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.

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.


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3 thoughts on “Happy New Year!

  1. Pamela Rumble on said:

    Fantastic letter Jess! Thank you so much for that. It’s almost like your right here! I can see and even feel your exuberance and love of life! Happy New Year to you as well. I’m sending this with soooo much love to you, Auntie

  2. Suellen Darblay on said:

    Jessie, I enjoy your blog sooo much. You paint such an enjoyable picture of everyday life as well as the more exciting days. I’m so happy for you and all that you are experiencing, although it does make me nostalgic for the old days, when I was doing similar things, rather than reading about them (in bed!) But, such is
    life, and the torch has been passed. You are an amazing young woman and I’m happy that you received that torch and ran with it. Yes, you were Born to Run!!–sue darblay

  3. Great update Jess! You started the New Year off with such a wonderful adventure. Glad you are back to your home in Ditshewagne and are on the “down-hill” side of your adventures as a PC V( and will be home this year!! ) Your stories, friendships and experiences will last a life time. Love you!

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