Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ah, Veggie Curry!

…......Not! Good thought though! After being totally cooped up most of the week in the most boring, annoying, sub-basic, 2 week school ministry workshop, I come home for the weekend with thoughts of making veggie curry. You see, no matter what function you're at in Botswana, whether it's a wedding, conference, funeral, etc.....you eat the exact same thing for every single meal. This country only seems to have a few things they know how to make, so they mix and match to make you think otherwise.  It's by far the worst, most boring culinary country in the entire world!  So now, because of the intense heat, my high hopes of gettting my taste buds replenished are shot to hell---I get home to no electricity, no water, and no complaining, because many of my fellow PCV's live like this every day, so it's carrots, apples, and delicious almond butter from home. Next morning, still with no electricity, it's a 5am wake up call due to promising my teen club I would go on this “Say no to unwanted sex” 2K march.  Mind you, I don't really have to go since I'm supposed to be at this conference, but the kids begged me, and how do you say no to 30 brown eyes staring you down. We take a 20 minute drive at this god foresaken hour, and in the middle of nowhere, the kids are laughing at me. This is not an unusual thing, but this time it's because they notice that my shorts are on backwards, my shirt is inside out, and I have 2 different sneakers on. Ok, it was 5am afterall and pitch black inside---at least my teeth were brushed! All of us are hungry, but we march on with our signs and other teen clubs, when all of a sudden loud clapping thunder starts, and then it starts pouring like you can't even imagine. I've seen hard rain before, but this is God's rain, on the continent that started it all, and God makes a statement here to remind us all of something---maybe at least he could have reminded me to bring an umbrella or a rain coat---that would've been a nice thing to do! Drenched to the bone, I finally get home several hours later, the electricity is on, and I'm still thinking about that veggie curry, when I see that my entire kitchen, and the room next to it, is flooded from the bottom up, and my bedroom is flooded from the top down. FUN! Still no chance of that curry yet! I'm shoveling water into a bucket with my dust pan because here in Botswana, they don't have the good mops, good food, nothing but water coming up from nowhere, and all I have is a dust pan! Excellent! Thunder, lightning, and rain, are ferociously happening, Keoki is even a little rattled, but he's the only dog in Africa inside for the time being—lucky him! There's no plummer this side of the Atlantic ocean---not that it would matter if there was, they wouldn't come if called, for about another year. This guy, Wiseman, thought he fixed part of my roof, but all he did was tar it over, leaving me to deal with a dead, tarred pigeon in the process. Are you guys getting the picture here? Just think, all I wanted was some veggie curry and I get this!

It's now 3pm, things are as in control as there gonna be for the time being. I'm starved, so I get out all the ingredients, and whatta ya know—no electricity again because of the storm. It could be days before it comes back on, so it's more apples and almond butter for me, and fighting off the ugliest bugs I've ever seen in my life---they must be God's African bugs too! This is hard stuff here, having to deal with the elements, eating apples and whatever, feeling like a coal miner with my headlight on all night, and having a dog who's eating better than me. My only refuge is that my computer had been charged before the storm, so I'm watching Anthony Bourdain eating delicious veggie curries throughout Northern India. He's eating yummy street food, curries in palaces, Indian food that keeps coming for less than a dollar. Oh God, I'm going bonkers! I feel like jumping through the damn computer, right to India so I can have that curry! I want that curry so badly that I watch the episode 3 times! Then I watch his episode in Southern India two times! I must be crazy! Indian crazy! Seriously, if the electricity doesn't come on soon, I'm buying a plane ticket tomorrow to get some delicious spice in my life.

Sometimes you get a thought, a craving, or a song in your head that you just can't shed---but when your a PCV these things can get a little magnified! I love Anthony Bourdain, I would love to travel the world eating great food, walking through unique villages, and making money for it, but I'm in the Peace Corps, doing good deeds at 5am in the rain, dreaming of curry, and eating scraps of whatever is available. My veggie curry will have to wait for the time being, and in the scheme of things, at least 30 dripping wet kids, now know the meaning and spread the word of saying NO to UNWANTED SEX!  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The long night

There is a realization that my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer is gonna be more about a dog, and a village, rather than about HIV, and Life Skills. Needless to say, Keoki and the village are getting under my skin, but in ways that I can't comprehend, nor am I gonna question yet. What I do know is that more and more, waves of deep peacefulness are streaming through me, and as much as that has been a foreign feeling in the past few years, I'm beginning to find it nourishing. Sitting on my porch, watching Keoki lying happily and proudly after herding cows out of the yard, he is blending into the red African dirt as dusk descends upon us. It's a sight I soon won't forget....and then night time comes. Sometimes I hate the night here, it's filled with bugs, strange noises, people out in the wee hours, and I worry that someone can just take or harm Keoki, or try to scare me. This isn't always the case obviously, but on this particular night, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I did neither---instead I just froze. So much for the wave of peacefulness that was just felt a few hours ago!

