Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Today was a high day

Amongst fellow Peace Corps volunteers we often talk about our highs and lows. Some days are good, and some days not so good…but today is definitely going down as a very good day!

The other volunteer in my village invited me to help him do a presentation/activity at a Junior Secondary School (middle school) in a nearby village. So this morning I met up with him at his office and we went over the activity he had chosen, prepared the materials, and discussed how we would present everything. The activity was meant to engage the students in understanding how HIV is transmitted.

When we arrived at the school the students had not yet gathered so we got everything ready. We knew it was going to be a big group (about 250), but it wasn’t until they all started filing in that I really realized how many that was haha. It was fun though. They were great listeners, thankfully, and although it’s always an uncomfortable subject for them to talk about, they were pretty good at participating. We first talked about their current knowledge of HIV and then went over the four fluids that can transmit the virus (blood, semen, vaginal fluid, and breast milk), as well as the “portals of entry” or “doors” in which they may enter the body to infect someone. We recruited volunteers to hold signs with examples of “doors” which was hilarious to them since a few of the examples were anus, tip of the penis, vagina, etc. But I was proud of them for going along with it, even if they were giggling most of the time.

For the second part of the activity we had them split up into groups and choose a leader. Each leader was given a card taped to their forehead. The cards had examples of activities that either can or cannot transmit HIV. The leaders then went back to their groups and had to try and guess what was written on their cards by asking only yes or no questions. Once they figured out what the card said the group had to determine whether or not that activity could transmit HIV and they posted the cards under the proper category.

It was really nice to actually get out into the community and hang out with the students. Lately I’ve mostly been in the office, which is not all that exciting, so this was much more enjoyable and the kids were a lot of fun. So yay! for a high day.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Learning About My Village

Tomorrow makes 2 weeks in my village and I already feel so much more comfortable here than when I first arrived. I pretty much know my way around now and don’t feel so out of place, or rather, I’m more comfortable with feeling out of place.

Last weekend marked the beginning of kids coming to knock on my door wanting to talk to the “lekgowa” (white person). They’re funny. They’re bold enough to come knock on my door, but then when I go outside to hang out with them they all get super shy. Usually one of them will take the lead on the question asking, which is always quite amusing. One group of visitors told another group that I had lots of toys in my house, so that was a big topic of inquiry. I still have no idea what they were talking about because I have like 5 pieces of furniture and cooking utensils…not many toys to play with. But I guess my house must seem like a magical place where the white lady lives and so obviously there must be toys.

So this week I’ve started formally working on our 2-month assignment. Basically we are supposed to talk to the stakeholders in the community and learn about our villages. So far I’ve met with the Kgosi, or Chief, of Masunga, the head nurse at the clinic, and a couple of people in the District AIDS Coordinating Office. I feel really lucky to be in a village with so many resources. Because all of the government offices are here, there are a lot of services available to the people.

Today I also got one of the ladies in my office to give me an informal Kalanga language lesson. During training we had hours and hours of Setswana language lessons. That is the most widely spoken language in Botswana; however, there are pockets where other languages are more widely spoken and Kalanga is more common in the Northeast. It is similar to Shona, which is largely spoken in Zimbabwe, whose border is very near here. My office already thinks I know lots of Setswana (I think they’re crazy, but I enjoy the praise), but I also want to learn Kalanga because that is what most of the locals actually speak to each other. Even though most people can speak English here, they don’t switch just because I’m around. So if I want to be in on the side chatter and gossip I need to know Setswana AND Kalanga...I hope my language learning abilities are up for the challenge. Right now it’s fun and my coworkers are thrilled that I’m even interested. They keep telling me that in 6 months I will be fluent in both…I’ll let you know how that actually turns out.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dumilani ("Hello" in Kalanga!)

It’s official…I am a Peace Corps Volunteer!! Thursday, June 10th the Bots 9 (Botswana Group 9) transitioned from “trainees” to “volunteers”! We were sworn in by the United States Ambassador to Botswana, Stephen Nolan. It is a great feeling to know that Pre-Service Training is officially over and we are now full-fledged volunteers.

