Wednesday, April 25, 2012


I never liked coconut growing up, it seemed like it was some kind of disgusting filler for stuff that would taste better without it. But things change, tastes change, and once outside the confines of good old New Jersey, I became enchanted with Southeast Asia! My first time there, this beautiful guy with his shirt off, and skin looking like silk, was slicing a coconut open with a machete, then gave me a straw, and all of a sudden I felt like I was in heaven, under lush tropical foliage, and the sweet coconut trees, in an exotic country—it was definately the quintessential image of the wonder of paradise. I quickly developed the utmost respect and love for the coconut, and consider it to be one of the most resourceful things on the planet, putting it near the top of the greatest creations in the history of the universe.

The milk of a coconut is nutritious and hydrating, the husk can be used for a variety of things such as weaving a rope, to make a rough sponge for cleaning, and can be used as kindling for a fire. I never knew how great a coconut really is! In Zanzibar, another exotic wonder, I saw a man climb the coconut tree which is an amazing feat of human achievement. There are no branches or notches, you just straddle your legs around the tree, straddle a rope around the upper part, and hop up it like a frog. The guy did it with amazing ease, and asked if I wanted to try. I did, and made it about 3 feet! But the coconut was delicious!

So why on earth am I writing about coconuts. I'm not exactly in an exotic tropical paradise here! I do, however, dream about coconuts, I dream of meandering down the Mekong with my coconut in hand, admiring the Vietnamese men with their silken skin and machetes in hand! Wake up Pai, you're in Africa, and there are no coconut trees around, no Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodians, nothing that seduces my senses like Asia does---but there is a different coconut here. You see, in my little village, I always have an entourage of midget followers. Yes, little people who grab onto me, stare at me, want to say hello or shake my hand, or pray that I play with them---some kids have huge eyes when I come by, some have huge snot coming out of their noses, some have dirt from head to toe, and all want a piece of American PAI!

During our pre-service training, I learned many things, but this silly little ice breaker called COCONUT stuck in my head. You just spell coconut by moving your hands sideways to form a C, then the O, bending to touch toes for the N, etc., we are also screaming the letters as we move, and then we go faster and faster! My god, big kids and little midgets, love this thing. I even caught some of the primary school teachers doing it, but now I am basically known around here as C.O.C.O.N.U.T! When kids are outside my gate, I will hear screaming of C O C O N U T! When I walk around my school campus, the kids are doing the Coconut gestures, when I'm at the Post Office, someone will call me Coconut. I can't believe that my service is gonna leave a legacy of the Coconut, and there aren't even any around here. I guess this is just one of the little things that makes this experience so endearing! So next time you're drinking a coconut, think of me and my midgets, get up, and start moving like a coconut!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tomorrow Never Comes

At the end of a very frustrating day, my landlord says to me, “Tsepho, this day is a blessing because now you have a story to write for your book, and...................”

Last week, my landlord picked me up early to take me to Gabs to collect rent money for the next 6 months. It was really nice of him to do this, saving me kombie headaches, a lot of money, and not knowing where I'm going. On the way, he told me that growing up in a small village, families would sit around the fire outside in their compound, eat their porridge, and tell stories. I asked him to tell me one, and it was about Jekyl and Hyde---translation---Jackal and the Hyena! He told me that a Jackal and a Hyena scooted under a fence to kill someones goat. After eating some of the goat, the Jackal crawled back under the fence to make sure that he could still do it and get away fast. He came back to eat a little more, but made sure that his belly wasn't so full that he couldn't escape. The Hyena, however, kept eating all the goat he wanted, and his belly was beginning to be so full and bloated. A family member spotted this, came out to kill the animals that killed his goat, and it was the Jackal that was able to escape. Moral of the story---watch yourself, watch what you eat, watch what you do, because you never know when trouble will come!

