This blog represents my personal reactions to my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer. It is not an official communication from the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Making a difference

As to whether or not I am making a difference, I think the honest answer is "I think so, at least on some days." I was working with a bright young man today editing a document, and showing him how to do some things in Word and Excel.  After I showed him, he did it himself and teased me saying "Look! A transfer of skills!" Those are Peace Corps buzz words, but it was in fact true.

The closest example of where I work is Denver Health.  My office is the administrative head for 4 health clinics and 5 health posts.  Those clinics and health posts provide direct care to people here, and they are the only health resource available.  So while I don't work with patients directly, I help the people who make sure there is staff and supplies, to provide the care. 

I am taking a lot of responsibility for the data collection and analysis for our system.  Those data we not only send to national in Gabs, but review to see if we need to add or subtract services to meet the health care needs of our people.  Lots of sexually transmitted diseases?  Let's plan some talks with local leaders and public education about it.  A sudden rush of cases of little kids with diarrhea (which can be life threateneing) - let's staff up to provide care and also figure out what bug is going around so we can stop it.  It is just good basic public health - not glamorous, but people can progress when they are sick.  AIDS/HIV is a major part of the mix, but not all of it.  And most days are different from each other, so I just pitch in to help with whatever needs done.

Fuggedabout that nonsense about "not in my job description!"  That is also a model for everyone else.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My little house

I took some pictures of my house in Mabs.  It is a 2-bedroom, 1-bath.  I have electricity and indoor plumbing, as well as a metal roof--all of which translates into pretty swanky digs.  Many have thatched roofs.  Still others have no indoor plumbing (there is a well in the front yard), or electricity, or both. 

Below is 1) looking at my house from the yard, 2) my dining room, 3) my living room, and 4) looking from my house to my street.

My house is very sweet.  See for yourself!

Care Packages--part 2

It is currently the dead of Summer here, so while you may be crouching around the fireplace and putting on your wooly mittens, we are sweating and sweltering here.  Definitely not something I'm used to as the Christmas season approaches.  Yes, Botswana does celebrate Christmas--it is about 70% Christian.

So many of you have sent me lovely little goodie packages from the States, and THANK YOU!  Many others have contacted me or my daughter, wanting to join in.  I am touched by the gestures, so below is an updated list (UPDATES IN CAPS) of needs (some wants) for life in Botswana. 

It is such a treat to get boxes from home. The post office people always want to know what was in them. A man in my office came in the other day and hungrily fingered my Excel book (which I use a LOT), and I told him he could consult it at any time. But he can't have it until I go home!

1.         Paperback books. We in the Peace Corps trade them, reread them, and hug them to our chests. STILL A GOOD IDEA. I READ A LOT HERE, AND HAVING BOOKS I HAVEN'T READ ON THE SHELF IS LIKE HAVING MONEY IN THE BANK.

2.         Puzzles, games, crosswords, logic problems, and the like. No television in Peace Corps digs. YES INDEED, THESE TOO.  I HAVE SOME CROSSWORD BOOKS LEFT TO ME BY A PREVIOUS VOLUNTEER, BUT I AM ALMOST TO THE END OF THEM.

3.         Needlepoint, knitting, or crochet projects. I like crafts.  Knitting needles were a casualty of my weight restrictions in luggage.  MY NEIGHBOR VALERIE SENT ME SOME NEEDLES AND SOME YARN.  BUT I'M HAPPY TO GET MORE!

4.         DVD movies. I do have my laptop, and brought some with me, but they will only repeat so many times.  STILL NEEDED.  I HAVE RECEIVED SOME, BUT ALWAYS ENJOY THEM.  ALSO ENJOY LOOKING AT AMERICAN SCENES, AND KNOWING I WON'T ALWAYS BE LIVING IN BOTS.

5.         Electrical assistance. This country has 240 DC current. My American appliances ask for 110 AC. My single converter (as opposed to an adaptor, which simply makes the plugs fit), is doing very heavy duty.  If it gives up the ghost, I have a problem.  A COMPANY CALLED WALK ABOUT TRAVEL HAS SOME OF THESE ON THE WEB THAT LOOK LIKE THEY WOULD DO THE TRICK. MY CURRENT ADAPTER IS STILL HOLDING OUT, BUT I USE IT EVERY DAY, OFTEN FOR HOURS.  IF THEY OFFER THE SOUTH AFRICAN PLUGS, INCLUDE THEM, PLEASE.

6.         Packets of spices. Mexican, Italian, Greek/Mediterranean, American comfort food helpers. You can go to a store that sells them In bulk and buy a baggieful, or just a small can.  A CAN OF BASIL WOULD BE WONDERFUL.  OTHERWISE I SEEM TO BE FINDING STUFF HERE.  I BROGHT A BUNCH, AND MY COOKING IS GEETING MUCH MORE SIMPLE.


