Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Cow Herd has Spoken

Lately I have been having serious doubts about my lowly human existence.  I seek a life where I just have to think about my next meal and not worry about my bank balance, where I can plonk myself in the middle of the road and swat flies away with my tail, and have a bunch of uneducated buffoons trying to convince the world of my importance.   Ah yes, being a PCV may fit this bill instead of becoming a cow, but I still want to ponder.

Ok, hold your bullshit please, there's more to come! In India, or at least in the Hindu religion, the cow is honored, sacred, and given special feedings at festivals all over India---they think that only a cow can save mankind, that by just touching a cow, you can reduce your blood pressure, kids who drink milk are more obedient, and foreign breeds of cows can cause heart attacks and autism. I wonder how many kids I worked with in California drank a lot of milk!
It makes me wonder how African cows fare against the Indian cow. I don't see kids with autism here, though many middle age people die of heart attacks. Growing up in New Jersey, and later living in coastal California, I haven't had much interaction with cows, in fact, being a vegetarian for so long, I never gave a cow a second thought. But living in a rural, agricultural village in Africa, cows have become a part of my daily life---so much so that I usually fall asleep to their moans, bells, and moos, and in the day time, they meander the paths just like me. At twilight, the cows mingle with people gossiping at the watering holes, and often, if your gate is open, they know exactly who has good grass and who doesn't.

Keoki is a cow master when they come in our yard. He loves romping them away, and is so proud after doing so. But one day, Keoki is out meandering himself, and a herd of cows are in my yard. Because I was putzing around my house, I hadn't seen them, and suddenly, I hear this clonking noise, then the clonking got closer and louder, and then my putzing stopped, turning around to a cow having walked up on my porch and right through my door.  Yep, you got it, right into my living room! You have no idea what it feels like to see a cow walking into your house.  Initially, I just wanted to run and grab my camera, but I keep it locked up, so it would have taken a few moments, and god only knows what the cow would've done.  So I just stood there staring, eye to eye with this cow, a cow with horns nonetheless. She looked as shocked as I was! In all curiosity, I wanted to see what the cow would do, and on the other hand, I definitely did not want cow poop in my house, so a decision was made to get the cow out of here. I went right up to it, told it to leave, and as it was backing out of the door, it stopped, glared at me, and gave the loudest moooooooo, and looking outside, the other cows were watching and decided to chime in with mooing me—or probably booing me for not letting their dad in. Whatever happened to Botswana hospitality! Yes, the cow herd had spoken! Maybe I should have let the cow and his family in for some afternoon tea and crumpets, but I still haven't figured out if these cows are as sacred as the Indian cow!

By India's standards, it would be great to be a cow since the cow always gives and feeds, representing life and the support of life.  So it was most likely a good omen that the cow walked into my house. Maybe he sensed that I was pondering my life as a cow, or maybe he had another message---stay a human, be gentle, and connect with nature, just like a cow---don't worry about your next dollar, just chill, eat simply, plop and relax!     

Friday, March 23, 2012

Harry Potter

"Now repeat after me.....without wands please.....repeat after me, RIDDIKULUS!"

It seems like every generation has something going on that changes the way we look at the world. This past generation has been inspired by Wizardry and Harry Potter. So I decided to test out his effect on African teens who have never read the books, saw the movies, and most have never even heard of him. I started a Harry Potter movie club—if I had the books here, it would have been reading time, but this is all I have.  I told the kids they would be watching 7 movies that make you believe that the impossible is possible, and you can do anything, no matter who you are! Good message for those who think they'll stay in Mmathethe eating porridge the rest of their lives!  

Personally, I have not read all the books, but I watched my nieces grow and be intrigued by Harry. As my nieces matured, they saw that life imposes bigger issues, yet they were able to watch and identify as Harry matured and struggled as well.  He struggled with his identity, his darker side, he dealt with disappointment from his mentor, he broke rules, was a little hot headed, and showed us that as we grow, our worlds become more complex, less black and white.  But even though he wasn't perfect, he was selfless, and he lived in a world where magic lied not in violence or arrogance, but in people---selfless, like Harry.  

So these kids have come over each Friday night for 3 weeks now, wide eyed, glued to the movies, laughing, and talking about it afterwards like I've never heard them talk before. They even took photos with their cheap, tiny cell phones, of HP on the computer screen, telling me that they're gonna look at the photo every night before going to bed. I want these kids to get that the magic of HP is really spiritual, it influences and challenges us to believe that what's inside matters, to hold ourselves to higher standards, that these girls and boys can find strength to do what's right. To say no without guilt! To go out and think for themselves!  To be MAGICAL! 

Harry Potter may not be real, but the message is in many heads that grew up with him, and I hope that as these kids look at HP, and as they grow, they'll have something to spark their imaginations, just like my beautiful nieces did!

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Voice

A now middle aged man has devoted his time for years to being a recluse, to meditate for hours on end each day, chant, and pray, just to be with God in the only way he knew how. The man rarely goes out, does not interact with others, only wants his isolation with the spiritual world. One day, deep in meditation, the man hears the voice of God telling him to go out in the field near his hut and move this big boulder. Immediately, the man stopped his meditation to follow the wish of God. He went to the boulder, leaned against it, pushing and pushing for hours with nothing happening. He went back daily for a week to do God's will, and still it wouldn't budge. Finally, in meditation, he questioned this command, and received an answer---Look at you, after one week you have more energy, more muscles, more color in your face. Meditation is good, but I just wanted you to go outside, feel the sun, do something physical, be in touch with something real...if I had wanted the boulder moved, I would've moved it myself!

This morning, I sat in meditation, though my meditation is filled with trying to stop the rampid thoughts in my head, but on this Sunday morning, I did not hear God or Buddha or my Mother, but I heard my own voice telling me to stop complaining about the food here, and just go out and do something about it. In another few weeks, it'll be too late to plant anything, so I get a big bag, and Keoki and I go off to the school garden to pick up some compost, then come back to re-dig the plots due to all the rain lately, plant my seeds, and build a little green house effect, but all I really want to do is chill on this day.

I push myself to get going after having a delicious pot of green tea and pretending I'm reading the the NY Sunday times! Hmmm, let's see what show I can fantasize about seeing today!  So, instead of taking my wheel barrel, the bag and I go, and some of the kids help pile in the compost, break up some good sticks for me, and help heave the heavy load onto my back for my walk home. I wish Keoki could carry this, he looks too happy prancing around and having everyone dote over him. On my way home, there are two guys behind me, and instead of helping me, they are laughing at me. I stop several times to readjust the bag, but this time I can't hold the bag, the sticks, and my pot of tea in. Trying not to slip in the big puddles from the rain, there is mud up to my shins, and I start peeing in my pants. The guys are laughing harder now because my pants are wet, the sun is getting hotter, and I just want to get home. Ok, so I'm struggling a bit here! I walk home holding my heavy parcel of cow maneur, holding my legs together so I won't pee more, and I'm ready to smack someone with these sticks if they don't stop laughing. Finally, I get home, and I'm now laughing so hard that I never did make it to the bathroom. Maybe this is a little personal, I don't usually pee in my pants, and here in Mmathethe, people pee all over the place, so why can't I just pee in my pants.

After my 10 minute fiasco back to my home, I do my hard work, sweat, watch the seeds go in to do their magic, and in all honesty, when it was all said and done---I felt fantastic!  God was right to tell that guy to get outside and smell the roses, to do something physical, move, breath in fresh air---it's all good for the soul!   I hope now I can chill and meditate that the Gods help those veggies grow and be healthy so I can stop complaining!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Snake

Holy Crap! Is that a snake's trail that I woke up to, or is that a snake trail?  Several nights ago, after having gone to a BBQ with all the Senoir teachers, I got home and dumped out of my sandle all this sand thinking I would clean it up in the morning.  Morning came, I go into the bathroom where the sand was dumped, and yikes, I see this trail through the sand. Immediately I looked down into the toilet to make sure I wasn't sitting on any lurking snake heads, and then I called Keoki in to see what his assessment of the situation was. Keoki didn't seem disturbed at all by anything, so with Keoki by my side, and broom in hand, we went searching for the snake. Somehow I was really calm, I didn't start screaming or anything, but in my head, I'm ready to die! I know that's a contradiction, but compared to how I could have been, this was good! We didn't find anything, it was raining outside, cold, and I plodded my way to school with my camera and the snake pics. Everyone, except one, agreed that it was a snake. They then started spooking me, telling me the snake crawled in here and there and everywhere, and since I left the house, probably found a nice little nitch to snuggle up in. God, I hate these people right now! They are laughing at me, but really, African's are deathly afraid of snakes....and they should be!

