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 cafĂ© 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