Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Botswana!

Another Botswana Christmas spent with the Monks/van Dyk clan!


From all of us to you, stay warm over there in the polar vortex! And we'll try to thwart off heat stroke in this 110 degree weather! Oh the difference 9,000 miles makes...

MERRY CHRISTMAS!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Homesickness

I don't often express feelings of homesickness. Perhaps this is because I have felt so blessed to be in Botswana and to be doing the work I am able to do here so it seemed petty to talk about being homesick. After all, I signed up for this, I even extended my contract to stay, so any longing for home is of my own making. But today I feel like sharing that homesickness does not evade me, even if I rarely mention it.

So why am I choosing to talk about it now? In part for future Peace Corps Volunteers so they know it is normal to feel homesick. Even if you love your life, as I do, there will be days when you miss home and that is okay. In part for posterity. This blog is a documentary of my experience in Botswana and homesickness is part of that tale. And, finally, in part to explain a few things that I have been mulling over these passed months...

During Pre-Service Training (PST), we tell trainees that it's important to live firmly in this world and to avoid trying to straddle two places at once. Basically, we tell them that it will be important to detach somewhat from their lives in America and to start forging strong connections in their host country. This really is an effective method because it helps ground you - you gain strength and independence, you push yourself, and you bond with your cohort. Your cohort will be the people that genuinely understand what you are going through and will be your sounding board, your shoulder to lean on, and your loudest fans since they understand the value of even small successes. Not to mention, your cohort is in the same time zone as you are so it makes talking to them all the easier!

So what happens when your cohort goes home? This is exactly what happens when you extend your service - your biggest support system in country, the people that you grew to love and respect and see as your allies in Peace Corps, are no longer there. That is trying on a psyche. You have to learn how to navigate this experience in a new way. While you remain deeply grateful to everyone that has remained an active part of your extension year, you become increasingly aware of the distance and, surprisingly, to the fact that people are moving forward in their lives. Looking at the photos your cohort uploads is different now since they no longer resemble your own - pictures of small children are replaced with new pets and hiking spots. You are happy for them, just as you were happy for the friends you left before, but there's a new sting to it.

And what happens when you allow yourself to start looking ahead to jobs and returning home because that actual date starts looming ever closer? Well, you stop heeding the advice of fifty-one years of Peace Corps Volunteers before you and start straddling two worlds again. As you're roasting away in over 100 degree weather, you daydream about snowboarding and snowmen and snow days. As you spend quiet nights at home with a book or your favorite new television show (The Newsroom), you also tab through photographs from three and four years ago with friends who don't even live in that town anymore and think about how great those times were (even if you know they wouldn't be the same today). You allow yourself to miss things and you lose focus on all of the greatness of living and working abroad. In a country that you love, no less.

This is where I sit today, pondering all those things as I watch the rains clear from outside my window. The sun is shining and there is beauty all around me.

Somehow even just typing this has been cathartic. It has reminded me that I have a conscious choice about my own happiness and my own thoughts. And this is the cycle of a Peace Corps Volunteer and of a development worker living abroad. It is a constant rededication to the cause and to yourself. It is important not to forget where you come from because that is where you gained the power and strength of conviction to come this far. Being homesick means you had a life that was worth longing for. That is something to be grateful for and to be embraced. What matters most is how you move forward. I have six months left of my extension contract and I intend to focus on Botswana - on the work and on life - so that, one day, when my mind wanders back here, I will be homesick for this country too.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

PULA! (Poo-Lah!)

