Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It is the holiday season and we have been in Goodhope a month and a half, which seems like a very long time! Our lives have settled into somewhat of a pattern. Still, there are variations from day to day and definitely when the school is in session or as now, on term break.  We have recently returned from a visit to Gaborone for our Friday meetings and to see PCV friends for Christmas. Our school campus, as all others in Botswana, is like a ghost town; students, faculty and staff travel to their home villages for Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. 
Now is also the time when Batswana plough the wet ground and plant summer crops.  We have learned that summer has a different definition here! In Portland, we look forward to summers of  sunny skies and less rain.  Here, summer means rain, and even though summer solstice was just a few days ago, we have had some of our coolest days.  Today, as we write, the skies have opened up.  A real “gullywasher” - with thunder, lightning and a stiff breeze.  Most days the sun shines, but when it starts getting really hot, clouds appear --- huge and dramatic --- covering the sun and mitigating the heat.  
Today is the first real rainstorm in a year when the rains have been late.  Pula is the word for rain.  It means good luck.  And it is the name for the currency. Pula! It is precious here, very precious. Without it, the dry red soil produces little except thorn bush and cactus. The rains produce an almost magical green all about. In our garden we know are seeing squash, beans, morogo (greens) and marigolds sprout up. And many many weeds.  
I'm a little incredulous after
three months of incessant

Rain, and lots of it.  The first big
storm is already causing the JoJo, our
auxiliary water supply from the gutter,
to overflow.

So, with the rain, the absence of everyone but us from our school community, and in the spirit of Mma Ramotswe, we think this is a good time for a cup of bush tea with milk and honey.  An excellent accompaniment to the cookies we are baking from the Peace Corps Botswana cookbook.  What is our daily life here in this very new environment?   Now on holiday, the pace has been very slow, and by that we mean: slow!  We are learning the Batswana way.  We awaken without an alarm, enjoy a breakfast of cereal or eggs, sometimes yogurt and fruit. And always yummy coffee made in our french press.  We are quite fortunate to have such a well-equipped kitchen: four-burner gas stove, a refrigerator, and, most of the time, running water.  The water problem is the bane of Goodhope. when the school is filled with 2400 teachers and 160 teachers, the almost daily water outages are not much fun.

Tea time during the storm!

Our commitment to Peace Corps service is one step at a time, each day.  Often this means arranging a meeting with a village leader or business, government or medical worker.  Goodhope is a 3 km walk from campus -  as strange as it seems to Batswana professionals, we do not have a car and do not drive.  Few people walk, but we walk a lot. And always people notice us, as the “makgoga” (Setswana word for white folks, literally “washed up from the sea”)!  

My kitchen in Panama in first PC service had nothing like this.  Come to think of it
I didn't have a kitchen in Panama.  Just four walls and a roof.  Still,
this isn't the Posh Corps.  

This is Phase One of Peace Corps service: community integration.  We have met with the staff at the primary clinic, the hospital, district government offices, agriculture and forestry ministries and the police.  We had a wonderful meeting with Kgosi Lotlameng II who is the traditional leader for Goodhope and all villages 
between here and the South African border (He explained that the border split the Barolong lands in half.  His cousin is the kgosi in Mafikeng, on the other side of the border).  John is engaged in contacting various community persons for participation in the school Job Shadowing program, which we hope to develop this year. Carol was invited to present an in-service talk with medical staff at the Goodhope Primary Hospital on substance abuse (major problem in Botswana and linked to the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus) and treatment options, and has found interest there in beginning a recovery meeting. So there is hope in Goodhope!

 At our dining room table, sewing
table, game table, all-purpose and only
table,  beginning my quilt project.

