Friday, December 30, 2011

A Gardeners Soul

“To dig one's spade into one's own earth—has life anything better to offer than this.” B. Nichols

“I wake up every morning, go outside to touch my garden—to feel it's leaves—to smell it's flower's-- to water and nurture—this is what makes me happy.” These are the words of my good friend Leah!

The day I walked past her house and garden, my mouth dropped in awe. Have I seen more beautiful, lush gardens before, absolutely, but there was something uniquely special in this land—something spiritual from someone's soul that grabbed me into stillness. Moments later, the most beautiful woman came to open the gate saying, “you are welcome.” She somehow got that I saw “her being” through her garden. Taking a good look into her eyes, and without words, we began walking her land. Green beer bottles were used for borders, old tires were painted which graced the entrance way, and used for decoration around plants and trees, sticks and limbs of trees were carefully placed for seating or for dramatic backdrops for other greenery, and stones, both large and small, were situated in a fen-shui manner—some were painted, others not—but there in her garden was a poetic and mysterious feeling of serenity and joy. The entire ambiance, and the nature of this woman was pleasing to the eye, and pleasing to the soul—It was, indeed, a piece of heaven! Thanking her, I left as quietly and as in awe as I came in.

Her name is Leah—biblical and beautiful! In the weeks to come, we slowly became friends. My admiration for what she has created made her laugh at times, but as our friendship grew, she invited me into her humble home, where again, I was stopped by the magic in her creation of bringing nature into one single room. Baskets and weavings from Zimbabwe, sticks that she made into works of art, skeleton parts from animals—all fit into an assembly that a museum would be proud to display. It was on this day that Leah put her hands to her heart and said, “I have very little, but I have my art, and my garden—nobody can take that away, so I guess I have a lot!” Not yet knowing her story, I knew that all her hurts were healed through her creation here.

Leah grew up in a family of 5 children with loving parents. She did not attend a University, nor was she encouraged to do something with her life. She did, however, receive love from her family which has given her the inner fortitude to combat whatever came her way. As a child, Leah would create things with rocks or painting—saying that she knew then that she had God given talent. At 26 years of age, Leah married, having 4 children of her own, though it was a brutal marriage, and a rough divorce. She came back to Mmathethe with nothing, and told me that her garden used to be more beautiful, but having left for several years due to the divorce, things fell apart. Now she is rebuilding her garden and her soul. Looking at her, she seems to know who she is, what her relation to the world is, and what to expect of it. Most others would have damaged psyche's from the stress, but not Leah—she had her talent, and her garden, to pull her through the rough times!

Willingly, Leah tells me that Africa is in her soul, and that she's proud to be an African. I ask her why that was, and looking up, she points and says, “there's art in our skies,” “people come from all over the world to see our nature, and our animals—yes indeed, I am very proud to be an African.” I then asked her if she were to pick anywhere in the world to visit, where would that be—Paris. Of course an artists' mind would pick Paris, even though she had never even heard of the Louvre, but with that, Leah put her arm through mine, and we pretend to be walking the narrow cobblestone streets of the left bank, sitting at a cafe having an espresso and croissant, beeming at the sight of the Mona Lisa, watching people as we sit on the steps of Notre Dame, and walking along the Sienne—admiring the lined statues, and in the distance, admiring the strength of the Eifle Tower. I was her eyes for our stroll through Paris, and her own eyes were filled with wonder for a moment in time. “But Tshepo, I will always come back to Africa!” “And you should Leah---to your own museum!”

After our trip to Paris, I took many photos of Leah's 3 daughters and 3 grandchildren who have been visiting for the holidays. Showing the photos to them on the computer was a thrill in itself. Somehow Africans go crazy for seeing photos! Later that afternoon, Leah called me, “Tshepo, look outside at the clouds—can you take a picture of them?” “Sure Leah, I'd be glad to photograph any art you see.” I looked outside to see huge cumulous clouds with bursts of sunshine in the vast skies, and through my lens, I sought to capture what Leah saw.

                    “Kiss of the sun for pardon,
                           Song of the birds for mirth.
                                 You're closer to God's heart in a garden
                                         Than anyplace else on earth.” D.F. Gurney

I Slept With WHO!

Relationships are a funny thing—some take the time to get to know the person—some don't care if they know 'em or not—some don't even do relationships. The Peace Corps warns us about relationships because of the HIV, as well as many other diseases and problems. Yet people fall in love, marry, or just have an experience that they'll probably regret later on. Me, well, I am in the “pause” of menopause, yet I think I just had an “experience” in a relationship. You know, when it's New Years Eve, and it's stormy outside, your in a foreign country, a rural village with more cows than people, things just get stirred. I've only known him for a week---Ok---don't jump out of your skin---don't put me on the gossip circuit---don't start calling me names---just let me explain!  My porch is covered by an awning, and last week it was windy and pouring, and the porch was flooded. At the time I didn't have my wild beast Keoki so I didn't care. So on this stormy night, I kept opening my door to see if Keoki was getting wet. Why I should even care is beyond me—people in Africa don't bring in Lion and Cows when it's raining, or their dogs for that matter. It's around 9pm and I've been up and down 3 times checking on him. He looked so cold---so lonely--actually, he was sound asleep for the first time all day on the nice cardboard boxes I made for him. But I woke him up and asked if he wanted to come in to share a glass of some nice South African wine with me, to keep us warm, and to celebrate the New Year coming in.  His ears perked! Hey sure, I've already told all my friends about the meat and chicken your giving me, their sure to be envious of South African wine. In he comes, tale a waggin---let's make a toast Keoki since it's almost the New Year---here's to a nice 2 year relationship and then we'll call it quits. Sounds good to me! He's so happy, and I bring him into my room not knowing what to expect. A little leary about this, I set down some card board for him and close the door because he'll rip up everything I have, which is virtually nothing—but still—it's all the nothing I have. He's ever so curious and through my mosquito net, he starts biting my toes. How romantic boy! Somehow he weasles his long nose under the net and climbs up on my bed, biting my arms, legs, blanket, whatever he can get a hold of. Hey, Keoki, your a little aggressive here—after all it's our first night together, can't you be a little gentle? He finally settles and plops right at the foot of my bed acting like he's king tut! An African dog sleeping with a Lekgoa! Wow! 10,9,8,...2,1—the ball has dropped, confetti is flying, people are kissing---and I'm sleeping with a dog in Africa! This is the weirdest New Years of my whole life!

At first it was comforting having a dog on my bed, then I looked at him and thought—what if he has to pee—what if he wakes up in a strange bed, with a strange women and decides to attack—what if he has a disease---what if he has a girlfriend---he's not even my type—he's so ugly! Yikes, what a BIG mistake I've made! Every move I make, he pops up---clearly, this is gonna be one of those long, regretful nights. I'm cracking though because I don't know what to do—his royal hyness looks so happy. The God's though are on my side, the rain stops, and I tell the dog I'm putting him back outside, but I'm now scared to open the door because there are always people lurking around and it's late. Getting him out of bed was not easy—I tell him that it's been great, but my parents are coming home soon and he's got to get out fast, so 1,2,3, I open the door, and guess who won't budge. Finally I shove him out, he turns back to look at me through the barred door...wondering if all white women are so fickle. See ya Keoki, I'll call ya sometime!

It's funny the things a Peace Corps Volunteer will do under such lonely and strange circumstances! My New Years resolution: I resolve not to sleep with strangers!

Happy 2012 to everyone!

P.S. The South African wine was delicious!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Whole Foods

When you're first starting out as a Peace Corps Volunteer, there's not much to do but integrate, read, and think--especially when your primary job is in the schools which have been out for 6 weeks on summer vacation.  Oh sure, we have this community assessment to do, but guess what--anybody whose anybody in this small village is also away having good holiday cheer with their cows at the cattlepost, or at their lands plowing and praying for rain.  So, which brings me to thinking about Whole Foods, affectionately known in the good old days as Mrs. Gooches.  I wish they would have kept that name, it's so catchy!  Anyway, going to Whole Foods was one of my favorite things to do, other than going to Asia of course, which tells ya how exciting my mid life was going!  I went nearly everyday, knew everyone there, sometimes I would just go to look at the beautiful and delicious array of fruits and veggies, or chat with friends who frequent there.  Fortunately, or unfortunately right now, in this current incarnation, I'm an organic health freak now living in a country that has the world's worst diet.  They put margarine, colorings, preservatives in everything and anything, even freshly made bread.  It makes me so sick that I can't even have a piece of bread, which is why I'm sitting here daydreaming about Whole Foods.

