Thursday, June 28, 2012

A 60th and a Shower

Bots 11 made it all the way to the party, and our friend, Karla, made it all the way to 60. This past Saturday night, Karla threw a 60th birthday bash that once again brought us all together, and reminded us that life in the later years does not stop. We had quite the time last night, eating a catered Indian food dinner that satisfied all, watching a 30 minute video of Karla's life, then dancing the night away, and being goofy. Bots 11 loves a party, they love to dance, and even the few of us who are not dancers, we're dragged onto the floor to share in the love and comraderie of this group. The few of Bots 10 who were there, commented on the aura of our group. It feels good to be a part of a special group.

Most of you reading this don't know Karla, but she was placed in the perfect country, Botswana---known as the Posh Corps. Karla bought a washer, a tv, microwave, and for all we know, she has a house boy too. I even thought I heard she was wearing a Mink with Brad Pitts picture on it---that's our Karla—feisty, and always making a statement. But, ya gotta hand it to her for doing her 2nd childhood in the Peace Corps, and for showing everyone how to have a good time at 60!

After the party, four of us snuggled together in bed, but Bots 11 doesn't slow down—they were walking in and out until 2am, talking, laughing, and arguing about who knows what. Yet, besides the good food and catching up with those we don't get to see often, I think everyones favorite part was jumping in a hot shower and getting clean. Yep, you should've heard the oohs and aahs, and the singing and moans coming out of the shower from each and every one of us. So happy 60th Karla, and thanks for one great night of having hot water!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Listen to the wind

It's was a Friday afternoon and all was quiet.  I was shielding from the intense winds, cleaning the kitchen, preparing tonights dinner for both Keoki and I, when we decide to take a stroll even though we have to fight the elements. The elements, though, have taken on a new dimension lately, with the biting cold gone for the moment, now the dessert winds are rearing up.  My neighbors metal roof has half blown off, leaving us to adopt a new clanking song all day long in the village. The planks that hold my roof together are dangling like Christmas ornaments---maybe I should put lights up, but with these winds, electricity has been scarce. I was told the winds would come, and just as most things are predictable in Botswana, the winds came as scheduled. Every weather pattern here seems dramatic, torrents of rain, sweltering heat, biting cold, and now fierce howling winds. My oh my, it's never just 78 degrees, or just breezy, or just sprinkling, no, it's downright crazy.

But that's not why I'm writing today---on my walk, my head is down trying to avoid the wind, and was deep in thought about many things, like food.  In my periphery vision, I see Keoki chasing cows and goats to clear our path which is very typical of him. Almost 100% of the time, the animals move, or once in awhile a cow stares him down, but nothing happens, leaving Keoki to take delight in his feat. Today though, we run into a herd of donkeys who are usually so docile, usually they ignore Keoki, or they quietly move out of the way. I kind of like that he clears my path and I don't have to bother with it. But this time, a donkey starts chasing Keoki, relentlessly, and I stop to see who's gonna win this battle. Keoki is way to fast, he piroettes into the air, the donkey stops, seeing that he can't win, and probably wondering where on earth this dog learned gymnastics. But the donkey is only finished with Keoki, he starts staring me down.  I know that he won't do anything, and at that, Keoki would step in to help if need be. I start to walk, and the donkey's stare is hardening--then the thing starts charging me. No Bull--I don't know what to do, I start running away into the bush, running towards people, but he is mad that Keoki disrupted his lunch---and now I'm gonna be his lunch!  Not knowing what to do, I'm a little panicked here, and prancing around like a bull madador is not helping much--nor is Keoki helping much. I'm a dead duck--this donkey does not like me, and I don't like him very much either. It's now a matter of wills, like two athletes competing against one another for the big prize, but oh no, I feel a big hot flash coming on, why now, why in the heat of battle does menopause have to strike. The hot flash stops me dead in my tracks, for a moment my life flashes before me, and I just know I'm gonna either be dead, or worse yet, wind up in an African hospital. The God's had mercy on me though, as I stopped, the donkey stopped---he probably didn't know what to make of this, or maybe the gusts of winds were telling him something--no matter, I sure was relieved that he gave up and sauntered away.

