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.

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.