Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me!

So today's my birthday. I am 23 years old. Typically I would be spending time with friends and family and eating some delicious cheesecake and opening presents. This year that is not the case. I actually had to go to see the Peace Corps Medical Officer yesterday so most of my birthday is being spent traveling back to my village. I can't say it has been a bad birthday though. People here in Botswana have shown me a decent birthday.

On Saturday I got to meet up with a couple of the volunteers in Mahalaype and hang out a little bit. We went to the Mahalaype Trade Fair which is kind of like a County Fair, only on a lot smaller of a scale. We walked around the grounds and looked at some of the tents. We also watched some of the youth do some traditional dancing in the traditional clothes. For the most part there wasn't much to do so we only stayed for an hour or so. My village is having on this weekend and apparently there is a beauty pageant on Friday, and my good friend Sliza is going to be there. I hope my villages Trade Fair will be more interesting. After we left the fair we went back to one of the volunteers houses and we made pizza and this brownie-cake-pudding thing which was pretty tasty.

On Sunday the owners of the one general dealer shop near my house took me to their property out on the Tuli Block. I got to meet their son and daughter-in-law (who are similar age to me). They are very nice people. They made me a brunch and took me out on a drive all around their property. They have around 8,000 acres of land so there was a lot to see. We saw all sorts of birds, warthogs, impala, and waterbucks. They also showed me the camp site where the hunters usually stay. That got me to thinking about maybe later one I could get a group together to go camping out there. After we got back from the drive they had some deserts for me for my bday (they said they were going to make me a cake but didn't have time, the deserts were just find though). While I was hanging out with them, they were asking me all about my house and how I live. They are a little well off so they have a washing machine, dryer, microwave, and a shower with hot water, so when they found out I don't have any of those things they offered me to come stay over if I ever wanted a hot shower. They also said if I ever wanted to drop off my laundry at the shop they would do it for me for free! They also said they had an extra microwave at the shop they barely ever use so if I wanted to borrow it I could! I might take them up on their offers but I think I will still hand wash my clothes for the most part, because I mean I am the Peace Corps so I shouldn't have all the modern convinces right?
Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to find out one of my good friends from training was in GABS for medical stuff too :) We went and saw Toy Story 3 (which is very good so I highly recommend it) last night and then we met up for lunch before I headed back to Machaneng. It was great to catch up with her, since I haven't seen her since PST and she lives in a very remote village with no internet access or cell phone service.

When I got home the girls on my compound decided to make me some traditional Botswana food for my bday. They made Morogo and Mebele. The Mebele they made with this watermelon type stuff so it was sweet tasting and was pretty good, but morogo is this green stuff that I have tried before. It's not really my favorite. It has kind of a weird taste to it, but I ate it anyways to be nice and polite. While they were cooking the food I got a call from my counterpart. My counterpart and some of the other nurses had bought a cake for me so they dropped it off. It was really nice of them to do that for me.

I also apparently have at least one package waiting for me at the Post Office in Machaneng so I am excited to see what it is and hopefully there will be more by the time I check it tomorrow. Thank you everyone for all of the birthday wishes and birthday packages (hopefully I will get them soon). This years birthday hasn't been a normal one but I can't say it has been a bad one at all.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cultural Day

Today Matlhako Library and Cultural Center took me to Ramokgonami's Cultural Day at their Library and Cultural Center (Ramokgonami is a village that is about 40km from Machaneng in the Mahalapye Sub district). Another volunteer from my training group is serving in Ramokgonami so I got to spend the day experiencing traditional Setswana, food, dance and fun! When the library staff picked me up I thought we were going to Matlhako's library so it was a nice surprise when I realized we were going to Ramokgonami. When I first got to the center I was introduced to the librarian there and some other important people. We sang Botswana's national anthem. Then they introduced me to everyone (they said I was the Peace Corps volunteer staying in Matlhako, but that's ok). There were many speakers and some of the Jr. Secondary Students preformed dances in traditional attire. There were some drama's preformed and even some traditional games played. The dancing and singing was my favorite part. It is really cool to watch. I find it fascinating how talented the children are, especially considering there is not much emphasis or resources for the arts in schools.
Everything was in Setswana so I don't really know what all was being said throughout the day, but it was fun to watch. Then they served us some Traditional Setswana food, dinawa (beans), seswaa (pounded meat), and bogobe (brown mush stuff made from maze or some sort of corn). All the food was cooked over the fire in these huge black pots. They gave us a heaping plate full and in Botswana style with no silverware, so we had to eat with our hands! Not my favorite of the Setswana dishes but it was ok. I also got to try this seed they cook and eat. I forget what it was called but it tasted a lot like sunflower seeds, so I enjoyed it. After we ate the other volunteer and I saw that people were tossing sticks, kind of like javelin, so we watched that for a little bit. I think the object was to see who could throw the stick the farthest. Throughout the day we were offered Shake-Shake (the traditional brewed beer), but we kindly turned it down. I tried it when I was in Moleps and it doesn't taste very good so I wasn't about to drink some more. The rest of the day was spent talking to some of the teachers from the Jr. Secondary School in Ramokgonami. After talking to them for a little bit we found out that one of the teachers is the son of the kgosi from my village. He was pretty excited that I was staying in Machaneng. The other volunteer showed me around the library which looks a lot like the Matlhako library and then it was time to go back to Machaneng. All in all it was a pretty good day.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