The noises started, Keoki is barking his head off, cows are mooing, donkeys honking, bats are screaching and flying into my window, owls are doing their thing, the strange birds that habitat my roof are screaming, bugs are buzzing, and now every dog in the vicinity is barking. If I were to record the sounds, it would not make the top ten of meditation CD's.

I get up for one second, but all I see are stars, lots of them lighting up the sky, and for a moment, this calms me. Quickly though, back to bed because now peoples voices are around and that's what I hate most of all—especially when the footsteps are outside my window. My heart starts to beat hard and fast, I hear Keoki growling and barking right outside my bedroom window, and all of a sudden, I hear this horrible sound from him and then silence. This is when I completely stiffen up...I'm too scared to peak outside, so I just start talking to the gods. Then, I swear, I hear the roar of a lion. I know there is no wildlife like that in these parts, but what if a lion decided to take a vacation to Mmathethe to see what life is like here....you just never know! After all, my fellow PCV's voted me the most likely to adopt a lion! Soon after my mind has deceived me, Keoki is barking again, and I'm relieved he wasn't eaten by the visiting imaginary lion. The symphony of noises are getting louder though, and instead of enjoying the music, I'm getting more and more scared. At least on safari, you expect these noises, but not in a quiet, rural village. All of a sudden, the noises come inside, and I hear this swishing, russling type of noise right next to my bed. I totally freeze now... I just know it's a black mamba...I have to pee...I can't move...I want to call a friend at 2am now, but my phone is on my dresser...I tuck my mosquito net around me, and just start to pray that morning comes fast and I don't pee in my bed, or get killed by an African snake.

Are we having fun yet? Can meditation help in moments like these? Why can't I just enjoy the peace that was given to me earlier? I lay there, stiff as a board, just waiting for the roosters to start crowing. At some point though, the noises stop, exept for the strange noise next to my bed, and I fall asleep for a few hours. Groggy, and glad I made it through the night, I peak out of my mosquito net to find that it wasn't a black mamba afterall, but a two and half inch black ugly something lying on it's back with it's legs fighting to roll over. Ok, so I jumped to the worst possible scenerio, but with all the goings on during the night, it seemed fitting. After getting rid of the bug, I slowly open the back door to find Keoki, happily wagging his tail, and wondering when on earth he's gonna be served breakfast.

Man, what a crazy night! Was I being tested on how to stay calm in the midst of chaos, or was it just one of those things that stirs you into fear and uncertainty and you just have to wait it out? I don't have the answers for this either, but for now, my thoughts are that I would rather have a lion outside in the village vs. a black mamba next to my bed. This is Africa!     

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friends in need, Friends indeed!

Two friends were walking throught the desert. During some point they had an argument, resulting in one friend slapping the other in the face. The one who was slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand “today my best friend slapped me in the face.” They kept walking until they found an oasis where they decide to go bathing. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mine and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from the near drowning, he wrote on a stone “today my best friend saved my life.” The friend who slapped and saved his best friend, asked him “after I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now you write on a stone—why?” The other friend replied, “when someone hurts us we should write it down in the sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away, but when someone does sonething good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”

The moral of the story is not to value the things you have in life, but value who you have in life!

This leads me to talking about two special friends here in Mmathethe, and what they demonstrate about friendship on a daily basis. These two gals found each other early in primary school and have had a growing friendship since. In many ways they are complete opposites, but as they say---opposites attract, right. One is vulnerable, the other strong, one is shy, the other shyer, one lives without electricity or water, the other has both, one has an intact family, the other doesn't, both are highly intelligent, but one has to work harder in school. When one looks in the mirror and thinks she's ugly, the other tells her she's beautiful. When one got in trouble for not doing well in school, the other told her to try harder and see the good in everything. They both tell each other to respect life, not to fall into the traps of peer pressure, and both want to help find a cure for HIV. I've grown to love these two beautiful teens who fit together like a glove, and have shared their friendship with a stranger.

