Part of the Beauty of Being Here

A Rainy Night 

   I've been told that it only rains about 5 times a year in the part of Botswana that I live in. I experienced some incredible thunderstorms when I was in training in Kanye, but I've now been living in my village for almost 4 months, and it had not rained here at all since I moved here. Earlier tonight, when it was just beginning to get dark, I heard thunder in the distance. I was so excited that I shut my music off to listen and opened my door to see if there was any rain yet. For a couple of hours I could only hear thunder and there was no rain, but then it started to downpour, and there was more thunder and some lightening! I opened my windows to let the cooler air  and rain smell into my house. I put on some comfortable clothes and stood out on my patio in the rain for a few minutes. I'm sure my neighbors thought that I was absolutely insane for standing outside in the rain, but I didn't care because it was absolutely wonderful. It poured for about 20 minutes, and then stopped suddenly!

Good Night! 

A Child in a Tree 

   Something that I am learning is how much the children here really bring me a sense of hope and fulfillment. I wrote about how discouraged and frustrated I felt last week, but a major part of what got me through that was thinking about the projects I have planned for working with youth here and some of the children I have met here so far. This week the schools are closed for break so I have not been able to work on projects I've started because of this. I honestly was feeling quite aimless and bored at the start of this week because I knew I wouldn't be able to start the after school group I'm working on with a guidance counselor at one of the primary schools yet or  meet with the PACT students at the JSS this week either or work with the guidance counselors there on the ideas we've discussed. I really am eager for the students to be back. I have had some positive and funny interactions with children around my village this week though. Today I was walking down the street and a group of children were playing and stopped to yell out "hi" over and over again, and I stopped to ask them how they were, and they then continued to say "hi" to me until I was out of their sight. This was not an unusual occurrence, but even though it is common, it is still very precious to me. As I walked a little further down the street, I heard a little voice saying "hi" and looked around confused because I did not see any children around. I then looked up and there was a child in a tree!  Maybe you had to be there, but it was one of the most adorable and funniest moments I have experienced here so far. I went from feeling bored and a bit lonely to feeling very lucky to be here and experience moments like these. The positive experiences don't make the negative ones go away, but they definitely stand out much more, and I hope they will have the greatest impact on me. 


