Sunday, September 30, 2012

Guest Blogger: Tina Danzig (Mom)

My Mama with "Her Lions"
This is a "guest blog" post written by my mama, Tina. She shares all of the things that she loved about Botswana and her time here. And, I have to admit, it warmed my heart to share it with her. Mama, we are ready and waiting for you to come back! Can't wait!

"I wasn’t sure what to expect on my trip to Botswana to see Tija.  All I knew is that I was so happy and so excited to finally see her after 16 months. And knowing that I was headed there with Jena by my side made it perfect. Of course, sharing this experience with my sister Patti and dear friend Benida was incredible beyond words (obviously), but knowing that Tija, Jena, and I would be together again was so overwhelming to me. 

The trip there was LONG, uncomfortable, and felt never-ending. When we finally arrived in Botswana and were standing in the passport line, I could see Tija up ahead whenever someone opened the exit door. My heart was pounding - I could hardly stand it. When my passport was stamped, Jena looked at me and said “Mom, just go to Tija, I’ll get the luggage!”. I ran, opened the door, and finally felt Tija’s amazing hug. I was “home” in some sense of the word. It felt so good and I was so happy.

I won’t bore you with information about flights, luggage, car rentals etc., except to say, if you want something done now or right away (in Botswana), Tija quickly taught us that we have to say “now-now” (and not just “now”). This was a lesson we continued to learn throughout our amazing adventure. 

Tija’s house is beautiful and big and comfortable. I loved being there. I loved being in her village and meeting all of the people she calls both “friend” and “family”. I honestly felt that I needed more time there and at her NGO. I really did. But I am grateful for the time I had because it showed me this beautiful world she is living in.

I know Jena has covered a lot about the kids and women of Tija’s NGO, but this blog wouldn’t be complete without me echoing what Jena said. The women are amazing, loving, beautiful, caring etc. etc. And the children are so unreal, especially when you consider their circumstances. Handing out stickers and animal cookies was so much fun and they had such wonderful and happy looks on their faces. They were so cute and so grateful for everything we shared with them.

On a quick side-note, before I get too involved in the details of the trip, I want to say that the handshakes in Botswana are amazing… These greetings are different from area-to-area and all just unique and wonderful.

Early in the trip, we got to meet Bokena and Bofelo, two very special orphans from Tija’s first NGO in “Kums”. I love these children and they love Tija. Tija has talked about them in previous blog posts, but seeing them for myself, hugging them, and spending time with them was certainly one of the highlights of my trip.

I think one of the things that touched my heart so much was that the people seem to come from a place of grace and gratitude for who they are and what they have. It is so different than in America, where too many people focus on what they don’t have and what they’re unhappy about. After losing my husband, I had a shift in how I see the world and my personal gratefulness. After being in Botswana, I know I had another shift in how I perceive the/my world. I am different now. I can’t stand pettiness even more than before. I see that it’s a waste of time and energy and that it drains our souls.  

This blog post would not be complete with my sharing about the safari. I hadn’t wanted to do such a long one, I did complain about it before we went, but, in the end, I don’t think I would have traded even one minute of it. It was perfect. Our guide, Anthony, was the perfect guide for us. “My” lions (as they came to be called) were incredible. They were so beautiful and more than I could have hoped to see. Watching them sleep only five feet away from us was more than a dream come true. My only regret was that I didn’t sprinkle any of Max’s ashes with those two lions because he would have loved them and would have loved being there in the open grasslands. I swear, he even looked like them. To this day, I feel a little sad about that.

By the end of our safari, we saw the “Big 5”, plus so many more amazing animals and birds. It was unreal and unbelievable and, when I run it all back through my mind, I still can’t believe it all. Who sees three leopards? And multiple prides of lions? And baby elephants, hippos, zebras and the birds…. Amazing. Oh yes, and a herd of elephants walking through your campsite?! That was a funny story that I’ll let Patti talk about!!!

