Thursday, February 17, 2011

Live Like A Peace Corps Volunteer

Have you ever thought about joining the Peace Corps? Are you curious about what living as a PCV is like in Botswana? Want to do something different with your life for a week? Or maybe you want to have a small taste of what life is like for Me? TAKE THE PEACE CORPS CHALLENGE!! 

On March 1st this year Peace Corps will be celebrating it’s 50th anniversary and as a part of the activities in our year long celebration currently serving volunteers have developed the “Live Like a Peace Crops Volunteer Challenge.”

As a participant in this challenge individuals back in the U.S. are asked to give up some everyday conveniences for one week, in part to help raise awareness of the Peace Corps mission and also to give the participant a small taste of Volunteer life.

I have added a permanent tab above that has more information and links to the Challenge rules and other information.

Please take a moment to find out more about our “Live Like a PCV Challenge” by visiting

Click on the Botswana Rules for your assignment and let me know how it goes!

Ke apiele Leraka (I cooked Leraka)

A few weeks ago after I had just gotten done working-out I had a knock on my door. This is typical being that I live on a family compound, my "family" will usually come and check on me in the evenings to see how I am doing. Theetso was at my door, bearing gifts of food from the "lands".
A single resident of Botswana is called a Motswana and a group of Motswana are called Batswana. The average Motswana might have up to three different "homes"; where they currently stay, their home village - called a motse (moh-tsee)- and a cattle post - called a masimo (mah-see-moh). Each Motswana is entitled to free land from the government. All you have to do is go apply for it from the local land board. So just about everyone here has a masimo and corplands (or at least their family does). Batswana have raised cows for hundreds of years and cows are still a source of wealth today. These cows serve very much the same purpose a savings or retirement account does back in the US. The cows stay out at the masimo and a typical family will also have cropland where they grow a little food.
The plowing season begins sometime in late November or early December, depending on the first rains. (Irrigation is almost unheard of for these small fields). Because of this, many people take off the month of December to go plow, and the crops will be harvested in March and April. Popular crops include, maize(corn), sorghum, beans, squash, sweet reed (sugar cane), and melons. 

Theetso had been at the lands all day helping to harvest some of the food that was ready. They had extra so she wanted to give me some, which was very kind of them.  Some of the things she gave me was half a watermelon, a few ears of meade(mee-de)-very much like corn except a thicker consistancy, and this weird green looking thing that they call a leraka (le-ra-kah). I asked her what it was but she didn't know the English name for it and did really know how to explain what it was to me. Then she proceeded to tell me how to cook it. After she left I decided I would go ahead and try out this leraka thing. I was glad she had told me how to cook it, otherwise I probably wouldn't have know how to tackle it. First I washed it and then cut in in half. From the inside it looked like a type of squash. 

After that I was told to boil it in some water with a little bit of salt until it got soft. Once it was done the skin would peel off easily.  Lastly I was to put it in a bowl with some milk and it was ready to eat. It actually was pretty good tasting. It was soft and when I mashed the milk into it, it was very similar to a mashed potato constancy and tasted a lot like squash. I would definitely eat it again.

"Food is our common ground, a universal experience." James Beard

In order to keep this blog interesting please leave COMMENTS :) If there is anything you'd like to know about the culture or my life here let me know and I will write about it. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

I'm Back!!!

I finally got my laptop back a few weeks ago and with that I made a little trip to Gaborone to get my internet reset up. From now on (as long as technology will allow me) I hope to update more regularly so that you all will know what I have been up to. To keep this from being entirely too long I will just give a couple highlights of what I've been up to the past couple months.


Our Spread of Food 
One of the little one's enjoying his food
Although I didn't get to spend Thanksgiving with my family at home I was glad to be with some of my new Peace Corps family. We got together at another volunteers house in Selebi-Phikwe, which is only a few hours away from my village. We ended up having a huge spread of delicious of food. Everyone contributed something and we all sufficiently stuffed out faces.  I was able to make my Mother's Green Bean Casserole dish and my Aunt Ginny's cheesy potato recipe, which everyone thoroughly enjoyed. We even had so much food that we invited the neighbors over to eat.

Youth Workshop in New Xhade
Traditional Hut
One afternoon we had an intense 4-square game going
In the month of December, I was invited with a few other volunteers to help co-facilitate an OVC Life skills workshop in New Xhade. With just over 2000 people, the village of New Xhade is one of the largest San resettlements in Botswana. The village is home to many different tribal groups and carries a rich cultural heritage. However, due to lack of employment and illiteracy rates, the village leadership is crippled by excessive alcohol abuse and the problems associated with it, and ultimately it’s the children whom suffer for it. Currently, New Xhade has 57 registered orphans, 200+ vulnerable and needy children, and 260 hostel dwellers that have little to no access to healthy role models on a day to day basis. As a result, the vast majority of OVC’s are in need of life-skills training and psychosocial support, as evidenced by the high drop-out rates, high teenage pregnancy rates, youth-committed crime, and alcohol and drug abuse.
Youth doing the Obstacle Course

