Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hosting America's "Important People"

A few weeks ago, my Country Director called to tell me that a Congressional delegation of US Senators would be coming to Botswana and he wanted to find out if I would be willing to meet with Embassy staff to discuss hosting them and their wives for a day. Of course I said that I would. But, after that phone call, I heard nothing. I figured they had designed a program for the Senators and their wives that didn't include me, a lowly Peace Corps Volunteer living in a village. I shrugged and went on my way.

Two days ago, after spending my morning at the NGO, I received another phone call. This time the call was from one of the women I work with. She said, in a somewhat confused-sounding voice, that staff from the United States Embassy were at the NGO and asking to meet the Peace Corps Volunteer that works there. I quickly tried to collect myself and scurried out the door and down the path towards the NGO. And, just as she said, there were two Embassy staffers in the office waiting to talk with me!

The Embassy staff and I had about an hour discussion regarding the needs in Botswana, specifically the Gabane Community, and how the efforts of my NGO cater to those needs. We talked about the hardships in our community and how we would like to do more but the resources aren't available so we do as much as possible to help. I was asked what the NGO would need to fulfill our vision for services. You could see the staff becoming emotional as I explained the realities in the village - they are so different and devastating than the bubble over the capital city shows. Then I was asked what my personal goals are in terms of helping this NGO and Botswana as a whole. And then, finally, we discussed the delegation that is coming. In the end, the Embassy staff extended a hand and an invitation to help with a day of the program being laid out for the Senators and their wives. (Opportunity accepted!)

Now I am working on designing a day where I introduce them to the Gabane Community and the work being done here (and in villages like ours). I intend to bring them to my NGO so they can do an activity with the orphans and see for themselves what that reality is like and also participate in something hands-on. We will also visit a few of the home care patients so they can see the efforts being made to care for people infected with HIV/AIDS in Botswana. And, lastly, we will go to a cultural village to give them a taste of the rich traditions and history of the Batswana. They will have the opportunity to see traditional dance, try some local food, and purchase hand-woven baskets or pottery. A little bit of seriousness, a little bit of fun. I think it will be a really great day for the Senators, their wives, and for the people of Gabane. I am so excited!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kindness from a Post Office Worker

Admission time: I lost my keys at the Bots 10 one-year celebration party. I am not sure if someone grabbed them or if they fell out of my bag or what happened but the fact remains that I lost them. This was a frantic and sad day for me. I can't remember ever losing something like this before. Sigh. I shed a few tears, I called everyone and every place I could think of to ask about them, and then I moved on. The locks were changed on my house (and actually extra security added by the man that changed them for me) and I got new keys. No harm done, right? Well, sorta. On that very keyring that was lost was my post office box key. The one and only post office box key for the post office box that I am sharing with my NGO. Ugh. But this is not a blog post about the tragedies of getting new keys cut, but rather one about the greatness of the people of Botswana.

from my mama and sister
I had explained to the people at the post office about my lost keys and how I couldn't get into the post office box and how I thought I had something waiting for me and and and... After some hemming and hawing because it was against protocol (which is very important here), they gave me three packages that were, indeed, waiting there for me (from my mama and my sister! happy dance!). I half skipped all the way home (3km) with a huge smile on my face. The post office people bent the rules just a little bit and now I had fun new things to show for it! Hip-hip-hooray!

I went about the next few days with a little extra umph because of my fabulous care packages. And then, this morning, I heard a "honk honk" and I ran outside to see what was up. There, at my gate, was the post office vehicle! A guy stepped out of the driver's seat, walked around to the back, and pulled out a very large box. He came strolling over to me as I came dashing down the stairs towards him. He then explained that the post office staff saw the package come in and realized I wouldn't know it was there because I had lost my keys and wouldn't see the slip and also that it was really heavy so they figured they would just drop it off to me! (Are you kidding me?! SO NICE!) I thanked the man a thousand times over because he was right - it might have sat in the post office for weeks before I had a key re-cut (it's super expensive) and holy smokes was it huge so walking it home would have been quite the chore! And, yes, this was breaking protocol again because they hadn't taken my passport information to release it or anything like that. But, really, how many Tija "Kamogelo" Danzigs are there in Gabane? Probably not too many! To me, what is most special about this is the sincerity and thought of it. The post office worker recognized my hardship, he saw a way to help me out, and he did it. How often do people go out of their way to help a stranger out like that? In my experience, not too often. In Botswana, however, I have seen it happen more than a few times. It was one of those moments of kindness that I will carry with me and pay forward. So THANK YOU Mr. Post Office Worker for being so caring, thoughtful, and considerate. This Peace Corps Volunteer is eternally grateful! (P.s. I shared some turkey jerky with him to say "thanks"!)

the contents of the big box from my friend jeff

Thursday, April 19, 2012


You may remember my host brother Kesaobaka from posts I made during Pre-Service Training. Although I haven't mentioned him (or the rest of my homestay family) in recent months, I have stayed in contact with them and we share in each other's successes like any other family. After all, that household became my home away from home and the family nurtured me through some of the hardest times in Botswana - they truly became like family during my two months living with them. In particular, Kesaobaka and I created a lasting friendship. That is why I want to share in a huge success for him.