Going to the supermarket here--we'll call it Choppies--couldn't be more opposite from my Whole Foods experience---it's my least favorite thing to do.  There is no market in my village, so I have to take the dreaded kombie ride to either one of two towns.  No joke, the other day people were clammering and shoving me away to get on the kombie--you'd think they were running into Shea Stadium to see the Beatles.  It was awful, so in an act of desperation, I put the hook of my umbrella around someone's neck so I can get in.  Funny, the person could have cared less that I was trying to kill her for a dreaded kombie ride to the dreaded supermarket.  Finally, I'm here, in my least favorite place in the world, and Whoa, people are shoving me around, sticking their hands and bodies over me, around me, through me, just to get freakin' can of preserverative ladened whatever.  Come on people, how can you be so nice when talking in the villages, and you get in a kombie, or in a store in this case, and you turn into animals?  I just don't get it!  Onward to make my way to the veggie section, I close my eyes and pray that when I open them I'll be back in Whole Foods, where people are sane--they even say excuse me if bumped, they ask what you're making for dinner, they say hello, they are sooooo normal!  My eyes open and reality hits--I'm still in this god foresaken Choppies---maybe if I click my heals 3 times, Santa Clause (if there was one here) will zap me to Whole Foods.  Please Santa, it doesn't have to be as far as California, London will do just fine!

Groceries in hand, it is now time to check out, but this can be worse than actually getting your groceries.  I compare this to the kombie rides because today, I'm in line and someone puts their groceries in my basket--just like handing over a kid to ya on the bus.  Hey lady, whatta ya doing?  She looks at me snarling at her, and says, "hold this, I'll be back later."  Sure lady, whatever you say!  I see that people just take things out they really don't want and put them on the check out stand to sit there probably til closing, so I think I'll put her stuff there too.  It's finally my turn to check out, and I'm trying to get my stuff out as the checker is just staring at me--no hello, or how are you like they do at Whole Foods...just, let's get this over with!  I forget to weigh an onion, so it's 10 minutes til someone comes back to tell us how much the onion is--you would think she's start ringing up the other items while we wait, but no, the common sense factor is turned off today---next item, the checker yells out "does anyone know how much this costs?"  Of course nobody answers, and it's another 10 minutes finding the price of this. I look back at the people in the now longer line, and they all have the same expression on their faces as the checker---BLANK!  Ok, this is really fun...I wish someone would start yelling or something---how can they be so crazy in the isles, and on the check out line, so, well, so nothing!  Now the lady who put her groceries in my basket returns and shoves her way behind me, smiles at how neatly I threw her stuff on the counter.  "Where'd ya go lady, Tokyo?"  "Huh!" "Never mind."

It's finally over, but going outside of Choppies is also a fiasco with the so called Black Market selling potatoes and cabbage.  Yum!  I stop to take this all in and ask myself why on earth the PC didn't send me to Thailand with it's coconuts, vibrant markets, and gentle people I'll never know, but here I am resorting to fantasizing about Whole Foods coming to Botswana!

I wonder what my fellow PCV's have been thinking about this holiday season!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Keoki the Dog

"If your dog thinks your the greatest person on earth, don't seek another opinion."  J. Fiebig

They say that dog is man's best friend, and that statement couldn't be more true---feed it, love it, and wammo you have instant unconditional love!  I have had dogs growing up, though my adult life has been filled with cats, who always have had the last word, and were nice enough to let me live in their house.  When I came to Botswana, there was no way I wanted an animal to tie me down, besides, how fair would it be to keep and love for 2 years, then adios amigo!  The other day I went to visit the family in Kanye, who were just given 2 new pups from a neighbor.  Immediately, besides falling in love with the little devils, I grew a disdain at the lack of caring for animals, other than cows and goats, in this country.  The poor creatures are starved for affection, someone to talk to, rub their ears, and feed them.  These new pups live in a little fort outside, and mom gives it her yummy porridge.  I come in play with them, talk to them, and when mom turns her back, I pour them milk, and find anything I can that doesn't look like porridge.  Believe me pups, I ate the stuff for 2 months--now you're stuck with it the rest of your life, UGH!  The pups are so happy at this moment, but I cannot take them.  It would be unfair to domesticate them, besides this other crazy puppy, who was just left by someone around my neighborhood, has been hanging with a neighbor, though the dog has decided that he likes me better, and wisely has adopted me.  The neighbor asks if I want her kid thanks lady!  Yeah I once threw it a steak bone once, yeah I talked to it, yeah I pet it, yeah, why wouldn't it want to adopt me.  Now it was screaming at my gate, so the sucker I am, opened it and whalla...a pup is adopted.  I really didn't think it would stay, but the next morning the dog is peering it's head through the barred gated door asking, "mom, what's for breakfast?"  "Nothing, get out!"  The tail wags more--"ok, do you want your eggs scrambled or sunny side up?"  "Uh, how about soft boiled mom."  "Sure doggie, soft boiled it is, and maybe I'll join you!"  As we dine together, I realize that this pup needs a name, so I call him a good Hawaiin-Asian name, Keoki, that's good for an African dog don't ya think?  I like it!  He's skinny and scrawny, but has personality!  But the neighbors are a bit confused!  It's ok everyone, you'll get used to it!

So, I have a dog now---the God's obviously thought I needed one to guard me from my nightly intruders, so I'll love it in a detached way.  Here is what detachment looks like---I hitch to Lobatse, about a 35 minutes drive in the back of a pickup truck, scrunched over, and holding on for dear life so I don't blow away.  I run into another Volunteer who adopted two cats, and was shopping for cat food, so off we go to the store chatting about our new detachments.

Getting home was easier than going, and Keoki gets his first taste of real dog food, and the tail is whipping so hard out of happiness that it's giving me bruises on my legs.  I make a bed out of cardboard boxes for him on the porch, and he is smiling away!  Wow, a bed too!  This is the life!  It's dark now and the sky is almost white from the amount of sparkling stars.  I lay in my bed hearing Keoki growling at someone---the someone's feet run away, and I peaked out the window thanking my new best friend.  Tonight I slept like a puppy!


"Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!"

The holiday season is a time of gatherings, reflection, and hopefully a remembrance of others.  It's a time to look back on the year and be thankful for what was received.  This was a year of big change for me, and now being in Africa this season as a Peace Corps Volunteer, it definitely conjures up different images than I'm used to.  I remember moving to California and it never feeling like the holidays because of the weather, though I always held onto the images of the falling leaves and the first snow fall.  My aunt Eileen always made a point to call me when the snow fell because she knew the joy it brought to me.  Since XMAS falls in summer here in Botswana, it's not the snowy dark wintry night, but sunshine and blooming flowers that grace the holiday season.  Traditional customs differ than those I'm used to, and there won't be the smell of our baking cookies, nor our homemade mushroom and barley soup for all to share.  The sight of brights lights around town, and sound of presents being open are only in my minds eye this season.  Instead, African harmonies will be heard throughout the village a few days before XMAS, and reality will be about the poverty that surrounds me, the lack of visual decorations, as well as the love that's all around.  It's a good time of year to become acquainted with new traditions, with that comes a realization that Africans hold an abundance of old wisdom, some of which I plan on soaking up.  People use branches of trees for home decorations, and their customs include the slaughtering of cows and goats for their big holiday feast.  How wonderful to be so connected to the natural resources in our backyards!  Neighbors in the village all want to share their tradition of going to hear choirs sing and compete, and as we share stories, I can only hope that the cultural gaps keep adding richness to both our lives.  So with a different set of eyes this year, I'll embrace the new world I'm living in.

