Returning to Kanye ( Regionals and Visiting My Host Family )

  Every year at this time PC Botswana holds regional meetings. Volunteers who live in the same general region of the country get together mostly to discuss how things are going at site and get to know other volunteers in our region .My regional meeting was in Kanye, which is the village that I had pre-service training in (and where I stayed with my host family when I first arrived in Botswana). It was nice to get to know some of the Bots11 volunteers better because I didn't really know most of them and also to see the volunteers I already knew and don't get to see often. The Bots11 volunteers arrived here about 5 months after my group arrived here so it was also interesting to listen to their perspectives and remember how I felt 5 months ago and reflect on how different that is from how I feel now. I remember the Bots9 volunteers telling my group that around the year mark things just clicked for them, and now that is how I am feeling. It seems strange to now be at this point.  It was also interesting to return to the village that I trained in for the first time in about 9 months. I surprised my host family with a  visit because my host sisters had been texting me since I first arrived at site to tell me that if I ever was near Kanye that I was welcome to visit. I was a little worried that they wouldn't be home, but when I arrived my youngest host sister was in the yard cooking in the outdoor kitchen and stopped what she was doing and ran over to hug me. She went and got my host mother, who literally hugged me so hard that she picked me up! My other two host sisters unfortunately were not home, but it was really great to see my host mother and youngest host sister ,Bokomoso. It is strange to see both how much can stay the same and how much can change in just 9 months. In many ways, it felt like I had never left my host family when I was visiting with them because I felt very comfortable around them. It actually kind of surprised me just how comfortable it was being there because I had been a little nervous about seeing them for the first time in so long. I found out that Bokomoso is now in Form 4 at Senior Secondary School, which is often very difficult for many students to get to go to here so this is wonderful news. My host mother also knows more English than she knew when I lived with my host family. During homestay, my host mother was always very kind to me, but communication was difficult. We struggled through most conversations with me trying to use setswana, her not knowing any English, and most of the time my host sisters ended up helping with translating. This time I still tried my best to use setswana, but my host mother was using English too! She made some jokes about my setswana not being that much better than it was when I lived with them, and I actually understood her joking, and she understood mine! It was great! I knew that she had been trying to learn some English during the time that I lived in Kanye because she and my host sisters would ask me questions now and then while I asked them questions about setswana, but it was so nice to have a conversation that was more of a balance of both of us trying to use each others' languages rather than us both needing so much translation.
   I wish I could better describe how I feel here these days. The best way I can describe it is that I've accepted my life here for what it is. This doesn't mean that I agree with everything that happens or that every day feels fulfilling and is all butterflies and rainbows, but I guess what I mean is that I'm happy here despite the frustrations. Things just sort of are what they are, and I feel so much more at ease and comfortable. When people talked about feeling like this before I got to this point, I didn't get it and kind of thought they may have just been saying it would happen for me to make me feel better.To any future volunteers or volunteers who arrived here after me, I swear that now that I am reaching my 11 month in Bots, things really do feel different in a good way.