 It was a harrowing few minutes, and for the first time during my life's changes, I'm glad that mother nature took its course.  Who knows why the donkey ceased his attack, maybe he was listening to the wind, or maybe he felt sorry for me---all I know is that my obit would've been much more exciting if it were a lion kill rather than a donkey kill.  Oh Africa!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Life is like.......a cappuccino

Not to sound sappy, but lately, even though I've had some dog and house headaches, life just seems more sublime, more subtle, the undertones and coloring of life have taken on more importance, and I find myself enjoying the moment and all its complexities, but still, something is missing. When we're younger, maybe a coke or a glass of lemon aid made us happy. But as we mature, our palates become more sophisticated, and lemon aid just doesn't cut it---but a good cappuccino, now that's the sign of true sophistication! There's just something truly relaxing and intimate about wondering through that cappuccino each day.

 In Pacific Grove, there was a place called Wildberries, where everyone knew your name. It was one of those special places where you went to when you wanted to have a heart to heart conversation with someone, when you were bored out of your wits, when you needed to get rid of a hangover, or when you needed to just be. Wildberries was a breeding ground for intellectual discussions, a place of congregation, as sacred as a temple or a tennis court---as a coffee shop it epitomized the total integral part of the American and European experience, although these days, some coffee shops have become an ambient socialization with people, sadly, hiding behind laptops---(that wouldn't have happened in Wildberries though)! Many of us in PG, lived to go to Wildberries each day, it was so special that I even volunteered as a coffee barista on Saturday nights for a year or two, and they were some of the best times. Being a barista is like being a Psychologist, but even better---you don't get sued for saying the wrong thing. When Wildberries and it's cast of characters closed, it was like ripping away a part of who we all were.

After Wildberries closed down, I had a “coffee breakdown,” and resorted to tea as my rebellion, but tea just doesn't fire the same neurons, it doesn't exactly give rise to enlightenment. In reality, there is nothing like a great cappuccino. And so awhile ago I was in Gabs with some buddies, we found a coffee shop, I ordered a cappuccino, and just stared at it in lust and longing. The pleasure derived from even looking at this was a primal one, not unique in human experience, but as yet unmatched. And the cappuccino art, all part of the experience, is not merely a matter of will, there's a great deal of practice required, an art that I never mastered, but one I so admired.  Just looking at a good capuccino speaks to the practical and the whimsical all at once, a fleeting affirmation of due diligence and the beautiful chemistry at work in one delicious cappuccino. Ahhhh, there's nothing better!

I drank slowly, savoring every sip, knowing that after not having had coffee for sometime, their would be residual endorphins that my friends would not understand. And true to form, after my splurge of a second cappuccino, my mouth went and didn't stop. My friends were in stitches, not knowing what to make of this different human being they thought they knew. The best part was, besides enjoying the normalcy of sitting in a cafe and doing what I used to love doing most, the endorphins didn't stop until I got home that evening. God did I feel good---it sent me back to Wildberry heaven!  Now my friends alude to me as “coffee Lynn,” or “regular Lynn.” Why I ever resorted back to tea is beyond me, it seems I'll have way more friends on a coffee rush.

Walking back to my village that early evening, melancholy hit because I know I don't have a cool place to hang in Mmathethe, a place to watch life go by, even if it is cow and goat life. I've tried getting one of the store owners in Mmathethe to turn the place into a funky coffee shop, telling him that coffee houses are a microcosm of life, and I feel lost without one here. I mean really, these people don't know what their missing. We can even get our daily milk for the latte's from the cows outside, I'll write you a grant to get it started, it would be so easy. His ears were peaked with curiosity, but he asked who would come since I would be leaving in 17 months (but who's counting). I told him all the teachers would come, and that he could be famous in Mmathethe if he did it right. Looking around his store at the onions and potatoes just doesn't cut it Danga! And he looks at me with a huge, thoughtful smile, and says----maybe!  Yes, maybe one day you'll understand that Life is Like a Cappuccino! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

We know who holds tomorrow

June 16 marks the day of celebration for the African Child. It honours the Soweto uprising that took place in South Africa in 1976, where thousands of Black school children took a stand to protest against the poor standards of education they were receiving. The students mission was to gain the right to a racism free education during the Apartheid era---this, sadly, resulted in the loss of many innocent lives. However, it also led to contributing to reform and liberation.  

This day raises awareness to the continuing need for importance in the education provided to African Children. They HAVE the right to education, as well as many other basic needs such as food, shelter, security, and good health. In many parts of Africa, AIDS orphans are left on the street because no one in the family can look after them, young boys are forced into crime to get money for food—being deprived of that basic right to nourishment.  

