23 Degrees South

Living and learning in Botswana during my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. NOTE: This is a personal journal and does not necessarily represent the views of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government.

Bots v. USA

As I am sure many of you can imagine, I have been having rather conflicting emotions about the upcoming end of my Peace Corps service. I started this little list, mainly for my own benefit, but thought I would share it as well. Perhaps some of it will seem insignificant to an outsider, but I do feel that it has been all those little things in my day-to-day life that have made these past two years so extraordinary. Similarly, most of the things I am most looking forward to about being home are those small things. Anyways, either way I look at it, I feel very luck to have such an amazing life.

Things I’ll miss about Botswana:

  • Kids yelling hi and waving to me on my way to school
  • The sky: sunsets, stars, full moons
  • The downpours of rain, intensity of lightning and thunder, from the safety of my house
  • The slow pace of life and flexibility with my work
  • Being surrounded by baby animals
  • The simplicity of life
  • My “village voice” (however, fingers crossed that it won’t slip out once I am back in the States)
  • Visits from ‘my kids’ in my office
  • Spending an entire day making an awesome poster for the library
  • People assuming I know a lot more than I actually do (i.e. how to be a librarian, teach English, coach sports, fix computers) but then surprising even myself by being able to do those things
  • Having an excuse for being removed from current events and pop culture (I know it’s almost 2015, but what happened in 2013?)
  • Entire weekends spent reading
  • The excitement of finding coffee, mushrooms, or mozzarella cheese at the grocery store
  • All the uses for buckets
  • Keeping candles and oil lamps handy for when the power goes out
  • “Don’t you have a rubber?” (asking for an eraser)
  • My mosquito net (although I won’t miss all the creepy-crawlies that said mosquito net protects me from)

Things I’m looking forward to in America:

  • Showers
  • A real mattress and my memory foam pillow
  • My tweed blazer with the elbow patches
  • The ease of grocery shopping
  • Driving
  • Health foods
  • Exercise culture
  • Being able to talk to people without wondering if they actually understand what I am saying
  • Coffee, chocolate, bagels, food in general
  • Not being charged per text/per minute on my cell phone
  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Cuddling with my dog
  • Celebrating holidays
  • Internet, at mt house, and fast!
  • Sidewalks
  • Washing machines
  • Having nice clothes, and nice things in general
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Two Years in the Blink of an Eye

September 15, 2014

Last weekend I celebrated (if you can call baking cookies and reading a book all afternoon celebrating) two years in Botswana! I remember that last year, for my one year mark, it seemed like a festive time and quite an accomplishment. This year, while I am still proud of my accomplishments, it does seem less like a big deal, such as celebrating two years of working somewhere, or two years since finishing school, it just is. In addition, as I am finishing my service, I am on what PCV’s call ‘lockdown’ (PC admin calls it ‘community integration’, but since both at the beginning and end of our service it keeps us in our villages rather than traveling, our own term often seems more fitting) and so I am much more in the mindset of spending time in my community than traveling to celebrate with my intake group.

Peace Corps has also taught me to look at the passing of time differently. I now think of six months as a short amount of time. I suppose that if I am used to spending several hours waiting for transport, or spending four hours at a meeting where I can only understand one word in 100, that 6 months would seem like nothing at all. I would say that since about April, time has flow by faster than I ever would have believed.

I have started to make an effort to wind-down my projects and start thinking about saying goodbye and packing up my things. I keep thinking of this situation as being like raising a guide dog. I have put in so much work, and invested myself to the cause. It’s been a huge part of my life for this designated amount of time. And although I have known all along that I was going to have to move on, to graduate the dog on to its next people, it doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. (If people in my village knew I was comparing them to a dog, I would never hear the end of it, but I use the metaphor simply to illustrate the connection I have formed here, as well as the friendships and sense of belonging).
I am happy that Peace Corps is planning on placing another volunteer at my site after I leave; it makes me feel less bad about those projects that I just never managed to find the time or energy to start. It also means that the kids I have formed amazing relationships will hopefully still have someone to chat with over lunch break, or borrow a ball from in the evenings. I just hope that the person to follow me will have a great an experience as I have had.
However, I am also looking forward to what lies ahead for me. In the very near future, just about a month from now, when I transition from PCV to RPCV, is my trip to Mozambique with a few PCV friends. I can’t wait to spend a week just relaxing on a white sandy beach with my toes in the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. It is rather remarkable that after these two years, I can still look forward to any kind of sand! And then, before I know it, I will be back in the States, with all its wonders! Being home, with family and friends, my dog, and all the coffee I can consume, has been a happy thought drifting through my mind for the past two years. I don’t think the people back home can possibly imagine how great an impact their love and support has made on me while I have been here. I could not have been so successful and had such a positive experience without all of those amazing people. So THANK YOU!!!
Some of the things I have been up to mo motse wa me (in my village) include:

• Trying to re-acclimate to the sudden return of summer
• Completely absorbed in the third book of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
• Learning how to build a traditional hut
• Working on my thesis (slowly but surely!)
• Re-writing all of my Setswana notes into a more compact notebook to bring home with me
• Separating my belongings by what I will leave and what I will take
• Helping the adult education class with paper bead-making sessions for income generation
• Hosting one of the new PC trainees for a few days in shadowing, where she lived my life with me to see what a volunteer’s life might entail
• Planting moringa seeds for my home compound and the school
• Making smoothies
• Running through the forest
• Enjoying each day as it comes
A while ago I was going through reference materials for a girl’s leadership camp and came across this passage. I thought it was great for the girls, but also something that we all might benefit from.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’
“Actually, who are you not to be?…Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Excerpt from A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson

Ithlopele go thsela botshelo jo bo bontle
Choose for yourself to live a beautiful life

Peace and love to you all!

Highlights from the last couple weeks

Time is flying by as I near the end of me service! I have not had a chance to update this blog with all of the details, but wanted to take a few minutes to at least share some of my favorite recent endeavors.

  • Taking advantage of the long President’s day weekend to visit a friend in eastern Botswana
  • Spending the night in a tree fort in a national park and seeing elephants and hyenas! (Nothing quite like having a serious conversation about the likelihood of being eaten by a leopard…)
  • Attending my Close of Service Conference with my fellow 28 Bots 13 intake group
  • Playing Pula to Pula, a game invented by a few of my friends based loosely on the game Apples to Apples, but about being a PCV in Botswana
  • My ‘deep-sand-forest-runs’: Not everyone has the opportunity to live on the edge of the Kalahari Desert with its infinite sand, but this is definitely one of my favorite workouts!
  • Spending the lunch break in my office with students reading, coloring, and just chatting
  • Preparing for an expressive arts camp at the end of this week by making a crazy amount of paper beads for the session I am co-facilitating
  • Last night I started reading The Invisible Cure by Helen Epstein. I have only read the preface and first chapter but am already hooked. So far it seems to match my own impressions about why HIV has affected southern and eastern Africa so dramatically. I definitely recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about the cultural and social determinants of this epidemic, and why my job here is not an easy one.
  • Receiving a care package from my mom with a bag of espresso, just in time, as I have not been able to find real coffee in the grocery store here!
  • Buying my plane ticket, first to Mozambique, and then back home!
  • Rediscovering French toast! How did I manage without this treat for the past 2 years!?! Even better, last weekend I found strawberries at the store for CHEAP! Mmmm strawberry French toast!
I love the feeling of being completely surrounded by nature out here. Everything looks dead, but it's still strangely beautiful

I love the feeling of being completely surrounded by nature out here. Everything looks dead, but it’s still strangely beautiful

All in a days work. Paper beads for the upcoming arts camp.

All in a days work. Paper beads for the upcoming arts camp.

Our tree fort in Tuli!

Our tree fort in Tuli!

Random Act of Kindness

Library books, puppies, camp, and Setswana!

It’s Sunday, and, after a bowl of oatmeal and a strong, steamy cup of coffee, I decided to sit down and read, shuffling my chair every now and then to follow the sun. The last few days have gotten really cold. I know that many people have a hard time believing that the entire continent of Africa can be anything but stifling, but that is just not the case. Last night I slept in wool socks, leggings, sweat pants, a t-shirt and long sleeved shirt, inside of my sleeping bag with three blankets over me, and I was just warm enough. I can see my breath in my house when I get up, and my toes have been constantly numb. I am not complaining, just trying to dissolve the Africa=constant heat myth.

It has been a while since I have posted an update, and I have been rather busy, so I will work my way back for as long as I can remember (and manage not to get distracted while writing).

Back to School:

This last week was the first week back to school after a three week break, and the beginning of the second school term. Over the break my school received four boxes of books donated by an amazing American organization called Books for Botswana (BotswanaBookProject.org). I spent most of this week organizing and color coding these new books, as well as the books we already had. When I finish this project, the school library will be color-coded for a child-friendly version of the Dewey Decimal system. I find it very interesting how many volunteers here in Botswana have become expert librarians! It’s a nice activity with tangible results and nearly instant gratification, so I definitely understand the appeal.

