I know you missed me!

So how long has it been…5ish months?

I could pretend like I’ve been ridiculously busy and I haven’t had time to sit down at my computer. That would be a lie, but I could pretend. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, it’s just that I haven’t had much positive to say, so I’ve been waiting for a positive blog post to emerge before I post all the other ones.

To be honest, these past few months have been a difficult time in my service. We have 6 months left. In the scope of my time here, that really isn’t enough time to start any new projects. But it’s still a large chunk of time. And my community has decided to start doing projects without me. That is what we strive for here in Peace Corps, the goal of a volunteer is to work themselves out of a job. A community shouldn’t need us around to get things done. But couldn’t my community wait until I leave to be self-sufficient? That’s the least they could do! But really my only complaint is that I don’t have too much to do right now. I have my clubs, but due to bad behavior by the kids, the fact that the kids have been busy testing (the term ended a couple of weeks ago), and the lack of gas, and therefore food, at the school, my counterpart decided it would be best to freeze my clubs until next term when the teachers can help keep the kids in line.

But being negative never helped anyone. I am bound and determined to stay here for the next 6 months, and if I’m staying then I’m definitely not going to let myself be miserable and unproductive the whole time.

So I’m going to update you with all the exciting things happening/about to happen in my life:

  • We have a newsletter here for Peace Corps Botswana and I’m now Editor in Chief! It’s a lot of work, but also so much fun! Lucky for all the volunteers here, we have separate Design and Layout Editors; otherwise I would introduce stock photos solely consisting of me.
  • In about a week, I’m helping out with a GLOW Camp in another region. I’m super excited 1) Because GLOW Camps are the best things in the world, and 2) Because I’m helping facilitate one my favorite sessions of all time on Self Awareness and Self Esteem, and finally 3) Because I get to sing and dance with a bunch of kids. What could be better?
  • In June, my amazing friends, Steph and Eric, are coming to visit me for 2 whole weeks! They’re doing a yearlong around-the-world trip, and have decided to stop off and visit me. Check out their blog at http://thewanderingsoles.com
  • In July, my region is planning our own GLOW Camp, but just for boys this time. We like to call it BLOW Camp, but we can’t say it without giggling, so officially, it’s still GLOW Camp. We’re so excited that the boys in our communities will get to experience the same awesome camp their female peers got to attend last year.
  • Right after our camp in July, we have our Close of Service (COS) Conference. This will be the last time my whole group gets together, and a few of us are planning on performing a pretty epic 90s mash-up.
  • In September, I will be turning 25. It feels weird.

Of course, these are just the major things happening over the next 6 months. There are a multitude of visits to other PCVs and projects/events that will happen between now and then. And those are the things that keep me busy and motivated.

Because before we know it America, I’ll be back!

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Teaching English Through Music

This is an article I wrote for our latest Language-Themed edition of our PC Botswana newsletter. 

 

My first week at site, as I talked to all my teachers and asked them what they wanted me to do at the primary school, I kept hearing the same answer over and over: “Teach the kids English.”  Even though I have experience working with English as a Second Language (ESL), my experience was either working with college aged students, or a weekly hour long creative writing class for kids. I knew how to work with kids and keep them interested, but thinking about teaching them another language in its entirety overwhelmed me. My counterpart and I decided to start slow; I would create a weekly English club where kids could come for an hour after school to improve their English skills.

Of course, every club needs to have its niche. Luckily our library had dozens of books about English-language learning games. I poured through them for a week, flagging games and activities I thought would go over great. But it still didn’t feel right. I mean, yes, the kids love games and activities, but what I realized we both bonded over was our love of music and dancing. This culture has an amazing affinity for music, one that I’m very envious of. This is a culture where High School Musical style spontaneous singing and dancing in a cafeteria is not only normal, but at times, expected. If I’m having a bad day, I can be certain that if I start playing some music in the library, I will soon be flocked by children wanting to show me new dance moves. If anything was going to interest the kids in English, I knew it would be music. I brought a guitalele (a cross between a guitar and ukulele) to Botswana because I couldn’t imagine two years without an instrument. At PST, the other (amazing) Liz in our group told me about how when she taught English in South Korea, she would use songs to help the kids work on their English skills. And that’s when I got excited. I spent the next couple of weeks picking out possible songs, creating lyric sheets, grammar sheets, creative writing prompts, all inspired by the songs I was choosing.

That first English club, I had over 60 students in attendance, and I let them choose the first song they wanted to learn. No surprise, “We Found Love” by Rihanna was a class favorite. We spent the first meeting listening to the song and going over the lyric sheets over and over. And from that one song, I had an entire term of English clubs. Think of any possible activity you could do, and you can do it with a song. The kids created dramas using the lyrics, we found all the nouns, verbs, etc., we attempted writing our own songs, we looked at a story I created using some of the song’s lyrics and worked on reading comprehension. By the end of term, I was bringing in my guitalele and promising the kids that if they behaved during club, I would play it and they could sing along at the end.

Of course, English club still has its flaws. If I got a pula for every time I had to cancel because of sports/revising/no food/teachers just forgot to tell the kids about club before releasing them, I would be looking at a paid-for dinner at Embassy. Then there are the days when the kids are absolutely impossible to control. I’m sure many of you can commiserate on the lack of a consistent counterpart with projects, and I’m lucky if I can drag teachers to club once a month. The kids know I won’t beat them, but there are still days when I yell louder than I should and have to kick kids out of club. But then there are the days when I walk home from school and hear kids practicing the songs and even (gasp!) correcting each other on their grammar.

