Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Jewy little holiday




Oh no, not another flashback dream: it's around 1969 and there's some war going on in Southeast Asia, I'm supposed to go home from college for the holidays, but instead I'm hanging around somebody's East Village hovel on XMAS eve---much more exciting than the Jersey suburbs---we're smoking some weed, some tv show is emanating from a cheap black and white tv, we're getting the munchies, and now leading a magical mystery tour over to Chinatown to dig the kosher Chinese restaurant Schmolka Bernsteins, where I think, a waiter has been transformed into something like Santa's elf. It's now 12 midnight, 2013, and I wake to being in a strange house, with an alien dog looking at me, I wipe my eyes and realize, holy crap, I'm in the Peace Corps and it's not 1969 in Greenwich village. Hmmm, I wonder who won that war!

When I woke, I started wondering about the ingredients for Jewish XMAS season in the Peace Corps:
Solidarity, self-aware alienation, a mildly altered state of consciousness to get through this time of year, soul food, Chinese Food and a movie. Well, no Chinese, soul food, or movies in this village, and an altered state is through meditation and yoga (not that I would want an altered state any other way these days).  I used to think that the Jews loved the holiday season more than Christians---no pressure for gifts, just eat your Chinese, go bowling or something, and enjoy the music!  It was magical!  In Africa though, the pressure is equal to being Jewish---no gifts, just dance the day away, and move on!  Sounds good to me!

Not that this has anything to do with being Jewish, but I then started wondering what I missed out on this past year: Naked people going nuts in Britain—hmmm--maybe PCV's should get a male circumcision program going there, whatta think Prince Harry;   Did I miss the final season of 30 Rock---this is really upsetting me!  I missed Aly Raisman winning the Olympic Gold medal in floor to “Hava Nagila.”; and I think I missed out on Mormon Hip Hop Mitt Romney mangling Bush-style malapropisms.  

 Gee, maybe I should go back to dreaming or better yet, figuring out how to breach the lines of normalcy through New Year's Resolutions. Let's see, as the silly season of excess ends in the states, and we all stare at the extra notches on our belts and recoil in horror at flashbacks of too many donuts eaten, or ooops—I forgot to exercise this year, etc...the time has come for us to try to redeem ourselves for the last 365 days, and make that resolution that will really stick and be different, or at least not capitalize on the same mistakes year after year. I love the idea of New Years resolutions, but not as much as the thought of that Chinese Food in NYC. Here are my resolutions for 2013......

               1) Not to take my hopes and dreams seriously, and in my spare time, when I'm not ruling the world, I'd like to get more familiar with getting things right!
    1. Finish my Peace Corps Service without killing someone on a kombie!
    2. Buy a new leopard coat with shoes to match so I can always be reminded of a Botswana Chief
    3. I vow to wake each morning, look hard in the mirror, ask how mind numbing useless I'm being here, and find ways to make it unique and fun.
    4. While everyone here is busy traveling to the usual places, I'm Madagascar bound!

I've got a sneaky suspicion, this year is gonna be a good one if I make it out of here in one piece!

Happy 2013 to everyone!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Iconic Cape Town








There's a place for every kind of traveler, from a Taoist spa in Thailand, or sitting under the star filled sky in the African bush, to the sophisticated Cape Town. Amazingly different, completely unique and not at all what I expected. I came to South Africa with few pre-conceived perceptions, only an idea of what I thought CT might be like, but in fact, it has beaten every thought or idea I had. It absolutely has blown me away and I have fallen in love!

Maybe it's the similarity in climate and feel to my adult roots in California, or maybe that Seouth Afreca has a character that is too interesting and compelling to ignore. After all, this is the land of Nelson Mandela, who brought down apartheid, and then had the audacity to say “no retribution look to the future.” It's easy to see why CT, or the Mother City, is so loved. And love it I did! From the moment I stepped out of the plane and lost my passport, nothing was gonna stop me from relishing this fabulous place. From the sea to the backdrop of Table Mountain and Devil's Peak, to the funky style of Long Street, to the classy valley wine estates, and the spirited markets and water front, not to mention the very hip coffee shops, the craggy coast line, along with the warmest and most welcoming people I have ever met. Never in my travels has a city grabbed me like this one did—-it is simply nature's masterpiece!

We went up the newly adorned 7th world wonder of nature of Table Top Mountain, admiring it from the top and all around the city, then to the World Heritage Kirstenbosh Gardens, a wine tour where I fell in love with not a wine, but a dog, Simonstown to admire the Jackass Penguins, and my favorite---the Old Biscuit Mill---an indoor/outdoor market of food producers, farmers, arts and crafts, people eating nibbles and sitting on bales of hay, big lounge cushions, anything so long as they're outdoors and having fun.


With few inhibitions and a desire for exploration on a full stomach, I walked about this city like I owned it. Granted, the wonderful wines of South Africa cures everything, and the power of good food always makes life better, especially when you are in the Peace Corps and in a country where the food literally sucks.

We also were in Namibia, a sure contrast to Cape Town, but equally great seeing the desert where the land stretches out in all directions, shimmering to an uncertain horizon. Everything seems to just makes sense to me when I am in the middle of nowhere. My cares and worries disappear, my body and mind get exercise, and there's nothing to disturb the ebb and flow of life. I felt like Iwas 18 again zooming around on our quad bikes through the dunes, singing XMAS carols through the streets with my fellow PCV's, seeing the sea again, and nourishing our souls with good food.

Life is so good, if we only take the time to see it and understand it!







Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Truly Wise


The lion cub, looking cuddly and comfy in the crook of it's mother's neck, will one day grow and become a sign of courage and fierce dignity. The same can and should happen to children with the right love and comfort.

Lately, and because of an incident that occurred, the notion that the truly wise person finds room in their life for the spirit of the child, just as the lion does with it's cub, and so, the wise person, no matter what age, can play, trust, grow, and most of all, recover from mistakes. The wise person listen's to it's children, and recognizes that the child bears within a certain divine quality that often disappears in adults.

And so, leave it to a child to get to the heart of the matter instead of the wiser adult.  My very dear friend, Lefika, who is the ripe old wise age of 7, did something naughty. When I was in Lesotho in October, Lefika came into the house when Stanley was feeding Keoki, and 1) wouldn't obey Stanley to stay out of the house, and 2) he attempted to take some small toy items that he thought he rightly deserved. Well, when I got home and was told about this disappointing act from a good friend, I immediately confronted it, and, hurt as I was, I told Lefika that we could no longer be friends unless he found a creative way of telling me he's sorry. At that, and after my schpeel of stealing, I walked away with the hope that he'll find a way to apologize, and being the wise person that I am, I can forgive him and move on.

Almost two months go by, and though Lefika is in my primary class, and shines above all, nothing has happened. Sitting on the porch the other day, I was wondering who was gonna give in first.  With the holidays upon us, and my service in it's final year, I didn't want to let this go much longer---but, as wise as I am, I am also as stubborn, and apparently, so is my lion friend Lefika. All I wanted was something a little creative from this highly intelligent boy whom I've grown to love---so, given that the African Gods probably heard my thinkings today, I walked by Lefika's house with Keoki and saw him climbing like a monkey up a tree. He sees me, jumps down with the same agility as a monkey, looks at me, and bows in an Asian form to me---and says, can we walk together again.

There was nothing in the entire world that could have been a better peace offering than this child having the where-with-all to know that something profoundly Asian would absolutely get me to say ok, let bygones be bygones. Lefika and I walked for over an hour talking about life, and other unusual happenings. He is certainly a lion among all others here, and as I found out today, has the heart of one too!


