Friday, June 17, 2011

This is Africa

I have been in Africa for 77 days and at my permanent site for 9. In this time, I have seen and experienced a lot of new things, many of these being very different from my past norm. I have often wondered when these things would seem normal. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am ready to announce that I have reached that point. Even the most "odd" things are familiar now. For example: It is no longer unusual to see donkeys, goats, cows, and/or chickens roaming down the freeway. I am no longer surprised when they shove 50+ people on a 25 person bus (and when that bus careens itself down the road honking and swerving passed said livestock). I now carry toilet paper with me everywhere because there will never be any, even in the public restrooms in shopping malls in Gaborone. I've heard "don't walk around at night because there have been lion attacks lately" more often than "because you might get robbed." I have accepted that it is considered improper for women to show their armpits but that it goes completely unnoticed if their boobs are hanging out of their robe when they're outside doing chores. I know that I will either be chased down or completely ignored by locals and that people will get ridiculously excited when I speak Setswana. I am only slightly amazed when people show up two (or more) hours late for a meeting and honestly think they're on time because the food is just getting set out. And I am excited by the realization that spontaneous dance parties will break out everywhere and EVERYONE can (and does) bust a move. (Seriously, they can all shake their bodies in outrageous ways and I am so so jealous.) These things are normal now. TIA... This Is Africa.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

“Nothing for us without us” – Lessons from PST

Today, on this 7th day of June 2011, I will stand proudly beside the remaining 35 members of my Bots 10 family as we take our oath and swear in as United States Peace Corps Volunteers. This day marks something momentous for each of us in very unique ways and holds a lot of emotion. For me, it is both the commencement of a grand adventure and the culmination of a demanding two months of pre-service training. It is a day that I have been waiting on for nearly a decade – a day that I cannot believe is finally here.

They say that pre-service training is the hardest and most trying time in the lifecycle of a Peace Corps Volunteer. It is a time when you are physically and mentally pushed to new limits; when you are completely out of your comfort zone; when you are challenged, trained, inspired, broken down, and made stronger; and when you find out who you really are, what you really need, and how much your perspective can change. (For example, I have learned that toilet seats are completely superfluous, as is running water, and that I truly appreciate quirkiness, zen moments, and dikgobe.) There is a rollercoaster of emotions and unlikely strangers become friends and then become family. I have felt all of these things over the last two months in Botswana. There were times when it was tough and we all grumbled at the thought of having another month or three weeks or three days of PST but I must confess that, as a whole, I have had a truly meaningful couple of months and am profoundly grateful.

As I started packing my things last night to take to my new home in Kumakwane, I felt a sense of relief mixed with somberness to be closing this mini-chapter in my Peace Corps journey. It is going to be hard to say goodbye to my host family (visiting them will indubitably hold a different dynamic) and it is strange to imagine not seeing my Bots 10 family every day or partake in Mafhikana movie nights. Fortunately, as with everything involved with Peace Corps it seems, I simultaneously felt enthused and eager for the next step.

We did it. We made it this far and can officially start “to create change”. But if there was one real lesson I got from PST, it is this: “nothing for us without us.” This lesson is especially pertinent within the context of our mission in Botswana – to make an impact and promote behavior change in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Botswana. For this to be achieved, the people need to be engaged and recognize their role in changing their own behaviors. As Peace Corps Volunteers we aspire to change the world but, in truth, we cannot change another person’s behavior. For anything to become permanent, individuals need to take ownership over their own actions.

This same concept applies to each of us. It is important not to forget about our own needs in this quest to help the people of Botswana. We must be open to the change that occurs within ourselves, to recognize that our own behaviors and perspectives may need modifying too, and to free ourselves of the binds holding us back. This is a chance to make true, lasting, and meaningful change within us and only then can we be the type of person capable of helping others. PST started this transformation in many of us.

So, as I take my oath in a few hours, I will also vow to remain open and honest with my peers, the Batswana, and myself and I will always remember that change requires collaboration, understanding, patience, and respect (for myself and others).

Congratulations Bots 10! I am so proud to call you my family!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Winter in Botswana

They told me that it gets cold in Botswana and I was forewarned to bring layers however, I am from the Northwest and I'm used to the cold (after all, some of my favorite things include snowboarding and snowshoeing), so I assumed that all the warnings were from wussy people who had no concept of what "real" cold means. Actually, when people started saying that "winter is coming" a few weeks ago, I had to suppress snowboarding dreams and thought I would have to readjust my perspective on winter and realize that flip flops were going to be the new norm for the next two years. Well, I am formally and officially stating that I was wrong. It is really really stinking cold here! And it's not just any type of cold. Nope, not at all. This is the kind of cold that gets deep into your bones and lingers. Yes, this is probably because the houses are made of concrete and there is absolutely no insulation whatsoever so you are constantly and continuously stuck in the cold. In fact, when I woke up this morning, the very first thing I saw in my bedroom was my breath. Brrrrrr. The past few mornings it has been below freezing when I woke up, literally. There is frost on the ground and talk of snow in South Africa. I was wrong. So, for all of you who want to come to Africa during its winter season (June-August), make sure you pack your puffy down jacket, a beanie and gloves, and your Uggs. It gets cold and it happens within the span of 24 hours. No joke. Brrrrrr.