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!