Thursday, April 30, 2009

African Days . . . Stories from the Bush

Just Another Day in Paradise

So as you know by now, Botswana isn’t exactly the “Africa” that most people picture and far from the one I was expecting. But then there are some moments when “Africa” just seems to pour down on me and these days always leave me smiling and most content.

Since school is out of session, I am able to 1. Breathe and 2. Break the routine and get involved in “odd jobs” around the clinic and village. One of my favorite “odd jobs” is the monthly Mobile Health Stops at the cattle posts that fall under the responsibility of Semolale Clinic.

We pack up the truck with huge sacks of rations: tsabana (baby porridge), maize meal and sugar beans; and 2 large trunks filled with everything needed for a makeshift clinic: immunizations, medications, consultation equipment, test kits, weighing scale, condoms . . . and then I pile in on top of the food rations and settle in for the ride (they first tried telling me that I couldn’t go because the nurse and family health educator along with the driver, filled the cab leaving no room for me- luckily enough, I find huge sacks of corn meal to make a nice seat and be rather comfy!)

And now the trek begins . . . and you learn the reason why we only visit these places once a month. Basically you go to the outskirts of the village and turn off the main road onto a dusty, dirt path and then hold on and say some prayers. The path is so narrow that the thorn bush branches are smacking the side of the car the whole way which means windows must be closed- a real treat in the African heat AND in the back, there is a reserve fuel tank that kinda leaks . . .this is where I ride. The road is rocky and bumpy, the path seems to end but then there is some secret passage that only someone who is well versed on the path would know even existed- this is 4x4 off roading at its best. Then there are the river beds that we have to cross and every time I think to myself that this is nothing short of a miracle that this old truck can climb these banks without so much as a slip or hesitation. Other random obstacles like the approaching donkey cart, herds of cattle and goats, the fallen branches . . . and then, we arrive!

I spend the first 15 or 20 minutes overcoming my nausea, dizziness and motion sickness while being stared at intensely by the country folk—see a white person is a novelty anywhere here, but in these far reaches of the bush it’s like the ambulance is a UFO landing and I’m the alien species. Just as I begin wondering “Why do I put myself through this horrid journey? Didn’t I learn the last time?” . . . that’s when I remember the simplistic joy that comes only on these rare adventures to mobile health stops.

The mosadi mogolo (old ladies) start unloading the truck. They really know how to run the show, efficiently and with an iron fist- which I’m always grateful for. The mothers line up with their babies strapped to the back and the older ones in toe as we tie the scale to the tree branch and prepare to weigh the babies (all children under 5). Mothers make these slings for the kids like a giant over-all diaper that the kid is put inside and hung from the hook on the scale. These ladies are extremely creative and inventive using anything from lace trimmed material to old flour sacks to fasten these slings. The health cards are decorated in a similar manner with magazine cut outs of celebrities, foods, models—its like an art collage contest each one trying to make their child’s card better than the others. One by one we assess who’s due for immunizations, who is under weight or a growth failure, who’s been sick recently, etc.

Then the mothers line up with their sacks to get the food rations that the government provides to all children under 5 years- those who are underweight or malnourished get additional supplement. This can, and has, turned into mass chaos, but once again those mosadi mogolo lay down the law and people get their act together and act civilized so that we don’t get mauled. The ironic thing is that Botswana as a whole is rather prosperous and the government has used that money to develop NUMEROUS social welfare programs, so those who are actually hunger-stricken is very few yet they scrounge and hoard like they are planning for the next Great Flood.

Everyone load their acquired sacks into the donkey carts to return to their cattle posts. The nurse consults patients and gives immunizations. This is when I get to wait, relax, reflect and take it all in . . . ahh . . . the country . . . ahh . . . Africa

Usually this is the climax of the day and the return trip is only filled with happy exhaustion, but today wasn’t like all the other days . . .

Today as I’m hunched in the back cab, bumping along, dazing out to the tunes of my ipod and taking in the scenery, the car come to an abrupt halt. I look through the window into the truck cab and see my driver with a shot gun pointed across our family health educator and nurse in the front seat and out the opposite window. Just as I was processing the sight that my eyes were beholding (and wondering if I wasn’t a bit too dehydrated and seeing things) BANG! The shot goes off! What the %^&* are we doing with a loaded firearm in an ambulance with a leaky petrol tank on a bouncing, jarring bush path?!?!?!?!

The driver hands off the gun to the health educator and hops out of the car and goes running off into the bush. He comes back to the car with a wide grin and prize in hand: a guinea fowl. The bird gets stashed behind the seat and we are off again, my bottom jaw still in my lap and thinking to myself, just another day in paradise!

To put the finishing touch on my perfectly, purely African day, we stopped by my family’s cattle post on the way home and picked about 20 watermelons from the fields and loaded them into the truck, less the one we cracked open right then and there and devoured--- scooping the delicious, sweet flesh of the melon into our mouths with our hands and juice running down our chins, all under the glistening, Botswana sun. Pure bliss.

Ohhh-Ohhh, We’re Half Way There . . . Ohhh-Ohhh, We’ll Make It I Swear

In the past two months, I have experienced a range of extremes and it isn’t too surprising since Peace Corps predicts several rises and falls in mood/ attitude during the two year service, and the deepest low on the graph is right about the one-years mark. However, I’ve been riding a pretty uphill rollercoaster for the first year so now it’s just mixing it up with some occasional flips, unexpected turns and sudden drops.

Since I am indeed at the 1st year anniversary of my Peace Corps service, I’ve taken to opportunity to step back and reflect on the whole experience. Overall, I must say that it’s been a truly great and rewarding experience. I have met a lot of new people—colleagues, friends, family; learned a lot about a new place and culture, as well as, myself; been challenged to take on new endeavors and gain new skills, or recognize and develop ones that I didn’t realize I had.

So right now, I see myself faced with the mixed feelings of “It can’t be over yet, there’s too much I still want to do!” and “Are we there yet? I’ve done all that I can”. There’s still a lot of possibility and projects that I want to see take off, but at the same time I’m reminded on how slow and difficult things can be here and whether it’s realistic to invest the time and energy and hope into such endeavors. It’s even more disheartening when I notice that despite all of the work (and money) people are pouring in to this effort, the statistics continue climbing and the situation worsens. Meanwhile, I am enjoying the day-to-day work and personal interactions and if I don’t think about “my [Peace Corps] purpose” here, I realize that I am doing exactly the kind of work that I have always loved, so I’m just going to enjoy my current place and environment while I can because like all good things, it won’t last forever.

News Clips

So in an attempt to brief you on my different projects and how I’ve been spending my days here lately (aside from guinea fowl hunting/ rural health service expeditions), I’ll touch on a few updates here:

The Run for Life Event (the source of most of the abovementioned stress and busyness) was worth every bit of it because not only was it greatly successful, it was a lot of fun and a true community-building experience! The Run for Life was the 10K race that I organized along with the help and collaboration of many different groups and departments within Semolale and the surrounding villages. They really stepped up, allowing me to participate in the race, which I thoroughly enjoyed! I also got the opportunity to host some of my fellow PCVs in Semolale which was a real treat- nothing beats playing washers in the yard with a glass of sangria in hand and spending the evening with friends around the campfire!