Monday, November 26, 2012

How's the Weather by You?




Everyone seems interested in the weather---the actual as well as what people say about it. You can learn a lot that way—listening to people's perceptions of the weather in their own countries and other countries.

Take Africa for example; what would an ordinary English person say when asked about the climate in Africa. They would probably immediately think HOT, and then their minds would unconsciously wander to thoughts of Ethiopia—perhaps a starving child, flies in their eyes and belly distended, painfully thin adults dressed in rags, staring balefully at the camera in a fetid refuge camp. Or possibly, a famous self-declared savior from the West, strolling purposefully past the decaying corpse of an animal beside a hot dusty road, or a Masai across endless plains with lion in the blistering heat, and horizons with melting, coppery sunsets.

And there you have it in a nutshell, Africa is associated with a hot and sultry environment, with it's people in dire straights, and animals in the wild—a widespread misconception, a myopic view which we cannot afford to cling to when in a world changing so fast. Sure some of that exists, but think again folks! I was just recently falling into a rhythym as the weather slowly changed from bone chilling cold to sweltering hot. Yeah, I bet you didn't know it snows in Africa, there are magnificant mountains such as Mt. Kenya, Kilimanjaro, Uganda's Rivengori Mountains, and yes, dear Ethiopia's Semien Mountains where it regularly snows, and there is even a ski resort or two in Africa.

But wait, there's more—we have other weather too, like a rainy season that most here pray for. Usually the rain in other parts of the world is calming, but here the storms can transform anyone's peaceful slumber from bliss to a scene in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, where Tom bangs a huge gong in Jerry's ear, and his entire body pops out of bed to Tom's delight. That's exactly what it's like---room shaking thunder that makes one feel like their room has been picked up and moved into a bone shaking, rauchous of a NYC dance club from the disco era. That's reality---huge, dark, looming clouds fill the horizon of a perfectly blue sky, and an absolute deluge of water covers your image of our hot and sultry paradise. Then with heat and rain, menacing bugs pack quite a punch, and you just hope they never crawl across your bed while asleep.

For such a diverse continent, there are fast changing realities, with cafes, malls, BMW's, internet in the Serengetti, mountains, snow, ice, ancient rock art, that all intermingle with the vast plains where the animals do roam in the, also, sweltering heat.   There you are, a whole prejudicial image cluster comes alive via a talk about the weather. I find this this ethnographic way of analyzing and deconstructing a concept quite fascinating---So, how's the weather by you?  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thanksgiving with an African Twist


Well, it's that time of year again when haggling thoughts of what the Pilgrims really ate take over, but I can be pretty sure they didn't eat stewed crocodile, or Zebra meat like the African lion feast on no matter what day it is. While you at home may have already started watching your favorite holiday shows, or baking a wide assortment of goodies in your warm and cozy homes, with smells of cinamon and vanilla filling the air, some of us are sitting here thinking about running around the village and chasing a turkey to kill for Thanksgiving dinner. That's right, Peace Corps Service requires just a little ingenuity---it's not exactly over the river and through the woods to grandma's house this year---it's more like, let's even find a turkey in this god foresaken country and maybe keep it as a pet.

So, I sit here, in my not so cozy habitat, thinking of Thanksgivings' bounty of offerings, families gobbling down a scrumptious feast, and how in the USA, the average person consumes over 4500 calories on Thanksgiving day---they eat over 530 million pounds of turkey, 45 million turkeys are actually cooked, and did you know that domestic turkeys can't fly, but wild ones can fly over 55 mph but just for a short distance. Dang, all of a sudden, the sting of being on another hemisphere is making me feel really, really bad for these turkeys---though truth be told, if I were sitting at your Thanksgiving table, I doubt anyone would get more than a mouthful because I would've devoured it while the carving took place!

Lucky for you, I'm not at your dining room table, instead, it's early evening, and outside on the dirt paths, there's no holiday parade, no brightly ornamental floats, or melodious marching bands. Rather, my view is of my neighbor and Keoki running around trying to corner a chicken for dinner---I guess there's a little turkey in all of us!  Laughing at the site of Keoki and the plump woman running all over the place made me ponder of our traditions, and how many people have really ever even thought of taking the time to be deeply thankful on Thanksgiving Day, or is just the pumpkin pie they're thinking about. Quite frankly, being in the Peace Corps has made me thankful every minute of every day for the things I used to have, and the little I have now. I'm thankful for a flushing toilet when it works, for water and electricity when it's on, for having dental floss, for listening to the reverberating sounds of village kids sing my African name as I walk about, and for the kombie driver's avoiding the cow coming through the windshield and killing us all.

The holiday season was initially started in order to celebrate the harvest, and here in Africa that couldn't ring more true. No, Thanksgiving is not even a glint in the eyes here, but Pula, Rain, now your talking---it's everything to these folks, it's what they're most grateful for. Living in a small rural village certainly churns your eyes and heart to an entirely different meaning of being thankful and finding gratitude, because people here learn to improvise and make due with what they have.  And so, with the crescent moon hanging overhead,  I reflect on how small things can become huge gifts in the life of another.  No matter what you're grateful for, be sure to show gratitude for ALL you have, because there are those who have only the rain to look forward to!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Botswana Fat Cakes



Other than good wildlife, Botswana can boast about their only delicious thing in this entire country, if not sinfully artery clogging, and that is the Fat Cake. Yup, even when Michelle Obama was here promoting good health, she indulged in more than one “unhealthy” Fat Cake. How can anyone really resist. Basically, the fat cake is made of dough and probably disgusting hydronated oils, rolled into a fat ball, then fried in more disgusting oil. Sounds like an American donut X 5 without the hole, meaning that with every bite you lose 2 days off your life, and gain 2 pounds--a pretty good trade off, I'd say!  I've indulged in a few along the way out of pure desperation, and I must admit they are quite good. My neighbor makes them, and Keoki goes crazy, just like most do for the infamous fat cake. They are just downright popular.

So, if I can digress for a moment, Phyllis, the NYC correspondence class teacher, had the good idea to share story books with the kids this semester. We would both read the same book, then have the little ones draw a picture from our lesson plan, and hopefully tell a little about the drawing. Great idea right! Most of my little ones never saw such a thing, let alone ever had anyone sit and have story time with them, so needless to say, 40 kids are piled on top of me and the book.  Instead of constantly screaming for them to get off me, I scaled down and chose 15 kids to go outside and do the circle thing. That didn't work either, but at least I only had 15 kids on top of me instead of 40. The pictures in the book are sending these kids into never, never land nirvana. Needless to say, The Ladybug Girl and the Bug Squad was a huge hit. All the kids were able to talk about the book afterwards, albeit in simplistic terms, but it's a start. So at the end of the book, the Bug Squad are all sitting around a table eating delicious chocolate cupcakes—yummy. Upon seeing the picture, I told the kids they were having a party eating----and before I finished my sentence, 15 kids jumped and yelled out, “they're eating FAT CAKES!  Explaining what a cup cake was compared to a fat cake was just downright futile. I could have been talking about the man from mars, they just know what they know, and that's that! Ya gotta love it!

Let me digress one more time---in my school, our Form 3's were to be done with school after 2 long weeks of exams, then they have to wait until February to find out if they pass and could go on to high school.  Well, I brought my camera to take photos and maybe say some nice words to the group after the test.  But no, this is how Jr. School ends for these kids---the last the test is over, the Police Squad gather around and chase all 300+ away--with clubs and all.  No time for niceties, good luck, we love you...nothing.  I'm wondering though if they all ran away to get  a Fat Cake!

