In my latest column in the Montrose Daily Press (which you can read here), I mentioned that I had distributed a survey to coworkers at one of my non-governmental organisations so I could share the results with you. This NGO is the smaller, scrappier one of the two for which I work, and I’m impressed with my coworkers’ ability to perform under adverse circumstances. And I’m proud and pleased to call them friends. Here are the survey responses from some of them.
Emmah is Life Skills Officer at my NGO. He’s 31 and he’s from our village. He has a Bachelor’s Degree of Business in Tourism Management. He was raised by his mother and has an older brother. His happy childhood memory is his first day at primary school. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, you’ll find him taking his little son out for lunch. In ten years, he wants to own several pre-schools. Four words to describe him are: calm, honest, enthusiastic, loving, and trustworthy. His favorite foods are setampa and seswaa. Emmah thinks I would be surprised to learn that he is versatile and can do many things (I’m not surprised). He wants Americans to know that there are many investment opportunities in Botswana, and that Batswana are friendly and love Americans.
Masego is our intern for the next few months, helping Emmah in the Life Skills department. She is 26 and studying for a Diploma in Social Work, and she has a Diploma in Human Resource Management. Her home village is Bobonong. A happy childhood memory is collecting firewood and eating tree sap, and then walking 10 kilometres to the lands to visit her grandma every Friday. She has one brother and three sisters. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, you will find her cooking and washing laundry. In ten years, she wants to be married, have her own family, and own a successful company. Five words to describe her are: calm, respectful, obedient, loving, and caring. Her favorite food is seafood, especially prawns. She also likes dumplings and beef stew. She says I would be surprised to learn that she’s an introvert. She wants Americans to know that Botswana is the most peaceful country in the world.
Katlego is the Finance Officer. He’s 26 and his home village is Ramotswa. He
has a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences, with a double major in Economics and Accounting. He has two older brothers. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, you’ll find him hanging out with his friends. In ten years, he wants to be a financial manager or chief financial officer, and own a group of companies. Five words to describe him are: kind, patient, smart, open-minded, and curious. He wants Americans to know that Botswana has the highest quality of diamonds and a very good tourism industry, and that it is a peaceful nation.
Tidimalo is our Community Outreach Officer. She’s 31 and from Tumasera. In response to my question about her professional and educational background, she gave me her whole CV! Prior to coming to my NGO, she was the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer at Mothers Union Orphan Care. She has a Certificate in Secretarial and Administration. And for my question about her family, she prepared a family tree! Her family consists of her mother, two older sisters, two younger sisters, and two younger brothers. Her father passed in 2002. She says, “In my family, we love each other. In fact, I am from a traditional
family whereby we plow and rear animals.” On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, she’ll be enjoying music, chilling with friends after cleaning her bedroom (and she says she loves cleaning), and then buying drinks and having them at home. In ten years, she wants to have a family and a successful life, and be “able to give back to the community where possible.” Five words to describe her are: loving, humble, playful, and beautiful lady. Her favorite meal is papa (stiff maize meal porridge), meat, and rape (similar to spinach). I’d be surprised to learn that she is short-tempered. And she wants Americans to know that Botswana is a peaceful country, a land of tourism, with minimal population.
[Note: This post is adapted from my June column in the Montrose Daily Press.]
There are more cows (dikgomo) than people in Botswana, according to the Botswana Meat Commission, which also reports that “[t]he Botswana cattle industry uses free range and natural farming methods, which ensure full-flavoured, lean beef of [the] highest quality.” Alas, my boss, Ausi Stella, and I experienced a downside of Botswana’s “free range” cows when one ran into her car two days ago while we were waiting at a stop sign.
Luckily, a police officer was nearby and took photos of the caved-in rear door and the offending cow. Ausi Stella dropped me at the market and took the officer to the station to file a report. The cow had an eartag, which hopefully she can use to contact the owner and seek damages. She told me that our Paramount Chief has ordered people to keep their livestock out of the village, but donkeys, horses, goats and sheep continue to share the streets with cows, cars, and people. Batswana drivers are good at avoiding collisions with animals and religiously use their hazard lights and horns to warn other drivers. However, no warning could have helped Ausi Stella escape her cow encounter. She joked (not inaccurately) that if the tables were turned and she had hit the cow, the owner would have appeared immediately to seek damages.
Speaking of animals (dipologolo), I saw a bunch this month, including two leopards (dinkwe, which are seldom seen and were the final one I needed for the “Big Five” (a term coined by big-game hunters to refer to Africa’s five most difficult animals to hunt on foot: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and Cape buffalo)). I saw the leopards in northeast Botswana as part of a twelve-day trip that I took with a friend from Australia.
My friend’s Botswana vacation began in Gaborone where I picked him up at the airport. I took him to my village, and we stopped at a local restaurant for a Setswana lunch of koko le pap (chicken and maize porridge), then bought some African fabric (letsala) and took it to my tailor so she could make him a shirt, and then visited both of my non-governmental organizations. No rest for the jetlagged at Amy’s African Tour Company!
I had decided that we weren’t going to rent a car. Not only is it expensive, but one must contend with animals (see the first paragraph), potholes that can swallow a car, speed traps, other drivers, and remembering to drive on the other side of the road (only a problem for me…not for the Australian). So, we used public transportation and hitchhiking, which was cheap, allowed both of us to nap or read, and gave my friend the chance to chat with lots of Batswana.
The second day, we hopped a bus to Palapye and hired a taxi to take us 70 km to Goo-Moremi Gorge, where we enjoyed a guided hike through the Gorge’s beautiful pools and waterfalls. It’s a sacred place for the Batswapong who inhabit the region, and swimming in the pools is prohibited since they are reserved for the badimo (gods). We heard about the “Sir Seretse Khama Alarm Stone,” a huge rock that fell off the wall of the Gorge at the moment that Sir Seretse Khama (Botswana’s first president) passed away in the early morning of July 13, 1980. This sign from the ancestors awakened the villagers, who immediately knew that someone of importance had died. We also saw Cape vultures and Verreaux’s eagles, both of which are threatened in Botswana.
We returned to Palapye the next day, where my District’s Assistant Commissioner met us at the nearby Khama Rhino Sanctuary for a game drive. We were treated to close-up views of Botswana’s largest white rhino population, as well as impala, zebra, and wildebeest.
The next day, we boarded the 6 am bus to the northeast tip of Botswana. I was giddy for the first elephant sighting along the highway. And after the 6th hour, as we passed the tiny village of Nata, there stood a herd of elephants, just as elk stand along Highway 550. Even the Batswana in our bus were craning their necks to look for elephants and giraffes. We got dropped at the bus rank in Kasane and got a taxi to our campground in Kazungula, a village on the border with Zambia.
I had booked a game drive for the next morning with the same wonderful man, T.K., who led our drive when I was in Kasane at Christmas. He fetched us at 5:30 am and took us to nearby Chobe National Park, and just as the sun rose over the baobab trees, TK spied a leopard ahead and that’s where I finally was able to tick the last from the list of the Big Five. The rest of the three-hour drive was filled with the usual amazing fare, including a huge herd of Cape buffalo and a Kori bustard, which is Africa’s largest flying bird. We heard lions roaring but didn’t see any.
That afternoon, we headed out on a boat cruise along the Chobe, and guess what? We saw another leopard! This one was walking along the river bank and was twice as big as the one we saw that morning. We also spent time hanging out with bathing elephants and hippos, saw a bunch of dikwena (crocodiles) sunning themselves on the river’s edge, and scores of water fowl. The Chobe is at its highest point in several years as we come to the end of the rainy season, which portended greatness for the next day’s trip to Victoria Falls.
