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!
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!
"What a time it was, it was a time of innocence, a time of confidences." Paul Simon
When President Kennedy was inaugurated, it was a time of new beginnings, and PCV's must have felt they were on the bandwagon of a new frontier. This past Saturday, all of Botswana's Peace Corps Volunteers, returned volunteers, and volunteers who never left the country, were invited to the American Embassy to celebrate it's 50th Anniversary. What a day it was, even the lovely Ambassador was there to cheer us on like a good politician would. Oh, and like a good schmoozer, the kind Ambassador told us that BOTS 11 "has it down." She meant our dancing, not the Peace Corps thing yet! Nonetheless, we were thrilled to get such a compliment!
Music was played, speeches were made, local community crafts were auctioned, as we all ate and shared old and new experiences. We were shown homemade movies in black and white of the Peace Corps experience now and 50 years ago. It must have been such an inspiring venture during those times. They didn't have 2-3 month trainings as we do now, they were thrown into the trenches to do some magic, and magic they did! Some even became a part of history as they entered Africa shortly after appartheid. Could you just see our long haired men and women with their bandanas on making there way into Africa! What would my grandma have thought of them if she thinks I am a freak? They were filled with an incredible spirit of idealism, passion, emotion, and wonder that permeated the culture. Sitting up at night writing in their blogs, like I am right now when I should be studying my Setswana, was unheard of because they were not connected with high technology. They were truly free! Our oldest Bots 11 was in the PC 45 years ago and was heartfelt when speaking of the exotic nature of it all, and how to this day it has impacted his soul. Yet another returned volunteer who spoke, turned his backside to us showing us his torn jeans, stating some things never change, yet much has changed. His ripped pants really got a laugh when our esteemed director's young daughter was obviously drawn to the pants, and peered behind him while he was finishing his speech. She just got an education on what it means to be a "free spirit." One spoke of the dreaded inoculation line, lowering their trousers, and everyone rubbing the cherry left on their backside---what a great way for volunteers to bond!
While watching these clips, and hearing these speeches, my mind wandered sadly back to an era that has past and left in it's wake a yearning for what can never be again. A time when eating popsicles on your front porch on a hot summer night was a cool thing to do, watching My Favorite Martian or The Patty Duke Show, going to drive-in movies in your boyfriends mustang, and being in awe of 4 of the cutest guys singing and changing the world on the Ed Sullivan show. Can't you even recall the smell of PB&J sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and opening up your thermos of milk at lunch time? I was a little young to be entrenched in the real 60's hippie scene, but I remember the turbulence of the Vietnam War, the protests, the fear I felt when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. All of these things, along with the beginning of the Peace Corps were ear marks of the sixties.
Our Peace Corps experience will be much different from those who served in the 60's, but President Kennedy's vision of promoting world peace and friendship lives on, and it made each and every one of us proud to be a part of something special on Saturday. So Happy Anniversary Peace Corps, thank you JFK, and thanks to the Peace Corps for providing such a unique experience for those who dare!
Jewish Torah has a saying in it: “Wish tamid tukad al
ha-mizbei'ach, lo sichbeh.” A fire shall always be burning on the
alter, it shall never go out! My own grandmother was a spark, full
of energy, passion for her family, and full of songs and stories from
a time long past. With those stories she conveyed the rich, cultural
past, the Bronx community, and the family in which she was raised.
Her generation was a continuation of the old Jewish community. My
grandma outlived friends, two husbands, and four siblings. After
each devastation, she was still our anchor, like the fire of the
Mizbei'ach, she would not be extinguished so fast! Yet, at
the age of 98, her passing that marked our connection with history
was basically severed. I hope that families with rich traditions
such as the Jews, continue to pass on their heritage—it's one thing
that should not be lost.
So here I am with a new family, and I remembered an old italian proverb that says "if nothing is going well, call your grandma." Grandma's seem to have wisdom and pride, they provide you in abundance with cookies that you can't get in your own house, they'll even give you the cherry off their top of their sundae. You really do get your money's worth out of grandma's! I loved my grandmother who passed on at the ripe old age of 98, and now in Botswana, my grandmother of origin has been replaced with my new grandmother who is also 98. Not that my grandma is really replaceable, but when the Peace Corps gives you a new family, they mean it! When I first met my new grandmother, she scared the living day lights out of me. She looked so---well--- prehistoric, and would just sit there staring at me. Sometimes she would wander outside and watch this white stranger doing strange moves in her back yard. Was she thinking anything, or is the fact that she talks to herself a sign that she has lost it? Nobody in the family seems to mind her chatter, so I just let it be. Yet I am constantly chasing this woman when she wanders and I'm the only one around. She definitely is a blood pressure raiser! What if I lose the old, scary woman! Would the family mind--well, it would be one less mouth to feed don't ya think!
