Sunday, October 20, 2013

The end of Botswana.

I wrote this 2 weeks ago but keep forgetting to put it online.

So there is one big question that I am dreading when I get back to the US for good.  How was Peace Corps?  I have come to the conclusion that this question is basically impossible to answer.  But here, in this, my last and final blog for my time as a PCV, I am going to give it a shot.

First of all, when I joined PC way back in the day, I assumed that the end of two years of service would bring about some kind of cosmic moment where I finally understand the world.  WRONG!  In certain things I have gotten clarity, but in others I feel more confused.  But I have come to the solid conclusion of, that is just how life works.  You will not know everything, and really you should not worry about fighting that losing battle.  Yes, I will always keep striving to learn new things, but I am not going to beat myself up over it.  For example, during this time I have gotten clarity on how I want to focus my further studies, but I have gotten more confused on how the world works as a whole.  And that is because each part is so unique, so different from others, that it is impossible to apply one theory to the whole.  In fact it would be a disservice to each part to even attempt to do so.

Peace Corps in general was a series of ups and down (of the most extreme kind) that you work through day by day to keep moving on.  Some days, weeks, months seem to fly by.  Others seem to drag on for years.  But in the end it is only 2 years, no matter what it feels like.  And because of how time feels while you are in PC, your perception of the experience is skewed.  Right at this moment, I tend to dwell more on the moments that sucked.  That felt like they took years, simply because they are fresh in my mind.  And I tend to gloss over the good parts quickly.  This doesn’t mean I did not enjoy my experience, it just means that this is where I am right now.  In a little while I will probably start to forget more and more of the bad, and remember the good with happier eyes.  Eventually I will be looking at the whole experience through rose tinted 20/20 goggles.  And once again, all of this is ok.  It is understandable that I am jaded right now.  I am on the cusp of finishing after two long years.  So naturally I will focus more on the negative to help ease the transition back to the US as a positive thing.  But I know that over time this paradigm will change. 

But if I had to attempt to summarize Peace Corps in one word…well it would be weird.  I mean, in what other scenario are you going to be thrown into another culture with a bunch of strangers who will come out of it at the other end being some of your closest friends?  And you see so many strange things with these new friends.  I have witnessed exorcisms, group mental health sessions, and cars hitting goats or cows just to name a few. 

Despite all of the problems you may have with the country you serve and the protocol/government hoops/whatever else is impeding your service, you come away with a fondness for the country and the people.  Yes, there will be things that infuriate you till you want to hit your head against a wall, but in the end you can’t help having a special place in your heart for the whole thing. 

And that is ultimately what I think Peace Corps is all about at the end of the day.  Despite all the problems, frustrations and failures you will still always cherish your experience (maybe not quite as much right after) and it will be something that is always with you.  So I would say that in answer to “How was Peace Corps?” I would say that it was an experience that made a mark on me (for good or ill) that I will never be able to erase.  It won’t control the rest of my life, but it will always be there, lingering beneath the surface.     

Friday, October 4, 2013

New page!

Well in honor of finishing my 300 books I posted a new page to the blog that is the list of all the books I have read.  Check it out if you are curious.  Final blog post coming next week.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Counting down

So today I booked my flight back to the US.  My permanent flight.  It is a bit odd, thinking that the roller coaster of the last two years are coming to an end.  I mean for the past month I have been looking for jobs and working on my graduate school applications, but buying the tickets for the flight let the reality set in.  I am almost done.  My last day as a PCV is in 36 days, then I get to add an R to the front of that acronym for returned.  And in 38 days I land in Chicago, and if everything goes well on the job hunt hopefully within about a week or so after that I will be moving to Grand Rapids for work (or at least interviews).

I know I haven't written one of these in the past few months, but besides the amazing vacation I took with Aunt Jackie, Uncle Ron and Alex, not much has happened.  My work is winding down, and I am just counting days.  But I thought I would take a few minutes to reflect on some of the things two years in the Peace Corps has meant to me personally.

Well first of all, I want to relate a little story told to me by another PCV.  She was telling me about her son who did PC a few years back in South America.  When he finished and got back to the US he hadn't changed that many of his habits, but he was much more conscious of them.  I think that is probably the best assessment I have heard of what Peace Corps does for you.  I mean I am not going to start bucket bathing in the US to save water, but when I shower I will be more aware of how not everyone has access to this.  It is one thing to study about inequality and lack of resources, but actually witnessing it and living with it is a whole different ball game.

