Thanksgiving in Botswana

   This past weekend I celebrated Thanksgiving in Botswana with some other PCVs. We celebrated at a house that we were all invited to celebrate at with someone who works for the Amercain goverment in Botswana. The house we celebrated in had air conditioning, a televison, and a swimming pool. Being surrounded by so many Americans and being at a very American sort of house while eating so much Thanksgiving food , and watching American television made me feel like I was in America for a while. It was nice, but at the same time it didn't feel quite like Thanksgiving becasue I was swimming in an outdoor pool in Novermber and not around my family. It felt like a fun and very different day in Botswana instead. Now I'm readjusting back to the reality of living in my village. I'm actually looking forward to getting back to my little village and house though.


Yet another November Post. ; )

   I realize that I have been writing very frequently lately, and I apologize for anyone who is getting tired of seeing that I have posted something new AGAIN. I've found blogging to be a source of comfort, and it is nice to feel connected to home and like I am passing on even a bit of my experience here to family and friends. It has become more important to me than I ever would have thought.
   Anyway, this week is the last week of school. Although I'm placed in a social work office and not directly in the school, most of my work so far has involved the three schools in my village, in particular one of the primary schools and the junior secondary school. The PACT club end of the year party at the JSS was last Wednesday and the last PACT meeting for the Standard 6 students was last week as well. It is weird that those things are over for several weeks when I feel like they had just really begun. It feels like it took so long just to make those connections and get involved at the schools so I'm a little sad and lost feeling now that I can't continue working with them for a while. On the other hand, I am looking forward to the "fresh start" of school starting back up again. The Standard 6 students will now be Standard 7s, which means they will be the oldest students at the primary school, and I'm looking forward to working with them to help them develop their leadership skills more. There will be new Form 1 students at the JSS, and I'm looking forward to being involved in the process of recruiting  and training new PACT members. It was a bit tough stepping into the role of working with the JSS PACT club in the middle of their school year when they already had an established routine and into a situation where they were being left to fend for themselves without a lot of direction or support.
   In the mean time I'm trying to get involved with some other projects so I'm not bored out of my mind. World AIDS Day is coming up on December 1st and regionally is going to be celebrated in a smaller village west of me on December 6th so I am looking forward to attending that. There is also an MCP (Multiple Concurrent Relationships) training coming up for the district. The other volunteers in my district and I are also organizing a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) camp for February so we will have some planning and organizing for that to keep us  busy. Even though I know I will still have down time, I'm very thankful that I at least have some things going on.

I can't believe that Thanksgiving is already tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving to my family and friends at home! I'm celebrating this weekend with some other volunteers, and even though I know it won't be quite the same, I'm looking forward to being around PCV friends

Tsamaya Sentle!


Rough Week, The Kindness of Strangers, and Short Hair!

   This past week was a rough one. I didn't do the greatest job of budgeting my Peace Corps allowance this month, and then I didn't have access to my "emergency" American bank account because of an issue with my card. This meant that this past week my food supply was the lowest it has ever been in my entire life. The beginning of the week wasn't so bad because I still had some bread and a little bit of extra cake left over from the cake I made for the JSS PACT club end of the year party.  By mid week though I was down to only having dried apricots left to eat, and I felt hungry and stressed out by not knowing when I'd be able to buy more food. I knew that I had a check for my electricity reimbursement waiting in my district office and that I'd receive my monthly allowance soon, but I didn't know for sure when either of these things would happen. Thank goodness another  PCV and friend of mine who lives in Tsabong allowed me to stay with her Thursday night so that I could figure out my check situation Friday morning and cooked dinner for me. It was also nice to have the distraction of talking to a friend instead of just sitting around worrying. My check was not ready ( which is another long and frustrating story in itself), but thank my lucky stars we got paid our allowances on Friday so I was able to buy food!
   Something else really cool happened on Friday. First of all I found PIZZA at the grocery store that was already made at the take away counter! I don't think I had ever been so excited to see pizza in all of my life. I got myself some pizza and took it to wait outside of one of the smaller shops near my grocery store to eat it because I was waiting for the smaller shop to open back up after lunch. The owners of the shop showed up shortly after I sat down and invited me to come inside to eat in their store, put a fan in front of my face, and gave me a free soda! The best part was that I wasn't being singled out as a white woman because they had invited a few Batswana in to do the same thing. We all sat and ate and watched a cricket match on tv. I found out that the store owners are friends of my PCV friend in Tsabong. I had intended on going in this shop anyway to buy some hair clippers, but these kind people didn't even know that I was going to buy anything! They were just being nice because they felt bad for those of us who had been sitting outside in the hot sun! I left to return to my village in much healthier frame of mind and with food. It was a great end to a long and stressful week!
   Writing about hair clippers brings me to my next adventure. I had been thinking for a few weeks now about cutting my hair very, very short so that I just had some fuzz left. I had always wanted to donate my hair, and I also figured that there really isn't going to be another time when I will  feel as free to cut my hair so short. I also figured that if I cut it soon it would have plenty of time to grow back before I go back home. I got clippers yesterday so the next thing I needed to do was find someone to cut it. I have some PCV friends who knew I was planning on this and were ready and willing to help me, but unfortunately I do not live so close to them. Today I decided to put myself out there and ask one of the nurses in my village for help. I know it may sound like it should be an easy thing to do, but I've just recently started to feel more comfortable here, and I sometimes struggle with asking for help anyway. Sometimes I even have a hard time asking the people I know well for help; it is something I've learned about myself from being here in Botswana. I ended up going into the clinic earlier in the day because I knew it was still open then and asked a couple of the nurses who were working if they knew how to cut hair, showed them my hair clippers, and explained to them what I wanted to do. One of them helped me so I now have very, very short hair! It feels sort of freeing and awesome! Life is good today.


