First Lady Visit

Michelle Obama is visiting Southern Africa (South Africa & Botswana) this week.  My group of volunteers happen to be in the capital city for a mid-service training and we got the very good news yesterday that our group of 50 volunteers will get to have a meet and greet with the First Lady.  I am SO excited! ke itumetse thata.  They have warned us that it might be the shortest meet and greet ever and we probably won’t get to even shake her hand, but regardless, I feel like this is my civic duty.  I am america.

Here Comes the Feeling

ZAZA (the cat) had babies.  I came home to five babies.  I’m sort of glad I missed the birthing part.  I hear cats eat their own placenta.

I think Zaza doesn’t know how to be a mother.  When i come home, she comes over to me with expectant eyes, as if to say ‘i don’t know really know how this happened and what to do about it.’  Just yesterday, she was carrying her baby somewhere and then saw that she had milk in the bowl and dropped the baby in the milk and proceeded to drink.  I think there is hope for her, though.  And if not… she’s just a cat.

What I Do All Day Part 2: Packing Pills

On those days that things aren’t going, and I need to kill a couple of hours and it is too hot to walk around, I will find refuge by sitting in the pharmacist’s air conditioned office, helping him pack pills.

Monday through Thursday, the pharmacist dispenses ARVs (Antiretroviral) tablets for patients with HIV.

Here is a very brief lesson on ARVs: ARVs is the general name given for the medication that suppresses HIV in a person’s system. WIth ARVs most people can live a happy, healthy life. Botswana was the first country to offer free ARV treatment for its citizens and has worked hard to make sure that there is country-wide accessibility to this treatment. But ARV adherence requires a strict regime, taking large pills twice a day on a strict time schedule. If patients default, if they skip their pills for a couple of days or continue to forget, they can become resistant to the first line of HIV drugs.  The first line is the most common in Botswana, also the cheapest.  There are second-line and occasionally third-line available in Botswana, but it’s risky.  When a person starts to resist to medication, they become sick and the period between the resistance and the start of the second medication is risky.

antriretroviral drugs

So on these days, I will sit with the pharmacist, and I will help pack the pills.  I sit in as he consults individuals on how to take pills and he questions about their adherence, their diet, and other things.

This isn’t necessarily capacity building.  I am mindlessly counting pills and labeling bottles.  But I know of no better way to get an education on the complexity and difficulty of living with HIV.  Almost every patient has a story. Some always have a new barrier to taking pills on time and consistently.  There are those that come in, knowing the names of their pills, taking care of their kids.  And I feel such relief, knowing that, yes, this person has got it together.  While there are others that come, without knowing what ARV stands for, not understanding the importance of taking their pills on time.  And its worse when the kids come in with a parent/guardian or distant relative that seems to not care. I would say majority have their act together and it’s those few who don’t, that we worry about.  Do they need more education? Do need they more support? Do they just need new parents?  Crappy parents are in every country and in every society, but they really bug me in this particular context.

Of course, this education is very important when figuring out interventions for people living with HIV.  And I hope to be able to use to what I know, to build the capacity of a potential organization or group of individuals. It is my second year, after all, and the tides are changing.

I’m Going There Someday

I just returned from a beautiful trip to the Jo’burg to attend the temple with my branch.  It was a perfect (but too short) trip to celebrate my halfway point of service.  I felt peace and an incredible love for those around me. Check out some pictures HERE

South Africa LDS Temple

happy family

The Johannesburg Temple is a haven in the middle of a pretty rough neighborhood of South Africa.  It reminded me of the words of Pres. Thomas S. Monson in this past general conference.

My brothers and sisters, temples are more than stone and mortar. They are filled with faith and fasting. They are built of trials and testimonies. They are sanctified by sacrifice and service…Why are so many willing to give so much in order to receive the blessings of the temple? Those who understand the eternal blessings which come from the temple know that no sacrifice is too great, no price too heavy, no struggle too difficult in order to receive those blessings. There are never too many miles to travel, too many obstacles to overcome, or too much discomfort to endure. They understand that the saving ordinances received in the temple that permit us to someday return to our Heavenly Father in an eternal family relationship and to be endowed with blessings and power from on high are worth every sacrifice and every effort.

When i returned back from my trip, I realized that Zaza, the cat, is mos def preggers.  So soon enough I will have a house full of kittens!  yikes!

On the Farm

Wasn’t Kate Middleton’s dress fantastic? Don’t worry, the wedding buzz didn’t skip me, even though I’m in the southern hemisphere.

I went to my friend’s farm recently.  And here is a photo essay of that journey:

cattle

the road to the farm

cutest coal stove ever

the farm house

sunset

sunset 2

And I just don’t tire of these sunsets

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.