Besides this wider perspective there are three distinct things that I want to thank Peace Corps for.

1.  Giving me time for personal growth.  I have done so much here that I would never thought I had time/ambition for (writing a novel, running a marathon, pushing my limits with bungee jumping and such), and now I know that I can achieve all that and more as long as I make time for it.

2.  Giving me a focus for my future.  I knew that I wanted to get a Ph.D. and eventually teach.  But I did not entirely know what subject.  Political science is a broad field and my time in Peace Corps has helped me narrow it to gender/gender roles and equality issues.  And now I have a narrow, focused program I am looking at for my graduate studies.

3.  Friends.  This is possibly the thing I will treasure most from Peace Corps.  Some of the people I have gotten to know here are going to be my friends for the rest of my life.  And you met such a wide breadth of people in Peace Corps.  I have friends here from my age group all the way to mid 60s.  Some are just starting their careers, some are ending and some just changing.  They are from all over the US.  In short, these are people I would have never met without this.  And now, some of them know parts of me better than anyone in the US does.  Just like some people in the US will know certain things about me better than anyone I have met here.  That is just the nature of the beast.  My friends here will be able to understand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs associated with Peace Corps service better than anyone since they lived through it with me.

Well, that is about it for now, I will probably only do one more blog post to close it out and that will come in just over 30 days at the end of my service!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

100 days!

So today marks a very important milestone for my Peace Corps service.  100 days left.  At times it has felt like much longer than two years, and at other times nowhere close to that mark.  But either way it is here.  Considering I started this blog with the 100 day mark from when I left the states I thought this would be a good moment to offer some advice to past me (or anyone reading this who is thinking about Peace Corps).  So here are the pieces of advice I would tell myself before coming to Botswana that I know now.

