Thursday, December 27, 2012

Life of Pi: A Quote and an Identity Shift

In honor of having finally read Life of Pi this year, and heading out to see the film later today, I decided to share a quote from the book that has continued to resonate with me...

“It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names.” 

My name in Setswana, as I have mentioned in my blog before, is Kamogelo. That is as much a part of my identity now as being Tija. Or being American. Or having curly hair. Had you asked me when I first arrived in Botswana if I would identify so much with this new name as I do now, I would have said a resounding no. But now, after nearly two years here, it is a part of me, just as the people that I have met and who have profoundly changed me. I will always be Tija but now I will proudly carry Kamogelo with me for the rest of my days.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmukkah in Botswana

This year I had a very special Christmas and Hanukkah. This was primarily because of my incredible boyfriend, who orchestrated some of the sweetest acts and set out to ensure that joy and fun and all that is merry came true throughout the festive season. (Insert "awww" here. It's deserved.)

I was away on a trip to the Okavango Delta for the first two nights of Hanukkah. I was sad to miss them but decided that a once-in-a-lifetime trip with a couple dozen of my friends was well worth it so I headed north.

Early in the morning on day three of Hanukkah, I began the trek homeward. My boyfriend picked me up from an arbitrary bus stop along the way and seemed giddy beyond what would be normal for seeing me (not that I complained). We had agreed to celebrate Hanukkah together (his first ever!) but I assumed my Humanist boyfriend could not be harboring such excitement over Hanukkah... could he? The answer is YES. Whole-heartedly yes.

When we got home, he rushed to the tree (yes, we had a Christmas tree) and pulled out some presents. He was basically jumping up and down. His excitement made me boil over too. Then I looked at the presents and saw little hand-written cards with quotes and riddles on them and with little pictures in the upper corner of a menorah with lit candles that corresponded to the day. This first present was from the first night of Hanukkah (one lit candle) and the one beneath it the second (two candles). He then told me that he learned the prayers and lit candles for us for the two nights that I had missed. I was speechless. All my words were replaced with feelings of love and surprise. How adorable of a man is he?! I kept thinking. I hugged him and hugged him and couldn't stop smiling. My boyfriend celebrated Hanukkah even in my absence and he went a thousand extra miles to make sure this year's was sweet and special, just like him.

For the next six nights, we lit candles together and opened presents - each one better than the next. I saved his cards and re-read them every day. I taught him a little about the holiday and he practiced the prayers until he got them just right (even my dad's prayer). I hadn't expected this. It was the most precious thing and one of my favorite Hanukkah's to date.

On the last night of Hanukkah, my boyfriend, his sister, and I jumped into the car and drove three hours south to Rustenburg, South Africa for some high-intensity Christmas shopping, some McDonalds, and to watch The Hobbit in 3D. It was a ridiculous roadtrip but extremely entertaining all the while. We had a lot of laughs and missions were definitely accomplished. The car came home packed to the brim with gifts and our tummies with cheeseburgers.

And, finally, the time came for the Christmas holiday. We had planned to go to Mozambique for Christmas and New Years but had a change of heart and decided to spend the holidays with my boyfriend's family in his home village of Mahalapye. This was the first Christmas he would spend with his family since 2008, made even more special because his father would be coming from Malaysia (where he and his wife, my boyfriend's stepmom, live). There would be many of us there to celebrate and I was promised lots of food, fun, and family. I was definitely not disappointed!

We were greeted by my boyfriend's mom, dad (stepdad), sister, sister's boyfriend, aunts, uncles, cousins, and a farm-full of animals. It felt like a homecoming of sorts - encapsulated by excitement and enthusiasm and a little joyful nervousness. We spent the evening decorating the Christmas tree, baking, and finishing wrapping presents. There was a penetrable warmth to it (and not just because it was so so hot out). 

The following days were spent doing so many fun things with my boyfriend and his family. Of the highlights were hiking a hill overlooking the village and seeing volcanic rock, gathering pottery pieces from spring hare holes, hunting for quartz crystals with my Indiana Jones-like boyfriend, and playing with the animals on the farm (especially feeding the pigs!). Here are some photographs of the fun:

And, of course, there was Christmas day with the family. Opening presents, particularly watching the faces of the two youngest (Thalia and Learnmore) light up with every gift they received. It was magical and brought me back to a time when I was also as excited about a nerd candy rope. Not going to lie, it's a beautiful place to find yourself. Christmas day also included more food than any one person could possibly eat (including an entire table of savory snacks and a table of treats that held cookies I helped decorate and the traditional Christmas Cake that my boyfriend and I were prized with adorning this year). 

It was a wonderful month-long holiday spectacular. Truly, honestly, and really. It contained all the key components of the most magical of holidays. It had joy and surprise and fun and adventure and love and family. I am so grateful to this amazing man in my life for orchestrating it and for making the season just a little happier, especially since I had to spend it so far from home. (But at least I got to chat with my mom and sister ample times throughout the holiday! YAY!) And, if I'm being candid, it was one of the first fully happy Christmas season I've had since losing my dad. For that, I'm eternally grateful. Once again, hooray for happy holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2012

"The End of the World"

Today, 21 December 2012, was supposed to be the end of the world. Or at least that was the clamor back in the states. This "Doomsday" was hardly spoken of in Botswana and life continued as normal. Why? Why didn't the Batswana prepare? Store food and water and fret away in their homes like their counterparts in America? Well, probably, as Mental Floss (an online website that boasts it is "the place where knowledge junkies get their fix") states, the Mayan calendar actually continues for 70 octillion years beyond today. They site David Stuart, a professor of Mesoamerican art at the University of Texas at Austin, in stating that Westerners are the ones who came up with the doomsday theory. "'The Maya never said anything about the end of the world or anything about a great change in the universe on that date,' Stuart said." So there you have it folks! And, if you don't believe that guy, take it from me... I'm alive and well on 12/21/12! So good for you if you hoarded and saved because now you have extra stuff to share with those less fortunate this holiday season. And hip hip hooooooray for the world not undergoing any massive devastation (outside the norm... war, famine, and the like) because this means we all get to go on living another day. Lets make the most of our "extra" time... hug someone today and tomorrow and the next day... you get the point! Happy day!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Deep in the heart of Africa"