A few weeks go by and I see in her eyes that there is still something there, so like a good Psychologist, it became my quest to find out what's inside her head, if anything. Grandma is sitting in her chair one night, so I decided to ask my mom if grandma was up to talking. She asked grandma, who rightfully said no, then gave me a penetrating stare! BOO! Ok grandma, I am rightfully scared---but I'll persist, asking questions about the old days with mom translating, and still, she would shake her head stating she doesn't remember. I don't believe it! This lady is definitely stubborn, but I'm more stubborn and determined to get her to like me, so I start laughing, acting goofy with Kesego, and trying to charm her with questions when all of a sudden my goofiness must have paid off. She gave me the biggest smile and started talking about her children and grandchildren.
The next night, the stare came back, she babbled something in Setswana, and mom said that grandma wanted me to "interrogate" her more. Gladly Grandma, it's fun talking to someone other than yourself, isn't it? For the next two weeks, every night, I asked all sorts of questions about the old days in Botswana, her family, her likes, dislikes, stories to be told---just like I used to ask my own grandma! There's nothing in the world like listening to grandma's tell old tales. It's like being glued to an old classic movie! My quest is conquered, I formed that special bond with grandma, yet when I would come home from a long day at training, she would be sitting outside by the door, just waiting to stare at me! God I hate that stare---especially since I know there's someone home now.
Over a week ago, grandma left to live with her other daughter for 2 months---it's 2 months here, and 2 months there. I was devastated! How could they do this me--take away my grandma? What about our bonding sessions? I was almost in tears, and when she left she just gave me that old knowing stare. There was such a void here. My astute mom saw how upset I was so she picked me up from training the other day to take me for a visit to grandma's. Off to grandma's, yay! You should have seen her light up, as I did, when we saw each other. She took my hand, held it, stared at me of course, and then we began to chat via translation---just like old times! The day is ending, I tell her I will come again to visit, and she turns to me and says "if I'm not dead yet," just like my own grandma used to do. This old woman then took my hand and told me that I am blessed! I'm not sure why she said that, but I sure am glad I have a grandma to go to when I need someone to talk to!
On a side note, it's funny that we got our site placements today, and I was placed in Grandma's home village! I guess the ties are stronger than I think! Now I can interrogate the elders of my new village and ask about my grandma! I can't wait!
More often than not the daily challenges of being in the Peace Corps turns out to be a comedy if your not busy being frustrated, complaining, or blind. Nothing is easy about living in a foreign land, even if it does have many of the comforts of home, but sometimes you think you're getting the hang of things, and then again, maybe it's all an illusion. After sleeping like a baby under my mosquito net last night, I am left alone for the day and thrilled that I can do my laundry the way I want to, eat what I can make given what is in the house, and do my tai chi without Kesego trying to trip me with every move. I get up around 9, gather my things to do laundry and off I go to fetch the bizzillion buckets it takes to do this correctly. Here I go, let's get the phosphate contaminated soap that's available, get bucket number one to fill up, and throw in the filthy socks, shorts, and shirts I've been wearing for days in the north, and let's soak and scrub. I turn the water socket on, and guess who's lucky enough to have no water today? These socks are standing straight up on their own and beckoning for help, so I go to the water tank that is preserved here in case the water goes out like every other minute. I then make the clever decision to multi-task, so while things are soaking, breakfast is started. Ok, I'll make an omelette with the hunk of real cheddar found up north---this is something I know I can do well! The onions are diced, I'll dice some potato for home fries, then cut some cheese, scramble the eggs and walla, an omelette. Sounds easy, yes! Not! The onions and potato are simmering, and I go to scrub the duds in the bucket. Scrub, scrub, scrub until by arms hurt---but my menopausal mind forgets that I am also cooking---guess who is burning the family pan and her precious food. I try to resurrect this, and think I have it handled---go back to put the laundry in bucket number two for first rinse out. Yet again, forgetful me smells something burning---YIKES! The pan is getting worse, and the brother who doesn't live here walks in to greet all those that are not here today. He is soft spoken, says hello, and his nose is sniffing the burnt air. Inconspicuously, he watches me do my laundry, and I see he is puzzled, if not humored. The gas goes out on the stove and now I have half cooked burnt