The tour company in Kasane wanted 900 pula ($90) to transport us to Victoria Falls, but Amy’s African Tour Company provided a cheaper and more exciting option that started with a 5 pula taxi ride to the border, then a quick and free ride on the Kazungula Ferry across the Zambezi River, where we stopped at Immigration to buy a “Kaza Univisa” that entitled us to visit both Zimbabwe and Zambia, and hitched a free ride to Livingstone from a lion researcher from Germany. There, I led my friend to a little restaurant that I’d found during my last trip to Livingstone for a delicious meal of grilled chicken and nshima (Zambia’s version of maize porridge). From there, we caught a taxi to the Falls (100 kwacha….Zambia’s currency or $10) and spent the rest of the day marveling at all that water. The Zambezi was 10 times higher than it was in December when I was there, and as we walked along the “Knife’s Edge” which is the closest viewing point to the Falls, the water that was falling on us was as wet as you can get without being underwater. Luckily, it was a hot day even though winter is just around the corner, so we didn’t mind getting wet.
Next, we went to Zimbabwe to stand on the Victoria Falls Bridge and view the Falls from a drier distance (and get more stamps in our passports). We got a taxi driver to take us all the way back to the Botswana border for 250 pula ($25), and as we were strolling down to the ferry, people were shouting at us that it was pulling away and it was the day’s last ferry. We started running, and then splashing through knee-deep water to reach the ferry, which already had its ramp up. We managed to hoist ourselves onto it (I must say that my mount was quite elegant and attracted applause from the observers on the shore). We quickly passed through Immigration (more passport stamps!) and got a 5 pula taxi ride back to our campsite. And for nearly a third of the price, Amy’s African Tour Company came through!
Day Six of our Botswana Trip was filled with uncertainty. I wanted to get from Kasane to Shakawe, in northwestern Botswana. This involved either a 1,000 km trip that retraced our steps to Nata and then across Botswana and up to Shakawe, or a 480 km trip across Namibia and the Caprivi Strip. Naturally, we opted for the latter, but the problem was that I had no idea how to do it, despite asking lots of people for advice. All I knew was that we needed to take a bus to Ngoma on the Namibian border. We got to the Kasane bus rank around 8 am and after 2 hours, enough people finally joined us on the Ngoma bus and we headed out. After an hour or so, they dropped us at the most desolate border post I’ve seen, and we made our way through Immigration into Namibia where we wondered what in the heck we were going to do next. But thankfully, a very nice Namibian couple drove up five minutes later and gave us a ride away from the border. They informed us that they would drop us at Katima Mulilo where we would catch a ride to Divundu on the west side of the Strip, and then take a taxi to the Botswana border. Not only did they drop us in Katima Mulilo and find another ride to Divundu, they refused our offer of payment. The young man sitting between us in our next ride informed us that the man who dropped us was the Advisor to the Governor of Namibia’s Zambezi Region (one of the country’s fourteen administrative areas). At Divundu, we had to find an ATM so I could get some Namibian Dollars to pay our driver, and we quickly found a taxi for the very rough ride to the border, along which we stopped to pick up and deposit some young women way out in the bush where they were going to make traditional beer.
Shakawe is a recreation-based town on the Okavango Delta, and we stayed in a luxury tent on the river’s edge owned by a crusty guy from South Africa who has been in Botswana for decades and speaks great Setswana. We met a couple of Peace Corps Volunteers who stay in Shakawe and heard how one of them had encountered a black mamba in his bathroom the previous day.
The next day, we went to Tsodilo Hills, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. It is home to more than 4,000 rock art images at 400 sites and is one of the world’s highest concentrations of rock art. The images were painted between 1,000 and 3,000 years ago by ancestors of the San and Bantu people. Archeological research suggests that the area has been inhabited for 100,000 years, making it one of the world’s oldest historical sites.
We also tried our hand at fishing for tigerfish during a boat trip on the Okavango, but as in Kasane, the river was very high and we had no luck. Tigerfish are fierce predators with really sharp teeth. But the trip on the river was beautiful and we spied dozens of African darters (birds that dive into the water after fish and are good swimmers…. they’re sometimes called snakebirds because they swim with just their heads and long necks sticking out of the water) and the biggest kwena I’ve ever seen.
Then we headed to Maun, which is the hub of a lot of safari trips in Botswana. We stayed at a “backpacker” (a hostel, typically attracting foreign travelers) outside of town. It was very nice, and we had our own luxury tent on the edge of a lovely pond. My friend went on a flight over the Delta, but I stayed behind and worked on a grant proposal and hung out with some Batswana motorcycle group members who were in Maun to attend a fellow biker’s funeral. And then finally we headed back to my village. My friend picked up his Setswana shirt from moruki wa me, we went to the museum on top of the hill so he could get a bird’s eye view of my village and buy some souvenirs, and then we caught one last hitch to Gaborone. We met a member of the Gaborone Rotary Club for lunch and he took us to airport, and thus ended my first experience as a tour guide.
The Montrose Daily Press has been a wonderful chronicler of my Peace Corps experience. When this month’s column was originally posted to the Daily Press website, it wasn’t available for public access, so I posted it here. A quick email to the Daily Press’ terrific editor, Matt, fixed that, and you also can read it here.
Editor’s Note: Amy is in her ninth month in Botswana, where she is serving as an HIV & Health Capacity Building Specialist with the US Peace Corps. She lives in a village near Gaborone (which she can’t name for security reasons) and works with two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help them better serve a country where one if five people is HIV-positive.
Dumelang, distala (hello, friends), and happy Easter! I’m typing this around the big table where we all work at one of my two NGOs (because this is the only place where there’s wifi) and I just asked my colleagues how they celebrate Easter. They said they go home to their villages to see family, go to church, and have braais (cookouts). I tried to explain the Easter Bunny to them, but I don’t think I did a very good job. We’re all looking forward to a five-day weekend (which includes Good Friday, Monday (the public holiday for Easter) and Tuesday, which President Khama declared a few weeks ago to celebrate the installation of the new President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, which occurs on April 1).
Last night, I attended my first football match. It was at Botswana National
Stadium and featured my village’s scrappy team battling the much bigger and better-funded Township Rollers from Gaborone. I donned my official team sekipa (jersey), hopped a combi (minibus) to Gabs with a co-worker, and joined thousands of Batswana in screaming, dancing, and blowing vuvuzelas (those plastic horns) for our teams. Alas, mine lost, 2-0. But I was proud of their performance and our fans’ sportsmanship, and I am officially hooked.
Yesterday, following the long-awaited repair of our combi, some of my coworkers and I headed out to conduct client assessments in five tiny villages along the South African border. Both of my NGOs receive referrals of families
in need of services (such as HIV testing, anti-retroviral treatment adherence, and counseling), and then our community service providers visit the homes to assess their needs and either provide or refer them to services. We drove around, dropping folks off at homes where they sat with the occupants in the shade of a tree (moriti wa setlare) and interviewed them. I really enjoyed getting out to the country (bush), and it reminded me of the trips I took to the West End to visit the Naturita Library. On the way home, a herd of impala crossed the highway.