The day after XMAS is known as Boxing Day, and it is celebrated as the day to relax---how great--give the men who killed the meat, and women who cooked it, a long day to kick back and digest the entire cow.  Boxing day is actually a holiday!  We should do this in the USA---just leave the leftovers out, watch a little football, and leave the wrappings from presents all over the living room because it's really the sweetest site!  AAh, that sounds so good, but let's get back to Africa--I can't resort to sentiment right now or else I'll cry.  Yup, the real reason to cry is not being able to watch football!  How's that for sentiment!  Ok Africa, I'm back---oh yeah, some of the kids around have asked about the holidays in America.  Maybe I shouldn't tell them the truth, yet they are as starved for information, as much as I am starved for Chinese food. They say they wish they could be in the States so they too can get presents, but they may be better off not having the abundance we have. Yesterday a friend came over to tell me she is applying to Harvard and Yale next year so she can get a good education and come back to help people in Botswana.  How awesome is that, and what a gift it was to hear it!

This year in Africa I have much to be grateful for and I hope that we all remember to give in some ways.  I reflect on those I have lost this year, especially my soulful Sasha, my colleague Irwin, and those who are struggling with illness like my good buddy Jacques.  I look to the star filled sky, to the red earth in the village, taking in all in, and I hold it that much more precious because they no longer can. This year I am ever so grateful to my family, Marilyn and the boys, my neighbors and friends for supporting my life altering decision.  I am especially thankful for the love, humor, and acceptance of my host family, and for my new friends and students.  

Happy Holidays to All!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shirts off!

School's out for the summer, which really should be holiday break, nonetheless, I'm enjoying doing what I want, and trying to lounge around on my piece of foam in the mornings.  But mornings are when things happen in village life because it's so bloody hot during the day time that you can't even breathe.  It's 8am and I hear donkey honks, and "Tshepo, wake up."  I didn't know that donkeys can speak too!  With my morning hair and PJ's, out I go to see that indeed, the garbage donkey's have finally got it down.  The garbage is collected, and the two women driving the cart on this beautiful, suffocating day, asks if I remember them from the wedding attended last week.  Sure, your what's his faces cousin--it's always a safe answer--everyone is a cousin to somebody here.  The next thing I know the women are walking in my house telling me to make them a cup of tea.  Hmm, I don't recall inviting you in, but I see I have no choice here.  Do the donkeys want to come in for some tea too!  I've never been anywhere before where people just do, and don't ask.  "Hey Tshep--don't ya have any better tea than this?"  "Nope, the Peace Corps doesn't give us tea, and by george, your not gonna get my good tea from China."  As I turn to pour the tea, the two women remove their shirts and are sitting here in their bras, pouring half the bag of sugar in their tea.  I don't even know your names and you're removing your clothes--gee how things go around here.  Sitting here, it's hard not to be laughing my butt off, but no, I have to sit and chat about garbage collection with two shirtless, no-named women, for the next 20 minutes, and with donkeys peering through my door.  Tea is finished, they put their shirts back on, and abruptly leave as they came.  My day is off to a great start!

Nature walk
Hanging around the house the rest of the morning was fun, but someone named Wiseman was supposed to come and fix things around here.  Of course he doesn't show, so I leave in this heat to go and find some people to talk to for this Community Assessment that's due soon.  Taking the 20 minute walk to the clinic takes over an hour, but this time it's because I stop to admire some nature and talk to some with beautiful gardens.  I tell them I once had a beautiful garden and they laugh in disbelief because my yard currently looks like the Munsters place.  While walking around, I point out that the woman has a green thumb---well, you would've thought I was Jay Leno.  She had never heard the expression before, called out her family and neighbors to come over so I can say it all over again.  These people were in hysterics, and it's ten minutes of explaining what the term "green thumb" means.  I'm glad to bring such laughter to these beautiful people, but then one of the women just takes off her shirt.  Ok, nice to meet ya!

Talking to nurses at the clinic and police was most interesting, but not as interesting as running into the local Vet who tells me that the biggest problem in the community is lumpy skin disease.  After some inquiry, he is talking about the precious cows, but his "community" are the cows and goats.  He shows me the only medicine in the clinic that they give to the animals with this disease, and I ask what happens when a dog comes in with something other than this lumpy thing--oh, we give all animals this medicine no matter what.  No wonder why all the dogs look the same around here.  Remind me not to go to him if I get sick!  "So, Mr. Vet, where do the cows sit when they come to see you?"  "Uh, they just stay outside."  "Very good, I think I'll go outside too, see ya!"  By the way, Mr. Vet has no shirt on!

Leaving the center of the village, an older woman stops me to ask what I'm doing.  I tell her, and she insists I come in and talk with her and her grand daughter as well.  Ok, as long as you don't take off your shirts.  In a few minutes time, we discover that her and mom are good friends, and with that we are off to the races, chatting away about old times like I've been in the picture all these years.  Got any good gossip for me?  As we talk, she is chopping veggies into tiny pieces just like mom taught me, and then a streak of fear runs through me because she says something to the grand daughter in Setswana, and I just know it's about getting me something to eat.  Please no, I can't take it--she comes out with a piece of fruit that is round, green, and hard.  I look, I smile, I smell, with hopes she says to take it home so I can give it to the donkeys!  Mmm, this looks delicious, what is it?  An orange--oh, I should have guessed that myself, and at that she hands me a knife to carve it.  Maybe we should pray before I eat so I don't break my teeth and have to see the Vet, who seems to be the only doc around here.  He'll give me cow medicine when he sees the lump I just ate!  The next thing I know, Mpho is inviting me for lunch tomorrow.  No thanks,  I have cows to talk to, but I'll be sure to stop by soon!  Turning to wave as I leave the property, no bull, the grand daughter is taking off her shirt--at least she waited til I was gone!

Four hours later, my sweaty body is home, and I rip off my shirt just as I learned today.  It really does feel good, but I'll put it back on as I'm not as free when a left over teacher comes to check me, and then 2 students come to play cards with me.  Finally, some peace and quiet, and as I get ready to fall asleep under my mosquito net, I am comforted by the deep silence, when all of a sudden I hear the loudest MOOOOO I've ever heard---ah, just another passerby in the village coming to check me!   Goodnight!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


My mind and my senses are in overdrive since coming here, that I don't even know where to begin organizing my thoughts.  My private journal is almost filled and all I ever feel like doing is writing.  In a year from now things may not be so new, and I just imagine that these blog posts will be consumed with projects, along with the complexities, and layers of relationships formed with my students and village folks.  For now though, everything is a story, take for example riding on a Kombie.  A Kombie is a van of sorts, with torn, broken seats, and they are the primary means of transport in and out of the village.  Kombies are like flying coffins, as they have few safety codes covering their condition.  Some have doors held by wires, some have seats that fly out the door with you when you get off. Every time I get on one, I brace myself because they won't leave until it is full or overfull--meaning, it is 100+degrees and people are breathing or sneezing in your ear.  The people here also have a superstition of wind, so if you open a window to breath, stares come in all forms.  But in the right frame of mind, they are charming! Lucky me got to spend the night in Gabs last week, our Capital, and where the Peace Corps office is.  Besides getting a few great meals, my biggest thrill was being able to take a real shower, with real hot water, with real strong water pressure.  It's funny how after only 3 months, a shower becomes a luxury!  I'm clean for the first time in weeks, and now I have to go back to my dirt paths and cold water bucket baths. 

Off to the kombie--I get in, in one minute I get handed someone's huge bag, her phone, her wallet as she gets situated.  They never ask if you would mind holding something, it's just given, and thank you afterwards is unheard of.  One time I said God Bless You to someone who sneezed, and it started a conversation of the bible.  I'll never say that again!  I wouldn't mind holding things for others, but on this particularly hot and muggy day, I just want to enjoy being clean for about an hour or two.  Woman gets situated, takes her stuff back, gives me a smile.  They are piling on now, and someone hands me a kid--doesn't ask--in a split second I'm a mother--cootchy coo little one!  Maybe I should just pass the kid around because in a second, I'm done with being a mom.  The kid is looking at me like "do I know you?"  Nope, but it looks like we better get to know each fast because mom is taking her sweet little time here, and probably likes not schlepping you around at the moment.  Finally, mom takes kid back---adios buddy.  Funny thing, she didn't even ask for the kid back, just took him, and plopped on the other side of me.  We're finally off, packed in like sardines, and the combie driver is stopping every five minutes to let yet another on.  I close my eyes to pretend I'm sleeping, but still more stuff is thrown on me--I definately have picked the right seat today!  The kombie stops yet again, the driver gets off to schmooze with a buddy, gets back on, stops in 3 minutes, gets out to pee--why he didn't pee 3 minutes ago is beyond me, gets back on, stops again for something, and finally we are on the open road!  YAY!  I go to open a window, but oops, there is no handle on the window...I am sufficating and sweating my shower is but a sweet memory!  All of a sudden, I hear my name being called from the back, but my head is stuck between three people and I can't turn it to see who on earth knows me here. Then the poking begins, yes I know someone wants me, but what to do!  Finally, my head gets to turn a bit, "Hey Tshepo, remember me!"  Politely I say sure, even though I have the slightest idea who this person is, so with a half turned head I strike a conversation about the holidays, asking how to say holiday things in Setswana, and this makes Miss Whoever very happy!  She gets off the kombie in nowheresville, leaving me to wonder where on earth she is walking to and where on earth she knew me from.  I enjoy the last 40 minutes of my kombie ride in complete sweat and with coils from the seat stabbing my butt!