After a year and half at my school, the kids in my English club don’t have a perfect grasp of the English language, which is to be expected. However, more students than ever can have a conversation in English with me that goes beyond “I am fine!” When my parents visited last September, they got to watch the kids singing the songs they had learned so far, and witness them writing letters to their American pen pals. Some of the letters had awkward phrases, such as “Mokatako shines like a diamond in the sky”, and “Botswana is a hopeless place”, but 6 months earlier, these kids wouldn’t have known how to spell diamond.

When I leave Botswana in 6 months, the thing I’m going to look back on as my favorite project won’t be the amazing GLOW Camps, student workshops, English-Speaking beauty pageants, or PACT Club. My favorite project will always be teaching the kids English in English Club, a club where singing and dancing were necessary tools for learning.

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Jamming out with the kids to “We Found Love”

 

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Readers Write: Homestay

Recently, my brilliant Managing Editor, Ms Maggie Bale, for our Botswana PCV Newsletter came up with the idea to do a Readers Write. If you don’t know what that is (which I am ashamed to say as a proud English Literature Degree-holder, I didn’t) look it up immediately!

This is my submission for our first Readers Write, last month. The topic was “Homestay”.

 

“Umm, I guess you can’t make hard boiled eggs by putting them in the microwave…”

Apparently that was obvious to everyone except my fearless cooking buddy, Kutlwano, and me. I had only been in Kanye for 2 weeks and I was already head chef at the Sentle house. Some volunteers in my group complained about having to cook food that had so much oil and mayo in it; they craved the healthier meals they used to make back home. I was happy to put as much oil and mayo as my family wanted in our meals, my problem had more to do with the fact that I couldn’t cook. You know those people who say they’re really bad at something even though they’re awesome at it? You know, that obnoxious person who says “Yeah, I’m really bad at volleyball.” But then when you start playing each other, she unveils the uncanny ability to spike it in your face each time she touches the ball.

Yeah, I’m not one of those people.

If I’m bad at something, I say it straight away. So when my host family told me they wanted me to be head chef, I tried to explain to them how my mom actually wanted to submit my name for the reality show “Worst Cooks in America.” That was until she saw that for their first challenge they had to make their best dish and she realized mine would be store bought Mac ‘N Cheese or putting together a sandwich. Maybe it was the language barrier, or maybe they just didn’t believe a grown adult couldn’t cook, but they still elected me head chef.

Luckily, my 10-year-old host brother, Kutlwano, loved cooking. The unfortunate part was that he also had no idea how to do it. Our first attempts at any type of salad were disastrous. I can barely handle a peeler, and I was expected to peel carrots with just a knife. Instead of shredded cabbage and carrots, it was chunks of cabbage and carrots. Kutlwano tried to teach me how to debone a chicken, which almost led to both of us having fewer fingers. I tried to teach him some good ol’ American recipes, like marinara sauce. However, I forgot the important ingredient of tomato paste, so it was a bit watery. Luckily, Kutlwano knew that if something is too watery, you put flour in it. Half a bag of flour later, we had some very thick reddish paste. Let’s just say our household was lucky they kept fish fingers stocked in the fridge, or else that night we would have just eaten noodles with butter.

Then came the day when Kutlwano wanted to try egg salad. He saw it on a cooking show on SABC and was convinced we could make it. Unfortunately, all we had were eggs, onions, and mayo, but I figured it would still be delicious. We stood in the kitchen, staring at the eggs when it occurred to us that neither of us knew how to boil an egg. Using my quick brainpower, I remembered how you can make all kinds of things in the microwave, like brownies! So I figured we could just put the eggs into the microwave and then we wouldn’t have to worry about silly things like hot water and timers. We were pretty stoked by this idea, as we were pretty sure we were making food history. In hindsight, I should have known that if a 10-year-old thinks it’s an awesome idea, I should probably check for flaws.

It only took 10 seconds for the eggs to explode.

The sad part is…we still attempted the egg salad. After scraping the cooked bits of egg off the microwave, and adding in the mayo and onions, it looked more like mayo porridge. That night we had fish sticks.

I’d like to say that over the couple of months I spent as head chef, I became the brilliant cook I am today, as in a person who can follow a recipe successfully. Sadly, that isn’t true. While Kutlwano and I kept trying, we eventually gave in to the fact that our specialty was fish sticks, noodles, and chunks of vegetables. So after a month, we stuck with what we were good at. Partially because we were sick of having to spend more time cleaning the kitchen after an experiment than it took to actually cook.

I learned countless lessons during homestay: how to bathe and wash my clothes and dishes without running water, how to kill gigantic bugs, a bit of Setswana, and my love of Korean soap operas (once again Kutlwano’s doing), but there’s one lesson I’ve kept near and dear for those days when cooking disasters strike:

Always keep your freezer stocked with fish sticks, just in case.

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Breaking Points

When you join Peace Corps, you make a commitment to live in a community for two years. Most of us volunteers go into our service fully expecting and hoping to keep that commitment. However, unless you are, or have been, a Peace Corps Volunteer you will never fully understand how hard it can be to stick it out.

My group has just hit our 20 month mark. We just have 6 shorts months left. We can see the finish line, yet it’s still so far away. Especially when day in and day out we have difficulties, stresses, and setbacks that make us question why we are here.

