Tuesday, October 22, 2013

New Blog

I just wanted to put my new blog address for those who care to follow my adventures:


Monday, October 7, 2013

Dear Botswana:

Botswana, Botswana, I seriously don't feel like being serious, and I don't necessarily want to go home  to see how much lower kids are wearing their pants, but it's time to move on, and it's also time to find a way to fit this experience into my life's scheme.  So what can I say---You took me in and embraced me with a wonderful host family, an endearing village, a counterpart that fit my personality to a tee, and a loyal dog.  You didn't necessarily boast delicious food, colorful clothing, or flamboyant markets,---no, no, you're much to conservative for that, but there was plenty in your blue stripes to make me feel confused and amused, which delighted me into deep thought about who you really are.  

One big part of your personality is that you have a remarkable number of national parks and heritage sites that leave no option but to fall madly in love with you. Slowly meandering through the reeds on the Okavango Delta in a mokoro, soaking in the unique serenity is something that will be etched in my mind forever. Your colorful sunsets, especially over the Delta and Chobe River fill you with a sense of timelessness, and the wildlife through Chobe, Savuti, Moremi, Central Kalahari are simply enthralling. I will never forget the nervous excitement when departing on a game drive. And for good measure, your vast, never ending skies with it's gizzillion stars, and other worldly sites such as Tsodilo Hills and the Salt Pans are simply intoxicating----you just can't imagine melting into places where you cannot hear a single ounce of homo-sapien-ness. Every inch of me craves that kind of silence----and for the times I was in the wild, I breathed it in, closed my eyes, and tried to capture it---to mentally bottle it so I can sip on it when next I find myself in a thrumming, sense sapping place in the States.

From the brownish red dirt paths and the sounds of my village, to the mystical night sky that paints a vision inside my mind, it feels all to bittersweet to mark the start of the next stage of my life while simultaneously marking the end of another. Each phase of this service had it's unique obstacles and left room for spiritual growth.  You have unplugged me, challenged my spirit, made me re-prioritize, widened, expanded, stretched my horizons, made me more centered and peaceful, and I can only hope I am the better for it.  I've learned from you not so much what I can live without, but what I can live with---compassion for others and peace of mind. While days can bring joy to those who have little, I've also felt the angst of the suffering, which, in turn, encouraged me to better serve.  I can't emphasize enough how much it matters to bear witness to some of world's suffering, to open yourself to a journey, and expand your own heart to it. 

It's been so interesting living in a world I previously knew little about, and after having accumulated varied moments, both good and bad, here we are, crossing the finishing line. It is the scenes as I walk around the village that I'll remember most, and trying to become one with the laws of nature.  I'll also miss hitching because it felt so freeing and I had so many humorous interactions while doing so.  Botswana---you've taught me that patience is not only a virtue, but a necessity: that death is a part of everyday life: that it's ridiculous to judge people for what knowledge they do or do not possess: that progress happens in a zig zag fashion: that I don't need so much "stuff" in my life: that I will never take a flush toilet or running shower for granted again, and will probably use a lot of water lingering in hot showers for a while: and that simply being present makes a big difference: But most of all, I learned that my shift of being in the world has changed, and that going with the flow of things is the best thing to do because the things that might make one crazy really doesn't end the world.

Having been deprived for 2 years of anything truly healthy, I might just lust after every organic fruit and veggie I see, but I know that in many ways I'll miss Botswana for all it is and all it isn't!  And to the Peace Corps family, it's been a honor and privilege to be a part of this.  I have not a clue on how to end this blog, or end my service, or process the indelible imprint on my soul, but in a 100 years from now, it won't matter what house I lived in, or job I held, but what will matter is that I made it through the Peace Corps!

"Africa is the rhythm of life---it's that mighty tree of ancient origin rooted in mountains of gold and silver.  Africa is that mighty stream full of untold number of souls.  It's the mighty bird, the quiet bird with the voice of thunder, with wings of gold and diamond feathers."

To all that have followed this blog, sent emails, packages, or contributed to projects, I humbly thank you and am eternally grateful. This will be the last post that I'll write, other than posting at some point my new blog address for my future wanderings.  Thanks Botswana for not giving me malaria, or any other disease, and basically, I'll miss you, I'll never forget this, and I love you.
                                                                       THE END 

If those of you want to follow me on my new blog--the address is:  curiosityblvd.wordpress.com

Monday, September 30, 2013


Last night at around 7pm, my friend Stanley and I were chatting on my porch, when he quickly grabbed my arm, and his voice went a notch up stating "Tshep---look at the sky, something very strange is happening."  Indeed it was fascinatingly strange, as this big white light went roaming around the African sky for about a 10 minute period.  To me it reminded me of the witch of the North's ball as it was leaving Dorothy to wonder what she should do.  I don't know, should I have started clicking my heals saying "there's no place like home."

It was a cloudless night and some say it was star wrapped up in a solo cloud, but whoa, the cloud was moving the speed of the "watcha ma call it," and how did both things disappear at the same time?  EISH! Regardless of the source, I initially thought it was an incredible sight.

So today, my village had a big Independence Day Celebration, and everyone was buzzing about it, asking the Elders what the sign in the sky meant, and all were shaking their heads.  That's kind of scary when an elder can't figure it out.  So I did a little research, and indeed, the phenomenon was seen all over Southern and Eastern Africa.  Some say it was a Pillar of Fire, or a Cloud which takes the children of Israel from Egypt---some say it was due to a rocket that had launched somewhere, and they were sending off the last satellite, but most suggest that it was Gods messenger.  Now my curiosity is highly piqued, and apparently the bible says that in the last days, good old God will show signs and wonders on earth in the sky.  Holy Crap!  The world was supposed to end the September that Bots 11 arrived---we are leaving in two weeks, fulfilled from our service, and after all our good deeds, we may be doomed.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Say Cheese!

Or in Botswana, say "phaletshe."  I used to think that it was so much fun to see a photograph of yourself, and guess what, I still think it is the most remarkable thing.  Photographs are so special, they are the images that we have a personal investment in, that special meaning.  They record places we've been, some of the most magical places on earth, even it's your own living room.  Those intimate moments held in a photo as life skips by us, people coming and going, and all we have is the photograph to remind us of our precious memories.

Most people never the get the opportunity to venture out to see a slice of the real world to see what life really means for others, the world where dirt, dust, and bush are a kids best toy.  It didn't take long into my service to see that a genuine smile from these kids are enough to brighten your own inner smile.  So, last year I started giving photos to a select few who truly earned them, or who were my great friends here.  Now as I am departing, I made about 20 photos to give to those I care about, or again, to those kids in my schools who have worked hard with me on our school newsletter, been in my teen club, or are a fabulous traditional dancer.