What does it feel like being an African Child? We can only imagine! Being born into poverty, which is reality for many, reduces chances of survival, good health, and education. Again, it continually puts these kids at risk for abuse, exploitation, and violence, and they know it! Yet on Friday, the kids in our schools, and all over Africa, will commemorate it with song and dance, with poems and speeches, with pride and dedication to making a better world for themselves. Today we have the opportunity to move a step closer to giving children the true humanity they deserve. Remember that the Child means the family, the child means the future, the child means the community! It is the child that holds tomorrow!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hair Obsession

American's have all sorts of hair, from straight to curly, long to short, permed to natural, red to brown, black to blond, and everything in between. It certainly makes for unique appearances. In Africa, there is basically one hair, black, sometimes a shade lighter, worn close to the head and typically braided. Africans love to change their hair styles, set trends that reflect societal attitudes, and after every school breaks, teachers come back with a different braided style, or they took their braids out and have it shortened or lengthened. I even saw my neighbor getting her hair woven in with a stack of hair from god knows where. They seem to weave in the other hair with the hair you have, braid it, and walla, you have-----something! But the fact is, rarely does an African leave it at one style. I went home a few weeks, to find my host mom's hair completely different, and frankly, way more attractive. In America, hair styles seem to change with your age, rather than with a school semester. Yet, no matter what part of the world you're from, hair seems very important, vain, and bordering on an obsession. Some differences are that Africans don't stand around the water cooler talking about hair like Americans do.

People say hair is hair, but everyone seems to perceive themselves according to their hair. A month before I left for this journey, I found myself calling my recruiter, and asking him what he did with his hair while he was in Panama. “Uh, Lynn, I think you should talk to someone about this.” Ok, so I called another recruiter, an older woman who did 2 PC tours. Laughing when she heard my question, she got down and dirty and said, let it go, just let it grow long and grey, don't care about your hair, you'll have other things to worry about. Yeah, like where my next meal is gonna come from. But it's hard to forget about your hair----I even begged two of my hair cutters if they would take a trip to Africa to cut my hair. I haven't seen them yet.

Julia with hair grown out
So what's happened to my hair? Don't laugh, isn't this is a serious matter?  In PST I let it go, and it became so annoying, that I took a scissor, looked in the mirror, and started chopping away. I wondered why the next day people were staring at me and not talking to me. I looked like---well, let's just say I was having a bad hair day. I even went to my swearing in ceremony like this, but it was a good thing that Mom bought me a traditional outfit for the event with a head covering. In reality though, I don't know if I looked more pathetic with the head covering or my homemade hair cut. I then noticed that another PCV, Julia, was cutting everyones hair, but Julia, at the time, had a half shaved head, and she was doing this to other PCV's. Not exactly a style for a 55 year old in a mid life crisis, so I passed it up and was left in hair misery. Since then, a PCV up north cut my hair, but I've thrown away any inhibitions lately, and Julia, the shaver, is now cutting the hair.  It was quite pleasing the first time when she didn't pull out the razor. In fact, Julia is quite a good hair stylist, she's got flair, pizzazz, tattoos, you name it, Julia has it!  

Being in the Peace Corps is a lot of things, it's also an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hair stylist you like----thanks Jules!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Traditional Healer

If one suffers from pain, the Doc is gonna pull out the magical pad and write you a prescription that will ease the pain, you will likely to have side effects, and maybe, if your lucky, ugh---you'll become an addict just like Michael Jackson. Since that didn't get him very far, there's a better option---a Bushman medicine derived from the tuberous roots of a plant native to Africa. It's been used by Traditional Healers for hundreds of years. It's effective with no side effects—ok, well, maybe, if your lucky, you'll start to hallucinate. Ugh!

Traditional healers, called Sangomas, claim to be able to heal any ailment, from Aids to a screwed up love life---from money problems to spells that make ones penis larger. With promises like those, whoa, one has to wonder of the gullibility of the African people, especially in more remote areas of Africa. But really, call me gullible, because I believe in the magic of traditional and alternative healers, it's just that in the states the “quacks” are more formal, and it all makes sense.

A few years ago, while in Zambia, I was taken to a traditional healer who performed a ceremony on me, put her hands exactly where my “pain” was, and said prayers to heal my spirit. I didn't take her medicine ---it was a little to weird to throw that kind of caution to the wind when you're in the middle of nowhere. It did, however, feel special to be in her presence, and to be open to experiencing that part of the Zambian culture. And after seeing her, something did shift in me....but let's chalk that up to the power of African suggestion.  

