Monday, October 31, 2011

My First Botswana Book Club

I have been told that Batswana don't read. They have even gone so far as to create programs and initiatives aimed at getting the communities excited about reading but they have, for the most part, fallen short. So you can imagine my surprise when a friend of mine in the village, Lovey, came over one day and expressed her interest in reading. She said that she loved to read and asked if I had anything that I thought she might enjoy and that might challenge her. I handed her Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, which I had recently re-read. I explained to her that it was about American missionaries coming to the Congo in the 1960s and it chronicles their journey there and how it ends up altering their futures. I told her that it had a different meaning for me now, after coming to Africa, than it did when I read it in high school and that many of the themes resonated with me. She left with the book, intent on finding out what I meant.

...Two days later, she told me that she wasn't sure she liked it.

...Three days after that, she told me she couldn't put it down.

...And, just a few hours ago, we had our first book club to discuss The Poisonwood Bible.

This had to have been one of the most amazing book clubs I have ever had. It was beyond interesting to hear her thoughts on the book, to listen to her talk about how her world view changed as she read, to understand her perspective on the issues, and to candidly discuss how the book affected each of us (both from an American and an African point of view).

She said she started out taken aback by certain things that were pointed out by the author, which had caused her initial judgment. Then she realized that everything she read was true but that she was so used to it that she didn't recognize it, which captivated her and caused her to think about where she came from. Because of this, she opened up to the story and the characters and grew compassionate, not only for them but also for me and my fellow PCVs in Africa who are adjusting to this new culture and way of life. This made her fall in love with it all. After this analysis, we discussed our individual perceptions of the book and then of each of our home countries. We spoke on how it feels to be in a  foreign land and completely out of your element. And then we talked even more about overcoming obstacles and growing up and how situations can lead you in the most mysterious and magical directions. It was a unique experience that opened both of our eyes to new perspectives and a whole new level of understanding.

We are picking our next book club book tomorrow. I couldn't be more excited.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Looking Ahead, Dreams Realized

I have always been the person with clear intentions and I have always been dedicated to achieving my dreams. Today, however, as I was reading the last few pages of Franny and Zooey, it occurred to me that I have actually attained the last of my predetermined ambitions.

In my life, I have had three main driving goals. They are as follows:
  1. To be a professional equestrian
  2. To help kids "that don't have good mommies and daddies" (as my 8-year-old self put it)
  3. To join the Peace Corps
Well, folks, it seems that I have managed to bring them all to fruition.

In 2002, I joined the ranks of the professional hunter/jumpers (horseback riders that jump over fences, for those of you that don't understand the jargon). In 2007, I started working for a nonprofit organization that was dedicated to child abuse prevention and parent education. And, just seven months ago, I came to Botswana with the Peace Corps. Wow. I did it!

This realization is marked with a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of bewilderment. The last of the things I had thought would take me a lifetime to fulfill will be achieved by the time I'm thirty. Now I am left to ponder a few "simple" questions: What's next?What do I want to do with my life now?, What are my new dreams? and What will make me happy in the next thirty years? For now, I have no idea.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Show Me The Money!

Although the title of this entry elicits a sense of huge accomplishment, I have to warn you, it is meant more like it was used in the beginning of Jerry McGuire, meaning: just when things seem like there's no hope and you're about to lose it all, you go all in and get a small victory that, hopefully, brings you a bright new future (like Jerry's achievement in getting that last client on his way out the door). That's exactly what happened at my NGO today.

I have described a sort of yo-yo effect at the NGO since I came to site. We were open and running well when I got here on June 8th and then, a few weeks later, we closed completely. This lasted for a few months before we re-opened with a limited program capacity and with volunteers. Sadly, this only lasted a week or two before we closed entirely again. It's been defeating to everyone involved. Compound that with the fact that we have run up against stiff opposition from our national organization (we are a satellite branch) when we have attempted to seek out our own funding - devastating. For the last few weeks, we have been trying to figure out how best to proceed to get back up and running, for the sake of the kids, given this dissension, while also trying to be realistic about the staff's need to seek out reliable employment. Well, today we had a glimmer of hope that things will be okay!