Puppies:

Last weekend a complete miracle happened, and I was able to rescue four puppies from the pit of a pit latrine. The family I stay with has been in the process of building a new pit latrine for over a year now, and it is practically finished, just needs a door and perhaps a few other finishing touches, but is not yet usable. A random neighborhood dog decided to have her puppies under a wood pile near the unused pit latrine about 6 weeks ago, and the puppies have just recently started to wander around that corner of the yard, outside of their wood-pile den. Last Sunday I went over there to see the puppies, and heard a terrible crying and realized that a puppy must have fallen into the pit. Behind the structure there is an open space only about 8 inches by 2 feet that is normally covered, but the cover had blown off. So I stuck my head into the hole and realized that it was actually four puppies that had fallen about ten feet into the hole. At this point I freaked out a little. No one was around the compound, and if I didn’t figure something out, these puppies were going to die. The hole was too small for me to climb down on a ladder (plus, I don’t think I would be able to find a ladder) and so my next idea was to lower a bucket into the hole and hopefully scoop the puppies up and pull them to safety one by one. So I went into my house, grabbed my pee bucket and found some nylon string I got in a care package (thank you Halls, that string you sent me was literally a life saver!). I was unsure if puppies would voluntarily climb into a bucket, so I found a piece of processed cheese to use as bait inside of the bucket.

I got back to the hole, tied one end of the string to the bucket and the other to my wrist (didn’t want to take any chances) and dropped the bucket down and maneuvered it onto its side, with the cheese at the bottom. Amazingly, the first puppy went for the cheese pretty quickly, with its nose and front paws well into the bucket, but back legs still hanging out. I decided to pull it up anyways, and it actually worked! The next 2 came pretty easily as well, and somewhere during those first couple of puppies two women who had been passing by and saw me with my head down the pit latrine stopped to see just what I was up to. The last puppy, my favorite- the only black one of the litter, proved to be more difficult, and didn’t seem to understand that it needed to go inside of the bucket, not climb over the side of it, to get the cheese and be pulled up to safety. But after a few more minutes, it figured it out, and at last, all four of the puppies were safe. I hurried to find some scrap sheet metal and bricks to block the hole and prevent future mishaps, and we all lived happily ever after! There are a total of seven puppies, and this week I started feeding them some brown rice that was really old and had taken on a strange flavor. But the dogs eat it up! Now when they see me, they come running to me like they do for their mom.

Camp:

For the last week of May, I put on a camp with my neighboring volunteers. We hosted 50 girls ages 11-17 for four days. The purpose of the camp is to empower young women through life skills lessons and interactive games and activities. Along with lessons in self-esteem, decision-making, goal setting, puberty, and HIV, we played games, watched a movie, had a carnival night, and a talent show at the end of the week. A local performance group volunteered to perform a drama about a teenage girl who starts dating an older man and the problems she encounters because of those decisions. The camp was held at a boarding school, so we all slept in the dorms; I got to room with the girls from my school and it was a lot of fun. In general I think very highly of the kids from my village, and so getting to spend a week with some of the most well-behaved and responsible girls from my school was a treat. I kept catching myself telling other volunteers of the adorable and surprising things my girls were doing. I was like the proud parent of an honor student, with the bumper sticker on my mini-van. Here is one of my favorite examples of how sweet these girls are:

Before we left on Monday morning, we were at the school waiting for the bus to pick us up. After reading in the library and playing some jump rope games, the girls walked over to the nearby market for some snacks. They came back with a bag of chips and sleeve of cookies each (I cringed a little at the absence of nutritional value, even though I should be used to it by now). We were sitting in the waiting area of the office, chatting and having fun and I noticed that they were each putting one of their cookies into a pile and discussing something in hushed Setswana. I was wondering what they were doing with the contributed cookies when one of the girls grabbed the stack and held them out for me, telling me to take them. I was dumbfounded. What 12 year old uses her precious pocket money to give her cookies to an adult voluntarily? Well, six of my girls do, apparently. I couldn’t bring myself to take cookies from children, even if they had been offered, so the girls redistributed them amongst themselves and I thought about how that would never, ever happen in America… So yes, my kids are the best.

Language week:

The week before the camp I traveled to another volunteers place, a couple hours away, for a week of language training with a PC Setswana teacher. We did this last year as well and it was so helpful and fun that we took the opportunity to do it again this year. We had six volunteers and our lovely teacher in my friends charming little village and cozy 3 bedroom house. I have to say, to any and all PCV’s who are able to participate in a language week, do it! To be able to have a teacher stay with you for a week and design your own lessons and areas of focus is incredibly helpful. Often during PC trainings, the time for language study is rushed and lacks the personalization that can truly make the difference while learning a new language. Plus you get to spend a week with friends and cook amazing food that most of us are too lazy to cook when we are just cooking for ourselves. I am not saying that I am anywhere near being fluent, but I definitely have a much better understanding now, and am more comfortable with trying things out than I was before.