In February, one of my best friends here, Eden, had some health problems flair up, and because of those problems she decided to go home early. While there was a physical reason for her to leave, her main reasons were mental. She reached her breaking point and she decided she couldn’t handle another 9 months here, possibly in pain, and stressed out.

As Peace Corps Volunteers, we’re expected to take it. No running water? No electricity? A difficult work place? No transport? No cell service? Difficult living situation? No local friends? Missing home? Well we signed up for it so we better just suck it up. Each time something new happens—bat infestation, wallet stolen, computer crashed, house floods—we just throw it on top of the pile of deal-with-its, and move on. The longer you’re here, the better you get at deciding what’s worth getting upset about and what isn’t, but it doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t take a little bit out of you each time something new goes wrong. We become so convinced that we’re expected to take it, that we start expecting it of ourselves. Death in the family? Close friend leaving? A whole week of misery when all your projects/clubs/events/meetings are canceled? It doesn’t matter if we’re miserable; we need to suck it up.

Eden made a brave decision because she stood up and said “I have hit my breaking point. I can no longer be happy here in Botswana, and I need to go home.” And now that’s all I can think about. What is my breaking point? Have I reached it already? If not, how much farther do I have to go? Can I accept it as bravely as Eden did if I hit it? Can I forgive myself if the healthiest thing I can do for myself is go home?

These are not easy questions to answer. There’s no doubt that I have been going through a difficult time lately. My grandmother died five months ago and shortly after my best friend and support system left. My major happiness in the village are my clubs, however due to a lack of gas to cook food for the kids for tea break, my clubs keep getting canceled because the kids need to go home to eat.

Right now what I know is that I want to stay. I have not reached my breaking point, and hopefully I won’t. Life here can be really difficult, but right now the awesome things outweigh the difficulties. I love the kids on my compound. I love playing with them and them running to come greet me and carry all my stuff to the house when I get off the combi. I love it when their immediate instinct when coming into my house is to sit on my lap and cuddle with me. I have some amazing teachers at my school that I’ve grown really close to. They’re supportive and I can talk to them about anything, which is refreshing. I love when my clubs aren’t canceled and I get to hang out with the kids. I love that they love singing in English club. I love discovering more about my students: who is a gifted artist, who loves to read, who loves writing, and who need a little more attention. I love my friends here, who are never more than a day trip in a combi when I need some time with other volunteers. I love the sunsets, the simplicity, the stars, the set schedule, my grumpy old man cat – Madonna, and the time I get to just chill with me.

Yes, there are really difficult things about being a Peace Corps Volunteer. And there are long stretches of time when the bad outweighs the good. But there is good; a lot of it. And that’s why I’m still here. And that’s why I want to stay here. So hopefully in the next 6 months I don’t reach my breaking point, but if I do, I know I’ll be brave enough to admit it.

 But I’m far from done with Mokatako just yet. 

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Grandma

I have been relatively lucky in my life. I’ve grown up with loving parents in a safe (if at times, boring) town. While we weren’t wealthy, I never wanted for things I needed. I got to take piano lessons, play the French horn, go on a trip to Europe, go to a four year college, and study abroad. When I was four, my mom’s mother died. I don’t remember much about that funeral, except that my cousins and I were really obsessed with the Jenny Craig jingle at that time (1-800-94-JENNY – I’ll have to sing it to you for you to get the full effect). Since then I’ve been there for friends who have lost loved ones, and each time I was grateful that all of mine were still alive and well.

In December, my grandmother died. I was just recovering from my vacation in Zambia when I got the news. Before I left for Peace Corps I had a terrible conversation with my parents where we both acknowledged the fact that since my grandparents are older, they may not be around when I return. We thought we could help to prepare me. Nothing can prepare you. It had been 20 years since I lost a family member. 20 years of love, support, nurture, holidays, graduations, piano recitals, tennis matches, anniversaries, birthdays, vacations, croquet matches, card games, and delicious food. Nothing can prepare you for the devastation, the trauma, you feel when someone tells you your life has changed forever. Nothing can prepare you for the pain and emptiness you feel. Nothing can prepare you for the longing to be surrounded by the people who know and love you best.

The past couple of months have been rough. I made the decision, along with my family, not to go home for her memorial. We all thought it would be more harm than help to me. But dealing with death while in Peace Corps is extremely difficult. I’ve spent the last year of my life learning how to be alone, considering I’m alone the majority of the time. As a social butterfly, I love being around people, that’s how I recharge. Yet I’ve grown to love my alone time. I’ve learned how to be content all by myself. But as a first time adult griever, I’m learning how to grieve. And it’s really not fun. I’m finding that I need people all the time. I need them around me, or talking to me, or just sitting with me. That’s difficult in Peace Corps because we’re all in our own villages with our own responsibilities. And while I do have good friends in the village, there are some cultural differences when it comes to death that I’m too sensitive to deal with at the moment. They say that Peace Corps changes you as a person, it makes you stronger. I could already attest to that before these past few months, but I feel like I’m basically going to be Popeye after consuming 8 million tons of spinach when I get back.

Right now I’m taking it day by day. The grieving process is nothing if it isn’t spontaneous. Some days I’m perfectly happy and content. And then there are the days all I want to do is stay in bed and cuddle under blankets, which has become more tempting since winter has finally arrived in all of its freezing cold glory. Peace Corps is kind of like the grieving process in this way. You can have a terrible day and then there’s an hour when something goes right, or you decide to help the kids build a chicken coop, or you just chill out with your teachers and you feel happy again, and vice versa. So with Peace Corps and the grieving process, I’m currently on an emotional roller coaster.