The Other Side of a Rough Week

   I will start by sharing a couple of difficult things that have happened in the past week because I think it is important to be honest and write about the tough times here as well. 
   Normally once a week or every two weeks I am able to ride in the ambulance with clinic staff to go to a village about an hour and half drive away to get groceries or take care of other business I may need to take care of like getting my electricity cheque or meetings related to a project I'm working on with Tourism. When I've gone other times I've  been able to get a ride back with the nurses in the ambulance without any issue. There is never a set time when the ambulance will leave to return to my village, but it is usually later in the afternoon, and if they have left earlier the nurses have called me to let me know. This past week I went to wait in the usual spot where the nurses gather and wait for the ambulance at the end of the day and was told by someone I know who happened to be sitting there that the ambulance for my village had already left. Nobody had called me. They had forgotten me there. I was a bit upset by this but was assured that I could ride with some staff from a clinic in a nearby village and that I would be brought to my village. I trusted this and went with them because I knew the person who told me to go with them.
   The ambulance stopped several times on the way for people to run errands, and it was getting dark. I was a little worried because there are a lot of road accidents at night in Botswana because it is so difficult to see the animals on the road at night, but I knew it was better to stay with people who I knew were bringing me to my village rather than getting out and trying to get a ride with someone else and possibly not having a ride at all. As we got closer to my village, about 40k away or maybe even a little less, the driver pulled over and stopped on a nurses compound. I was  then told that was as far as they were going bring me because my village was past that village and that they could drop me off on the side of the road to hitch the rest of the way. By this time it was dark, I didn't know this village, and there was no way that it would have been safe for me to be hitching from there. I told them that I had been told that I was getting a ride to my village and that if I had known that they were not going to be driving me all the way there I would have tried to get a ride with someone else who would. I also explained that it was not safe for me to be hitching at night. One of the nurses in the car seemed to feel badly but still wasn't going to drive me to my village herself. She asked me to get out of the car and talk with one of the other nurses and see if I could convince them to drive me to my village. Then the nurses who had been  riding with and the driver left me on the nurses compound and went home. I sat there with these two other nurses who I had never met before and explained my situation. Their only responses were "Well, what are you going to do then?" and "Don't you have any friends in your village who could pick you up here?".  I told them that at this point they were my only options for a ride home because of these other people leaving me when they had told me that they were going to drive me to my village. They said again "But don't you have any friends?", and I began to cry a little out of frustration and told them that I haven't been here very long, I'm getting to know people, and that I do not know anyone well enough in my village who has a car who I could ask to come and get me. I even offered to pay p10 to whoever would drive me to my village. Then they said that fine they would give me a ride, and I thanked them. I was so glad at this point just to have a ride home.
 The car was safe and the driver drove slowly to watch for animals, which I was thankful for. However, both people in the car  laughed at me for crying and said "Don't you like it here? Why were you crying". I told them that it is not an easy thing to live far away from home, get used to a different culture, and that I had a bad week and that feeling forgotten about and like people didn't care about me or my safety was upsetting to me and now they were laughing at me, which didn't help. I also told them that I get along well with people in my village, but that developing strong friendships with people who don't always get where I'm coming from isn't easy and takes time. They seemed a little embarrassed about laughing at me after that and changed the subject to other topics like bugs and snakes. They did bring me home safely and when I offered them the p10 they wouldn't take it.
   The experience described above was the final straw of a long week of feeling angry and upset with various things. Earlier in the week at one of the schools I had met a teenage girl who had a bandage wrapped around her head and a black eye. She was sitting by the main office at the school when I was waiting for a meeting with the head guidance counselor. She looked very sad and like she wanted to say something to me but was hesitating. I said "Hello, how are you?" and smiled and she said "I am fine" and gave a slight smile back but was then quiet. I waited a while to see if she would say anything else, but she didn't. A while later when I was meeting with the guidance teachers I told them that I had met a student who looked like she had been very hurt and upset. I asked what had happened and was told in a very nonchalant way that she had been beaten by another student in the village. I was saddened and surprised by the calmness with which they said this, as if it was very common. The thing that surprised me the most was that I genuinely like these guidance counselors, and they do typically express a lot of concern and seem to care for students so the fact that their reaction to this student having been beaten just didn't seem to fit. I spent two hours meeting with the head guidance counselor that day, first listening to her talk about how she feels a lack of support from others and how difficult it is to get things accomplished and listing off all of the things that were supposed to be planned and weren't working out. We came up with a list of some things to work on together. When I left her office there were several teachers sitting around playing cards, and I felt irritated by this. In addition to these things I had received some difficult news from home. I did not like the way I was feeling by the end of the week at all and felt frustrated with myself for feeling this way. 

    The good thing about bad weeks here is that they do get better. I had spoken with one of my PCV friends about how I was having a rough week, had received some upsetting news from home, and feeling frustrated and angry and hated feeling that way, and she invited me to her village for the weekend to "escape" for a bit. I took her up on her offer, and it ended up being very helpful. We went to a birthday party for one of her Motswana friends from work, and everyone at the party was so kind, welcoming, and incredible that it was a wonderful reminder of the fact that there are people here who are genuinely caring. We spent a lot of time talking, not only venting about the difficult moments, but about the positive experiences as well. We talked about the things we can't control, here and at home,and the things we can, and I finally started to feel like myself again.  We also spent time talking to children and playing with puppies and of course ate good food and laughed a lot too, which is always a good thing. I returned to my village feeling refreshed, focused on the positive, and motivated to spend time with good people and work on the projects that I feel good about. I feel like myself only a little bit tougher. 


Talking about Sex and Rescuing a Goat


   Last week I went to the village that one of my PCV friends is working in to present STEPS and see what her village is like. We presented a film about teens talking about sex, the same one that we had presented to the PACT club at the JSS in my village a couple of weeks ago, to the PACT club there. Something that was very apparent from the discussion after the film is that the PACT club in my friend's village is at a place of already feeling pretty comfortable with each other and talking very honestly and openly. They asked questions and made comments about everything from wet dreams, to things that their peers say to each other to try to get them to have sex, condom negotiation, and sexual exploitation very openly and maturely. I was both surprised and impressed. The PACT club that I've been working with in my village is not at the same place yet. The guidance counselors have asked me to work with them to be able to talk more freely with their peers and provide more peer support so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. It was a nice motivator to see how things can be though. The kids in the PACT club here are great but very shy so I guess the next step is helping them build more trust amongst each other and with me and their guidance teachers so they feel that they can talk more openly. I actually really missed meeting with them this week and am looking forward to seeing them again this week.
   Something kind of crazy happened this week during my visit in my friend's village. On our way to the JSS for our presentation, we found a goat that was stuck on a fence. Earlier in the morning my friend had pointed out some goats that were climbing onto rocks and then a fence to get to the other side of it and eat grass. I had thought that they were adorable and very smart goats. Apparently this goat had been trying to climb the fence, but he somehow managed to trip and get one of his hind legs caught in the fence wire. The wire was wrapped around his foot very badly and there was some bone exposed. When we found him he was on the ground with just his leg behind him still stuck to the fence and was whimpering. We were able to stand him up so his foot wasn't being pulled as much, and he hopefully wouldn't be in as much pain. All we had to unwind the wire fence with so that we could get him lose was a pair of scissors so it took a long time, but we were eventually able to get him lose. His foot was clearly still very injured, there was blood caked on it, and he had a very open wound so just before we released the last piece of wire my friend poured some disinfecting solution onto his injury to hopefully clean it a bit and keep it from becoming infected. We tried to lift him over the fenced in area that he was now trapped in and wouldn't be able to climb out of on his own, but he was too heavy. My friend let her landlord know about the goat because he would know who owned him with the hope that whoever did would come and free him. We left him with some water and a pear. The next morning he wasn't there anymore so hopefully that means that someone helped him get out. He was pretty hurt so it is also possible that his owner wouldn't want to keep him anymore and may have had him slaughtered, which is sad, but I'm still glad that we helped him and ended some of his suffering that day. I definitely never would have thought that I'd ever end up rescuing a goat before coming here.


