Monday, July 11, 2011

"Tell the world that I'm coming home"

I am writing to tell you all officially that I am going home: Early Termination from Peace Corps Botswana.

I have been struggling with this decision and it certainly was not made easily, lightly, or without lots of thought and heartache. I have wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer for awhile, and it was a dream that I thought meant everything to me. I thought that in order to be a good person, a worthwhile person, that I had to do the most selfless and difficult thing I could think of. The Peace Corps is such a noble, generous, and prestigious pursuit- and that was all really important to me. However, I’m realizing that maybe I don’t need to be THE BEST person in order to justify my own existence. Before Peace Corps, I was feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied with my life. I had been looking unsuccessfully for a job and Peace Corps was something I’d been wanting to go for but hadn’t felt it the right time. After a year’s worth of job hunting, it was time for me to do it. The decision to join Peace Corps was also tough because it meant leaving behind a lot of people about whom I care deeply. But I felt that it would make me a better person and that I would do something that made others’ lives better, and that would be worth the sacrifices. In fact, the sacrifices were part of the appeal- almost like what I was giving up somehow would make my contributions to the world more valuable.

I've measured the value of myself with accomplishments and the level of difficulty of those accomplishments. I think it's ok to be proud of yourself and the things you've done, but I was letting that define me- what had I done that should make me really proud, what's worth being proud of, what is more elite in terms of selflessness and commitment to others and generosity and difficulty? Because if it's not hard, why do it, it's nothing to be proud of because anyone could do it. And that thinking was really destructive for me.

I’m realizing (and I don’t know why this took me so long) that harder doesn’t necessarily mean better. Maybe good works should not be measured by how much a person has to give up in order to do them. I want to be happy. I'm discovering that maybe being in love and being a wife and daughter and sister and friend may not be everything I need to make me incredibly happy all the time, but without those things, I can't be happy no matter how fulfilling my job might be. Instead of lowering my standards (the Bots 10 motto) for Peace Corps or Africa or Botswana, I need to lower my standards for myself.

I learned things about myself, but not the things I expected. I figured out that I’m not the person I thought I was, and not necessarily in a bad way. I don’t regret coming here- in fact, I still think it was something I HAD to do. I’m not sure that I won’t regret going home (I imagine to a certain degree, I will), but I know how I feel right now and going home is what’s best for me. I was worried about the disappointment I might cause in leaving- from my NGO, the Peace Corps, my fellow PCVs, my people at home, the people I’ve met here, etc., and the disappointment in myself. Staying was a decision I was making and would have to continue to make every day. Deciding to leave is a decision I can only make once and can't take back. I know if I stayed until the end I would probably be able to say, like most volunteers, "I'm glad I stuck it out". But just because I'd be glad I stayed doesn't mean that I won't be glad I left. Satisfaction from my decision could happen either way, as could dissatisfaction. And I'll never know "what could have been". But I think trying to be happy with what I have and who I am RIGHT NOW, not who I could maybe theoretically become, is what's best for me.

Thank you to everyone for reading my blog, commenting, sending me letters/emails/packages/texts, etc. Thanks for calling. Thank you for thinking of me back home and wherever you are. I appreciate all of your support!

I'm supposed to leave Botswana Wednesday or Thursday. I am working through medical out-processing, etc. The funnest part so far has been pooping in a jar! You know I couldn't go too long without mentioning poop. I will be staying in Gabs until I go. Working on packing my things and cleaning up my house before I leave it for good this morning.

Thanks for reading and best of luck to all of you!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Settling In

I’ve been a Peace Corps Volunteer for a little over 2 weeks. I’ve moved into my house, gotten some temporary furniture (bed, desk, 2 chairs, 2 nightstands), and purchased some on my own (a kitchen unit- kitchens in Botswana don’t typically come equipped with counters and cabinets, and a pantry), and borrowed a wardrobe from a fellow PCV who has built-in closets and didn’t need the ones that his office provided (thanks, Patrick!). I’ve put pictures, maps, and cards that people have sent up on my walls. I bought a couple of floor mats to keep my feet warm when I get out of the tub and take my shoes off at the door. I got some canisters for my kitchen to keep the bugs out of my cereal and stuff (bugs yet to be seen, but this is not the season for them). I love my house! It’s freezing cold right now, but it’s got tons of room and hot water is amazing. My bathtub is deep enough to submerge myself completely in scalding hot water, which I’ve been doing regularly. I have washed my hair (and CONDITIONED it) 3 times this week. Record-breaker! Today, I blow-dried my hair for the first time since arriving in Botswana. Mostly for the warmth, but I’m definitely having a good hair night. You know, for my wild evening of eating chocolate in bed while reading before bedtime at 8:30 (5 minutes from now).

I have gone into work every day and done little things like accompany my co-workers to various offices for tasks, attend meetings, and run errands. There is a lot of down time. I am supposed to be working on my community assessment, but was having a difficult time figuring out where to start. I decided I’d start with my office and interview all of my colleagues- the 4 in my office and the 10 or so in the Gabs office. I have come up with an interview form for myself to ask them questions about themselves, their jobs, and the organization. I plan to do something similar with some of the government officials, hospital/clinic administrators, school heads & teachers, prison officers, and other NGO workers in the area, police, and local kgosis and Village Development Committee members to try to get a feel for Moleps, its needs, and meet the locals. My co-workers are pretty great. I think I hit the Peace Corps jackpot when it comes to NGOs, colleagues, and counterpart.

I got Internet! I went into Gabs for a meeting last week and got permission to go to the Orange store. It took over 4 hours (the details of which I won’t bore you), but I was able to procure a dongle. It works, very slowly. I’ve been able to upload pictures on Facebook. I’m going to try video next and then see if I can get pics up on the blog.

I haven’t gotten hopelessly lost yet. I would say I haven’t gotten lost yet, but that would be a lie. It happened when I was in a car directing someone to my house, of course, so I couldn’t even pretend because there were witnesses. Oh well.

I’m missing everyone at home. I know my sister just got promoted to Captain in the Air Force. My parents are spending the summer on the Finger Lakes and the smell of diesel here reminds me of their boat and the fun I’m missing on it with them. Colin’s working on home improvement without me, about which I feel both guilty and slightly relieved because he’s solely in charge. Wedding season is underway and I’ve already missed the wedding of our good friends Tom & Michelle, who were married last weekend in the same chapel where Colin and I were married 7 years ago. Still to miss are Jody and Josh, Dana and Andy, my cousin Nicholas and his Lauren, and April and Brendan.

I’m also missing my fellow PCVs. We spent all of April and May living on top of each other and now we’re spread out across this country, many without another PCV for miles. I’m lucky to have a fellow Bots 10 PCV in the same village (Patrick) and a few Bots 9 volunteers, too (Nicole, Rachel and Sandy). There are many volunteers close by. But I’m still missing the rest of the Bots 10 group! It’s strange not to see them every day. I miss my host family, too. They text me every few days to check in. I know they want to come visit, but until I have furniture, I’m not quite ready for that.

Tomorrow there is some excitement for me and some of my fellow PCVs! Michelle Obama will be in Gabs and we’ll get to meet her at a little meet-and-greet. We’ll also get to meet the new ambassador. Pretty exciting! I’ll share the details when it’s all over. I’m hoping to be able to take some pictures.

It’s after my bed time! Early morning tomorrow for travel to Gabs. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sworn-in and at site!

I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! We swore in on Tuesday with the US Ambassador to Botswana (who is leaving in a week and will be replaced by a 34 year old female Obama appointee, she's going to be my new BFF). Swearing-in was the usual pomp and circumstance that you might witness at a graduation ceremony. I could only focus on how hungry I was all day. Ha ha, that's so Tracy.

