Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Botswana Farewell, Final Words

Dusty Roads, a la Botswana.  
A song we "wrote" and sang for the families who hosted the volunteers of our group during our training in Kanye:

Legodimo, South Botswana,
Kalahadi, great gray green Limpopo
Life is old there, older than the bush
Younger than the desert, hotter than bogobe mush

Dusty roads, take me home
To the motse I belong to.
South Botswana, Kanye mama
Take me home, dusty roads.

All my mem'ries wrapped around her
Miner's mosadi, stranger from the Delta
Never rains there, sun's always in the sky.
Misty taste of chibuku, teardrop in my eye.

I hear the pula, in the morning mist it's calling me,
The radio reminds me of my Kgotla far away.
I think about the LCFs and all the lessons learned
and the ones I should have learned, for the LPI.

***Note:  Several Setswana words:  Legodimo means Heaven, Kalahadi is the Kalahari Desert.  Bogobe is sorghum porridge, a staple of Botswana cuisine.  Motse means village and mosadi means woman, lady or wife.  Chibuku is a traditional beer. Pula means rain, and is also the name of the national currency.  As an exclamation, it means "Good Luck!" Kgotla refers to the place where the traditional chief conducts business.  The LCFs were our language and cultural facilitators, and LPI is the dreaded "Language Proficiency Interview."


And finally, our goodbye letter to our volunteer group.

Dear Awesome Bots11,

It is with great sadness that we write to inform you that we are the ones to break our otherwise perfect record of service and will be leaving the Peace Corps and Botswana. Words are not sufficient to tell you how incredible it has been to be part of one of the most amazing groups of Peace Corps Volunteers ever.  No other group that we have heard of has continued so far in service without a loss.

There are many reasons that led to our decision. Above all, our placement at Goodhope Senior Secondary is not tenable. GHSS has three full-time guidance teachers who are skilled, care about our students and teach life skills.  They have not asked, nor do they need, us to build their capacity. There are approximately 150 academic teachers here whose main goal is to prepare students to pass their BGCSE. There is little/no incentive for them to add to or divert from this goal, particularly as GHSS has recently dropped from 5th to 12th place in the country and the overall pass rate is quite low. It is difficult for the teachers to see the value of infusing life skills when there are three competent teachers already doing that.

We have also experienced serious problems working with our counterpart, as we know many of you have with yours. Additionally, we live on this very large campus which is a micro-community of teachers and their families who leave on weekends and holidays for the villages they regard as home. Because the village of Goodhope is some distance from the school, significant work there has not been feasible. That in itself would be a full time job.

As we leave Botswana, we will take with us memories of you all, your strength, joy and commitment to service. Memories too of the beautiful smiles of the Batswana, friends and strangers alike; the incredible African skies with spectacular sunrises and sunsets; the vastness and peacefulness of the bush, crazy overflowing combi rides, and much more.

We love the Peace Corps. We believe it is the most noble attempt ever made by any country to reach out to other peoples and other nations. Like every organization and institution, it is not perfect. We are sad that our experience at GHSS has not been the service we hoped it would be.  We leave with full hearts and no regrets.

With much gratitude,
John and Carol

Botswana Farewell Part II, Reflections

We write this after one month and many, many miles in distance from the Peace Corps and Botswana.  Part of the time was a planned vacation with our daughter Annie and her husband, Nick. We then walked fifteen days --- 250+ km --- from the medieval city of Astorga to Santiago de Compostela - on the ancient path of St. James, Camino de Santiago.  Those two weeks in the open air were a time to reflect on our experience in Botswana.  As with all matters human, there is a mix of memories and feelings about our experience.   We thought about what we or the Peace Corps could have done better, or differently. And after much reflection, we both believe that our decision to conclude our service was right for us. What follows are some honest reflections on what we will and will not miss, a farewell and reminder of the beauty of the country.

I will miss the volunteers of Bots11.  Individually and as a group, they are among the most awesome people I have ever met.  
I will miss the students of Goodhope Sr. Secondary, especially their eagerness, curiosity, and friendship.   
I will miss the wonderful Guidance and Counseling teachers at GHSSS, people I will always count as friends and respected colleagues. 
I will miss my good friends from the Tsheida Institute, and wish them well every step of the way.
I will miss the friendliness and smiles from friends and strangers alike.  I always felt welcome in Botswana.
I will miss the spectacularly beautiful skies, intense blue, big white clouds, fiery sunsets, dramatic thunder and lightening storms, infinity of stars at night.
I will miss our garden.
I will miss cows, donkeys and goats wandering wherever they want to go.

