Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Holy Happiness!

I have been trying to get online to tell the blog-o-sphere, family, and friends about all the wonderful things happening in my life right now but, alas, the internet has been beyond patchy and unavailable. Fortunately, after a few hours of waiting for this "Compose Post" page to load, I am finally able to give the happiness update I have been hoping for! The only question now is where to begin...

I will start with a quick word about two very sweet Zimbabwean women that I recently met.
The first I met yesterday while walking home from the NGO. She was a sweet older woman who came up to me and asked if she could do some work for me ("a peace job"). We talked for a little while and I learned that she had only come to Botswana the day before with nothing but a small bag of clothes and she needed money for food. I felt compassion for the woman. Regrettably, I didn't have any work for her to do (without water on the compound I couldn't ask her to do my washing etc). Alternatively, I offered her some of my (precious) stored water to drink and went through my kitchen to gather food for her. Although I am in desperate need of going food shopping myself, I managed to give her a package of pasta, some soup, and an assortment of fruit. She cried. Before she left, I helped her register her SIM card for her new Botswana cell phone and took the number in case I can help her in the future. If nothing else, at least she knows there is someone here that cares. Everyone deserves that. I consider that something to be happy about. 
And then today, another sweet woman from Zimbabwe came to me and said she has seen me around the village and wanted to know what I was doing here. I explained to her about Peace Corps and the work that I am doing at my NGO. She then asked me if I was available to work with others in the village because, she said, she had skills she wanted to learn so she could help people. After inquiring further, I learned that she had left Zimbabwe with her four small children as a refuge of abuse. She has the hope of some day starting a support group for battered women. At this point, the only thing she is armed with is a passion to help and the knowledge that you can escape and live a better life. I have agreed to assist her in whatever way I can. At this juncture, I am making an appointment for us to go in and meet with a women's shelter in Gaborone to learn about services and then we will move forward together. 
Next, I want to share about an upcoming event that I am putting together. The event will be in Kumakwane, the village that I was originally placed in. Essentially, I met someone a few months back that is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) that served in Botswana some years back. She has some friends traveling around Southern Africa and one of the stops will be to Botswana.  As part of their tour, they want to do something to give back and this is where I come in. The RPCV contacted me a few weeks ago to tell me that her visitors want to donate soccer jerseys and equipment but they didn't know where to do that. I suggested some teams from my old village and quickly contacted the PCV that is there to see if this was feasible. It was and event planning was underway! So... what the event will be is a "Community Health and Wellness Event", with the main activity being a community-wide soccer game following a speech by the Kgosi and the presentation of the donations. The game will bring all the teams together, ranging from soccer players 4 years of age to "older adults", to play as a community. The rationale behind having them play together instead of showcasing individual teams is that it takes an entire village (literally) to stay healthy and that we are all part of a team. We will also have people there to conduct HIV tests and to discuss nutrition with the villagers. Everyone coming together, everyone participating, everyone learning how to stay healthy, and everyone responsible for each other as part of a team.

In follow up of previous posts, I thought it right to apprise you all about the family I have been working with in our home-based care program. If you may recall, the family is a very sick mother, her five children (and one deceased daughter), and her two grandchildren. They live in a one-room house and are completely destitute. I am happy to report that, after telling their story to people from all around, we have finally found someone (a group of someones, actually) who are willing to take their cause on as their own! In other words, an acquaintance of mine and his church group in Gaborone have decided they would like to help the family get a better life. They have begun doing research and getting quotations to put a pit latrine in on the plot and then, once that is underway, will start gathering resources to build a house for them. When he told me that they had agreed to take this monumental project on, I literally cried. I cried for days because it is so powerful and so important and will make such a huge difference in the lives of this family. Words cannot describe how amazing this is and the magnitude of their generosity.

And finally (for now), is something I have alluded to since my birthday... Unfortunately for you all, it will remain vague and undisclosed until next week buuuuuuut, for the past few weeks, I have been coordinating an event for "High Level Visitors" from the United States who will be visiting the country. Yes, these high level visitors are grand enough that it requires confidentiality of the highest degree. But I can say that I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing people with some pretty fancy titles from big-wig offices around Botswana and America. So how did this super secret event come about? Well, I was contacted by my Country Director about the potential opportunity and he asked me to fill out a fairly extensive report/proposal to be reviewed and evaluated. After that submission was approved, we went on to a number of site visits and interviews before being accepted as the event for these high level visitors. This is a huge deal, as we are literally the only event that is being held for them and our proposal beat out many from distinguished global organizations. I am feeling extremely blessed to have been chosen to represent my organization, my village, Peace Corps, and my country and am excited about the fantastic program that we have put together! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am beyond grateful for it! I cannot wait until I can announce it and share in the excitement!