8.         Regular old Folger's coffee - coarse ground if you can find it. I brought a small French press, but have yet to find a Bots coffee I like.  OH, COFFEE.   THE KIDS HERE LIKE TO GET STARBUCKS BUT I STILL LIKE PLAIN FOLGERS.  I AM DRINKING TEA THESE DAYS A LOT.

9.         A non electric knife sharpener.   STILL NEED THIS.


11.      Real molasses.  There is none to be found in Bots. I FOUND SOME OF THIS IN NAMIBIA. IT SHOULD LAST UNTIL I COME HOME.

12.      Jelly/jam, especially raspberry or peach flavor.   MORE, PLEASE!  I'M ON THE LAST JAR THAT KARIN SENT NOW.

13.       Toiletries - for me, the one I don't want to run out of is stuff to make my hair behave. I love the Alterna product called Hemp Styling and Nutritive creme gel.  I also would appreciate really good skin moisturizers  it is incredibly dry here.   ALWAYS GOOD TO HAVE--ESPECIALLY IN THE DRY, HOT SUMMER WEATHER.

14.       A star chart for the southern hemisphere. You would not believe the night sky here.

15.       Tools. An adjustable wrench, a small hammer,  a small flashlight with a couple of sets of batteries. I did bring my Leatherman, but it can't do everything. YUP, STILL NEED. I AM GETTING QUITE INVENTIVE, BUT THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A GOOD TOOL.


17.       Yoga pants, or anything made out of stretchy jersey for comfy evenings and weekends. MOLLA SENT SOME OF THESE. I THINK I'M OK HERE.

18.       AA and AAA batteries - rechargeable if possible. I have a charger, but they deplete quickly. SPENT 50 PULA ON THE WEEKEND FOR SOME NON-RECHARGEABLE ONES, BECAUSE I USE THEM IN MY FLASHLIGHT, MY TOOTHBRUSH, AND OTHER MISCELLANY.

19.       If you want to get really exotic (and again I repeat no need to feel an obligation), one of those golf umbrellas with flaps that give way in the wind. Umbrellas are the sun shade of choice during hot
weather, and it can also be windy. At times I have felt like Mary poppins, about to fly away clinging to my umbrella. I HAVE AN UMBRELLA HERE, BUT IT STILL TAKES ME AWAY IN THE WIND. BUT THESE ARE PROBABLY EXPENSIVE.

20.       News from home - Political gossip, major happenings, current fads, anything that you think someone would find interesting. ALWAYS GOOD.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holidays in Bots

It is finally, finally raining here - at least for a little while at a time.  The clouds help to keep it cooler, yay yay.

About 25 of us went to a place called Phikwe last weekend for Thanksgiving.  We were at the house of the main guy for Voice of America here in Bots.  Very swanky - swimming pool, hot showers, a great kitchen complete with dishwasher and washer and dryer.  I made the stuffing and everyone brought favorite Thanksgiving dishes.  There are turkeys here, I found.  We all ate until we could no longer walk, with great memories triggered by food.  We store our taste memories in a different place, I learned.  I also learned that I am glad I am in my village.  It was humid there, and hot.  Not a good combo for me.  Also one of the women had someone pry up her metal roof and then break through her ceiling to steal things.  But I feel very safe in Mabutsane, even if it is puckery dry here!

The people from Bots 9, who are one year ahead of us, tell me that after the first Christmas, things begin to speed up, everyone feels more comfortable, and that the final months go very fast.  They are all talking about end of service and what they will do after they go home.

Things do feel more comfortable here, also because I am making my house more and more 'mine' Pictures of friends and family would help that, for those reading this blog!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

News from the HOTlands

Oh, my it's hot. hot. Hot. HOT. Yesterday the electricity went out (hence no electric fan working), and during the afternoon my travel clock told me it was 98 degrees (F) inside my house. The dishes in my cupboard are warm to the touch. The shampoo from the bottle on the bathtub felt warm on my hand last night. Water drinking by the gallon.

Thanks goodness for refrigeration, that stays cool even without power, at least for a while. I keep bottles of water in both the fridge and the freezer. I take the frozen ones with me during the day to have a cool drink as it melts. And this is only November - gee I can't wait for December and January. People assure me that it rains during the summer months. Much like Colorado, it is common for big thunderheads to build during the day and rain in the afternoon. We shall see just how cooling that is.

This past week I went twice to Tsonyane, a small village (population: 721)  that the District Aids Coordinator has chosen for the kick-off World AIDS Day commemoration. In Botswana, there is an expected use of official cars for all official transportation. Even with cars in the parking lot, some will moan that there is no transport available to go to Khakhea, for example, that is a 30 minute drive from Mabs.