Afterwards, we had a little party at a fellow PCV's new house in Kanye. Liles was placed in Kanye so it was the perfect venue for our first official Bots 10 party. There was dancing, drinking, and lots of giggling, as has become customary when we have anything to drink these days. I went home before dark and crazy Botswana rain and finished packing my things. Yesterday morning, I said goodbye to my host family. They were very sad to see me go, which was touching. I know I'll see them relatively often because they are only about an hour away. Patrick (the other PCV in Bots 10 who was placed in Molepolole) and I were picked up by a very large van and driven to our new homes. I am staying in a house owned by my landlady until my actual house is vacated by the outgoing volunteers, Matt and Laura, who are living there until next Friday. I should be in by next weekend and then I can start unpacking and setting up home. For now I'm squatting, but I'm by myself, which is such an amazing feeling- I literally have not been alone for over 2 months. The house is very safe and has an alarm system. I have hot running water, a microwave, and a television. I don't think I'll be watching any tv; silence will be much appreciated. Reading books will commence as I'm starting to have an attention span again. The house that I will be moving into will not have a tv and I'll have to buy a microwave. Right now I'm sitting in an Internet cafe across from my office (also still waiting on Internet). Forgive this shitty blog post. I'm surrounded by people who are crammed into this cafe and all yelling to each other in Setswana. My English grammar feels pretty god-awful these days.

It's really cold here! Again, props to my awesome sleeping bag. I slept in this morning and considered just laying in it all day because it was so cold outside of it. I didn't have to go to work today because the power is supposed to be out all day so there's nothing to do. I'll probably start for real on Monday and spend today doing a few errands, for example, wine-buying. I am finally able to cook food for myself, and I'm most excited about the zucchini I bought today since I haven't had a real vegetable in weeks.

Trying to figure out how I'm going to get Internet here. I want to get a dongle, but I have to wait until I can go to Gabs. That may be awhile, so for now get used to crappy blog posts, unanswered emails, and a lack of regular FB updates.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Party Weekend

 Friday was shopping day. We went to Gabs and hit up Game City Mall and River Walk. I wasn’t able to get my Internet dongle (like a wireless card) for my laptop, so that’s a bummer. Don’t know when I’ll be able to do that since I’ll be on lockdown in my village for the next two months. However, I was able to get everything else I had planned to- a bathroom scale, and three ice creams (balance!). I also bought some nail polish remover, a pillow, a travel mug, a pair of tights, and a scarf. Lots of people in our group bought guitars and some people had carts full of stuff to get to their site. Luckily, Matt and Laura are leaving me a bunch of their things and I will be able to purchase just about everything I want in Moleps, like a microwave. I was also able to eat some delicious Indian food at River Walk, as a group went there to celebrate a fellow trainee’s birthday. Happy 23rd, Becca!
Saturday was the host family party. We were up early to set up and decorate the hall where the party was being held, cook for over 100 people, and prepare the entertainment. Amelia, Carolynn, Jeremy, Karen and I sang the Botswana National Anthem and then Karen and I sang The Star Spangled Banner. We think we did pretty well if we do say so ourselves. I know someone took video, so in 2 years when it gets up here, you can be the judge yourself. Until then, just know that we were awesome. Blake and Tija demonstrated some swing dancing and then taught a handful of people from the audience the moves. Some of the host family parents gave speeches, performed poems, sang and prayed. Karen performed with her ukulele, and Carolynn performed Amazing Grace. There was also a dramatic performance of the traditional wedding ceremony. We put on a fashion show that basically consisted of trainees wearing the stupidest looking things that we brought with us to Botswana, to include a fanny pack, headlamps, my awesome travel vest, “elderly athletic wear” (thanks, Tom), a full body mosquito net, socks with sandals, and other such ridiculousness. Then the talented cooking committee served us a delicious meal of mac & cheese, chili, cucumber tomato salad, and Rice Krispies treats. Yum.
After the party, we went to a local café that I’ve never been to before. I had a glass of red wine and a milkshake. Of course I had a milkshake. I went home, did my laundry, washed my hair, thoroughly scrubbed my feet and put on brand new socks that my parents mailed to me. There is nothing better than the feeling of cushy new socks. Overall, a good day.
Yesterday (Sunday), my family got up early to go to a funeral. We went to the family’s home where there was lots of prayer and song. Then we drove to the cemetery for the burial. Afterwards, we went back to the family’s house for food. The funeral was boring because it was all in Setswana and it was very long. We stood listening to the pastor talk for hours. Thankfully, it was not hot and not cold.
I got to talk to Colin briefly and we wished each other a happy 7th anniversary. Our friend Craig was taking him golfing. I was also able to Skype with Lauren and Craig and Evy for a little bit, and my parents and their company at the lake, old friends Bob & Ann.
Yesterday afternoon a bunch of us met at the training center to celebrate Tija’s birthday. There was cake and laughter. Last night we had a Peace Corps party at a local business owner’s home. The family owns a grocery store by the hospital and they love foreign aid workers so they invited us over for a braii (barbecue). A goat was slaughtered and we also had beef and chicken. Everything was delicious, especially the authentic Indian food. I’m having those leftovers today. It’s common practice in Botswana to bring your Tupperware to parties so that you can take as much food as possible. I’m pretty sure that’s why funerals are so popular.
After I got home from the party last night, my family threw me a party. They got a cake, chips, cookies, jello, custard, and a large bottle of Oros (think Tang). We took lots of pictures and they made speeches about how much they love me and will miss me. It was very touching. I’m going to miss having them to take care of me! Amo thinks I’m going to starve in Moleps.
Today is our last day of training. We swear in tomorrow as Peace Corps Volunteers. Wednesday, I’m off to Moleps (though I’m not sure yet how I’m getting there…). It feels like we’ve been here a lot longer than 9 ½ weeks! Let the real work begin.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Site Visit, Freezing in Africa, and Party Time!

Apologies for not having written in awhile. Things have been busy here! Thankfully, we were able to go on our site visits last week on Tuesday, so I got my first look at where I will be living and working in Molepolole. I stayed with Matt and Laura, current and soon-to-be finishing volunteers. I will be moving into their house when they finish their Peace Corps service on June 18th. My counterpart, Mpho, with whom I will be working at Kagisano Women’s Shelter Project, along with Matt and Laura, were fabulous. They showed me around town, took me to meet the police station commander, the kgosi, the DAC (District AIDS Coordinator), showed me the shops- grocery stores, hardware stores, banks, KFC (right across from my office, oh mathatha!), clothing shops, etc., gave me numbers for reputable taxi drivers, fed me good food, and generally took excellent care of me while I was in Molepolole. They made sure I knew how to get around, showed me the bus rank, the hospital, the schools, and introduced me to neighbors and my amazing land lady. Her name is MmaKoda, and she is very sweet. She calls me her daughter and is very concerned about me getting lost. It’s like she knows me or something already. The house is nice. It’s BIG. It has two bedrooms, both very large, a huge living room area, a spacious kitchen, and a very big bathroom. There is hot running water and electricity. Still don’t know whether I will have furniture when I move in, but I’m not too concerned about it yet. I live on the family compound with MmaKoda. Her house is maybe 10 yards from mine. There is a very fat dog (rare in Botswana) who lives on the compound named Tau (lion). There are also 2 cats, both of which seem to be pregnant for the first time. How awesome. You know me- this is not good. I can’t come home from Botswana with a dozen cats. I don’t plan to get attached, but this is how I’ve ended up with pets before. Ugh. There is a nice garden that I plan to spend some time in and a beautiful lemon tree. Whiskey sours, lemon meringue pie and margaritas, here I come! Welcome back, Fat Tracy, you’ve been missed.