The other day, I went to see a film with my boyfriend. We were just settling in with our popcorn and astros when a preview for the new movie "Zambezia" came on. (Zambezia... as in the Zambezi River in Southern Africa... as in right where I am.) The trailer opens with this line: "Far away, deep in the heart of Africa". I turned to my beloved and asked him what he thinks, as an African, when he hears things like this. He chuckled that all-encompassing chuckle when you already know the answer. He then said that he is used to it but that he thinks it sets a bad image for Africa as a continent and that the West is trying to maintain only the mystery of Africa. He thinks this is actually detrimental and a hindrance to progress here. And, honestly, I agree.

Having lived in Southern Africa for nearly two years now, I can say that the things we think of when we hear "Africa" - this ridiculously huge continent - a mystery and breed intrigue to the West exist and definitely deserve this sort of recognition. I have been told not to walk around at night because lions come in from the bush and a leisurely day on the river is peppered with the potential for hippos to lunge at you from beneath the water's surface. "Wild Africa" is real. But there is another side of it too. One that is almost exactly like life back home with big cities, high fashion, tasty restaurants, shopping malls, and air conditioned movie theaters (like the one I saw this trailer in). This almost always gets left out in the tales of Africa. Maybe if it was mentioned, people would see the potential here and come take a visit or invest or *gasp* create a life here.

But, truly, have you ever heard a movie open with "deep in the heart of the plain-lands in America" or "somewhere in the mountains of America"? No, they just show you open fields or high peaks... and then usually cut to bustling cities. Think about it. This is my PSA from "deep in the heart of Africa"...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Anecdotes for Animals (Hippo Edition)

I have been on more than my fair share of game drives. On each of these game drives, the guides share tidbits of information on the wildlife. I soak this up. Combine that with the fact that I have read and researched about all of the animals that inhabit Botswana and what you're left with is a person that could practically lead the wilderness tours herself. Yes, I am a "Botswana animals trivia nerd" and I'm not afraid to say it. This ridiculous and somewhat excessive knowledge has made me an asset on game drives, especially for those patrons who sit in the back of the vehicles and can't hear the guide properly, and hopefully in quiz nights of the future.

Last weekend, I went on a mini trip up to the Okavango Delta. We spent time on the water and surveying a number of small islands. During a nature walk, our guide told me a new and particularly entertaining anecdote about hippos that I am going to add to my repertoire, in the event that I do decide to become a guide myself... it goes like this:

"A long long time ago, when God was creating all the animals, he made the hippopotamus as an animal of the forests and plains. But the hippo was greedy and, finding plenty of food all around him and no enemies to worry about, he grew fatter and fatter and fatter. The hippo became so fat that he had great difficulty waddling down to the river for his daily drink. This caused the hippo to become envious of all the fishes that swam in the cool water and he wanted to be among them.

The hippo then went to God and asked if he could leave the land to bask in the glory of the water. God, upon hearing the request, said that the fish were very dear and that he was worried the hippo would take its great eating habits and begin to eat the fish until there wouldn't be any left. Although the hippo promised not to eat any of the fish, God untrustingly declared that the hippo must continue living on the lands.

After some time of watching the poor hippo baking in the hot hot sun, his heart softened and God went to the hippo and told him that he would allow him to live in the water if the hippo could prove that he wasn't eating the fish. The hippo then declared that he would lie in the cool of the water by day and then, each night, he would return to the land and scatter his dung on the earth with his tail so that God could see everything that the hippo had eaten and see for himself that there were no fish bones. God believed this would be proof enough that the hippo was eating only grass found on the river banks and allowed the hippo to relax in the waters during all of its days.

So, this is the way, to this very day, that the hippopotamus comes out of the water to scatter its dung as it looks to the heavens and says 'Look God, no fishes!'"

Friday, December 14, 2012

Happy Holidays from Mr. President

I know it's a form letter sent to Peace Corps Volunteers worldwide, but I don't mind. It still feels good to be acknowledged by the President. Happy holidays to you too Mr. President. And thank you!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Okavango Delta Mini-Vacation

If you travel by bus for 17 hours northwest of the desert-land where I live, this is what you see...

These are the types of animals you can view...

And this is the kind of antics you can get up to...

This is exactly what we did. Four days on the water (watching out for hippos and "hunting" crocodiles), camping, going on nature walks, drinking and braai'ing, and having a ridiculously good time. The Okavango Delta rocks my socks! I love Peace Corps and my fellow PCVs. Simply the best.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Between hello and goodbye is I love you"

This morning one of my dear friends left Botswana. It was a sad day for me. This is a marked loss since she is someone I grew very close to over the past year. It was also a day for rejoicing (which may have to come much much later after the tears have dried up) because this is the start of something very exciting for her. My friend came to Botswana from Ireland to gain experience in her chosen career path and to have an adventure. Two years later, she has achieved both and is going back to Ireland with an offer for her dream job and with a lifetime of memories. I am so proud of her and all that she accomplished here and I will forever be grateful for her friendship. Having her in my life has made my time here all the more special and has eternally enriched my life. So, today, I shed a few tears for my loss but also toast to her achievements and the knowledge that I have gained a lifelong friend. Ali, my dear, you will be missed. Until we meet again... I love you friend!