Part of the issue, I am sure, is that there is no gasoline (called petrol, here, a la British) availbe except in Jwaneng, 120 km down the road.  And the rural roads can be tough on vehicles. What the use of the official vehiclemeans, however, is that everyone must be 'collected' from their residence or office, a stop made for petrol, and only then can the trip commence. Tsonyane is the farthest from Mabs it is possible to go and still be in the district. We traveled an hour to Jwaneng, did the obligatory fuel stop, and then 20 more minutes down the Kanye road until we turned off onto a sand road. Our driver cheerfully barreled along, around blind curves and past donkey carts, children, and livestock. It is at times like this I simply have to give my fates to God, and we made it fine.

The meeting in Tsonyane was at the kgotla. pronounced coat-la. (Gs are gutteral in Setswana, like the French R.)  kgotla is the traditional meeting place for every Botswana community.  Commonly, it is a cement slab, one full wall and three walls about 2 feet high, and a thatched or metal roof over it. Lots of space for breezes to blow through, but protected from the rain. The 'kgosi', or the village leader, sits along the full wall, along with senior men of the community. There is a special kind of chair, made from branches and a twine mesh for a seat, that only men can occupy. In front of the kgosi is a depressed area, suitable for building a fire.

The protocol on entering the khotla is to approach the kgosi to shake hands (and placing the palm of your left hand under your right forearm, as a sign of respect), and then carefully skirt around the fire area (one never gets in between the kgosi and the fire) and shake hands with the elders. You end up shaking hands with everyone, going around the room. At the kgotla, women may not wear slacks, only skirts. Sitting with crossed legs is frowned upon (although there were a couple of young women at the meeting who did so). If all the chairs for the regular folks are taken, women sit on the floor.

But the entire concept of a community center, if you will, where teaching, meeting, debating local issues, making complaints, etc. is a very healthy one, I think. So we were at the kgotla to talk about AIDS/HIV and World AIDS Day, and to encourage them to form a Village multi-sectoral AIDS Committee, or VMSAC for short. Several days later, we went back, and we had a committee with people from the the health post, nurse and lay counselor, the PTA, the business community, The Home Based Care program, the Choir, the Crime prevention program, the netball team, two football teams (soccer), traditional healers, the Ministers Fraternal group, and something called Men's Sector. So even though the trips there were a bit scary, it was a worthwhile. Now they have a structure to begin to talk about AIDS, and the avoidance thereof. We will go back again, in addition to the World AIDS Day activities, to work with the committee on things they can do to educate their community, and with a committee this size, there are not a great number of people left!.

On the trips to Tsonyane, just outside Mabs we were treated with the sight of a major ostrich standing beside the road (taller than any person except basketball players) and across the road, an ostrich family - two females and several babies. We also saw baboons munching away and not really caring about the cars whizzing by. So there is a little wildlife reasonably close by to me.

The other thing I learned is how to carry a baby Motswana style. Mom bends over at the waist, and lifts baby onto her back, usually using baby's arms. Baby is quite placid and stays where placed. then Mom grabs blanket or towel and wraps around baby and ties the top edge on her front above the breasts, and the bottom edge, holding baby's bottom, around her waist. Then she stands up and voila, a Botswana baby carrier. Babies ride quite happily in this, not appearing to feel claustrophobic. The head, by the way, is usually outside so baby can see and breathe.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Toto, we ain't in Denver anymore....

On further research, there are about 3.3 people for every goat in Africa, while there are 100 people for every goat in America. No wonder so few of us eat them. For a village like Mabutsane, in the USA there would be about 20 goats, undoubtedly on a farm somewhere. Here in Botswana, there would be about 600,000 goats (Bots is about .2% of the African population). or close to 600 for this village alone.  

Last night three donkeys got into the neighbor's yard, and decided to congregate by the fence just outside my bedroom window. Then they decided to express their desires and concerns with the community. When a donkey brays, first it sounds like an asthmatic wheeze, and you swear someone or something cannot breathe. Then the exhale is a honking sort of sound, in varying pitches. Then a cow wondered into the land just across my little street, and since the neighbors were making so much noise, the cow decided to join in. It is too warm to sleep with the windows closed, so I was treated to a concert of sorts throughout the night time hours.

Yesterday I went to Jwaneng on the bus to do some banking. On the return trip, the bus was packed, and I was one of the ones standing. A tall substantial man stood up, turned to face everyone on the bus, and began speaking (in Setswana) in ministerial tones. At first I thought he was trying to convert the bus of people.

Then, he began holding up various sizes of containers, and I realized he was selling some sort of snake oil. He continued on, in great volume, for about 1/2 hour. I heard him use the English words of 'fibroids and growths', 'brain tumors', 'low blood pressure', 'depression',and saw him motioning like he was applying it to his face and arms as a skin lotion. The busdriver and the conductor did not seem to mind, they carried on. I don't think he made any sales, though, unless he was hawking in the aisles after I got off in Mabs.