We then passed this village called Otsi, which has the highest mountain or hill in Botswana. But there is a story to the hill. There was this myth that two young people, madly in love, were supposed to marry someone else in an arranged marriage. They decided to climb the hill and elope, which they did. But, after the marriage, the couple never came down from the hill, and were never again seen by their families. The villagers searched for days with no luck, and then named it The Hill of Lovers.  We stopped for a few minutes to gaze at the beauty of the hill, and to see if we can catch a glimpse of any lovers up there!

I was so happy driving with Fletcher, listening to him regaling tales, but once in Gabs things went downhill. It took over 6 hours of being told to drive here, to drive there, that the dates were all wrong on the paperwork, to get back to the schools to fix the paperwork, then driving somewhere else to get the final stamp of approval, and then going back to "there" to finally get the dough!  I had to follow someone around with 2 inch platform and 4 inch heals, falling over every two seconds, because these shoes are not suitable for anyone---not even a NY Prostitute!  It was the only thing that made me laugh all day! My landlord then dropped me at the mall to get some things, and get food in my belly, while he went to another revenue place to get his agriculture license renewed. Telling me he'll be back in an hour to pick me up, I rushed to get everything done, talked to some fellow PCV's hanging out, and went to wait at the pick up point. Well, it's getting dark, and 3 hours later, guess who arrives, and guess who is fuming in frustration at this long and horrible day of dealing with people who have no concept of waiting and time.  He sees how mad I am when I get in, but he just smiles and says, “Tsepho, there is no time in Africa, enjoy every moment instead of getting frustrated because Tomorrow Never Comes! Whatta guy!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tasmanian Devils

After a week of one thing after another going wrong, broken, or just weird, I just wanted to relax and not step one foot out the house, or talk to one person. But oh no, I forgot that I invited 6 kids from my teen club over in the afternoon to do an art project for my NYC correspondence class. Up and atom---I go and get cookies for them, and I made a bunch of Peanut Butter sandwiches, cut into quarters, making a huge pile on the plate. At 1pm, instead of six kids, nine come over, but that's ok, these are great kids, so it'll all be good. After briefing them about the rules of being in my home, and the goals of the project, I let them in. Thankfully, I put away any valuables, that means even my slippers---you just never know! So with little stimuli around, they go after the food like it was their last meal--with the speed of lightening--with eyes that turned into Tasmanian Devils---savages! Not believing my own eyes, one passive girl did not get anything, so I asked one Devil to give up some of her handful---she said no with a look in her eye that could kill.  I ask in a variety of nice ways, all with no responses, and then I start wrestling her for a lousy quarter of a PB sandwich. This is so crazy, I can't believe I'm fighting for this, for this kid who just wants a bite---and I win---and I love winning---but exasperated, I  give the passive girl a ripped to shreds ¼ PB sandwich!

Then these kids noticed some toys, and like ferocious oddities, they began going after the toys as they did the food---they then start taking over my house, claiming it like it was theirs, wanting to lock me out, dancing like only an African can dance, going through anything and everything, and I'm running around trying to calm them down---telling them that it's only Peanut Butter, it's only a little jumping monkey, a coloring book---But no, they were demon possessed!  Even Keoki didn't know what hit! Then like an all consuming tornado, I felt like I was swirled up and around, and lifted into a world I didn't know existed.  What to do---think fast Tshepo---I got it, if ya can't beat 'em, join 'em!  So I started dancing with them, and it worked, my dancing(or if you want to call it that) stopped them in their tracks!  YAY!

After the storm did it's damage, the Tasmanian Devils having scavenged their food, they sat and did their projects with equalled zest.  They drew beautiful pictures of what Africa meant to them, they wrote short blurbs about themselves, wrote sayings to the children such as “be smart,” and “we are crying with sorrow to meet you,” and telling them why they want to go to America. When it was all said and done, and my home was free, I plopped on my couch, looking around at the storm that hit, wondering if Tasmanian Devils will ever be extinct, wondering why my Harry Potter Club is so calm!  But I realized that some of these kids are boarders, some are orphans, some are just curious, and most are starving for something other than porridge. In the end, I may remember this as the day I ran into nine ferocious animals, but they will remember that American let them in her home, fed them, and allowed them some freedom---even if it was for just a day!  