Well, the distractions are setting in for me (and perhaps for you as well), so I will close with a quick list of some of the random things I’ve been up to.

  • I recently finished one of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. I read the first one before I came here, and I found I could relate much better with this one.
  • This morning (while chasing the sunshine around my house) I started reading Naked, by David Sedaris. It is highly amusing and makes my life feel so normal.
  • I am still, slowly but surely, making paper beads, and experimenting with bead thickness using two pieces of paper and thicker paper
  • When I came across a Christmas book in the school library it hit me that I will actually be home for Christmas (and Thanksgiving!) this year!
  • My tomato plant is still going strong but I think my lettuces might have died before they ever emerged from the soil.
  • Yesterday, with the help of a friend sending instructions, I successfully removed a virus from my USB stick! I felt like an all-powerful computer magician!
  • Currently listening to the Amelie soundtrack.
  • This afternoon I am going to attempt to weatherize my windows with plastic bags and duck tape.

Peace and love to you all!

Jess

The infamous puppies

The infamous puppies

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GLOW Camp!

GLOW Camp!

My girls. I am woman, hear me roar!

My girls. I am woman, hear me roar!

A Day in the Life

As my life here in Botswana has become so normal to me, I realize I have not spent much time talking about what I actually do here on a daily basis. Activities that seem completely ordinary to me now (bathing in a bucket, teaching 50 kids with limited English understanding about HIV under a tree, etc.) may be interesting or entertaining to an outsider, so here goes:

I wake up at six, and now that winter is fast approaching, it is dark and cold at that time. I start heating water for coffee (water from my filter that I collect from across the yard. Also, stoves here are connected to a huge propane tank and don’t have pilot lights, so must be started with a match) and pour myself some cereal. Breakfast has always been hugely important to me, so just like when I’m in America, I take the time to sit and enjoy my coffee and breakfast in the morning, while I wake up and begin my day. After breakfast I get dressed and make myself presentable, and throw a snack in my bag (today’s snack is a treat, with leftover bread rolls with peanut butter that I made for lunch yesterday, and tea that I will make at school).

I get to school around 7, and it’s a quick 8 minute walk from my house. School starts at 7:20, so I have a bit of time to set my things down and organize my thoughts for the day. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we have a quick morning assembly before the kids start lessons. Assembly consists of songs (some songs also have little choreographed dances, so cute!), announcements, and prayer, and then off to classes.

I have an office in the main office, so I spend most of my time there. I will re-organize the library if the students used it the previous day, and water my garden (at the moment I just have a tomato plant, but will be planting some lettuce soon). Right now I am helping to plan a weeklong girl’s empowerment camp in May, so that is taking up most of my time during the day. The regional Peace Corps volunteers are arranging everything form the grant writing and arranging transportation to menu planning, lessons, arts and crafts, and camp evaluations. There is a lot of work to be done, and it is important to think of all the little things that don’t easily come to mind (who is responsible for cleaning the bathrooms? Can we heat up bath water in the kitchen, or do we need to build a fire outdoors for that?), so luckily there are eight of us working together, and five of us have done a camp like this before.

When I am not planning a camp, I spend my time making English lesson posters for the library, planning my after school Pact club, working on my thesis for my Master’s degree, or waving at the kids who happen to pass my office throughout the day. In the afternoons, while students are on lunch break, they will sometimes come into my office to chat or ask me a question, or ask to see the pictures on my laptop. Sometimes a teacher will bring their class into the office for computer lessons (we have a computer lab with about 8 computers) and I will assist with that, or hang out with the kids in the library while they await their turn to use the computers.

My after-school PACT club (Peer Approach to Counseling for Teens) happens on Wednesday afternoons and is kind of my big event of the week. Each week at 2pm I walk around the school (students are just finishing up lunch at this time) and announce that PACT Club will be starting soon. The message echoes throughout the school as the kids yell “PACT CLUB!!!” in their best ‘lekgoa’ imitation. PACT club is a popular club here in Botswana. The actual curriculum for PACT is aimed at older youth than I work with, so I treat is as more of a general life skills/ leadership club. We cover a broad range of topics including goal setting and decision making, HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, peer-education, peer pressure, self-esteem, and volunteerism. Each week I plan a new topic, or we continue from last week’s topic. I have found that I can only keep the 50 or so 11-13 year olds focused for about 30 minutes, so I squeeze as much interactive information into that amount of time as possible. The club is conducted mostly in English, with some of my broken Setswana thrown in for reinforcement, but I also greatly rely on the students with better English skills to explain things to the other students. It is generally a fun time to be had under the tree behind the office on Wednesday afternoons.

