me that night.

 
The humor lies in the fact that when people are scrolling through my camera, they are perplexed at why I love the sunsets so much.

 
Another aspect of why my village has been so astronomically blissful is because of the family that has adopted me.  Some of my favorite nights have been spent simply sitting around an open fire, sharing conversation with people around the world. In fact, the other day as the doctor from my village gave me a ride, I was overcome with an epiphany that I was sitting in a car with a man from the DRC Congo, a woman from Zimbabwe, a young man from South Africa, and I was an American.  What an opportunity this entire experience has been thus far! What amazing individuals I have encountered on this adventure!
 
Here is a braai (bbq) that I had for a Swedish scientist, Pier, and his son who came to visit Gobojango for a couple months.
 I hope you have enjoyed reading this rendition of Cribs.  Hopefully now, you're more able to visualize what my home looks like, what my village looks like, and perhaps maybe you are more able to understand what my service has been throughout these past 17 months. Join us next time....when I update my blog with another fun-filled post ;)

Finally, and I'll leave you with this thought from a book that I finished a few weeks ago...
 (Just so you know, I've been encouraging everyone I know to read the book "The Alchemist".  It's filled with wisdom beyond compare and I feel like it's a great representation of what my service has done for me so far so if you haven't read it yet...DO!)

" Making a decision is only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision. "

If you had asked me two years ago if I ever thought I'd catch myself sitting in the middle of a group of children in Africa listening to a man play the guitar on a sporadic Tuesday afternoon. I would have laughed in your face.  But thank God and thank all graces that I am able to experience this firsthand and understand what life means for people who are so different, yet so similar to me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

4 Obstacles


We all need to be aware of our personal calling.

What is a personal calling?

It is God’s blessing, it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream.

Why?

There are four obstacles. First: we are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea, and as the years accumulate, so too do the layers of prejudice, fear, and guilt. There comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible. But it’s still there.

                If we have the courage to disinter dream, we are then faced by the second obstacle: love. We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realize that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.

                Once we have accepted that love is a stimulus, we come up against the third obstacle: fear of the defeats we will meet on the path. We who fight for our dream suffer far more when it doesn’t work out, because we cannot fall back on the old excuse; “Oh well, I didn’t really want it anyway.” We do want it and know that we have staked everything on it and that the path of the personal calling is no easier than any other path, except that our whole heart is in this journey.  Then, we warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.

The waterfront next to the tallest building in the world in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
I ask myself: are defeats necessary?

                Well, necessary or not, they happen. When we first begin fighting for our dream, we have no experience and make many mistakes. The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.

So why is it so important to live our personal calling if we are only going to suffer more than other people?

                Because, once we have overcome the defeats—and we always do—we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria and confidence. In the silence of our hearts, we know that we are proving ourselves worthy of the miracle of life. Each day, each hour, is part of the good fight. We start to live with enthusiasm and pleasure. Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently bearable; the latter goes on for years and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul, until, one day we are no longer able to free ourselves from the bitterness and it stays with us for the rest of our lives.

                Having disinterred our dream, having used the power of love to nurture it and spent many years living with the scars, we suddenly notice that what we always wanted is there, waiting for us, perhaps the very next day. Then comes the fourth obstacle: the fear of realizing the dream for which we fought all our lives.

                Oscar Wilde said: “Each man kills the thing he loves most.” And it’s true. The mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with guilt. We look around at all those who have failed to get what they truly want and feel that we do not deserve to get what we want either. We forget about all the obstacles we overcame, all the suffering our hearts endured, all the things we had to give up in order to get this far. I have known a lot of people who, when their personal calling was within their grasp, went on to commit a series of stupid mistakes and never reached their goal—when it was only a step away.

                This is the most dangerous of the obstacles because it has a kind of saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest. But if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, you help the Soul of the World, and you understand why you are here.


The sunset behind my house in Gobojango, Botswana



-Paulo Coelho (preface to The Alchemist)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Language Barrier

So, the majority of Batswana understand and can speak English very well.  I have to say that this has contributed to my overall success within the country because even though I am learning the local language (Setswana), it’s assuring to be able to express myself in my native tongue when Setswana just isn’t working for me that day.

Teaching sexual reproductive health to a group of junior secondary students
That being said, the English that is spoken here is very much a conglomeration from around the world: from England to South Africa.  Many of the “isms” are infinitely disparate from the English I am familiar with and on days where I feel that I need to make my speech ingenuous, I am taken back when a youth in my PACT club utilizes a word like, “ameliorate” or “discordant”.  Often it seems that the smallest words are the ones that cause the most confusion; such as “bathroom” literally means the room in which you bathe, and not where the toilet is located.
Livingstone, Zambia. One of the nicer toilets and bathrooms I've seen in a while.
 
