Friday, December 16, 2011

Thanksgiving and Youth Forum

So I have been nicknamed “The Mongoose” and a “brick slingin bad ass” over the past few weeks.  But I think I am getting ahead of myself.  First of all the last post on my blog (that wasn’t just a shameless plug for the YouTube channel I started) was a few weeks later than I planned in going up.  That was because I didn’t get around to posting it before I went to a 10-day Youth Forum run by the Ministry of Education.  Let’s just say that coming back from that experience I have been bruised (both physically and a bit emotionally), been emotionally drained, had a huge crash course in culture, was at my wits end many times, grew a lot closer to those who went with me, had some of the best days yet during the hardest times of my service so far, and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

The Youth Forum started on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and went the next ten days.  Due to the start time we had to be in Gaborone on Friday to travel to Kgagodi where the forum was (about 1 hour from Palapye).  And since I can’t make it to Gabs from my village that quickly I had an excuse to go to Molepolole and see other volunteers on Thanksgiving before going to the forum.  So I still got to have a pseudo-American Thanksgiving courtesy of John and Carol Chicago.  So huge shout out to them for that.  It was probably my favorite Thanksgiving ever.  It was also the strangest.  Instead of family it was just a bunch of us Peace Corps friends (most of those in Moleps and the other volunteers staying there on their way to the forum as well).  It was the Thanksgiving I probably ate the least at, but the company more than made up for it.  And since I had not seen anyone in two weeks it was really great to catch up.  But to all those who were at Thanksgiving here are a few references you might get: Becky and her RHA, Supriya being a SDF, Rachel and her hobbit house that causes her to get lost in bigger houses and holding hands. 

But I think that will be about all I need to write about Thanksgiving.  Let’s move on to the forum, shall we?  So we left Moleps that morning for Gabs to catch the transport from the Curriculum Department to Kgagodi.  Bus left late at about noon and we were with many of the other facilitators whom we had never met: YOHO, KBTS, BOFWA, etc.  But by the end of the week we all knew each other and were getting along great.  Especially with YOHO and KBTS.  YOHO is a Youth Health Organization and BOFWA is the Botswana branch of the International Planned Parenthood Association, no idea what any other groups stood for, but they all work with youth.  Oh, and just so everyone knows here is who all went to Youth Forum from our group: Bots 9-Abby and Paco, Bots 11-Nate, Supriya, Becky, Rachel, Julia, Alex, Caitlin, Corey, Karla, Sheburra, and me.  The first hint that something may not be properly planned with the Youth Forum came on the journey up.  We made two stops, once in Mahalapye and once in Palapye.  For anyone who knows those villages are close together, we did not need to stop at both, but it happens.

When we got to the Kgagodi Community Junior Secondary School (CJSS) we were staying at the real shock started to set in.  The accommodations were….less than appealing.  The females in our group ended up in a room filled with 16 people.  There were not 16 beds.  Some doubled up and some were on the floor.  So that created some stress for them.  For the male said we were in a less crowed hostel with just YOHO guys, but with a door that did not lock, or even really shut.  The place was bug infested to no end (and my bed was top bunk under the working light so I had a ton on it) and the shower facility was a concrete building with no doors or curtains for the “showers” (cement stalls you brought buckets into).  And they were quite filthy since they were being shared by 75 people.  Of course I did not have room to pack sandals so I had to barefoot it in there.  Yuck.  But no weird fungus was picked up so that is a point for me I guess.  Also, the second night in our room a bird got in since the door would not shut.  We spent 20 minutes trying to catch it with towels to release it so we could sleep.  During its time in our room it pooped on two things: my shoe and my sleeping bag. 

Peace Corps always teaches you to roll with the unexpected, and so far we were doing just that.  That first night there was a meeting about snakes and scorpions.  Due to the existence of poisonous snakes in that place we were told how to get to the clinic, and where to find drivers to take us or anyone who is bitten.  The next day we got more unexpected surprises.  We were on the schedule for World AIDS Day.  We were running World AIDS Day activities and we did not even know until we saw the program.  And we were supposed to have materials for an expo that we didn’t know what was happening.  So we were a little frustrated to say the least to be so unprepared and it made us look a little foolish, but throughout the week we planned and managed to put together an (at least from my perspective) impressive program for World AIDS Day and good spiel for the booth.  But as we learned later the best laid plans fall apart.  The one activity before ours on World AIDS Day ran two hours over and exhausted the kids so we had a lot of last minute alternations to make to our schedule, but it all worked out.  This whole scheduling and communication debacle though at least had one good point; it gave us a huge crash course in how the style of planning sometimes goes in this country. 

Now up to this point everything we had experienced was just more a huge inconvenience (and a bit gross) but that was only the crash course in culture part.  What came throughout the week that put us through our emotional paces was one woman, the woman running the forum.  For the sake of this blog let’s call her M.  She was the one who pushed me to my wits end many times over.  And I think she did that to most if not all of us who went.  And I don’t mean just the Americans.  On the bus ride back (which gets its own paragraph of ridiculousness later) everyone was mocking her.  Everyone.  She ran the Youth Forum the year before too and Abby informed us that while she was unpleasant then, but this was above and beyond this year.  The first instance of M’s unpleasantness was with Karla.  M wanted all of Peace Corps to do security work (it was only after getting to the forum that we found out that M just wanted us to serve food and patrol dorms-we defied that and interacted with kids as we felt we should).  But at that point we were willing to do security because everyone was supposed to; she just wanted us to coordinate the schedule.  Yet no one else wanted to do it, at all.  And when Karla asked M how many people she had to work with so she could schedule everyone the reply she got was an angry, “If you don’t want to do it just say.”  But in the end we actually didn’t do it, since no one else would help like they are supposed to. 

But the rest of the week continued in the same thread in regards to interactions with M.  At one point she insulted us in front of the entire group of facilitators in Setswana (since she knew we didn’t understand that well).  That dispute was over the fact that we were told to wear the shirts we were given for a certain day, and when we brought up (for the second time that week) that some of us had yet to get shirts she told everyone in Setswana just to ignore us since some of us were barely older than some of the kids at the camp.  That second part she also said about the YOHO group as well, so it wasn’t just us.  And as the week went on she got more and more rude (to everyone, but us in particular) to the point where should would not even great us, which is a cultural no-no in Botswana.  So needless to say M was frustrating, but at least she is not the norm in Botswana, and the fact that all groups suffered together made it a bit easier to handle.  Yet I will not be happy to work with her again if I find myself in that position.  But we made it work by eventually just ignoring her and working directly with the other facilitators.  So that not only made some great contacts for us, but also taught us that despite protocol there are certain times that you just push through no matter what so you can do what you came to do, in this case work with youth. 