3 Months

Yesterday was the 3 month mark since I left Ohio. Today I have officially been at my site for 1 month. I can see now what they mean when the Peace Corps staff told us that the days will drag on but the months will fly by. I can't believe I have been out of country now for 3 months, but in other ways it seems like I have been here forever! Maybe the two years will go by quicker than I imagined? I am becoming more and more known within my village. The other day someone yelled "Refilwe" at me as I was walking home. I was very excited about this because normally people yell "Boitumelo" (the old volunteer's name) or "Lakgoa" (means foreigner). One of my struggles of being in this village is the fact that I am replacing a volunteer. This means I get compared to her and many people think I am her. They think I will be doing exactly the same things she did during her time in Machaneng. I may do some of the same things she did, but I am a different person with different interests and skills. Therefore, when I heard someone call my name instead of hers you can see how happy that made me. I think people are starting to see that I am different and not Boitumelo. I thought this would take a lot longer for people to realize this. Granted I still get asked where the old volunteer is and I still get called here name, but it's a start.

The other day I got to go to Matlhako (a nearby village) to see their library and community center. A family from America donated money to Matlhako to build it. It is very nice but unfortunately no one in the community uses it. The librarian in Matlhako wanted me to come see it and help her come up with ways to get more people to come to the library. Reading is something I love to do, so I am pretty excited to help with this project. I think reading is something everyone should have the opportunity to do. Hopefully we will be able to come up with ways to get people in the area interested in reading and using the resources the center has to offer (there's 4 computers, an adult and children's section, a playground, and some encyclopedias). Matlhako library also is starting up a chess club that meets on Saturday mornings, the only problem is the ladies who are starting it up don't know how to play. I never considered myself an expert at chess or anything but I do know how to play, so I told them I would teach them how to play and also help the children who come learn. I was supposed to go do that yesterday, but the library driver was unable to come get me. I was a little disappointed but there will always be another Saturday.

A couple days ago I got the meet the lady who works at the Social and Child Development Office here in Machaneng. This is the department that helps support families who are struggling and they also support all orphans in the community. Talking with her I was able to get a little bit of a better understanding of the demographics of Machaneng. There are many destitute (chronically injured or ill, or unemployed) individuals, orphans, and needy children in Machaneng. I am not really sure yet how I will work with this department in my village, but the officer told me about a bunch of community committees and what they do within the community. This is a good start because it gives me an idea of what projects are already going on within the community. It gave me a little bit of a better understanding of how these committees work and what sort of things they do. Many of them are income generating organizations. Much of Machaneng is unemployed and there are no opportunities for work. Many able bodied people try to rely on the government to help support them, but there are committees in the community that host workshops to help people to start generating their own income (ex. Bead making, sewing, backyard gardening etc.). These committees are good resources that I will probably work with at some point.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

My House

Here's the outside of my house. Isn't it lovely?
I actually live on a family compound of a kgosi (chief) of Machaneng who passed away a few years ago. The compound is pretty big. It is located conveniently next to a General Dealer shop and another General Dealer shop located just a minute walk towards the main tarred road. There is the main house that my landlord (the kgosi's wife) and her two granddaughters live in (one is 20 and the other is 7). Then there are three huts, two of which are occupied by a man who works for the Wildlife Department in Machaneng, and Maggie who works for the Agriculture Department. There are 2 more huts and two other smaller buildings that are unoccupied at the moment, and there is my house. It’s a nice place to live. I feel very safe because no one messes with a kgosi's family and the General Dealer's light is always shining on my house. I have running water (no hot water) and electricity. My mom sent me a bag shower so for the past week I have enjoyed warm showers. That is one thing I have learned since being here: Never underestimate the greatness of a hot shower! Sometimes the water in my village will run out so I have to keep extra water stored in buckets and bottles just in case. So far I've only had to go half a day without running water. Every once in awhile the electricity will go out too. When this happens I just get out my flashlights and candles and entertain myself by reading by the candle light. This hasn't happened yet since I have gotten to site (it happened during my site visit though).

In the front of my house there are a couple of trees. This past Thursday (July 1st) Botswana celebrated Sir Seretse Khama Day so I got the day off of work. This holiday is to celebrate the 1st president of Botswana. I decided to enjoy my day off by relaxing in my hammock and reading. I don't really have anywhere on my porch/ledge to hang up my hammock so I decided the two trees in front of my house was a great place to hang it. Boy did I cause a scene! After I put up my hammock and got in it I noticed a group of children gathering in front of our gate watching me. Because my house is located close to the tarred road and right next to the General Dealer, a lot of people go by my house. After a little bit of time they got up the courage to come inside the compound and talk to me. They were very interested in what this purple and blue thing I was lounging in was. I tried to explain what it was to them and let them try it out. All of them thought it was the greatest thing! So needless to say I didn't get much of my book read. Hopefully next time the hammock won't cause as much of a scene.

