Thursday, July 19, 2012


School's out for 5 weeks, and lazy days give way to long, dark, cold winter nights, with the skies at dusk turning to a magical mixture of magenta and purple vs. the deep reds and orange hues during summer.  But like the sunsets, Botswana and it's people, don't exactly have, what I would call real Razzle Dazzle, so I'm sitting here thinking how to create my own Razzle Dazzle. Don't get me wrong, there are many great places to see in Botswana, and the wildlife is tremendous, but the bland food, the same song sung and one dance all day long at XMAS, the lack of a vibrant outdoor market, and more... is not always Dazzling the Razzle in me.

So not wanting to cause trouble or anything to get things lively, a novel fell into my hands that I wouldn't normally read, and so on this night, instead of stirring the village up, I lit some candles, and transported my mind to Scotland. Now there's a place that has some Razzle Dazzle, and...... lots of ghosts! Yet, of all the genres out there, horror would surely be the one which I rarely would read or watch alone in a foreign country.  However, I do like the thought of ghosts, dark spooky tales, a supernatural edge to things, and this night needed something badly! So I hunkered down with a spooky book that was at times damn creepy, and the weird thing was, I found myself scared and couldn't stop myself from reading. Yes, and being the coward that I am, I read with one eye shut, clutching my pillow, having Keoki sleep on my so called couch next to me, and my cell phone near by---just in case some Poltergeist decides to put some Razzle Dazzle in a small Botswana village.

There is something about a good ghost story that makes you wanna look or read even if you try not to. But really, it's the psychological aspects of horror stories that are fun. When I found myself hurdled on the couch, peeking through my fingers at the pages, or wondering if I should text someone instead of scream, that's when I knew I was having a good time. It's a rush of adrenaline---the thrill of a too fast heart beat, or maybe I'm just a gal in the Peace Corps with a ghost complex needing a little thrill, but whatever the reason, I'm enjoying the uncanny atmosphere that unsettled me, and the Razzle Dazzle of it all.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Exotic Sugar Cane

In my never ending attempt to try everything I can in my travels, even if I hate it, I decided this past April to try my hand at eating sugar cane, affectionately known here as sweet reet, or nche. From big towns to the most remote areas, everyone gnaws on sugar cane. These people, young and old, are sweet reet fiends. Initially, it looked very exotic to me seeing everyone eat it, and it reminded me of something Asian, but I couldn't find it---it's like they know a special place and I'm not included in that. But as the season went on, sweet reet was everywhere, and in abundance on donkey carts throughout the villages. For those of you who haven't seen sugar cane before, it looks like fat bamboo, and as hard as bamboo as I soon found out.

To eat sweet reet, you have to first break it into smaller manageable pieces. Happily, my first time, this was done for me. Then you remove the hard exterior with your teeth and pray that it's sweet reet being torn and not your teeth. Once done, you can start chewing on the pulpy interior, then spit out the pulp. This sounds so easy right! Not a chance, nothing is easy here! Imagine trying to hack off a branch of a tree using a blunt knife---chips fly, and your still making zero headway. Once you spend 20 minutes hacking away, you can finally chew on the cane, which is, admittedly, delicious. It's sugary, but not as strong as candy. After chewing the juice out, the pulp becomes a little hard, like wood, and you spit it out before proceeding to the next piece. People spit everywhere for this 3 month season.

On hot afternoons, it obviously takes awhile to eat a cane, and the process is likened to eating crab, a lot of work for little food. To my great pleasure though, I have mastered the art of eating this, whereas before mastering it, I was getting sugar cane juice all over me, breaking things along the way trying to eat this right, and picking bits of it from my hair, from Keoki, from my clothing. Thankfully, I was usually eating this alone on my porch so very few can witness the ridiculous spectacle.

There are many reasons to avoid eating this sugary treat, and the list extends to making biofuels out of it, rather than ruining your teeth, or producing insulin your body. But the fact is, I'm in Africa, I've developed a sweet tooth that I hadn't had in the states, and it's a little exotic. So for three months a year, and a pula for a stick, I'm going to enjoy the fruits of what's produced in my village, and spit away like a local.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ya Gotta Believe......

…..I believe in the power of organic bananas, the passion of sports, and Mr. Roger Federer!

There are many things you have to get used to being a PCV, and while I've adjusted well to not being tied down to the shackles of technology, even basic technology like the TV, there are just some things that are down right sacred to me, and that's Tennis! So when my favorite player made it, for maybe the last time, at the age of 30, into the Wimbledon final, there was no way in hell I was gonna miss it.

I love being a sports fan, it means you have an appropriate outlet to scream, to act crazy, to be passionate, and in my brothers case, to be depressed if you live and die for teams like the Mets and Jets. All emotion is acceptable in sport, except if your watching a tennis match in Botswana. I went around my village asking people if they get this super sports channel, and while some did, nobody was able to sense the depths of my desperation, and thus, nobody offered to let me in their homes to watch. So instead of strangling someone, or going off on a rampage of their total lack of human evolution, I hitched to Kanye to see if the only Cafe would turn it on for me. Walking in and seeing a Cricket game on, I politely told them there would a one person revolution if they didn't let me watch.  They looked at me, and like a good Batswana, who don't like controversy, the channel was switched!

