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!!!!