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Village Idiot!

Idiot: A stupid person; a mentally handicapped person; Greek idiotes, a private person, ignorant, a layman.

Village: a group of houses, larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town situated in a rural area; a self contained district within a town or city regarded as having features of village life.

Where I live definitely constitutes a Village. Now, I don't want to categorize myself as an idiot, and I know I'm not stupid, but hey, living in a foreign country, you may do things that make you look, well, different,---so does the meaning of Idiot define my latest events?  You decide!

  1. Communication is a problem with the kids even though most know English. It's also a problem throughout this country, but don't get me started on that! I go into my Form 1 class, and ask if Seo, my counterpart, taught this particular lesson on Adjusting to Secondary School. All the kids say “No” which could mean “Yes.” It's still confusing, so I ask again, reframing the question in my best African accent so they could understand me better---they all say “Yes,” which could mean “No.” Now I have no idea what was taught, so I ask if anyone could tell me the meaning of adjustment,  giving examples of me adjusting to Botswana.   Good, nobody can answer me, therefore, I figured they had not had been taught this, so off I go proceeding with the lesson.  At the end of class, I give homework to draw a map of the school---to which they all pull out their notebooks, showing me their maps of the school.  So, “No” really meant “Yes” afterall, and the kids are looking at me like I'm an-----idiot! Why didn't I figure that out?

  1. Every morning I wake up, run outside to my little garden to watch the miracle of organic veggies sent from home grow. I am so proud and excited that my spinach, beets, and lettuce are growing so tall and fast, that I can't even believe my own eyes. I talk to the veggies, water them, tell Keoki that in no time we'll finally have an organic dinner, just like in California, and he starts licking his chops, as do I in anticipation. It's Sunday, and my teen neighbor Stanley comes over to chat, and we're hovering around the garden. We then notice 4 other women, whom I don't know come in, so they start chatting with us. I say to them, “hey, I just planted these several weeks ago, isn't this great!” Well, all 5 of them burst out in laughter.  Ok, I'm used to being laughed at around these parts, but this time I really don't understand, and the laughter is getting louder, and of course drawing more of a crowd.   Finally, Stanley says, “Tsepho, these are weeds, NOT veggies! “Oh no, say it ain't so Stanley!” With the women and the crowd outside the gate still laughing, they start pulling out my spinach and lettuce----oh, I mean my weeds---leaving me with just small seedlings of the real thing.  I'm just flabbergasted at my being disillusioned----and to think, next week, Keoki and I would've been having “WEED CURRY for dinner!”

  1. It's been over 7 months in Botswana, and over 5 months in my Village. I have adjusted well, and even though my house is big, there is nothing in it, so I get the house thing.  I also have continued to take a bucket bath, not frequently, but when I feel that I should spruce up a bit, or if I'm beginning to smell.  But bathing is worse here than at my family in Kanye's house because I don't have a big heating bucket like they do---I have something of a tea kettle that I boil about 7 times and intersperse that with the cold water that comes from the tap in the tub. Then if I'm lucky, I have a luke warm bath, with water maybe to my shins. The process takes about 45 minutes before I can get in the tub!  Fun!  So in a streak of bad luck lately, or mishaps, my fuse box blows out, leaving me with no electricity, and I can't cook, let alone take a bath. The Africans are so smart, they don't have stoves in the village, they cook outside in big cauldrons!  But ok, I'm a PCV, I'm really not supposed to have these amenities anyway, so it's all cool. I'll just eat some almond butter and jelly beans----yummy!  But by the grace of the African Gods, my landlord shows up at 6pm with a new main switch, and we call Wiseman, the school fix-it-man to come over. Remarkably he comes---it takes 2 hours in the dark to fix---it would have been faster if they came with tools to use, but no, we are holding flashlights, and using my handy dandy swiss army knife! Once done, or as done as he's gonna be for the night, they are getting ready to leave, and I see on the main switchboard that there's this switch for a geezer. Naively, I asked what a geezer was.  My landlord and Wiseman pull me into the kitchen, they show me a switch, and say look---this goes on, and guess what, I have hot water! All this bucket bath work, and I had hot water all along! OY!  They look at me---like what an-----idiot I am!  But I promise, idiotic or not, I'm gonna pretend that the switch doesn't exist, and continue smelling and taking my bucket baths like a good PCV should!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Americans & Donkeys---INTERTWINED?

