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.
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.
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”. 
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..”

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Been a while...

I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to update! My computer died and it has therefore been damned near impossible to get access to anyone's computer long enough to update my blog! I have so much to tell you about...from Lepokole to the Okavango Delta...but for now let me update you on what has been going on recently with a couple blog posts that i've had saved up:
(I'll update as much as I can i promise from here on out)...
Birthday Shenanegans...

The day started like any other, with the puppy crying at 5am and the pigeons outside my window cooing to the sunrise.  I peeled open my curtains and was excited to find that it was actually cloudy outside, and a wind was howling through the cracks in my window.  I was supposed to go into the clinic at the usual time, 7:30 am, but decided, “Today is my birthday, and I can be tardy if I want to…” I pulled the covers over my ears and clicked on a movie.  Honestly, I was dreading this day.  My first birthday in Botswana, thousands of miles from home, and I had no real plans for the day either (with hopes to celebrate the following week). 

Around 8 o’clock, I decided I had spent enough time in my dark bedroom and got up, got dressed, and set off to the clinic with Cleo in hand.  It truly was just like any other day; everyone greeted me with energetic smiles and inquired about my new puppy. I walked into the clinic and started working on tedious tasks.  At around 10, the ambulance came and I hitched a ride to my shopping village of Bobonong.  I walked from the hospital to Leia’s house and sat with her and discussed our plans for the next few event-packed weeks.  I then walked into town, bought a few things, and excitedly got a free ride back to Gobojango. I unloaded my things at my house and took off for the Junior Secondary School.

Once I arrived, 15 minutes late and dripping in sweat, the students approached me saying that the teacher was not around but that they wanted to show me something. They took all of my things, told me to close my eyes, and lead me by the hand into a classroom.  When I opened my eyes, there was a table covered in flower petals and rows of students lined up singing me happy birthday.  After they finished the birthday song, they asked me to sit and then took turns telling me why they are grateful for me in their lives.

“Your involvement with the JAB club has been monumental.  I don’t know what other word to call you but our hero; you have inspired us and influenced us to be positive role models and for that, we thank you!”

“What can I say, Kitso? We love you big time!”

“Thank you so much for being a part of our lives, we are so fortunate to have you here, and we hope you enjoy your birthday”…

It was so sincere, I literally started tearing up.  Then, when the students asked me to speak, I was at a loss for words, “thank you so much for this beautiful surprise. I am so far away from home and…” that was all I could say before my voice cracked and the words choked out of my mouth. Everyone applauded as if I had given a legendary speech and then asked to take turns taking pictures with me. From that point on, the entire day took a turn for the better.

As I walked home with a handful of students, TJ Castro called me from the US to send me birthday wishes.  Then my mom called and surprised me even further by offering to buy my ticket home in August.

((Not only did her and my dad offer to buy my ticket home for Tasha’s wedding, but they also gave me an opportunity to use my hard earned savings for travel while in Southern Africa.  I’m currently beginning to plan a trip to Mozambique to celebrate!))

Anyway, as I walked from the general store to my house, I stopped by one of the primary school teacher’s home where a handful of the teachers were relaxing.  After they discovered it was my birthday, they proceeded to begin dancing and singing for me.  I was surprised to find that one of them has been trained in classical opera, and the others are tremendously musically talented! We decided to create a band and they drove me home.

Though I didn’t particularly celebrate my birthday on the actual day, I was amusingly surprised at how much the people around me cared!

“Mpha thupa” (Give me the stick)

One thing that has severely caught me off guard in this country has been the widely accepted notion of corporal punishment. The legal beating of individuals in public by elected officials…

I was first introduced to corporal punishment during my work with the students in the primary school. Though the majority of the teachers promised me that they do not punish their students with physical force, I was flabbergasted one day to walk past a classroom and find one of the 11 year old boys bent over and getting lashed on the buttocks by a teacher. I was honestly stunned; I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to yell at the man to stop hurting the little boy, but I knew it wasn’t my place. I spent days mulling it over and finally decided to ask my neighbors their thoughts on it.

Jonjo, an astute 12 year old boy, described it to me as so: “I know I’m doing well if the teacher beats me.  At least that way, I know he cares about my education.  If I’m being beaten, I know it’s because I can do better.  It teaches us to become more responsible children.”

Perhaps it’s because I have been raised in a society where this has been illegal for years, but I still cannot wrap my head around how parents can allow their children to be beaten by their teachers.   Punishment should be doled out at home, in my opinion; I do not think that teachers should have the authority to physically hurt a child. 

When I was asked by a friend of mine who is a teacher at the primary school how teachers punish children in the US, I was surprised to find his lack of trust in the system. “Kitso, I think physical punishment is much more effective and kinder than the mental punishment you American children go through.  We do not have to feel humiliated or miss out on any events because we’ve been bad. We accept our lashings and move on.” When I tried to explain that detention and suspension were not necessarily means of mental punishment, he persisted to say, “Those disciplinary actions make a man soft.” 

It’s fascinating working within the parameters of this society where students are honestly afraid of their teachers.  I was working in the computer lab at the junior secondary school one afternoon when a slew of children came in and started messing around the lab.  I wasn’t sure if this was warranted until a student handed me a long stick with tape wrapped around the end of it.  When I took it, a bit confused at what it was, the students fled in fear that I would beat them.

This stick is called the “thupa” (pronounced too-pah) and apparently is what the teachers use to get their message across.

Now that I’m more aware of it, I’m realizing that the majority of these teachers who have all promised me that they don’t beat their students walk around with a thupa.

Furthermore, I have been taken aback at the punishment methods used at the local court, or kgotla.  Before I left on holiday break, a case was being heard by the elders at the court.   When I left work, I learned that the suspect was found guilty, and his punishment was 10 lashes by a court-appointed official.  These are grown adults that we’re talking about.  Individuals within the society that sell and buy goods, raise children, and put ties on to go to work.  These adults were warranting physical lashings of a criminal. I learned that once this individual received his lashings, the charges were dropped and everyone moved on with their lives.

It seems so primordial to me that this punishment is accepted in such modern society. It almost doesn’t make sense in my mind that I can sit in a computer room, just a few kilometers from where a grown man is being spanked with a log for committing a crime. More and more, what I know to be “globalization” and “growth” is being questioned by living in such a rural village.  There is no way that Botswana can mimic the models of modernization set forth by countries of the Western World because its past is so unique.  The tribal conflicts and traditions are so invested in its policies that to facsimile the United States’ example, for instance, would be obsolete and cause more problems.

I’ve noticed this to be the case on multiple occasions.  Botswana is finding itself in a very inimitable position.  It is a fairly new country, only gained independence in 1966, and yet it has found itself splashed in a rapidly developing global environment. The Gobojango Health Post, for example, has just been declared an Infectious Disease Control Center (which means that it can dispense Anti-RetroViral drugs to its HIV positive patients).  In doing so, the Ministry of Health has dumped an increasing amount of technology our way.  Unfortunately, what isn’t understood is that although we have 4 computers and a new patient operating system, many of the people who work here don’t even know how to turn on a computer. As a result, there are thousands of dollars and people’s hard work going to waste simply because step one was bypassed.

Now that I’ve travelled on an entirely new tangent, let me finish this post by declaring that there are days where I’d really like to take a thupa to the higher ups in government and slap them into the reality in which we are living.  The limitations set forth by the traditional and modern conflict cause a whole new set of problems that people of Botswana are still learning to navigate (myself included!)