Hot Cocoa Toast to Life!

 I mentioned recently that I had been worried about someone from home. I won't write anything too specific because I want to protect the privacy of this person, but I will say that what I had been worried about is that this person potentially had cancer. I honestly don't think I had ever been as scared as I was when I heard about this possibility, and I can't even begin to imagine how scared they must have felt or how hard it must have been to be worrying and waiting during the past couple of months. Today I received the best news ever from home: this person is 100% cancer free! I wish I could have been there today to celebrate the wonderful news with them, but I know they are surrounded by loved ones and good food (hopefully a nice chocolate dessert of some sort). Even though I couldn't be there in person to celebrate, I am certainly celebrating here in their honor by listening to some Billy Joel, who I grew up listening to because of this person, having some hot chocolate, even though it is way too hot for that right now because it reminds me of home and them, and spontaneously cheering off and on out of relief and joy that they are ok. I also promise to make the most out of this whole Peace Corps experience because life is short, and there are so many things that are out of our control that can happen. What I do have control over is how I live my life, and I'm going to live mine to its fullest and celebrate the little things because those are the things that really matter. So I raise my glass of hot coco on this African summer night to one of the strongest people I know and say thank you for once again teaching me an important life lesson. 

Ke rata hot coco le Billy Joel thata! ( I think anyone could pretty much guess what that one says)


Low point...Aieeeeesh!

   I will start out by saying that most days lately, I've been pretty happy. Overall, I've been feeling pretty settled in my village and have been finding projects to work on and people to work with. I'm enjoying my interactions at the schools with the guidance counselors and students.I joke around with the nurses at the clinic. Most people in my village are friendly toward me, and I feel safe here. I'm learning that there is a difference between people being friendly  versus actually being friends with people and feeling settled somewhere versus feeling included somewhere though. I'm a pretty laid back person and usually make friends pretty easily because there aren't very many people whom I don't get along with. I had NO idea just how hard it would be to feel like I actually fit in and have true friends in my village. I thought after living in my village for a few months, I would feel a stronger sense of belonging than I actually do feel at this time. I am definitely not there yet, and sometimes I feel badly about that.
   It is often difficult to tell who is being genuinely nice and who just wants something from me . There isn't a day that goes by without at least one person asking me for money, clothes that I'm wearing, my water bottle that I'm carrying, my phone number, for me to marry them, or to marry me off to someone in their family. It feels really discouraging to have a conversation with someone and think "Maybe I could be friends with this person?" to then have them ask for something from me at the end of the conversation or the next time they see me. I know it sounds horrible, but this is making it harder for me to feel like I can trust people. When someone talks to me, I am polite, and I talk to them, and I have had some great conversations with people, but in the back of my mind I am usually wondering if they are going to ask me for something next. I'm not trying to say anything bad about Batswana because most Batswana are very nice, and there are a few people who I could see myself becoming friends with in the future, but like I said, I'm just not there yet. I want to feel like they actually want to be friends with me and not just because they think I'm a rich American or because of whatever they think they will get from me.
   I hadn't realized how much this was impacting me until this weekend. I had gone for a walk and someone asked me for two pula, which is not an uncommon occurance at all. Then some guy walking down the street tried to hit on me by saying something lame like "Dumela, baby" followed by a marriage proposal, which is not uncommon here either. Normally, I have been able to just say "Sorry, ga ke na madi" ( I have no money) or make jokes like "oh ok, I'm worth 1,000 cows. Do you have 1,000 cows to give to my family?". I ended up feeling really upset and bothered this time and wanting to just hang out in my house alone. Then, I started to feel lonely. It had been a while since I had felt truly homesick here, but YIKES  it hit me hard this weekend. I sat sobbing in my house for a long while and missing being at home and and being able to make spur of the moment plans with friends. I missed being around people who have known me forever, understand where I'm coming from, my beliefs, and accept me for me. I missed feeling like I could be 100% myself.  I missed being around people I could trust. I have some good PCV friends here, but the closet PCV lives a couple of hours away from me, and I live 5 hours or more away from many of my PCV friends.  Usually, I don't feel that far away from my friends here or even from home because I have been lucky to be able to stay in touch pretty frequently, but this weekend I felt further away than I have felt since I first arrived in Botswana. It is crazy how much something that doesn't seem like a huge deal and that I didn't even realize was making me so upset was  impacting me. It definitely snuck right up on me. 
   All of this being said, I'm working on it. I'm trying very hard to be patient, keep an open mind, and to not shut out people completely because I'm scared of trusting them. I'm also going to try and make sure I take the time to process things more often, since this weekend was a pretty clear sign that I was not doing a very good job of that. This experience is supposed to change me though, right? 

