September 14, 2011
Two years and four months after we discussed joining the Peace Corps we are on the plane going to Botswana, Africa to help fight HIV/AIDS.
I have felt some moments of fear and a little regret, but mostly I have felt this is very much the right thing to be doing. I actually feel God’s grace and as though I have a tremendous opportunity to finally live a purpose that has often been elusive. I also feel I have another chance to be the person I have wanted to be without the hindrance of my past fears and insecurities. I hope that the opportunity lives up to my expectations and that I live up to the opportunity.
I’m not sure what to do with all this relatively new information about myself – but these awakenings indicate this is what I should be doing with my life.
The last weeks before we left were a whirl wind of packing, visiting, selling, and getting rid of things. All of this around three major going away parties and a big family dinner party.
The last few days became solemn. We generally were in that weird place of having too much to do and not knowing what else to do. I decided no one can ever really be ready to go live in another country for 27 months.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011 I left Chicago and everyone in the US that I loved except John, and I did cry while trying to manage some fear. We landed inPhiladelphiathree hours later and the emotional tide had started to turn. I was looking forward instead of backwards and I was excited. It was obvious now that in addition to leaving some things behind we had a future to accomplish – something we chose and worked hard to obtain – and we were on the cusp.
There are four other married couples in our training group which is called Bots 11. The group is a little older (and I think wiser) than the average Peace Corp workers. I am so happy to be with productive people who want to help and get things done. They were smart and pro-active. I have not had that in my life in such a very long time. It just feels great.
That last night inAmericawe had our last dinner by ourselves (Mexican). We went home after dinner and meant to work on the blog – but it was late and we had to get up at 2:00 AM to drive to JFK. We engaged in a flurry of phone calls and emails and texts good byes right up until take off.
Economy class was surprisingly nice on the plane. We had much more leg room than normal and our own TV/Movie thing, free drinks, snacks and meals. A very nice man allowed John to trade with him so we could be together, even though John had a last row seat that would not recline during the whole 16 hour flight. I think the good karma has started!!!!!!
I did not sleep more than 15 hours over the first four days; when time was available. I just could not rest.
On Friday, September 15, 2011 we arrived in the Johannesburg Airport
which was big and awesome with lots and lots of fun shops. It would have been better if we had had more sleep or had to carry less luggage – but it is was a cool airport.
So far Africa was looking like a first world country with truly beautiful African art. After three hours of wandering around, we took another bus to a plane and flew to Gaborone, Botswana. The local PC staff met us there along with the country director, Tim Hartman, along with three top managers and several other PC volunteers.
We were there and it was quite anticlimactic. Many of us felt as though we were on vacation and found it hard to imagine – that we were actually going to live inBotswanafor two years had not sunk in.
We drove to the Big Five Lodge, considered a luxury lodge – which equated to a Holiday Inn that had just exterminated for bugs. But we were glad – a nice shower with hot water, a comfortable bed.
We got an hour to freshen up and then we had a lot of exercises that were designed as “get to know ya” exercises and some were a bit hokey, but they all had a purpose.
We had to put on skits to demonstrate various concepts and ideas put forth by the PC. Our little group did win the big “skit contest” when we set up a Soup Nazi (Monty Python style) type administration desk to educate people. The county director voted for our skit too!
We ordered some sodas at the hotel bar and were only charged $1, but then they came back and told us they had made a mistake and they really needed $10 – seemed ridiculous!
The first of many situations we have yet to master.
In the Peace Corp: The next morning we woke up and got our really cheap, albeit functional, cell phones, P350 (that’s 350 Pula, the local currency), medical kits, and bed netting. We drove to Kanye to met our Host Families and we were happy to get someone who spoke good English and looked clean and put together. Our new host Mother’s English name is Lillian.
We are sharing a home with Lillian, Morgan, and Legos Mongala. They are very nice people. They do all they can to make us feel their home is our home. They also are ok with giving us private time, which seems to be much more of an American than African concept.
Lillian has taken John and I to meet much of her family. Her family is huge and she gets a lot of support and happiness from being surrounded everywhere by cousins, sisters, brothers and various in-laws. It does seem like having that sort of support provides for all sorts of things that money can’t buy.
Several of Lillian’s children have come both weekends to visit. They are great to talk too. All of her children are educated and have good jobs. They help with the chores and try to make sure we are comfortable. They are also kind and good people.
Money: 1 dollar equals 6.5 Pula. The first day we told Lillian we needed to go to the store and she said she needed groceries because there was no food in the house. We agree to go together and took a P12 taxi to town. She kept asking if she could buy certain foods and we kept saying yes – because they seemed to have no food. But the total grocery bill was P700 plus a P50 electric bill – and for some reason the cab back home was P25. We called the PC about this and we were chastised for setting a bad precedent. We were told if we had questions we should call before and not after the event. They were right. However, there was no food at the house and the PC was supposed to have delivered it days before. The PC said they would call Lillian and re-explain that we were not to spend any of our own money. I told Lillian I was sorry that I called the PC, but a mistake had been made as there was not enough money/food. It was a little awkward – but I hope ok. It is hard for Americans to know when things are ok.
Money continues to be an issue in this home and we keep trying to get more comfortable saying no and not buying basic foods and staples. It is hard – but I know the PC has been here for nearly 40 years and we should continue to strive to implement the way of living they have requested of us.
We also bought a toilet seat for which I am not at all sorry. We have all enjoyed pooping much more now! Very cheap toilet seats that would not be acceptable in America cost P200 or about $30 USD. However in Botswana – it is a fantastic addition to our house.
Food: We have had a food fiasco that keeps repeating itself. The first day we told Lillian we wanted to help cook dinner and somehow that turned into John and I must cook dinner each night. It may also have to do with the cultural manner of the youngest people always being responsible for cooking dinner in a home. I feel like we are making cultural blunders but not entirely sure what we are doing wrong and then how to stop it.
But none of it is a big deal – just a learning curve.
The worst part about the dinners is we are terrible cooks here. It is difficult to cook with no running water, all different ingredients than what we are used to and all different cooking tools and utensils. We can barely stand to eat our own cooking.
Most of the time they do the dishes which is another thing that takes 10 times more energy and time than back home. We have to take the dirty dishes to the outdoor kitchen and fill basins of water with the pump which is another 10 feet from the outdoor kitchen.
If we do dinner and dishes it is a good three hours of each night.
Chores: Laundry is another example of differences in America. We are lucky to have a washing machine, but it must be moved from the bedroom to the bathroom for manual water hook up to the cold only water hose. The laundry must be hung to dry and taken down and folded and then ironed. It truly becomes an all day event, taking hours of time each Sunday.
Town: We do love the little town. It appears the town has most everything a person needs. Items and food runs about 15% less than American stuff does, but we are only earning 3% of the salary we earned in America – so we will learn how to scrimp once again.
There is a nice café in town. So far we have tried the goat chops and the ox tail. All quite good! It is pretty expensive and we can only eat there once a month or so – but it is sort of like a slice of our old life to go there and be waited on.
Gender Issues: Many people warned me to be concerned about gender inequities and I was dreading having to figure how to deal with this. In the 10 days we have been here I have not seem much evidence of this. Morgan (the father here) dotes on his wife and helps her with chores all the time. In the PC office there are several Botswana men and women working side by side. I do see some things here and there and I’m sure the more I understand the culture the more I will understand the warnings I have been given. However, I can see the Batswana are making progress in providing equity to women and I am glad to see progress in this regard everywhere I live.
Stuff: John and I now save everything that used to be considered trash. We save every plastic bag and we use them before they pile up. We save the twine and twisty things on packages and in fact we save the package. It is funny how trash truly beings to look like resources when resources are limited.
Language and Cultural Training: The PC is doing a good job in giving us a full education. I know it must be hard to design a class for such diverse people who will be asked to do so many different things. They have many teachers and they try to break up the day with exercises that require us to restate what they just taught in different voices and manners. Sometimes it seems childish, but mostly I see the value in what they are doing. I am learning a lot of new things about this culture and the standard new things about a new job.
A standard day looks like this:
6:00 am rise – shower, organize, study
7:30 am – leave for school
8:30 – 5:00 – School
5:00 – 6:30 – Travel/Internet/shopping
7:00 – 9:00 – dinner/dishes/I
9:00 – 11:00 – ironing/homework/study.
It seems we don’t have any time. A great deal of time is being consumed by tasks that take less than half the time in America. Living with other people is fairly consuming too. We are grateful for the opportunity to learn from them, but looking forward to getting our own place with a real job. I don’t think this whole thing will really seem real until that happens.
Communication: At school they have been telling us that they would set up the classroom for internet “any day”. But on Wednesday they announced that the last Bots 10 class was anti-social and abused the internet and therefore we would not be able to access the school system. Everyone was quite bitter about this. There was some minimal resistance in class – but people kept quite. I like that this class seems to “get” things. These types of issues are never won in a class room debate. The suggestion box is filled and we will see what they come up with.
Other: Lillian also told me that she is lonely with her children all gone. She is hoping to get a little girl to keep her company and help with the chores. I jokingly asked if there were any available and she said there were and she is hoping to get one soon. While it seems strange that a child can be passed around like that – everyone seems happy and the community acts as if children are communal. Maybe the child can teach us how to cook.