Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Spirit of Kesego!

"If today I had a young mind to direct, to start the journey of life, and was faced with the duty of choosing between the natural way of my forefathers, and that of the present way of civilization, I would, for it's welfare, unhesitatingly, set that child's feet on the path of my forefather's---I would raise him to be an Indian."  Brown, Jr.

Children are our only natural resource, we should implore to see through a child's eyes, hear through their ears, and feel through their hearts.  The children of Africa know a world filled with hunger, malnutrition, disease, and poverty.  Many of them become orphaned as a result of these realities, and thus become vulnerable targets for such things as sexual exploitation, or just plain lack of love and nurturing---And we all know where that can lead to!  I have not yet been assigned to my final site for the two years, but a harsh reality lives in my present home stay, though it may not be drastic as I will potentially see in two months.  Kesego is a six year old child who has stolen my heart.  She lives here with my family who have adopted her of sorts from a family who has little means, and sounds somewhat dysfunctional to me.  They took her in well over a year ago to give her the chance to experience being in a good school and a good family.  I am told that she has 4 or 5 other siblings, and the times she has gone home for holidays, she has come back only to have to start from square one again.  Now it is said that Kesego does not miss her siblings or her parents, and given a second chance in life, she is embracing it with all of her spirit.  Kesego's eyes dance when she is engaged with.  She is quick to learn, quick to play, quick to love, and with each day, she becomes increasingly more relaxed and silly: it helps when she is modeling a silly nut like myself!  The children, at least in this home, and from what I can see in the neighborhood, are not raised with board games, computers, video games, or even educational blocks to play with.  They play with what is natural around them, and they can make a game out of anything and everything.  It is the way the Indians probably played, and our own grandparents of my generation.  It is the natural way!  Tonight for over an hour, Kesego was doing some traditional African dancing that she saw on the nightly news.  Her rhythm was not that of a child, but of someone who has a soul that wants to be free to fly with the spirits.  Everyone who knows me, knows that I have no rhythm when it comes to dancing, but Kesego made me feel that if I just closed my eyes, I could get into that African rhythm just like she does, and to let go like that of child is a feeling to behold.  She is also following my lead when I do Tai Chi or Yoga, something so foreign to her, but it is natural, and she is a natural in doing it along side of me with the same spirit as her native African dancing.  I have only 7 more weeks to learn from her, to see through her eyes, and feel through her heart.  It is going to be the best 7 weeks because of a kid named KESEGO!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Family Fun Day

Family fun days growing up meant going to the Bronx to see one of two sets of grandparents, the aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Drinking egg creams from the corner candy shop, being pushed on the swings by my cousins, and being shoved with greasy, wonderful Jewish cooking was my typed of family fun day.  Sometimes in the summer, my father would sneak my brother and I away to walk to Yankee Stadium to catch a game.  Funny, with all the bantering back and forth, no one ever knew we were gone.  My father, who was quite tall for his time, I 'd be holding his hand, looking way up, asking if Mickey would hit a honer.  "Sure he will" my father would always say, and sure enough, the Mick always came through.  Years later, when my father passed, the one thing I kept was his Yankee shirt.  It doesn't take long to get that weekends with my new family is a wee bit different than watching Mantle hit a homer.

Last night, mum asked me what time I wanted to get up tomorrow.  It is my only day off and I asked if I can sleep in late, or at least lounge around until, let's say, Monday.  Sure, no problem!  Excellent,  just what I need to rest up, get rid of this cold, and try to avoid any chores.  I stay up late reading, and at 8:15, I hear "Tshepo, get up, we have many things to teach you today."  So much for sleeping in and doing nothing on my day off.  Up I am, brush my teeth, no bucket bath today thank god, and now I am off to gather my laundry.  She told me that I can take 2 small items to learn how to hand wash, and the rest can go in the machine.  Great, this is going to piece of cake, but why on earth did I have to wake up so early?  Here's how the morning goes, she tells me to fill one big bucket, put water in another bucket,  put a pail of water in yet another bucket, and get one bucket to leave empty, and oh, by the way, "Tshepo, don't spill any water, we don't waste water here."  How on earth can you not spill a little water going from spout to bucket to bucket?   I wonder if the Peace Corps really knows how to do your laundry correctly, and if they do, are they gonna purchase all these buckets for us!  This is worse than the bucket bath, but apparently in Africa, everything is done in or with a bucket!  What Fun!  She shows me how to take a piece of clothing about 4 inches apart, and start rubbing, then go in and around til everything is scrubbed---aah, but don't forget the dirty parts under the armpits and around the neck---yes mama!  This is really hard work, but she sees I am passing this skill, so she decides that we can do all of my laundry.  Great,  my only reprieve is that she walks away for a few minutes, telling me to keep scrubbing in the hot sun, so sneaky me, always trying to get out of something, gets Kesego to start scrubbing.  This is good, I can sit and watch while my little 6 year old sister pays me back for playing with her endlessly.  I hope mom stays away for the next day, but no chance, "Tshepo, you can't be tired already."  No mom, Kesego wanted to help me, so I let her!  After all the laundry is done, I learn how to hang the laundry so we don't have to iron anything.  This really is a fun family day!

