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.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sunday Thoughts

It is Sunday morning here, and I can hear the singing from the church just down the road. No organ or other instrument, just human voices, in wonderful harmony.  In the evening, the local bar believes in electronic amplification, and it is not as pleasant.  There are no audiologists here that I can find, but soon they will be able to make a very good living because of damaged hearing.  Either that, or the sale of ear horns.

The longer I am here, the more I realize how much of human existence is the same everywhere. Senses of humor are the same.  Children who instinctively reach up for their mother’s hand, or hide behind her skirts at the approach of a stranger, are the same.  A group of teenage girls giggling is the same.  The variation in the work ethic, with some going for long hours and weekends, and others who frankly appear offended when asked to do their job, is the same.

But there are also moments, when I am in the middle of a room of people and loud conversations in Setswana, when I know that this is a special adventure, and I am fortunate to be having it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Maggie’s party

A fellow Peace Corps volunteer named Maggie recently had her 50th birthday and decided to throw a party. She invited all of us ‘oldies’ to help. At 10am, the children started to arrive, and by the time they had all arrived, there were more than 60 there. Maggie had borrowed chairs, and these children, between the ages of 1 and 12, all sat decorously on those chairs as they arrived. Then the inflatable jumping castle arrived, courtesy of one of Maggie’s friends in the village, and the kids started to behave more like American kids, jumping, giggling, and clowning.  We divided them into rough age groups, so that the younger ones were together, and then the older ones. Maggie had water balloons for those who weren’t jumping, and other games as well. These kids are remarkably well behaved. Can you imagine 60 American kids at your house?
She had a teen-age function after the young ones left, and then an adult party in the evening. She has my undying admiration for her organization! All went quite well until the end. Maggie had invited another young friend of hers to be a disk jockey for the teens and adults. He arrived with huge speakers and a collection of music, and also with a couple of his cousins – a common phenomenon here. At the end of the party, Maggie found her computer had been stolen. She had put it in the closet in her bedroom and kept the house locked, but had unlocked it for clean-up, after everyone except the helpers, including the disk jockey and cousins, had gone home.
On discovering the theft, she went immediately to the police department, at about 11:30pm. There she found two police officers. She told her story, and they began to fill out a report, except none of the pens lying on the desk would work. One of the police officers offered to go home for a pen, except he has no driver’s license. So Maggie’s friend, the disk jockey, drove him home in the police car. Meanwhile the other officer found a red pen and wrote Maggie’s report in English. Maggie wasn’t sure she (the officer) quite captured the facts, but the officer said it must be thus. At the end, the officer said that Maggie must return the next day because reports can’t be official if they are written in red pen – it must be blue or black. Gritting her teeth, Maggie agreed to return in the morning. She did so, found some new officers on duty, pens that worked, and so she repeated the story and the officer wrote, again in English. In the meantime, Maggie had found out that one of the cousins of the disk jockey was a known thief and on probation. She suggested that they go immediately to his house and question him. No, said the officers, the report must go to Lobatse HQ and be approved before they could do so. Maggie and I went back that evening to see what the word was from Lobatse, and of course the report had not yet been sent. Monday morning I left, but got a text message from Maggie that she was sitting in the police station alongside the suspect, who was in handcuffs. But he denied all and was released. There was never a search of his place.  Maggie has publicly offered a reward for return of the computer, but so far no luck. Theft is the most common crime in Botswana.
Even with that, it was a great party, and a great way to introduce kids here to the way Americans celebrate their birthday.

In other news, the Peace Corps held a regional meeting last weekend, and all the volunteers from this area went. I was able to meet several of the group that arrived last September, who work primarily in the schools here.  They are a very nice group of people, with a very nice mutual support feeling regardless of age. Our group doesn’t have quite that feeling of oneness, although everyone is quite nice to me. I am now the oldest in the group, because the three who were older than me have all gone home early for a variety of reasons. So perhaps age has its compensations.
It was very interesting, however, to hear the level of frustration in the following group, over logistics, lack of organization, and the pace of trying to get things done here. It is the same as we experienced, but those of us in my group looked at each other and realized that we no longer feel those frustrations. It has been said that at around 11 months of service, things being to ‘click’ and we feel different. The same frustrating things are still present, but we now seem to be able to sail through, or over, them.  So it takes about a year to become a comfortable Peace Corps volunteer, then you have one more year to really shine, and then it’s time to go home. It’s a common phenomenon all over the world, I’m told.

Dentistry in Botswana

Your teeth and gums age along with the rest of you, and before I left the States I was told by a number of dental professionals to be sure to get my teeth cleaned every three months, as I did at home. The Peace Corps pays for only one cleaning, at mid-service. So I asked the PC for the name of a reputable dentist. They gave me one in Gaborone. Things being as they are here, I did not get it arranged to see the dentist for a cleaning until last month. I went to Gaborone, and it was pouring rain. I literally waded through the parking lot to get to their office. When I asked the guard at the gate where the dental office was, she waved vaguely up the stairs. After going up and searching both upper floors I found the office on the first floor, just down from the gate guard. My appointment was for 10am, and I arrived about 9:55am. I filled out paperwork, and sat in their waiting room. I did find an interesting reference in one of the magazines, that I will describe later.
At 10:30, I was called into the treatment room. I had a quick exam, and then a cleaning, that consisted of use of the ultrasound scaler and then a polish with the gritty stuff. A rinse, and I was done. I walked back into the reception area at 10:40, and then paid 1,136 pula – which is $157 American. All for ten minutes work. I think that beats even American dental prices. I don’t plan to go back.
The reference in the waiting room. One of the African magazines at the dental office had a reference to “The Size of Africa” and a most interesting visual. Africa is as big as the United States, including Alaska, China, India, and a good chunk of Europe combined. If it ever develops the rest of the continent as thoroughly as the oil countries, it will be formidable indeed!