The head of the school sent 3 of the grounds people over and the day guard, who sleeps all day, over to my house to inspect. At least the day guard has some excitement here! They walked home with me, only to laugh, showing me that my ant friends had built a road all night long. They promised me that's all it was. Whew! Seriously, I don't know what I would've done if it had been a snake. I can take seeing them outside if need be, not that I want to run into a black mamba in or outside, but there's something creepy about it being in your house.

Some people love snakes, some love spiders and all sorts of creepy crawling things. I wonder how those people would feel if one were, let's say, lying on their dresser draw, or better yet, having crawled in their pillow case! I find it hard to believe that they would just sit around and start talking to the thing. The last time I was in Thailand, I saw 3 snakes within a few hours, and the Thai told me that it was very good luck to see a snake. But this is not Thailand, the snakes here are not Buddhists, and these people not are talking about luck, they are talking about fear!  All I have to say is that I love animals, but some are better left far away from me, for the simple reason that reptiles have no sense of humor!  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Just Follow The Yellow Brick Road!

Just like people here have no sense of time, they also have no sense of giving directions. They just point and say “over there,” or “this or that side.” I don't even think their pointing is accurate.  My counterpart, Seo, who is a very smart lady, invited me to her sisters wedding in Kanye last weekend.   I asked her where in Kanye it was, her reply to me was “the other side.” The other side of what?  Needless to say, I did not go to the other side or any side of Kanye that day. This is how it is, but I'm going to divert for a moment--- on this day, walking 45 minutes in wind and heat, up to the primary school, I am greeted by a teacher who says how happy he is to see me, can I please help out today. “Help with what!” “It is cultural day and we don't know what to do.” “Well, how long have you known about this? Since January.  My, my, why didn't you plan for it?” “Because it was today.” Ok, I get it, it's the African time thing. The kids are all practicing the only dance in Botswana, because that is all they know.  So I go to my class, which has moved and combined with another class---the teacher got transferred, and the new teacher is overwhelmed, so I can't do my NY correspondence with this class anymore.  These kids are also practicing the one Botswana dance, and the teacher says, “can you help us with cultural day?” “So when did you know about cultural day?” “Since January.” “Why didn't you think about this even, let's say, last week?” “Uh, because it was today.” What on earth—do they all sit and practice the same lines just to get us Americans laughing or what!

Off I go to find a small class that will play correspondence with me. Ah, a teacher who is thrilled, Excellent!  I tell the class what the other class did, and attempt to show them the family tree booklet that the NY class did. Big Mistake! I was bombarded by 20 little people, squished up against the wall with nowhere to go, and with them pointing and going nuts over stick figure moms and dads. Teacher doesn't help out here, and I'm thinking about screaming, but no, I would just fit right in! Once I'm released, I ask her about this cultural thing. She says in a forlorn matter that they just have no idea what to do. Seriously, I have the slightest idea how these people function. So I throw out some ideas, and then I ask how on earth these kids walk home, I know there must be a short cut. The teacher points and says “over there, just follow the road.” “You mean, over there, just follow the yellow brick road.” “Huh, no, I mean over there.” Whatever happened to showing people the great and wonderful Wizard of Oz! What ever happened to humor!

Off I go to find the Yellow Brick Road, when the head of school stops me. She wants to post my family tree booklet on a wall, but has no idea where to put it.  I just look her straight in the eye and say, “how 'bout over there!” Good idea she says! Geez oh mighty, I wasn't even pointing or looking anywhere, and they have a concept of where over there is.  She then walks me to this room and says, “do you know what this is?” “Well, yeah, I think it's a library.” “You're right, now what can you do with it?” Whaaat? Is this like what can I do with cultural day?  She says, “don't you think the kids should be able to come in here and read?” Dare I ask how long this room has been here?  “At least 5 years!” “I've got it, maybe for cultural day, you should line up the kids and show them the world of books, whatta think!” By the way, since you are the head of this school, can you please tell me the short cut home. Sure, she pulls me outside, points, and says “that side, over there.” Excellent!

Here I go, skipping to the YBR, and knowing that I don't need courage or a heart because, hey, I left money, a house, my comfy life, to come “over here” to do good will!  I got it though, I NEED A BRAIN to figure out why I am “over here!” That's exactly what I'll ask for if I ever find OZ!  I'm walking along, and lo and behold, a fork in the path---they didn't tell me which way to go, and there's no scarecrow to help with a decision, I don't have my brain yet, and nobody is speaking english up here. I spin around and trust that this way is “over there.” It's getting a little spooky here, with fewer homes, blistering heat and wind, and over there seems to be nowhere.   If the wicked witch starts flying overhead, I'm in big trouble! I ask myself yet again, why I'm not in Thailand where people are organized, have vibrant markets, would laugh at following the YBR, even if they didn't know what it was!  But no, "I'm over here!"