One day I'll take photos of a kombie, but for now it would cause so much commotion.  Thank god I made it back to my sweet village of Mmathethe where I am greeted warmly.  They all ask where I've been, like I've been gone for a month, and I tell them I was just having fun on a kombie ride!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Summer's Eve Walk!

Since it is a hot summer's night, come on and take a stroll with me around the neighborhood.  As I walk around, my thinkings wander to what a good cook I used to be, and now with minimal ingredients to use, I have turned into a cooking dunce.  But you see, walking in and out of the village's dirt paths, Batswana's primarily do their cooking in big iron pots outside behind a stick structure.  The smell of goat, cow, chicken, and veggies or maize permeate through my senses.  Since many homes have a good chunk of land and are not right on top of each other, I think about going from house to house and asking what's for dinner, hoping to be invited, or maybe they'll see how pathetic I am and offer to give me cooking lessons the Botswana way.  Mom has tried with me, but somehow they seem to get it, and I don't!  I can't even find the sticks they use so I can at least build my own stick fortress and pretend I am one of them.  If I invite them over to my house, maybe I can offer them a bowl of coco puffs, what do ya think?

Now continuing along our walk, a beautiful woman stops to greet me, and tells me she is 75 years young because all she eats is the veggies and grains grown in her yard.  She looks 50!  After a few moments, she goes on her merry way leaving me to wonder if my coco puffs are considered vegetarian!  I used to be vegetarian, but gave that up for mid-life crisis---maybe I should reconsider!

garbage truck
Ok onward down another path where I notice that there isn't a stick of garbage.  Where on earth do they put it?  My garbage, which I paid 3 months of pick-up, is over flowing.  So, let's ask someone about this---"We don't have garbage,"  "How can you not have garbage?"  "We thought Americans were supposed to be smart," "Sorry, not when it comes to garbage collection in a foreign country."  "You see, we eat what we make, and we make what we have."  Oh, I get it---maize, veggies, and cow--no garbage, no water bottles, no paper products--nothing but what you intelligent!  No wonder they live til 100!  Now why can't I do this---tomorrow I'm gonna find someone to plow my land and wait for someone to send me seeds from the USA so it's organic, and maybe I won't have to deal with the garbage men!  I don't mean to divert from my walk, but the next morning the garbage truck comes!  This is the best garbage truck I ever saw!

Let's turn left, this looks like a pretty path with traditional mud huts, and fun loving people.  Yup, I picked the right path, a whole flock runs up to me, a flock of family that is, and they all know exactly who I am, and I can't recall anyone, but it's ok, they quickly remind me.  Come, come meet my mama!  Into the house I go, but not without admiring their yard and dwellings.  I tell them how lovely things are, and it only took 2 minutes to fall in love with their home, the yard, and their souls.  The family starts telling me the order of 5 children, how each structure surrounding was built facing the main home according to birth order, and so now I know what each cousin, uncle, and aunts all do---and, I'm supposed to remember all the names such as Nifelwe, Mmpho, Mmabelle.  Yikes, I can barely pronounce my own African name correctly!  All African names have meanings to them, for example, my name, Tshepo, means trust---so why can't I call everyone by their meanings, it would make things so much easier..."Yo, Confidence, I could use a little today!  The family goes on to talk about many things, but most of all how growing up in Mmathethe there was hardly anything but land, and playing with each other was all they had besides their crops.  Hmm, it looks like nothing has changed in 90 years!  I defer questions about America because this is much more interesting.  After a long and hearty conversation, the mama told me they would come fetch me on XMAS day to hear the family sing in a choir, and I get to share to their goat with them..YAY!  (I better remember 40 of their names at least)!   As I walk away and think about this interaction, I guess the term "nothing" is all relative--I bet they still had their sticks to make posts and their cauldron to cook in!  Lucky them!
my friends on our walk
one of the family

 Back on my route, I find my "Grandma's"  home, and yes, a million relatives are all facing her house in order.  So this is where the fam grew up!  Tears welted in my eyes as mom's sister let me in to look. Mom's sister doesn't speak much english, but no words were needed as I meandered through the rooms, and scanned her belongings of 98 years.  Reality is, I am in Mmathethe, yet walking into this house was like seeing my own grandma's home with all of her treasures, photos, and old furniture.  You can almost hear the stories beckoning to be shouted out from the walls.  Soaking this all in, and reflecting on my grandma's life stories, I now know why this grandma always wants to come back to Mmathethe---this is where her spirit is---this is where her tales are!

Hope you enjoyed our walk!  The sun is setting and it's time to go home--wanna join me for dinner--we'll have a big bowl of coco puffs--I'll even slice a banana on top!

"Return to old watering holes for more water, friends and dreams are there to meet you!"  African Proverb!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Celeb Status in Mmathethe

view from my kitchen window
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a celebrity, even just for a few minutes?  Well, if you have, I encourage you to join the Peace Corps, and ask to be placed in Africa, anywhere in Africa.  I have been to many places in the world, and it seems the people of Africa are the most curious.  So, let me relay some of the ways that curiosity is expressed.

First off, let me tell you about my village of Mmathethe---it is quite rural, though growing, many people are very poor, and in my section of the village, very few have electricity, so out of respect, I am conscious of not turning on too many lights, besides, I don't want to attract even more attention to myself. It is an agriculture community, hence the cows, goats, donkeys, and chickens are as big a part of this community as it's people.   It's a 5 minute walk down a path to my school with a small store across from the school, and all the roads are dirt, with the exception of a paved road that runs through which is a good thing.  Some of my fellow PCV's have no paved road and either have to hitch, get the local ambulance to take them, or hitch on a small plane if they are far out of the way.  On either side of the road is village life with dirt roads, or should I say paths that have been made into roads by donkey carts or cars.  Unfortunately the village is spread out, so it takes me about 20 minutes to walk to the hub of town which consists of a Post Office, clinic, police, and a Kgotla which is where the Chief and the Elders of the village hang out, and where all functions take place, such as the Coronation that I went to here in Kanye. It takes 8 minutes if I hitch on a donkey cart!  Speaking of which, the Leopard Chief was at our swearing in, and still, I have not seen a smile from the man!  He also was not, to my dismay, in his leopard suit at our function!

Ok, back to Mmathethe---everyday I walk down different paths to explore, and some of the houses are incredible because the people have used what is in the bush, and have made art in their gardens and homes.  I absolutely love walking around this village and seeing that, as well as the traditional mud huts, and just how people are working so hard on a daily basis to keep things moving.  The terrain of the village is flat and desert-like, but it has character!  On my daily walks I am constantly greeted, some run up to me wanting to know who I am, some want a hand shake, some come hugging me telling me they are my cousins (mom grew up here and has a huge family), some want to touch my hair, the little kids have a bizillion questions and follow me around, and others just stare.  The people at the Post Office where I use the internet, hover around me, staring, while I check my email, and one has invited me to a baby shower---she talks to me, but mostly stares and smiles.  They all know why I'm living here, but they don't really get it!  Each one will have a story, and I aim to hear every one of them!  As I was walking a few days ago, one stopped and invited me to a wedding on the 17th, and I also have one on the 18th.  Weddings are obviously not by invite only, anyone can show up and be totally accepted.