Today I gave the last of these photos out, and two girls took them and literally broke down in tears because they never had a photo and it meant so much to them.  I told them why they were getting it, and to always stand up for themselves and do the right thing in life.

I can't imagine a life without photos, I've taken thousands of them here and wish I can give each and every kid and family one, but most of all----I'll never forget their smiles!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What was it really like?

After so many blog posts where every turn, and every encounter seemed like a story to me, it is amazingly, the end, and I sit here and think, What was it really like? For that one millisecond that the thought of joining the Peace Corps arises in many, my fleeting moment turned into a reality.  In the twinkling of an eye, me and my mid life crisis were transported, with a blank slate to another continent, halfway around the world to a new land, and to a new family who warmed my frozen heart, and made me stop caring that I uprooted my life, or wasn't in my beloved Asia.

The call to adventure came to be set in a rural Botswana village watching chickens scamper around in the dirt, cows walking in my house, teaching life skills, listening to the clanking of donkey carts, absorbing the ambiance of young children, lugging groceries and water back to my village, and gazing at the stars in the endless sky.  I found myself lying at night with muddled thoughts, ruminating about the secrets I keep and other fun stuff, and listening to strange noises that eventually became normal to me.  I remember how odd it felt to be blind in a way---to walk a path I couldn't see---and now I realize the exchange for lack of sight is replaced with vision---a greater focus of existence and a learning to let go of attachments.  

Being a PCV in Africa, you have to have, or at least develop, some bravado, compassion, chutzpah, and a little added humility in order to navigate the culture and survive.  Time doesn't live here, it just visits now again to tell ya it's still around--so I no longer looked at my watch, but with my inner sight as old realities began to warp and fade.  I watched women working tirelessly, chipping away at the hard dry soil, thinking they were wasting their time and energy, only to see, months later, the fruits of their hard labor. I continue to marvel at the persistence and patience of some neighbors, the toil under hardships that I still can't imagine. I struggle with the intangible stuff of the many young deaths from AIDS that occurred this past year, the lack of good nutritious food as I sit and hoard my Cliff Bars, and the longing in the eyes of kids, adults, and frankly, in my eyes too, when we see a photo of an American Thanksgiving dinner. While they may tell me they're hungry, or ask for food at times, they rarely complain or give up.  

Then there were the daily hiccups and frustrations of projects failing, of feeling unused, unneeded, and unappreciated, as well as how the school system works, and the lack of the promotion of critical thinking, or how the family system works.  I also wonder if the girls and boys will ever stop struggling between personal aspirations and cultural expectations. You spend hours trying to teach what you can to those who have curiosity, or motivation. You make friends only to realize that there is something void in some, or that they really are only being nice so you'll charge their phone.  But then there are others who are more real, and you wonder why all of them can't be like that. Things, lets say, are complex here.

Botswana has extremes in weather that fry or freeze us, thunderstorms that made me either jump through the roof or laugh, and don't forget to wrap your food good or else you'll be eating bugs for dinner in the summer. We contend with being smashed into a kombie that's supposed to hold 14, but 20 are sitting on top of you and asking you to take their kid. We wonder why talking to our fellow PCV's about bathing and pooping is normal. 

But there are also the endless hilarious, wonderful, and nutty moments that will be imprinted in my mind forever, the moments of “you had to be there.” The smiles from the cast of characters that jump all over you because they know that you know how to have fun and how to listen---or the mom that approaches asking if she can “color” also. And then there are the touching moments that only you know from the 6 kids who graced my house almost daily, and were open enough to let you in and learn from you---and vice versa! I do hope, on some level, that I was a catalyst for change in some of these people.  Simultaneously, there are successes like the Glow Camp, Pact Club, Yoga, Reading groups, etc.. that make you feel it was all worth it. And of course, being a part of the Peace Corps family, and the travel experiences that show you how amazing the world can be.

So what was it like? It was awesome!!!! It was hard, it was easy---it was ugly, it was beautiful---it was funny, it was frustrating---it was challenging, it was serene, ----it was, dare I say, transformative---IT WAS AFRICA!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fear No Evil

On a quiet, chilly, Saturday afternoon, Lefika came sauntering in while I was just lying on the couch reading. He stood over me, gazing down, almost penetrating my soul, when, this now grown up boy, said to me, “We'll pick you up at 7am tomorrow, and bring you home at 7pm.” “Where you kidnapping me to for 12 hours on a Sunday?” “Church!” “Sorry Lefika---no church, especially not for 12 hours, and no way am I getting out of bed at that freezing hour in the morning.” Well, I must have said the wrong thing, because his face contorted, his eyes got big and weird, and an overall serious and strange look came upon him. “You better come Tshepo because that lightning bolt that came in your house last summer was the Devil after you---my whole family thinks so too.” Whaaaaaat----were they gonna get me exorcised?

I quickly flashed back to that summers day when I saw the lightning through my house that struck the bowl I was holding, and how startled I was. Now I was just told by an 8 year old, that it was the Devil cussin' and spittin' and shaken and jumpin' at me. Geez, did the devil literally come out of the woodwork and attack me---I'm now wondering where he got my file? I know all to well where the devil goes, and I didn't like it none-to-well. Why on earth would the devil want a mere PCV mortals soul to take to the underworld, or was he just provoking and tempting me? Honestly Mr. Devil, I've been good, really!

Thinking about it---Isn't the devil just some archaic mythical character with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork--a creature with super human powers that lives in a place called hell. Or is the bible correct in teaching that there is a prince of darkness who works in the shadows, looking for someone to devour. Maybe the devil is actually very sophisticated and specialize, subtle and clever like the greatest undercover agent of all time. If so, and if this is true, I had been in deep shit trouble, but spared, obviously, by some higher force. All of a sudden, Africa is becoming a bit spooky!

But how on earth am I gonna get out of this one? What do you tell a kid who whole heartedly believes this, and now making me wonder what I did wrong to deserve that near miss. People believe such things around here, I understand that, so I told Lefika, as gently as I could, that what happened was an act of nature, and that I'm fine and will rise above any and all negative energies that may or may not be out to get me. I can't say he believed me, as his weird look took hold again, and he just slowly sauntered away the same way he sauntered in, just a bit more confused I think.