Kagisano Women’s Shelter Project, where I’ll be working, is based in Gaborone. The branch in Moleps opened up within the last few years and was started with the help of previous PCVs. Currently, there are a bunch of volunteers in the Moleps area who work on secondary projects with KWSP. I am the first volunteer who is assigned there primarily, so they are excited to have a volunteer of their own. I met the staff of the Moleps KWSP- Mpho, Komotso, and Granny, and two of the staff from the Gabs office, Susan and Changu. They all seem very nice and I’m excited to start working with them. They provide counseling to women and families dealing with gender-based violence. I’m not sure yet what I will be doing there, but I have the next 2 years to figure that out. My first two months in Moleps, I will be on PC lockdown, meaning I can’t leave my village because I’m supposed to be integrating into the community and doing my community and organizational assessment. There is lots of work to be done! After two months, all of the Bots 10 PCVs will go to IST (In-Service Training) for a week or two (?) and then we will go back to our sites and be off of lockdown. Woot!

On Saturday, my family threw a huge party for baby Buhle’s 6-month birthday. I came home early from Moleps (about a 90 minute kombi ride) in order to make it to the festivities. For the first six months of the baby’s life, the mother (my sister Amo) is to be in seclusion and not to leave the house. She is to spend this time getting to know her baby and co-sleeping with him. So this was a very big day for Amo, too! Everyone had a blast, most especially my sister. She had her hair done and a new outfit and looked gorgeous. There were so many people at the house, and so much food. A goat and a cow were slaughtered, along with several chickens. I missed this due to being away (btw, thanks fate for re-arranging my travel dates!). A giant barrel of bojalwa ja Setswana (traditional brew) was fermenting all week in the kitchen (missed this lovely smell for the most part as well). There was dancing, singing, praying, eating, general merriment, and lots of bojalwa drinking. I avoided this, as it is much like Chibuku in taste (think beer + vinegar + chunks of bread + sour milk). I went to bed around 8:30 to avoid the hoards of partying strangers speaking Setswana gibberish to me. The party slowed down around 4 am, and when I awoke fresh as a daisy at 7 a.m. to do my laundry, there was many a straggler scattered around the yard all bleary-eyed and zombie-like.

Wednesday (yesterday), I had my final (and official) Language Proficiency Interview (LPI). I think it went ok. Should find out the results next week. Also today, I got a card from my parents in the mail with pictures of my host family (they were SOOOO excited). I also got an amazing package from them with spices, seeds for my garden and garden gloves, fruit leather from Target, jerky, stain sticks, deodorant, shampoo, floss, socks, and Easy fucking Mac, which is the best thing that has ever happened to me in Botswana, and other great things. AWESOME package and really made my day. I know there are more on the way, and I’m hoping to get them before I leave for Molepolole next week. If they don’t get here, they’ll be at the PC office in Gabs, so no big deal; it just means a longer wait. Oh well!

I know the whole time I was preparing to leave for PC, I kept getting mad at people (Sorry to my mother-in-law especially) for assuming I was going to be living like I was camping. Well, I was wrong, newsflash, this is a lot like camping. I brush my teeth outside. I have to go outside to get to the pit latrine. I wash my hands outside. I warm water over a fire sometimes (when the electric kettle is in use or broken or the electricity is out). I make smores with my sister every Sunday as a treat. I smell like smoke all the time. My clothes are never clean. I find spiders and scorpions in my room (ok, I never found any scorpions while camping before). I listen to animal sounds all night (here it’s cows, chickens, donkeys, people, music, and dogs). It’s very cold here now, so I’m sleeping in long underwear, tights, flannel pants, fleece jacket, and gloves and hat. It gets down into the low 30s right now at night and that means it’s in the low 30s in my room. There is no insulation in Batswana houses, and no heat or air conditioning- what it’s like outside is what it’s like inside- noise, temp., and humidity included, thankfully, in my house, precipitation excluded. 30s doesn’t seem cold, but when there’s no place to go to warm up, it’s not pleasant. Being from upstate NY, I thought I would be all immune to being cold in Africa, but damn. Effing cold. Especially considering that I heard it was hot (80s or 90s??) in Rochester this week. I look like a homeless person because I’m usually wearing just about everything I own on my way to training in the mornings. There was frost on the ground today and I could see my breath. Inside. I put my lotion on and I think there was ice in it. I’ve been trying to wash my hair as soon as I get home from training because the sun is still up (barely), but bathing in the morning is very painful. I may fake it tomorrow (my family gets really upset when they think I’m not bathing at least twice a day). Thankfully, I purchased a great sleeping bag (with a Peace Corps discount! Check them out on the PC Wiki page) that is rated to 20 degrees for women (men and women’s bags have different ratings, did you know? b/c women are generally not as good at staying warm as men? Biology is crazy!) so I’ve been pretty toasty while in it. It’s getting out of it in the morning that makes me want to call in sick to training.

That’s another thing. I haven’t been sick here yet, and I’m thanking my malaria prophylaxis for that. It’s a broad spectrum antibiotic and I think it’s keeping me from getting stuff like salmonella in addition to malaria. I have had lots of blisters from walking and new shoes, and I do currently have ringworm (it’s a fungus like athlete’s foot, not a parasite) that I got from the little kids who follow me home and hug me all the time, but other than that, I have avoided illness, knock on wood. Many trainees have had bad GI issues or other knock-you-down illnesses, so I’m really thankful to have been healthy so far. I had one nasty hangover, but that was my own dumb fault. Hoping to remain healthy (and get rid of this fungus without giving it to anyone else).

We have our shopping day on Friday. We have a small allowance from Peace Corps to buy things we might need in our new homes. I am trying to decide what to get. Matt and Laura are generously leaving me a bunch of their stuff (curtains, dishes, pots & pans, etc), so I won’t have to buy a ton, which is really great. I am thinking of getting a microwave. I’ll definitely get a bathroom scale and a nice new pillow for myself. I need to make a list for sure.

Our host-family party is on Saturday. We just started planning it- our schedule is so screwed up from the site-visit change due to the strike, so we’re a little behind schedule. We are cooking, decorating, and entertaining. I’ll be singing the Star-Spangled Banner with another trainee, Karen, and the Botswana National Anthem with several volunteers, Carolynn, Amelia, Karen, and Jeremy, so far. We’re also putting on a fashion show to highlight some of the ridiculous things we brought with us and some classic Peace Corps looks. Pictures will follow. There is another party on Sunday that one of the trainees, Tom (Also from NY! Also serving without spouse! We do exist!), has organized and planned with a local business owner who loves PCVs. A lot of fun things coming up that will make the rest of our time in Kanye fly by!

We swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers on Tuesday! It’s very exciting. This will all start to be so real after all of these months (years!) of anticipation. We’ve all worked really hard to be here. For myself, I know I’ve worked really hard to stay here, too. I want to be here. I want to be a PCV in Botswana. I want to finish my service 2 years from now. I’ve waited a long time for this and gone through a lot to be here. My family, especially my husband, has sacrificed a lot and been through a lot in order for me to be here. I want to make the most of my time here and do what I set out to do: in short, change myself, help some people, be a better person, learn about a different culture, and decide what I want to do when PC is finished.

And finally, Happy Anniversary to my wonderful monna wame, Colin, to whom I have been married for 7 fabulous years (as of Sunday, June 5th). I love you and wish we were spending the day together. 

Thanks for reading! This was a long one. Avoiding homework, as usual. Love to all!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Acts of Defiance

Youthful Acts of Defiance (me as a teen in the U.S.)
- Breaking curfew (11:30 p.m.)
- Underage drinking
- Skipping class
- Getting my ear cartilage pierced, when I was 18
- Piercing my belly button. Myself.
- Sleeping until noon
- Dating an 18 year old when I was 15

Adult Acts of Defiance (me as a PC Trainee in Botswana)
- Breaking curfew (6:00 p.m.)
- Having a glass of wine
- Refusing 4 hour Setswana lessons
- Refusing to bath 3 times a day
- Hoarding food in my room
- Sleeping past 7 a.m.
- Associating with non-same-gendered trainees in public

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Site Visit Cancelled

Our site visit has been postponed until next week due to the strikes and unrest in Gabs and surrounding areas. This is crappy. Was looking forward to getting out of Kanye, having a break from training and 4 hour Setswana lessons, and a break from Setswana food.