Finally, after months and months of waiting, the rains have come! They started early in the morning yesterday and continued throughout the night and all day today. As you can see by the picture, taken from my bedroom window, there is even rain water buildup, meaning that the ground is saturated and we are well on our way to filling up the dam! Yes, I do realize that may be an optimistic statement but I am a "glass half full" kind of gal and I am positive that the rains will continue for the days to come... In the meantime, the skinny, hungry, and dilapidated animals are lapping up water from the puddles and we are all watching as the plants turn green before our eyes. This is cause for celebration. It is amazing what a little rain can do! PULA!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Rising To The Occasion: Interview Time

Wednesday night, after watching Eat, Pray, Love for the thousandth time since being in Botswana (which I watched in an effort to be inspired and motivated for my interview with Peace Corps Headquarters), I started getting stomach pains. And not your normal stomach pain either. This was absolutely diabolical. Gut-wrenching, shooting pains that made me keel over. As the pain started making me feel like projectile vomit was inevitable, I started making routine rounds to the bathroom. This continued all through the night and well into the morning...

...into the morning of my big on camera interview for Peace Corps' new recruitment and marketing videos. Of course.

In the hours before the interview, I was so exhausted and in so much pain that I couldn't help but cry. Why now? I have been sick only a handful of times since moving to Botswana and, even then, nothing compared to this - the stomach flu. It may very well be the worst of the icky-sicknesses. My body's timing was wretched. But my will-power was going to have to win out this time. It had to.

I somehow managed to rip myself away from my spot next to the toilet bowl long enough to take a shower and put on some makeup (being sure to apply a little extra blush to offset the whiteness in my face). I talked to my mom and my sister one last time on instant messenger and gave myself a pep-talk that included "DO NOT PUKE ON THE INTERVIEWERS" and "you can do this" before collecting my things and making my way (very slowly) towards the combi stop.

Despite waiting for a combi with an open front seat so I could sit by a window, the ride to where we were meeting seemed to drag on. Deep breaths. I arrived about fifteen minutes ahead of schedule - enough time, I reasoned, to make one last dash to the bathroom (in case I became a pukey face again) then to fix my makeup, change my shoes, and be ready to impress. Deep breath.

I was miserable. But I was there.

And, to my surprise, people were complimenting me on how great I looked! It's amazing how much a little makeup, a good outfit, and a fake smile can do!

I sat and meditated while I waited for the communications team from headquarters to arrive. I mentally went over the interview questions they sent a few days prior and I told myself over and over and over again that I could get through this. Deep breaths were my friend and an active mind was my distraction from the shooting pain in my stomach.

Before long, we were making our way to a conference room, where the interview would be held. I made small talk with the communications team, who were two of the most lovely people I have met in a long time. I instantly took a liking to them. So, of course, I over-shared about my stomach flu and they, in turn, shared their mineral water. This proved to be a gift in the hour ahead. As they finished setting up the camera, they told me about the goals for this filming and the ways in which the footage would be used. And then we were off! Lights, camera, ACTION!

I am not entirely sure of everything I said over the course of the next hour and a half but the communications team assured me that I did a great job and that they got a lot of usable material from my interview. The lead interviewer went so far as to say I gave them the exact responses they had hoped for when they set out for Southern Africa. And, to be honest, they seemed genuinely interested in everything I had to share (to the point of continuing the conversation well after the camera stopped rolling).

I had done it. I beat the stomach flu and successfully made it to my interview! (I toppled over shortly after.)

Someone on the Peace Corps staff took pity on my poor aching self and drove me home after the interview. For the next twenty-four hours, all I did was sleep and drink rehydration salts.

Rise to the occasion. Mind over matter. Make it happen. Lessons that played out for this interview - and in life.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Headquarters Makes A New Recruitment Video

In September, before the United States government shutdown, I was approached by our post's Country Director asking if I would be willing to be interviewed on camera by Peace Corps Headquarters. They were coming to Botswana (and Lesotho and South Africa) to film volunteers for a new recruitment video and he had recommended me as a person that exemplifies the ideals of Peace Corps service. I was honored and accepted the invitation. But, due to the shutdown, the media team from HQ was unable to travel to Southern Africa and the project was suspended indefinitely.

