When it Rains it Pours

   The past week has been hard. Really hard.There have been moments during this week that I've wished I were at home and that I've wanted to leave. I won't leave, and things are now better, but it was definitely one of those weeks that all PCVs could understand; one of the ones where nothing felt like it was working out. Then a few days ago there was a HUGE rain storm in my village. I've been through a rainy season in Botswana already, but let me tell you, none of the storms I had seen before were anything compared to the one that hit my village a few days ago. The sky poured buckets of rain, and it even hailed! The rain was leaking in through the seams of my house, near the roof and even coming up through the floor in some places. It even made a hole in the ceiling of my bedroom and poured through, soaking my bed. I ran around my house with a mop and bucket at the low point of a low week feeling like "OMG WHAT AM I STILL DOING HERE?!!!". Then a funny thing happened. That night when the storm had finally stopped, I had cleaned up all of the water in my house and strategically placed buckets around and chased a few bugs out of my house,  I saw the humor in all of it. I laughed my head off. I also felt proud of myself for facing another tough week, and I know I handled some of the things that happened, including this crazy storm, better than I would have a year ago. So thank you Peace Corps for making me stronger.

Holiday Greetings and Island Adventures

   Happy Holidays everyone! I can't believe I'm about to celebrate a second Christmas in Botswana! In some ways it feels like it hasn't been that long since last Christmas! This year I've decided to stay in my village to celebrate. I've decided this partly because it is my last chance to celebrate Christmas here in my village, and I traveled during the holidays last year, and also because I'm trying to save money. I recently traveled up to northern Botswana to the Okavango Delta, and I am planning a trip to see Victoria Falls sometime toward the end of January, around the time of my birthday. Some of my nurse friends will be around Werda because they have to work over Christmas, as well as some of my neighbors. There are also some football tournaments that supposedly are going to be happening somewhere around my village that I may attend. At the very least, I will be making some cake to bring to the clinic and share with my nurse friends, who must stay close by in case of an emergency. I even got frosting mix to make this time! A big splurge for me! So fear not, I will not be all alone on Christmas, and I'm actually looking forward to a quieter Christmas this year.
   I said that I recently traveled up to northern Botswana to the Okavango Delta, so let me elaborate some more on that. There is a place called The Swamp Stop in Sepopa, a village on the Delta. A PCV friend is friends with the owners of this place. I traveled for several hours (about 16 total) to meet friends in that area, and then we were taken on a boat by the people who run The Swam Stop to an island right in the middle of the Okavango Delta to camp. We saw crocodiles, hippos, and eagles when we were out on the boat ( We literally spent hours a day out on the boat riding around with these awesome tour guys looking for animals..It was great!). It rained some when we were there, but it didn't even matter. We just had a sing along in the rain on the boat! On the island itself, we saw elephant dung and tracks, but they were not fresh. Elephants change their paths, and we were told they travel between the islands so unfortunately we did not see any. We did ,however, see a warthog, and we could hear the hippos in the evenings and early mornings! They sort of make a barking type sound. Since I've spent the last 21 months living in the desert part of Botswana, it was fun and interesting to see such a different part of this country that is so green and has so much water!


Meat Pies, Simba Chips, Cool Time, and Fake Ice Cream…Yes, Please

   I'm trying to write more about my   experiences outside of work because most of the time when people ask me about my life here they ask about work so I don't get to talk about the other things. This time I'm going to write about food (aka dijo in Setswana)
   Meat Pies are a big deal here. I'm guessing because of the British influence? Anyway, they are almost everywhere. You can get a meat pie in one of the tiny shops in my village, at grocery stores in larger villages, and at some bus stops. There are even stores like Mr. Pie Man and Pie Time that sell only meat pies. Basically, they are little breaded pockets of meaty deliciousness. They come in the form of plain chicken, chicken  perri-perri(spicy chicken), Russian (sausage), or steak and kidney. I'd recommend the chicken perri-perri. My PCV friends here laugh at me because when we were in training in Kanye I was meat pie obsessed. I didn't eat a lot at my host family sometimes and was hungry so I'd look forward to some meat pie. I probably gained a few meat pie pounds during training. Luckily, I only eat them now and then when I travel these days and have lost my meat pie weight haha.
   Simba chips are a brand of potato chips that are popular here in Botswana. You can find them in almost any little shop, and they are pretty cheap. Many of them are meat flavored. I like the salt and vinegar ones. Whenever I plan an event in my village for the students I usually end up with sandwiches and Simba chips to give them for lunch.
  Cool Time is a delicious and refreshing ice pop/slushy type of snack that is sold at every bus stop area in Botswana during the summer. People will walk around the bus and come onto the bus trying to sell Cool Time. Sometimes there is nothing better than slurping on some Cool Time when it is 110 degrees and you're traveling on a crowded bus.
   Most of the ice cream (or maybe all) in Botswana is not "real" ice cream made with dairy. Instead, it is made with oil substitutes and sugar. When I first got to Botswana I thought it tasted weird, but now if I am somewhere that actually has ice cream during the summer I'm all over that. I've actually kind of come to appreciate some fake ice cream in my life.
   I wrote back when I first got here about some of the Setswana foods. I've really come to love a couple of Setswana foods like seswaa and morogo. Seswaa is pounded meat. I've helped make it twice before. You cook the meat and then you pound it until all of the meat is broken off of the bones and is shredded until small pieces. It takes a while to make, but it is yummy. You can make it with beef or chicken. Morogo is a bit like spinach, and is delicious. I like to put some vinegar on mine.

     If you are reading this you're probably thinking "Damn, most of that (minus the meat and morogo) doesn't sound very healthy", and you would be right. Luckily, these are not things that I eat all of the time. My every day diet usually consists of things like rice, pasta, a lot of spinach, tomatoes, beans, apples, carrots, and sometimes potatoes. I also eat a lot of eggs for protein as well as granola and peanut butter. I've become a better cook here, and I've learned how to make some creative meals with few ingredients.


"What is Fainting?"

