|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."