Monday, May 28, 2012

How To Save A Life

Stuff happens----you go along the path and everything is beautiful, but all of a sudden the weather changes and wammo, you run into a tree, or a storm, and there's no way to cross the rising creek. We take things in our life for granted, even if you've changed your whole world, it still happens---we'll call it the comfort factor. I don't know how many times in these 2 years I'll talk about Keoki, but this week I found out that I loved a dog I promised I wouldn't love.  It just happened, his spiritual soul resonated with mine, and I vow not to take him for granted.  The past several weeks, Keoki became increasingly ill, not eating, losing a third of his weight, and for 3 nights he could barely breathe, his big heart was pounding verociously. I had gone to people at school who I knew had dogs and were descent, but they offered no help to me. My neighbors who have nothing, said they'd pray, but they couldn't do more than that. I walked with Keoki to the so called local Vet who just laughed at us---obviously Keoki does not have cow status. Vets in other towns would not return phone calls, so I sat here each day and night by his side, wrapping him in a blanket, trying to get a little liquid in him for survival, and I talked and talked to him constantly---reminding him of all the good times we've had in the past 6 months and how far we've come. He'd look at me when he could, try to wag his almost dead tail, but he was fading fast.

I was at a complete loss, not having a car, or even allowed to drive for that matter, and hating everyone because they don't know how to give a hand to a lowly dog, but somehow, divine intervention came into play. I have these neighbors from Gabs who are in Mmathethe for a few months doing a job at school. Because nothing moves fast around here, the guys had nothing to do today and were home. I asked one of them to look at Keoki, and with one sight of this dog, you knew he was on his last leg, so he and his friend with wheels agreed to try and save a life. My cause may have been helped when the guys saw the grave I dug under my tree. Well, you just never know when you'd need a grave around here.

Off we go with Keoki sitting on my friends lap in the back of a pick up truck, and 45 minutes to the nearest village known to have a real Vet. Luckily, after asking around ,we find the Vet outside, but he said he only does dogs on the side after work. Doc asks what time it was---I tell him it's 4:30 (it's really 11am).  He laughs and tells me I obviously don't follow the sun!  But with some charm and conjoling, he agreed to see him in his office, which was in the middle of a path, with his trunk as his office and lab. Nice set up doc! Keoki had a pretty high temp, but that's all the doc did, he doesn't have equipment to listen to his heart, and didn't even touch Keoki. It's good though that I'm an accurate reporter of symptoms, so with this, he told me that Keoki had pneumonia. The symptoms fit pretty well, so I ask, “Is he going to live doc?” “50/50 chance.” “Why only 50/50?” “If you came into my hospital for anything, I'd give you 50/50, right.” Gee, if I came to this so called hospital on a dirt road and no equipment, I'd give me a 10/90 chance doc!

Lucky for us, Doctor Dirt had shots of anti-biotics in his bag of tricks, injected them into Keoki, and gave us medicine to take home. All this for 150p, but I had no money on me. “Do you take atm cards?'' He looks around to show me we were in the middle of nowhere. Oh yeah! Well, the doc figured someday he'll get his money, and he told me to call him in two weeks if Keoki was alive so we can get him his regular vaccinations that he probably never had.

Keoki was so happy to get home, went immediately to a big pile of grass, lied down to watch his little world go by. He drank some milk out of my hand after awhile, barked at some people, and wagged his tail when I told him he couldn't sleep outside tonight because he was sick and it's cold out. He then ate a little food when he came him, wrapped himself in the blanky, and went to sleep after a long week of struggling to stay alive. I think he's gonna make it, and whew, I found out how to save a life this week---accept the prayers from those who can't do anything else, talk to your best friend from home who knows how to put everything in perspective, and pray that someone human from Gabs is sitting waiting for 2 months for materials to come in to finish their real work. The sun was descending with a magenta color to it tonight, and when I went out to lock my gate, my neighbors were standing with a shovel, and said, Tshep, this is the worst grave I've ever seen, even a dog wouldn't want to burried here, but hey, we don't need it now anyway, do we?”   

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Queens, NY

Since I came to Africa, I've been working with a class in NY for cultural interchange.  The little kids have loved this as we shared our differences in food, transportation, housing, doing laundry, our clinics, and toys we play with.  We've exchanged stories via pictures of our family trees, things we like to do, and most recently my teen club did a journal project for the NY kids with stories about themselves and all about Botswana.  The NY kids who are ending their school year, did a community walk showing all the pictures sent for everyone to see, along with a banner.  All in all it's been huge success of kids in America learning all about village life in Botswana, and our kids in Africa getting to see faces and pictures that lit up their eyes.

