Last weekend was the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps party. Volunteers from all over Botswana, Peace Corps staff and their families, Returned Volunteers (RPCVs) and their families, and special guests such as an ambassador attended the party. There was food, some dancing, and there were also crafts that volunteers brought from their villages. It was great to see Bots10s, Bots9s, and the new Bots11s, who I met for the first time at the party. A couple of the RPCVs also spoke, and it made me think about how short my time here really is and how quickly it is already going. I left the party feeling very uplifted and grateful to be here.
It has gotten very hot very quickly during the past week. Temperatures have been around 102F pretty consistently. People are calling this a heat wave because it is still only spring! Pretty soon it will be summer though. I'm trying to be better at storing water since summer in Botswana means the water is out more frequently. I thought I was doing a good job of storing a couple of buckets of water that I can boil and drink when the water is out. However, when it is 102 degrees out, the last thing I really want to be doing when I get home and out of the hot sun is to boil water before I can drink it. I don't know what I was thinking or why I didn't think of this sooner, but when I visited another Bots10 last weekend I noticed that she had multiple bottles of water stored in her fridge. She had gotten the idea from some volunteers who have already been through a Botswana summer. It was a simple idea, but not something I ever had to think about before coming here. I am now collecting any bottle or container I can to store water in. Most of the time I have been pretty lucky because I have had water. There have been a couple of times when the water has gone out for just a couple of days though. Also, during the afternoons the water comes out of the tap hot now that is has been so hot outside so it is nice to have cold water in my fridge.There is something kind of cool about learning to appreciate things like cold water or having water in general though.
Developing genuine friendships in my village has been something that I have found challenging, but this weekend I've made some strides in that area. I was invited to a goodbye party for one of the nurses who has been most welcoming to me and is being transferred to another village. I didn't really know what to expect for this party. All I knew was that it was being held at one of the nurse's houses on the nurses' compound and that there would be food. I brought some fried rice that I made. When I got there, there were only 3 nurses there and myself. It was nice because I got to help them set up a little and just chat. When more people arrived I realized that I knew some of them because they are teachers at the schools I've been going to and that my landlord's daughter, who is close to my age and I knew a little was there. We ate so much food. I had a gigantic piece of fillet (beef), and was so stuffed afterward, but everyone kept saying that I was "a real Motswana" because I ate so much fillet ha ha. A couple of people asked me why I wasn't drinking alcohol because some of them were, but when I explained that sometimes I do drink a little but just didn't feel like it right then, they stopped asking. Many of the people at the goodbye party had plans of going to a bar and then another party following that. I went to the bar for a little while to see what it was like because I had not gone to any bars in my village yet. I had just one drink and talked to people. A couple of guys started to harass me a little, but the people who I was with watched out for me, and the guys who were harassing me backed off easily. A lot of people commented on the fact that I wasn't drunk and seemed surprised, but they weren't commenting in a way that was insulting. It was more like they were curious about it. I said they were right and that I wasn't drunk and explained that I had just wanted to come out to socialize and meet people more people and celebrate with my friend who is moving. A couple of people told me they thought it was nice that I came there to meet people and not to get drunk. I was glad that they sort of understood and that it was clear that I wasn't drunk because I wouldn't want people to think that I was, as getting publicly drunk in my village is not something that I want to do.
Something else cool that happened was that one of the older nurses who has been really supportive to me offered to help make me a dress! She is from Zambia and I had commented earlier in the day about how beautiful her dress was. She told me that it was a traditional Zambian dress, which looked very similar to traditional Botswana dresses. She said she wants to get fabric for me when she goes home to Zambia to visit soon because the fabric is less expensive there and that she could help make a dress for me. I was so touched by this. If you met this nurse you would understand why because she is literally one of the sweetest people I have ever met. She is also one of the few people in my village who has reached out to me to ask me how I'm doing and never asked for anything from me. I will of course pay for the fabric, but the fact that she thought of getting fabric for me and helping me with this is so touching. I'm really looking forward to the dress making process when the time comes. I needed a weekend like this. Even though I have known that people in my village are kind, I feel much more connected to some of them now. It is a good feeling.