There have been days when all I want to do is get on the next plane home. I want to be with my friends and family who know me better than anyone. All of the daily trials here are exaggerated when I’m already dealing with the loss of my grandmother. But each day I get a little bit better. And if not, there’s always tomorrow. I know she’s proud of me for doing Peace Corps. I know she would want me to stay. And I also know she’d want me to clean my house way more thoroughly.

So I’m taking it day by day.  

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Zambia: Where People Are Inspired to Be Adventurous, Possibly to Their Own Detriment.

Wow.

That’s really all I can say about Zambia.

I’ve been looking forward to this vacation for months; I was ready to swim in Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls. I was excited for all the free mangoes that would be falling off the trees. I was ready to go buy some Chetenge (local cloth that you just wrap around yourself to make a skirt and/or dress) (pronounced: Che-teng-gay). I was ready for open air markets and passing through small villages with mud huts. Basically, I was ready for the African experience I initially imagined when I was told I’d be doing Peace Corps in Africa.

And it was all of that and so much more!

When planning our trip to Zambia, our only the only activity we planned ahead of time was to go to Devil’s Pool at Victoria Falls. In case you aren’t up to date on your 7 Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls is one of them. Google it and you’ll see why. Devil’s Pool is a small pool right at the edge of the falls that has some special rock formation that allows you to swim in it without being swept over the edge. I was a little wary at first because considering how clumsy I am, it didn’t seem like a good idea to tempt death by literally swimming to the edge of a waterfall. But since I can’t let the fear of clumsily dying stop me from all exciting activities in life, I decided to go anyway. It was AMAZING! We took a boat to Livingstone Island, which is right at the edge of the falls, and from there our guide led us around the island to Devil’s Pool. We then had to do a combination of swimming and climbing on slippery rocks to get to the pool. Not only did I not get swept away while swimming, but I also didn’t fall once on the rocks! Be proud. Once we finally got to the pool, it was terrifying but exhilarating. The guide held our feet while we dangled off the edge of the falls. After about 5 seconds of that, my nerves were shot and I was pretty sure I shouldn’t tempt fate too much, so he pulled me back. But it was absolutely the BEST.

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We were being given specific directions of where to swim so we didn’t get swept over the falls.

 

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Just chilling in Devil’s Pool. No big deal.

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This is where I tempt fate and don’t die!

Not getting swept off of Victoria Falls hiked up my confidence, so when it was suggested that we do White Water Rafting the next day, I was all in! When we arrived at the quick orientation before we headed down the gorge to get to the rapids, we started to realize what we were in for. First of all, the safety orientation was intense. We had to learn all these ways to successfully fall out of the raft and how to let people rescue us. Basically we had to learn how not to die in the water. That should have been our clue that this was going to be intense. When we got to the rapids (after climbing down a slippery gorge in the rain, which was a death defying stunt for me in itself), the first rapid was a level 5. Apparently it’s one of the hardest on the river to complete without losing some people or capsizing. And we didn’t want to ruin its odds, so on our first attempt I was thrown out of the raft, only to get trapped in the extremely narrow space between the raft and the rocks the rapid was trying to crash the raft into. Luckily for me, our amazingly buff and seasoned guide – Steve – pulled me back into the raft. Unluckily for me, we then decided to attempt the rapid again. This time, however, the whole raft decided to capsize instead of just throwing me out. Instead of following the golden rule of always grabbing the raft when you’ve capsized, I grabbed my friend and we happily just started floating down the river together. The safety kayakers (who stayed with us the whole time so they could rescue us each time we fell out) saved us and brought us back to the raft, where we got back in and headed to rapid #2.

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Yup, that’s me on the bottom right being thrown out.

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And this is our second attempt at the same rapid.

It was an accurate introduction to the rest of our day.

Did I mention we went through 25 rapids that day?

Of the 25 rapids, we capsized 3 times, and I fell out that extra time on our first rapid. Maybe that sounds like good odds, but the kayakers kept talking about how we were capsizing really violently and they hadn’t seen such dedication to spending as much time out of the raft as possible in a long time.

During the course of the day we learned many things that probably would have affected my decision to white water raft if I had known about them before signing up:

1). The Zambezi River is classified as Level 5 (out of 6) (for danger and difficulty)

2). In America, you need to be certified to go down Level 5 rapids. We went down 5 of them. I now feel like I’m certified since I didn’t die.

3). It is not uncommon to have injuries occur, such as dislocated shoulders, broken bones, and sprained limbs. In fact, we had the special boat with a stretcher on the back just in case someone broke their back.

4). It was raining the whole day. While we thought it would make the rapids more gentle, in actuality it did just the opposite. It made them very angry.

5). The rain also spurred rock slides. While we didn’t see any that were too dangerous, we were told by some kayakers that if we had succeeded in getting through the first rapid right away, we would have seen the giant rock slide at rapid #2 that went halfway across the river and most likely would have taken out our boat.

