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!


  1. Stay strong Tracy. I was a bit teary eyes reading this thinking of how lonely you must feel. I hope that things gets easier for you, I am sure they will!

  2. Oh Tracy! Hang in there lady, you're going to get the hang of Setswana and village life just as quickly as your got the hang of taking a bucket bath.

    By the time you get to read this comment you'll probably be feeling awesome.

    Wishing you all the best,

  3. Hi Tracy- that all sounds about right! Seriously, Don't worry, you will get used to is soon enough! Just go easy on yourself, it takes time to figure out how to live among the chaos. And you are not alone. I really never thought I would, but I did.
    Remember that you are kind of in a shock period right now- so LAUGHING is the absolute best way to get through it. Try to laugh at home with your family- not just with the other trainees.
    Another thing that helped me was to force a smile, even when I didn't feel like it. It makes you feel better and changes how others interact with you (for the better)

    Also, just unscrew your light bulb and wear ear plugs at night so you can sleep! the amount of sleep you get can make or break your day.
    And the more excersize you get, the better you will feel- trust me! Even if you just stretch in the morning and at night.
    Best of luck and I look forward to meeting you

    Amanda Wright-Gumare

  4. Tracy, Wa reng? Oh my little bucket-bather! I am so so proud and weirdly jealous of this crazy experience..continue to describe it in such great detail! xoxo <3

  5. Tracy, thanks for sharing. Sounds like you're already getting into swing of things. I'm sure by the time I arrive in Rwanda, you'll be a certified bucket bath pro.

    I know sometimes everything seems frustrating and annoying and overwhelming. Don't ignore those feelings. Be sure to acknowledge them, but then send them on their way.

    As Heidi already said, I expect by the time you read this comment, you'll be feeling a lot better with a huge smile on your face. I cannot wait to hear more about your experiences!

  6. Hi Tracy!
    Congratulations on getting to Botswana safely. Thanks for spending your limited free time by posting news of how you are doing.
    Your descriptions of your experiences feel genuine and it all scares the crap out of me as I await departure for staging.
    I hope to see photos from you soon.
    Best wishes becoming more comfortable with communication. I know that will be key to adjusting and will help everyone there get to kknow and love the real you.