On Monday morning, the same NGO had a visit from PCI (Project Concern International), the US-based NGO that oversees our grant from USAID (United States Agency for International Development). As this is our primary source of funding (something I’m working to change), we spent a frenetic hour sprucing
up the place to make a good impression. Then an SUV pulled up, and out stepped…two women from Telluride! One was Dr. Marshall Whiting, whom I’ve known (but had never met) for more than 20 years because she and her husband supported a US NGO for which I worked, and her friend, Dr. Judy Engels, who had accompanied her on the trip. And, if you can believe it, Marshall sits on PCI’s board and had come to Botswana to visit the NGOs with which PCI works.
After celebrating the incredulity of our encounter, our Program Officer, Thabo, and Coordinator, Ausi Stella, shared accomplishments and current programs of our NGO and we had a tour of our new preschool, where the children adorably counted to 20 and recited the days of the week (more or less). And then we had tea (a daily occurrence, usually around 10:30 and featuring bush tea (rooibos) and bread (borotho) and/or fatcakes (magwinya)) and Judy and Marshall and I talked about mutual acquaintances and snowpack and who’s running for the 7th Congressional District seat and it was so much fun. But then they had to head to Gabs to catch a flight home, so my sojourn with fellow San Juan denizens ended far too quickly. I am quite certain that western Coloradans are the most adventurous, passionate, and generous Americans.
Last Thursday, I got to hang out with more Americans when “the pleasure of [my] company” was requested by US Ambassador Earl Miller for a breakfast meeting at his house on the subject of Corporate Social Responsibility. My
other NGO’s director, who is from Utah (another Westerner!) but has lived in Botswana for 12 years, was invited to speak on “Bringing Together the Business Community and NGOs.” She did a great job, and I enjoyed conversations with members of the American Business Council and US Embassy. I also got to touch base with Tebogo George, the dynamic President of the Gaborone Rotary Club and Board Member of the American Business Council, and she informed me that the Club’s Board had met on Tuesday to give its blessing to my Big Idea, which is to bring a Rotary Vocational Training Team from the US to Botswana for three weeks in early 2019 to share expertise in topics to be determined through a community assessment that I’ll conduct in the next month.
A likely topic for the Vocational Training Team is developing “individual giving” in Botswana. Currently, most NGOs are funded by international aid, the Government of Botswana, and/or corporations (through “Corporate Social Responsibility” and I take my hat off to companies here for honoring this principle). But few NGOs are asking ordinary Batswana to invest in their organizations. In contrast, individuals provide 80 percent of private charitable giving in the US, with corporations giving five percent and foundations 15 percent. Developing individual giving programs in Botswana has become my mission, and I’ve led sessions on this topic for both of my NGOs and at a reunion last Friday of participants from a European Union training I attended in December.. And so far, the concept has met with great enthusiasm.
At these sessions, some will protest that Batswana don’t have as much money as Americans, and therefore, individual giving isn’t viable. Further, they say, it’s not in their culture to invite people to support their organizations. Luckily, I attend the Dutch Reformed Church in my village, which has no problem asking for madi (Setswana for money), so I bring that up. And then I show them a slide that illustrates that Americans with incomes under $25,000 give five times more (as a percentage of adjusted gross income) as people who make $200,000, and that income is not a sign of generosity.
At last Friday’s reunion training, I could have kissed one of the participants when he told a story about when he was a young man in Zimbabwe. He and his friends wanted beer, so they went out on a street corner in their poor neighborhood and asked for money (I’m not sure how they presented their case), and within a few hours, they had more than enough. Thinking they could get more if they went to the rich part of their village, they went and came away with next to nothing. I’m buoyed by a recent study from Gauteng Provence in South Africa that interviewed 1,200 people on the streets of Johannesburg and found that 92 percent had contributed goods, money, or time in the past three months, and their reason was, “I believe I can make a difference.” I think the same holds true in Botswana.
For those wondering about my quest to meet His Excellency the President, Lieutenant General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, I met with his nephew a couple of weeks ago, and he pledged his help. In turn, I’m helping him gain support for the President’s cause, the Lady Khama Charitable Trust, which focuses on vulnerable women and children in Botswana.
Eish! (A Setswana expression which means something like, “Holy Moley.”) I’ve gone on for far too long, and I’m sure that Matt is wondering when I’m going to wrap things up. I haven’t told you about my delightful visit with the Queen
Mother of the Bakgatla (I mentioned last month that her son and the Bakgatla’s chief, is in South Africa) or the crazy bridal shower I attended, or ten thousand other things. I will tell you about one more thing, which is the Motse Cookie Company (note that Motse means village in Setswana…my village’s name is much cooler, but I can’t tell you what it is.)
I was asked to serve as the advisor for an “income-generating activity” for the afterschool program for the orphans and vulnerable children at my other NGO (the one run by the Utahan) and given that I’ve made a name for myself by bringing homemade cookies to work, the kids decided to bake and sell cookies. There are six of them in the Company, and we met to create a business plan. Through some market research, we decided that we could sell two oatmeal raisin cookies for 3 pula (30 cents), and that our expenses were 70 thebe (seven cents) per cookie, which meant that our profit was 80 thebe (eight cents) per cookie. I gave the kids some order forms and they solicited family, neighbors, teachers, and classmates and came back with their orders. I bought the ingredients and taught them how to make cookies (I think it was the first time any of them had baked and there was much squabbling about who got to break the eggs and stir the batter). When they were done, we had to taste them, of course. And then we packaged them, with a label featuring our logo which has the Bakgatla totem, the monkey (kgabo) and the kids distributed them and collected the pula.
Two days later, we reckoned, and I showed them how to use the Excel spreadsheet I’d made for them. They entered the number of cookies sold, and it told them how much they get and how much they need to give back to the Company. Consistent with the Peace Corps’ theory of development, I’m teaching them how to carry on without me, which I’m very motivated to do, since I’ve served my time with teenagers and I’ve got a lot of other stuff on my plate.) But….it warmed my heart to see the joy on Lebo’s face (not her real name) when she went home with 13 pula ($1.30) for the cookies she had sold. She announced that she was going to sell twice as many cookies next time, and the boys proclaimed that they were going to sell twice as many as Lebo. So, I guess this is one small way that I’m helping to unlock the potential of orphans and vulnerable children, which is the mission of my NGO. One cookie at a time.
I apologize for my lack of posts. I’ve been spending a lot of my free time replying to the newest group of Peace Corps Botswana Invitees (Bots 19, so named because you’ll be the 19th group to serve in Botswana since we reengaged in 2003) who stumble across this blog and then send me emails full of great questions. So, I had the idea this morning to post a few of my responses to these questions, thereby killing several dinonyane (birds) with one lentswe (stone). And if you’re an Invitee to Peace Corps Botswana, congratulations! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.
What is a typical day or week for you?
My day starts between 4 and 5. I down a glass of chocolate milk, make coffee, catch up on WhatsApp and Facebook (if I have service), do a New York Times crossword puzzle, cook breakfast and make my lunch, wash dishes, bathe, and head to work around 7:30. One of my NGO (non-governmental organization) bosses picks me up out at the main road, since it’s too far to walk. I’m there three days a week.
I try to walk to my other NGO, which takes about an hour. If it’s raining, or I’m running late, I hop in a combi (minibus), which costs P3.50 (3 pula, 50 thebe, or $0.35). I’m home at 4:30 from the first one. I work until 5 or 5:30 at the other one and then usually walk home. I have Setswana lessons from 5-6 on Mondays and Wednesdays with morutabana wa me (my teacher), Fani. (Peace Corps gives us a language tutoring allowance.)
At work, I do a bunch of things…lots of meetings, working with counterparts to write plans and proposals, other things that come up (for example, I’m leading a group of kids in an income-generating venture at my second NGO (they serve orphans/vulnerable youth) to make and sell cookies…we’re just getting started.)
