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, January 23, 2012

Ode to Bob

I learned this week with great sadness that my friend Bob Wham died shortly before the new year. I also feel very blessed to be able to call him a good friend, as I think he was one of the very special people in my life.

I first met Bob when I was newly in the Capitol. An issue arose about which I felt very strongly, and I went to talk with my Senator as an individual, not a lobbyist. There I was, quivering with earnestness, making my passionate pitch. Bob listened very intently, let me finish, and then offered, in the mildest of tones, his reasons for viewing things a little differently. At the end of the conversation, I left knowing I had not convinced him, but that I had had an intelligent conversation, and I had some additional things to think about.

When his wife Dottie was elected to the House I was privileged to work with her on several very meaty issues. Through the years, I felt adopted into the Wham family.

Just before going to graduate school, I took a week long sailing course. When I came back, I stopped in Frisco to check in, and there began another aspect of our friendship. Bob was a sailor. A very very good sailor. He and I sailed the Dillon Reservoir for several years. I bought a share of his boat, and some of my very fondest memories of him were those adventures on a cold mountain reservoir. He wore a misshapen sailors cap, and we took water to drink in an old thermos water jug that had been christened the “WHAM BOMB” as in former years I gather that it had contained liquid refreshment that was, well, not water. We talked of all manner of things during those sails. Family, great stories of early Wham years, current political issues (we still did not agree on some of them), and the wonder that is the mountains of Colorado.

My brother, who is a physics graduate, tells me that scientists have found that the universe is not, in fact a great vacuum. It is filled with energy. However one thinks of the afterlife, calling it heaven or whatever, I am certain that the sweet energy that was Bob Wham has found a very good place to be. The justice of the universe would have it no other way.

On a related note, please do not be afraid to send Peace Corps Volunteers news of home - whether good or bad. It makes us feel more connected to friends, family and community. Those connections are what make this service a privilege, rather than a burden.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year's in Cape Town

Cape Town does not feel like Africa - it feels like a blend of San Francisco, New Orleans (in terms of architecture), and Boston - because here is the ocean.  Very cosmopolitan, real traffic jams (no wonder - everyone drives on the wrong side of the road!) and quite wild on New Year's Eve.  We went down the coast for New Year's Eve day - to the farthest possible tip of the continent where two oceans come together, and saw a penguin colony on the way home.  Great Day.

Spent the next day in the wine country - a lot like Napa - very pretty, green, with real mountains in the background.  Definitely doesn't feel like the Africa I know.

Next to Robben Island - where Mandela spent so many years.  Probably won't be pretty there - but necessary to see.

Then out of here on the train and see the rest of South Africa out the window. It's been a great vacation, and I feel refreshed to go back to Mabs.

Happy New Year!

World AIDS Day in Tsonyane

December is the month of World AIDS Day – all over the country, and the world, there are events to recognize those who have died of this disease, and to rededicate those who remain that there is still much work to be done.

Tsonyane is a village of roughly 700 people located on the eastern edge of the Mabutsane sub-district. Travel there from Mabutsane takes about two hours, not counting the obligatory stop in Jwaneng for fuel and usually food. This village was selected by the Mabutsane District AIDS Coordinator and the place for the first, and largest, event for World AIDS Day. As with all official travel, we would go together in a government vehicle, and this one was packed with supplies for the event as well as all of our suitcases and sleeping gear.

We were slated to begin the trip at 2pm – and finally got underway at 3:30 – not too bad by African standards. Of course we had to stop in Jwaneng to buy ourselves dinner, and my companions bought raw meat and mealie meal to be cooked later. We arrived about 5:30 to 6pm, and a group of men were setting up a large tent to be used by for public education. There was a table for condom distribution, complete with anatomically correct models, in both black and white, for demonstration of the correct application. There were also people there who do house to house canvassing to do AIDS education. They also go into bars and other settings where men congregate to make their pitch.

It was a typical male activity (putting up the tent) and with about 8-10 guys working, the tent was up in about 20-25 minutes. Because the land is sandy here, the stakes are curved metal rods that are pounded deeply into the sand.  After we schmoozed for a while, we went to inspect our sleeping quarters – a room in the school building. Others were smart and brought inflatable mattresses or other padding, while I thought I could tough it out with just a sleeping bag folded double under me. A mistaken assumption, that was. I am way too old to sleep on a cement floor. Lesson learned.

By this time it was dark. The electricity in the village was out, except for the nurse’s house, which has a solar panel on it. She had the only lights visible, except for candles. I do hope there is greater acceptance of solar power here soon, as Lord knows there is plenty of sunshine, and the electrical system is not close to 100% reliable. So a group of about 5-6 of us knocked on the nurse’s door, introduced ourselves, and asked if we could use her kitchen to cook.  She had never met any of us, I think, but sure, come on in and so we did and made a mess in her kitchen. I had bought already prepared food for my dinner, so I was already fed. Everyone else waited until 10pm to eat.
The nurse is a lovely young woman (she told me she is about to turn 30 this month) who is the sole health provider in the village. She has at her disposal an ambulance to taken seriously sick patients to a bigger clinic or hospital.

In the morning, after an uncomfortable night, complete with hard floor, a door that was very noisy opening and closing, the late to bed people coming through that door around midnight or so, and the early to bed people rising very early, I went back to the nurse’s house for a bath. At roughly 5 am, she sweetly greeted me, cleaned out her bathtub, and heated water over an outdoor fire. By 6:30 I was bathed and dressed. One other of our group also availed herself of the bathtub.
The event was like a combination of a company picnic, a religious revival, and a trade show. There were greetings, long prayers, motivational speeches, children running about with treats in their mouths, mothers nursing babies, and entertainment by local people.

In addition to singing groups, there was a gentleman playing a home-made ‘guitar.’ This instrument consisted of a rusty can (large paint can size) into which a large wooden branch had been placed and then the can squashed around it. Through the branch a hole had been drilled for a peg . At the end of the peg was a wire string that also ended in the can. This single string was played with a bow consisting of a curved small branch, maybe 10 inches in length, also strung with a wire. Rubbing the two wires together and using his finger on the larger wire to regulate pitch, he made music and sang. Complete with misshapen hat, baggy trousers and a suit coat of indeterminate age, he made quite a picture. And, because I was a part of the official visiting party, I had no camera with me.  Later, he wandered the ground and seeing me, began to sing about ‘lekgoa’ – the Setswana word for white person. I don’t know what he said about me!

It was quite an event.