Tag Archives: building

De-stress

I have felt very stressed these last couple weeks, for a lot of obvious reasons: projects coming to head, uncertain of where I’ll be living 6 months from now, and beginning to wrap up some of my other responsibilities. Keeping perspective on how much time I have left has been difficult – 4 months is nothing in comparison. There’s a small part of me that wants to sprint toward the end and stay busy. But that’s not how this process works and I know I have to pull back.

I told my organization I would be reducing my role with them over the next few months, starting next week. Of course, if this last project gets approved it means I’ll still have a lot to do in the way of physical labor and organizing. But I’m leaving the other grunt work to my members. This is the point when I remember that I never was the executive director (although I often was) and someone else must take responsibility for this organization. If it crumbles, then it is not my job to glue it back together.

I’m still here, and I have other things to occupy my time. I started a computer class last week, which should be kind of fun because the students are enthusiastic. So far it seems like my class will consist mostly of older women – it seems to be the demographic I’m destined to serve here.

After this week my service will change as I enter detach mode. I’m taking the stress off and preparing everything for my departure. In a few weeks I have my close of service (COS) conference and that will really start the countdown.

Cheers

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Last

It’s hard to believe that I have only about 4 months left in Botswana, and that I’ve completed 22. Saying that my time here has flown by would be a flat lie – parts of my service have been agonizingly frustrating and slow.

This post is born out of some of those difficulties in the final (and biggest) project of my service. I’ve written loosely about it before and have avoided definitive terms because it has always been shrouded in uncertainty. The project is a building for my NGO, and it represents the largest amount of funding the organization has applied for to date. “Logistical nightmare” doesn’t accurately describe the pangs we have endured in the journey to this point, a week before the board makes a final decision about our application.

Anyone who has worked in development knows that disorganization comes with the territory. In Botswana, the residue of the British protectorate years manifests itself in bureaucracy unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the US. Furthermore, no one – no one – knows how to navigate it. I have dealt with this for quite a while, but I am still astonished by how many barriers there are to progress. Without intention to generalize, aspects of this project seem to center around me willing people to learn how to do their jobs or overcome their laziness. There are good partners in my life here, and some of them have fallen victim to the ineptitude of people around them. Orchestrating people in time here has been horrible.

At this point, I am unsure of this project’s potential for success. After all, I am leaving in about 4 months and even if the building is funded, it won’t be complete until long after I close my service. I can hope to get a foundation of the work done before June and push the people of my NGO to take charge of it, setting up some semblance of sustainability. First, however, is the matter of securing funding. My organization received a site visit from the donor in November, and has since been working hard to position itself to be eligible. I honestly don’t know that we will be ready in time.

I have spent a large part of my service being frustrated, but this is the last time I will do so. By this time next month I should know whether or not my NGO was successful in its application for funding. If, we succeed, I will have a very busy 3 months. If we fail, then we fail – but I will not hold any regret about my end of the project.

Failure is obviously not something I enjoy, but I recognize that it’s essential to the Peace Corps experience. We learn most from our missteps, whether we are to blame or not (in many of my failures here I was to blame). Some things are not within our control and I guess that’s an important lesson, too. Either way, it is emotionally draining and I am almost through.

With or without this project, I am satisfied with what I have done here. I may not be in the right mood to convey that sentiment, and I can reminisce later, but I know that I have experienced moments of fulfilment. I’m ready to get back to an environment that doesn’t oppose me at every turn the way this one does. The first world has its problems too, sure, but at least I don’t feel singularly defeated there. After this project I am done failing in my service, and that feels pretty damn good.

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Countdown

Today marks the beginning of my 6-month countdown to Close of Service. I can’t help but wonder where I will be this time next year. November has shaped up to be a crazy busy month, and I’m feeling good about where I will finish my service. It won’t be quite the cakewalk I was expecting, at least not over the next few months. Of course, December and January are essentially periods of inactivity, so there’s a final hurdle to clear before progress can be realized.

Reaching such a point in my service has left me with fewer reasons for reflection. There is no novelty, because I’ve done everything (twice). The hardship factor has lost its luster and instead serves as a tantalizing reminder of how close the comforts of the US are. Toward the end of her service, I remember my predecessor talking with some local colleagues – they asked her why she wasn’t staying longer, moving permanently to Botswana, and she said simply, “I’m tired.” It’s getting to that point for me as well, and I’m counting my days left of life in the bush: shopping a 2 hour bus ride away, carrying water, living on the poverty line, being constantly dirty, killing millions of giant bugs, using the pit latrine. I’m just tired of it. And I’m sure you are tired of hearing about it.

