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!


  1. I'm so happy to hear that you are enjoying things now (minus the cold weather) and you are looking forward to the next two years. You are sacrificing a lot to do this and I think it's very brave and awesome.

    I must admit- every time you say things like "I make smores with my sister every Sunday night", I get a little jealous...I feel like if I ever met your Botswana sister we might not get along because of this. Does that make me a bad person? I want to make smores with you every Sunday night!!

    Jealousy aside, I'm very proud of you and what you've chosen to do. I'm excited for you to finish your two years so you can come back and we can live in the same time zone for a minute. :)

    Love you. Miss you! Happy anniversary in a couple days!


  2. That was enjoyable reading for several reasons.
    I am very glad to learn of your progress and the resultant improvement in your outlook and renewed focus on your goals.
    I must admit that I had a tinge of jealousy when you were invited to Botswana and I finally got an invitation, but to Macedonia; partly because of climate differences. I got over that before reading your posting, so this only reinforced my previous acceptance of my reality.
    As another SWOS, I especially want to send anniversary wishes to both you and your spouse at home. My anniversary will be on 6/16 (our 32nd!). I anticipate sorely missing my spouse for the next two celebrations, even if she is able visit, so I have already purchased and packed cards in case I won't be able to get any in Macedonia.
    - Congratulations for completing training.
    - Best wishes for your swearing in activities and getting settled into your new site.
    - Happy anniversary!