I usually “knock off” at school around 3:30 unless there is a staff meeting (staff meetings generally last 2-3 hours, so they often go on until 4:30 or later, causing me great impatience, even though I should be used to it by now).

When I get home I get some of my daily chores out of the way, such as dumping the dirty water (from last night’s bath, dish washing, etc.) and getting more water for tonight’s bath and general use. I have been trying to exercise more, and have been going for runs at around 4:30. I have to be careful in that hour between school and run not to get too relaxed, in fear that I will not be able to motivate myself to go for my run. However, there is some new excitement to my routine! A boy from my school won the national competition in the 800 meter race and will be running in the All Africa Youth Games which will be hosted in Botswana in May! As I am the only adult at the school who exercises regularly, I was nominated to be his coach. I am very happy and excited to help him out, however I have only ever run just for fun; I was never on the track team, and I am much more of a slow-long distance runner than an 800 meter sprinter.

Yesterday was our first session together. I decided we could start out with a slow paced (my pace) longer run to warm up and appease my personal preferences. I could tell immediately that I was in over my head. I was very aware that this slow jog for him was noticeably faster than my usual pace, and that I was breathing heavily much sooner than usual. I kept reminding myself that of course this was going to be rough for me, this kid is the fastest 800m youth runner in the whole country, and I am only just starting to get back into shape, and have never been a fast runner. After a mile or so I had us stop to stretch (A.K.A.- stop for a moment so I could catch my breath, even though this 13 year old wasn’t breathing hard at all and hadn’t even broken a sweat!). We turned around and headed back so that he could get in some practice on the track (which is really just an overgrown field, where we just estimate where a track might be). We started off on an 800-ish run, me running as fast as my legs and lungs would allow, and him seemingly poking along. After about ¾ of a lap I told him to go on ahead and he just took off as if I was standing still and he was only just starting a run. By the end of our practice I was convinced that I would probably get more out of this arrangement than him, but at least he is getting some practice in before the competition. Maybe I will try to draft some other kids to run with him, so he can at least pretend to have some competition.

I suppose this whole experience is similar to my overall Peace Corps experience. I show up to offer help in an area I feel relatively confident in, and find myself unprepared for what I walk into. The knowledge and experiences I gain will always feel greater than what I can return, but I can’t imagine doing anything else or being happier doing it.

After my runs I get home around 5:30 or 6, heat up water for a bath, and start dinner (last night I made a yummy lentil soup with potatoes, bell pepper, onion and garlic). It is usually around 7 or 7:30 by the time I finish with cooking and bathing, so I finally get to sit down and relax! Lately I have been watching the TV show ‘House’, and then by 9 I am beat and head to bed.

So that is a fairly typical day for me here. It doesn’t always seem like I am doing a lot, but by the end of the day I am pretty tired, and definitely look forward to my down time. My weekends are usually spent cleaning my house and washing my clothes. I go grocery shopping about twice a month, and that is a day-long affair. Occasionally I will get together with other volunteers, or simply have a quiet day all to myself to read, work on a random craft, cook, or binge on media. I rarely get bored or lonely, even when I have nothing to do and am alone. It makes me wonder just how I managed such a busy life back in the States, and how I will re-acclimate to that lifestyle upon returning.

Walking to school with some of my neighbors.

Walking to school with some of my neighbors.

Picking watermelon at my family's lands!

Picking watermelon at my family’s lands!

Safari!!!

Dumelang Ditsala! (Hello Friends!)

It’s been a fun week of safari adventures in Kasane with my dad. I haven’t had time to write up a proper post, but wanted to share some of my pictures for those of you not on Facebook. I will do my best to write something up in the near future, but don’t want to take the time while I am on vacation with my dad.

Hugs!

Jess

Cuddle time!

Cuddle time!

Hippo chase scene

Hippo chase scene

Tower of girafes

Tower of girafes

Adorable baby baboon that almost jumped into our truck

Adorable baby baboon that almost jumped into our truck

Beautiful evening in Chobe National Park

Beautiful evening in Chobe National Park

Waking up from a nap

Waking up from a nap

Hyena

Hyena

One of my favorites, the guinea fowl

One of my favorites, the guinea fowl

With my dad and an incredible baobab tree outside our hotel in Kasane

With my dad and an incredible baobab tree outside our hotel in Kasane

Mama and baby rhino at Khama Rhino Sanctuary

Mama and baby rhino at Khama Rhino Sanctuary

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Tin Roof Sunday

One of the many topics of seemingly endless conversation here at Peace Corps Botswana is the sounds of a tin roof. Those of us fortunate enough to have a tin roof and no ceiling (think modern ‘exposed beams’ meets on-the-farm chicken coop) are able to have in-depth conversations about the diverse range of sounds experienced through the thin layer of metal dividing our homes from the heavens.