Immediately on Monday morning, I spoke to a sane, level headed teacher friend, who confirmed that the devil indeed does not like that I'm doing good deeds in Mmathethe, and that he doesn't like good people. I didn't like what I was hearing, so I went to yet another teacher who was not so sane, and heard the same thing. Ok then, I'm really not good, honest Mr. Devil, I'm not –just ask anyone I know! All I can say is that I have less than two months to go, the rains and lightening won't appear until after I leave, and by God, I'm not gonna run home and get exorcised, but I sure am gonna try to find someone in the States to check the reality of this Devil thing!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ode to a Dog

Some love cats, others love dogs, some think tarantulas make for great pets, and others would rather see them extinct. I love all—well, not the tarantula, but I have cats at home, and I grew up with dogs. Within weeks of being at site, a dog walked into my life, or I into his. He was skin and bones, snarling at the site of a person, had tics sprouting out all over him, one ear that flopped over, and was, like most dogs in this village---mean and unhappy. My neighbor really didn't want him, so I said what the hay—he'll tie me down a bit but I'll take him, clean him up, feed him, let him sleep outside and he'll hopefully protect me, but in no which way am I gonna fall in love, or even be friends with this dog. I'm not even gonna name him or teach him how to fetch a ball, ---yeah right! It took all of two days before he was named Keoki, one week before he was sleeping in the house, two weeks before I was completely in love, a month before he got what fun was like, and a few months before he understood english, at which time, our species differences vanished as we shared many moments of connected creaturehood.

Now, an African village dog is unlike an American dog, and owning my furry friend taught me great lessons in cultural integration. He taught me to be true to my own nature, authentic if you will---that there's no point in faking it because he and the villagers will sniff it out like a lion sniffs out an impala for dinner. He taught me that people are really strange, that it's kind of puzzling how we complicate life rather than simplifying it. He taught me always to keep 20% Wolf in me, because a person without a little wildness in 'em just ain't no fun. And he taught me to play more, that the game is irrelevant, just play!!!  Overall, Keoki has been a great influence on my well being and happiness here, and after he was done with my lessons, he taught an entire village what true happiness looks like.

I didn't necessarily pamper Keoki, like American pampering per se, or like my friends John and Carol hysterically did by putting clothes on their little ones in the winter---totally competing with Botswana cultural logic. Nuh-uh, not Keoki, unless I had a NY Yankee T to put 'em in! I can't even imagine what was said by the Batswana in their village---I wish Carol could have been a fly on their walls to hear what the strange Americans did so we could all laugh until we cry!

Well anyway, as one sees, there is a great correlation between someone's dog and their personality. Keoki definitely is not the adorable, white little pup running around with a cashmere sweater on. He is a tail wagging, rambunctious, down to earth, athletic, no frills kind of guy who has earned his rightful place on this earth, and I'm glad to see I passed on some of these qualities. But in another month or so, he'll have to go back home, just like I will. I'll revisit the adventure in my mind, our battles when he tore up my organic veggie garden, our lively evening walks, etc.. all with bemused pride---but it is the loyalty, his head on my lap, his zest for life, and taking in the hot afternoon African sun that will stay with me forever.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Beginning of the End

Bots 11 went to their Close of Service Training, which, officially and sadly, marked the beginning of the end, and end of an era for us! A few days before, I called a friend telling her I was freaking out about the whole thing, after all, isn't being in the PC sort of like being in some kind of arranged marriage. A marriage to a country, a village, fellow PCV's, and all is intensified, nothing is normal, and now after 2 years we're breaking up. But hey—it's been a great relationship!

The point is that Bots 11, minus 6 of us, made it all the way to the finish line. We made it through the drudge of PST, we made it through our initial struggles in our home stays and villages, we made it through many a Life Skills horrors, good and bad counterparts and schools, harsh weather, water and no water, electricity and no electricity, crummy food, we made it through long and hot kombie rides, and we made it through because of the inner fortitude of this group and the friendships formed.  Bots 11 has had an insatiable appetite for working hard, playing hard, and traveling hard.  I'm really gonna miss the first words when you run into your mates at a function: "I ran to the shower!" This week of togetherness, saying goodbye as a whole, regaling stories, watching films, and just enjoying each other was what this week was all about.  

In hindsight, it feels good knowing the endless lists of what we've been through. I know I am not the person I was when I got on that plane at JFK, this experience has changed my life in a deep and profound way---in the way I see humanity, how I appreciate the simple things, and for simply being alive. I know the feeling when my landlord pops over, puts his arm around me and says “we've come along way.” Yep, I felt right like I was in a Dances with Wolves movie. But indeed, we have come along way. Even though I went through a few slumps, it was not a bad roller coaster ride. I've come along with my village, my school, and with myself.  I've loved the travel and I've loved Africa, especially the stars and wild life. I fell in love with a dog who has been my protector and great friend, and that is almost the saddest part of starting the good bye season. Keoki won't have steady meals, shelter, or love, but he has developed quite the personality and hopefully that won't be killed off.

Coming to the end of one's PC service is one of the strangest moments in life, and incredibly difficult to describe if you're not in it, but I'm just gonna enjoy my last 2 months in my village and pray that this adventure doesn't just fall into a distant memory.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Slice of Family

I've always considered how, over time, we tend to become more like the people we spend time with, and so as time winds down on my service, I find myself wanting to put my energies into the things that have meant most to me in Botswana, one of which is spending time with my host family. I remember how hard it was to leave my life behind me to join the Peace Corps, uncertainty was everywhere, until the moment my host mom's eyes peered deeply into mine, immediately naming me Tshepo, and telling me just to “trust” my service and my two years here. It was a comforting and defining moment in my life.

Yet, I was also keenly aware that every family has it's own lexicon, it's customized style of verbalization, it's secret codes that are not known to the outside world. Even in Botswana, where communication isn't exactly their fortay, there is still a language of families that is bound up in shared experiences—it's the inside joke that lets you know you belong—that this is your tribe. Quickly, I  thought being with this family was gonna make for an interesting ride, and that proved to be so true in many ways! 

So for the second Sunday in a row, I awoke, taking in a sharp inhale of the icy cold air, being brave enough to slip out of my warm bed, and waiting over an hour in the cold morning for a ride to Kanye. As soon as I felt the hill on which they live, and seeing my mom, and my sister Joy who is home from England for the month, all the icy cold Botswana air disappeared. We spent the days cooking, eating, cutting back her roses, laughing, taking in my mom's words of wisdom, and talking about our old times, however new they really are.  My mom had been sick for several weeks with god knows what, and I enjoyed hearing that she took the “Tshepo route,” making alternative concoctions to heal herself. She's learning, and I was pleased. Joy and I then went visiting the Aunts who live in Mmathethe, before ending another wonderful family day.

Over the years many people have influenced me, some subtly and some powerfully, and this is nothing revolutionary. But I am in Africa, not with my natural family and friends, but with a family whom I've shared a cross pollination of ideas, a discovery of each of our cultures, and what lights our fires. The indefinable richness that has come from this unexpected connection, the sudden recognition of the pattern which connects, has left me with an indescribable feeling.

