GLOW continues

A couple of weeks ago I helped organize and facilitate a Girls Leading Our World Workshop for girls during the easter break. It was held over three days and targeted at girls 15-18 years old. We had the best time together. I have not worked with a pretty group in my entire service. They were open, intelligent, courageous, thoughtful… all the things you want young girls to be. And they were so responsive to everything we taught them and they had this hunger to keep learning. We lead sessions on gender roles, violence against women, delaying sex, etc. We also wanted to have the girls do something that would mark what they learned at the workshop, so they wouldn’t easily forget it. First, an organization gave us the side of a wall to paint and we held a mural competition. This is their beautiful product:

And the second project we had them undertake was a march in the village. On the morning of the second day the girls took this banner and marched around their village, singing different songs we had taught them and some they brought themselves.  I’m also in love with this banner:

Who says we can't?

Girls in the this community are susceptible to different kinds of inequalities within their homes, schools and communities. The kind of atmosphere where inequalities abound is stifling for young girls and puts them in vulnerable positions, especially concerning education and health. And these girls felt like it was time for us to teach them that they could be just as good as boys, just as smart, just as clever and certainly we tired.

It makes me a bit emotional when i think about some of these girls that I have been working with for two years and the amazing transformations that have come upon them. I am confident that they will succeed, even though most come from very limiting circumstances. And I just have a small hope that I helped even just one girl realize her potential

Seven Weeks

My brother is engaged!  To this wonderful lady.  it is loveThey are so happy.  I am so happy!  They scheduled their wedding date for May 12th, a full month before I my original Close of Service (COS) date, June 9th. Fortunately, I have  a very generous country director and he is allowing me to end my service a full month early, so that I can attend the wedding.  So my new COS date is May 10th, which was the earliest I could leave.  I’m excited that when I land back on to the American continent, I will have my whole family there with me and love will be in the air.  I love weddings.  And I especially love family weddings.  It’s heart-warming to see my siblings make such significant steps in their lives with out trepidation but with a full heart and faith in the future.  Who knew when we were terrorizing each other over broken toys and hurt feelings (and occasionally broken bones… sam) that we would one day be old enough and responsible enough to create a life of our own, full of love and hope.  I know Paul and his bride-to-be have a bright future ahead of them and I am so happy to be have to opportunity to witness the beginning with their marriage in the Manhattan Temple in New York City on May 12th

I need to find a dress, but I never have any luck looking online.  When my sister was married (also while I was in Botswana), I bought a dress online and then when I met my family in New Hampshire I tried it on and I hated.  I ended up buying a dress at the jcrew outlet two hours before the wedding ceremony. Hectic stuff.  Any ideas where I can find modest dresses online?

Bots 9

This past week I was in the capital where Peace Corps was hosting us for our Close of Service conference.  It was mostly admin stuff, how to go back and stay sane kind of stuff.  They put us up in this really neat, fancy hotel in Phakalane.  And one night they took us on a game drive in Mokolodi.  On Tuesday, the held a fancy luncheon for us and our counterparts.  Ministers and other dignitaries came, including the former president of Botswana, Festus Mogae.  I had the honor of sitting at his table.  After he gave his keynote address, I was asked to give a short speech in setswana.  I did and I included a song I had a sung at our swearing in ceremony two years ago, Modimo O Refile.  God had given us this moment, even this very minute.  It was a fun moment in my service and very rewarding to be given that honor and I know all of the volunteers deserved the same opportunity. 

I have had some exceptional opportunities while being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana, from meeting the First Lady Michelle Obama, to making the former president of an African country crack up in his seat, to raising funds for a camp, to learning a new language, to trusting complete strangers so so many times.  It has been such an adventure.  But it has also been very challenging.  I’m not sure if I’m ready to talk about my two years in Botswana. 

Seven weeks.  Seven more Sundays in the Francistown Branch.

We Are All Our Hands and Holders

I just hosted my parents for two weeks in Botswana.  We spent a little time in Nata and then I took them exploring the great bush of Botswana.  Our first stop was the Okavango Delta, outside of Maun.  Here we boarded a wooden boat.  We were poled through the reeds and then we camped on an island in the delta.  It was a beautiful to glide through tall grass and clear water.  In addition, we saw a few elephants here and there. tip of mokoro

with out guide Martin

We spent a few days in Nata.  I showed them around the village and gave them a very big tour. During the tour, complete strangers would walk up to my parents and say ‘your daughter Refilwe is my best friend, we are always together.’ This made my parents think that I was very well liked in my community but it made me think that Batswana are pretty great liars! 