Newsletter Summary of the Event:
On Saturday, March 14, 2009 the Run for Life 10Km Race and Health Event was held in Semolale. The event was hosted by the health team within the catchment area of Mabolwe, Gobojango and Semolale along with the help of many other members of the community including Semolale Police, Kgotla, Youth Group, Men’s Sector and Gobojango C.J.S.S. GLOW Club. The objectives of the event was to encourage healthy lifestyles through exercise, good nutrition and safe behaviors including responsible drug and alcohol use and safe sex practices to prevent the spread of HIV infection and maintain a strong, healthy body.
The day began early with race participants gathering from Mabolwe, Gobojango and Semolale villages at 5 AM. Over 50 participants representing all age groups showed up full of energy and enthusiasm! Excitement was abounding as the group was transported to the starting line and set off on their endeavor with their eyes on the distant finish line: Semolale Kgotla. All racers put forth great effort and were rewarded with a great sense of pride in their accomplishment along with refreshments, prizes for top finshers and a fun-filled day including inspiring words from Zebras National Team player, Kagiso Tshelametsi, promotion of nutrition and healthy lifestyle by Health Team members, an engaging and educational drama by Gobojango C.J.S.S. GLOW students, traditional entertainment by Tebelopele YAA (Youth Against AIDS) performance group and interactive HIV/AIDS education activities facilitated by Semolale Youth Group and Men’s Sector members. As March is the celebration of Month of Youth Against AIDS, young people were especially encouraged actively pursue healthy lifestyles by adapting positive behavior habits early in life and serve as positive role models for their peers. All were given the opportunity by Tebelopele for HIV testing and were encouraged to know their status. The day was a great success and thoroughly enjoyed by all who were involved in the day’s activities. It would not have been possible without the hard work, long hours and continuous efforts of those from the planning committee and affiliated organizations!

*Also check out a fellow PCV’s account of the day’s events:

The 1st school term came to a close in early April. Working and teaching in the schools was one of my greatest satisfactions this year. I was deeply involved down to the last days putting in extra hours in the evenings helping the kids to review all of the material for their exams. By the last week I was even able to address some of my own material in the classroom and worked with a friend from the clinic to teach about nutrition and help the kids create a fun, artsy food pyramid to display in their classrooms.

At the Junior Secondary School, we were finally able to send off our Pen Pal letters to Vanuatu and I have heard from several of you that book donation and collection has begun—so next term should prove very exciting and fruitful. Here in Semolale, we ended the term with 2 very positive notes: Our Library book donation application was accepted and several hundred books were scheduled to ship out sometime last week to begin their voyage to Semolale AND our first batch of Pen Pal responses arrived from America! The kids will be thrilled—I can’t wait to see their faces!

The GLOW group created an original drama which they performed at the Run for Life post-race event to engage the community in issues related to leading healthy lives and adopting positive behavior changes. We have begun planning for a regional Life Skills camp that we hope to hold in August, during the next school break. We are modeling the camp off of the national GLOW camp we attended in December, hoping to share that experience with more students and encourage the development of new GLOW chapters in other schools within our region. It’s a BIG task, but hopefully we’ll be able to pull it off because it was be a really great opportunity and experience for these kids . . . fingers crossed—I’ll keep you posted.

The Youth Group was albeit quite for the first months of the year since the plowing and planting season was upon us, requiring most people in the country to head to the lands and cattle posts unless they are tied to the village or town due to school or government jobs. However, as of last week, they have been reviving themselves and preparing to perform at a national competition in Jwaneng (on the other side of the country) in the beginning of May. Senior Secondary Students and Youth groups across the country will be gathering to compete in drama and dance- including, hip hop, break dance, ballroom dance, and 2 popular Botswana styles of dancing. Some new leaders have emerged among the youth so my optimism and enthusiasm have been rejuvenated, and I am excited to see what the rest of the year brings.

Our village is in the process of creating a VMSAC (Village Multi-Sector AIDS Committee) to compile representatives from all government departments and areas within the community to address and combat the issues involved in the continuous problem at hand: the uncontrollable spread of HIV. We are electing our committee on May 6th- so hopefully this will provide me with a new outlet and partnership to carry out different aspects of my mission here. It’s kinda cool that there will be a whole committee whose role and goal is essentially the same as mine- it will definitely add a bit of concreteness to my tasks, and hopefully sustainability also!

As a sector of the VMSAC, the newly formed Men’s Sector is trying to get grounded and form a strong foundation in order to plan and implement activities within Semolale aimed especially at men. I think I will try to get them on board for my idea of a Father- Child Football Tournament. It seems like it would be a good match of interests and something to get them motivated and involved. I really like this group as it adds an additional dimension and develops a broader perspective for me of the issues surrounding the behaviors and attitudes behind the HIV epidemic.

I am trying to coordinate a group of 6 ladies in Semolale for an income-generating opportunity. There is an NGO called Mothers for All ( whose objective is to train women who are HIV positive or caring for AIDS orphans with the skills to create jewelry with recycled magazine papers. The NGO then purchases finished products from the mothers and markets them to lodges, international craft shops & fairs and other viable outlets. The intention is to provide financial independence and practical skills in business and economics. As an addition the women are provided with recreation in a fun and supportive environment, while producing beautiful, quality crafts that are environmentally friendly. Win! Win!

It’s a happening time of year in the Peace Corps Botswana world. Our predecessors, Bots 6, who arrived in 2007 to begin their service, are now winding down and preparing for their departures and to what awaits them in life after Peace Corps. It will be sad to see our friends, mentors and colleagues leave and it’s a stark reminder of just how quickly this whole experience will escape us. Along with their departure will be the welcoming of the next group, Bots 8. They arrived in country last week and are busy studying Setswana, learning the tricks of the trade and coming to grips with what exactly they have signed up for! I can’t help but look back to my first impressions of those early days of my Peace Corps service and think “that wasn’t so long ago!” But indeed it was, and we are now fully adapted, integrated, confident upperclassmen about to pass along our knowledge, encouragement and words of wisdom to the new group. I will even be having my own hand in this whole process as I have volunteered to host 2 volunteers in Semolale to “shadow” me and learn the ins-and-outs of making this a successful and enjoyable experience. I will even be going back to my old training village, Molepolole, at the end of May to lead a session of Pre-Service Training and meet our new friends.

All of these introductions/ farewells have of course translated into an extremely packed social calendar. Most of May I will spend traveling to and from Gabarone/ Moleps meeting new volunteers, catching up with fellows Bots 7 PCVs and bidding good-bye to friends who will be leaving. Mixed in with this is the excited anticipation and preparation for my visit from America! My Mom, Mike, Valerie and Michelle will be arriving June 10th! We have BIG plans, including an overland safari and game-viewing in the Tuli Block, a traditional goat-and- sheep- slaughtering festival with my family and friends in Semolale and hopefully a ride in a Makoro, a traditional dug-out canoe, through the beautiful Okavango Delta, and maybe some other side trips and surprise excursions! I couldn’t be more excited!

Before launching into all of this craziness, I restored my calm and enjoyed one of the most pleasant Easters while camping with friends at a Dam in a nearby village, Mmadinare. The views were amazing and sunsets breathtaking, the meals were gourmet-grill styled and the drinks hit the spot, the environment was invigorating yet tranquil and the company was unmatched! I enjoyed hiking, climbing and exploring rock formations filled with monkeys, trail runs and even canoeing and swimming! Needless to say, it wasn’t easy to say goodbye to this pseudo-paradise and return once again to the dry and dusty Semolale.

Take Care! Until next time . . . .
Peace and Love

Friday, February 20, 2009

Living in the Boondocks . . .

After spending January and most of February nearly exclusively in Semolale, I have made it to the big city at last! Enjoying all of those lovely things like hot water, bug-free sleeping arrangments, regular cell phone service and wireless internet . . .

Post- Holidays always provides a bit of a slump, but as everything here . . . it’s longer in Botswana. So I spent a good portion of January on a roller coasters constantly flip-flopping from good to bad, fast to slow, uplifting to frustrating, busy to bored . . . and I don’t know if it has evened out til now, almost the end of February! Basically everyone stays on “holiday” if not physically, definitely mentally for most of the beginning of the year. This of course means that even though I came back from my short holiday vacation completely refreshed and ready to go, I wasn’t exactly met with equal enthusiasm from others who I work with on various projects.

