Monday, December 19, 2011

A Truly Uplifting Weekend

I am eternally thankful for weekends like the one I just had. It contained all of the elements of something truly special: "family", new friends, good food, comfort, gratitude, smiling children, fun, and more. It was the sort of jam-packed weekend that left everyone that was a part of it feeling uplifted and inspired. It goes without saying that it was exactly what I needed after a series of hard weeks. I would like to share with you all the highlights (you'll have to bear with me because there's a lot to talk about):

"Farewell and Safe Travels" Dinner!

We have all made great friends with a man from Zimbabwe named Tendai. He has been "our taxi guy" around Gaborone for many Peace Corps groups and has proven to be an honest and wonderful man. We have always been able to rely on him when we need a ride someplace and when we need a warm smile and a friend. He is one of the most genuine people I have ever met.

After nearly a decade of living in Botswana, he and his family are moving back home to Zimbabwe. We are so sad to see him go but are also excited for him and his family to be going home. (Peace Corps Volunteers, more than most, understand how wonderful it is to go home.) We wanted to send Tendai and his family off with a bit of the kindness that has been shown to us so a few of us decided to take them out for dinner. We gave them the choice and they decided to have Indian food at Chutney in Gaborone. They had never eaten it before and were extremely excited to try. We ordered an assortment of paneer and masala dishes and gorged on delicious naan. It was a feast! It was also a very special evening for all of us. It gave us time to talk more about our lives and to say thank you to our friend. Tendai, Monica, and Ashley, you will be so missed in Botswana. Your warmth has touched us all. I know I speak for all of us PCVs when I say that we are looking forward to the day when we can come and visit you and see your home. 17 months and counting!

Holiday Parties for Orphans!

I had the opportunity to go to two parties for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) this weekend. Both were amazing, if for no other reason than to see the huge smiles on the kids' faces! Precious!

The first one was in my village and was hosted by my NGO. The day started bright and early with copping vegetables for the meal that would be served to the OVC, caregivers, and guests and then preparing the facility for the event. About an hour before the party was scheduled to start, children started lining up outside the NGO - their excitement was impenetrable. By 9:30am, hundred of children were playing on the toys, laughing, and enjoying each other's company. (It has been a long time since the kids have been at the NGO for services so they were beyond excited to have equipment to play on and time to just play and be kids.) The day included music and a dance party, a cultural exhibition, lunch, and gift giving. Gifts for the OVC included things like clothes and toiletries. The guest of honor for the event, who helped distribute the toys, was Miss Universe Botswana 2011. She is a remarkable woman, who genuinely wants to help counsel the OVC and work with the youth in Kumakwane. She took time to play games with the kids and to speak with caregivers and community members.

The other OVC party that I was able to attend was for the Botswana Red Cross Society in Moshupa, a nearby village. This holiday party very much like the previous in that it involved a lot of preparation in terms of cooking and that the event made a whole lot of kids ridiculously happy! I would estimate that this party had over fifty children in attendance, all running around playing on the jungle gym, hoolah hooping, and kicking a football around. The children played for hours, working up an appetite for the late afternoon lunch that was prepared by the Red Cross staff volunteers. During lunch, presentations were given on the history of Red Cross, OVC programming, and the way forward. Songs and skits were also done by youth from UCCSA and then gifts were given out to the children. Like the party at my NGO, gifts for the kids included clothing and toiletries. The Minister of Parliament and the Kgosi (chief) came to support the event and to spend some time with the children.

Care Packages Galore!

Nothing warms a Peace Corps Volunteer's heart quite like a care package from home! I was lucky enough to get TWO over the weekend! Both contained presents for the Kums Kids, including toys, stuffed animals, coloring books, stickers, and Hanukkah cards/blessings. I was literally moved to tears by the generosity and love shown in both of these packages. All I can say is THANK YOU SO MUCH for all of the wonderful presents, snacks, and goodies! I am SO GRATEFUL!

Kind Words and a Great Reminder!

After coming to my village for the first time, a friend and fellow Bots 10 emailed me. Her words touched me and really brought me back to what matters here. I have gotten so caught up in my primary project's success that everything else was somewhat devalued, despite my knowing it is important too. Among the things she said to me that reminded me of the validity and significance of my "after-school program" with the Kums Kids were:

“…What I wanted to say was that I was really affected by the relationships you have with those children in your village who come over to your house. I was very touched to see how comfortably and intimately you interacted with them. I think that type of interaction, those types of relationships, are so amazing, and it's something that I've struggled with a lot here…The way you effortlessly engaged and directed those children, that was really nice. I like that you can have children over to your house, and that boundaries do work… your situation there is wonderful. It was refreshing to see that you invite them into your life, that you've provided them with activities. In knowing what goes on in the emotional life of most PCVs, I think what you're doing is the epitome of loving-kindness towards those children.

My specific reason for telling this to you is that I've heard/understand that you're going through a rough patch right now in your service. All I really want you to know is that the relationships you've cultivated with those children is what I thinking PC is all about. And so, obviously your issues with your work will negatively affect your feelings of self-efficacy, but you're independently doing exactly what is right.  You're having real relationships with real people. You have no idea what an effect you're having on those children, but I can assure it is wholly positive. Don't forget that on the bad days. That's something that's real, that's the type of things you should take away with you when you go…”

Her words were the reminder I needed. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words and encouragement.

Meeting RPCVs!

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a professor from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who had done his Peace Corps service in Botswana in 1990-91. He was coming to Botswana for the first time since he finished his service and wanted to meet Peace Corps Volunteers in the area. He would be traveling with two friends, one who was a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Rwanda and the other who is working for USAID in Pretoria. Of course I wanted to meet them and a number of other PCVs in the area joined me in the excitement.

A group of PCVs came to my house on Friday afternoon in hopes of meeting them, unfortunately a bout of stomach sickness kept them from meeting up with us then. We were disappointed, obviously, but understood - stomach issues are not to be messed with around here! The following morning, however, we received a phone call that all were well again and that they had a few hours before they had to head back to Pretoria and we could meet! Much of the group from the day before had gone back to their villages, but Kristen and I had ventured to Moshupa for the Red Cross Society's OVC party so we were able to coordinate! 

Over a delicious Pakistani feast made by our friend Azmat,  Kristen, Virginia, and I got the opportunity to meet with Stephen (RPCV Botswana), Andy (RPCV Rwanda), and Joe (USAID). It was one of the most uplifting and exciting things that has happened to us (and we all agreed that it was among our favorite experiences since coming to Botswana). Hearing their stories, seeing photographs, and getting advice about service and life after was really inspiring. Not only that, they all looked back on their Peace Corps experience fondly and believed it to be something that positively impacted their lives. They were kind and thoughtful and just meeting them made all three of us feel more settled about our time here. I feel very blessed for having that time with them.

And, of course, FRIENDS!

Even more than usual, my Bots 10 family has gone above and beyond to be there for me (and each other). I am so grateful for them. They have reached out to help me with issues at my site, to show their support, to have a little fun, and to plan even more great adventures. I love you all more than words can say. "Blame it on Bots 10"... because we really are that awesome.

Nothing beats time spent with good friends... and the Kgosi of Moshupa. Ridiculous.

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