So that's my "quick" update... There really is so much to be happy about these days!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Perspective (In the form of a "Case Study")

On a few occasions, I have discussed a family that I work with in my NGO's home-based care program. The family recently lost a daughter to AIDS because she waited too long to test. She left behind her mother (who remains one of the sickest people I have ever seen in real life), her daughter, her sister and newborn baby, and four small siblings. Her sister, while in the hospital giving birth to her baby, discovered she is also HIV+. She has gotten very sick since delivery and now is inflicted with TB as well. Her baby remains in the hospital but mom has returned to the house to live out her days with her family.

This family, all seven of them, live in a one-room shanty house. There is no water on the property and no toilet/latrine. They defecate into a bucket and bring it to a neighbor's house to dispose of in their latrine. The daughter, who is both HIV+ and suffering from TB, is too sick to do even this much. Pampers (diapers we hand out to those in need) are almost impossible to come by these days, as there has been a shortage around the country. My NGO is trying to make a plan to help this struggling family if, for no other reason, than to keep the four small children and the newborns safe from infection. (Besides HIV, we are worried about them sleeping on cold concrete floors this winter and also being piled into the one-room house with someone who has TB. We are also trying to make plans for the future, as these children may be orphaned soon, losing their grandmother and both of their mothers.)

In the past, my NGO has managed to build homes for families like this one. The cost to build suitable living place? About $5,000 (with donations of labor by the community). It is amazing how much can be done for so little money here. This would be our ultimate goal to help this family (and we have found an abandoned structure that we could build from). We have started making contacts with people to try and come up with a solution and a way to make this a reality. But this situation is dire and we need to do something sooner, so we are starting with building a pit latrine on the property.

Imagine for a minute that this was your family or someone you know. Picture these children huddling together this winter and caring for their sick family. It is heartbreaking. This is a reality here for a number of the patients we work with. And yet they keep smiling, welcoming every little thing we do for them - be it come to sweep their house or bring them a hot meal - so graciously. It puts things into perspective, doesn't it? I know that it reminds me every day that I am fortunate.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Soup and Standards

Although I am on the mend, I have been sick for nearly a week now (my first actual ailment since coming to Botswana) so I decided to make myself some hot soup and relax in hopes of getting myself back in tip-top shape by tomorrow. I recently acquired some delicious-looking (mailed from the States) soup packets from a PCV that just finished his service and thought they would make a great starting point to what would be a hearty soup. I then started cutting up onions and potatoes and corn to put in. About 30 minutes later, I ladled out a giant bowl of deliciousness.

Fast forward ten minutes and I look down at my partially eaten bowl of soup and realize that some of my herbs and spices look a little peculiar. On further inspection, I decide that, floating among the seasonings that were making my soup so tasty, were also little oblong bugs. I had a mini freak out (of the "am I going to make myself sick off the soup that's supposed to make me healthy" variety) and then proceeded to the kitchen with my bowl. What happened next is where this post becomes about standards... because, for the next two hours, I literally picked the bugs out of the giant pot of soup that was on the stove and put the remainder of the soup in a storage container. Doing this made me pause for a moment, however. I then walked over to my desk, grabbed a sticky note out, and wrote "Contemplate before eating" then affixed it to the soup-filled tupperware in my fridge. I mean, I did use a lot of good veggies in it... and it is cooked... and I did spend hours picking through to make sure there are no more bugs in it... Sigh.

When I told this story to two other PCVs from my group, neither seemed alarmed. One said it was extra protein and asked if I kept eating and the other said "you talking about bugs in your soup makes me want to eat soup". Oh how 14 months of living in the bush has changed us... TIA - This is Africa!

My 29th Birthday Week!!!

“The year you were born marks only your entry into the world. 
Other years, where you prove your worth, 
they are the ones worth celebrating.”

I believe that birthdays should be joyously celebrated. For as long as the people around you can tolerate you celebrating them. Or, at the very least, for a week. "The birthday week"! And, I'm happy to say, that my friends here indulged me in exactly that.

My birthday week started out with a lunch date at one of my favorite "people watching spots" in Gaborone with another PCV and the boyfriend. We had a birthday beverage and caught up on the recent happenings in our respective sites and then talked about our hopes for the upcoming year (both in terms of my birthday and our second year of service). Partway through lunch, my boyfriend asked if I wanted my birthday present then or to wait for my birthday. Before I could fully answer, he reminded me that it was, after all, officially my birthday week and handed me the bag. Inside was a box containing a fancy pants new dual sim cell phone! (I have been wanting one for a while and my brick of a phone was starting to putter out so this was a hugely exciting gift. Plus it is wayyyyy fancier than one I would have bought myself... YAY!) As I am sure you can imagine, I quickly opened the box and went to town reading the instruction manual and playing with it (and all its fanciness)! I now have two numbers that I can be reached on (woot woot - more double ups!) and I feel super high-tech and fancy every time I pull out my phone. (Yes, I have said "fancy" a lot but that's exactly what it is!)