At first things were slow and I was enjoying the relaxation of being at home, reading, jogging, doing yoga and catching up with people around the village. And then things started getting hectic . . . I’m now working in the primary school almost every day. After a lot of scheduling and trying out different ideas, we have finally established a schedule of sorts that allows me to meet with each class once a week for about an hour. We started our pen pal program and sent our first group of letter off to the states at the end of January and are now anxiously awaiting their responses! I’ve continued the past few weeks with lessons on reading, English grammar, composition writing, parts of a story . . . and whatever else. Ultimately, I want to address different health topics but sometimes you gotte give a little before you get the freedom to do what you really want. I’ve really enjoyed working with the teachers and getting to know them better so we can form a nice cohesive team approach to education. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback so far and many teachers are coming to me seeking advice on how to approach different topics and how to incorporate new teaching techniques into their lessons. (Who would have guessed that all those hours spent “playing school” in the basement with my sisters would actually pay off! Haha ) Hopefully since they seem so receptive and are observing the benefits of a more interactive teaching approach, they will adapt them into their own lessons so that the students are ultimately “learning” rather than memorizing and regurgitating information that they don’t understand.
I have even gone out to join the students at the grounds after classes to train with them in “athletics”, which is basically track and field. They always find this quite hysterical but it definitely makes them more motivated and excited about going to exercise in the blistering heat. This experience in the school is one of those very tangible successes that I have as a volunteer. I receive instant gratification and results, which is extremely rare. So it’s also a good confidence booster in terms of morale as a volunteer to keep me motivated and plugging along at the sometimes impossible task put before me. And nothing can quite turn your day around like a bunch of smiling, laughing, energetic kids! No matter how exhausted or frustrated I feel, within minutes at the school I absorb their positive energy and develop a whole new look on the day!

And the other group that I am enjoying more and more is the Secondary School students from the GLOW club. I really like working with the kids in this age group. I feel like they are most often the least understood and ones that adults most often do not know how to relate to—are they to be treated like kids or adults?? I think they feel open with me because I can relate to them without a large age gap and can be seen as a peer role model, rather than a feared, elder. It’s kinda like being a big sister for a ton of brothers and sisters, but that’s a role that I’m used to filling and really enjoy. Since the beginning of this new school year, we have also introduced the GLOW club to male students. I really like this development in the group because it definitely adds a different and positive dynamic. I have observed that boys and girls have VERY different opinions on many issues and one of the best learning tools in terms of developing awareness and introducing new perspectives is by creating an environment where they can openly discuss issues with each other. With this said, there is still something to value in the comfort they feel when only in the presence of their same sex. So we have tried to devise a schedule where they meet once during the week as separate groups and then on Saturday mornings we meet together as co-ed GLOW. So far this approach has been very successful and each week more and more students are showing up to get involved. Part of this is due to our new focus on involving the school body as a whole in more GLOW activities—our goal is one a month. Last week we organized a mock protest among the students. The topic of debate was whether students or teachers were to blame for the underperformance and poor discipline of students. I could go into a long winded explanation giving you the arguments of each side, but I’ll say that for another time . . . either way it was a fun day filled with poster making, campus marching, chanting, rallying and debating.
At the Secondary school, I’ve also started to meet with the teachers in the English department to begin implementing a pen pal. Cultural exchange program between our students and those on Tanna island (a school Tim is working with), so hopefully they will begin corresponding in the next few weeks.
I’m also hoping to introduce more youth-friendly health services to students. I haven’t quite figured out how to do this yet, but I’m thinking something along the lines of monthly health topics addressed to all of the students followed by myself and the health auxiliary (another young co-worker) remaining on campus for a day for private “consultations” (a term I use very loosely) and counseling for those students who feel too embarrassed to approach the clinic staff with their health concerns (physical, mental and emotional)—especially those relating to abuse and sexual health: contraceptives, STIs, puberty, etc.

We are now busily preparing for our Run for Life! A 10K race aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles and risk reduction (because everything has to be related to HIV in some way!). The race date is March 14th, which is quickly approaching! I hope to focus attention on the young population since March is also the Month of Youth Against AIDS (MYAA). There will most likely be a large number of youth gathered so I have invited the Dept. of Youth and Culture to come address them on this year’s theme: “One Me, One Partner, One Life”. I would like to see the youth group getting involved in entertainment and educational drama presentations, as well as, the GLOW clubs to increase their community presence. I have recently begun to meet and hopefully revitalize the Men’s Sector which is rather self-explanatory, but a group aimed at mobilizing men in the prevention of HIV. I’m hoping to train them in some of the interactive educational activities we were doing at the World AIDS Day event and have those activities going on for runners to participate in after the race. Some fellow PCVs are planning to come in to assist with the event so it will be a treat for me to finally host some of my friends and colleagues here in Semolale—since nobody ever makes it out this far without a specific reason!

As usual, I have balanced work with play and taken the opportunity to have some fun and interesting social and cultural experiences:

It’s been party time here in Semolale . . . many of our clinic staff are leaving on transfers so we have had farewell parties which always provided a lot of fun seeing everyone out of their work environment. My sister-in-law hosted a “kitchen party” the other weekend, which is like a bridal shower several years after a couple has been married. Guests (all ladies)come with different gifts for the kitchen and then ask her questions about her husband and her marriage and once she is finished being drilled she is presented with the gifts (if she answers satisfactorily). But she’s blindfolded and has to identify each item and who she thinks it is from. Once this portion is completed, the women all go outside where the “groom” and his friends have been preparing the braii(barbeque) on the fire and we all enjoy the food, music and dancing!

I finally had the opportunity the other weekend to go to my family’s cattle post. Cattle are probably the single most important thing in Botswana culture. It’s how a family’s wealth is measured, how it is determined if a man is suitable for a woman to marry (he must produce btwn 8 and 12 cattle to his potential wife’s family as lebola- so Tim you better start trading in your pigs for cows!) and no matter how long a person has spent in the city, their pride is always in the family cattle post. Since my brother is home in Semolale on his annual leave (1 month vacation- mandatory for all govn’t employees—nice huh?!) We packed up the truck early one Sunday morning with my brother, sister-in-law, 2 youngest daughters and my father and headed down the dirt road toward the border . . . in just a few miles the terrain changed dramatically and became lush, green, cooler and with significantly larger trees! It was such a welcomed breath of fresh air! Just the simple variety that it offered definitely helped to spice up the dull, dry, dusty days passing by in Semolale. So I was shown all of the brothers’ herds of cows, goats, sheep, and the crop fields and chicken . . . I had to pick out a goat that is now “my goat” to be “nice and fat before the family comes so we can celebrate with a feast!” I don’t know how they keep track of them but now I technically have a goat, haha Val I got one before you! They wanted me to have a cow too but I thought the acquisition of one livestock was enough for the day. . . maybe next time. My favorite part by far was the 400+ orange tree grove! So hopefully I’ll get back there more often because I really enjoyed it; I’ve been promised that I can go anytime to “check on my goat”. Ha!

Well, time has escaped me once again . . . Time to wrap this up! As you are all hoping spring is shortly around the corner, I’m looking forward to the impending cooler weather. Did the groundhog see the shadow? I wonder if Groundhog Day works in this hemisphere? Can that tricky little groundhog also predict how fast winter is coming?! Stay healthy, happy and safe . . . until next time . . .

~Love, Jaclyn

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Happy 2009! Or as they say here, “Compliments for the New Year!” I hope that each and every one of you had a fun and festive holiday season enjoying friends, family, good food and spirits and maybe even some SNOW! I’m sorry that it has been a while since I was last in touch but I’m sure life was crazily swirling past all of you; so now that you have caught a breather, I’ll catch you up with the last month or 2 of life here in Botswana. First of all, let me say that it is now HOT, I mean really hot! I’ve been managing the heat pretty well, but then it just hits you one day when you are dressed in shorts and a tank top, preparing Thanksgiving dinner and dripping with sweat, that “Oh yea, I am in Africa!” It’s a far cry from my normal Thanksgiving skiing weekend . . . And even crazier is having this weather for Christmas! I feel pretty certain when I say that this is the first Birthday I have ever spent in my bathing suit, sipping margaritas and relaxing in an (outdoor) pool! But then again, it is the first birthday spent living in a sub-Saharan African country- so I’m guessing it shouldn’t be so surprising.

Way back when . . . I left off somewhere around the beginning of November . . . .