Holiday Thoughts

   November is a month that held a lot of importance to me at home for many reasons, and I have been thinking a lot about that.  My little brother, Dad's, and best friend's birthdays are all in November. Thanksgiving is this month, and I have many Thanksgiving memories from home that hold a lot of significance for me. Many of these memories are with my family at home in Maine. Something I've been thinking more about lately is the first major holiday I ever spent away from my family, which was Christmas a few years ago when I worked in Boston at a residential treatment center for teenage girls. I remember feeling really sad that I couldn't spend Christmas with my family, but I also remember learning what a beautiful experience spending Christmas in a different setting can be. There were 18 girls that lived in the program that I worked in.. Some of them could go home for a few days to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah with their families, many had passes for Christmas day itself and had to be back that evening, and others didn't have anywhere to go for the holidays. Staff had a shopping day for the kids during which we were each assigned a kid, their wish list, and given money to spend on them. Our program was going through a difficult time that year with a lot of very challenging kids so it was nice to have a day of focusing on the positive. I worked Christmas Eve and a double on Christmas so I got to see all of the kids open their gifts, some of whom never were given presents before and were very excited. On Christmas day there were only two kids left in the program all day who didn't have anywhere to go. One of them had just gotten placed on Christmas eve and was a high run risk so I spent some of the day sitting and playing cards with her and watching her to make sure she wasn't trying to run. The other had been in and out of hospitals and programs for much of her childhood, had been with us at this program for a while, and just had no where to go on Christmas. I got to take her to the movies for the afternoon. I will never forget how she kept saying " I can't believe you are here on Christmas to hang out with me when you probably have a good family!". She was so excited just to have someone paying attention to her and that she was getting to go see a movie. I helped make dinner with remaining kids and staff and we ate together.  When kids returned from their day passes I listened to them talk about home; some of their days had not gone so well so as a staff team we worked to deescalate them after their tough days. I ended the night going to the hospital with one of the kids who was sick and sat in the hospital all night with her. I was completely exhausted.
   That was one of the toughest but most rewarding experiences I have ever had, and I will never ever forget it. I know that being all the way in Botswana for the holidays will be a very different experience than being at work in Boston, but I'm hoping that even though I anticipate it being difficult that it is also as beautiful of an experience as the one I have just written about.


Things that are Hard to See, but Need to be Seen...