In the evening, I clean my house, read, do work, wash dishes, and cook/bake. I listen to audiobooks all the time (I download them from my various library accounts when I have wifi at my workplace…one book takes most of the day). Many PCVs watch movies/TV shows that they brought on hard drives, and downloading/swapping media is a big activity at trainings (which are held at hotels with wifi). I’m usually in bed by 8, because: 1) I get up at 4; 2) I have to shut my windows around 7:30 because the mosquitoes start coming in, and screens aren’t a thing here; 3) Even in the summer, it’s dark by 7:30; and 4) It’s hot, especially with the windows closed, and the fan is the only relief, and that’s in my bedroom.
On weekends, I often attend social events (weddings, funerals, Rotary gatherings (I’m a Rotarian, and still belong to my Colorado Club)). I do work that I brought home, stock up on groceries, read (in my hammock,
which I finally put up), do laundry (by hand and then hung on the line), catch up on letter writing, and go for walks/hikes. On Sundays, ke ya ko kereke. (I go to church.) I attend the local congregation of the Dutch Reformed Church of Botswana. According to Wikipedia, it was founded by Swiss missionaries in 1863, who were working among the Bakgatla, the tribe that settled my area. The first DRC in Botswana was in my village, and was established in 1877.
The DRC in Botswana gained its autonomy from the DRC of South Africa in 1979. It has 6,000 members in Botswana, and my congregation is one of 14 here. It’s Protestant, its theology is Reformed, and its polity is Presbyterian. I wasn’t a formal churchgoer in the US (I considered myself a member of the Temple of the Gunnison Gorge), but here, I enjoy the amazing music (Batswana seem to know hundreds of hymns, and can sing them in three-part harmony), fellowship, inspiration, time for reflection, and practicing my Setswana.
To be honest, I feel as prepared as I could be at this point with the exception of ONE thing. I have a terrible phobia of spiders, and imagine they are everywhere in Botswana. Swimming with sharks? No problem. Snakes? No problem. But spiders? Have they been an issue for you?
As a Civil Society Volunteer, you’ll likely be in a bigger village in the south, where spider appearances are less frequent. You’ve probably heard about the camel spiders. I think they’re more common in the north, and in rural areas. I have found 2 in my house. One was small and dead, and the other was big (like three inches across) and dying. They’re orange and ugly, and kind of a spider/scorpion hybrid, and they won’t kill you, but I’ve heard that a bite from one can be nasty. Why were mine dead and dying? Because I use BLUE DEATH (so named because it comes in a blue container)! It’s a brown powder that you sprinkle indoors at the base of all your walls. And then when spiders walk through it, they get poisoned and they die. The good news is that camel spiders are pretty skittish (I’ve heard…I’ve never encountered one that could scoot away from me), and they’re afraid of light. I haven’t heard of anyone else in the south encountering ca
mel spiders…I’m not sure how I got so lucky! It might have been that my house had been uninhabited for awhile. Anyway, I haven’t seen one in three months, so perhaps they got the memo. The other spider you’ll encounter is what my fellow Volunteer, Sara, calls a “flatsie,” because….they’re flat. They’re brown and can get as big as 2 inches across, and I like them. They’re terribly afraid of people, and they just hang out on the wall, and if you get anywhere near them, they dart away, and they’re very fast. I’m pretty sure they’re harmless, but
I don’t worry about them biting me because they are such scaredy-spiders. Sometimes I’ll have a couple hanging out in the corners of my bedroom, and they’re sorta like pets. Yes, I know that’s weird, but I’m not allowed to have pets because of my landlord’s allergies. (Plus, I reaalllly don’t want the responsibility. I don’t even have a plant.)
Any language prep or prep in any other form you would recommend between now & July?
Here’s the Setswana manual you likely will use when you arrive in Botswana. It was written by some Peace Corps Botswana Language and Culture Facilitators. I also watched the Peace Corps’ YouTube videos (featuring the amazing Meshack and Tonic, whom you’ll meet soon after your arrival) and I downloaded and listened to these audiofiles. Anything you can do to learn Setswana before you arrive will help overcome some of the shock of being here (you immediately plunge into Setswana). Just hearing it before you come is helpful. I made flashcards, and be sure to bring extra blank cards if they’re helpful for you.
As far as other prep, someone probably will send you a file about things to download before you come (like the VRF (Volunteer Reporting Form) program). I suggest installing any apps on your phone that you think you might need. Especially maps.me and the maps for Botswana and any other countries you think you might visit. (A fellow PCV’s forethought to download the Zambia map saved us when our taxi driver couldn’t find our hotel.) Get everyone’s mailing addresses so you can send them letters. People get REALLY excited about letters from Botswana. Then maybe they’ll send you chocolate.
And my Obligatory Packing List has some other recommendations for prepping. I can’t stress the importance of the introductory postcard. It has done so much to open doors. One thing I’ll add (and if I remember, I’ll update the original post) is to get on WhatsApp before you go and set up an account with your US phone number and then list that number on your postcard (if you don’t know how to keep your US phone number, check out the Peace Corps Reddit posts about Google Voice, and DO IT…and if you’re not checking out the Peace Corps Reddit posts, you should…I learned so much from them). For $20, Google Voice lets you keep your US number and emails you any texts you get, as well as transcripts of any voicemails. If you’re worried about weird people sending you WhatsApp messages, leave off your number, but I’m selective about who gets a postcard, so I’m not worried.
How’s the food? What do you eat?
Setswana food is good. The predominant proteins are beef and chicken (and some goat and lamb), cooked VERY thoroughly. And there’s always a big portion of starch (maize/mealie meal or sorghum made into a thick porridge, kind of like polenta, or rice, or samp, or chips (soggy french fries…Batswana don’t like crispy chips!)), merogo (vegetable…greens (a common one is called “rape”) or cabbage cooked with tomatoes, onions, and green peppers), and salads (often cole slaw or beetroot salad) . And a “soup” over everything, which is made with flavor packets and tomatoes and peppers). People also eat a lot of squash and sweet potatoes. Now that I’m at site, I rarely eat Setswana food, unless I’m at a funeral or wedding. During Pre-Service Training, you get to grocery shop with your host family, and you can advocate for yourself and say that you want to eat your own food, instead of what your family eats. It’s up to you. A lot of the Volunteers just brought leftovers for lunch from whatever their families ate. Here in my village, I eat a veggie omelet for breakfast, and a salad for lunch, and lots of hummus and vegetables. Vegetables are fresh and plentiful in Botswana, and I eat lots of tomatoes, green peppers, rape, onions, baby marrow (zucchini), and avocados (when they’re available). In the winter, cauliflower and broccoli are abundant. I can’t wait until winter comes and I can roast them in my oven with garlic and olive oil.
What’s been the hardest thing so far? Best thing?
The hardest part? I’m not sure I can pin down one thing, so here’s a list:
Feeling guilty about being away from friends and family (especially my sons).
Learning Setswana. The hardest part is my impatience. I want to be fluent! But, it’s coming along…. You don’t need Setswana to do your job, and there are Volunteers who haven’t spoken much Setswana since Pre-Service Training, but I came here to learn, so that’s what I’m doing. And the smiles and appreciation I receive from speaking to someone in their language are priceless. A few months ago, after I shared my limited Setswana, a taxi driver actually cried, and said he had never had a white woman speak his language to him. And if that wasn’t enough, he quoted Nelson Mandela to me! “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”
Pre-Service Training. As someone who has been on her own for a long time, it was tough to be with a host family for 10 weeks (although I absolutely adored mine). But the experience is invaluable for integrating you into Setswana culture. PST is hard. It’s usually six days/week, 7 am-5 pm, Setswana every day. But, it prepares you for what you will need to make the most of your experience.