I haven't been writing as much as I once wrote because for me life here is normal and it has been more difficult for me to think of things to blog about. My life here just sort of is what it is at this point.  However, something I realized I have not written about is my fainting stories. I will preface this by saying that PCMO ( Peace Corps medical) knows about this and has helped me out so no worries there.
   The first time I fainted was last summer. I was coming back to my village after getting groceries on a mini-bus. This mini bus was very crowded so I was standing in the aisle for about 45 minutes when I started to feel sick. I had been standing near a woman who worked at the junior secondary school in my village and her friend and had been chatting with them when I first got on the bus. When I started to feel light headed I asked this woman from my village if she could shout to the bus driver and ask him to pull over so I could get off the bus and sit on the ground because there was literally no space for sitting anywhere on the bus. There was not even floor space because it was so crowded, and I was surrounded by several children standing in the aisle alongside me. Before the bus driver could stop I fainted right across the laps of this woman from my village and her friend. When I became conscious again both women were yelling at everyone on the bus to open every window and at a couple of people across the aisle who had been laughing at me. They wouldn't let me stand or move at all. I sat on their laps for a good thirty minutes until someone else offered me his seat and helped me move over to it. 
   The second time I fainted was a few weeks later on a different bus on the way to my friend's village to celebrate the holidays. I was luckily traveling with another PCV friend. Unfortunately, this bus was also very crowded, and we both had been standing for a while when I started to feel sick. My friend saw that I didn't look so great and tried to ask if someone we were standing near would give up their seat for me, but nobody wanted to. I don't think they really understand what was about to happen or maybe they thought I was just being lazy. Sure enough, I ended up fainting on one of them because they wouldn't move. Then someone gave me a seat. It was awkward. 
   After a series of medical tests nothing was found so it was determined it was most likely environmental-the heat, the closed in space, the lack of people opening windows etc. I did have some problems with dizziness a handful of other times afterward, but I had not actually passed out again until recently. This time I had walked to one of the primary schools in my village and was watching some students practice dancing for an upcoming prize giving event. I started to feel a little sick and went into the school to get some more water from the sink. I sat down with my water in case I fainted, and I did end up fainting for a  few minutes on the floor right in front of the sink. When I became conscious again it had only been a few  two tiny 6 year old, standard one students were standing next to me giggling. "Ke a lwala" …I am sick, I told them and then rested for a while before letting the teachers I had been working with know what happened ( and the PCMO again of course). 
  Bots summer is a beast!  I'm totally fine otherwise and have had updated tests that show so. I'm going to up my water intake even more, eat small things throughout the day to keep my blood sugar up, and pay attention to how I'm feeling. 
Go siame! 


Time is FLYING...Here is my life at the moment : )

 Right now I am sitting in my little house in the desert comfortably for the first time in a couple of weeks because there is an intense thunder storm taking place that has cooled the air in my house. (This storm is seriously one of the most intense storms I've experienced here. I can feel the wind blowing through my closed windows and the lightening is awesome!) Anyway, I figure this is a good time to write a blog post, since I've been slacking a bit with my blogging recently. 

   So what have I been upto lately? Well, shortly after my Teddy Bear event in my village I brought five junior secondary school students to a "Girls Leading Our World" camp in Moshupa. I know I wrote a  bit about this camp previously, but it was a project that another PCV friend had worked very hard to put on through her DAC office, and the rest of us other PCVs involved had spent months meeting, planning, and working with our schools to make this happen. Also, a HUGE thanks to my friends and family at home who made either monetary or craft item donations to the camp. Your kindness is very much appreciated by me, by the other PCVs, and by the 50 girls who attended this camp. I know I've also said this before, but the GLOW camp I worked on last February, and this GLOW camp in Moshupa are two of the projects that I've felt most passionate about during my now almost year and a half in Botswana. The girls seemed to get a lot out of the camp in terms of building self confidence and learning strong communication skills, how to protect themselves from HIV/STIs/teen pregnancy, avoiding abusing substances, and how to have healthy dating and peer relationships. They also got the opportunity to meet some very inspiring Batswana women, learn how to make paper beads and be self-sufficient business women, and participate in many fun camp craft activities and games. The first night of camp, us PCVs even taught the campers how to make 'smores for the first time, and we played games and spent time together around a camp fire. It was all such a fun, worthwhile experience!
   On a recent weekend I also got the opportunity to do a bit of traveling within Botswana. I went with a few friends up to a place called "Planet Baobab" near the salt pans in the north eastern (sort of) portion of Botswana. Planet Baobab is a camp ground/lodge where you can hang out, relax, and see the amazing, 2,000 year old baobab trees. These trees are enormous! I wish my internet was working well enough for me to post pictures of these trees on my blog, but unfortunately I can't. Just imagine me with my arms wrapped around the trunk of a massive tree and looking like an ant next to it because that is pretty much what you would see! My favorite one of the trees at PB had a hammock hanging from it, and it was so much fun and so relaxing just being in that hammock for a short while. There was also a nice salt water pool there! Since we were also close to the pans, one of my friends who is NOT a PCV and is allowed to drive here, drove us out into the bush to look for the pans. Now the pans are literally the size of the state of Connecticut, so one would think that they'd be difficult to miss, but believe it or not that was not the case! We road around for quite a while before reaching them! Getting a bit lost wasn't so bad though because we saw some cool animals ( like a jackal and an ostrich running at full speed!) and met some nice people out at their cattle posts who tried to help give us some direction. When we made it to the actual pans we took some funny jumping photos etc. I'd been to another part of the pans back when I was in training and was shadowing a volunteer so that pans weren't so new to me but it was still fun. My favorite part of the trip was sitting in a tree for three hours watching animals come to a watering hole to drink. I initially was really hoping we'd see elephants, and we did not, but it was cool watching the different groups of animals just come to the watering hole at different times by instinct (first birds, then donkeys, cows, and horses). It was also just very peaceful sitting there in the tree waiting. 
   It always feels good to get back to my village after being away, even if just for a weekend, so since getting back to Werda, I've just been enjoying my village life. It has recently really sunk in that I only have about 7 more months left in this little village that I now call home. I'm very focused right now on making the most of the rest of my time here, and I feel grateful for the time that I've had here so far. Some of the experiences that I've had over the past year and a half have not been easy( Heck, some of the experiences I've had in the past month have not been easy for that matter!) I can honestly say that I wouldn't trade anything that I've experienced here for the world though. People have started to ask me "When are you coming home, again?" and saying things like "You finish your service so soon! What are you going to do when you finish there?". Interestingly enough, I am actually thinking of extending my service for a third year. My family and closest friends at home are aware of this because it is something I've discussed with them off and on at different points for the better part of the last 10 months or so. However, the difference is that the fact that I want to do this is now becoming more of a reality, which I understand isn't easy for everyone to accept. The truth is that I do not know what will happen. Extending means having a volunteer position for a third year, and that requires applying and waiting so who knows how that will work out? I'm still applying to graduate school. I could go home at the end of May or I could extend a third year and defer graduate school for a year. For the the first time in my life really, the not knowing isn't causing me very much stress or worry. THAT I can definitely credit Peace Corps with!


