Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Words of my Fellow PCVs

Sometimes other PCVs express events and sentiments and experiences in such a way that no other words could describe them as accurately. (And sometimes it's just a perfect anecdotal story to show what life is like here!) I often read other Volunteers' blogs and feel like this. I wanted to share some particularly pertinent blog posts, with the hope that it will paint a more clear picture of what I am feeling and what life is like here in Botswana. Please take some time to read these noteworthy and amazing posts by my friends:

On Culture:

On Language:

On Food:

On Work:

On Growth:

On Experiences:

On Emotions:

And there are many many others that I think will help shed light onto this experience and give you all a more holistic view of life here. I learn so much from my fellow volunteers. I hope you do too.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Changing Weather

I have talked about the blazing hot summers and the surprisingly freezing cold winters in Botswana but I have yet to write about the perplexing in-between. Perhaps this is because it is short lived and therefore doesn't leave a lasting impression. But it is a really interesting time of year right now and I want to share it with anyone still sticking with me here...

We are reaching the end of winter now which means it is warming up during the day, especially when you're sitting in the sunshine, but it still gets frigid cold at night (but even this is getting more bearable, meaning you don't see your breath anymore). I have found this time of year very enjoyable. I wear a t-shirt and jeans during the day (maybe with a cardigan when I go inside) and then I grab a fleece when the sun goes down. I like it. It's pleasant after sweating my life away for 9 months then shivering for 2.

The best thing about this time of year, though, is people watching. Why? Because clothes span the spectrum of attire from something you would see in the arctic to the bahamas! I kid you not! You will be walking through the village and see someone in a tank top (thick straps) and bermuda shorts and then a few meters away will be someone in a wool coat, turtleneck, and beanie. You will literally see people of all shapes and sizes wearing clothing fit for every season. I can only assume that the quantity of clothing on a person is a reflection of what time they got up and dressed in the morning. But, I can tell you, I really love it. It keeps you on your toes, is endlessly entertaining, and frees you up to wear whatever it is you want to wear in whatever clothing combination you choose to wear it. This time of year is my favorite.


It is officially one week until my family arrives in Botswana! In fact, at this time (4:18pm), it is actually a few hours less than a week! I was telling the staff and the Board for my NGO about their arrival this morning and I literally cried out of happiness. I can hardly believe it. It seems so surreal to me that they will be a part of this life I have created in this country on the other side of the world. It has been uniquely my own for nearly sixteen months and I will soon get to share it with the people I hold most dear. It is a surrealism that is rivaled only by those first steps up the ramp towards security when I started this grand adventure. I am no longer counting down the months or the weeks until they get here... I am counting down the seconds! 586,800 seconds to go! Hooray!

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Ladies and gentlemen and friends who have held concern in their heart for me these passed three plus months, I am overjoyed to report that I JUST TOOK A HOT BATH IN MY VERY OWN HOUSE! Hallelujah!

Yes, this report means that I have finally and officially moved! And I am in a house that has water! Inside! And it is hot! Wowza! I celebrated by literally submerging myself in my bathtub for an hour, just laying there, in total bliss. Oh the simple pleasures we so often take for granted... I am one very happy girl!

I am also happy to report that my new house is fantastic. I am going to hold off posting pictures or describing too much because I want it to be a surprise for my family, who is coming in 18 short days! (Amazing!) But I can say that the house is a dream come true. It is so comfortable, I feel very safe in it, and it has water! (Did I mention that already?!) Jokes aside, it really is a wonderful house and I am so happy to be in it. And to be fully moved in with decorations up and everything! (This is courtesy of my amazing boyfriend, who basically single-handedly moved all of my furniture and who helped me unpack, clean, organize, and decorate - all with diligence, humor, and the patience of a saint. A million thanks go out to him.)

Today, joy is a warm bath, a great partner, and a content soul..... WATER!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Twice in One Week!

