A lot has happened since my last post... It is time to catch you all up on my happenings in Botswana.
In-Service Training (IST):
For a week and a half I joined my fellow Bots 10ers in a neighboring village, Mogoditshane, for what is called in-service training. Basically what that means is we continue working on our language acquisition, delve deeper into cultural issues, and participate in skills training seminars on topics such as program design and implementation, proposal writing, and monitoring and evaluation. Unofficially, it is also a time when we can reconnect with other volunteers. This second part may have been the most beneficial part of IST for me. I say this because it was an opportunity to talk with my colleagues about their experiences at site. In hearing everyone's stories, I was relieved to learn that many of us are having similar issues and dealing with the same emotions. The difficulty of working in a developing country, even one that is as seemingly progressive as Botswana, is evident in each of our stories. (Having cell phone coverage and electricity does not accurately indicate Botswana's state of development. It is merely a facade. Take this cover out of the equation and the reality is that Botswana is nascent. The challenges are very real and we have a lot to contend with and are being heavily impacted.) It was a time to share coping strategies, to learn from one another, to gain new skills and valuable insight, and then to let go of our worries and have a little fun too.
In addition to our classroom sessions, we saw movies, ate good food, drank cocktails, caught up on gossip and stories, sat in the sunshine reading magazines, watched television (mostly Animal Planet), and took long hot showers. It was all the things we had been missing out on for four months. Bonus: we were together. Although it was a little overstimulating (going from two months of solitude to constant interaction), it was so reviving to be among my friends. Along the way we have gotten closer and it truly felt like family as we roamed from room to room to visit one another. The last time we had been at that lodge, we had just arrived in country and were on our best behavior. Now we are just ourselves and that felt pretty perfect.
Also, we had another Language Proficiency Interview (LPI), which is a fancy term for language test. I didn't realize how much Setswana I had learned during lockdown. Being in my village and muddling through with the neighbor kids, the OVCs, and the rest of my community has really rubbed off on me. It felt good to be at a point where I can converse and be comfortable in Setswana. It also gave me some confidence and has encouraged me to push myself to use the language even more. Overall, not too shabby.
Local Artists and their Beautiful Work:
I went with a few friends to the neighboring village of Gabane a few days ago. There are a lot of signs on the main road for arts and crafts, pottery, local fruits, etc. I pass the village whenever I go to buy groceries and have always meant to stop and check it all out but hadn't yet so I was so excited when my visitors wanted to go too. We wandered through Gabane, stopping to greet villagers on our way to find the shops. Once there, we were welcomed by artists and potters and craftsmen alike all working on their particular trade. We got to watch as they threw local clay to make beautiful bowls and pitchers and various other sundries. It was a site to behold watching them create. (If anyone comes to visit, we will certainly be going there and you will undoubtably buy some amazing local art.)
Yesterday I broke ground on a garden for the village OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) and people infected with HIV. The garden is about the size of a football field, has amazing soil (a rarity in Botswana), and should produce a lot of food to feed all those affected by and infected with HIV. To help me with the project, a rotation of friends from the Bots 10 group are coming to my village and putting in a few days at a time. They are joining me, a few members of my NGO's staff, and a flow of community members and children. We are all getting our hands dirty in an effort to help the Kumakwane community.
These past two days have been designing a plan for the plot, which will have eight 24'X24' plots (inside a covered area) and a small fruit tree orchard beside the enclosed structure. We also spent four painstaking hours digging the initial trench system to route the underground water source and irrigate the garden. By the time we were finished, we were covered in mud, our hands blistered, and thoroughly exhausted. We are also invigorated because we are starting to see the potential come to life. Tomorrow we will plant the trees, continue digging trenches, and (hopefully) get a few beds in one or two of the plots ready for planting.
The garden is going to be a huge undertaking and it will probably take months to get it entirely put together but, in the end, it's something that will last and will sustain those in need. It's something viable, substantial, and impactful.
Evening of Cultural Exchange:
Before last night, I had never been to a bar in my village. (Actually, I'm never out after dark because the Peace Corps scared the bejesus out of us... unnecessarily it seems.) But yesterday I saw a sign on a bar that I've been curious about since I moved to site (it has monkeys painted on the side and picnic tables) that was advertising "Jazz" starting at 4pm. Having four Bots 10ers with my to work on the garden project, we decided we had strength in numbers and would venture out to check out the jazz. Everyone stared at us when we walked into the compound (read: large fenced yard reminiscent of a beer garden) and we made our way to the bar (aka one-room house with a bar and a few fridges). We ordered drinks (in Setswana) and went outside to listen to the DJ playing local music. Everyone was dancing around and sitting at tables talking among their friends. The occasional person would come over and introduce themselves to us and chat for a little while. It was cordial, comfortable, and really really nice (so unlike what we had been told).
I met a girl that was orphaned at six-years-old and who utilized services at my NGO as a child. We talked about what it's like to lose a parent, about her goal to visit another country some day, and her fears about the future. She is raising her young cousins who were orphaned. She's only 20. She has a dream of starting a small support group for youth to provide them with clothes and toiletries and help them come of age as an orphan. I am going to help her get started.
We met a handful of other people and then we got to watch traditional dance and listen to local music. It was a really fun time.
On our way home, we were walking down my earthen road when a truck suddenly went off the road and rolled into a ditch and onto its side. We ran over to see if the driver was okay and to help him get out of the vehicle. Within minutes there were four cars shining their headlights onto the rolled car and two dozen people all clambering to help. It didn't take long before the driver was out of the car, completely unharmed, and we started to work at getting the truck out of the ditch and back on the road. Everyone was calm as we brainstormed ways to move the truck, knowing that we could do it if we all worked together. And it did take all of us pulling and pushing and wrenching to get the truck back on the road but, about 45 minutes later, the man was heading home.
What inspired me most was how everyone came together, literally crawling out of the woodwork, to help. I have rarely seen such collectivism and community. It was a testament to the type of people the Batswana are. I felt pretty proud to be a part of this community last night. It's wonderful to be a part of something that is so unified, resourceful, and charitable.