Monday, November 28, 2011

Swearing-In Ceremony November 9.  We write this as November is coming to an end and our lives have once again taken a huge turn since our swearing-in to become official Peace Corps’ Volunteers (PCVs --- everything the government touches has substitute initials....) and our departure from Kanye the following day to our site in Goodhope.  
Swearing in, as the pictures relate, was a very joyous occasion.  Not only had we completed 8-1/2 weeks of intense training, our entire group of 35 finished and we were sworn-in together. With no emergencies or change-of-hearts, we all committed to this adventure in service, which is often not the case in training groups. The ceremony was attended by several local dignitaries including Kgosi Malope II,Tim Hartman, Botswana Country PC Director and Michelle Gavin, our U.S. Ambassador to Botswana.  As much as we have experienced in the past two months in country, our swearing in was a surprisingly moving event.  
Tlhabologo Baakangyang, our host mother, had traditional Botswana outfits made for us at the last moment, which was a total act of devotion and pride! (Note how the traditional garb has the German Lutheran missionary motif, from whence it came. We will reserve comment on what the dress might have looked like here before this stylistic faux pas!)  Fellow PC trainee Carol remarked when she saw me, “It would be funny that you look like a Quaker, except that you are one.” That about sums it up.
Here you will see just a fraction of the many pictures we took to commemorate the becoming PCVs at long last.

Thlabologo gets Carol dressed in "traditional wear" which
she had specially made for the event

The eight male volunteer trainees
Nate, John, Brandon, Corey, John, Adam, Michael and yes, a third John!

Here are the four married couples in our group
John and Carol (not kidding), Hayley and Michael, Tracy and John, and us!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thirty-eight years ago a geologist looking for diamonds was digging around in some termite mounds in the bush about an hour from here.  Apparently termites tend to bring up things that get in their way when they are digging tunnels.  Things like diamonds.  Sure enough, the geologist found diamonds.  Today, it is the Jwaneng Diamond Mine, a joint venture between the government of Botswana and DeBeers.  Botswana was only eleven or twelve years old when it entered this agreement, and today a major portion of the GDP of the country comes from the mines.  It’s pretty impressive.  The open pit is, I believe the tour leader said, 1.5 km. across, and more than 300 km. deep.  You can probably google it to get accurate information, but it is a big hole.  They blast the rock and move it with giant trucks.  The old trucks could hold about 270 tons of rock, the newer ones, 300 tons.  

Here is the pit mine, 1.5 km across

When the diamonds were discovered, Botswana was one of the poorest countries in the world, on a per capita basis.  Today, it is one of the wealthiest countries, if not the wealthiest, per capita, in Africa.  What we hear in the states about corruption, greed and violence related to oil, copper, gold, and other natural resources, simply is not true here in Botswana.  It’s like a big family, and everyone gets taken care of.  This is an aside, butr recently we watched a program in which the President of Botswana, Ian Khama, was encouraging people to exercise for good health.  But instead of speaking from a podium, he was out with a group of police trainees, climbing up ropes and ladders, swinging across water hazards, jumping hurdles.  It was impressive.

We have some grandchildren who
would love to climb up here., where John and our friend Jan are sitting.

Back to the diamonds.  Security was pretty high.  We had to wear hardhats, vests and shoes, the shoes, apparently, because there was a chance, or appearance of chance, that a diamond could stick to the sole of someone’s shoes.  We did see a big pile of ore, but no sign of sparkle.  On the way out, we had to go through a double door system.  After entering door number one, you waited for a green light over one of two doors.  One door led to the parking area, the other to an inspection area.  John did not get routed to inspection, but several volunteers did, and so it took a while.

Big trucks.  Lots of them.  Each of these holds 320 T

Carol, by the way, stayed in Kanye for some much needed quiet time. And she has been challenged by motion sickness on some of our local bus rides.  And, in fact, she and John have both been to the open pit mine in Bisbee, Arizona, so it’s not like she missed the experience of a lifetime.  Plus for her, a day to sleep in, do some (very limited!) shopping in our host village of Kanye and eat lunch out were way more fun for her than being in the pictures you are now viewing. Peace Corps or no, some things never change!!

and more trucks
and cranes

The mine is surrounded by 70,000 acres of game reserve.  We didn’t see giraffes or rhinos, which are there, but we did see baboons, warthogs, and a variety of antelope, including an oryx, I think, a huge antelope with a sort of stripped coat and long, twisting horns.  We will have plenty of opportunity to see animals like that in the months ahead!

three scoops fills a truck.  and maybe a few diamonds

After visiting the mine, we stopped at a typical Botswanan restaurant.  finger lickin' good. Here are three of our volunteer friends, Marjorie, Rose and in the right back, Danielle.
Halloween and Birthdays
There isn’t a whole lot to do in Kanye besides go to training, study,  So even though the people of Kanye have no idea what Halloween is, a lot of volunteers managed to come up with costumes.  We had fun, and the Botswana staff thought we were hilarious.  We had classes in the morning, and in the afternoon went outside to learn a few of the games that Botswanan young people play.  A lot of us will work directly with school children, so it could be helpful to know about these.  And we all had fun, including the older volunteers!!