Matzo Ball Soup

Ok, so I'm a little late! Spring time in the states is virtually history, and Passover and Easter long gone—not that there's even an ounce of exposure to Jewish tradition around these parts, but still, some things should at least be acknowledged. Sometime over the holidays, I received a package that contained Matzo Ball Soup and Jelly Beans. Yum, the jelly beans practically broke my aging teeth, and the box of soup was stripped to save space and contained no directions.  But it did bring back distorted memories of Passover---”Lynnie,” my grandmother would screech, “how many matzo balls do you want?” “Six grandma,” to which I never got more than 3. Why she asked year after year is beyond me. But really now, my memory is not only of the Jewish New York accent screeching my name, but that my Grandma's matzo balls were perfect---they were not hard sinkers, they were not feather like floaters, they were perfect squiggly balls that fit on your spoon and tasted delicious. So I throw my directionless matzo ball soup in my Barbie like cupboards until the day I can figure out how to make it. Call me a purist, but if I'm ever gonna make this, I only want it tasting like my grandma's and nothing else, and this seemed impossible given it was from a box.  Man, I wish I would've been sent those good skinny noodles to put in the soup too!

It's May and it's getting pretty cold in Botswana, so a few weeks ago with my cupboards almost empty, I thought I would throw all caution to the wind, and reminiscent of my grandmother, the house starts to smell like Jewish Matzo Ball Soup. Yep, I figured it out, put my little Buddha statue on the table to pray for something to turn out good, and as I was admiring the walnut size balls growing in the soup, I hear sniffing, and a little voice saying “you're house is cooking.” Ah, Lefika, yes, I am making Matzo Ball Soup. “Maa what?” And before I know it he's peaking inside the pot, with a twisted look on his face, reporting that it doesn't smell or look like anything he's seen before, and then asked if we can throw the growing balls instead of eating them. Well, I haven't exactly invited you for dinner have I now, and if the balls are hard enough to throw, then, no, I haven't done a good grandma job here.

With Lefika not leaving, I sit him down and explain a little bit about the story of Passover, and how a guy named Elijah used to sneak in the door while we were eating and leave some lucky kid a dollar. He asked if he could have some, and I say of course, but let's give Keoki a bite first to see if it's edible. Keoki sniffs just like Lefika, and gobbles it down, so I guess it's ok. “How many balls can I have?” Huh, what is this I screech---you can only have one! So he looks, he plays with it, he scrunches his face, and tastes. This does not seem like a good sign to me, and just when I thought he was gonna run, or throw up, he says “Am I Jewish now, and where's my money?”

As I sat with my big bowl of 6 balls because grandma is not here to say no, I tell Lefika that he is not Jewish, that Elijah didn't come in because it's not really passover anymore---but what did happen is that we had a fun cultural exchange that you can tell your kids about one day. Looking at me, he says, “can I have another maazzaa ball?” Sure Lefika, anytime!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Life, Travel, and the Pursuit of Books

“Every book brings you different world, 
        one that has the potential to surprise and excite you, 
               reinvigorate you, take you down a new path, 
                     or make you believe that 
                          something incredible is possible”

When I travel, my mind wanders to musing about all sorts of things, usually things I'm gazing at from a car, plane, or in my case lately, kombies.  As the country sides hurtles pass me, I look at the lazy idylic landscapes that appear before me, then vanish in a moments time. I'm learning to embrace each journey as something to be valued. There need to be moments when we stop, look out the window, and just think for awhile. While watching the world go by, I draw forth comparisons of leisure and work, personal fullfilment and social responsibilities, love and friendship.

In life, we continuously balance considerations such as these with one another, sometimes effectively, sometimes poorly---but the management of those balances seems to determines how good we feel and how effective we are in accomplishing our goals. The problem arises when we don't view consideration with one another the way we view other cyclical processes such as breathing in and out. Signs of imbalance, irrational and agitated behavior, less patience with minor inconveniences occur---then we wind up ignoring the feedback our psyches are trying to tell us. It almost makes us resent the journey.

