The Land of Cattle

I don’t have a lot of needs here in Botswana.  Mostly everything I need is here (except of course ‘Be Curly’ Curling Hair Cream from Aveda- which I’ve been using since I was 17).  But I’ve been getting some comments about what people can send me.  Please don’t spend too much money, but if you can, sometimes a package comes at the perfect time:

  • Letters!  I love receiving letters.  And considering all the time I have here, I’m good at responding.
  • Books!  If you have any used books you don’t mind shipping over to Botswana, I promise to continue giving it away once I’ve read it.  Seriously, books are the gift that keeps on giving
  • Chocolate– maybe even chocolate chips.  That’s my speciality here to make for people to win them over.  I don’t mind using the chocolate bars I can buy in town, but sometimes I would love some chocolate chips.  Also, I can never say no to M&Ms (dark chocolate peanut)
  • Music!  I need church music and just really good awesome music.  In my previous life I considered myself to be up with the current trends and happenings in music, but this past six months has put me far behind.  Help me get up to date.  Sufjan Stevens has a new CD! I need.  Also, what is all this I hear about Mumford and Sons?
  • Dried Fruits.  I love cranberries and dried apples.
  • Your Love, of course.  Can you send that in a box?

And my address is still PO BOX 144  Nata, Botswana

This last couple of weeks I have been involved in the preparations for a community event called ‘Pitso Ya Borre’.  Essentially, it is a gathering of men from the village at the Kgotla (the village center).  They come in the evening and sit in a circle and have discussions around a fire, while a cow is slaughtered and served to all the attendants.  I guess you could call it a male fireside. But this ‘Pitso Ya Borre’ was being sponsored by NACA (national aids coordinating agency) so it was centered around HIV and social issues that are related to HIV.  The night itself was a huge success.  We had something around 200+ men from Nata and surrounding villages sitting in the circle around the fire. After the introduction and a bit of a motivataional speech, they broke up into age groups (‘young ones here, old ones here’) and had facilitated discussion about these health issues.  Technically, as a woman I wasn’t supposed to be present, but i was the one in the background cleaning and cooking and welcoming guest- so they let me, but I did have to wear a head scarf. Some community members were designated to record what was being said, so that we can use it as qualitative research to analyze and find the next step for men in Nata. While I didn’t design the project, I really appreciate the design and wish I had come up with it. In the future, now that the CBO I was working with is familar with this community conversation research we can continue to incorporate this into our projects.

Cows are such a thing here.  There are 3.5 million cows to the 1.8 million people that live in Botswana.  You aren’t a man if you don’t own cattle and go to your cattle post.  Often times people are shocked when i tell them that most individuals don’t own cattle in the USA.  Then they will often say, ‘what do you eat?’  Eish!  I don’t know. What is my staple food? For this ‘Pitso Ya Borre’ we bought and slaughtered a cow.  And then they proceeded to put every piece of the cow inside a couple of huge cauldrons.  Every piece, save the head and the hooves and the skin.  All of it- even the bones.  Then they cook it over the fire in this cauldron for a good four hours and then pound it to death.  And there you have it.  It’s tasty stuff.  Batswana are serious about their meat and this is not something to be missed.  But they don’t add the liver, intestines and kidney.  Along with the head, these are delicacies that are to be enjoyed separately.  While i’m still not a huge fan of intestines (it has this very gritty texture to it), I totally like the liver and in fact, crave it.  And the head isn’t bad. I tried tongue the other week and once i got over the image of a cow’s tongue on my tongue, I actually enjoyed it.  But i don’t recommend the eye.  It’s like ‘why?’ you know?

I belong to…

When I joined the Peace Corps, I didn’t know how often I would be able to attend a congregation with people that shared my beliefs.  As a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, this small piece of information was very important to me.  But I was willing to sacrifice going steadily to church for two years, on account that joining the Peace Corps was based on a belief in God and the principles that come from this faith in a loving Heavenly Father.  I was excited for the opportunity to strengthen my testimony, excited to test my faith.

But how lucky I am to be placed in Nata, where there is a branch is in Francistown, only 180km away.  It’s still far, taking about two and a half hours by bus, but it’s near enough where I can just go for the day then come back.  Unfortunately, I am not able to go every weekend, but the few times I have gone I have left feeling edified and restored.  Because of the scarcity of my visits, I feel an overwhelming source of comfort from the congregation.  I know when I was able to go to every Sunday, I did not have the same amount of appreciation.  It’s a beautiful experience.  Plus, most of these members are new to the gospel, having only recently been baptized, and so it’s a special experience to witness the growth and change that comes to a person and branch when they accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and take on many of the responsibilities of caring for his flock.