One of the other notable facts about Botswana is that there are no guns. And there is no poaching. The animals feel safe, which is why we were able to get so close to them. You still need to honor them but they don’t run from you. For example, Anthony would point out things like, “don’t cross in front of the female lions”. Anthony told us that we were 75% safe throughout the safari, but that, if we listened to him and if we comply with what he told us, the safety percentage went up.  For the most part, we listened. Although, I have to say that it’s really hard not to squeal when you see all the amazing wildlife that we saw!

And, finally, I was thrilled to have met Tija’s boyfriend Tuan. I know, I’m not allowed to fall in love with a boyfriend but this one is special and you can truly feel how much they love each other. One of my favorite moments was when we were coming back from our safari and Tuan met us at the airport. When he saw Tija walking on the tarmac from the plane, his face lit up and he started taking pictures of her. It was so sweet. 

On the subject of meeting people, it was wonderful to meet Tija’s friends - PCVs and others. Some came long distances just to meet us and I will always be grateful. She has amazing friends and a strong support group around her, which makes me so happy. I know that she is in a safe place and that I don’t have to continually worry about her. She is well taken care of. 

My Africa fund is still open and I am saving my pennies to head back there if Tija decides to extend her service for a third year. In the meanwhile, thank goodness for Internet so we can keep in touch.

Tija, thank you for showing us the most amazing time and for arranging all that we did. I love you so much. 

Love, hugs and kisses,


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Guest Blogger: Jena Danzig (Sister)

Jena in front of our safari vehicle

What follows is a "guest blog" by my sister, Jena. She discusses her trip to Botswana and her insights into the good, the different, and the happy. On a personal note, I would like to thank her for the incredibly kind words and for truly making the most of her visit. It was beyond compare.

"When I think about my time in Botswana, it's really hard to focus on one thing at a time. My mind runs through all the things we did, all the things we saw, and all of those crazy once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I had during those two amazing weeks. I guess that's why it took so long for me to write about my trip. There's just so much I could talk about.

When people asked me about my trip when I first got back, all I could really say was it was insane and such a crazy and awesome experience and, of course, it was amazing finally getting to see Tija again. I also had my two go-to stories that I told. One was about a Baboon Spider that happened to crawl into our tent while Tija and I were taking a nap. For all those people scared of spiders in the States, you haven't seen ANYTHING until you've seen a Baboon Spider under your sleeping bag! Needless to say, that freaked me out to the max. My other go-to story was about the bravest Eagle Owl mom ever. She literally fought off a Martial Eagle from her nest of baby owls right in front of us and came out victorious. That was really quite the sight to see and I think it's safe to say that I have the same chance of seeing that again as I would have of getting struck by lightening twice. Although those are fun stories to tell my friends, they don't really encompass what it is to be in Botswana and they definitely don't explain what my sister, or the other Peace Corps Volunteers, are doing.

One thing that really stuck out to me were the people of Tija's NGO. If you think you know the nicest and most caring people ever, sorry to say it, but you're wrong. (Unless, of course, you know these women.) When I walked into the NGO, I saw a sea of smiling faces on some of the most beautiful kids I have ever seen. Then Tija says to us, "All of these kids are orphans, whose parents or guardians have passed away, mostly from AIDS." I felt my heart drop to the ground and break into a million pieces. All I wanted to do was take all 42 of those kids home with me but then, looking at the women of the NGO, I knew they were in good hands right where they were. They all got up and sang us songs and were insanely happy when we gave them stickers. They immediately began trading their stickers and putting them all over their faces. My mom had also brought a bunch of supplies for the women of the NGO and, at that moment, they were the happiest and most grateful people on earth. These women have dedicated their lives to helping these kids, teaching them, feeding them, and just making them happy.

Thinking about the time we spent at the NGO, I can't even imagine seeing all those faces every day, knowing what those kids have been through. This is what my sister does every day, among many other things. She gets up, goes into the NGO, and puts a smile on every one of those kids' faces. I can't think of anything more heartbreaking to do on a daily basis, but I also can't think of anything more rewarding. She doesn't only bring happiness to those kids though; she's also built a family at the NGO with everyone that works there. From the women who run the NGO, all of the Volunteers, and to every single cook, she has established amazing relationships with everyone. Seeing that made me extremely happy because that meant when I left she still had people there that love her and treat her as their own family. I don't know how to put it into words but the feeling of knowing my sister has such a great group of people surrounding her made me feel MUCH better about her being half a world away.

