Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mmathethe Typing School for Boys

Man I wish I lived up in the Kalahari just to be able to name this post—but I'm in the southern part of the country and loving it equally. Botswana may have been a well kept secret to most if not for Mma Precious Ramotswa, yet the books are not flaunted in stores here. Even though she is only a character in the Ladies Detective Series, she portrays a woman of great character with true principles. She uses wisdom and native common sense to solve problems, and realizes that a chance remark, a careless involvement, may make the difference between a life of happiness and one of sorrow. The Lady Detective series evokes an image of Botswana, the values of its people, the simple characters and choices, their lagging technologically. Having read the books a long time ago, I reflect back on them and take refuge in how Mma Ramotswa weaved in and out of her dealings with people.

The rythym of Botswana life is a leisurely pace, and, like Mma Ramotswa, what I've learned having lived here a year now, is that you cannot interfere with Batswana's without running the risk of changing them profoundly. Innately, I think that the Batswana know this, which is why it takes so much time for them to really accept you on a deeper level, and trust that what you have to offer will be the right thing. It's almost a remarkable shift of what has occurred in relationships after being here awhile, especially with the teachers.

Having said my Botswana schpeel, I have not started a detective agency as of yet, but, as such, I have followed suit and started a Typing School for Boys---well, it started me, when out of the blue, Lefika came running up to me asking to teach him how to type---he didn't know the word type, so he motioned with his fingers. He told me he only saw people around here typing with two fingers, and that if he was gonna be a lawyer one day, he needed to know this. I love this kids brilliance, reasoning, and his curiosity that there's a world outside of a small village. So, religiously, he's come daily, and a group of 5 kids, plus my Supervisor, have followed for the typing ride. Half hour increments they file in and out, some staying to watch others, some more competitive, some just hungry for knowledge and skill. It saddened me though, when, Stanley, who is in middle school, was as stiff as a board, thinking that he would get beat if he made a mistake, and confused about his hands not moving properly. The sad part is that these kids are taught in such a linear fashion, and they have difficulty even coordinating specific games on my i phone. So after soothing him down, adding laughter and humor to the typing, Stanley is relaxing, starting to enjoy every moment, making sense out of the typing games, and he makes sure he's the last one of the night so he can get extra time.

It's been so much fun having my little typing school, and like Mma Ramotswa, I'm realizing that how you say things, and what kind of involvement you have, has an impact beyond what an outsider can even imagine. Now if I can only get young Lefika to stop kicking his chair while typing, I'll really have accomplished something!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Kiddie Yoga

I've always loved the connection between yoga and life. The work done on the mat finding it's shadows in life's situations, when, for instance, the controlled breath learned through a challenging asana appears during a personal conflict. Not that I've mastered that quality, but Yoga is about the connections between body, mind, breath, and your connection to the world as a whole. I used to think of yoga as a person with his legs twisted like a pretzel, and loving pretzels the way I do, it all made sense.

So in thinking what I can do with the Primary School kids, I decided to teach them kid friendly Yoga and infuse the Life Skills via applying asana's. With kids being naturally flexible, though lacking in staying power, yet bursting with a ton of energy, I figured these kid's would love yoga. Besides, they need mental breaks, time away from what is expected of them, time to just be! Kid yoga is pure fun, and the child is always “winner,” there's no way to “fail.”  Yoga instills a sense of accomplishment, and will hopefully encourage these young ones on steps towards all sorts of good stuff like self-awareness,  self- esteem, creativity, compassion and health while adhering to the 3 F's : Fearlessness, Focus, and Fun!  Yep-- that's my goal, let's see what happens!

Off I go to my class for the new semester. There's no teacher of course today, so the kids are thrilled that someone came in to pay attention to them. I write the word YOGA on the board, have them say it loudly, and then I ask one of my little friends in the class to interpret for me--”No.” What do you mean, no? “No!” I guess he means no! Another kid voluntarily stands up, “I'll do it”—he comes running up, I tell him what to say, he just stares at the class. This is turning out to be a great start. Asking the class to pull out their chairs away from the desk is our next chore, but they don't move, so I demonstrate---they do nothing---I go around to each kid, pulling them and the chair out, which turns into a game as each kid is bouncing up and down waiting for the chair ride. I'm getting way more exercise than they are here! Ok, let's talk about breathing and balloons. I show them a picture of a balloon, we all scream balloon, and tell them to put both hands on their tummy to feel their breathing.   I demonstrate---nobody moves---off I go again to put each bouncing kids hands in the proper place. They're loving this so far. Breathing kid style, here we go---they love breathing into the imaginary balloon. AAH!  Then next, our first asana, BOAT---I show the picture, demonstrate, they copy my every move, they are learning to breath while up in boat posture, and then I hear it----"Teacher, I'm so tired!" What the hell, your only 6 years old, you can't be tired. I couldn't believe my ears! So then we go into a variation of Boat to strengthen abdominals, and while we do it, we have to pretend we are rowing, so I teach them the first line of Row, row, row your boat. These kids can't connect the row to the boat. My mind starts chanting---OHM!

