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The End of Training and New Starts – by Carol (Note there is a new post before this one too!)

Posted by on November 7, 2011

Counterparts/Supervisors and jobs: Last week we met our Botswana counterparts or supervisors.  A “counterpart” is a Motswana person who is assigned to do the same job as a PCV is assigned to do.  The counterpart is responsible for introducing us to persons in the community/job, helping us adjust to the culture, acclimating to the work environment and learn the nuisances of communication.  John and I had a good impression of our counterparts.  Both counterparts were encouraging, smart, and as kind as all other Motswana.

I am assigned to work in a junior high.  I’m glad to be working with older children. While teenagers often have worse attitudes than young children, the Batswana teens don’t have nearly as bad attitudes as teens in America.  I personally like the intellect level of older children too.  I have noticed teen children here, just like America, think there is “nothing to do” and tend to be bored a great deal of the time. One of my jobs is to find ways to engage them in life and let them know there are literally millions of things to do – but almost everything does require some amount of personal effort.  And finally, show each child that the effort can pay off.

I also learned that my assigned school has 10 computers and only three work.  900 middle school children and another couple hundred administrators attend/work at this school with three working computers!!!!!

One of my top priorities will be to obtain computers and John will help me build a computer lab!  I was thinking 50 computers, but I have been told that will be impossible and a through evaluation should be done before I attempt this feat.

I told my counterpart I was very interested in expanding the school gardens and developing a curriculum in math, science, social studies, and life skills related to the garden.

I also want to start an English Club.  Children are tested in English when moving from one grade level to the next.  If you can’t understand English your education will eventually end.  I know how language can be a limitation and I can’t wait help these kids pass tests in English.

My counterpart, Osi, also asked me if I could organize a “Wellness Day” for the kids and staff.  I am now grateful to Illinois Central Management Services for having organized several “Wellness Days” that I attended.  (I never ever thought I would be grateful for anything related toCMS).

I have all these plans and I haven’t even visited the school or my home! I am supposed to complete a full community/school assessment over the next several months before making any plans.  I understand the value in this approach and will try and hold my horses in check.

John didn’t have as direct of a conversation with his supervisor.  He has more patience’s than I do and he is waiting until he gets there and completes his assessment before he develops any plans.

Home:  I was fairly disappointed to find out a house was not available for us at the time of the meeting.  The house they hope to move us to is occupied by two teachers right now.  If we get the designated house, it is at my school which is great for me in terms of getting to work, but it has its down sides too.  It is on the outskirts of town – and John will have to walk or bike (something else we will have to buy) at least three miles to work.  We are also far from shopping.

However, government housing is generally good. The houses are built to standards and have electricity, hot water (usually solar-powered) and appliances.  Teachers are government employees and they are often assigned to teach far from their homes. The government provides housing at the schools that each teacher shares with another teacher.  Sometimes the housing is dormitory like, and other times it is rows of houses, but usually the yards are small or non-existent (no garden then).  Also, many of the teachers go home for the weekend – so you don’t have much of a neighborhood.  But we will try to hold our disappointment in check until we verify the circumstances.

End of Training:  We are all glad to end training, but it is bittersweet.  We will be leaving our peers, and John and I literally like and have become friends with every single person here.  We are lucky to be assigned to a town with a lot of volunteers and our village is the assigned shopping town for another 10 volunteers that we are sure we will get to see every once in a while.  But we will miss many people very much.

We will not miss counting off and dividing into groups, flip charts, skits, power point presentations, and learning objectives.

We were asked to throw a good-bye/thank you party for our host families.  It was great to get to work with everyone in our own guided and creative ways outside the classroom.  We decided we would have a Thanksgiving theme and provide some American history/culture.

John and I signed up for the cooking committee.  We worked all night Friday night and got up at 6:00 AM on Saturday in hopes of enjoying the presentations and serving dinner at 2:00 PM.  Cooking for 200 was quite challenging in the face of the following obstacles:

  • Two ovens but the large oven didn’t heat above 300, but sporadically reduces down to 100 and then up again
  • Only four chopping knives and none of which was sharp
  • Only 100 plates, 135 cups, 30 forks, 40 knives,
  • Only cookie sheets to bake meatloaf (no turkey available) and dressing
  • No pitchers
  • No peelers (For 40 pounds of potato’s and 40 pounds of apples)
  • 3 small graters (to grate 40 pounds of carrots) – had to hand grate because the nice, industrial electric grater was broken just as so much other nice equipment
  • No can openers for 20 sealed cans
  • A second group of cooks arrived to prepare a separate lunch for 20 people requiring we share the stove with only six burners
  • No hot water
  • No plugs for the sink (we let the drains get clogged with food and then filled with soap water to wash dishes)
  • No hot water
  • Spices include:  Salt, pepper, sugar

The cooks missed most of the presentations while scrambling until the last minute to pull everything together.  But we did it.  We also learned that Motswana don’t like dressing and seem to think dressing is a way of ruining bread, and they also don’t like Apple Crisp.  However, they were grateful for the dinner and enjoyed the presentations.  They especially liked a song written and sang by a volunteer in Setswana telling them we love them and thank them.  Nate is a good musician and his song was compelling.   The host families did a skit for us showing their traditional dances, and offerings to the Kgosi (tribal chief) at the end of harvest.

John and I are using this cooking experience as a way to gage our hopes of having a Thanksgiving dinner at our house for other PCV’s in a couple of weeks – depending on how the house turns out.

The really bad news:  I failed my language test.  Not only did I fail, I started to cry in the middle of failing. People in Botswana don’t cry.  They often talk about their confusion and discomfort when American’s get emotional. The tester tried to end the test as soon as I started crying – because who wants to keep asking questions like “What do you like about Chicago?” and “What did you eat for breakfast?” while someone is crying.  I begged for second chance and she reluctantly agreed to let me try again and I did just as bad.  I left the room and many people where waiting for me at the front door and they were so sad to see me crying.  And I hated that more!  Honestly, I feel worse that I cried than I felt for failing a test I knew I would fail.

These tests are taped and independently graded in Washington DC!  This procedure is in place to avoid pity passing.  I can’t stand the thought of someone in Washington DC listening to my babbling attempts to speak Setswana.  And of course this will be on my “permanent record”.  One PCV here hopes to run for office one day.  Now he has to worry that this tape will come out during his campaign and show his lack of foreign diplomacy.

Luckily – since this is an English speaking country I don’t think I will be asked to leave but I will be assigned a tutor.

John thinks he failed, and I am sure he didn’t do great – but he may have got somewhere above failure.

One of my classmates, Becky, (who is learning this language very well) suggested that the malaria medication may be hindering our ability to learn the language.  (She is taking a different medication).  I thought that was a very kind way to make us feel good.  Everyone here is always trying to build their peers up!  When I retold this story, to illustrate how supportive Becky is being, another peer, Janice, who is a practicing psychologist, affirmed Becky suggestion.  Mefloquine is an anti-malarial medication that has many bad side effects, (but several doctors believe malaria is worse), including vivid dreaming.  And I dream every second I am sleeping now.  I have a dream in tiny micro sleep seconds I didn’t even know existed before.  Apparently what ever causes this dreaming can also interferes with normal brain processing especially at night, or at rest.

So now, every time we can’t figure something out, we are going to blame the Mefloquine instead of our own lack of sense or intelligence.  John said we have two years of being stupid to look forward too.  We are going to be grateful that we came here smart enough (at least we think we did).

Check Johns posts for highlights of the Halloween party and the diamond mine visit.

We still love our life here!  And are very excited about getting to our new home and new jobs next week.

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