Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Our School is starting a mentoring program, and I was given a group of five boys to mentor, one of whom is 18, and I questioned why he was still in middle school. The boy turns to me and says, “I was bewitched for 2 years and didn't come to school.” Huh, this is kind of interesting, and my curiosity is peaked, but the kid would say no more. He does look like he has a good diagnosis to me, or maybe he really is just bewitched---who am I to say.

So in the course of the past 7 days, I ate a piece of poisoned forbidden fruit at my host family's house, I passed a donkey on a walk and watched him take his last breath of life, on Monday, I slipped on a hole coming back from the primary school, badly spraining my ankle, and while finishing a book—the heroine of the story dies and was buried on my birthday. Nice! Am I concerned---not a chance--really!

It's Wednesday now, and I'm lying here nursing my ankle, when in walks my counterpart to pay a little visit. In conversing about what happened this past week, this very smart, sane person, whom I've grown to admire and love, shakes her head in deep concern, and says, “Tshep---you are bewitched.” Huh, damn, I thought it was just being a klutz!  She goes on to talk about being “bewitched” herself several times in her life, and that if I went to a traditional doctor, he would tell me who's casting spells on me to cause all this. My counterpart is about to leave, and asks me why Keoki is limping, and says, “sorry dear, you've both been bewitched.”

Am I concerned yet---no way---but I call the PC medical just in case. They suggest an xray to make sure my ankle is not broken---and I ask, “will an XRAY tell me if I'm bewitched?”---Maybe, but you have to come to Gabs for that and not Kanye. Boy do I have faith now!!!!! “Uh, did you hear me correctly?” “Lynn, your breaking up!” “Wait, can you take Keoki too?” “Keo what?” Great, tomorrow is gonna be one fun day!

I'm calm—really---I'm meditating—this isn't bugging me---really, it isn't---I'm not even thinking about it---really---BUT, LOOK HERE---if any of you out there are casting spells on me, can you PLEASE give it a break so I can go back to feeling great again!   

Friday, August 24, 2012

Scrabble---Africa Style

Scrabble is one of those games that will always occupy a place of honor in my collection of games. To some, Scrabble is just a board game to play during family game night, at your college dorm, or if you've been married for 25 years and have nothing else to do. Others think of Scrabble as a mere hobby, but with any activity there will always be fanatics, the ones who would rather sell their soul than stop—the one's with a constant yearning for self-improvement---the merciless.

Now fanaticism isn't a bad thing, being obsessed with the betterment of one's knowledge is actually a great characteristic to have despite the bad rap “obsession” gets. Trying to use words you wouldn't normally use in daily talk just to whup someone's butt---boy can this game bring an ugly side to ya! Scrabblers may even feel they've reached buddhist enlightenment if they memorize all the top 5000 sevens and eights. Some even have rituals like picking the tiles out of the bag a certain way. Did you know that there's even a National Scrabble Day in NYC?  I'm gathering every nerd around has a spare word or two they share on that day. No matter, the Scrabble box should have a warning label on it because of all the turmoil it can cause.

This week my counterpart and I decided to teach these kids how to play scrabble, to stretch their spelling and english skills a bit. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when we got into this. It took a good 15 minutes just to explain and demonstrate the scrabble board and how to attach words. Once play began, the kids still couldn't get it, even with me behind them telling them exactly what to do. OY! For the life of them, they couldn't unscramble letters, they couldn't see that if an “e” was already on the table they could use their HLP to make the word HELP---which is what I felt like screaming! But finally, a light went on in the heads of two kids in my group, and they were ever so pleased with themselves when they spelled the word “born” and attached it correctly---”Tshepo, did I get points?” Sure did, all 6 of them. You would've thought the world was their oyster at this moment---the gleem in their eyes, the upright posture all of a sudden---it was scrabble nirvana! They went on and on, attaching small words, some that didn't make sense, some silly, sometimes they went back to old ways, but at the end, one boy looked at me and said “I think I get it, this game is delicious.” I said to him, see, you use a nice word like delicious, why can't you put what's in your head down on the scrabble board---”Uh, I didn't think I could do that.”

