Thursday, July 14, 2011

Trainings, Mma Obama, and Desert Races

So Mid-June was time for me to head to Gaborone for my Mid-service Training (MST). About half-way through service Peace Corps has all the volunteers come back together for some regrouping and medical checkups. I was actually really looking forward to this time because I had hit low in my service again and was excited to meet back up with my other volunteer friends and some volunteers I hadn't seen since my IST (In-Service Training) back in August. Also the hot shower and good food is always a plus! A few days before  MST, Peace Corps was having a second STEPS training for volunteers and their counterparts who qualified. Unfortunately my counterpart couldn't go but I was able to get in last minute. The STEPS training was only a day, but I felt it was a good training and gave me some new ideas on how to implement and use the videos in my community. I hope to bring forth these ideas to various community members and hopefully get some more screenings done in the next year. Since the STEPS training was a much much smaller group it was a good transition before the rest of the volunteers showed up. MST was..well MST. Some of the sessions were good and others not so good. I had a really hard time concentrating through many of our sessions. It made me wonder how I got through IST or even PST! Especially since MST was only 2 and half days. It was great to catch up with other volunteers and hear about how they were doing at their sites. Usually these trainings do come at good times, so I have to hand it to PC for that. Like I said I was in a low before the training but after talking with other volunteers I found out many of them were struggling with the same things I was, which makes me not feel so alone or bad about different projects not working out. I found out many of the other volunteers projects were affected by the strike just like some of mine. It also was a chance for me to reflect on the past year and refocus my goals on what I want to accomplish this next year. I think this was much needed for me, because sometimes I get bogged down by the day to day mundane things and often feel like I am not accomplishing anything, but when I step back and actually look back I have accomplished a lot in this past year.

Right before MST PC had told us that Michelle Obama would be visiting the weekend after our MST. At first they told us there would be no way any of us would be able to meet her. Our first day at MST, our Acting Country Director told us that PC had talked to the American Embassy and had got them to allow 50 PCVs and selected staff to come to the gathering that Saturday. She emphasized that this wasn't set in stone and that we could very well be uninvited at last minute. At first I didn't think I cared to go, but on the last day of MST when Heather told us they still needed a few more volunteers to sign up I went ahead and said that I would go. I mean it is a once in a lifetime opportunity and luckily I had accommodation for the weekend so that wouldn't have been an issue for me (the stipulations on us being allowed to go was that PC would not be able to reimburse us for accommodation or transport). So all of us eagerly were waiting for Saturday to approach. Many people had to go out and buy new clothes because this was an occasion where we would have to look our best. Saturday came and we were still allowed to go. A group of us were staying down in Kumkwane for the Desert Races (more on that later). We got up at the crack of down and headed back into GABS. Once at the Embassy we had to wait outside in the cold for a little bit until they started letting people in. Once they let us in the gates we had to got through security like at the airport. This was the real deal. All of us who said we wanted to go had to turn our social security numbers in a few days before so they could do some background checks. They checked our purses, camera, bags and coats. No fooling around here.
Secret Service and the Security Checks

Once through security we all walked back to the back yard of the Ambassador's house. The back courtyard area was gorgeous ! It was a very chilly morning luckily they had some hot tea and coffee and some heaters strategically placed so people could try to stay warm while we waited. Many of the volunteers staked out spots right at the front of the audience. I had a decent spot behind a few people with a good camera angle for pictures. When it was about time for Michelle to come out a lady came out to regroup the crowed. All PCVs were moved to our own roped off section on the other side of the podium. After resituating ourselves the US Ambassador came out to welcome everyone in attendance and introduce Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama gave a speech that talked about how important America's relationship is with Botswana. She talked about how thankful she is for all the work the people in attendance do to keep that relationship good and strong. She said many of the sacrifices the foreign aid workers make are not recognized enough. She also gave a shout out to the Peace Corps Volunteers, which was loudly received. 

After her speech Mrs. Obama when around the workers and personally thanked them and shook their hands for the work they do. Then it was our turn! We only go a few minutes with her but she when around our group and shook many hands and again personally thanked us Peace Corps Volunteers for all we do. Then we got to get a group picture with her. It was a really cool experience and I am glad I was able to take part in it. I think it was also a much needed boost of encouragement for all the volunteers.

After meeting Michelle Obama, I went back to Kumkwane for the Desert Races. The Toyota 100 Desert Race is the premier off-road racing event held in Southern Africa. The race takes place in Botswana and a different course is laid out each year. It's a huge event for Botswana Tourism. People come from all over to watch the off-road trucks, bikes, motorcycles and other vehicles compete in this event. For more information click the link above. This year the race happened to fall on the 24-26th of June and the start and finish line was being held in Kumkwane (another Bots 9 volunteers village). With MST, Mma Obama and my family coming in on the 26th it was perfect timing for me to attend.

 There were a good number of volunteers from my group there and it was fun to cut lose and hangout with them. Sunday morning we got up to watch a few of the racers take off. It was cool to see and I kept thinking how much my father would love to come see this. We were standing near a turn, so every time a vehicle would go by dirt would fly everywhere. It was fun to watch. Some of the vehicles looked like they would be really fun to go four-wheeling in.  After we watched a few cars we headed back to the house to clean up and pack up. I had to get to the airport to meet my family! I was super excited!

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
- Mother Theresa

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Past Month

Sorry I have been a little MIA with the postings. I had a pretty busy month involving STEPS Training (STEPS for Life is a program I have been trained in to facilitate screens of videos covering various issues with HIV/AIDS and then getting the audience to have  a discussion about the issues, all the videos are filmed in Africa), Mid-Service Training, Mid-Service Medical Checkups, Desert Races, meeting Michelle Obama, and traveling around Botswana with the family. All have many fun and entertaining stories which means I have some great blog post ideas! Yea!!!!  Just got back this past weekend and have been recuperating (I must have picked up a bug/cold somewhere) but will try to update with some of my post ideas soon!

Until then thanks for reading and thank you so much for all the love and support!

Oh and I will leave you with this pretty picture to look at :) Africa has the best sunsets!