So no I don't live in a hut in the middle of nowhere with lions prowling about. Yes I have a toilet that flushes (although no toilet seat, for some reason most toilets here don't have seats on them) and I luckily don't have to use a pit latrine. When I first found out I was coming to Africa I pictured that I would be living in the middle of no where with no electricity or running water and living in a one room thatched hut. That's not the case, but I am perfectly ok with it. The only complaint I would have is I wish the walls would block out sound more. There is a main dirt road the goes right by my house. So there are constantly donkeys, cows, goats, dogs, cars blaring music, and children going by. This only really bothers me at night when I am trying to fall asleep, or in the morning when I am awoken before my alarm goes off. Maybe I should invest in some earplugs?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Finding My Niche

I have been at my site for 3 weeks now. This integration thing is very hard. I always considered myself a very talkative and outgoing person but these past few weeks I can't seem to find that side of me. Maybe it's because everyone around me speaks a language I barely understand and when I speak to them in English they barely understand me. I guess it's just going to take some time and patience for me to find my niche in my village. So I'm sure you all are probably wondering what it is exactly that I have been up to these past few weeks? The first few months at site we are in "lockdown" meaning we are not allowed to leave our villages until sometime in August when we go to Gabs for our In Service Training. This is to allow us to meet people within our communities and form relationships. We are supposed to be assessing the community and finding out it's needs. So what does that exactly all mean? Beats me! I find myself going through each day clueless as to what it is exactly I am supposed to be doing. I go to my clinic at 7:30am every morning and sit through the staff meeting for 30-45 mins (which is all in Setswana so I understand none of it). After the meeting I try to find something to do. Sometimes this means helping out with the child welfare clinic (weighing babies) other times it's writing down dates and genders of people getting their immunizations. Sometimes I get lucky and there actually is something for me to do. Today I typed up a chart on excel and word for them. Maybe I should teach them how to use Micorsoft Office? I am sure with time things will get better. It just takes time for people to trust me and know that I do have ideas and can be useful.

One day I got to go out with Keitumetsi (the Senior Health Educator Assistant for my clinic) and tell people on the Tuli Block about coming in for their H1N1 vaccinations. This was a very cool day. The Tuli Block by Machaneng is a bunch of privately owned game reserves. As we traversed through people's property's I got to see all sorts of wildlife! I just wish I had my camera. I'll have to remember it next time. At every property we stopped the people living there gave us meat or fruit to take with us. It's all part of Botswana's giving culture. In Botswana many people do not have jobs or make much money, so they have a known policy of what's mine is yours. They are very giving people. Which is great when you are a volunteer and are living on less than $3 a day. Throughout the day I ended up with dried impala meat, a big hunk of steak, wildebeest liver, kudo bones, and oranges. I let my coworkers take most of it at the end of the day. I only took the steak, oranges and impala meat (tastes kind of like deer meat). At one ranch I got to see the entire butchering process of a wildebeest. From the live beast in the corals all the way to the hunk of meat on a hook. It was pretty interesting. I was literally two inches away from a live wildebeest with only a flimsy wall in between us. It was pretty awesome! Some other animals I saw were kudo, springbok, wild boar, impala, and buffalo. That day was defiantly one of my better days here in Africa.

Another thing I have been busy with is helping my clinic with the Mosadimogolo World Cup Football Tournament. All the clinics in the Mahalapye Area are putting together this football tournament to promote women in sports and also use the matches as ways to educate people about HIV/AIDs. My village's game is this Saturday so I will be going and helping out with the set up and education part. I would play in the match but you have to be at least 25 to play (darn). My Football skills are not all the great anyways so I am not too disappointed I can't play. I have practiced a couple times with the team though, the exercise was nice. The team had a scrimmage game yesterday against Makwate (another village in the area), but they didn't do well. Hopefully they will do better tomorrow.

This week my counterpart decided she wanted me out of the clinic and she wanted me to get more into the community. This is great because I do not feel like I am much help at the clinic. I got to go hangout with the preschoolers on Monday. That was pretty fun. I will probably be going and spending time with them every week. Children are fun to work with and they have soo much energy! We just played with puzzles, legos, and did a craft. I am not sure what else I will do with them. I haven't really worked with children that young before, but in time I know I will come up with some ideas.

Another group I am excited to work with is the PACT team at the Jr. Secondary School. I met with them once and will be meeting with them every Monday afternoon. They are a Peer Counseling Team that promote awareness about different health related issues in the school. They gave me a list of topics they want to talk about at their meetings throughout the next few months, so now I just need to come up with some fun activities that go along with their topics. Their leader is very proactive so I am also excited to work with her. I just hope my shyness will go away soon. I want to be useful in my community but I am finding it hard to communicate with the people around me. Most of the time I don't know what to say to them. Hopefully this will change over time. I just need to take it one day at a time.