I don't think that any of these kids are going to become obsessed or become scrabble fanatics, but for now, learning not to overlap a word is a huge stride for them. At times, I become hysterical in laughter at what happens on a daily basis, but, really, it's a sad thing that kids in rural villages don't have a clue about many things. Yet, when the brilliant dusk settles each night, and I think about my days here, whether I'm laughing about a scrabble game, or feeling dismal about a kid telling me her mom has HIV, broadening their worlds---broadens my own world!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What the Rhino Said

This past weekend, several of us ventured a little north to check out the Rhino's and to celebrate two more PCV birthday's.  What a great way to celebrate---at one of natures best Rhino Reserves left in the world.  The Rhino is one of the "Big 5," that people come to Africa to see, not that it's a favorite amongst most, and I think you have to be kind of odd for the Rhino to be a favorite, but it is a dying breed, so that makes it special.

Shortly after we arrived, a Black Rhino came to greet us!  "So Mr. Rhino, why don't you tell me a little about yourself?"  Sure why not---In Setswana, they call me "Tshukudu," but I don't answer to that--I'd rather keep to myself.  You know there are so few of us left, and you have to look really hard to find us, unless you're lucky enough to be in a reserve where people care about us.  I like to eat leaves, graze, and wallow in mud, alone please!  I don't hunt, but I sure am aggressive--like Incredible Hulk style aggressive.  If I feel like it, I'll attack a termite mound for no reason!  Hmm, sounds like some clients I used to work with!  "Hey wait, why on earth am I telling you all this?"  "Well, because I'm a Psychologist, and I understand these things."  "Ok, then, I'll go on."  I'm pretty introverted because I'm an odd-toed ungulate.  That means, I have a hoof with an odd number of toes on it, like a horse.  "But horses aren't introverted."  "Can you please not interrupt me, I'm paying you to listen."  Ok, sorry!  Anyway, as I was saying, I also have a weight problem as you can see, and I'm the second largest mammal on the planet---the Elephant being the first, but they are smart and nice.  I'm just a pea brain, I have bad eyesight, and no front teeth.  This is so embarrassing, can't you see why I don't socialize?  "Yeah Mr. Rhino, I see."  "What can I do?"  Well, you're really not that bad now that I'm getting to know you--I'm going to recommend a good self-esteem class for you, go out and rub your horns with some new friends, find a great tree to party on, and you'll be fine!  See ya around Mr. Rhino, it's been real!

It was actually great fun seeing the Rhinos as well as zebra, kudos, impala and the wildebeest.  We didn't see the leopard, but it was fun hanging around, playing botchi ball with unripened squash from a tree that Cassie climbed, and talking the night away about all the stuff PCV's talk about.  Oh, and Mr. Rhino---you'll get my bill in the mail!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pit Latrine Musings

To an inordinate degree, many PCV's not only talk about food, but we talk about our bodily functions, the pure art of bathing, or pooping for that matter. I know more about one of my friends nightly bucket activities than I do about her in any other realm. Exciting stuff!

So secretly, I've thought that everything in my domain has definitely been a bed of roses. Until----I wake at 4am with the frightening thought that most of the village has been without water for well over a week now, and my bathroom needs to give way to whaaat---the dreaded Pit Latrine. Not to sound facicious, but Holy Crap! I am definitely not a Pit Latrine kind of gal, and granted, many PCV's do not have indoor facilities, but with all due respect to my fellow mates, I thought I had it made here. Even with my house falling apart, at least it's my house, with my own seatless toilet that I've gotten used---all I cared about is that it flushes and it's in the house!

There are 2 Pit Latrines outside, and never have I given them a second thought until I was pondering ways of getting rid of my garbage. You see, the donkey carts have stopped collecting garbage since December---somehow the donkey situation is under review, but in Africa reality, this can take a year, if not more. My mind then filled with failing senses of an ecological, sustainable world when a friend of mine told me to start throwing paper products and such down the pit latrine. Geez, I thought I would be Peace Corps free of Pit Latrines, but this provisional garbage situation seemed logical to me. So for months now, I've been throwing stuff down the pit, and praying things don't start coming up through the ground. I figured though, that my friend Dominique is a smart and sensible being, one whom I trust, and if my garbage decides to lend itself to an underground creature, Dom and I will have a nice long talk. Yet for the time being, and I do hope this time being is short lived, I'm falling into the world of spiders and snakes in deep holes in a different manner---a manner for the more correct usages of the Pit Latrine—to pee and poop.