I am going to Namibia next week!  I am told it is beautiful there - green and lush. I hope that does not also mean mosquitos. 

Saw an ostritch today from the bus to Jwaneng. The only time I have seen one is in the Weildlife area west of town. But this guy was to the east. Boy they are a funny looking bird. but they can move when a large bus starts honking at them! The wildlife area to the west, by the way, is mostly populated with antelope-like animals - springbok and gemsbok they are called here. But someone also said there are cheetah in there, which makes sense since springbok make a nice cheetah dinner. I hope a can take a tour in there to see whats there.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Goat meat

A corss-cultural moment this week: I was talking with several of my office mates and someone mentioned goat meat.
THEM: Charlie, do you like goat meat?
ME: Well, it's an acquired taste and I am working on it.
THEM: Don't you eat goat meat in America?
ME: Not so much, no.
THEM: What do you eat?
ME: We eat beef, and chicken, and lamb, and fish.
THEM: But not goat?
ME: No, not goat.
THEM: But - what do you do with all the goats?
ME: Well, there are not that many in America.
THEM: What - not many goats?
ME: No, just a few. Some are kept for goat milk, for example, but we don't eat them.

Shaking of heads - imagine, a country without goats!  Here of course, there are many, many of them. They wander at will, foraging for anything edible. I can toss broccoli stems, nasty cabbage leaves, potato peelings, etc. over my fence after dinner and by the next morning they will be gone.]  Goat meat is a favorite here. Most of my colleagues, I think, cannot imagine a country where livestock does not wander at will.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Care Packages

My daughter tells me that people have been asking about sending care packages to me.  I must confess that this strongly independent woman would love to receive them. Just to know people are thinking of me, and to give me a surprise in my mailbox. I now realize what a long way it is back to home!

So, I have been thinking, and I hope this list will serve to give ideas for anyone who would like to send a package to any Peace Corps volunteer. While needs vary from country to country, I think this list represents the least that volunteers are going without, because Botswana is a country that is well on the way to no longer needing the Peace Corps (as witnessed by the withdrawal earlier) except for this
pesky problem called a national epidemic of HIV/AIDS.

My list, created with the help of others, my thoughtful daughter, and 4 months here in Bots:

1.        Paperback books. We in the Peace Corps trade them, reread them, and hug them to our chests.

2.        Puzzles, games, crosswords, logic problems, and the like. No television in Peace Corps digs.

3.        Needlepoint, knitting, or crochet projects. I like crafts. Knitting needles were a casualty of my weight restrictions in luggage.

4.        DVD movies. I do have my laptop, and brought some with me, but they will only repeat so many times.

5.        Electrical assistance. This country has 240 DC current. My American appliances ask for 110 AC. My single converter (as opposed to an adaptor, which simply makes the plugs fit), is doing very heavy duty.  If it gives up the ghost, I have a problem.

6.        Packets of spices. Mexican, Italian, Greek/Mediterranean, American comfort food helpers. You can go to a store that sells them in bulk and buy a baggieful, or just a small can.

7.        Seasoned rice vinegar.

8.        Regular old Folger's coffee - coarse ground if you can find it. I brought a small French press, but have yet to find a Bots coffee I like.

9.        A non electric knife sharpener.

10.      A bag of real black beans.

11.      Real molasses.  There is none to be found in Bots.

12.      Jelly/jam, especially raspberry or peach flavor.

13.      Toiletries - for me, the one I don't want to run out of is stuff to make my hair behave. I love the Alterna product called Hemp Styling and Nutritive creme gel.  I also would appreciate really good skin
moisturizers  it is incredibly dry here.

14.      A star chart for the southern hemisphere. You would not believe the night sky here.

15.      Tools. An adjustable wrench, a small hammer,  a small flashlight with a couple of sets of batteries. I did bring my Leatherman, but it can't do everything.

16.      A Sunday paper.

17.      Yoga pants, or anything made out of stretchy jersey for comfy evenings and weekends.

18.      AA and AAA batteries - rechargeable if possible. I have a charger, but they deplete quickly.

19.      If you want to get really exotic (and again I repeat no need to feel an obligation), one of those golf umbrellas with flaps that give way in the wind. Umbrellas are the sun shade of choice during hot
weather, and it can also be windy. At times I have felt like Mary Poppins, about to fly away clinging to my umbrella.

20.      News from home - Political gossip, major happenings, current fads, anything that you think someone would find interesting.

More fun on public transportation

There was the most incredible moon last night - full, and a beautiful coral color as it rose. I tried for a picture but I needed a tripod, so it doesn't capture it. But it would have been postcard quality if I could!