I wish I had a calling, I wish I could go to the baptisms, and visit members during the week.  I wish I didn’t have to rush away after church, but that I could sit, have lunch with the couple missionaries.  But for all that it’s not, it really is great.  Particularly, this past Sunday was filled with a beautiful spirit.  I felt ample amounts of love for and from people, but once it was over I had to run to catch my ride and that was hard to separate myself from such a wonderful environment.

How thankful I am to have the knowledge of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, to have a Heavenly Father who loves me and all of his children.  Can I leave you with one of my favorite scriptures?

“For God hath no given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.  Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.” 2 Tim 1:7-8

Botswana Day

walking to the edge

Nata is on the edge of the largest salt pans in the world- The Makgadikgadi Pans.  It is a remarkable place with stunning landscape and some interesting wildlife (namely- wildebeest, flamingos, ostrich, impala, hippos and lions).  What I love about the pans is the feeling that you are on the edge of the world, you are literally so far removed from the modern world.  There is a majesty to the feeling.  A certain sense of reverence for mother earth. I have had the opportunity to go to the pans several times and each time I am impressed. It is when I am out here, that I feel like I am in Africa, that i have arrived.  But clearly, that just shows you that my perception of africa is still based on Lion King and my professor’s ethnography of the !Kung Bushmen in Namibia. But in reality, it is so much more. And all i really know is Botswana, which is Nata and these beautiful pans.

This past weekend was a holiday weekend.  Thursday was Botswana Day! Celebrating Independence from the british (it was only ever a protectorate and was never colonized, which make a big difference).   I celebrate independence with a bunch of peace corps volunteers on these pans.  About 25 other volunteers came to my house and we headed to the pans.  We had a really great time.  Even though there was little water, we still saw flamingos, ostriches, wildebeest, impala and hippo tracks.  Also, a magnificent sunset.

camping

cracked earth

under african skies

morning glory

sunrise

I guess I am surprised when locals have lived there their whole life, but have never seen what is in the backyard.  But I shouldn’t be.  I’ve never seen the salt flat in Utah, don’t I claim utah as my home?  At least I have been to the grand canyon and disneyland.

Now I feel as if I need another weekend to recover from my weekend.  So exhausted! Also, it’s hot here and I guess that means giant spiders, scorpions, roaches and beetles the size of my head.  yikes

Chakalaka Saga

Ke rata thata chakalaka

One of my favorite snacks here is chakalaka.  Essentially, it’s a spicy vegetable mix that comes in a can, like unto salsa.  It’s ingredients are carrots, tomatoes, green pepper, onion, chilies and other modifiers that make it so darn tasty!  I typically enjoy it with some multigrain crackers that I purchased from town.  Fortunately, you can get a can of chakalaka at just about any general dealer.  I hear it tastes nice poured over pasta or pap… it’s up to you.

Let me give you a small snapshot of what a Monday here in Nata looks like for me:

I wake at 6:20 and got ready for the day.  I should have woken up at 5:50 to take a bath, but I didn’t.  I usually will make some oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon and honey, but today I just eat some left over banana bread.   Seven o’clock I am walking to the clinic with my neighbor, who works somewhere along the way.  At 7:30 we have our morning meeting with the nurses, doctor, nurse orderlies, cleaners and health education workers.  Luckily, they conduct the meeting in english on account of our foreign doctor and nurses (DRC, Zimbabwe, Zambia).  At around eight we go and have song and prayer with the patients that are already waiting.  I go through this routine Monday through Friday and then I’m off to whatever the day holds for me.  On this Monday I sat around the clinic waiting for transport to Tutume (the sub-district headquarters) so I could harass the District Health Team and demand for my rent to be paid, seeing as how it’s a couple of months overdue.  Also, so I was going talk to the District Aids Coordinator about some ideas for a project on gender-based violence and then the District Youth Office about starting a club for out-of-school youth.  But it turns out the driver hit a cow with the ambulance so that means maybe Tuesday.  By this time it was 10:30 and I was helping some nurses with labeling pill packets or filing some medical paperwork.  In addition, I was assisting a nurse (my counterpart)  put together a program for a workshop on Wednesday, the subject being ‘male involvement in female reproductive health.’  So I was capacity building.  And then, as I was nominated the secretary for the Nata Adult Choir, I was attempting to design a poster for choir recruitment, which is not capacity building, because I was doing by myself.

By twelve, it was blazing hot (a solid 99 degrees F today) and I am off to check the post office,  I try not to check everyday, maybe like twice a week.  But I have been expecting something from my dad and chaela for about five weeks and that is how long it has been since I last got a piece of mail (also, my address is PO Box 144 Nata, Botswana). Trying to maintain high spirits,  I make my way home for lunch.  For lunch I had leftover beans, which I will devour for the next four days.  And then at 1:15, it’s off to the clinic again.