Uh, can I digress again please---Yay for Obama's victory yesterday!  African's are rejoicing, and showing emotion like I haven't seen here; in the schools, taxis, kombies, on the dirt paths, all over the place with huge enthusiasm. It's refreshing and hopeful that the Obama's may come again just to eat the Fat Cake!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

It's Saturday Night Live



Lately I've been reflecting on flow---just going with the flow of life, following one's inner urge, listening underneath the surface of things, not resisting anything, moving into a mature consciousness, just sitting on the pulse---and listening.  Sounds good, huh!

Ok, so I'm in a Mid Service Crisis/Funk!  I woke today doing some meditation, yoga, and thought maybe I'd go on a grand mental cleanse. Hold your horses Tshep---bringing things to light, a mental cleanse, how rewarding and relieving it can potentially be, but, nah, forget all that hogwash, I'm not exactly in an Indian Ashram, and besides, it's Saturday Night in Mmathethe, the nothing capital of the world.

So the very mature conscious side of me decided instead, to stir some Saturday Nightness into several of the locals around here. Having no electricity because of a storm today, I pulled neighbors and friends in, lit some candles, and told them we're going to have some fun, laugh, and yep, we're gonna have a cooking lesson. How's that for fun on a Saturday Night! “Tshepo, what are we going to cook?” We're gonna learn how to make Popcorn, so I start deligated chores for this fiasco, someone get the pot, someone pour some oil in the pot, someone light the gas stove, and someone throw in some popcorn. Good, we're set, and everyone's eyes are glued to the pot--”nothing's happening Tshep.” Just wait, it'll happen---pop, pop, pop, and the people's eyes are huge, some jumped back in true fear, some stared, some were laughing, others in awe of this weird happening. “Tshepo, watch out!” Whaaat---oops---the pot is too small for what we put in, and popcorn is now flying all over the place, the lid blew off the pot, people are laughing, and some don't know what to do, so I yelp, “start catching it with your mouth.” Well, they did, mouths are opening everywhere, even Keoki liked the popcorn game, and frankly, was better at it than all.

 All of a sudden, the popping stops---quiet hovers over the candle lit and popcorn ladened kitchen---someone looks at me and says, “now what Tshep!” Ok, the amusement is over, we put salt on the popped corn that was saved, and all devoured the newly found treasure that they have never seen done before. “Tshepo---this was magic.” “No, it's not really magic, It's Saturday Night Live in Mmathethe.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Up Close and Personal at Chobe


This past weekend, I treated myself to a much needed private retreat north to Kasane where Chobe National Park is located, and to where I can think alone, grieve, be in nature, pamper myself, and splurge on a nice lodge with good food, good showers, TV, and a good masseus. Ah, heaven to a PCV. It didn't take much to be enticed up there since I've been bitten hard by the safari bug.  All I had to do was summon up my inner elephant spirit, and I'm there---like dressing on a salad.  So now, Chobe's claim to fame is that it boasts the highest concentration of elephants on the plant with well over 100,000. The elephants though, should not be the only claim to fame, as the reserve along the river is simply sensational, and the vast park is home to hugely varied wildlife. But boy, those elephants, the earth's largest land creature in all their imposing glory are sure fun to watch. Chobe River also forms a natural border between 4 countries, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Each afternoon, animals trek long distances to the rivers edge in order to drink and think---well, I don't know how much thinking they actually do. You couldn't throw a rock without hitting one of hundreds of elephant, they are everywhere, and set against a landscape that you can only watch and admire. All of the big 5 are in Chobe save for the Rhino. In particular, I enjoyed the river cruise where we became up close and personal, not only with the elephant, but with the hippo who came out of water at an unlikely hour. Beautiful birds stalk the hippo, waiting for it to poop so they can eat all the good stuff that comes out. It's quite a site. There were many crocs, baby crocs, water monitors, giraffe, the graceful impala, hundreds of buffalo which are one of the big 5, and Tiger Fish that periodically bounced up out the water scaring the daylights out of us. Inland we saw about 9 lion sleeping under a tree bush in the hot afternoon sun, though one male graced us and got up to say hello. No matter how many animals you see, or how often you do a safari, there is no feeling in the world better than running into the mighty lion or leopard. Lying there, fading into the scenery, unafraid of anything, I see why they are king of the jungle---they are majestic and feared by all other animals.

You have not felt Africa until you witness the bright orange sun setting behind the river, or behind the gnarled branches of the ancient Baobab trees that seems to bring out a myriad of colours on the bulky trunks. At night, I sat with my wine under the stars, listening to the sounds of nearby wildlife, interspersed by the silence of the African bush---a place I can call home.






  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Passage of Life




Platinum coat with bright blue eyes, highly intelligent, a lover cat, a friend, was put down to sleep after almost reaching his 16th birthday. Family matters and stuff happening on the homefront may be all part of being in the PC, but boy is it tough to lose something near and dear when you're so far away. He may just have been a cat to those reading, but Nikko was profoundly much more than that to me. His life wrote a chapter in my soul's book---he always had something to say, and it was hard getting the last word in. I've never been around a cat so smart---he was clearly an intellectual conversationalist---just ask anyone in my neighborhood, they all heard Nikko's running commentary on life. I think they also wondered how we ever got any sleep.

I hadn't known of Nikko's passing, as I was in Lesotho, but strangely enough, within a few hours of Nikko's departure, a tall man with blue eyes, quirky and smart features, and a warm and fuzzy personality approached and began chatting with me for quite awhile. It was funny how easily we talked, laughed, and connected.  Afterwards, the man took my hand so warmly in both of his, stared deeply into my eyes for what seemed an eternity, and stated "my  name is Nikko." 

This occurrence was Divine Intervention with a definite synchronicity to it, because had I not chosen to do the trip to Lesotho, I might not have had the opportunity to meet Nikko the gentleman, who clearly was the vehicle to which my Nikko chose to say good bye and thank you.  It was such a special gift that I'll embrace the rest of my life, especially because over the miles and a year of being gone, our deep connection apparently never left.

And so, as death is a part of life's unfolding story, and as I sit and cry, trying to compose my thoughts and feelings, my aspirations and my dreams, I pay this little tribute to Nikko---a beautiful boy who touched my life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mountain Serendipity




Nine intrepid PCV's embarked on a trip to Lesotho, a true wilderness, an environment truly untouched by man, a small mountainous kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa. Most of the Drakenberg World Heritage Site is a spectacular and seemingly unpenetrable range of mountain and wilderness. Within a short time one can be in a completely timeless landscape, looking exactly as it would have looked long before humans walked the planet. The Zulu people call the Drakenbergs “Ukhahlamba” or The Barrier of Spears.

There have been but a few destinations in my travels that have caused me to be at a loss for words. The natural silence created a kind of spiritual euphoria, and a new awareness of how we as humans are linked to what is left in nature. Mystic Mountains were tucked up in a patchwork of quilt, stiched with time and aged with silence. As you gaze out at colours running and seeping in foliage and waterfalls, like an eagle's expansive wing, the hills seemed to circle higher in the airy whisper of the wind, the landscape, views, and vistas, unfolded like a story in a picture book. 