Anyway, I think I'm all cried out for a good couple of weeks at least! ; )

Go Siame! 


When the Unexpected Happens...

   Yesterday I went to one of the two primary schools in my village. The plan was that I would present a STEPS film with the guidance counselor about a child who loses her mother to HIV, and then following the film we would have a discussion followed by an arts and crafts activity. In the midst of my hour long walk to this primary school, I received a call from the guidance counselor letting me know that the power had gone out in my village and that we wouldn't be able to show the film. She asked if I wanted to cancel. I told her no, that I was already half way there and was still up for coming to the school to do the arts and craft activity even if we couldn't show the movie. When I got to the school, I felt so badly that we couldn't show the film because there were close to 100 students between the ages of 6 and 12 waiting outside of the library. I was then relieved because I realized there was no way that showing the film to  100 kids was going to work out very well. First of all, the room the guidance counselor had set up was too small to fit all of the kids, and second of all, there was no way they would have all been able to pay attention. I ended up breaking the kids into two groups of  about 50 students at a time to participate in the art activity. I told the teachers I could come back a second day if the second group of kids didn't want to wait around because it was after school, and they technically did not have to stay. However, the kids wanted to stay. There were kids waiting outside of the classroom we were using and at the windows to be able to have their turn after the first group finished! I felt horribly that they were waiting, but each group of kids seemed to have fun, and in the end, that is what matters. I had asked them to draw someone in their life who was important to them, and I collected their art work so it can be put up on the clinic walls. We told them ahead of time that their art work could be displayed, but if they wanted to keep their picture they could. Most of the kids drew family and friends. The guidance counselor told me that  some of the kids had drawn parents who had passed away, which was sad. One of the kids drew a picture of a person with a tear on his or her cheek.  I got some pictures of them working on their art work at their tables so that they could see themselves, and we also handed out stickers that said things like "Great Job" to each of the kids at the end of the activity. They were all smiles during that part.Overall, it was pretty successful, but we still want to show the STEPS film some other time. We are also talking about starting some sort of after school group that meets once a week that has a smaller number of students in it, like maybe 40, so that we can play more games and do more activities with them that work better in a smaller group than 100 plus students. I asked that if we do that we can maybe come up with a list of kids who the guidance counselor and teachers feel may benefit most from it, like maybe kids who are having a tough time in school right now or who are dealing with the loss of a parent. 
   When I got home I was totally exhausted and very thirsty from my long walk home in the hot sun, lugging a projector that was never even used. When I went to get water, I discovered that there was no water coming out of my faucet. Crap. My village was out of water. Luckily, I had some water stored that I was able to boil and drink. Just when I had finished boiling my water and was relaxing on my couch with some green tea and a book, I heard a knock at my door. I figured it was one of my neighbors checking to see if I had water, being the silly American that I am, they probably thought I didn't have any stored. When I opened the door it was my 10 year old neighbor, and he looked upset. He asked me if my house was out of water too, and I said yes, and that I believed the whole village was. He told me his dad was away at work for a couple of days, they had no water stored, and that he didn't know what to do. I helped him get water from my stored water bucket, and he said he knew how to boil it on his own, but I made him promise to come back and let me know if he needed any help or needed more water. A little while later there was a knock on my door again. It was the same little neighbor who this time wanted to say thank you. He saw the world map I have on my wall as we stood in my doorway talking, and his eyes grew wider. He asked me different questions about where I was from, and we talked about time zones. He thought it was very cool that when he is getting up to go to school in the morning, kids on the East Coast of America are still asleep because it is the middle of the night there. I told him about my youngest brother who is 11 and how he thinks that is cool too. I ended up feeling kind of glad the water was out because I don't think any of this would have happened otherwise. It felt good to be helping someone here with something so simple like having water, when I've been helped with so much since coming to Botswana. It felt good to even know how to store and boil water.The water ended up coming back later in the evening, and I got a another knock on my door "Neo, metsi is back!"
   Sometimes it is very frustrating how easily plans can change here, but then there are days like this when things that were totally out of my control happened, and it turned out to be a pretty cool day anyway.


