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.

 

Jalo Jalo

I’m finally starting to give away Zaza’s babies.  They reached there uber-cute stage some weeks back.  But they are hungry and needy. So i’m happy to give them away.  Remember when I met Michelle Obama?  I found some of the pictures from that special day.

Heidi and I cannot contain out excitement

And here:

addressing the crowd

and then she came over to us

shaking hands

I promised my mother I would post pictures of my ‘before & after’ of my painting of the kitchen.  It only took a year!

before

and the after:

after

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 www.botswanateenclub.wordpress.com

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.

Girls Camp

Exciting things are happening in Nata. And the MOST exciting thing for me, is this upcoming project for girls. In this culture, it is expectant of young girls to have children before marriage, to not only prove their fertility but to fulfill their duty in society. In addition, girls often have little to no say in relationships. There is the ever-present reality that girls are entering into transactional relationships with no negotiating power. We believe that through building confidence and self-esteem, young girls will be better prepared to make healthy decisions based on heir individuals preferences and not necessarily of societal beliefs. So we are hosting a Girl’s Health and Empowerment Camp for Girls this coming November.  The camp will be focused on creating a safe space to learn about a myraid of health and social topics.  But to also help girls create and find voice.

ANYWAY, if your interested in helping us complete this project please donate.  Click here to find out more about the project and how to donate

What I Do All Day Part 3: Idea Filtering

A new senior secondary school opened in Nata this past March. I knew I wanted to work with the students but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. So I set up some meetings with the headmaster and eventually introduced myself to the students. I said who I was, what my specialties were and that I was eager to be involved. Then for the next month, I came to the school twice a week in the afternoons. I sat in the courtyard and waited for students to approach me with ideas on how I should be involved in the school. I got a lot of great ideas and some funny ones. We did come up with two clubs to form, a drama league and a PACT club.

This small activity is something I do on a day-to-day basis in the village. I’ve been here long enough, that people understand a little bit about what I do. So people will come and meet me at the clinic, or stop me in the village and tell me their ideas. Mostly, I’m wiling to help others, as long as I have some skill pertaining to that and is loosely related to my mandate. Sometimes it will be helping a young person fill out an application for a business grant or teach an individuals about project proposal, or editing a society’s constitution, etc, Sometimes the person never follows up and I try not to be disappointed… it happens.

In May, some students that from the school’s Anti-drug club, found an ad in the paper about some events in the capital city for the Month of Anti-Drug Abuse in June. They to came to me, with paper in hand and asked for help. So together, we contacted the organizing agency in Gaborone and said we had some interested students. The Department of Youth sponsored their accommodation and meals, BOSASNET gave presentations and the Police provided transportation for the 15 students. I loved working on this because it was like every partner was as equally as involved as the other- the teachers, the organization, the students, the police. I didn’t have to do all the work by myself

Meeting Michelle Obama

The credit for this picture goes to the US Embassy in Gaborone. Can you see me?

Michelle Obama and Fifty Happy PCVs

They had organized a meet’n’greet for the US Mission staff in Gaborone at the US Ambassadors house in Gabs (btw the Ambassador, Michelle Gavin, is a RPCV). We had to be there at least a hour before the First Lady arrived.  When she arrived, she gave us a few ‘thank yous’ and a shout out to the Peace Corps Volunteers.  She then went to the audience (which we weren’t a part of, because they had petitioned us to the other side of the yard) and shook everyone’s hand.  She then came over to us volunteers (there were 50 of us) and shook all of our hands and posed for this picture.  And then she was gone.

Mma Obama and PCVs

She was at the Ambassador’s house for maybe twenty minutes max.  But it was still a exceptional honor to meet her.  She is a remarkable, intelligent, and strong woman (her speech that she gave in Soweto is awe-some).  She didn’t have to shake all of our hands and address us with such kindness, but she did.  In terms of the US Mission Staff and personnel, PCVs are at the bottom of the food chain. And we have been made to feel that way, but not Mma Obama.  As a volunteer with the US government, it felt nice to be recognized and appreciated by an important American.  I like how my friend, Ross Szabo, put it in his huffington post article.

 

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.

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.