   Yesterday I witnessed something that has made me think a lot about Botswana and the HIV pandemic here. To go grocery shopping I either have to go to a village an hour and a half East of me or an hour and a half West of me. Usually I am lucky because I'm able to ride in the clinic ambulance to go get my groceries. Normally the ambulance leaves fairly early, by 9am or so at the latest. Yesterday I knew something was going on because we were waiting for a long time at the clinic before leaving. I asked one of the nurses what was happening, and she told me we were waiting on a patient from one of the even smaller villages nearby to get there. The patient we were waiting on was a baby who I would guess was between the age of 15 months and 18 months old. She was being carried in her mother's arms and looked very thin, was coughing very hard, struggling to breath, and shaking. The mother was tearful. I don't know for sure, but it is quite possible that this baby had TB or was HIV positive or both.
   When I realized that this very sick looking baby was going to be riding in the back of the ambulance for an hour and a half ,I felt very scared for her because an hour and half before getting to the hospital seemed like far too long. Nobody was speaking the entire ride there. I couldn't keep my eyes off of this baby and kept thinking about what I would do if she suddenly were to stop breathing. I knew I would breath for her if I had to and that I would yell and bang on the window to get the attention of the driver to pull over so the nurses in the front seat could help.The silence the entire way there other than the baby's wheezing and coughing was horrible. I wanted to say something to the baby's mother to comfort her. I wanted to do something to make this baby better. I didn't know what to say. When we got there all I could think to say was "I hope your baby gets well soon", which sounded so lame and pointless in my head later.
   My day of errands didn't go very well. My atm card got stuck in the only atm machine. I got it back after speaking with a few different people at the bank and filling out paper work. I didn't have very much money because I wasn't then able to use my card to get money out and the bank in that village is not my bank so I couldn't withdraw cash in the bank itself. My bank had my card turned off so I have to deal with that. It was stressful and annoying, but it was so very small of a problem compared to what that baby and mother were dealing with. At home, I know I would have stressed out more about my card and worrying about not having money to get food. It made me feel so stupid that I would ever have gotten so stressed about something so ridiculous. I was able to get some food to get by for the next week, and I know I'll deal with the rest later and will not starve.I don't know how that baby is or how her mother is doing. I don't know if she has HIV or TB or both. I wish I could say that I know this baby will be ok, be HIV and TB negative, and have food to eat always, but I have no idea.
   I have known that HIV is still impacting the lives of people here, but somehow it now feels more real. It makes me want to yell at people and say "HIV still is a big deal here! It is not ok to engage in risky behavior and think it is ok!" I know that yelling at people isn't the solution, but I don't get how people can see a child so sick and not see how big of a deal this is. I know that there are people who do see this, care, and who are taking actions to help. I think about the PACT kids here in my village, and I see that they care and want to help their peers and to protect themselves. Thinking of them makes me feel less upset and frustrated.
   I am not glad that the baby was sick or that any child ever gets that sick, but I am glad that I was there and saw this because I feel that seeing things that are hard to see is important if it makes them more real.


Highs and Lows...All in One PCV Day

   Something that I'm learning here is that my days are often not easy to define as "good" or "bad".. I can have a day when everything is going wonderfully, and then the crap will hit the fan so to speak 5 minutes later. Sometimes it is because of something totally out of my control happening, and sometimes that is very frustrating.Yes, disappointing things happen at home too because life isn't free of disappointment anywhere, but for some reason it feels harder here at times.It is difficult to explain.
   Today I was having a GREAT day. I showed the guidance counselor who is officially in charge of the JSS PACT club the slide show that I helped the students make, and he was impressed. We had a really great talk about how hard the students worked on it and how proud of them we both were.We even planned out a PACT club party for next week to send off the Form 3s who are finishing school. I then went back the clinic to talk to a couple of the nurses and found out that the Internet was back after being out for a couple of days. I got to work on planning a substance abuse talk for the primary school students in the comfort of my own home, while happily listening to some Michael Jackson and eating my lunch. Then I got to give the substance abuse talk and play soccer with a bunch of primary school kids. I even got the girls and boys to play soccer TOGETHER today, which if you read my previous soccer blog entry you know is kind of a big deal. I left the soccer game feeling pretty good.
   Then the crap hit the fan. I stopped by the clinic to use the Internet because I wanted to talk to my family. Today is my youngest brother's birthday so I figured it would be nice to check in with them and see how things were going. I have known that things at home have been difficult because my parents are going through a divorce, and I've been dealing with that in my own way here as well, and for the most part I've been dealing with it pretty well.. For reasons that I can't explain, hearing more details about home from my family today hit me harder than it normally has. Maybe it was because today is my brother's 12th birthday, and I just wanted to talk about happy things or maybe I just wasn't as strong today for some reason. I don't know. All I know is that I miss them so much, and I want more than anything to be able to "fix" things at home. I know I can't and am working on letting that go, but this is without a doubt one of the hardest things I've ever had to try to accept in my life.
 All of that being said, I still want to be here. I know that everything will eventually be ok, which is what everyone at home keeps telling me as well. In the meantime I just need patience, funny tv shows, and some chocolate.