Next chore sitting in the hot sun is learning how to wash spinach and cut it properly.  She teaches me how to wash, cut the dead stuff off, how to roll several leaves, and cut into small pieces, rotate, and cut again.  This is easy, why didn't I think of doing that a few nights ago (because it is so damn time consuming!)  It's now 11:30, and I am chopping spinach and other greens, wondering why Peo, my other sister gets to play on the internet all morning.  We then have to learn to make bread which is harder than doing laundry.  I have no energy left, my muscles are sore from learning how to permagarden for two days, and while I watch her kneading the dough, I pray that someone in the family would knead on my aching back and legs.  No such luck!  Ok, the bread is made, the laundry is done, lunch is being cooked, and I'm ready to kick back and pretend I'm watching Sunday football, when I hear, "Tshepo, next weekend you will do a garden for us like the PC taught you, and I will evaluate your new skills learned today, then write you a recommendation."  Please mom, I hope the recommendation is for the Peace Corps to send me on vacation!

On a side note, my friend Karla comes over to pay a visit with her mom late in the afternoon and I told her about my day, and asked what she did on Family Fun Day?  Well, Karla slept in late and was then taken to a nature reserve to look at birds and exotic plants.  Did you do any chores today Karla?  Nope!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I Have No Life Skills!

I believe we are born and choose our own destiny, complete with nature of our character and experiences, and that character can be better developed by how we meet life's challenges.  However, it takes many a year for us to gain wisdom and skills sufficient to fill the pool of ancestral knowledge. We're meant to contribute, in our own unique way, our unique gifts to benefit the lives of others.  Yet, for many of us who have managed to get to the Zen Stage of life, there are still lessons to learn, and for me, that's a good thing!.

Every day something seems to happen to change you, and today is no different.  Here I am, one week into my mid-life crisis fix in the Peace Corps, and each day has presented something new, if not challenging or funny.  On this day, I was told by my host mother that I have no Life Skills. What are you talking about mom?  I've lived 54 years, been around the block a few times, and your telling me I have no Life Skills, which by the way, is supposed to be my new job here in Botswana, teaching Life Skills.  What am I going to do and how am I going to acquire the right skills necessary to live out this two years?  The comment came about because I came home from a long day of training and was needless to say hungry.  So my mom handed me some spinach from the refrigerator and told me I could make this for dinner.  This is my first attempt at cooking here, and I looked at the spinach and asked what am I going to do with this?

Here I go, I chop up a little garlic, find some oil, chopped the spinach, and let's cook.  Boy, I can't wait for my bowl of spinach!  A few minutes later, it's done, but I sneak some of their dinner, which I am not offered tonight, into my spinach to give it a little pizazz, not that maize is exciting, but it's something.  I go hide in the back patio with my little sister Kesego, who is hysterically laughing at me trying to eat this god awful meal in front of me.  They next thing I hear bellowing from mom, wanting to see my dinner, so I politely run away from her, Kesego runs after me, and mom is running after us!  Somehow we managed to escape her seeing my food, and somehow I managed to throw it away after a few bites, still with Kesego in hysterics here.  Not that it's ok to waste food, especially in Africa, but I was desperate to get out of this situation.  I swear, I remember just over a week ago, what a good cook I was, I even loved spinach!  But somehow the spinach isn't the same here, and any skills I had, have gone down the drain.

Mom says she now has to give me lessons this weekend on how to chop veggies, and how to wash my clothes by hand.  She wonders how I don't know how to do such things, and in a futile attempt to tell her how things were just over a week ago, she shakes her head and still thinks I am pitiful.  So, tonight I sit, starving while they eat their traditional food with gusto.  Living with this wonderful family is already changing the course of my life.  Watching them do their daily routine, the hard work put in, even though they are well-to-do,  the laughter, and their interactions with me and everyone who walks in the door, makes me want to get up each morning to see what going happen next!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Infamous Bucket Bath