It is now official! I have been on the United States Embassy in Botswana's webpage twice in one week for events that I have helped coordinate! Hip hip hoooooray!

Event 1:

Event 2:

New goal? Do it again before I close my service!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kumakwane Community Football Event

Today I had the opportunity to host my second event in one week (and potentially make the US Embassy in Gaborone's website again)! This was an extra special event for me in that it was a collaborative effort of Peace Corps Volunteers and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and took place in my old village of Kumakwane. The event was, essentially, a community football game but it was so much more than that...

You may recall from an earlier post but, a few weeks ago, a friend (and RPCV from Botswana, 2005-2008) called me and said that some friends of hers were coming through Southern Africa and wanted to donate football (aka "soccer") kits. She wanted to know if I knew of any teams that would be in need. I immediately thought of Kumakwane and my friend Fila, who coaches youth teams and plays on a team in the village. I had often gone with the other PCV in the village to watch his games and had recently seen a picture of a new team, the "New Town Ballers", that they started (picture above). I hoped to give back to the community that I love so much so I pitched the idea and she loved it! As we continued discussing the potential plans for the event, it morphed into something much bigger (and better)!

In the end, the plan would include a visit to my NGO in Gabane to talk with my staff about orphans and vulnerable children in Botswana and programs around the country that work with this population, a visit to Pellegano Village Industries to show a community project and to watch pottery being made (and for them to buy some pretty gorgeous pieces), and then to hold a "community event" in Kumakwane. We arranged for the Kgosana (ward chief), Rre Modise Thebe, to be present at the New Town Ward Kgotla, along with other New Town community members, especially children. There was a short introduction, complete with speeches made by the Kgosi and our benefactors and a presentation of the donations to the football teams. The culmination of the event was the football game, where everyone - regardless of age or gender - could play together. To us, this symbolized unity, civic responsibility, and caring for your neighbor. Together we can have a healthy life and a healthy community (and a little bit of fun!).

The wonderful and generous donations were made by Christina and Mark Sloop, along with their teenage sons, Ian and Nico.

The event was everything we could have hoped for and more. It truly was a community effort and something that brought people from all walks of life together. We had the generous support of our new friends and benefactors from Sonoma Village (who traveled all this way to hand deliver sporting equipment), Peace Corps Volunteers (old and new), and we had village members of varying strata. It was a seamless event that everyone enjoyed! Now, for your viewing pleasure, the highlights of today's event:

"I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again." 

Another glorious day in this life. More smiles and more happiness shared. Success in the form of giving back. Perfection. ♥

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Trending 100": Video Goes Viral!!!

About a month ago, when I found out that I was selected to put on an event at my NGO to host Former President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush, I started doing a lot of prep work. In doing that, I learned that the following day was President Bush's birthday. To celebrate (and because I thought it would be really sweet), I taught the children at the preschool the "Happy Birthday Song". They sang it at the event, it was precious, and the video went viral! It was even broadcasted on the likes of CNN and NBC Nightly News! (WOW WOW WOW!) Now 50 million people have seen my 41 orphans and vulnerable children on television! My children, my little OVC who have hardly been noticed for anything before in their lives, have been seen (and cherished) by millions of people! Singing a song that I taught them! I cannot believe that, from my little village in Botswana, something of this magnitude could happen! It blows my mind and literally makes my heart skip a beat! I couldn't possibly feel more blessed and happy for these 41 adorable children! This has been a gift that keeps on giving. 

And now, for your viewing pleasure, the adorable video that has been seen the world over...

Friday, July 6, 2012

GWB Visits Botswana

Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Former First Lady Laura Bush, visited Botswana on July 5th. They were here to promote an expanded cancer treatment program to specifically address cervical cancer prevention. Included in his trips were visits to Princess Marina Hospital, a number of clinics, the UPenn Partnership, the US Ambassador's house, and MY NGO. What was the only thing that "made the cut" for the official video of his visit? That's right, MY EVENT at MY NGO! I kid you not! Watch the video below and you will see! My event starts at the traditional dancers (Nare tsa Pina dance group who graciously donated their time) and continues on to a discussion with members of Peace Corps, and finishes with the precious children from my OVC Preschool. Yes, that means there's six minutes of my event broadcasted online as the main attraction of President and Mrs. Bush's visit!