   This past weekend I attended GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp for my district. Ten students from my school attended, as well as 10 students from the JSS in Tsabong and the JSS in Middlepits, and guidance teachers from each school. The four other volunteers in my district and I had been working on planning this camp for a few months so it was exciting to finally be going. A combi van picked up myself, the guidance teacher I work with PACT club with, Mr. Molio, and the ten students from Werda in the morning at the school. There was a fuel issue so we had to wait for a long time before leaving and then wait in Tsabong to change vehicles so that we could get out to the camp at Lubu ( near Middlepits) which was about 3.5 hours from Werda. We ended up joining the Tsabong PCV, guidance teacher, and students to ride a bus the rest of our way. Unfortunately our bus broke down when we were about 20 minutes away from the camp! It was a crazy day of transport, but the students were all so wonderful and patient. We played games on the side of the road to stay entertained and many of them had bought snacks in Tsabong so they shared with each other and stayed in pleasant moods. We finally got to the camp at around 8pm. We had assigned the girls to room with students from other schools, and even though they were told this would happen ahead of time, my students from Werda were a bit anxious about that when we actually got to the camp. We had a good conversation about it though and they ended up promising me they would give it a try and let me know if they were having any problems.
   Saturday of the camp was great. We had expected that the students may have been tired and difficult to wake up because of getting in so late Friday, eating dinner late, and bathing late/ staying up later then had been planned, but most of them were awake at 4:30am! They were so excited to get the day started. We joked that they were vampire children that never slept or something haha.  The girls were all so engaged in all of the sessions and participated so well. We started out the day with some introductions and made mailboxes. Every participant at the camp, including PCVs and guidance teachers, had a mailbox with their name on it. Then everyone wrote positive messages to each other and left them in the mailboxes. Between Saturday and Sunday we held sessions on gender based violence, a STEPS film about teenagers and relationships, inter-generational and transactional sex, behavior change, decision making, contraceptives, self-esteem, and leadership. We also played a lot of team building games and icebreakers. I led the sessions about inter-generational and transactional sex and decision making. For the inter-generational/transactional sex session, I first asked them to list what types of "goods" may be exchanged for sex and we had a discussion about different relationships in which transactional sex could take place. I then split them up into 4 groups and had them create skits in which they acted out how transactional sex could take place in a dating relationship, boss/ employee relationship, teacher/ student relationship/ or relationship between an older person/ teenager in general. They got very into the skits. I also included information about asserting oneself, and we came up with different ways that they can say "no" to someone who is trying to pressure them into sex. For decision making we played a game called "Forced Choices" where they had to pick one side of the room or the other. I started out with simple things like "ice cream or cake" and worked up to more difficult decisions like "I think it is ok to have sex before marriage" or "I do not think it is ok to have sex before marriage". We then talked about all of the factors that impact decision making, difficult decisions that they are being asked to make at this point in their life or may be asked to make, and decision making around sex. I read a scenario to them about a girl whose boyfriend was pressuring her into having sex without a condom and goes along with it and we talked about the possible consequences of that decision as well as different ways that the girl could have handled the situation or things she could have said and done.Some of the girls demonstrated ways that someone can use body language to be assertive as well as saying some of the "no" phrases they came up with in an assertive way.
   My favorite thing about the camp was how much the girls really started to open up and speak up and how openly and honestly we were able to talk by the second day. My favorite difficult conversation was one about LGBT issues in Botswana. We had been talking about relationships in general following a STEPS presentation by two of the other volunteers at the camp. Then one of the students raised her hand and asked what do do if another girl told her that she had a crush on her because she didn't like girls and didn't want to be mean. Another student raised her hand and made a comment about how it was wrong to be gay and devilish and a few other students clapped. It was a difficult moment, but it led to a great conversation about respecting others feelings and views. The guidance teacher from my school even spent a few minute talking about how difficult it must be for someone to be gay in Botswana and how even if someone believes that it is wrong themselves, they can still be kind to someone who is gay and accept them as they are. Some of the students spoke up about agreeing that it was important to be kind and that it wasn't a choice to be gay. I also asked them if any of them have ever had a boy tell them they had a crush on them who they did not like back. They laughed and said yes, of course. I asked them what they would have done in that situation, and they said "say no in a nice way" to which I said they could do the same thing if a girl told them she had a crush on them and they didn't feel the same way about the girl. We also reminded them of the camp rules we had set at the beginning about respecting each other and that it was possible that someone at the camp could be gay or if not there was definitely at least one student at their schools who is gay. They seemed to get it and did a great job of talking about respecting one anthers' beliefs and feelings after this.
   The last day we had a little award ceremony during which everyone received certificates. We also asked if a student from each school could speak a little bit about the camp or pass on encouraging words to her peers. The student from my school who spoke is one of the shyest students and she stood up and talked bout how she is usually shy and never thought she'd be able to make a speech in front of a big group of people and that now she "knows who she is" and felt like she could. She also talked about how the students came together and are "no longer strangers but friends" and how they can work together and accept each others' different views. I was so proud of her that I teared up a little. I'm really proud of all of the students that attended the GLOW camp because they tried so hard and care so much. It is inspiring to see that these girls will be the future of Botswana


Food Adventures

   Those who know me well know that cooking and baking are not areas that I have a lot of experience in. I just never really took the time to try cooking anything new at home. One of my goals here has been to become more adventurous with my cooking and to learn how to cook and bake things I never cooked/baked before. Here are some of the new things that I've learned to successfully make so far in the order that I learned to make them in:

1. chocolate cake (from scratch...not a box...just to clarify! ; ) )
2. pancakes (from scratch)
3. chili
4. egg nog/ mint tea popsicles
5. vegetable fried rice
6. homemade mac and cheese
7. guacamole
8. homemade pizza including the dough
9. refried beans

I hope to learn to cook many more things besides this short list, but believe me, this list is kind of a big deal for me!