Teddy Bear Day

   Recently my village received 100 teddy bears from the Mother Bear Project, an organization in the U.S. If you are interested in learning more about this wonderful organization here is the link http://www.motherbearproject.org/. I heard about this organization from another PCV who received bears for her village, and I simply contacted the Mother Bear Project and asked for teddy bears for Werda. The challenging part of planning this event was not getting the bears, but it was making sure the social work office, schools, and those "higher-ups" in my village knew about the event and mobilizing my community to be involved. Just making sure these children could come to the kgotla to receive their bears took two months of planning. I worked closely with the guidance teachers at two different primary schools to come up with a list of the most vulnerable children in my village. I also worked closely with a couple of Junior school teachers to get the scout troupe at the JSS involved in playing their instruments and marching with the younger children on Teddy Bear Day.
   Teddy Bear Day itself began with my two PCV friends and one of their friends from home and I bringing all of the popcorn and juice that we had made for the children to the kgotla ( village meeting place) in the morning. A PC staff also attended the event and helped us transport some of these things as well as picked up the JSS scout troupe and transported them to the kgotla. At the kgotla the kgosi ( village cheif) gave welcoming remarks and an older woman in my village who works cleaning the social work office said a prayer. Then each child was given a teddy bear and had his or her picture taken. We then had a mini parade, led by the scout troupe, from the kgotla to my social work office.  My PCV friends and I taught the children a couple of games like "I pick the ball" and "The hokey poky", which both involve some dancing and shaking. We then served them their snack of popcorn and juice.
  I experienced a lot of frustration while planning this event, ( like a lack of support and assistance from some of the adults who were supposed to be involved in planning it). However, it was definitely worth it in the end. On our walk back to my house my PCV friends and I saw two little girls walking down the street with their teddy bears and dancing and singing to "I pick the ball", the game that we taught them. It is the little moments that make it all worth it.


GLOW Day in Werda

   Some of you know that I wrote before about how I am working on a full GLOW camp for girls with some other PCVs, but I recently just had a GLOW Day event in my village as well. The original plan was for it to be an event just for the boys at the JSS ( Guys Leading Our World) because the girls have had their own events to go to, and the boys were feeling left out. The JSS guidance teachers and I thought it would also be a nice opportunity for the boys to discuss issues that impact them specifically, such as Safe Male Circumcision (SMC), which decreases a boy's or man's chance of getting HIV. Also, issues of dating violence have been coming up at school, and a few of the PACT club boys had spoken with me about how it bothered them that some of their peers felt like it was ok to hit their girlfriends, so we also thought it would be a good way to address those sort of issues. The boys in PACT were enthusiastic about signing up for the event, but the problem is that PACT club doesn't have very many boys in it, and they tried really hard to encourage more of their male peers to sign up, but were only able to get a handful to. I was able to receive supplies for up to 30 students so this left many slots open. To remedy this problem and make it so that the event still took place, we decided to allow some girls to sign up as well, making it a "Guys and Girls Leading Our World" Day instead. I actually think that having the boys and girls there together made the event even better.
   The event was on Saturday and went from 9am until about 3:30pm. There were plenty of snacks, drinks, and food for the students thanks to the DAC (District AIDS Coordinator) Office, which was great. Seventeen students out of those who signed up showed up on Saturday morning, and even though it was not the 30 we had hoped for, it was still a good sized group. The group was made up of 7 boys and 10 girls ranging from Form 1 to Form 3, and some of the students were  involved in PACT club and some were not. Topics discussed on GLOW Day were Gender Norms, SMC for the boys and Self-Esteem for the girls ( We split them for that session so that the boys would still feel comfortable asking questions about SMC), Dating Relationships, Teen Pregnancy and Sexual Rights and Responsibilities, and Abuse and Violence. The students were very engaged and got into some great debates during the day.
    The very first session was about Gender Norms, and right away the boys and the girls brought up some difficult topics and debated with each other very well.  One topic that came up was that it is unfair that girls can wear pants in most cases here, but that a boy would be bullied if he wanted to wear a dress. They even talked about how if a boy wants to do things girls like to do or hangs out with too many girls, people may say he is gay. This lead to a discussion and debate about whether or not gay people are stigmatized in the village or not. Some students said yes people say "harsh words" to someone who is gay here, and others said that gay people would be more likely to be stigmatized or treated poorly in larger villages or cities because there are more "gangs" or "mobs". They also talked about how they think that today it is more likely for girls and boys to change roles rather than to follow the "traditional" way of doing things here, though they still discussed how there are challenges and situations of judgment and discrimination.
   During part of the Dating Relationships section the girls got to write down questions they always wanted to ask boys as a group, and the boys got to write down questions they always wished they could ask girls as a group. This activity also lead to some great discussions. Some things that came up were girls viewing love in a different way than boys viewing love sometimes and how that can cause confusion and problems in relationships between girls and boys. Also, some of the boys were upset that the girls said that physical appearance is something that attracts them to a boy initially, even though they had said that something that attracted them to girls initially was also physical appearance. The boys also talked about how unfair it is that they are always expected to be the ones to pay on dates, and some of the girls agreed with this, while others still thought the boys should pay. We were able to bring a lot of the dating relationship discussion back to gender norms.
    A lot of debate and discussion came out of the Teen Pregnancy session as well. We asked the students to list what the consequences of teen pregnancy were for girls and what they were for boys, and the majority of the consequences that were listed ended up being under the girl list. One of the consequences that the students spent a lot of time talking about was that a girl would likely drop out of school,while the boy would be able to stay in school. Something else that the students spent a lot of time talking about was the idea that a girl who has had a baby may not be desirable to boys in the future because it is known now that she is not a virgin, since she had a baby. The girls were upset by this comment and the unfairness of the girl being judged about this when the boy was obviously no longer a virgin either. Some of the boys had a difficult time understanding how that was unfair, but I think it was good for the girls and boys  to be able to have the discussion and share each other's view points, and hopefully they gained some new perspectives and could see some of the inequality.
 The Abuse and Violence session was focused mostly on dating violence because that is something that has been coming up at the school and was something that came up during various discussions throughout the day. The students all agreed that different types of violence occur in Werda, and some of the violence even occurs at school. They said that there are physical fights outside almost every day that are broken up by teachers, students say cruel things to each other and abuse each other emotionally because of gossip, and that there is even sexual and emotional abuse that happens between people who are dating. They also talked about random acts of violence at school when male students hide together in the bathrooms and attack female students when they go in (The teacher who was present at this event was made aware of the situation). The nonchalance  of the students as they talked about some of this was upsetting, but we spent a lot of time talking afterward about why abuse happens, how it is wrong, the consequences of abuse, who they can report it to, and some possible solutions, such as them watching out for each other and supporting each other ( the boys watching out for the girls and girls watching out for the boys). We also emphasized that men and boys are not the only ones who can be abusive because there were a couple points when the girls talked about boys in general as being abusive and violent, and we wanted to be clear that not all boys and men are and that girls and women can be abusive too.
   We ended the day on a positive note by assessing what they learned during the day with a game. Student had to listen to statements and then decide whether or not to go to the Agree or Disagree side of the room. All of the statements were factual and based on the sessions from the day. Based on this activity and the discussions throughout the day, it seems like they learned something and had fun. Each student was given a certificate for having participated, and we took a group picture before saying our goodbyes.
   I really love events like this! Thank you to my three PCV friends who helped facilitate this day! You know who you are!


