Monday, May 23, 2011

A Botswana Birthday Party

In Botswana, birthdays are not a big deal. They come and go without much commotion, if they're even remembered at all. This is surprising because Botswana is all about community and family means a lot. This is also surprising to me because birthdays are so so so much fun! If you have spent much time around me then you realize that I could not sit idly by not celebrating birthdays as they come along... This was the case with my 20-year-old host brother's birthday.

When my host brother, Kesaobaka, told me that in his nearly two decades of life that he had never had a birthday party, I decided to throw him a celebration to remember! And celebrate we did!

Yesterday I hosted Kesaobaka's birthday party. I had invited a number of the other trainees to come over that he had become close with and I told him to invite some of his friends to join us. He didn't know what to expect and so his excitement was penetrable. For weeks, he kept coming over to me with big smiles and he looked like he was going to jump out of his skin with anticipation! I seriously wondered if he was going to make it until the party!

In preparation for the event, I had asked my mom to send birthday balloons (which came in my care package) and I made a big birthday sign with candles, balloons, and confetti to hang in the house. I also prepared a menu for the party and made a few trips back and forth to the local grocery store, Choppies. (Creating a menu is extra challenging in Botswana because a lot of the things we are used to finding at the store are not available here. It was an exciting challenge though and we had a lot of fun learning how to make everything from scratch!)

The party began with a few of my fellow trainees coming over to help me cook. We made veggie pizzas, quesadillas, guacamole, tortilla chips, sandwiches, fruit salad, American-style magwinya, and cake! Of course, we taste-tested during the cooking process and knew that we were on the right track! Delish! Cheese is a rarity in Botswana (despite all the cows here) so this was a special treat for all of us.

Once everything was ready, Kesaobaka, his friends, the rest of my host family, some relatives and their children, a bunch of visitors, and seven trainees joined us in the main house. After singing the "Happy Birthday" song, Kesaobaka made a speech where he thanked me for having a party in his honor and said he was eternally grateful for everyone showing up for him. It was soooo sweet. And then we all chowed down! (Note: my host mom is obsessed with guacamole now and wants me to teach her how to make it. You're welcome to the Bots 12 group or whomever gets my family as a host in the future!) Music blared and, under the commandment of my host mother ("Are you full? If you're full then you must dance!") started bustin' a move around the house! At the same time, the kids all started playing don't-let-the-balloon-hit-the-ground in the adjoining room! Laughter filled the entire house! My host brother was constantly thanking me and saying how he was so happy because he had never had a celebration dedicated to him before. It was amazing! I then gave my host brother a friendship bracelet that I made him as a birthday present that was half American flag colors and the other half the Botswana flag. He put it on immediately and gave me a big hug! More amazingness!

But nothing could have prepared me for later in the night... After all was settled down and I had finished cleaning up, my family gathered around the television to watch My Star (Botswana's version of American Idol). At a lull in the show, my host mom came over to me and said that she wanted to thank me for the day. She said that I had taught her a lot that day, mostly that it is possible to make a day special and memorable for someone even if you don't have a lot of money. She said that she never knew the importance of a day like this for someone before and that I shared that with her. She thanked me again and smiled at me a great big smile. I teared up. Wow. I was taken aback by it and truly awed. Compliments are not common in Botswana and I felt like this was the epitome. Here I was just wanting to do something nice for someone and have a little shindig and it turned into something so much more meaningful and powerful than that. It was truly a special day for all of us and I am so happy that I could have that experience.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Word of Advice

My Setswana language cluster received a word of advice today from our Motswana Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF) that I want to pass along to everyone because I feel it is extremely important and something we should all strive for. The advice is this: Live the life that makes you happy. She said that we are all responsible for ourselves and our own happiness and that we need to live in a way that is fulfilling for us. What other people think should not be our catalyst nor determine our actions, but rather how we view ourselves and what we want to achieve. So that is what I wish for each of you: to live the life that makes you happy and to live it with fervor!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Little Blessing