I spent a good portion of November meeting, discussing and planning with several teachers at the primary school and secondary school in hopes of expanding the schools’ programs and my service within the community. As I mentioned previously, we are hoping to incorporate health topics, life skills, English language, and culture. I am most excited about the culture part and am eager to get the pen pal program up and going. The teachers are excited about it also because they see how valuable it can be in developing English composition and comprehension as well as creating more globally and culturally aware students. Peace Corps actually has a program encouraging Volunteers in all countries to link with classes and teachers back in the States to facilitate this cultural exchange for young people in both America and other countries. Through this program, I am linked with Sara and her school and in addition, Ms. Iris and the students at Deer Park Elementary and even kids on Tanna Island from Tim’s Secondary School, hope to begin a correspondence with students here. We have also been working to complete the paperwork for the African Library Program. We already have our “Reading Room” but we are hoping to receive donations through this program to expand our resources and improve upon the “reading culture” that teachers are trying to create within the school. This is a rather long and drawn out process so hopefully I will be around to see these materials arrive in Semolale sometime before my service is through. . . hopefully!

When I wasn’t at the primary school, I was spending my time in Gobojango meeting with the GLOW girls a few more times before the end of the school term and making preparations with my local leader for the GLOW camp. Finally, the day came for our girls to head to the big city! The Gobojango girls were Gabs bound and as excited as could be! I have to admit, I was even excited---- what’s not to love about 10 days of non-stop, energy-filled, camp fun!?! This was truly a great experience bringing delegations of students from all of the country (boys and girls aged 12-18) to participate in discussions, lessons and activities to increase their level of education, self and social awareness, confidence in themselves and empowering them with the ability to make smart life decisions and influence their peers to do the same--- essentially to help develop these young people into LEADERS! The range of topics was broad and comprehensive, including: relationships (friendships & romantic), body changes, HIV & STIs, family, love, sex & dating, goals, values, leadership, human rights, gender based violence, discrimination, resource management, communication and others. They students participated in daily interactive sessions led by both Peace Corps and local delegation leaders (mostly teachers) and supplemented the lessons with fun activities such as talent shows, mock protests, team builders, scavenger hunts, camp fire . . . .
Overall, this was a great week! I realized just how much I missed camp life and how beneficial I believe these experiences are for young people, in any country or culture. It is especially valuable to children from these rural areas with little resources and opportunities to experience the world outside their home and all the life lessons and character development that occurs so naturally in these situations. Well, it is hard to recreate this experience with words, and in the name of brevity, I will conclude by saying that I hope and I feel confident that Camp GLOW made a memorable and lasting impact on many adolescents in Botswana. Hopefully, GLOW will spread and grow throughout communities as delegations return home and impart their newly gained knowledge and skills to others. I know our girls are psyched to start the new school term and have a lot of great ideas, enthusiasm and motivation! So I will keep you posted, as always!

The other big “work project” consuming much of my time during this month was World AIDS Day. I had told you that I was attending weekly meetings as part of the planning committee, but now it was crunch time! This means I spent days in Phikwe, furiously coloring, making posters, creating pamphlets, blowing up balloons, making displays and art projects--- and all of those things I always imagined myself doing post nursing school, haha! It was like an art show/ science fair rolled into one—I know my parents would be so proud! But in all seriousness, the day turned out to be a huge success. A group of “local” PCVs, along with some assistance from the Semolale youth, manned an educational tent on December 1st at the National Commemoration. Our activities included a “True or False Dart Game”, “Do it in the Dark”- a kind of blindfolded, condom demonstration and a serious of multiple choice questions rewarding participants with ever-popular “disweetsi” (candy!). Our tent was a madhouse from beginning to end! I guess that’s a good thing, confirming that we were able to attract a varied audience and impart valuable information to them in a fun and interesting way. What an exhaustingly, wonderful day!

Aside from my “official” work-related projects, I had many, what I like to call, “cultural” projects. Seems how 2 out of 3 of Peace Corps’s official goals involve me absorbing this culture that I am immersed in while sharing a bit of my culture with those I live and work with, I find this to be a perfectly reasonable—possibly even, essential-- use of my time. I can say that when I leave this place in a year and a half, it will be this experiences that I will remember and carry with me the longest. One of my most memorable days so far was “garden day”. It all happened rather unexpectedly. So I’ve had this great idea since arriving of creating this wonderful, community garden to produce nutritious veggies, community unity and recreation, etc. etc. however, once I arrived in Semolale, I found that a community garden already existed at our clinic. So then I thought “Well, I’ll just get involved in that garden.” But that didn’t exactly plan out either, so I basicallyfiled that whole idea somewhere in the far reaches of my mind and didn’t think much of it . . . until, one day I came out of my house after my lunch break and my mom calls me over, “Gorata! Gorata! Look, I am gyming!” (This is my 60 something year old host mother with pitch fork in hand- unearthing our entire yard. Oh, and “gyming” is what she calls when I go jogging, but I think it basically means any kind of physical activity) So low and behold, she is turning our yard into a vegetable garden! Excitedly, I run inside my house and grab my bag of seeds, that my American grandmother has sent me, and show them to my mom. Well, she is so excited that she runs next door to get the grandkids, starts sending the little ones to fetch people from all over the village to come help us. Even my father, who had been very sick up until now, gets up and starts digging small seed beds with the grandkids. Next thing you know, our yard is the Grand Central Station of Semolale! People of all ages were coming by to get their hands in the action or just to spectate and admire our hard work. So in the end, I wound up with my “community garden” after all!

With the odd weather and the busyness of my schedule, I barely noticed the holiday season sneak up on me. Since the span between Thanksgiving and New Years is probably my favorite time of year, I couldn’t let a little climate alteration and cultural differences stop my celebration! Instead, I decided to share in some of my favorite traditions with my new friends and family. One such way I did this was by hosting my own Thanksgiving dinner for my family and co-workers at the clinic. Of course some adaptations had to be made, but the general idea was still conveyed. We prepared traditional Setswana chickens (including the acquisition, slaughtering and butchering of—which is no fun or easy task!) instead of turkey along with butternuts (prepared just like mom’s sweet potatoes), mashed potatoes and don’t forget the pumpkin pie! Everyone joined around a big family table clad in construction paper Pilgrim hats and Indian headdresses as we each took a turn saying what we were thankful for this year. My close friend from the clinic helped me with every step of the preparations and helped to explain and translate the history of the First American Thanksgiving. Everyone felt very honored to be included in my tradition and I was truly grateful for their full and enthusiastic participation in my American holiday in Botswana.

The following weekend (Thanksgiving weekend) our Peace Corps Thanksgiving Dinner was held in Mahalapye. People poured in from all over the country, which was great to see some people for the first time since training. A handful of us came in a few days ahead to assist with the endless hours of cooking, baking and preparing for the big feast. Like I said earlier--- the day was HOT! The “Cooking Committee” slaved away inside the inferno of a kitchen but in the end, produced a glorious Thanksgiving spread- complete with cranberry sauce and Grandmom’s chocolate pie! Definitely a memorable Thanksgiving!

Between Thanksgiving and the next quickly approaching holiday, World AIDS Day and GLOW Camp were squeezed in. By the time I returned from GLOW Camp, Christmas had arrived in Semolale-- in the form of boxes and cards and goodies from all of you lovely people back home! A box even made its way from Vanuatu (and intact!) Thanks to everyone for all of the gifts, cards and warm wishes for Christmas and my birthday! You definitely made my holidays brighter and helped to get me in the Christmas spirit! Which I must say, spurred a frenzied holiday decorating and baking spree. My house dripped with red and green and silver and gold, in addition to any kind of snowy image I could find, and of course, lots of homemade snowflakes! My nieces and I decorated a tree in our yard while singing Christmas carols and followed up with a cookie baking marathon! Then to top it off, I prepared small holiday goodie bags and Christmas cards and got to play Santa Claus, delivering them all over Semolale, Gobojango, Mabolwe and Bobonong. This is not traditionally done in Botswana culture so just seeing everyone’s smiles and receiving their hugs and deep appreciation at such a small gesture, made my Christmas very merry!

