Saturday, October 29, 2011

Downtown Thamaga, across the street from the house
of Kelli Haynes, the "Botswana  9" volunteer with whom
we spent a week.

The landscape around Thamaga is dotted with great
rocks and piles of rocks, some of the piles are hundreds
of feet high, and they seem to have been balancing
for eons.

October 29.  Two weeks since we last wrote and it seems like so much has happened. We spent five days in Thamaga, a one-hour  bus ride from Kanye, to “shadow” PCV Kelli Haynes, who has been in Botswana for fifteen months, so that we could experience service witha volunteer working with people and organizations in her community.
Kelli’s house is on the grounds of the Botswelelo Pottery Collective, which was our first stop of the day. It began as a mission project in the 1970’s and is now a fully self-sufficient business, very impressive. Most of what they potters do is make tableware, using some traditional designs and color.  They also do some larger work, as shown in the picture.
Carol and Kelli meet with the director of the
Pottery Cooperative
Their bread and butter is patterned dinnerware,
but the potters also do special work, like these pots

Kelli works with a junior secondary school (grades 8, 9 and 10), about 30 minutes walk from her house.  There are nearly 650 students who, in addition to classes, have a tea break in the morning and receive a hot lunch in the early afternoon - cooked in big pots over hot fires.  Students are highly disciplined.  
John and Kelli outside the office of the Junior Secondary
School where Kelli helps develop youth leadership skills

We assisted Kelli in the Guidance/Counseling class - often dispelling myths about the United States, based on the students’ understanding gleaned through television.  We also met twice with her after-school “PACT” Club - a leadership training class.  The students were shy, at first and after warming up to us became very articulate as English speakers (their second language) Needless to say, we didn’t get far with Setswana, which actually is not spoken in the secondary schools here. 

We also engaged in a rehearsal for a couple of students for a presentation at an all-school assembly.  It became an impromptu speech class as the students gained enthusiasm for the project. The two students who did speak to the entire student body did a very good job.
Students, all 650 of them, stand for a morning
assembly.  Their self-discipline during these
assemblies is impressive.

One of Kelli's leadership training students speaks to
her classmates about good study habits
These two students made outstanding presentations
to the students in Kelli's school

Every day, the kitchen staff cooks lunch for 650 students
heating these pots over open wood fires.

Also during shadow week we met Alpha, a young Batswana who has founded The Jubilante Recovery Centre on a wing and a prayer, with no financial resources, yet enormous energy and passion.  He speaks on the radio, and gets calls from people all over the country.  We had the good fortune of joining Alpha at the Botswana Police Criminal Investigation Unit in Gaborone for an interview on the correlation between substance abuse and crime. Alpha’s efforts are being supported by others including PCV Kelli as he is applying for a grant to fund his project to open the first in-patient clinic in Botswana. The connection between drug/alcohol abuse and the HIV/AIDS epidemic here was repeated often during our week of interviews at clinics, schools and community organizations.  
Alpha is a young man with a vision - and who just got
a paying job working with public schools, which will enable him
to bring his dream of an alcohol and drug rehabilitation
center closer to reality

Training continues and is actually more challenging now for patience and hanging in since that we have had some field experience.  Our group of 35 trainees remains strong and committed.

Last Saturday we attended the Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary Celebration in Gaborone at the American Embassy.  It was incredibly inspirational, including speeches by several local dignataries.  Our favorite moment was when the Country Director quoted Archbisop Desmond Tutu who once said  “Peace Corps Volunteers are people who work their butts off for no pay.”  Hmmm.  

Kids love games everywhere in the world, and
this neighbors of Kelli's are no exception
This week we received our site assignment at Goodhope Senior Secondary School in the Life Skills Program and met the Head of Guidance and Counseling.  Goodhope is about an hour south of Kanye, and the largest senior secondary (11th-12th grades) in the country.  It is a boarding school, with 2400 students, 60% of whom have been orphaned by AIDS.  We will have a house on the campus where most or all of the teachers live as well.  So after our swearing-in on November 9, the next day we will go to Goodhope, with hopes that the name bodes well for our upcoming experience there!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 15.  Forty-two years ago today we met in Cambridge Common, at the peace march against the war in Viet Nam. And here we are today so many years later still supporting peace among peoples in this beautiful world.

We're still marching.  Occupy Wall Street

That desire for peace, and for doing the little bit that we can to make the world a better place, has guided us ever since, and here we are, still working, now in Botswana.
We had an outing to the dam near Kanye.  No swimming,
however, because of a liver fluke called Bilharzia

It has been an eventful almost two weeks since we have last written. Our Pre-Service Training (PST) is almost at the half-way point, and right now we are on a “shadow”visit to a volunteer, Kelli, who lives in Thamaga, a beautiful village even smaller than Kanye.  The idea is to experience life at site in our program of Life Skills.  Kelli is an awesome trainer. At 24 years of age, from Tyler in East Texas, she is a natural PCV.  Aside from being from a land very similar to Botswana (hot, dry and dusty), she is honest, practical and has a great sense of humor, which are, we are learning, essential qualities to survive the Peace Corps.  Leaving our temporary home in Kanye on Monday, with the chickens and roosters all about, felt a little unsettling, even for a brief time, as we have so little that is permanent right now.  
So here’s the update on experiences in these past several days all of which are supporting our adjustment to this new country, culture and way of life. You see here a picture of a large village celebration (which we are finding the Batswana love!) at the Kanye Kgotla (chief’s gathering place), complete with amazing dancing.  
We volunteers were given honored seats at
this cultural event preceding, by a week, the enthronement
of the new Kgosi

