Saturday, January 26, 2013

WOOT!

SHADE GRANT POSTED ON THE PEACE CORPS WEBSITE!!!

This news is so unbelievably exciting!

The hard work I've been putting into the past 9 months have finally paid off with a legit posting on the United States Peace Corps website!

Please, if you have even a dollar to donate to this project, the children in Gobojango would be so grateful. Just click the link above, and donate on the page if you are able. 

Really and truly each penny counts

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!

(^-^)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chasing Chickens


It’s so easy to get swept up into the murkiness of cloudy days.  At first they’re comfy and enticing…but after a number of cloudy, rainy days in a row where one is stuck under the same roof, it’s easy to get swallowed into the unhappiness of the moment. 

Enough.

I was forced outside of the house today and made myself tend to the garden.  In reality, Lorato was really the one who gave me the extra push out. She came with her sister to check on me and make sure everything was okay.  Begrudgingly I answered the door and walked with them outside.  Be it the sunshine or the company, I felt a swarm of positive energy overwhelm me and I forgot the reason why I’ve felt so upset recently.  We spent time admiring the garden and chit chatting about nothing in particular. 

Recently, the amount of butterflies in Gobojango has increased to unimaginable amounts.  The best part is that they love to flutter around the cornstalks and watermelon vines and surprise me as I’m walking around my yard.  My friend Claire put it perfectly: I feel like I’m living in a Disney story.  Every time I step into a pile of leaves and the butterflies swarm around me towards the sky, I feel like some cheesy chorus is to follow and I’m ready to begin skipping with my flowing hair behind me.  To top it all off, my mom called me just as I started to weed the garden in the late afternoon.  We pleasantly exchanged stories as I planted a new set of seeds: oregano, jalapeño, sweet peppers, cucumber, chives, and cilantro.   

I felt the extreme delight of picking my own food today, cooking it, and enjoying it with the family.  We pulled green peppers and squashes, as well as a number of corn husks from the stalks.  Although the corn (I learned) was a different type than I was used to, it was still delicious.  I let Lorato’s daughter Charity go off and begin to boil it as I finished planting the seeds and transplanting the moringa trees and basil plants into the ground.  I spent the early evening sitting on a chair in my yard, watching the sunset with Ceasar at my feet, and spitting sunflower seeds onto the ground. 

…Allow me to interject here with a quick frustration I have about owning such a successful, lush garden.  During the hard, strenuous pre-plowing times, many of my neighbors just walked by and laughed as sweat poured down my brow while I swung the plow back and forth making plots in the dry sand.  They mocked me when the grass overgrew some of the plots and suggested to me that I should weed it.  It isn’t until now that the garden is producing that they’ve suddenly taken such a stark interest in its success.  Everyone wants vegetables, seedlings, or the already foot-tall trees.  I’ve already had people take four of my moringa trees straight from my yard, as well as chop off the top of many of my sugar canes (for the seeds).  The birds hover around the canes and vacuum up the remaining seeds.  At least I can chuck rocks at those pesky birds…do you think that if I start throwing rocks at the neighbors coming into my yard it would cause problems?  If anything they’d get the idea…“Don’t go into Kitso’s yard…you’ll get walloped with a rock!”  Haha it’s just such a communal culture, I have to get used to it I suppose…

Back to the story…I watched a lot of the light in the sky get swallowed as the sun set and decided it was time to head over to Lorato’s house.  I’m so glad I went when I did.  I arrived to her compound to find three of the children and three mortified chickens dashing directly towards me.  Quickly, I got the hint that the kids were trying to catch the chickens so I dropped everything in my arms onto the ground and joined in the mad hen hunt.  We spent the next 45 minutes throwing ourselves onto the earth and clutching chickens’ beaks in an attempt to get them back into the coop.  During those 45 minutes, as I dusted myself off from the dirt and chicken smell, I probably giggled more than I have in a long while.  They couldn’t believe that I have never tried to catch chickens before, and I couldn’t believe how normal this entire fiasco was to them.  The sky turned to a deep blue and orange spouted from behind the horizon.  I played with the children, Lorato’s puppy, and Ceasar until we were called into the house to eat the deliciously-cooked corn.  We took pictures and then walked around Gobojango, with our footsteps lit by the bright moonlight. 

What had started as a ho-hum day, turned into one where I found all of the blessings of life surrounding me.