For the holidays themselves, I was gathered with several other friends from Peace Corps. My heart was really torn because I wanted to spend Christmas both in Semolale, experiencing the holidays from a Botswana cultural standpoint along with friends and family there, as well as, with my fellow PCVs who share the same American traditions that make the season really seem like Christmas. But all of you who know me, know I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to explore a new part of the country . . . so off to Kasane it was!

On the way up we stopped in Nata, which is one of the crossroads of the country but only having a population of approx. 5,000. However, it does give visitors access to the Makalakgadi Salt Pans, which fill with water each year as the rains begin and attracts thousands of species of bird and other animals. So we camped at the Bird Sanctuary and made it our meeting point since we were gathering from all different areas within the country. We took a 2 hour hike out to the pans that actually resembled a beach as we approached them with small sand dunes and “sea” grasses along the way. We were also treated to spectacular sunsets over the vast skyline each evening. The next day we hitched rides up to Kasane, which is the town directly outside Chobe National Park and creating a headquarters for most safari companies and lodges catering to the many tourists who visit the area since Chobe boasts one of the largest populations of elephants in the world and other Big 5 Game. This is where Mother Nature decided to let the skies rain down on us as soon as we set up camp. That first night resembled a traditional Bandell camping trip with huddled, wet bodies trying desperately to avoid the relentless lakes, rivers and pools accumulating inside their tents. The rain did offer a nice change and relief from the heat but slightly hampered our plans for sunbathing, swimming, hiking, river exploring, etc. Hence the birth of the “Kasane Krawl”. Basically we figured that we as were in a town hosting several nice resorts and since we are all fans of both eating and drinking, we would so some “research” on the different resorts while ordering an appetizer and cocktail at each stop along the circuit. Christmas day was unlike any other. It started out just the same, waking up at 5 AM, but this year instead of gathering around the Christmas tree, we were off on our 3 hour game drive! This isn’t exactly the best season for seeing wildlife since the rain creates more foliage thus inhibiting the views, and the animals don’t have to travel to the watering holes as often. But we were able to see kudu, impala, elephants, lions prints, warthogs, hyenas, jackals, baboons, tons of cool birds and just like Michelle’s favorite song, I got a hippopotamus for Christmas (actually a whole bunch of them!) That evening we embarked on our sunset river (booze) cruise where we were able to again spot many different animals and a gorgeous sunset. To top off the evening, a few of us prepared a little “Christmas pageant” to entertain our friends, and yes video footage will be available at a later date so you all can have a good laugh as well!

For my birthday, I was able to submerge my body in the Zambezi river during a white water rafting trip—and submerge is an understatement seems how the first rapid was almost catastrophic including a dislocated shoulder and 3 near drownings! But we survived and continued on for 24 subsequent rapids along the most beautiful scenery from inside the gorge with cascades and waterfalls all around. The environment was almost tropical like a rainforest, such a dramatic change from the brown dust of Semolale and most of Botswana. Victoria Falls was breath-taking! We had just enough rain to fill the falls without overflowing them which would create too much mist making the falls not visible. We even got to splash around a bit at the top of the falls in the river feeding down to the gorge. At some point you’ll get the full details but hopefully this offers a small snap shot of my holiday season across the Atlantic. I definitely missed being home and sharing the holidays with all of you, but it was without a doubt a memorable way to celebrate!

So now, I am returning home, happy and excited to jump in to 2009! It took a few days to switch gears, but by the end of this week everything was in full swing. I’m always afraid that after a brief absence of mine from the village, that everything we were working towards previously, will have fallen apart or be at a standstill. (It’s like a min-test to see how sustainable things will be once I leave for good so that maybe by 2010, something will have really taken root and become established.) However, about mid-week I was contacted by partners I’m working with in the schools and youth group, to give me an update on the progress they’ve made while I was gone! Amazing! I almost couldn’t believe it, but I must say that it definitely helped boost my motivation and give me a more optimistic attitude towards January and 2009!

Oh! And we have 2 new puppies at our house, which are absolutely adorable! One is black and tan, he’s named Snickers and the other is a smattering of browns (and all kinds of trouble!) and her name is Little Rascal. Not only are their coats totally different, but so are their demeanors. It’s hard to image that they are from the same litter! Hopefully, I’ll have pictures to share soon. So it’s the best of both worlds, I get cute little puppies to play with and keep me company, but they aren’t really my responsibility so I don’t have to be tied down or feel guilty if I leave my village for a few days.

Wishing you all health and happiness for the New Year! May 2009 bring you great peace and joy! I love you all and miss you greatly!

Morning Commute

It occurred to me the other day as I was dodging mud pits and worrying about being late for morning report at the clinic that some things never change no matter where you are in the world. “Morning commute” can always have an element of stress, and usually always winds up with me being late! So obviously it’s not the same problems but in its own way it can be like African rush hour. You know how you have to time leaving your house just right or you will just hit too much traffic along the way? There are just too many other vehicles out on the road! Well instead of this traffic involving staring at the bumper of the car in front of you, here it just means that I run in to everybody and their brother on my short little walk to the clinic, each requiring at least a quick “Dumela! O tsogile? Ke teng! Go Siame” but it’s not always that easy . . . sometime you’ll find yourself held by the hand or wrist and walking in a completely different direction than you intended, chatting about who knows what in a language you don’t really understand. Depending on how many of these encounters you have, it can easily mean a 30 minute delay, despite any attempt of yours to cut the conversation short and move along.

Now when the weather is inclement, well that adds a whole new dimension to the commute! Usually people just forget how to drive in the rain or there are so many accidents on the road you have to take detour after detour, inevitably arriving in apology for your unintentional tardiness. Seems how there’s only about 10 cars in Semolale, accidents aren’t really the issue here. But road conditions . . . now that’s a different story. If we are lucky enough to have gotten a nice, earth soaking rain the night before, it has turned pretty much every footpath and “road” into a mud pit that could potentially swallow you whole if you don’t navigate it just right. So now, I’m like the car that forgot how to drive in the rain because I am inching along, choosing each step carefully trying to avoid the obvious sink holes and looking desperately for the driest piece of earth to step on. This probably can be observed by onlookers as some kind of psychotic jumping bean dance of mine, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do! Once I make it through the first valley of mud and up to the main road, I must now resort to the long, tar-road detour, as opposed to my usual short cut that now resembles Lake Semolale more than anything remotely considered a “path”. (And the truly amazing thing is that I seem to be the only one experiencing such difficulties. These other ladies are so accustomed to this terrain and ever-changing conditions that they can manage to arrive without a speck of mud anywhere--- and in heels! I don’t think any amount of time here would improve my situation that dramatically, but I gotta hand it to them!)

Friday, November 14, 2008


Hello All!
Wow! What a month! A lot has been going on in and around Semolale. I’ve also had several opportunities arise that allowed me to get out to other parts of the country and work with other volunteers which is great in terms of strengthening networks, idea sharing and resource acquisition. So where to begin . . . ?

As you might recall from my last entry, I was working with the primary schools to finalize preparations for “Students Teach Parents: HIV/AIDS Day”. Despite the funding issues, we were able to pull off 2 of the 3 events to date. Semolale and Mabolwe both hosted their events the 3rd week of October. I was truly and delightfully surprised by the time and hard work that was put into these events. It’s always very refreshing and inspiring to find someone to work with that is motivated and enthusiastic about an idea or activity and really take off with it. The guidance teacher from Mabolwe turned out to be one such person who I am very grateful to have met and formed a partnership with. It was rather last minute that we decided to go ahead with the activity as planned, but you would have never known by the complete preparedness and ultimate success of the day. The kids had a great time and the school ground was full of anxiety and excitement as the parents and village stakeholders began to arrive. The event consisted of presentations (songs, dances, rhymes, dramas) at the main “stage”, as well as, displays and educational presentations in each of the classrooms that the parents rotated through. These included condom demonstrations, myth vs. facts, art work and creative writing, and many other creative activities. The students were able to capture everyone’s attention and all of the parents, even the chief, got involved and had a great time! I upload some pics from this event on the picasa page, so take a look!
For next school year (beginning in January) I am hoping to initiate a regular schedule at the primary school in Semolale incorporating many of the suggestions that I received from the teachers at our initial meeting upon my arrival. I am hoping to spend one or two half days each week at the school allowing teachers so sign up so that each class will have a session led by me each month. I have been asked to work on English composition, grammar, and public speaking which I am hoping to tie into the use of the school’s Reading Room. I also want to introduce health education focusing on a different topic each month. Also a cultural session taking a topic and exposing the students to that aspect of American culture while sharing that aspect of Botswana culture with classes back in the States. I am hoping to complement this with a pen pal program. There’s also been talk of an art exchange and some interest has been expressed in starting an art club so I have talked with the art teacher and he seems willing and excited to head such a club. So only time will tell, but as always, I have big ideas and high hopes! I am scheduled to meet with the faculty before the close of term at the end of November so we can meet the new term head on, so I will keep you all posted.