So far I have covered the crash course and being at my wits end, so now it is time for the emotionally draining part of the experience.  That would be World AIDS Day.  I didn’t quite realize exactly how hard it would be to commemorate that day in Botswana.  First of all I was at a Youth Forum where some of the kids in that room were HIV positive.  That alone is sobering.  Especially in this country that has so many infected and affected people.  Yet I think the bigger problem for me was much more personal.  Back in the states I usually worked with various groups for commemorations on World AIDS Day.  And here in Botswana I am not able to do that for a variety of reasons that many of you can guess.  And that reminded me of my personal situation here, which is something that I try not to dwell on too much, because it is a hard thing to cope with.  But seeing all those kids lighting candles for World AIDS Day and knowing that everyone in that room at least knew someone (if not themselves) who has been affected by HIV/AIDS just made the commemoration that much more powerful and important.  And yet at the end of the day I was picked up by one of the kids who tried to teach me Kung Fu and how to dance.  So I learned that despite all of the problems and emotional hardships people are going through due to HIV/AIDS, there is always someone there to pick you back up, which is what makes this a great country. 

At this point we have reached more or less the second to last day of the forum, the day long field trip (the last day was just travel back to Gabs).  This was the day that I was literally scared for my life and got the physical bruising.  There was not enough transport to the location so some of us rode in the back of trucks.  M put 8 of us in the back of a single covered truck with only one thin pad on the floor for a 5 hour ride one way.  There was barely room for all of us to sit.  When we asked for water M refused to give us any bottles and instead gave 3 bottles to the driver.  Yeah.  My back and behind were bruised from sitting in that truck for so long.  And after we reached the site we only had enough time to eat lunch and turn around.  And at that point some of the vehicles just went back to school and not the second site so we ended up getting another of the volunteers with us (Abby was with the YOHO people in another truck on the way up).  By the way, a lot of the way was on a dirt safari road where we were going 100km/hour and the door to the back did not shut.  It was tied with a piece of stretchy cloth.  Like I said, I literally feared for my life.  At one point we were all shouting/singing Christmas carols to try and not think about the conditions we were being transported under.  But at the end of it all I was more frustrated by that day for the kids.  All of them (150) were packed into one bus which did not have enough seats and it never even stopped for them to use the bathroom.  Many of them that I talked to also felt that the trip was a waste due to how far it was when the Rhino sanctuary was much closer to Kgagodi.  But at least some of the younger ones enjoyed it, and I got to see the South African border so that was pretty cool too. 

And now for some of the best days I ever had.  Those kids at that forum were just amazing.  As I just said they are always looking on the bright side even after emotionally draining times.  They are just kids being kids, but something about the way they want to help you just makes you love them all the more.  Several of the kids worked on teaching us some Setswana, they would always come and see us during their free time to play, and they were the first ones to be able to tell all the Americans apart.  Some of them taught me some dance moves, we taught them games like Uno, red light green light, etc, I gave more piggyback rides than I could count, and I got to see a bunch of them do the chicken dance.  This is literally the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life.  At the end of the 10 days some wanted our phone numbers, many wanted pictures with us, and one boy even made for some of us sheets of paper with common Setswana phrases on it so we could have something to study.  There we were at a forum to help the youth and they went out of their way to help us.  I think that is why these were some of the best days I have had, despite it also being some of the most challenging. 

And what made this experience all the more special was going through it with some of the others in our group.  We are now even closer than before, whether it be the women group bathing and holding towels for each other behind a window, to just being there to support each other in our frustrations, and everything in between.  And of course the field trip transport I think sealed the deal on bringing us closer.  They always say in Peace Corps that as much as you try it is hard for people back in the states to completely grasp what you are going through.  They get an idea, but never the full picture, and try as you might you can’t explain it.  And that is what this forum was for us.  We had an intense experience that I am not even sure if our other volunteers could quite understand unless they were there.  I am sure they get the idea, and can picture it in their heads, but it is something else to experience it so I think I can say for all of us that went to the Youth Forum we now have a stronger and somewhat special bond, which when coupled with the amazing kids and connections with other groups made the whole frustrating time worth it for me.  I can honestly say if they invited me to go to another Youth Forum starting tomorrow I would be on a bus as we speak.  And that may be sooner than later since the next one is in Kweneng West (my district!) in April. 

And I gotta say it didn’t hurt getting back into Gabs so late on Monday that we got to stay in the capital at a nice hotel for half price and pamper ourselves a bit with great food and FIRST SHOWER SINCE SEPTEMBER 16th!!!!  I took 3.  Bucket bathing just is not quite the same as showering.  Yet I never want to have such a frustrating time getting back to Gabs ever again.  Now we come to the journey leaving Kgagodi, which was fraught with problems.  We left at 10:30 from Kgagodi and did not get back to Gabs until 7:30.  For those of you doing math that is 9 hours.  The trip usually takes about 4-5 depending on stopping.  So I already described the field trip transport going 100km down a dirt road.  Well the bus that went on that trip (that also transported the facilitators back to Gabs) did the same.  And it bent the axel.  Yet instead of fixing that they just put a new tire on and put us on our way.  Needless to say the tire on the bent axel went flat about 45 minutes in.  The bus was swerving all over the road (for most of the trip) and we just kept patching the tire or replacing it.  We stopped completely about 3-4 times to work on the tire and for the rest of the trip we were just driving really slowly.  When we called M the first time the bus broke down she just told us (PC and all the other groups) that it was our problem and there were no vehicles to help us.  At that point Julia and Becky hitched out of there and the rest of us waited for the bus to get fixed.  We should have followed.  They made it to Gabs by 4 at least.  Due to the bus breaking repeatedly and after one game of road-side Scrabble we finally made it to Mahalapye (the first town we hit since leaving the forum).  When we made it to Mahalapye they were going to see about fixing the bus again, so the PCVs jumped off, flagged down the public bus to Gabs and were finally in smooth sailing for the rest of the time.  And of course after we left M finally showed up, apologized, and gave people money for public transport.  But we were just happy to be on a reliable bus so we didn’t care. 