For me, traveling is a social experience of exploring untouched natural places. It's a way to enrich the spirit, and it took but a minute to feel comfortable, alive. I was hardly prepared for the immemse beauty my eyes were lucky enough to be treated to. One of the most Ancient Mountain ranges in the world, and a treat for every sense:   Sight—Fill your soul with a sense of awe, not only of the mountains, but of the 100,000 year old rock art where you can read into the story of their rituals and reverence for the people and animal by which they survived. Smell---experience the freshest air---the valleys between the mountains with the lush green vegetation, produce the most fantastic smells you will ever experience. Touch---Made of tough granite and softer sandstone. You will feel these different textures on the souls of your feet, feel it with a hand as if you become part of the earth! Sound---There is a Boys Choir School that sing about 15 of the most famous works ever produced, and even though we did not hear them, we were serenaded by some of the local angelic voices singing traditional songs in the evenings.  Taste---Farm style traditional meals, made from incredients from the land, and cap it off with a sherry watching yet again, another African Sunset.

It was a wonderful adventure of hiking each day, pony trekking, and being 55 years old and making up steep terrain--whew!  The mountains stood untouched and silent, watching as we turned to make our long journey home.







Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Glowing Girls




Camp Glow is a USPC Leadership camp that is offered to young people in countries where PCV serve.  It was actually started by a group of PCV's and teachers in Romania in 1995 to encourage young women to become active citizens by building their self-esteem and confidence, and developing skills in goal setting, assertiveness, and life planning. It soon became a world wide PC initiative, and by 2000, about 21 camps took place around the world.  GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World, and camps are organized by PCV's.  Camp Glow provides young people with an opportunity to come together for 4 days, and 50 kids in our case, and attend sessions on gender awareness, promotion of self esteem, nutrition, development of life skills, and fighting the HIV pandemic to name a few.  My favorite session in our camp was led by Yami, who did "Women Around the World."  It was simply beautiful!

Much goes into putting on an event like this, and the girls had a grand time, not only with discussing new things, learning new things, but making new friends, and expanding their worlds in a way they've never done before,---hopefully seeing that there is more than what is seen outside their backyards. Fun was had by learning how to make paper necklaces, ty-dying shirts, making piggy banks, watching movies, learning how to make the American infamous s'mores, and getting served an American dinner by the PCV's.  

Surprisingly, being around Fifty teenagers for 4 full days wasn't my worst nightmare. It actually turned out to be amazing in so many ways.  Watching many of these campers transform from shy and unconfident girls, to seeing the possibilities of being strong, energetic, and wonderful leaders of the world.  Of course there were one or two snags, but for the most part, the girls put aside their differences, and embraced the beauty in each other and new situations.  This past 4 days made my PC service, not only because of the success seen through the campers, but also of the amazing work and heart and soul of my fellow PCV's who just ROCK!  We sacrificed sleep, nice beds, private showers, and free time to help make a difference in the lives of 50 strangers.  This is what Peace Corps Service is all about!




Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mmathethe Typing School for Boys




Man I wish I lived up in the Kalahari just to be able to name this post—but I'm in the southern part of the country and loving it equally. Botswana may have been a well kept secret to most if not for Mma Precious Ramotswa, yet the books are not flaunted in stores here. Even though she is only a character in the Ladies Detective Series, she portrays a woman of great character with true principles. She uses wisdom and native common sense to solve problems, and realizes that a chance remark, a careless involvement, may make the difference between a life of happiness and one of sorrow. The Lady Detective series evokes an image of Botswana, the values of its people, the simple characters and choices, their lagging technologically. Having read the books a long time ago, I reflect back on them and take refuge in how Mma Ramotswa weaved in and out of her dealings with people.

The rythym of Botswana life is a leisurely pace, and, like Mma Ramotswa, what I've learned having lived here a year now, is that you cannot interfere with Batswana's without running the risk of changing them profoundly. Innately, I think that the Batswana know this, which is why it takes so much time for them to really accept you on a deeper level, and trust that what you have to offer will be the right thing. It's almost a remarkable shift of what has occurred in relationships after being here awhile, especially with the teachers.

Having said my Botswana schpeel, I have not started a detective agency as of yet, but, as such, I have followed suit and started a Typing School for Boys---well, it started me, when out of the blue, Lefika came running up to me asking to teach him how to type---he didn't know the word type, so he motioned with his fingers. He told me he only saw people around here typing with two fingers, and that if he was gonna be a lawyer one day, he needed to know this. I love this kids brilliance, reasoning, and his curiosity that there's a world outside of a small village. So, religiously, he's come daily, and a group of 5 kids, plus my Supervisor, have followed for the typing ride. Half hour increments they file in and out, some staying to watch others, some more competitive, some just hungry for knowledge and skill. It saddened me though, when, Stanley, who is in middle school, was as stiff as a board, thinking that he would get beat if he made a mistake, and confused about his hands not moving properly. The sad part is that these kids are taught in such a linear fashion, and they have difficulty even coordinating specific games on my i phone. So after soothing him down, adding laughter and humor to the typing, Stanley is relaxing, starting to enjoy every moment, making sense out of the typing games, and he makes sure he's the last one of the night so he can get extra time.

It's been so much fun having my little typing school, and like Mma Ramotswa, I'm realizing that how you say things, and what kind of involvement you have, has an impact beyond what an outsider can even imagine. Now if I can only get young Lefika to stop kicking his chair while typing, I'll really have accomplished something!


Monday, September 17, 2012

Kiddie Yoga







I've always loved the connection between yoga and life. The work done on the mat finding it's shadows in life's situations, when, for instance, the controlled breath learned through a challenging asana appears during a personal conflict. Not that I've mastered that quality, but Yoga is about the connections between body, mind, breath, and your connection to the world as a whole. I used to think of yoga as a person with his legs twisted like a pretzel, and loving pretzels the way I do, it all made sense.


So in thinking what I can do with the Primary School kids, I decided to teach them kid friendly Yoga and infuse the Life Skills via applying asana's. With kids being naturally flexible, though lacking in staying power, yet bursting with a ton of energy, I figured these kid's would love yoga. Besides, they need mental breaks, time away from what is expected of them, time to just be! Kid yoga is pure fun, and the child is always “winner,” there's no way to “fail.”  Yoga instills a sense of accomplishment, and will hopefully encourage these young ones on steps towards all sorts of good stuff like self-awareness,  self- esteem, creativity, compassion and health while adhering to the 3 F's : Fearlessness, Focus, and Fun!  Yep-- that's my goal, let's see what happens!

Off I go to my class for the new semester. There's no teacher of course today, so the kids are thrilled that someone came in to pay attention to them. I write the word YOGA on the board, have them say it loudly, and then I ask one of my little friends in the class to interpret for me--”No.” What do you mean, no? “No!” I guess he means no! Another kid voluntarily stands up, “I'll do it”—he comes running up, I tell him what to say, he just stares at the class. This is turning out to be a great start. Asking the class to pull out their chairs away from the desk is our next chore, but they don't move, so I demonstrate---they do nothing---I go around to each kid, pulling them and the chair out, which turns into a game as each kid is bouncing up and down waiting for the chair ride. I'm getting way more exercise than they are here! Ok, let's talk about breathing and balloons. I show them a picture of a balloon, we all scream balloon, and tell them to put both hands on their tummy to feel their breathing.   I demonstrate---nobody moves---off I go again to put each bouncing kids hands in the proper place. They're loving this so far. Breathing kid style, here we go---they love breathing into the imaginary balloon. AAH!  Then next, our first asana, BOAT---I show the picture, demonstrate, they copy my every move, they are learning to breath while up in boat posture, and then I hear it----"Teacher, I'm so tired!" What the hell, your only 6 years old, you can't be tired. I couldn't believe my ears! So then we go into a variation of Boat to strengthen abdominals, and while we do it, we have to pretend we are rowing, so I teach them the first line of Row, row, row your boat. These kids can't connect the row to the boat. My mind starts chanting---OHM!