I knew it was gonna be a good day when I was running to the main road to catch a hitch, and SPLAT---I go tumbling down, having tripped over some barbed wire. My hand is a little limp and aching, I missed a hitch, and I'm covered with red African soil from my eyebrows to my toes. I love those kind of days when you know you should've just stayed in bed! So why was I running, well, because on Saturday's, cars can be far and few between, and I just wanted one way to Kanye to be fast and peaceful.

It never ceases to amaze me though, that when one hitch fails, another opens up, and it's usually better. A nice car stops a few minutes later, so me and my dirty body hop in to see a huge smiling face---it's the cool Kgosi, the Chief of Mmathethe, and best of all, I know he won't charge me for the ride! His English is not that great, but we talk in broken tongue about my upcoming projects, he asks a few ordinary questions about my life, and tells me about a recent trip to Lesotho---something a few of us are planning to do soon. And then a ding went off in my head, or more like an alarm!  He had this look in his eye that I knew something big, something profound was about to come, and just then, he takes both hands off the stearing wheel, puts each on the sides of his eyes, like making a tunnel vision sort of look, and pensively says, “Tshepo, Americans are like Donkeys!” For a split second, I thought there are often amazing explanations underneath every experience, and I wondered what this explanation will be.

So my profound response---”Oh, Kgosi, I see what you're saying, Americans are asses!" With hands still off the wheel and in tunnel vision form, a huge burst of laughter came out and off the road we're going. I was laughing also, and didn't care if we were off the road, or in Timbuktu---life at that moment was funny, and besides, it took away some of the increasing pain in my hand. After gaining some composure, and control of the car, he turns to me, still smiling, and says, “I am not an educated man, but I am the Chief, and even I know that is not what you meant.” Ok, now I'm the American Ass!

The Kgosi explained that he thought American's had tunnel vision---just like a donkey, they don't look sideways---they have a goal and they go for it, just like what I'm doing with one of my projects. “But Kgosi, I didn't know that Donkey's had goals---I thought they just had, well---issues.” “You know, their not exactly the perfect family pet!” He's now looking at me like, ok Tseph, what is this psychological mumble jumble!

While I am not enchanted by Donkeys, maybe they are neglected and misunderstood. Maybe the Kgosi is right, there is an interrelationship with man and animal, that human lessons interweave with animal lessons, and can also mirror each other to facilitate life's lessons. How's that for profound Mr. Kgosi? I realized today that humans, especially Americans, are not above animals, they are simply a different species, and that the Kgosi thinks in this fashion because that is what he knows, Donkeys are what he is surrounded by, and that I, as the lone American in this village, should take lessons from the donkey and not be such as ass---oops, I mean have my tunnel vision and go for it Tshepo!