A small adventure over the weekend. I went to Jwaneng to shop, went to the bank and the ATM was broken, so had to wait inside in line. It took a while, and I missed my favorite bus but there were to be two more, so I didn't worry. Except - no buses came. none going west. I had a backpack and a tote bag full of groceries, sitting at the bus rank. My fellow travelers decided to walk to the highway and hitch, but I am too old to walk all that way with two heavy bags. I called the Peace Corps volunteer in Jwaneng and asked to stay over, except she wasn't in Jwaneng, she was teaching some classes with another PCV in eastern Botswana. But she called one of the staff members in Jwaneng, who offered to let me stay. She turned out to be a lovely person, very interested in research, and even let me share her double bed instead of sleeping on the loveseat in the living room. Now that is hospitality. so the next morning I took a cab back to the bus rank and caught the 8am bus back to Mabs.  So my record of never being forced to sleep on a park bench remains intact.

Very nice people here in Bots!

Daily Life in Mabs

There is no public transportation here in the village of Mabutsane, but it only takes about 30 minutes max to walk from one end to the other, so I walk. It's 20 minutes to my office, 30 minutes to the District Aids Coordinator's office, about 10 minutes to the shop or the post office. It's about 30 minutes out to the highway, which is where I catch the bus to Jwaneng. Jwaneng takes about an hour on the bus, and the distances here are in km, so I am not sure of the distance.

Take a look at Mabutsane on Google Earth - it's flat, sandy, with some vegetation. You don't want a lot of vegetation, especially in your yard, because it invites all sorts of undesirable creatures to live there, and then visit you indoors. ThePeace Corps pays me a stipend; I do not pay rent, and am reimbursed for electricity. I can live modestly but comfortably.

Recently I was sitting and reading when I heard a funny thump. Then again. Coming from the kitchen. Thump. Sounds sort of metalic. Thump. So I go into the kitchen and turn on the light, and find two lizard looking creatures, about 5 inches long each, in my metal kitchen sink. I don't know if they were fighting, playing, or making baby lizards, but they were jumping and then landing in the sink. They beat feet when the light went on, and I have no idea how they got in. But they eat bugs, don't bite human, and are sort of cute. So they can stay, unless they were making baby lizards - I don't need a family indoors. Maybe I will give them names - Ben and Jerry? I miss having a pet.

Life here is quiet. I go to work at the District Health Management Team at 7:30am on weekday mornings, come home for lunch, sometimes go back to the office and sometimes go visitng in the community after lunch. I have made a few friends - a South African widow with two young children, and her brother in law. A woman who works in the building where the AIDS Coordinator is (I wandered in by mistake) whose name is Charlotte, too. My landlord and his family. The people at the office. The women at the post office.  Main street is a dirt road, with a paved area that comes from the main highway and then goes to the government offices. I have no street address, nor does anyone here.

On Saturday I catch the 8:30am bus (that comes anywhere between 8:30 and 9:15) to Jwaneng, shop for groceries and any other miscellaneous things I need, usually catch an afternoon bus back. So Saturday grocery shopping is sort of an all day affair. Sundays are laundry by hand (I'm getting pretty good at it), hang them out, cook something in a big pot for lunches during the week. Leisure time is reading and watching my American movies. Not very exciting, but the work helps these overworked and stressed people, who are very nice.

As I walked down my dirt road yesterday I realized that this really doesn't feel all that different from home. Yes, the land is different, and most of the people are a different color, but the people want what everyone wants - a productive job, happy and healthy children, time with family, a little fun. Some people are quiet, some are loud. Some are shy, others take over the room when they enter. There are the same social problems as at home - some drink way too much, some don't take good care of themselves or their families, a few won't work, other can't find jobs. There are very few industries in Mabs, just a few shops, a fairly large government presence because this is a district office, and livestock ranching. The unemployment rate in this district exceeds 50%. Visiting the post office right after the 1st of the month you see many people with their welfare books needing to check in and get their monthly allotment.  It's very clear why many of them are on public assistance. Old, disabled, clearly not able to cope with the world. But there is also a lack of jobs here. The land won't support more livestock. and water is in short supply, so bringing in any sort of significant industry must be very carefully done.

Now I must help the Matron (who hates that title - But Principle Nursing Officer is a mouthful) create some lists and other information for the Ministry of Health. They are amazed at how fast I can type. Someone needs to add typing classes to the high school curriculum.
Went to Kokong, a village west of Mabs, for a day of traditional Setswana food.  I think the nutrition specialists set it up as an education session on balanced diets and such.  I wore my traditional Botswana skirt.  It was fun - women making food in the old fashioned way, sifting grain through baskets, pounding sorghum with logs, and then pausing in their work to answer their cell phones. Botswana food is pretty bland and heavy on starch, but then that is all that they had here for centuries. I wonder of olive trees would grow here? I am trying to think of things that grow in similar climates in other parts of the world, and that have more spice in them!

