My Daily Grind

Dumela!!

So, I really suck at this whole updating thing, huh?

Well, after such a long absence I am happy to report some good news:  I am happy, healthy, and things are GREAT!  As some of you may remember, initially Peace Corps assigned me to work at two different nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in my village.  I was told to spend about four days at my primary NGO and one day a week at my secondary NGO.

I was miserable for MONTHS at my primary NGO.  I wasn’t doing anything.  I spent all of my time sitting and staring at the wall.  When I wasn’t doing that I was hiding behind the building, crying.  I tried so hard to find projects to work on or people there to work with, but there was so much negativity in that office due to disorganization, egos, and ridiculous office politics.  I kept begging Peace Corps to remove me from that NGO and let me work exclusively with my secondary NGO, but Peace Corps wanted me to stick it out and try to make it work (like I wasn’t already).

Finally, I said “screw it” and I stopped going to my primary NGO.  You’re shocked, right?  It’s a very unEmily thing to do – not follow the rules and disregard the instructions of my superiors.  But I’ve changed a lot since I’ve come to Botswana.  I have a much firmer grasp now of who I am and what I need than I did before I came here.  And I knew, with every part of me, that working for that NGO was not good for my mental and emotional health (and since I’m an emotional eater, it wasn’t good for my physical health, either).  I’ve also learned how and when I need to advocate for myself – something I’ve never really been able to do.

Well, my insubordination worked!  Two weeks ago, after weeks of only going to my secondary organization, Peace Corps officially removed me from my primary organization.  I now work exclusively for what was once my secondary organization. VICTORY!!!!!

I LOVE the NGO that I now work with exclusively.  Believe it or not, I’m actually busy at this place.  I went from spending weeks sitting around and doing nothing to not having enough time in the day.  It’s a great feeling.  I’m respected, valued, and appreciated here.  My opinions are taken seriously.  I’m an honorary member of management.  In fact, last week my coordinator told me that I AM management.  That’s not really true, but I’m treated as such.  I’m gaining so much experience here – experience that is directly related to my master’s degree.  I can see the impact that I’m having on this organization and on the people that I work with every day. I couldn’t be happier.

I’ve been working on a bunch of different projects.   I wanted to take a moment to share with you some of the most prominent projects that have been keeping me busy.

 

Youth Group

ImageSix months ago my organization created a youth group for out-of-school youth.  Our Youth Group has approximately 25 members between the ages of 18 and 29 (in Botswana, you are considered a “youth” until you turn 36 – I KNOW!).  The Youth Group does a lot of volunteer work and fundraising for my NGO.

I spend most of my time working with the youth, and I LOVE IT!  We just finished an 11 day business and entrepreneurship skills training with them, teaching them how to start and properly manage small businesses.  I’ve been assisting them with creating business plans – teaching them how to conduct market research, how to create a budget, how to look for start-up funds, etc. Just today I spent most of my time going around the village, speaking to different business owners, requesting to place our Youth Group members at their businesses for a week or so in order to gain real world work experience in each of the youth’s desired business sectors.  I also assist the youth with finding different funding opportunities to assist them in continuing their educations.

In April, I co-organized a Sponsored Walk for our organization, whereby we walked eight miles to a neighboring village and then eight miles back to my NGO’s site.  Following the walk we held a Volunteerism and Economic Diversification Ceremony and Fair on my NGO’s grounds.  We raised over 5,000 Pula for our Youth Group!  The youth donated 2,000 Pula to my organization and are now using the rest of the money to engage in different income-generating projects to help fund their small businesses and improve their economic statuses.

 

P.A.C.T. Clubs

ImageI also organize and occasionally facilitate P.A.C.T. Clubs with our Youth Group Members.  P.A.C.T. stands for Peer Approach to Counseling by Teens.  These are clubs that teach adolescents lifeskills, covering topics such as HIV transmission and prevention, gender-based violence, decision-making, goal setting, alcoholism, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, etc.  Our Youth Group members facilitate P.A.C.T. sessions in three different schools, reaching over 160 adolescents.

Every week, I sit down with our Youth Group members and together we create a lesson plan for that week.  I also create quizzes that we distribute to the students each week.  The quizzes cover information on the information that was covered in the previous lesson as well as the information that will be covered in the upcoming lesson in order to ascertain our effectiveness as educators.

 

Basic Computer and ICT Lessons

I teach basic computer and ICT lessons to my NGO’s staff and to our Youth Group members.  My organization doesn’t have Internet access, so the local library has allowed me to come in and teach lessons to staff on Tuesdays and to youth on Thursdays between 7:30am and 8:30am – an hour and a half before the library opens.  This village has been very good to me.  With the youth, I focus on teaching them how to properly research and how the Internet can assist them in their small businesses.  I’m teaching the staff how using the Internet and computer technology can increase their productivity, improve communication, and assist them when conducting research.

 

Morale Lifting Activities

ImageI also do various projects to help boost the morale of my organization’s volunteers.  Our volunteers provide palliative care through home visits to 416 people in and around my village who are infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS and/or other chronic illnesses.  These hardworking ladies often feel as though they are not appreciated by my NGO. 

I regularly do something very simple that has surprisingly been very effective.  I made a list of everyone’s birthdays.  When a volunteer’s birthday approaches, I make a personalized card for that individual.  I then pass it around to all of the staff members to sign, each of them writing a message thanking that person for their service and dedication to the organization.  I then give the card to the volunteer on her birthday.  I have had women CRY when they start reading their cards.  It’s insane.  Birthdays commonly aren’t acknowledged in Botswana, so it can be a big deal, especially for older women, when someone just says, “Happy birthday.”  I had one volunteer tell me that we were the only people to remember it was her birthday.