The two weeks that school was in session before winter break gave us an idea of what is to come.  We spent those days getting up early to be at morning assembly at 7:10 a.m. We met with teachers and students, individually and in groups.  With the help of several students, we cleaned out a big room that will serve as the Life Skills and Career Counseling Center and may also be the headquarters of the Goodhope Bridge Club.  
Now on term break, we are home for lunch, and spend afternoons working on life skills plans, Peace Corps reports, emailing family and friends, washing clothes in a tub, hanging them to dry, cooking, playing guitar (John), sewing curtains and now a quilt (Carol), reading and gardening (both of us).  We both read John Hersey’s A Single Pebble - must reading, we both agree, for Peace Corps volunteers.  We each borrowed the same book, purely by coincidence,  from the Peace Corps library,  Nadine Gordimer’s  A Sport of Nature.  A riveting story of Africa and liberation. Hardly a day goes by without playing “Bananagrams”. Quite a competition between us, often making up our own rules, such as “must use a family member’s name” or  “one word required in  Setswana.”  And the most challenging one yet: “only words that begin with vowels.” We are getting sharp to take on local Portland friends who are geniuses at this game (you know who you are!). Just wait until our return... 

Our gratitude to have one another as good company is immense! We often think of single volunteers. which was John’s experience during his first service, and feel thankful for the companionship and fun we enjoy while at the same time feeling so lonely for beloved family and friends.  And gratitude for all of you, our loved ones so far away.  We send holiday blessings, love and every wish for 2012 to be an amazing new year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

We would love to share something of nature with you. Although we have not travelled widely in Africa, we have enjoyed landscapes and wildlife (by that we mean, cattle, goats and sheep in this part of Botswana!).  Here in Goodhope, where it is flat and trees are sparse, the sky is an enormous dome over a thin line of horizon ---always dramatic--- whether it is simply the purest of blues, a thunderstorm is brewing, or the sun is setting in the most amazing displays we have ever seen.  How can we capture that in a camera?  A great photographer could barely do it justice.  Here is our best effort....

From the top of the hill in back of our house in Kanye we 
could see an enormous panorama.
The dome of the Kanye mosque is in the center.
Taken from the same spot.  The statute is of the kgosi, 
grandfather of Kgosi Malope II
 whose coronation we attended in October.
 Are these jacaranda trees?
 They were magnificent, especially when they were growing
in long rows, all over Kanye. 
 Springtime in Kanye meant flowering trees everywhere.
This is a conifer. Strange looking flowers or fruit, not cones.
These trees were blooming when we first arrived. 
 They remind us of the Cay Mai, which has near sacred status in Viet Nam.
  Jody thinks it may be the same.

The wild, or not so wild, donkeys of Kanye.  This one is wandering
just outside the main shopping mall.
The tallest tree in Kanye is an Araucaria, from Chile.
Who brought it here is a good question!
This is Thamaga Hill.  It’s higher than it looks in this picture, an enormous pile of smooth, 
rounded rocks that look like they could roll down any minute, 
although theyprobably have been there for millennia.
More of these gigantic stones in and around Thamaga.
Our favorite ancient tree, along the road from school to Goodhope village.
Weaver birds have built nests in the thorn tree outside our kitchen door.  
They are gorgeous bright yellow, industrious home-building birds 
considered pests by local farmers.
We watched this bird building a new nest which he finished in a day!
This is the most prevalent form of four-legged fauna in this part of Botswana.  
We are told that there are several times more cattle than people in this country.  
Cattle wander freely, literally everywhere!
There are some beautiful and interesting birds in addition
to the weaver birds.  Most are small and swift, hard to capture 
with a camera.  There are always plenty of chickens
 willing to pose.
Mostly the cattle seem to roam on their own, but, especially in large groups, 
there may be a herder.  Cattle, as well as goats and donkeys, are a road hazard.
On the road again.  We just can't wait to get back on the road again:  The road from our school to Goodhope Village. 
Sometimes we can try to improve on nature.  If our garden will grow in this sandy soil.
Squash and melons are doing ok.  And beans and lentils...
Another way to solve the trash problem.  Nor much of a
nature picture.  Maybe the ashes will improve our soil.  The
Sunflowers we planted along the brick wall of the garbage
station are doing pretty well!! 
We looked out our window and saw a red streak that grew,
as the sun went down, into one of the most beautiful and
complete rainbows we’ve ever seen.
Rainbow connection, the other side of the rainbow.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  Sunset with water tower and dump station.

