Tag Archives: Peace Corps Botswana

Able

I’ve always despised the notion of the magical “click” that happens at the one-year mark of Peace Corps service. It seems to inspire some sort of unhealthy quiescence in newcomers rather than encourage them to try all the tools they have to get a project to work. As a former newcomer, I know. I often felt all right with stagnancy in my projects because the solution would presumably present itself at that checkpoint.

Failure is part of the work we do. We have to know that our way is not the only way and sometimes we have to be knocked down to accept some aspects of our fate here. Yes, put forth all of your efforts on your projects, taking multiple approaches to achieve success if you have to. Try, try again. Be prepared for disappointment and for feeling useless, but keep going.

The changes we see are gradual. Honestly, the most meaningful success moments for me have been a fleeting twinkle in the eye of a counterpart, or a particularly impassioned discussion with a friend. These things show me that I am having an influence on the people here, though they will pass you by if you don’t pay attention. Luckily they occur more often as time goes on.

Last week I attended my final training for Peace Corps. The next time I see some of my fellow volunteers will likely be at our Close of Service Conference in February. Symbolically, this tells me that I’m fully equipped to accomplish everything I can hope to accomplish in the next 11 months, though there are still new things I hope to try and milestones I hope to achieve.

I constantly find myself looking forward and counting down toward the end, but the past year has probably comprised the bulk of my personal growth. There aren’t any adjustments left; I feel as comfortable here as I probably will. Relationships will definitely mature and dissolve throughout this second year, but I know what to expect about my life here. There’s a satisfaction in that, and if I were to divide my service into two halves, the first would probably be more meaningful on an individual level.

Lately, the thoughts that enter my mind are about what will happen when I finish. I used to be so certain of my 2013 plans, but now I feel that anything could happen. I’m also mindful that time will not be on my side and a lot of my decisions are up to me – no more procrastination.

Cheers

Advertisements
Tagged , , , ,

Year One

Big benchmarks in service are a great time for reflecting and reminiscing, so I will do just that.

I had the opportunity to be with a lot of friends from my intake group this past weekend. Since we often go months without seeing each other, it was nice to reconnect and celebrate. A year has gone by since we first met each other and began this experience together. I have a lot of thoughts on the process, and I think it will be interesting to see the contrast another year brings. My intake group has had a large number of ETs (early terminations), so there’s a small badge of pride that accompanies sticking through this long. I’ve learned how to survive here, whether through changing my habits and lifestyle or adjusting my expectations. I’ve had good times and some stressful ones, and I know I’m miles more patient now than I was when I started.

One thing I’ve concluded about this experience is the inherent necessity for selfish reasons for serving. In the beginning of service, I found myself sitting in a fog about what challenges and successes lay before me; the one thing that remained consistent was the desire to invoke some positive change. Saving the world isn’t an option, but the possibility to influence a handful of people is.

Pre-Service Training was probably the most taxing part of this experience, involving a more rigid schedule than anything I’ve had to endure otherwise. The 2 months of theoretical preparation were a harsh deception about the current realities of my daily life at site. Throughout that time, a trainee is never fully able to settle in – he or she has to live with a host family and then be prepared to move at the end of training. When the end finally came and I moved 9 hours away from Kanye, the real adjustment anxiety set in. I found myself in the situation I feared most by being fairly isolated from other PCVs and living without electricity or indoor water. I began to store water and cater my shopping. I once went 2 months without water and had to carry it from a public tap. I finally got electricity installed in November.

Survival in that regard was both easy and very frustrating. But living isn’t the accomplishment we outline in results-oriented assessments. The terms of success had to change in my mind. The first time I realized how long the uphill climb toward most of my real goals was going to take, I had a small crisis. I remember my first real hurdle of getting a delivery of wooden poles for the garden at my support group and how amazed I was by its difficulty. If the simplest tasks were going to take that much effort, how was I going to tackle the real problems before me?