Figuring out how to have the greatest impact at my NGOs. I think I’m finally wrapping my head around this, but it has taken four months, and as I mentioned earlier, I’m an impatient person. I know that some of my CSCB (Civil Society Capacity Building) Volunteer colleagues continue to struggle with this, and some of them are seeking projects outside of their NGOs (or, in some cases, the NGOs are teetering on collapse). Also, it’s tough to be assigned to two NGOs, as most of us are, since I have conflicting allegiances and demands for my time.
The heat! Coming from the Colorado mountains where it never got to 90, it has been tough to have weeks and weeks of 90+ temps (my village’s average high in January was 92). And I’d never heard of heat edema, but it’s a real thing, and I now sleep with my feet on a pillow to reduce the swelling. My house hardly ever cools off, and I am grateful for my big fan, without which it would be hard to sleep (and when the power goes out, I am very sad). I can’t wait for autumn.
Safety issues. I hiked everywhere by myself in Colorado, and that’s not something you do here. I’ve been warned against taking the shortcut across the park on my way to work and walking along certain roads, because people have been attacked. It’s nothing you wouldn’t face in a big US city, but as a former rural Colorado resident, it has taken getting used to. Several of the PCVs have been burglarized. I had my phone stolen. My landlords had a break-in the week after I got here…someone came through an unlocked door at 4 am and took their laptops, and might have gotten more if they hadn’t heard them and scared them away. My boss’s churchmate had some kids slip through the burglar bars on her windows and beat her in her bed and then force her to drive them to an ATM. But, again, these things (and far worse) happen in the US, too.
Okay, that’s enough of the hard parts. Here are the best things:
People’s friendliness. Some mornings, I’ll be in kind of a funky place, and all it takes to get me out of my foul mood is walking down the street and greeting everyone and having them smile at me.
My hardworking and earnest coworkers at my NGOs. They truly care about making a difference.
The (relative) lack of racism. It’s affirming to be surrounded by people who, for the most part, are being judged on their merits and not by the color of their skin.
The beauty of the people and the country. At church this morning, I sat and marveled at how vibrant and talented everyone was (and how much better dressed than me). And Botswana has so much to experience. I got to explore the northeast at Christmas, and I’m looking forward to a trip to the Moremi Gorge and the northwest in May. And my village is lovely, with its hills and rocks and trees, and monkeys! Part of Botswana’s appeal (at least for me, coming from a sparsely populated area) is its lack of people. I met a Motswana on Thursday who had spent time in Houston, and I asked him if he knew that Houston has as many people as Botswana, and that Texas is about the size of Botswana, so imagine taking Houston’s population and spreading it out all over Texas, and that’s what Botswana is like. And very little light pollution makes for excellent stars.
Learning all the time! This is the main reason I came here…I’d kind of stopped doing this in the US. Every day is a new experience, full of opportunities to gain new skills and stretch myself.
Making a difference. I’ve had the chance to do some cool things at my site, and I’m looking forward to what the next year holds. Peace Corps really is about creating your own opportunities and advocating for yourself…I think the people who don’t do that might be unhappy here.
I have another monthly column coming out next Sunday (March 4) in the Montrose Daily Press. Ke a leboga thata (I’m very grateful) for their willingness to help me achieve Peace Corps’ “third goal.” Here are links to some previous columns:
In Botswana, many people refer to the time around Christmas as the “festive season.” It’s when many Batswana return to their home villages to spend time with family. I passed the season with my new family in my village, and with some of my new Peace Corps Volunteer family on safari in northeast Botswana and Zambia. My apologies to those who have read or will read my column in the Montrose Daily Press, because this post relies heavily on it. (It’s hard to find time to create original content for multiple platforms.) Hopefully you will enjoy the photos that I’ve added to complement the column. It has taken me about three hours of very slow internet to upload them, and some failed to load at all.
December began with a week-long “resource mobilisation” training (aka fundraising) at the Masa Square Hotel (aka good food and free wi-fi), sponsored by the Empowerment of Non-State Actors (a joint project of the European Union and Government of Botswana). It was led by a consultant from Holland, and participants came from all corners of the country, including an organization for HIV patients in southeastern Botswana, a group working to raise awareness about autism, and an NGO that protects vultures in northern Botswana.
I was struck by the similarities between US and Botswana nonprofits. Our desires are the same: sustainable funding; engaged boards of directors; staff retention; more volunteers; greater visibility. But the participants stood out the most, and they turned what could have been a long, dry week into an absolute delight. Each of them was passionate, informed, resourceful, dedicated, and wickedly funny. I never have laughed more at a fundraising training. We pledged to stay in touch, and to reconvene in March, when I will lead a session on developing funding plans for domestic sources. This is a new thing in Botswana, as many NGOs rely on international support and grants. But it’s becoming critical to diversify funding, especially for HIV-related organizations, as foreign aid to Botswana is declining.
On the last day of my training, as I was returning to my village, I got a call from our Assistant District Commissioner, requesting my help on a grant to the US Embassy for the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation. Probably
against my better judgment, I said yes, and then found out it was due the following Friday. Our proposal was to protect a historic “dam” in my village. I quickly learned that a dam isn’t just the structure that holds back water, but the reservoir and surrounding environment. Our dam was built in the early 1920s, but the presence of water was one of the factors that led the Bakgatla people to settle the area in the 1870s after fleeing persecution by the Boers to the south.
I spent most of my free time in the next week learning about the history of the dam. I met with local chiefs (dikgosi), the curator of our excellent local museum, and other knowledgeable folks, and we submitted the proposal with 17 minutes to spare (for those who know me, this is nothing new). It was a great opportunity to form relationships with local and tribal government leaders and learn more about my District’s culture and history.
The next day, I unwound at my birthday braai (short for braaivleis, the
Afrikaans word for grilling meat over a fire), which my landlord and landlady threw for me. We ate hamburgers, sausage, and sweet corn, and several Volunteers from neighboring villages came for the weekend. Also in attendance were my boss, various neighbors and family members, and the Assistant District Commissioner who roped me into the grant proposal.
And then it was time for vacation! After five months of training and “integration,” the Peace Corps cleared us to leave our sites. Two fellow Volunteers and I headed to Kasane on December 23rd, in the northeast corner of Botswana (it’s sometimes called the Four Corners of Africa, because four countries almost meet there (Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Zambia)).
Kasane has 10,000 people, and is surrounded by Chobe National Park and numerous Forest Reserves. The Park is home to the largest elephant population in Africa (estimated at 50,000), and I saw several dozen along the highway on my twelve-hour bus ride.
As we got off the bus, we spied mongoose and warthogs which roam the streets of Kasane. We checked into our lodge on the banks of the Chobe River, and the next day we went on a Christmas Eve boat tour, where we saw many hippos (including one that came after our boat, not unlike a torpedo, and then burst out of the water with a bellowing open mouth), crocodiles, cape buffalo, impala, /baboons, and more birds than I could count, including marabou stork, African spoonbill, kori bustard (the largest flying bird native to Africa), carmine bee-eaters, and my favorite, hamerkops.
On Christmas Day, we were up at makuku (the crack of dawn) for a game drive through Chobe National Park. Our excellent driver and guide, T.K., knew every bird and animal, and we saw more of the species we had seen from the boat, along with giraffes and zebras, and lions! We stopped for tea along the Chobe, and gazed at hippos in Namibia on the other side of the river.