 Finally, after one and a half hours of this so called short cut, I see the light---my white house with the green roof, with a floppy dog ear hanging over the porch...I run and run....Keoki I'm home, I'm “over there”---oh Keoki, there's no place like over there!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ee, I'm So Tired!

(I may have written a blog post about this before, but it disappeared, so I wanted to re-write something similar)

How on earth am I gonna get across to those out there how the Batswana really are.  I guess we'll have to pick them apart layer by layer, like the cliche onion.  When I first got to Botswana, there was little time to actually get to know people, other than your host family.  At that point, and I continue to think this, that  my family is very normal, stable, a little too religious for my liking, but other than that, they are perfect, that is for Batswana's.  I put it that way because there is an inherent lack of communication style in them, and throughout this country, that can drive one crazy--but that layer I'll tackle at another time.  

So let's go out in the real world, the rural world, the working and non-working world. My friend Dee Dee and I sat up half the night a few weeks back, doubled over in hysterics because of three words—I'm so tired! We're not sure if people just say this just to say it, or it it's their diet of porridge and more porridge that weighs them down, the heat, or if they are just down right lazy or apathetic. We cannot figure this out! 

Nothing I'm about to say is an exaggeration....so here I go! Someone lifts up a pencil and says “I'm so tired,” We walk a quarter of a block, the person stops to say “I'm so tired,” After a 10 minute briefing with teachers, half of them say “I'm so tired.” During the holiday break, many classrooms were painted, including the library. Books were thrown everywhere, and while some students helped put them away, there was much to do. I offered to help out one morning, so I go in, put about 20 paperbacks in their rightful order, and the library guy asks me to take the new books, label them, and write the number in a ledger. Ok, this is easy! He comes back to check on me 5 minutes later, giving an exasperated sigh, saying, “this is such hard work, you must be so tired.” “Oh yes, I'm so tired I don't think I could do more than another five minutes.” “Oh dear, you better stop now and go rest...see what hard work this is!” “Yeah, I see, I think we both should take a nice long break!” Great idea! My 10 minute, good, excruciating hard working deed is complete, and I'm so proud of my time well spent!  Now off to the next task.  Since my morning work is completed at 7:50am, I go around school to find a class with no teacher in it. This takes about a minute. I go in, tell the kids to stand up to a little morning moving warm-up of an exercise called Coconut—-anything to remind me of Asia! The kids love it, and after it's done, I ask them if they're tired---I just can't resist! They all say, yes mma Tshepo! Oh, you poor little darlings, but guess what, we're gonna have class anyway!  One day, my counterpart asks me to sign in some 20 orphans, write their names down and take any extra belongings they have. Within 2 minutes, “Tsepho, ugh, this is such hard work, I'm so tired, we better take a break.” “What about the orphans standing here?” “We'll come back later.” Great, I wonder if later will ever come! I turn to look at the orphans and say, “see ya later, or never, we're tired.” They look at us like it's the most normal thing in the world.

Seriously, they sound so humorously pathetic, and I can't stop laughing, but I know it's not really funny, but ok, it is funny to my warped cultural adapting mind. Forrest Gump wouldn't get these folks running behind him across the USA!  No way baby!   I could just see my former driven boss Maureen, and my friend Dana here trying to get something done, it would drive them so totally bizzerk that they'd probably start a “let's not be tired” revolution throughout Botswana. The thing is, these people just say it constantly, and I wonder if it's just become a bad habit, because it typically doesn't always stop them from doing things, it just, well, delays things a bit. I feel like starting serious exercise classes, nutrition classes, or pick-me-up power yoga classes, but I know after one downward dog, I would hear “I'M SO TIRED.” 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The balance Act

When I used to think of Africa, my first thoughts were of children running around barefoot in shabby clothing, and women walking with anything and everything balanced on their heads. Both of those things have proven to be quite the fact. Sometimes when I go shopping, someone will undoubtedly assist this helpless American by carrying my stuff on their heads to my house. I just walk beside them in admiration that they can do this, and secretly, am thrilled that I'm not lugging these bags.

