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.

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.


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.


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!


The infamous puppies

The infamous puppies


GLOW Camp!

GLOW Camp!

My girls. I am woman, hear me roar!

My girls. I am woman, hear me roar!


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One thought on “Library books, puppies, camp, and Setswana!

  1. Another great entry !! Thank you for YOU Jess. You make the world a better place. xo

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