Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Day-To-Day Life: A Reminder that Every Coin Has Two Sides

Yes, it's true that I have had some fun adventures since coming to Botswana - I saw lions in the Kalahari, the longest off-road race in Africa was in my village, and I met the one and only Michelle Obama. And, yes, it's also true that I have a lot more exciting events ahead of me - New Years in Cape Town, lounging on the beaches of Mozambique, and riding the sand dunes in Namibia. But the pictures and the stories that grace your computer screens do not accurately represent my day-to-day life during this adjustment/assessment phase between pre-service training and in-service training. What takes place most days is something much quieter, simpler, and much more lackluster.

Most days start at 6 am when I get up to turn my geyser on so I can have warm water to bath. If I can stand it, I mosey around my cold house, usually wrapped in a blanket, (remember, it's winter here right now and they aren't kidding around about its frigidness) and I get water on the stove for coffee, I check my email (the internet dongle is fastest first thing in the morning), and I take the dishes off the drying rack from the night before. Then I do some yoga before putzing around for a while longer (because it takes the geyser a long time to heat up). By around 8 am I am able to bath and by 9 am I am out the door to the NGO.

The walk to the NGO takes about 20 minutes. One of the dogs that lives on my compound, Timmy, has started taking the walk with me and is basically attached to my side the whole time. (This is kind of an oddity around Botswana because people and dogs don't have that sort of relationship but I think it is kind of precious and he is truly my best friend in the village right now - literal meaning of "man's best friend".) I usually pass about a dozen people on my way there. I shout greetings in Setswana to everyone but only the people at the General Dealer ever engage in any form of dialogue with me (meaning they say "dumela" and then they will ask how I am - "le kae?" - but the conversation stops there - but I am grateful even for that much).

After a few weeks of awkward conversation and near silence, the people at my NGO are starting to warm up to me. Walking in and seeing their smiles is one of the highlights of my day. In part because it's nice to see friendly smiles (and they may actually be becoming friends - could it be true?!) and in part because it's quite possibly going to be my only real human contact of the day (outside of sms'ing). We exchange greetings in both English and Setswana and then I pester them about finishing a report or a project or ask if they have followed up about x, y, or z. Then, if possible, I'll do a little something around the office (today I moved the desks around for a big meeting we were having, I cleaned and organized, and I worked on a strategic plan for the organization). By this point everyone has returned to speaking Setswana in a pace much too fast for me to catch even familiar words so I usually go sit down and read a book (I'm currently reading The Invisible Cure by Dr. Helen Epstein) and anxiously wait for something I can help with or teach someone about. Sometimes I go for a walk around the village to try and meet people (i.e. community integration). I am still somewhat of a spectacle around Kumakwane (lekoga on the loose) so I get mixed reactions when I walk around (some people smile, kids run over to me and poke my skin, others stare confusedly). Then I come back to the office and eat lunch and hang out for a while in relative silence.

At around 3:30 I wander from the NGO back towards my house. I try to take a slightly different route each day so that I can see more paths around Kumakwane and try to say dumela to new people. Usually this walk involves a pack of kids that follow me giggling and asking where Mary is (another PCV in the village that works at the Junior Secondary School). When I get back to the compound I usually try to say hi to the neighbors (also my landlord and her large family) and pet all the dogs (there are four plus seven new puppies). Then I go inside, turn on some music, and clean things that are already clean. Sometimes I jump rope for a bit or I'll do some more yoga to kill time. After a while it's time to make some dinner and calculate the time difference to the west coast to see if my mom or my sister or a dear friend might be online to chat with me and tell me happy thoughts from home. If I can time it right then I will go online and chat with them for a while, otherwise I grab a blanket and watch a movie on my laptop (courtesy of the magical external hard drive of love and media). By 9 pm I am thoroughly bored and get ready for bed.

Basically, what I'm saying is that despite all the super fun tales of African adventures, my daily life is very uneventful. It consists mostly of sitting around mixed with a little capacity building and some attempts at community integration. It's a mentally draining time. We all try to combat it with a hike here and there, a good book, the promise of an upcoming event, and small successes. It is in these moments that we are reminded that we are lucky and that things will get easier. We will get used to the new pace of life, we will figure out our organizations and how we can help, we will make friends with that stranger in the village, and we will be okay. But the in between stuff gives us time to think (too much). So the moral of this story is this: for all of you that we left at home, for as much fun as it looks like we're having please remember that there are hard times and lonely times too and knowing that you're there for each of us makes all the difference in the world.


  1. Thank you for this glimpse into everyday life in the Peace Corps. I am a nominee, looking forward to (if all goes well) serving in South America. It is really helpful to hear it as it is and to get a better sense of what I'm getting myself into.

    I am praying for you and for the people you are serving. May you come out of the hard and lonely times with resilience and grace!

  2. Hi Tija,
    I want you to know that we think about you often and hope that you are great. I love reading your blog and catching up with what's going on in your life. Your post reminded me that it's hard when you're in a new place, getting to know the culture and the people. Please remember that all of us here send you all of our love and good wishes. I'm sure your life will be full of great adventures and wonderful relationships along the way. You take care and remember we are thinking of you.
    Love-Diane @ SCAN