And that’s the irony of this entire experience: where one day it seems that nothing will get better and I’m all alone way out here in the desert, the next I find myself being thrown onto the ground in fits of giggles with children and chasing chickens.

Cluck cluck.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Home is where you rest your feet


“Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown”

This whole journey has been an exploration from the cosseted, comfortable life I used to know to the overwhelmingly daunting indefinite.  I know this may seem pretty obvious, but when small situations happen back home, and I realize that they mean more to me than they should, then I remember the fear and nerves I should be feeling by living so far away. 

Everyone is okay, thank goodness, I have just had to re-evaluate what I know to be sure from my solid foundation of home.

Fact #1: my family is uprooting yet again to an unknown house in a few months. 

Fact #2: the person I used to love, care for, and share every part of myself with has found someone else to fill the empty spaces in my absence

Fact #3: life goes on back home.  Whether I’m there or not (and whether I like it or not)

Fact #4: I really have no reason to be upset about it, (and this drives me craziest of all).  

In conclusion: I can’t help but feel utter loneliness when contemplating these facts.

When I find myself in such an unpredictable environment, it has been nice to know that home will always be my home.  Though I never really predicted, when I took on this challenge, that home will always be in a constant state of transformation.

I think the unmatchable feeling of vulnerability is what has caught me by surprise.  I have never had to remind myself that what I’m feeling is okay before.  I’ve never had to reassure myself that it’s okay to feel sad and that everything will get better.

I spent the past weekend in the capital of Gaborone for training for the new Peer Support and Diversity Network (PSDN) that I have now become a part of.  It was very nice to speak to and spend time with volunteers that I would not normally see, but above all, the weekend was so cathartic.  It was a stark reminder that everything I’m going through, every tiny woe that I push down and try to ignore is absolutely normal.  Every odd emotion that occurs within me, every time that I’m on-edge for seemingly no reason, and every single second that I question my being out here…is normal and shared by my peers.    

Bottom line: I’m not the only “crazy” person out here.  

I will slowly learn to accept and forgive the transformation of my altering concept of home. For now, I will acknowledge and recognize the theory that home is wherever I rest my feet, and for the time being, I must create a home for myself in Botswana and believe that this is where I want to be (even on those days when I want nothing more than to curl up on an airplane and head back to the U.S.).  

 “Devote yourself to an idea. Go make it happen. Struggle on it. Overcome your fears. Smile. Don't you forget: this is your dream”

I will accomplish my dream, and I will do it with a smile.

I have been flirting with the New Year’s Resolutions that I’ve set for myself and so far, minus the “being in my village more” one, I’ve done a pretty good job. Botswana has had a drastic adjustment in temperatures lately also.  Where one day I overheard complaints of starving livestock due to the intense drought, I now hear about local people’s houses being thrashed apart by the superfluous rainfall.  Yesterday I was waiting in my shopping village for three hours to get a ride to Gobojango.  No phone network, no transport, no electricity, and I was shivering the entire time, realizing that I had no sweater under my rain jacket. I felt like I had plopped down right into Florida in the middle of a hurricane. Even the animals were finding refuge from the down pouring skies wherever they could! 

On my ride to Gobojango, I was shocked to see that the waters had surpassed the bridges and that locals were as stunned as I was and were taking pictures of the rampant floods as well.  I arrived home to find that the electricity was still not working and I spent the night cooking by candlelight.  I felt at peace as I wafted off to sleep to the sound of rainfall, and was awaken in the morning by a soft chill. 
What else is there to say?  There is a new intake group of volunteers who will be attending their in-service training and I will be heading down to the capital yet again this weekend to conduct a couple presentations for them. The first one is a team presentation for the King’s Foundation (a non-governmental organization that donates sports equipment to small communities) that I am now the official Peace Corps point person for and the second presentation is a “get to know me” session for those interested in speaking with the new PSDN members.  Lots of great things going on!

In conclusion, I’m keeping my head up, and I’m still finding reasons to smile during the day.  Right now the rain has stopped long enough for me to see a deep rust color resting upon a pale greenish blue over the black horizon of trees and huts as the sun sets. Couldn’t pay for this sort of beauty.  



That’s all for now!
Feel a hug from Africa,

~Nina

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

There's no place like home for the holidays


Another year has flown by, and now, writing you from the cozy air-conditioned room in the Gobojango Health Post, I am happy to say that I am extremely satisfied with where my life is right now.

I had the great opportunity to go home for the holidays. 