  1. Get ready for failure.  You may not be used to it now, but you will be.
  2. Don’t be so na├»ve.  There is no way you will learn everything about Botswana before you come here.
  3. Speaking of which, just stop trying to learn Setswana, you are not pronouncing anything right.
  4. In that same thought, other people are going to be better at the language than you are, that is alright.  You, personally, will not use it that much.  *This is mainly due to me sticking primarily with my school with few outside projects and the kids are supposed to learn English at the schools.  Other PCVs use Setswana much more.
  5. You know those McCall Smith books you are reading that are set in Botswana?  Interesting stories, but no, not even close.
  6. Pack spices.  Seriously, you do NOT need stockpiles of soap and shampoo.  You need spices. 
  7. Also, get a headlamp.  Handy for when your power goes out or you are living without electricity.
  8. Did you seriously pack a wrench?  Why?
  9. The same goes for the screwdrivers, pliers and electric razor.
  10. The hammer comes in handy (but only hardly-possibly not worth the space).
  11. Get a second one of those pans Brandon got you.  That thing is awesome.
  12. Less clothes.  You have only worn some of these things once.  In 2 years.
  13. More gum.  You can never have too much Trident and they don’t have your favorite kind here.
  14. Tangent side note: get used to spelling in British English.  I almost put a u in favorite.
  15. Also, don’t be embarrassed when kids correct your spelling from American to British.
  16. If there is some kind of sauce you really like, bring some bottles.  It is either not here, or way too expensive.
  17. See above in regards to tequila.
  18. Or really any hard alcohol.  The affordable stuff here you didn’t even sink low enough to drink in college.
  19. Quit the cemetery earlier (or rather don’t take the summer job).  Seriously, spend more time with people than trying to make a few extra bucks for a few months.
  20. Scrap the black shoes, dust never leaves them, and bring back-up running shoes.
  21. Bring more duct tape.  It is so useful.
  22. Don’t bring that heavy of clothes.  Layering sweaters and t-shirts is fine for you.  You are used to and like cold.
  23. Summer blows.  But at least there is no humidity.
  24. Speaking of, get used to getting up at 5am so you can run before it gets too hot.
  25. Don’t feel bad if you are not friends with everyone else in Peace Corps.  At training they may drill that into you but it really is ok to not hang out with everyone.
  26. When in doubt on ANYTHING, just play the cultural ignorance card.  It almost always works.
  27. Why did you bring 2 actual suitcases?  Be like almost everyone else and get a hiking backpack.  You are just going to buy one within a few months here anyway.
  28. Did you really try writing in Setswana in your first few blogs?  Seriously?  I know training can tend to be a pissing contest but everyone gets over it really fast.  Try not to sink into it.
  29. Speaking of, you may have just got done with college, and others in your group may be retired psychologists, but guess what, this is new to ALL of you.  Don’t try so hard to impress.
  30. You underestimated the amount of cards you need.  You know how much you play cards.  Buy more.
  31. Buy more brown, it blends with the sand and dirt.
  32. Bring a hard-drive, you need media.
  33. Get comfy talking about poop.
  34. There will be a time when you think about extending for a third year.  You will look back on it as a very funny joke.  Do not take that thought seriously.
  35. You work site will know very little about Peace Corps rules, you can use them as a scapegoat to get out of things.
  36. Never vent your anger on people with cars.  Even if they piss you off don’t burn that bridge.
  37. Stop worrying about whether you have electricity and that stuff.  The mental adjustments are so much worse.
  38. Speaking of which, take time to deal with that.
  39. And don’t feel guilty about it.
  40. Gabs is a money pit.  Don’t avoid it, just be prepared.
  41. Tell people to send you trashy tabloid magazines.  They become so entertaining over here.
  42. Walk around a lot.  Staying in can be nice to hide, but you still need to get out there.
  43. Mindless entertainment is so awesome.
  44. Speaking of which, maybe not the best time to buckle down and read all the classics.
  45. But you can still get through a few.
  46. You cannot take care of all the dogs.  You are really going to want to.
  47. In that same note, get ready to witness what we consider animal abuse.
  48. And corporal punishment.
  49. You know what, just start getting a calloused heart now.  Because you will not be effective in changing the behavior, so get used to ignoring it.
  50. You will have an urge to beat a snake with a rock.  Makes for a cool story, but seriously?  What the hell were you thinking?
  51. Peace Corps may say a laptop is optional.  IGNORE!  Bring one.
  52. Most Batswana won’t say no.  Just assume that unless people show a lot of enthusiasm they mean no.
  53. Even if they say yes, they mean no.
  54. Nothing happens now (or even “now now”).  Just assume things will take a while.
  55. Speaking of the word no, it is about to become your new best friend.  Embrace it.
  56. Your de-stressing activities need to be routine.  Or you will fail to do them.
  57. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself to be calm so you don’t get angry for the wrong reason. 
  58. Don’t sacrifice your personal style just because you think something else will be more appropriate.
  59. You will want those things to make you feel like you.
  60. If you think something is worthwhile do it.
  61. Even if you are doing it alone.  It will still make you feel better if nothing else.
  62. You can actually buy good food with your budget.  Don’t think you need to scrimp on food.
  63. Buy one of those really cool insta-dry towels.  So handy for travel.

My original goal was to try to hit 100 pieces of advice, but I am not going to stretch this out any longer.  Also, thanks to Shannon, Mia and Amelia for some of these ideas.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Turning 24

Well so it is now my second and last birthday that I will be celebrating during Peace Corps.  This past year has definitely been more jam-packed than the one before it.  By the time I turned 23 I had yet to leave Botswana, taken no vacations, and had no major work projects successfully get off the ground.  In this past year I have travelled around quite a bit of Southern Africa.  I have been to different parts of Botswana (especially considering my moving villages), travelled to: Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and back to the US, have written a novel, ran a marathon and finally had some great work successes. 

So for a blog post to commemorate the past year I am going to focus on the positive things that I have accomplished in this past year, both personally and professionally.

Work successes:  I have had two big ones in this category (one at each of my sites).  In my current village of Gamodubu you might remember that at the end of the first Term our school finished putting a library together.  Well, Term 2 just ended and I am proud to say that so far the library has been very successful.  We have had more than 60 kids check out well more than 100 books in just about a month’s time.  With this term being the shortest one (and I being missing for a good portion) I expect this number to rise higher next term. 

The other success I just learned about the other day from a project I left at my old site in Kaudwane.  I was working on a school garden with a teacher there and right before I moved sites we had sent off some requests for donations to get it running better.  Well, that teacher called me the other day to tell me that a few months back the school received 15000 pula to help make the garden work!  With that money shade netting has been bought and put up, new tools were also purchased to work the soil and with the remaining balance they are bringing in a specialist to examine the soil and provide assistance in making the soil yield more.  It is always a huge goal of Peace Corps to see if a project will be sustainable when you leave (and one most people do not get to see first-hand) so this was really exciting to see happen!