Practically every Peace Corps Volunteer, at least in Africa, has to figure out how to manage a bucket bath or shower.  It has the same amount of water in as let's say, a water balloon party, and if my memory serves me well, water balloons are an easier way get wet and a lot more fun!  My first day of training started on Monday, so after not showering for a few days for a variety of reasons, I thought I would be very clever and take a real shower while the folks were at a church meeting on Sunday.  Excellent, I see with my very eyes that there is a regular bath tub and a hand held shower spout.  All my materials are waiting for them to leave and they will never know the difference if I took a real shower or a bucket shower.  I feel like Lucy and Ethel up to bad tricks, though more often than not, the trick backfires on Lucy, and it is the same for me.  I go to the bath, and lo and behold, no water.  WHAAAT!  My plan fails!  When my host mom comes home, I ask her what's up with the water, and she tells me that we often don't have water on Sundays.  Well, how about Mondays?  Maybe?  Sometimes we go without for a week!  Great!  I'll go to my first training day looking like Ethel, but mom assures me that she will wake up at 5am, put water in the bucket to heat up from the outside, and will wake me at 6am.  OK, we're on!  At 6am I get the wake up call and she said it will be ready soon, but reminds me she is going for her daily walk, and that I will be on my own.  Well, I don't exactly need a mom to help me bath do I?   I meditate and pray that my day goes well, hop up, and venture to see if there is water to take that real shower---No such luck, still no water!  My mom had taught me exactly what to do--take my bucket that the PC gave me and put cold water in it, heat another bucket and pour a little at a time into the bathtub, pour the bucket filled with cold water so it isn't so hot, get in and do my thing.  Not hard to take a bath in ankle deep water, but on this day I am a bit nervous about my first day of PC training, and getting bit by a mosquito last night.  So I decide to cut corners to save time and try to pick up the big heated bucket to pour into bath tub not realizing it is so heavy.  Of course the thing drops and half spills out all over my only towel and slippers, so now my bath is only toe deep.  I save a little water to rinse over my head, but this is not funny, and now I am praying she doesn't walk in and see this, or better yet, try to plug the bucket in and get electrocuted.  Yesterday, I watched mom give my 6 year old sister, Kesego, a bath in a little old fashioned steel bucket outside, and start to wonder why I can't fit in there too!  It would be so nice to be scrubbed down and have my hair washed by someone, but no, I am an adult-- a Peace Corps Trainee, and I don't need a mom to bathe me!  Finally it is over, my dirty feet are clean, my hair is washed, the floor is cleaned with my only towel, and I run to my room naked, with my bucket in front of my private parts.  This Peace Corps thing is so much fun, and just think, I made it out of here without anyone in the family seeing the mess I made, and not looking like Ethel after all!  I dried off with a hand towel, dressed up, only to find my new mom in the kitchen making me breakfast, packing me a lunch for my first day as a PCV, and asking how my bath went!  It was a piece of cake mom, I can't wait to do it again tomorrow!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Top Ten Expectations!

In two days I leave for an entire new life's experience, an epic adventure, and getting ready for this has been a trying experience in itself.  I'll be sacrificing most things that Americans consider essential to happiness, however, I believe that I will find a deeper level of happiness within myself and my natural surroundings.  This past week was supposed to be for taking care of last minute things, spending some quiet time at home, and saying final goodbyes to close friends and family.  It has been more than I anticipated, with absolutely no rest.  Yet all the cards seem to line up perfectly for me to go on this adventure, and I couldn't be more ready.   My bags are packed, the banks have been given a heads up on my departure,  I quit my job, sold the car, and have been telling the cats for 3 months that all their needs will be met better than mine will be for the next 27 months!   One day I hope I can put on resume that I made it through the Peace Corps Application Process and Packing!

I'm not joining the Peace Corps because I think I can change the world, I'm not that naive.  I'm going because I want to show the people who have nothing that there are those of us that care.  How else will the rest of the world ever know or feel peace!  Engaging in an entirely different focus of cultural interchanges does not seem daunting to me.  Despite all the differences that will be encountered, I have found that we all have similarities that bind us, and being cognizant that a smile will go a long way when things get rough.  What does seem odd to me is that the God's must have been crazy to send me to a conservative society, when all I wanted was to be in Asia to commune with the culture that I most identify with, and bum around in sleeveless shirts.  Nevertheless, I'll embrace Africa and the lessons to be learned with an open heart and mind as I have embraced Asia.  Because everyone says that this is supposed to be a life changing experience, I wanted to document my fun and/or noble expectations ahead of time, and let the future tell how my ideas and expectations of being a Peace Corps Volunteer come to fruition:  Maybe it would be safer to go in with no expectations, but after much consideration, here are my top 10:

1) I expect that to transcend the constraints of society that dictate how I've led my life and how I think!
2) I expect that my request to be vegetarian with my host family will be null and void!
3) I expect that we are going to start projects and clubs to help impoverished people improve their lives!
4) I expect that I will take small jaunts to Namibia to surf down the majestic dunes:  lay on a beach in Mozambique or Madagascar during our winter time in Botswana: Go on a safari the Peace Corps way:  and go to London to see Roger Federer try for an Olympic Gold!
5) I expect I will integrate into my community, and that none of the kids will climb through my bathroom window, or take a shirt hanging on my clothes line, or think it strange that this older white crazy lady is doing tai chi in their front yard!
6)  I expect that I will be on time for all meetings and buses, and then will wait for hours for someone, or a bus, to show up!
7) I expect to make lasting friendships and relationships with my fellow PCV's and the people who live in my village, especially the kids!
8)  I expect that if I see a snake or strange bug in my room, I will stand on my bed, scream, and pray that someone comes to rescue me!
9)  I expect that I will miss everyone, my cats, organic vegges, and the 60 inch surround sound TV more than I think I will!
10)  I expect that the Peace Corps may be the answer to this mid-life lull, and that a book will come out of me as I put life into a different perspective and let go of any stressors endured.

There it is, now I'm gonna buckle up and get ready for the ride under Botswana's skies!

"We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lose sight of the reason for the journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow along the way." G. Gaither