Our training class also made an impromptu trip to a dam, and as you can see we were not dressed for the event, although the picnic and short hike were fun anyway.  PCV’s are nothing if not “patient and flexible.”  And we caught an amazing glimpse of one of the few unusual animals we have seen thus far --- a grasshopper.
We are looking forward to seeing lions, zebra and giraffe,
for now, it's donkeys, goats, cows and chickens,
and this six inch long grasshopper
Most of our weeks are spent in classes and here you see Dolly, our amazing LCF (the Peace Corps adores acronyms --- Language & Culture Facilitator) teaching us Setswana. Her hair this day was especially fun.
Dolly's "uplift" hairdo is as uplifting as her spirit.  She
has been a good teacher!
Setswana is not easy to learn, but Dolly makes it enjoyable and her patience with us is endless.  Plus we get to drink Botswana’s beloved bush tea during class!  Another cultural event was our neighbor’s birthday party for their 5-year old. We kid you not, the party was 10 hours long, beginning with cooking preparations, a huge lunch, candies, games, Bible reading, prayer for the children and dancing for all.  We spent the American 2 hours at the party, enough time to eat and visit with the family and neighbors, plus enjoy the children’s fun.

The neighbors started cooking over open fires at noon
for this five-year old's birthday.  The dancing ended at ten,
late for Kanye
Birthday parties for five year olds are celebrations
for everyone in the family, in the neighborhood

The end of our day, at the home of our host family, the
Baakanyangs, where we eat dinner every night.

So that is the scoop for now. We will be back soon with pictures of our current site visit after we return to Kanye later this week. As much of an adventure as this continues to be, you are first in our hearts and we love and miss you every day.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Saturday, October 1. After an intense beginning two weeks of training, we are back on line to update you all on what is going on here for us in Kanye, Botswana!

Carol, outside our front gate.  Our little house
is on the left, behind the tree and the pile of bricks

Our Host "Parents", Genasi and Thlabologo Baakanang,
outside the house they are building.  In the other picture,
this house on on the right.  People build incrementally when they
have enough money to do something - put in a foundation,
roof, install doors, etc.  

 We've finished our first two weeks of Peace Corps Training, mostly at the Kanye Training Center.  Two mornings were spent in the field learning about and working with Permagardening - there is a big emphasis by the government to get more people involved in backyard and community gardening as one approach to combatting the HIV/AIDS pandemic here. The goals of the garden project are to improve nutrition, decrease food imports, and develop healthy pasttimes for people who may not always be spending their spare time in a positive way.  We PCVs had a great time with this, and it developed a lot of enthusiasm.  A number of us have done home gardening and some worked with youth development organizations that involved food production.
We are digging and making seedbeds to plant vegies.
There is a big push for community gardens, as Botswana
imports most of its food.  Big need for compost,  as well:
you can see by the red color that there isn't much organic
material in the soil.

Carol and Dolly, our Setswana teacher, working on
the seed beds.

Setswana is a hard language to learn, and learning will be harder because so many people speak English well.  But we have a group of very enthusiastic local Batswana as our teachers, and we all live with host families who supplement the class teaching.  Ours, certainly.  They get a lot of laughs out of our attempts to pronounce words and make sentences.  Of course.  It give us an appreciation of the difficulty that immigrants to the United States have in learning English.
Genasi tries to teach me
a few words of Setswana.  I struggle.  He is patient.  After
spending 27 years in the diamond mines, I guess he has learned
to be patient.  His English is ok, and he speaks Zulu and
Afrikaans as well as Setswana

Carol on her way to get a ride to the training center.
Cows like this one, as well as goats and donkeys,
wander around the village.  And they look pretty
healthy and cared for.  After all, here, owning cows is better than
having a bank account.

The Peace Corps Director for Botswana Tim Hartmann has conducted several sessions on policy, goals and methods that was music to our ears.  It gives us faith that the spirit with which the Peace Corps was created 50 years ago is still very much alive!  It remains a grass roots, people to people, capacity-building organization.  One wonders how this can continue to thrive in our current political climate, but happily, it does.

Last Friday afternoon we met with local leaders in a welcoming ceremony. Kanye is divided into wards, each with a kgosi, or chief, and a council of elders.  We met in the traditional meeting house, with some modern improvements, and it was a back and forth conversation.  Many of the elders were educated by Peace Corps Volunteers many years ago.  And they asked some hard questions about our motives and intentions.  It was a very open and educational session for all of us.

Weather.  It has been cloudy and windy today.  Yesterday started out cloudy and cool.  Not what we expected.  The clouds signal the beginning of the rainy season, but it may be a few weeks before it rains.  For now, long sleeves, at least in the morning, are a good idea! 

By far, the most challenging aspect of this experience is being so far away from family and friends.  We have nothing to complain about   - not the food, not the inconveniences such as no hot water, not being strange in another culture - but we do miss you, a lot, much more than words can convey.
Trying out the washing machine.  

Instant coffee lattes and goat chops.  This
is a really nice place to chill out after an
intensive day of training