I apologize for not updating this blog more often. It has taken two hours and visits to two internet cafes (I abandoned the first one after I spent 30 minutes trying to upload one photo) to post this . I sometimes have internet at work, so I’ll see if I can post on my lunch hours.
On October 4th, I and my “Bots 18” cohort members were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers. In attendance were our amazing Pre-Service Training host families, who welcomed us into their homes 11 weeks earlier. They fed us, took us to family events, helped us learn Setswana language and culture, tolerated our frequent faux-pas, and eased us into our new life in Botswana. Ke a leboga(I am grateful) for Mma Peggy and her brother and neighbors for all that they did for m
Here I am with Mma Peggy, and Mark and Angela, the Bots 17 couple who stayed with her last year during their Pre-Service Training. They dropped by one Sunday for dinner. As soon as we’re allowed to travel from our sites next month, I’m hoping to visit Mma Peggy.
Many of the Trainees wore Setswana fashions for the Swearing-In. I borrowed my neighbor’s granny’s dress, and here I am wearing it, with my two Setswana teachers, Chris and Davey. I passed my Setswana Language Proficiency Interview with an Advanced Low rating, thanks to their excellent instruction.
Also attending were dignitaries, including: KgosikgoloKgari III, Chief of the Bakwena; Earl Miller, US Ambassador to Botswana;and Shenaaz El-Halabi, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Wellness. Our Country Director, Elizabeth O’Malley, led the Peace Corps Pledge and Ambassador Miller led our Oath of Service.
Here’s a photo of the newly-minted Volunteers who are “Above Average,” which is our term for those of us who are beyond the average age of a Peace Corps Volunteer, which is around 28.
By the way, we’re Bots 18, because we’re the 18th group to serve since the Government of Botswana requested assistance in 2003 to help fight the spread of HIV. Peace Corps left Botswana in 1997, after 31 years of cooperation, as there were countries in greater need of Peace Corps’ service. HIV changed that.
There have been two “Bots 1” cohorts, one in 1966 and one in 20
03, and I am lucky to have a member of the original Bots 1 as my landlord. Gary arrived here in 1966, as a 21 year-old, to teach math at a Junior Secondary School in my village. He fell in love with a lovely woman, Baba, whose family goes back to the beginning of my village, and they married in 1969. Here we are in front of my house, which is where I am living for the next two years.
I arrived in my village (which I’m calling Motse, the Setswana word for village, for security purposes) on the day after Swearing-In. Baba and Gary weren’t planning to be my landlords, but generously agreed to take me in after my original house didn’t work out. I have two bedrooms, indoor plumbing, electricity, a small, on-demand hot water heater, and a bathtub with a handheld shower. I don’t miss bucket baths.
I spent that weekend settling into my new house, and was grateful to inherit a lot of possessions from Hannah, the Volunteer who had just finished her service in Motse. I felt like a 21-year old again, stocking up on standard items like dishtowels and a wastebasket (aka bucket). Mma Peggy also sent me off with plates, flatware, and my favorite cereal bowl.
And that Monday, I reported to work. I split my time between my two non-governmental organizations (see a previous post for descriptions of what they do) and I’ve spent the past few weeks learning more about them. I’ve read through previous grant proposals and reports, strategic plans, board minutes, and all the materials you’d expect from an NGO. I’m impressed with how much they have accomplished, on very little funding, and I’m looking forward to working with the staff of each to improve their financial sustainability and effectiveness. This is especially important now, because international aid to Botswana has been steadily declining and the outlook for reversing that trend is bleak.
When I’m not at work, I’m learning about my new community. I try to walk everywhere, and I love greeting everyone. Give it a try the next time you’re walking in your community! It’s about a 45-minute walk from my new house to the village center, so if I don’t have time or it’s too hot (it’s been in the 90s), I walk out to the main road, put out my hand and usually within five minutes, I’ve caught a ride on a khombi (a minibus that holds 20 people or so) for 3.5 pula (35 cents). Not only is it cheap and easy, it’s a great way to practice my Setswana (and get marriage proposals).
My landlady knows (and often is related to) everyone, and every weekend we have something to attend, in addition to church on Sundays (I downloaded a Setswana Bible app to my phone so I can follow along). Peace Corps also provided us with 258 questions that we are supposed to ask of people in our village, and then compile their responses into a Community Assessment. I spent a morning at the delightful museum in our village. Here are some shots from the museum, which is housed in Motse’s first school…a gorgeous building perched on a hillside high above the village. Baba went to school there, and she had to climb the hill every day with a bucket of water on her head.
I also have Setswana lessons twice a week. Kena le morutabana ka Setswana. O bidiwa Fani. (I have a Setswana teacher. Her name is Fani). She’s a cousin of Baba’s, as is one of my bosses, and Botswana’s Minister of Education and Skills Development (and its first female High Court judge), Unity Dow. Unity also is an author, and I’m reading one of her novels, Juggling Truths, which I highly recommend for a glimpse of the life of a young girl in Botswana in the 1960s.
There’s so much I want to tell you, but my time at the internet café is almost over. If you have questions you’d like me to answer, please post a comment or send an email. And, if you feel compelled, packages of dark chocolate and dark coffee are very welcome (email me for my new address, please!). Mail takes at least one month (and closer to two months) to arrive, so I apologize if you’ve sent something and I haven’t acknowledged it. Here’s a photo from the Motse Post Office, where I waited to pick up the first package to make it through. Thanks, Dennis O!