One day as I walked with a male friend of mine, I stated my discomfort at my “pants” being bunched at my knees.  He immediately turned his head away from me, and with eyes bulging asked me, “Do you need to go somewhere where you can find privacy?”  I said, “no, silly, I can just fix it right here”.  His protuberant eyes began scanning our surroundings frantically as he said, “No, Kitso, please not here, people will stare.”  I crunched my nose in confusion, trying to understand why I would need privacy to unroll the bottoms of my pants and why that would be a cause for public attention.  I did it anyway, and told him that we could continue on our way.  It wasn’t until later that evening, when I was explaining to my friend Lorato what had happened, that I learned that “pants” here means “underwear” and, essentially, my friend thought that I wanted to unbunch my underwear from my knees in the middle of square in my shopping village. This was the day I began to say “trousers” instead of “pants” and “pants” instead of “underwear”.

Though I see them and teach them things every day,
I feel as if the children in Gobojango are my best, most patient teachers!

When I first arrived to Botswana, I was having a couple drinks with people from South Africa.  I remember sitting there, listening to their stories and laughing on cue but really not understanding a single word that was being said.  A couple months ago, I met up with the same South Africans and found myself understanding and contributing to the conversation.  The stories consisted of “braai’s” (bar-be-ques) and “the boot and the bonnet of the bakkies” (the trunk and hood of a pickup truck).



When I speak to my friends and family, I find myself epitomizing the “Botswana-isms”: everything from the reactionary expressions to the hand gestures to the diction I choose.  For example, “Now now” implies a different time reference to “now” and “just that side” (followed by an ambiguous hand gesture similar to waving) could mean anywhere from a few kilometers away to the other side of the country.  Whenever I reference anything that’s small in size, I have to remind myself not to add “in-yana” to the end and something that’s “big” is a very different size than something that’s “big big”.  The running joke between my fellow PCVs and me is how weird all of us are going to be when we return Stateside. 
What is "normal" anyway?
Sometimes when the electricity is out, I amuse my neighbor children with light shows....
 

What’s unfortunate is that I’m now studying for the GRE.  Although I would love to utilize the new vocabulary I’m learning in an every-day setting, it’s proving to be increasingly difficult. I’ve managed to find a couple friends of mine within the country who are also studying for the GRE and willing to assist me in studying.  We text one another our neologisms… (Hah! You like how I did that?)

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Working Like a Motswana"

The other day, as I raked my large yard of dirt, a woman walking by paused, shifted her weight to one hip, and smiled from ear to ear.  I felt her presence on the other side of the gate, wiped the sweat from my brow, and looked up with a friendly greeting “Dumela Mma!” (At this point, I’m used to being a splendorous attraction). She shook her head and smiled even bigger.  “Kitso!” She exclaimed, her voice gaining an octave with each word, “You are working like a Motswana!”  I couldn’t help but chuckle and nod it off.  I affirmed her statement by saying, “Eeh Mma!” She continued on her journey, her face still creased into a smile. 

Watering the garden (that has since died due to no water in the village)


A couple days later, as I rode my newly-bought bicycle to the junior secondary school, children ran alongside me screaming with excitement.  Talk began circulating around the village that I knew how to ride a bicycle and people came to my house simply to ask me to ride it so that they may watch. 

Every day, I’m humored by the simple-natured things that I do that people find to be most fascinating.  The most entertaining of these, I think, (not including the raking or bicycle riding) is the fact that I know how to whistle.  Apparently, whistling is a very “masculine” characteristic here.  For those of you who know me well, I whistle to myself a good deal, usually without even noticing.  It seems like every time someone who has never heard me whistle before hears me for the first time, they offer their aghast reaction (two short exhales with their mouth and eyes wide open), followed by a prodigious cackle. 

A man in my shopping village was shocked to hear me whistle

I think it’s going to be difficult for me to go back to the U.S. simply because I often enjoy being a source of inquiry for everyone around me!