potatoes and onions. This is so much fun I can't tell ya! Ah, there is electric on the stove also, so let's fumble around until I can figure this out and get my burnt meal under way. The laundry pin bag has disappeared, so I ask Toy, the brother, and he looks around to find a few, but he is not helpful. Excellent, I'll just get on my hands and knees to search for dropped laundry pins---this day is going better than expected! I take my bucket with the rinsed clothes and forget about bucket number 3. With bucket number 2 in hand, another good decision is made as I pour the excess water on some plants that need watering in this 100 degree heat, but my mind is now concentrating on my food that I don't want to burn more than it has, and all the laundry spills out onto the red dirt we have here in Botswana. Lucy couldn't do it better I! Toy sees this, and says, "I don't think you're doing it right!" Thanks Toy, maybe I can watch you do it better. Off to re-rinse my filthy clothes, and while that is rinsing, I attend to my omelette which I finally can eat, but looks like my newly cleaned dirty clothes. My yummy food is being eaten as I ponder how I'm going to scour this pan before anyone else comes home, with nothing to scrub it with, and no water! I am just beside myself in laughter here, and trying to digest all this, just to look over and see that Toy pulled out the strange washing machine and is doing his laundry in a systematic, sane manner. Maybe I should ask him to clean the pan also, he seems to know how to do everything right! Finally, everything is under control, I have some time to do my tai chi, go outside forgetting how hot it is, and ouch---guess who scorches their feet---my feet look like the stupid pan now! So much for spiritual activity! The best part of my day is when sister Joy skypes from Beijing. Besides Kesego and Bao, the other sibling names are Joy, Toy, and Roy, but that's another story! It was great talking to her, and now I long for real chinese food or anything asian.
After today's fiasco, I was wondering if the road less traveled is traveled less for a reason! The things we take for granted at home are becoming more recognized as I make these little, but big, random lifestyle changes. Isn't that what this experience is all about---making changes. It's 6pm, my family walks in from their day out wherever, and asks, "Tshepo, what's for dinner?" How about I make you all an omelette!
Later on in life, the one thing I hated most was telling people I was from New Jersey, that I only lived in the shadow of NYC. But the fact is, even though I was only born in NYC and lived in it until the age of 3, I only spent weekends in NY with my grandparents and cousins--thus, I am a Jersey girl! The place does harbor many fond memories though--playing in the snow, trying to get my parents to get over the Catskills schtick, and let's get on to the Jersey shore, wandering through the Jersey woods that are no more, and enjoying the best Italian food on the east coast. I
didn't know then that some of our greatest celebrities grew up in
Jersey: Abbot and Costello, Frank Sinatra, Meryl Streep, John
Travolta, of course Bruce the Boss, Michael Douglas---the list is
endless, and this sure makes me feel better about having grown up
there too. Even so, while wandering around the woods as a youngster, I would dream of all the places to go, and of course, the first dream was to go to Liverpool to meet the Beatles. Now, 50 years later, I find myself not in Liverpool, but in Botswana going on my first adventure in the life of a PCV.
I always feel a certain amount of glee
when I travel, I love that the universe is bigger and more complex
than we can possibly imagine, and that in order for me to truly
understand my place in it, I must let go of old, limited ideas, and
embrace the magic and mystery that's found everywhere around me. For five days we all were dispersed throughout Botswana to shadow another volunteer. Yup, hands on experience is what we need, along with good advice and wisdom from those that are in the trenches. So off I go to venture way up north to a village called Gumare with one other volunteer, and a prayer from mum at 4am to keep me safe, and an offering of 20 pula--which, I did not take, but was humbly touched. Bus rides in Botswana can get a bit hairy, but this day was fairly tame, except they know how to pack 'em in like sardines. Why they want to be on top of each other in this heat is beyond me. And on a side note, the Botswana have a superstition about wind, thus, no windows open in 100 degree heat! Besides being on top of each other, they sure like to chat and inquire about the only white person on a bus or on a street. Let's take the nice man sitting next to me who turns and says, "I am old." "Yes rra, I see that, I on the other hand am not as old as you, but I'm sure glad that you told me that." In a matter of minutes, I am privy to all details of his cattle post. Good, can I please get off the bus with you and eat some of your cow? I just keep imagining what this guy would look like with duck tape on his mouth as I start falling asleep! Yet, it goes on and on for several hours whether my eyes are open or not.