Playing soccer with the Youth

The theme of the workshop was “Live Well, Tshela Sentle.” Students were taught to associate alcohol abuse with poor decision making which can lead to domestic violence, rape, destitution, and/or HIV/AIDS. The workshop also focused on gender empowerment to help students recognize and take pride in their growing sexuality while alerting them to the dangers of MCP, domestic violence, and unhealthy relationship patterns. Additionally, team-building, art therapy, recreational therapy, and nutrition were key interests and skills taught.
It rained a lot but there was a beautiful double rainbow on day
Some of the boys after the exercise and nutrition portion
The PCV in New Xhade who organized the workshop did an amazing job. It was a very successful week, the kids had a blast. These kids have probably never participated in organized games or sports that we Americans are accustomed to growing up in, let alone have they ever had positive role models in their lives who just simply acknowledge them. It was great to be a part of something new in these children’s’ lives and just to see them smile.

Christmas in Francistown
My Bird
Fake Snow!!
Christmas 2010 will definitely be one I will always remember. Although I was not able to spend it with my family, which is always sad around the holidays, I once again enjoyed spending time with my volunteer friends here in Botswana. A few of us who would be traveling to Zambia after Christmas met up in Francistown to spend the holiday together. We did a White Elephant gift exchange and I ended up with a cool metal bird.  There wasn't any snow, expect for the fake snow someone from home had sent one of the other volunteers, but all in all it wasn't a bad day. We made a delicious meal and watched some holiday movies, one being Elf (one if my all time favorite Christmas movie). A couple of us even went to church Christmas morning so I was able to sing some Christmas songs and get a little into the Christmas spirit.

Zambia Vacation
Wow where to start….Zambia was a great time and I don't think I will be able to do justice explaining it here on this.
The trip up to the border from Francistown was a little cramped with all our stuff on the small bus but not as bad as I was anticipating. Once you get past Nata you start to see elephants along the side of the road, which was one way of entertaining yourself during the 6 hour bus ride. One of the other volunteers said he saw 12 or something like that, I only saw 5 but I was sleeping most of the way. Once at the border we boarded the fairy and crossed over the Chobe River into Zambia!
The cramped shady combi
Once through customs we got (or should say crammed) into a shady-looking combi. I say shady because the door fell off at one point, it was only hanging on by the ties they had used to keep it closed. But sure enough we had made it to Livingstone.

We stayed at a hostel call Jollyboys Backpackers for  a few days.  I was pretty excited when we got to Jollyboys because I had never stayed in a hostel so I wasn't really knowing what to expect, especially when images from the movie "Hostel" come to mind. Once inside I was pleasantly surprised. Jollyboys was very nice and had a very chill/hippyish feel too it.
 There was a pool, bar, self-catering kitchen and tons of cushions everywhere for lounging around. They had private rooms, mixed dorms, and camping available. I stayed in one of the mixed dorms with one of the other girls who went with us. The beds weren't bad and I was able to get somewhat full nights of sleep except for the one night when a guy in my dorm started singing in his sleep. After we got settled in, the group of us decided to walk around Livingstone's downtown area. We went by the market and I ended up buying a couple souvenirs after bargaining with the guy in the booth and even traded some hair ties for some smaller trinkets.


In the morning we all got up bright and early to head to Victoria Falls to brave a walk across the falls with a swim in Devil's Pool. 

Victoria Falls, or Mosi oa-Tunya (“The Smoke That Thunders”) is located in southern Zambia and is one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  It’s smack dab in the middle of the Zambezi river, and is a 100 meter drop.  They are 1.7 km long, with 1 km being located in Zambia and the rest in Zimbabwe.  This makes it one and a half times wider than and twice as tall as Niagara.  In 1855, an English explorer named David Livingstone set eyes on the falls, renamed it in honor of his queen, and quoted, “Scenes so wonderful must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”  

So we began our trip across the falls walking hand in hand  (with 2 guides to keep us safe) over the slippery walks. The water was usually only ankle deep, but at times it up past the knees and there were points where you could feel  how strong the current was. They took us right up to the edge of the falls, where the view was breathtaking!  We took many breaks to get amazing pictures.

Rainbow Falls

After about an hour or so we were finally at the Main Falls where Devil's Pool is. Once there we stripped down to our swimsuits to swim to Devil's Pool. Devil's Pool is a natural infinity pool at the edge of the Main Falls. Once we swam through some strong currents we got to a little rock and then were told to jump in one-by-one. I was a little afraid of going over the falls but the guides told us there was a rock ledge that would keep us from going over. 

So when it was my turn I took a deep breath.................................

 and jumped in.............................

 and survived!

I swam in Devil's Pool at the Top of Victoria Falls and it was AWESOME!

If you look closely there's 4 hippos
 After all of us jumped in twice we headed back to Jolleyboys. Some of us decided to go on a sunset boat cruise, which was very relaxing after the day of adventure. We saw some hippos and the sunset was beautiful.

 The next day a few people from the group went whitewater rafting while the rest of us decided to conquer the 111 meter bungee jump (3rd highest in the world) off the bridge that goes over the Zambezi River gorge. I was extremely nervous to do this.