So today, on a day that we were not supposed to be in Kanye and at our training site, we received a very special visitor... A man came to us today that was part of the very first group of Peace Corps Volunteers in Botswana, and who was actually stationed in Kanye. He had not been back to the country in 40 years. Just by happenstance or kismet, he and his wife (also a RPCV in Brazil) stumbled upon us. He spoke to us about his time in Botswana and how truly meaningful and powerful it was for him. He teared up telling us stories about his time here (and, as I'm sure you can assume, I teared up as well). He remembered his basic Setswana ("Dumela borra le bomma, o tsogile jang? Ke tsogile sentle.") and his Setswana name, which we are all given at homestay (mine is Kamogelo). He talked to us about making the most of our time and about maintaining the relationships we make here. It resonated with each of us. It was uplifting, inspirational, and transcendent. It was exactly what we needed today. I feel extremely blessed to have had that moment.

Botswana's First Strike Ever and its Impact on PST

So I have decided that I need to discuss the fact that Botswana is engaging in its very first strike. I haven't mentioned it yet because it seemed very insignificant (other than it being the first one) but that has changed in the past four days.

Let me start by saying that Botswana is a very peaceful place. The people are generally mellow, personable, and caring. The strike started in this same manner. It started by asking the government if they could strike and then handing over official documentation about the terms of the strike, including what they wanted (a 16% salary increase) and the length (the strike would last for 14 days). There were no demonstrations and was no picketing that I am aware of. The government responded by saying that they could not afford the salary increase because the economy is suffering globally and, therefore, the diamond industry was suffering (which is how the government makes a significant portion of its income and supports its national ARV distribution etc). They counter-offered with 7% but the people declined and the strike continued. (The new request is 13.8% and the counter-offer is 5%, pending economic improvement.) The strike remained low-key and we hardly noticed it was happening (other than a delay in processing our residency/exemption papers at the immigration office, which was hardly a big deal).

Because I am writing this, the strike has obviously gone beyond its 14 day allotment and the situation has changed somewhat. All of the schools have officially closed down and the Vice President announced two nights ago that all employees that are participating in the strike are fired. This caused a reaction that led to riots in some of the major villages around Botswana. Additionally, petty theft by students and a number of demonstrations have begun to take place. We have heard rumors of continued violence but, at this point, nothing has been confirmed. The government is considering the strike to be of national importance and is no longer considered a struggle between employee and employer. Given this, we are hopeful that things will settle and we are getting daily updates about the status. (No notable improvement at this point however.)

The strike is now starting to impact our pre-service training, which is starting to stress my fellow trainees out somewhat. Most notably, trainees were supposed to go visit our permanent site locations this week, starting today and going through the weekend. These visits have been postponed until next week under the advice of our safety and security team and the US Embassy. They state the reasons for the postponement are (1) the closure of important offices that we may want to visit during our visits and (2) a number of safety issues involved with traveling and the uncertainty of demonstrations and the potential impact of civil unrest (given that this is Botswana's first strike etc.).

I want to assure everyone that I feel safe and that I have the utmost confidence in our safety and security team. I am cautiously optimistic that things will be settled in the upcoming weeks and that we will be able to go to our sites and continue service as normal. We have just been briefed on our Emergency Action Plan in the event that it needs to be implemented (it is not at that point yet so please don't worry). Mostly, I am sharing this all with you to let everyone know that we are in the midst of history right now. This is the first time Botswana has gone through this and that makes it somewhat exciting to be amongst it. At the same time, I feel this way because we are safe right now and monitoring the situation all the time. I will keep you all updated. Until then, know that I am safe and staying as far away from riots as possible! :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Site Announcement!!!