So in short, the last couple of months have been full of language classes, technical trainings, and many hours spent trying to figure out what our roles are going to be here for the next two years (that answer is still to come haha). Although there were some long days, it’s definitely been wonderful bonding with all the other volunteers. Our group already feels like a family. Now we are all dispersed throughout the country in our villages.

My village is Masunga. It’s north of Francistown near the border of Zimbabwe. Its population is about 3,000, with the majority of people being employed by the government, as it is a hub for government activity in the Northeast District. I work in the Social and Community Development Office alongside social workers. They primarily work with orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) and destitutes. So far I’m really just learning about my office and what everyone’s roles are, but I will eventually get to go on home visits which will be a great way to get to know the community. There are also primary, junior, and senior secondary schools in the village that I definitely plan to work in. For the next couple of months, though, I am really supposed to focus on integrating into my community and figuring out a rough work plan with my supervisor of what I might like to do the next 2 years.

Ok so now that y’all are kind of caught up, onto some of my current thoughts…

First of all, I can’t believe I’ve been here for 10 weeks! It has seemed like forever, but at the same time it’s like I left just last week. I can’t explain how time goes by here except that some days feel very long, but the weeks end up flying by.

It’s also been an emotional rollercoaster so far for sure. Most the older volunteers say Pre-Service Training was the worst part for them, and in the end, I will probably agree. It’s a time when you really aren’t in control of anything, which was frustrating for me. But I feel like now that it’s over and I’m on my own, it’s almost easier already. It’s funny because before I left for the Peace Corps and read that training was only 2 months I was worried that I would be scared to leave everyone and be on my own after such a short time. But the reality was that I couldn’t wait to start figuring out my new village and the work I would be doing. Now is the time that I actually get to figure out my own schedule and form my own service, which is great.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m sure I’ll be dying to hang out with everyone again soon. But I’m lucky because there is actually another volunteer that was already in my village, and a bunch of my friends are fairly close (as in a couple hours on a bus). I also have easy access to Francistown, which is where I’ll do a lot of my grocery shopping, and it’s also just a good meet up point for people.

But I also love my coworkers and think I’m going to have some good friends in the village. The people are definitely what have made my time in any of the places I’ve lived or traveled to, and Botswana will be no different.

Lastly, I’d like to share my favorite thing about Africa that always blows my mind…the sky. Looking at the wide-open skies reminds me how wonderful life is. And at night, when it’s pitch black outside, looking up at the brightest stars I’ve ever seen takes my breath away. Those are the moments when I am reminded to be thankful that I’m here in Africa.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My homestay has begun...

Dumela! I have been living with my homestay family for a little over a week now, and I love it! We arrived in the village last Friday and met at a school, where we were paired with our families. There was a ceremony with prominent members of the community in attendance to welcome us. The Botswana TV station was even there! (Yes, I was on the news haha). :)

My family is great. I live with my parents, older brother (27), younger sister (19), and younger brother (7). My sister and I hang out a lot and I try to help her cook when I have time. Last night we cooked bread and fat cakes (fried bread), both of which are delicious. There is a lot of starch in the diet here. Phaleche is a corn based mealie meal that they cook with boiling water. It really has no taste, but is usually the go-to starch for most meals. Other than that we usually make vegetable stew, chicken, or beef.

The house I stay in is really nice. I have electricity and running water so my only inconvenience at the moment is lack of computer and internet. The majority of us are lucky and have these things, but there are a few people in houses that use lamps and carry water from the backyard.

The neighborhood I live in is about a hour walk to the training center, but it's nice to have the exercise. If we choose to, we can always take a taxi or a combi which are readily available all over the village. The village is pretty large with shopping centers similar to those in the States. There is even a KFC!

As for training, it's coming along...Our days go from about 8-5. We have a lot of language classes where we are learning Setswana. We also discuss issues related to development and HIV/AIDS. Older volunteers have also been around for us to talk to, which has been really nice. Everyone's experiences are different but it's good to talk to people that are actually doing some of the work that we're going to be doing soon.