That being said, as much as I try to “capacity build” my peers in Gobojango about the axiomatic nature of the diversity of Americans (that yes, we are able to do mundane tasks), I still find it difficult to verbally express our commonalities as a human race.  Rather, things that I simply assume are common-knowledge (like riding a bicycle or raking a yard) are shocking to my host country national peers.  People still get a kick out of watching me hang my laundry to dry outside, and to this day (16 months later) I am often pleasantly taken by surprise when an individual sheds light on the subject.
I love when young girls want to touch my hair. 
I've heard everything from "it feels like doll hair" to "it feels like donkey hair"!
 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

And now for some silliness =P


Ode to my Best Friend.
Never in my life have I had a friend like you
You’re always there for me when I’m feeling blue.
On those days where the dust accumulates and I feel dirty
You clean my feet and I watch the water turn murky.
When the sweat pours off of my worried forehead
And I feel like the heat is going to make me dead
I know at the end of the day, you’ll be there
Waiting for me to cool off, without a care.
During the cold winter mornings when I can’t get out of bed
You’re there to offer a warm place to rest my head.
When Cleo (my dog) is covered in pap1
You let me wash her, and never make me stop.
When my clothes have been soiled and piling for days
You help me to wash them and snap me out of my daze.
If my sink is clogged, I know where to turn
I wash in your mouth, while both of us learn.
Oh, never in my life have I had a friend so true
This ode is for you, my bath tub, how I love you.
 

1Pap is a traditional Botswana food made from mealy meal (pronounced “pop”)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lots of updates...long post ;)