Which brings me to thinking about books and reading.  Books have become my closest companions since coming to Africa. In fact, with more time and less distractions, reading falls in the number one slot of things to do in my free time. Most PCV's go on a reading rampage, from fiction to facts, filling our minds with a million thoughts. Books remove us from the incessant bustle of everything else. They demand quiet attention and at the same time encourages us to relax. They are the window from the kombie, but better because every book looks out onto something different, brings you to a different world, one you weren't specifically looking for. A book just doesn't pick you up at JFK and plop you down in Jo'Burg, they let you see everything in between. Books, with their accumulative clutter, have been asimiliated as part of my existence for a long time, but now with so many people having Kindles, Borders and Independent book stores closing, I don't know what to do. I'll never give up the real thing, the feel of the paperback, it's pages turning, the finger print on page 79 of the organic chocolate bar that was sent to me. It's all so delicious---the books and the chocolate!

So, let's embrace the journey of life and the life in books! Let yourself get lost in the worlds of fantastic adventures! The journey is something to be valued, it changes the game---It turns out that a lot goes on between "Once upon a time" and "The End"----Don't miss it!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


What really matters to kids here in Africa?  Sure, they would probably love the toys and videos that kids take for granted in the States, but it seems that kids in third world countries need to be extremely creative at making fun games out of nothing. A ball of string or a plastic bottle can provide hours of enjoyment if put in the hands of the imaginative child. They can delve into self made realities based on simple ideas and have a great time messing around with it. Adults often look at this as childish and foolish, but that's what makes it great—they are foolish, and I for one, would be a little happier if we all cultivated our inner fool.

Since I have a lot of free time, besides watching the behavior of bugs, goats, dogs, and cows, I watch the kids do their thing. They don't have video's, much TV, sports fields, or barbies, nor do they experience the anxiety of having, collecting, and wanting.  The objects for their games comes from scraps of wire, rocks, rope, tires, and plastic bags that they roll up in an old sock to make a ball. To play Jacks, they dig a small hole in the dirt, collect 10 small rocks, throw one rock up while sweeping the appropriate number of other rocks in the hole, and then catching the thrown rock. I used to love playing Jacks, so I tried it with them, and it was great playing jacks in it's primitive form. They build toy cars out of wire and coke bottles for wheels, and walk around the village with their cars pretending. Yet, no matter what their surroundings are, kids are kids---they will always be goofy, be entertained by simple things, they'll put a new twist on old games we played, and they use their imaginations to turn their worlds into fantasy---and that is what matters!  

So what makes us value things so much---our laptops, jewelry, momentos, things we think we can never replace are the things that seem to matter as adults---it almost becomes obsessive. When I shed half my life before coming to Africa, it was almost a relief---the weight of the world was off my shoulders. Now all I preserve is nostalgia!  I go back and forth with what I think these kids need, but right now, all I know is that if the modern world's solution to the anxiety of loss is for me to surround myself with things, it is by definition impossible to value---so I think I'll take the road less traveled. And having very little WILL make all the difference!   

Friday, May 18, 2012


It's that time of year when the air is cold, and days are dark, when my mind wanders like a toddler through previous seasons of my life---places I've lived, friends I've loved, jobs I've held, conversations that left lasting impressions on me, and musings---Which brings to something I've been thinking about lately.  In America, we don't normally take seriously superstitious beliefs that we read about in books about other countries, but in Africa, especially West Africa, there are powerful people who can control the weather, or so they say. They are called Tribal Shaman's. The myth includes tradtional rain magicks that bring slaking water to parched farmlands. It also has lightening magicks which a Shaman presumably would use when angered with a person or a town and wishes to destroy them.  I don't believe there are Shaman's in southern Botswana, but there are traditional healers, which people think of as witchcraft, and what we would call alternative medicine. When thinking about these things though, it certainly puts a different perspective on things like the weather.