 I've looked at the people around me, friends, neighbors, fellow PCV's, and while things can be challenging at times, exploring the connections that rise from our different perspectives, insights, and shared experiences is what this service has been all about for me.  And mostly, it is this amazing host family that taught me things about life that I soon won't forget!

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Hills Have Eyes

Four Sacred Hills rise majestically out of the barren Kalahari sweeping plains displaying Africa's greatest rock art collection. While some may say it's a hindrance to get there, it only accentuates the sense of adventure for me.  The hills being a sacred place for the San people with rock paintings aged between 3 and 10 thousand years old.  The rock paintings themselves blew my mind away.  There was more detail than I expected, and the variety of figures was simply astounding.  There are lots of eland, giraffe, several rhino, pair of lions, a monkey standing on it's hind legs, humans, and even a penguin and a pair of whales complete with water spouts.  Apparently the bushmen used a mixture of blood and oils from the animals, and the holy Shaman would depict both animals and human as they entered into spiritual trances. Our San guide was born and raised on the hill and showed us his land, and of course with everything we saw he said, "there's a story."  It would have been easy to be with him for weeks to write a book on his stories of the art and the land.  We did 2 long hikes on separate trails of the female mountain, and with each turn there produced new surprises.  
The Bushmen believe that the gods made humankind at Tsodilo, and that the hills are a resting place for the spirits of the deceased and that their gods live in grottos within the Female Hill, from where they rule the world.  The most sacred place is near the top of the Male Hill.  Legend has it that the first spirit prayed after creating the world.  The San believe you can still see the impression of his knees in the rock.  It is also believed that these gods will cause misfortune and bad luck if anyone hunts or causes death near the hills. They point to the knee-like impressions on The Male – the most sacred of all places - where the First Spirit knelt and prayed after creating men and women. They believe that their ancestors and gods live in the caves and overhangs of The Female. Similarly, the Hambukushu believe that their tribe and its livestock were put on earth at Tsodilo by their god, Nwambe. They point to the hoof prints in rock on The Female in support of their belief.  The Tsodilo Hills have a special significance to the San people or Bushmen who have been living here for thousands of years. The Tsodilo Hills consist of four large pieces of rock, rising unexpectedly from the dry expanse of desert. The Bushmen referred to the bigger rock as the 'male', the smaller one was known as the 'female', and the smallest one was the 'child'. According to legends the fourth hill was the male hill's first wife, whom he left for a younger woman, and who now prowls in the background.

Above are three men dancing after their day of hunting.  The erect penis' displays the men's strength and courage.  Interestingly, before each hunt, they go to a sacred water hole that of course God made, and they pray to their ancestors and to God for a good hunt.  Some people think that these figure paintings represent a trance dance, which results in an altered state of consciousness in which, the Bushmen believe, the dancer can heal the sick and control the natural and supernatural.  The dancer can also communicate with ancestors.

Baobab against the hills

our San guide

The rich stunning colors on the rocks which they call copper bracelets

A perfectly formed rock shaped of the African continent that God put there.

Camping out under the stars with the hills looming in front of us was one of the most special experiences in my life.  It seems like every one of your senses can come alive in a place like this, but it saddened me that the government built a small museum and with that, the San are not allowed to live on the mountains anymore.  Why people want to remove the sacred is beyond me, but our guide told us a story, and his stories are passed down to his children, and they will pass it along to their children.

Unraveling Beauty

"I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy."  Ernest Hemingway

Just imagine being snuggled up in layers while in your sleeping bag, under a huge vast sky, stepping out to a safari truck, heading for some of the most enthralling places of the world that will take your breath away.  This has been what it's like these past two years, and with my insatiable curiosity for the world, the intrigue just beckons for more.  Each day is different and no day in the bush comes with any guarantees, but there are promises of being exposed to a constant stream of creative stimulus, a feast for the senses stimulates in one single moment when even the warmth of the sun hits your skin, or how the sun descends in the never ending horizon, and the nervous excitement when departing on a game drive. I'm almost in a quagmire of where to begin: but as they say, start in the beginning.

The first days were spent with friends from home, which was great, yet a little strange for me, but I felt proud to be able to give them a small taste of Botswana.  We cruised along the Chobe River with it's mighty trumpeting elephants, lurking hippos, fish eagles and other fascinating birds, and stunning sunsets.  I'm not sure if it was having my friends here, or knowing it was towards the end of my service, but as the sun set over the Chobe while we were on the river, I burst into tears for the shear beauty that was before me, and the realization that I may never see this again.  

I thought I was putting sentiment aside when we went to Victoria Falls for the day on the Zimbabwe side, but that was not to be either.  It was exhilarating getting so wet, seeing the enormity of the falls, the strength of the water, the rainbows around each corner, and listening to only the sounds of the crashing below, and yes, the tears welted up at seeing this world wonder.

Ok, now the fun begins---my friends go home and I meet up with a fellow PCV to go through Savuti, down through Moremi, and a mokoro trip on the Okavanga before heading to Tsodilo which warranted it's own blog post.  We also met up with other PCV's along the way which is always fun.  The road to Savuti was dotted with ancient Baobabs which have their own folklore and individual upside down character, but it was the anticipation of the predators that had me sitting on the edge of my seat.  The Savuti channel is all but dried up for now, though they pump water into areas for the animals.  It has a beauty reminiscent, but not quite, of the Serengetti with it's vast open plains and dense population of predators.  Somehow driving around, you just had a sneaking suspicion that these leopard spotted you before you spotted them.  The highlight was spending much of the morning and afternoon with a brand new family of lion cubs.  It was magical the way they frolicked around, nursed, and acted like kids.  We also spotted several leopard--though they are shy and elusive.

The Kwai River in Northern Moremi offered us the chance to sit near even more beauty because of the water, but we got up close to several wild dogs which is hard to come by.  They were beautiful and I was almost shocked at the site of them.

Then onto Maun, how can anyone not fall in love with Maun with the way it spreads itself along the banks of the timeless Thamalakane river, and our Mokoro trip where we weaved in and out of the grasses and reeds, spotting hippo and beautiful birds along the way. Sitting a water level, wriggling your toes on the banks, serene waters flowing, and a profusion of plant and birdlife was remarkable. What I liked most was sitting down low and listening to the vegetations slapping against the mokoro.  The Okavanga Delta, a mosaic of land and water, is truly a precious gem cradling this pristine extraordinary place on earth.  But at least I didn't cry today!

Every trip, landscape, every safari may be different, but no matter where you are in Africa, just take a look up because the 4 bright stars in kite formation which make up the Southern Cross will surely make you feel lost in time, and that's exactly what I felt!

Can I say more!

Baby and Mama out of the water

Beauty Fish Eagle in Chobe

Male Lion in Savuti

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Before I Die.....

Cape Town, which is a funky, hip, stunning city, has it all, but there was one thing besides the beauty that captured me.  Being the sucker that I am for thought provoking questions and lists, there was this restaurant where they turned the entry wall outside into a giant chalkboard where passerby's could write up their personal aspirations.  It was so cool, and when I was reading what was on the wall, I thought about how death can inspire life, how our time is so limited and that people need the affirmation of human life and imagination.  Before I die transformed a neglected space into a constructive, lively one where we can learn the hopes of people we don't even know.  It's a thoughtful public space, reflects what's important to us as human beings, and some of what's written can really hit hard in the heart.

So this last week before school break, I went around the village, as well as the classrooms making our blackboards into Before I Die boards.  The kids had a great time with it, the teachers were more reticent, and the villagers wondered why on earth I'm trying to make them laugh again.

Here are just a sampling of the answers I got:
 Before I Die I want------

I want God to be on my side
I want to be forgiven for all my mistakes
I want to see London Bridge falling down
I want to climb Mt. Kili
I want to eat something from America
I want to meet Byonce
I want to buy a car
I want to go to USA
I want to build a big fancy house
I want to have two children
I want to marry a woman from Egypt
I want there to be Polygomy     (that one is quite questionable)
I want to complete my education in the UK or Canada
I want to be Miss Botswana
I want there to be rain
I want food to eat
I want to be a love master
I want Tshepo to stay in Africa
I want to be a child of God
I want lots of money for my kids
I'm not gonna die!

It was fun doing this and seeing what's in the minds of kids and adults who see little of the world, and to try to instill in them that anything is possibly if they just help each other reach their dreams.  Everyone should have a bucket list of things to do before it's all over.  I have a full bucket list but right now:  Before I die, I want to take a long hot bath!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Famous Amos

It seems that few people with disabilities here have platforms for creativity or other outlets.  Our vision for people with disabilities should include opportunities for them to participate in all sorts of extracurricular activities so they can develop independence, confidence, and fitness.  There is no adaptive PE here, no special education classes, few avenues for socialization.  It just seems an odd paradox that a society, which can now speak openly and unabashedly about topics that were once taboo such as HIV and Teenage Pregnancy, still remains largely silent when it comes to mental illness.  I've witnessed on several occasions, kids in school having full blown panic attacks, and staff just walking by them.  Granted, few but the guidance department are trained for this, but there is a word called "supportive."

Anyway, a few weekends ago, an all weekend sporting and activity event was held for kids with mental, physical, and intellectual disabilities, kind of like a special olympics.  Competitions, beauty contests, races were all held, along with the opportunity for these kids to socialize. It really was a special weekend for all who attended.  Three kids in my school placed to go on to the next round and get the chance to see yet another village.  But there is one boy, Amos, whom I have spent so much time with, mostly trying to redirect him, but he was one of these boys who placed first in racing.  Amos has a pretty serious psychological disorder, is failing in school, and is quite a character, but he exudes happiness and simplicity at it's best.  You should have heard the howls for him when he was introduced for winning at the school assembly last week.  I didn't think the kid would ever stop smiling, and I didn't think the other kids would ever stop applauding.  For this one week, Amos was even more famous and everyone's hero!

There may not be the trained manpower to help these kids with special needs, but at least this was a good venue to deconstruct and eliminate some of the stigma of mental illness.  And for Famous Amos, I think he's my hero too!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Sage in the Pick up

Falling victim to my inner most control freak, I stepped into a scraggly beat up pick-up, with an older, scraggly looking man behind the wheel. I'm usually a little picky on what I get into when I hitch alone, but at that moment, I let go of all control, said a little prayer like a good Batswana would, asked if he had been drinking, and on our way we were---I just didn't care, I was cold, tired, and I wanted to get home before it was really dark.

I was also in no mood for one of those moments that sprouts into full adventures and memories, I wuz just gonna close my eyes and hopefully open them in the safe haven of my village.  But as I have come to know many times, moments happen unexpectedly, and usually I can't even sleep thinking about them.

Opening the corner of my eye to be polite in answering a question the man asked, someone who I did not perceive as a worldly person, turned out to be a hidden intellectual, and completely captured my attention. A man who underneath his scraggly clothes, beard, and car, a man living in a continent notable for its under development, had every formulation of new paradigms of thought on all of Botswana's problems. He spouted out solutions on development, education, HIV, the lack of motivation in people here, poverty, democracy, pregnancy, and every regional problem you can muster up. When I questioned something, he thoughtfully analyzed it, and came up with the perfect answer. The more passionate about a subject he became, the more the car swerved---still, I didn't care!

This man, hunched over the wheel of his pick-up, was educated in Moscow, wrote a Thesis, has poured out his ideals in Washington D.C., and never worked a day in his life. He's gone through Botswana's schools, businesses, politicians, trying to volunteer to help make Botswana a better place. Hey---he should be a Peace Corps Volunteer!!!!! Yet, amidst the dusty roads, he has traveled without fear of thinking outside this society's norms, living off his ideas, and not caring how controversial they may be. In fact, he loves debate---I quickly fell in love with this man's head, and yes, he is very poor, but oh so rich!

And of course, safely home on this chilly night, snuggled with my hot water bottle in bed, I thought how this man exuded the soft radiance of a guru, something special emanated from his soulful eyes, and I wished the ride home had been just a tad bit longer!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Yo Ho Spirit

Batswana are deeply religious folks, prayers are said before and after every meeting, event, meal, and in the face of poverty and disease, faith should be strong.  I'm not exactly a religious human being though I have faith, it's just more of a Yo Ho Spirit--a strong need for freedom physically, mentally, and spiritually. For the most part I've avoided all contact with Church, other than going to a few Crusades, and with the exception of going once when 3 mom's here came to the door saying “we love you, you are our friend, and we want to share our church with you.” How could I refuse such a passionately plea, so the Jew in the Lotus went merrily to church, sang with them, prayed with them, made them and the community happy.  I know that God shows all of us mere mortals how it's supposed to be done, but it's quite conservative here, and there are few people like my host mom, whom I absolutely love listening to her unique spin on weekly sermons.  She adds a touch of quirky humor that sings to my Yo Ho Spirit, almost like she's been in contact with the Dali Lama himself. She realizes that God is like a seasoned rocker who wants to show all the upstarts of what real rock and roll sounds like.

The past few weeks in our weekly school briefing, the head of school has taken the opportunity to take out the bible and preach to the staff. I totally get that she is doing this for a very good reason due to some recent events, to lead and inspire---but initially, it took me off guard, and I felt like calling Google and having them delete Mmathethe off the map---it just didn't sit well with me for the moment. But I quickly recovered, realizing the importance religion and God have here, and though I'm losing a bit when she flips into Setswana---the gist of what's being said is that when God says something, it not only gets things done, but it also carries a little momentum---and good momentum is what's needed now in the school.  So don't be surprised when God works through you and it continues to grow bigger and more wonderful. The aspect of his character is built into the very fabric of the universe, and he's always taking people by surprise, always telling creative stories to illustrate a point.

In the way she knew best, she's trying to illustrate a point, she wants the staff to be respectful, have good relationships, and be motivated to be good teachers and citizens, but I'm looking around to empty faces, thinking that God fled the room, and realizing that there is no 5 step Program to getting God to show up or listen even with the beating of drums or the playing of flutes.  But at that moment, a very wonderful, soft spoken teacher began to tell a story about losing a cow, and instead of praying for the cow to return, he gave money to several people for various reasons. To make a longer story short, the cow reappeared after he'd given up hope on finding the cow. People woke up when he spoke through his big smile, people laughed at his analogies and spin on what the head of school was saying, and I knew at that moment, God came back into the room, maybe to witness the more Yo Ho Spirit.  

We're all born “free agents,” and whatever belief system you have, the universe wants us to take that free agent for a spin, to laugh, to enjoy, to do good in the world, to be good teachers and people.  I think that's what our head of school is trying to say, and having a cow in the room just made the preaching a touch of out of the box, just like God likes it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Here a Tuck, There a Tuck, Everywhere a Tuck Shop

Growing up, especially when I was visiting my cousins and grandparents in the Bronx, everything always tasted better at the corner store. I could taste those delicious 10 cent egg creams right now---deeeeelicious! Those corner stores slowly faded, but the occasional one still around, is still absolutely deeeeelicious! Here in Botswana, we also have small corner stores called Tuck Shops. They are small food selling retailers, or quite informal convenience shops, usually run from home, though there are many next to important places like a clinic or the educational center where we trained in Kanye. To my dismay, there are no deeeeelicious egg creams, rather, the tuck shop foods here hardly meet any nutritional standard---and I swear---those Bronx egg creams were undoubtedly nutritional in my book.

The Tuck Shop though is the spirit of our village street culture here, and they are the people who create, innovate, and improve their lives. So, I noticed since the time I moved here, my neighbor and great friend wakes up daily to start making fat cakes, throws one to Keoki, and then lugs a big barrel of them and lollipops all the way across the village to make a small pula for the day. It looked so hard, greasing yourself up, stirring the batter, walking that far in this heat, cold, or crazy rainstorms. So I asked her one day why she couldn't get her own tuck shop, after all, her fat cakes are better than most around here, and we wound up having a long talk about succeeding in these parts. Well, the subject was dropped until about a month ago, she came to my door and told me she bought a tuck shop and was going to pick it up tonight. “What do you mean, pick it up?” Naively, I really assumed Tuck Shops, or any shops are built or bought at sight. Is this like moving a house from one town to the next? I was deeply confused!

Well, indeed, the tin tuck shop was delivered, and ok, naively, I gave her a week to set it up, and then I would come and take photos. I went---I was greeted with all sorts of huge smiles and hugs, inviting me in, watching the fat cake making, watching people make instant coffee, but there are no goodies in the shop, just fat cakes and coffee. I make some suggestions about getting tables outside, painting the shop, learning to make banana bread, and having a coffee shop/tuck shop with pizazz like nobody has seen before. Well, they love the idea and were jumping all over me! Now I have to figure a way to put it together in a short time.

I walked away feeling so proud for my friend, but the quirky side of me also thought that someone should make a reality TV show called the "Tuck Shop Ladies. " It would be so explosive, in one episode, the entire Tuck Shop owners would be made redundant, in another, an irate parent would hurl abuse at the new tuck shop owners for taking fat cakes off the menu in lieu of something healthier. Elimination episodes would take place where parents and TS owners would battle it out in the style of a Jerry Springer show. The stakes would be really high because a good tuck shop can make bucks---there would tears, award ceremonies, and of course cooking. Botswana would never be the same!

Keep dreaming Lynn---but the real message is that someone who had nothing took a chance of improving her life, it took courage, endurance, and strength, and when I went to sleep thinking of the tiny pie warmers in the shop and stuff strewn around, the people milling because of her popularity, I thought how lucky she is to have her tin tuck shop with the best fat cakes in town!  Now if I can only teach her how to make an egg cream!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Love Thy Neighbor, Love Thy Cow

How do we begin to understand who gets loved, cared for and how, and whose life gets to be grieved. This should not only be constituted within the realm of human beings, and in my world, pre-peace corps, animals found themselves here, live according to the rules of human beings, and are loved and cared for.  I've come to realize though that there is much short-sightedness and an inability to articulate how being cruel and harmful to others, especially animals, is not, in my mind how I want Africa to be.

When I came here, I was a softie, and tried to bond with chickens and cows around the yard---I even went so far as to name one chicken “Dumpling,” but to my na├»ve surprise, Dumpling hung around long enough to fatten up, and one night I found my neighbor and Keoki chasing down Dumpling for dinner. I quickly learned that I better adapt seamlessly to this new culture, keep my humor at all times, to not question the notion of sentience, the capacity to feel, perceive, or be conscious when it comes to animal life around here.  But I'm not here right now exactly to go on a rampage about how inhumanely animals are treated here---I do realize these animals are their bread and butter---but they can at least be nicer to dogs.

This week has just been something else.  I alluded to my week long cow fiasco in my prior blog post, tearing down the fence, wrecking my organic garden, plopping poops all over the place, and lounging around like they want me to give them a beer after their hearty grass meal. Sure, the chaos of the nightly activities were annoying, and the half dead cow by the fence was a show for all. Some thought I did this to the cow, others laughed, and some just shook their heads, but nobody was doing anything to help, or even to put the cow out of his misery which was what pissed me off. The police were here and laughed, they wouldn't get someone to try and save it, and I was left with a shallow breathing cow in my yard for almost a week.