During their time in Nata, we held a GLOW meeting.  The GLOW club at this school is for guys and girls.  The lesson that day was about goal setting and my counterpart asked my parents to share a few words.  My parents were impressed by the kids and their ability to dream big.  Because these kids will literally be the future of Botswana.  And they can actually obtain their goals. Last week I also handed out the application to all the girls for GLOW camp.  We got 20 applicants!  Myself, two nurses and a teacher will sit down to pick the lucky five.  It is going to be hard to pick only five girls from those 20!

We then headed up to the Chobe National Park outside of Kasane for a three day safari.  Safaris are no joke and they a more than a little pricey. i figured my parents had earned their right to a safari and my default of being their daughter meant i could tag along.  The safari was unbelievable.  We saw every kind of animal you could see.  Buffalo, lions, elephants, kudu, crocodile, hippos, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest,impala, kingfishers, vultures, storks, wild dogs, blah blah.  so much!  And it was nice to be able to just watch the animals do their thing.

We came upon a pride of about 9 lions just seated under the tree as the cubs ate some scraps and the lionesses slept around the male lion. 

honestly, they looked like Zaza. (who happens to be pregnant again)

And just before they left i took them to my family in molepolole.  I introduced my parents to my african family.

In October, the Daily Herald in Utah published a story about me and they put a plug in for my GLOW camp.  My african family’s picture was included in the article.  This is a picture of them reading the article from the Utah newspaper in Molepolole, Botswana.

It was fun to go around with my parents having a grand adventure in the African bush, but it meant more to show them the people that had become so important to me.  Especially my beautiful church mates in francistown.

Highlights from the past month

I have had a splendid month.  It has been crazy and a bit intense, but I’m thankful for the wonderful people that I have met and for the blessings that I have received.  A few highlights…

  • We have finally started meeting as facilitators for Camp GLOW (by the way, we just need a couple more hundred dollars!  we’re almost there!).  It has been very time consuming, but I’m excited for the potential outcome.  A small glimpse at the camp- ‘smores, glow sticks, TYE DYE… seriously, this camp is going to rock
  • I took the GRE! It wasn’t as bad as I expected.  Grad school applications here I go
  • I went to South Africa for a weekend church retreat (read: YSA Convention).  There were 400 LDS young adults from all over South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana.  It was amazing. I had the best time I have ever had as a young single adult.  I also met another mormon peace corps volunteer living in South Africa!  There are a few of us…
  • It was independence day in Botswana last weekend.  i celebrated in Kasane with a couple of peace corps friends.  We saw a couple hundred elephants.  literally.

    we make elephant look good

Next big thing:  Parents in Botswana.  My mother and my father are coming to botswana in less then two weeks!  everyone is very excited, including me!

Thoughts for a Saturday Evening

I attended the funeral of the former village chief this morning.  It put me in a very reflective mood. Botswana has an interesting and beautiful custom of allowing everyone to help fill in the their graves. Mostly men will take turns and fill in the grave until its properly covered, and then they will place the burial covering.  It always is the most emotional part of the proceeding.  As a proper rite of passage, it marks the end of liminality, and it is time to move on.  My friend remarked as the men were diligently burying the casket, that every funeral she goes to reminds her of every other funeral she has ever been to, those of her sister, uncles, cousins.  The list is long. Last time I was at a funeral was in February, for a good friend of mine from the village who passed away in a car accident. My mind flashed back to the various scenes of the week after his death and the vivid memory of his funeral came pulsating. I remember watching as friends and family took turns burying him.  And I look intently at a familiar coworker as he carefully worked to bury the man who was his good friend. I worked with this colleague daily but had never seen so much love in him.  And as I watched, I clutched onto the two girls that had become my friends during those first months in Nata. We held each other with no words to express the sadness we felt, just the look of understanding.  We had never had so much in common as we had on that day.  Nothing in my experience in Botswana seems as real as that funeral was.  And while heartbreaking in its sadness, I have not ever felt so close to Batswana.  I was bonded to the people in my community, to the people of Botswana.  And that is beautiful and precious.  I believe that through life’s challenges we have an opportunity to grow, as individuals and as a community.

As I look back at the past six months since that particular event, I see it as changing point in my service.  I’m not sure if I can describe it… I feel comfortable and at home.  While there are small things everyday that remind me that I am not from here, I still live here.  And for the next ten months, it will continue to be my home.