 Coming to Africa, I knew it would be hot---Africa hot! When we arrived in September, the winter cold was gone, spring with it's budding flowers and trees were upon us, and the days were warming. When we got to site in November, summer hit us like a ton of bricks. It got hot, hotter, and sweltering, usually hovering around 106, and I was told it was not one of the hotter, nor rainiest of summers. Thank God, or the Shaman's for that! But to me, it was so hot that you couldn't even sleep with a sheet on top of you, let alone sleep at all because of the heat and the ever lovely bugs around here. Even if it wasn't the rainiest of seasons, it still brought some wicked rains, thunder and lightening storms that surely made me believe in the Shaman---whether I was in West, East, or Southern Africa!  The thunder actually scared the heebeegeebees out of me at times!  But the intense heat brought sunsets that were rich in vibrant colors that filled the sky each night.  It's now the end of Fall, which is usually everyone's favorite season no matter where in the world you are. Different wildflowers are blooming, the nights are cool, the winds can get strong enough that they blew the roof off of the guidance office at school one night, the days are filled with magnificant sunshine, and people here are already complaining that they're freezing. That's right, they're wearing hats, coats, scarfs, leggings, and it's only in the 50's at night, and in the 80's during the day. I guess I can understand, the temperature dropped between 20-30 degrees, and even though it may be in the high 70's or 80, it does feel quite cold. In fact, it feels so cold that Keoki won't even sleep outside at night, and I find myself wrapped in a blanket, sitting in the middle of my yard so the sun will warm me. Within this next month the tempertures should drop into the 20's and at night, and hopefully to the 60's during the day---but with no insulation, no heat, and living in a cement house---oh baby, it's gonna be cold in here and out there!

Ok, with all these weather patterns, I'm definitely starting to believe in this Shaman thing, or at the very least, I'm starting to believe in global warming.  But maybe the Shamans have their own perspective--- Maybe they're pissed off at all the rubbish thrown around, or humans wanting to build roadways through the Serengetti, or to many cell phones in natural places! Whatever the cause of weird weather, exposure to a set of world views that doesn't jive with America's is exciting. I'd like to believe that the Shaman's have a thing or two to say, but when you look at this stuff objectively, it really doesn't make any less sense that the Judeo—Christian mythos. So, I'm gonna watch my roof get blown apart and the rains come into my home, and sit here with my frozen bones and pipes praying for the 110 heat to come back my way!

Monday, May 14, 2012


“Tshepo, do you live in Hollywud?” “No mma, but I used to live near a place called Hollywood.” “Tshepo, is California in Los Angeles?” “Tshepo, is Beverly Hills a State?” “No mma, let's sit and have a nice Geography lesson and talk about movie stars.” This was the start of one of many never ending conversations with teachers in my school. I sit her down, draw a map of California, and explain to her that California is the state, and that Los Angeles is a huge city with suburbs like Hollywood, and Beverly Hills. I tell her about Rodeo Drive with all it's glitzy shopping, and about the Hollywood Hills with the sign on the hill, the Hollywood Bowl, and all the hand and foot prints of the rich and famous along Hollywood Blvd. “You mean they actually stepped in cement with their feet?” “Yes mma!” “Do you know any movie stars?” “Do you?” “Well, only one--Clint Eastwud, would I see his handprint?” “You betchya!” “Would I see any movie stars if I went there?” Well, since you just know of one, if you were staring down Meryl Streep, I doubt you would know who she was, and she'd probably love that! “Merul who?” Ok, let's keep things simple--Clint is a great one to know, in fact, he lives near me in the Monterey Bay, was Mayor of Carmel, and I think my mom and cousin Louise saw him getting gas when they were visiting me. “Tshepo, you mean Clint Eastwud gets his own gas.” YEP.....according to Pearl and Louise! “Tshepo, it all sounds so complicated, is Hollywood anything like Mmathethe? Ok, now you have me completely thrown! “Uh, not exactly!”

For the next hour, we talked about California and it's different faces. We talked about how to save money to see the things you want in life, and we talked about our differences. We talked about walking along streets and seeing a variety of different cultures within a mile radius, and we talked about food. I love talking about food and my favorite restaurants in LA, and trying to remember what things actually taste like. While I can visualize everything about Hollywood, I look into her eyes which just convey confusion and wonder. This is the third conversation this week with a teacher about various American things, but California is confusing, it tastes different than any other state in the USA, if feels different, and it is different! California is like living in a different country, or maybe like Disneyland. In reality, California is like a playground where people are living in a fantasy world, and the true nature of things are hidden behind special effects and spectacular scenery!

Seriously, I hope that somehow, someday, someone I know here gets to experience a taste of the USA. It would be a wonder to see California through their eyes instead of mine, and then they can come back to Mmathethe and tell all their friends they saw a sign called HOLLYWUD!  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

It's the little things that count!

Sometimes we pass through each others lives for brief moments, yet those moments can have a lasting impression.  It seemed all to easy to lose touch with people after moving across country when I was done with college, but with the miracle of facebook, people began finding each other again.  A friend from college, Beth, found me on facebook a while back, and when she did, I immediately heard her laughing in my mind, and then I heard us laughing together. Some people's laughter and humor you just never forget, and though it's been many moons ago that we were in touch, some things just don't change---even through facebook and emails, I still hear Beth's laughter.