Next class, at least I have an interpreter, my friend Lefika, and this class goes sort of perfect because of him. Sort of, because kids outside are peaking in the window, yelling stuff---I shoo them away, but they're like mosquitos, relentless, I should've bought a fly swatter to class. I open the window and tell them to go back to class---No---what do you mean no! NO! God, these kids are out of control with no teachers available. Then I hear a kid in my class shout out, “ breathe like a balloon teacher!” This isn't exactly how I imagined my first day of Yoga Life Skills would go!  OHM!


But seriously, kids naturally understand how to use yoga, and over time, and with a lot of praying, maybe they'll gain that mental control, maybe they'll see that poses like Warrior gives the message that a true Warrior is strong without weapons, that it fosters inner strength, determination, and focus.  For right now though, we'll explore together the endless possibilities of fun through poses.
keoki wants in on the yoga




Monday, September 10, 2012

Spirit of a Year






Having walked into an unexpected adventure, life has unfolded in ways never imagined---I am in Africa!  A year of living in a small village under my belt, having disengaged from the path of middle class America to blaze my mid-life trail, far from the familiarity of the place I once called home, far from the food I loved.  Outside the wind howls, raindrops drums a lullabye, heat swelters, the cold of winter chilled my bones, and sunsets amaze.  Another hot season coming upon us heightens my awareness that time has passed.  Looking out into the darkness of the star filled village night, with the mosquito net draped lazily over my bed, my own private cocoon, I reflect on the flood of memories that pour over me, the ups and downs of being the constant outsider, alone, misunderstood, alive, a Peace Corps Volunteer.  

 I remember the teary good bye at JFK, wondering what I did, what I was getting myself into, then the comfort and ease I felt in meeting my host family, the initial shock of seeing my site for the first time, a place, now, I have grown to love. Yet in the course of integrating for a year, it's been natural to go through phases for better or worse, musings, amusement, self-doubt.  You deal with frustrations that you're not used to, make sense out of things that make no sense, get to know yourself in ways that can be astounding, and then you start comparing yourself to how you used to be, and wonder how you will find a way to fuse the person I used to be with the person I've become.  The challenges that happen physically and mentally, testing your strength and resilience, are such that you cannot prepare for them. Even in Botswana, where some of us have it relatively easy, and the infrastructure is decent, it still seems challenging, little annoyances magnify, yet it all makes you think, it sharpens your awarenes, makes you wiser, kinder, empathic. Though I've had relatively no tumultuous tumbles, reality is, you're still a part of the Peace Corps culture, which is this broad spectrum of experiences that can be uplifting and depressing, beautiful and ugly, filled with challenges and triumphs.  Initially, whatever you did, you stuck out like a sore thumb, with no sense of anonymity---simply exercising, or the way you do your laundry, caused laughter and bantering, and there's little place to hide except for your own bedroom, leaving you to reconcile your cultural differences.

Even though I'm in a contemplative state right now, my fondest memories are the humorous things have happened, and I imagine will continue to happen. But after a year, I can say that things have fallen under the category of "pseudo-normalcy," with the exception of doing my tai chi, people are somewhat used to the white person quirks.  But do they know that at times I've forgotten the 6pm world news ever existed, or that there's even a calendar, or that football is really played anymore? Do they know that there were moments that I just wanted to crawl back into the good life, sit on a real toilet seat, do laundry with a machine, take a real hot shower, watch TV, eat an organic cucumber?  Do they know that I rarely eat porridge, and that some of my alone thinking time consists of reuniting my relationship with Asian food?  Do I understand them more or less than they understand me, or have we just gotten used to each other?  

No matter the answers, what a difference a year makes---I left, I survived, my global perspective has broadened, the sights and sounds of Africa conjure up the depths of imagination, and even with the challenges, a sense of peace and harmony has surrounded me.  A year ago, I started out my blog with my expectations, but now I realize that the best thing is not to expect anything, to trust the ride, look up at the stars, nurture the relationships gained, grow with the hard times, flow along in my village existence and try to saver each and every inspiring or touching moment because I know it's not the beginning anymore.  Yesterday, my little friend Lefika was helping me in the yard,---we took time out to color a picture, and he looked up at me and said, "this is a wonderful moment."----That is what my year has given to me!

                       "Not all those who wonder are lost."




Wednesday, August 29, 2012

BEWITCHED




Our School is starting a mentoring program, and I was given a group of five boys to mentor, one of whom is 18, and I questioned why he was still in middle school. The boy turns to me and says, “I was bewitched for 2 years and didn't come to school.” Huh, this is kind of interesting, and my curiosity is peaked, but the kid would say no more. He does look like he has a good diagnosis to me, or maybe he really is just bewitched---who am I to say.

So in the course of the past 7 days, I ate a piece of poisoned forbidden fruit at my host family's house, I passed a donkey on a walk and watched him take his last breath of life, on Monday, I slipped on a hole coming back from the primary school, badly spraining my ankle, and while finishing a book—the heroine of the story dies and was buried on my birthday. Nice! Am I concerned---not a chance--really!

It's Wednesday now, and I'm lying here nursing my ankle, when in walks my counterpart to pay a little visit. In conversing about what happened this past week, this very smart, sane person, whom I've grown to admire and love, shakes her head in deep concern, and says, “Tshep---you are bewitched.” Huh, damn, I thought it was just being a klutz!  She goes on to talk about being “bewitched” herself several times in her life, and that if I went to a traditional doctor, he would tell me who's casting spells on me to cause all this. My counterpart is about to leave, and asks me why Keoki is limping, and says, “sorry dear, you've both been bewitched.”

Am I concerned yet---no way---but I call the PC medical just in case. They suggest an xray to make sure my ankle is not broken---and I ask, “will an XRAY tell me if I'm bewitched?”---Maybe, but you have to come to Gabs for that and not Kanye. Boy do I have faith now!!!!! “Uh, did you hear me correctly?” “Lynn, your breaking up!” “Wait, can you take Keoki too?” “Keo what?” Great, tomorrow is gonna be one fun day!

I'm calm—really---I'm meditating—this isn't bugging me---really, it isn't---I'm not even thinking about it---really---BUT, LOOK HERE---if any of you out there are casting spells on me, can you PLEASE give it a break so I can go back to feeling great again!   

Friday, August 24, 2012

Scrabble---Africa Style



Scrabble is one of those games that will always occupy a place of honor in my collection of games. To some, Scrabble is just a board game to play during family game night, at your college dorm, or if you've been married for 25 years and have nothing else to do. Others think of Scrabble as a mere hobby, but with any activity there will always be fanatics, the ones who would rather sell their soul than stop—the one's with a constant yearning for self-improvement---the merciless.

Now fanaticism isn't a bad thing, being obsessed with the betterment of one's knowledge is actually a great characteristic to have despite the bad rap “obsession” gets. Trying to use words you wouldn't normally use in daily talk just to whup someone's butt---boy can this game bring an ugly side to ya! Scrabblers may even feel they've reached buddhist enlightenment if they memorize all the top 5000 sevens and eights. Some even have rituals like picking the tiles out of the bag a certain way. Did you know that there's even a National Scrabble Day in NYC?  I'm gathering every nerd around has a spare word or two they share on that day. No matter, the Scrabble box should have a warning label on it because of all the turmoil it can cause.