On a much lighter note, I definitely want to mention the shower situation over in Botswana because that was a source of struggle for me. First of all, Tija has a geyser at her house that she has to turn on for two hours (during the winter) to warm enough water for a bath. This geyser works well enough to heat up about five inches deep of water in her tub. This means that to bathe, you have to basically lay down in the tub and pretty much splash water on yourself. The first day there, I was the second person to bathe. We let the geyser re-heat after the first bath for about 45 minutes. Lets just say it was less than awesome... it was cold, shallow, and NOT what I was used to at home at all.

Then there's showering in the bush while on safari. This was done with a bucket of "hippo water" that was warmed up over a fire. At first I thought it was amazing because I was actually standing up and the water was warm. Unfortunately, after my shower, I smelled like hippo water.

Then there are the outdoor showers at the backpackers hostels. Those are not freezing but I wouldn't call them warm either. At least they're stand-up showers though, which I found out are not very common over there.

Then there's Tija's friend Jeremy. Jeremy walks to a water spicket in the middle of his village, fills up a bucket of water, and walks it back to his larger bucket at home and bathes in that. That's when I found out that Tija's five inches of warm water in a real tub were actually pretty amazing.

Finally, after six days in the bush, we arrived at a really cute chalet. They had stand-up showers with... HOT WATER! That was literally the best shower of my life and I don't think any shower will ever come close to beating that.

Going to Botswana was really the most amazing, crazy, eye-opening, and just all-around outrageous trip that I have ever and will ever go on. I commend Tija, and all the other Peace Corps Volunteers that are over there, for what they are doing. They are in a world completely different from what they have grown accustomed to and have turned Botswana into their homes, have grown to love their lives there no matter how little they have, and are helping change and better the lives of the Batswana that have become their neighbors, friends, and family.

Looking back, I really can't believe all that I saw and experiences and the genuine goodness of the people in Botswana. I loved every second of this trip (minus the day with the Baboon Spider in my tent) and am so happy knowing that Tija has made a real life over there. I truly believe what she's doing is actually making a difference in the lives of many people. I still can't wait for her to come home but at least now I have seen her world and that makes me feel like I'm not so far away anymore."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Office Supplies

When my family came to visit, my mom brought with her a ton of office supplies to donate to my NGO. Things she brought included: pens, paper and binder clips, a stapler, scissors, a printer cable, and highlighters (among others). The ladies from my NGO were ecstatic! They took inventory of everything, sing-songing their names and trying a sampling of the new supplies out along the way. It was a supply-lover's dream.

Since then, every so often one of the ladies will call me over and ask what something is. Of particular note were the highlighters. One afternoon, I noticed the Center Coordinator laboriously underlining (with a ruler no less) a portion of a document that was needed to complete a report. I went and grabbed one of our new highlighters and brought it to her. She looked at me puzzled and asked what to do with it. She let out the biggest and loudest squeal I have ever heard when I started highlighting the paragraph she had previously been underlining. She then said she had never seen a highlighter before and was curious as to what it was when they were going though the supplies initially. She was beyond excited. I have since seen her using the highlighter in ways reminiscent of a high school AP History student - highlighting literally everything!

After realizing that the staff didn't know what all the supplies were, despite their not saying it, I have gone through every single item with them and shown them its use. They were flabbergasted and amazed that so many contraptions exist. Smiles literally beaming off of their faces.