My house, as you see, is quite big--too big for me, but it is ok.  I have 3 bedrooms (see pics in photo section), a bath, kitchen, dining room, and huge living room.  It's not a well made house, and frankly, given all the mishaps in the house, I would have preferred a romantic mud hut!  I'm not complaining though, I like having running water and the ability to read at night---it's just BIG!  Nightly, I have visitors coming to "check" me.  I am never lonely!  If it's not a cow or a goat, it's a live person---sometimes though I prefer the animals.  A chicken has adopted me, and has taken the liberty of walking in my house whenever he feels like it.  Next thing I know, I'll be giving the chicken my second bedroom---the thing better lay eggs for me at least--I'm starved!  My neighbors to the front are great, and I have a neighbor to the side who is a carpenter, and when I asked about my water problem, he looked at me and said "never saw that before!"  Some help he's gonna be, but he's a good guy!  Other neighbors have been equally great, but I reserve judgement on a few of them.  The best thing of all is the view from my house at sunset---some nights the sky just lights up and it is simply awesome!

Now for the best part, my school and it's kids! I had no idea what to expect when I started school.  I thought it would be like walking into any old school and kids would be kids.  Not in Africa!  I was startled to say the least at the reaction I got from teachers and kids alike.  They form huge circles around me and I couldn't get out if I tried!  They stare, some ask questions about America, they hysterically laugh when I say something, and they are groping to shake my hand or just touch me---simply put, I am a celebrity here!   It's been 2 weeks now, and it hasn't let up...I have shaken 700+ hands on a daily basis--currently, I am teaching them to high five, it's easier.  Individually, they will come running to me to tell me they love me, touch my hair some more, or just want to talk.  Whenever I talk to someone, they go running to the closest friend and start clapping or acting like idiots because they got to talk to me.  Passing a class in session is not an easy task because they all hang out the windows whispering "Mme Tshepo, can I shake your hand later?"  Sure buddy!  A teen club is already started (PACT CLUB), and it's nice because they are starting to get used to me, and are cool when they see me outside of the group now.  I have let some in my home, but the next day it was all that they talked about. The teachers are welcoming, but they too, are curious, and all want to come stay with me in the states for a few weeks!  I tell ya, anyone who wishes to visit here will be in for a real treat because the teachers are determined to show what it's like to really live here for a few days!

can anyone name me please

Besides all the fun, I look into each and everyone's eyes, kids and my neighbors alike, and I see twinkles in some, hardship and despair in others, sadness, as well as hope for a better a world.  My school is a boarding school, so some are locals, some are far from their families, many are orphans desperately wanting to be loved and nurtured.  When I taught some of them how to play Red Rover, Red Rover, you should have seen their excitement.  They rarely get to play and have fun!  They get whipped at school when they are naughty, they are poor, they recognize the issues of HIV, poverty, and Teen-age pregnancy.  When fights start, they are not broken up--sometimes the younger kids are sent home early if they know a fight is going to happen. Many are suffering, and it's hard not to have your heart strings tugged at!  I can only hope at the end of my two years here, I can go up to each and every one of them, and shake their hands in awe because they have been the ones who made the difference and succeeded!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thunder, Lightning, and Criminals, Oh my!

I promise that in my next post, I'll write about my home, village, school, and it's people--but I am currently having a set of "moments" that has lasted for 4 days.  If Marilyn or Beth (two whom know how to really laugh), were with me at this very moment, they would be on my hard tiled floor with little grouting and ants creeping up, in absolute hysterics!  The last few days begin with being woken at 2am to my garbage being tumbled, and someone jiggling both of my doors.  I'm petrified--so stupid me does the logical thing and I take the crow bar from the front door, and now instead of the door being bolted--I'm ready to kill!  I remind myself that I am first and foremost a New Yorker, and secondly, a Martial Artist.  So what that I've softened in the 25 years in bleeping California, and my martial arts--well, I probably couldn't kill a frog, but I'm ready for action here!  With crow bar in hand, I call the PC to tell them that I don't have the police number.  They call police--police calls me--I explain to them which path to get to my house--"Ok Tsepho, we'll be there shortly to check it out, but it's probably just your cow friends!"  "Yeah right, they coming over for that beer I promised!"  Guess what, the police never show--they said they didn't have a vehicle that night. Guess who doesn't sleep!

It's now Friday, and I'm still alive... I go to school, tell people there what happened, they said I need to get a husband!  I'd rather have a goat thank you!  Then off to Kanye to be smothered with love from host family, but love lasts 2 minutes, as it's family reunion time, and mom immediately puts me to doing hard manual labor.  Come on mom, I just want to cry on your shoulder and play on the internet!  At least she feeds me because she notices the starved look to my face.  I am constantly hungry here, the diet is bleeping horrid, and I crave anything filling without chemicals!  Anyway, Sat. comes, they go to church, and pick me up at 1 for the first half the party, which is really church family, and it is an afternoon of eating, singing church songs, and hearing scripture--just what I'm about!  I beg to go home after 3 hours to decorate for tonight.  Mom has bought XMAS decorations that will undoubtedly last all of 5 minutes.  Ok, the tree outside is decorated, we set up for tonight, the party which was supposed to start at 6, starts at 8, and we don't eat until 11.  I'm starved yet again, and can't understand why I am always dished the smallest portions here...well, I'll show them!  I go to sneak some food while backs are turned--I get caught--and get sent back to singing more Setswana church hymns!  Joy to the World!  The Xmas lights, after 2 hours are on the brink--I told ya so!  The party ends at 3am, and at 6am I am woken by mom stating they are going to see their cows today, do I want to come.  No thanks, I've had enough of cows, and I need to get back to my criminals!  Before you leave, can you take down Xmas--I start singing the 12 days of Xmas--she gives me a furtive look, and off she goes to see her bleeping cows!

Walking down my dirt road back to my house, I am greeted by all, and told that a truck came to deliver bed and frig, now I'll never see them.  I told them I wouldn't be here on Sat., but Africans have their own beat!  The house looks good, no bugs, no snakes, no strange footprints.  Mom gives me a care package of the cow barbequed last night, and after settling in, I eat it like a ravaged animal.  Then the skies open up to the wildest thunder I have ever heard, and rain like I've never seen before---good, it'll wash the ants away!  Here I am happy that there is real food in me when I go to the window to admire the fierce rains.  While at the window, a crack of thunder comes with lightning, and I literally jump out of my skin.  It feels like the entire house is going to collapse, and now I'm cracking up over my reaction, and the fact that it is also raining in my bedroom and in my dining room---just wonderful!  I see all neighbors have put buckets outside to capture water, but no, I have to use my buckets to capture water inside the house!  There is definately something wrong with this picture!  More African thunder startles the heebeegeebees out of me, and I crawl under my only table, hit my head, and I am laughing my bleeping wounded head off because I just had mop in one hand, traditional broom attacking spiders in another hand, and regular broom in-between my legs getting ready for it to do some magic and fly me over the rainbow! 

It's now Monday and my phone charger is dead, so I have no life line---not that anyone would come help me anyway, but still!  I have also resorted to hanging my garbage bag from the curtain rods so ants don't attack it, but now I see ants crawling up the walls!  A package is received from the good old US of A, and I am elated at the contents--just think, it's only been 2 and a half months, and it's orgasmic to see a Thai Spicy Noodle Soup!  Wow, I am in heaven!  I also see there is a 2012 calendar in the box, so clever me, who doesn't think to bring a hammer and nails, starts to screw a hook into paper plaster walls.  The bleeping hook isn't gonna stay--my carpenter neighbor sees me and asks what I'm doing--well, what does it look like I'm doing---whatever it is, it doesn't look like it's working!  Thanks buddy, whatta guy!  Gorilla tape to the rescue!  The calendar is up, good, now I can count off the days to whatever!  It's 6:30pm and off to lock my gate when I am ferociously attacked by giant red ants, and a goat is staring me down ready to attack!  This is good...I'm dancing like Lucy did stomping grapes in Italy, my neighbors are looking at me like I'm nuts, and I'm about to get rammed by a goat if I don't hurry!  This was the culmination of 4 days of fun! Going to bed on my piece of foam, I'm thinking that my life here may cause consternation--even to the sages!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ant Absurdity

An ant on the move does more than a dozing ox!