These past few weeks have been overwhelmingly busy! Currently, one of the primary school teachers has lent me his laptop.  So I sit, pensive, and write about the going-ons in my life over the past couple months. I realize it has been a while, so please bear with me and the extremely loooong post that is about to ensue…
The last time I was able to post, I briefly mentioned my birthday and the wonderful surprise that the Junior Secondary Students prepared for me. What I didn’t tell you was the birthday presents I received from my magnificent family through the post and my birthday trip to the Okavango Delta.
One day, as the sun splayed its viciously hot face in the sky, I sat and grumbled at the daily frustrations I face at the clinic.  The organizational system I set up for the patient files was out of order…again…patients persisted in asking that I take their vital signs or prescribe them medicine (thought they know I don’t have the authority to do so), and the head nurse was preoccupied updating herself on the latest gossip in the village while the number of clients in the waiting room rose exponentially by the minute.  When the door opened with another person saying, “Kitso, ke batla wena” (Kitso, I need you) I hid my dramatic eye roll and turned to face the post office attendant laden with a box from America in her arms.  My frustrations quickly melted into visible excitement as I yelped with glee, flew out of my chair and pranced towards her.  I locked myself in an abandoned kitchen and began to rip the box open like a child anticipating a toy on the morning of Christmas. Lo and behold, my family did not disappoint: I was faced with a bursting display of new shoes, mac’n’cheese boxes, new jewelry, nail polish, and the best part: a card written with words from each of my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents, and brother. As I read through the cards, tears flowed easily down my cheeks and I became extremely reminiscent of weekend dinners and birthdays spent with the company of those I love most.  Though it may seem as if my reaction was spontaneously infantile, I haven’t felt so thought about or missed since I joined the Peace Corps.  The rest of the minor obstructions for the day seemed to roll off of me like water off a duck and my smile lasted the rest of the week.
A couple days after my actual birthday, I began packing to head up north to the largest inland delta in the world: the Okavango Delta. There was to be a large event held in a village called Shakawe, and my fellow volunteer Leia and I were asked to run a stall based on gender-based violence prevention.  I rolled up the posters I had prepared, rolled up my clothes for the next few days and set off to Bobonong where I would meet Leia.  Though I was under the assumption that I would be taking the ambulance at 4am, the lack of electricity in the village and therefore lack of communication with the driver convinced me to stay home a bit longer and begin to hitchhike when the sun began to come up instead.  Unfortunately, since I was so excited for our oncoming trip, I was unable to sleep; so instead, I cleaned my entire house, made egg salad sandwiches for the road, and began making a mosaic with rocks and fabric on my knife holder.  Finally, the sun peered its sleepy way through the window panes and around 7 I decided to walk to the hitching post. I caught a ride all the way to Phikwe with one of the teachers from the primary school; we picked up an extremely exhausted Leia and arrived in our shopping town about an hour later. The majority of the ride went very well. We took a two and half hour bus from Phikwe to Francistown, and were pleasantly surprised to find that one of our friends was actually in Francistown as well and headed to our first destination, Maun.  We meandered our way through the crowded bus rank to Milky Lane, an ice cream store, and excitedly awaited our friend Beekyper to meet up with us.
(I find it funny how overwhelmed I get nowadays being surrounded by so many people after I’ve been in the village for so long.)
As we waited, we met up with my best friends Claire and Stacey and all shared some much-craved ice cream. Finally, Beekyper arrived and we all piled into his jeep and took off for Maun with hopes of making great time.  Sadly to our realization, BK (although a very safe driver) drives about 10 kms under every speed limit.  We arrived in Nata (the halfway point) much later than we’d hoped.  We took matters into our own hands and finally arrived in Maun just after sunset.
A feast of homemade pizza awaited us at a Peace Corps couple’s house, and we delved into our allotted slices while mustering conversations with the other PCVs staying the night there. Since the next day was also going to be filled with painstaking travelling, we all called it a night around midnight and snuggled into our respective sleeping bags.
The next day, Leia and I left around 8 (after making a scrumptious breakfast of omelettes and bacon) to begin hitchhiking up North. Right as we arrived to the hitching post, a group of people informed us that there was a cue (line) that we had to follow. Since this was so unlike everywhere else I’d travelled in Botswana, I was taken by surprise and immediately uneasy about what to do…just as I was processing the thought of following a line, a van pulled up declaring that he was going to Shakawe.  The aforementioned “cue” turned into mass hysteria as people grabbed their belongings and began diving through windows and car doors to secure their seat. Needless to say, we shrugged off our losses, watched the packed van drive off, and agreed that we were going to begin throwing elbows if necessary to ensure we had a ride on the next vehicle to Shakawe.
As the morning slowly morphed into afternoon, we agreed that we would take any ride that was going towards our destination, such that we still had a few hours of travelling ahead of us and any progression would help.  Finally, an open-bed bucky (truck) pulled up and we literally played human tetris as more and more people loaded onto the back.  We travelled for a couple hours, with my right knee bent up towards my shoulder and my left foot directly under the bottom of another passenger, until the bucky dropped us off at its final location: our half-way point to Shakawe.  During those two hours on the bucky, our exposed fair skin decided to absorb the harsh sun and transform into a translucent shade of pink. We unloaded, threw our belongings on the curb, and prepared ourselves to begin hitching yet again.
Imagine: there we stood, in the middle of nowhere, our feet burning from the boiling pavement and our sweat evaporating from our rubicund cheeks while watching every car zip past us.  We must have looked so pathetic that one of the boys waiting alongside us snatched my water bottle, filled it to the brim with water from the nearby standpipe, and ordered us to drink more. Finally, after about an hour of standing in the Kalagadi desert, a nice Ford F150 conducted by two very clean gentlemen pulled up and offered to take us all the way to Shakawe.
The journey was pleasant: filled with good conversation, a few chuckles here and there, and….if you can believe it…air-conditioning! We stopped briefly in Gumare so the men could donate books that they had brought, and proceeded to collect a handful of our peers (other volunteers who had left much earlier than Leia and me) who were found hitching on the side of the road near the fueling station.
At long last, our ruby red faces looked onto the landscape of Shakawe: the northern-most village in Botswana where Peace Corps volunteers are placed. The landscape is vastly different than what I’m used to here in Gobojango.  Rather than being made of soil, the huts are instead constructed with tall reeds from the delta, and the green trees towered over us.  It was as if we had jumped into an alternative tropical Bostwana. We arrived at the house of Bridgette and Matt Kogle (the wonderful couple willing to host a slew of volunteers for the Okavango Half Marathon) and were pleasantly greeted by people we didn’t even know were going to be there!
We took a quick hike over the fence of the Kogle’s back yard and looked onto the scenery of the mighty Okavango. It was breath-taking. It seemed like I had accidentally stepped into a post card.  And to add to the view, a man slowly paddled his way through the reeds of the Delta in a makoro (small canoe-like boat)…come on…those kind of things only happen in movies! I returned to the house, kicked my heels up next to the campfire, and enjoyed the company of my captivating peers: some whom I hadn’t seen for months (like Tate and the Kogles), some whom I had hardly met (like some of the Bots13s), and some who I saw more regularly than others. It was a wonderful light at the end of the “traveling” tunnel I had taken over the past two days.
The half marathon went very well, and the young local woman who won the race did so barefoot!!  I spent the rest of my afternoon watching local traditional dance performances and listening to presentations until Tate and Ashley approached me concerned that no one had taken the lead with the Kings Foundation Base Pack! The three of us joined forces and spent hours playing with an ever-growing group of children.  (I’ll tell ya, that in it of itself is a form of marathon…I was EXHAUSTED by the end of the day)
The next day we had hoped to make it to the crocodile farm, but due to exhaustion and a dire need to relax, we spent the entire day with our friends, cooking a pot of chili and cornbread, and playing card games while listening to the hippos in the backyard delta.
After packing up our tents before the sun came up, and bidding farewell to our comrades, a handful of us set off to catch the early morning bus south.  We were about to embark on a journey through the delta to camp on an island for three days.
Once we arrived to the loading location, the Swamp Stop, we packed two boats full of food, alcohol, backpacks, tents, and people, and splashed off into the winding landscape of the Okavango. Before we left, they warned us the hippos and crocodiles were very prominent during this time of day and to brace ourselves. Along the way, I sort of got the feeling that I was on the Disneyland water safari ride; which only got stronger as we approached the largest, fattest crocodile I had ever seen in existence.  It sat there, smiling its maniacal grimace at us as the drivers of the boats giggled and drove closer and closer. Leia almost clawed her nails into the bone in my arm when the croc jolted and slithered his way into the water. I kept my cool until our driver began worrying and attempting to move the boat out of the cove. 
Don’t worry, nothing happened to us. ;) It just makes for a cool story.
We arrived to the island after a few hours in the boats. The three days seemed to fly by as we enjoyed a series of fishing, charades, drinking games, game drives, boat rides, and swimming.  At one point, we were out in a marsh fishing while I antagonized the driver, Theo. “push me in, I dare you.  You won’t do it, I know you won’t…” and yes, good people, he started the engine, turned the boat in the direction back to camp, put one hand on my forehead, and shoved me into the crocodile and hippo-infested waters. Unfortunately everyone else was in the front of the boat and didn’t see that he pushed me, so as he turned the boat back around to collect me, Theo convinced everyone that I had slipped and fallen in. Another time, we drove the boats to the nearest village to collect petrol.  I proudly drove the boat as we arrived into the dock.  As some volunteers jumped out to see the village, others of us hurdled ourselves into the water and began having a splashing fight. 
(One thing I should probably tell you about the average Peace Corps volunteer is that we are pretty competitive. So keep in mind, when I say a “splashing fight”, I really mean it started as us splashing water at one another and ended in us chucking mud at one another and a couple bloody noses. But don’t worry, everyone was okay).
Our last night on the island, we went for one final boat ride.  Theo idled the boat in a vast marsh, and I laid on my back and looked up into the stars. The reflection of the night sky off of the undisturbed delta water beneath me and splashed stars of the Milky Way overhead made me feel as if I was floating in space…it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. After I soaked up as much of the bliss that I could, we then proceeded to use the spotlight to identify crocodile eyes along the shore. 
I can’t even lie to you: Theo taught me how to catch a baby crocodile. As I held its scaly, slippery body in my hands, the noise that escaped its needle-sharp tooth-filled mouth sounded similar to a concoction between a child’s cry and a cat’s meow.