I am not sure if I shared this on my blog before or not, but while I was living with my host family, Kesaobaka was interviewing for a position with the police force in Kanye. He had passed all his interviews, taken some tests, and was waiting to hear back about a start date. He was really excited about being a police officer, especially because it meant he would have a good job and be a contributing member of the family. (In the interim, he contributed by cooking and cleaning and tending the lands and doing as much as he could to help the family. He is just an amazing man.) When I checked in about the job around the new year, he was still patiently waiting. So when we talked a few days ago, I was hardly surprised to learn that, after a year of relative silence, Kesaobaka was tired of waiting to hear from the police force about his placement. He had started the interview process with the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) and was asked to come to Gaborone, the capital city, for another interview, a test, and a physical.

Because Kesaobaka was in nearby Gaborone most of the week, we decided to meet for lunch so we could catch up in person and he could tell me all about the potential new job. We were supposed to meet yesterday but he was tied up with the BDF and couldn't make it. He promised to call me afterwards to update me. Around 8pm, my phone rang and it was him. He was so excited that I could barely understand him. After a few deep breaths, he announced that he had passed all of his interviews and tests and that he had earned a place in the Botswana Defense Force! They told him to get back to Kanye and pack up some things because he would be going to a six month training starting this Friday! (When they want you it seems they really don't waste any time!) In fact, he excelled so much that they pushed him up into this training class instead of waiting. I joined in his excitement, squealing and jumping around (which I know he was doing on the other end). This is a huge honor, one that far outweighs the one with the police force, and carries a lot of prestige. Kesaobaka did it! After a year of waiting, he has gotten something far greater than he ever imagined. (Sounds familiar to my situation, right? Like brother, like sister!) Needless to say, I am so very proud of him.

This is a proud day in the Ramathlaba family and I wanted each of you to be a part of it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Losing Another Patient: Prayer Service and Mourning

About a month ago I blogged about losing a young girl to AIDS. She had waited too long to be tested for HIV and died within a few weeks of finding out her status. It was a tragic loss but also one that has motivated me to make significant efforts in getting people tested early and often. Hopefully her death won't be in vain.

Recently, we lost another patient from our home-based care program. She was an older woman, a grandmother, who was both HIV+ and diabetic. We had been transporting her to medical appointments for a long time and helping the family with her other medical needs. Sadly, her condition had deteriorated to the point where she slept on a mattress on the floor because her family could not get her onto the bed and she could no longer do anything for herself. She died with her large family by her side.

As is tradition here, the week preceding the Saturday burial was filled with prayer services. These are gatherings where friends and villagers come together each night to pay their respect to the family and the deceased. There is often wailing tears by those closest, prayers made by the guests, and some of the most beautiful singing you will hear anywhere. The prayer services for this sweet grandmother was no different. I sat among the women, helping to knead the dough for the diphaphatha that would be served, and listened to their voices fill the air. There has hardly been a moment in my life where I have been filled with more emotion. The tears of so many over the loss were heartbreaking but the togetherness of the community was palpable. By the end of the first night, I had met countless new people, cried alongside a small child (a grandchild perhaps?), offered a blessing to the family, was in awe, and felt a range of emotions that seemed in perfect contrast to the last.

Sadly, after so many losses in this country, these services run like a well-oiled machine - every person has a role and they all gather to make sure it is fulfilled for the family. There are people leading the services, those making the bread and tea and the greetings being given and songs being sang. The loss aside, they are a beautiful testimony to the people of Botswana and their sense of community. I am grateful for being allowed to be a witness to it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

State of Happiness

To say that I have been in a good place lately is an understatement. I have truly been blissfully happy these passed few months. So happy, in fact, that "Walking on Sunshine" would most likely be my background music as I skip around the paths of Botswana. And why shouldn't I be? I am doing meaningful work with staff that are excited about learning and growing, I am noticing genuine progress in my projects, I see baby donkeys and goats every single day, I have amazing friends and a wonderful boyfriend, my family and one of my dearest friends are coming to visit, and the weather is finally just about perfect. As if I needed to get any happier, today I packed my bag full of toys and crafts and headed down the A-10 to my old stomping ground of Kumakwane to visit my Kums Kids. And, let me tell you, that did the trick! Happiness overload!