A few days later, on the morning of my actual birthday, I got a call from my mama and my sister! I don't get to hear their voices very often so this was the most wonderful way ever to start my day! It never ceases to amaze me how an hour conversation with family can re-ground you and make you feel complete. It definitely warms a girl's heart and I was so happy to have that time to connect with my family.

I spent the majority of my birthday day at a workshop being held by Primson Management Services (from Zimbabwe) as part of the SADC capacity-building project that my NGO is a part of. The workshop was extremely worthwhile and we gained a lot of valuable insight into our organization and our plan for the future. I was happy to be a part of it and felt really productive during the entire day (which was really rewarding and made my day even more delightful)!

During the day, a number of other things made my day glorious, including a delicious lunch prepared by the women at my NGO and their singing the happy birthday song before presenting me with a Gabane Home-Based Care collared shirt to wear with pride "as a part of the Gabane family". Precious.  And, that evening, I was joined by ten of my friends for a birthday dinner and more merriment! It was great to get to spend time with wonderful friends. Finally (and perhaps most excitingly), I received a phone call from my Country Director with a proposition that could, if it comes to fruition, prove to be one of my life's highlights (and which I wish I could share right now but is confidential at this time - so stay tuned for the unveil!). Basically, I was giddy the entirety of the day!

I have to state that there was a bit of a downturn in my birthday week, unfortunately, due to a case of the flu (the real flu and not the tswana flu) and the loss of a dear friend from college. The passing of Michael O'Kelley will be felt for a long time. I was deeply saddened to hear that he passed away suddenly. Mikey was there for me during some of my happiest and hardest moments in life, he was always there with a helping hand and a smile, and was one of the most sincere people I have ever known. He left a huge impact on me and on those who knew him well. Any discussion of this week will have to include a memorial for him. Rest In Peace Mikey.

My birthday week concluded with one final celebration, complete with hugs of happiness and condolences (even some vicarious ones from friends who couldn't make it). Friends came from their respective corners of the country to Mountain Valley, a huge newly remodeled bar in my village, for a braai ("barbecue"), dancing, and laughs. I was grateful to everyone that came out because it gave me a chance to show off my village (which I am so proud of), catch up with friends, and round off my week with all the joy it started with. It was truly a blessing to share it with everyone.


This has been an emotional start to my 29th year. Full of happiness, excitement, education, loss, health and wellness, love, and hope. It has been a time when I have been reminded of all those things in life that truly matter. With that in mind, I really couldn't ask for a better birthday week. Thank you to everyone who was a part of it, both here and at home. With all my heart, thank you.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Month Worth of Updates

I realized last night that I have been very one-tracked in my updates lately and that I have been missing the opportunity to share a lot of great experiences and memories. This post is going to be all about catching up on some of those for you...

A Peace Corps Wedding

Two friends from my group, Dan and Theresa, fell in love during our pre-service training and decided to spend the rest of their lives together. Recently, in front of a few of their closest friends, in a country far away from home, the two tied the knot and became Mr. and Mrs. We had the opportunity to share their union by throwing them a wedding reception. Although our party was quaint and very "PCV", we went all out with the traditions - cutting the cake, the first dance, a champagne toast. This day and their marriage is special to everyone in the Bots 10 group because we have become family over the passed year. It is truly special when two people can find love and, for us, it's even more special because our "family" actually became family. So, for all of us in the group, this was a night that we will remember forever.

"Cultural Exchange": Wedding Style

There was recently another Peace Corps wedding that was truly special to me. Two dear friends from my old village of Kumakwane joined names on the 5th of May.

Mary, the other PCV from my beloved village, and Fila, my neighbor, became Mr. and Mrs. Konege, in front of family, friends, and fellow PCVs, showing the other side of finding the love of your life in the most unexpected of places.

Mary and Fila met when Mary first arrived at site in June 2010 and it didn't take long for them to fall in love. And I had the great honor and privilege of spending nearly eight months watching them, laughing with them, and sharing experiences with them. They are among the two best people that I have ever met. Mary, with her humor and wit, and Fila with his huge smile are a match made in heaven.

