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 cafĂ© 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!