I have a lot of pots on the fire right now, so moving on to my next pot . . . the Youth Group has had quite a remarkable month! At the end of October they organized and hosted a multi-sectored community meeting to discuss the effect of HIV and AIDS in this community, to identify contributing factors and to propose possible solutions for effective education and behavior change. At first, it seemed like we bit off more than we could chew as most of the youth had never planned anything like this and were at a loss with where to start logistically, organizationally, and content-wise. However despite a few days of me pulling my hair out, we were able to enlist the help of the clinic staff and others in the community to lead them down the right path and wind up with a rather successful day. I was really impressed with the effort put forth by the youth. I think it was very rewarding for them and a boost in their confidence to have all eyes of the community on them. They were all in their best dress and actually showed up EARLY!
Last Thursday was one of the highlights of my service thus far. The Department of Youth and Culture came to Semolale with a truck full of equipment for the Youth Center that had been purchased with funding they received from their grant proposal. The original proposal was done by the previous volunteer but I have definitely had my share of headaches, stress and disappointments in the whole process so I can only imagine how the youth feel after this year-long process! It was better than any Christmas morning I’ve ever seen. All of the materials were presented to the youth and the community at a kgotla ceremony where all department representatives showed up in support of the youth and to offer words of congratulations and encouragement. The youth have been busily assembling everything within the center so that we can be prepared when all of the young people come back to the village at the end of the school term (many schools aside from primary schools are boarding schools in the larger villages). The Center now hosts a pool table, foosball table, ping pong table, TV & DVD player, music system, 2 computers and printer, tables and chairs, board games, soccer balls, volleyball and net, netballs and I’m sure there are a few other things that I’ve neglected but I think you get the point . . . this is a BIG deal! Especially for a small, remote village like Semolale. So kudos to the youth for their hard work and perseverance in this process; they are getting their due reward! We still have a lot of work to do as far an organization and operation of the center but this is certainly a step in the right direction. And now, with the reality that this youth center will soon be functioning there are so many new opportunities that have been created and the potential is truly limitless! (yet a bit overwhelming)

The G.L.O.W. club is excitedly anticipating the camp next month in Gabarone. At the end of October, the local leader and I went to Maun to meet with the other facilitators from the other delegations. It was a great weekend! I really enjoyed having the opportunity to spend a lot of quality time getting to know my local leader on a more personal level and forming a bond that I think will carry forth and strengthen our endeavors with the GLOW club. Just being surrounded by so many motivated and passionate people and exchanging ideas really helped to get the creative juices flowing and created a contagious energy for the weekend and GLOW as a whole. I am very excited for the camp and am optimistic about the impact that this week will have on these young girls. The sessions and activities are going to touch on such a diverse myriad of topics that are pertinent to adolescents and that are rarely spoken of and often considered taboo in this culture. I’ll go in to more details after the completion of the camp. Aside from “business”, we did get to enjoy a bit of Maun including a boat ride on the river at sunset and a walking nature/ wildlife safari where we got to see giraffe, zebra, kudu, warthogs and impala.
This past Saturday (Nov.8th) the GLOW club hosted an HIV/AIDS Carnival at their school for their peers. The girls created seven carnival “booths” for their fellow classmates to visit. The booths consisted of different interactive games and activities whose objective was to reach the adolescents at their level and impart valuable information about topics such as peer pressure, alcoholism, relationships, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and prevention and treatment of HIV/ AIDS. The girls led the other students in puzzles, role playing, a trivia game show “Jeopardy”, an STI Talk Show, creating an HIV Infection Tree, resolving facts vs. myths about HIV and AIDS, and condom relay races. The day was a huge hit with all of the students- which says a lot considering it was taking up some of their precious Saturday free-time. I think the event really energized and boosted the confidence of the GLOW girls to really breath fresh life into the club and take it to the next level.

At the clinic, exciting things have been happening as well. As of last week, our clinic is now an ARV (Antiretroviral) clinic which means our HIV positive patients can get their medications right here as opposed to going into Bobonong (50k). We will also have a doctor visiting once a week to consult and prescribe treatment, which will benefit all people in the community. I’m a bit removed from the immediate impact of this program since I focus the majority of my work outside of the clinic and working in preventative ways, but I can foresee great improvements that will be made possible due to this advancement of our clinic’s resources and ability to provide a higher quality of health care.
I was finally able to go on one of the clinic mobile trips. The clinic ambulance load up with medical supplies and rations and head out to the cattle posts the first 2 weeks of every month to weigh babies, consult patients, give immunizations, provide food rations, etc. After a 1 ½ hour trek across an unpaved donkey trail through the bush in the back of the truck riding on some sacks of samp and beans, we finally arrived. Although I was feeling a bit woozy after inhaling all the fumes from our reserve petrol tank (that’s necessary when you life out in the bush like I do), I really enjoyed the day and gained a different perspective of healthcare, life in other parts of Botswana, the “cattle post” culture and overall was a real eye-opener. It was definitely one of those picturesque “Peace Corps experiences” that all of you probably think I have every day; however, Botswana is fairly well developed so my typical day doesn’t look a lot like the mud hut/ starving baby picture that you might imagine.
The ladies from the clinic have been very faithful in attending our afternoon exercise sessions and it’s been a lot of fun hanging out outside of the workplace. We are even planning a clinic staff Thanksgiving Dinner that will be held at my house next weekend. We are going to serve traditional Setswana chickens instead of turkey, but I am going to do my best to replicate some traditional Thanksgiving dishes- so I’m hoping for a successful “cultural exchange”.

The next big thing on the agenda is World AIDS Day on December 1st. The Bobirwa (which is mine) and Phikwe Sub-districts are hosting the National Commemoration which will even be graced by the presence of His Excellency President Khama. Since I am on the planning committee, I travel into Phikwe every Wednesday for WAD meetings and preparations. On the big day, the other area PCVs and I will be running the testing tent with other fun and interactive educational stations. I have recruited some of my youth group members to come and help us man the tent- and of course do the Setswana translations! Throughout the whole month of November, there have been community outreach programs targeted at the smaller villages on the outskirts of these districts. Last weekend, my neighborhood, Gobojango, was the target community. There was a kgotla event with drama and traditional dance, HIV testing and education, condom demonstrations and a football tournament (from which Semolale took home the Gold medal!) it’s about as much festivity that can be found in these parts so I know everybody really enjoyed the day. I arranged for the youth group to take part in the festivities and even punctuated the day with a campfire at my house that night where I taught them all how to roast marshmallows.