I'm really doubtful that anything will be different next week in terms of the strikes, etc., so who knows wtf we'll end up doing. Blerg.

No worries, Kanye is quiet so far and most of the rumors floating around here have not been substantiated. We're safe.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Civil Unrest

Things are getting dicey here with the ongoing government strike. School is suspended indefinitely, as students have been rioting and throwing bricks, etc. Rumors abound. Here is an article on the strike:

Peace Corps hasn't said much to us yet, but I'm sure it will be brought up in training today. Don't worry, I'm sure everything will be fine! I'll post again if I hear more.

Tomorrow  (until Sunday) I am supposed to travel to Molepolole for my site visit to see where I will live and work.  I met my counterpart at the women's shelter, Mpho, yesterday. He is very shy but seems great so far. I will be working with him more today and then we travel together tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My home for the next 2 years is...

MOLEPOLOLE!! *AKA Moleps* Excited. Will be working in a women's shelter. Yay! Off to celebrate!

The Worth of a Mosetsana (Motswana girl)

On Thursday, we went to a wedding. Actually, it wasn’t a wedding, but rather the exchange of the lebola (bride price).  It happened at the main kgotla in Kanye. The kgosi (chief) and other important people were there, along with many men and women from the community and all of the PC trainees. Typically, only married women are allowed (widows are impure/bad luck, and single women are not welcome either), but they made an exception and allowed all of the PCTs to attend so that we could learn more about Setswana culture. There are very strict dress requirements (some of which we were not told, oops!). Women have to wear long skirts that cover the knees, a shawl draped over the shoulders (more like a wool blanket, very practical for the weather here), and a head covering.  Men have to wear ties and jackets. There are certain places where you are not allowed to walk, which is confusing, because usually you don’t find this out until you are already walking in that spot. Men sit on one side of the kgotla, in chairs, while women sit “in their rightful place” (kgosi’s words, not mine) on the ground. My feminist hackles were raised. I’m talking old, OLD ladies, forced to sit on the ground while a bunch of young dudes sit comfortably in chairs. But I digress.

So, a lot of what we witnessed went uninterpreted, but the gist is as follows.  If you want to get married in Botswana, you have to have permission from your parents (both bride and groom). Then, the groom has to raise lebola (the bride price). The amount is different depending on where the bride is from. The women in Kanye, for example, go for 8 cows and a male sheep. To me of course, this is absurd. The idea of trading a daughter (a niece, actually, since a woman’s maternal uncles negotiate and receive the lebola) for livestock is appalling. However, it was explained that this is more of a gift to say thank you for sharing your daughter with us as a family. This makes it sound better (maybe?), but I’m still not on board. So anyway, misogyny discussion aside, the lebola may take many years to raise for some men. Once they have raised the appropriate sum, they can present it to the family, which is the ceremony we witnessed on Thursday. The kgosi presides over the ceremony and makes sure that certain requirements are met. He asks the parents whether they approve of the marriage and then grills the bride and groom about how they met, how long they’ve known each other, and what their first conversations were like. It was actually really touching to watch because the bride and groom appeared so nervous and because everyone chuckled when the groom said they met at church and discussed the Bible together. Side note- it made me reminisce about my wedding when I was really nervous and there was lots of laughter at our ceremony. Sigh! Love to monna wame (my husband). The bride and groom receive a certificate saying that the ceremonial marriage is complete.  Everyone cheers and makes lots of noise and is generally in a celebratory mood (I love listening to the women make their celebratory noises- I have yet to master the technique, but it involves yelling and moving your tongue around a lot in your mouth). For legal, federally-recognized marriage, they proceed to the district level with this customary certificate and they receive yet another certificate. Typically, they will have a party at one or both families’ homes with a big tent and lots of food and dancing, no invitations necessary. FYI, divorce is common in Botswana and accepted. Only about 20% of Batswana get married. Part of this may be because it is so expensive. Lebola aside, wedding receptions are very expensive because you have to feed so many people and because tent rental is not cheap. They do the typical white-wedding ceremony that many couples have in the U.S., too. Gay marriage is a long way away in Botswana, as homosexuality is still illegal here, punishable by imprisonment. I’ve had a few conversations with my host family regarding the subject (which is great) but there is still a lot of fear and use of “morals” and religion as a way to defend homophobia (does that remind you of anywhere familiar??). South Africa has legalized gay marriage, though, and as a very close neighbor, perhaps the influence will travel north to Botswana and beyond… across the Atlantic? Who knows.

I have yet to go to a wedding reception, but I am looking forward to doing so eventually. Perhaps when I get to my village? Which brings me to my next point. Today is the day we find out our sites! I’m nervous. I’m looking forward to getting it over with, though, and moving on to the celebration/drowning in sorrows which will follow. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ready for Site Placement!

I know I’ve been neglecting the blog big time. Sorry about that! Since I last wrote, a lot has been going on.

My host family and I are settling in to a comfortable routine. I have been teaching them about important American things like French Toast and smores (they loved both). My sister taught me how to make diphaphathas (baked bread sort of like an English muffin) and I showed her that they are delicious with egg and cheese and tomato. I wake up around 5 and bath in my room (bath here, not bathe, yes, you get used to saying this). I leave by 6:15 (still dark) to meet fellow trainees in my ward (neighborhood) for the walk to the training center. Get there around 7:30/7:45 and have a few minutes of Internet time. Training starts at 8, usually beginning with 4 glorious hours of Setswana. I really hate these 4 hour sessions. My brain stops working after about 1.5 hours and then nothing but frustration occurs for me and usually my LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator) as well. We have rotated LCFs since our practice LPI a couple of weeks ago. The practice went ok- somehow I managed to score Novice High (which is the standard for passing PST at the end) despite not actually meeting the list of requirements for this score. Anyway. Lunch happens from 12:30 to 1:30, followed by more PST sessions- Project Design and Management, Safety & Security, Medical, Cross Cultural, etc. At 4:30 we are released and I make the long walk home (and usually stop at Choppie’s, the grocery store chain here, to buy junk food). I get home around 6:00 when it is getting dark. I usually try to relax between 6 and dinner (7? 7:30? 8?) followed by watching soap operas (South African or Batswana, kind of awesome and addicting) for a bit before retiring to study/do homework/sleep. I usually help with dishes but lately I’ve been too tired and had too much work to do, so I’ve settled for helping to cook and do dishes on weekends. What can I say, I guess I’m a bad daughter. Saturdays we have class usually until between 12 and 2. Then I come home and hang with my family, or if I’m lucky, I go to Motse Lodge with the other trainees to have a couple glasses of wine. Sunday I get to sleep in (9 a.m.!!) and then I’ll make lunch and do laundry. Doing laundry here is not that difficult, except for the constant criticism and the berating from my family who says I’m doing it wrong. This may or may not be true, but I told them that I’m the only one who has to wear my clothes so their criticism was unwelcome. I’ve also tried explaining that calling Americans fat or old is generally considered to be very rude. But I suppose they are having trouble explaining to me why baring my underarms or knees is scandalous, but taking a poop next to a crowded bus full of people on the side of the road is perfectly acceptable.