My office is keeping me busy - they like having a volunteer and so I feel very useful. This is a good thing. I have to learn more Setswana, though, because they leave me behind at the most awkward times. It's hard to hear when they talk so fast, and words run into each other.

More travel plans: Namibia for Okotoberfest (they have a large German population), and Cape Town for New Year's.  I would like to see the Mandela prison, and the place where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean. Then I will be as far south in Africa as it is possible to go. There are wineries there, too....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Goat meat

The other day the District Health Management Team (the equivalent of a state health department) had a large all day training meeting. As I arrived that morning, there was a goat tied up to an old dead tree in the parking lot. He definitely had a resigned look on his face. I went inside and inquired for the reason our parking lot now had livestock in it. I was told that the goat was to be dinner for the meeting participants. The plan was to slaughter him (or her) in the field beside the building, skin him and then roast him for the dinner. By lunch time he was still alive, though looking more depressed than ever. I chose to leave before the preparations begin, because the slaughtering method is not exactly humane, and I have watched enough living creatures die to last me a lifetime.

Goat meat is eaten quite frequently here. It has a distinctive taste which some people love. It looks a lot like beef, with small bones in it. It may be an acquired taste, which I have not yet acquired. Plus I can't forget the look in their eyes. I am a city child.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Donkeys and poo

Botswana has donkeys. Lots and lots of donkeys. There are grey donkeys, brown donkeys, black donkeys and a few mottled ones. I am sure there are other colors as well. They wander freely about, munching on vegetation. The idea of a fenced yard is not to fence anything IN, but to fence things OUT. So good stout fences surround every house, with gates wide enough for vehicles. But the gates remain closed until specifically opened for a purpose. You can hear the donkeys early in the morning, and in the evening. During the day they mostly sleep, unless they are harnessed to a donkey cart. One of my pictures has to be the quintessential donkey cart. It may be a trailer like structure, it may be a wooden box on some sort of tires, but my favorite looks like the back portion of a pick-up truck.

Because they are not fenced, donkeys wander about on roads and highways. Motswana drivers automatically slow down when donkeys are sighted beside the road, because it is typical that they will wait until a large and noisy truck or bus appears and then decide to join their bretheren on the other side of the road. I have been a passenger on a major Sceini-cruiser type of bus, and seen donkeys lying in the middle of a busy highway, and they don’t move as the bus screams past. Why there are not legions of dead donkeys on the roads I do not know, but they are rare.

I am captivated by the baby donkeys - their hide is a long, baby fuzz. There is one in my neighborhood that is coal black - not a speck of white, and I want to take him home with me. Except by then he will be a grown up donkey, probably cranky, and transport will be an issue.

Needless to say, donkeys leave brown evidence of their presence. So do the cows and the goats. I shudder to say I can now identify which brown piles are from what sort of animal - ain’t the Peace Corps educational?

What I find interesting is the walking habits of Batswana in this environment. I am used to giving such piles a wide berth, wrinkling my nose as I go. But natives here stride straight ahead, and miraculously, they don’t walk in it. They may miss it by only millimeters, but miss it they do.

The Joys of Public Transportation

Peace Corps volunteers are forbidden to drive while ‘on duty,’ so we take public transportation. In my village, there are two basic shops (fodder for another blog entry), so I must take a bus for an hour to Jwaneng if I want to find a supermarket. Yes, Jwaneng is where one of the major diamond mines is, but I haven’t yet figured out how to get a tour.

Anyway, on my original subject, public transportation in Botswana has some differences to that in the USA (fancy that). First, buses are about the same size as American buses. However, they have five seats across instead of four. The aisle is for sideways sidling only, and if you are carrying your groceries (a backpack stuffed and probably a tote bag in the other hand), you invariably thump people as you go by. But no one seems to take offense. Body contact is common and unremarkable on public transportation. You will share your narrow seat (think of airplanes as spacious) with people ‘of traditional build’ as they say. People will stand in the aisles, and to pass in the narrow space it takes, well, body contact. Full body contact, from shoulders to knees. Just part of the experience. If you have an aisle seat, it is not uncommon for someone with an ample posterior to have that posterior inches from your face, as they try to let someone past.

Buses are also a sales ground. At each major bus station, there are vendors selling cold water bottles, chips, food of various types, huge bags of oranges, and they will come onto the bus during the stop to sell their wares - yes, and go up and down the aisles as noted above.

On my trip to Maun for shadowing, we were on a bus when an older woman made her way to the front of the bus leaned down and said something to the driver. The driver slowed the bus, then turned onto the shoulder of the road. This is a highway where the common speed is 120 km per hour. The lady got off the bus, squatted down with her skirts modestly spread, and after a moment stood, rearranged her clothing, and then got back on the bus. About an hour later, another passenger came forward, and this time about 12 men got off, faced away from the bus, took their potty break, got back on, and off we went again. I had carefully rationed by water intake in preparation for this trip, but it seems others had not.