Looking back, rafting was amazing, exhilarating, terrifying, and the biggest thrill of my life. At the time, rafting was the death of me. The worst capsize by far was our last one. By that one I was more comfortable with being in the water. I knew where to grab the raft so that I wasn’t being smashed by waves. I knew how to dodge rocks. And I was more comfortable with being punched in the face by rapids that kept trying to pull me to the bottom of the river. However, our last capsize happened at the very beginning of the rapid. I bought the video of the experience because there really is no other way to convince people I did this and that it was hardcore, and if you watch it, you’ll see that we’re in the rapid for no more than two seconds before we flip. That meant that we got to swim the rest of the rapid. Swimming through rapids is not fun. Especially not when you’re holding onto a raft that keeps punching you in the face.

Luckily, after that last capsize we had a lunch break. Of course by that time, our raft was no longer happy-go-lucky, and we had stopped singing out rowing song (Rowing, Rowing, Rowing Down the River…). I’m pretty sure we were in shock.

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Team Steve before we started rafting!

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Team Steve after a day of rafting. If you look close enough you can see our exhausted, forced smiles and the haunted look in our eyes.

But luckily, after lunch Steve successfully guided us through the rest of the rapids without any more capsizing. That day when we finally got back to the backpackers where we were staying, my legs looked like someone had beat them with a stick. We all were walking like 80 year old women, every body part was sore, and we looked like we had lost multiple fights. But we survived.

So what I learned from my epic white water rafting adventure is: When people in Africa make you sign waivers to release them of responsibility in case you die, it’s a super big deal. That does no normally happen. So take it seriously!

After our action packed couple of days, and because every possible body part was sore, we decided to take it easy the next couple of days. And since it decided to start nonstop raining, it was very easy to do just that. We met a lot of really cool people at the Backpackers we were staying at, including some PC Volunteers from Namibia. It was so cool to get to hang out with them and share our collective weirdness. We also got to go to an open air market where I bought more fabric for Chetenges than I could ever use. And the rain storms shook the mangoes off of the trees, allowing us constant access to their deliciousness.

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Shopping at a crafts’ market

When it was finally time to say goodbye to Zambia, I was definitely sad. But at the same time, I was so ready to be home in Botswana. I was ready to no longer be constantly damp. I was ready for my clothes to no longer be constantly damp. I was ready to be able to speak the little Setswana I know to the locals. I was ready to not have to think in kwacha and go back to pulas (currency). I was ready to be home, in my house in my bed.

All vacations have to end, and I think this one ended at the perfect time.

So I consider this a successful vacation. I didn’t die, even though I tempted death many times. And I was ready to come home.

Next up: Cape Town for New Years!

I hope you’re all having a fantastic holiday season! I’m envious of the Peppermint Mochas you get to drink and the sweaters you’re wearing while you hide out from blizzards. Enjoy it!

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A Twerking Thanksgiving

This is the second Thanksgiving I’ve spent in Botswana, so by now I’m basically a pro. My first Thanksgiving happened the week after we moved to site. Those of us in my region got together in Good Hope, at the house of a volunteer couple. That first Thanksgiving, we were absolute spazzes. Since we’d only been at site for a week, we had so much to process and tell each other about. I’m pretty sure the only quiet moments that weekend were when we were asleep. Along with that, Tom and Steph (the couple who were hosting us) barely had time to get any food together, so we had chicken and some delicious sides Steph made, but I could tell she wasn’t very satisfied with the meal. In order to supplement not eating our weight in turkey, we basically bought out the general dealer near their house and also feasted on chips, cheese puffs, and some funky pastries that no one really liked, but we all ate. But all in all, it was a great Thanksgiving. It was our first major holiday away from home, so it was nice to all be together and celebrate as a new family.

Let’s fast forward a year. This year we celebrated Thanksgiving a week early because Tom and Steph’s kids from America were visiting. Steph found an actual turkey; something I didn’t think existed in Botswana. And since we all had more time to prepare for the meal, there was a bit more variety. I even made a bunch of soft pretzels to show off how awesome of a baker I am. (Okay, so it’s basically the only thing I can make. But everyone loves soft pretzels, so I think I’m in the clear). This year 15 of us got together to celebrate one of the most delicious American holidays. As is a common tradition in America, before we ate we each went around the circle saying what we were thankful for. Since almost all of us are in the same intake group, many of us expressed how thankful we are for being halfway done, and all the things we’ve done since we’ve been here, and the family that we have created in our group. Personally, I am so thankful that Tom and Steph have opened their home to us. Whenever we need somewhere to stay with semi-reliable water, wifi, delicious food, and great company, we know that we can head to Tom and Steph’s. They’re our adopted parents here in Botswana.

Tom and Steph’s daughter brought a bunch of tabloid magazines with her from America, which of course we pounced on right away. Apparently it’s a big deal that Miranda Lambert lost weight, people are being jerks and saying that Kate Middleton looks old, and Tom Cruise is still nuts. A lot of the time we had to pass the magazines around to ask each other if we knew who someone was. We really have been here a long time. Well in one of the magazines we read about twerking. Now I’m sure all of you know all about twerking. But we’ve been here, so we had no idea. Luckily, we had my new neighbor Kim with us who was still in America when twerking was invented, so she explained it. That’s when our Thanksgiving became a true Peace Corps Thanksgiving. Or at least a true Bots 13 Thanksgiving. We attempted to have twerking contests, but sadly only one of us was good enough (and it wasn’t me – but that’s okay, I’ll stick to prancercizing). So basically we ended the night with three of us replacing lyrics in songs with twerk. If you think that sounds weird, then you haven’t spent a lot of time with me in America. That’s right up my alley. For example,  there’s definitely a video of me here competing in a lip syncing battle. I’m performing Baby Got Back and it’s pretty epic.