I love old proverbs, and that one is fitting considering ants are my first big challenge as an official Peace Corps Volunteer.  I joined the PC in part, because of my mid-life crisis, and now the crisis, or I should say lull, has not crossed my mind once since coming to Botswana.  Why you ask?  Well, it's because daily things like bucket baths, and now, chasing ants, consume your existence that you don't have time to think about any other reality.  Actually, I don't know what to make of this ant problem, other than I am having recurring nightmares of ants and spiders crawling in and out of my body parts.  Dreaming wouldn't bother me so much if I knew there wasn't a strong possibility of these instances actually occurring.  You have to understand that bugs in Africa are different than anywhere else--they have major personality, thus, I really want to comprehend the purpose of these little annoying insects that are invading my sleep?  It's 11pm, and I have made the epic mistake of opening my windows in 100 degree heat, and having tried everything to get them to take a vacation, I have resorted to chasing creatures on the wall and sweeping ants off the floor with a broom like a lunatic--some of them are even shrieking at me.  Please, I wish they would at least shriek in English, this Setswana thing is becoming too much!  Buddhists never kill bugs, so for the first time since being sent to Africa, I am glad I am not in Asia.  Hmm, did I really just say that?   So with brooms in hand, I now upgrade myself to ninja status in order to tackle these ants, spiders, and other green creatures--but wait, my thoughts stop me and I wonder if this is what the PC meant by us having challenges.  People are easy compared to these bugs--maybe I'll run after the kids with the broomsticks and see what happens.  We want behavior change, yes!

Ants and bugs are annoying, and yeah, we all hate them, but maybe something interesting can come of this--in some cultures ants are used for cuisine, medicine, and certain rituals.  I hear they are social, collectively they work together as a social system, and they have the largest brain proportionate to it's size and are actually quite smart.  Maybe I should study their social behavior and pass it to the kids of Mmathethe to emulate.  We'll start an ant behaving club!  Ants also began farming long before humans thought to raise their own crops, and they possess a secret chemical with antibiotic properties to inhibit mold growth.  Gees, if people knew all this, then why not let the ants invade our lives.  Hey, I may even hire them to help me with my organic garden at my new home.  I'm supposed to be integrating into my community, instead I am making a pathetic attempt to understand the bugs and animals in and around my house.  Did you know that goats discovered the coffee bean?  Seriously, look it up!  I was cooking an equally pathetic dinner last night when I looked out and saw about 5 goats on my land.  I go to chase them away, and can't even figure how on earth they got in, but they ran out through a small whole in the fence.  This is my life now, plugging ant holes, chasing animals off the property, and looking up facts about my new creature friends.  What fun--and really, I have stories to tell about people too, but this is an immediate problem, and I just have to get it out of my system before I can continue on with my mid-life crisis.  I've learned that these ants really do have a purpose--they work really hard at whatever they are doing, and that is what I will think about every time I take out my broom to sweep them away---that I am working really hard!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You are Welcome

It's a new moon, a new home, a new regime!

Welcome to my new existance, and off to the real world, well, at least my new real world.  Driving down to my new village of Mmathethe, there were open fields and rolling hills, and it felt like I was in a dream.  When I woke and my eyes opened, I saw a rural village with dirt roads and many poorly structured homes.  It startled me at first, yet I get to my house, which is nice, though with no stove, no frig, the wrong adapters, and my bed is a piece of foam.  Welcome to the Peace Corps!  As my counterpart leaves to find me a temporary stove and frig, I hear noises outside, and lo and behold, a herd of cows have come onto my property to greet me.  Hey, thanks for coming over to see the new kid in town, I would offer you a cold beer, but the refrig hasn't gotten here yet.  How about coming back on Sunday when things have settled and I'm lonely!  It seems my destiny to be involved with cows!  First lesson learned--lock the gate! 

Everything is borrowed now, yet I can't cook because I have the wrong adapters to plug things in!  But guess what, I have buckets to store water just in case and to do laundry, YAY!  As things are settling, I look out the front of my house, which really should be the back of my house--they really messed this one up--but anyway, I see the sun setting into glorious colors of reds, oranges, and purple around some scattered clouds.  My eyes are glued to this mesmerizing site, and now I could care less about not having what I need.  It is unbelievable to me that I will get to see this on a nightly basis.  Lesson two--take refuge in the beauty that surrounds you!

Night has fallen, a new moon is shining, and I eat an orange and a banana.  It's so hot that hunger barely exists on this day.  On Friday I went back to Kanye to get necessary things, such as locks for my doors, and adapters.   I run into 3 other volunteers who either haven't left yet or came back because of non-livable conditions.  I guess I shouldn't complain that I had the wrong adaptors.  Went to see mom, who promptly put me to work, and told me that Kesego threw up all day when I left, and wouldn't eat.  She was all over me for the few hours I was able to visit, and I gladly played and talked with her.  Lesson three---never underestimate the power of attachment!

On Saturday, I ventured out into my community after chasing a bizillion ants out of my house.  The village is made of dirt roads, paths, donkeys, cows, and goats, and I introduce myself to neighbors who are friendly and welcoming.  All, especially the kids, have question after question for me, and I try to answer, but tell them we have 2 years to get to know each other.  Some have started arguing about who is going to be my best friend.  There is one small store near the school which is a 5 minute walk from my house.  At least they carry some items there in case I get stuck.  It's 1:30 now and I sit wondering about the rest of the day, not wanting to put all my stuff away, when 2 teachers, who couldn't wait until Monday, pop over to see me. At least it wasn't another set of cows coming over!  We sat and talked, and like the little kids, they are filled with curiosity, as I am for them.  I liked them, and when they leave, I am filled with the feeling that life is gonna be good here.

 Darkness comes fast--there is a knock on my back door, which really should be my front door, I am scared and hide, then the knock goes to the front door, which really should be my back door--ok--enough already- I brave it out and ask who it is.  It's my neighbor telling me she just came to check me and not to be scared.  "How did you get in through all the locked fences?"  "I jumped!"  So much for feeling safe!  Lesson 4--don't lock the gates--the cows, goats, donkeys, and kids will get in anyway!

As I lay down on my piece of foam, my mind wanders to the last few days and all it's activities. Finally I have time to meditate and take in the smells and ambiance of my new habitat.  My eyes finally close to the sounds of animals, and two owls that inhabit my tree--all of whom are telling me that I am Welcome to Mmathethe!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I solemnly swear....

"Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what's for lunch."

The real thing is about to happen, it's off into the Posh Corps trenches, to experience the legitimate challenges of living in a third world country!  Wednesday we officially swear in as Peace Corps Volunteers! A day we all have anticipated with a mixture of pride and a little anxiety.  I solemnly swear to integrate into my village, to befriend the needy, to infuse life skills into my school, and to try and stay out of trouble.  I get my big 3 bedroom house, gas, electric, and water.  Just what I dreamed of when joining the Peace Corps!  Where's my mud hut?  It's become a part of my life filling buckets each day, doing laundry by hand, and chopping every which vegetable into the smallest pieces so they can cooked properly.  The buckets have given me character!  I'm so attached to the buckets that I've dreamed about them!  So, I've made a vow that I am going to buy 3 buckets when I get to site on Thursday, and bring in water everyday even if I have it in my house.  Isn't this part of what I came here for, character building.  I'm actually more afraid of having a big house, what if I hear noises in the other bedrooms, at least if things were small, I wouldn't be so scared.  Did I say I was scared, nah, not really, just because I'm going into a rough village, why should I be afraid!  Pray for me please!

PCV's are a unique species---they are adventurous, they think out of the box, and are a bit nuts!  These commonalities unite us as we will be sharing the many difficulties and rewards as we cope with our adaptations.  What have I learned in pre-service training?  I've learned that Peace Corps Volunteers are expected to be many things to many people. They expect us to build sustainable projects, they expect us to build friendships, and give others a good dose of what Americana is like!  Well, as far I know right now, I am an African named Tshepo, just in white skin.  Yet, I realize people in my village will not see it that way yet!  They'll follow me around, stare at me, laugh at me, call me names, and constantly badger me for money, or to take them back to good old America.  That will be my reality for awhile, but boy am I gonna have fun with that!  Our last days in Kanye equally reflects what has been learned.  There have been many gatherings, the best one being from a gracious Indian family, inviting all of Bots 11 to their home to thank us for becoming volunteers.  We witnessed them slaughtering two cows, a goat, and they had slaughtered chickens, all of which were barbecued for a feast fit for a king.  The Indian family had also integrated in this culture, yet without giving up their beliefs.  They are loved here!  On Saturday, we held a thank you party for our host families with the Thanksgiving Theme, sharing skits of being Pilgrims, and watched skits the families put on about their traditions.  We ate, sang songs in Setswana, we danced, and had games for the kids---we have been united!  And of course our swearing in, how could I forget that, a day to be truly proud of!  Yes, I teared up twice, once when singing the national anthem, and once when our Nate gave a speech!