But in a nutshell (and yes compared to how long Youth Forum felt 4 pages of word document is a nutshell) that was Youth Forum.  Except for one last little story that is, that I purposely saved for the end.  So I mentioned earlier that someone (John Otterbach) gave me a few nicknames.  And if you were paying attention I also mentioned that there were poisonous snakes and scorpions in Kgagodi.  Well one of the snakes up there is the black mamba, aka basically the deadliest of all snakes.  Well one night some of the facilitators were hanging out at a party at one of the ministry housings on campus.  Karla and I were heading back early and Shaolyn (from Min. of Health) called us over to use Karla’s phone light.  He shone it over to where he saw something in the yard and it was a black mamba.  First of all they aren’t really black; the tongues are which is what gives them the name.  Well Karla held the light and Shaolyn from a distance threw an empty beer bottle at it attempting to kill it.  Well it didn’t kill it and just kinda pissed off the snake.  You can tell it was pissed because when snakes are mad they stand their ground, or worse chase you when you run.  If it was scared it would have slid away, but it didn’t.  So at this point I did probably the stupidest thing I have ever done.  I picked up a big rock, and instead of throwing it at the snake I got close to it and beat it to death with the rock (making sure to hit the head to it couldn’t snap at me if I hit the body).  But yes, I killed a black mamba while being within arm’s reach of it, hence the nicknames.  And I think I can hear many people taking a collective gasp and wondering what is wrong with me, so I will just end it here for now. 

Talk to you all soon!

P.S. Merry Christmas early in case I am not on again soon.
P.P.S. Happy birthday to Hinkle, Brandon, Hodge, Nate, and Yami!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An ode to duct tape:

Often called the all purpose tool,
Whoever said that was no fool.
You aided me as can be seen,
By helping me attach window screen.
You truly are my new best friend,
Yet I am sad that you are at your end.

Message from all this: send duct tape, I ran out.

A strange way to start a blog post I suppose, but I needed to express my new love of duct tape.  It has helped me control the heat in this village.  So I managed to get to site just less than two weeks ago, so it seemed a good time to do a quick update on some of the new things in my life.  First of all driving into the village I got to see two wild ostriches.  Still no lions yet, but I am hoping sooner or later. 

Moving in was…well a huge pain to say the least.  I had the keys to my house for days, and when I finally got there the place was just filthy.  The keys I had were the ONLY keys, so that meant no one had cleaned the place since the old volunteer left.  So after storing my stuff at another teacher’s house (where I was going to sleep originally) I made a huge effort of cleaning that place so that I could move in that night.  And I was successful.  It still took almost the entire weekend to get everything unpacked and arranged how I liked it, but it is finally a place I am proud to call home, despite all of the ghetto rigging I have done.  I have shoved a couple puzzle books that I finished under my front door since the gap is big enough for mice to crawl in.  I also have cut up an old mosquito net and used my new best friend to affix it to the walls to make screens.  This allows me to keep my windows open without fear of bugs so I can regulate the temp a bit. 

I can also say we have officially entered the rainy season.  As I am writing this I am currently trying to out noise the rain on my tin roof by blasting music.  This is the third storm in Kaudwane in a week, which kinda sucks since I have to leave the village tomorrow to a Youth Forum (although by the time I post this that tomorrow will be meaningless). 

I can’t say too much on my day to day yet, still trying to remember names of people and meet and talk to everyone.  So I don’t really have a routine yet, and the school closes in two days from now, so I will probably be pretty bored very soon.  So instead of giving boring details of these past two weeks here are two interesting cultural things I have encountered here.  I should note that these are not typical to ALL Botswana, but my location in a Khoisan settlement gives me some more culture stuff. 

First one:  The kids have some of the strangest nervous tendencies I have ever seen.  By far the best of these though was the hand thing.  I can’t think of a better name for it yet, but I will work on it, after I get over trying to laugh when they do it.  I saw it the first time the other day.  A kid didn’t know what to do and in his nervousness he put his hand up towards his face (not touching).  Next he stuck his tongue out and ran his hand down in front of it.  Once again, not touching, but still just strange.  Then he walked away without saying a word like it was the most normal thing. 

The other one was explained to me by one of the other teachers.  Two students were wrapped up in blankets that their parents rushed over from home during the first of the big storms.  This is when I found out that it is part of the celebration of becoming a women.  First of all a girl will be in the house for seven days when it is her first menstruation and people will come and sing songs to celebrate her becoming an adult.  Then, during the first storm following she needs to be wrapped up because it is an old cultural belief that unless she is she will be a target for lightning strikes. 

Well that is my bit for now on attempting to impart some Botswana culture on America.  And expressing my love of duct tape.  Seriously, send tape.  Any kind too, I am almost out of scotch tape for putting stuff on the walls.

P.S.  I wrote this two weeks ago, but was at a ten day youth forum, the blog post on that will be ridiculously long and full of great stories, so be ready for that in a few days./weeks

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Blood oaths, mince meat, diamonds, Somali pirates, doppelgangers, and euchre, OH MY!

I solemnly swear I am up to no good.  Oh wait, that was the Harry Potter one, oops.  Well as far as I know maybe that is the Peace Corps oath.  I decided to start this one with talking about the future instead of the past, because the future (aka this coming week) is very exciting.  If you haven’t guessed by now, this Wednesday is one of the most important days in the life of a PCT.  The last.  On Wednesday I will no longer be a trainee and will be sworn in as a volunteer, finally getting that new title of PCV.  And as far as I know it isn’t really a blood oath, but knowing my luck I will find a way to cut myself on something that day with my klutziness. 

And now let’s rewind the past few weeks.  And because I already started ahead of the present anyway, let’s go with the most recent.  Yesterday (and the night before) constituted literally the longest day I have ever had in Botswana so far.  And I thought waiting at the immigration office a month ago was bad.  But at least it was all for a good cause.  We hosted a thank you party yesterday for all our host families to try and repay a bit of their kindness these past few months.  Considering the time of year, and the goal of showing off some American culture we decided to throw a Thanksgiving celebration (with some minor twists based on food availability). 