While having my morning coffee today, I opened up my email to see one entitled "Communications Video, Photo Asset Collection Trip". As I looked closer and began reading through the message's content, I realized the new recruitment video project was being rekindled and the team was still interested in interviewing me for it. I responded to the email to inquire further about details of the trip, as they were not expressly mentioned. I received a quick response: The team will arrive on Wednesday, December 4th (tomorrow) and would like to film me on the 5th as I lead a training session and then do my interview directly afterwards. That is in two days - talk about short notice!

So, ladies and gentlemen, I am now frantically answering pages and pages of questions they have forwarded me and mentally going through my closet for the perfect "on camera outfit"... This girl is going to be on the official Peace Corps recruitment video!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Officially Saying Goodbye To GCHBC (Protocol Observed)

Apparently, even going away parties operate on "African Time" in Botswana so it is a darn good thing that I stuck around for a third year or they would have needed to have it without me! Nearly six months to the day since I moved out of Gabane, I was honored with a very special "Farewell Kamogelo" event at Gabane Community Home-Based Care.

Let me set the stage...

The event, which was held at the center, was attended by the GCHBC staff and board, the home-based care volunteers, the District AIDS Coordinator, district counsellors, the village chief (Kgosi), clinic and health post staff, community members, and a number of people I worked with on various projects. While everyone showed up on time (a huge feat), the event still started nearly two hours late. Conversation filled the time, though, so it went by as if only a moment passed. The room was overflowing with smiles, laughter, song, and dance. The smell of my favorite Setswana dishes traveled out of the kitchen (with happy cooks exclaiming that the vegetables were from the garden we built, a fact they knew would make me exceedingly happy). And the tables were covered with shiny linens in white and purple, expertly ruffled so it looked like flower blossoms adorned them. The atmosphere was stunning and the energy nearly took my breath away.

The event had a formal component, where I sat at the head table and heart-felt speeches were given. Among them was a speech given by the center's coordinator, Mma Leburu. She spoke first in Setswana and then repeated in English, making sure I heard her words. Her oration brought tears to my eyes. She talked about the challenges we overcame, the work we did, and the skills they now have. She had people from the audience stand in acknowledgement as she told stories about projects I had worked on. For instance, the family we built the home for, children and all, stood as she talked about that effort and the School Heads from the primary schools when we discussed my ongoing caregiver training and support project. As they stood, they blew kisses and bowed in my direction. I couldn't help but tear up at this gesture. Compliments were paid to me that humbled me beyond compare. And then, perhaps the best compliment was made to me as Mma Leburu said:
"Kamogelo, you never judged us or looked down on us for our lack of education or experience. You just held our hand and believed in us. Because of you, because of your kindess, and because of your love, we now see in ourselves everything that you always told us we were. You were our gift. We love you."
And, with that, ululations exploded from the crowd, I burst into tears, and I lept out of my chair and ran over to Mma Leburu and hugged her a half dozen times before walking throughout the room to give hugs to everyone there.

While I finished handing out my hugs, everyone began to sing and wave and point at me. The lyrics to the song, which were exceptionally poignant, were (translated from Setswana): "Go well my lady, go well, but don't every forget us!" As they sang, I kept thinking, How could I ever forget these people?!

During their song, Sebina (my counterpart and one of the staff from the center) slowly brought a giant wrapped present over to me. The moment she laid it on the table, she began to unwrap it, too excited to wait on me. As the hand-decorated brown paper fell to the side, pottery was revealed! It was an entire tea set made by my friends at the Pelegano pottery place! A tea pot, six cups and saucers, a sugar pot, and a milk pitcher! As I gasp with surprise and awe (since this was a set that I had looked at purchasing for some time), Sebina whispered "I know you love this. It matches the big coffee mugs you already have. I remembered!" And then she smiled ear-to-ear as I jumped around thanking everyone for their generosity.

Moments later, Sebina was handing me another gift, which was just from her with a note attached to it. While the gift was beautiful (a red vase), the note was exponentially more special. I hugged her again to let her know how much it meant to me and, as I did, she said "I will never forget your hugs." So I hugged her again.