A Family in Need....at Home in America

I know the view of many people I have met in Botswana has been that life in America is always easy, everyone is wealthy, and life is always fair there. I've spent a lot of time here talking to people about how that is not the case, and I have been able to have some great conversations with people I've met here about that. Currently a friend and sorority sister of mine at home in America is going through something that is very unfair and not at all easy. The letter below is from my friend Mandi's mother. Mandi and her family are in need of support during this difficult time. Please read this letter below and see the link at the bottom of the page to make a donation to help this family. I know many people from different parts of the world read this blog and that no matter where in the world you live, you understand the importance of helping a family in need. 

Mandi is a spirited young woman who is mother of two beautiful children, a supportive wife, loving daughter, and the best friend anyone could ask for. Mandi is the definition of survivor. When Mandi was 9 years old, she was diagnosed with a disease called Lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the body's immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue. This results in symptoms such as inflammation, swelling, and damage to joints, skin, kidneys, blood, the heart, and lungs. Mandi'
s daily treatments in her battle against Lupus involve 17 medications daily, daily steroids injections, weekly chemotherapy treatments, dialysis treatments are just to name a few. Over the past 2 years, Mandi has been in for the fight of her life, or at least we thought, until we had hit the bottom 22 days. 22 days ago, Mandi was admitted into the critical care unit of a local hospital here in Maine with a 106.7 fever, quickly became unconscious, and life saving measures were taken to stabilize her. Upon further testing, it was found that she has four blood infections going throughout her body causing chaos that lead to the heart & heart valves becoming infected and damaged. Treating these infections that caused the incredibly high fever along with the organ shut down would require some of the most caustic medications available over a long period of time. These medications are not compatible with her Lupus medications (the chemotherapy, methetrexate cancels out the effects of the antibiotics in treating the infection) thus having to result in the inability to treat her potentially deadly disease (Lupus) while treating a most certainly deadly infections (the 4 she currently has). The doctors made the decision to pull her off all Lupus medications and take it hour by hour treating the infection. All the mean time, Mandi's Husband Rob, who is her rock & endless source of support, is left with the responsibility of running a household, taking care of their two beautiful children, and working a full time job that requires him to be there Monday-Saturday, 10 hours a day in order to support his families of four very financially demanding needs. During these horrific times, Rob & Mandi should be focused on this fight for Mandi's life, not if they are able to keep a roof over their children's heads, food in their bellies, gas in the car to go to doctors appointments/treatments, and money for the 17 medications Mandi takes daily. Mandi has not only dedicated her life professionally to helping others (being apart of the field of social work, ranging with working with youth in foster care to the elderly in rural communities) but also personally. Even though Mandi would have to spend 6 hours a day in dialysis or would have just spent the morning at the infusion center for chemotherapy, nothing would stop her from stopping to help a friend in need or spending time at one of the many non for profit organizations she volunteered for. Mandi has always been the one there for everyone else, lets now show her how much we care & be there for her in her families great time of need. Help the Thew family focus on what is really important...fighting for this young woman's life! No family should be expected to worry about finances during such a hard time. Show your love, support, and appreciate for such a wonderful woman & wonderful family...Help Mandi recover, show your support and donate now!! Thank you very much, every little bit helps!

PayPal Email Donations Can be Sent to: Maddietrentonsmom@yahoo.com

If you do not have PayPal or would prefer to use the site for Mandi's PayPal account you can visit http://supportmandi.wordpress.com/
Credit cards will be accepted on this page. If you have any issues with payments or questions please contact macleod@uchicago.edu.


