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