When I arrived in Kumakwane, a huge smile came across my face. As I strolled (read: strutted) down the path towards my old house, "strangers" were stopping me to ask where I have been lately (they noticed I was gone! who would have thought?!) and I greeted friends from the village that I have been missing. When I got to my old compound, the dogs came barreling over to me, jumping up and down and giving me kisses. Together with the dogs, I made my way around the village to look for the Kums Kids. It didn't take long before I was trampled and overwhelmed with hugs. I felt like I was coming home after a long time away, being greeted by loved ones. Most notably: my little Bokena. When Bokena saw me, she literally leapt over her fence and came running at me. We were soon joined by some of the other kids, her brother Bofelo included. For about four hours, we played frisbee, jumped rope, and did craft projects. The kids covered their faces (and my cell phone) with heart stickers that I brought and showed me the progress they have been making in school (either by spelling words in the dirt or telling me all the words they now know in english, etc.). It was a perfect day with them. Actually, even hours later, my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.

To me, today was the coming together of my two lives in Botswana. The things that have made me completely happy here exist in both Gabane and Kumakwane. These are the things that have made this first year (and the rest of my service) so wonderful. Today they became one and the same - coexisting in the happiness I am experiencing these days. Life in Gabane is everything I could have hoped for and definitely where I am meant to be and Kumakwane (and those kids and dogs) will always have my heart.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Weather Realization

A few days ago, I learned something that is very disturbing to anyone that believes 117F/47C is way too hot to be existing in. I am one of those people.

The news is that thermometers melt in the sun in Botswana. (I told you the sun was scorching here!) So what this means is that they gauge the temperatures here using thermometers placed in the shade... The shade where we all go during the summer to hide from the blazing sun because it is about 15 degrees F cooler there... Meaning when I have checked the weather and seen temperatures rise to 117, it's really much much MUCH hotter! Holy smokes folks! I knew it was hot these last six months but, it turns out, I had no idea how hot! (Good thing it's turning to winter now and we can finally cool off!)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

International Cuisine

Yesterday, my boyfriend (who is from Botswana) took me to a little nook nestled in the capital for lunch. Along with having delicious food, the deli also had a little market. While we were waiting for our food, I decided to peruse the shelves and see what they had. To my shock, awe, and excitement, I saw an array of things that I have been missing over the passed year. They had things like tahini, grape leaves, shells, and black beans. Nearly jumping out of my skin, I went back to the table to revel in my happiness. I think he was humored by my elation and entertained me for some time while I gushed. And then he asked me something that made me pause. He asked me how I knew of all these foods if I wasn't Greek or Italian or so on. My immediate thought was because, but then I had to stop and think about it. I have never given the country of origin of my favorite foods much thought before or, for that matter, why or how I know (and love) them. In America, the variety was always so available and almost everyone knew about international cuisine, either from eating it or having seen the different restaurants scattered all over the place. We have so many options that they become commonplace. I have always had access to all sorts of foods. It's not the same in Botswana. Even in the major cities, the "variety" is limited to Setswana food, Indian (because of a large Indian population here), Chinese (same reason), and a couple different "Western" foods (like KFC, pizza, and burgers). Given this, how would anyone who hasn't had access to it learn about a food as strange as grape leaves? And what do you do with this odd sauce called tahini? Needless to say, this spurred an interesting conversation about food (and foodies) from around the world and the differences in how cultures relate to food. And, in the end, I foresee it inspiring me to cook him a bunch of different foods that he's never had the chance to try. Who knows, maybe one will even be his new favorite? Food: bringing people closer one meal at a time.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How Do You Measure A Year in Peace Corps?

It has been one year since I moved to Africa and started on this Peace Corps journey. Over the last few weeks,  I have tried to talk about the lessons I have learned and the projects I am engaging in. Now I just want to share more about what actually happens in one year... How do you measure a year in your life? This is how I measure mine:

  • Minutes experienced: 525,948

  • Number of Countries lived in: 2 (United States and Botswana)

  • Number of new friends made at Staging ("Bots 10"): 40
  • Number of Bots 10s that got on the plane to Botswana: 39
  • Number of planes taken to reach Botswana: 3
  • Other modes of transportation to reach Botswana: 1 (bus)
  • Distance traveled between America and Botswana: 8,498 miles/13,628 km
  • Time traveled from America (JFK) to Botswana: 16 hours