I will not miss living with no garbage pick-up, no water for days on end and no progress toward solutions. 
I will not miss thinking about 2000 students living in close quarters without water and sometimes without food or electricity.
I will not miss teachers who do not show up to class, and administrators who do nothing about it.
I will not miss living in a neighborhood that is so transient and uncared for.
I will not miss unlawful and randomly inflicted corporal punishment by some teachers on students and administrators who turn the other way.
I will not miss living in a closed campus without connection to the village.
I will not miss being treated as an employee of the Ministry of Education with an unspecified project and little to do.
I will not miss decisions imposed by the Peace Corps or the Ministry of Education without consultation of PCVs. 

I will miss the smiles and incredible friendliness of the Botswana people, especially the students at GHSSS.
I will miss riding in a combi, jam-packed with people like sardines, who are all nice to each other.
I will miss eating chips with vinegar or a monster pop in the combi. And playing 3-13 on the ride.
I will miss the challenge of making meals with very limited food supplies.
I will miss tea with our counselling colleagues.
I will miss sms'ing with PCVs several times a day.
I will miss no humidity and hardly any rain.
I will miss recovery meetings in Gaborone and the promise of a new meeting in Goodhope.
I will miss the aroma of cooking by our incredible Bangledeshi/Indian friends and neighbors; more than that I will miss our dinners with them.
I will miss the bright, witty, right on the spot group of Bots11 volunteers we were privileged to be a part of.
I will miss being laid back and appreciating time as something precious and not to be all used up.

I will not miss all of the things John will not miss, as listed above.
I will not miss missing my children, grandchildren and friends SO much (and I know John agrees with this as well!)

The spare beauty of the bush.

Puffy white clouds in the bluest of skies over GHSSS.

The sun sets and we say goodbye.

Botswana Farewell, Go Siame

We returned to Goodhope in early May from our days with the McGees to face the biggest challenges yet, and knew that it was time to make a decision about our Peace Corps service. After several meetings with our school administration, Peace Corps and the Botswana Ministry of Education representatives, we came to the realization that we could not be sufficiently effective in our Life Skills assignment at Goodhope Senior Secondary to justify continuing our work there. With great sadness, we made the decision to conclude our service. This will be our final three-part blog posting from Africa and will capture first, who and then, what we have loved --- will most miss about Botswana and the amazing experience we have been blessed to have in this country for the past 9 months.

Recovery meetings started
at the Goodhope Primary Hospital
Our amazing counselling staff

 Students who issued the newspaper

Singing with our neighbor children
Career and job counseling students

Wonderful yield from our garden
Recovery meetings at Tsheida Institute


Inspiring young friends Alpha and Grace

                                       Bots11 men PCVS
Bots11 women PCVS

Our dear friends and neighbors
Sush, Sanjib and Drita

We will miss you all so much......

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Botswana's Tuli Block

We spent a long weekend with Chuck and Mary McGee, PCVs from Bots 9 (about to leave after two years of service) who lived and worked in Selibe Phikwe, not far (relatively) from the Tuli Block Game Reserve.  First, we had to get there from Goodhope.  That meant walking the three kilometers from school into town, catching a combi to Lobatse, catching another bus to Gaborone, where we met up with Mary, for the long trip to Selibe Phikwe. Some of you know this serendipity: Mary's mother was a friend of John's mother years ago, both members of the Tacoma Garden Club! It took us going to Botswana to meet Mary and Charles --- awesome and so fun folks.

Here we are on a few moment stop en route at the Tropic of Capricorn.

Anyone who drives from Portland to Salem, past the marker that is half-way between the equator and the North Pole, knows how exciting these places are.  Still, we may never have another chance to pass this spot again.

We spent the night at the McGees' house, and left for Tuli in the morning. It was another three-hour drive over some very rough roads, to the Limpopo Valley Airfield. Again, not exactly one of the wonders of the world, but our children and grandchildren have heard --- endlessly --- about how the elephant got its....