Another form of public transportation is the oft mentioned ‘combi’, a minibus used in the larger metro areas. For three pula, you can catch one on any number of routes and get about quite handily. Of course, body space is at a premium. I have ridden in them with a total of 14 people plus driver - two in the front with the driver (in the bucket seat), and four across in another three rows. Add in groceries, luggage, children, and body contact is again the order of the day. On a hot day, breathing is your task until you get to your destination. But everyone is cordial and cheerful, and will help you with packages, and pass your money to the driver and the change back. If space is really short, someone will take a child, not necessarily their own, onto their lap to make room.

Many people here use the public transport system. Cars and expensive, and most are owned by agencies or businesses. Getting a driver’s license, I am told, is a long process, so you meet just about everyone on the bus or the combi at some time or another.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Africa update

OK, this isn't Charlie, it's her daughter, Karin.  But Charlie sent me some pix she took in Botswana, and I thought I'd put a few on here so that anyone following her blog can see them.  Some look like postcards, don't they?  My mom is all kinds of talented!

Charlie has finished her training and is now an official Peace Corps volunteer.  She is stationed in Mabustane, a village of about 2000 people.  I'm not exactly sure how far "Mabs" (as my mom calls it) is from Gabarone (capital of Botswana, where she was training).  She has her own house with electricity and plumbing, but no central heating.  It is winter in Botswana, and one morning it was 56 degrees inside her house. 

Here is how she describes her job:
"I am assigned to the District Health Management Team, which is the equivalent to the state health department for the district. So far I have been doing projects like setting up a purchsing system for supplies on Excel for them. They recently transferred the entire district health clinic system from the Department of Local Government to the Ministry of Health, and that stripped out all their administrative systems. The MOH has never had health clinics, health posts, and mobile health stops in its system so doesn't know quite how to handle it. In the meantime there are people getting service and we need supplies. So I am making stopgap systems until everything gets rolling.  
I am also working a bit with the District AIDS coordinator, the person responsible for coordinating all the activity aimed at fighting AIDS."

The internet is very slow in Mabs, so she isn't able to access email or update her blog/FB pages as easily as she'd like to.  I will keep pestering her to do so, as each day for her is an adventure, and I'm sure we'd all love to go with her!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Catching Up with Apologies

Actually, I have to apologise twice, because I wrote a wonderful blog entry for this and it never made it to the Internet. The Net is very slow here, one clicks on a link and then sits back, sips tea, sends a text message, and if you are lucky the link holds. Or, it may disappear and you begin over. It feels like the very early days of dail-up.

I must clarify Karin's post with the pictures. There are a couple in there that I took off the internet and then mistakenly included them when I sent the flash drive to Karin. She of course was not to know. But some are indeed mine.

During our training, we had a week where we went and shadowed a current volunteer. My assignment was in Maun, an excruciating bus ride to the north of Botswana, but a beautiful place once you get there. It is at the site of an inland delta - a river from Angola enters the northern border of Bots and them simply deltas out into nothing. I have no idea why. But it is a haven for wildlife and Bots has wisely made very large game preserves to allow them to continue to live naturally. Some even live outside the preserve - some of the giraffe pictures were taken as we were traveling to a remote health post outside of Maun. But we did take a Saturday, hire a jeep, and drive into the preserve. Wow, wow, wow. There is nothing like an elephant bursting out of the brush inches from your front bumper as he dashes to join his colleagues on the other side of the road. Thank goodness our guide/driver has excellent reflexes.

I am going to try to keep my posts short, but more frequent, in order to baby my internet connection.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

On the ground in Botswana!

On March 31 I met the 38 other people I will be with in Botswana. They are a diverse and fascinating group. A few tidbits: One is a trained opera singer, one is an organic farmer from northern California, one is a large young black man from Kansas, one is 83 years old.

We had a one day session in Philadelphia on April 1, and then left the hotel at 2:30am (that is not a typo) to bus to JFK. We arrived at 7:30am, checked in, and finally took off at 11;15am. We then spent 15 hours on the airplane to Johannesbrg. That is cnough time to watch 3 movies, eat two meals, and spend substantial time in the aisles and galleys getting to know each other better.  By the way, South African Airlines serves south african wine and it is excellent.

We did have one member who decided, at the airport, not to continue with us. I am sure it was a very difficult decision for him, and all of us wish him the very best, and perhaps to see him at another time for another adventure somewhere in the world.