The entire day was a reminder about all the things that made my Peace Corps service so special - these ladies, this community, and our relationship. This was what my service was about and no one can ever take that away from us. It is something I will never forget. And now it is something that I know they will never forget either. It brought so much joy to me to have that closure with them and the acknowledgement of everything we shared. I kept thinking about how lucky I was to still be in the country to have this time together and this experience, and I wondered how many volunteers never get the chance for this. After all, I "should have" been gone six months ago... So, to those who left without a party or without hearing these words, I hope you know that your service mattered and you inevitably touched people beyond recognition. Sometimes it just takes them a little while to sort through it all and find the words. Two years just isn't enough.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Virtues Project Workshop A Success!

Buddha said: "Just as treasures are uncoverd from earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue." It was with this sentiment in mind that a team of us brought The Virtues Project to Botswana to host its very first skills workshop (which I discussed in an earlier post).

I am very proud to announce that the workshop, which was held earlier this week, was a huge success! Nearly sixty people were trained on the Five Strategies of The Virtues Project, which emphasize love, patience, and compassion. The material, which was geared at educators in rural Africa, provided a fresh way to work with children and youth and offered new ways to address the key issues of punishment, boundaries, and relationship-building. All of these being vital to growth and progress when working with this demographic, and issues that need to be refocused in Botswana specifically.

Positive feedback from all participants gives us confidence that the lessons will be implemented across the country. Acclaim for the workshop came from Peace Corps Volunteer participants who work in youth development, primarily within the school system, and from their host country counterparts: "A lot of us wanted to bring these methods to our schools but didn't know how. This is a great way to do that. Even better, my counterpart liked [the training] too!"

I want to congratulate everyone that was part of the team that brought this workshop to Botswana and thank all participants for their willingness to examine a new approach to these issues. I was honored to be a part of this workshop and hope it's something that will continue on in the years to come... And I know the teachers I spoke with afterwards would too!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Movember: A Global Movement

This is my boyfriend. No, he doesn't always look like he just stepped off the set of Super Troopers. But each November, however, the facial hair makes a very special return in honor of a very important cause, dubbed "Movember".

As an official global charity, Movember’s vision is "to have an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health [quite literally]. During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of millions of moustaches on men's faces around the world. Through the power of the Mo, vital funds and awareness are raised to combat prostate and testicular cancer and mental health challenges." The Mo isn't just for hipsters anymore - it's a revolution!

Although renowned in much of the developed world, Movember (and awareness of health issues like those it addresses) is still relatively new in Botswana. The Movember movement has, however, made huge strides over the last two years. There are now national events and people are finally starting to take notice (and grow their own mo!). 

This is a significant event and one that, we hope, will help men take more ownership over their own health. For Botswana, this extends beyond those health issues specifically addressed with Movember. Issues like HIV testing (which men often leave up to their female partners) are also encompassed in this movement. So, for those of us working in public health in Botswana, Movember is the perfect outlet to encourage men to discuss their health and learn how to protect themselves.

If you would like to learn more about Movember efforts in Southern Africa or support my boyfriend's mo, please visit this link: http://za.movember.com/mospace/6439521

If nothing else, grow your own mo and support this great cause! Look, even I'm doing it! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Endless Water Saga: A Desert-Dweller's Dilemma


This is a picture of the Gaborone dam on the 1st of November. As you can see, it isn't much to look at these days. In fact, the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) stated that the dam is at about 14% (although this photograph begs to differ). Of the four dams in this area, half are already completely dried up. This equates to the southern half of the country having mere weeks of water left. When a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer asked someone in her village what happens next, the response was: "we die."

Now, I don't think the situation is quite that bleak. Despite having their own water issues, I can't imagine South Africa letting us die before offering some water and the Botswana government has consistently been meeting with WUC to discuss a way forward. Plus, if we're lucky, it will rain for more than five or ten minutes at a time... (But that requires Mother Nature playing a more active role here and that's not a reliable solution.) The truth is, the villager's assertion may be the reality for some in the most rural of villages. For those of us near the capital city, however, it is looking as though WUC will likely start funneling treated recycled water to homes or, they are suggesting, setting up pay-as-you-go standpipes and shutting the water off otherwise. Hopefully this method will work and it can be extended out further into the southern part of the country. If not, the four plus days per week without water will seem like a cakewalk.

I would like to state that Botswana is a desert country and its inhabitants are no stranger to going without water for extended periods of time. This is not to say that very serious issues don't arise as a result of droughts like this, but rather that people here live in such a way that they are constantly prepared for water issues - storing water, learning to bathe and clean and live with less, and so on. (Plus, I'm not going to lie, somehow folks seem to survive without drinking nearly as much water as my constantly dehydrated self needs. I think this may be to their benefit in times like these.) Peace Corps Volunteers adopt many of these practices throughout their service so we, in turn, become adept desert-dwellers. We become part of this place, including its challenges. We are fortunate here, though, in that the country is also a tight-knit community full of hearty people who tend to take care of each other whenever possible. And they have embraced us. It may be hard in the coming weeks but we are survivors and we will make even this work.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Very Thai Vacation

After living abroad for thirty-one months (and particularly in a developing country), traveling takes on new meaning and I see the world in a whole new light. I see my travel destinations for what they offer their inhabitants and my experiences are charged with a different energy, a whole new level of understanding. It becomes about both experiencing a new place through the eyes of a tourist and through the eyes of a local. You see a place more holistically through these eyes. Until recently, this new perspective was confined to my travels around Africa. I saw other African nations and compared them to where I was living. There was something that bound them all together and was familiar, even if some aspects varied.

I recently traveled to Thailand with my boyfriend and two fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. We spent two weeks traversing the country - navigating overnight trains, local buses, tuk tuks, longboats, and bicycles. Everywhere I went seemed like "the best place in Thailand". Until, of course, I reached the next destination of our journey. (Can they all be "the best place"?) I felt my worldview expanding. Beautiful temples and historic ruins filled my soul and dancing children in the jungles of the north made me smile. White water rafting tested my courage, while long hikes pushed my strength to its brink. (And lets not forget the beautiful beaches that tanned my skin!)

But there was even more to offer there. There was an intricate and well constructed transit system, wide-spread high-speed internet, and more restaurants and coffee shops than one person could visit. There were markets and small businesses and entrepreneurs and opportunities for growth. There was ambition and drive in its populace - extending from the capital city to the southern islands to the hill tribes outside Chiang Mai. It is a dynamic and bustling nation. My travel companions and I discussed this at length (along with some of the challenges we saw along the way). After all, we all know what it's like to live in a developing country and we did not allow ourselves to become too consumed by the tourist sites to take notice.

Thailand was everything and nothing like I expected.

I loved Thailand. Everything about it. I could see myself living there and envisioned what that life would be like. It was beautiful.

Here's a glimpse at what my life in Thailand might look like, through the eyes of a traveling development worker, tourist, and girl with a dream to explore the world:





















What a glorious life it would be.

And what an amazing life I lead to be able to experience it and see what that world is like.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Bots 14 Swears In (Also Known As "A Very Proud PCVL")

“Swearing In Day” is one of the proudest and most important moments in a Peace Corps Volunteer’s life. It signifies the end of pre-service training and the beginning of a journey that most have dreamed about for years. It is a day marked with achievement and promise. October 15th will hold this level of significance for 58 Bots 14s, who took their oath of service and became the newest group of PCVs in Botswana.


As spectators listened to the speeches given by our distinguished guests and Peace Corps colleagues, themes sprang to light. The ideas of togetherness and friendship and collaboration echoed through everyone. Ululations and cheers showed that we were together and in agreement. These three simple words are very profound and, as a third year volunteer, resonated with me as I heard them stated in numerous ways throughout the ceremony. They are the starting point for a fruitful service, which made them fitting for this occasion.