The most common sound, year round, is the sound of the metal heating up during the day. The inexperienced ear might perceive this sound as light rain, but it has more of a creaking door attribute than raindrop sound. It’s a steady clicking noise that reminds you that the sun is out and the day is heating up.

Another sound, one which I have been hearing a lot lately, is the sound of rain. My favorite is the light, misty rain during the day. It gives a lovely background noise that makes you just want to curl up and drink hot cocoa. I usually realize it has started raining by the sound on the roof before I notice it outside the window. Heavy rains can be intense and loud, to the point where I can forget being able to watch a movie without my noise cancelling headphones, and talking on the phone is definitely not going to happen. But I absolutely love going to sleep when there is a smooth steady rain; an all-natural cool, white noise. Rain is such a precious thing here, I love being able to experience it in this all-encompassing fashion (thankfully, without having it come down on me through the roof!).

Occasionally it even hails here! One can imagine that if rain keeps me from talking on the phone, then hail can be downright deafening! Once, after a particularly intense storm, my ears were ringing like I had been to a concert. But hail usually only lasts for a few minutes, then it’s back to the rain.

Wind. For a while this was my ultimate nemesis. There were a couple loose corners of my roof, one in the living room, and one above my bed, that when the wind was just right, would produce the most nerve-wracking pounding. On windy nights I would lie below the pounding envisioning my whole roof blowing off and wondering what I would do. Luckily, my landlord helped me out and reattached the roof, so no more sleepless nights for me. For the most part the wind and I now have a working relationship, but occasionally it still freaks me out, especially when the tree above my house drops things onto my roof. Then it is reminiscent of the tornado in The Wizard of Oz.

All of these occurrences seem fairly common and to be expected, but the one thing that still makes me jump is when the family of mourning doves bombs my roof. There are three such birds (they look like pigeons) on my compound and I swear they are the biggest ones in my village. They like to get going at around 5am, especially on the weekends, and will crash land on my roof, then chase each other back and forth for what seems like hours. On the tin roof, they sound like sumo-wrestlers wearing tap shoes above my head. I think every volunteer in the country with a tin roof has had this experience. I have never wanted to harm an animal before, but these guys definitely test my patience… I think they may have sensed my ill-will and have been taking it easy lately, primarily isticking to the roof of the main house.

Being back in America with a real roof and ceiling will be strange. How will I know when it’s heating up outside, or raining? On the flipside, I will also no longer be living in a giant oven, which will also be nice. I love my house and its quirky charm. I live my life trying to make the best of every situation I find myself in, and this 11×22 foot cinder-block, cement, and tin structure has become my little oasis. I get the best sunsets, and get to be creative in thinking of ways to keep the bugs out. The cement floors are indestructible and easy to keep clean, and half of my stuff hangs from the conveniently exposed rafters, giving my room a feeling of a gypsy-circus, but it’s quite functional.

Sending happy, warm, wishes your way!

Peace!

Jess

Happy New Year!

To start, happy New Year! I hope 2014 is off to a good start for you all. Life mo Botswana is continuing nicely, and I am looking forward to putting to use my previous year of lessons learned for an even smoother second year! (Also, as many people have already pointed out, I can say that I am coming home this year!).

It has been a while since I posted any real updates, so I will do my best, and work my way back, starting at the most recent holiday festivities!

I had a fabulous holiday with some of my favorite people, and got to do some serious traveling. I finally got to see South-Western Botswana, where volunteers are doing some amazing things in a place that seems strangely close to the end of the earth. But I got to ride a camel, picnic on sand dunes, trek a huge old dried up river bed, stick my arm through a fence into South Africa, and sing Christmas carols to the chief of a village.

A few days after Christmas a group of 5 of us set out to celebrate the New Year in Namibia. We ended up splitting into 2 groups to more easily get rides. Three of us ended up hitching in a semi over the border and to our destination of Windhoek (I love that hitch-hiking internationally with a truck driver sounds a lot more bad-ass than it really is). When he found out what we are doing in Botswana, he asked us to teach him about HIV. We ended up having quite an interesting and open hour long conversation about the facts and myths of HIV and the importance of getting tested.

So we made it to Windhoek around 7 pm, and the other two from our group had miraculously gotten there only about 30 minutes before us! We stayed for two nights at the Chameleon Backpackers, which was really nice and I would definitely recommend. We went just around the corner for some much needed Indian food, then took glorious showers and passed out from our long long day of travel. The next day was our only full day in the capital city before setting out again to our sea-side city ultimate destination, so we hit the streets and found some craft vendors and shops, some great grocery stores, a mall, and then hiked up a large hill to get a breath-taking view of the city. On our way home we got down-poured on, but it was actually quite nice after our hot trek up the hill.