I recall sitting back during my first few months at site, forcing myself into a calm and giving in to the process. I’m glad I did. There’s a balance of how much pressure you can put on projects to have them go your way without exhausting yourself from constant disappointment. At the other end of the spectrum is the work of making your face known and earning trust among the community – it takes prolonged time but doesn’t consume 40 hours each week. My point is that I used a lot of the down time in my first few months to work on my personal goals. I have read and wrote a lot and gotten very good at spending time with myself. My fear of isolation has been all but conquered.

Without my own reasons for being here, I don’t how compelled I would have been to stick through to this point where I am starting to see results. The process takes a long time, and the first half of service can be unbearable if your only goal is to make a difference.

In the interest of nostalgia, I reminded myself of the goals I set 10 months ago when I arrived at site. I have accomplished a lot on this list, probably because it’s so vague. I have at least progressed on each of my goals; I can see the realities developing and the relationships that are at play with them. There have been small steps involved with each along the way and situations are constantly changing.

I’m happy with this anniversary because it reminds me of where I began and how far I’ve come. It’s just another reminder, however, of how soon this part of my life will be over. I guess I’d better moving on year two.

Cheers

Tagged , , ,

Learning From History

I’ve recently begun reading this book about the history of post-independence Africa called The Fate of Africa. It’s not usually my style to read such seemingly dry non-fiction, but I’m getting pretty absorbed in it and the understanding it gives to modern politics here. It reveals a lot about the way the government in Botswana functions (using largely socialist systems) and how it relates to village life and a variety of African cultures. I haven’t quite resolved how I feel about it all yet – I have never been one to bolster capitalism, but I can see all sorts of flaws in this opposing ideology as well.

Botswana is lucky to have a peaceful history – it received independence from Britain without any violence (there was enough bloodshed in other parts of the continent). It discovered its diamond wealth shortly thereafter and was able to pull itself up from the depths of the third world and make it high on the list of development. Its government is relatively free of corruption and the money made from diamonds was invested wisely. It’s hard to argue with the good management, but as we know, development is slow. There are gaps in the system, especially when it comes to the weakness of the private sector (and concurrently the non-profit sector). Government protocol is inundated with bureaucracy, which often presents a barrier to progress rather than protection of it.

I recently gave presentations to health workers on the values and benefits of volunteerism. What I’ve come to realize is that people in Botswana expect rewards for their services – I’m worried for the day the diamonds run out. I don’t know if the systems currently in place can be supported independent of both foreign aid and diamond wealth, but it’s not really my duty to worry about that.

In addition to my current reading ventures, I’m drawn to this topic in light of Peace Corps’s 50th Anniversary, which we celebrated in Gaborone this past weekend. It was pretty cool to see everyone associated with Peace Corps in one place, and it probably won’t happen again. Botswana has come a long way – it had developed so well that Peace Corps withdrew from the country, only returning on the government’s request to deal with HIV/AIDS. I’m not sure we’ll see a cure for the virus in the near future, and behavior change is hard. I can only imagine what history will say about the next 50 years for Botswana; for now, I’ll just occupy myself with the present.

I’ve spent a lot of time travelling in the past couple months, and I don’t see any sign of stopping it soon. I feel like a nomad of sorts, despite having a home in Rakops. I can say I’ve seen most of the country, though I’ll be glad for a change of scenery when I go to South Africa in December with my sister. I also get to start planning a big visit from my family in July, sparked by my grandma. That’s living in the present. I would not have thought they would all make it out to see me, but even the people I know best can surprise me sometimes. Here’s to you (especially the ones who know me best),

Cheers

Tagged , , , ,

Thoughts on Meaning

I got to talk to my two best friends this weekend. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since hearing their voices. It’s easy to lose yourself in the daily challenges of living and working here in the name of integration and survival. I feel as though I’ve been neglecting my long-distance relationships during the past month in search of success here. The truth is I don’t yet have those sparkling achievements to belabor to my friends and family back home. The process of development, as I understand more and more every day, takes a long time.