I know these two not by coincidence, one is my direct neighbor who came knocking on my door my first night in Mmathethe, scaring the heebeejeebees out of me, but in the softest of voices told me not to be frightened. The other came knocking at my door with her older sister after seeing me at our first assembly in school, thinking I could help her sister who works diligently with AIDS victims. I had not known then that these two kids were connected to each other until they both came over together a few weeks later to talk. They asked many questions about the States and about life. Instead of the typical “can you take me there,” they humbly took information in, and with wonder, just asked for more details. Through the coming weeks, I taught them how to play UNO, backgammon, other card games, and they have been here on Saturday nights glued to movies on my computer. When there was a fierce African thunderstorm, it was my porch they took refuge in. I've trusted these kids to take care of Keoki when I go to trainings or overnight to Kanye. When Kesego visits me, they tenderly teach her the games I have taught them. Innately, knowing that my birthday was spent so far away from home, these kids, who barely have anything, thought enough of our friendship to present me with a beautiful African basket---you bet the tears starting rolling down my cheeks. There are many stories of friendship with more depth and dimension, but these two understand the art of giving and receiving in a place where that is not always the case---and it is that which makes these two kids and their friendship special.

I've not always been a good friend....I've not always known the art of sharing....I've not always valued what was most important....but now, at the age of 55, being in the Peace Corps, and seeing these two kids together with their outlook on life and friendship, can show anyone that with a friend in hand you can see the light---with a friend in hand, everything will be alright!   

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tag, you're it!

About two or three nights a week, Keoki and I go for a walk through different parts of the village. During the long hot summer months, the early evening in this village is at it's best. People and cows are gathered at the watering hole, chattering away in Setswana and moo's, both are intermingled in harmony. Kids are playing, and women are outside cooking dinner in big black cauldrons. Before my walk though, I was putzing around the house and yard, and I couldn't help but notice this young boy in blue shorts walking back and forth outside my gate. His walk became slower when I was outside, and at one point, he sat on the ground, seemingly doing yoga stretches, and then doing his version of my tai chi moves. While I had never seen this kid before, he obviously has been watching me quite closely to be mimicking yoga and tai chi. When I call to him to come in, or to say hi, he just hides. I reckon he's having fun being a spy, and making contact with me would ruin everything! So, off I go on my walk, with spy boy following, keeping a safe distance, and being clever in picking his hiding spots when I would turn to see what he's up to. This adorable 7 or 8 year old definitely has my curiousity peaked.

At some point on my walk, a teacher stops to chat, and when done, I catch spy boy behind a big bush. I peak around one way, he peaks the other way, then I strattle around the bush and the spy doesn't know what to do. I start running around the bush every which way, but he is too quick for me, and I can't catch him. Even Keoki couldn't catch him. Unbeknownst to me, but really to no surprise, about a dozen kids are looking, laughing, and not knowing what to make of this situation. Frankly, I don't know what to make of it either, so at risk of once again seeming like the village idiot, I tell the kids that spy boy and I are playing tag. Tag---what's that? “Come on, you don't know what tag is!” “No mma!” Ok, I have my work cut out for me here. So on this brutally hot and humid night, I'm teaching 12 boundaryless kids how to play tag. With a lot of prompting, the kids, Keoki and I, are all running around the village tagging each other, and having the time of our lives...well, except for spy boy who is still behind the bush observing this craziness. He probably thinks I'm an alien and wants to capture me to send back to outer space. But on this night, I'm only caught by all my new little friends tagging me like I've never been tagged before! Believe me, if you ever want to see kids have a really good time, come to Africa and try teaching them something new. It'll be the most hysterical and rewarding thing you'll ever be involved in!

After reaching my tag limit, Keoki and I pant our way home with spy boy following at a distance. I went about my business, drinking a glass of cold juice, reading on my porch, watching the full moon show it's face through the trees, listening to sounds of the kids voices fill the village, and feeling blessed about many things. Seeing spy boy's face at the corner of my fence, I smile, as he is too, and I yell out, TAG, YOU'RE IT! Laughing hysterically, spy boy ran away into the night!