Everywhere I go the sky is falling

wave the flag

In January I went to South Africa was some peace corps friends.  The vacation itself was amazing.  South Africa is nothing like what I thought, i didn’t think that it would be so incredible.  I was really just afraid for my life, but I never really felt threatened… expect for that one time with the baboons.  Baboons are no joke.  At the end of our seven day vacation, I missed Nata and I missed Batswana.  Upon arrival into Botswana I learned that one of my closest friends in Nata and a counterpart had passed away in a car accident four days previous.  He was on duty and heading to francistown, to avoid oncoming traffic the driver swerved lost control and the vehicle flipped three times.  Kedisitse died instantly.  This news shook me hard and I felt his loss deeply.  He was actually the last person I saw in Nata before I left for South Africa.  At this point I was sure I did not want to return to Nata.  I didn’t want to deal with this loss and see all the people that had been affected by this tragedy.  But I had to, I had to talk about it.  So I returned to Nata with a heavy heart and swollen eyes.  The week following his death was one that was full of emotions.  I felt more in that week then I have in the past year.  I found myself openly crying in the street, in meetings, on my walk home.  I realize that my way of grieving varies slightly from Batswana.  I was much too open with my sorrow for the comfort of my community members.  I had no frame of reference for the common phrases some Batswana used to console me, ‘this is life, there is no how we can do anything, it already happened.  It was God’s will.’ I had never lost anyone close to me like this before.  It seems as if death is much more a part of reality for the people I know in Botswana then for me.  I can literally count on one hand how many funerals I have been to: my grandpa, my uncle, a neighbor, my friend’s sister, and my brother’s friend..  Of course, AIDS related illnesses contributes to the average life span of a motswana, but actually road accidents are a significant killer in Botswana.  I don’t remember that discussion in PST.  Actually, it isn’t the Peace Corps job to prepare you for all of life’s challenges, not even out parents can do that.  I just didn’t expect to grow so close to people and learn to rely on them as my family and then lose them.  I knew it would be hard to leave my community after completing my two years of service but I didn’t expect to be separated this way.

rainy day at the burial

While deeply sad, the funeral was one of the most beautiful events I have participated in Botswana.  I attended the service in his home village some hundred kilometers from Nata with some close friends, colleagues and lots of community members I didn’t know well.  I remember when we had just arrived in Botswana and we spent a week cooped up in our ‘Big Five Lodge’ and we were at our matching ceremony for homestay… while we were sitting in the audience, waiting eagerly to meet our new families, the families next to us started singing in harmony beautiful setswana spirituals, and that is when I knew I was going to love Botswana. These spirituals were sung all throughout the night and up until the burial of the casket. And I was filled with the spirit as I joined the congregation in praising the Lord.  It was one of the first times I felt at home. And by that I mean I was engaged in a ceremony that wasn’t my own and I didn’t understand the rules or customs of that ceremony and normally that would make me very uncomfortable, but I wasn’t.  I felt like I needed to be there and I needed to share this moment with his family and loved ones.  Unexpectedly, I was asked to say a few words about kedisitse during the program.  I had printed and framed a picture (it was actually Jonathan who did it, thank you so much) of him and when I was giving it to his uncle the night before, he asked me to do it during the program so that everybody could see.  I was flattered and I wanted to do all that I could to honor him, but there were a number of people there who knew Kedisitse better and for longer then me.  I was thankful to be surrounded by people who I had grown to love and learned to rely on.  This week, I have felt a deeper connection to my community through this death.

women traditionally cover their heads and shoulders at funerals

When I heard about Kedisitse’s death, I was surrounded by peace corps friends but all I wanted to do was talk with the people in Nata, with my friends. I turned to them for support and comfort. Together we shared the grief we felt in losing one of the finest men in Botswana. This experience has taught me that I am building a life here in Botswana, here in Nata. I am not on vacation for two years. I am creating a network of people who will support me and sustain me. I need people. Kedisitse was one of those persons; I needed him.

Dance Dance!

I know I’m about three years behind, but I totally dig Discovery.  Ra Ra Riot ‘The Thumb Line’ was my go to album when I used to snowboard (sometimes I miss the snow).  Wes Miles (along with Rosta Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend) putting a funky, techno, R&B twist to songs from the Ra Ra Riot album is something I can totally get into.