 An African sunset is like no other.  This is the end for now.  Blessings and Joy to all this Christmas.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Children of our neighbor teachers
add joy to our  housing area!

We continue to settle in on the campus at Goodhope Senior Secondary School. Our first two weeks were quite intense as we experienced immersion into the community here on campus. With 2500 students and more than 200 staff (including teachers, kitchen workers, hostel matron and supervisors, supplies team, etc.) it is a beehive of activity when school is in session. (Currently we are on term break; more about that later.) The pictures tell part of the story: beautiful, promising young women and men who show incredible discipline, huge faith and unceasing friendliness. What is less apparent to us are the challenges many experience, including lack of viable family support, poverty, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, drug/alcohol abuse. 
Students gather for the end of term morning assembly   
In our Life Skills work, we are reminded of a teaching from training that we “are a drop of water in the river of support and assistance.” Capacity and sustainability are the watchwords, so that we are focused on activities which are wanted as well as needed, open new doors for students and especially, have some promise of continuation beyond our time here.  While the education and awareness around HIV/AIDS is impressive in Botswana (the country is credited with being on the forefront of effective response to the crisis in Africa) the bridge from theory to practice is weak. Developing responsible decision-making skills and healthy options for students are key to the life skills program, as we say “walking the talk.” 

A recent graduate discusses
his future with John

Paul Motshegerwe, Head of Guidance & Counseling
and Carol work with two students interested
in career opportunities


Sunday, December 04, 2011

This is our site at Goodhope Senior Secondary School where we arrived on November 10.  Although our PC training experience was intense and amazing, no training could have prepared us for the initial shock of our arrival. Driving through miles/kilometers of scrub, low trees, and cattle we came upon upon a behemoth collection of buildings surrounded by barbed wire.  The grounds are littered with uncollected trash, the aftermath of what may be an impasse between teachers and the government after the April teacher/civil workers' strike.  Here you see our first efforts at clean up.  

Carol in our "backyard"

John in our "front yard"
And here are our neighborhood
helpers in the litter pick up project!
On the bright side, we live in the Staff Flats Block in a well-equipped home with many amenities, including excellent water when we have it.   Water outages are a daily experience  and electricity can be off again on again, as well.  Botswana has been developing very fast, but not everywhere at the same time and rate.  So there is a “swiss cheese” effect - ancient and modern side by side. 

We have met several faculty neighbors who hail from not only Botswana, but also from Zimbabwe, Zambia, India and the U.K.  Students,  mostly boarders, are from all over Botswana.  The friendliness we have experienced is incredible --- everyone we meet wants to say hello - dumela - smile, ask questions. Paul Motsegerwe, Head of Guidance and Counseling, has wonderfully assisted in our settling process. It was something of a surprise to some that PC has such “old” volunteers as ourselves.  In one class of teenagers, the topic of our ages came up with a question of why we are serving here. Paul casually remarked, “They want to do their deaths with dignity.” Wow, try to not take that personally!

Our welcome began with an introduction at the morning assembly on our first full day to the 2400 uniformed, smiling, absolutely beautiful Forms 4 and 5 (11th and 12th grades) students, and continues. We are known as Masego (Carol) and Tshepo (John), as the Batswana feel the importance of inclusion in community with Setswana names, which we have now had almost since arrival in-county. 

In a light moment before exams began, our
counterpart Paul visits with students.

Students all about following exams and
a flash thunderstorm!

We now have internet in our home which works most days so hopefully will be back on line soon with more pictures of  Goodhope and our work in the Life Skills program both at school and in our community integration in the village.
We miss and love you all and send belated Thanksgiving and early Christmas wishes!