The bright spots are in my projects, which I’ve learned to navigate well. I’ve recently been in contact with an environmental club that has ambitions to start a fruit orchard. My last bout of tree planting had mixed success, but this attempt promises to be grander and better prepared. I’ve also got my hand in another safe male circumcision campaign, and am hoping the departure of my doctor friend won’t hurt our ability too much. My building project is still among the top things on my list, though final confirmation won’t come for a couple months. I did get a site visit this week from a potential donor. It went well, though there’s still a lot to be done before it can materialize.

Looking forward is competing with the stresses of the present. I have travel plans in the works (Moçambique!!) and graduate school applications to complete. Farther in the future are COS travel plans, which are starting to come into focus – though the final stop is Detroit. There are so many things I want to see, and I only hope my budget can meet the needs of my wanderlust.

Cheers

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Long

I think this may be the longest I’ve gone between posts since my service began last April. The short explanation is that I’ve been traveling a lot – too much, to be honest. In the past couple of months, I have really been all over the place both for business and pleasure. Travel is an indispensible part of Peace Corps, and I’ve learned how to do it very well. Now that summer is back, I can pack very light by ditching my sleeping bag and heavy winter clothes, and long journeys don’t faze me any more (although 8 hours to Gaborone is a doozey). I have adapted to this lifestyle of constant movement.

I went to Namibia last month on vacation and had a great time. A not-so-secret key to travel is to do so with people that share your attitudes. The days I spent abroad were laid back and enjoyable, thanks to my companions. We couch-surfed, which introduced us to some interesting people; it also saved us a big chunk of money. Windhoek is a nice city with more happening than anywhere in Botswana (although that bar is pretty low). Swakopmund is situated on the coast, and it was wonderful to be near the ocean again. If you’ve seen Planet Earth, then you might remember a segment on the dunes. We went there and they’re awesome. Food access is usually my favorite part about getting away from Botswana and this was no exception. It was a quick but refreshing trip.

A couple weeks after that I spent some time in Maun for a grant-writing workshop. A handful of Volunteers were assembled to write proposals with organizations in the Okavango Delta catchment that focused on biodiversity, environmental conservation, and/or the delta as a source of livelihood. Our host was the Southern Africa Regional Environmental Program under USAID. I learned some of the finer details of federal grants and got to work with a small fishery in the northern part of the region. The departure from HIV/AIDS work was stimulating enough, and I felt successful relative to the short amount of time contributed.

The stress level in Rakops hasn’t diminished from being away so much, rather the opposite has happened. I’ve reached a breaking point in my time here that forces me to see the bigger picture. Will I leave my organization and village better off than when I arrived? There are some intangibles that I know have impacted, and I’ve certainly developed worthwhile relationships. However, I’ve put pressure on myself to take my organization to a higher level and secure some basic operating tools for them. My emotional health has been tested in these past few weeks with regard to a certain large project I’ve been working on. I won’t go into detail, but at one point I felt I had wasted about 3 months of my service on this project, which was derailed by a technicality. There’s a chance now that the funding will come through, so the final product remains to be seen. I have relegated myself to a “come what may” attitude in order to safeguard against a repeat of the huge disappointment I felt. The truth is, failure is the most important part of Peace Corps. It has taught me the most about myself and I’ve learned what it takes to make shit happen. But, I wasn’t prepared for it at this stage, or for the subsequent despondence. Success is just harder to achieve here. I’ve already started to bounce back, though, and as I said, it could still happen.

One thing I’m glad I’ve done throughout my 17 months here is serving on the Volunteer Advisory Committee. The position affords me opportunities to talk with my fellow PCVs about our lives here and the policies that affect them. It acts a little bit like a student government, and we work with the Country Director to tackle systemic problems. Peace Corps Volunteers love to complain (myself included), and this is an outlet for solutions. Perhaps one of my favorite things VAC gets to do is greet a new intake group at the airport and spend time with trainees in their first few days in country. Over meals and icebreaker games, we get opportunities to meet the newest additions to Peace Corps Botswana. Conversation between a fresh-off-the plane trainee and a seasoned Volunteer invariably cover the universally inclusive laundry list of worries. Everyone asks the same questions; in hindsight, the concerns are ridiculous. I absolutely had the same fears, but the cyclical nature of it all is fun… so are the deer-in-headlights looks on the faces of new arrivals.

I think that’s enough for now – until next time,

Cheers

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