In Gumare, things are no different, our host volunteer took us to a school to meet with the Principal on a project he's doing. The man was very nice, though in the course of discussing things over with Todd, he stops mid stream to ask us where we were from---then back to his discussion with Todd---then back to telling us about his trip to Portland, Oregon---back to Todd---then he turns and starts singing to us---back to Todd---then to us about our life skills program---back to Todd---more singing---and finally I run out of there because if we stay here any longer, it will be Christmas and I couldn't bear hearing XMAS carols from a Principal in a school meeting. Even the dogs in a small town follow you around to talk! No joke! Walking home with Todd or Amanda in this little village takes triple time because you have to stop every 10 feet to chat with someone. It's all great fun when it's 110 degrees in the north!
Besides all the chatter, and doing our PC chores for the few days, a neighbor was nice enough to take us elephant searching. We found one that was killed for some reason a few nights ago, and were told that within 30 minutes of hearing of the dead elephant, all the towns people came to carve out the meat for dinner, mmm elephant meat, sounds good after eating cabbage for 4 weeks! Lucky us got to see the skeleton of the elephant, yet our elephant search ended at that because all the others' went on vacation for fear of getting axed themselves. We did however witness the most gorgeous sunset that gave way to a spectacular full moon.
Many great moments were taken in this week, most of all with the children. We did two groups with them, and were taught how to dance the African way. Our African rhythm was a comedy to all: then in another group, these bright students told us what they thought of America, and I could write a book on that alone, although the best quote was Americans are a "do this, do that" nation, and how right they are. The village kids then came out of the woodwork in 3 seconds flat when I was doing my Tai Chi in the yard---I am now known around town as the Karate Kid! I loved that one! Anyway, the other great thing was the hospitality of Todd and Amanda, their humor, their fabulous cooking of a Thai dish, veggie curries, homemade burritos and breads, all on our measly little salary. It felt so good to eat again!
After reflecting on my days here in Gumare, I wondered if kids ever get tired of explaining life to adults! These kids have nothing, yet they have great thoughts and ideas, and we really should listen more to them than anyone else, they actually get it! I love going places and I'm sorry to leave this blessed village where women sit outside making beautiful baskets, but home I must go. Sitting on the long 10 hour bus home, we share our week with others we picked up on the way, or whoever wants to listen. Finally, home sweet home! I walk into my house to hugs, laughter with Kesego, and mom in the kitchen bellowing "Tshepo, Tshepo, Tshepo," telling me she missed calling my name all week, and that I left a vacuum when I left---how heart warming for a weary traveler! She then told me she has a wonderful dinner ready---great---she learned how to make Thai food while I was gone, but no such luck, back to eating maize and cabbage with my hands! What a great way to end a perfect week, but maybe I should have tried that elephant meat!
For the Children of Gumare: "You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes, You can steer yourself in any direction you choose." Dr. Seuss
It's in the middle of our 2 month training period, the days are getting blazing hot, nerves are edgy from all the long training days, people are bonding, and we are almost at the point of wanting real food. I've never exactly been to a political event, nor have I wanted to. I'd much rather be at Woodstock, or some big time yoga festival in India. But here we are, getting a huge bite of culture, though I don't think any of us knew exactly what we were in for.
On this warm Friday in October, 35 Peace Corps Trainees were lucky enough to get to witness a Coronation of a King, but really a Chief. It began at 7:30am at the local Kotla, an attractive place for meetings and gatherings, and not the first time we have been there. It is a big deal with all the TV cameras, and dignitaries walking down the isle to their seats in the shaded area,---guess who got stuck in the hot sun for over 6 hours--I thought we were dignitaries too! Then, bigger than the Chief, in walked the President of Botswana. He reminds me a bit of Obama, thin, handsome, but a little shorter than Barrack. It was a thrill seeing a President, even if it wasn't your own, yet I sat there imagining, unrealistically, that it was Barrack Obama. It just felt good to do that!
Shortly after everyone had their rightful places, and speeches, that we can't understand were underway, a little 3 or 4 year old girl dressed all in pink with a rainbow hat on came and stood right next to where I was seated. Her eyes seem to light up to me, and then it happened----the dreaded kid sneeze. It seems when young kids sneeze, it's big, and this was no exception. The kid obviously had good skills and covered her nose with her hand, which I was grateful for, but then, using her good skills, she wiped her hand on my skirt. Gee, this is going to fun morning! So, on we go with watching traditional dancing, hearing African choirs, more speeches, and then the kid strikes again. She has some wad of something in her mouth, has been leaning on me this entire time, even though I keep gently shoving her off of me, but now the drooling comes on me from the wad of whatever in the mouth. I hope she doesn't puke on me next! Don't get me wrong, I love kids, but snot and drool are not my thing on this hot day. Maybe I was getting heat stroke, but I look over a ways and see Marilyn! It's easy to spot a white person in this crowd, and there it was, her hair which always sticks out in a crowd, and I thought how nice it was for her to come visit me here in Botswana so soon after I left. I hope she bought me some falafel sandwich's---I'm starved for something normal! But no, this was just my imagination again, it was someone else with Marilyn's hair, and she didn't have a falafel sandwich for me. The sun sure does funny things to ya!