I know you have all been anxiously awaiting my official site announcement so… here it goes! But first, let me set the stage for what the morning was like:

It was pouring rain when I woke up (a sign of good luck in Botswana but not terribly glamorous nevertheless, especially because the mornings are very cold here). I drank three cups of instant coffee while I got ready for the day, feeling somewhat anxious and very tired from a restless night’s sleep. All morning I had been sms-ing with my friends who felt the same – we were all full of nerves wondering what our fates would be. At 8:15, I met up with the other trainees in my ward to walk to the training center together. We had prepared jello snacks to nom on the night before so we ate that as we walked to distract ourselves.

Once at the training center, we were ushered into a separate room where we met up with the other trainees that live in different wards. We were in that room for a little over an hour while the staff prepared our main room for the site placement announcements.

When the room was ready, the staff called us into the room. The chairs had been arranged in a horseshoe facing a large map of Botswana with numbers placed all around it, signifying locations that trainees would be sent. We anxiously took our seats, holding each other’s hands and wishing under our breath that they listened to us about our placement preferences. Then the revealing began.

The staff told us to look under our seats. Affixed to the bottom of each chair was a number, which would be the order that we would go to find out our sites. I got number 3! Whoo hoo! I was so relieved that I wouldn’t have to wait long to find out! One-by-one we would go up to the front of the room and pick up an envelop with our name on it. Inside the envelope was a quote and another number, which correlated to the numbers on the map.

When it was my turn, I skipped to the front of the room (proof is in the video, and yes, we did videotape the site announcements). I found my envelope in the NGO sector section and literally tore it open. My quote read: “Anything is possible with a willing heart in…” And then number 36. I went to the map but I didn’t have to wait long to find out where I was going because Mary, a Bots 9 Volunteer who was at the event, screamed “With me!” and jumped up and down. At the same time, my program director pointed out the site. I will be living and working in KUMAKWANE for the next two years!

Kumakwane is a small village (with a population of just under 3,000 people) located about 30 minutes southwest of Gaborone (the capital city of Botswana). What this means is that I will be getting to have the more rural and intimate experience that I wanted with Peace Corps but, at the same time, have access to many of the modern conveniences found in Gabs by taking a short bus ride! Best of both worlds? Yes, I do think so! (Not to mention that I have other volunteers and trainees that I have grown close to within a couple hour drive and, for those friends that are further, I have a place to stay when I go see the wildlife in the northern part of the country!)

What makes my placement even better for me is the organization that I will be working with (which I had told my program director was a priority for me). I will be working for the Tumelong Counseling and Childcare Center. Essentially, the organization takes a holistic approach to helping families and orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) affected by HIV/AIDS. They do this by offering counseling, support groups, education and training, adherence clubs, after-school and youth programs, etc for children and families so they can live healthy and fruitful lives. I will get to work with the national parent organization and with this local branch, while also getting to play with children at the preschool. I really can't imagine a better position for me - this is a cause and an organization that I can stand for! Here is a copy of the job description that the organization provided me:

Peace Corps Volunteer Job Description

Tumelong Counseling and Childcare Center’s Peace Corps Volunteer will work under the title of NGO Capacity Building Consultant. The Volunteer will live and work in Kumakwane, where Tumelong Counseling and Childcare Center is located. The following will be the function of the Peace Corps Volunteer for the next 24 months:

  • The introduction and/or strengthening of appropriate programming strategies and programming skills (i.e. design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation)
  • The growth of organizational capacities such as management, financial, administrative, etc. and the establishment of appropriate and effective systems
  • The development of networks between non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, government, private sector, and international partners
  • The stimulation of creativity and growth of both the confidence and skills needed for successful resource mobilization
  • The reinvigoration or introduction of the value of volunteerism leading to an increase in the number of citizens in Kumakwane participating in IV/AIDS programming and activities at the community level
  • The expansion of community understanding about HIV/AIDS and the growth of a commitment to the values of Botswana’s Vision 2016, leading to the reduction of stigma and discrimination
  • The expansion of community understanding concerning available government HIV/AIDS programs, services, and resources and the increase in citizen use of what is available
  • Provides capacity building for proposal writing and development to source funding for the organization
  • Document and share lessons learned and best practices within the country and the district at local and regional conferences
  • Participate in the relevant meetings and workshops/seminars/discussions at the local, district, and national levels
I am very excited about my placement and I will let you all know more about my site after I visit in next week! (I will be traveling there and staying in my new village from Wednesday to Sunday of this coming week!) In the meantime, hooray Kumakwane!  :)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In Honor of Our "Fallen" Comrades