Can you see the spider?
In essence, a Pit Latrine is a deeeeeeeeeeeeeeep hole in the ground (15-20 meters), with some being better than others. My main point is that you usually have to squat to use the Pit Latrine unless it's built up and randomly used as a toilet seat. I've recently found that it's best to do your business when you REALLY have to go so you can get out fast---God forbid you're having trouble pooping—it could be a real killer on the thighs. Thank you God for my martial art training!!!! This is not an enjoyable experience though, good squating skills or not, considering that I'm scared shitless (excuse the pun) to even go into the Latrine. Throwing garbage out really quickly is one thing, eliminate my bodily functions is quite another.

So here I go, I take my scraps of garbage---nothing like doing two things at once, I run, I pee, throw the garbage down, I don't shut the door because I have no idea what's behind it, I could care less who wants to peak, and I run out as fast as I can thinking, there is no way I'm having my morning pot of tea until this situation is resolved. Later in the day though, a phantom chicken was peering through the latrine—ok, how the hell am I gonna do this fast enough with a chicken staring at me, let alone the spider behind me, and fearing snakes and the milk carton coming up to snatch me. Boy is this great Peace Corps stuff!

Life in Africa is fun---you have choices each and every day---to follow your every emotion, or decide to commit to what is more important than the feelings that seek to hinder you. After several days of this now, I've made a choice to let go of a sustainable world for awhile, and to give into the dreaded fear of a Pit Latrine. It's actually the best feeling in the world when you push past something difficult to the other side, and now I've done it—I'm in the world of Pit Latrines---my life for the moment, and it's all mine and the chickens! Now if I can only find a place to wash my hands, life would be a bed of roses again!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Barbie Doll House

It's past midnight, and I'm lying here thinking about Bubbles, Barbies, and Huffing and Puffing and Blowing the house down. Ridiculous—right! Downright ridiculous!

I really thought that life is about expanding your bubble, and then operating in an area within that bubble you most identify with. Easy, yes, with the bubble being a metaphor for your field of vision, your understanding of all things available about the world, and an aggregation of your experiences. I've definitely expanded the bubble by joining the Peace Corps, by doing things uncomfortable, but....sometimes things get a little ridiculous, and my bubble is about to burst, or at least get blown away. You see, August in Botswana means windy season---every month seems to have it's own season, but this is the worst because I'm living in a house that's about to be blown away---really, and my bubble sense of the world doesn't get why I'm not living in a stable mud hut!

When I first arrived in Mmathethe, it was amusing to see that my house looked something out of a Los Angeles suburb with many amenities. In fact, it was a little disappointing that I wouldn't be living in a prototypical mud hut dwelling that resembled most of my neighbors, but I'll make the most of it I said. Yet in my heart of hearts, I wanted the mud hut. It would've been easier than this house, and my romantic notions of nomadic countries, where huts are built from readily available materials, stone, grass, mud, palm leaves would've been a fantasy come true. It would've been challenging to live like that, but no, instead, I'm living a Barbie Doll House. You got it---it only looks normal from the outside, and upon closer inspection, I can take this thing apart, stone by stone, and rebuild it again, except a doll house and a mud hut are structurally more sound than this thing I'm living in.  I go outside each morning noticing more and more cement stone has chipped away and fallen from the house. All the so called boards that hold the roof together are down and dangling, and banging against the house like its no tomorrow with this wind, windows are breaking, and the ceiling in bedroom will come tumbling down with the next hard rainfall. I tried hammering a nail into the wall to hang something, and half the wall disintegrated---this immediately told me that my carpentry skills were nil, as are my electric and plumbing skills, but I swear I can build this house better. You just slab on a little cement, put a wire here and there, attached a pipe to the outside, and walla, there's my house.  My furniture is also of Barbie material, the kitchen cabinets look no different than Barbies house, but here the handles on my plastic kitchen cabinets lasted about a month, the cabinets only close when they want to, and to make matters even more humorous, I absolutely HATE Barbie, always have, always will. As a kid, I played with Barbie's for about a day, and then put the happy couple in a place where the “bad toys” resided. It was probably one of the smartest things I've ever done, now thinking about how Barbie and Ken were where all the children fought against set gender roles, and the worlds warped idea of who they should become---seriously, this Barbie thing unconsciously sends psychological damaging messages—but that's besides the point.