My First 25 Peace Corps Books

My goal is to read 100 books when I'm here in Botswana. I started out a bit slow, but I've been reading much more lately. I am up to 25 books now. Many of my friends from home have been asking what books I've read here. Here is the list of the books that I've read so far. 

My First 25 Peace Corps Books:

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 
2. The Princess Diaries Book 1
3. The Book Thief
4. Light a Penny Candle
5. Water for Elephants
6. The Wish Maker
7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
8. Happy Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
9.  Ape House
10. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
11. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
12. The Help
13. Cutting for Stone
14. The Cross Gardner
15. Millie's Fling
16. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
17. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
18. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
19. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
20. Dork Whore
21. The Road
22. The Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
23. Middlesex
24. Fugitive Pieces
25. Jurassic Park 



   For me, the hardest thing about being here is that so much has changed at home in the past ten months. Life goes on, and even though I realized things would change at home when I came here, I never could have guessed to what extent things would change or how difficult that is sometimes. During the ten months that I've been here, things at home have changed in so many positive and negative ways. I have friends who have gotten married and friends who have had babies or are now pregnant. When I get home many of my friends will have boyfriends or girlfriends or even children whom I've never met. My best friend's son, who is like a nephew to me is growing and changing all of the time and will be in elementary school before I get home. My family has changed in so many ways already. My youngest brother is now in Middle School and has been dealing with the challenges of being a pre-teen, my two adult siblings are both moving, and my parents are going through a divorce, which in itself has brought a lot of changes. People I care about have dealt with illnesses and the loss of loved ones as well as other challenges. Sometimes thinking about going home to all of these changes after my service is overwhelming, and other times I feel badly for not being there when these changes are taking place. I often have to remind myself that even if I were there I wouldn't be able to "fix" things or stop these changes from happening because that is how life works; things change. 
   My friends and family at home are not the only ones changing. I already feel like I've changed too. I remember the first time I  ever felt like a "real" grown-up was when I started working at my job at a residential treatment center at home. I hadn't been out of college for very long at the time, but there I was, responsible for taking care of teenage girls who were dealing with some pretty severe emotional and behavioral challenges. I had to step up, and after working there for 2.5 years, I sort of began to feel older than my actual age in many ways. Being here in Botswana has made me feel even older. Yes, I know that I  HAVE gotten older and that I'm 28 now, but in some ways I feel older than that . Again, I am working with teenagers and need to be the adult, but here it is more than that. It is seeing people much younger than me taking care of younger siblings because their parents have died, it is being by myself a lot  and being more ok with that, and not really going out to clubs or parties like I honestly probably would be doing at home, and sometimes, it is feeling tired. I have a lot of time to think here, and I think A LOT. Sometimes that is hard because I think about the people I care about at home and worry about them. Other times, I'm really grateful for all of the time I have to reflect because that is not something I took a lot of time to do at home. I've learned that I like time to myself more than I ever thought I would have at home where I was always on the go. I've also learned that sometimes I'm really hard on myself, and even though this is something my friends and family at home often told me, I'm now seeing it for myself and am working on it.  I cook more and take the time to take care of myself more than I ever did at home where I would have just scarfed down food on the way to work or at work. I'm speaking up for myself more, and overall feel more assertive than I ever have, which I think is a healthy thing for me. I think I've lost a bit of my idealism, which makes me a little sad, but at the same time maybe it is a good thing to have more realistic expectations here. I get a little overwhelmed in large groups of other Americans ( like at big trainings or gatherings with other PCVs) , which is so strange because I used to go out in large crowds all of the time at home and was never phased by this. Now I feel more content at smaller gatherings with a few good friends. I'm sure that there are more ways that I'm changing that I haven't even realized yet. 
   I guess all that I can hope for is that my friends and family at home are patient with me when I do come back and accept me as I am, and I will try very hard to be patient and accepting of all of the changes at home as well. It will be interesting to see what else changes in the next 16 months.