Both Grandma and Kesego want to come live with me in Mmathethe---hey, I have the room  so come on--I would love spending my days worrying where each has wandered off to!  Kesego curled up in my lap tonight while I sat outside looking at the full moon and stars, and she quietly cried.  Tonight mom prayed for my safety, and told me that we all make mistakes in relationships and in other parts of ours lives, and that it is only the strong who know how to forgive!  All of these experiences, even the drudge of going to training daily, have become experiences imbedded in my mind. Yet, while there is sadness in leaving the family and friends made, there is equally a level of excitement and relief attached to moving on.  The daily grind of training is no longer our stress, and now it's a time to reflect and digest what was.

 Being a volunteer also means that there will be times when I will question myself, times that I'll understand myself, and times of comparison at significant points during service.  A friend of mine has repeatedly told me that doing time lines for yourself is a great way to see the changes.  So time line it will be!  My bucket dreams will be replaced with eating Asian food, eating food without chemicals, drinking a cold Kombucha on a hot day, and missing my cats crawling all over me.  All volunteers crave real food!  Passing time will be an event in itself, staring at the walls may be a good thing to get used to, but from what I hear, there are lots of interesting things on the walls, like huge foreign spiders!  It might become a Zen meditation of staring down the spiders so they don't eat you!  Just think of the book I could write, Zen and the African Spider.  Life will be what I make it in my village of Mmathethe!  So ready or not, the second chapter will begin by listening for unheard melodies!

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Da Yoopers"

Bots 11 is filled with characters, and actually, I'm not gonna write about the real character in the group, which is Brandon, but this story belongs to our nicest character in the group.  We'll call him Adam.  Now Adam is just a kid from Michigan with flair, intelligence, and wit, yet under his sweetness, there has to be a dark spot.  We all have 'em Adam, so come on boy, show it to us!  But wait, he's from where!  MICHIGAN!  Ah, a midwest boy with depth!  I grew up thinking that there was New York, and well, there was New York.  Little else existed except maybe we heard about Florida because the old folks left us for a month or two in the winter.  Frankly, I live in California now, and still think that only New York exists!  How's that for good reality testing?  Ok, back to Adam being from middle America.   I decide to look up a few facts about Michigan, and we'll see how this fits in with him:  People from Michigan sit on their lakes when it's 30 below with their fishing poles: they don't talk for a week when U of M loses:  a party store equals a place to buy beer and chips:  they can quote Hoyle on Euchre:  they may have even invented Euchre:  there are 4 seasons in Michigan--mud, July 4th, winter mud, and mud:  it's Michigan, not Michi--gun:  they wear something called nukluks---sounds like one of our Setswana words!:  when asked if they ever went to Europe, they reply no, but I've been to Ann Arbor: and lastly, deer season is an official holiday.  Now how on earth did a boy from somewhere that has all these unique, if not bizarre, qualities get into the Peace Corps, and better yet, sent to Botswana.  Well, let's examine this a bit---Botswana has animals, maybe his recruiter thought he can relate, but I sure hope he's not one of those who understands the true meaning of Michi-gun, and starts shooting the lion outside his front door---he's teaching us to play Euchre--now we all go around quoting Hoyle, but it shows the PC that he sure knows how to create a bonding situation---the places that we buy beer and chips from sure can look like a hokey place in Michigan---and Adam's newly shaved head can remind someone of a nukluk, whatever on earth that is!  Botswana has some seasons too, hot and hotter, rain and hot, and cold and dry.  I bet Adam can't wait to see some mud to make him feel right at home.  He'll love the cold too, I'm sure he'll wear a sweatshirt and shorts, and laugh at the rest of us freezing our butts off in 30 degree nights.  I have seen Adam quiet at times, I hope it wasn't because Michigun, ooops, Michigan lost again.  Gee, what do ya think?  From the looks of things, I think the boy will fit in fine here in Botswana!  He may even learn a thing or two about HIV if he can put the deck of cards away!

 Adam will be placed in a small out of the way village right on the cusp of the Kalahari.  He'll be doing life skills with primary aged kids in a small school, and will, in all likelihood, be teaching them Euchre as his primary project because people from Michigan think that Euchre is life skills.  Just make it sustainable Adam!  He'll make the kids laugh, he'll help the kids create fishing poles out of reusable materials, and he'll sit telling them the meaning of "Da Yoopers," and singing the songs.  But seriously folks, he'll make the kids feel like their worth a million bucks, just because he's Adam, our nicest Bots 11!

P.S.  You can see Adam's picture in my Halloween Blog...he's the one dressed as a Tuck Shop! There are also photos of him in my pictures page!  You can double click on a photo to enlarge it!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Fabric of my Family

Looking back on the past two months, brings into sharp focus how much personal lives are affected by one another.  Being with this host family makes me almost want to freeze time so I can keep on enjoying the fruits of what has been here for me.  When I first arrived here, I thought I was gonna get a family with 10 snotty nosed kids all over me running all around with shabby clothing, parents who didn't speak english, and living in a shack.  I'm glad I had such "Peace Corps" expectations, because this family has surely exceeded all of my expectations and more.  They are a family who is highly educated, religious, wise, loving, and with good humor.  Actually, great humor!   When my mom took me to yet another crusade tonight, I was putting a little blanket around me because I didn't want to change from my shorts and T and had to cover up.  She started fixing it for me, stating, "if you do it your way, you'll attract ice to you."  Ice, it's hotter than hell here!  Her wisdom makes me smile!  In all her attempts to get me to cook the African way, she says "Tshepo, a family who cooks together, eats together."  Hey, I wouldn't have thought of it like that mom, that really makes me want to chop more cabbage!  The other night, it was very late before dinner was started, and with mom barking out my duties for this cooking event, I start singing and doing "The Twist" with Kesego.  Within two minutes, mom, with her wooden spoon in hand, joins in, and it takes an hour to finish cooking because of Chubby Checker!  We were dancing, singing, and laughing when Dad walks in, looking at them like they've been taken over by American culture.  This is life with my family!  We are constantly laughing, and while people of Botswana are not so affectionate with each other, they are with me.

 Noticeable and distinct gender differences exists in Botswana which can be a bit annoying.  The man is the head and that's that!  He is served dinner on a tray, and he doesn't expect to put his dish in the sink.  The women do all the hard work, but I've made a joke of it with my dad here, who also has good humor.  Mom had a cold a few weeks ago, and he was making motogo, soft porridge.  I walked in the kitchen and almost yelled out for joy that he was cooking.  He turns with his handsome smile, laughs, and says "this is the only thing I know how to cook."  Needless to say, we had motogo for the next 5 meals.  There was no way I was going to offer to help because I was enjoying the scene too much.  He also said he'd do the dishes, and the next morning we found all dirty dishes put in the cabinet.  He's pitiful!  But a fun pitiful!  This time, I told him that I would be the one praying for him!  He took me seriously, and made me say their nightly prayer!  I got a big applause!

My older sister, Peo, is 23, and we have had long chats about dating, men, and all of our cultural differences.  Even though she has had other exposure by studying in England for several years, she still adhere's to tradition, and wouldn't think of bringing a boyfriend home to meet the family unless they got engaged.  At that point, the families would start planning the wedding, and the uncles give the newlyweds 6 cows for a dowry.  Cows are obviously very important here, just ask my cow friend who is still hovering in front of the cafe waiting for me to take him back to America for a better life!  Back to Peo, who after so much badgering from me, says it's in her Botswana DNA to act the way she does.  Her sister Joy who is living in England, but recently is doing an internship in China, is slightly more progressive, but still is accepting of her DNA as well.

