Thursday, September 29, 2011

L'shanah tova!

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I have spent all week (and much of the previous one) explaining the holiday, its history and traditions, to host country nationals and fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. It has been well received and many have joined me in celebrating and honoring this day. I am grateful to be able to practice (and share) my Jewish faith even while I'm halfway around the world.

One of the things I like most about Rosh Hashanah is the opportunity to reflect on the past year and contemplate the binds that held me back so that I can move forward into an even more fruitful new year. The idea of rebirth and new life is a great one. So here is my reflection for you all: In this past year, I have started a magnificent journey full of ups and downs and uncertainties and challenges and rewards. I have had to let go of many of my preconceived notions of things and be open to significant change in myself. This has been met with resistance, fear, solace, and finally contentment. I am only now learning some very valuable things about myself. Although I have alluded to it in the past, one of these great binds is that I feel like I need to fulfill expectations. This means that sometimes I refrain from doing things because I am unsure of what the end result should look like (so I don't know what I'm working towards). This next year provides me with the perfect opportunity to just do things because Peace Corps service is all about unknowns, trial and error, exploration, and creating your own path and destiny. No one really knows what your service is "supposed to" look like or what it's going to look like in the end. It's liberating and I intend to let go of this bind and be liberated by it.

So, on this day, I would like to wish all of my family and friends a sweet new year filled with health, happiness, and peace. And the freedom to let go of the things that are holding you back so that you can have the best year (and life) possible. L'shanah tova!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Potential for the NGO (And Other Projects)

Garden Project Team: First Planting
As of Monday afternoon, my NGO has opened its doors as a place for the village children, in particular the OVC, to go to and play. The staff are taking turns coming in to oversee the facility and watch out for the kids as they play on the jungle gym or kick a football around. Much to my dismay, the psychosocial support programs for the OVC are not able to resume as of yet but at least the children have a place to go and an outlet. It's a start and I'm grateful for that much. Additionally, programs aimed at educating community members about the risks associated with Multiple Concurrent Partnerships (MCP) (a common practice in Botswana) are going strong, with the NGO hosting a successful workshop this week. (The MCP Team is only a dozen or so people short of reaching this quarter's target and we're scrambling to put another discussion or workshop together before the end of the month in an attempt to reach the goal.) Not only that, but the NGO's Garden Project is still going strong. At the end of last week, we had a team of nine Batswana come out to do work on the garden, successfully planting beetroot, rape, and tomatoes. The fruit trees did not come in yet so the holes are still waiting to be filled but we're well on our way to having our first crops! There is definite promise and I'm excited to see what will happen in the upcoming weeks and months for the NGO!

In other news, my secondary projects are looking might fine as well. Two days ago I went to Moshupa to meet with the Red Cross about Kids Club and then to venture to the Junior and Senior Secondary Schools with the PCV in the village to discuss presenting STEPS films to the students. The films would discuss issues ranging from HIV/AIDS, condom use, MCP, and so on. I am happy to say we received approval from the schools to show the films and to facilitate discussions afterwards with the students. We will start doing them on a monthly basis in October. I believe that reaching the youth will have the greatest impact and is a truly worthwhile way to spend my time in Botswana. 

Also, today was the Debate Club's first official debate in front of the students at the Kumakwane Primary School. As I mentioned before, the students chose to debate corporal punishment (a hot button topic here). I was so proud of them today as they went front and center in front of their peers and beautifully articulated their arguments. They were poised and confident. And, after the debate, they were beaming. There was a sense of accomplishment and great pride in each of them. They were the first debate team, they did it, and they were revered. (Not to mention that the rest of the kids wanted to emulate them. They all started to do our "secret handshake", which the other PCV in my village and I had taught the Debate Club.) I can't wait to get more kids involved and start helping them become critical thinkers and on the road to a great future. 

It's an exciting time right now, filled with so much potential.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Boys will be boys (whatever that means)

In the United States, there is a school of thought that believes little boys should play with trucks and little girls with dolls. There is a stigma against children that behave outside their stereotypical norm. In Botswana, however, that is just not the case.

In Botswana, you will see grown men walking around holding hands with their male friends, girls shave their heads, pink is a universal beanie color, and little boys want their fingernails painted (see photo to the right, that's Elijah and he wants his nails repainted almost every day). There are no pre-conceived notions about things like this. It frees people to be however they want to be without the assumption there is something behind it.

It is true, however, that Botswana is not as progressive when it comes to sexual orientation as it is to freedom of expression but it's on the right track. I am watching things change and befriending the people that will see it through. It's a privilege to be around children that are growing up with this kind of openness (and gives me hope that they will become adults that are as free-thinking and accepting).

So, until I am told otherwise, I will continue to paint Elijah's nails and the nails of his posse of male and female friends because look at the smile on that face!