 So, a few weeks ago, on a very chilly morning, I got a hitch to Kanye on a pick up truck and I had to sit in the back with a goat. The goat was very cute, and soon, another hitcher got in telling me that he and goat will gather around to keep me warm. Sounds good to me, I was absolutely freezing! We got to talking, and guess what, he was a traditional healer, and a fascinating one at that. He looked so normal though, and I asked him why that was.   Laughing, he told me wasn't a bushman, but was studying the Bushmen's secrets, upon which, he pulled out this thing that looked liked a combination of a coconut and a beetroot. Whatever it is called, this was the infamous African tuberous root that I had read about. I was so excited to see and touch it, but this goat was beginning to look curiously at me, so I contained myself.  The guy told me it can heal anything, and with that, we were off to the races talking about traditional and alternative medicine.

When we got to Kanye, I went to visit my host family, who are alive and well by the way, and I told them all about the root and it's healing powers. Of course my conservative mom wanted to throw me out of the house for believing in this stuff, but I stood my ground with them, and they listened to the quack from America say her schpeel on alternative medicine. After lunch and some good laughs, my mom started complaining about her back hurting lately, and with a twinkle in her eye said, “Tshep, can you go get that root and massage my pain away.” Now your talking mom!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Village School Life

In many ways it's been a welcome challenge of starting from scratch, living in a foreign place, making new friends, trying to tackle a different language. Except for the language and food, I've adjusted well to the slower rhythyms of village life, but what takes more adjustment is the actual job. What do I do you ask? Well, I've asked myself that same question. Since my primary job is infusing Life Skills in the classrooms, I am at school about 2 and a half days a week—but infusing is not happening. So again, “What do I do you ask?” Well, I laugh a lot---I take nice, friendly teachers aside and ask them if I can teach them how to infuse life skills in the class---they look at me, smile, and say “how can we teach life skills if we have none ourselves.” Next teacher, how about you—you look smart and a little nutty to want to do this, can I look at your lesson plans and infuse a little. “No Tshep, no lesson plans, it's all in my head.” Well then, are there life skills in your head?” “No!” Ok, so forget the teachers, I'll do the teaching myself, and the hell with capacity building.

So, I teach about 4-5 classes per week, depending if there is school or not. That's right, you just never know. They let the kids out if there's no food, if there's some meeting happening, if there's gonna be a fight, or if it's teachers day. Yep, it's Friday, and it's national teachers day. At a briefing yesterday, “the head of school says, what should we do with the kids tomorrow?” Well, nobody's gonna be at school, so I guess tell them not to come---makes sense to me! Back to teaching---I teach, but kids don't talk except in one class. So basically, I'm talking to the walls, but they are so excited to have me in the class, so maybe something is sinking in. I ask the kids if they want to learn the life skills, and in unison, they scream “No,” which means yes. Then why don't you talk? No answer. I also walk around campus a lot, get pulled in by kids who have no teacher. “Where's your teacher?” “Don't know.” I guess it was too far for them to walk from the admin building to the classroom. So I talk to the kids, and they talk back, but if I were actually teaching, they wouldn't talk. Walking around campus, I have to dodge kids because they love to grope at my hair. This is constant, or they beg to have a photo taken. Having a camera at school causes such commotion, so I rarely bring it anymore, and if I want to talk to a kid privately, that's impossible because they all want to hear what I'm saying. So you see, I'm very busy talking to walls and watching out that my hair stays in tact. 

The kitchen staff and the secretary---the two most important people of the school, were hard to crack, but now we are all buddies, and they take pride in laughing at me whenever possible. They teach me Setswana, and when I say it the next day they laugh. If I have a dog hair on my clothes, they laugh. If I eat with my hands like they do, they laugh. If I tell a joke, they laugh. The secretary wants my American shoes, but I tell her that her feet need to lose 25 pounds, then I'll give her my shoes. I offer to walk with her daily, but to this she says no way. Nobody walks here, the teachers live on campus, and drive their car the 20 feet to the main building.

My teen club and english clubs are going rather well, other kids beg to be let into them, but it's to hard having so many, so the doors are shut. The English Club is starting a school newsletter, the teen club has many projects going, and I've done a leadership training for the school council. The frustrating part of it all, is that Botswana allows physical abuse (the stick), under the pretext of discipline. That's the worst, and you can't do anything about it! You also have to get used to things happening randomly, like a teacher actually teaching a class, a meeting actually happening, a kid talking in class, or having electricity and water.  Most teachers are good about teaching, but still, daily, I walk around to see empty classrooms. Then the kids are abused for failing tests, or they're told they are stupid---this is not good! I could go on and on, but just take my word for it--everything seems to perpetually teeter on the brink of “random and weird" happenings---and don't get me started on the primary school.