My heart fills with gratitude as I think of the many opportunities I have had since being here and think of the good experiences and good people.  And especially grateful to live outside of myself.


Away From the Sprawl

I was very poor at the end of this last month. One of the things I really admire about the Peace Corps is the mandate to live like a local.  (see this article).  I’m glad we get paid so little.  I could do with less.  I certainly believe that it is good for the soul to have financial hardships.  According to my taxes, I have been below the poverty line for the past six years (Shout out to President Obama for the nice ‘economic boost’ this last tax season, it was very much needed).  I have had financial problems and debt concerns but at the very end of the day, I am ok.  I have what I need, my basics are covered and I have some very good people that will be there for me when I truly cannot make it (which has happened before).  And even in the Peace Corps, when it looks dismal to try and live off of USD 50 for two weeks, I know I will be ok.  I’m not trying to say some life-altering epiphany I have had about poverty.  I guess I’m trying to recognize my own pretentiousness in my claims about being poor.  While I believe there are good life lessons to learn from having very little and being forced to scrimp and save (didn’t my parents say that those first 10 years when they had five kids and barely anything to live off of were their best years?), I do know that I’ve not experienced poverty, only the state of just being so so poor.

I’ve been working on something new recently.  It is not a mystery that people living with HIV face a lot of challenges. ARVs, although life-saving, can be very hard on the body.  There are a host of harsh long-term effects caused by a life-long regime of taking ARVs.  In Botswana, there is a whole slew of children born to HIV+ mothers before the advent of Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) treatment and were subsequently born with HIV.  Those children are now coming to be teenagers.  There is a decided gap in services when it comes to supporting those now teens with HIV.   Support to continue adhering to their strict drug regime, support to make responsible lifestyle choices and support to not be ashamed.  To live freely with being positive.  The clinic and the social work office has teamed up to try and address the lack of services. Our thoughts, so far, are to create a peer support network for teens living with HIV.  We are still in the planning stages. But its a project I am very excited about! There is a model that has been used in many parts of Botswana called ‘Teen Club.’  It is sponsored by the Botswana-Baylor Clinic Center of Excellence.  It’s a pretty impressive model.  Look it up

I decided to apply for graduate programs before the January deadline.  I overdosed on grad searching this week and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed.  I vacillate between feelings very confident to feeling completely under qualified. Do you think members of admission committees look at prospective candidate’s blogs?  I’m the only Sydney Lambson out there, and I am very easy to find.

Please donate to the GLOW camp project! Tell your friends.  See here for information on how to donate.

What I Do All Day Part 1: The Art of Visiting

What I Do All Day Part 1: The Art of Visiting

Somedays, I cannot wait for the time when I will have a job with a structured schedule and a clear job description.  One with supervisors and report forms and time cards.  I dream about my office job with a list of things to do and tasks to accomplish. I relish the thought of having my own office phone with voicemail and making call backs.  Fortunately, I’m don’t get lost in these thoughts too often, as I turn to the job I had right before I left, and remember the constant state of boredom I was in.

But I do miss structure and I miss being busy.

It will happen during some pockets of the day, I’ll have finished what I had to do for the day by 9 AM and then I don’t have anything scheduled until 2:30 PM.  That’s five hours of time to kill or time to be useful, somehow.  At the beginning of the my service, I didn’t know what to do, so I would sit at the clinic or I would go home and read.  But more recently, I find myself visiting various friends or strangers for hours at a time.  We call it ‘just sitting’.

I found myself just sitting yesterday in front of a shop, talking to the shop owner’s son.  Before I realized it, two hours had passed and all I had done was sit and chat.  But I felt proud of myself.  Visiting is a really strong and important part of the Botswana culture.  And it’s a great way to get to know people and learn how they live. But the thing is, during my time here, no one has invited me over to come and chat.  Invitations… it’s very American.  So I’ve had to get over some of my insecurities and Americanisms and walk into people’s home and work places and sit.

It’s part of the job.  A simple task, like faxing a letter, can take me two hours.  On my way to the police station, where the village fax is housed, I stop to make small chat with every third person I see.  When i’m in the police station, I sit and tell all the officer about my weekend and they let me walk around the station like I were actually a cop.   Actually, I have a case of nail polish that I bring once a week to the police station, and me and the female police officers paint our fingernails.

just sitting, painting nails

And to be perfectly honest, these visits, take most of my week and while I am doing work- like following up, talking to interested community members, sharing idea, organizing a meeting- we are mostly just sitting.