One group of people did a great job decorating, including turkeys made of paper hands, carrots, and fat cakes (they are as delicious and bad for you as they sound).  Basically they are just fried dough, but they do something that makes them taste wayyyyyyyy better.  But I better get back on track before I start drooling on my laptop.  They also made a map of the US and we all put where we were from.  There was an entertainment committee that put on a skit about Thanksgiving, did thank you songs, and the best video I have ever seen and I really hope Brandon (the amazing IT whiz who put it together) will give us all a copy.  And the rest of us were cooking.  Hence the long day.  We made a carrot salad, mixed vegetables (frozen bags), stuffing (amazing job John and Carol Chicago on that one), mashed potatoes, rice (just in case we ran out of food), sugar cookies, apple crisp desert, and meatloaf.  Yeah, meatloaf.  Not Thanksgiving per say, but still pretty American (plus birds would have broken the budget).  So Jan and I were in charge of making meatloaf (enough to feed 200 people).  Everyone seemed to like it, but as you know I can’t attest to the taste, and everyone loved the irony of me cooking 50 pounds of meat.  All in all I think we spent about 13-14 hours in the kitchen between prep, cooking, and cleaning.  So almost like pulling a double shift back in my old Subway days.  And the most important part (and huge respect to the entire cooking staff-Jan, Julia, Supriyah, Rose, John, Carol, Margie, Cassie, Ashley, and everyone else who lent a hand in cooking, prep, and cleaning), we got done ahead of schedule.  Go team!

And making the prep night even longer was that earlier in the day we had a field trip to the Jwaneng Diamond Mine.  I got to see where girl’s best friend, and man’s biggest expenditure, comes from.  The Jwaneng mine is actually the world’s richest mine in terms of the large amount of high quality diamonds it produces.  Plus the pit for the mine is just massive.  And they are expanding it.  It was an interesting little tour and considering how much of Botswana’s economy is based on diamonds it was socially interesting to the backbone of the economy essentially.  They wouldn’t let us into the area where they sort the diamonds from the ore, and sorry, but no free samples.  In fact security is so tight in the mine grounds (even just walking around the pit) that if you don’t work for Debswana (DeBeers and the government of Botswana’s joint company) you are not allowed to bend over.  No picking up anything.  Even anything you drop, someone has to pick it up for you.  But they took us into a “vault” which was more a tourist spot, but we got to see some very high quality diamonds from the mine, so all in all a great little field trip. 

Now before anyone asks (and I am sure someone already did) I did not actually see a real Somali pirate.  We got to show the Botswana another great American tradition, Halloween (but minus the candy and less slutty costumes).  I only say less of the slutty costumes since Corey decided to dress as a commercial sex worker.  Cassie was the Somali pirate in question and I think she probably stabbed me at least once with her fake dagger.  I was a Tuck Shop.  Think 7/11 but smaller, and built at the edge of the person who owns it’s yard.  So basically I had a bunch of cell phone airtime, pop cans, and such taped to me.  Nate came as Quailman.  Although the best costumes go to the doppelgangers.  Karla dressed up as Corey, Alex as Julia (she even shaved part of her head for the costume), Julia as Carol Chicago, and my personal favorite Ashley as Brandon.  Everyone got a huge kick out of seeing “themselves” and for some people it took a little while for them to figure it out.  All in all, one of the best Halloweens yet (although I did miss your party Aunt Jackie). 

And besides all of this, the rest of the past few weeks have been the normal day to day stuff.  Although there have been a lot of cards played.  I learned bridge from John and Carol Oregon, taught euchre to Nate, Mia, Lynn, John and Tracy (although John just needed a refresher), Carol Oregon, and Dominque.  So now when at least some of us get together I can get my euchre fix on.  Although it isn’t quite the same as playing with Ryan and Katie via skype, but I am sure we can figure that out sometime in the next few years. 

But yes, this is also my last blog post from training and from Kanye.  Since I leave Thursday I will not be back online until I hit my site (and still no idea if the school has internet), but at the very least I can get on when I go shopping.  Starting Thursday I will be in a town of 450 people working with the Khoisan people, so as soon as I can I will let you all know how that is going.  BTW, my 2 room house with no water or electricity is on a church compound.  So with that in mind it is contact information time!  I already posted most of this on fb, but just in case here is a central location for it all.

Cell: 73916784  (not sure of the country code)
Mailing address:
Adam Hii
Kaudwane Primary School
P.O. Box 526

And finally, happy early birthday to Aunt Shirley, and Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Over the hill with training

Only 3.5 weeks of PST left!  That’s right, training is winding down at this point, and we have all made it well past the midpoint.  In the past two weeks I have had tests, saw a coronation, and left Kanye for a week to shadow another volunteer.  So needless to say it has been a busy couple of weeks. 

Most of training two weeks ago was spent agonizing over the practice LPI (language proficiency interview) and the other round robin tests we had on the core competencies of PST that we were supposed to know by that point.  And those exams all happened Thursday morning.  I still don’t know quite how the LPI went (we find out on Monday I think).  Even though it was just a practice it did have a lot of people on edge.  Although that morning was not quite the best so by that point I was already just ready to be done. 

In case you haven’t heard yet, I had my first injury in Botswana two Thursdays ago.  I was running with Julia when I caught a rock lodged in the dirt path we were on.  Needless to say I went down.  Had a few cuts on my elbow, bruised my knee, and took quite a bit of skin off parts of my left hand.  I am happy to say that the hand is nearly fully healed by this point and looks much better (although if you want to see a picture of the damage when it was fresh check fb).  I also managed to lose my keys that morning since I was too busy paying attention to my hand that I didn’t notice they fell out of my pocket.  When I got home I had to sprint back to find them, but alas, no luck.  On the lighter side I am sure the people of Kanye were wondering why a lekgowa (white person) with a bloody hand was furiously running through the streets and got a good laugh out of it.  And luckily there was a spare key, so really this experience was ok.  I learned that I can clean a wound with running water in the house and just using a bucket.  J

The day after the LPI and my spectacular hand fiasco we were invited to the coronation of the Kgosi of Kanye.  Now each ward in Kanye has a Kgosi (which is a chief btw), but this was the main Kgosi of the entire village.  We got to see the coronation tradition of adorning him with the skin of the leopard that he killed weeks earlier.  And the entire village pitched in to give him many cattle and a new truck.  The event lasted about 5 hours, hand some interesting dancing at the beginning, but alas, my Setswana is not good enough to tell you all that happened.  But it was a VERY high profile event.  The American ambassador came.  Many members of the government of Lesotho were present (the Kgosi’s mother is from Lesotho).  Ambassadors from Germany and other countries were present.  And the President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama Ian Khama, came to the event since he is also a chief from another village as well as the President.  It was incredibly to see him and other old presidents of Botswana were in attendance as well. 