Last December, I also organized a holiday party that coupled as a Volunteer Appreciation Event.  It was really successful!  We barbequed, played holiday music, danced, and had a good time.  It was one of the first times that the staff interacted with the volunteers on a social level.  Everyone got to know each other a bit better.  At the end of the party, our coordinator gave a speech thanking the volunteers for their hard work (and thanking me for organizing the event!).  It was really lovely.  I have already started organizing another Holiday Party/Volunteer Appreciation Event for this December.

 

So those are my biggest projects, not including the random, small capacity building projects I do at my NGO (e.g., creating a calendar, creating time sheets, creating weekly work plans, etc.).  I stay busy and I LOVE it!

Sorry this post wasn’t as fun as the others, but I wanted you all to know what I’ve been up to.  Not only am I busy with work, but I’m also trying to finish my thesis so that I can finally knock out my master’s degree!  I’m also busy planning numerous trips (In early September I’m going to Morocco! In October I’m going to Namibia!  In November I may be going back to Zambia!).

Thanks for all of those who have called, emailed, Facebooked, and sent cards and letters.  Your support means the world to me.  My first eight months in my village were all kinds of awful, but as you can see, things are really wonderful now.  I know that I wouldn’t have been able to get through that dark period without your support.  I now have about 11 months left in Botswana, and I know that I’m going to enjoy each and every one of them. =)

Take care, everyone!  And thanks for reading!

A Zambian Holiday

I should probably change the name of this blog to “Better Late Than Never.”  Although it’s been several weeks since my Christmas and New Year’s trip, I wanted to share it with everyone.  If you don’t care about how I spent the holidays, let me tell you now that I was bitten by a lion.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A LION.  Are you hooked?  If not, how could you not be?!  I WAS BITTEN BY A LION.

Anyway, here goes…

Christmas in The Ghetto

I spent my Christmas in Francistown – the former colonial capital of Botswana.  Batswana have an affectionate name for Francistown:  “The Ghetto.”  Seriously.  It’s an affectionate term.  Francistown is an awesome city.  In the local newspapers there is a section for news stories solely from Francistown and that section is called “Ghetto Metro.”

Several of us volunteers stayed with another Peace Corps Volunteer who has AIR CONDITIONING, CEILING FANS, and awesome neighbors who have A POOL.  It was great.  We ate Christmas lunch at a local Indian restaurant.  Santa must’ve known that one of the things I asked him for Christmas this year was naan.  No lie.  Don’t judge.  You come and live in a country where you have to eat rice, baked beans, and fat cakes every day and soon you’ll also be begging Santa for some naan.

We then went to a nearby ice cream shop and double-fisted milkshakes.  Literally. It was sweltering hot, and the shop was all out of large milkshakes, so we each decided to get two medium milkshakes, or a medium milkshake and an ice cream cone.  Never let it be said that Peace Corps Volunteers are not the epitome of class.

 

In Case There Was Any Doubt, Elephants Are Freakin’ HUGE

From there, another volunteer and I went on safari in Chobe National Park.  It was incredible.  As you can see from the pictures below, we saw a TON of animals.

The first thing we did was go on a boat cruise through the Chobe River, which operates as a border separating Botswana from Namibia and Zambia.  After that, we went on a game drive through the park.  It was beautiful.  There were so many animals, it felt as though we were in Jumanji.  There was even a moment when I seriously thought we were going to be stampeded by an elephant.  It was awesome.  And terrifying.  Mostly terrifying, but still kind of awesome.  Ok, it was straight up terrifying.  Only now that I am several weeks removed from the situation can I look back and say that it was kind of awesome.  But only kind of.

 

We spent the night in the park.  The safari company provided dinner with wine and traditional entertainment.  We spent the night sleeping in a two-person tent, just several feet from where lions were feasting and roaring.  That was also awesome, until I could see that our guides were freaking out a bit.  Then that also became terrifying.  But still kind of awesome.

We woke up at dawn the next morning.  We had breakfast and then sped off on another game drive where we saw more animals, including a honey badger!  After the final game drive in the park, we went back to the Chobe River and crossed it, heading into Zambia.

 

Zim & Zam

In Zambia, we stayed at a hostel in the center of Livingstone.  We ran into a numerous of other PCVs from Botswana and Zambia which was pretty cool.  We also went to a bunch of markets and bought WAY too many souvenirs.  It was fun until we returned back to the hostel and I saw what was (or should I say, what wasn’t) in my wallet.  Womp, womp.  On the bright side, I now have beautifully painted coasters, bowls, candelabras, and mosaics to showcase in my house.  Well, my future house.

On our second day in Zambia, I went on a lion walk.  The pictures are below.  It was INCREDIBLE.  The walk is run by a nonprofit organization that is working to increase the population of lions in Africa.  A guide took me and five others on a walk through the game reserve.  We got to watch the lions play and re-enact the final battle scene between Simba and Scar in The Lion King.  I even got to PET THEM.  It was nuts.  But, even crazier than that, is that one of them tried to bite me.

For real, yo!

The guide asked me if I wanted to let the lion lick my hand.  I wasn’t going to turn that opportunity down.  The guide and I crouched down in front of the lion.  He took my hand and held it to the lion’s mouth.  The lion licked my hand, pulled back and sniffed it, growled, and then went to bite my hand.  Thank goodness that the guide was holding my hand, as he was able to quickly pull it back so that the lion’s teeth only nipped my skin.  Isn’t that terrifying and kind of awesome?!  I was technically bit by a lion!  Although its teeth only nipped my skin, there was teeth on skin contact.  For sure.  Therefore, I feel as though I can say, without lying, that I was bit by a lion.  I think that I need to add that to my bucket list just so that I can cross it off.