As we look ahead to placement and the upcoming two years, I think it is also important to look back and acknowledge the Bots 10ers that will not be joining us on this journey. Peace Corps estimates that 10% of people that make it to pre-service training do not make it to swearing in. Bots 10 is no exception.

In total, our group has lost four people (reaching our 10% mark). We lost one person prior to staging, another person at the JFK airport, and two more since we arrived in Botswana.

It is really hard to say goodbye to people that we have grown to love and respect like family. We have been thrust together in this and we feel responsible for one another and share in our triumphs and tragedies. This experience is very powerful, as is the range of emotions that become exacerbated when we learn someone wants to say goodbye.

A lot of questions come up when someone makes the choice to leave, including doubts about our own decision to stay. Thoughts about home – the people we love, our past lives, and the things that are familiar – become ever present in our minds. And then we wonder if we could have done something to make our comrades want to stay or how we could have better supported them in Botswana and what we can do for them when they transition back home. The thing that remains the same and is unwavering is that each of these people, regardless of where they are, will always be part of our Bots 10 family.

I want to take this time to honor the four that we wish could be with us on Saturday and send my love, support, and well wishes as they forge new paths. You will always be a part of me and we will see each other again. Until then, tsamaya sentle… 

In Preparation...

This week has been full of anticipation and excitement as we wait to find out our site placements on Saturday. Botswana is vast and bus rides between villages are long and hot. We are clinging to those whom we have grown close with and planning future trips in the event we are separated and won’t see each other very often. The maps that hang around the training room are almost daunting now. Yes, we all realize that we can, and will, make the most of whatever placement we get, appreciating that we hardly know the country yet and that our program directors are better suited at this point to place us (although we speculate about the criteria they are using to make this decision).

Our eagerness was magnified, however, when they released lists of potential sites for the different sectors. For those of you that are clinging to your seat, I thought I would share the list of potential places for the NGO sector placement (places where I could potentially go, subject to change*). The villages and towns include:


Truth be told, this is a very good list. It has been comforting to me because I believe that I will be happy in whichever one of these places I get sent. I am lucky. (One of the other sectors is much more remote in placement and the list has worried a number of its trainees.) Until Saturday, we will just be taking deep breaths and continuing to find out as much information as we can…. Stay tuned to find out where I will be living for the next two years! This has gotten real folks!

*Peace Corps disclaimer because things constantly change and depend on a number of factors, including faltering logistics…

"What if I feel like I belong?"

I am sitting on the floor in my homestay bedroom, sipping Good Earth tea that my mom sent me in my first ever Peace Corps care package, and listening to my Zune on shuffle (currently Joshua Radin “What If You”) and feeling, for the first time in a while, emotionally free. I finally feel settled and at peace, like my spirit took a deep breath, smiled, and settled in. 

Although I have felt throughout this entire process like I’m on the right path and doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now, I have also felt sort of in flux –not wholly believing what is happening, kind of bewildered, and constantly waiting to feel contented with this experience.

Things are new and sometimes very different from what I am used to. (This includes everything from what I am eating to the complexity of even basic household chores to the roosters crowing at all hours of the day and night.) I have felt like I am playing catch up – trying to learn a language, a culture, and a way of life almost after-the-fact. Occasionally I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that I am halfway around the world from the life I have known and living in a place I only dreamed of seeing. Every day has had its struggles (some days more than others) and I have felt like a guest in this foreign land.