The next morning we hit the road again, a bit more rested, for the four hour combi ride to Swakopmund, which turns out to be the most precious little ocean-side city that looks straight out of some Swedish or German town. We were all famished by the time we got there and checked into our attic dorm room at Villa Weise Backpackers, so we wandered the streets for the perfect meal. We had not anticipated that most restaurants close between 3 and 6, which, of course was right when we were in serious need of food. We ended up at a Mexican restaurant called N’amigos (the ‘N’ to make it resemble the shorthand for Namibia, Nam). It wasn’t a great restaurant, but we were all too tired and hungry to really care. Somewhere in that afternoon/evening we went to the beach to breath in some of the much missed salty misty air.

The next morning, New Year’s Eve, we arranged to go sand boarding! I opted for the lay-down variation (which I wrongly assumed was the less intense option compared to stand-up boarding). It entailed climbing a 100 meter sand dune carrying a body-sized piece of waxed compressed wood, then going face-first down the side of the very steep dune. It was so much fun! I got to do 6 runs, and got up to a speed of 69 km/hr (about 43 mph). Aside from the thrill of the boarding, the view from the top of the dunes was spectacular! I felt like I was on the top of the world, overlooking the city and ocean on one side, and never ending desert on the other. Climbing those dunes all morning was quite a workout, so I fully enjoyed the lunch they provided at the end. And we all got a dvd from the day, which I will be happy to show you once I get back.

We returned to the hotel in the early afternoon and showered to get the mass amounts of sand dislodged from our bodies (note that it took until the night of the 5th for the last grain of sand to find its way out of my eye…). We wanted to do some shopping, but almost all of the shops were closed. For dinner we somewhat randomly ended up at an Italian restaurant with a few of the friends we had made from the sand boarding. Attached to the Italian restaurant was a bar/club that was playing quite the mix of music, so we ended up staying there for most of the evening, and then found another club just before midnight. Shortly after midnight the club kicked everyone out, so we decided to check out the beach. There were quite a few people there hanging out and setting off small fireworks. All in all it was a fun night and completely different from every other New Years of my past.

New Year’s Day consisted of a leisurely morning and then an afternoon 4×4 ride through the dunes. It was so much fun getting to zip through the beautiful dunes, and be completely surrounded by them.

We decided to classy-up our return trip to Botswana from Windhoek, so we took a big comfy charter bus. We were all so amazingly happy on this bus. It was like we had been upgraded to first class, and we didn’t have to stress about hitching and not making it back to Bots in a day. We were making great time, even across the border, and even though I knew I shouldn’t say anything, commented on how great the trip was going. It was planned to be a 12 hour bus ride. We left Namibia at 6am and were supposed to be back in Gaborone at around 6pm. About 3 hours back into Botswana, right in the middle of the bush, we ran out of fuel. Yep. With the nearest gas station 130Km away. The driver left with some gas canisters to fill and bring back, and we chilled out on the side of the road for 4 hours. We were lucky in that we are Peace Corps Volunteers and are prepared for just about anything, so we had food, water, even a harmonica, and were rather content (and used to) being delayed by several hours. Many of the other passengers were less prepared, with no food or water for themselves or their small children. There was talk of us possibly having to sleep on the bus overnight (sunset was looming nearer and nearer) which made me a little nervous, but it all worked out, and we made it to Gabs at about 12:30am, 18 ½ hours after we left Windhoek. (That was a longer trip than the journey from New York to Botswana, fyi)

I finally made it home, slept for 12 hours, had a day to rest and clean and do laundry, and then Monday was the day to check in at school, with classes starting Tuesday!

The best part of coming back to school (besides 650 adorable smiling faces) was seeing my garden! While I was away the school garden transformed into a jungle and my plot looked like it was on steroids! My ‘Patty Pan’ squash plants are now waist high, lemon cucumbers are creeping along 6 feet out, and my tomatoes have so much fruit still ripening on them that they have fallen over from the sticks I tied them to (is it bad for me to just let them hang? I don’t have a nice cage or longer sticks to let the plants climb up). I had my first squash for dinner last night, sautéed with onions and garlic and mixed with orzo noodles, and I picked and ate my first tomato off the vine just 30 minutes ago. Delicious!!! I think my lettuce has come to an end, but perhaps I will try for a winter garden. However, now every single person who sees either my garden or the strange shaped mystery-vegetables I take from it wants to know what the heck I am growing, and if they can taste it. I guess I should look at it as an opportunity to broaden their horizons in the delights of consuming a variety of vegetables!