On our third day, we caught a ride to the border, and following a long wait at Immigration, we had our visas and we hopped aboard the ferry to cross the river into Zambia. The only way across is by ferry, and semi trucks line up for
kilometres to get across. The two governments are collaborating on a bridge and border crossing to ease the congestion. We had a harrowing 40-minute taxi ride (complete with a thunderstorm and a passenger window that wouldn’t go up) to Livingstone, so named for Dr. David Livingstone, the British missionary who was the first European to explore the region. It was founded in the early 1900s and was the capital of what was known as Northern Rhodesia (until it was moved north to Lusaka in 1935). It’s a big city (around 150,000 people), with a bustling downtown where we spent our first day touring the Livingstone Museum, shopping at an open-air market (where we bought beautiful African cloth for 6 kwacha/metre ($0.60)), and enjoying a traditional Zambian lunch of nshima (a stiff porridge made of ground maize), grilled chicken, and ifisashi (greens in peanut sauce), for which we paid 85 kwacha (with drinks) and happily ate with our hands (no forks here!). We returned to our little lodge, just a few blocks from the town center, where we lounged by the pool in the shade of mango trees.
The next day, we headed to Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya in Tonga, or “The Smoke that Thunders”), named in honor of his queen by Dr. Livingstone. We had scheduled a swim in the famous Devil’s Pool, but when we arrived, it was overbooked and we lost our seats. Devil’s Pool sits atop the Falls, and one can swim there (with the aid of guides and after paying $140 USD) and peer over the edge. This is only possible when the Zambezi River is low, as it is now. The rainy season is beginning, and by May, the Falls will have ten times more water. We were sad to not swim in the Pool, but after visiting the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and experiencing the Falls through the excellent system of paths and bridges that take you over the River and down to its edge, I shed my disappointment (and kept $140 in my pocket). I can’t wait to get back in May when they’ll be in their thunderous glory.
The next day, the Lodge’s driver, a wonderful man named Biggie, drove us an hour down a rough road into the bush to the edge of the Zambezi Gorge. We
hiked several kilometres down a steep path to the Zambezi River where we swam for hours and sunned on the beach, admiring Zimbabwe on the other side. Biggie assured us there were no dikwena (crocodiles) in this part of the Zambezi. We had it all to ourselves, and it reminded me a lot of my beloved Gunnison Gorge. On our way there, we passed a village with homes made of reeds, women carried laundry on their heads to the river to wash, and men rode impossibly-laden bicycles to bring supplies from town. It’s not a sight that I’ve seen in Botswana, where per capita income is four times that of Zambia.
On our last day in Zambia, Biggie took us on a game drive in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, and we saw more zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, impala, monitor lizards, and birds galore, but the highlight was the white rhinos, which roam throughout the Park but are guarded by armed rangers (due to ruthless poaching). Several of the rangers led us through the bush to a large tree where two male juvenile rhinos were sleeping just 30 metres from us.
We crossed back into Botswana and spent several more days in Kasane, swimming, sunning, reading books, and ringing in (and then recovering from) the New Year. On our last night, we sat on the deck of a nearby lodge with several other Volunteers, watching hippos and crocodiles swimming in the Chobe, and marveling that this experience was so accessible to us.
The next day, we again were up at makuku to catch the bus back to our villages. We passed more elephants (and amazingly, the only ones we saw during our trip were along the highway), and twelve sweaty hours later, I was home. It’s good to be back, refreshed and amazed by my new country, and eager to plunge into my projects.
Go mogote thata kajeko! That means, “It’s very hot today.” The Setswana word for today is gompieno, but I live in a village where most folks speak Sekgatla, and it has some different words, like kajeko. Also, the Bakgatla say chelete instead of madi for money. And we also say, “Ke tsogile pila,” which means, “I rose well,” and in Setswana, it’s “Ke tsogile sentle.” I’m not sure why Sekgatla uses different words, but I’ll find out and let you know. Anyway, using my few words of Sekgatla wins me friends on the khombi. As I think I posted before, the khombi is the primary way I get around, when I am not tsamaya ka dinao (walking). Here’s a view from the back of the khombi I was in on Friday. I learn a lot on the khombi, like how to find the path up the hill near my house (and being from Colorado, I must climb to the top of everything around me) and I went up there today. The views were monate (nice/delicious) and there even were critters that looked like marmots! I just learned that they’re called pela in Setswana and are rock hyrax in English.
But back to how hot it is….it is 38 degrees Celsius, which is 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, and sweat is running down my back. Botswana is arid (we are home to the Kalahari or Kgalagadi Desert, after all) but it’s humid today. I’ll need to venture out to the internet café where I can upload this. The metric system is another thing I’m learning. I’m getting pretty good with my baking conversions, and my cookies are developing a reputation! (Some reps from Barclays Bank were at one of my NGOs to follow up on a grant they’d given, and they sampled some I brought for the staff and offered to pay for a class to learn how to make them! Who knew I’d come to Botswana and teach folks how to make oatmeal raisin cookies?)
I’m doing more than baking cookies…I also have been settling in with my two NGOs, both of whom work with orphans and vulnerable children. I also spent the first part of November conducting a Community Assessment of my village. I met with governmental, tribal, nongovernmental, and religious leaders, attended meetings, visited offices, consulted statistics, and kept my ear to the ground, and prepared a draft report to submit to the Peace Corps. I answered a lot of questions, but it seems like every answer prompts another five questions.
The census information was interesting…I’m kind of a census nerd, having used statistics from the US Census in many of my grant proposals. Botswana conducts a national census every ten years, and the last was in 2011. From it, I learned that my district (roughly the equivalent of a US state) had 91,000 people (but it’s growing fast and that number surely has topped 100,000). I mention a lot of these statistics in the column I wrote for the Montrose Daily Press, and you can check it out here.
One sobering statistic is that two out of every five 31-40 year olds that I meet in my district are HIV+, according to the latest information from the 2013 Botswana AIDS Impact Survey. And one out every five people, including every man, woman, and child, is positive. That really puts things into perspective. Thankfully, Botswana has done a great job of preventing mother to child transmission of HIV through its Treat All strategy (to provide free anti-retroviral drugs to all HIV+ people) and just six of the infants born in my district in 2015-16 tested positive.
Thanksgiving came to Botswana, and my landlady and I organized a Thanksgiving dinner/family reunion (for her family, not mine, alas) for around 60 people on November 18th. She even scored two turkeys from Gaborone. I supplemented with some roasted chickens.
We had stuffing, and mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie, and much more, and it was a lot of fun. Alas, my iPhone went home with someone else that night, so I lost my pictures. The ones shown are from a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer who came down from the north for the festivities.
But, I brought a back-up iPhone (an old one that one of my sons replaced) and I’m back online. The day after the Thanksgiving celebration, my three fellow Volunteers and I headed to Gaborone for 10 days of Interim Service Training. The highlight was spending two days with counterparts from my NGOs and designing some future projects. We got another Thanksgiving feast on the 23rd, courtesy of the hotel where we were staying.
I returned to my village on November 30th, and it felt so good to be home. I put up my tree this afternoon! Masego a Keresemose! (Merry Christmas!)
In the months before my departure, I spent many hours seeking packing guidance from blogs of current Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), conversations with Returned PCVs, Reddit, and other sources so I could best use my 100 pounds and 107 inches of combined suitcase dimensions. It’s cool to realize that now I’m here and I can impart the advice that I was seeking six months ago.