Today we finalized a huge report we were submitting to a funder. We had stapled the different packets and I put an old paper clip I found on the desk on the entire bundle to hold it together. I left the packaged report and went to have a quick meeting before going to deliver it. When I returned, the ladies had replaced the paper clip with a binder clip and had used a variety of other supplies to really spruce it up. When I mentioned how great the report looked and how proud I was to go with them to submit it, they grinned and mentioned the new supplies and how they were able to use them. It was a simple moment but one that I was really happy to be a part of. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What's In A Name: "Posh Corps"

My friend and fellow Bots 10 wrote a piece for Peace Corps Botswana's latest newsletter that she entitled "What's In A Name". It resonated with me because of its astuteness and clarity in a way that I thought needed to be shared.

To see her post, click here: What's in a Name

For easier access, however, her post is as follows:

"Before joining Peace Corps many of us believed the brochures, expecting mud huts and dinner by moonlight. Those of us invited to Botswana were told we were lucky to be in the ‘posh corps.’ Even from my homestay experience I recognized that many families opt for a satellite dish for their TV before they install running water in the home. I remember thinking why deny yourself when your neighbor enjoys the modern conveniences of running water and electricity, watching soap operas every single night and blasting the radio on Saturday mornings? The question is: does the availability of these amenities make the experience any less challenging or any less of a “Peace Corps experience?”

Some Volunteers live with the beloved “air-con” in a relatively modern apartment or house, but what about those living the ‘old’ Peace Corps experience in a traditional round house and making the trek to the pit latrine at all hours. There are even some Volunteers living without electricity entirely, often in the context of a village with only a few compounds connected to power. Some opted for these living situations and others simply acquiesced. Are they any more of a Volunteer because of their deviation from modern conveniences and willingness to adapt? Even if they live without them day-to-day, they may occasionally enjoy an episode of 30 Rock on their Mac, powered by the juice borrowed from the local clinic earlier that day, all the while eating their rice and tomato sauce dinner by candlelight. Or they may travel to another Volunteer’s site for the weekend to take a nice bath and charge up all electronic devices. I have both electricity and running water with a flush toilet in my house. I have often wished I had neither simply because the wiring is so terrible and the water supply so unreliable that I’d rather learn to live without than have to live with unannounced outages. When water was out for seven days, believe me, the flush toilet was a curse!

Whether you have these amenities or not, you may have the friend who has the latrine and have spent the holiday in a teeny village bordering the bush without electricity, inevitably learning what it is like to live in these varying conditions, adapting to the circumstances or learning to live without. One Volunteer put it to me like this: “When you go visit your Volunteer friends you immediately learn three things about their place: how to flush the toilet, how to get water, and how to bath yourself.” These few words could not be more true. Who knew that there could be so much versatility to your lifestyle within the course of a month? The key to this revelation is the ability to adapt. There is so much variation in the conveniences and difficulties in each village and at each person’s site so whether first-hand, vicariously or temporarily we all experience these conditions.

The reality is that we adapt whether we have these conveniences or not and that has been the common Peace Corps experience through 50 years of service. While the accessibility to things like running water define our daily life in terms of stocking water and washing dishes, it is surprising how quickly those behaviors become mindlessly routine, even normal. One thing that I’ve learned in my service is that your Peace Corps experience becomes less defined by how well you fulfill some 50-year-old stereotype and more about how you find a contentment both in your home and in your community, with the people you work with and the people you socialize with. When you do, all of those seeming amenities fade into the periphery. The truth it may be easier to live without water than it is to find a capable and willing counterpart for a project. It’s may be easier to live without electricity than to get accustomed to the stares on combi rides and the incessant “lekgoa!” resounding from some indiscriminate location.  