And now it’s real Thanksgiving. This holiday isn’t the worst to miss, mostly because we already celebrated it here, and also because it’s really hard to get into the Thanksgiving spirit when it’s over 100 degrees outside with no rain in sight. But the exciting thing is that this will be my last Thanksgiving in Botswana. This time next year I’ll be done with my Peace Corps service and I’ll be back home. And while I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world—even though it can be super frustrating, and difficult, and at times boring—I’m more than excited that next Thanksgiving it’ll be the proper freezing temperatures, I’ll be wearing a sweater, and eating a ridiculous amount of food. And I’ll get to spend it with my family.

So I’m going to end this post telling you what I’m thankful for today:

-That my electricity hasn’t gone out for unexplained reasons (fingers crossed)

-That my water hasn’t gone out (fingers crossed)

-That I have a fan

-That I’m healthy

-That I get to go on vacation soon to Zambia and Cape Town

-That I get to talk to my family later today

-That I don’t have to cook myself dinner because I’m being fed at a Secret Santa gift exchange I’m going to later

-For every package I’ve ever received

-That my brother finally sent me something (only took you a year!) (but thanks!!)

-That I have such supportive friends and family back in America

-For the amazing friends I’ve made here

-For my awesome cat Madonna who thinks he’s bigger than he is and that’s why he provokes and attacks dogs.

-For my fan (you can never be too thankful for a fan)

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! Eat a ridiculous amount of food for me! Oooo and pumpkin pie!

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Mokatako vs. Alpena

People here in Mokatako ask me about my home in America quite a bit. No matter how many times I tell them, they never seem to accept that I’m from a small town. Of course, most towns in America are bigger than Mokatako, which has between 700-1400 people (the census isn’t very accurate). But Alpena, MIchigan isn’t much bigger, especially considering that one of my friends is from LA, which has a population larger than the entire country of Botswana. The more I describe Alpena to the people here, the more the similiarities jump out me.

First of all, small town life is small town life no matter where you are. Here in Mokatako, everyone knows everyone. In Botswana, it’s expected that you greet everyone you see. Now maybe Alpena isn’t that drastic, but both here and in Alpena I can’t leave the house for the simplest reason without running into multiple people I know. My simple walk to school (probably a 3 minute walk) always takes at least 7 minutes, as I am always stopped to chat with someone on my way. Likewise, In Alpena it’s basically impossible to run quick errands. I’m always running into someone I know, whether I went to school with them, or more likely, my parents know them, or if we’ve just randomly met before.

Secondly, new people are super exciting. I like to think that Mokatako isn’t just excited about me because I’m white and from America. I think they were really excited when I came cause I was shiny and new. New people aren’t that common in small towns. And it’s the same in Alpena. When someone new moves there, you bet most people know about it and are interested in meeting them and in what they’ll be doing. For the first few months, new people are the main topic of conversation. Eventually, we get old and people find something or someone else more exciting to discuss. Now everyone is way more excited about the new volunteer who’s in the next village over, Kim, than in me.

 Most people tend to leave small towns to get jobs in bigger towns. A lot of my friends here have talked about how when we get home from Peace Corps they’re going to live at home to save money while they work. I would love to do that. Except that Alpena is a small town that most likely won’t have any job openings I would be interested in. In fact, a main goal of Alpena is to attract more people through having more jobs. Rest assured, the same problems are here in Mokatako. This small village has almost no jobs. And the jobs it does have are government jobs filled by people who aren’t from the village, but instead are placed here. So most of the young people go to Gaborone, or a bigger village, where they may be able to find work.
And finally, you always see the same people. Before I left for Peace Corps, I knew which days certain people would be at Bagel Stop for lunch. I knew what bars certain friends would be at. I knew what stores I would run into certain people at. If there was a community event, you bet I would know at least a few people there. Same thing here. My teachers started an aerobics class this week and before anyone came I guessed exactly which people from the community would be coming. In small towns, you learn each others schedules. I normally leave the village on the weekends, either to go grocery shopping or to visit other volunteers. Well when I was here last Saturday, 4 people remarked on the fact that I normally am not around. Likewise, I noticed when my landlady didn’t collect water on her usual day of the week, and that’s how I discovered she had a cold.

As I said, small town life is small town life. A lot of volunteers have had to adjust to living in these small villages. They really miss being able to hop in a car and within 20 minutes find any amenity they could possible want or need. I think of life in Alpena as good training for Mokatako. I learned to be patient, especially with shopping trips. Those 2 1/2 hours to get a good mall in Saginaw prepared me for the 2-3 hour ride it takes me to get to my grocery shopping village. Not having a Starbucks in my home town taught me to appreciate home brewed coffee. Not having a ton of options of fun things to do made me more creative. But let’s be real, Alpena spoiled me with multiple beaches.

So while Mokatako is a tiny village in the bush in Botswana, and Alpena is a small town in Northern Michigan, they have more in common than just me.

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Halfway Through

October 13th marked my halfway point in Botswana. A month earlier we celebrated our one year here. My parents were still here at the time and they took me and two of my friends to the capital where we hung out, ate delicious food, saw a movie, and shopped. It was a terrific one year.

The halfway point is a totally different story.