I don't know what spy boy is thinking, or what he's looking for, but something has caught this young boys eye. Hopefully, one day we'll become good friends, but for now, I'll enjoy his curiosity, and maybe tomorrow I'll do something really strange, just for kicks, to see spy boys reaction!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Whaat, No Porridge

Take a good look at him! You may see him in your near future! His name is Phiri, he's great looking, intelligent, has a good sense of humor, has beautiful big eyes, he's humble, and he loves porridge. He's quite the catch—does anyone want him? Ok, this is not a dating ad—really, it isn't! I just want to rent him out for about a month, he's desperate for a taste of the real world.

Phiri has been super nice to me since coming to Mmathethe, and every time he sees me, he wants to talk about America.  People, including him, are so confused, they don't know what to ask after the preliminary where do you live, the Obama thing, and what's it like. During my first week here, some of the teachers had a BBQ for me, and Phiri told me he wants to marry an American girl. You don't always hear that, or at least in the seriousness that he's saying it. So trying to stir him up a bit, I say “Phiri, you'd have to learn how to cook.” “Cook!” “Yeah, cook!” “Oh, and help with chores, change the kids diapers, go to their soccer games, give your wife flowers on your anniversary, and for god's sake---don't ever forget hers or her mother's birthday.” “Diapers!” “Yep, diapers Phiri.” His innocent puppy dog look and smile said everything—at least he didn't pee in his own pants! However, the inquiry didn't stop, and I told him how men and women, typically, have a more equal relationship—women are actually allowed to get their needs met Phiri. “Tshepo, what are you talking about?” N.E.E.D.S.---look it up in the dictionary Phiri!

In the coming weeks, Phiri was starved for more hands on info about the USA---it's streets, it's cities, it's schools, it's people. The schools expecially got to him----almost bigger than the relationship thing. Telling him that teachers actually have to teach their classes, that they don't hit kids with sticks, or hardly yell, and kids play at lunch time. They have personalities, laugh, do art, have fun with teaching. “Fun—what kind of fun?” “Phiri, just like the relationship thing—they interact!” Yet again, I see his ears are getting so big, they're starting to flop over. The confusion on his face is priceless, and I just want to shake him and ask him what he's thinking.

Lately, at lunch time, I've been hanging in the kitchen, waiting for yummy leftovers after the kids eat, and of course, no matter what we're doing, Phiri brings everything we're doing to the context of America. Oh no, please don't get me started on talking about food Phiri, I hate the food here! “You don't like porridge?” “Well, it's all you guys eat, night and day—I can take it in small doses, but this is ridiculous.” Still not getting it, he says, “You mean you don't eat porridge in America!” Phiri---brace yourself man---NO,--No Porridge!!! I thought the guy was gonna have a heart attack right then and there, so I try to ease his pain, telling him we can eat oatmeal, or cream of wheat is so desired, but people don't live on the stuff. He still doesn't get it, “but you don't eat maize, can you even get it there?” “Phiri, I hate to burst your American bubble, but again, NO Phiri, no maize, no soft porridge, NO, NO, NO!” Poor Phiri doesn't know what to do with himself, his dreams of America are cracking before my very eyes! But I soften things, telling him I'm sure that if we found real Africans there, we can find him some porridge! Aah, his ears relax!  

I feel like packing his little bag, taking him to NYC, letting him off the leash, saying—go boy---just go and look at the beautiful people, go eat a pastrami sandwich, or better yet go to Candle Cafe and eat a real veggie meal---that'll really get ya! Go see Wall Street and the Statue of Liberty, go hang out in Greenwich Village, see a show, dance the night away in the city that never sleeps---GO Phiri, GO Man, make your head spin with a good dose of Americana, but be careful crossing the streets Phiri—there are cars instead of donkey carts, and lots and lots of people---then come back to me in a week with a report....that is, if you've managed to stay alive without your porridge!

When people have told me about other places in the world, or I see things on TV, it's not shocking to me, there's a sense about it. Yeah, it's hard not living in culinary heaven here, and sure, we all want our comfort foods, but when I tell my beautiful nieces about life here, even young Sofie, they get it! More and more I see that when you're shut out from the world, nothing makes sense the way it should, and things are just hard to comprehend. That's what's happening to Phiri, he's trying to comprehend something that doesn't exist in his world. But it's not like we're in Ethiopia or the Congo! We're in Botswana—there's TV, people watch soaps, they rent movies, watch the world news, there are big evolved cities, but still, something is missing, something deeply hard to grasp for most people. So, the American here in Mmathethe is trying to fill some of those gaps, and having a great time making that world real for them. But poor Phiri--if anyone does take him for a spell, please, please, please---find some maize for the guy!