While I was talking with each of my friends, I found myself getting a little depressed about my service and its challenges up until now. Finding meaning is harder when your limits and methods change around you; situation is everything, and your mindset has to adjust when you’ve been removed from a developed country.

I never really contemplated the kinds of personal changes and growth I would go through here. It was always anticipated that something of the sort would happen, and presumably it would be for the best. During my explanation of the problems I’m having here, my friend pointed out that self-sufficiency is probably the biggest lesson of my service so far. It’s not an unexpected or unique lesson, it just feels a bit strange to embrace alone. On one hand, I have very few people to answer to on a daily basis; however, it also results in a lack of structure and support. The Peace Corps ideology stresses working side-by-side with host country nationals on everything. Since I don’t see my members on a daily basis, I’m often left to my own devices and that means everything moves a lot slower.

This will always be a whirlwind journey, but the novelty of foreignness has worn off. I’m not surprised by anything anymore and the initial optimism I had upon arrival is gone. It’s not to say that my attitude is at an irreconcilable down, rather I feel I have a realistic understanding of the problems I face. Unfortunately, identification is only the first step to conquering them.

Next week marks 20 months left in Botswana for me. In some ways it’s unbelievable that I’ve been here for so long. During training, I recall being told (repeatedly) that it takes a year. A year, that is, before volunteers here really feel a sense of accomplishment or value in their services. I suppose I’m halfway there, but it’s disheartening to think that I may have 6 months left of feeble victories and insurmountable struggles before arriving at that magical day when the heavens will part and symphonies will erupt around my newfound enlightenment. I agree – it’s a weird phenomenon in the world of international development (or at least Peace Corps).

There are a couple of ideas that highlight themselves in my mind when I think about the overall picture. Goals and achievements are always the first, while the second is eventually returning home. I can’t even imagine going back to the US right now, must less in 20 months. The brevity of my time here lies in stark contrast to the immeasurably changed country to which I’ll return. How often do you conglomerate a 2-year period of your life and stamp it a success or failure? It’s tough to absorb in those terms, especially when your definition of success is fluctuating every day.

I try to resist these kinds of self-serving ruminations in my blog, but hopefully they will convey the way I’m feeling during this phase of my time here. Thanks for reading,

Cheers

P.S. – Check this article for more perspective on what Peace Corps service means

Tagged

Unexpected Tests

I just survived an epic spider battle that began in my bed. Oh. My. God.

When I realized what it was that fell from the mosquito net, I immediately leapt from the bed and grabbed a magazine to arm myself. I struck automatically, hoping it would be a swift end to the invader. I only managed to wound it before stopping to compose myself. Amanda talked me down when I called her. I approached with new confidence despite having found the limb I had claimed, which looked both scaly and hairy (not the best combination).

After seeing me attack the beast, I thought Crunchy’s predatory instincts might give me the edge I needed. He was of no such help. The cat decided to paw the spider only playfully, and leave me the dirty work. My shoe was the hero after I cornered the spider between my mattress and the wall.

Crunchy had a chance to redeem himself when a second equally vicious-looking spider arrived near my pile of laundry. This time he pulled it together and was successful with kill number 2.

Being able to see the corpses was not comforting, as I had realized just what it was that fell on my face while I was dozing off. They looked a little like how I imagine baby tarantulas to look. They were the same shape and possessed the same jumping agility. The hair, however, was more akin to peach fuzz.

Is it possible that there is a nest somewhere in my house, led by the full-grown version? My skin crawls with scurrying arachnophobia. I do not like spiders. I would love to check this off my list of accomplishments, but I just can’t be sure the war is over. If you don’t hear from me in a few days, send someone in with a big can of bug poison or a flamethrower. Or both.

Cheers

Tagged , , , ,

My Diminutive Carbon Footprint

Over the last couple weeks, the department of water has decided that it shall only be available sporadically, sometimes for only an hour a day. With these daily water outages in my village, I’ve begun to take more notice about how much I use, which is not much. If I take a bath, that takes 4-5 litres. I don’t use much else aside from drinking and cooking since there is no toilet to flush. Washing clothes is another story but recently that option hasn’t been available.