The next day (New Year’s Eve) we went to Victoria Falls.  Victoria Falls, which is one of the eight wonders of the natural world, is a grand and beautiful series of waterfalls that serves as a border separating Zambia and Zimbabwe.  It was awesome, majestic, and wet.  Seriously.  We should have worn rain jackets or even embarrassing and unflattering ponchos as we were completely soaked when we left.  My favorite part of Vic Falls was seeing the double rainbow at the bottom of the falls.  See the pictures below.  It was incredible.  We were then able to cross over into Zimbabwe to see the falls from that side of the border.  It was much less developed (surprise, surprise), but I think that the views from Zimbabwe were even better.

That night, New Year’s Eve, we went to a local restaurant called Olga’s, which purportedly has the best pizza in Southern Africa.  Initially, I was dubious, but the pizza was in fact terrific.  For the first time in a long time, we had real pizza.  It was soooooo good.  We sat eating, chatting, and just chilling.  It might have been super low key, but it was still one of the best New Year’s Eve’s I’ve had in a long time.

The next day, we started the long trip home.  All in all, it was a great vacation and a fantastic way to spend the holidays.  It was a nice break from the issues I was dealing with in my village.  I definitely want to return to Zambia someday.

Thanks for reading!  Even though they holidays were several weeks ago, I hope that you all enjoyed yours as much as I enjoyed mine.  Great friends, great food, great animals – what more could a PCV in Africa ask for?  Well, you know, besides reliable running water, reliable electricity, faster Internet connection, the extermination of all cockroaches on the continent… =)

The Bots Blues

Wow.  It’s been a long time.  Remember me?

I’m sorry for my prolonged absence.  I can say, with complete sincerity, that I did not forget about this blog.  I thought about it constantly – about all of the different things that I wanted to share with family and friends back home, as well as prospective Peace Corps volunteers who are stalking current volunteers’ blogs for information.  The reason for my lack of updates hasn’t been laziness or neglect.  I just haven’t felt as though I’ve been in the right…headspace…to really discuss my life here in Botswana.

As a few of you know, I haven’t been doing all that well.  Botswana is wonderful; the country – the people and the culture are all great.  Nevertheless, I’ve had some personal issues that I’ve been dealing with, the likes of which have been exacerbated by the fact that, professionally speaking, I’m pretty miserable.  I like all (well, most) of the people that I work with, it’s just, ugh.  I will not discuss this in depth on a public blog, but I will say that I’m not happy.  The problem lies in the fact that, for many volunteers (including myself), most of our self-esteem as volunteers is a direct reflection of our professional accomplishments.  I just feel…awful here.  Like, all the time.

This has been exacerbated by a recent loss in my family.  If you’ve poked around the different pages on this blog, you’ve probably seen how much I adore my grandfather.  I even named this blog in his honor.  On January 16, he passed away from pneumonia.  I didn’t handle it well.  Honestly, I’m not handling it well.  Peace Corps was kind enough to grant me emergency leave and pay for my plane ticket back to the States so that I could attend his funeral and be with my family for two weeks.

That probably came as a surprise to most of you.  I didn’t tell anyone that I was home.  It’s not that I didn’t want to see my friends, because I do.  I miss you all.  Again, I just wasn’t in a good headspace to be social.  I pretty much followed my mom around for two weeks and helped her get things ready for the funeral and sort out my grandfather’s assets and such.  We also watched countless episodes of New Girl, Scandal, and Say Yes to the Dress.  Please don’t be offended that I didn’t call you and ask to hang out.  I wanted to see my friends, but at the same time, I just wanted to be alone and/or with my family.

I arrived back in Botswana on Saturday, February 2.  I’m trying very hard to be positive, but this experience has thus far taught me that I can’t just will myself to be happy.

Still, I will not be leaving Botswana until my service is completed on June 12, 2014.  I’ve made a commitment, and I plan to see it through.  Also, because I’m a Master’s International student, my Peace Corps service is directly related to whether or not I will get my graduate degree.  So even if I did decide to leave, I’d be jeopardizing my master’s degree and throwing away all of the money and hard work that I put into to getting that degree.  Blah.

I hope to update this blog more often.  Although the past few months have been difficult, there have been some bright spots, namely my Christmas and New Year’s vacation to Zambia.  I promise to share stories and pictures from that trip in an upcoming entry.

Sorry that this entry has been so heavy.  I hope that everyone is thus far enjoying 2013.  Take care and please keep in touch.

Tagged

Exercises in Character Building

Throughout the Peace Corps application process, I was bombarded by pearls of wisdom from current and returned Peace Corps volunteers.  One of the insights into PCV life that I heard the most often was, “Being in the Peace Corps is like being on a rollercoaster.  The highs are really high and the lows are really low.”

For me, this analogy isn’t…dramatic enough.  I feel as though I’ve been on a revolving floom since I’ve been in Botswana – with highs and lows that are so steep and happen so quickly it’s slightly nauseating.

I’ve been at site now for almost three months, and while things are almost always good, my emotions are sometimes embarrassingly amplified.  When something goes my way, I decree that I’m experiencing the best week that I’ve ever had in Botswana.  When something goes wrong, I’m determined that my life is a mess and my service in Botswana is and will be one, big, epic fail.