This week my counterpart and I decided to teach these kids how to play scrabble, to stretch their spelling and english skills a bit. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when we got into this. It took a good 15 minutes just to explain and demonstrate the scrabble board and how to attach words. Once play began, the kids still couldn't get it, even with me behind them telling them exactly what to do. OY! For the life of them, they couldn't unscramble letters, they couldn't see that if an “e” was already on the table they could use their HLP to make the word HELP---which is what I felt like screaming! But finally, a light went on in the heads of two kids in my group, and they were ever so pleased with themselves when they spelled the word “born” and attached it correctly---”Tshepo, did I get points?” Sure did, all 6 of them. You would've thought the world was their oyster at this moment---the gleem in their eyes, the upright posture all of a sudden---it was scrabble nirvana! They went on and on, attaching small words, some that didn't make sense, some silly, sometimes they went back to old ways, but at the end, one boy looked at me and said “I think I get it, this game is delicious.” I said to him, see, you use a nice word like delicious, why can't you put what's in your head down on the scrabble board---”Uh, I didn't think I could do that.”

I don't think that any of these kids are going to become obsessed or become scrabble fanatics, but for now, learning not to overlap a word is a huge stride for them. At times, I become hysterical in laughter at what happens on a daily basis, but, really, it's a sad thing that kids in rural villages don't have a clue about many things. Yet, when the brilliant dusk settles each night, and I think about my days here, whether I'm laughing about a scrabble game, or feeling dismal about a kid telling me her mom has HIV, broadening their worlds---broadens my own world!




Sunday, August 19, 2012

What the Rhino Said

This past weekend, several of us ventured a little north to check out the Rhino's and to celebrate two more PCV birthday's.  What a great way to celebrate---at one of natures best Rhino Reserves left in the world.  The Rhino is one of the "Big 5," that people come to Africa to see, not that it's a favorite amongst most, and I think you have to be kind of odd for the Rhino to be a favorite, but it is a dying breed, so that makes it special.

Shortly after we arrived, a Black Rhino came to greet us!  "So Mr. Rhino, why don't you tell me a little about yourself?"  Sure why not---In Setswana, they call me "Tshukudu," but I don't answer to that--I'd rather keep to myself.  You know there are so few of us left, and you have to look really hard to find us, unless you're lucky enough to be in a reserve where people care about us.  I like to eat leaves, graze, and wallow in mud, alone please!  I don't hunt, but I sure am aggressive--like Incredible Hulk style aggressive.  If I feel like it, I'll attack a termite mound for no reason!  Hmm, sounds like some clients I used to work with!  "Hey wait, why on earth am I telling you all this?"  "Well, because I'm a Psychologist, and I understand these things."  "Ok, then, I'll go on."  I'm pretty introverted because I'm an odd-toed ungulate.  That means, I have a hoof with an odd number of toes on it, like a horse.  "But horses aren't introverted."  "Can you please not interrupt me, I'm paying you to listen."  Ok, sorry!  Anyway, as I was saying, I also have a weight problem as you can see, and I'm the second largest mammal on the planet---the Elephant being the first, but they are smart and nice.  I'm just a pea brain, I have bad eyesight, and no front teeth.  This is so embarrassing, can't you see why I don't socialize?  "Yeah Mr. Rhino, I see."  "What can I do?"  Well, you're really not that bad now that I'm getting to know you--I'm going to recommend a good self-esteem class for you, go out and rub your horns with some new friends, find a great tree to party on, and you'll be fine!  See ya around Mr. Rhino, it's been real!




It was actually great fun seeing the Rhinos as well as zebra, kudos, impala and the wildebeest.  We didn't see the leopard, but it was fun hanging around, playing botchi ball with unripened squash from a tree that Cassie climbed, and talking the night away about all the stuff PCV's talk about.  Oh, and Mr. Rhino---you'll get my bill in the mail!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pit Latrine Musings






To an inordinate degree, many PCV's not only talk about food, but we talk about our bodily functions, the pure art of bathing, or pooping for that matter. I know more about one of my friends nightly bucket activities than I do about her in any other realm. Exciting stuff!

So secretly, I've thought that everything in my domain has definitely been a bed of roses. Until----I wake at 4am with the frightening thought that most of the village has been without water for well over a week now, and my bathroom needs to give way to whaaat---the dreaded Pit Latrine. Not to sound facicious, but Holy Crap! I am definitely not a Pit Latrine kind of gal, and granted, many PCV's do not have indoor facilities, but with all due respect to my fellow mates, I thought I had it made here. Even with my house falling apart, at least it's my house, with my own seatless toilet that I've gotten used---all I cared about is that it flushes and it's in the house!

There are 2 Pit Latrines outside, and never have I given them a second thought until I was pondering ways of getting rid of my garbage. You see, the donkey carts have stopped collecting garbage since December---somehow the donkey situation is under review, but in Africa reality, this can take a year, if not more. My mind then filled with failing senses of an ecological, sustainable world when a friend of mine told me to start throwing paper products and such down the pit latrine. Geez, I thought I would be Peace Corps free of Pit Latrines, but this provisional garbage situation seemed logical to me. So for months now, I've been throwing stuff down the pit, and praying things don't start coming up through the ground. I figured though, that my friend Dominique is a smart and sensible being, one whom I trust, and if my garbage decides to lend itself to an underground creature, Dom and I will have a nice long talk. Yet for the time being, and I do hope this time being is short lived, I'm falling into the world of spiders and snakes in deep holes in a different manner---a manner for the more correct usages of the Pit Latrine—to pee and poop.

Can you see the spider?
In essence, a Pit Latrine is a deeeeeeeeeeeeeeep hole in the ground (15-20 meters), with some being better than others. My main point is that you usually have to squat to use the Pit Latrine unless it's built up and randomly used as a toilet seat. I've recently found that it's best to do your business when you REALLY have to go so you can get out fast---God forbid you're having trouble pooping—it could be a real killer on the thighs. Thank you God for my martial art training!!!! This is not an enjoyable experience though, good squating skills or not, considering that I'm scared shitless (excuse the pun) to even go into the Latrine. Throwing garbage out really quickly is one thing, eliminate my bodily functions is quite another.

So here I go, I take my scraps of garbage---nothing like doing two things at once, I run, I pee, throw the garbage down, I don't shut the door because I have no idea what's behind it, I could care less who wants to peak, and I run out as fast as I can thinking, there is no way I'm having my morning pot of tea until this situation is resolved. Later in the day though, a phantom chicken was peering through the latrine—ok, how the hell am I gonna do this fast enough with a chicken staring at me, let alone the spider behind me, and fearing snakes and the milk carton coming up to snatch me. Boy is this great Peace Corps stuff!

Life in Africa is fun---you have choices each and every day---to follow your every emotion, or decide to commit to what is more important than the feelings that seek to hinder you. After several days of this now, I've made a choice to let go of a sustainable world for awhile, and to give into the dreaded fear of a Pit Latrine. It's actually the best feeling in the world when you push past something difficult to the other side, and now I've done it—I'm in the world of Pit Latrines---my life for the moment, and it's all mine and the chickens! Now if I can only find a place to wash my hands, life would be a bed of roses again!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Barbie Doll House




It's past midnight, and I'm lying here thinking about Bubbles, Barbies, and Huffing and Puffing and Blowing the house down. Ridiculous—right! Downright ridiculous!