  • Number of vaccinations received: 11
  • Number of times I have been sick: 1 (tummy ailment, lasted 4 days)

  • Name of family I did training with: Ramathlaba

  • Number of villages lived in: 3 (Kanye, Kumakwane, and Gabane) 

  • Number of organizations I have done work for: 6
  • Number of orphans and vulnerable children I have worked with: 761
  • Number of orphans I have considered adopting: 1 (Bokena)
  • Number of HIV+ patients I have worked with directly: 17

  • Number of times I have considered ETing ("Early Termination"): 2
  • Number of other Bots 10s that have ET'ed: 11
  • Number of times I have been grateful I did not ET: 525,801

  • Setswana language proficiency level: Intermediate-Mid
  • Times I have been surprised I reached Intermediate-Mid: Every single day
  • Times I have wondered what happened to my English abilities: 1,482

  • Number of bucket baths in less than 3L of water: 98
  • Number of baby wipe "baths": 41
  • Longest time gone without bathing: 5 days
  • Longest time without water/water outage: 8 days
  • Longest power outage: 6 days

  • Hottest day: 117F/47C
  • Coldest night: 33F/0C

  • Number of times I have staged a war against ants: 3
  • Number of huge spiders that have scared me beyond reproach: 1
  • Number of bugs (besides ants) that I have outright killed: 2
  • Number of times I have been impressed with myself for living among the spiders in total harmony: 482
  • Number of lizards that I have befriended: 2 (Bernard and Curtis)
  • Number of snakes seen: 1 (it was dead)

  • Number of haircuts: 2 (by other PCVs)

  • Number of game drives gone on: 5
  • Number of vacations: 2 (Namibia and South Africa)
  • Number of mini-holidays: 2 (Sowa Salt Pans and Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Serowe)
  • Number of PCVs visited in their villages: 13
  • Longest bus ride: 15 hours

  • Number of entire television series watched: 7
  • Number of movies seen in a theater (in Gaborone): 5
  • Number of books read: 42

  • Number of relationships I have been in: 1
  • Number of weddings missed in America: 26
  • Number of weddings attended in Botswana: 3
  • Number of friends who have died in America: 4
  • Number of funerals attended in Botswana: 3
  • Number of births missed in America: 6

  • Number of times I ate phane worms: 3 (fried, dried, and boiled)
  • Number of new foods tried: countless (Setswana food, wowza)
  • Number of Setswana foods I mastered cooking: 4
  • Number of foods from America I mastered making from scratch: 11 (things like spinach-artichoke dip, pita bread, pizza, and so on...)

  • Number of American visitors: 1 (Markus Thomi)

  • Number of people who have sent me care packages: 13
  • Number of care packages received: 19
  • Person who has sent me the most packages: Mama Tina
  • Number of people who have sent me handwritten letters: 11
  • Number of letters received: 28
  • Most obscure place something has come from: Ethiopia (Kati Wilkins)
  • Number of Skype dates: 11

  • Times my blog has been viewed: 18,752
  • Number of countries that have viewed my blog: 66 (in order: United States, Japan, United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, Costa Rica, Germany, Denmark, India, South Korea, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Russia, Malaysia, Iceland, Liberia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Greece, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Botswana, Singapore, Bulgaria, Spain, Pakistan, Senegal, Ecuador, Morocco, Guatemala, Norway, China, Israel, Indonesia, Italy, Lesotho, Uganda, Philippines, Iran, Latvia, Estonia, Mali, Saudia Arabia, Tanzania, Taiwan, Chile, Hungary, New Zealand, Serbia, Colombia, Thailand, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Zambia, Jamaica, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Lithuania, Gabon, Namibia, Belgium, and Albania) 

  • Number of Bots 10 remaining at the end of year one: 28 (11 ETs and 1 Administrative Separation)

  • Most important trait I have acquired: Patience
  • Least important trait needed in Botswana: Logic (it just doesn't exist so no need for it)
  • Trait I value most: Passion (And motivation to see passions through)
  • Thing that constantly surprises me: Everything really does come together in the end
  • Best advice received: "Just keep swimming" (thanks Dory)

  • Thing I have been most grateful for: Constant support and love by my family and friends (both here and at home). You are what has gotten me to this point.
  • New family members made: Bots 10 and my dear friends in Botswana, both host country nationals and ex-pats alike... you are all how I truly measure my life here. And, for that, I could never thank you enough. What a great year it has been.

"it's time now, to sing out
though the story never ends
let's celebrate
remember a year in the life of friends" 

♥ peace corps year one: success