ChargĂ© d’ Affaires Michael Murphy articulated the richness of the Peace Corps experience – both its moments of joy and exhilaration and those of frustration and hardship. Through it all, he shared a message of positivity and urged the Bots 14s to recognize the formative role they will play in the development of youth and the importance of becoming a member of their local communities. Through this, he stated, “you will be able to open windows of learning and collaboration that no one else can... this collaboration can last a lifetime.”

These sentiments were shared by the Bots 14s, who seem to have a keen insight into Peace Corps service that far outweighs their time in country. Our very own Camille “CJ” Jones and Becky Carnes gave brilliant speeches in Setswana, causing many (myself included) to tear up, as they reminded us all about what really matters – “The meeting of hearts and the emphasis on collaboration... to build on the capacity of people.” At its core, that is what Peace Corps service is all about. “We can accomplish it together – learning from each other – together, Batswana and American, yes we can!”

Finally, at the end of his address, Kgosi Segkoma declared his wish for this Bots 14 group: “When you finish your service, I hope you feel you have given it all – and accomplished it together.” That is my hope for each of you as well. It has been an honor and a joy to have supported you as a PCVL throughout your PST. I am so proud of the Bots 14s and the entire Peace Corps family. Congratulations, guys! PULA!

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Virtues Project

A friend and fellow Bots 10 PCV is assisting a small local agency with their goal to bring about a more compassionate nation, in accordance with Vision 2016. One of their efforts in doing this is through bringing The Virtues Project to Botswana.

The Virtues Project is a global grassroots initiative to inspire the practice of virtues in everyday life. Its aim is to empower individuals "to live more authentic meaningful lives; families to raise children of compassion and integrity; educators to create safe, caring, and high performing learning communities; and leaders to encourage excellence and ethics in the workplace." This model is tried and tested in more than 95 countries and was honored by the United Nations during the International Year of the Family as a "model global program for families of all cultures."

I am proud to say that I am helping put on the very first Virtues Project workshop in Botswana, to be held next month. My role is assisting with logistics and recruiting interested and motivated parties to attend. So far we have registered forty people from the education and youth development fields. I will also be in attendance at the workshop, as will a representative from the organization I am working for, Project Concern International (PCI). My hope is that, along with the workshop participants, PCI can disseminate the information to our 11 implementing partners across the country and help spread this vision even further.

It is our mutual desire that the tools presented will help teachers and others nurture the children of Botswana in the skills and qualities they need to be successful in school and in life. This is a very meaningful project and one that I am grateful to be involved with.

This Is Just To Say (Water Rationing Continued)

Today it reached 107 degrees Fahrenheit. No amount of water can keep you from getting dehydrated at that temperature. Unfortunately, Botswana is still experiencing a very serious drought. Villages in the southern part of the country are completely without water three and four times per week now and the reservoir is down to 14% capacity. This is one of the disadvantages of living in a desert country in Africa. Excuse me if I look a little funky - I choose hydration over clean clothes any day. After all, baby wipes get me clean enough, right? Off I go to drink a glass of stored water then pray for rain. Because, yes, they believe prayer will bring on the downpour. TIA.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Meet My New Roommate

Meet Finda.

Finda is my new roommate. She will be living with me until she finishes her four month extension with Botswana's Ministry of Health.

Finda is a Bots 11 PCV (meaning she came in the group that arrived six months after me). For her first two years she lived in the village of Letlhakeng and worked ICT Local Government Capacity Builder at the District AIDS Coordinating Office.

Finda graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology and is currently applying for PhD programs with the goal of helping bring technology and computer training to rural underserved communities.

Her favorite color is purple, she loves to bake delicious treats, and you can follow her experience at http://ictpc.blogspot.com/.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Progress: Life Skills Toolkit

Today I put the finishing touches on the nearly 300-page Life Skills Toolkit that I have been working on for the past few months. It is still in draft form but I would say that it is now at the "final rough draft" stage. And I am pretty happy with that!