We have a Responsibility...Everywhere

A good friend of mine from home sent me this poem. I like it because to me it is a great reminder for any adult that there are children everywhere in the world who need our help and support. I know many people have this view of Africa being full of children who are starving and neglected, but the truth is that is not always the case and that there are many children right in the U.S. who are abused, neglected, and hungry every day. Friends and family who often tell me that I'm "saving the world" or "making such a difference", I want you to know that those of you who work with children right at home in the U.S. are making a difference as well. We as adults have a responsibility to help support children in whatever part of the world we are in. 

We Have A Responsibility

We have responsibility for children who put chocolate fingers everywhere,
Who like to be tickled,
Who stomp in puddles and ruin their new pants,
Who sneak popsicles before supper,
Who erase holes in math workbooks,
Who can never find their shoes.

And we have responsibility for those children
Who stare at photographers from behind hungry eyes
Who can’t bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
Who never “counted potatoes,”
Who are born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead,
Who never go to the circus
Who live in an x-rated world.

We have responsibility for children
Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
Who sleep with the dog and bury the goldfish,
Who hug in a hurry and forget their lunch money,
Who cover themselves with band-aids and sing off-key,
Who squeeze toothpaste all over the sink,
Who slurp their soup.

And we have responsibility for children
Who never get dessert,
Who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
Who watch their parents watch them die,
Who can’t find any bread to steal,
Who don’t have any rooms to clean up,
Whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser,
Whose monsters are real.

We have responsibility for children
Who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
Who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
Who like ghost stories,
Who shove dirty clothes under their bed, and never rinse out the tub,
Who get visits from the tooth fairy,
Who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpools,
Who squirm in church and scream on the phone,
Whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.

And we have responsibility for children
Whose nightmares come in daytime,
Who will eat anything,
Who have never seen a dentist,
Who aren’t spoiled by anybody,
Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
Who live and move, but have no being.

We have responsibility for children
Who want to be carried and for those who must,
For those we never give up on and
For those who don’t get a second chance,
For those we smother, and
For those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

By Ina Hughes


Dear Students of Botswana

Here are some of the letters that some students from my hometown in Maine in my brother's Social Studies class wrote back to the students I work with here. I've blanked out names here, but each student from America wrote a letter to a specific student here. The plan is for this pen pal program to continue for as long as all of the kids are interested. I will be helping  my students here reply soon!

Dear ________,
Hi. I am a 6th grader at Sedomocha Middle School. I live in Dover-Foxcroft. We get out of school June 13th. In my free time I like to listen to music and hang out with some of my friends. The class that I like the best is science, but I really like English and Language Arts too. My science teacher makes a lot of weird faces. I would really like to come to Africa and see you and your friends. It would be lots of fun.

I am going into the 7th grade. I live in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. We here in Maine have some pretty brutal winters, and sometimes we have some good days in the summer. I can only speak English. One of my favorite things to do is ride my dirt bike. A couple more things that I like to do are play baseball, basketball, and football.

I am a twelve yea old girl, and I am going into the 7th grade. I live with my parents and my two annoying, little sisters. I go to Sedomocha Middle School. My favorite class is science, but my most favorite thing to do is band because I play the flute, and it is really fun. I am happy to hear that the workshop brought kindness to your school. Ever time I hear something good it makes me really happy. Also, good luck in school, and I hope you enjoy learning English.

I am writing this letter from my school, SeDoMoCha, in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. SeDoMoCha stands for four towns in Maine close to Dover-Foxcroft or its abbreviated form, Dover. The towns are Sebec, Dover, Monson, and Charleston. The state of Maine is always beautiful, spring, summer, fall, and winter. When I'm writing this letter it is summer here so I'm guessing it is winter there. My sister is Kristen or Neo, as you call her. I wish I could see your country because I have seen pictures of it, and it is beautiful. I am 12 and going into the 7th grade. I like to read, write, draw, and dance. I hope I will be able to visit someday!  P.S. Please write back!

You have a wonderful description of your country. I would love to visit someday. I am in the 6th grade and go to SeDoMoCha Middle School. In Maine we love to swim, take hikes, and in the winter we get lots of snow so we almost always play outside during that time or anytime. Maine has museums, forts, water parks, and a lot more! Our capital is Augusta. I would love for you to be my pen pal! You sound like you have lots of fun in your beautiful country of Botswana!


Dear American Students

Before the last school break, and before American students went on their summer break, some of my Standard 7 PACT club students wrote some great letters to my 12 year old brother's Social Studies classroom in America (small town Maine). Here are a handful of the letters that my students here wrote. I didn't include their names because I want to respect their privacy. I'm not posting every letter because there were so many! I'm VERY proud of these kids for writing these letters in English because it was very difficult for some of them, and they worked very hard to get to this point. Soon I will be sharing the letters that the American students wrote back with these students, and I will then post some of them. I'm so excited for the students here in Botswana to receive their replies this week!

Dear American Students,
I am writing this letter for students of America because I want to tell you about the reason that Neo has helped the Standard 7 students. She is very responsible and good so that is the reason we learn so much. I think Neo came to Werda to help the children and people who have problems. We can tell Neo our problems.I want to go to America to see you because your person came to Botswana to help us in peace and tolerance. I am happy that PACT club is a very good idea and is making a good village for Botswana. I hope I can come to America someday.

Dear American Students,
I would like to write a letter to tell you about my country, Botswana. The capital city of Botswana is Gaborone. Botswana is a large country, but it has a small population. It has very many wild animals and diamonds. Werda is in the southern part of the country , and it has a lot of sandy soil, which is very infertile for plants. The soil is loose and easily blown away by wind. In some places there are heaps of sand called sand dunes. 

Dear American Student,
I am writing this letter for American students because I want to tell you about my country, Botswana. It is very rich in wild animals. I live in the village of Werda, which is situated in the southern part of the country. It has a lot of sandy soil, which isn't good for plants. 
I am looking forward to hearing a bit about your country and town. 

