Site Assignments!

On Friday, we got our site assignments for where we will be for the next two years.  I am working with two non-governmental organizations, and I’m not listing their names, since we’ve been warned about providing too much information about our locations.  I will work with my Batswana counterparts to respond to the needs of families infected and affected by HIV/AIDS through resource mobilization (aka fundraising), project planning and implementation, monitoring and evaluation, gender outreach, event planning, and organizing volunteers for an adolescent sexual health program.

I am in a village of 45,000 people, located northeast of Gaborone.  The area was initially settled in the 1500s by the Bakwena people and stone walls from that time remain in the surrounding hills.  The village was founded in 1871 by the Bakgatla tribe, which had migrated from South Africa under pressure from the Boers, who had taken over their land.

One of my village’s claims to fame is that it is the hometown of Mma Precious Ramotswe, the heroine of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith.  Also, Michelle Obama visited it during President Obama’s 2011 African tour.  It has its own Botswana Premier League soccer club, as well as a rugby club.

My new house!
My living room

It is known  for its brightly painted traditional houses, and Lonely Planet described it as “one of southern Botswana’s prettiest towns.”  I’ve been in touch with the Volunteer that I’m replacing, and my assignments sound well-suited to my experience.  I meet my supervisor this week, during three days of meetings in Gaborone, and will travel to my village on Saturday to spend two weeks getting to know my new home. If you want to know my village name, please send me an email.

Field Trips to Gaborone and Bahurutshe Cultural Village

I’m sorry for not posting more. A lack of time and internet access has hampered my good intentions.  And it’s hard to pick one topic about which to write.  I just finished my first monthly column for the Montrose Daily Press, and it wound up being 1,500 words and didn’t begin to scratch the surface of what I’ve experienced.  I’ve been in Botswana for nearly five weeks, and every day I love it more.

We’re in Pre-Service Training for five or six days each week, but we’ve had time for two field trips.  One was a short trip to Gaborone last weekend, for stops at the Three Dikgosi Monument, Peace Corps Headquarters, and two shopping malls.  The Monument honors Khama III, Sebele I, and Bathoen I, who were the three chiefs (dikgosi) who went to England in 1895 to ask Queen Victoria to separate the Bechuanaland Protectorate from the South African Company and Southern Rhodesia and place it under British rule, which she did, and where it remained until September 30, 1966, when the Protectorate declared its independence and became Botswana.

Our other field trip was to the Bahurutshe Cultural Village, 35 km from Molepolole, to learn about Setswana culture (ngwao).  We were greeted by dancers, who performed phathisi, a traditional dance.

We learned about the importance of cow dung.  Here, a woman is spreading it on the ground to serve as dust control, soil stabilizer, and decoration.  There’s also a belief that dung has antiseptic properties, and its acidity can repel snakes.  And, as you likely know, it can be burned for fuel, which they were doing at the Centre.

We also learned about botsetsi, which is the confinement period after a baby is born.  Modern Batswana culture is eroding this tradition, but several of my fellow Trainees have homestay relatives who recently have given birth and are observing it.  The traditional botsetsi lasts for six months or more, and during that time, the mother and baby are kept in confinement, and the father is allowed nowhere near the house.  A strict interpretation of botsetsi allows just one person (an older female relative) to be with the mother and newborn during the first week, or until the umbilical cord falls off.  The mother’s and baby’s heads are shaved, and their hair and the umbilical cord are bu
ried.  A log (mopakwana) is placed in front of the dwelling’s door to notify visitors that they must not enter.  It is especially important for pregnant women and widows to not enter, because their condition can cause illness in the baby.  At the end of the botsetsi, there’s a celebration, at which an animal is slaughtered and traditional beer (bojalwa) is brewed, and the father meets his child.

We tried our hand at grinding sorghum, both with a mortar and pestle (kika and motshe), and also in the old way with a grinding stone.

Ntlo ya me mo Molepolole (My house in Molepolole)

I am in Molepolole, a “village” of 70,000 people northwest of Gaborone.  I’ve heard that folks here love their village moniker, and despite the population growth, they’re sticking with it.  Here’s my house (ntlo in Setswana) for the next ten weeks.