Their wedding day was every bit as special as they are. A number of other PCVs and I gathered in Kumakwane to share the day. The ceremony took place in Fila's church and was one of the more fun experiences I have ever had. The entirety of the service was dancing and singing - it felt like a giant party! Afterwards, we all went back to Fila's family's house and had a meal and listened to speeches and danced! Although the entire day was amazing and so much fun, I have to say that the biggest blessing of it all was that Mary's parents were able to make the journey to be here for it! This is so heartwarming because Mary's parents had not been on a vacation in thirty years and Mary's mom had never been on an airplane before! Having them there made a truly wonderful day all the more exceptional!


The Bots 9 group is getting ready to leave the country next week. This is a truly bittersweet time for all of us. Watching them pack their things is emotional for those of us left behind, as they have become our friends and support system over the passed year (and forces us to examine our own service and what time we have left). It is even more bittersweet for them, as they have to say goodbye to their villages, their homes, and the people they have lived with, worked alongside, and grown to love.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go to my friend Paco's very rural village called Medie to be part of his going away party. It was so touching to watch him interact with his village and to see how much they cherished him.

The event started out at the kgotla, with a huge agenda planned. It looked as if they entire village came out to share in the festivities! There were speeches made; entertainment and performances by the students at the school he worked at, the local support group, and the traditional dancers; gifts given; and tears shed. After the program, everyone went to the school for a meal and then continued well into the night (and, for some, the early hours of the morning) with a bonfire, music, dancing, and a braai. For me, being able to see how other PCVs live and witness how much they care about my friend, was amazing. I can only hope that my village(s) will care about me as much. It was beautiful to watch.

Goodbye Hello

My Bots 10 family recently lost another PCV. This is a happy goodbye, however, as our dear friend Maggie accepted an amazing job offer (and career opportunity) in her home town. Maggie has been an amazing volunteer, working with the disabled and disadvantaged population in Botswana and making a significant difference in her time here. While we are sad to see her go and realize what an asset Botswana will be missing, we are also excited for her and what this means for her future. Plus, we're family now so we'll always always always be close!

Sadly, Maggie had three cats that she had to leave behind in Botswana. They were her buddies and, I think, made leaving even more difficult. She has found them loving new homes with new PCVs from Bots 12 (to be sworn-in in two weeks!!!). These new homes, however, are not available until the Bots 12s go to their sites sooooooooo the three kitties are living at my house until then. Their names are Sisi (black mama cat), Pudi (colorful critter), and Mokibikibi (fluffy guy). They have been a handful, especially since I've never been much of a cat person, but we're getting along well and are starting to figure each other out. And, I have to admit, it's been kind of fun having animals in my life again, even for a while, because they really do give you all sorts of love.


This, specifically, is not an update. It is more of an "I have the best NGO and the kids are super cute" portion. These are a few of my favorite kids from the "older group", meaning they are 5 and 6-years-old. From left to right, you will see: Boitumelo, Shamiso, Abigail, Refilwe, and Kamogelo. They are HYSTERICAL and I am really having fun playing with them and helping them along.

Also, yesterday, a friend of mine came to the NGO to see the kids and learn more about what life is like in the village (he is from Mauritius and living in Gaborone). He spent the day playing with the kids, learning about orphans and vulnerable children in the community (including what he can do to help), and getting the village experience. I was grateful to have him come because it made the day so special for the kids. They don't often get visitors  and part of my mission here is to show the kids that they are loved and that people care to know about them. His coming and being so hands-on with the kids did exactly that. The staff and children welcomed him with open arms and it was a wonderful time for all of us. I hope to have more people come and have a similar experience.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrr It's Cold Out Here: Winter Clothes for All!

Another wonderful thing happened at my NGO yesterday... They got winter clothes!

My friend and fellow PCV, Carolynn, is working with a highly developed Scout troop in Gaborone. As part of their mission, they have been collecting winter clothing to donate to orphans and vulnerable children around their community. Carolynn called me a week ago and asked if we were in need and I said yes and explained the harsh reality for the children at our center. After our talk, I sat with the women from my NGO and explained that we might get a donation of winter clothes and the women literally started crying tears of joy. A week later, the children of Gabane Community Home-Based Care were among those that benefited from the Scout troop's generosity! We can now all sleep soundly at night knowing that these wonderful children will be warm and cozy and safe from the cold cold winter! What a blessing! These kids' lives were made infinitely better because of the kindness of otheres! Ke a leboga thata thata!

...... And there you have it folks! Just a few of my many updates on some of the wonderful things happening in my life!

By the way, still no water, still no house... And the house we thought we had identified is a bust. We're back to scouring the village for houses without curtains (the "sure sign" that it's vacant and for rent)! Wish me luck!