Well, today I came home from my primary classes and I see all this commotion by the cow, and then about 8 police came sauntering towards me asking me for food.  Why police would ask this is beyond me!  I go over to see a group of guys start the slaughtering of this cow, and I'm watching them with their slaughter skills, watching the chaos and blood around me with some vegetarian repulsion, and then I was just startled when one of the guys taps me on the back, I turn around to see him holding a big fat slab of liver and says “Tshep, Tshep, this is our gift to you for the cows breaking down the fence, take a bite."  Gee guys, thanks, this slab of meat should surely pay for the fence---I think I'll show it to my landlord, blood and all!  I look, I smile at the blood dripping down my pants, I thank them realizing that the slab of liver is showing respect, but my lord, what do they think---this is Dances with Wolves, and I'm gonna just take a chunk of bite from this bloody liver!  Then they ask me for a piece of metal from the house, I wasn't about to say no with all the knives around, and lo and behold, a Brai was started. They used my metal, my rocks, my wood, to start a fire and start the cooking after 2 hours of carving.  People were parading down the path with plastic bags for a piece of my cow, then the guys said something to me I will never in my lifetime forget---”Tshepula---Go get us some salt!”  Ya gotta love it I guess!

I may never come or want to understand the relationship between man and animal in other cultures, and after this, even though I know this is common practice around here, I will surely go back to my vegetarian ways when I get home, but I wish they would have at least had a little ceremony for the poor cow, or at least blessed the meat before eating it---anything would have made me feel better about animal life in the village----For now though, the real gift is Love Thy Neighbor for who and how they are, and DEFINATELY, Love Thy Cow!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

No June Cleaver Here!

“My mother's on the phone again—I talk, but she won't listen—she said “just one minute honey!"---I think it's been a year.  

Awhile back I received a card in the mail, actually a very late Holiday card from the family.  It was one of those custom made photo cards. The card was delivered at school, where no sense of privacy exists, therefore, I was immediately swarmed by kids anticipating what on earth is gonna come out of the white envelope.  When the card appeared, after oohs and ahhs, pointing and grabbing, I slowly went through each color in the photos, what the writing said, and pointed out who was who. Telling them about each person like it was like sharing hope with them.  But then something happened---I pointed out who my mother was, and instantaneously, kids started smiling, and then screaming---Tshepo's mom is here, come look. Well, come and look they did, about 250 of them smothering me to see my mom.

When I left that day, I asked around to find out why the photo of my mom got such a strong reaction.  I was told two things---one, they learn in the Bible that any time a mom lives after the age of 70 is a gift because most people around these parts don't live long lives. The next is that most of these kids are orphans, their moms either are to poor, or have died of AIDS, so the novelty of even having a mom, let alone one who is about to turn 80, is a real thrill for them.  They know nothing of a June Cleaver, the quintessential mom during the post war era, who exemplified the idealized mom, dishing up moral guidance and comfort alongside her hearty and well balanced 5pm dinner.  (Secretly though, I always wondered what June would be like after a 6 pack!)

Maybe these kids don't get to sit around the dinner table hearing stories about their relatives, maybe they don't have that Cleaver clan that builds true identity, and maybe inside they are longing for a real family. I'm lucky now to have two mom's---my mother at home, and my new mom here in Botswana. I want to say that my mom here in Botswana has treated me no different than she treats her own kids. I have to do chores, she doesn't listen to me when she's on the phone, she tells me stories about her family in the past, she yelps at me when I do something wrong, and this has certainly helped form who I am as a Botswana PCV. There is no need for the actual genetic connection, our connection is just as intricate as if I really were born to this wonderful family.

Yet, it's funny that 50 years have gone by since the day of June Cleaver, but we still get hung up by own stereotype of "good" mother, and have our own pre-conceived notions of "good."  I've come to realize that each wonderfully unique woman in every culture and life circumstance can be a truly great mom in her own right.  Ultimately, aren't we all a combo of many factors---and while we may have certain proclivities, expressions, talents, or shortcomings, it's what makes us unique and complex. So for the kids in these villages who rarely have a family as we know it, I hope that they have some special mom figure in their life to say Happy Mothers Day to---and for me, I'm lucky to get to say to two mom's this year.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Merciful Law of Karma

So, what is all this mumbo jumbo floating around in my head lately about karma.  Is Karma something that's always lurking in the shadows just waiting for you to make a mistake or do something bad, and when you have---it seems to wait for just that perfect time to get you back for what you did days, weeks, months, years, or lifetimes ago.

While I always ascribe to the Fortune Cookie School of Psychology, I have often wondered, does everything that goes around really come back around. And if so, will it come back to bite you in the ass? Is there such a thing as relationship karma? If karma is the concept of action vs. deed, a cycle of cause and effect, action vs. reaction that governs all life, if we sow good seeds, we will reap good seeds? Is karma the merciful law which is our teacher, our friend, or our foe? So many questions?

I'm thinking about this for a variety of reasons though. With the enormity of choices we make throughout our lives, I made one, that in the twinkling of an eye, I was transported around the world to another continent, a new land with new woods, and with strange people carrying things on their heads. Yet, before I came to this strange land, I thought my karma was in a bad coma, and now with less than 6 months til I depart, has my karma revived?  I never blamed 'karma' for anything, but maybe I needed to (en) lighten up a bit.  So now I wonder if the God's gonna give me good karma because I joined the PC and tried to do good deeds everyday?

The answer may be yes and no.  During my service, I badly sprained an ankle, and a wrist, lost one passport, and ate a forbidden orange. That's not so bad considering I had many thoughts of killing  people sitting on top of me in 105 heat on kombie rides, and I'm probably still being bit by past schtick!  On the other hand, I believe there was a purpose to be played out here, and at the ripe old age of not so young, I found out that friends come in all shapes and sizes, and my karma led me to friendships I soon won't forget, but in particular to a young boy named Lefika. I can go on and on about him, but from the onset, there was a recognition on a soul level, our frequencies matched, we've learned to trust, love, and share.  He's only 7, but a brilliant and wise one he is, and honestly, I don't know what my service would've been like without him. The power of his friendship gave me the gift of being my best self, and in doing so---please----maybe some good karma!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Desert Storm

I'm telling you, African storms are something else. It's mind blowing to the nth degree! The storms are events that I've never heard or seen anything like'em. A furious drum roll of thunder lasting well over 10 seconds, followed by terrifying streaks of lightening, howling desert winds that feel like the roof is gonna blow off, and yes, I scream and shout, or jump out of my skin at every flash and roll.  Even Keoki was startled at this one---he jumped right into bed with me and didn't move!  As if we need reminders that it is the end of rainy season, surprise surprise, the power is gone, and gone is the water too. What a wild few days its been. I run out in the torrential storm with my camera trying to catch a fantastic bolt of lightening, but as I stand around, shaking from the cold and soaked to the bone, the thunder rumbles, the lightening is coming, and instead of holding steadfast to take a photo, I'm scared out of my wits, and I run for cover.

Sitting here in the pitch dark with only the light remaining of my iphone is a strange feeling that I've gotten used to in almost 2 years. It makes me think of the things I don't have here and now, but really, all I need is an insanely good read, and a good blanket to hunker under.