An amazing woman named Mma Peggy Leburu owns the compound.  She and I live in the right-hand side, and she rents the left side to a young couple and their two children.  When I posted this picture on Facebook, several folks said they thought I’d be living in a grass hut.  People do live in these structures, which have mud walls and stick roofs.  When I went across the road to take pictures of this one, the owners told me they use it for their catering business, and most people around here use them as sheds or auxiliary structures.  They also told me that they’re cool in the summers, and that similar houses in the north are made entirely of reeds.  Since I’ve always wanted to live in a yurt, this house type appeals to me.  Maybe I’ll get to call one home.

Most of the houses in my neighborhood resemble mine.  We have electricity and indoor plumbing. Our flush toilet may be unusual, given the number of pit latrines I see.

pit latrine

I have my own large bedroom and a bathroom with a shower and a tub.  However, hot showers are a big production, so instead I heat a pot of water and take a bucket bath.  And hardly anyone has a washer, so clothes are hand-washed.  Botswana is mostly desert (its currency (pula) shares its name with water, which gives you an idea of how precious it is), so using less water is important.  Mma Peggy also has an oven, which the kids and I used on Sunday to make chocolate chip cookies, which they enjoyed with mugs of mashi (milk).

Itumeleng, Hadia, and Lefika mixing cookie dough

Botswana has been classified as an “upper middle income country” by the World Bank since 1980.  This is just 14 years after it gained independence, and when it was one of Africa’s poorest countries with a per capita GDP of $70.  Its economy has grown at more than 5% per year for the last decade, and the per capita GDP is $16,400, one of the highest in Africa and on par with countries like Turkey and Mexico.    A lot of this gain came from diamond mining (coupled with good governance and fiscal management), but the diamond industry is in decline, and economic diversification will be a challenge.

And, I’d love to answer your questions!  Either comment or email me with them.




Why Peace Corps? Why Botswana? Why now?

This blog’s purpose is to share Botswana with you, the people of the US.  Therefore, I won’t be posting much about me–but I think it might be useful to know the answers to these three questions as we embark on this journey.

The second question is the easiest.  Here are a few of the many reasons why I chose Botswana over the 67 countries where Peace Corps currently serves:

  • Botswana has the lowest population density in Africa, at 9.6 people per square mile (2.1 million people in 224,610 square miles).  By comparison,  Ouray County, Colorado (where I live, with 4500 people in 542 square miles) is 8.3, and Colorado is 41.5.  I like wide open spaces, and Botswana has that in spades.
  • Botswana is arid, with cool nights and warm days, just like western Colorado.  It’s winter here now, and it gets into the 40s at night and 70s during the day.  Summer will be much hotter, but it won’t be humid!
  • Botswana has the largest concentration of African elephants in the world, and has more than 70 other animals, including cheetahs, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and leopards.
  • Around 38% of Botswana is protected by national parks, reserves, and wildlife management areas.
  • Botswana has the best rating in Africa on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, and the 33rd best in the world.  From what I know about the government, it seems to be well run, and most people seem happy with it.
  • There’s the amazing Okavango Delta, which is a huge inland delta whose waters begin in the Angola highlands and flow through the Kalahari Desert.  In 2014, it became the 1,000th site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
  • Anyone with a heart who has read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency must have a soft spot for Botswana.

So, why the Peace Corps, and why now?

  • I spent a semester in Nigeria in 1989 with the School for International Training and loved it, and I always have wanted to return to Africa.
  • Aidan and Liam are adults and ready for their own adventures, so my presence in western Colorado is no longer necessary for their upbringing.
  • The Peace Corps seems to be as idealistic and real and wondrous and amazing as it was when it was founded in 1961.
  • I narrowly lost an election for Ouray County Commissioner in November 2016, and shortly after that, I read The River of Doubt, about how Teddy Roosevelt beat the blues following his 1912 presidential defeat by navigating an uncharted river in the Amazon, and that spoke to me.
  • I’ve spent 26 years working with nonprofits and local governments throughout the western US and I want to see how this work is done in another country. Also, I’d like the next chapter of my career to include international development work, and the Peace Corps provides a great launch pad.
  • I want each day to be filled with learning and experiencing new things.  And that sure is the case here.  I feel like a kid again.
  • One in four Batswana adults is HIV positive. This must change.