Oh siame



Slide Show and 7 months


   I wrote before about how the JSS PACT students had started to work on skits for a slide show I've been helping them make. Today I went to their meeting and was expecting that they would need to practice more since it had been a week since we met. When I got to the school today a bunch of the PACT students met me at the library right away to tell me that they were ready to act out their skits and be filmed today for the slide show because they had been practicing together all week. They even had costumes and props prepared.  The two skits that they acted out were about teen pregnancy and MCP (Multiple Concurrent Relations). They did such a great job and clearly had worked very hard to prepare for this. I left feeling very impressed and proud of them. I've been working to put the rest of the slide show together so that I can bring it to the school head and guidance counselor for approval before the PACT students show it to the rest of the school. The original plan was to show it next Tuesday during an assembly and follow it with a discussion about the issues the PACT students present in the film so I'm hoping that can still happen. I also need to meet with the school head or guidance counselor to ask about using the library because some of the students were worried today because they heard that there were "issues" with them using the library, and I have no idea what that is all about. I'm hoping that they can continue to meet there and that if not they are given another location to meet because the school has limited meeting spots for students.
   On a side note, myself and the rest of Bots10 have now been in country for 7 months and at our sites for 5 months! Some days I think 19 more months sounds like forever, and other days I feel like 19 months is going to fly by. Although I don't  really feel integrated yet, I do feel like I am fitting in more than I did a couple of months ago. Yesterday was a great day, and I felt like people in my village cared for me and respected me. Today was a rough one because I got the "dumela babys" many times and asked for things for what seemed like all day today. Even my young next door neighbor asked me for money! today, and he normally does not! It is discouraging when those things happen. I still feel like I'm figuring some things out, but I guess that is normal. Overall, I'm glad that I am here.

Sex Ed. and Soccer


   I've written before about how I recently helped start a Standard 6 PACT club at one of the primary schools in my village and because of this I've been getting to know the students and teachers better at that school. The school head and I were coming up with ideas for educating and engaging more of the primary students in positive after school activities and came up with an idea of having a soccer game for standards 5 and 6 students and incorporating a Life Skills sort of talk with that. I came up with the idea of talking to them about STIs/ HIV so I talked to the guidance counselor and school head about what I wanted the lesson to be about ahead of time, and they approved it.
   The activity started at 4pm after school ended. I had written different STI facts on pieces of construction paper and passed the paper out to students. I made the talk more into a game. The students got into a circle and I passed out the sheets of paper to some students to hold up. I then stood in the middle of the circle with a soccer ball and kicked it to a studentand whoever I kicked the ball to kicked it back to me and then helped read one of the fact sheets out loud, and I further explained things and asked them if they had questions. The information included different types of STIs, different ways of transmission, symptoms, and prevention. I also talked to them about how if they ever needed to go to the clinic for anything whether it was because they had a question, thought they might have an STI, were worried about being pregnant or needed to go to the clinic for any reason at all really and were scared to go to let me know, and I would go and wait with them. I told them that if I'm not at the clinic or school for them to let a nurse or teacher know because they have my phone number because their teachers, nurses, and I rather have them ask for help and for someone to sit with them because they are scared than have them not go and end up sick. I also told them that the nurses and doctor at the clinic are very kind.There were 62 students present, and they seemed to be paying attention and interested.
   After the STI/HIV talk we played soccer. Originally I had planned on just splitting them into teams by having them count off and having the teams be co-ed, but I was told by the teacher who I was working with that the girls and boys could not play on the same team because the boys were "too rough" and the girls might get hurt. I was a bit surprised by this, but asked then if the girls could play against each other after the boys were finished playing, and I was told that was fine. The standard 5 and 6 boys played against each other for a half an hour or so, while the standard 5 and 6 girls watched and routed on their friends. The girls talked to me about how some of them had just learned to play soccer at school the day before and didn't think that they were going to be allowed to play this afternoon, and they had thought the soccer playing part of the activity was just going to be for the boys. They were VERY enthusiastic when they heard that they were going to be able to play as well. Some of them said they were kind of nervous about playing so I told them I would play too, and they laughed and then joined in. It was so much fun! The girls ended up being just as into playing soccer as the boys were, and the boys who were watching when the girls had their turn cheered them on just as the girls had cheered them on. We were playing soccer until 5:30, and then had to end the activity because it was only supposed to go until 5. Many of the kids didn't want to go home and were asking if we could leave the school soccer ball with them so they could keep playing on the field, but we couldn't because the school only has so many soccer balls and if they go missing they won't have any, and also because their families would probably start to worry soon if they weren't home since it was getting late. I assured them that I would talk to the school head about planning more events like this though.