The other day, I was particularly overloaded with things to bring home having come from that 2 week misery in Moleps. It was hot, the kombie's were especially annoying and crowded, I couldn't imagine how on earth I was gonna drag everything for my walk home, and on this day nobody was helping out. So guess what smart me decides to do, yep—balance things on my non-African head.  How hard can it be, afterall, I saw it in the movies, and now I see it all around me in real life. So I throw my heavy day pack on my back, one other bag drooped over my shoulder, and one bag on my head. I make it about 3 inches before the bag slips off my lopsided posture. This draws a crowd, with laughter, and god only knows what they're saying in Setswana about the lekgoa trying to do something innately African. But all laughter aside, these people love me, and all start working on my posture, head position, and distribution of goods. Ok, I've got my first lesson in head balancing, and I think I've got it down. It's so funny that if done correctly, you don't even really feel the weight of what's on your head---so here I go to loud cheers and encouragement, telling me I can lean one hand on the side of the bag. But no, the competitive nature in me wants to do it the pure way, besides, I really only have one hand left here, and that's needed to schoo the little rascal kids away from me.  I make it further this time, so proud, and at the point where I get a little cocky, the bag gives way with no warning and down it goes. With laughs, oohs, aahs, and what not, I look down to broken eggs, squished bananas, sweat dripping from every inch of my body, and groceries all over the dirt path. This is definitely not one of my finest moments in cultural integration!

Someone looks at me and says “Tshepo, I think you need more practice---what are you going to do now?” And--”Tshepo, I don't think you should not have put the eggs on your head.” “Thanks buddy for the tip, I think I'm gonna go home, find a new bag, and come back for the goods that are still edible, but yeah, you think your so great because this and dancing are in your DNA and not mine.” “You watch—in two years, eggs and all, will be on my head with no problem, and somehow I'll learn to move my hips like you do!”

When I sat that night laughing and reflecting on my day, I thought that certainty about things brings about dullness and mediocrity---and even though I failed at my first attempt of head balancing, and lost my breakfast for the next several mornings, I'm so glad nothing in my life is certain around here!  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The meaning of Bliss


Time, with all it's exact measures, just keeps marching on.  In Africa, time is an amorphous and unstructured entity, but still the clocks and dates keep on going. This week marks six months of being in Botswana. There have been good times and times of struggles, but no bad times. The times of struggles haven't even been that bad, in fact, I call those moments my times of bliss because they are character building. The word bliss can mean so many things to different people. I have asked myself many times if I've found my bliss, and the initial response 6 months ago was no way. The craziness that takes over our lives, the business that caused me to say I can't handle this, the amount of media around---it all takes away from finding that bliss. But now, my bliss is when I look outside my window every night to watch the sunsets, or see a three quarter moon that looks orange hanging low in the sky with bright stars surrounding it. Bliss is being able to laugh when sitting in a Kombie with people hanging on top of you, dripping wet from the heat, and laughing at the thought of killing them. Bliss is when my 6 year old friend, Lefika, walks into my house at 7:30am to hand me a pomegranate off his tree, and telling me that he doesn't know what he's gonna do when I leave in 2 years. Bliss is walking around this beautiful village in the early evening and watching life happen. Bliss is having the time to meditate, reflect, do my tai chi and yoga without all the American distractions. Bliss is teaching a class about life, and seeing the trust because they know that I won't beat them with a stick. Bliss is feeling the love of my host family. Bliss is fighting off the bugs in the house and cows in the yard, and not having a second thought about it. Bliss is the comraderie of my fellow PCV's. Bliss is receiving packages from home. Bliss is finally having internet in my house!

All of these things, and many more, are making me even more real, honest, and genuine. I cry, I laugh, I question! I want those who are struggling to see that if they just find that glimmer of hope, that life can go on.

I look at people here in Mmathethe and wonder about their own bliss. Somehow, with all the hardships, and the daily struggles, they have a resilience in them, and I'm gonna call that resilience Bliss for right now. The may lack in some passion, but they also may never know another life, so let them find that bliss in the simplicity that is all around.

Six months passes, and I remind myself though, to never stop looking because bliss can disappear at a moments notice. Every new trial, new struggle, or new mountain, brings me back to where my bliss had disappeared to when at home. I will never have all the answers, and I don't want really want them. I just want to live, learn, and grow. I want my bliss to change and not be stagnent. And most of all, I want the kids of Mmathethe to find their own bliss in the midst of the daily struggles they endure.

P.S. Happy 13th Birthday to my beautiful niece Sofie! I love you sweetie!