Today, however, I felt like I finally belonged here. As I walked the route from the training center to the bakery to the take-away and then home, I greeted locals that I finally recognized and who recognized me. The road, the people, and the conversations are familiar now. My host family welcomes me home with huge smiles and I look forward to seeing them. My host mom now knows I prefer vegetables to meat and makes sure I get an extra scoop of veggies on my plate. Things are getting comfortable and I am able to relax. It is such a relief to finally feel at ease.

It goes even deeper than that, though, and I am finding it hard to articulate. It is more than familiarity; it is a profound sense of peace. I said that I have always felt like I was on the right path but now it is as if I know that I am. I enjoy the life I am leading. I appreciate the uniqueness of this experience and I have started to find humor in the idiosyncrasies and differences between ethos. Yes, I realize that there will be many more times ahead of me when this feeling of contentment will wane but I am at home in Botswana and finally feeling fulfilled.

If this isn’t kismet, I don’t know what is, but “Hallelujah” just came on my Zune (the Ari Hest version, one of my faves). Honestly, it makes perfect sense to me that this song would come on right now. This is my first “hallelujah” transcendent moment in Botswana. Deep breath. Life is good.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Magwinya, meaning Fat Cake, is a Setswana food that is reminiscent of an American donut. Basically, it’s a piece of fried dough about the size of your fist. It has been decided that it may not be good for your waistline but it sure is good for your soul. As a Bots 10 group, we eat a lot of magwinya. There are two very important magwinyas in my life right now and I want to share them with you.

The first is an award-winning magwinya. Yes, I did say award-winning. Last week each of the language groups (we are broken into small sections of trainees for language classes) were taxed with cooking a Setswana dish to be judged by our medical officer and a panel of judges. The aim of the competition was to make sure that we could cook at least six different things on our own using local ingredients when we get to site to ensure we don’t starve (each recipe will go in a cookbook, along with other recipes, to be distributed after swearing-in). My group decided to put an American spin on the traditional magwinya and it paid off! Our variation included sautéing apples and bananas in cinnamon and then stuffing the magwinya with the fruit, frying it as usual, then covering the magwinya in cinnamon and brown sugar. Can you say delicious?! It most certainly was and the judges agreed! After tasting quiche, chili, breakfast sandwiches, madombi le supa (dumplings with vegetables), seswaa (beef) tacos, and our creation, the judges picked us to win! I think this goes to show that what is good for the soul really is what is most important!

The second is a kitten. I know what you’re thinking – Tija, how is a kitten also a donut?! Well, friends, I am going to tell you. The story is this: the Bots 10 group found a sick kitten that had been abandoned by its mom and it looked like it may die within a couple of days. We decided to feed the kitten and give it some love and comfort so that its final few days would be comfortable.  We fed it little pieces of food and sat with it on our laps while it meowed and meowed and meowed uncontrollably. (The poor little thing!) Well, that sad little kitten is doing much better! It has put on weight, takes itself in and out of the training room to say hi to us, and has even taken on the monkeys a few times! This kitten has become sort of a mascot for the Bots 10 group. We named him Magwinya. It started out as a joke because it was anything but a fat cake but the name stuck and the rest is history…

Thank You

Dear Family and Friends,

Thank you for teaching me that we should always be open and speak up, even if that means talking over someone else (that does mean you're actually listening, right?!). Thank you for occasionally smothering me and letting me smother you back. Thank you for teaching me that it's always too long between hugs and that closeness is not awkward. Thank you for rarely giving me personal space and always wanting to be in my business. It is because of you that I am not having trouble adjusting to these things in Botswana.

In Botswana, there is no such thing as personal space. People are very close, very loud, and very touchy-feely. Friends, both male and female, walk around holding hands and one should not be alarmed if another woman touches your breast during a conversation (it's not sexual, it's just intimacy here). Privacy and alone time are basically unheard of. In fact, in one of our first cultural sessions, a Motswana language and culture teacher told us that if you sit too long by yourself that the Batswana will think you're suicidal and will not leave you alone and will do everything in their power to cheer you up. After all, people should be together.

For those of you who know me well, you realize this is kind of my M.O. anyway (boob grabbing aside). So this has actually been very comforting to me. I like to socialize and hugs are my favorite thing. I am used to my family and friends knowing just about everything going on in my life - the same goes for their friends and families (we often know each other before we've even officially met). Basically, we're close and we like to talk... a lot! Volume level in conversations with my family gets extremely high as we converse over meals, drinks, and the like. I'm used to it and I love it. So it is not weird or different or uncomfortable when the same thing is happening to me here.

The same is not true for some of my fellow trainees however and they have been struggling to adjust. They want some alone time, they are aggravated by the constant noise, and they actually have personal space bubbles. This is why I am thanking you. My adjustment to life in Botswana has been made infinitely easier because this is already my life. I am used to this type of community because of you and I am beyond grateful for this.

So, with all my heart, thank you to each and every one of you who has contributed to breaking down my boundaries and making me the person I am.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Wildlife Protection

As you are all well aware, animal rights is a big deal to me. I refuse to use products that aren't cruelty free and I do my part for animal conservation. I believe that I should be the voice for the voiceless and I take my role seriously. That is why I am so very happy to share this story with you...

While in Ghanzi for shadowing, I learned that environmental (and thus wildlife) protection is very important in Botswana. There are a number of protected parks and game reserves that play a huge role in tourism and in preserving endangered species - Botswana takes great pride in protected them. Until then, however, I had not learned much about this. I came upon this information primarily because the village is near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), which spawned a series of questions from me about the potential for seeing wildlife while I was visiting. They confirmed that an elephant had wandered through the village the proceeding week (wanted an adventure outside Moremi perhaps?) and that lions often get through the fencing around the CKGR and attack cattle (Botswana's main industry). This is the nexus of this post.

When lions get out of the CKGR and attack someone's cattle, the farmers are permitted to shoot the lion. (No matter how you look at it, lions on the loose are dangerous. If the lions are destroying someone's livelihood, they are also crippling. So, despite everything, I understand this.) The turning point in this story is this: if the lion is shot and killed, the farmer is required to contact the Ministry of Wildlife to pick up the carcass. The carcass is then skinned and the hide is prepared to be sold at auction. People from all over the world will then bid on the finished pelt, often going for significant prices. All of the money then goes back into the game reserve. This usually means mending fences, helping to keep the lions and other wildlife inside the park and therefore safe and protected. In some instances, this could even mean helping to bring more endangered species to the park and promote breeding and revitalization. More animals, safer animals, and better game reserves.

In the end, wildlife protection is the driving force behind it all. The animals are very important to the Batswana and they have put systems in place to ensure they thrive. Now that is something I can stand behind and one of the many reasons that the parks in Botswana are known as the most brilliant in the entire world. Go Bots!

In case you didn't know...

When major current events take place (the death of Bin Laden) and when my family and friends are going through something impactful, it is hard to be away from home. I want to be there to hug my friend while she goes through losing her father, to put my two sense in on the naming of another friend’s third child (Renesme?! hehe), to wish loved ones well in their new unions, or to have a ruckus dance party with my neighborhood. I hope that everyone at home knows that despite the distance I am thinking about them and wishing I could be there for all those things and more. I thought it warranted saying. I love you all.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Site Placement Interview

After shadowing, we all have a site placement interview with our program directors so that we can discuss how we feel after seeing and experiencing more around Botswana and how we think this will relate to our own satisfaction with placement. As part of this, we were given a survey to fill out to direct our thoughts and, theoretically, assist the staff in finding us our best sites for our needs.