Rather than providing a list of everything I packed (if you really want to know how many pairs of underwear I brought, let me know), I thought it might be more useful to share a list of the Things I’m Really Happy I Packed, or Wish I Had Packed, with the hope that it will help Peace Corps Invitees who have stumbled across this blog.
(They’re sold in Botswana, but they’re glass, and mine is Lexar and I can throw it in my bag and take it to work and have fresh brewed coffee during tea time, and that is a wonderful thing. And when I go camping, I can take it along. And I wrote to GSI and told them I was taking my French press to Botswana and asked if I could get a second filter, and they sent me one for free!
I love sitting on my porch in my robe, drinking coffee, doing a NY Times crossword puzzle, and watching the sun come up (which happens around 5:30 am). This one is light, absorbs twice its weight, is very easy to wash, and has a hood. It was especially welcome on a chilly winter’s morn to throw on after a bucket bath.
It’s essential that you wear something on your feet when you’re in your house, lest you step on a camel spider. Warm slippers are nice for winter. I bought these and they have a sturdy sole and roll up and pack easily. Wish I’d packed two pairs of Teva flipflops, since I’m sure I’ll need a second pair before I leave. You can buy flipflops here, but I’m not sure of the quality…
Photos printed on banners
This was one of my good ideas…VistaPrint offers 2’ X 4’ banners for cheap, and I had some pictures of my family printed on them and then rolled them up in the Thermarest I brought, and now they adorn my walls. While I was at it, I designed and ordered a banner that I took to my going away parties so that people could sign it, and now it’s on my kitchen wall and it brings me smiles every day.
I think this was the best idea I had, and one I borrowed from a Rotary Group Study Exchange trip to France that I led, where we made and passed out team brochures about ourselves. I had VistaPrint do these, too, and 100 of them were around $60, and it was well worth it. I’ve passed these out to my host families, dikgosi (chiefs), and other important people, and they love them.
Chances are you probably already have thought to bring this, but I will alert you that you should bring an audio cord, like this one (http://www.ugospeakers.com/store/products/ProductDetail.php?ProductID=96) so that you can plug your Peace Corps phone into it and have radio in the morning. You can find a cord here, but they fall apart quickly. Listening to the radio connects you to your countrymen, improves your Setswana, keeps you apprised of Botswana news, and entertains you with some pretty great music…lots of local artists. I’m a fan of GABZ-FM.
Kobo or other hard-to-break e-reader
Most people turn in really early here, and it’s nice to have something to read in bed. And bring as many downloaded books as you can. There are lots of free ones available on the web…like at Guttenberg Project. I’d never read The Fountainhead, and that kept me entertained for the first few weeks after crawling in bed at 7:30. Also, bring a little rechargeable booklight, so you don’t have to wear a headlamp in bed.
External Hard Drive
I’ll leave it to others to talk about how important this is. It hasn’t been so for me, since I’ve not watched a movie since I’ve been here (other than The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency with my host families, which they loved, and hooking the host family kids up with Disney movies while we waited for cookies to bake). My oldest son loaded up my drive with a bunch of movies he thought I’d like, and I’ve been able to share them with other PCVs, who are much more interested in media swapping. However, I will add that you should invest in one of the non-breakable ones, because some of my fellow PCVs dropped theirs on their concrete floors and now they’re dead.
So far, I’ve used it more for the sun than the rain. I never thought I’d use an umbrella for the sun, but it makes a huge difference in keeping you cool when it’s 100 degrees. You can buy them in Bots, but I’m not sure how sturdy they are. If you bring one, make sure it stands up to gale force winds.
Don’t be the poor PCV whose MacBook Air got fried during Pre-Service Training when it was plugged in during a storm. You can buy them here, but they’re expensive and you might not be able to find one during Pre-Service Training. I wish I’d brought one, since I had to buy mine here. It was 300 pula ($30) and I found it in Gaborone. I’m not sure of the quality though… Just bring one with you.
You’re probably scratching your head at this one, but you will need a leak-proof container to bring your lunch to Pre-Service Training and to work when you get to site. Your host family will have containers for you to use, but they will be of questionable quality, and your lunch will probably leak all over your backpack. So, if you have room, bring a leak-proof container or two from home. If you don’t have room, go to Spar during the first week of training and bite the bullet and spend far too much money (like 50 or 60 pula) to buy one of the Spar-brand leak-proof containers. Don’t do like I did and go for the 20 pula containers, because you will be disappointed.
You need two different kinds. They’re available in Bots, but you should have a couple of each for when you first get here. Here’s a buying guide that tells you all about it: http://www.botswanatraveler.com/2009/08/12/power-adapter-buying-guide/. Something I wish I had brought is a US adapter that converts a three-prong plug to a two-prong plug, since one of my adapters allows you to plug in two things at the same time, but the 2nd plug is for two-pronged only.
Really good quality can opener
I spent 60 pula on a can opener ($6) and I can tell already that I’m gonna be buying another one in a few months.
Croakies, or something to hold your sunglasses on your head
The sun is intense, and I wear my sunglasses when I’m out walking around (and while carrying my umbrella), but you don’t see a lot of Batswana in sunglasses, so if I get on a khombi (minibus), I like to take off my sunglasses so I can look people in the eyes when I’m talking to them, and I’ve almost left my prescription sunglasses on the khombi a couple of times. I made my own holder out of an old jumprope and electrical tape, but it’s not holding up well. Someone is sending me a pair of Croakies from home, along with a 2nd pair of sunglasses, because I was a dunce and only brought one pair.
This is something I didn’t bring and wish I had. Your host families will want to see pictures from back home, and it’s just not the same to share them on your phone or laptop. Print out some of your favorites and stick them in a sturdy album. Or get one of those cool Shutterfly books made.
Games and other things to pass the time
Whatever you like to play in America, try to bring it with you. I made room for my travel Scrabble game and I haven’t regretted it. And I am a crossword and Ken Ken addict, so I brought along enough books of NY Times crosswords and Ken Ken to get me through two years. And believe me, I am glad I did.
A decent sewing kit
Seeds of unusual things you’d like to grow here.
There are seeds available, and I FINALLY found arugula, but if there’s something you’d like to have, like artichokes, bring some seeds.
A good knife
You’ll be cooking your own meals at site, and you’ll probably be slicing lots of vegetables. You can buy good knives in Gaborone, but they’re expensive. So, if you have a favorite good knife, bring it. Also, bring a small sharpening stone or a good knife sharpener.
Again, there are spices here, but they’re kinda pricy and of questionable quality, and you can’t find a good selection. My friend Sara and I were convinced that there was an embargo on cinnamon…it was sold out wherever we went, but we finally found some. And I finally found cumin, after searching for three months. So, if there’s something you regularly use and can’t live without, bring some with you.
Snacks for PST (and beyond)
I brought a whole bunch of wasabi almonds and chocolate-covered espresso beans and I did not regret it. And the Trainees with whom I shared them were happy as clams. You can buy things like peanuts and chocolate bars here, but if there’s something unusual that you crave, bring as much of it as you can.
I love these, because I can toss a couple of really cold ones (or you can even freeze them) in my bag in the morning and have water all day, and then they roll up, meaning I have more room to put groceries on my way home.
(At least) two of everything electronic
Laptops are expensive here, so if you can’t live without one, bring a spare. Same for smartphones (make sure yours is unlocked). And I brought at least two of every cord that I need.