Take The Chance... Go For It

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Update on My Work at Site

I have deliberately been delaying my update about my primary project with the NGO because I had nothing positive to report. In truth, two weeks ago the organization officially closed its doors with no promise of reopening them in the near future. Since then, I have been going to the office and sitting on the steps of the preschool and trying to talk with the staff about what needs to be done to get up and running again. My sense of urgency was lost on the staff, as my gentle prodding, mild threats, and Jewish guilt did nothing to motivate them. In the interest of capacity building and sustainability (and not doing it myself), I had decided that I would wait it out and see what the staff did. Sadly, what that looked like was them not coming into the office, beginning to search for new jobs, and not doing a whole lot about the NGO. I was disheartened. Despite the complications we have been facing, I believe so strongly in the staff's abilities and whole-heartedly want to get the NGO back up and running for the children (that's what it's really all about anyway).

Yesterday morning I called my counterpart to see if he was back from his home village (where he's been spending a lot of time since the NGO closed) and he said that he was and that he was at the NGO. I half ran down the road from my house to the NGO in hopes of seizing this opportunity and getting to put my two bits in about what needs to be done. (Here's where things start taking a turn for the better...) Together with some other staff members that were in, we decided that we would encourage parents and caretakers to pack lunches for the children and coordinate their own transportation to the center and, in turn, staff would take turns volunteering one day a week to teach preschool to the OVCs. Besides helping the kids continue learning, this would also give us an opportunity to check on the orphans and make sure they are still doing okay (and adhering to ARVs in cases of HIV+ children). I am drafting a Volunteer Staff Contract to make sure that staff fulfill their commitments and it's still up in the air as to if the children will be coming with food (or coming at all since we cannot provide them with transport at this time) but, as of Monday, we will be opening back up on a volunteer basis! This is obviously good news for the children but it is also good news for me because it means that I am guaranteed at least one staff member to be there each day and I can utilize them to start working on proposals (which could hopefully get us the funding we need to offer the rest of the programs and offer paid positions to the counselors, teachers, and staff). It's a small small step but it is something and I value those little victories the most these days!

Speaking of little victories... I have two more to share about my life at site.

1. Tomorrow I will be planting the fruit tree saplings in our garden! (Remember, the garden is going to support and feed the orphans and those infected and affected with HIV/AIDS.) It will be the first thing to be planted and will most likely be one of the most important and long-lasting contributions I will make to Kumakwane. We are planting orange trees, mango trees, and peach trees. Of all the things I could do in Botswana, this feels like one of the most stereotypical Peace Corps-esque contributions but I feel so good about it. I literally squealed when I heard the saplings were getting delivered.

2. I have started working at the Kumakwane Primary School. I will be teaching English and co-facilitating the English Club with the other PCV in my village. In today's club, we worked with standard 5 and 6 students (around ages 10 to 13). What we decided to do was teach them about debates and have them practice arguing points. The rationale behind this was that it would help the students learn critical thinking skills and make them more articulate and cognizant (and ultimately give them their own voice). We explained the concepts to the students and asked them what they would like to debate. They decided (on their own) that they wanted to explore Corporal Punishment, which is a huge issue in Botswana. We first explored the sides as a group and then broke into two groups to delve deeper into the arguments. After the first few minutes feeling somewhat uncomfortable talking freely about the issues, the students opened up and identified some really high-level and poignant points. In formulating arguments, they discussed such things as: depression, suicide, self-esteem, HIV/AIDS, abuse, and so on. (I was impressed by their thought patterns and knowledge of the issues once they felt confident enough with us to discuss them. It was magnificent to watch.) They are going to continue researching and exploring the arguments and we will meet again on Monday to practice actual debates. Then, next week Wednesday, we will do the debate for the school so that all of the students may benefit from the work these students have put in. It is something that I feel can be extremely beneficial and I am beyond excited to start working with these students.

In the end, I am really happy that I waited to give an update because I am now optimistic about things at site. The projects that I am working with have some real value and I am encouraged. (Family, as I type this, the clock just turned to 4:44. Good sign? I think so!)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Perplexing Botswana Observation #17

Yes, I do realize that I am bouncing around as I declare my perplexing observations (with my previous pronouncement being #586) but, like I said before, I have plenty of time to share them all so fret not! This is actually something I noticed during homestay that really baffled me and I had meant to share it at the time but was overwhelmed by everything else and failed. So here it is... People here eat bones.

I will give all of my American followers a moment to digest that statement (get it, digest, hehe)...

Now imagine that you're sitting with a group of people eating chicken. Generally, Americans will eat the meat off of the bone and then put the bone down on their plate with the intention of throwing it away later. I was startled on one of my first nights in Botswana when I noticed this was not the case here. Rather than reach for a wing when my host dad finished his drumstick, he chomped down on the bone and began to gnaw away at it. I kid you not. Nom nom nom, just like that. When I inquired, everyone in the family said it was "very nice" and soon they were all eating away at the bones. And then I learned it was not just my host family that did this but basically all Batswana. My Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF) also stated how delectable bone is and the staff at my NGO are always going to town on what I thought were throw-away scraps and questioning me on my reasons for not. (Um, how can I explain this? It's a bone!)