Beth has turned out to be one my biggest supporters in this Peace Corps adventure, and before I left the states, she set me up with a teacher in NY to do a correspondence class with, which has been a highlight of my service so far. The other day I received a package from Beth, and in it were pictures of the Botswana wall Phyllis' class put up. I almost started crying when I saw what they did, the photos, the comparisons, the words. I went around going from class to class showing these pictures, and answering all sorts of questions from the students. It was one of the first times that half of these students showed enthusiasm and actually spoke. They wanted to know everything, and it was with delight that I answered every single question, no matter how long it took. They asked questions like why kids in NY would want to know about Botswana, and what I shared with the NY class. I told them how the class tried to make polenta, which would be the closest thing to porridge, and that some may have tried to eat it with their hands. You would have thought I was telling them the most amazing thing on earth---I had their eyes and ears glued to the Queens, NY class scene. It was beautiful to see! One class in particular wants to do a project for the kids in September and make their own American Wall. Usually things are torn down here the second something is put up, but we'll try!

Beth also sent some baby clothes for someone in need here. As I walked around the village, I saw a woman with a new baby on her back, and I had some kids ask her if she needed some clothing--the smile on her face said it all. I ran home to get the clothes, and when I was approaching her house, now with a slew of followers, I see her and the baby pacing the yard as if I might not come back. I showed her the clothing and she almost didn't know what to do. But it was the other villagers that just couldn't believe this event. They, like my students today, had such questions about the clothes, where they came from, who sent them, how they got here, is more coming, “I know more babies just born.” I was literally bombarded with people hanging on me and questions while standing at the watering hole--it was as if a Martian dropped something from the heavens, and they were all trying to figure it out.

Eventually, I always manage to get home, and thought how cool it was to share the photos, and the clothes---but as I sat and stared at the extra stuff Beth sent, namely really cool food items for me, I thought no way am I sharing this with the outside world—some things, like food from NY, are just downright sacred!

With so many years and miles in between us, it's the little things, like a package, or like the memory of someones laugh, that turns out to be so great---but for these people, Beth the Martian really shook up the world of Mmathethe, and what a fun sight it was!   

Keoki the Mentor

I can't even believe I'm writing this. I can't even believe my life here is more about dogs than people. But wait, maybe I'm doing what I'm supposed be doing afterall--capacity building. Maybe I've taught Keoki skills I didn't even know I was teaching him. So in the spirit of capacity building, there are 2 new pups in the neighborhood---long nosed, little black scrawny, skinny, un-fed pups! They have a home--they're just not fed, so they come around to my neighbors house daily, where Keoki originally began his hunt.  I swear to myself I am not taking these dogs, I'll go broke! But the past few mornings, I see the pups, and my new short term neighbors, watching intently on Keoki and I playing fetch with the handmade ball my neighbor boys made for him. Ok, let'em all watch, it's all good, maybe they'll get that a dog's life can be fun too!  A few minutes later, off to work I go, and in turning around to make sure Keoki isn't following me to school, I see him showing the pups how to play ball. Within 10 minutes, Keoki is throwing the ball, the kids...oh, the pups, are fetching it, and then they all start romping around like bucking broncos. This is no joke! Keoki has become their MENTOR! I've watched for several days now, and each day he teaches them something new----he's showing them where the leftovers are, showing them how to be happy, and showing them which paths are the best to herd the cows. I don't mind Keoki being a Mentor, I do mind 2 new pups thinking this is their home. Soon I'll have 50 orphaned pups in my yard, and Keoki will have big time mentor status in Mmathethe.

As I sat tonight having my own dinner on the porch, the moon was so full and hanging so low in sky that it was mesmerizing, but I shifted my eyes to see Keoki plopping down outside the gate, and the little guys or gals, plopped the same way, gazing at him, admiring him like he is their GURU! It really is the cutest thing--but I wonder if I can post Keoki's capacity building on my quarterly Peace Corps report....afterall, he's doing a really good job!  