I really thought that life is about expanding your bubble, and then operating in an area within that bubble you most identify with. Easy, yes, with the bubble being a metaphor for your field of vision, your understanding of all things available about the world, and an aggregation of your experiences. I've definitely expanded the bubble by joining the Peace Corps, by doing things uncomfortable, but....sometimes things get a little ridiculous, and my bubble is about to burst, or at least get blown away. You see, August in Botswana means windy season---every month seems to have it's own season, but this is the worst because I'm living in a house that's about to be blown away---really, and my bubble sense of the world doesn't get why I'm not living in a stable mud hut!

When I first arrived in Mmathethe, it was amusing to see that my house looked something out of a Los Angeles suburb with many amenities. In fact, it was a little disappointing that I wouldn't be living in a prototypical mud hut dwelling that resembled most of my neighbors, but I'll make the most of it I said. Yet in my heart of hearts, I wanted the mud hut. It would've been easier than this house, and my romantic notions of nomadic countries, where huts are built from readily available materials, stone, grass, mud, palm leaves would've been a fantasy come true. It would've been challenging to live like that, but no, instead, I'm living a Barbie Doll House. You got it---it only looks normal from the outside, and upon closer inspection, I can take this thing apart, stone by stone, and rebuild it again, except a doll house and a mud hut are structurally more sound than this thing I'm living in.  I go outside each morning noticing more and more cement stone has chipped away and fallen from the house. All the so called boards that hold the roof together are down and dangling, and banging against the house like its no tomorrow with this wind, windows are breaking, and the ceiling in bedroom will come tumbling down with the next hard rainfall. I tried hammering a nail into the wall to hang something, and half the wall disintegrated---this immediately told me that my carpentry skills were nil, as are my electric and plumbing skills, but I swear I can build this house better. You just slab on a little cement, put a wire here and there, attached a pipe to the outside, and walla, there's my house.  My furniture is also of Barbie material, the kitchen cabinets look no different than Barbies house, but here the handles on my plastic kitchen cabinets lasted about a month, the cabinets only close when they want to, and to make matters even more humorous, I absolutely HATE Barbie, always have, always will. As a kid, I played with Barbie's for about a day, and then put the happy couple in a place where the “bad toys” resided. It was probably one of the smartest things I've ever done, now thinking about how Barbie and Ken were where all the children fought against set gender roles, and the worlds warped idea of who they should become---seriously, this Barbie thing unconsciously sends psychological damaging messages—but that's besides the point.

Life in a small village, you see first hand how things take huge technological steps backwards, and I've come to realize that the people who do have the mud huts are way smarter than the people with houses---- the mud huts hold up and houses don't, or at least mine doesn't.  So here I am living in my Barbie Doll House that's gonna blow away any time now, and my own bubble is expanding so fast that it might burst, but hey, at least these challenges don't lead to complacency!  Before I finally give way dreamland, I realized one thing--- that giving your life to the Peace Corps doesn't mean you'll wind up living in a mud hut!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

SAME PLANET, DIFFERENT WORLD




Living in a foreign country with a culture and language not your own becomes a daily challenge. Add to this mix, the endlessly fascinating landscape that is Africa, and the result is a grand adventure, sometimes funny, often quirky, at times incomprehensible, and rarely boring. Whether your looking out over the vast horizon while on safari, the sunsetting over the heritage water ways of the Okavanga Delta, admiring the golden hues of the endless land in front of my eyes everyday, or pondering our differences, makes one really appreciate all of what life is. Adding even more to the mix, living here, where life as we know it started, is a grounding and humbling experience in itself. People, at least in the villages, lead a humble existence, but seem satisfied, and to me, it's fascinating, but equally frustrating at times, to see their lack of dependence on the rest of the world---especially in today's changing world evolution, where our intellect and self realization defines how evolved we are. The ordinary becomes spectacular---the tooth brush waiting for the mouth, the window ready for opening, laughter waiting to bubble to the surface. But these people are not open to other things which entices, to which burns like fire. They seem content to stay oblivious to higher consciousness, to changes in attitudes, intentions, decisions, and action. Which brings me to my latest challenge of understanding Batswanas':

It's fun to adhere to life being an impromptu adventure, unscripted, untidy, and often misunderstood---so why do I find myself trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. I can tolerate that many different cultures have their own idiosyncrasises, but a few things in Botswana seem to tug at me lately, and one of them is the treatment of innocence animals, let's say, like Keoki. In America we treat our animals, especially dogs, as members of the family. We would call people who abuse dogs as a psychopathic or with a personality disorder. So am I to surmise that all Africans are disordered? Or are they so archaic that they adhere to old references in the bible, putting a negative light on dogs, whether it be literally or metaphorically. Come on guys, what planet are you living on--get with the program--the prophets are long gone, and those who preach now are just trying to put the pieces together. 

 A few nights ago, I stopped to chat for a second, and as I walked onward, a lady a few houses down said to me, “I just bit your dog.” “What do you mean you bit my dog?” “I bit your dog.” Ok, I gather you're saying you beat him---yeah! That's better I guess than biting him. “Why on earth did you bit my dog?” “Because he was here.” Good answer—was he bothering you? “No,”-- was he on your property? “No,”-- was he barking at you? “No,”-- well what the hell did you bit him for? God, I was fuming. The lady finally asked if it was a bad thing to do---at least she kind of got it. The next night, I take a different way to walk, and 2 groups of kids starting throwing rocks, hard and violently at him. Ok, I'm gonna kill these kids! But trying to be nice instead of winding up in a Botswana jail, I ask “Why are you stoning my dog?” “Because we want to!” What if I stoned you? They run! So much for talking things through!

It's really hard to comprehend the true meaning of why dogs and some other animals are treated worse than slaves. I've spent the better part of 10 months teaching those around to treat Keoki with some sort of respect, and frankly, most of them are enjoying it, but it would be doubtful that the next animal who came along would be treated with respect. I hope change is coming here, but maybe it all comes down to letting people on Planet Botswana have their own differing common patterns of communicating and responding, and us just letting it go, because maybe, just maybe, it takes a true commitment to trying the new, to having a curiosity, to being aware of the real beauty of the world!



Thursday, July 19, 2012

RAZZLE DAZZLE





School's out for 5 weeks, and lazy days give way to long, dark, cold winter nights, with the skies at dusk turning to a magical mixture of magenta and purple vs. the deep reds and orange hues during summer.  But like the sunsets, Botswana and it's people, don't exactly have, what I would call real Razzle Dazzle, so I'm sitting here thinking how to create my own Razzle Dazzle. Don't get me wrong, there are many great places to see in Botswana, and the wildlife is tremendous, but the bland food, the same song sung and one dance all day long at XMAS, the lack of a vibrant outdoor market, and more... is not always Dazzling the Razzle in me.

So not wanting to cause trouble or anything to get things lively, a novel fell into my hands that I wouldn't normally read, and so on this night, instead of stirring the village up, I lit some candles, and transported my mind to Scotland. Now there's a place that has some Razzle Dazzle, and...... lots of ghosts! Yet, of all the genres out there, horror would surely be the one which I rarely would read or watch alone in a foreign country.  However, I do like the thought of ghosts, dark spooky tales, a supernatural edge to things, and this night needed something badly! So I hunkered down with a spooky book that was at times damn creepy, and the weird thing was, I found myself scared and couldn't stop myself from reading. Yes, and being the coward that I am, I read with one eye shut, clutching my pillow, having Keoki sleep on my so called couch next to me, and my cell phone near by---just in case some Poltergeist decides to put some Razzle Dazzle in a small Botswana village.