And then after all this was over we got a “week off” from training.  We all went in separate directions (for the most part, because some volunteers did host two trainees) for the week on Shadowing.  Basically we were placed with current volunteers in the country and got to see how they live their day to day lives.  I ended up going to Rakops which is in the middle of the country, north of the Kalahari Game Reserve, to stay with Jeremy Hardy.  Fun fact: he is also from Michigan so that was pretty cool.  It takes about 9-10 hours to get from Kanye to Rakops and you need to change busses in Gaborone.  So in the past week I had nearly two full days on a bus.  But it was totally worth it.  Sure Rakops is in the middle of nowhere, but we had a great time and actually did a lot.  I helped out with the groundbreaking and putting up of some posts to attach shade netting to for the garden his organization is making.  We conducted a focus group at the Community Junior Secondary School, presented at a workplace wellness workshop on the importance of volunteering, and I got to meet many of the people he works with.  But I also got to see that many days in the average PCVs life can also have a lot of down time.  So that was good to know that I should not go into site expecting to be busy all the time.  While I was in Rakops we also battled the electricity being out the first night (although he only has an extension cord from the neighbor with one plug anyway), and the water being out quite often.  But all in all it was fantastic and I would do Shadowing again in a heartbeat.  Probably the best and most useful week of training yet.  But it is kinda good to be back in Kanye and see all the Bots 11 that I haven’t seen all week and hear how their experiences were. 

And I want to wrap this up with a few important date announcements.  First of all happy belated birthday to Aunt Jackie, Grandma, and Alex Wolf.  Sorry I was not able to contact you on your birthday exactly, but I did remember it happened and will try very soon.  In the same line of thought, happy early birthday to both Liz Beam and Erika Hallatschek (yes I actually know your last name finally) since I know yours are very soon.  And also, next weekend I will at least be putting on FB my site placement since we find those out Friday afternoon.  In just a few days I will know where I am spending the next 2 years.  Although I regret to report that I will not know my permanent address until after I get to site and rent a PO Box.  Which I will do ASAP and let you all know my address.  And since mail takes a few weeks, if anyone was planning to send me anything, I would like to ask you to wait until I have my permanent address since if you send it now I might not get it before training is over.  I already have quite a few letters nearly ready to send out, but I am waiting till I am at site so that way they will have my return address.  And people will get them closer to Christmas. 

Ok, that’s about it for right now, lots of excitement happening over here (even if it doesn’t seem like it, but to at least me it is all exciting).  I don’t think I will do another one of these until the very end of training, so expect it in about 3 weeks.  Or so.  We’ll see.

Go siame.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happy Independence Day!!!

First of all I should preface this by saying that Botswana Independence Day was actually Friday, but since this is when I am getting around to accessing the internet I am still using it for a title.  Also, don’t get used to blog posts being this close together, but we had a few interesting things happen this week, and I wanted to get it out there before I forget.  And I am sure some of you know just how bad my memory can be at times.  J

Monday night was the kick-off to World Tourism Day which was Tuesday.  We were guests of honor at the Kgotla that night for some festivities.  And I can officially say that after that night I have officially and willingly lost all dignity in front of at least 200 Batswana.  We were mostly watching, but at one point the Emcee asked our group to perform a traditional American dance as part of the cross cultural exchange.  There were about a dozen of us that got up the courage to do (although I apologize to Caitlin for dragging her up there), and of course the ONLY thing we could think of was the Macarena.  So yeah, we did the Macarena for hundreds of people.  Like I said, lost my dignity, but at least it was fun. 

At the Kgotla there is also a tradition where the men at one point all meet at the head of the Kgotla and eat seswaa together.  For those of you unfamiliar with seswaa it is called pounded meat in English.  And this is a loose term.  There is not just meat, but bones, gristle, probably intestines too all mashed together.  Not the most appealing thing.  The Kgosi (chief) got us all to come up on stage to join in this tradition.  My original plan, give my meat to my neighbor.  Well I got lucky enough to be chosen to serve the seswaa to all the men at the head of the Kgotla.  So I was serving chiefs, our PCTs, and all the other Batswana.  I know that some people got pictures of this event, which was, well unique.  The seswaa did not really sit well in anyone’s stomach for the most part.  Once I got done serving everyone the Kgosi gave me some meat to eat, right into the palm of my hand.  I tried to say I wasn’t hungry, but hey, the chief tells you to eat and you at least take a bite.  After that I slipped the rest into Nate’s bowl.  But hey, for a while I was probably the most popular guy there since I was handing out the food.  I definitely felt immersed in the culture, and that is what I came here to do, so I can’t complain, it was at least a fun and enlightening experience. 

Also this week we went to Gabs to fill out our immigration papers.  So guess what?  I am now officially allowed to be here for the two years in the eyes of the Botswana government!  Hooray for the small victories.  And then as I said above, this Friday was the celebration of 45 years of Independence for Botswana.  It is amazing when you look around and see all that the country has you realize how impressive of a job they have done, especially for only 45 years of independence.  I know that in America we could never have made these kinds of strides in such a short time.  We celebrated with an easy day of training and then a visit to a cultural site near Kanye with a picnic lunch.  Plus a bunch of people made a dance circle with some of the LCFs, so staff and trainees got to cut loose a little bit, which was a lot of fun. 

Yesterday we had the Diversity Day session in the morning with some awesome volunteers from Bots 9.  I can easily say it was the best session of training we have had so far, and I want to thank them all for coming and doing that with us.  All I can say otherwise is that I feel like I learned a lot about my fellow trainees and feel closer to them after the session, so it was a really positive experience, and I only wish we had it even earlier.