Right now I am just trying to enjoy my time here with my host family and get to know the other volunteers. I am anxious to find out my site placement, but that's still about a month or so away. Between now and then we will get to shadow a current volunteer in their village for a few days, so that should also be cool. It will be nice to see another part of Botswana and experience a little bit of another volunteer's life.

While it's only been about 2 weeks since I left Atlanta, it feels like I have been gone for much longer. I think it's just hard to process that I will be here for the next 2 years, but I am definitely excited and know I am where I need to be. It has already been an adventure and I can't wait to learn more about this beautiful country.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I'm in Botswana!

Wow, it has been a LONG few days and feels so good to finally be here.

All 57 volunteers met in Philly on Saturday. The age range is mixed from recent college grads to 60+, with 5 married couples. There are four sectors of work that we are split into, Community Capacity Builders (me), Life Skills, District AIDS Coordinators, and NGO Capacity Building. We had registration, and then discussions with icebreaker type activities for most of the day. We went over expectations, anxieties and aspirations, and some logistics.

Later in the evening we were free so about 15 of us that went to dinner. It was nice to relax for a bit, but a few short hours later we checked out of the airport at 2 am. From there we took a bus to JFK where we were just a liiiitttttle early for our 11 am flight. But after a 15 hour flight from JFK to Johannesburg, waiting in the JoBurg Airport for 8 hours, then a 40 minute flight to Gaborone, Botswana, we are finally here!

We will spend the next few days in Gaborone getting shots, logistical information, and language lessons. Then it’s off to our homestays where we will be for the next 2 months.

I’m excited to find out more about my position, Community Capacity Builder, and see who is in my language group (it’s usually groups of 3 and these are the people we spend the majority of our time with during pre-service training).

Right now I just can’t believe I’m finally here. I’ve wanted this for so long and it’s all happening. A volunteer that is almost done with her 2 years sat with a few of us at dinner and we jumped at the opportunity to ask questions, but there are so many answers you just won’t know until you are at your site. I have a lot of different emotions going on inside of me, but I am very excited for what’s to come.

And everyone, please bare with me as this will probably be the last time I have internet for a while. But feel free to email or Facebook me…I’m sure I will love the messages when I finally do have internet again. Love y’all!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's finally happening!

Wow. What a whirlwind these last few weeks have been. It was exactly one month ago when I got the call from my Peace Corps Placement Officer letting me know that I had been medically cleared (finally!). Hearing those words was such sweet news. The bigger surprise, though, was that he was offering me a spot in a program leaving early April, if I was available. I couldn't believe it. That was so soon!

Obviously there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to go to Africa for HIV/AIDS work, so here I am. I'm excited, nervous, happy, sad, and anxious that it is all finally happening. It's going to be an incredible adventure and I can't wait for the experiences that lie ahead.

The basics: I'll be serving for approximately 27 months (April 2010 - June 2012). I'll be doing some sort of HIV/AIDS outreach with a local NGO. The first couple of months I will be living in Molepolole, Botswana with a host family. This is our training period in which we will delve into Setswana (the local language), cross-cultural issues, and the technical aspects of our jobs. During this time the Peace Corps will decide which organization and village will be the best fit for each of us. This is when I will find out more specifically what I will be doing for the next two years, so more info to come... :)

My itinerary for the first few days is as follows...
Saturday, April 10th I fly from Atlanta to Philadelphia for Staging where I will meet up with my group. Then we take a bus to JFK and fly to Johannesburg, South Africa (about a 15 hour flight!). After a layover in Johannesburg we will take a 45 minute flight to Gaborone, Botswana (the capital). We will stay there for a few days and then meet our host families in a town outside Gaborone where we will live the next two months.

Right now the main thing on my mind is packing. My room is currently a disaster with everything thrown about, but packing for the Peace Corps is no easy feat. I will post my packing list soon.