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!