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Good Old Days

The weeks roll by and I barely know what month it even is, let alone what day it is. It's confusing when people from home are talking baseball, and gardens blossoming, when it's going into winter here. Believe me, it's a tough thing to grasp, it's like trying to write with your left hand, or being in a time warp!  But that's besides the point.  It was a quiet Friday, the winds were still, the kids at school aren't fighting, there was even water in the village after not having it for a few days.  All was great--I sat enjoying the stillness, listening to the sweet murmurs of the village, and just spacing out!  But even in the quiet of the day, it never fails that just when I think nothing will disturb my peace of mind, something inevitably pops up to catch my attention. Today, though, it was a good disturbance, it wasn't about a kid, a dog, the stars, or anybody I've ever met. It was, however, about an email I received from a guy, we'll call him Kevin, who had been a PCV in Mmathethe in the early 90's, and I believe there hasn't been one here since then until now. Somehow, searching the net, he found out I was here, was curious enough to write, and told me a little about what he did, and about Mmathethe back in the day. Mmathethe was a quarter of the size it is now. The middle school only had 240 kids compared to 780 now, there was no internet access, no paved road to get in and out of, and the hubbub towns like Kanye were not like they are now.  Kevin taught Math here, but what struck me, is that Mmathethe must have touched him like it's touching me, because he's come back to visit on two occasions to wander the paths that he walked before.

I was really moved to hear from Kevin for many reasons--- but most of all because the Peace Corps becomes a family, ties that may never break, whether you've met the person or not, and the villages we live in become our tribes.  We're the only ones that know what we go through, we get together and talk about our bucket fiasco's, or how much we cried because it can get so lonely for some, or we laugh hysterically at the things we can only attempt to convey to those not living it, and we pass around all the books we're reading because the books can often be our best friends. The list goes on and on!  But when I thought about Kevin's email, I looked back on my own life, and remembered wandering around my own home town in New Jersey years after leaving it. The woods where I used to play in are barely there anymore, the house where I grew up doesn't even look familiar, neighbors are long gone, and wham--all my memories seemed non-existent. So I closed my eyes today and remembered what I wanted to, I remembered my woods, crossing the stick bridges of a stream, jumping in the leaves, building forts, sleigh riding down our hill, and my family being young---Ah, those were the good old days!  I also closed my eyes and tried to imagine this village 20 or so years ago, and what it will be like in another 20 years. My host mom has told me many stories of growing up in Mmathethe, so I can almost see in my minds eye, the Mmathethe that Kevin served in. God, I hope Kevin never ran into Grandma!

Everyone wants to remember the Good Old Days, but things change, even in Africa! We're teaching life skills rather than math, and the kids here and I are gonna have our own stories to tell about Mmathethe.  But in the years to come, I hope, like Kevin, that I can come back to Mmathethe to feel this village again, hear the voices of kids calling my name, get dirt all over me, and maybe even see Keoki again. One thing I do know though, is that this village may change, may grow, but Africa is Africa----the other day I'm in a store and finally--they're playing XMAS music--in May--or is it December?  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Think Like Einstein

"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education"

I am, by far, no genius, and science and physics were definitely not my forte, but I am an out of the box kind of human being, and I love when people think and do things out of their box. When Einstein began pondering what would become his Theory of Relativity, physics was grounded in basic assumptions from everyday existence. Scientists, I think, looked at the world around them and tried to translate what they saw into mathematics.  I remember my martial arts teacher telling me that math seems to always make sense to people then, and now.  Einstein's breakthrough was different though...he put the human world onto the behavior of tiny particles and waves of energy. On earth, as a human, you can always go faster, just press the pedal and accelerate, or jump in an airplane...speed is a variable. The speed of light is constant, you can never go faster than that, it's simply as fast as you can move. If you think about it, because you are moving at the speed of light, you are going so fast that you can no longer exist as matter, you become pure energy—in other words, light, which is why it's called the speed of light. And that's what E=mc squared means I think--matter at the speed of light becomes pure energy.  

To Einstein, the measurements we think of as constants in everyday life, like how big something is, or how fast time goes by, suddenly becomes variable.  Everything gets strange, new, and interesting.  He loved this stuff!  He loved that fundamental assumptions about our world cannot be imposed upon the wave or a particle.  I don't know if a ruler can stretch or shrink, or if time can run faster or slower---I just want to know how to get my kids to think out of the box, to think faster than a turtle, to open up and explore---to think like EINSTEIN!

