Tag Archives: travel

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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Return

It’s funny, but I feel at peace being in Botswana. I made it back here last week after a lot of travel to and from the United States. The anxiety of scheduled time in the US (albeit for mostly social appointments) was a little overwhelming. I have simply lost my stamina and the ability to multitask. The alternative experience, however, was waiting for an hour on the tarmac at the Johannesburg airport for no apparent reason. Welcome home.

My two weeks at home were great, but exhausting. I was able to reconnect with so many of my friends and family, and was reminded how wide my network is in that country. I have some really great people in my life there. Running around and going out at night got to me – it really doesn’t reflect my lifestyle anymore and I was struggling to keep up. There are a lot of things about the US that I missed: showers, people, food, and endless sensory and social stimulation are on that list. I don’t know how I was ever bored in that country because there’s so much to do!

I found myself analyzing culture in the states. I didn’t get much mention of ways that I’ve changed, but I noticed that I perceive things differently now. Technology has really invaded every aspect of life in the developed world. I was walking around, shopping with a couple friends and they wanted to use their smart phones to find a store – I was mildly appalled that the iPhone effectively eliminated the simple task of asking for directions and, in effect, human interaction. Being “plugged in” to life on the grid again was the hardest adjustment for me. I am used to talking to people face-to-face, being stared at, and being called by name… but not having unlimited texting and 3G technology. The idea of being anonymous again was comforting to an extent, but I felt surprised that our culture has evolved beyond talking to one another. Surely things haven’t changed completely in one year; it’s me that has changed.

Everyone has the same questions about my life in Botswana and I found myself trying to summarize the past year for my friends and family… which is impossible. In another year it won’t be any easier to relate or to explain the slow process involved with this form of development.

It took me a few days (and a lot of sleep) to settle back in to my routine here. Of course, the week I got back I simultaneously lost water and electricity, which is only another part of the routine. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most things stayed in tact while I was gone, and my projects were able to proceed in my absence. I had set tasks for my partners to take on while I was gone and they followed through. If this is a reflection on my progress here, I’ll gladly take it.

I have more to write, but not the time. Thank you again to everyone in the US who made my trip the excellent visit that it was.

Cheers

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America

Being home feels slightly surreal, but mostly normal. I have just a few reflections at this point. I’ll start at a couple weeks ago since it has been a long time since my last update.

I participated in Pre-Service Training for the new group of Peace Corps trainees. Like most of my favorite organizations, PC offers a chance for current volunteers to grandfather information and best practices down to newer people. I found myself reliving my time in Botswana, particularly the earliest moments and adjustments. The questions were endless and seemed almost rote, coming in constant rapid succession. Being some of the first faces that newcomers see was a fun experience, but it also highlighted the fact that every person’s Peace Corps experience is different, even within the same country. My role was to answer those basic questions about life and work, and I hope I helped ease some anxiety along the way.

I made my way home earlier this week, spending a couple days in Atlanta. I’ve been having a great time, with only a few readjustment culture shock moments (particularly in large grocery stores and shopping areas). My sister hosted me, and I was able to meet up with a couple friends; they were sure to tend to my food cravings. I also have begun to think about life after Peace Corps, namely graduate school and my career. My old boss and some Peace Corps connections guided me to a couple of one-on-one meetings at Emory. The interactions I had were really positive, and it started to get me excited about restarting academic life.

Home is where your family is, and that’s where I am now. I think that there is a certain idea Peace Corps volunteers have about traveling home and what it could mean in the context of one’s service. My friend put it best when she described our service as a bubble that we’re afraid to pop; why must we maintain an impenetrable barrier between our lives in the developed world and our lives in rural Africa? After all, this is where our original support systems still reside, and we will return to them when the 27 months is finished. Perhaps the mechanisms we use to cope and adjust to that new lifestyle include embracing the feeling of being marooned and isolated. This is something I’ve struggled with since deciding to take that trip to the US – my volunteer friends and I joke about not returning to Botswana if we go home because everything is just too wonderful. By processing this experience, and recognizing where I am in my service I know I will be able to return to finish my service. The concept is funny, though.

The few days I’ve been in Detroit have been a great reminder of my great friends and family. A lot of them have made time to see and visit with me. I’ve also finally been able to share some images of where I live and work, as well as a lot of people involved in my life in Botswana. Part of PC goals are to share what you’re learning about our respective cultures, and I feel that I’m doing a lot of that this trip. Fast and unlimited internet, food, and hot water have all been comforting – I machine washed my clothes and they are literally a different color (with the removal of the sand and dirt). I’ve only scratched the surface, and there are a lot more people I get to see and talk to in the next week. I better hop to it.

Cheers

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