Ok, so back to this odd reality, and the highlight of my day---- the Chief finally comes out, they sit him on the podium, and you just have to imagine this. We are on the side, but behind him, and his guards are around him, but they look like they are on safari, and some of the armed guards are taking pictures. You just have to love it! Could you imagine Barrack's CIA taking photos of him while he was swearing in as President! Then they wrapped the Chief in a leopard's skin that had been hunted down this year. I initially laughed to myself at this because it looked like nothing we would ever experience in our own country, except in a commercial starring Tony the Tiger--- and then I remembered I was in Africa, and the Leopard is a strong and mighty animal---a symbol beholding to a Chief! Between this Chief, the leopard suit, and the sun stroke, I am also blessed with someone leaning against one cheek, another practically sitting on my head, and the little girl in pink looks like she wants to come back over and pour her water all over me. With all this physical attention on me, I start having a hot flash, but nobody cares that I am sweating buckets on them, after all, we are one big happy family here in Botswana! Some of my fellow PC even comment on how well I am handling the conditions. Thanks guys! My brain somehow is still able to think even though it is squished in between two women, so I can't help to find some humor and wonder what if Obama wore a Cubs uniform to his swearing in, or better yet a Yankee uniform, the cubs are losers! Isn't baseball our national past time? How about putting a skinned bear on Barrack and watching him make his speech with this on. What would we think? We would probably think he was doing a Saturday Night Live Act! I just love being in a foreign land, witnessing foreign rituals---even in the hot sun, it's anything but dull.
Anyway, the festivities closed, the kind ladies finally moved, and the Chief got into his new limo, which is really a pick up truck. The President, dressed in a suit, deferred any speech for tradition. But he did pass the Peace Corps section and waved at us howling at him. I guess in the end it all comes down to cultural differences, which is what we are here to learn. It doesn't matter that Barrack Obama didn't wear a Cubs Uniform, or that George Bush didn't wear a monkey suit. It matters that a country is true to its' traditions and it is honored, no matter what it may appear to an outsider. Their traditions are a gift that has roots, and I for one am glad that some countries still hang on tight to what's true. It doesn't hurt either that it adds humor----after all, isn't laughter the key to a long life!
Everyone keeps asking what is my day like here in Botswana. I didn't want to use my blog for these matters, but since you are all asking, here it goes. At 5:45am I awake to a harmony of roosters telling me to get up and take the dreaded bucket bath. Ok, early to bed, early to rise---I get it already! They don't have to be so loud and demanding do they? On this particular day though, I also awake to a donkey peering in my window. It kind of brought fond memories of my cats peering at me the same time of day to eat, so in all goodness, I'll invite the donkey in the house and let it choose what to eat for breakfast. Hmmm, maybe some left over cabbage so I don't have to take it for lunch! I'll even name the donkey Nikko because he talks and acts like my smart big mouth cat Nikko! He even has a nose like Nikko! I hear mom say "Tshepo, what are doing?" "Oh, I"m just feeding a donkey mom, it's all good!" "Do all Americans do this Tshepo," "Sure mom, we all have donkey's peering through our windows in the morning in America." This is, after all Africa, and anything goes, RIGHT? Grandma is watching like I am a freak of nature! After wondering if I'm in a bad dream, I meditate and pray that I don't get suckered in by the 5 new puppies on my way to Karla's house for 4 hours of language. NO, I cannot take a puppy home, besides, I am a cat person aren't I? On the 10 minute stroll down a dirt road, I am greeted by all that pass me, and the women in particular all stop, greet me in Setswana, and want to hear my progress with my language. They are thrilled that I know how to say how did you sleep, and thank you! Gee, I'm doing great according to their smiles, they don't realize that I'll probably flunk my language test this week because I only know how to speak to people on dirt roads. It's easy to romanticize being on a dirt road with beautiful purple trees surrounding you and looking out over the hills of our village. It's like the olden times, just like the Walton's walking to school! Dumela rra John Boy! So, after language we go off to the training center where I eat my left overs from the dinner last night that I made, while mom hovered over me to make sure I was cooking the African way. We are all getting used to what each other is eating, but today Alex had pizza from Gaborone, and she was kind enough to let us all have a communal bite! After my delicious whatever it was I ate, I'll poop up a storm because something does not agree