Let me tell you, there really is no place like home for the holidays…it was exactly what I needed and satiated some of my cravings. 

The most unfortunate part about arriving home is the actual travel to get there…

I started my journey the Thursday before my flight was to depart.  Since I had a doctor’s appointment that day, I figured I would remain in the capital for a few days until I had to head south to catch a flight.  Though this may sound appealing, the couch surfing situation and homelessness aspect of it wasn’t as appealing as I originally thought.  I felt like such a mooch!  (Although, I’m not going to lie, it was pretty enjoyable when I stayed with volunteers who were house-sitting for embassy workers). After five long days of couch surfing and lugging my heavy backpack around Gaborone, I awoke early the following Wednesday to hop on a bus to Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Most of the trip went well until I realized that I had originally bought a ticket for the day prior and that it had since expired.  I was informed that I was going to have to pay ANOTHER 350 pula in order to stay on the bus.  As I was frantically calling the customer service center (hoping that my air time wouldn’t run out), we arrived at the border and everyone dismounted the bus.  I stood outside, frustratingly hoping that the woman on the other end of the phone would feel the spirit of the holidays and reimburse me with a return trip.  Alas, her leniency wasn’t as soft as I was hoping.  When I begrudgingly hung up the phone, huffed to myself and walked through customs, I realized that I was the last person from our busload in line. I left the building and looked to the spot where the bus was originally parked and saw nothing but an empty parking lot. 

My eyes grew in fear and my head swiveled like a bird’s, my heart rate rose and I took a deep breath, “there’s no way they would have left without me” I thought.  But then, as I continued to look around the parking lot and see no huge orange bus, thoughts kept racing through my head such as: “The snotty woman from the customer service center called them and told them to leave without me!” and “What the heck am I going to do all alone on the border of South Africa and Botswana?!”.

I scrambled through the customs building again and they informed me that I had to continue walking about 500 meters to the south to go through the immigration office in order to get on the bus again (since it waits on the other side of the border for its passengers).  “You might want to hurry,” added the customs agent, “I think they may have left already”. 

Picture this: frantically shaking in fear of being left behind, I high-tailed it 500 meters to the next building.  While wiping the sweat from my brow, I greeted the immigration officer as she stamped my passport with a perplexed look on her face.  I then gathered all my things and sprinted over the border where the bus driver and conductor were leaning against a light pole outside.  “We wouldn’t have left you” said the driver, “you are one of our more precious cargo”. 

Haha, my life.

Anyway, the rest of the bus ride was smooth sailing and I arrived at the bus station with no problems.  When I got to the station, I realized that I didn’t have my friend Leone’s phone number saved into my phone so even if I was able to find a pay phone, I had no way of getting a hold of her.  Originally I had hoped to access some sort of wifi to get online to check the email she sent me.  Though when I asked someone where I could use the wifi and her fear penetrated to me as she said, “I would not take out my computer in this neighborhood if I were you…”, I realized that was a hopeless plan. 

Call it luck or irony, I spent about 30 minutes running around the sketchy bus station until I ran into another lekgoa (white person) who just so happened to be the friend I was waiting for.  The look of relief on her face mirrored mine and, though we hadn’t really been close friends before, we ran into one another’s’ arms as if in a cheesy Hollywood movie.

She ended up taking me to Pretoria to a nice restaurant and paying for lunch.  We spent about four hours together but were both surprised when it was already time for me to go back to the airport. 

The following 20 hours from Johannesburg to Frankfurt to Dallas were arduous and exhausting. I was drawn a lucky hand of chance and sat in the aisle seats on each flight.  Right as we were about to land in Dallas, I drank two small cups of coffee to wake myself up in preparation to meet my uncle.  Let me tell you…TERRIBLE IDEA! I hadn’t had real coffee in over 8 months (besides the instant crap) and the caffeine made me fidgety and anxious. 

When we landed, I felt a pressing feeling of urgency to do something and go somewhere but I didn’t know where to go or what to do.  Finally I used a pay phone to call my parents and then met up with my Uncle Bryce (who had just returned from Afghanistan) who had brought me a huge cup of none other than Starbucks Coffee. I sipped it carefully and calmed down into my happiness of spending a couple hours with my Uncle whom I hadn’t seen for years.

Finally I mounted the plane for the last flight from Dallas to Denver.  Though this was the shortest flight out of them all, it felt like the longest.  I couldn’t get comfortable and wouldn’t stop speaking to the poor soul next to me.  As we were landing, we saw the Denver lights; I started bouncing in my seat and felt an overwhelming feeling of ecstasy to see a breath of snow over the grass.  