Enough of physics that I really don't understand anyway--I'm trying to equate how teachers and students are here Botswana, or I should say in Mmathethe since this is my point of reference.  Many of the kids here have a hard time thinking out of the box. They are taught by rote memory, they don't have building blocks, art in the homes, educational toys, anything creative to help develop their minds in more rounded way, and definitely, they don't have a concept of Einstein's theory of relativity.  We have a library at school, but when is it ever opened.  Beating the kids with sticks is so prolific here, that many become to inhibited to speak up, hence, “I better not have any out of the ordinary thoughts, or stick up for myself because I'll get whacked.”  So what on earth makes their hearts sing like an Einstein?  The pure genius' like Albert are lucky they didn't grow up in Africa, they would've had their unique minds squished---but there are brains in many of these kids that are dying to come out in creative expression. When I first wrote about my host sister Kesego, I thought that it was great to be natural, to have to make things out of what is, and I still believe in that, but when you have no stepping stone to help that creative spirit, then twigs will still be twigs instead of becoming a house.  Some of the teachers don't even have life skills themselves, so how can they implement it---how can they help kids think like Einstein?

I try in my classes to draw the kids out of their boxes, to give examples, to create, but many of them are already stymied, feel a sense of rejection, or just have no confidence.  I need to get across to them that every rejection isn't about them, it's about other people, and what might be going on in their heads, or how they were taught to be.  In an attempt to bring them out of their scared boxes, I bring them in a photo of Einstein, if anything to get them to laugh!  I ask them what they think of him, how he looks, anything that could be projected onto him.  Some of them buy into the Just Say Anything Mode, some laugh, some do come up with their own ideas, and others just look like “how do I do this?”  I then had them look up and blow a tiny piece of toilet paper into the air to watch the different rates of speed it comes down.  And even though I couldn't really fully explain the physics of this, they were hysterical, and it forced them to do something they would not ordinarily do, or think about.  I tell them to try thinking like Einstein—out of the box, grasp an alternative, stop imposing narratives of your teachers beatings on every relationship in your life, where everything might not be a reflection of you, or the world your growing up in.  I promise you kids, it will give you a more interesting, and more accurate picture of the world, even here in Africa! 

 I just hope I come to school tomorrow with everyone's hair looking like Einstein!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


"The person who uses words to try to stuff you full of wisdom has confused wisdom with turkey stuffing.  Wisdom must reveal itself, because wisdom lives, hidden, within the self, when only the lone reader, the lone listener, the self itself, can simmer and free it."  David James Duncan

It's a Sunday morning and my day begins under a mosquito net, as I woke to remembering a dream of being lost between two worlds, and having wild sensations of being in Asia and in Africa. The content of the dream reminded me of one of the many reasons I joined the Peace Corps----to find simplicity!

In the USA, we are taught to think, we are taught to do and produce, we are always moving, but we are not taught on how to stop relying on thinking. We're trained that lots of ideas are a sign of being clever, another notch to be valued, earning points with others when you have the fastest mouth. In fact, we keep calling our own intelligence the best thing sinced sliced bread! But how much lasting happiness does it get you?  How much toll does the body and mind take when we are always doing?  The mind is fogged by emotion, bias, fear, anger, disillusionment, and so on. Because of these emotions, most cannot possibly see it's way clearly to any real solutions or any deep peace. We wind up fighting the natural order of things, we get lost in words, the misdirections of language, and we get led around in circles by words. I think of all the endless meetings I've sat in during my work days, and all the words spoken that meant nothing, or nothing got accomplished!  I think of the years not being able to quiet my mind because of all the words and stressors around me.

Having much free time and some isolation here, I am relishing my quiet time.  I find myself recalling the nuances of change I'm experiencing---realizing that my mind churns, then finds something to settle on. I ponder and reconstruct my past and my future, decisions I've made, appreciating my life, and then meditating to quiet myself.  The quiet time and quiet nature of this village are opening up avenues to give me a deeper understanding of the world around me. Having time to go deeper into my body, as well, with my tai chi, qigong, and yoga is helping cultivate what I think life should be.  Some may think that cultivating ones own silence is a waste of time, but rather, it's a way to enrich the improvement of spirit and mind. Monks and Philosophers have learned to harness the unlimited power of free time and transform it from boredom to insightful thought. My aim is not to be monk like, but it is to strive for a more quiet existence in my mind and body, and to take pleasure in the simple things around me.

I think that Buddha had a very special understanding of what life is. He made it very simple---just bring your mind back to this moment, don't let it go any further than this...then your mind will be clear. When your mind is in meditation---you can handl hardship more than you know!  Exactly, it's all called Simplicity!