I took great care in filling out my survey. I filled up every square inch of the survey with information and reasons for my sentiments and so on. (Yes, I was an over-achiever, I know you all are not surprised.) I took the same care during my interview, making sure that my program director knew everything that I am feeling since my shadowing experience because it really had impacted me. For instance, I realized that my greatest concerns with placement (after meeting with the volunteers I shadowed and the NGOs in that area) is working for an organization whose mission I can stand behind, support, and dedicate myself to (with colleagues that feel the same) and that I continue to grow my professional skills and use my experience. Sure, I would like to have indoor plumbing but I can live without it but my two years will not be well spent if I’m not actually doing something worthwhile. I also expressed a desire to be near a grocery store that has fruits and vegetables and that I prefer access to other volunteers as compared to waiting for a hitch for hours on end. I felt pretty good because I was getting it all out in the open, being honest and sincere, and letting her know my preferences. She seemed receptive.

At one point, I actually asked my program director flat out if she knew where she was going to place me and with what organization. She said yes.  (AHHHHH she already knows and isn’t telling!!!) She said that she knew from the first interview where she was going to place me. She explained that the placement process is like a giant puzzle where they move us each day according to new things they learn about each of us but that she always comes back to this one place for me. Not going to lie, this made me very excited because if I’m constantly bringing you back to one conclusion, to one place, then that’s probably right for me. And then, before leaving my interview, she said this: “I really value your maturity and your openness. This combined with your experience and knowledge will be very beneficial to you during your service. I hope you keep it when you get to your site.” Ummm, excuse me?! Does this mean that I’m going to be placed somewhere completely remote and difficult or was this a genuine compliment? Eek! Needless to say, I woke up this morning feeling a little anxious about my interview yesterday.

To calm my mind, I did a few sun salutations and listened to the roosters crow and crow and crow as the sun came up and I’m feeling at peace with the placement process again though. Everything to this point has worked out and I believe this will too. I don’t know where best to put myself so I need to trust them, and I do. If my placement director thinks this is the best place for me then it probably is and I will make the most of it. 

Ghanzi - Shadowing

Shadowing is a time when each trainee gets to go and shadow current volunteers in their workplaces, in their communities, and in their daily lives. I went to shadow two volunteers in a town called Ghanzi.

Ghanzi is located on the western part of the country near the Kalahari Game Reserve. It’s a very diverse town with Batswana, San, Afrikaaners, and foreigners everywhere. It has a small town feel, very comfortable, but with a lot of amenities. It is truly a nice place and I immediately liked it.

We spent the first two days at shadowing going to different NGOs  in the area, and talking with them about their work in the community and also going to scheduled meetings (one of which was with the Office of the President to plan a national wellness event and candlight ceremony to honor those with HIV/AIDS and promote healthy living). I had mixed reactions to our meetings that caused me to really reflect on what I want in an NGO placement and what my concerns may be. More specifically, I saw organizations without staff to effectively run programs, inactivity and apparent indifference, and volunteers having to do everything at the office (isn’t this about capacity building?). I also saw amazing organizations with inspired people and heard great success stories. Honestly, it just gave me a lot more to think about in terms of what I want so I could be armed and ready to discuss it with my program director at our upcoming placement interview.

After all these meetings, we also had the opportunity to have some fun. This included shopping for San jewelry and baskets, visiting D’kar (and going to their art exhibit and museum), meeting local friends of current volunteers, and then going to see lions! Seeing lions was a lot of fun and we basically got a private tour of the refuge (thanks to two Bots 9 volunteers who set it up!). In addition to lions, we saw impalas, ostriches, wild dogs, and a variety of really cool birds. (Yes, some bragging about seeing wildlife did ensue when we got back to the training site! Lions! Ah!) We ended the day by meeting up with all the volunteers in the area at the Kalahari Arms (a local lodge) to hear about the individual experiences, meet a few new faces, and eat some delicious food. It seemd, all-in-all, everyone had a ton of fun!

Four days later, at 5 am, we boarded the bus for another hot, sweaty, crowded seven-hour drive back to Kanye.