Here are some of our fellow trainees in make-shift costumes, posing on top as a box of Chibuku (the local beer made of sorghum) and below as one another on the left and we said, limited costume supplies, but we are a creative bunch!
Since the next day was John’s birthday - 66 years ! (which is equal to the sum of the ages of three of our youngest volunteer trainees) - Carol decided to organize a little party.  We had found a restaurant different than the one that most of us volunteers hang out in, with the easy-to-remember name of Mmaphakhukhu Cafe, and thought it would be a nice change for us older volunteers to have a nice quiet dinner.  But when she let a few volunteers know, it turned out that everyone wanted to come.  And everyone did!   John can say that it was the best birthday he has ever had in Africa.  Seriously, it was a wonderful way to celebrate, and it took away some of the homesickness for family and friends.

Here we all are with the birthday "boy" at the head of the table!

Becky, our youngest trainee at age 22 with John, the elder, at age 66 celebrate their birthdays!

Carol at Game City Mall on November 8 --- note the Christmas decor!

Carol enjoyed her birthday in Gaborone on a Peace Corps business trip with our training group in the final stages of training as we prepared for our swearing-in the next day.  Shopping at the mall, fresh flowers from John, lunch out, for a moment it felt like home.  Oh yes, except for the baboon eating his lunch just outside the mall and Peace Corps office!


Monday, November 07, 2011


Peace Director Tim Hartman, with the help of JFK,
spoke movingly of the ideals and the practical
successes of the Peace Corps after 50 Years.

We went Gaborone on October 22 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps.  Volunteers, trainees and staff were joined by returned volunteers from many countries, by former Botswanan President Festus Mogae, by United States Ambassador Michelle Gavin, and by many other friends of the Peace Corps.

Carol shows some of the other volunteers how
to celebrate!

Tim Hartman, Director of the Peace Corps in Botswana, stood next to a picture of John F. Kennedy and shared some thoughts that brought back the spirit of the New Frontier, when JFK implored Americans to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."  Powerful words that resonate strongly after half a century.  Most of the volunteers and trainees, as well as Hartman and Ambassador Gavin, were not yet alive when Kennedy was inaugurated in 1961, or when Congress approved the creation of the Peace Corps later that year.  We were old enough to have seen him deliver these words, and like all present, were moved by how much meaning they have for us today.

Volunteers just want to have fun - at the Embassy
compound in Gaborone

So we are excited about being here.  We dearly miss our children, our grandchildren, our friends, our community, and the many wonderful things that Portland has to offer.  And yet, we feel gratitude for this opportunity to be here, trying to do something, however small, to make the world a better place.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

This is the entrance to the Kanye Kgotla.  Our house is
about a mile from here, at the bottom of the hill.  The Kgotla
is where the traditional king and council meet, where cultural events
are held.

This is the long-awaited day of coronation of the Kgosi Melope II, of the Kanye  region.  Kgosi is translated as chief, although that word has an unpleasant colonial overtone, so I'll stick with Khosi.  King is acceptable, as well  The previous Kgosi died last year, but there have been delays, one being that the eldest son, who ordinarily would have inherited the throne, had been badly injured in a car accident and decided that he could not serve.  Then a leopard had to be killed for the ceremony.  Special dispensation had to be gotten from the government, that strictly limits the killing of what we used to call big game animals.  Once permission was given, the new Kgosi  went out with a team of men armed to carry out the hunt.  On the first attempt, which lasted fifteen days, they were unsuccessful, so they had to carry out a second expedition.  Then the skin had to be prepared.

Volunteer trainee Marjorie Nicholson had a traditonal
dress made for the occasion of the Kgosi's enthronement

President Khama waves at the crowd as he enters the
Kgotla to honor Melope II

What was amazing at the coronation was that in a crowd of several thousand people, including the President and numerous cabinet members, the only weapons were the old rifles of the hunters.  There was a contingent from the army, the army band, there to play the national anthem.  Certainly there were security guards, but they were not obvious and if they had weapons at all, they were concealed.  Far different than what we experienced in Portland, much less what we've seen in Colombia or Mexico or Viet Nam.
A member of the Kgosi's regimental guard, with his hunting
rifle unloaded, watches the performance of a traditional dance

The prime seats, where the President and two previous presidents sat, were inside the Khotla, a traditional meeting place with a big thatched roof held up by wooden columns, and without walls.  But the throne was outside the Kgotla, and our seats were only a few feet from it.  After the Kgosi was draped with the leopard skin, he sat, virtually motionless, for two hours in the hot sun, while dancers danced, singers sang, poets lauded him, and politicians - but not the President, who was actually in attendance not as President but as chief of his own tribe - made speeches.  John couldn't take the direct sun or resist taking pictures, and was able to move around a bit in the crowd.
After the formalities of speeches, dances, poetry and music,
the new Kgosi addresses the people of Kanye

It's typical in the Peace Corps to make connections, such
as Volunteer Trainee Brandon Lawson, in the dark suit,
meeting a woman from his home town who has come to
Botswana to work with youth through the Episcopal Church.

After five hours, the entire crowd of several thousand people left the Kgotla and went to a nearby field where huge white tents were set up to provide lunch for everyone.  Unfortunately the caterers didn't plan very well and ran out of plates.  People, including us, filled cups, glasses, and makeshift plates formed out of the tinfoil covering the chafing dishes.  Still, a good time was had by all.

Women dancing.  They are holding sticks used to thresh
sorghum and the dance is to celebrate the harvest

One of several groups of women who came to sing and
celebrate at the enthronement.