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!