Ok, here we go, Wimbledon is on, I have a beer in hand, and I'm the only person with emotion. But on this day, I could care less that they are pointing at me, talking about me, asking me why I like tennis, and asking why I'm acting, well, like an American who loves tennis. I was in my glory and that's all that mattered--that--and Mr. Roger winning!

When Roger finally won and fell to the ground, tears welted in my own eyes, like he was my own son, (not like I have a son), who won this event. A great career winding down, his grace is like no other in sport, it's compelling moments like these that put me in tennis heaven. When the glory was over though, I looked around the Bar, looked outside to realize I was in the Peace Corps and it was pitch black, the kombies were long gone, and I wondered where on earth I was gonna sleep tonight since my family was not home....but all that really didn't matter, my man won, history was made, and for one Peace Corps night, it was great to be normal again.

A President in Botswana

Ok, It's not a great photo, but I assure you that George and Laura came to Botswana this past week to deliver messages about cervical cancer.  Fifteen Volunteers, who were either ex-military, from Texas, or 3rd and 4th year Volunteers, were chosen to come and meet the couple.  From all accounts, they were extremely jovial and talkative to all who attended.  Even though I am hardly a fan of George, it would have been cool to have been there.  Having talked to several of the Vol's who went, it was quite
an experience whether you supported Mr. President or not. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Precious Moments Come in Three's

Peace Corps service is about cultural exchange, capacity building, building relationships, taking bucket baths, and having a great time. This service is not about getting accolades---but every once in awhile it's ever so nice to get a pat on the back, or to have a special interaction, especially when it's unsolicited and sincere. This past week, the interactions came in chunks of three, and they were the sweetest gifts I could've ever received.

First, one of my teen club members, Eric, came up to me during an afternoon break, put his arm around me, and started telling me that he's never met anyone like me before---that he thought, most of all, how encouraging I am to everyone, generous, funny, and telling me he'll never forget me. Eric went on for awhile before I stopped him and gave him a big kiss on the cheek---saying to him—Now you go and Pay it Forward! Oh, and Eric---I'll never forget you either!

Second, getting a photo here is huge, I mean huge! Most don't even have a baby picture of themselves. So I've been giving photos, 1x per month during our Friday assembly, as rewards to those that either have done something special, or to someone I just want to encourage. Last week I gave a photo to my friend and neighbor Stanley, who came running home after school, saying it was the best day of his life because all the girls thought the picture was so handsome. But a few days later, Stanley came over, with his now only photo of himself, and 3 photos of his dad who passed away when Stanley was 12 years old. Stanley wanted to show me the resemblance between he and his dad, and said “Tshepo, now I know who I am because of this photo.” Ok, is it time to cry yet? Stanley went on to tell me about his dad, and how he never spoke to anyone about him before, leaving him feeling alone and sick for months after the death. Communication in families is not the thing here---but on this day, Stanley poured his big heart out because of one little photograph. To sit with him was the real gift, and yes, Stanley---you are quite the handsome one!

Lastly, on this gorgeous, sunny winter day, snuggled up and sitting outside reading, my friend Princess comes from behind to try and startle me. After succeeding and taking great delight in that, she sat down and told me that she rarely has ever cried in her life, but she woke up this morning in tears, thinking about the day I have to leave Africa.  Putting down my book, Princess and I chatted the afternoon away about everything under the bright African sun. When she about to leave, we looked at each other realizing that both of us will be crying in 16 months. 

You never know when, or if, you are making an impact on those around you, and even though I didn't need to hear these things, it's nice to know that when you give, you really do receive!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Day of Awareness

Last week my counterpart and I put on a day to bring awarenes and sensitize the public about Substance and Alcohol Abuse and it's devastating impact on indivuals, families, and community. Our other aim was to mobilize community members and stakeholders to combating substance and alcohol abuse. In a small village like Mmathethe, alcohol abuse in particular is a significant challenge to the school system, both in terms of health and educational outcomes. There are many ways that people come into addiction, it's not always trauma, as where in Africa, especially in small villages with teens having very little to do, as well as being born into poverty and broken homes, this leads to filling needs in an unhealthy manner. But people no matter where they live can't stop addiction and abuse alone---they need help from many sources, peers, family, AA, and community. It's a disease that results from poor lifestyle choices, and this needs to be addressed.

So on this day, 150 selected students gathered from my school and both primary schools, and marched through the village to raise awareness. Through the proposal written, the kids and teachers received
t-shirts, pens, water bottles, key chains, and bracelets for their efforts--and my oh my, you should have seen faces and joy of getting things that seemed novel and precious to them.  The day was filled not only with the march, but with skits from my teen club, songs from a choir, speeches from community dignitaries, and the police showed off it's band. My counterpart thought I was crazy when I wanted to invite the media, both tv and radio, and to invite the President of Botswana. Then with a meeting with Chief of the Village (the Kgosi), he told my counterpart the same exact thing. She looked at us both, said the Kgosi and I were soul mates, and we both laughed, knowing we think alike and that this could be big. He likes big, and I like thinking big. So we won, well, except for the President coming.

Most of all, we had a poster contest for the kids. It was heart warming to see messages on the posters that showed a depth of understanding well beyond their creator's calendar age. Posters from warnings about Substance Abuse to positive messages. Some had differing themes, others were based on rhymes, but they all shared the same message---that Drugs and Alcohol can prevent you from reaching your human potential.

At the end of the day, I was left feeling bouyant about their future. These kids put their heart and soul into making this day pretty special.