There is something about a good ghost story that makes you wanna look or read even if you try not to. But really, it's the psychological aspects of horror stories that are fun. When I found myself hurdled on the couch, peeking through my fingers at the pages, or wondering if I should text someone instead of scream, that's when I knew I was having a good time. It's a rush of adrenaline---the thrill of a too fast heart beat, or maybe I'm just a gal in the Peace Corps with a ghost complex needing a little thrill, but whatever the reason, I'm enjoying the uncanny atmosphere that unsettled me, and the Razzle Dazzle of it all.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Exotic Sugar Cane


In my never ending attempt to try everything I can in my travels, even if I hate it, I decided this past April to try my hand at eating sugar cane, affectionately known here as sweet reet, or nche. From big towns to the most remote areas, everyone gnaws on sugar cane. These people, young and old, are sweet reet fiends. Initially, it looked very exotic to me seeing everyone eat it, and it reminded me of something Asian, but I couldn't find it---it's like they know a special place and I'm not included in that. But as the season went on, sweet reet was everywhere, and in abundance on donkey carts throughout the villages. For those of you who haven't seen sugar cane before, it looks like fat bamboo, and as hard as bamboo as I soon found out.

To eat sweet reet, you have to first break it into smaller manageable pieces. Happily, my first time, this was done for me. Then you remove the hard exterior with your teeth and pray that it's sweet reet being torn and not your teeth. Once done, you can start chewing on the pulpy interior, then spit out the pulp. This sounds so easy right! Not a chance, nothing is easy here! Imagine trying to hack off a branch of a tree using a blunt knife---chips fly, and your still making zero headway. Once you spend 20 minutes hacking away, you can finally chew on the cane, which is, admittedly, delicious. It's sugary, but not as strong as candy. After chewing the juice out, the pulp becomes a little hard, like wood, and you spit it out before proceeding to the next piece. People spit everywhere for this 3 month season.

On hot afternoons, it obviously takes awhile to eat a cane, and the process is likened to eating crab, a lot of work for little food. To my great pleasure though, I have mastered the art of eating this, whereas before mastering it, I was getting sugar cane juice all over me, breaking things along the way trying to eat this right, and picking bits of it from my hair, from Keoki, from my clothing. Thankfully, I was usually eating this alone on my porch so very few can witness the ridiculous spectacle.

There are many reasons to avoid eating this sugary treat, and the list extends to making biofuels out of it, rather than ruining your teeth, or producing insulin your body. But the fact is, I'm in Africa, I've developed a sweet tooth that I hadn't had in the states, and it's a little exotic. So for three months a year, and a pula for a stick, I'm going to enjoy the fruits of what's produced in my village, and spit away like a local.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ya Gotta Believe......




…..I believe in the power of organic bananas, the passion of sports, and Mr. Roger Federer!

There are many things you have to get used to being a PCV, and while I've adjusted well to not being tied down to the shackles of technology, even basic technology like the TV, there are just some things that are down right sacred to me, and that's Tennis! So when my favorite player made it, for maybe the last time, at the age of 30, into the Wimbledon final, there was no way in hell I was gonna miss it.

I love being a sports fan, it means you have an appropriate outlet to scream, to act crazy, to be passionate, and in my brothers case, to be depressed if you live and die for teams like the Mets and Jets. All emotion is acceptable in sport, except if your watching a tennis match in Botswana. I went around my village asking people if they get this super sports channel, and while some did, nobody was able to sense the depths of my desperation, and thus, nobody offered to let me in their homes to watch. So instead of strangling someone, or going off on a rampage of their total lack of human evolution, I hitched to Kanye to see if the only Cafe would turn it on for me. Walking in and seeing a Cricket game on, I politely told them there would a one person revolution if they didn't let me watch.  They looked at me, and like a good Batswana, who don't like controversy, the channel was switched!

Ok, here we go, Wimbledon is on, I have a beer in hand, and I'm the only person with emotion. But on this day, I could care less that they are pointing at me, talking about me, asking me why I like tennis, and asking why I'm acting, well, like an American who loves tennis. I was in my glory and that's all that mattered--that--and Mr. Roger winning!

When Roger finally won and fell to the ground, tears welted in my own eyes, like he was my own son, (not like I have a son), who won this event. A great career winding down, his grace is like no other in sport, it's compelling moments like these that put me in tennis heaven. When the glory was over though, I looked around the Bar, looked outside to realize I was in the Peace Corps and it was pitch black, the kombies were long gone, and I wondered where on earth I was gonna sleep tonight since my family was not home....but all that really didn't matter, my man won, history was made, and for one Peace Corps night, it was great to be normal again.


A President in Botswana

Ok, It's not a great photo, but I assure you that George and Laura came to Botswana this past week to deliver messages about cervical cancer.  Fifteen Volunteers, who were either ex-military, from Texas, or 3rd and 4th year Volunteers, were chosen to come and meet the couple.  From all accounts, they were extremely jovial and talkative to all who attended.  Even though I am hardly a fan of George, it would have been cool to have been there.  Having talked to several of the Vol's who went, it was quite
an experience whether you supported Mr. President or not. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Precious Moments Come in Three's



Peace Corps service is about cultural exchange, capacity building, building relationships, taking bucket baths, and having a great time. This service is not about getting accolades---but every once in awhile it's ever so nice to get a pat on the back, or to have a special interaction, especially when it's unsolicited and sincere. This past week, the interactions came in chunks of three, and they were the sweetest gifts I could've ever received.

First, one of my teen club members, Eric, came up to me during an afternoon break, put his arm around me, and started telling me that he's never met anyone like me before---that he thought, most of all, how encouraging I am to everyone, generous, funny, and telling me he'll never forget me. Eric went on for awhile before I stopped him and gave him a big kiss on the cheek---saying to him—Now you go and Pay it Forward! Oh, and Eric---I'll never forget you either!

Second, getting a photo here is huge, I mean huge! Most don't even have a baby picture of themselves. So I've been giving photos, 1x per month during our Friday assembly, as rewards to those that either have done something special, or to someone I just want to encourage. Last week I gave a photo to my friend and neighbor Stanley, who came running home after school, saying it was the best day of his life because all the girls thought the picture was so handsome. But a few days later, Stanley came over, with his now only photo of himself, and 3 photos of his dad who passed away when Stanley was 12 years old. Stanley wanted to show me the resemblance between he and his dad, and said “Tshepo, now I know who I am because of this photo.” Ok, is it time to cry yet? Stanley went on to tell me about his dad, and how he never spoke to anyone about him before, leaving him feeling alone and sick for months after the death. Communication in families is not the thing here---but on this day, Stanley poured his big heart out because of one little photograph. To sit with him was the real gift, and yes, Stanley---you are quite the handsome one!

Lastly, on this gorgeous, sunny winter day, snuggled up and sitting outside reading, my friend Princess comes from behind to try and startle me. After succeeding and taking great delight in that, she sat down and told me that she rarely has ever cried in her life, but she woke up this morning in tears, thinking about the day I have to leave Africa.  Putting down my book, Princess and I chatted the afternoon away about everything under the bright African sun. When she about to leave, we looked at each other realizing that both of us will be crying in 16 months. 

You never know when, or if, you are making an impact on those around you, and even though I didn't need to hear these things, it's nice to know that when you give, you really do receive!