Next class, at least I have an interpreter, my friend Lefika, and this class goes sort of perfect because of him. Sort of, because kids outside are peaking in the window, yelling stuff---I shoo them away, but they're like mosquitos, relentless, I should've bought a fly swatter to class. I open the window and tell them to go back to class---No---what do you mean no! NO! God, these kids are out of control with no teachers available. Then I hear a kid in my class shout out, “ breathe like a balloon teacher!” This isn't exactly how I imagined my first day of Yoga Life Skills would go!  OHM!

But seriously, kids naturally understand how to use yoga, and over time, and with a lot of praying, maybe they'll gain that mental control, maybe they'll see that poses like Warrior gives the message that a true Warrior is strong without weapons, that it fosters inner strength, determination, and focus.  For right now though, we'll explore together the endless possibilities of fun through poses.
keoki wants in on the yoga

Monday, September 10, 2012

Spirit of a Year

Having walked into an unexpected adventure, life has unfolded in ways never imagined---I am in Africa!  A year of living in a small village under my belt, having disengaged from the path of middle class America to blaze my mid-life trail, far from the familiarity of the place I once called home, far from the food I loved.  Outside the wind howls, raindrops drums a lullabye, heat swelters, the cold of winter chilled my bones, and sunsets amaze.  Another hot season coming upon us heightens my awareness that time has passed.  Looking out into the darkness of the star filled village night, with the mosquito net draped lazily over my bed, my own private cocoon, I reflect on the flood of memories that pour over me, the ups and downs of being the constant outsider, alone, misunderstood, alive, a Peace Corps Volunteer.  

 I remember the teary good bye at JFK, wondering what I did, what I was getting myself into, then the comfort and ease I felt in meeting my host family, the initial shock of seeing my site for the first time, a place, now, I have grown to love. Yet in the course of integrating for a year, it's been natural to go through phases for better or worse, musings, amusement, self-doubt.  You deal with frustrations that you're not used to, make sense out of things that make no sense, get to know yourself in ways that can be astounding, and then you start comparing yourself to how you used to be, and wonder how you will find a way to fuse the person I used to be with the person I've become.  The challenges that happen physically and mentally, testing your strength and resilience, are such that you cannot prepare for them. Even in Botswana, where some of us have it relatively easy, and the infrastructure is decent, it still seems challenging, little annoyances magnify, yet it all makes you think, it sharpens your awarenes, makes you wiser, kinder, empathic. Though I've had relatively no tumultuous tumbles, reality is, you're still a part of the Peace Corps culture, which is this broad spectrum of experiences that can be uplifting and depressing, beautiful and ugly, filled with challenges and triumphs.  Initially, whatever you did, you stuck out like a sore thumb, with no sense of anonymity---simply exercising, or the way you do your laundry, caused laughter and bantering, and there's little place to hide except for your own bedroom, leaving you to reconcile your cultural differences.

Even though I'm in a contemplative state right now, my fondest memories are the humorous things have happened, and I imagine will continue to happen. But after a year, I can say that things have fallen under the category of "pseudo-normalcy," with the exception of doing my tai chi, people are somewhat used to the white person quirks.  But do they know that at times I've forgotten the 6pm world news ever existed, or that there's even a calendar, or that football is really played anymore? Do they know that there were moments that I just wanted to crawl back into the good life, sit on a real toilet seat, do laundry with a machine, take a real hot shower, watch TV, eat an organic cucumber?  Do they know that I rarely eat porridge, and that some of my alone thinking time consists of reuniting my relationship with Asian food?  Do I understand them more or less than they understand me, or have we just gotten used to each other?  

No matter the answers, what a difference a year makes---I left, I survived, my global perspective has broadened, the sights and sounds of Africa conjure up the depths of imagination, and even with the challenges, a sense of peace and harmony has surrounded me.  A year ago, I started out my blog with my expectations, but now I realize that the best thing is not to expect anything, to trust the ride, look up at the stars, nurture the relationships gained, grow with the hard times, flow along in my village existence and try to saver each and every inspiring or touching moment because I know it's not the beginning anymore.  Yesterday, my little friend Lefika was helping me in the yard,---we took time out to color a picture, and he looked up at me and said, "this is a wonderful moment."----That is what my year has given to me!

                       "Not all those who wonder are lost."