Though it wasn’t directly on my 24th birthday, the Okavango Delta trip was chalk-full of memories and great company.  Hell, who else can say that they learned how to catch a crocodile (besides Steve Irwin), drive a boat, and camp on an island for three days on their birthday?  
Yeah…I guess I am really living in Africa.
Moving on, let me tell you that the members of the Bots12 Peace Corps intake group have achieved their one year mark in country.  WOOHOO! Talk about a weird point in service…I remember talking to my predecessors at their one year mark and thinking, “Wow, I can’t even imagine what that would feel like”.  Now that I’m here…let me tell you…it’s an odd sensation.
Though I’ve been here for over 12 months, I don’t have many tangible things to prove my success or existence within my community.  The absence from my family feels like proof enough, though I keep reminding myself that this is where I want to be. I look over this past year and feel an immense amount of personal growth but then look at the entire year left and feel a bit disheartened for two reasons:
1) I fear it may not be enough time for me to accomplish everything I’ve set out to do and
2) it’s a whole nother 12 months away from the life I knew in the US.
Like I said, it’s a strange point.  But I think I’ve come to terms with it.  Rather than living as if this is a two-year break from my “real” life, I’m much more comfortable accepting that this is currently my life, and…let’s be honest…it’s pretty bad ass. So I’m trying to soak up as much as I can and enjoy the ride.
On that note, let me tell you about our one year celebration! About 17 other volunteers from my intake group throughout Botswana came to our side of the country to spend three days and two nights in the legendary private Tuli Safari Block. Though we all brought tents, the lodge owner surprised us by allowing all 18 of us to use the private chalets. She also offered us a free (4-hour) game drive in which we saw elephants, impala, eland, and hippos, and she gave us an extremely discounted braii (bbq) with complimentary bottles of free, REAL wine. It was such a great time; I brought my new puppy Cleo (who had an overwhelming amount of affection from her Peace Corps aunties), and we relaxed like kings and queens for three days. The best parts of those three days were the times spent around the campfire, playing games, dancing, and laughing with our Peace Corps family. 
Though many of them live so undoubtedly far away from me, I have this warm connection with each volunteer.  We have grown together, we have experienced hardships with similar foundations, and yet here we are, one year later, still thriving. One thing I’ve learned about Peace Corps is that it truly attracts some of the most phenomenal, diverse group of people.  I really feel like no matter where I find myself in life in the future, I will always have those starry-filled nights with my PC family to reminisce upon and smile.
Oftentimes, during America-specific holidays, many PCVs will join forces and celebrate together to avoid ridicule and having to explain to their communities why.  Such was the case with Thanksgiving, Halloween, and, the most recent: Cinco de Mayo.
This year, I celebrated El Cinco with four wonderful ladies: Claire, Stacey, Jessica, and Lindsay.  Though the actual celebration was fun-filled, I really want to tell you about the transport situation to get to Claire’s village, Ramokgonami.  Because, honestly, I think it was the most haphazard, slapdash situation I have experienced in Botswana (and, let me tell you, I’ve experienced some chaotic things…).
I met Lindsay in her village (Palapye) and we collected a few things from the grocery store before walking over to the hitching spot. Since Ramokgonami is a small village like Gobojango, I felt a bit wary about hitching with so many expectant people looking for rides around us. After a bus that was going to a nearby village rolled by bursting with passengers, we mutually agreed to walk over to the bus rank and stand in line for the 5pm bus. When we arrived we casually joined a well-formed line where the Rams bus was supposed to come.  People were pleasantly sharing conversation, munching on snacks, and holding their children’s hands and Lindsay and I agreed that we had made the right decision.  We made friends with a delicate, older woman whose smile warmed our hearts, and she informed us that she would be going to Moshupa, the village past Claire’s.   
At one point, we noticed that the line we were standing in began shifting slowly behind us and to the right.  A bit confused we picked up our groceries from the ground and tried to follow the masses until a man grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “everybody stand behind the mekgoa (white people)”.  Okay, I thought, that’s awfully nice; they’re allowing us to be in the front of the line…
Oh if only I knew. 
The second that the sprinter (small, 20 passenger bus) pulled around the corner, the well-formed, peacefully pleasant line turned into a frenzied bustle of confusion.  People started pushing old ladies out of the way to be in the front of the line, men were yelling at one another in Setswana, women were pulling one another by the hair, and Lindsay and I ducked out of the way as to avoid injury.  It was so chaotic and hectic that the sprinter driver yelled out the window, “Unless you form a line, I’m not pulling in!” (Or at least, that’s what I assumed he said…since it was in Setswana, I couldn’t get the exact translation).  Three people designated themselves the start of three dissimilar lines and those of us who were less vehement slowly fell into one of them.