with me here, but the PC insists that I eat in a culturally acceptable way, so I'll lose yet another 2 pounds in a day. After lunch and socializing, we sit for another 3 or so hours of "let's break into groups and discuss--------!" I come home by taxi to Kesego eagerly thinking that I am her playmate, so I dutifully play with her, do my tai chi, do any chores mom has for me, cut up whatever for dinner----my cutting is getting really good, even mom said so! Then I eat, then I poop, poop, poop from all the cabbage grown and eaten here, or whatever it is. I go outside for a quiet moment to watch the bright orange red sun set over the purple hillside, and for that one moment the world goes away for me to have a personal thought! But reality is waiting inside the home of this wonderful family, so in I go. I have tried to teach Kesego to massage my aching back from all the chores, but she has learned that it feels soooooo good, that she has cleverly turned the tables, curls up on me as the family watches the news, and being the sucker I am, I rub her back and she falls asleep on my lap! The family then says a little prayer to watch over us at night, I go into my room, do homework, read, play games on my i phone, go to sleep around 11 and dream that my whole class is speaking in Setswana, and I am speaking Thai! I wonder what the PC will do in my language test if I answer in Thai----will I still get points for speaking in another language? Before the night is over though, I sneak outside to look at the magnificant sky filled with a million stars which are as bright as the likes that you have ever seen. The southern cross reminds me that I am not on Waltons mountain, but it doesn't matter because it's in the stars where I will take refuge in to guide me in this amazing adventure! Goodnight/Boroko!
"COMING TOGETHER IS A BEGINNING, KEEPING TOGETHER IS PROGRESS, WORKING TOGETHER IS SUCCESS!" H. Ford
They call us BOTS 11 because we are the 11th group of volunteers coming into Botswana. I like the name, and I don't think other countries would flow like BOTS does, i.e. Thai 37, eh, doesn't flow like Bots 11 does, but boy would I still love to be in Thailand, or at least have some Pad Thai right now. My language teacher keeps reminding me not to put an Asian twang to Setswana, but I will never give up my Asian soul, and that is not understood here. It's been 3 weeks since I have left home, and over 2 weeks in Botswana. It's funny when you put an American in another country, or situation like let's say, the Peace Corps, strange things start to happen, and you start to wonder what it's all about. It's almost like living on Mars!
If you think about it, in the past 20 years, socialization has changed dramatically, and people are trying to make sense of a world that makes no sense, especially to those in third world countries. As Americans, we have fully jumped on the tech bandwagon, we multi-task, take power naps, we power train, gulp down power drinks, and have power agenda's. It's excessive, it's fun, it's exciting, but something is also lost and misunderstood. For the people in Botswana, family is family, extended family come in and out of the home, most homes don't have our technology, they still take bucket baths, eat with their hands, they pray for rain in the Ktotla and it comes, weddings include everyone---even the white stranger, and the cows and donkeys that meander the streets may even be welcome in the Internet Cafe's. Now that makes for an interesting society! Seriously, when donkeys start emailing each other, we know we're in big trouble! I've already realized the things that I need to give up, things I need to put more effort into, and to not expect things to come at my feet. I suspect that there will be many tough lessons along the way.
So, back to living on Mars---yesterday we had a diversity group where we discussed topics of being older, younger, married, abused, vegetarian, and a variety of other topics. Everyone talked about the positive and negative points, and at the end, we formed a trust circle and had to step in the middle if we answered yes to a number of personal questions. We did not strip and act like monkeys, nor did we break out in dance, but what did happen was it brought tears to some, reluctance to others, and still, we all learned a little more about each other. In the end, whether we feel we are living on Mars or not, there is a realization that we all don't have to be best friends, nor hang with those we have little in common with. The lesson learned is that we all will need each other in one form or another, and that our experiences will make us all stronger as we go out to try and meet our expectations at our sites, or just try to cope with everyday living that is different from our own. Wouldn't it be fun to revert back to our primal forms and restart a new creation to make things work well for our service here. I won't be surprised if that doesn't happen in some form, but for now, by accepting our differences and working together, maybe one day we'll feel close enough to take it all off and act like monkeys---I wonder what people on Mars would think of that!