Tuesday, October 12, 2010

6 Months in Botswana

Today marked 6 months of being in Botswana. On April 12th, 2010 I landed in Gaborone. In many ways it doesn't seem possible that I have been here that long and then in other ways it seems like I have been here longer. They say the first 6 months are the hardest part of your service and that it only gets better in time. I can see now why that is true. Since I have been here it has been a whirlwind and roller coaster of emotions. I love roller coasters but this one has been one I haven't always enjoyed being on. If the hardest part is behind me hopefully that means my train has climbed up the biggest part and I am now on the downward slope with full speed and momentum. Yes there will more bumps along the ride but hopefully they won't be as big as this first hill.

As I look back on my time here so far I can already see change in myself and isn't that partly why I decided to go on this journey? Even though there are still days where I hit a low there are many more where this feels right. Last Friday I went to the Prize Giving Day Ceremony at the Primary School. It was a lot like the one I went to a few weeks ago at the Jr. Secondary School. After I was fed lunch and started on my way home I heard someone call out "Refilwe." I turned to find my landlord's granddaughter peaking out from the fallen down tree behind me. I decided to go over and talk with her and her friends. I gave her my VIP card that was given to me during the ceremony, since I was one of the guests for the day. Her face just lit up so bright from a little piece of paper with some flowers on it. It reminded me of how much we take for granted the little things in life. She didn't receive any prizes during the ceremony because she didn't have the highest grades in her classes, but that little piece of paper I gave her probably meant more to her than any of the prizes that were given out at the ceremony. After a little bit the group of us walked home. Once I got home I changed and heard some noises coming from my front ledge. I went outside to find a whole group of kids sitting outside my house waiting for me to come outside. For the next hour or so I showed them how to throw a Frisbee. Afterwards Kenilwe asked me to teach her some English and she would teach me Setswana. I told her we could do that on Monday afternoon. Monday afternoon came around and once again she and I were sitting on the ledge under my window trying to teach each other languages we don't really understand. She is in form 2 (so the same as a 2nd grader) so her English is not all that great, which makes it difficult for her to teach me Setswana. It was fun spending time with her though. During those moments I felt like I was supposed to be here. I decided that I will need to find someone different to teach me Setswana, but I could probably still teach her English and will try to meet with her at least once a week. These are the types of things I pictured I would be doing as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I don't think anything could have prepared me for what I have experienced so far during my service. That is not to say it is a bad thing. Botswana and being a Peace Corps Volunteer is just very different than what I had thought before coming here. As time moves on I am noticing that I am being able to adapt to the changes or differences better than when I first arrived. I have made some friends in the community, I am starting projects (slowly but surely), I have a new family of support from the volunteers here in country that I can lean on when things get hard, and I have even gotten to travel a little bit around the country and see and experience things I never imagined I would had you asked me year or so ago. As I become more integrated into my community I am starting to scrape away the layers and see that there really is a need for me to be here.

I want to once again thank everyone back at home for all the support and words of encouragement you have given me. During the hardest times it's good to know people at home are thinking about me. The letters and packages are always lights in my darker days and I know I will continue to need and want that support throughout the rest of my service. As hard as these past 6 months have been, it makes me excited to see what the next 6 month will hold.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Botswana's Independance Day

September 30th marked Botswana's 44th year of independence. In 1966 Botswana gained Independence from being a British protectorate, so Botswana has truly come pretty far since it became a country. So what did I do to celebrate? I met up with 24 other Bots 9 volunteers to go camping on the Makgadikdadi Pans! This is one of the biggest salt pans in the world, it is about the size of Portugal. Usually there is a little bit of water on the salt pans which makes pictures look awesome but since we are in the dry season there was no water, but I still got some really good pictures. I'll have to go back sometime when there is more water.
There was a little bit of water in one of the river beds and some not so pink flamingos!

It's mini me!

The whole time I looked out onto the sandy abyss I couldn't help but feel like I was Captain Jack Sparrow when he was stuck at the world's end (maybe that's because I had just had a Pirate's of the Caribbean Movie Marathon the weekend before??).

Setting up tents

Beautiful Sunset :)
As we wondered the pans a little bit, we came across these huge tracks. At first we thought they were lion tracks but were later informed that they were hippo tracks! It's too bad we didn't get to see any, or maybe that’s a good thing…I wouldn't have wanted to be trampled by one while I slept out under the stars. I decided I didn't want to spend my money on a child's pup tent, like some of the other volunteers did. Luckily I wasn't the only one who didn't have a tent so I felt completely safe and it was really nice to sleep under the stars.
We were up before sunrise
Here comes the Sun!
We only stayed one night out on the pans, which was fine by me because there was no water and it was really hot out there with no shade. So on Friday some of us went to Francistown to stay at Daniel's apartment. He has a really nice place, which makes me slightly jealous. He has hot running water, although now that it's gotten really hot here I don't really need that, a shower, and AIR CONDITIONING! So it was a luxury to take some showers and relax in the air conditioning. The bus ride back to Ftown was a true African bus-ride experience. Because it was a holiday weekend the buses were crazy packed! The nine of us caught a packed full bus heading to Ftown from Maun. Somehow they squeezed us on, but we had to stand the whole 2 1/2 hour ride back. I think every part of me was brushed up against throughout the trip as people were getting on and off, luckily I was standing next to Lindsey so at least I knew one of the people brushing up against me. At one point there was a group of goats crossing the road (very typical in Botswana) and the bus driver was honking his horn to let them know they need to move. Unfortunately a baby goat got confused and just kept darting back and forth, not knowing where to go and then BAM! Baby goat is no more :( Very sad! Oh and at one stop a guy got on the bus with a live chicken in a grocery sack and sat next to Joel. The rest of the trip Joel was having to avoid getting bit by the chicken! Glad I wasn't him.
Once in Francistown we decided to go out for Mike and Jen's (two of the volunteers) birthdays. There was an Irish Pub just down the street from Daniel's apartment so we decided to go there to get a drink. We were all pretty excited to have some good draft beers, especially after looking over their vast selection on the menu. But surprise, surprise the only import beer they had was Guinness, which was insanely expensive, so most settled for a domestic and a couple of us ordered some margaritas. The beers came right away but our cocktails were taking a really long time, I think it was because they didn't know how to make it. After our drinks we went to an Indian Restaurant and ate a ton of really yummy food. Indian is now my new favorite kind of food.
In the morning a few of us went to an NGO that a Bots 8 volunteer works at. This organization does afterschool programs for the orphans and vulnerable children in the worst part of Francistown. On Saturdays they have some programs and feed the children lunch. Daniel typically goes and helps out on Saturdays and invited us to come along. We had a lot of fun playing with the kids. We tried to teach them duck, duck, goose but it didn't work too well. I had one little girl who was following me around for a little bit and when I had to sit in the pot she got up from her seat and sat in the pot with me! Soo cute! We played a lot of "touch" with the kids, which is what they call "tag" but not exactly the same. Later that night the 6 of us that stayed decided to make tacos from scratch. I was incharge of the tortillas. I had made them before but I was little nervous to make them for a bunch of other people, but they turned out great! Those tacos ended up being one of the best meals I've had here in country! Soo good!

The little girl in front is the one who was following me around
They were playing with Daniel's hair lol