Clearly unhappy, the sprinter driver put the vehicle into gear and rolled away, saying that when he came back he wanted to see one, orderly line. People grabbed one another by the shoulders and placed themselves in a single-file line.  Where we once stood at the front, we now meshed into the middle of the crowd of people. The second the sprinter returned and parked at the stop, the well-formed line exploded again into a mass bulk of people yelling and pushing one another.  I got a bit overwhelmed with individuals all around me, grabbed Lindsay’s hand, and made our way outside the deranged mob.  A small girl holding her younger brother began screaming and crying from within the throng while a man took it upon himself to conduct a rescue mission and pull her out.  Our newly-acquired granny friend from Moshupa looked to me with a look of desperation as her cheek pressed against the window of the sprinter. The driver stated that he wouldn’t open the doors until people could conduct themselves in an orderly manner. A well-dressed man tried taking charge of the horde by yelling, “The elderly, women, and children first, come on my brothers, we can walk if needed!” Thank goodness Lindsay was there, we kept exchanging looks to one another to assure ourselves that we weren’t crazy, and this situation was, in fact, completely preposterous. It honestly felt like we were trying to get on the last life boat off of the Titanic.
Slowly, the conductor slid the side door open wide enough for one individual to pass at a time. People threw their bags through the windows to claim seats, which started an entirely different uproar, and Lindsay and I decided that our lives were way too important to us to be lost in a fight for a seat so we stood aside as people shoved one another to get onto the sprinter.
Finally, as the flock was sucked up into the small bus, we decided that it would be a good time to try and mount ourselves.  I’m not sure how it happened, but we were able to crush about 50 people onto a 20-seater sprinter.  The fact that I was sitting on a woman’s chest, my head was tilted to the side because of the luggage rack, and my legs strattled the lap of an elderly man didn’t even matter to me: we had gotten onto the damned bus. “How far does Claire live from here?” I asked Lindsay, “Not far…only about 70 kilometers I think” was her response.
A little part of me died thinking I was going to have to spend the next hour in this position.
As the conductor made his way through the small crevices that we were using for air, we were able to adjust to a point where it was tolerable (enough). We couldn’t stop laughing at the situation and the ways we were standing… “Thank goodness I can do my yoga today” I told her as I found myself in a back-bend with my head in the chest of the conductor, and stomach thrust in a woman’s face. Lindsay’s skirt was stepped on at one point and pulled down to her mid-thigh so the skin on her back thigh was pressed against the bare skin of the woman’s shoulder sitting next to her; though because it was so crammed, she couldn’t pull it back up or adjust in any way. Every time someone got off and the door was opened, it was as if each individual on the bus gasped for air, and the sides of the sprinter heaved like the rising and falling ribs of a breathing beast.
Needless to say, my dears, we arrived to Ramokgonami, a bit sore, a bit “peopled-out”, and in dire need of some tequila and our personal space.
The rest of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations were pleasurable.  We played “pin the tail on the burro”, cooked an obscene amount of Mexican food, and danced the nights away in Claire’s living room. Reluctantly, I made the journey back to Gobojango the following Sunday, and was so exhausted that I didn’t even visit my Botswana family when I arrived.
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Enough of these travel stories, now let me tell you what work I’m actually doing!
As I told my parents yesterday, this is the busiest I’ve been since I arrived to Botswana.  Though I’ve tried to start many projects and had great ideas for initiatives that just didn’t take, I’ve found myself in a position where the projects for which I’ve partaken are succeeding satisfactorily. Unfortunately, this also contributes to my rising stress levels; but I’m overjoyed to be occupied and hoping to have tangible evidence of my existence and small success in Botswana!
First, I have been working very closely with the other volunteers in the area to plan an outdoor youth camp for junior secondary (middle) school students. The camp would be a leadership camp aimed to include the top five qualified individuals from each PACT (Peer Approach to Counseling by Teens) club in the subdistrict.  We have been planning the retreat from the very ground up since Bobirwa has never had a camp like this before.  After securing a hosting location in the Tuli block, and transport, we proposed a minimum budget to the Technical Advisory Committee in Bobonong.  To our great surprise, our 6,800 pula request was granted.  In fact, the TAC committee granted us 15,000 pula to reach more students than the 20 we had planned!  We have now amended the budget and revised our plans to include 60 PACT students over three different camps.
If you know me well, I’m sure you know I love being a camp counselor, so this project is extremely exhilarating for me.  As I draft the schedule and consent forms for the participants, I’m overcome with a sense of accomplishment that I know will last for a while.  Our first camp is to be held in August; but for now, I’m holding an essay competition to determine which five students will be selected from the Gobojango Junior Secondary School PACT club.
I’ll keep you updated as more develops for this!
What’s next? 
OH GOSH! The Gobojango Primary School Shade Grant was funded in full last week! Thanks to all of our donors, we now have over 12,000 pula to build a beautiful, fortified shade over the new recreational park at the school. I’ve now begun the necessary steps to get this project on its way to fruition. Tomorrow I’m headed to Bobonong to verify that the original price quotations are still stable, and possibly even to buy the material.  Then, I have entrusted the High Commissioner of Education to find transport for the equipment and materials to Gobojango from the hardware store in Bobonong.
Lorato, her team, as well as a group of volunteers (community and Peace Corps) have agreed to begin building the shade next weekend from the 23rd to the 25th.  What a huge accomplishment! This is the first and only grant I’ve ever written, so to see its completion in full is truly electrifying! 
Since the pula-to-dollar ratio has increased since I wrote the grant, we might have a bit of leeway after the completion of the shade.  For this, I’m hoping to hold a small unveiling ceremony for the children and their parents and to send sentimental gifts to the donors (shh…don’t tell ;) who helped this dream become a reality.