A lot goes into a document of this magnitude - one intended for publication and dissemination on a national level - so getting to this point has been no small feat. It has required significant research, focus groups, discussions, and analysis. All before organizing lesson plans and more into one cohesive document. I am proud to say that my compilation skills seem to be top notch and the information contained in those pages should be highly beneficial for life skills facilitators. Or at least I hope so.

To ensure the material is at the standard it needs to be, we are in the process of assembling a technical team to review and provide feedback on the document. We are calling on the heads of Botswana's Ministries, leaders in the education field, teachers, and even a few acclaimed students. I will sit with them throughout this process, gathering information, and having a dialogue about content. Afterwards, it's back to the keyboard and long hours to get it finished by mid-November, just in time to go to print before the nearly month-long festive holiday. Phew.

The more I work on this project, the more I understand the great need for it. With each teacher and volunteer and student that I talk to, I become more dedicated to its cause and excited to be a key player in making it happen. Because, while Botswana does have a great framework for life skills education and a basic curriculum, nothing exists with information for implementation. This toolkit should act as a way forward in using the preexisting material. Botswana needs something like this and the children and youth deserve it. Life skills education, here we come!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Water Rationing

I have often discussed how Peace Corps Volunteers horde water because of the inevitability of a water outage - stock up while you can, use sparingly when you can't. Water is a perpetual issue. This is even more evident when the "rainy season" just doesn't produce enough rain. Why is this a problem, you ask? Aren't you happy to evade the torrential downpours, you question? I will answer you now.

Water dispersed around Botswana comes from the reservoirs and dams that fill up as a result of rain showers during the months of December through February. If they don't get rain, we don't have water. If there's no water, then the crops die, the animals suffer, and the people go without.

This assaults all facets of life. It goes a lot deeper than washing your clothes more sparingly or not having a bath. For example, people live off of personal gardens and farms in the lands. If the crops die then they go hungry. If the cattle have nothing to eat because the grass has dried up then they get skinny and eventually also die. Without them, there is no chance of additional income for the families. This often leads to an increase in desperation and a rise in crime. Everyone and everything suffers. Botswana has not escaped this trauma.

Botswana is in the midst of a very severe draught. Rainfall in last year's rainy season was exceptionally low. The current projections have the water reserves in the southern part of the country running dry in about two months. That is just before the rains are supposed to come again. If it is like last year, however, we could go months before we see water. This has unleashed a whole slew of problems and very few answers of what to do next. One thing they have instituted though is water rationing.

Water rationing is rolling shut-offs of water to certain areas. When I returned to Botswana from my home leave at the end of June, they had already started this. My area of Gaborone was without water on Saturdays. Inconvenient to have an outage over a weekend but I was grateful to know for a fact when the water would be out so I could plan for it. This, as I saw it, was a blessing. The government then asked people to be diligent and responsible with their water usage the rest of the week, calling for cutbacks (including shutting down car washes, which is a huge independent industry here that supports the livelihoods of so many).

As of yesterday, the water rationing has increased to two water shutoffs a week within Gabs city limits and even more in the villages outside. It is instituted with the hope that they can keep the complete loss of water at bay until the rains come. So it is with cautious optimism that I accept my second day's shutoff. It is a small plan for this big issue but it's something. Rain dances would be appreciated. Anything that might help.

Now if only they could figure out what to do about all the subsidiary problems that are arising...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Pirates Took Our Internet

Last week, the internet went out in Gaborone. I was told that the entire city was without internet because of a glitch in the main system. After word spread to the offices in the complex where I work, people started thinning out for the day. I was among those who decided to venture home.