Dear American Students,
Hello. As a Standard 7 student I would like to write a letter to you in America to tell you about our country and what it looks like. Botswana is a beautiful country that is liked by tourists because they come to see the wild animals of Botswana and the national parks, such as Chobe National Park and mining such as Jwaneng and Tati mines. 
Our Botswana team named the Zebras took a trip to your country and played with one of your teams and won. How was your team's experience? 
Botswana is a country that was ruled by the British and in 1944 it had a name called Bechuanaland. It took independence in 1966 to be called Botswana.Now Botswana is a peaceful country with no wars or conflicts. 
In Botswana are many American people, but there is a person who I love because she is a honest, respectful and cooperative person. Her name is Neo
I want you to write a letter to me to tell me about your country. I am looking forward to it. 

Dear American Students,
I would like to write a letter to tell you about our country, Botswana. Botswana's capital city is Gaborone, We have received an American person whose name is Kristen Sheppard, and her Setswana name is Neo, meaning gift. 
Our country Botswana is located in the southern part of Africa. Gaborone is a big capital city of Botswana, and Botswana is rich in wild animals that attract tourists from all over the world and generate the income of this country. Botswana has parks and game reserves. There are few rivers in Botswana. Kristen Sheppard has formed a club that is called PACT. This stands for Peer Approach to Counseling Teens. She teaches us about things that will happen when we become adults. This is an interesting program. 
I hope you will reply to tell me a bit about your country.

Dear Students,
I am writing this letter to tell you about my village and the country and learn more about rural areas in your country. 
I am a grade 7 student in a primary school This is the highest level in our school education system. At the end of the year we sit for a trail National Examination called Primary School Leaving Examination . If we pass we than proceed to Junior Secondary School for three years and finally to Senior Secondary school for two years. Then we can go to territory education (University). 
I live in a poor, rural area where our parents are not employed but rely on pastoral farming. The problem is that the only source of water is underground water through boreholes  and is very scarce and salty. It is difficult for growing plants and for drinking. Mind you, the village is found in the Kgalagadi Desert. Trees are scattered and short. They have very small leaves and thick barks. I am looking forward to learning about the rural areas in America. 


Please Help Support an Event to Empower Teenage Girls in Botswana

   I wrote in the past about the GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp that I was a part of facilitating in my district last February being a very rewarding experience. I'm currently working on another GLOW camp to take place in a fellow PCV's village from Sep. 29th-Oct 3rd of this year. Forty Five teenage girls form nine different villages, including my village, will attend the camp. In Botswana, teenage girls are a very high risk population for getting HIV, and Botswana has the second highest prevalence rate of HIV in the world.  Girls who attend the camp will learn how to protect themselves from getting HIV and be empowered to make healthy life decisions. This camp is something that myself and the eight other volunteers who have been working to plan it are very passionate about. The grant that is funding the camp also requires that we raise some donations from home. We still need more donations to make this camp happen. If you are interested in donating here is the link 637-105. Any little bit that you are able to donate makes a difference. Thank you!


My Second PCV Vacation: Durban

   I recently went on a vacation to Durban, South Africa with a group of six other PCVs. There is so much about the trip that I could write about, but I'll choose a few highlights to focus on. Since we went during the off season we were able to get an awesome deal at a hotel right on the Indian Ocean, which meant we were able to spend time in the water all four days that we were there. The water was so warm even though it is winter time in this part of the world, and the weather was great the entire time that we were there.  It was absolutely wonderful. Our first afternoon in Durban we found, through some transport mishaps, an amazing Indian restaurant that had an all you can eat buffet! We spent a couple of hours chowing down on every bit of Indian food that we could possibly fit in our stomachs. We spent a day at an aquarium where some of us went shark cage diving, which was a fun experience. It was also really cool just being at an aquarium since I have so many great memories of growing up going to the New England Aquarium in Boston, and I miss it. The walk to the aquarium was also wonderful because we could walk along the boardwalk the entire way so we just took our time walking and site-seeing. We followed our aquarium day with dinner at a great sushi restaurant, washed down with very yummy Long Island Iced Teas. During our trip, we also found this fun street called Florida St. that had a lot of great restaurants and bars. A few of us found a bar nearby that happened to be having a karaoke night, which was fun. The person running karaoke pressured us into singing three ABBA songs with some other people, and then wanted to hear some of our "Yankee songs". (Our reaction was "Huh, Yankee songs? hmmm) .We decided to sing "Baby Got Back" and "I Want Dance with Somebody". Some of my other favorite parts of the trip were that we could watch the sunrise because we had balconies off of our rooms and the views were amazing, hot showers, and just being able to blend in. It was a nice break, and I had a lot of fun with my friends I traveled with. It was drama-free and relaxing, and I'm very grateful for that.


Not so Perfect Endings

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next.
Delicious Ambiguity.” 
-Gilda Radner