Shawls and scarves (and a few comments on clothes)
This is for the women. I received this recommendation before I left, and I did not heed it, and I regret it. Shawls and scarves keep you warm, dress up a casual outfit, cover parts of you to make you more presentable if you find yourself at the kgotla or someplace where you should look nice, and add variety to your wardrobe (which you will long for after a few months of wearing the same clothes). You can buy scarfs and shawls here, but you’ll have lots more selection in America, and they probably will hold up better. And on the subject of clothes, bring quick-dry stuff. Don’t worry about long-sleeved stuff…you won’t wear it. Bring one or two nice hoodies/jackets for warmth (I lived in this one: https://www.amazon.com/Smartwool-Womens-NTS-Hoodie-Sport/dp/B017MGHILI?th=1). And I brought a packable down jacket and appreciated it on a half-dozen winter mornings. Don’t forget a beanie and gloves. I brought WAY too many socks. Two pairs of smartwool calf-length socks would have been enough. And I brought too many pants (I think one pair would have been enough…I brought two pairs of zip-off hiking pants and one pair of yogaish athletic pants, and so far I’ve only worn them on “Casual Friday” at Pre-Service Training, and I’m hoping to wear them when I go hiking). I also wish I’d brought more leggings to wear with skirts when it’s cold. I brought tights, but sometimes leggings and socks would have been better. I’m sure I can buy leggings and tights here, but it would have been nice to have my favorites from home. (UPDATE: I converted my tights to leggings by cutting off the toes. And I found nice leggins for 40 pula at PEP.)
I hope this helps. As I said, shoot me an email (email@example.com) or leave a comment if you have a question or something to add. Good luck!
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!
As soon as I got to my new village, I wanted to visit the Library. For those who don’t know me, I love libraries. My wonderful mother took me and my siblings to libraries in every town in which we lived. In Montrose, I served on the Library District Board of Trustees and was its President until 2006 when I resigned to become the District’s Development Officer to raise money for various efforts, including construction of the Naturita Public Library. Most recently, I was President of Friends of the Ridgway Public Library.
On my third day on the job, I asked Ausi Stella if we could see the library. So, after a meeting of the District Health Management Team about their efforts to increase HIV testing, we headed across the street to the Public Library. We met Colin Keeditse, the Senior Library Officer and he led us on a tour. First, he showed us the bookmobile, which has sat unused for three years, due to no funds to operate it. Originally, it provided internet access, books, and library programs to outlying villages in the District. Back inside, he showed me the public computers (they were provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but only two are functioning now), and the periodical and book collections (they’re in need of some weeding and enlivening), The newspapers are current and receive a lot of use.
There were many people at the Library, mostly studying or meeting. My NGO has a partnership with the Library to offer toddler play groups. The Library provides the venue and my NGO provides personnel, food, and materials. The toddlers learn early literacy skills, hygiene, and colors. They can’t offer the play groups at this Library, because it requires a separate room which they don’t have. Colin said that lack of space and funding are his biggest challenges.
The Library is funded by the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture, but Colin explained that some of the villages operate “Village Reading Rooms” that are funded by their Village Development Committees. I’m eager to visit one. He said that they are “community libraries” and some of them have playgrounds and others offer classes, such as traditional cooking and computer skills.
So much of this visit reminded me of my first visit to the Naturita Public Library…the lack of space, the outdated collection, the eager but overtaxed staff… I’ve got many people to talk with and much research to conduct, but I’m hoping that I can spend a few hours a week on resource mobilization for the Library. My first step is to get a library card. Colin gave me a form to fill out, and I need to present it and three passport photos, and then I can get a card to check out two items for two weeks. I’m hoping they have some Setswana children’s books so I can work on my language skills.
Dumelang! On September 2nd, the Bots 18 crew (we’re the 18th group to serve since Peace Corps came back to Botswana) departed Molepolole for visits to our future sites. I headed to my village (which I can’t name, due to PC security policies) with one of my two new supervisors, Ausi Stella,
with whom I’d just spent two days in training at the Tlotlo Hotel in Gaborone. I’m more than a foot taller than her, so we made a funny pair as we made the rounds. She dropped me at the home of Mma Menyatso, with whom I’d spend the next 13 days. The next day, we attended a wedding, which was a lot like an American wedding, except
with much more singing. Afterward, we enjoyed a welcome feast prepared by Mma Menyatso’s grandson, with fresh fish, potato wedges, and multiple salads. It was monate (delicious).
I spent the first week with one of the two NGOs (non-governmental organizations) with which I’ll be working for the next two years. It was founded in 1998 to provide home-based care to those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Since then, it has expanded to include services for orphans and vulnerable children, including a preschool. They also operate a beautiful garden, which provides food for the preschool and for sale. I paid visits to the dikgotla (courts) for my ward and village to introduce myself to the dikgosi (chiefs), and met with the District Commissioner (Botswana is divided into 17 districts, which are kind of like US states) and the Coordinator for the District AIDS Coordinating Committee. I also met with the Head of Traffic at the Police Department to discuss security issues in my village. I was warned to avoid “bushy” areas (my village is surrounded by beautiful hills and red rocks, which I’d love to explore, but the ne’er-do-wells hang out there) and to not be out after dark.
I met with a traditional healer, which was fascinating. He offers to treat cancer, epilepsy, fractures, asthma, and “discharge,” among other ailments, for a fee of P2,000 (around $200). He uses a variety of herbs that he finds in the bush. I was glad to learn that he doesn’t claim to cure HIV, which some healers do. At a meeting of the District Health Management Team, I learned that they have problems enrolling some HIV+ people in anti-retroviral therapy because they are being seen by traditional healers. I also attended a meeting of my ward’s Village Development Committee, which is kind of like a town council. A group of a dozen volunteers sat around deciding on issues like whether someone could add a kitchen and bathroom to their house, and planning the party for the upcoming Botswana Independence celebration (on September 30th). I was impressed with the respectful dialogue they had (although I didn’t understand much since it was in Setswana, but I managed to follow the gist of the conversation). Batswana pride themselves on their “consultative” approach to decision making.
I spent the second week at my other NGO, which is much larger, with offices in four other villages, and was founded in 2006 to serve orphans and vulnerable youth (ages 12-25) and their families, with a program that combines life skills, leadership, psychosocial support, and community mobilization. At both NGOs, I’ll be helping with many of the same tasks that I did in the US (fundraising, grantwriting, communications strategies, board development).
I attended a funeral last Saturday for Mma Mercy’s brother.
Funerals are a big deal in Botswana, lasting a week, and culminating with a service, burial, and huge meal. This funeral was held at the departed’s house, and began shortly after 6 am. The service featured prayers and lots of songs and viewing of the body. We all departed for the cemetery and the burial, and then returned to the
house, where I got recruited to serve up plates of food to more than 200 people. They slaughtered three cows for the event, and the men stayed up all night to prepare seswaa, which is pounded meat. The women prepared three kinds of corn-based starches and morogo (vegetables…in this case, a delicious cooked cabbage).
I took a very hot and crowded bus back to Molepolole after a stop in Gaborone to attend a meeting of the Gaborone Rotary Club (which was a lot like the Rotary Club meetings in Montrose, except with better food) and to spend the night at a hotel and take my first shower since July (sure beats a bucket bath). It was great to see my Molepolole Mma. Spring is coming to Botswana. I took these pics in Mma Peggy’s yard this morn:
Thanks for reading, and I have a new address for my site (where I’ll be starting on October 6th), so if you’d like to send me a letter or package, please shoot me an email and I’ll send my address. Every letter receives a response!