This leads me to my next point: the trip to Maun! It was awesome. Aside from the 10 hour bus ride (with aforementioned pit stops by the side of the road), the trip was really great. I got to see how Heidi and Ross live- their house is really cute and felt very safe. Maun is a big city with lots of people, and lots of foreigners. This was pretty appealing to me. I wasn’t starred at or harassed as I am in Kanye. No one screaming “Lekgoa!” (which means “white person”, but literally translates to “vomited from the sea”. Pleasant), no one asking me for money or quizzing me on my Setswana, and no one calling me baby or following me home or uninvited touching. It was more fast-paced than Kanye (but by no means close to American-paced) and there was a ton more stuff to do and more available in terms of shopping, groceries, and NGOs. I got to see the kind of work that Ross and Heidi are doing, which was awesome and overwhelming. They seem to be the gold-standard for PCVs. They are both NGO volunteers like I will be and they work for two different NGOs in Maun- Heidi at WAR (Women Against Rape) and Ross at Thuso Rehabilitation Center. We ran around like crazy to see the kind of work they do and the projects they have taken on in Maun. They’re pretty great. They also fed us lots of American food. I was with 3 other volunteers in Maun and we went on a safari in Moremi Game Reserve. It was sooooo cool. We started our trip at 6 a.m. and made it to the game reserve by 8:00 with our driver, Liebo, and two British guys who teach in Phalapye. We saw giraffes first thing- before we had even crossed into the gate. Then elephants. Throughout the day, we spotted warthogs, impalas, red lechwe, kudu, a wildebeest, a jackal, vervet monkeys, lots of different birds, a HIPPO, and leopard footprints. No cat sightings, but that’s ok. It was a really great day! I will try to get pictures up at some point. 

I have received 4 packages so far- 3 from my parents and 1 from Colin. They were great- lots of dried fruite, jerky, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, etc. Loved getting mail! I know it was a pain to send, though, but it was definitely appreciated.

Site assignment day is coming up on Saturday. This is the day we find out where we’ll be placed for the next 2 years. I’m pretty nervous, but I know Rosemary, the NGO APCD, is pretty awesome and that I’m in good hands with her. I’m trusting in the process (or at least telling myself that until it’s true!). I’ll post when I know where I’m going! I’m hoping for a big city close to other volunteers, maybe in the North. Mostly I’m hoping for great NGO placement in terms of my job and counterpart. We’ll see.

On Saturday, we did a cultural visit to a village outside of Gabs where we were fed traditional food (there is nothing new or exciting about traditional Setswana food at this point- I was over it when I was served a chicken foot a couple of weeks ago), watched traditional dancing, and learned about traditional brew (think Chibuku, look it up), tanning leather, blacksmithing (shout outs to Graham and Jeremy on this!), and basket weaving. The dancing was pretty amazing. I took lots of video. I really loved watching it and hope I have more opportunities to see it!

Today I went to Gabs to get my visa. Which was good because our original temporary visas expired thanks in part to the government strike. I got to eat pizza again. I may or may not have had more than one ice cream cone in an hour.

Thursday we are going to a wedding. I’m looking forward to this because I haven’t yet been to a Motswana wedding. It also means an interruption of 4 hour language sessions.

That’s about it! Looking forward to Saturday’s site announcement. Thanks to everyone for the well-wishes, emails, texts, FB posts, mail, blog comments, etc. You’re all amazing! xoxo

Monday, April 25, 2011

Adjusting to Botswana

I am still struggling with the day-to-day of being away from home and those I love. Every time I think I’m starting to settle in, waves of homesickness come over me and I feel like giving up and going home. I am still asking myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” and “Why did I decide to do this?”. I didn’t think it would be this hard to be away from Colin and from everyone I care about.  Everything is very magnified here- from the rain, to the sky, to the loneliness.  I feel a lot of guilt and anxiety being away from home. It’s hard making the choice to stay here every day because I know I could end these feelings by getting on a plane to come home. It’s a choice I make every day to stay here. I will say that one of my fellow trainees had to go home to deal with a medical crisis in his family. At that moment, I was (shamefully) both jealous that he was going home and no one would fault him for it, and glad that I didn’t have to make that choice. Easton, if you’re out there, we’re all rooting for you and your mom and we hope you are able to come back to us quickly! It’s hard thinking about all of the things that could happen at home over which I have no control. 

Things you should know about Botswana and Batswana (people of Botswana):
-       Batswana are not immune to auto-tuning. There are lots of Setswana songs that are auto-tuned, and they sound just as stupid as American ones.
-       My host family is now focused on clearing the rocks from the yard. I have helped in this, despite the fact that the yard and the “soil” is entirely made up of rocks. I don’t know why we are doing this or whether or not there will be a time when they’re like, “Ok! Re Feditse! (we’re finished!”).
-       Mail is taking a long time to get here. I received a card from Mr. and Mrs. Ross (thanks, guys! My first and only piece of mail so far!!)- an Easter card, on Thursday last week, very timely. But they sent it on April 1st, so, yeah.
-       The food here is gross. I am not one of those people who was evolutionarily designed to survive. I would starve before eating something I think is nasty.
-       The Batswana do not believe in hand-washing the way that we do. My host mom prepared chicken last night, and those of you who know me can probably imagine how I was freaking the eff out. I mean, her hands went directly from inside the raw chicken (which was being prepared in the basin where we wash dishes), to the light switch, to the door knobs, to clean dishes, to clean cutlery, to the fridge, to the baby. I tried to disinfect as best I could (everything but the baby) with hand sanitizer and hot water. I am hoping that the broad-spectrum tetracycline antibiotics I am on for malaria prophylaxis (doxycycline) will also prevent me from getting salmonella and other food borne bacteria illnesses. Fingers crossed!
-       I have not seen a car here with an entirely intact windshield. There are lots of accidents involving cows/goats/donkeys/dogs/chickens/people. I buckle my seat belt whenever I have one and then hope for the best.
-       Batswana tell me to put a jacket on or shoes on all the time. This drives me crazy because I am used to deciding myself when I am cold. They also worry about walking in the rain- that it will make us sick. Unfortunately, I don’t have much choice about that because I can’t afford to take a taxi every day to and from training and still be able to afford wine and chocolate. Walking in the rain works for me.

Things you should know about me:
-       I am exhausted. From the walking back and forth to training every day (~18000 total steps according to my pedometer) to the constantly being “on-call” as a PC trainee (having to be nice and friendly and culturally appropriate always), to not sleeping very well has made me go to bed by 8 or 9:00 almost every night.
-       Mailing shit to me is extremely expensive. I don’t need anything, so please don’t feel that you need to send me stuff. Obviously, it is much appreciated, but I know it’s really a pain in the ass and not financially feasible. I can live without (or at least that’s what I’m trying to prove to myself right now)! People here live with what they have and that’s part of my job, too. If there’s anything I need that I can’t get here, I don’t really need it.
-       All of the trainees here are becoming like family. Yes, we spend entirely too much time together, and sometimes we drive each other crazy (they have seen me be a total bitch), but we are all in this together and I wouldn’t be here without their support.
-       I still don’t know whether I am going to be able to stick this out. I have a lot of moments of self-doubt. I miss home immensely. I am trying to take things a day at a time, but sometimes it’s really hard.
-       From Wednesday to Sunday this week, I am traveling to Maun to shadow other Peace Corps Volunteers (you should be able to find their blog- Ross and Heidi). I am really excited about this trip. Maun is in the Okavango River Delta and is a very long bus ride away, but I’m happy to get out of Kanye and spend some time seeing what volunteers actually do.
-       I found out that the NGO I will most likely be working with is the Botswana National Youth Council. I think this is good, but who knows at this point.
-       My host family likes me most when I am dancing, or doing impressions of myself running into cows at night or doing impressions of my parents snoring (sorry mom and dad). I am much like a clown here and they are constantly chanting, “Lorato, bina (dance)!”, “Lorato, mogaro (snore)!”, or “Lorato le kgomo (Lorato & cow)!” and then laughing when I appease them. My dancing is terrible, so they ask me to dance often. Actually, they don’t ever ask me to do anything, and I can’t tell if it’s a cultural difference or a language limitation that I am constantly being ordered around.
-       The trainees have claimed a bar called Motse Lodge. We usually go there Saturdays after training ends around noon. It’s expensive, but worth it for the wine, food, and lack of people other than us trainees and the bar tenders. I look forward to these afternoons.
-       Tomorrow (Monday, the 25th) is my first LPI (Language Proficiency Interview). It’s an oral test of my Setswana skills (or rather, my lack thereof). I am trying not to get to stressed about it as it’s sort of just practice, but it’s hard for me because I am not used to being crappy at academic things. Setswana is a very hard language to learn. I am not good at it. Ask my host family, they’ll tell you, “Lorato sesu! (Lorato is a fool)”. I am trying to get used to not being top of the class.
-       I would love to upload pictures, but the Internet here is slow and my time is extremely limited. Maybe while I’m in Maun, I’ll be able to give it a try, but no guarantees. I’m also having issues with my camera in uploading pics onto my computer- don’t know what the deal is there. Meh.
-       Molly (one of our cats at home in Brockport) is sick again. At first they were thinking leukemia (watch my heart breaking), but that is looking much less likely (so thankful for that!). This is part of the reason that I’m so anxious to be home. Colin is taking care of things with the awesome help of our parents who have been shuttling Molly back and forth to specialists and watching him when Colin’s not home. Thanks to Gary & Karen & mom & dad. You guys are life savers! Still don’t know exactly what’s wrong with him, but hoping for the best.
-       My sister Kate and her husband Brent are on a fabulous vacation. They are stationed in Korea, so they decided to travel to Cambodia and Thailand. I’m super jealous. Sounds amazing.
-       Colin and parents and Caitlin (and Mike, too, I think?) went down to see Grandma in Binghamton this weekend for Easter. Jealous of them, too.