Friday, April 13, 2012


My beautiful boy Sasha
I've had cats for so long now, that I'd forgotten how amazing a dog can be. There's a saying, I believe  from Woodrow Wilson, that if a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience. I wonder how many people realize how true that is, and I wonder if Africans will ever get that concept. When I came to Mmathethe, I secretly wished that a black cat would find me to help fill the void that my precious, and soulful cat left after passing away over a year ago now. But just as an abandoned Sasha walked into my life 16 years ago, a young puppy with a similar soul found me here in Africa. Even though Keoki is a dog, the similarities in their being strikes me---he looks at me with knowing eyes, he's smart, he's as happy as Sasha was, he has a heart as deep as Sasha's, and he's as popular as Sasha was. But one thing he is, that Sasha wasn't, is African.....a dog that was born free!  Don't laugh---he's as culturally different from Sasha as I am from each and everyone of my fellow villagers.  

This week, I had the time to watch Keoki, and I realize that I have been domesticating a lion, an animal that was free, fended for himself, and knew how to be in the wild. But now I notice that my lion dog barks at bugs instead of attacking them like Sasha would, he herds cows and goats like a champ, and he barks ferociously at some men, but once they say something in Setswana, or take a rock in their hands, he cowers. So much for being my protector---so much for the lion in him! Maybe I'm wrong for feeding him, being his friend, showing him what the good life is about, maybe it's better that all animals are wild, but if you saw how happy he is.........

Although most everyone here has a dog, yet people are still afraid of dogs. If they see a strange dog, or even their own for that matter, they are usually inclined to react with fear or self-defense, to kick or throw rocks---and why would they not, if it's ok to behave this way towards women and children!   People's animals may be starving both for food and affection. Many who walk onto my property, completely ignore the fact that a dog even exists, even though he's jumping all over them. It seems that almost no one has a well cared for animal, or experienced the love and bond that can exist. Therefore, many dogs are aggressive and bite, or look horribly depressed, just like some children do without proper nuturing. When people act violently, fearfully, or in other ways that make me cringe, it's become crucial to me to try and understand their motives. They are not knowingly trying to cause suffering, they simply act out of survival---replicating the behaviors that have been learned, and that seems ubiquitous.

Everyone in this village knows me and Keoki. Even the other dogs know us---some even come to lick out Keoki's bowl because they know he is fed. More importantly, some people are learning not to treat my animal in a cruel way, yet others look in disbelief of what they see. They can't comprehend why he looks and acts so good. When I leave here in 2 years, I don't know what will happen to Keoki. It will be like setting Elsa the lion free again, and hopefully, he'll still have some African in him to fend for himself, while keeping his spirit that is so unique, and oddly different than any other animal in this village. I'm supposed to be capacty building, so hopefully, in the end, enough people will look at their pets and see something more than a just a wild lion in their yard, they'll see a heart that yearns for just a little hello, a pat on the head, and maybe, just maybe, a piece of meat!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


No one likes to be rejected, but it is an inevitable life experience we all have to face at one point or another. From our career to our relationships, whether we are the most popular or a nerd, it happens!   Of course it hurts, and any grieving is natural, but those with character take a deep breath.

Recently, I learned that there is this African concept called UBUNTU, which is a concept that has come to signify unity---the interrelationship between all beings---that humanity is understood in relation with that of others. The word is from the Bantu language group, derivatives of which are commonly spoken in communities throughout Sub-Sahara Africa. A person with Ubuntu cares for others in a profound way, and deeply senses his/her interdependence with them. It is the recognition that one's well being is connected to that of others, 2 legged, 4 legged, and leafy!

This past week, two kids in the neighborhood took a deep breath in the face of rejection. My two neighbor boys were supposed to be picked up by their dad for the 2 week break to spend it with him at the cattle post. To Stame and Lefika, going to the cattle post with dad was like an American kid going to Disneyland for spring break. It's all they talked about for weeks. Well, dad never showed to pick them up. On the 2nd day of the break, just when I thought all was quiet, and was free of kid play for 2 weeks, my two friends sauntered over, one with tears welted in his eyes, the other with his head leaning against my shoulder, telling me that dad never showed. The lack of understanding and sense of rejection in their faces was all I needed for the Psychologist in me to come out and do whatever I could to help the situation out. And so it was........