Halloween weekend was spent camping at Khama Rhino Sanctuary, which was a fantastic weekend being out in nature and away from it all and spending quality time with friends. I knew I was missing the environment of home but I didn’t know how much I longed for it until I was able to sleep out under the stars and spend all night cooking and having some drinks around the campfire and I never felt more at peace. The only thing missing was Tim’s guitar around the fire and our feeble attempts to sing along. That was also the first weekend that I saw rain since the first week of my arrival in April— we had an hour long onslaught; it even hailed! Pula! The rain finally made it’s was to Semolale last weekend. Since then, the skies have been opening up at least once a day and I’m beginning to fear that I should have brought my kayak with me because the water’s getting awfully high here and I can barely make it across the road to the clinic without sinking up to my knees in mud. But I do love the afternoon/ evening thunderstorms, in addition to the nice respite from the intense sun and heat. Unfortunately with the rain also comes the plague of every insect known to man- and some unknown! First it was the infestation of ants, then these flying things that shed their wings all over the house, of course the mosquitoes, and a ton of other unidentified varieties and despite the fact that I let the spiders and geckos reside in my house, they aren’t doing a very good job of bug control!

So all in all, Life is Good! I feel very fortunate to be here and be surrounded by great people, and I am eager and optimistic to see what adventure awaits me next, because if one lesson has presented itself to me time and again it’s it “Expect the Unexpected”!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Picasa Web Albums - Jaclyn

Picasa Web Albums - Jaclyn

Settling in for the long haul

Post IST

At first it was a rude awakening being back at site. Suddenly I found myself being the only American/ English speaking person and the rural isolation of Semolale was more blatant than ever in contrast to the city life of Gabs. I came back excited and recharged with all these new ideas from other volunteers and partner organizations- anything seemed possible- and super motivated to do all of these really awesome projects and then I was smacked with the reality of the pace of progress in Botswana. I was only in the village 2 days after IST because then we had a holiday weekend and I went traveling to the west side. But those two days were filled with frustrations as it seemed like everything I had been working on was sitting dead in the water during my absence and I was hitting road block after road block trying to get things moving again. But I think the disappointment was only magnified because I was in a different mindset and consequently was seeing everything through a different lens and not my Botswana-adapted one. Once I got readjusted and reacquainted with the local attitude, things seem to be “cruising” right along.

Independence Day

So as I said, the last weekend of September was Botswana’s Independence Day which meant a nice long weekend and since I was off travel restriction, I of course headed out to explore this country (because after all, I’ve been here 6 months already and time’s a-tickin’ so I gotta get moving if I’m going so fulfill all of my African travel and adventure aspirations). I headed out to Ghanzi, which if you look at a map is about directly opposite Semolale, to visit some fellow volunteers. Whoever, coined that phrase about the journey being the adventure rather than the destination, must have been traveling in Africa because that couldn’t have been more true during these next few days! My journey began on Friday as I was able to hitch a ride out of Semolale with one of the nurses who owns a car (since it’s month end all of the government employees get paid and head in to the towns to cash checks, buy groceries, etc. and most of them drink away a large portion of their paycheck as well) so I managed to reach Phikwe rather effortlessly. The 2 volunteers who stay there were both celebrating birthdays so several other volunteers came in to town to join the celebration. The next morning I caught an early bus out of phikwe to continue on my journey west which was easier now that I was out of my little nook of the country and in a hub along the main drag. But being a holiday weekend, takes the public transportation experience to a whole new level as everyone is going places (most government workers are placed away from their home villages and travel back during holidays and breaks and since most Batswana don’t own cars, that leaves A LOT of people dependent on the buses). The next leg of my journey was to Francistown where I then caught a bus west toward Maun. Now a days, it’s getting rather hot here as summer is upon us. The average temperature has been about 100-105 degrees each day. So picture this heat in a jam packed bus (and remember my luck with seat mates) and people are afraid to open the windows for fear of the “flu” so basically your in a 7 hour sauna with the smell of fried food, funky bus odor and sweaty people. But it was something liberating about just traveling alone again. Often times being in Peace Corps can be stifling as you have a group of adults (and I’m the second youngest) who are used to being self-sufficient and independent and now we have all of these peace corps affixed restrictions and find ourselves sometimes floundering to take care of our most basic needs. Anyhow, I was only able to make it to Maun before dark so luckily we have a great volunteer network and I had no problem finding a place to stay and to top it off, I got to see a little of Maun. This is the gateway to the Okavango Delta region and where all the top-end safari companies are based. It’s quite a paradoxical village as the super ritzy lodges and tourists meet with the local village population. But the environment is a little more green and lush and you can find a river and some marsh land which was a sight for my drought-sore eyes. Walking along the river edge as the sun was setting was very satisfying for my soul—and I even got to see my first wild giraffes! The next day, my journey continued to Ghanzi. By this time I was ready to be there already but as luck would have it, the bus I caught out of Maun that morning only have about 100k in it and we found ourselves broken down in the middle of nowhere, and I mean NO WHERE. So of course there was a flurry of activity and discussion (all in Setswana) but after some time, I was able to get some of my money back and I resolved myself to hitchhiking the rest of the way there (about another 200k). I’ve gotten pretty good at hitchhiking by now, but the odds are slightly against you when you’re standing with about 60 other people also hoping to hitch a ride with the one vehicle that passes every 15 or 20 minutes. After about an hour I got a lift with a group of tourists which turned out to be quite a luxurious mode of travel by comparison (I had a back seat all to myself with leather seats and AC). I felt like a total sell out/ had a moral conflict about taking this ride when these people obviously stopped to pick me up but wouldn’t offer a ride to any of the Batswana who were waiting with me, but what’s a girl to do when she’s stranded on the side of the road in the middle of the desert and traveling alone- so I took the lift and decided that I could mull this over in my conscience once I was safely to Ghanzi.

Ghanzi was great! It’s small in population given its western location (something like 80% of the population lives along one corridor in the East) but has many resources. Like I said, Ghanzi is on the outskirts of the Kalahari and is skirted by several San (Basarwa bushmen) communities. When I arrived, we took a long hike to the outside of the village where there is a quarry that started filling in with water and is now a swimming hole. So we took a very refreshing dip and waiting for the others to meet up with us for a braii. It was like an all-american BBQ (almost) then we headed back into town for “Jazz” night at the local bar and then met up with some other friends at a lodge for some drinks in a low key atmosphere before calling it a night. The next day I got to explore to town of Ghanzi including the San art and craft shop. Then we hiked out to a nearby game reserve where we had lunch and enjoyed the serenity of being the only people there observing the wildlife gather at the watering hole in the salt pan. We saw some Eland and kudu and all kinds of birds- even Zazu. After a very peaceful afternoon, we hiked back home and experimented making a fantastic curry for dinner and unwound for the night. The next day was Independence Day which meant an official village celebration at the kgotla (customary court). Everyone was gathered there and performances were given by local schools’ traditional dance groups, choirs, drama groups and other entertainers. By mid-day it was time for me to begin my journey back east. The 2:00 bus never showed so once again I was hitching (along with about 20 others at the hitching post) so we went a way down and away from the crowd and got lucky as a lot of trucks come through Ghanzi on their routes from Namibia, South African or southern Botswana (Gabs) and are usually happy to have some company, which he got a lot of with 5 of us in the cab! After spending the night in Maun, it was a marathon traveling day all the way back to home sweet Semolale and I was never more happy to jump off that bus by my little corner shop and be HOME at last!

Back in the Groove

After a very exciting, fun and diverse month of September, I am happy to be back and staying put for a while. Now that I’m here, it feels like I never left. Like I said things are moving right along.

The primary schools have been finishing their preparation for “Students Teach Parents HIV/AIDS Day”. Gobojango and Mabolwe are having this event for the first time whereas Semolale is following up last year’s event with a focus on HIV/AIDS Related Illnesses (opportunistic infections and AIDS defining illnesses) so we arranged for the clinic staff to do some education sessions at the school to help the students and teachers prepare. Unfortunantly, the DMSAC funding has been held up in processing so we have had to postpone the events until the money comes through, but most of the preparations are complete and the children are ready for the big day, whenever it comes.

The Youth Group did a small performance at the Independence Day celebration. They have been preparing their paper work for registering as a society and laying the ground rules, establishing committees, and deciding how to conduct business, etc. giving the group a little more focus and formal structure. The Community Center is coming along with new windows and burglar bars and electric wiring being installed and the recreation equipment to be ordered after the renovations have been completed. We are planning a clean-up day and I am trying to find donations from local hardware stores for paint so that we can maybe decorate the building with murals and fresh, colorful paint. We are also moving forward with our plans to create a community based peer-education group. We are planning for a catchment wide meeting in 2 weeks to discuss the different aspects of the HIV/AIDS situation and how to best approach the issue and combat the continuous rise in statistics and encourage behavior change and healthier lifestyles within these communities.