That’s about it! Love to all. Miss you! Your emails and texts and calls and mail is so much appreciated. Peace!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Homestay beginning

I feel like it’s been weeks since I have arrived in Africa, but I’ve only been here for 9 days. After over 30 hours of traveling, we arrived in Gaborone, Botswana at the Big Five Lodge which was to be our home from Sunday to Thursday. The hotel was very nice, especially by Botswana standards. I hope to be able to post pictures soon. We started training almost immediately, to include Setswana language classes, culture lessons, training and volunteer expectations, Peace Corps rules and policies, and information about our jobs and duties as Peace Corps volunteers.  For now we are considered Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs). We become Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) when we swear in June 7th.  We find out our specific jobs and where we will be posted on May 14th. 

Anyway, Thursday, I met my host family. It was a very crazy day. We left Gabs and headed to Kanye, a village about an hour (?) away, where we spend the duration of our training. We had a long ceremony with the host families and then finally they announced who belonged to whom. My host mom did a lot of yelling and jumping up and down with excitement. She held my hand for about 2 hours. She speaks about zero English. We took a kombi ride home and I felt so scared and lonely when it dropped me off with this stranger in a strange place that was to be my home. I walked into the house and met my new nephew, Buhle, who is 4 months old and his mom (my sister), Amogelang, who is 21 (her birthday is today!). My brother, Obekeng, is 16 (turning 17 on Sunday). I have another brother, Bakang AKA Andrew, who is 26 (ish?).  My new Setswana name is Lorato, which means love. My surname is Obusitswe. There are two tenants who live in my family’s compound, Kago (23) and Thabano (26). I think I have a dad (?) who works in South Africa but will be coming home for Easter.

Thursday was extremely overwhelming. With the anxiety of meeting my family aside, I was also dealing with jet lag, anti-malarial medications, and new vaccinations (typhoid, yellow fever, rabies, meningitis, and flu so far). My host family wasn’t speaking much English and I was exhausted. It was (and still is) so awkward for me to sit in a room with strangers who I am supposed to treat (and who are supposed to treat me) as family. Communication is a huge barrier.

My homestay situation seems to be one of the most basic/limited in terms of amenities in our trainee group. Our compound has 2 buildings and a pit latrine. The one building, where Kago and Thabano live, has the kitchen with a small fridge, a gas stove, and an electric kettle that we use to heat water for bathing, laundry, and washing dishes.  There is no running water, but we have a tap out at the end of the yard and I’m constantly carrying water up to the house in buckets. In the other building, we have a sitting room with a tv (that is on always, at full blast, and is tuned in to ridiculous old American tv shows, Setswana soap operas, WWE, and other such awfulness), 3 bedrooms, and a bathroom. The bathroom is where we bathe only, but we carry in all the water from outside for bucket baths. I have figured out how to wash my hair, my body, and the bathtub (before and after my bath) with only my 3 gallon bucket full of water. I have yet to figure out how to do this without getting water all over the floor.  The house is made of cement- walls and floor, with a corrugated metal roof that also serves as a ceiling and a roosting area for chickens and roosters. BTW, whoever said that roosters crow at dawn was leaving a lot out. They crow all the damn time. My bedroom has a twin bed, two nighstands where I keep my clothes, and a small table and nightstand where I store my toiletries. There is also a chair where I dry clothes/towels and my luggage, which also holds stuff.  I have a door that locks with a key and a window (no screen). I think I have managed to rid myself of the spiders with whom I was sharing the room with a terrifying and wonderful product called DOOM. I have a light in my room (a lightbulb that dangles out of the wall), but electricity is either all on or all off here- there are no switches to this lightbulb, so it’s on when the power for Kanye is on, and off when the power for Kanye is off. Thankfully, I have a headlamp and a couple of flashlights, and I have an eye mask because the light is on all night long.

At my house, we have a lot of visitors.They come and hang out all day and there are always kids around. I’m not really sure who is related and who isn’t, but I know that some are cousins, some are friends, and some are neighbors. They are trying to teach me different games but I am terrible at all of them. I taught them how to limbo, which they seem to like. I wish I knew more kids games that are easy to explain without much talking and without any equipment. I’ve figured out that nail polish is universal and that it will make me friends with little girls quickly.

It is pretty hot here right now. It gets “cool” at night, but I keep hearing that it will eventually get cold. It’s pretty dry, though I did experience my first thunderstorm when we were staying at the Lodge in Gabs and it was pretty awesome. I can tell that it’s pretty dry now, as I’m drinking lots of water but not using the bathroom very much at all (whether this is related to dehydration or my fear of the pit latrine, I’m not sure). The landscape is very hilly and surprisingly green, though there is that classic red-brown African dirt everywhere that there isn’t trees or scrub brush. There are chickens, donkeys, and cows (wearing bells) everywhere. We have vervet monkeys that hang out at the training center, too. They seem pretty shy. My house has a dog named Bobi. I have become friends with him. I haven’t seen anyone beat him yet, but I heard it happen the other night. I’m trying to stay disconnected from that as much as possible, but I still try to feed and water him whenever I can and I talk to him and give him some attention.

I have a cell phone. It works sort of. Getting in touch with me can be difficult, especially if you’re using a phone card. Skype calls work pretty well, but I get disconnected a lot. I can receive calls and texts at no cost to me. I can’t text back to Skype or to phones without international texting turned on (mom and dad, yours isn’t on, call Verizon!). My cell phone number is (011 or +1) 267 (country code) 76569775 (yes, 8 digits). I’m 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time and I go to bed early, so no calls after 10 p.m. my time. If you’re texting me, please include a signature with your name or something so I know who you are since I don’t have most numbers programmed in to my phone.

I spent Friday in training. We processed our first night of homestay and I was the crier. It really had nothing to do with my family or house, but everything to do with being homesick. I was ready to go home to New York and back to Colin and comfort. I’m definitely still having moments like that, but I’m trying to focus on my goals and why I’m here and what I’m hoping to accomplish while I’m here. I wanted this so badly and I don’t want to give up just because I’m lonely. But having the choice and the ability to go home at any moment definitely makes it harder to decide to stay!

Saturday I went to the shops with my sister and met my other brother who lives in Gaborone but visits on weekends. I spent the rest of the day playing with my sister and her friends and their children. They love to watch me dance and struggle with speaking Setswana. Every time I talk (or dance), most people start laughing. This is hard for me to get used to. Being stared at all the time is difficult, too. I’m hoping that when I start getting a grasp on Setswana, this will feel less awkward and unusual.