   I think the most valuable lesson Peace Corps has taught me so far is that sometimes the things you plan out so well and think will work out do not, and other things that you never would have expected to work out or happen do, and that is ok. I think this is an important lesson that applies not only to this experience but to life in general. I remember when I decided to leave my MSW program at NYU after one semester because I felt I needed more work and life experience first I felt so guilty. I had spent so much time wanting to live in NYC and my plan all through college had been to move there for grad school right away. My dream had come true, but I was unsure and unhappy. At the time it didn't make any sense, and I was so angry with myself.  It took a long time for me to except it for what it was and move on. My Peace Corps experience has not been what I previously expected. I pictured myself  living in a hut, using a pit latrine my whole service, and  having infrequent communication with my family and friends. Even when I first got to my site, I had these big plans for this sponsored camel ride and my idea of what I'd be doing in my social work office was more like social work in the United States. I was so very wrong and so many of the projects I originally planned when I first got here failed miserably. Things here have not been so  "stereotypical Peace Corps". Not everyone has been so friendly or welcoming. Not everything I've experienced here or every project I've tried to work on has had a happy ending. However, I feel so differently about that than I did about my "failed" NYC experience. This time instead of feeling guilty or angry that things haven't worked out the way they were "supposed to", I've learned to embrace that and appreciate things for what they are. I've had experiences here that I never thought I would have had, some good, others not so great, but all of them have taught me something. I'm more grateful for those moments when things do work out and for the positive experiences that take me by surprise. 
   Currently I find myself "taken by surprise" by a couple of events that I never really would have anticipated getting to plan. One of these is a "Guys Leading Our World Day" for the teenage boys in my village to be able to talk about issues that impact them in an open environment with guidance teachers and PCV volunteers present. Some of my guy PCV friends will be there to help facilitate discussions. In the U.S, I worked mostly with teenage girls so I never really would have expected to be planning an event for just boys in my village, but it is a need here, and I think it will be a rewarding experience. The other event is "Teddy Bear Day". An organization in the U.S. is donating 100 teddy bears that will be given to orphans and vulnerable children in the care of my S&CD office. There will be a teddy bear ceremony at the kgotla , followed by a parade to the S&CD office, where I work. The plan is for the event to also create some awareness that these children need the support and kindness of the community. I'm really excited about both of these events. 
    I'm trying to remember all  of this as I start to think about what my life after Peace Corps will be like. Part of me is terrified to think about that at this point. The other part of me knows it will be ok because of this lesson I've learned here. 


Mid-Service Training...and Life here at this Point

   Recently I had Mid-Service Training with the rest of Bots10. It was really nice to see everyone because there are members of my group who live very far away who I had not seen since IST last August. This training felt different to me than other trainings, and I think that is mostly because we are all different. There was a general feeling of "We know what we are doing and are at peace with how life is here" opposed to our previous trainings where as a group we were still new and freaking out. It was kind of cool to see how far each of us has come. MST is also about starting to think about life after service, which honestly caused me to have a slight mental break down at the end of MST because I was not prepared to start thinking about that yet. I've really been enjoying just living in the present here. I've known for a while that I want to go to grad school after this, but now I actually have to start planning and getting ready to apply. This is both exciting and scary because I'm not sure at this point where I want to go. My plan is to apply to several schools and see what happens. I definitely will spend a couple of months at home in Maine with my family and friends there before I go anywhere else though since the programs I'm applying to start in August or September. It feels so crazy to be even thinking about this right now.
   My life here has felt very normal lately. My schedule of going to the schools has been pretty consistent for a while now, and I have a weekly routine. I was actually pretty glad to get back to my site after MST and back into my routine so that I could be around for the last week of school before break. The schools here go on break for the month of July, which means I have less going on now. However, I do have some projects planned for pre-school age kids and am working on getting funding and planning another event for my village that will hopefully take place toward the end of August. I remember being sooooo bored and sad this time last year. Things are so different now.


Thank YOU

 I've now been in Botswana for 15 months, and although I have many more good days than bad days at this point of my service, I'd like to take some time to write a post to thank those from home who have stayed in touch and been so supportive through the bad times and good times. 

Mom- My mother is a worrier, and I know my being so far from home has been difficult for her. Despite the fact that she much rather have me back on U.S. soil where she can see that I'm ok, she has been very supportive of me throughout this adventure. She is a busy woman who has dealt with enough on her own this past year or so and been running around like crazy to school event after school event and dance show after dance show with my little brother, but she still takes the time to send me thoughtful emails, letters, and care packages. She does way more than I would ever expect, and she still worries that it isn't enough. It is more than enough, Mom! 

Dad-My dad wishes all of his kids would stay in Maine forever and never leave. I know this because even when I was in Boston and NY he would ask me all of the time when I was coming home. Nonetheless, he has been very supportive of my being here as well. He emails me and keeps me posted on life at home, and I keep him posted on life here. It is nice to feel that connection to family still, and I really appreciate it. 

Zim-Zim has been my best friend since we were 15, and she knew about my PC dream long before it became a reality. She is an incredibly busy mother to a wonderful almost 5 year old, who is like a nephew to me since she is like a sister to me. We don't get to chat very often because of the time difference and her busy life at home, but when we do it feels like I never left. Zim is nothing but encouraging and supportive. 

Lindsay- Lindsay has also been one of my best friends for as long as I've known Zim. We are NLS members together and will always be. ('No Life Society' because in high school we used to joke that we had no lives even though we were actually quite busy kids..and have all been pretty busy adults). Lindsay has been a good pen pal since I've  been here and sent me some pictures that remind me of home and make me smile. I have them hanging up in my house. 

Mariah-Mariah has been one of my best friends since my sophomore year in college when she was a freshman and joined Delta Zeta. I have a memory book from college that Mariah once wrote in "I have a feeling we are going to be friends for a long time". Well, Mariah, you were right! Mariah is busy with work and school, but we have been able to stay in touch and talk fairly often, which I'm grateful for. 

Ashley-Ash and I have known each other since she joined Delta Zeta her freshman year of college and my sophomore year, and she became my DZ little sister. Ash has written more letters to me since I've been here than anyone, and I realllllllly appreciate that. It is nice having a constant pen pal. Getting letters gives me something to look forward to during the tough times. 

Morgan-Morgan and I met at Umaine, and even though it has been a long time since we have lived in the same state, we have stayed in touch, and I'm grateful for that. Morgan has sent me some awesome mail, and we have also has stayed in touch through internet. She also is in charge of a Girl Scout Troupe and has been so helpful in helping to facilitate letter writing between her Girl Scouts and some kids here. Thanks so much for helping to support a project that is important to me! 

Steph: Steph and I joined Delta Zeta together in spring of '04. Since then we have both had busy lives and not lived near each other. However, we have stayed in touch and visited each other some over the years. Steph has been very busy with work and planning her wedding/getting married during the time that I've been here, but she still took the time to send me a wedding invite even though she knew I wouldn't be able to come home for it, which really did mean a lot to me. She also sent me some wonderful craft items for a camp that I've been planning with other volunteers. 