5 Months and Counting

  It has now been five months since I left the U.S. to come to Botswana. It definitely feels strange that it has been five months since I've seen my family because I have never gone this long without seeing them. The strange thing is that even though some days feel  long, overall it feels like time has been passing quickly here. I still have so much time left. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed thinking about that and other times I feel like there is so much that I want to do before June of 2013 that I don't want time to pass too quickly.
   Something I'm learning is that it really does take a lot of time for things to happen here. It takes time to get used to living here, to feel a sense of belonging and respected, and it takes time to feel successful. It can be hard walking down the street and still having people ask for money when you have had a conversation with them the day before and thought that they were starting to accept you and not see you simply as someone who could give them something. It can be hard when you just want to walk down the street and be friendly to people and have a real conversation, and then it turns into someone hitting on you instead. I guess I thought that after being  at site for 3 months it wouldn't' happen as much as it still does, but I'm trying to accept that 3 months really isn't very much time and that I still stand out as being different. I still have to earn respect and fitting in.
   There are some positive experiences that have happened recently that I would like to share though.
   A few days ago I had to get a ride back from a nearby village from getting groceries because the bus I had taken to get to the village to get my groceries had gotten in late so I missed the last bus headed back toward my village. I was a little worried I wouldn't find a ride back. Then this man who was probably close to around my age and an older woman, his mother, helped me. The best part about that experience was that we had meaningful conversations, and there was no asking for my phone number or marriage proposals thrown at me. It felt genuine. The the man who was driving accidentally hit a chicken that was crossing the road ( I know, why did the chicken cross the road, right?). Anyway, when he hit the chicken he pulled over and got out of the car to look for it to make sure it was ok. Everything about that experience was so rare, at least from what my experience has been so far.
   I also finally got to meet with the PACT club at the Junior Secondary School here this week. Another volunteer in my district and I presented a STEPS film to them about teens talking about sex, and then we facilitated a discussion. At first the PACT students were dead silent after the film, and I was a little worried nobody was going to talk at all. I then talked for a couple of minutes about how it was a safe space, and we would not judge anything they said or be upset with them. A few students began to talk, and then some more began to chime in. There were 45 students who attended the meeting total because the PACT club had invited some other students who are interested in PACT to join, and I suspect a few others straggled into the library to see what we were doing, which was fine by me. Most of them were so shy and soft spoken that when they did speak I had to move right next to them to be able to hear them. At other points they would whisper quietly to each other and seemed hesitant to ask us any questions or talk at all. We ended up handing out pieces of paper for them to write comments or questions on for us to look at later to help them feel more comfortable, and that worked very well. Our question box was full by the end. I'm going back next week to meet with them and their guidance counselor to discuss their comments and questions and have a small focus group discussion. I'm really looking forward to it.
   I found out that my Setswana level is now intermediate low, which is something that I feel pretty good about. I was only novice high before, and Setswana is definitely something I've had to work pretty hard at so it is a good feeling to be improving.
    Oh, and It is getting warm here! I finally had to put my bug net up, which was a process in itself, let me tell you!  I'm still not convinced it keeps all bugs out though because I still am getting some intense bug bites. The nice thing about it getting warmer is that people are outside of their homes more, which is nice. There are always kids playing near my house or in my yard, and they are funny. My laundry also dry much faster, which is another plus. (Means I get to sleep in later on the weekends because I can start washing my clothes later!)
   My family and friends at home have been on my mind even more so lately because of some things going on with some of them, both positive and worrisome. Luckily, I've been able to stay in touch, and it does seem like everything is going to be ok. Things are definitely looking up for those involved. I am lucky to have some good friends here who have been here to listen as well.

Well, that is all for now.