Sunday I went to a church with Thabano. My family doesn’t go to church, but I asked to go for the experience. It was pretty interesting. It was extremely loud because the sound system was jacked up and not very good. The service was done in Setswana and English and Shelley, the other volunteer who was there with me, and I were asked to introduce ourselves to the congregation. I was somehow able to avoid committing to a second visit. Two and a half hours of a Sunday morning will be much better spent sleeping in, but I’m glad I went to see what it was like. I met a bunch of friends and walked downtown with them for most of the rest of the day. We found the Internet café and ended up sunburned and parched from being out in the sun for so long.

Monday we had training bright and early at 8:00. My host family doesn’t let me walk anywhere alone, which is annoying, but probably good since I can’t seem to figure out where I live or where anyone else lives. My sense of direction is bad enough when there are street signs and maps, but there is no map for me here and no street signs, and my family takes me “short cuts” to everything, so we go a different way every damn time and I can’t figure out where shit is. It’s frustrating.

We have training every day from 8 until 4:30. Next week, we have to start walking to training ourselves- they’ve been picking us up at our kgotlas (village meeting center) since we got here, but the star treatment ends at the end of the week. This means about an hour (?) long walk each way, so I’ll be getting up with the sun.

I’m tired of the food already. Paleche, morogo (like spinach but much more bitter), porridge (fermented sorghum meal), bread, rice, pasta (plain), and dumplings (bread) are the basic staples (SO MUCH STARCH!!!), along with cabbage, beans, maize (like corn, but very tough and chewy), and pumpkin. We eat beef and chicken sometimes but I try to avoid the meat because it’s not my favorite thing. Care packages welcome! Easy Mac, regular Mac & cheese, cheese that doesn’t require refrigeration, crackers (Better Cheddars would be amazing or Cheese Ritz Bits), granola, dry fruit, granola or fruit bars, beef jerky, and all forms of spices (chili powder, garlic powder, red pepper, black pepper, onion powder) would be amazing, as would pictures and letters. I think I’m not supposed to get boxes yet (padded envelopes only), and it’s very expensive to mail stuff, but I think Colin has the best system figured out, so just ask him. When filling out the customs form, just put “Educational Materials”. 

Anyway, Internet is spotty- we have it at the training site, but only about an hour of the day available to use it, so I haven't been able to read much news or FB too much. I hope it will be different once I get to my site, but we'll see... 
That's all for now!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wow, I'm in Africa!

Dumelang boma le boro! I made it to Gaborone! It was a very long trip and Philadelphia and Rochester seem like so long ago. So far everything is good. I'm feeling healthy but tired and totally overwhelmed. I had been waiting for this experience to feel real, and yesterday while having tea at our hotel right after we arrived, it finally is: I'm in AFRICA!!! Internet is expensive and slow, but we get our phones tomorrow and then Colin will have my contact info. Thursday we leave to go to our training site and start our stay with our host families. Scary!  xoxo

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Tomorrow is the day! I depart for staging around 11 a.m. and arrive in Philly around 1:00. These last few days have felt really bizarre. Honestly, I've tried hard not to think about the magnitude of what I'm about to do. Sometimes I look at my packed bags or my comfortable bed or my loving partner or my adorable cats and think, "Am I really doing this? What was I thinking?" But, I have managed to limit my thoughts to just that. Any further and I might just stay in bed all day tomorrow and be content to keep my life comfortable and familiar.

Colin and I have been talking about the differences between being the Leaver and being the One Left Behind. Now that we're experiencing the opposite of our normal, it's so much easier to relate. I think I know what he's going through because I have watched him leave so many times. I think he knows what I'm going through because he has done this before. We both agree that it's probably easiest for the Leaver in a lot of ways. Everything will be new and exciting and overwhelming for me. Though I will have to strike some balance between sadness over leaving him and excitement about this adventure, he is stuck in our home with everything to remind him that I'm gone.

Right now is a good time for me to reflect on why I'm joining the Peace Corps and moving around the world for over 2 years, thousands of miles from the people I love. Since we moved back to Rochester almost 2 years ago after Colin finished his active duty Army status, I have felt unsatisfied with my circumstances. The job hunt lasted over a year and yielded no results. I felt stuck and like I was waiting for my life to start again. I'd been thinking about the Peace Corps and thinking that it would be an awesome adventure to take with Colin, but due to his job, he could not qualify for Peace Corps service. I finally decided that this is something I have to do, even if on my own. I don't want to feel like I'm not contributing to making the world better. As cheesy as it is, I want to do something, ANYTHING, good for humanity. These next two years will define the rest of my life.

I am a little bit older than a bunch of the volunteers in our Bots 10 group, and a little bit younger. Many in our group have just graduated from college, and then at the other end of the spectrum are people who have retired or are around my parents' age. I'm hoping that this will allow me to relate to everyone more easily. I'm excited to meet this group! We've been talking on Facebook and the blogs for months and tomorrow I'll finally be able to see their faces in person. I'm a little shy when it comes to meeting new people, but I'm hoping all of the awkwardness will be softened by the nervousness and slight intimacy we've achieved with our angsty/confused/panicky posts on Facebook. I think sharing our vulnerability in this way warms us up for the face-to-face "getting to know you" aspect of Staging and orientation. 

I feel like I'm as ready as I'll ever be for Peace Corps. Colin and I went to the movies last night and saw The Last Lions. It was set in Botswana, so you know we had to do it. It was a nature documentary about lions (obv.) and it made me more excited and anxious (if that's even possible). My bags are packed and I'm almost 2 lbs overweight. I haven't decided whether I'm going to bother weeding through my luggage again or whether I quit and just keep my fingers crossed that no one cares about an extra two pounds. At some point, I need to post my final packing list- you'd be amazed what we've managed to fit into my bags. I say "we" as if I actually did anything- Colin is a professional packing genius and I tasked him with making it fit.

These last couple of weeks are sort of a fog already, and I know that a week from now, this day will feel like it happened years ago. I have said so many goodbyes. I really hate saying goodbye. I know it's sort of stupid to say that, because who likes it? I just don't think I'm very good at it. Typically, I don't cry and I think that can be disappointing to the other person if they are crying. When Colin deployed, I always waited until the last second to show any emotion and would usually wait until he was out of sight before tearing up. I'm wondering what will happen tonight. We're having my parents and Colin's parents over, along with our close friends, Marie, Lauren, Craig, and L&C's daughter, Evelyn. It will be the last time I see them before leaving tomorrow. Colin will take me to the airport, and that's probably when I'll be visibly upset. Something to look forward to!

I'm also looking forward to dinner in Philadelphia tomorrow night. Since I'm the only one (that I know of) in our group who has lived in Philly, I put myself in charge of making dinner reservations for all of us. None of the restaurants we chose would give us reservations for more than 10 or 11 without arranging it with the special events coordinator, so I just made reservations at 3 different restaurants. This way we will be more manageable and everyone has some level of choice in where they eat. I still haven't decided where I want to eat. I'm torn between Pod and El Vez, two of my favorite Philly spots.