Yesterday I attended the JSS PACT club meeting and brought up an idea that a couple of the students and I had talked about a couple of days ago to the whole group. The idea is for the students to make their own film to show at an assembly at the beginning of November for the whole school. They watched a STEPS film with teenagers talking about different issues that another PCV and I showed them a while ago and the really enjoyed it. A few of the students had brought up the idea of acting out skits and video taping it and showing that to the school. When we brought up this idea to the rest of the PACT students yesterday they were all for it. I broke them up into three groups: Acting, Singing, and Topics. They could choose which group they wanted to be in. Then I asked them to work in their groups to come up with skits to act out, songs and/or dances that relate to the issues that the PACT club learns about and teaches their peers about, and topics to discuss in the discussion portions of the film they are making. They were so enthusiastic and mature about coming up with ideas and are already putting a lot of thought into this project. A couple of the students asked me "How are we going to act these scenes in front of EVERYONE". Many of them are very shy, and I reassured them that I would help them practice their ideas many times and promised there would be no taping into everyone felt ready. Next week during the meeting they are going to start practicing their ideas, and I'll check in with each group, and then maybe the following time I will ask each group to present to just the rest of the PACT club so they can start to feel more comfortable.
Today was the first day of the new primary school after school club that I'm helping to start for standard 6 students (kids ranging from ages 11-14).I had gone to this primary school a couple of times for an arts and craft activity for the young kids and then for a couple of STEPS presentations, and had met with the guidance counselor and school head there a few times. They said that they have been asked to set up a PACT club at the primary school for some of the older students since there have been more cases of pregnancy and substance abuse amongst the older primary school students and also to help them gain confidence in speaking English. The hope is that some of the same students will then join the PACT club at the JSS.There were 29 Standard 6 students who came to the meeting today, which was a good size for the group. One of the standard 6 teachers helped to facilitate the meeting. I started out by explaining what PACT club is and asking them to help come up with a list of group rules that they would all agree to follow. The teacher made sure that all of the kids understand what we were doing by repeating some of it in Setswana. I was really impressed that one of the rules that they came up with completely on their own was that they should all work together to become more confident. I talked with them a little about this and about how one of the group rules is going to be that they try their best to use English during the meetings and asked if they all thought they'd be able to give it a try. They said yes as a group, but there were some nervous giggles. I let them know that it was ok to make mistakes and to ask for help and reminded them about their teacher being there to help if I couldn't understand them or they couldn't understand me. I also made fun of my Setswana speaking a little and told them that I understand how hard it is to learn a new language. After we finished coming up with rules they played the game "Pat on the Back". Each student traced their hand on a piece of paper and taped it onto his or her back. Then each of the other students wrote nice things about them on his or her piece of paper. We asked them to try to write in English so that they could learn new English words and reminded them that they could ask for help.
Overall the game went very well. The kids asked for help when they got stuck on thinking of a word in English and were smiling and laughing. However, at one point I noticed that one of the older girls in the group looked like she was struggling to think of something to write so I asked if she needed help. She looked at me confused, and then a student standing next to her said "She can't use English". I tried to explain in my best Setswana that it was ok if she needed to write it in Setswana and that we could translate it for her after, but she still looked upset and/or confused so I quietly asked the teacher if she could talk to her and see if she could help her because I couldn't tell if she could understand me or not.The teacher meant well, but she shouted across the classroom to the student to ask her if she needed help in front of everyone, and the student stopped trying,walked away and started to cry. I took her aside and asked her if she could understand me at all, and she said yes, she could a little. I asked her if she thought she was in trouble because she couldn't write in English, and she said yes and was still crying. I told her she was not in trouble and that I was proud of her for trying and was glad that she was going to be in the PACT club. She smiled and the teacher ended up coming over too and telling her it was ok and that she just had wanted her to know she could have help with translating from Setswana to English. I gave her a high five, asked if she was ok, in Setswana she said yes, and we walked back over to the group and told her that it was her turn to have people write on her paper this time. I checked in with her after to make sure she understood what nice things the other students wrote to her. The activity ended on a positive note because they were all so eager to read the hands on their backs and were all smiles! I reminded them that we would meet every Thursday. The teacher and I checked in at the end, and said she liked this group and was looking forward to next week as well.
I still feel like I'm constantly figuring things out here, but I hope I can continue to work with these two clubs because I'm enjoying it so far. I only learned a little bit about PACT clubs during training before coming to site. I have a couple of books with activities for youth that I borrowed from the Peace Corps and one that another volunteer mailed to me from her NGO, but other than that I'm just trying different ideas, listening to the students and guidance counselors about their ideas, seeing what works, and hoping that something I'm doing is right. I have experience working with kids, but Botswana is a very different place. We'll see how things go I guess.