While Botswana is an anomaly in its relative wealth to other Peace Corps countries, the notion of being flexible remains, applicable around the globe and across the board. It is this flexibility and learning to make a home in the unfamiliar territory and a friend in the sea of strangers that brings together a common experience for all Volunteers at all levels of development." --Virginia Fall

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Eat Your Veggies

Yesterday afternoon we were doing an English lesson at my NGO for the "older kids" (5- and 6-years-old) where we showed them common vegetables - onions, butternut squash, tomatoes, green peppers, carrots, potatoes - with the intention of teaching them the English words. What we discovered instead was that the children did not even know the Setswana words for the vegetables. I asked the Head Teacher in charge of the lesson about this and she said that she expected this and that it is a big problem, especially for this demographic (orphans and vulnerable children), because no one has ever told them or, in some instances, they have never seen these vegetables before so they just don't know. It struck me as very sad that these children cannot identify the foods they eat (at least when fed at my NGO). How could a parent or caregiver never tell them what they are eating? Or, worse yet, how could they have never seen these very common vegetables? I am not sure if it is because so many of them are orphaned or because the parents/caregivers are too busy or preoccupied to spend the time to teach them but there is obviously a disconnect and the children are suffering as a result. I mean, growing up I remember my mother telling me to "eat your veggies" and who could forget the "Veggie Tales" with their goofy animated vegetables. It is a part of growing up in America and something we obviously take for granted - at least I did. I was truly struck by this. There is a moral in here and something bigger to be learned but, for now, I am just going to try and help these children learn... and maybe give them some extra veggies.

Effort Breeds Success: A Computer Class Update

It has been a long time since I have mentioned my computer class but I thought, after an unprecedented class today, that I should share.

This week we were working on typing actual documents. This is a step up from the usual typing tutor programs and practice sheets we have been doing. The way I set up today's session was that I sat with each person yesterday and we hand-wrote a letter or worksheet that they needed for a project they were doing. The type of document we were going to create obviously depends on what they are working on or the nature of their individual work but all was actual things that needed to be completed. Basically, we were "scaling up" the quality by learning how then finalizing the work on the computer (which could now be printed on-site because my Mom brought the necessary cables that we were missing before - thank you Mom!).

Each person who signed up for today's class (three people) signed up for time slots so I could work with them individually. The first slot was at 11:30am, the second at 12:30, and the final at 1:30. That gave me an hour with each person to show them the formatting (since this was their first time working without a template) and help them through the process. Here is where things to a turn for the exciting...

I sat down with the first person and she informed me as she turned on the computer that she had studied the reference material I made and wanted to show me without guidance (unless, of course, she got stuck along the way). She was able to go through the entire sequence - opening Word, changing alignments and font and the like - without my saying a word! We were done within 30 minutes with huge smiles on our faces!

To my surprise, the second person was already at the center with her hand-written document ready to be transferred to the computer! She was early! This was a historic day, as finding someone that "keeps time" is difficult to say the least, let alone e-a-r-l-y! We sat down and worked through her document - an Excel sheet - with relative easy considering its complexity. Her being ahead of schedule even allowed us to go over a few other things that I hadn't showed her before. She stayed beyond her session to practice.

Finally, the last person showed up for her session. She had a goofy grin on her face and told me that she was very proud of herself. She opened up the "My Documents" folder and proceeded to her individual folder when I went to correct her that we were starting a new document and needed to open Word first. She ignored me, giggled, and continued on. Double click and up comes a Word file with a completed document. I looked in surprise and saw that she had already finished typing up her document intended for today's session! I was speechless. She went on to tell me that she came in to the office early today because she was eager to try the exercise and that she decided to be brave and try it. She confessed to needing to use the reference material a lot (which I explained is why it's there) but that she was able to do it!

Three computer sessions, three different students, one unbelievable result. They have gotten to the point where they are able to do the work themselves. Yes, they often get nervous and lack confidence in their abilities but they are there - they can do it. And what's more is they are motivated to learn and grow (and be on time). I was quite literally exploding with happiness and so proud of them for their accomplishments and for the effort they put forth. This is a Peace Corps win in my book.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Every Day A Different Path

When I moved to my new house, I resolved to take a different path every day so that I could learn my village and the community just a bit better. This has meant that I have spent a lot of my travel time turned around and pretty lost but it has also meant that I have said dumela to a lot of new people and have asked directions of many (often getting a new walking buddy en route) and have found treasures that I never knew existed. I know my village infinitely better and have made many friends along the way. Like Robert Frost said, "I took the one less traveled by, that has made all the difference."