I am very excited to report that my NGO is receiving funds from a proposal I wrote a few months back that will go to help the OVC Center get back up and running! It's small but it's a start! The funds will go to pay for petrol to pick up the orphans from their homes and transport them to the center and for food to feed them for a little more than four months! That buys us time to start applying for more funds (I have four proposals lined up) and should hopefully reinvigorate the staff and rededicate them to our mission!

So, all that's left to say is "show me the money"!

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Introduction: Curtis

About two weeks ago, I introduced you all to Bernard. I am sad to report that he turned out to be a short-term visitor. He has eaten the last of his spider meals, packed his teeny tiny bag, and left my lizard hostel. His tenancy, however, has been replaced by a longer-term guest. And, since he appears to like it here and will be sticking around, I would like to formally introduce you to my new friend Curtis.

Curtis is a cute little lizard friend (about 4" long and skinnier than Bernard - he's had less spider snacks I assume). He checked in two days ago and seems to be taking to the Peace Corps lifestyle quite well. He freely wanders around my house, going from room-to-room, and hangs out with me while I read a book or watch a show. Although he's quite shy, he seems to be a courteous house guest. So "welcome Curtis", I hope you enjoy your stay!

Creative Cooking in Bots

I was never much of a cook at home. I had a few things that I made fairly well and the rest I left up to more experienced folks that always produced delicious meals or to the professionals at restaurants. (After all, I love food so eating well was more of a priority to me!) Unfortunately, neither of these options are readily available to me in Botswana so it's been left up to me to produce tasty treats (using available ingredients and resources, for instance we have little control over stove and oven temperatures, which has severely complicated this endeavor). And, if I do say so myself, I have risen to the challenge!

Since coming to Botswana, I have learned how to make everything from traditional foods (madombi, paletche, dikgobe, bogobe, magwinya, etc.) to butternut squash dishes to breads, tortillas, and chips to a variety of ethnic foods that I miss from home. And, in the past week, I have made stuffed-crust pizza, pita, and spinach artichoke dip... from scratch. Both meals ended up being oh so delightful - so much so that it almost felt like I was on vacation!

Since I bragged to a few people about how great the dip was, I wanted to share the recipe - it is a combination of a handful that I found online, taking into consideration the ingredients that could be found here (plus it's a bit healthier). (Keep in mind that I don't have measuring utensils so the measurements were eyeballed when I made it. In other words, it doesn't have to be exact and it's still great!) So here you go, the recipe for the tastiest treat we have had in a long time:

Spinach Artichoke Dip

3 fresh artichoke hearts (we jumped for joy that we found artichokes! and we had just gotten paid so we could afford them!)
1 cup chopped spinach
5 oz cream cheese
3/4 cup greek yogurt
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne pepper

- in a bowl, thoroughly mix the artichoke hearts, spinach, and cream cheese (if I had a food processor this would have been easier, so I suggest that if you have access)
- in another bowl, whisk the greek yogurt, parmesan cheese, salt, and cayenne pepper together
- combine ingredients then bake (time depends on your oven temperature, of which I have no clue because it's "on" or "off" on mine here so I'd say until the top is starting to brown)
- serve and eat! yum! (also good served cold the next day... I know because I just finished the leftovers!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Happy 50th Peace Corps! (And a PC Challenge for You All!)

Yesterday all of the Peace Corps Volunteers and Trainees, Peace Corps Staff, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) living in Botswana, and special guests (including the US Ambassador and members of the Botswana government) gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. It was an all-day event that included a braai, drinks, speeches, commemorative videos, games, and an impromptu dance party. It was a really fun day! And it gave us an opportunity to say hi to our volunteer friends from all corners of the country, meet the new trainees (Bots 11!!) and find out where they will be stationed (they had their site announcement the day before), hear stories from RPCVs that served across the globe, and also schmooze with some big-wigs in the area. I have to say that it was one of the more fun events I have been to in a while. I want to thank my friends and the PC Botswana staff for making the day so much fun! And, especially, I want to send a shout out to the Peace Corps for fifty years of dedicated service abroad!

"Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy... but if it will not be easy it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps - who works in a foreign land - will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace."

To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps, a challenge has been posed to friends and family of volunteers - live like one of us for a day, a week, or a month. The "Live Like A PCV Challenge" is a project to help raise awareness about Peace Corps within the United States, while also giving those who take the challenge a small taste of volunteer life (after all, you're all a bit curious right?!). Check out these links to find out more:

If you decide to participate in the challenge and want to live as I do in Kumakwane, consider giving up some of the following things that I go without every day: no driving, water outages (for multiple days - store up!), lack of temperature control, no hot water, power outages, no fast food/restaurants, no washing machine/dryer (hand wash and hang dry clothes), limited internet access (that's slower than dial-up), no television, no use of a microwave, no checks/credit cards/debit cards (only cash), and no dishwasher (must hand wash). (Note: in my home stay, I was firmly in the highest difficulty level. My life at site includes an indoor toilet and running water, which I didn't have during PST. (Luckily for all of you that are going to accept the challenge!) But I must state that, although I have learned that both of these things are absolutely unnecessary, they have made my life quite a bit easier at site.)

Please let me know how it goes if you decide to participate!!

**Side note: I wanted to share with you all that I received one of the most amazing compliments yesterday from a trainee in Bots 11. She told me that she started reading my blog while she was in the United States going through her invitation process and that my blog "is that reason [she's] here". I couldn't be more humbled. I want to formally thank her because it was one of the nicest affirmations I have received - thank you so much.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jacaranda Trees: Smells Like Coming Home

The sounds all around me are captivating. I hear children laughing, dogs barking, cows bellowing, roosters crowing, and the rickety wheels of donkey carts on the earthen road outside my house. The sounds illuminate the village. But, recently, the sounds gave way to something even more potent - the sweet smell of the jacaranda trees.

Jacaranda trees bloom in October and their newly blossoming purple flowers have hypnotized my senses. When I step out of my house, the air is filled with their scent and it overpowers everything else. They are so beautiful. The smell brings me back to when I was 10-years-old and running through the fields at my old Willow Springs Road house, where the smell of lilac bushes were spellbinding. It reminds me of a time when life was simple and little purple flowers were among the happiest things on earth. It turns out that they still are. It is comforting in a really deep and meaningful way. The jacaranda trees make Botswana feel even more like home.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

“The dream was always running ahead of me. To catch up, to live for a moment in unison with it, that was the miracle.”

I have not blogged in a while. My apologies to those who rely on this blog to keep updated on my happenings. I have been very busy with meeting new people, doing things around my village, going on vacation, and the like. It has been a lot of fun and I have been so grateful to have these times (and to be planning ahead to many more). I will do my best to update everyone (albeit somewhat briefly) on all of these things now.

Vacation: Namibia
I recently went on vacation to Namibia with four of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. We ventured to Windhoek (the capitol city) and to Swakopmund (a German beach town on the ocean).

When we arrived in Windhoek, we were immediately struck by how developed the city was. There were street signs and traffic lights and tarred roads that appeared to have been planned and coordinated.  Buildings had multiple stories and people were buzzing around and having a drink or a meal on patios (with twinkle lights). It was exciting. It was like being in Europe, both in its aesthetic feel and its diversity.

We spent a few days wandering around (in amazement) and soaking in all that the city had to offer us. That included everything from cocktails at the Hilton Sky Bar ("you can't just drink olives!") to awkwardly talking to the Scottish national cricket team ("we live with spiders and wash our clothes by hand" - yes, we've lost our game) to shopping in open air markets to finding shisha in the mall and having a delicious meal (and meter of beer) at Joe's Beerhouse. We also made friends with two girls from Canada (Bolaura) that had just finished volunteering in Madagascar and then with some guys from Zimbabwe who lead tours around southern Africa ("I love you, you know that right?!). Then we took a four hour combi ride to Swakopmund...