I have never been interested in dancing.  Sometimes my roommates would drag me to country dancing at the community center or salsa dancing at Salsa La Chocolate (remember that Elissa?).  But instead of dancing, I would spend my time critiquing and judging every person.  Maybe I was a bit self conscious.  I didn’t enjoy couples dancing, YSA dances, line dancing, hip hop dancing.  It was not my thing.  Things have changed for me since being in Botswana.  It helps that it doesn’t take much to dance in Botswana, sway your hips slightly, subtly move your hands about your face, throw in a smile and gurl, your in.  So I like that dancing doesn’t take a lot of talent (or so I think).  i also like that the old men and women will get up to dance if you put just the right song on at a wedding.  How can you feel self conscious when even your grandmother is dancing?   And for me, people pay attention and comment on every little thing I do (only a little bit of exaggeration), so if i start feeling self conscious about dancing, I’m going to have feel self conscious about walking, eating, my clothes, my hair, etc.  But i’ve found I really enjoy dancing and sometimes I even crave it.  I’m integrating!

Zaza twenty-ten

Speaking of dancing… we just had this Batswana celebrity, Vee, come to Nata for a little concert promoting the new Botswana Tourism brand.  Botswana is so small that even the best known singer doesn’t have a website.  (FunFact:  I named my cat after a song by Vee- Zaza 2010).  So Vee came to Nata and he danced.  Boy, did he dance (I might have joined at one point… on stage!). But he had these dancer friends, one of them was named Coming Soon.  And he was a crazy, creepy dancer.  But people LOVED it.  And after I got over all the hip thrusts, I started liking it too. (he is the one in the middle)

look at his face!

I was made for sunny days

I went to a few places around Botswana during the month of December.  You can see pictures of those adventures here.  Or go click the tab ‘photos’ and click on a thumbnail to view my picasa web album.

visiting friends in Mmadinare

December was long and boring but thank goodness for January.  Shout out to all my homies who sent me chocolate chips, dried fruits, letters and the new Sufjan Stevens Album- Cassi, Stephanie, Chelsea, Chaela and my Mom.  (Liz, I’m sure the package will come soon).

It is officially the rainy season in Botswana.  PULA!  For Nata that means sporadic showers during the day and with a downpour during sunset.  But it is still sunny.  So I can literally be walking down the street with my umbrella to shield myself from the oppressive sun and then the minute the sun goes behind the clouds I’m using the umbrella to protect from the rain.  Umbrella’s are awesome.

The Mighty Nata River

And practically overnight the Nata river started flowing.

flowing

I started doubting this would ever happen because I have been here nearly eight months and have only seen it dry.  But atlas, it is flowing.  I wonder if I will get some kind of disease if I go swimming in it?

under the bridge

I haven’t been swimming for a long time.  And I need to get to the water.  So, next week some friends and I are going down to the eastern cape of South Africa and going swimming in the Indian Ocean!  And we are going to pass through Durban for the purpose of eating incredible Indian food.

When I return to Nata, I am holding (with the help of other great people) a saturday workshop for my PACT students focusing on facilitation skills, in hopes that they will be able to teach their peers and possibly others in the community about HIV prevention, care and positive living.

Best of 2010

Here’s my list of the best things of twenty-ten!

Best Books I read

  • The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingslover
  • Nectar in a Sieve Kamala Markandaya
  • Daniel Deronda George Elliott

Most Significant Events

  • becoming an aunt
  • Joining the Peace Corps and moving to Botswana
  • Kali’s wedding in New Hampshire
  • presenting in a research conference in Chicago

Best Moments

  • walking into church in Molepolole for the first time in Botswana
  • When my sister-in-law announced her pregnancy the weekend before I left, on my Mother’s birthday.  we were all there, gathered around the table.  And then my mom opened her present of a baby’s book and she found out she would finally get her grandchild and things changed and then we sang karaoke until wee hours of the morning.
  • singing a setswana spiritual during my swearing in ceremony and it later being aired on TV. modimo o refile
  • my first night in my house in Nata.  It wasn’t the best night, but it marked the beginning of a journey.

Best Songs (may not have been released in 2010 but that is when I discovered them)

  • Let Your Love Grow TallI Passion Pit
  • Home Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
  • Middle Cyclone Neko Case
  • Will You Return? Avett Brothers
  • Take Me As I Am Au Revoir Simone

Obsessions of 2010

  • Baking (pizza, bread, cookies, cakes)
  • Writing Letters (missouri, utah, cape town, italy…)
  • researching future trips in Africa (Drakensberg, Zululand, Sudan, botswana to cairo)
  • GLEE
  • Loose leaf herbal tea.  My favorite is the 5th Chakra Blend from Mountain Rose Herb, but you cannot go wrong with a cup of pure chamomile.

Countries Visited

  • United States of America
  • Botswana
  • Zimbabwe
  • Zambia (sort of)

I almost finished a quilt in 2010, but then i didn’t.  Maybe 2012.

I’m glad I have a journal that acts as a sort of record of my doings, otherwise I would have completely forgotten that I had a reality that wasn’t botswana.  It’s funny how short sighted our perspectives become.