Other than that it was just a normal, packed week of training.  Not this coming week, but the week after, we go on shadowing where we stay with a current volunteer in there village so we get a better glimpse of day to day life, so that will be interesting to see.  Also, don’t expect an update until at least after the shadowing week is over.

Well, that is about all I have to say for now.  OH!  And check fb for pictures, I am going to try and upload a bunch today hopefully.

Tsamaya ka kagiso (go in peace)

Adam “Thato” Hii

P.S.  Major shout out to Ben Stoltman.  I got my first letter this week and it was from him.  Was a major pick me up. 

P.P.S.  Also like to say thanks to all the people who either helped our watched my first haircut in Botswana.  Especially Rose and Carol for their marvelous work with a razor.  I gotta say it takes used to getting used to short hair, it is probably the shortest it has been in about 5 years or so.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Welcome to the Peace Corps, Botswana, Bots 11, and Kanye!

Well this is the first time I have been able to blog since leaving for Philadelphia to the Staging Event.  I am actually writing this at night so tomorrow when I have internet I can just hopefully copy and paste it online.  So even though this title sounds like a lot of welcomes for just a little over a week, believe me when I say it feels like at least a month ago.  I have met some amazing people so far, many other people who I don’t even remember the name of, and have started a crash course in Setswana. 

Before I get into the details of everything I would like to let everyone know that internet access is limited.  We have it at the training center, but I am refusing to haul my laptop there every day, so at most I will do it once per week.  I only have managed to get online two days in a row because some of us went to the internet café since training ended early yesterday.  So don’t expect to see me online that often.  There is a 6 hour time difference between here and the East Coast and I need to be home by dark (PC rules), and dark is about 6:30/7pm with training ending around 5.

But anyway, onto the important stuff!  First of all Philadelphia was a very short stay over.  It was basically time for making sure all of our forms were completed, and to get us introduced just a little more to Peace Corps in general and of course to the other members of Bots 11.  Bots 11 means we are the 11th group of volunteers to come into the country since the Peace Corps returned in 2003, not that we were invited in 2011. 

And on that note, let’s meet some of the other Bots 11 volunteers.  As there are 35 of us, it would be a bit hard to do in one post, so if anyone from Bots 11 reads this and doesn’t see themselves mentioned I swear you will show up sooner or later. ;)  In terms of general statistics we have 27 females, 8 males, and 4 married couples.  There are 4 or 5 people who just graduated within this past year, teachers, child psychologists, IT specialists, and anything in between. 

First off we have the couples who have left houses, children, grandchildren, and more behind.  One couple (John and Tracy) have matching wedding ring tattoos which look amazing.  We are lucky to have Hayley and Michael after some complications with their last two assignments, so we almost missed out on getting to know them.  And the last two couples are John and Carol and…John and Carol.  That’s right, two couples named John and Carol, and three married men named John.  And if you thought that sounds small world well it is about to seem a little smaller.  John and Carol from Illinois actually know where Gardner is, which was stunning in itself, but even more so John lived in Salamanca, Spain for an entire year in the 80s so it is great to have someone to share that with.  And the other John and Carol are from Oregon.  John was actually a PCV in Panama in the 60s so this isn’t his first time around the block. 

I have met a couple of people who will be more than willing to nerd out with me on Lord of the Rings, Moulin Rouge, and the like.  Well, Rose and Julia at least.  Julia even has an awesome tattoo around the collarbone area that reads “All that is gold does not glitter.”  We already have some plans to swap the book around since I have it, and watch the movies.  Julia also did nearly the same area of study in college as I did down to the Latin America focus so we spent about an hour today walking back from the internet café talking LA politics.  There is a girl from Grand Haven named Cassie who actually was in another country for the Peace Corps, but the country needed to be evacuated so she is now with us here in Bots.  And I found out that we both know Claire O’Neil, so this was another small world moment of the trip.  There are 3 people from Philadelphia, one of which was my roommate in Philadelphia and Gabs (Gaborone) named Nate.  He is recently out of college, as in just a couple years ago, and he brought a guitar with him.  So with him, and the 4 or 5 others who brought instruments we might have a little Bots 11 band. 

As part of training we are doing our language lessons in small clusters.  I am with two other people, Brandon and Jan.  Brandon is 30 and from Missouri where he focuses on social media development and IT.  And Jan has just retired from having a private practice in psychology for 31 years.  So quite the range between the three of us, but it works well I think.  The clusters are created due to proximity to living in Kanye so both of them are only about 5 minutes from my house (once you know the streets and alleys a little better that is). 

The streets in Kanye are actually a perfect way to describe what I have seen in Botswana so far, and that is close.  The country is very large for the population, but everyone knows everyone.  And if you don’t you will meet them soon.  We had a host family matching ceremony the day after we got here and then spent the whole weekend without a training schedule just living with the host families.  I was one of the most amazing ceremonies I had ever attended.  Everyone was joyful, the people were always smiling.  We had never met them before but they were ready and happy to take us in, and for nothing more than just a food basket to supplement their food during our time here.  I don’t know how many Americans I know that would take in people they don’t know for two months without pay, but the Batswana were willing to open their doors and hearts wide for us. 

Or anyone for that matter.  If you want to visit someone here all you have to do is go up to their house say a “Ko Ko” and wait for the “tsena (means come in)” and then you can stay and talk.  And you can do this whether you really know the people or not.  It is just absolutely stunning and fantastic.  I think we had about 20 to 30 visitors my first weekend here.  And when you pass people on the street you don’t ignore them.  You swap hellos, how are you’s, introductions, and the like.  The Batswana also love the effort of even just using as little Setswana as we know.  Julia and I were actually asked if we were fluent by a couple people simply because they were surprised a couple white 20 somethings were able to do the basic intros to a conversation.  I think this the best thing I have discovered about Botswana so far is that everyone is so close and loving.  I know that if I ever have any doubts about what I am doing I can just think about these people and how amazing they are, and I will be reaffirmed that they deserve all the help they can get and then some. 