GWB Event!!!

I had the honor and privilege of planning and hosting an event for Former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush. For those of you who were unaware of this happening, let me give you a brief history of its evolution:

On my birthday, I received a telephone call from my Country Director (while in a very busy workshop for a SADC project that I am overseeing at my NGO) asking me if I would be interested in planning an event and hosting for a "high level visitor". Inquiring further, I learned that it would be the former president and his wife.  I replied in the affirmative, as this was the type of opportunity that I could not pass up. (Lack of specificity as to who and when at the beginning was for security reasons. I was told straight away that I could not discuss who was coming or any potential for my center to host. This secrecy proved difficult during all the long hours of planning and immense excitement.) He then told me that it would require an application, which would include information on my center, a proposed agenda of what the event might look like if we were to receive the privilege of hosting, and rationale behind our application. The caveat to this request being that it had to be submitted to the US Embassy within 24 hours. It being my birthday, I had plans for that evening but I quickly amended them and set to work planning out the proposal. This involved a number of phone calls with my Country Director as we finalized the plan and numerous revisions.

A week went by and I received another phone call from my Country Director. His tone was excited when I answered the phone and he informed me that they liked the proposal and were entertaining the idea of having us be the event chosen. We had to meet with staff from the US Embassy first, however, to walk through the agenda, look at the center, and discuss a number of other things. Later that same week, the visitors came to assess me, my center, and what we had in mind for the event. The Embassy staff that came to discuss everything told us, as they were packing up their things, that they loved the ideas we proposed and were excited about what we had to offer. They were sending us through to Bush's Advance Team!

No more than a few days later, I received the phone call that we were selected by the Advance Team and we were going to host the event! This was a huge deal for my center and for Peace Corps in that we beat out many high level international organizations. We were all extremely proud and excited.

From there came the tireless hours and seemingly endless weeks of preparing for the event. The staff rallied together and we made the preparations as fun as possible. This meant doing arts and crafts projects with the kids (we made USA and Botswana flags and also handprints to go on the wall in the room the children would be in during the event), organizing our children's caregivers to help clean up the grounds, having sing-a-longs and teaching the children the "happy birthday song" and others to perform, and singing and dancing as we accomplished even the smallest of tasks. There were also many meetings with the Bush Advance Team and Secret Service, both of whom were so warm and welcoming and instilled confidence in us that our event would be a success. They were such a joy to meet and to work with.

Here are some of the highlights of the event preparation:

The morning of the actual event, I woke up extra early to do finishing touches. This also meant fetching water since I am at week fourteen without and I wanted to look as good as I could (at least bathed) for the event since a lot of media was scheduled to be there. Other last minute details that needed to be done included setting up the tables, bringing the ten dozen baked goods I had made the day before to the center, going over talking points with the staff, telling the traditional dancers we hired about their formation and what we needed from them, preparing snacks for the children and guests who would be arriving two hours before the event, talking to media, prepping the Kgosi for his welcome address, and sorting out any final things. Phew!