Lefika, Stame, and friend
We live in a world that can make our hearts ache, especially in Africa. So many kids here live without one parent or the other---it's almost natural, but I wonder how it really affects them. It has to be confusing! With HIV raging out of control, tsunami's devasting places, and children being left behind, the ramifications of these tragedies are felt in all directions. This week Stame and Lefika were two boys who needed to feel wanted, accepted, and pumped up. Usually, I put a limit to how many times a week the kids can come over to play, but this week, it was my pleasure to provide them with talk, play, and a lot of laughter. Every act of generosity, kindness, or compassion can heal our wounds---I just wish that everyone, especially Stame and Lefika's dad right now, can develop a world view of Ubuntu----centered rather than self-centered!   

Sunday, April 8, 2012


This past Saturday, I went to Kanye to catch up with the family. Grandma is back for two months and when I approached, she shook her big finger at me like I've been a bad girl. In fact, I haven't been bad—I've been so good that it's scaring me! All I could do was to shake my finger back at her, making her laugh and remember who I was.

Mom, Dad, and Kesego come back from Church, and fed me a good African meal. I asked my mom if there was any wisdom in eating with your hands---”No Tshepo, No Wisdom!” You see Tseph, we didn't have utensils back in those days, and some things just taste better with your hands.....period! Besides, it's easier, you don't have to wash dishes afterwards, now doesn't that make sense? Sure does mom, I hate doing dishes.

Noticably though, it truly is an art to eating traditional African foods with your hands, but you have to watch very carefully, or in my case, get a lesson from master mom. You can only use your right hand, make a ball with 3 fingers---no rolling in your palms like we would make a meatball---no--just 3 fingers and then you put your thumb print in the ball, and use that to scoop in meat, veggies, or a sauce, and then plop in your mouth gracefully. It's the graceful part I have trouble with! Now if you haven't perfected this technique, watch out---it'll plop on your shirt or some other unintended destination, thus making everyone laugh at your blunder.

It's hard stuff doing it right, but my mom is usually wiser than she thinks---it truly does taste better with your hands.  Did you know Tshep, "If a child washes his hands, he could eat with Kings!" (African Proverb) Thanks Mom, I knew I came here for a reason today!

Thursday, April 5, 2012


We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there....we need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope! Edward Abbey

Finally, I get to do what I love best---travel! The travel bug is a kind of illness, a delicious illness to have, and I have it badly! It is Easter Break, I would say Spring break, but it is fall here going into winter, yet it's still Easter and Passover time, and very confusing. But thankfully traveling is traveling. Seven of us make our way on the 10 hour bus ride up North to Maun, to stay in a backpackers hostel. Lying in my bed, next to my fellow PCV's, I reflect on the days I had money and traveled in style. But this is better in many ways, having rustic charm on a river, not having gourmet food, not having luxury baths. It builds something called character, and no matter, it's still travel, it's still an experience, it's still a wonder!

Driving through Moremi, it matters not how many animals are out in a day---what does matter is the land, the surreal nature, the habitat that has been untouched since the beginning of time. The landscape speaks to my inner senses, and an eerie sense of calm comes over me, just as the animals exude calm and acceptance. The golden plains against the early morning sun, the lone boabab tree, are all almost to much to bare.

The lone giraffe, with it's tall, stately features, glares through the bush, wondering why we stop to gawk at him. More giraffe come to see, then realizing there is no danger, they munch on the leaves of the trees, stare back, and then fade into the magic of God's Garden.

The impala with their graceful leap over the bush and over their friends, the leopard shows us his strong, but shy personality, the dexterity of the cheetah is like looking at Baryshnikov dance, and the way the elephant always comes towards you to tell you that this is his garden, not yours, and the hippo with it's loud song. I wish I could impart this thrill and sheer joy of being in God's Garden on you, but it is something only to be expeienced firsthand. It truly is though God's Garden, and what a wonderful garden it is!