...trunk, up by the "banks of the Great Grey-Green Greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees."  (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling) 

We didn't see any fever trees, or any river, or any water between Selibe Phikwe and our tent at Mashatu, yet it was a spectacular drive through some remote, very rugged countryside.  Just before Mashatu, we crossed a dry river bed where we saw maribou birds, which, speaking of children's stories, are the ones who helped Celeste and Arthur find Babar, the Elephant.  Remember?

You'll have to click on the photo to see them very well.....

After we freshened up and had tea at Mashatu, we went for an afternoon wildlife drive. 

Our guides were seasoned and intrepid to the max. Giraffe, lions, a leopard and a cheetah were within view and sometimes a little too close for comfort.  We were told by our guides (Chuck and Mary, who have been to Tuli quite a few times, confirmed this) it is uncommon to see all three big cats in one drive. There is something truly awesome about seeing them in their own environment.

This guy was only a few feet from where our jeep stopped.  There was another lion, a female, thirty feet away, sound asleep (better for us that way)!

It was twilight when we saw the leopard.  At least we think this is the leopard.  Cheetahs look a little bit like leopards to the untrained eye.  This one has a skinny tail.  Look at the tail on this one:

We watched the sunset from a ridge not far from this spot.  It was a cloudless evening, took a long time for the sun to set --- the sky is ablaze with oranges and reds.

Next morning's drive, the main thing was to see elephants --- and we did, after quite a bit of searching.  Lots of them, adults and young.

One group of about ten mothers and babies walked across this riverbed up to the other bank, stopping as they went up to face us and all flapped their ears at us.  Elephants, we learned, are in danger in much of Africa, partly because of national borders, that stop the animals from traveling their historic migration routes.  Were happy to make friends with Owen Chase, a wonderful man from Gaborone whose brother founded an ngo,  Elephants Without Borders, to address this issue.  Click on the link for an awesome website.

We had another (very different) adventure in Selibe Phike --- playing golf.  At least John and Chuck played a few holes, with Carol and Mary looking and laughing on. The course is famous (no kidding) as one of the world's worst.  However, the setting is beautiful and John managed to hit some pretty good shots, making him wonder if that bike accident and separated AC shoulder joint cured his slice.

As you can see, the fairways are not well-watered, but then if they were, given the amount of water in Botswana, there would be something, well, wrong.  Golf, like so many other things, can, and should, adapt to its surroundings.  So when it would be nearly impossible to maintain a traditional green, why not make the "green" out of oil-treated sand, and provide a tool for smoothing the path from the ball to the cup? And call it a "brown"!  Takes some of the fear out of putting.

You can see what fun it is to play this course, especially when you have a band of followers as beautiful as we had that day.  Mary and Carol of course were laughing with us and not at us, or were they?

Finally, made it down to the "banks of the Great Grey Green Greasy Limpopo River." Still didn't see any fever trees, perhaps because the guards at the border crossing warned us not to get too close to the river.  Crocodiles! 

The end of a wonderful visit came too soon and we made our long way back to Goodhope with lasting memories and much happiness. As you will read in our next entry, little did we know how much we would need these memories and happiness to fortify us for what was coming next in our adventure in the Peace Corps...

Friday, June 08, 2012

Passion Play & Quaker Friends in Gaborone

We were honored at Eastertime to be invited by our
Quaker Friends Gudrun and Sheldon Weeks to attend
a Passion Play in Gaborone, which began with music
and a walk to the moving theatre.
We follow the musician troop into an amazing experience.
We expected a dramatization of the historical event
of the Passion of Christ and found it to be so and much
more, as the play delved into contemporary issues
in Botswana of domestic violence, passion killings,
authoritarianism, gender roles and homosexuality.

A young voice cries out in the wilderness.
The actors portray
 our very real human experience,
we carry our burdens as a cross
in the midst of the everyday.
And find little respite from the heat in doing so!
We join Gudrun (left) in speaking with Unity Dow (right),
a Batswana lawyer, former judge, human rights activist,
and co-producer of The Passion Play.

Gudrun participates, as do we all, in a foot-washing
following the play...
... while Sheldon looks on.

It was an honor and privilege to join this group of
Friends in Meeting for Worship in Gaborone.
And then to head south three hours to Goodhope
to our home and work....

... where we found our challenges
--- physical, emotional and spiritual ---
increasing by the day.