I’ve had to wait a few weeks after my halfway mark before I’ve been able to write a blog. Mostly because on October 13th, I was hating Botswana. Everyone warned us that the one year mark would be tough. While it’s really exciting because it means that we’ve been here for a year and we’re halfway done, it’s also depressing for the same reasons.

GLOW Camp was a huge high. We had been working towards it for 6+ months, and we all worked so hard. But after GLOW Camp, I felt useless. The way the school system here works is there are 3 terms: January-March, April-June, and August-November. Well, in the primary school, the Standard 7s take their exams to leave primary school and get into junior secondary school in the middle of October. After they take those exams, they’re done with the school year. The rest of the school has a month left to review and then take their exams. By the end of GLOW Camp, I only had one week before my Standard 7s began taking their exams. I was really excited to do my last PACT and English Clubs of the term. Sadly, gas for the stoves at the school wasn’t delivered, which meant there was no food at tea time for the kids. So I had to cancel my clubs so the teachers could release the kids early to go home and eat. It’s not like I can complain because it would just be cruel of me keep the kids at school while they’re hungry and tired. And after the Standard 7s finished their testing, my teachers and I decided that I wouldn’t continue with my clubs again till next year because the rest of the school is busy preparing for their exams.

 So I have nothing to do at school right now. Well that’s not completely true. If I wanted, I could go to school each day and help with marking papers, or do menial tasks. But once I start doing that, I’ll never be able to stop. I think October/November are the worst months for us volunteers in schools because everyone is too busy for us to do any projects. Honestly, hanging out with the kids is what makes me happiest. So to be stuck at this one year mark where I’m already feeling down, and then to not be able to hang out with the kids at clubs, has made it a lot worse. I miss America. I miss feeling productive. I miss not having to try so hard to survive. I miss consistent water. I miss not having gigantic bugs in my house every day.I miss not having to negotiate between two cultures. I miss having a good night’s sleep. I miss my family. I miss my best friends.

Along with the normal one year dip, my neighbor and amazing friend Julia, finished her Peace Corps service and left on October 16th. More than anything, Julia leaving was really depressing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so excited for her to be going back to America and doing all great things she’s planned. She deserves to go back home, she did her two years. But hanging out with her those last few weeks, I was constantly reminded that I was still a year away from going home. All the exciting things she was planning–the  restaurants to eat at, the friends to visit, her holiday plans, her travel plans, her life plans– they all made me so homesick. Julia was my rock. She was only 9 km away, and always had great advice or knew the answers to my questions. She was my big sister. I had completely come to rely on her, and now she’s gone.

Right after she left I was really upset. I missed our meetings and hang outs. I miss watching movies all day while eating popcorn with weird spice concoctions on it that we had discovered. I miss her brazen attitude and our awesome dance parties. But I’m lucky because Peace Corps replaced Julia and I now have an equally awesome volunteer only 9 km away once again. Instead of being a little sister, I’m now a big sister. Honestly, having Kim move next door has infinitely helped me out of my funk. She asks me questions, and I know the answers. Right now she’s adjusting to living on her own and integrating into her community, and I’ve been doing that for over a year. Just spending an afternoon with her makes me realize and appreciate all that I have accomplished and been through. And I couldn’t ask for a better new neighbor – I mean she also loves the Space Jam soundtrack.

A couple of weeks back I sent out some emails to friends where I said to every one of them that I can’t find one redeeming quality about my life in Botswana. Of course right after I sent that email, the kids on my compound knocked on my door and brought me CoolTime (which is basically a Popsicle) and told me they loved me. It was beyond adorable. And it helped to remind me that even though I feel like I’m not doing anything right now, it’s not true. I’m giving positive attention to these kids. I’m having deep conversations with my teachers. I’m building more substantial friendships. People in my community are opening up to me and discussing their problems with me.

So to pull myself out of this funk, I decided to plan a Leadership/Gender camp for my Standard 7s after they were out of school. I told them it was a mini-GLOW Camp. I wasn’t really expecting many of them to come. I mean, it was already after they were finished with school, and most people in my village have family in South Africa that they spend the holiday months with, so I was expecting a lot of the kids to have already gone across the border. But to my happy surprise, I had more than 5 kids both days of the workshop. My sessions on leadership definitely went better than my sessions on gender. Part of the problem was that at least half of the kids that came have very low English proficiency. So while they’ve heard of leadership before and have a basis for understanding what I’m teaching, most of them had never heard of gender. Gender is a hard topic to explain, especially when the kids don’t understand much English. Luckily some of my girls that attended GLOW Camp were there and were able to help me translate my major points. I just consider the whole thing a success because 1). kids came and 2). they left knowing the difference between gender and sex. And it was really fun to just get to hang out with them. We played games, I let them watch a couple of movies over the two days, and we just chatted. I love my Standard 7s and I’m really sad they’ll be going to junior secondary school next year, but it just gives me another excuse to go visit Kim so I can visit them (they’ll be going to the school Kim is placed at).

So here I am: halfway through. I keep hearing the next year is going to go by so fast. And I can’t wait because right now it’s really dragging. I do what I can to keep busy. I’ll probably spend a lot of time planning out my clubs for next year, and reorganizing the school library, and daydreaming about my December vacations and visiting other volunteers. And each time I get down, I’m just going to step outside and play football with the kids on my compound, or have a dance party with them, or invite them in to color. They’re why I’m here, and they’re why I’m staying.

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I am Woman, HEAR ME ROAR!!

After months and months of planning, GLOW Camp became a reality! In case you forgot, GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World, and it was a 4 day camp that 9 other volunteers and myself planned for 61 girls in our region. It was AMAZING!!

Each day we had different sessions with the girls that ranged from HIV/AIDS and MCP (multiple concurrent partners), to self esteem, to puberty, to future planning, to mental health, etc. It was a giant camp full of women’s empowerment. Generally in Botswana, boys are seen as more important than girls, and so they get a lot more attention. Many of the issues that girls go through are because of low self esteem, especially in this country, but this camp taught me that these issues are universal. A girl is less likely to get HIV if she’s confident enough to insist her partner wears a condom. A girl is more likely to continue on with her education if she has goals and plans for her future. A girl is less likely to be ashamed of her body if she understands how it works. The point of GLOW is to empower these girls to realize that their lives are theirs to live and they are amazing individuals with so much to offer to the world!

 I brought 5 girls from my school along with a counterpart, one of my favorite teachers. The girls had a ton of fun, and the fact that we were staying at a giant high school and basically had a 3 night slumber party definitely added to it. While the point of the camp was to empower the girls, we also wanted to bring girls together from all over the region to create a community within them. While the girls were happy to stay in their school groups the first day, as the camp went on and we did game after game after ice breaker after ice breaker, they started to come out of their shells and mix with each other.

The theme of the camp was “I am woman, hear me roar!” and it just so happened that I found the Katy Perry song “Roar” online the day we decided on the theme, so it became our theme song. Well, basically I decided it was the camp’s theme song and made the girls sing it all the time and we even had jam sessions singing it with my guitar. Along with constantly singing that song, we also made the girls roar. We thought it would probably be like pulling teeth to get them to do it, and that we would have to roar a ton first so that they would join in, but the very first night we asked them to roar, it was so loud I think it scared the kitchen staff. The girls responded so well to the theme and my girls are still obsessed with that song a month after. Let’s be real, I’m still in love with that song.

The girls ranged from upper elementary to mid-high school, so we had a pretty crazy mix. I absolutely love my primary school, but interacting with older girls was so nice. We were able to actually have conversations (partly because they understood English better), and they connected with us on a much deeper level. But I would never trade in my kids. While the camp was amazing, it was also incredibly exhausting and frustrating. We were on the go from 6:00am-11:00pm each day. And, we were entirely funded locally. While that’s really awesome, we had some communication issues with our funders which made certain portions of the camp really stressful. But all in all, it was amazing!

The second day of the camp just so happened to be on my 24th birthday. The day started just right with another volunteer and I having a dance party in the dining hall while we waited for all the girls to gather for breakfast. The volunteers who I did the camp with are my best friends here, so it was so amazing to get to spend my birthday with them. Plus, when the girls found out they all sang to me, which was absolutely adorable. And Julia ran all the way back to Tom and Steph’s house (a Peace Corps couple who live in the village we had the camp in) just to make me a cake – vanilla with a melted candy bar as frosting. It was absolutely delicious.  I must say, it was a perfect birthday. I’ll never forget my 24th birthday because it was during such an amazing experience in my Peace Corps service.

On our last day of camp, the US Ambassador to Botswana, Michelle Gavin, came and spoke to the girls. I’m pretty sure us Peace Corps Volunteers and the adult Batswana present were way more excited to chat with her and hear her speak than the girls were, mostly because we understood what an exciting thing it was to have her come to our camp. She said amazing things to the girls though and really reiterated our points and themes. After she spoke she asked if anyone had questions, and of course one of the only questions was “Do you know Obama?” The girls all roared for her and we all got a picture together, which was a great end to the crazy weekend!

I should probably mention that I’m the game/ice breaker queen. Another possible career goal should be “professional camp counselor”. That exists, right? My main goal was to turn each game into a dance party so they would teach me some of their dance moves, which they definitely did. I’m going to come back to America with even better dance moves than I had when I left (hard to believe, I know).

I’m really not doing GLOW camp justice in this blog post. I think the pictures and videos I collected would explain it better, but sadly the internet is too picky and slow to put them up. But there are some pictures from GLOW up on my facebook, so you can get a look at the reality of the camp there. We had the girls write affirmations to each other, and some wrote them to us too. So as a closing I’m going to put down my favorites that I received!

“You made me to enjoy the camp. You dance ah! is funny and interesting”

“You really make me laugh!!! I can get addicted to being around you all the time”

“You guys were awesome. You have been caring for us in a nice way. When I get home I will tell my mother the whole story and she will be impressed!”

“First of all I wanted to say I’m sorry for not saying Happy birthday. Now happy birthday. I hope you enjoyed it.”

“‘You are absolutely fantastic. One day you will be a wonderful doctor!’ That is the speech you gave to me and it will always be in my soul.”

“I love your funkness” (Probably my favorite)

“It was a pleasure having you guys here and we really learned a lot at the camp and let’s all hear you ROAR!”

“I really enjoyed the games you taught us, activity lady.”

Okay so these explain less about the camp and are more just awesome and adorable and probably give you a good idea of how I basically fit in like one of the girls. But all in all, GLOW Camp is the reason why I’m here. It makes all the bad days and frustrating situations, huge bugs and unrelenting heat completely worthwhile. I will remember GLOW Camp for the rest of my life, and I can already say without a doubt it will be the highlight of my Peace Corps service.

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