I don't have much of a fear of heights, I was a zipline guide for godsake, spent the whole Summer and Fall of 2009 up in trees and hundreds of feet up in the air without a fear, but something about nose diving off of a bridge makes the stomach churn. 

In the morning we headed to the bridge to scope things out. We got some pictures and watched someone take the leap off the bridge. Usually when I am nervous to do something, if I see someone else do it and survive I am usually fine. Not this time. After seeing a random guy take the jump, my stomach and nerves were not calmed. Oh no what was I getting myself into? We headed up to get checked in. They weighed us and I was going to be the 3rd out of our group to go. We went back down to the bridge and I kept thinking…am I really gonna do this? 

When it came my turn to go they sat me down and started to strap my feet in and all I could think about is what if the cord broke.  Before I knew it I was standing on the edge of the platform with my arms out and they were counting down 5..4…3..2..JUMP!!!

 And there I went and let out the biggest scream. Down I went and then back up and around, for awhile I wasn't quite sure what was up and what was down, but the view was amazing. Once I stopped bouncing around I was really able to grasp what a beautiful view the gorge was and then the blood started rushing to my head. Luckily the guy was soon there to bring me back up. 

Once back on the bridge I was able to try to get my bearings a little and enjoy the view.  Afterwards I felt pretty motion sick from all the bouncing and spinning. I found out later that if you leave your arms out the whole time you spin less. I'll have to remember that the next time I go bungee jumping.

The next day the group headed to Jungle Junction. Jungle Junction is an eco-friendly fishing resort on privately-owned Bovu Island, on the Zambezi River.  Featuring a self-service bar, library, and no electricity, it’s the perfect place to get away from your worries, reflect on life, and recharge.  The group was pretty excited to relax for the next four days after our two days of action-packed adventures.

The Library
Another view

The Bar

The Kitchen
Once on the island the first thing that came to mind was paradise. I felt like I was in the movie "The Beach" starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  I took off my flip flops immediately, and went barefoot for the four days we were there.

You can camp, or stay in fisherman's huts or chalets. I decided to stay in a fisherman's hut, so I got to wake up every morning to the most beautiful sunrises every morning. 
The Fisherman Hut I stayed in
The view from my hut at sunrise (this picture doesn't give it justice)
The only access to the island is by a makoro boat (traditional dug-out canoe). During our stay the boatmen would take us out fishing or to the safe swimming areas to go for a swim (there are crocodiles and hippos around the island so it's not a good idea to just swim where ever you feel like). 
Packing the boats up with all our stuff
No crocodiles here :)

The guys went everyday trying to catch the much talked about tiger fish. These things are hard to catch, mainly due to their shark like teeth and the fact that they will literally spit the hook back out at you. One of them finally caught a big enough one for all of us to try on New Years Eve. It was pretty tasty but lots of bones to pick though. 

The first night they took us out for a sunset boat ride. Every night the sunsets were the prettiest sunsets I have ever seen, but I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

The first morning we were there I found some trees to set my hammock up in, so I would have a nice place to relax and read with a great view. Then a few of us went for a walk around the island. 

The lack of electricity didn’t pose any problems and was actually added to the feel of the island.  There were steaming hot outdoor showers and all the food was cooked over charcoal fires.  At night, the bar area was lit by candles. 

The showers

New Year's was spent on the Island, some people had brought watches to let us know when it was midnight. It was a great way to bring in the New Year (Ngwaga o Mosha--literally A New Year). On New Year's Day the Owner's did a Pig Roast for everyone staying there. It was delicious and I was excited to get my pork (sans sour kruat) for New Year. Apparently it brings you good luck. 
The Group on New Years Eve

Last sunset of 2010
The trip was amazing and I highly recommend everyone, young or old, to stay on the island. The staff were very accommodating and laid back. There is even a resident botanist who is willing to walk with you around the island and teach you about the wildlife.

After leaving the island we stayed a night camping at the Chobe Safari Lodge in Kasane. This lodge is high class and borders the Chobe River. You can sit by the pool watch monkeys come within a foot from you and watch elephants, hippos, and crocodiles roam the river. It is beautiful! If you do decide to go camping there though make sure to have a tent or rent one of the lodges. A hammock won't suffice as I unpleasantly found out. I don't have a tent, but I do have a hammock that I thought would be sufficient enough to sleep in. In the middle of the night I was unpleasantly awoken from my deep sleep by a night watchmen who told me I had to be in a tent, sleeping outside was unsafe because the hippos, elephants, crocodiles and lions will attack me! I was sure to cram into a tent with some of the other pcvs. Next time I will know to bring a tent.

On our way back to Francistown we saw more elephants and giraffes on the side of the road which is always a great site. 

Sorry this was so long, but I wanted to give you all a good description of my wonderful trip. I had a great time and the sights were so beautiful that it made it hard to leave and come back to Botswana. I defiantly want to go back up sometime to see the Zimbabwe side (apparently the views of the falls are even better) and raft the Zambzi. Good thing I'm still here for another year or so.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson