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New Post – Combined Posts

Posted by on December 1, 2011

Please Note:   This Post is Long, since we have not been able to be on the internet or upload pictures for a long time.  We may often have to combine several weeks of posts into one post because we have limited access to the internet.   There are 5 posts in one.  The 5 stories are in chronological order with the oldest ones being at the bottom, and they are marked 1 of 5, 2 of 5, etc.,   so you may wish to read from the bottom up if you want to enjoy them all in order.   Sorry for the inconvenience, and we will try to keep up as much as possible but we really want to post picture with the stories and the pictures are what are stopping us now.  Enjoy!

Post 5 of 5

 22-Nov-2011 – By John This county is full of TLA’s.   That stands for Three Letter Acronyms.  My work office is the DAC office.  This is the District AIDS Coordinating office.  I work directly with/for the District AIDS Coordinator. She is a very nice woman with a lot of clout.  She has a very important job position and is known by many people.  She likes me, mostly because I can fix just about anything in her decrepit office, but also she likes the way I show her respect.  The more I respect her the more ways she helps me make my job and my life more enjoyable.

The country is divided into 15 District AID/ (HIV) Coordinating offices and each District has a DAC who is responsible for the administration of all issues involving the AIDS epidemic in this country.  This includes allocating the billions of dollars of aide that is given each year by the US and other foreign countries, accepting and reviewing grant requests from organizations in their district, organizing and implementing the hundreds of AIDS education and prevention activities that go on each year and all kinds of other stuff.  My basic job description is to assist the DAC with as much of this as possible and to compliment it with IT support.

Unfortunately, as in many under privileged countries, there is never enough money to go around and there is always a reason not to get something done, so everything is slow and could be deathly frustrating if you don’t radically change your expectations.  I have been able to do this pretty well, but there remains an amount of frustration in seeing a 25% efficient environment. More to come soon….

Post 4 of 5

21-Nov-2011 –   Settling In – By John

It has been almost one week that we are here in our new home.  Everything is just fine.  We have a functioning kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.  Combined we are well above the “basic” human requirements.  Notice the shelf above the stove?  It is a top level grill!  How many of you in America have a top level grill!  We are so very very lucky:

Our-New-Kitchen-2

 

Except we still have no hot running water, and now it is settled that they are not able to repair the water heater on the roof.   This is not a problem right now, since it’s very hot and I have rigged up a shower device in the bathtub and the cool water showers are pretty welcome.  However, when winter comes here next June it will be very cold.  I plan to Mcguiver something for some hot water in the bathroom.  There is no electrical in the bathroom, or even close, so I’m not sure what I will do yet. I did call someone from the Gabs to come look for 300P – but when he got here he told us of a teacher he had as a child who was a peace corps volunteer.  He remember her fondly and said there were not many teachers around then.  He waived the 300P change and is now looking for a used geezer for us.  The PC does have a lot of good will here.

We are slowly getting the house organized and all our stuff put in sensible places.  I ended up buying a drill and some tools, which turns out to be a tremendous investment.  Concrete walls and ceilings make for tough decorating!

We have mounds of papers from the Peace Corps and from our jobs and Carol was smart enough to bring file folders, even though the standard paper size is slightly different and things don’t always organize efficiently.

Pens seem to be a commodity in this country.  Everyone has roughly one, and they covet it like cash.  The 20 nice pens we brought from the US have all managed to walk off somehow.  Not sure if it might be the 10 fun little kids that come to our house each day to get orange juice and practice writing one English word a day.

There are about 15 hardware stores in town, all selling exactly the same thing for all different prices.   They have most of the basic bare bones necessities I have needed so far.   There are no department stores, but there are 30 stores called China Shops.  These are shops owned by Chinese who speak nothing but Chinese, not even Setswana!   They come here to live and do business because they have an export connection back in China and it’s a decent living.  But they all sell exactly the same stuff!  They are all arranged in side in exactly the same way and they all respond to each customer with the exact same disdain.  It is humorous to walk from shop to shop comparing the marginally different prices for the same low quality, cheap stuff. We must travel to the state capital to get tools and other non everyday things like a washing machine, water heater, real coffee, real maple syrup, electrical cords and computer equipment.  We are not allowed to go to Gabs for three months.  However, my boss also has work related issues that luckily take me there.

We have arranged the adequate old dorm-like furniture and put up some small wall decorations like a map of the US, but there won’t be any wall art like we were used to!

The water for the whole town is an issue and most everyone goes without running water for one day or so a week.  It seems to reliably come back on, but it’s a bit disconcerting for us so far.

Our friends Pat and Susan sent us a nice care package the other day and two of the items were plastic bottles of Listerine, which we had requested on our Wish List.  I have been using the Listerine for 3-4 days now thinking “man, the flavor of this Listerine is really strange.  I don’t remember it being this strange”.  I thought to myself “hmmm,  I know that stuff taste different in different countries so I must just be getting used to African stuff and ….oh well….maybe  it is a little old or something”.   Then this morning, after 3 or 4 days of gargling, I had a sharp realization!   This Listerine tasted just like Whiskey!  Whooooa!   It IS whiskey!  HA!  Me and Carol had the biggest crack-up we have had in months!  How sneaky and thoughtful!   So, thanks to all of you who have sent us a care package and brightened our lives immensely!

For anyone who didn’t see it, our Contact US info is updated to reflect our new mailing address of:   Carol Reckamp – Gofaone John Ratkovich – Tiroyaone Peace Corp Volunteer Kwena Sereto CJSS Private Bag 0018 Molepolole, Botswana   Please notify us by email if you send anything so we can be on the lookout for it.

Post 3 of 5

November 21, 2011 – Settling in and Starting Work – By Carol Our House:After 60 hours of cleaning, 6 cans of spray-paint,

Our-New-Home-Back-Yard

10 rolls of steel wool, and another 20 hours of carpentry the house is now livable.  Not exactly nice – but at least as good as any really cool college campus apartment.  We have Autumns pictures and maps as art, a rigged spare bed for a couch, and a garden hose for a shower.  What more could a person want?  I have provided a few pictures below

Our-New-Home-Front

Our-New-Home-Yard

Our-New-Bedroom

Our-New-Home-Chickens

Our-New-Bathroom

Our-New-Livingroom

Our-New-Wall-Art-1

The Snake:  I did have one bad freak out moment when we came home and there was a two foot snake curled up between the screen door and our

Our-New-Kitchen-1

front door.  John keeps insisting it was a garden snake – but I think it was a black mamba.  Now I check the house every time I come home and when I wake up.  I open all cabinets and closets very slowly.  I can’t wait to get over this fear.

 

Children:  Everyday when I come home, two to 8 children are waiting for me or they come to my door shortly.  As I have said many times the African children are so very different than American children.  All the girls that come over want to clean my house or help me clean the house.  They also want to help cook dinner and work in the garden. I play with them by reading, writing and spelling things in English.  They try to help me with Setswana, but they too get frustrated at my pronunciation.  However, they love the lessons.  When they come to the door they ask if they can come in and write with Gofaone! I spend 10 to 30 minutes with them and then tell them they have to go home and they all leave quite peaceably. These children make me feel good every single day.

My Job:  As I stated before, the school I teach at was in its final week and teachers are preparing for break.

Molepolole-Kwena-Sereto-School

However, I have been sort of disappointed (maybe a lot disappointed) that everyone was not here waiting to hear my ideas and start collaborating immediately.   I was becoming angry that all the teachers speak Setswana to me and around me – even though they are perfectly fluent in English and in fact the School requires all classes be taught in English.  Some teachers would say the same thing to me 5 times getting slower and louder each time.  I ask them to tell me in English and they will not.  I have been trying to convince myself this rudeness is for my own good as it will make me learn the language quicker – but seeing the silver lining does not stop the rain in a black cloud.

Molepolole-Kwena-Sereto-School-2

I also didn’t like that John seems to have a job I would be excellent at doing and he likes his job and they love him.  (He is reviewing programs and budgets in our district to send to the national government for funding as well as his computer work). I kept trying to tell myself to be patient and to just let this roll out how life always does.  I remind myself of the changes and the simple things I wanted when I came and how good I felt in my plans to come.  However, on Friday I sat in the office and read a 250 page book about helping teenagers built peer support clubs to help each other and went home furious that I spent my day sitting in an office reading a book.

But as Life continues to unfold as it should – I found that is exactly what I should have done.  There is a club at the school for teen girls called “Girls Club”.  They asked me to come and stated they needed some adults to help them work through life problems.  It was awesome!!!!  They really truly did want adult guidance.  I was so grateful I had read that whole book on Friday!  I helped discuss many different issues related to maturity, parents, and of course relationships and sexuality.  Several girls stayed after to discuss other issues.  I really truly felt like they listened and they wanted my support and approval.  They wanted and needed some answers.  I could see that everything I wanted was going to be available here.  A few other nice things worked out that day as well.

Gratitude:  I don’t know why I am always amazed that things flow and fit and life just works.  I get too caught up in the day to day snags and I lack patience to fully enjoy the big picture.  Today I was reminded that while life is often hard – it is also good.  I am here in Africa with my wonderful husband in a house that gives me all the shelter and comfort a human being needs.  I was able to help several girls who asked for help.  I was able to teach a few kids some of the alphabet.  I have love, comfort and a purpose.  I can’t think of anything else I could want.  I will go to bed grateful again tonight.

Post 2 of 5

15-Nov-2011 – Official Now – By John

Well, it is official now!  We are officially Peace Corps Volunteers today.

All-35-of-us-become-real-PCVs

We took an oath of allegiance and were sworn in by the Country Director and the US Ambassador.  Prior to today, we were not considered PCVs, but only Trainees, and therefore were subject to different rules and governing. The swearing in ceremony was exciting but quite drawn out.  The Botswana people are fanatical about proper protocol at meetings.  Every meeting is started and ended with an extensive, out loud prayer.  30 minutes is allotted on the program for this.  After the opening prayer each dignitary who is invited to speak on the microphone is dutifully bound to address, by name and position and smothered with praising

JM-and-Carol-Finally-Become-Real-PCVs

compliments, each of the other 8 to 15 dignitaries and then acknowledgement of all the absent dignitaries who were scheduled to be present but were not.  This is repeated for each person, so everyone is acknowledged as many times as there are dignitaries present.  This makes for a VERY  affair.  After the public notice they inform the audience “All proper protocol has been followed”.  I dread the day when they forget to follow proper protocol.

After the ceremony it was time to pack up and start the moving process to our new permanent homes.  This was a bit chaotic, but it all got done in the end. Carol wrote about the house so I won’t repeat most of it.  This is just some follow up thoughts that I’m not sure she had in her post. Our new home is in a town called Molepolole.  It is the 2nd biggest village (not town) in Botswana with roughly 70,000 people.   We are located on the school property on the outskirts of town, about 5 miles from the village center. That means we can’t really walk to town, so we will have to take a taxi or kombi (a van that waits at one end of town until each seat is filed then it makes a route to the other end of town) each time we need to go to town. Carol gets a one minute walk to work and John has to walk a mile to take the kombi to work in the heat with a pressed suit.  That sucks.

In our home there is an electric meter on the wall with 54 units of electricity on it, which will run out shortly, so we will have to buy our own electricity and then submit receipts to the PC in hopes they will reimburse us some time in the next 6 months.  I went and bought 1000P to avoid this.  They were shocked!  People buy about a weeks worth at a time usually.  For 1000P I should have electricity for 5 months.

All homes here have only one outlet per room, sometimes two.  The outlets accept three square prongs, but the problem is that Botswana makes no electrical products.  All electrical products are imported from South Africa or the UK, which only make products with three round prongs.  So an adapter must be used for each device to be plugged in.  To aggravate this further, all the extension cords with multiple sockets on them are all South African style so an adapter must be used for each socket too.  This makes for bulky, cumbersome electronic stacks of adapters and plugs that not only look unsafe, but have to be kicked every now and then to reestablish the connection.

The house is a duplex which means we have a common wall with our immediate neighbors.  This is not too much of a problem on the inside, but the outside has some issues.   First the common fence we have is monopolized by their drying laundry, while their children climb the fence and constantly stick their arms through the fence in hopes of some connection with us.  This is not too bad, the kids are cute.  The neighbors also have a chicken coop with one wall made of our common fence.  The fence is quite deteriorated so the chickens roam freely under the fence and into our yard.  One particular chick seems quite intent on exploring the inside of our house and tries to enter whenever we leave the front door open and unattended.  It’s fun to tease it. But, overall, we are comfortable with the house, the village, the transportation, the food, the people, our jobs and just about everything else.

Post 1 of 5

November 12, 2011 – Sworn Volunteers and Our New Home – by Carol   Swearing In: We all met at the education center in Kanye for the last time.  Several of us wore traditional clothing, which is an “interesting” style of dress that the missionaries wore when they came to “save” the Africans.  In reality it is better to wear the missionary traditional clothes than the traditional dress wore for native dancing entertainment.  Many of the host families bought the outfits for their “kids” as a final going away present.  We paid 800 pula ($120 US) for our outfits below:

 

JM-and-Carol-at-swearing-in-with-lillian-and-morgan-and-in-traditional-dress

The whole ritual was pretty cool!  It felt good to hear the Ambassador and Peace Corps County Director thank us for our service.  Michelle Gavin, the Ambassador, reiterated Sergeant Shivers’ statement, that the Peace Corps represent the best parts of America and is everything America wants to be.

PCV-Swearing-In-Ceremony-Ambassador

Several of the VIP Botswana dignitaries defined our task and asked us to please, please help them to fight this horrible epidemic in their country.  They asked as though they knew that we could and we would.

A couple of people in our class gave speeches in the Setswana language too.  More than a few of us got teary eyed during the oath.

PCV-Swearing-In-Ceremony-Nate

After the event we celebrated Corey’s birthday with his host family.  They invited all of us and our families.  It was an incredibly nice party.

 

PCV-Swearing-In-Ceremony-JM-and-Corey

Mr. Khan, a very successful and generous Indian man, who previously had invited all of us to his house to watch and enjoy a religious slaughter of cows and goats and chickens for an incredible BBQ and to feed many of the poor people in our village on a special Muslim holiday, also had a big party for us with a really nice spread of Indian food.

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We were extra lucky because he happens to live right by our house and we could stay a little later not worrying about walking home in the dark. Overall it was a great send off and we left Kanye and each other with incredible feelings of good for America, Botswana and each other.  We all left to go make the world a better place.  It was one of those moments in life when you fulfilled and all is right. 

 

Pick-up:  After several attempts at pick-up, John and I finally got to Molepolole.  The drive was beautiful. We passed through several mountains that looked like a mix between the Ozark and Rocky mountains.  The mountains were old and low but full of jagged rocks and interesting desert formations.  We were getting very excited, thinking of a great mountain view in our back yard window. We drove through the downtown and it was a little bigger than Kanye, but much the same.  And we kept going and going and going.  We ended up about 5K (3.5 miles) outside of town.  That means we can’t easily walk to town, Living at the school is quite nice for me.  But it is not so good for John whose job is 5 miles away. We pulled into the school where we would be living and the school looks like something between a prison and an army barracks.  All neat and clean, but very military looking, complete with razor wire all around the perimeter.

Our House:  Finally, we pulled on to the road of teacher housing.  The houses were all pretty old.  So old that the housing does not meet codes, but it has been grandfathered in.  The houses are duplexes and there are no solar panels on the roofs, which almost certainly means no hot water!

I was happy to see a big yard, and the last tenant had started a garden and we could still see the raised beds!  Yea!  We walk in.  I will start with the good parts:  There are high vaulted ceilings, which allows the heat to rise above our heads.  There are two bedrooms.  There is a new compact fridge and a new stove.  Both items seem to be from a doll house, but we are modest people now and no longer need the full size appliances.   We also have closets.  Lots of closets!   Many old concrete houses don’t have closets, but we have three very large closets. My new boss, Osi, was at my house waiting for me.  He had a few pots and pans, and other fun stuff from the previous PCV.  I could tell Osi wanted us to be happy in our new home.  That made me feel very good!

Ok – now the bad parts:  There is a geezer (large African electric roof top hot water heater), but the hot water has not worked for years and we were told it never will.  In fact, there is a small tree growing out of the geezer on our roof.  There are no curtains (other than the 1 curtain for 7 window sets that the previous PCV left us.  Our mattress is four inches thick on top of slat boards and the bed is only full size.  The place was dirty beyond words.  There are only 2 screens for the 15 functioning windows, allowing thousands, yes thousands, of mosquitoes in our home.  The floor tiles remind me of old converted basements from 40 years ago.  The walls are concrete so we can’t hang anything on the walls.  The orange high gloss paint around the windows and doors is chipped and dirt has caked in every corner and crack.  The toilet and the bathtub are ringed in rust.  The medicine cabinet is on old rusted metal box.  The ceiling is chipping and if you hit the walls hard enough dust and other undesirable things fall from the ceilings.  There are bars on the windows and doors, which is great, but they are so caked with 30 years of grease and grime.

All forces of nature collaborate to make us get up early.  The roosters start crowing at the crack of dawn, which is typically 5:00 am.  There are back up barking dogs in the neighborhood to ensure we wake up if the roosters don’t succeed.  If for some reason these sounds don’t wake us up in time, the mosquitoes will take their final drink on our skins before sun rise drives them back to wherever they go during the heat.  This all occurs concurrently with the bright blazing sun rise at 5:00 am accompanied with the 100+ degree heat.  There is no sleeping in this country!  Even John is forced to get up by 6 or 7am.

Alfred, the maintenance man, has promised to meet us three times in the last two days, but somehow misses every opportunity.  He never shows up, even when we confirm just five minutes prior to our appointment.  We hoped Alfred would let us borrow a ladder to clean all the dust, spider webs, and paint chips from the ceiling.  It would also be helpful to have a hammer, screwdriver and a wretch.  John is working miracles with his Leatherman, but even that has its limitations.

We cleaned for 10 hours a day for 3 days (that is 60 hours of cleaning).  When not cleaning we walked to town to look for bargains at the China shops.  China shops are stores owned by a Chinese person or sometimes an Indian.  These stores stock most house hold items for slightly cheaper than the few groceries or hardware stores that seem more like Botswana chains.  The china shops are crammed with crap.  I have a new understanding for exactly how much stuff the Chinese are making.  You should be grateful in knowing that the Chinese send the good stuff they make to America and the really crappy stuff to Africa.  It still costs about the same – so please enjoy the quality of goods in America.  I can’t wait to visit China and see what stuff they make for themselves, and how much it costs. (And of course see my friend Ye).

I just did my first two loads of hand laundry in the tub with a scrub brush.  It makes the previously laundry drudgery with the hoses and buckets seem like paradise.  I think we will end up buying a washing machine.  It cost about $300US, but I spent 3 hours washing, scrubbing, rinsing and ringing, before I started on the hanging, and ironing part.  I think it will be worth the hit on our savings.  Although I must admit time does not equate to money here as it does in America.

Final analysis on the house:  Despite all my complaints we are very lucky.  Another volunteer just moved into a house here in our town, which was originally meant for us, that has not had running water for two months.  Oddly, despite the lack of water the bathroom is regularly flooded.  It seems the water comes on for about 30 minutes a day at2:30 AM and re-floods the bathroom each night. Actually, after all the cleaning, the house is starting to look more livable, and in another month it will be like a real home to us.   Several PCV’s are expected to come to our house to celebrate John’s 50th birthday and Thanksgiving in a few weeks – we are very motivated to fix it up.

Our jobs:  School lets out in two weeks and students are taking exams now.  Christmas break lasts for about two months.  So there is not a whole lot I can do at the school now.  I will work on my community assessment project which is supposed to outline my work for the next two years.  I also hope to help John in his office. John’s boss’s name is Mother Theresa.  She seems quite competent and you can tell she cares about everyone and everything.  She sort of reminds me of the Catholic Mother Theresa.  I really am looking forward to learning from her. While moving to this house was/is a little tough right now, we still feel the mission in our blood and the drive in our souls. All is good with the world.

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