Today the schools opened back up after the holiday, and I went into the JSS this afternoon to support some of the PACT club students who were making presentations in a classroom. Every Tuesday they present, and they asked me to come in to support them because they are left in the classrooms with their peers on their own without any teachers because the teachers are all in a meeting during that time. They said that they other students haven't been paying attention to them, and they also wanted some feedback about how they are doing presenting since they have not received any in the past. There were three PACT students who presented together in a form 2 classroom. They talked bout teen pregnancy and methods of birth control. A couple of them seemed nervous ahead of time and told me they were worried about how they would do in front of me, and I reminded them that I wasn't their to judge them and just to support them and make sure that other students were showing them respect. Overall the students presenting did a great job. They presented information accurately and maturely and spoke clearly and asked their classmates to participate and offer their own ideas. I saw what they had meant by their peers not paying attention though. There were students talking in the back, a boy was sitting on his friends desk and facing the back, and they were laughing instead of listening to the questions that the PACT students asked them. I ended up stopping the presentation to ask students who were talking to stop and for them to face the front of the room and show their peers respect. I told them that if they weren't going to pay attention they would need to step out of the room. One student made a joke about the stick that was left to the side of the room that is used for corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is something that is still legal in Botswana and is used in the schools. I spoke up and told the students that no, I was not ever going to beat them, but that I expected them to show me and the PACT students respect just like I was showing them respect. After this they were quieter and made more of an effort to pay attention to the PACT students and answered their questions. At the end, the students asked me if I had any "words of advice" for them. I asked them first what kinds of topics they would like to hear more about from the PACT students and then we still had some more time so I asked what some of their goals for the future were. Some of them said they wanted to be teachers, others priests or pastors, nurses, some said they wanted to be parents, others talked about going to Senior Secondary School. I asked them what kinds of things could keep them from reaching these goals and they listed teen pregnancy, school truancy, alcohol abuse, and getting sick. I also told them that I was glad that they were eventually able to focus and show respect to their peers, but that next time that I come in, because I want to come back, that I hope that they are more respectful toward the PACT students from the start because I know they are capable of that since they are so smart and have all of these goals. They said that they would and clapped for the PACT students and thanked them. Afterward, I checked in with the three PACT students who lead the presentation and told them that they did a great job and that I was sorry that their peers weren't being very respectful at first. We talked for a few minutes about the PACT meeting tomorrow, and about some skit ideas that they have. They want to prepare a bigger presentation for the whole school. I'm glad that they are enthusiastic. and I'm looking forward to continuing to work with them.
6 Months in Botswana!
Today marks 6 months in country for myself and the rest of Bots10! Here are some things that I've experienced, along with the rest of Bots10, so far over the course of the last 6 months:
Staging in Philly and meeting the rest of Bots 10!
The long flight to Botswana and all of the excitement and anxiety that came along with that!
A couple of days at Big 5 Lodge-starting to learn some Setswana, meeting some PC staff, and adjusting to malaria medication, adjusting to being far away from home
Meeting host families and moving to Kanye for the rest of Pre-Service Training (PST)
PST-2 months of Setswana lessons, trainings, getting to know other trainees better, learning from host families, learning to eat and cook new foods, exploring Kanye, shadowing volunteers, and finding out our site placements
Host family party- thanking our host families and saying goodbyes in Kanye as well as making a lot of food and having fun with a fashion show
Moving Day- saying goodbye for now to other PCVs and moving to our new homes in our villages
2 Months of Lock Down- Adjusting to living in our villages and away from the rest of our training class, getting to know people, conducting our community assessments, and figuring things out
IST-In-service training, being reunited with the rest of Bots10, more language learning, and adjusting to being around a lot of other Americans all over again…some of us felt a little overwhelmed at first
Past two months at site- Going back to our villages and saying goodbyes to PCV friends again after IST, but enjoying no longer being on lock down and being able to visit other volunteers and work on projects with them. Realizing that I'm still figuring things out and have so much left to learn and that's ok.
I've been thinking a lot during the past week about how lucky I am to be here and for the experiences I've had so far. I feel enthusiastic for the next 20 months because I know this is only the beginning. There is so much that I still want to do here and so much that I am still learning, and that is a little scary, but it is also pretty exciting. Bring it on!