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A couple weeks ago, a local business owner came to me with an idea of bringing a small career fair to Gobojango to target the large out of school population in the village.  Because there are so many young individuals who are unemployed in the area, issues related to the spread of HIV/AIDS arise (such as teen pregnancy, multiple concurrent partners, intergenerational relationships, etc.) For this reason, we decided it would be a wonderful idea to invite some representatives of government programs as well as their beneficiaries to come here and provide information for those who would be interested.
I proposed this idea to the Bobirwa Youth Officer, Gape (pronounced ha-peh) a couple weeks ago in Bobonong, and was surprised to find how excited he became over this idea.  He asked me to draft a proposal, including budget, to present to his boss the following week and told me he would begin speaking to different departments to see who would be interested in coming.  The following week, I was taken aback at how many organizations agreed to bring a stall with information.  Though I was thinking it would only be individuals from the business and entrepreneurial sectors, Gape recommended that I include individuals from the sports and arts divisions as well.  He also suggested that we invite the Botswana Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, which would in essence bring the media as well. 
When I began briefly mentioning this to the guidance and counseling teacher at the Junior Secondary school, she got so excited and offered the hall at the school as a location for it to be held.  Though I was planning for it to be at the community hall, this option sounded much better because it could not only hold more individuals, but also has electricity and therefore opens up a number of other possibilities, such as the availability for morning tea to be served. I felt happy at first because this meant that there were more people on the planning committee, and I felt as if it was going to be less stress off my plate…but then I became more worried as I heard the teachers mentioning that they wanted to have a VIP table, welcome speech, and performances. 
I am not sure if I’ve written yet about the veneration of “VIP”s here in Botswana…but let me briefly tell you now…it is ABSOLUTELY, COMPLETELY, AND UTTERLY BLOWN OUT OF PROPORTION. Usually if there’s an event, the majority of the funding goes towards the VIPs rather than the individuals in the community that could benefit from it.
Luckily, Gape seems to understand the format I want this career fair to follow, and even better: he agrees with me.  He stated that we should all sit down and discuss how the arrangement of this event should look.  As a result, he also stated that we should probably push the date back to leave more time for the organization of the event (which helped with my stress levels as well).
I have a feeling it is going to be a successful experience, not only for myself but especially for the out of school youth in the area as well.
I’m learning to take less control over the events that I participate in.  Usually I love to jump on a committee and become a part of a collection of good ideas…though unfortunately, I think Botswana has me a bit jaded about doing so off the get-go any more.  It seems like a lot of time people really just want me to do the work for them and they manipulate it into seeming like they did everything. When I do offer my input, I’m simply rejected, or not even acknowledged.  This isn’t always the case, of course, but I’ve kept this in mind while joining any other committee from now on. 
Another project that I have going right now is that I am on the “communication, publicity, and community mobilization” committee for a nation-wide event that is meant to encourage individuals to test their HIV status. My district is amongst the worst in the country in terms of individuals testing their status. As a result, the National AIDS Collaboration Administration (NACA) and the Ministry of Health have collaborated to propose a new strategy.
Our committee proposed a highly idealistic approach to campaigning this strategy.  Though the launch will be held on the 15th of June, we offered an idea of how to reach out to each of the 17 villages in the subdistrict: with road shows that would travel the district.  The original committee loved the idea, they encouraged us to continue planning it, and so we did.  Then, yesterday, as we met with NACA and the Ministry, the Master of Ceremonies says, “we will now hear from Kitso about what events will be held at the launch as well as the wayforward for the entire campaign”. 
0_o
Talk about being a deer in headlights.  I wasn’t even paying attention when she said it, so you could imagine my humiliation as 40 heads turn towards me.  Luckily, as I stood to present what I had written in my notes, they asked if I had prepared it on a powerpoint.  Since I hadn’t, we broke for tea so we could “write it on a powerpoint presentation” (really, so we could gather our thoughts and collaborate what we were going to present).  Thank goodness we did so, because it appeared that our group was divided in terms of what was to be presented.  I got my clarifications, we made the slides, and I felt prepared to present.  Right when they were to turn to us, my phone started ringing with a call from the States!
I spoke to my parents for over a half an hour and thought I had completely avoided presenting altogether. When I strode into the hall, all eyes turned to me as if they were expecting me…
So much for being saved by the phone…
Luckily, the audience seemed captivated, I squeezed out a couple smiles (as I made a fool of myself demonstrating what wheelbarrow races are), and I sat down with people thumbs-upping me and patting me on the back.
So much still needs to be done for the planning for that but gosh my head hurts from thinking so much so I’ll have to tell u more later.
Well it is now almost 5:30 pm. Cleo is passed out on my lap and I’m cross-legged on the porch outside. The sun is setting and my foot is falling asleep. I think this means its time for me to go over to Lorato’s. I hope all is well for you, dear reader.
Until next time, please remember, “a little nonsense here and then is relished by the wisest men..”
~Kitso