Ebeth- Ebeth and I have been Delta Zeta sisters since we were freshman in college. I can't believe it has been so long! Ebeth has been great about frequently sending me witty comments on facebook since I've been here that make me smile and remind me that I have great people at home like her who support me. 

This is not everyone who has given me words of encouragement since I've been here, but if I wrote about everyone I would be writing all day long! Thanks and lots of love to everyone who has given me support since I've been here!


Shout Out to Steph and Alex!

   Next weekend my friends Steph and Alex are getting married so I'm writing this post to congratulate them. Steph and I have been DZ sisters since April of '04. Steph is one of the kindest, smartest, and most hardworking people I have ever met. She's been a great friend over the years and has continued to be supportive and encouraging during the time that I've been here, despite her very busy life.  Alex is a great guy as well, and the two of them definitely deserve each other. I got to meet Alex when Steph brought him to Boston to visit a few years ago when I lived in Somerville. The three of us walked the entire Freedom Trail together. Not only was it a fun day, but I could see right away how great Steph and Alex are together.
Steph and Alex, I'm sad that I will not be there to celebrate your special day with you, but I'll be thinking of you here and raising a glass in your honor. I know you will have a wonderful wedding day and future together. <3 -Shep

I've been here a long time...

   A few days ago I wrote about how quickly time seems to be passing. That was a few days ago. For the past couple of days it feels like I have been here for an eternity. I'm missing my family and friends at home, my dogs, my hometown, and America. I want nothing more in this moment to hug my parents and little brother and sit and eat a meal with them. I can't believe it has been over 14 months since I have seen them. I'm cold, sad, and I want a hug.
   The main reason why I'm choosing to write about this is that it is a good example of the PC roller coaster. A few days ago I felt great and was experiencing one of my highest moments here. Now, in this moment, I'm dealing with one of my lowest. It is just the way PC service works. I've been here at this point before though, and I know I'll get through it. My work here is not done. I'll bundle up and deal with another freezing winter, sweat through another summer, ride many more crowded buses, experience more laughter and more tears, hang out with more funny/adorable children, and make many more memories.
*Giant Deep Breath*


Where has the time gone?

   It is June, which means I have less than a year left of my service. Bots9s are completing their service and leaving this week ( which is so very weird). Bots12s, who are in training, will swear in as volunteers in a week. I spent all of last week with the Bots12s as a member of the volunteer support network, PSDN,which was a lot of fun. My MST (Mid Service Training) is in a couple of weeks so I've been busy planning projects and working with my PACT clubs before I'm out of my village that week for medical appointments and training. I'm working on planning a GLOW (Guys Leading Our World) Day for the boys at the JSS in my village and nearby villages that will hopefully take place in late August. There is a long school break in July so between my being gone for training in the middle of this month and the school break, I really need to begin to get things organized for that now. I've also been busy getting some things ready for a GLOW camp for JSS girls that will take place in Moshupa like getting applications out to my students and getting parental permission slips translated into Setswana. Being at this point of my service feels both comforting and a little scary at the same time. I feel very comfortable here, and there is very little that surprises me these day, and that makes me feel safe and at home here. However, the fact that time is flying by so quickly is slightly horrifying! A month passes with the blink of an eye now, and there is so much more that I want to do here.


Shadowing and Workshop

   Last week was a busy but very fun week. A volunteer in training shadowed me for the week and my primary school PACT workshop was last weekend. During the week my awesome shadow and I went to the schools a lot to remind the students about the workshop and check in with teachers about it. We also saw the JSS PACT students present to their peers in class, played soccer with primary students, met with both PACT clubs, and met with some students for a focus group discussion. Besides work, we cooked, walked around Werda, shared media, and talked a lot. Having a shadow was fun and my shadow and I got along well. Shadows were supposed to go back to their training village Friday, but I got special permission from PC staff for my shadow and the shadows of volunteers helping out with my workshop to stay here for the weekend so they could get the experience. This meant that Friday and Saturday I had 8 more guests at my house in addition to my shadow and I. It was a cool experience having visitors here because not many people tend to come out this way so normally it is the same couple of volunteers who come to Werda. My house is small, but we all fit. I slept under my kitchen table one night, but it was just fine.
   The workshop itself went very well. Those of us involved had been communicating with each other mostly by email to plan the topics to include and so forth, and we finalized everything when everyone got here on Friday. We talked to about 50 primary students from two schools who are involved or are becoming involved in PACT club about communication. leadership, puberty, healthy decisions in dating relationships, and HIV prevention. It took a while to get an answer about this while planning the workshop with the schools, but the schools even gave permission for us to do condom demonstrations at the workshop. This is rare for primary schools to allowed, but the thinking of the teachers was that they learn about condoms and about HIV and should therefore know how actually use them to prevent HIV. We did also talk about abstinence and about how just because how they know how to use condoms doesn't mean they are ready to have sex. We ended the day with a condom water balloon toss and answering questions from a question box, which students added questions to throughout the day. I was really impressed by the teachers involvement in the workshop, the students eagerness to learn and ask questions, and by the PCVs and shadows who co-facilitated. All of these people helped make the workshop a success and something that I'm proud of.


Half-Way Point

   Yesterday marked 13 months in Botswana, which means 13 months left in Botswana. It was the exact half-way point for myself and the rest of Bots10. It is kind of a cool milestone to have reached. I've been pretty busy sorting out the final details for my primary PACT workshop that will take place next weekend, but today is a holiday so nobody is working at my office, the clinic, or the schools, which means there is only so much that I can get accomplished today.   I spent some time walking around my village and chatting with some people I know and other than that  I'm just relaxing.  I'll probably cook something good for dinner later and maybe I'll paint a little. 
I wrote a blog post a while ago about some of the foods I've learned to cook here since learning to cook better has been one of my goals here.  In celebration of this half way point here are a few more foods that I've added to that list recently:

vegetable noodle soup
cold rice, chickpeas, cucumber, and plain yogurt 
baked cheesy-tomato fries
breakfast burrito with egg, tomato, and cheese

I also found out that a new PCV in training will be shadowing me next week, which is pretty exciting!