This post has rambled on long enough! It may be my last one until June. Still haven't decided if I'm going to keep my computer with me during homestay. I may post in Philly or once I arrive in Gaborone, but this may be it for me. So, until June?! xoxo

Friday, March 25, 2011

Party time, Goodbyes, and an awesome surprise

Craziness. This week has been craziness. We managed to finish all of the home projects and get cleaned up and make a ton of food by Saturday. My party was a huge success. My coffee table survived some intense dancing by about half a dozen people. We had over 50 people crammed in our little house and 15 people camping out overnight in various rooms and on the floor. I got to see a lot of people that I haven't seen in a long time, and say a lot of goodbyes. Luckily, the drinks were flowing and I was happy instead of weepy. My aunt and uncle flew in from Florida for the party and Colin's aunt and uncle and cousin/fiance came from Syracuse, along with his grandma from Binghamton. Caitlin and Mike came in from NY, and so did Jason. All of my college girlfriends made it, too, the first time we have all been together since Kelly's wedding in 2008. It was awesome. Lauren and Craig brought an amazing breakfast spread the next day, including my favorite, Wegman's breakfast pizza, and they also picked up my mother-in-law's famous cinnamon twists. Can you tell that this party was mostly about food? There was an unbelievable amount left over. I'm still eating carrot cake for breakfast.  
 Me with cheese balls.  Because I love cheese balls. 
 Some of my family-of-choice.  Neighbors and friends for 20+ years!
 Most delicious carrot cake on earth, Cheesy Eddies.  It reads, "I will miss you all, but only slightly more than this carrot cake!"  True statement.
 Me and my girlfriends from high school, April, Lauren, Sally, and Marie
Colin and I
 Sally, Craig, Lauren, Jason, and Marie
 Lil and Jessica, friends from college who drove 10 hours or something to get here
 Me and my BFF for the night, champagne
 My mom and me
 My lovely loves from college, Lil, Annette, Jessica, Kris, Sarah, Yel, and Kelly
 Lauren and I Rock Banding together
 Kristin and Kelly impersonating pirates (or at least that's what they tell me now)
 Kristin and I getting down with our bad selves
 Dancing on the coffee table
 BREAKFAST! The next day
 Everyone looks so chipper
 Caitlin, the best sister-in-law in the world, with Ev, my favorite 3 year old.
 Colin and my dad
 Tom and Michelle
 My aunt and uncle and I
Col and I doing a self-pic

So lately, Colin has been asking me to wake him up (what am I, his mother?) early so that he can get to work early and come home early to hang out with me. This works out about .001% of the time. Typically, I'll set my alarm for some ungodly hour, I'll wake him up, and then he asks me to hit snooze about a dozen times before I give up and let him sleep until late. This results in him coming home from work late. He asked me to do it again this morning, and shockingly, the man got himself out of bed like a grown up, so I got up with him and made coffee like a good wife. My sister, in Korea, is usually terrified of calling me in the morning (her night time), but sometimes braves Angry Sleep Tracy in order to talk to me before she goes to bed. This morning was one of those times, but I happened to be awake.  She Skyped my phone and then we got disconnected so I Skyped her by computer. She sounded weird and like she was outside because it was windy, but when I asked her what she was doing, she said, "I just got up." And I was like, "?",  and she said, "I mean I'm getting ready for bed."  I'm stupid in the morning so I just thought she had a long day or something and when she was little she used to mix up salt and sugar and yesterday and tomorrow so I assumed all was normal. Then, there was a knock on the door and I told Colin to get it for me because I wasn't dressed. I kept talking to Kate on Skype and then I heard an echo- my voice from the front door. Kate had flown in from Korea to surprise me and everyone had managed to keep it a secret! I was shocked. I absolutely had NO idea.  So cool. She has a TDY assignment in Dayton, OH for the next two weeks but convinced them to give her leave early so that she could see me this weekend and then drive to Dayton on Sunday. Miraculously, it worked out. I tend to think that this is because she is in the Air Force and they are slightly better organized than the Army. Anyway, she's giving a brief to her old AF ROTC detachment at RIT right now and I'm just waiting for her to be done so that we can have more fun. 

This week has been a series of goodbyes. It's really strange and I just haven't allowed myself to think about it too much because I know that if I do, I'll have a really difficult time walking myself onto that plane on Thursday. I'm mostly packed and hoping that I'm not forgetting anything super important like underpants (btw, is anyone else partial to the word underpants vs. underwear? Underpants just makes me laugh). 

There's been a lot of activity on the Bots 10 FB page. I think most of us are feeling a little antsy/anxious/excited/nervous/etc. It's nice to know that I'm not alone, but sometimes it stresses me out to think about other people being nervous, too, especially when they ask packing questions that I haven't even considered and then I think I'm screwing things up majorly. Sometimes I feel very prepared and sometimes I feel totally unprepared. 

That's all for now! I'm off to say another goodbye. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Angsty Party Prep

I am the worst, I know.  I haven't blogged in a long time, but really, what was I going to say?  It would probably go something like this: "Ah! I don't know how to pack.  Ah! I'm angsty and anxious.  Ah! We've been tearing our house apart for weeks painting, re-wiring, tiling, drywalling, plumbing, etc. trying to get our house ready for a raucous party.  Ah! I hate painting.  Ah!"  Didn't want to bore you all (you know, the hoards that are reading this).

Anyway, the house work is done (FINALLY) and just in time for me to enjoy it for less than 2 weeks before I peace out of here.  My going away party is tomorrow, and I'm super psyched.  I have people coming from far away to send me off and it's very exciting.  Lots of friends and family! I am lucky to have these people in my life.  I am planning to take lots of pictures and post the appropriate ones here and on Facebook. 

Other than that, I've whittled my stuff down to a manageable amount (I think) that fits (mostly) into my luggage.  My ticket to Philly is purchased and I fly in on Thursday, March 31st for staging, departing for Johannesburg (after a bus trip to JFK at 2 a.m.) on Saturday morning (a 15 hour flight), followed by a quick flight to Gaborone.  Woot!

That's it! Back to cleaning, cooking, and generally preparing for the debauchery tomorrow night.  Yee-haw!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Packing Pile

I wanted to post some pictures of the mess I have created of packing.  Having too much time to prepare for Peace Corps is not good for me because it allows me more time to think of crap that I "need".  Thus, I have way too much stuff and it's never going to fit into my bags, let alone fit the 80 lb. weight limit.  I'm definitely going to have to get rid of a bunch of this or have it mailed once I am at my site.  I'm still waiting on the arrival of my duffle bag and my ExOfficio underwear. There are still a few things I have yet to buy, but most are small and won't take up much room.  I think.  I feel like my grandmother who packs 6 months early for a week long trip.  But I'm packing 2 months early for a 2 year trip.  It's just getting ridiculous at this point, but I just have to feel like I'm doing SOMETHING to prepare. 

From top left: my pack & the detachable day pack, sleeping bag, journal, water bottle, condom/contraception demo kit, black laptop case, orange bag for jewelry, green veggie bags, ziploc bag with flashlights and leftover glow sticks from Colin's paratrooper days, bag with knives in it, ziploc with markers, pens, pencils, etc.
 From top left, clockwise: Yellow clutch, re-usable shopping bags & drawstring backpack, flip flops, Merrells, bagged clothes, bag with extra glasses, etc.
 Shoes, bras, clothes, bag with extra glasses, radio, speaker, watch, external hard drive
 Another angle
 Bin that is holding stuff that I definitely want during training: toilettries, green fleece sleeping bag liner, blue quick drying towel, washcloths
 Bin holding stuff that I definitely want at staging: Make-up & toilettries, sneakers that I plan to wear on the plane, purple fleece and pink rain jacket to wear for travel into Philly
 Stuff that I will keep in storage while I'm in training, or things that will have to be mailed to me because they won't fit under the limit.  From top left: non-stick pan, extra bras & clothes, Camelbak, good kitchen knife, veggie peeler, can opener, extra toilettries, waterproof camera cage
 Another view of the same stuff
 Bag with my glasses, radio, watch, speaker, & external hard drive
 Another view of the same bag- tape measure is for keeping track of my body measurements since I won't be bringing a scale and my clothes will get all stretched out from hand washing/drip drying and I want to be able to monitor my weight so that I can maintain a healthy weight while I'm gone.  I didn't lose 38 pounds just to gain it back in Africa. 
 My luggage tags, yellow ones stolen from Colin from his deployment, my various pouches for money & passport, luggage locks
Another view of veggie bags, orange jewelry bag, black laptop case, yellow clutch, bag of glow sticks & flashlighs, bag with knives and bag of markers, pens & pencils