Well on this word document I am already hitting the two page mark so I better get on with talking about where I am living and what I am doing.  First of all Kanye is a village about an hour outside Gabs.  And village is a loose term, it is quite big.  I am living with 4 others: Isaac, Mavis, Tsephan, and Kutlwan Sentle.  They are the father, mother, 12 year old boy, and 9 year old boy.  There is also a daughter but she is abroad for her Master’s degree.  The last name Sentle means good, and it fits them to a T.  The two boys have been teaching me Setswana, and the mother and father have made me feel like I am a part of the family.  She is gone during the week teaching at a primary school in another village, but she comes back on weekends at least, if not once during the week.  We have a dog named Bobe.  I was excited since this is my first time having a pet.  He comes up to me everytime he sees me (partly because he gets table scraps and therefore thinks I always have food for him since I haven’t been able to finish a plate yet, and not because of taste, there is just so much food.)

There are 4 buildings to the house.  The main building has a living room, kitchen, the parents’ room, and my room.  Tsephan and Kutlwan are in the second building along with the bathroom.  A third building is storage, and the last is the pit latrine.  A new pit latrine and bathroom building is in the process of being built.  Now for those of you who don’t know, a pit latrine is the fancy way of saying a hole in the ground.  And by bathroom, get any idea in your head out of it.  This is a room with a rug, a plastic bin that is about mid shin deep on me, and if I lay down is only about from my toes to my knees.  We take bucket baths here which means you pour about one bucket of water in the “tub” that covers your ankles and you bathe with that.  It has been an experience but not a bad one, it has been rather interesting.  The one thing that took the longest to get used to is the lack of sinks.  The house has no sinks.  We do dishes in large bowls with water.  You brush your teeth by taking a cup with water out by the trees to rinse and spit.  Also, all clothes are hand washed.  And we have a satellite dish where they get shoes like 7th Heaven, Friends,  Dragonball Z, and the like.  This is pretty common (the satellite dish with no plumbing).  Yet there are many other volunteers that at least have sinks, if not bathtubs and toilets.  Yet even those with tubs are doing bucket baths too.  But it isn’t like the family is hard off; they don’t seem to want for anything.  It just makes you look at what you value in life. 

And finally onto a bit about what we have been doing for the first week + in Bots.  We have been doing training at the education center at the front of town (right near where I live) which includes overview sessions, Setswana lessons, and many other topics.  We are there from 8:30-5 or so each day (with a few days out early).  So far this week has been mostly intro sessions, which is nice for easing us on, and we get some time to get to know more about each other.  For example one day at lunch a bunch of us played Set, which I hadn’t played in years.  John and Carol Munson brought it, and we had quite the game with Becky (the only volunteer younger than me, or maybe one of two), Jan, DeeDee, Celia, and a few others either joining in or watching. 

Friday and Saturday were pretty big days though.  On Friday we started with gardening lessons.  And we are helping put in a garden at the home health care center for our practice.  We all dug and prepared 5 plots that day.  Supriyah, Nate, John Munson, Z-man (one of our Motswana staff members), Caitlin, and I worked on the 4th of the 5 plots primarily, with all of us hopping to others and others hopping over to the one we primarily worked on.  It really had the full teamwork spirit going on.  The after gardening we changed and went to the Kgotla to meet the Kgosi.  A Kgotla is a ward meeting that happens once or twice a month and the Kgosi is the chief of the ward.  This was  a great honor and many community members came to the Kgotla. 

On Saturday we spent the morning back at the Home Health Center finishing up our gardening, including planting.  I actually remembered my camera for this so I got some great shots of Dana and Dominique dancing, Caitlin teaching people exercise poses, Finda in some hardcore action with the hoe, and many others.  First time I have gotten pictures of anyone yet, and of course we are all dusty and gross.  After the morning gardening we had the day free.  There was a wedding at Corey’s house as his cousin was getting married, so some of us went to that to see the way the Batswana do weddings (well at least the receptions.)  If I remember right it was Lynn (child psychologist), Rose, Becky, Caitlin, Alex, Jan, Supriyah, Ashley, and myself all went.  John and Tracy showed up later, and one of the Bots 8 volunteers who is in town to help us with training for a few days went as well.  The wedding party was great.  The bridal party had choreographed dances in and out of the tent, yard, and for nearly everything.  And this is normal btw.  There was a mountain of food, but also a mountain of people.  Unlike weddings in the US, people can just show up to weddings here.  And nearly everyone is invited to begin with.  Later in the evening they started to clear up the tables and such because the later night party is more dancing, drinking, and such, but as we had to get home before dark, we ducked out before this happened.  But it was a great way to spend the day.  And I hope you all forgive me for waiting a few days to post this, but I wanted to have a few more stories and some pictures to go with it.

Ok, and with that I just cannot write anymore for tonight.  If you made it this far, congrats I will give you a cookie, a sticker, or something when I get back to the states for reading this looooooooooooong post.  But like I said, the week feels like at least a month.  And here are a few pictures of my home and from the road between Gabs and Kanye.

Salang ka kagiso (stay in peace/peaceful-the ng makes it plural)

P. S. I know I am throwing a lot of names out there, but I am hoping that when I mention people later on you all will at least have just a vague idea of who I am talking about.  Even just to the point of “Oh, that’s another volunteer.”  

Monday, September 12, 2011

44.5 hours left

Well here is my first post this month and the last post I will make from this side of the Atlantic.  I am in the middle of my final preparations for leaving.  Which include waiting for some laundry to get done, and absolutely nothing.  I have decided to spend my last day before orientation just relaxing.  Oh, and having the ultimate nerd-off is Erika.  :)

I have been packed for weeks since I came to stay with my dad for the past couple weeks before leaving so that was one care I did not have to worry about.  And all in all I have not been nervous about this at all.  Maybe it will hit once I get on the plane, but as of right now I am very calm about the idea of spending the next two years in Botswana.  Much calmer than I was about spending 3 months in Spain.

So tomorrow morning I fly out for orientation where I will finally get to meet all the other members of the Bots 11 group face to face.  And then on Wednesday we get bused to JFK and then off to Africa.  In case anyone hasn't gotten it yet, here is my address during the two month training (with a permanent address to follow later).  PCT Adam Hii, c/o Peace Corps Botswana, Private Bag 00243, Gaborone, Botswana.

See everyone in a few years (minus the Bots 11 group who I can't wait to meet tomorrow)!  And the next time this is updated I will finally be in Botswana!!!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Staging Details!