For example, the local government is currently performing maintenance on the water pipes in my village.  Consequently, last week, my village was without running water.  I’m embarrassed to admit how much this one little hiccup affected my mood.  Granted, it was a legitimate complaint.  I had no water and had to go buy a ton of it.  Even so, I didn’t have enough to cook, wash dishes, flush my toilet, wash my clothes, and bathe.  And my hair.  My poor hair.  Yep, I went five days without washing it.  Still, I was only without water for a couple of days.  Yet I found myself letting this one incident, that is really isolated, affect my perceptions of my work here, my relationships with my co-workers, my view of Botswana, my personal image – ok, my personal image might be legit.  I was completely gross.  But still, I shouldn’t let one bump in the road affect the other parts, some of which are great, of my life here.

So, in an attempt to get my mind off of such things, I’ve decided to share experiences that I’ve had in Mochudi in a segment that I’m calling Educational Exercises in Personal Character Building and Cross-Cultural Exchange.

 

For the last time, I AM NOT WEARING A WEAVE!  Please stop picking through my hair.

Since I’ve been in Mochudi, I’ve pretty much become an animal in a petting zoo – a zoo in which my hair is the primary attraction.  Women ask me all the time, “Where did you get your piece?  I’d love one like that!” (Please note:  “Piece” is the word that many Batswana women use for “weave”.)  When I inform them that “it’s all mine”, all of a sudden everyone and their grandma, and I do literally mean that, are putting their hands in my hair.  But they’re not just touching my hair; they’re picking through it.  It’s almost as if I were a chimpanzee at the Philadelphia Zoo and these women, acting as mama chimps, have taken it upon themselves to “bathe” me for the day.

When I mentioned this phenomenon to a PCV friend of mine, who is much more “in-the-know” when it comes to black hair care, she just laughed and said, “Giiiirl!  They’re track checking you!”

What???

These women have been digging through my hair – in the grocery store, on the street, in jam-packed combis – trying to determine if I am liar!  They’ve been looking for tracks where my weave would connect to my natural hair!  To be fair, some of the women here do just touch my hair without digging through it, but still!  I’m insulted!

People used to touch my hair in the States all the time.  When friends or co-workers did it, I didn’t mind.  When strangers did it, I wanted to scream.  I’ve been biting my tongue in the name of “cultural sensitivity” when women I don’t know do it here, but this is too much!

You know what, I’m just going to let them dig.  I’ve got nothing to hide.  And who knows?  Considering how big my hair is, maybe one of the women will find something in there – like some money, a lottery ticket, or an inspirational statement from a fortune cookie – that would make her life a little better.  And hey, wasn’t that one of the reasons why I joined the Peace Corps?  To help better people’s lives?  So, really, my hair is, in essence, a goodwill ambassador for the U.S.  How many other people can say that about their hair?!

 

No, not all black people in the United States are related to Snoop Dogg.

Most of the people that I meet in Botswana think I’m white.  I think that this is largely the result of the fact that, in many parts of the country, skin tones are very homogenous.  In the States, there are so many people of different races and ethnicities living in the country that Americans are generally used to seeing various skin tones that fall within different races or ethnicities. In Botswana, although it is home to many ex-pats, most of the folks here are black Africans, the majority of which are Tswana.  Consequently, because my skin is so much lighter than theirs, many Batswana automatically assume that I am white.

When I inform them that I’m biracial but identify as black, many nod their heads but continue to refer to me as white.

However, there are some that, when I tell them that I identify as a black American, immediately ask me if I’m related to Snoop Dogg.

No lie.  This has happened to me more times than I can count.

Why Snoop Dogg, you ask?  I have no flippin’ clue.  Although I do also have people ask me if I know Nicki Minaj or if I’ve met Jay-Z.

I think that one reason for this is because of the size of Botswana.  The country is the size of Texas with a population of approximately two million people.  Everyone knows everyone knows everyone who is someone’s cousin.  I can’t even count the number of people that I’ve met here that are legitimately related to the president.

Additionally, celebrities and politicians in Botswana are generally much more accessible than in the United States.  On my first day in Mochudi, the president of Botswana came to the village for a meeting.  Another Peace Corps volunteer and I just walked into the room where the meeting was taking place, no security checks or anything, and sat down.  Ten minutes later the president of the nation strolled in for the meeting (as the poli sci nerd that I am, I, of course, was freaking out and taking lots of pictures).  When the meeting was over, he just walked out of the room, left the building, and hopped into a black car before speeding away, with very little pomp and circumstance or security.

So, in fulfilling my role as an educator of all things American to the Batswana that I meet, I find myself informing lots of people that not all black Americans are related, nor do we all know each other.  Although, I must admit, it would be pretty awesome if we did.  I wouldn’t mind having a direct line to Taye Diggs.

 

Apparently New York & Company produces decidedly un-ladylike attire.

In Botswana, the traditional leadership structure of the villages is headed by the chief, or kgosi in Setswana, and various headmen.  These individuals preside over customary tribal courts known as kgotla.  When visiting the kgotla, men must wear business attire, usually a coat and tie, and women must wear a dress or a skirt that falls past their knees.

When entering a community in Botswana, it is imperative for Peace Corps volunteers to be introduced at their villages’ kgotla.  This helps to legitimize the volunteers’ presence in the community and, subsequently, their future work.

When I first arrived in Mochudi my supervisor at my secondary organization decided to accompany me to the kgotla.  Consequently, I had to substitute the New York & Company business slacks that I had been consistently wearing up until that point with a long, floral skirt.

When I arrived at work, everyone was saying, “Oh, Dineo!  Yo montle!  Your skirt is so pretty!”  When my supervisor saw me she said, “Ah!  Maybe I should take Dineo to the kgotla every day so that she’ll be forced to dress like a woman every day.”

…………

What?!?!!!?!?!?!

Haha!!!  I was too shocked and I was laughing too hard to be offended.  Can you believe that?!  Haha!  I guess she wasn’t too impressed with my New York & Company dress pants, even though I find them to be very sleek and professional.  Apparently, wearing pants to work is strictly for men.  I don’t care, though.  I like my pants.  Even so, I’ve started wearing skirts to work to appease her.  Nevertheless, sometimes I wear my pants just to see the look on her face.  And some of my female co-workers wear pants to work, too – jeans, for that matter!  Haha!

 

Thanks for reading, everyone!  I miss all of you very much.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again and again, thank you SO much for the continued support.  It truly means a lot to me.  If you’re the praying type, please pray that my water  will stay on for the duration of the week.  If you’re not the praying type, please wish upon a star.

Take care!  And for those of you starting school, or have children starting school, I wish you an amazing and stress-free school year!

7 Weeks and Counting

The picture on the left is a photo of my front yard.  I KNOW!!!!

Sorry for my extended absence.  I’ve been settling into my new life in Mochudi and, after seven weeks, this place is finally starting to feel like home.  It wouldn’t be my life unless I encountered a few obstacles that were as unforeseen as they were ridiculous, but things seem to be going pretty smoothly now.  I’ve settled into a routine and, I have to say, I’m really enjoying my life.

I spend Mondays and Tuesdays working with my primary organization; I spend Wednesdays in the community, meeting people and trying to get to know the village better; my Thursdays and Fridays are spent with my secondary organization.  I spend my weekends cleaning, grocery shopping, watching movies, listening to music, writing, and talking to friends and family.

Ok, so enough with that.  Let’s talk about my house.

The houses that Peace Corps volunteers in Botswana are placed in vary significantly.  Some homes have tiled floors, air conditioning, multiple bathrooms, three bedrooms, showers with beautiful glass doors, laundry machines, and/or running water; other homes have one bedroom, no running water, no electricity, and no indoor bathrooms.  I feel as though my house falls in the middle of this spectrum.  Seeing as though I could be sitting in a one room hut spending my nights cooking over an open fire and peeing into a pit in my backyard (which is kind of what I expected when I first decided to apply for Peace Corps), I feel as though, in regard to housing, I hit the jackpot.

I live on a family compound composed of one main house and one guest house.  The main house is home to a man and his wife, a kind and warm woman who is also an employee at my secondary organization, and their two children – a sixteen-year-old boy and a ten-year-old girl.  I live in the guest house, which is located about 10 feet away from the back of the main house.  Our compound is surrounded by bush on three sides.  My house is composed of four rooms:  a sitting room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

Ok, so let’s break down the pluses and minuses about the house.

The not-so-great things about the house: 

  • The house is located on the outskirts of town.  Consequently, I feel a bit isolated at times.  However, seeing as how I’m constantly being stared at when I am in town, being a bit removed from the community is not always a bad thing.
  •  The layout of the house is a bit…different.  The rooms are segregated; none of them are connected.  Consequently, I have to go outside every time I want to go from one room to another.

The kick-butt-awesome things about the house:

  • My house has electricity.
  •  My house has running water (both cold and hot!).
  •  My house has a big bathtub (that works!) with a showerhead.  If you are unable to comprehend the implication of this statement, this means that I have to take NO MORE BUCKET BATHS!!!
  •  My house has beautiful tiled floors.
  •  My house has an electric stove, which is AMAZING seeing as how I am terrified of fire.  I was actually practicing how to light matches before I came to Botswana in preparation for having a gas stove.
  •  The family that owns the compound has three dogs and a cat, which means I get all of the protection and bug-killing benefits of pets without any of the responsibilities.
  • And, the best part…..Wait for it….I HAVE A FREAKIN’ WASHING MACHINE!!!!  I’m sure that this is the universe’s way of making up for the craziness I experienced with my host family and their super-secret washing machine. Now I will admit that my washing machine is not the most…advanced piece of technology, but I love it all the same.  My clothes are finally clean.  And since I’ve started using fabric softener, I feel like the luckiest girl in Southern Africa (with the softest clothes!).

Here are some pictures:

 

I have so much to say, but I think I’m going to save it for my next post.  I have a lot of free time on my hands.  I should probably start spending it in more productive ways, like writing this blog, instead of watching old episodes of Family Guy on my computer.

I hope that you all have been enjoying your summers.  And for those of you in the States, I hope that you have been able to keep cool!  Summer is quickly approaching here, but it’s still chilly at the moment.  Nevertheless, pretty soon I’ll be wishing that my house had air conditioning instead of wishing that it had heat.

Take care and keep in touch!

Swearing In

Holy.  Pancakes.

It has happened.  There were times in the past two months – heck, in the past two years – when I honestly did not think that this day would ever arrive.

I, Emily Joy, was sworn in by the U.S. Ambassador to Botswana as an official, bona fide volunteer of the United States Peace Corps.

WOOOOOT!

Swearing in was the culmination of 8.5 weeks of frustration; laughter; spiders; tears; crazy host family stories; lottery jokes; long walks; Satanists; ridiculous flavors of chips; random baboon sightings; bush tea; noun classes; unreliable Internet connections; fat cakes; braids; jam in a can; unpredictable bowel movements; scorpions; bucket loads of salt, oil, ketchup, and mayonnaise; swollen feet; Moroccan daydreams; Paul Farmer books; orange Fanta; cockroaches; indirect taxi rides; countless marriage proposals; bucket baths; skits and vignettes; miscommunication; media sharing; freezing nights; and café Ko Gae.

We made it.  In the words of one of my fellow volunteers (note that I didn’t have to use the word “trainees”!), I feel “pretty freakin’ phenomenal!”

Raiding My Host Mother’s Closet

For the swearing in ceremony, many host families were kind enough to either buy or have made shirts, skirts, and/ or dresses for their host sons and daughters.  My host mother, as generous as she is, bought me a lovely dress.  Her goal was to dress me like a traditional Motswana woman.

She succeeded.

As soon as she saw me in the dress she proclaimed, “Ah!  You look so smart!  You look just like me!”

And I did.  I looked just like my 64-year-old host mother.

If you think I’m exaggerating, please view the photographic evidence below.

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Before we actually swore in, some of the other volunteers didn’t even immediately recognize me when I walked into the room.  When many of them saw me, they just started cracking up.  Everyone was dressed in uber-professional/traditional wear, and here I am, shuffling into the room looking like a mosadi mogolo (translation:  old woman).  It’s all good, though.  As ridiculous as I looked, I was just grateful that my host mother was kind enough to purchase me a dress with her limited funds.

I think the most hilarious part, though, is that I consented to wear the dress to make her happy during the swearing in ceremony that she promised to attend.  The morning of the ceremony, she helped me get dressed while simultaneously clapping her hands and squealing in delight.  I had to leave to get to the ceremony early, so she said that she would see me there.  BUT, when the ceremony started, she wasn’t there.  Mama didn’t even freakin’ show!  Part of me thinks that Mama knew exactly what she was doing when she selected that dress for me and, as I left the house to go to the ceremony that morning, she sat in her rickety chair in the kitchen, twirling an invisible mustache, and laughing her ass off.

At least I now have a traditional Motswana dress to wear to select occasions, such as Halloween parties.

Goodbye Kanye, Hello Mochudi

I’m very blessed in that I’ve been able to make some pretty amazing friends during training.  I’ve also grown quite close to my host mom, and I know that I will definitely miss her company when I move.  Nevertheless, I am SO excited to move to my site in Mochudi.  I know that a plethora of new challenges will present themselves at site, but as of now I’m taking comfort in the fact that I am once again living like an adult – able to decide what I eat, when I eat, how much I eat, and how late I stay out at night (even though I will probably always be inside my house before dark because, well, let’s be real.  I’m Emily.).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, thank you everyone for all of the continued support.  It really means a lot to me.  I sometimes feel a bit disconnected here, so it’s nice when I do get to check my blog, Facebook, or email and see that people haven’t forgotten me.

Some of you have inquired about my new mailing address.  I hope to have it soon, although I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get back online to communicate that to you.  When I’m able to connect to the Internet, I will update the CONTACT INFORMATION page of this blog with my new mailing address.

Thanks again, everyone!  I hope all is well!  Please know that you are all in my thoughts and I am sending good vibes your way.

Cheers!

P.S.  It is FREEZING here!  The first thing that I see in the morning and the last thing that I see at night is my breath.  The weird thing is that around noon the temperature climbs and it gets really hot, sometimes to the point where I have to strip off all of the layers of clothing that I put on that morning and I still end up sweating unattractively.  With the constant changes in temperature, my allergies are going berserk. So, thank you to everyone who gave me tissues as part of a going away gift!

Site Announcement

I got my site announcement!

Last Friday, all of the current Bots Peace Corps Trainees were informed, in an elaborate and, actually, kind of sweet ceremony, were informed of where we would each be living, individually, for the next two years.

I was placed in MOCHUDI!

Was it where I wanted to go?  No.

Am I thrilled?  YES.

Mochudi is a large village with a population of approximately 40,000 people located just 30 minutes from Gaborone, Botswana’s capital city.  While I’m in Mochudi, I will be working with two different nongovernmental organizations:.

The first organization, which will be my primary organization, is a leading body of adolescent and reproductive health rights in Botswana.  The services that it provides include HIV counseling and testing, family planning, STI screenings and treatment, prenatal care, pregnancy tests, etc.

The second organization provides physical, psychological, and social support to individuals infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS.  The services that the organization provides are home-based care, anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy literacy and adherence support, tuberculosis treatment literacy and adherence support, HIV prevention education, nutritional assessments, information and support regarding stigma and discrimination as a result of one’s HIV/AIDS status, and sexual and reproductive health education.

I think that both of these organizations are a really great fit for me.  It is exactly what I wanted to do when I applied for Peace Corps.  Plus, the fact that I’m going to get to actually use my master’s degree is pretty sweet.  I also love that Mochudi is SO close to the capital.  Additionally, there are already two lovely Peace Corps volunteers – a married couple – that are placed in Mochudi, so I’ll have some fellow PCVs close by.

I’m stoked, guys!  I’m movin’ to Mochudi!  I will officially become a resident of the village on June 13th.  WOOT!

Dumelang!

I’M ALIIIIIIIIVE!!!!

Hi everyone!  Sorry for the delay in posting.  I have finally been blessed with the gift of wireless Internet.  Things in Botswana have been as intense as they’ve been extraordinary.  For the past five weeks, I have spent every Monday through Saturday in training.  It’s been exhausting, but I have learned so much about Botswana, HIV/AIDS, Peace Corps, the other PC volunteers and trainees in Botswana, and myself.  I also have a new name!  My host family and most of our neighbors call me Dineo, which is Setswana for “gifts.”

There’s so much that I want to share, but I really don’t want to bore all of you.  I’ll just highlight certain moments.  Please be warned:  I am long-winded.

Here we go…

Warm Welcomes & Golden Showers

After a grueling two days of travel, all of the Peace Corps Trainees arrived in Kanye – a large village about an hour and a half outside of the capital city of Gaborone – where we are all living with Batswana host families during our two months of training.  When we arrived in Kanye, we were led directly to a matching ceremony where all of the trainees were placed with local host families.

My host family is the Robalangs.  I live with my host mother, who I only know as “Mama,” and my 26-year-old host brother, Patrick.  When I left the matching ceremony with my host mother and brother, they took me to their home where we were greeted by my two host sisters, Masego and Sarah, and Sarah’s two children, 5-year-old Oratile and 2-year-old Passi.  Although Masego, Sarah, Oratile, and Phasi live in another village, they stay with us in Kanye every Friday through Sunday.

My host sisters, Phasi and Oratile

As soon as I walked in the door, these two little kids were all over me.  I know it’s completely understandable.  They’re children; they’re super excitable and insatiably curious.  I do get that.  Nevertheless, those of you who know me know how I feel about children.  I honestly think that Phasi put everything that I own in her little mouth.  Functioning on very little sleep, I hit my patience threshold a bit sooner than usual and decided to distance myself from the young ones.  I slowly shuffled into the living room and ungracefully plopped myself, completely exhausted, on the couch.  Phasi, of course, followed me into the living room, where she proceeded to straddle my legs and pee down my calves and all over my shoes.

Inside, I was RAAAAGING!!!  Outside, I did what my friends have deemed Emily’s Uncomfortable Chuckle and said, “Oh.  Such a cute little baby.”  Thank you, Mom, for encouraging me to pack all of those Wet One wipes.

Child-Bearing Hips

My host mom

It’s quite common for Batswana to comment on people’s size and shape.  In the States, if someone says, “Wow, you’re getting fat!” it’s considered rude and disrespectful.  Here in Botswana, it seems to be what many volunteers hear from their host families and neighbors on a daily basis.

Batswana eat A LOT of food, but they only eat three times a day (no snacks).  It’s been hard for me, as an American who does snack, to adjust to their eating habits.  As such, I don’t eat nearly as much as the other members of my family at dinner time.  On my third day in her home, my host mother commented on my eating, asking if I was on a diet.  When I replied in the negative, she proceeded to give me her opinion about my body in Setswana/Broken English:

Mama:  “Dineo, you don’t diet.  You are ok size.  You look nice.  Don’t worry about being fat.  You look ok.  You have very big hips, though.  Very, very big hips.  When you have children, you will become very fat.  Very, VERY fat.  Oh, you will be a big mama.  A very big mama.  Then worry of being fat.  Don’t worry now.”

Emily:  “…ok.  Just another reason not to have children.”

Mama:  “…ENG?!?!”  (Translation:  “WHAT?!?!?!?!?!”)

This whole “commenting on people’s bodies” thing is taking me a bit longer to get used to than I would’ve thought.  I’m learning to just laugh it off and change the subject or, if it makes me really uncomfortable, take my massive child-bearing hips and sashay out of the room.

My “Are You Freakin’ Kidding Me?!?!” Meter Explodes

During my second weekend in Kanye, I ran out of clean clothes.  After repeatedly requesting help with this matter, my host mother took me outside on a Sunday afternoon and taught me how to hand wash all of my clothes.  Never, ever, EVER will I ever complain about having to do my laundry via a washing machine in the States again.  Ever.

I was in a sour mood that day.  I had begun asking my host mother and sister to help me with my laundry the week before, but things here have the tendency to run on “African Time.”  When my host mother says “tomorrow” what she’s really saying is “not now and I don’t know when.”  Additionally, I don’t think my family realized at this point how little I knew/know about manual…anything.  For example, when I asked my mother for instructions on how to take a bucket bath, she said, “You take a bath with a bucket.”  Tanki, Mama.  Tanki.

Anyway, back to laundry day and my Negative Nancy mood, I was also frustrated that Mama didn’t show me what to do with my laundry until 3pm, which is late in the day here.  It took me three and a half hours to finish scrubbing, rinsing, and hanging all of my clothes.  During this time, my host brother and two host sisters made unexpected and unnecessary appearances, ridiculing my washing technique and laughing at my domestic incompetency.  Ha ha hardy har har.

Thirty minutes after I had hung up all of my clothes, my host mother yelled for me to go outside, now in the dark, and take all of my wet clothes off of the line so that someone wouldn’t try to steal my clothes.  I subsequently had to take all of my still soaking clothes off of the line and drape them over every piece of furniture in our dining room.

The next morning, I woke up early to take all of my still wet clothes in the dining room and drape them all over my own room.  After clumsily finishing my bucket bath, I stumbled into the kitchen for my morning cornflakes.  Upon entering the kitchen, I heard a strange noise coming from the corner of the room next to the refrigerator, echoing throughout the kitchen.  When I asked my host brother what the noise was, he said, “Oh, that’s just the washing machine.”

Yup.  WE HAVE A FREAKING WASHING MACHINE.

I’ve reached the point in my homestay where all I can do is shake my head, curl my fist in the air…and laugh.  Ha ha hardy har har.