After running around like a crazy person to compile and fax our applications last week, the GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Club has been accepted to participate in this year’s GLOW camp. We will be sending a delegation including a local leader, myself, and 3 student representatives to Gabarone for a week in December. We will have the opportunity to meet with and share ideas with other GLOW groups from around the country, attend sessions addressing topics pertinent to adolescents, participate in teambuilding and bonding activities and learning how to run, develop, and motivate our GLOW clubs once returning to have a greater effect on our communities overall. We are very excited about this opportunity since only a very few delegations are selected each year. The local leader and I will be heading to Maun, where the WAR (Women Against Rape) headquarters is located, in 2 weekends to join with the planning committee for the camp.

Some loose ends: At the clinic we are beginning to make preparations for the Run 4 Life 10k race. We are also starting an exercise and nutrition program that will meet for 1 hour 3 days a week after work. They are all really excited to get started and it will help discipline me in my own routine. World AIDS Day is December 1st and preparations have begun for a big event to take place in Phikwe combining the efforts of S/Phikwe district and Bobirwa sub-district. We will be meeting again this week to continue planning and discussion.

Aside from the business, I’ve been hanging out with my parents. My father is now being treated for TB so he can’t go to the cattle post which means he is around more these days. And my mom has been busier than ever making her breads and other goodies to sell at the shop and I enjoy helping her whenever I can. It’s always fun to be the shop keeper when she has to run somewhere fast, people are never expecting to see me when they pop their head inside and they think it’s hysterical to hear me try to conduct business in my awful Setswana.

I’ve been reading a great book by Kerovac ,The Dharma Bums, which has made me a little homesick for the life and the people I left back in the States since those passions and ideas of life and spirituality are not shared by people here in Botswana- at least not by anybody I’ve found so far. I am also reading another book alongside Kerovac’s that’s written by one of his lovers Joyce Johnson entitled Minor Characters that tells the story of the role women played in the Beat Generation and the influence the time had on women and women had on the time. Both books, I highly recommend.

So that’s the news for now. I feel like I might be boring you all with the tedious details of my projects, but I find it more difficult to write now that everything doesn’t seen quite so new and exciting. So let me know if there’s anything you’re curious about that I’m neglecting to touch on. Also I’m hoping at the start of next school year (January) to start a pen pal program per request of my school head. So any of you teachers, substitute teachers, student teachers, etc. let me know if you’re interested in doing a correspondence between your class and students from Botswana. Besides Semolale, I also have primary schools in Mabolwe and Gobojango so that’s potentially around 1,000 students which creates a lot of possible opportunities so please throw any ideas my way and maybe we can make them happen!

Hope you’re all doing well and enjoying the nice change to Autumn. I’m hoping to be getting some good Halloween pictures coming this way soon! As always . . . miss you all, with peace and love ~Jaclyn

Monday, September 22, 2008

The final words for now . . .

Week of Sept 1st

This was a week of conflicting emotions. I looked forward to reuniting with the other volunteers at IST (In service training) and the nice vacation from the stresses and responsibilities of organizing and leading activities around the community. In addition, it will be nice to have some social life, speak English, and share our experiences with other people that can relate to the same joys and challenges and just relax and take a breather and reflect. At the same time, I am really feeling at home in Semolale and very happy and I know that I will miss everyone while I’m gone for 2 weeks. I also feel like a lot of projects are just taking root and starting to sprout a bit. I feel like they are still vulnerable and could wither away in these 2 weeks if not nurtured properly and then I will be starting at square one when I return. It was also crazy stressful trying to wrap up loose ends, try to be sure everything goes smoothly in my absence and also prepare myself to leave.
I feel like we made a lot of forward progress this week with the youth center. The youth department is finally backing us up and helping us speed up the process a bit. I also met with the VDC (Village Development Committee) who is our partner in the project. We took measurements for all the new windows and doors, and me and a few of the guys busted out all of the old windows one afternoon, so I’m hoping to have all new windows when I return! We also met to discuss starting a HIV/AIDS peer educator program which was an idea brought to me from a guy in Semolale who thought the youth would be a good place to start this project and help it take off in the community. The idea is to have a community meeting with representative s from the kgotla, school, police, clinic, VDC, shopkeepers, bar owners and include young, old, men and women to assess the contributing factors to the untamed spread of HIV in our village in particular. The nurses will then educate and train a group of interested individuals to be the peer educators within the community so that people who are intimidated by the going to the clinic or talking with young, mostly women nurses will feel comfortable discussing and therefore more receptive to correct information regarding the transmission of HIV and the behaviors that encourage it. Then this group will be responsible for coming up with creative activities and events to reach all people with this information at the local bars, schools, homes, and other places where local people congregate. I am excited about working with them to develop this because it is locally initiated and would empower the villagers to educate each other which should help the program’s sustainability after I leave.
The other things I spent a lot of time coordinating before I left was the primary schools’ “Kids Teach Parents: HIV/AIDS Days”. Since September is Botswana’s HIV/AIDS Awareness month, they want the events to be shortly after I return so I had to make sure each of them were on task and felt capable of doing the rest of the preparations while I’m gone. I teamed up the Family Health Educator from each village with the Health committee at each school to plan the day. The idea is that each grade will be given a topic to cover and then they come up with a creative presentation to encompass that topic. The parents will then go from class to class learning different aspects of transmission, prevention, testing, treatment, behavior change, etc. from their children. It had a very powerful impact last year in Semolale so we are hoping for the same this year in all 3 of the villages.
The last day in town was pure craziness but I was really touched that so many of the youth and my neighbors came by to “check” me since I was leaving. It made me feel like I will actually be missed these next 2 weeks.

IST (Sept. 6th- 17th)

Wow! This week was so much fun! Kanye is actually quite beautiful. It’s set in the hills and is a bit greener and lusher than the other places I’ve seen here. There are great views off the ridge and a nice reservoir that we ran to in the afternoons. It was really great to see everyone together again and hear about everyone’s experiences at their sites. It was also really helpful to share similar challenges that we were all encountering and also to hear about different things that people have done and found to be successful to help generate ideas for us to take back to our own sites. We had a great time hanging out and strengthening relationships within our group also. We had a lot of valuable training on funding opportunities and partners to team up with on initiatives throughout the country. And of course, a lot of Setswana lessons, which I really need. I think a balance between structured and unstructured learning. We also had a lot of fun hanging out, catching up, and simply being “American” without any cultural or language barriers. We even had a few birthday celebrations which livened things up a bit! We had a day off and a group of us went on a hike to the gorge. It was great to be out climbing around on the rocks and hiking through the bush. And we even saw monkeys! All in all, a great 10 days and a much needed break but I will be happy to get back to Semolale and see everyone and go forward with all of these fresh ideas!

Gabs (Sept. 18th- 22nd)

Well this little side trip took an interesting turn in events about midway through. I was in Gabs meeting with the Department of Home Affairs to register the youth group as a society in Botswana. I also met with a potential funder for youth activities and projects. He wants to plan a benefit gala here in the city and invite the ministers of parliament and corporate executives to the dinner and have the kids perform drama and traditional dance. We are hoping for some time during he holiday season, so I’ll keep you all posted. Then just as I was about to return home, I felt death come over me and despite my stubbornness I actually did go to see the doc. It still has not been decided exactly what it was. People call it “African Sickness” but all the clinical symptoms matched with malaria so they kept me in the city a few extra days to treat and monitor me. But now, I am feeling much improved and anxious to FINALLY get home!

Well, that’s about all for now. Sorry this is so much at once, but I hope you all feel in the loop once again. Hope you are enjoying the nice change of seasons on that side of the globe. Miss you all greatly! Keep smiling! Love, Jac