So I just got back from camping with my aunt and uncle today as was treated to an amazing surprise in my email.  We finally got our staging information for the quick orientation before we leave the country.  Our group will be spending 1 day in Philadelphia on the 13th of September and then on the 14th we fly out of JFK airport for Botswana.  Our flight leaves at 11:15am and then after a 15 hour flight we land in South Africa on September 15th.  While the thought of a 15 hour flight should be painful, instead I am incredibly excited.  Finally knowing the flight details just makes this so much more real.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

These past few weeks have been what I consider to be a bittersweet whirlwind.  I'm leaving Grand Rapids this Friday to spend the rest of my time before departure seeing family in IL and NC.  Saying goodbye to people is much harder than I thought it would be.  But I keep reminding myself that it is really only goodbye if I let it be.  There is still mail, and of course seeing people when I get back.  And it is in that spirit of continued relationships that I wanted to use this blog post to share my address when abroad (well at least the address I am using during Pre-Service Training until I get my official placement in country).  So if anyone wants to send me mail during the first couple months you can reach me at:
Adam Hii, c/o Peace Corps Botswana, Private Bag 00243, Gaborone, Botswana).

Other than visiting friends most of my time has been spent packing and I am proud to say that in that regard I am nearly ready to leave for Botswana (I still have a few things to get yet, but I am almost there).  Language lessons have also taken a back seat to packing and such.  Yet I know once I am in IL I will have more free time so I plan to get back to the grind on that very soon.

And now I have a quick request to you all out there.  I need to update my address/some way of contacting people for when I am gone.  So if you could be so kind as to give me a mailing address/updated email/skype/etc. I would greatly appreciate it.  And if you don't feel like doing it in a comment you can always send me an email or fb message.

Thanks for everything Grand Rapids and all of the wonderful people you have brought me in contact with.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Wrapping things up

Dumelang borra le bomma,

Well it is now the start of July and that means the second to last full month before departure.  I can't quite say 75 days since it is still 76, but eh, close enough.

While this is only my second post since starting this blog, I still don't have too much to report on departure and such as we have not yet received the details on that yet, but once we do you can bet I will let you all know.  About the most I can report on at this point is the process of wrapping things up here in the states.  I have traveled abroad for an extended period in the past (3 months in Spain), but this time is completely different.  Being gone for 2+ years means I have a lot more to take care of before I leave.  As of Wednesday I finished with my summer job (thankfully), and I now have the rest of the time off to just enjoy myself, family, and friends.

I already have a lot planned out (try as I might to get free time, I just can't help but plan ahead, something I desperately need to work on) such as: a couple parties with friends here in Grand Rapids including my going away party, a few movie dates already figured out (Harry Potter!!!) and a week stay in Illinois in mid-July before the longer stay in August.  And I recently got my plane ticket out to North Carolina to see my dad, which is my last stop on the pre-departure journey (minus the couple days of staging of course).

In addition to all of this, the other part of wrapping things up is the dreaded concept of packing.  I have a small list going, but packing for two years of my life seems like a daunting task.  Although since I discovered that I can fit all my worldly possessions into one car load, maybe it won't be so bad, but I do need to buckle down and do it.  I decided to start with might possibly be the hardest part of packing, pictures.  I have a photo album that I bought in Spain that I had originally planned to use for some of my favorite pictures from there, but seeing as it is still lying around empty I am changing its purpose to hold pictures of family and friends.  While pictures on a computer or Facebook are nice and all, nothing can beat printed pictures in my mind.  This project will probably take a few weeks on and off in itself as I only have 40 slots in the small album and a lot of people and memories to try and fit.

I think the strangest part of this how wrapping things up concept is that while I am going through it I am watching both my roommates do it as well.  Ben has been working on getting letters of recommendation to apply for a Navy Officer position.  And Bethany is leaving the country 5 days before me to teach English in Japan.  All 3 of us are approaching this in different ways, but still all towards the same end, a complete and total change in our lives.

Right now the one thing I am not looking forward to is saying good-bye to everyone.  I timed this all in a way to where I can see my family last, but that means I have to say good-bye to friends sooner than I would like.  And then after that comes the inevitable goodbye to the family, and finally my dad.  Alas, such is life and these things cannot be avoided.  I am really grateful for the Conference Calls that some of us have been doing because it has helped me start to establish a support group that I can use in Botswana when all of the people I would normally turn to are an ocean away.  Also, this is the first time I will be doing a major trip without Bethany.  After going on every trip (minus one weekend at the end) with her while in Spain, and having more classes together than I can count, it is going to be a new experience not seeing her while abroad.  But at least I can still keep in touch with everyone via good ole fashion snail mail if nothing else (hint hint, you all should write me letters please :)

Other than all of this the language lessons are still going good.  Trying to double team the learning by using both the Peace Corps provided lessons and the Eurotalk CD my brother got me.  Hopefully in a few weeks I will be comfortable enough with simple verb conjugation to make sentences, but as of right now it is mostly just small phrases and vocab.  So maybe on the next blog post I can show off a bit ;)

But until then, ke tla go bona!


P.S.  Wow this turned out longer than I thought, and here I was assuming I had nothing to say.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

100 days till departure

Dumelang borra le bomma,

I decided after receiving the invitation to serve in the Peace Corps as part of Bots 11 that I would have to blog about this experience so that way I can keep in touch with all my family and friends in the US.  Considering that today officially marks the last 100 days I have in the states I thought this would be a good a time as any to start this off.  As such, don't expect too much activity out of this blog as of yet (it will mostly be preparation stuff at this point).

Right now I have been busying myself with trying to learn a few things in Setswana, and it is coming along thanks to the help of the Peace Corps provided language lessons and the Eurotalk program my brother got me for graduation.  I've also been reading the McCall Smith books that are set in Botswana (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series) and have finished 4 of them at this point.  So far though I think my favorite part of the preparations has been meeting my fellow volunteers.  We have started to get to know each other a bit through a Google Group, FB group, and a series of conference calls where we also practice a little Setswana.  From the FB group I learned that there are 34 people in Bots 11.  24 are Life Skills Volunteers, 6 Community Capacity Builders (CCBs), and 4 District Community Liaisons (DCLs).  My official job title is School and Community Liaison for Life Skills.

Other than that working on a packing list and a reading list.  So quick question, what books should I buy for the Kindle that I plan on getting?

Ke tla go bona,