We landed in Johannesburg at 8:30am on April 3. Immediately we were treated to an airport full of exotic fabrics, models of all sorts of wild animals, skins, and people of all sizes, ages, and colors. Then on for another one hour flight on a Dash 8 to Gaborone. The small airplane meant that most of our luggage did not arrive until the next day, so we did spend one day in the same clothes, jet lagged, and openly confused, but ready and willing to dive in.

Dive in we did - four hours of Setswana instruction, paperwork to complete, and two injections - Hep B and rabies. I now do not worry about meeting slathering dogs - ha!

When we arrived it was hot, but then a terrific thunderstorm came through and cooled us off for the evening. Today has been cool and cloudy, reminding my of Denver's weather.

This hotel has wifi in the lobby, with 6 chairs available for 39 people who want to email home. So we all try to be considerate of each other so everyone can let everyone at home know they are safe.

We spent quite a bit of time today talking about our homestay period. On Thursday, we will be taken to a village named Kanye and spend the next 9 weeks living with a family there while we continue our training. We will spend 4 hours per day on Setswana, and also learn about Botswana culture, HIV/AIDS and the joys of working in the Peace Corps - which I recommend so far!

The attitude here is upbeat even in the midst of jet lag, frustration at learning a difficult language, and adapting to new food, strange beds, and malaria medication on top of other immunizations. The seriousness of what we are about to do is dawning, but does not seem to daunt anyone.

I must close and let others have the internet. More from Kanye, when I can find an internet cafe.

Friday, March 25, 2011

One more day

Tomorrow is my last full day in Colorado. 4am Sunday morning I leave for the airport, fly to North Carolina for a few days with my friends the Donaldsons (and have a sail), then on to Philly and Bots. All during these last few weeks I have been so aware of where I am and what a terrific place I live. The stores have incredible shelves of choices, the mountains in the morning with sun on fresh snow are just simply there to enjoy, it is easy to drive a few blocks and quickly pick up a forgotten item. It is so fulfilling to live in the moment - why can't I do that most of the time?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Gettin' down to it!

Three weeks from today I fly to North Carolina for some time with friend Molla, then on the 31st to Philadelphia. April 2, 2:30am (yes, that is not a type) onto a bus to JFK then United to Johannesburg - 15 hours on an airplane in Economy class. I may have to have a fist fight to get an aisle seat - or perhaps bribery. I am not above either!

Packing, packing, what to take? There is a mound of stuff on my guest bed. Kitchen stuff? Toiletries are widely available, but will I like them? A pile of shoes - when your feet are shaped like a duck (size 6 wide), you don't count on finding them there, and everyone says there is much walking that is a part of this adventure. A sleeping bag, squashed into a compression bag (which are one of the niftiest things ever). Clothes, from wool sox to shorts. And electronic recording devices - camera and small flip video camera. And the electronic reader packed with books. And the laptop. I can have two suitcases with a max of 50 pounds in any one, or a total of 80 pounds. It does make one think about what is essential. Haven't weighed it yet!

What am I hesitant to leave behind? Nigel the black lab, because he will not understand why I suddenly disappeared. Don't know if Skype will make it better or worse! Bob and Dottie Wham, dear friends who are not in good health. But I also know they would whip my behind if they thought I sacrificed this to stay with them. Karin is newly married, blissfully happy, and gainfully employed. And Skype will be our link.

I will not miss the Capitol - I have had 30 very good years there. I helped pass legislation that I truly think is a public benefit and met some fabulous people (see Bob and Dottie Wham above). But I will not miss the buffeting and stress.

Now I must go and evaluate the guest bed mound one more time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


I have found that reactions of friends and acquaintances to news that I am going to Botswana in the PC are varied and interesting. The words "You're kidding!" can mean everything from "Wow, how exciting!" to "You couldn't be so dumb as to do that, now, could you?" By and large people are positive. The ones who think it's a dumb thing to do surprise me in who they are.

Want to see a diamond mine? If you have Google Earth, which is easily downloaded, turn the earth to Africa. Just north of South Africa, and landlocked, is Botswana. Zoom into the country until you see cities named. The Capital, Gabarone, is on the south-southeast border with South Africa. Look west of Gabarone, zoom west some more, until you see what looks like a pale blue smudge on the map. Center that smudge and zoom in some more. Pretty soon you have a huge, open pit mine, with stepped sides. That is where diamonds are mined. No miners digging in dark tunnels, but earth graders the size of small houses picking up tons of earth at a time, and taking it to graders. Since diamonds don't break, they drop out of the crushed earth and voila, one has diamonds to sell. Botswana is so smart in owning these operations with the DeBoers company. One owns the land, one knows how to mine, cut and sell them, and everyone makes money.

If you are really into learning about Botswana, and I obviously am, watch the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series from HBO. Filmed in Botswana. The first episode of The Planet Earth,  narrated by David Attenborough, also has a nice segment on the elephant migration every year. Wow. I get to go there. I'm still processing.