As I make my way back to the clinic, I stop at the social worker’s office.  She gives me the low down (she also happens to be one of my very close friends) and I take back a life skills manual I had let her borrow.  At the clinic, I finish preparing a small lesson for the junior secondary school kids for later in the afternoon as well as making a few finishing touches on the program with my counterpart.  Then, magically, one of the school teachers from the Junior secondary school drops someone off at the clinic and I beg for a ride to the school.  Not only is it bloody hot, but the JSS is about 3km or more away.  I get the ride and this teacher tells me how in his culture you are supposed to put your knees to the ground everytime a woman greets a man- a story he tells me daily, but one I have yet to hear from another person that is Bakilaka.  He tells me about  how his uncles has 13 wives and he asks me about my uncles and I tell him that it’s illegal in America- a fact he goes on telling every school teacher when we arrive at school and each of them also find it entertaining.  Illegal!  I am a good hour early for my meeting so I sit in the teacher’s lounge with the other teachers.  We have a heated discussion about corporal punishment vs. positive reinforcement.  And then it’s time for the PACT club meeting.

PACT stands for Peer Approach to Counseling Teens.  It is a peer education club for these junior schoolers (aged 13-16).  It was our first time meeting since the school year began (back in january) and the kids were very very shy.  But I had them do an activity called ‘human knot’ (or human pretzel).  It was better after that, but I can tell this will take some practice.

And then I came home, melted as I ate a whole can of chakalaka (I don’t regret it).  Later, I will heat up some more beans, wash the dishes and then read until about 9:30, trying my darndest to get a full eight hours before I start the cycle again.

My new home and life

I think for the first time I feel like I am a peace corps volunteer, which is ironic because only on Thursday I became an official PCV, before that I was only a trainee. The swearing ceremony was a long awaited event. Here in Botswana, it is not difficult to make the news, considering their small population (1.8 mil) and their relatively stable domestic affairs. Our ceremony was covered by the local news BTV. Today, in Nata, some people told me they saw me on the TV. But I am skeptical, I think it may be easy to mistake one lakoa (foreigner) for the other. But perhaps I was. They asked me to sing a setswana spiritual. It was more like lead… so I lead the whole audience in a spiritual. The words are Modimo o refilwe, sebakanyana se o motsosoya. It means God has given us this moment, even this very minute (Post Script, I actually was featured on TV singing this very song, making my first day of work interesting). As it turns out the female volunteer in Nata two years before was named Neo (my setswana name), so I changed it to Refilwe, which, if you look back one sentence is from that song that I love, which mean ‘to be given.’ Pretentious? A beautiful song. I have been singing it during training for the past two months (if you can believe it, people here know think I have a song for everything). As the Batswana audience broke into their harmony I tried to add my own gospel variation, but looking at the video I see that, alas, I am still a lekoa, despite how hard I try to be a Motswana. The ceremony was nice, with the Ambassador, the Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Health, The National Aids Coordinator, and the PC Country Director. After we repeated our Oath of Service they gave us pins with Botswana and US flag- totally cute and also a nice piece of memorabilia to remember that one time I ran away from everything and joined the Peace Corps.

Me with Tunda, making a funny

After the ceremony, I took a lot of pictures and then said my goodbyes. I went out to lunch with a member from the church in Moleps. She took me to KFC! Finger lickin’ good- as they say. Botswana has a lot

At church with Sis. Thlapa and Sis. Dorothy (in blue)

 of fried chicken chains. The one next to the training center was called Western Fried Chicken, and then there’s Lickin’ Chicken’, Nando’s Chicken, Southern Fried Chicken and of course KFC. I never thought I really liked coleslaw but mayonnaise is a must here, carrots and mayo, rice and mayo, potatoes and mayo… bring it out. If you can’t beat um, join um… except for the sour porridge (bogobe or sorghum meal) I won’t, I can’t. It is like a sticky substance that seems a bit like porridge but it has been fermented and might have sour milk. I now I didn’t paint a very nice picture and let it be known that I could probably like it if I tried harder, but I don’t, not in that area

 

Then I went home and my family made pink scones which essentially taste like muffins- they made them for my trip. Nice family, right? 

My Botswana Family- mother and three sisters

The sisters and me- always happy to have me around

The next day a government vehicle picked me and another volunteer to take us to our sites. I got to Nata at around 6 that evening. Well to settle in I turned on some music and made a delicious cup of tea (thank Kali for showing me that beautiful website www.mountainroseherbs.com the hibiscus high is fantastic) and turned on some Phoenix to drown out my creeping sense of aloneness. But after a nervous thirty minutes of trying to feeling liberated I switched the music to The Weepies and tried to accept my fate. I know that my two years here will be great and will be what I make it. But I accept that fact of the emotional roller coaster, that at first I will feel lonely and then it will be the small triumphs that get me through, being able to form a sentence, being able to express my needs and my feelings. Then the failed projects or sense of isolation- it is all part of the package that I gladly accepted. It now is more real then it was before. 

a sneak peak of Nata