I have to say that one day I will have a vacation home in Swakopmund. I am in love with the little town. It has a beach feel that is so inviting that it was hard to leave. The people were warm and wonderful (we continued to make new friends with people from all over the world) and the town had so much to offer (in terms of cuisine, entertainment, and more). Match that with being nestled between the great expanses of the ocean and the sand dunes - it's almost irresistible.

Among my favorite things from Swakopmund were quad biking on the sand dunes, watching the sun set over the ocean, eating amazing food (and a lot of spinach and feta), and meeting people from Angola, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Israel, Namibia, and Holland (including this guy).

All-in-all, Namibia was one of the best places I have ever been. I cannot wait to go back there - I'm hoping that I will be able to go to hike Fish River Canyon some time in the next year. And, of course, go house hunting! What an amazing place...

Post Vacation

When I got home from vacation, I had a little surprise waiting for me. The surprise scared the bejesus out of me as it scurried from its hiding place behind my dresser. I screamed and ran into the other room, reaching for my glasses so I could see what the heck was "attacking me". When I finally mustered up the courage to go check it out, this cute little lizard is what I found. I named him Bernard.

It appears that Bernard moved in while I was on vacation and helped himself to any and all spiders that had also attempted to take up residence in my house. Although I haven't seen Bernard since that fateful night, wherever he is, I'm sure he has a full belly. Thank you Bernard for taking care of my spider issue. You are the best lizard housemate I've ever had!

(The pictured spider was on my wall the day before I left for Namibia. It was about five inches in diameter and hairy... ick! Also, for anyone interested in knowing, I have overcome my ant problem. There are no more ants in my house! Woot woot! I was victorious!)

New Trainees Arrived!

The new Peace Corps Trainees ("Bots 11") have arrived! They came about four weeks ago and are doing their training in my "home village" of Kanye. This past week, they dispersed to different villages across the country to shadow current Peace Corps Volunteers. My village was lucky enough to host one of the trainees.

For four days, she shadowed the other PCV in my village and myself as we went to work and did our secondary projects (for instance, Debate Club). Included in this was a focus group discussion with the PACT kids from the junior secondary school. The focus group is under the direction of USAID. We asked the students questions about the problems they see in their community, about the economy, about their perception of Botswana's government, and about their views of the United States. The student's comments could bring a tear to your eye. They were so smart, articulate, and insightful. They showed a deep understanding of the issues and critical thinking skills that would make anyone proud. We all left feeling inspired and invigorated, knowing that these are the youth that make our work meaningful - these are the people that will change Botswana.

When we weren't busy doing work-related activities, we also got to show her how to cook some new things with available ingredients (pizza, garlic rolls, tortillas, etc.), had a run-in with a "skeletor" (aka a camel spider) and with a fire-breathing-oven, and learned the inside-scoop on dog etiquette in Batswana homes (bahaha!). It was a week full of laughs and learning.

Other Weekend Adventures

On top of everything else that has been so so wonderful from my last few weeks, I also got the opportunity to see some pretty amazing animals on a weekend trip to Mokolodi Nature Reserve. Included in the animals that I was able to see were rhinos (three, including a baby!!!), giraffes, kudu, springbok, gemsbok, steenbok, impala, wildebeest, warthogs, ostrich, and a variety of amazing birds (including a red-billed hornbill - aka Zazu from The Lion King). Here are a few pictures that leave me completely awe-shocked by this great world I'm living in...

I am so lucky. I am so grateful. I am living a wonderful life and I wish so much to share it with each of you. Thank you for supporting me, challenging me, and loving me. You have inspired me to do more. You are all the reason that I am here.