I knew my parents would be waiting for me in the arrival section of the airport, but when I saw their faces amongst the sea of people, my happiness overcame me and tears welled into my eyes.  When I went to go hug them, everything felt right again…was this a dream?

We decided to continue onto Chipotle (to satiate my 8 month craving), and I was exhilarated to find my entire family waiting for me at the restaurant.  My aunts and uncles, my grandparents, my amazing cousins, even a new cousin that I hadn’t even met yet, and my best friend Casey!  Was this a dream??

Feigning sleep, I tried to keep my eyes and my smile going long enough until we arrived at my house.  My yummy-smelling, warm, cozy house.  I threw my bags on the floor and collapsed into my bed.  When I awoke the next morning, I finally realized that this wasn’t a dream, and in fact, after 1 long bus ride, 3 long plane rides, and countless hours of waiting, I was back in the USA.

The two weeks flew by, as I had feared; though I made schedules to try and meet everyone that I could.  I was able to see the majority of my friends and everyone from my family at least once.  Christmas Eve was the same wonderful bliss that I remember it being.  The best gift that I received was two huge home-made scrapbooks filled with pictures and recounts of my time being in Africa so far from my Aunt Glenda.  The care and intricate detail that was put into the books made a stunning masterpiece and I couldn’t help but cry.  This is my new tool that would assist me in explaining life in Botswana.  I could show my children this when I’m old and gray and look upon these years with vivid fondness. 

Christmas day was filled with good food, great company, and gift-giving.  We went to my Aunt Cheryl’s house and ate a delicious smorgasbord of steak and shrimp, then went and saw a movie in the theaters with the Ayala’s (as we do every year).  Unfortunately, the movie was not what I had expected and wasn’t very entertaining…but the fact that I was sitting alongside my parents, aunt, uncle, and cousins gave me enough motivation to even laugh during the film.

I went out a few nights with my cousins Hannah, Natasha, Amanda, and Andre.  Tasha had asked me to be her bridesmaid so we went dress shopping one morning.  I met people from Africa at the bars, ate a scrumptious dinner with my Uncle Chris, Aunt Stacy, Aunt Cheryl, Uncle Rich, Grandma K, and little cousin Emma. I hadn’t enjoyed myself that much for many months. 

The day before New Year’s snuck up on us more quickly than I had hoped and we ordered my favorite Vietnamese food, all sat down, and ate together as a family. The next day Geoffrey and I were going to go snowboarding at A-Basin and I couldn’t think of a single thing that I wanted to do more. Unfortunately for me, I caught a horrible stomach virus and spent the majority of the night hugging the white porcelain god.  The next day, everything felt green.  Not a vibrant forest green, but a sickly pale green.  I tried to sleep in between my vomiting incidents, but am sad to say that I was unable to hit the slopes with my little brother. 

That night was New Year’s Eve and though I wanted nothing more than to curl up into my warm bed and stay there for the night, I knew that I would regret it for years to come.  So I forced myself to move past the green film and squirm into a new dress.  All things considered, New Years Eve was a blast.  Tiffany and her boyfriend Casey even came!  I laughed until I cried watching my little cousin JJ dancing on the floor; I hugged my entire family and felt a sense of warmth and concord when my brother said, “There is nowhere else I would rather be”.

Because, in reality, there was nowhere else in the world I would rather be than hugging, smiling, and laughing with the people I love most in the world.

The next day I felt better.  I was prepared to start 2013 spending time with my parents and Geoff, until I peered around the corner of their bedrooms and found them all to be curled under the covers.  They had caught whatever virus I had and were living in the sickly green for themselves.  It turns out my aunt, uncle, cousins, and cousin’s roommate had all caught the sickness as well. 

At least I left them something to remember me by, right?

For that reason, I was unable to see Tasha, Amanda, Tia Liz, Andres, and Andre before I left.  But I spent my last day in the US having lunch with Hannah and tying up all loose ends. 

When I woke up on the 3rd, I dreaded the travel I had ahead of me.  I had a panic attack at the fact that I hadn’t even started packing yet, then calmed down and was set to go by 11.  We went to Abuelita and Abuelito’s house to say goodbye, and felt pretty assured at the fact that I would be back in September for Tasha’s wedding.  My parents took me to lunch at Subway (YUM…just writing that now makes me hungry), and dropped me off at the airport. 