The event's itinerary would go as follows: President and Mrs. Bush would arrive at our center and exit their vehicles outside the gate. They would be greeted upon entering by Peace Corps' Country Director, the Co-Founder of my NGO, and the Village Kgosi/Chief. They would then enter the center's compound to traditional dancers performing (thank you to the Nare tsa Pina dance group for donating their time). After posing for pictures, they would be escorted to meet me in the center of the compound, where I would introduce the visitors to Mma Leburu, our Head Teacher and Co-Founder, and to Sebina Koti, our Administrative Manager. We would then take a tour and I would share with them about HIV programs in Botswana, in particular my center and the community we work with. From there, we would go meet with other Peace Corps Volunteers to discuss our work, President Bush's new efforts in Botswana, and how we could work together towards a better future here. Then, finally, we would go and be with the 41 OVC from my preschool. There, they would sing a few songs that they had been practicing, President Bush would read them a story, and then we would surprise him with the "Happy Birthday Song" and handmade treats. The President and Mrs. Bush would then leave the same way they came in - walking through traditional dancers that would bid them a farewell through song and dance. The whole program would take just over one hour. This, I learned, is A LOT when referring to time spent with people of this level.

Now that the nitty gritty of the event has been explained, I want to share some of the more intimate moments that really touched me and I will carry with me forever...

First, when President and Mrs. Bush started walking towards me, I felt as if I was in a movie (or a dream at the very least). It was so surreal to see such figures before me. And then to know that they were there because of me filled me with such a sense of pride (and also terrified me - because I wanted to present myself, my center, and Peace Corps so well - to the point that sweat dripped down the back of my legs despite it being somewhat cold). I took a deep breath and braced myself for the next 70 minutes, holding onto the hope that Bush's Advance Team was sincere when they said that "President Bush is going to love you" and "He is so easy to talk to and you will immediately feel at ease". So I straightened myself out and took three streps forward to shake his hand and introduce myself. And now I am happy to report that they were, in fact, true to their word.

Next, after introducing myself and the team of ladies that I work with, I started in on my monologue. But first, I wanted to welcome our visitors to the center and let them know how truly humbled we were to have them there. In saying this, I also thanked President Bush for his dedication to HIV/AIDS work in Africa and told him that I was eternally grateful for him because, without his efforts and without PEPFAR, I would not be in Botswana and not doing the work that I am able to do today. I also told him that I work with patients that are HIV+ and his work in this vein has improved their lives and, in turn, mine. My Peace Corps service - my time in Botswana - has been one of the biggest blessings in my life and I was so grateful that I could thank him personally for this opportunity. And then, on top of that, to be able to share with him my center and the fruit of his labor was something that only happens once in a lifetime. I then noticed that tears were literally welling up in his eyes and starting to run down his face. He gave me a huge hug and a kiss on the forehead and thanked me for my kind words and for sharing them with him. Seeing how much my words meant to him, and genuinely feeling so blessed myself, I also teared up. It was a very special moment that we were able to share. Mutual admiration and appreciation.

After I thanked him, I went on to share the facts about the center: 41 OVC, 26 HIV+ patients enrolled in our home-based care program, over 18000 meals served annually, and my hopes to revive the Kids Club to help fill a void for care in transitioning children. He discussed all of these things compassionately and looked me straight in the eye, responding with rumination and concern and questions about resources and so on. He genuinely cared about the work we are doing and what can be done and he thanked the staff individually for their continued efforts.

When we met with the other Peace Corps Volunteers, President and Mrs. Bush joked casually and listened thoughtfully to the work we are doing across the country. They wanted to know personal information about each of us - who we are, where we come from, our background, and our primary projects. They then shared about the work they are doing here now. President Bush spoke. He said that he is out of politics and that he went into politics hoping to do policy work like what he is finally able to do now that he is out of office. He told us that helping people in this capacity has always been his goal. (In fact, the week prior he had spent in Zambia building a clinic alongside community members from that village.) He explained that HIV has been a pandemic in this country for years but that, now, it is under control with the ARV program and people are living longer lives, only to die of cervical cancer that is preventable. He challenged us to go into the clinics and help people learn technology and to enhance their capacity to address these other issues. He asked us how we can work together to achieve better health and a better life for the people we live amongst. He was so passionate as he discussed the issues and genuinely cared about these global health issues. For me, it was amazing to see this side of him and to know there is a development worker in him and that his aspirations are in line with my own.