Now, besides the peculiarity of eating bones, I would have also thought it'd be somewhat dangerous considering how strong bones are and how delicate innards are but I see very old Batswana wandering around so it seems they haven't died of internal bleeding from bone shards. Wow. (Note: they also feed bones to the dogs, which is something I was told my whole life not to do because it was a choking, bleeding, potential death hazard... dogs are also quite alive and well here despite this act.)

Overall, it's quite perplexing to me. I mean, who woulda thought?!

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Return of the Creepy Crawlies

Confession time: I obsessively clean my house. There is no other way to describe it. I am constantly finding dust or dirt that can be swept up or realigning or realphabetizing something (yes, my books are in alphabetical order and my clothes line up according to the rainbow, don't judge). I do this for a number of reasons. First, I like order. Second, because I have a lot of time on my hands so I occupy it accordingly. Lastly, and probably most importantly, because I don't want bugs in my house. (Have you heard about camel spiders?! They are real... they freak me out... and they are in Botswana!)

The bugs in Botswana are back! It's getting hot outside and they are seeking refuge from the elements... in my house. Despite my best efforts, the little buggers (hehe) are making their way into my personal space. It started out with a few cute little spiders, which I calmly transported to their home environment outdoors. Then it was some sort of funky mutant bug that I swept out my front door. That was followed by something that I can't describe that I scared so badly that it ran out through a vent in my living room. All of this I was okay with. I knew there would be bugs (a lot of them) and I knew I wouldn't have ever seen bugs like them before and I had prepared myself for the day they would return. But nothing could have prepared me for the battle I woke up to yesterday morning... ANTS!

I now have a little ant hole coming up through the tiles in my bedroom. They are the little itty bitty teeny tiny ants but man almighty are there a lot of them. And they are not going down without a fight. And, I'm sorry to say, I am not being nice. It's war and I'm Doom'ing them. So far it's working! I think their dead bodies may be blocking the hole or a messenger ant has alerted the rest that it's me or them (and my contract has another 20 months on it so guess who's gonna have to go)... There were significantly less today than yesterday and I'm optimistic that if I keep at it, spraying them with doom and bleaching/scrubbing the floors, that there will be no chance of survival.

While I'm sure this is the first of many battles with the local creepy crawlies, I'm hoping my efforts will not be in vain and that it will be a lesson to all the future ants, spiders, roaches, and icky things that attempt to enter: you will not survive in my house, stay in yours!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Reflections on Adoption in Botswana

I just finished watching "The Cider House Rules" and, as I'm sure you can imagine, it has me pondering the idea of adoption. Of course, this is not a new or unique topic of thought for me - I am surrounded by orphans every day and have spent the last four years working with children in the foster care system. I have also made it quite clear that I intend to open my heart some day to foster and/or adopt children that need the love and support of a caring home. (In fact, when I left for Botswana six months ago, my family and friends joked about my coming home with a little Motswana child.) Given this, it is needless to say that this movie really tugged at my heartstrings. In reflecting on the story, my thoughts brought me back to a conversation we had during in-service training concerning adoption in Botswana.

We have learned that Botswana is plagued with an HIV/AIDS pandemic that has left countless children orphaned (and almost all considered "vulnerable"). With the loss of a parent, many children become separated from their siblings, as relatives in other villages divvy up children according to what they can accommodate. (Note: families are often large and poverty is common - the food baskets given to supplement when an orphan is taken in rarely is enough.) In some circumstances, orphans are merely left to be raised by older children or fend for themselves. As such, it would seem that adoption would be an obvious choice. That being said, adoption of Batswana children outside of the country is almost unheard of.

During in-service training, someone asked the Batswana staff what they would think of a child being adopted by someone from the United States. It was almost unanimous that it would be very uncomfortable for them and they would not like to see a child leave. The most asserted reason for this? That they do not know what kind of life that child would have abroad and they would not be able to watch out for them.

In my short time here, I have seen orphans rummage through my garbage looking for food, drink water out of a dirty (sewage) pond, and basically rear themselves, so the idea that a child would not be well cared for by adoptive parents from the United States seemed ridiculous by comparison. Life is hard enough for children in Botswana, let alone if they are orphaned. But, at the same time, the children are not necessarily abandoned here and I recognize the desire to watch the children grow and ensure that they are okay (no matter what that "okay" looks like). And, in truth, I never really considered the emotional impact adoption would have on the child's community. They have a right to raise their nation's children, even if their way of nurturing doesn't reflect my own (Americanized) standards. So, what I've come to is this: In reference to adoption, especially in cases like those in Botswana, the subject is complex and there is much more to be reflected on.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on the subject...