Personal successesHuh.  I realize I already used a bunch of my personal successes up in my intro for this blog.  Whoops.  Well there is still one other thing I have not mentioned.  I have finally figured out a firm direction for my graduate studies and the list of schools I am applying to.  I am applying for Gender based programs where I plan to focus on sexual orientation and gender roles and how both societal attitudes and laws regarding these distinctions hinder equal opportunities for people.  The schools I am looking at are Loyola (Chicago), University of Washington (Seattle), the United Nations University for Peace (Costa Rica) and University of San Francisco (guess where?). 

Yet to go:  This part is more a reminder to myself about things I still need to do to accomplish my personal goals from my post entitled Goal 4 back in February.  I still need to edit the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo.  I also need to finish my 300 books.  I can say that I have less than 50 to go, so I think I can still do it.

And well, I think that is it for today.  I am planning to put up another post on Sunday to mark a different milestone that happens to fall very close to my birthday. 


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Readjustment, from this side

So right before I came back to Bots I wrote about my perspective on coming back here.  So now I figured I would do a quick update on how I am thinking about this readjustment thing now now.

So first of all, it has not been nearly as bad as I thought it would be.  And I think that is simply because I can say that I have 16 weeks left of service.  It is so close that no matter what it seems doable.  The same things here are still frustrating me when I deal with them...which is all the time.

A quick example.  For every victory comes at least a few frustrating moments.  I finally got gas for my stove on Thursday.  After 6 months of no gas.  So that was a huge victory.  And within that same day the driver from the Min of Ed (who has a real job and makes way more than me) was begging me for money.  And then later that day when I was heading into town for some airtime the bus refused to take me.  Not because they had no room...there were seats.  There is just some arbitrary rule that particular bus had that it was not allowed to pick up people on that road.  Something about competition with other buses.

But overall it is nothing unexpected.  And the other part of readjustment has been the boredom.  I have been super bored.  Since I have been back there have been other events at the school going on and now it is exam time.  And then school closes.  So that is why I have been spending time doing things like updating my resume.  Because I am super bored.

Anyway, just thought I would do a bit of an update on how I am doing after being back.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Back to Bots

In several hours I get to start the long trek back to Botswana.  It is going to take me at least two days, with overnights in Doha and Jo’burg before I get back.  Needless to say I am not looking forward to it.  At all.  The flight is just dreadful.
But anyway, with that out of the way I figured I would spend just a quick bit of time talking about my trip to the US.  First of all, it was fantastic.  It was great to be in a familiar environment, around friends and family, and just being able to relax.  I mean fully relax (something which does not happen that often in Bots for me).
Naturally I did what most PCVs would do when graced with a trip to the US.  I ate lots of food I can’t get there (good pizza, Mexican, Chinese, Mexican…did I say Mexican yet?), stocked up on supplies for my last few months, and showered every day.  All in all it was pretty awesome. 
Also, during my trip to the US I got to attend a wedding.  So, to Katie and Sean (currently on your honeymoon) congrats!  And thanks for having me in the wedding party.  I got to see most of my family and nearly all of my friends.  Which that is good and bad.  It is amazing to see people you have not seen for nearly two years.  But that means you still have to go through the process of saying goodbye to them yet again.  At least this time around it will only be for a few months. 
And even though I know it is only for a few months, I still am not looking forward to going back to Bots.  It was nice to get back into a bit of a familiar routine.  And since I am close to being done I have started to look around at jobs for after Peace Corps.  It would be so easy to just not come back.
But when have you ever known me to take the easy way?  I am stubborn.  And I am sure once I get back in Botswana and spend a few weeks falling back into a routine there it will be fine.  But looking at it from this end (especially with that long flight in between) I am not excited.  A lot of PCVs I talked to before coming back expressed that if they went back to the US during service they may not come back to Botswana.  And I must say, that is a legitimate concern.  If it was not for Katie and Sean’s wedding I would not have returned during service.  And while I am glad I did, if I had no particular reason to come back to the US, I would not advise doing it until PC service is done. 

When I set out to write this it was planned to be much more coherent in my head, but well, this is how it is turning out.  Oh well, what do you do?  Right at the moment the plan is to post another blog at the end of June (when the school term ends) so check back then to see how I am viewing the readjustment from that side.