Time has shot by like an arrow—roughly 6 more months to go, and when you are a PCV, I've found that you come across things that repulse you just as much as things entice you----like a scary storm. But in between the frantic weather, the sun shines, and I yelp for Lefika to come run with me into the bush so we can capture the rainbow that has appeared, and which reminds me what a wonderful beauty a thunderstorm can bring!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Walking Into A Dream

Sessreim Canyon
Something was pulling me, something very strong, something deep, something I couldn't escape. It was another trip to Namibia where the vast expanses of nothingness, where everywhere is in the middle of nowhere just captures my imagination and curiosity---I had to go! Starting out for a few days in Swakopmund, a quaint hamlet with the ambience of a tiny colonial German Village---a perfect little gem where I replenished on decent food, had a good haircut, gazed at the sea, and communed with some dolphins and coffee shops. But I really didn't come here for Swakopmund, as cute as it is—We ventured out on Namibia's roads where vanishing point shimmers and blends into the sky like a never ending illusion to wind up in my dream world of Sossusvlei.

Officially, Sossusvlei is the name of a large salt and clay pan located inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park. The towering dunes of Sossusvlei topped it pretty quickly. They are preposterously beautiful, and I was gasping in amazement at the lofty mountainous shapes and luxuriant widening landscapes changing colors in the rising and setting sun. We made the ascent of an arm of the Big Mama Dune, one of the highest dunes in the world---but we did not get to climb Big Daddy---the biggest in the world.  We ate under such clear constellations in the sky. We drove and hiked in the Namib Park where animals, such as Oryx and Ostrich wander the gently rolling landscape, and wild vistas are never out of reach. We communed with Cheetahs, posed for posterity at the universal landmark of the Tropic of Capricorn, and all too soon, we left the desert and my frothy cappuccinos behind as if it were a dream.

In a country overflowing with surreal scenery that pushes the boundaries of what you think the earth can look like, Sossusvlei is perhaps the most peculiar. Sand is piled at its greatest heights and trees that have been dead for centuries (I was told 900 years) still stand in a dried up marsh. They call it Dead Vlei.  Sessreim canyon is also other worldly, as was the sky that was so dark you can't even imagine and where shooting stars were occurring at an alarming rate---I got a lot of wishes in!

Namibia makes me wonder what it might have been like when life began, when exploration and discovery were firsts for all humankind, and with no assurance of a road sign or set destination,with no clue where, or if, the desert would end. I didn't want to leave it, I wanted to just hunker down to take it all in, and keep going and get lost in this surreal country called Namibia. It seems like each and every turn I take, whether it be hiking in Lesotho, a safari in Moremi, the Serengetti, South Luangwa, meandering through Cape Town, or just listening to the voices in my village, I become increasingly fascinated by the magic of Africa!

Big Mama Dune

Desert Camp

Kelly, Me, Maureen

Friday, March 29, 2013

Urinary Freedom

Way back, when I was in training in Kanye, I was walking to a kids party that a friend was having at her host home. On the way, I met three nicely dressed women who happened to be going my way to the same party. Walking and talking was pleasant enough until one woman just stopped in the middle of the path, paused our conversation, spread the legs, wizzed, and then just moved on like it was the most natural thing in the world. Well, in her world it is the most natural thing, but in my world it's a different story---I thought about the little spray that got on my leg for weeks on end!

Not that this is all bad or anything, but come on lady, there's a technique to peeing outside, you activate the glutes and quads, bend the knees, drop your ass like your name is Viola, get as low as you can so it doesn't spray, and above all, aim away from your feet, and please, not on my feet! I felt like I had just witnessed the human version of my cat peeing all over the place---a primal way of communicating. The lady even perked her face like my cat Alex does when he's peeing in front of someone. “Hey lady, would you do that in your mother's kitchen too?”

It's funny that first world countries like the USA tend to believe that third world countries have it bad when it comes to personal freedom, when they actually have far more freedom and liberty than we ever do. I mean, imagine the sense of independence that comes with just spreading the legs and letting things fly whenever and wherever you want. We, in the US, however, live in a policed society that enforces the belief that peeing in public is shameful, dirty, obscene, and disgusting, and that's really a shame because more often than not, peeing in public is out of necessity, not pleasure. You don't have to be a Law Grad to know that it's a bad thing when your government makes a human necessity punishable. If you think about it, it's really not a nuisance if nobody sees it---maybe we should be practicing pee respect, or start a pee anarchy.

Growing up, as most of us have, in a city, or those suburbs in Jersey, we just didn't learn about being in the wild, and consequently, we're not usually comfortable out in nature in the true sense of the word. But here in Africa, or at least Botswana, people just don't even care, they pee everywhere and anywhere, in the villages and in the city, and they don't necessarily turn away from you. It used to bother me a bit, but the other day walking home after our school function with my favorite police man, and he just stopped, unzipped his fly, and cooly took a pee---I just thought to myself how normal this has become since my days in Kanye. I've learned to act like I presume men do in a public bathroom---it's the no look policy.

 I can't tell you how many times I've peed in my pants here for one stupid reason or another, and I've also peed in the bush in times of necessity, but still, as used to things as I am, I have not mastered the urinary freedom that most Africans seem to possess.  Though my own personal philosophy on pee and liberty is that urinating is a biological necessity, as long as one behaves reasonably, no measly gender wall should stop someone from getting to where they need to pee so they can get on with their lives.

 I guess I have 6 more months to see how well I can drop my pants!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Month of Youth Against Aids

What have I been up to lately you ask----well these past weeks my counterpart and I have been hustling to hold an all day special event at our school to commemorate the Month of Youth Against Aids, with our central them being "With Safe Male Circumcision, we are driving towards ZERO by 2016." The day turned out to be a wonderful engaging and entertaining mix of HIV based activities with an emphasis on personal discipline arising from self-awareness.  The campaign urges youth to abstain, discourages multiple sex partners, and encourages safe male circumcision.  Our activities were all intertwined with a jaw dropping musical performance by Johnny Mokhali who is a famous South African Pop Musician.  How we landed him is beyond me, but his music and inspirational messages, not only made us dance the day away, but also touched each and every one of us.  For the first time since I"ve been here, I looked into these kids eyes and saw motivation and hope for the future. 

No one can lead our lives for us, so really it's up to each one of these kids to be responsible.  This is the generation that has the ability to break the cycle of stigma, gender roles, poverty, AIDS, and neglect that prevents youth from reaching their given potential.  

I for one was so moved by the events of this day, that I came home, sat on my porch with a glass of South African wine, watching an African rainbow after a brief thundershower, and thanked my lucky stars that I am here in Botswana and lending a small hand for change!