What Is It That You Do?

On the phone, my brother told me,

It sounds like your always on vacation

Ok.  Fair enough.  I had just finished telling him about my birthday weekend extravaganza.  I celebrated with a trip to the sal pans and a birthday braii (bbq) with some peace corps friends and lots of local friends.

But then I was looking through my blog just now, and i noticed that I fill my posts with adventures, pictures and good times and I hardly talk about what I do from day to day. everyday.

This is one of the hardest questions to answer:

‘What do you do everyday?’

It is a difficult question to answer because it’s made up of a lot of little things, but I would like to try to answer the question.   I’m going to introduce a series to my blog (have you noticed how series are all the rage on the blogospere?  And I am a sucker for blog trends).  It’s going to be called What I Do All Day.

So stay tuned for What I Do All Day Part 1: The Art of Visiting

Will You Come Again?

In the beginning of March, my mom (!) and one of my friends, Emily, came to visit me in Botswana. I’ll admit, I was nervous to have people come and visit me, I didn’t know if it would impress them or if Botswana was even worth the trouble.  I know it is, but I’ve been here for awhile.  But I am happy to report that they LOVED it, wished they could have stayed longer and tried to convince me to take Zaza back to America (it turns out Zaza is the world’s best cat!).  We had a lot of really fun, neat adventures.  We went on safari in Kasane.  We went to a bush bbq in Nata with my local friends.  We went to Victoria Falls.  We had a bbq in the middle of a valley while elephants and hyenas were making their way to the watering hole. We waded in the Makgadikgadi salt pans, which is my backyard.  We saw lions, elephants, rhinos, hippos, kudu, birds, crocodile, zebra, giraffe, so many animals!

on safari

sunset on the chobe

Victoria Falls, Zim

Nata Bird Sanctuary

My favorite part of the trip was introducing them to people and places that haven meant a lot to me over the past.  I took my mom to Molepolole where we sat and chated with Sis. K and family (or otherwise known as the nicest woman in Africa.)  And afternoon having a wonderful afternoon of sitting, eating, painting fingernails and laughing, we went and visited my old host family and then some members of the branch of the LDS church in Moleps.  So much love and goodness.  Molepolole was so good to me and it will forever hold a dear place in my heart.

mom with Sis K

Host siblings

I realize that a very significant part of my experience here that I cherish is my involvement with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  My testimony and membership to the LDS faith has changed since being here and I like to think it has deepened.  It has not been easy to be in a place that is far from a house of worship, the nearest building being Francistown (180K south) or Kasane (300K north).  This distance, makes me connection to the sabbath day service and the connection with people more meaningful and rich.  For most of my life I have lived in areas with well-established branchs or wards and members.  This is not the case in Botswana.  In Kasane, the 10 members meet in someone’s house.  And in Francistown, we meet in a converted house with a large lawn.  Sunday school, young women’s, and priesthood are all held in group circles on the lawn in the backyard.  These realities have become so important to me and it has been so wonderful to show my mother and Emily these small, but important details of my life in Botswana.

covering our heads for a memorial

This was my first set of visitors, but I’m looking forward to the others… whoever those might be.  Come!

Ke santse ke itutha

I’m coming up  on my year mark in Botswana.  Where did the time go? I’m still not fluent in setswana.  That was one of my goals when I applied for the peace corps, when I joined the peace corps and even on my most recent new years resolution. BUT I am resolving to continue learning setswana.  I just don’t try as hard as I should.  Last week, I went to a Peace Corps sponsored ‘language week’ in my friend Parisa’s village in Tsabong.  Tsabong is a two day journey from Nata, it is on the COMPLETE opposite end of the country, which is unfortunate because P is one of my best friends in the PC.  There four of us staying at Parisa’ house and one language teacher.  From 8-4 (theoretically) we would learn and use setswana with the help of our language teacher.

language crew sans Slo

I feel more motivated and more confident about my language skills after having attended that language week.  Plus, Tsabong has a camel famr! I rode a camel!

this camel is not as nice as he looks

camel farm crew

I’m glad to be back in Nata and I hope to stay put for awhile.  I have missed my village.  I had been gone for almost three weeks and it felt nice to walk done my path and say hello to every single person that walked me.  Sometimes greeting everyperson can be tiring but I actually love it.