Life in a small village, you see first hand how things take huge technological steps backwards, and I've come to realize that the people who do have the mud huts are way smarter than the people with houses---- the mud huts hold up and houses don't, or at least mine doesn't.  So here I am living in my Barbie Doll House that's gonna blow away any time now, and my own bubble is expanding so fast that it might burst, but hey, at least these challenges don't lead to complacency!  Before I finally give way dreamland, I realized one thing--- that giving your life to the Peace Corps doesn't mean you'll wind up living in a mud hut!

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Living in a foreign country with a culture and language not your own becomes a daily challenge. Add to this mix, the endlessly fascinating landscape that is Africa, and the result is a grand adventure, sometimes funny, often quirky, at times incomprehensible, and rarely boring. Whether your looking out over the vast horizon while on safari, the sunsetting over the heritage water ways of the Okavanga Delta, admiring the golden hues of the endless land in front of my eyes everyday, or pondering our differences, makes one really appreciate all of what life is. Adding even more to the mix, living here, where life as we know it started, is a grounding and humbling experience in itself. People, at least in the villages, lead a humble existence, but seem satisfied, and to me, it's fascinating, but equally frustrating at times, to see their lack of dependence on the rest of the world---especially in today's changing world evolution, where our intellect and self realization defines how evolved we are. The ordinary becomes spectacular---the tooth brush waiting for the mouth, the window ready for opening, laughter waiting to bubble to the surface. But these people are not open to other things which entices, to which burns like fire. They seem content to stay oblivious to higher consciousness, to changes in attitudes, intentions, decisions, and action. Which brings me to my latest challenge of understanding Batswanas':

It's fun to adhere to life being an impromptu adventure, unscripted, untidy, and often misunderstood---so why do I find myself trying to comprehend the incomprehensible. I can tolerate that many different cultures have their own idiosyncrasises, but a few things in Botswana seem to tug at me lately, and one of them is the treatment of innocence animals, let's say, like Keoki. In America we treat our animals, especially dogs, as members of the family. We would call people who abuse dogs as a psychopathic or with a personality disorder. So am I to surmise that all Africans are disordered? Or are they so archaic that they adhere to old references in the bible, putting a negative light on dogs, whether it be literally or metaphorically. Come on guys, what planet are you living on--get with the program--the prophets are long gone, and those who preach now are just trying to put the pieces together. 

 A few nights ago, I stopped to chat for a second, and as I walked onward, a lady a few houses down said to me, “I just bit your dog.” “What do you mean you bit my dog?” “I bit your dog.” Ok, I gather you're saying you beat him---yeah! That's better I guess than biting him. “Why on earth did you bit my dog?” “Because he was here.” Good answer—was he bothering you? “No,”-- was he on your property? “No,”-- was he barking at you? “No,”-- well what the hell did you bit him for? God, I was fuming. The lady finally asked if it was a bad thing to do---at least she kind of got it. The next night, I take a different way to walk, and 2 groups of kids starting throwing rocks, hard and violently at him. Ok, I'm gonna kill these kids! But trying to be nice instead of winding up in a Botswana jail, I ask “Why are you stoning my dog?” “Because we want to!” What if I stoned you? They run! So much for talking things through!

It's really hard to comprehend the true meaning of why dogs and some other animals are treated worse than slaves. I've spent the better part of 10 months teaching those around to treat Keoki with some sort of respect, and frankly, most of them are enjoying it, but it would be doubtful that the next animal who came along would be treated with respect. I hope change is coming here, but maybe it all comes down to letting people on Planet Botswana have their own differing common patterns of communicating and responding, and us just letting it go, because maybe, just maybe, it takes a true commitment to trying the new, to having a curiosity, to being aware of the real beauty of the world!