Okay, reversing now to the beginning of December:

My intake group reached our Mid-Service training, 15 months into our service. We have not all been together since January, so it was really nice to see some people who I haven’t seen for quite some time, and enjoy the luxuries of living in a hotel in Gabs for a week (aka, lots of showers, air conditioning, and eating way too much food and not having to cook it or clean up afterwards). I felt that we, as a group, have really come a long way, and was continuously amazed at the things we are accomplishing.

I don’t remember if I ever wrote about my mom coming to visit at the end of October, but to put it simply, it was amazing! I think she got to experience a nice balance between my life, and the cushy tourist life while she was here. On her first day, in Gaborone, I threw us into a typically full combi. When I said get in, she replied “where”? Little did she know how much space there actually still was in that little van, in Botswana standards. So we got to do a bit of shopping and eating in the capital before heading to my village for a few days. My village was so excited to meet her, and for over a month after she left were still asking if she was still here and how she was doing.

Then my vacation officially began when we drove up to Maun for some serious touristy-relaxation-safari time! We were able to go on a boat safari through the Okavango Delta one day, and a land safari in Moremi Game Reserve another day. We saw a ridiculous amount of elephants and giraffes, as well as impala, wildebeests, warthogs, guinea fowl, crocodile, zebra, and a hyena. We also took a basket weaving class (3 hours of weaving got us each a basket big enough for a couple of rings, ha!) and drove though some of the heaviest rain I have ever experienced. There is so much more I could go into detail about, but you will just have to trust me when I say that it was an incredible 10 days.

So that pretty much covers most of the excitement in my life over the last few months. On the more day-to-day side of things, some of the books I’ve read recently are:

  • Red Dwarf by Grant Naylor- a goofy space book, similar to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver- The author and her family take a one year sabbatical from imported foods and live off of locally grown foods from their farm and community. Made me miss farmer’s markets oh-so-much!
  • Loose End by Ivan Coyote- a captivating collection of short stories
  • The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by GW Dahlquist–I think it was somewhere around 900 pages, but I couldn’t put it down!
  • An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks- A book of paradoxical case studies that let me geek out with my psychology background.
  • Next on my list is Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, to re-inspire me to start running regularly, even in Africa in summer!

If you have any book recommendations, feel free to share!

I have also taken up making paper bead jewelry. It’s very simple, and the results are fabulous! So I have been going through all of my magazines looking for pages with pretty colors to turn into beads. Fun times! (I found step-by-step instructions with pictures just by searching “how to make paper bead jewelry” or something like that, in case you want to try it yourself).

Well, I think that is all for now. Hopefully I didn’t lose you along the way.

Compliments of the New Year, as they say this side.

Love and hugs to you all, as always.

PCV Lifestyle Workout

A friend (stateside) recently jokingly told me that I should make a workout video. A few days ago as I was sweating and out of breath while scrubbing my filthy socks, I decided that rather than a workout video, I would craft a satirical workout blog post. Thus, behold the creation of the PCV Lifestyle Workout! (*As with all physical activity regimens, please insure that you are physically apt before beginning)

Warm-up/stretches:

-Reaching with a shoe to kill the scary large insect

-Applying lotion, sunscreen, and bug spray daily

-Sweeping the house 2-3 times per day

Upper body:

Find a large bucket (20 liters or about 5 gallons), fill it up with water and carry it 100 feet. 1 set, 2X daily, alternating arms.

Lower body:

Walk through deep sand (go to the beach, find a park) for 40-60 minutes a day. Remember that you will need to also be carrying 2ltrs of water, your laptop, and snacks for the day.

Squats: While bathing and using the toilet, remain in a squatting position.

Cardio/weight bearing:

-Walk to the grocery store. Purchase all the food you will need for the next 2-3 weeks. Fill up your backpack or reusable bags, and carry them all home.(Optional, run after the bus while carrying all your groceries).

-Find some kids playing jump rope (other games such as soccer, hop-scotch, monkey in the middle also work) and join in their games for 30 minutes, or until you collapse, whichever comes first (also remember that this is to be done in the deep sand as well. Shoes optional).

Cardio/water sports:

(After filling and carrying afore-mentioned bucket of water) Wash all of your laundry from the week by hand. Jeans, towels, and blankets for advanced workout. Socks will always need a tough scrubbing. When finished with the clothes, remember to walk back outside with all the dirty water and repeat the 100 feet carrying it before dumping.

True Lifestyle bonus activity:

Find a dry sauna, set it between 100-110 degrees, live in it for 8 months.

Of course this is meant as a joke, but also personal confirmation about why I am completely exhausted by the end of the day. I have no idea what I will do with all the time I will have when I get back to the states and have things like running water and a washing machine!

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