Gettin’ My Hair Did

I am proud to say that I have mastered how to take a bucket bath, which has become exceptionally easy now that I no longer have a fro.  Yep!  You read that right!  My friend and fellow PC Trainee, Porscha, did me a HUGE favor and braided my hair for me.  You see, giant Tina Turner hair is not really conducive to taking a bucket bath.  I couldn’t even fit my entire head in the bucket, but I sure can now.  The braids are much easier to maintain, and I feel as though my head and hair are a lot cleaner now than they have been for the past couple of weeks.  This has made my life SO much easier.  Ke a leboga, Porscha!

BEFORE – Porscha braiding my hair

AFTER!

Overall, things have been great here in Botswana.  I’m slowly but surely learning how to cook. Two weeks ago, Mama and I made mangwinya, also known as “fat cakes.”  SO GOOD.  SO BAD FOR YOU.  I also spent a week living with and shadowing an amazing current volunteer who showed me that it’s never too late to develop competency in culinary arts.  I’m also adjusting to all of the bugs – mosquitoes, spiders, ants, roaches, and scorpions (yes, scorpions) – that are all over my host family’s home.

I just want to thank everyone again for all of the support. Training has been a bit more taxing than I had anticipated that it would be.  I really can’t express how truly grateful I am for all of the kind words, thoughts, emails, and letters that have been sent my way.  You are all wonderful and you make my life beautiful.

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to update again, but please know that you’re all in my thoughts.  Take care and keep in touch!

Go siame!

Emily Reitenauer: Peace Corps Trainee

You see that?!  Today I, Emily Reitenauer, became an official Peace Corps trainee!  WOOT!!

This morning, my mom drove me to Philadelphia to attend staging with all 45 of the Peace Corps Bots 12 volunteers.  Saying “goodbye” to everyone was hard, but I’m SO glad to finally be here.

We have a really great group of people heading to Botswana.  This may seem MTV True Life-esque, but today, sitting with all of the Peace Corps volunteers, I didn’t feel as….different as I usually do.  We have a really diverse group of people.  There are folks here from all over the country, with different educational, professional, cultural, religious, and personal backgrounds.  There are several married couples here, as well as numerous people over the age of 50.  I’m really excited to get to know everyone a bit better.

After staging, I went out with several other volunteers for dinner and fro-yo before returning to my room for some last minute packing.  It is now about 1:15am and, after several unexpected mishaps and subsequent silent hissy-fits (thrown by me, of course), I just finished.  I have two checked bags, one carry-on, and one personal bag (see the picture on the left).  Packing for two years is exhausting.  I have to thank my mom, though, who REALLY helped me out a lot getting all of this together on Sunday and Monday.  I just had to reorganize it tonight due to some unforeseen incidents.

After packing, I took what may be my last hot shower for a very long time.  I’ve spent the rest of the late night/early morning watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report with my roommate while responding to emails and catching up on Facebook.  Tonight, my slogan is “Sleep is for punks!…and people that aren’t afraid that, because of their stress and exhaustion, once they go to sleep they will be able to wake up without a problem.”

In less than a half an hour, at 2:15am, all of the volunteers have to be downstairs to check out of the hotel.  At 2:45am, we will be taking a bus to JFK International Airport where, at 11:15am, we will fly to South Africa.  Bah!

Here’s hoping that none of my bags (particularly the ginormous orange one) are over 50 pounds!  I really don’t want to pay an obscene airline fee because I had to pack my fuzzy slippers, two different pairs of brown sandals, and eleven thousand different colored cardigans.

Countdown to Staging

Is this really happening?!

In just a few short days I will be leaving on a jet plane, speeding off to Africa to spend 27 months with the Peace Corps.  Insane.  I’ve spent so long thinking about this – hoping and wishing and pleading for it – that I’m having a hard time processing that I will be in Botswana this time next week.

Deep. Breath.

The past few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind.   To break it on down for you, in the past four weeks I have:

  • Had my last day at my job and said goodbye to all of my amazing co-workers
  • Been contacted by Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services and instructed to get blood work done in order to check my iron levels to determine if I could STILL GO to Botswana
  • FREAKED out that after everything Peace Corps would once again place me on medical hold
  • Submitted my lab work (and my tears) to Peace Corps
  • Been informed by Peace Corps’ Office of Medical Services that my iron levels are acceptable and that I can, in fact, serve in Botswana (no lie, I did the “Praise Jesus” hands when I received the news)
  • Tried to learn more Setswana
  • Packed, unpacked, re-packed, unpacked, re-re-packed, etc.
  • Thrown a surprise 80th birthday for my grandpa
  • Said goodbye to friends and family
  • Seen The Hunger Games once….twice….ok, three times
  • Gotten my staging documents in order
  • Loaded my iPod with new music
  • Celebrated my mom’s birthday
  • Uploaded a ton of movies and tv shows to my external hardrive
  • Watched Titanic in 3D
  • Downloaded a bunch of books onto my Kindle
  • Eaten lots of pizza and tacos
  • Attended an awesome surprise party that my wonderful mother threw for me.  Here are some pictures:

While I still have some stuff that I need to do, I’m glad that I will be able to relax and enjoy my last few days here, including Easter, with my family.  On Tuesday, April 10, I will be traveling to Philadelphia to attend staging.  The next day, all of the Botswana volunteers will be taking a bus up to New York.  At 11:15am, we will be flying out of JFK to Johannesburg, South Africa.  From Joburg we will be flying to Botswana.  It will be A LOT of traveling, but I’m looking forward to arriving in Botswana.

I can’t believe this is actually happening.  Bah!!

I wish everyone a very happy Easter!  If I don’t get a chance to post again before I leave, I wish everyone a happy and healthy 27 months!

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