*Change scene*: the flight from the US to Germany was long and too much was on my mind for me to even think about sleeping. I arrived in Frankfurt, hopped on a train to Stuttgart and sat down at a Starbucks to await my friend Rainer.  I looked at the clock and realized that I had been awake for 23 hours without sleeping.

Rainer’s girlfriend, Claudia, approached me with a smile and a coffee and we waited for Rainer: me speaking my few words that I know in German and her speaking her best English.  Let me just say, the hand gestures were flying everywhere as we attempted understanding one another.  As I was getting warmed up to this kind lady, Rainer came up and gave me a great big hug.

They escorted me around Stuttgart for the day.  Rainer bought us lunch (a delicious German gyro) and we walked through castles and markets in the city center.  I was highly impressed with the beauty of the Stuttgart, even though it began to rain as we were walking.  We jumped in Claudia’s car and went to the tallest structure in Stuttgart.  Rainer refused me paying for anything and bought tickets for the three of us to ascend the elevator over 250 meters from the ground. 

As we stepped onto the platform, the wind bit at our bare cheeks and the rain cut through our sweaters, but the view was astounding.  We managed to get another poor, cold soul to take our picture, I took some pictures around the city, and we went inside as soon as we could. 

Later, we went to Rainer’s warm house, I met his family, and his mom made a scrumptious typical German meal.  I was sad to have to say goodbye and leave the cozy home, but went with Rainer and Claudia again to the train station where they bought my ticket (without regards to my refusal).  I hopped on the train again (in one of those small compartments, I felt like Harry Potter!) and nestled into my seat.  By this point I had been awake for almost two days without sleeping and my head would not stop bobbing as I fought the oncoming slumber.  Fortunately for me, I was awake long enough to hear that my stop was approaching; I switched trains and arrived safely to the Frankfurt airport. 

Since this short trip, I vow to one day visit Germany for an extended trip (who knows…maybe even try living there for a bit).  I LOVED it!

It was not in my cards to be comfortable for the final flight to Johannesburg.  I was placed in the middle seat, next to a snorer, and in front of a kicker.  Needless to say, I didn’t rest a wink that entire 12 hour flight. 

I spent the four hours I had in Jo-burg in the airport, drinking coffee and scuttling to get internet. I took (the most expensive) taxi (in the world) to the bus station and felt a lot more at ease than I had the first time I went there.  I went and sat in the waiting room and met some friendly people from Botswana and Zimbabwe. 

The rest of the trip home was easy: I slept on the bus, my friend Merapelo was standing there waiting for me as I dismounted the bus, we went to his cousin’s house and I slept for a good 12 hours. When I awoke, he drove me the entire 400+ kilometers to Gobojango, and I have been here ever since. 

The transition back to life in Bots was much easier than I feared.  I’m quite happy to be back, actually.  I feel important here, like even though there are days where I find myself not leaving my bed, I feel like I have a purpose. 

I gave my Botswana family their presents and was enlightened at the sheer elation to receive gifts from America.  Samantha put on her new sunglasses, (“Mazaza”) and told me she was going to sleep in them, Fatima cuddled her new Barbie in her arms and vowed to never take her out of the box, Lorato put her new blouse over her t-shirt and couldn’t stop smiling.  I’m so happy to be back (though waking up early for work has been a bit of a struggle…I guess I’m still adjusting to the time change). 

This Friday I will be going to Mahalapye to bid a friend of mine farewell.  Jada, another Bots12 volunteer, has decided that her time in Botswana is over and she will be moving next Tuesday.  Saturday, two other volunteers will be coming to stay with me in Gobojango on their way to the Tuli Game Reserve, then Sunday I will be spending doing laundry.

Back to slower village life.

Though I will resonate my original statement: there is NO place like home for the holidays.

In lieu of New Years, I state my resolutions:

1)      I resolve to be more direct in my interactions with people (and to learn to say NO when taking on certain projects)

2)      I resolve to continue the wellness club and participate more frequently in aerobics

3)      I plan to assist in the growth of the Big Sister’s Football Club (including fundraiser, tournament, etc)

4)      I resolve to be more present in my community (particularly on weekends)

5)      I resolve to stay in better contact with my family and friends back home

6)      I resolve to blog more frequently!

Feel a hug from Africa!
Tata for now!
~Kitso