After, I was able to bring the visitors in to interact with our 41 orphans and vulnerable children that are enrolled in the preschool program. This was among the most precious moments. Before the event, the Advance Team had told me that Mrs. Bush would be reading a story to the children and that President Bush would likely go back to converse with the Peace Corps Volunteers and other guests during that time. But, after seeing the children waving their flags at his arrival, he decided that he needed to read the story himself. So he pulled his chair really close to the children and read to them "From Head to Toe". He interacted with the children and literally acted out all the motions depicted in the book. And afterwards, the children sang him "Happy Birthday". I watched as tears filled up his eyes again. He was moved by their little rendition of the song and thanked them by personally handing out cookies, hugs, and high fives to all of the children. One of the kids even got a frosting-covered hand on President Bush's pants. I was mortified. President Bush, however, was not even phased and, as I rushed for a napkin, told me not to worry and that he had children and didn't care if his pants had a few handprints on them for the Ambassador's dinner (which was where he was headed after the event) because they would only make him smile every time he saw them. It was such a real moment.

Finally, as the event was coming to a close, President Bush put his arm around me and we got another few minutes to talk as we walked towards the vehicles. He thanked me again for putting the event together, for my work in Botswana, and for the things I had shared with him that day. I was able to thank him again for this opportunity.

To me, that final thank you was about so many things - about the event, about PEPFAR and being able to serve in Botswana, and about showing me the kind of person that he is. Actually experiencing all of this and realizing the disparity between Bush the politician I knew and Bush the person, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders that was there for many years. He is a great man and someone that I now admire.

Here are some highlights from the event:

This event was not only something that my NGO and the Gabane community can be proud of, but also became the sort of experience that opened us all up to new realities. It gave us the opportunity to meet President Bush and learn the type of man (not politician) that he is. He is passionate and compassionate and deeply motivated to help people around the world. It was so good for me (and for those volunteers that were able to attend) to see that in him and to be touched by it.

This has been the most remarkable experience. All of it - from applying to host to meeting the Advance Team and Secret Service Staff to preparing with the children and then the actual event. It has been a dream come true in so many ways, including getting my soul rocked. I am so blessed to have experienced it and am so grateful that I can share it with you. This Peace Corps life has been so full of glorious ups and downs and this has been the culminating effort and something I can be eternally and deeply proud of for the rest of my life.

Pictures courtesy of myself, Virginia Fall, and members of the Bush Advance Team, and Shealah Craighead/The Bush Center.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Figure it out yet?

If you're savvy enough... you just might figure it out from this post...

This is the press release issued yesterday on the United States Embassy's webpage:

"Former President George W. Bush will visit Botswana on July 5, 2012 to launch a program that will expand an important initiative related to women’s health. 

The United States Government and President Bush are pleased to join together to announce a $3 million project in Botswana to scale up an innovative program that will dramatically decrease the time needed for examination, diagnosis, and treatment of cervical cancer. 

Funded by the American people through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and supported by the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partnership, which includes many public and private sector organizations, this new effort will expand and maximize the impact of the “See and Treat” program for cervical cancer, which has already served hundreds of women in Botswana."

Everyone here is abuzz about the upcoming arrival of former President Bush. And why wouldn't they be? He has done a lot for HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa. Of particular interest is the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, which was a product of Bush's commitment to increasing US support for addressing HIV and AIDS worldwide. In fact, on top of everything else that PEPFAR finances, it is funding the work of Peace Corps Volunteers in Botswana. So, without President Bush, Peace Corps might not exist in Botswana and we would not be having this experience here today. For that alone, I am grateful. And I intend to tell him that...

*wink wink*

Monday, July 2, 2012

Preparations for HLV Event!

It is the week of my highly anticipated event with the High Level Visitors! So, as a bit of a "teaser", I wanted to share some photos I took of the children from our OVC preschool as they help prepare for the event! Enjoy!