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.

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....