My best friend Kesego is another story.  She is such a slippery little devil, and I have grown to love her for that.  Everyday gets richer with her.  She has tried to teach me Setswana words, and in return I teach her English.  Her English now is way better than my Setswana.  But she doesn't give up on me.  These days though, she is putting her hands over her ears when we tell her I'm leaving next week.  That is heartbreaking to me!  The other day, I was telling my friend Karla that I was going nuts trying to study for our test because Kesego doesn't leave me alone.  Karla, who always has all the answers, slipped me a dvd of Looney Tunes.  Wow, I'm gonna shove the kid in front of the TV computer, just like a good American would do to shut a kid up for a half hour while I study.  It worked!  She had never seen such a thing, her eyes were as big as saucers, and her hand and body gestures were a sight to see as Sylvester did his thing.  Needless to say, no studying was done, I was also glued to Looney Tunes and Kesego's priceless expressions!

I have many other stories about my African family, and hope to have many more.  As I get ready to leave for site next week, I realize God has blessed me, I hope, with sending me to a site that was my mom's hometown, and only a half hour away.  Kanye is my shopping village, so I can see them once a week and spend the night.  I don't know what the future has in store for me, but I will forever be grateful for their benevolence, and will seek to emulate the kindheartedness bestowed on me.  They've shown me that it is the simple things in life that bring pure joy, and that "I Am because We Are." Now as I walk through my village, I am greeted warmly by all, people and animals alike, and I laugh quietly at the road that was being built, brick by brick, for the past 2 months--opps--they ran out of bricks to finish.  This is AFRICA!

Monday, October 31, 2011


Backward, turn backward
O time in your flight
make me a child again
Just for to--night! E. Akers Allen

Keeping our spirits up on halloween in the Peace Corps!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The New Day is Often Ridiculous

The Dali Lama, along with a few other people in the world, wake up each day with a sense that it is a new beginning.  I was not always one of those people, yet being in the Peace Corps is showing me that indeed, everyday is a new day.  Only parts of days feel normal here, and that's usually when I am in the training center with my fellow Americans.  Outside of that, anything can happen! Take today for instance.  The PC gave us Saturday off, and all were thrilled because we have our final oral test next week, and we're still trying to soak in the realities of our site placements.  My sister Joy is home from her studies in China for a few weeks, and asked if I wanted to go to a wedding with her.  Well, I haven't received my invitation, so no thank you!  It's ok Tshep, anyone could go to any wedding they want here, nobody gets an invite.  Nah, that would mean I would have to try and find water for a bucket bath, so forget it!  Instead, how's about dropping me off in town so I can do some errands?  Here I go thinking I'm doing normal everyday things, but the unusual and ridiculous is right down the street.  I go to the Post Office for the first time to mail a letter.  The line is long, people are coughing and sneezing on me, it smells, like all the stores here do, of toxic cleaning stuff, and all I want to do is hold my breath.  Forty-five minutes go by and this line is moving like a turtle.  What on earth are they doing with each person?  It's now 10:15, I'm two people away from the front, and with a line out the door, all the tellers go on their coffee break.  Why not let two go at a time, this would be a logical thing to do, but no, there is little logic here in Botswana.  Fifteen more minutes go by, the tellers come back with the same expression on their faces, and 5 people cut in front of me.  What is this, you can't just barge in front of me when I have been here well over an hour.  Who do they think they are, the Chinese?  At the door, a goat is peering in, and I am hoping the goat doesn't need a stamp too!  Another half  hour passes, I am hot and mad, so I literally yell out that I just want to buy a stamp!  This caused quite a commotion, but it worked--when the next teller opened, I had 20 Batswana's escort this crazy lady to the teller to get my one stamp for 6 pula. Whew, it's over, but now I have 3 goats staring me down as I try to meander to the bank which I have been avoiding also.  I wonder what the goats thought of what occurred in there?  Another hour in the bank, then I want to go the grocery store, but some cows are in my way, so I have to wait for the cows to decide if they are going to the Post, Bank, clothes shopping, or the grocery store!  I wish I had my camera with me!  Finally I get there, and wait another 40 minutes in line just to buy bottled water and 2 bananas.  Maybe I should have started yelling there too!  I run into 2 other Volunteers and ask if they want to do lunch at the only Cafe in town, but they declined stating they didn't want to wait hours to get food---hmmm I can certainly relate to that one!  Now I find myself sitting on a curb, next to my new cow friend, when sister Joy passes me asking me why I'm sitting on the curb next to a cow.  Well, he's my only friend today, and actually he's quite handsome, don't ya think?  Joy wants to take me home because she thinks I have totally lost it, but really, I just want to stay with the cow because this feels like the only normal thing to do at the moment.  Doesn't she know that not a shred of evidence exists in favor of the idea that life is serious!  So I sit here with the cow, laughing at the fact that I vaguely remember the ease of going into Whole Foods and being greeted by everyone, 10 minutes in the bank, or in and out of the Post Office with no animals disturbing me.  I took all that for granted, and now I have a cow sitting next to me, a goat across the way, and donkey carts intermingling with cars.  These interchanges with my host family and on the streets are novel and funny, but will eventually and unfortunately become a part of the norm.  Yet for now, I'm enjoying that everyday is a new beginning!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Witch Lives On

A few nights ago, my mom asked me if I wanted to go to a crusade.  A crusade, what on earth are you talking about?  "Come you will find out." As far as I knew, crusaders carried out the good deeds of the gospel, they were seen as an errand of mercy to right a terrible wrong.  Great, what am I getting into here!  When I got home from training I tried to hide from her, but this is an impossible task.  She corners me, and I plead with her not to go, it sounded so, well, so not like what I'm about!  She replied in her firm, but motherly way, "Tshepo, I invited you."  You can't say no to that, and after all, I am here to learn about Botswana culture!  I persisted though in finding out what I was getting into.  She relented and said that I would be learning about a wicked witch.  Oh boy, maybe she's taking me to some rendition of the Wizard of Oz, and they just call it a crusade.  I loved that movie as a kid, so I'm game!  It was a beautiful warm night and sitting outside under the stars, listening to my mom's gentle sweet voice singing hymns, I felt a sense of peace even though every single eye was on the only lekogoa at the crusade.  But, wait, they aren't singing the songs I know from the Wizard of Oz, and the program I see says The Witch Lives on!  Hmm, as far as I know, the wicked witch is dead!  All of a sudden the hymns stop, and two Preachers come out, neither looking like the Scarecrow or the Tin Man.  In loud gospel voices and gestures that I was only familiar with from TV, they began to preach, with me practically jumping out of my seat.  At that moment, I realized how Dorothy felt knowing she wasn't in Kansas anymore.

The preacher talked about a husband gathering some people to lift the body of his deceased wife from the ground because he had forgot to ask her some questions before her death.  He also needed some advice from her, and couldn't seem to figure things out on his own.  This they deemed an act of witchcraft.  There were quotes from the bible talking of witchcraft as a rebellious and loathsome practice, and those who practiced it were not tolerated.  The preacher then spoke about letting the dead be dead, and if you need answers, just talk to God, and live in the moment.  Ok, this isn't so bad, living in the moment is good advice, it even felt kind of good seeing how the powerful message affected those sitting under the stars on this night.

On the way home, mom innocently asked me if there was witchcraft in the United States.  I didn't know what to say---Yeah mom, I joined the PC because my boss put a hex on me.  Hey mama, can we engage in a conversation of how Harry Potter must be in a real predicament with salvation after leaving home early to learn wizardry and basically witchcraft, a condemned practice.  At least he was a good wizard!  But I couldn't do that because the people in this village don't have a true concept of Harry Potter, or the Salem Witch Trials, or how psychic phenomenon in different forms permeates other societies.  They have somehow maintained an innocence from all that we know, and they hold on to what is preached to them, and try to live by what they hear.  There's a lot to be said for that!  After I got home, safe from the crusaders, I looked into my mom's eyes and saw how peaceful her soul is.  She is someone who does live in the moment, is kind and compassionate to all that come her way, and that, of all things, should be appreciated and trusted.  I learned tonight that no matter if you are religious or not, it never hurts to hear someone else's view, even if it isn't in a familiar forum.  Still, as our Halloween approaches, my warped humor gets the better of me, and I wonder if the family wants to sit a spell and have some brew!