I began my walk back towards my apartment right around the time when my mom usually logs online and we get a few moments to chat. The majority of our communication is done this way - over instant messenger and email. Without internet, however, I would not be able to log on so I shot her a text message so she wouldn't worry. A few minutes later, my phone rang. Mama Tina! How exciting to get to hear her voice and talk with her on my journey home.

The first thing she asked me when I reiterated that the internet was down across the city was "Does this have anything to do with the pirates?" I paused for a moment, trying to make sense of her question. And then it dawned on me...

During my first year in Botswana, the internet went down for an extended time. I chalked it up to life in Africa and didn't think much more of it. That is, until someone explained the outage to me:
"The pirates dropped their anchor off the coast of Kenya and it hit the undersea internet lines. We won't have internet back until those cables are repaired."
PIRATES?! You have to be kidding me?! We have to deal with pirates here?! This was almost too much for my brain to handle.

To me, pirates were only in movies or rides at Disney World. They weren't real. At least they had never played a role in my life before so I could imagine them as something of fantasy and fiction. And, honestly, it was pretty funny to think that pirates, with peg-legs and hooks (of course), were the ones who "stole my internet". Which is true. PIRATES! And a pirate ship no less! Anchor plop, bye bye internet.

They were not the thieves this time though.

But now pirates are a part of my story. And, it seems, a story that my mama has a great chuckle out of too.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Weekend Away: Savuti Game Reserve

One of the perks of being a pilot is getting to travel and see some beautiful sites. One of the perks of dating a pilot is occasionally getting to tag along. This weekend I got to do just that as we traveled to Savuti Game Reserve, a part of Chobe National Park. (And, yes, before you say anything, this is work for my main squeeze. I'm just happy the very kind clients let me come along this time!)

My skillful boyfriend brought the little Beechcraft airplane down on a dried dirt landing strip in the middle of the bush - fulfilling a classic "TIA moment". From there, we hopped into a safari vehicle for the forty minute ride to the exquisite Ghoha Hills Savuti Lodge, where we would stay for the evening. Along the bumpy sand road, we saw herds of elephants, kudu, and an assortment of other animals. I couldn't wipe the big goofy grin off my face. I was in heaven.

The lodge is nestled up on the hillside amongst the trees, making it one of the most picturesque places I have been. Add to that the fact that it's an eco-friendly lodge and it has my vote for best bush lodge! The rooms are spectacular, with indoor/outdoor rain showers, plush beds, and the most spectacular view to wake up to in the morning. Honestly, I could hardly believe the view as I looked out from the bed of our tent-bungalow window. Amazing! Everywhere I looked was something even more beautiful or exciting (lion tracks by the camp?!). It was one part adventure and another part scenic reverie.


My boyfriend and I spent the hours watching animals come to and from a nearby watering hole, listening to animal calls (leopards, hyenas, and a pel's owl!!), playing board games, sitting by a fire, and reading our books snuggled up together. Without television and internet, it gave us some much-needed quiet time away from the city and an opportunity to relax and reconnect. Getting to see some game and eat delicious food (for free) was a nice added touch. After all, a night like this would normally set you back upwards of $900! Peaceful and serene, totally worth it, but outside of our normal price range. So this was a treat beyond compare. And, at least for him, it's all in a day's work!

After twenty-eight hours of pure bliss, we boarded the plane, avoiding about a dozen elephants hanging out at the end of the runway, and began our journey home to Gaborone. But first we had to make a pitstop in Maun to fill up the plane with fuel. This gave me an opportunity to see elephants wading through water and ducking for shade-cover under a nearby tree from above as we ascended and then to gawk at the glory of the Okavango Delta from thousands of feet up. It was a sight unlike any other. I have to say, the delta is truly impressive and magnificent and I am proud to be living in a place that has maintained such a natural wonder.

In all, this was a remarkable weekend getaway. I got to see my boyfriend in action, take a couple of really fun flights with him from the front seat (a view that is really amazing), see African wildlife, and relax in the beauty of the bush. All with a smile and my favorite guy. How did I get so lucky?