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.

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!

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4 thoughts on “A Day in the Life

  1. Jessica, thank you for sharing your daily routine with everyone. I got to see it in person for a week when I was there. You do work very hard at your job, and you are always so organized. I saw how everyone at your school really likes you, and appreciates you being there. You are doing a great job. It is true what a PC volunteer told me one time: ” It is easy in the ways I thought would be difficult, and difficult in ways I never thought of”. Keep up the good work, and thank you for sharing your experience with us. Love you!

    Dad

  2. Chelsey on said:

    Thanks for sharing, once again. Yours is one of the few blogs I take the time to read. I’m so glad to hear you are happy and doing such great things and having such valuable experiences. Seaweed song came on yesterday and it took me back to coachella. Maybe one day we can have a coachella reunion!? (That just popped into my head.) anywho, run a lap around the “track” for me, preferably barefoot ;), and give the lions and gazelles a big hug for me. Enjoy!

    Chelsey

  3. michael mosweunyane on said:

    Thanks for coming to my country and being part of “US.” I have been laughing while reading your blog posts about some things you had to endure. But I appreciate your coming. Ke solofela fa tsotlhe di apere tshiamo.

    Mike,Gaborone

  4. Pamela Rumble on said:

    I enjoyed this very much Jessica. I love hearing the stories and how happy you are doing them all! I’m sending love to you as big as the sky! xo Auntie

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