Because I am still living without electricity, my energy consumption is super low. Granted, I keep my fridge plugged in and use the electric stove for cooking, but having only one electrical plug has harshly limited the amount I can use. I charge my computer every day, but I do most things in my house by candlelight and my lamp is solar-powered (thanks Veronica!), so that counts for a small amount of electrical consumption.

The one thing I haven’t really been able to control is recycling – there are no systems in place to manage waste in that respect (but I’m working on getting them). Presently, I create a grocery bag of rubbish every few weeks. In Botswana the people burn trash, though I don’t let plastic go in ours.

This is far from being considered a comfortable lifestyle, but I’ll pat myself on the back for upholding the non-consuming aspect of Peace Corps life. In honor of the 50th Anniversary of its inception, Peace Corps was promoting a challenge for Americans to live like a volunteer. I can’t imagine this would be easy in the states since everything is so readily available, but maybe it’s worth some thought. Why does our culture support owning gigantic hot water heaters? Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice hot shower (more than most things), but nowadays I’m heating about 2 litres of water to bathe. Many volunteers have a geyser in their house, which is switched on manually, rather than keeping huge stores water hot 24/7.

I apologize if I’m coming off preachy; I don’t mean to be. In fact, it took me a while to come to terms with my bitterness about my housing (don’t know if I’m fully there yet). The truth is, I’m living like a lot of the people in Botswana do and it is a lot more work than the alternative. I just want to provide some insight about my life here. We could all consume a little less and make the world a little greener. Maybe I’ll just go plant some trees – then I’d really be a Peace Corps hippie! Ha,

Cheers

Tagged , ,

Solutions

I attended my first Botswana funeral last Saturday. The culture here is very community-oriented and everyone is invited to all weddings and all funerals. Unfortunately, this one was for someone I knew (a friend’s teenage daughter who was very sick). Like many other customs in Bots, the event was saturated with religion – daily prayer sessions are held for a week preceding the burial, and the day of is filled with praise songs. It’s hard for me to truly identify with that atmosphere, both because it is conducted in Setswana and it is so religion-heavy. Funerals are still funerals, and that means emotions running high for me. It was difficult to be in that setting since I didn’t get to attend my grandpa’s funeral a few months ago. Going through those motions does provide closure, however, and I may have subconsciously reached some semblance of it. I suppose it was a worthwhile experience, if only for that reason.

This morning I arrived at the hospital to find over two hundred people on the grounds. They were attempting to get one of the eight temporary employment spots cleaning at the hospital. I was completely flabbergasted when I learned that the jobs last only 9 days leading up to a visit by a high-level Ministry of Health official. There is a severe problem with unemployment in this part of the country, and a desperate need for some private sector growth. I’m not quite sure how my NGO fits into that yet, but I’ll be thinking on it quite a bit. One of the main problems my group faces is membership and retention. Is the solution to create non-profit employment? I wish I knew.

It is getting exponentially hotter here every day. The intermediate seasons don’t really exist here, so our “spring” was sprung in a matter of 2 weeks. It’s safe to say that there are no cold days left, meaning I will probably be saying good-bye to my beard soon in an effort to reduce my body’s heat retention.

Last week I got a kitten whom I have named Crunchy (for sentimental reasons). Having company in the house is nice, but I have never had a cat before. It will probably end up acting more like a dog since I treat it as such, but if you have any advice on getting it to stop clawing everything (including me), I would be most appreciative.

Everything else has been going okay – my post-IST nirvana has finally worn off and I am back to seeing the challenges with my NGO more realistically. I could use some good karma in these next couple of months; we have a bit of housekeeping to do and a garden to re-start!

I hope your Labor Day is relaxing and you’re enjoying all an American autumn has to offer (especially football).

Cheers

Tagged , , ,