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.