So, as most of you know, I went and stabbed myself while I was on my site visit. I was being pretty stupid and in a hurry while trying to get some raw meat apart and jammed a kitchen knife into my palm under my left thumb. Luckily, it was just about a centimeter deep and a little over that long, so it just needed one stitch. My brother became very overprotective and angry when I informed him, but both my parents just said ouch, don’t let it get infected and I haven’t, but it does bring to mind the topic of health care here.
In Botswana, health care is all free. I just went straight to my health post and said stitch me up and she did and then I got sent home with free pain killers and antibiotics. I’ve also been going in each day to get the wound redressed. It’s definitely not the crazy sterile environment we have in the U.S., but it’s also not a breeding pool for infection and sickness.
There are of course still precautions I should take and try to, but they’re mostly precautions I should also take in the states. I’m below the malaria line, so I don’t have to worry about malaria medication here. The water is not always safe to drink though. My village water source seems to be OK, but it’s always better to filter or boil water before drinking it. I don’t have dental services or regular checkups here, so I need to make sure that I keep myself as healthy and hygienic as I can. Otherwise, it’s mostly things I should be watching for in the states, don’t come into contact with foreign blood on an open wound, don’t sit with someone coughing right in your face, don’t eat raw meat or food that’s been sitting out too long, etc.
If I end up with a more serious medical issue, Peace Corps will handle it. Either by taking me to a bigger city such as Gabs or Joburg for treatment or med-evacing me home. So as long as I’m taking preventative health care measures, I should be grand!
This post was written on Sept 10th. It was posted out of order with the last one “Adjustment” for timing reasons.
So I obviously knew when I decided to move to Botswana that I was leaving what I knew behind and I’m totally OK with that. These are just a few of the differences that I’ve really noticed here in Botswana that I think are interesting to share:
The cultural expectation here is that you greet everyone you see and every time you see them. So everyone on the street greets you. Unless you decide to look like a really unfriendly American, but I don’t suggest that. It’s also really common for people to know my name and for little children to run after me. So these are definitely a few things that you don’t expect in America. When I would walk down the street in America, I would usually either give a friendly smile and head nod or pretend that my eyes have forgotten how to raise high enough for eye contact. Here it is considered rude to not greet everyone you see.
Fat is good. I repeat, being fat is considered good! It’s seen as a sign of status. If you’re fat, you must have enough money to feed yourself well. Of course, Western views are influencing the culture, so some of the younger folks think that fat is bad. However, I’ve had more strangers here call me beautiful and fat in a good way in the past month than I had in the 21 years of living in the states.
On that same note, since I am fat, I am supposed to eat like my brothers (AKA way too much). I’m not really down for that for multiple reasons. Honestly, I didn’t eat that much in one sitting even when I was eating food that was not as carb heavy and strange to my system. Here, every meal is at least half rice or phaltshe and there are generally also potatoes or some other grain or carb. I get full after like five bites. It’s also way hotter for me here, so that makes me eat less. Also, I’m still trying to lose weight, so I don’t want to eat that much. Unfortunately, eating less is seen as bad here. Either you don’t like the cooking, or you are feel depressed. So that’s why there was a little bit of a miscommunication with my host mom and I at the beginning of my stay.
Religion. I am a firm believer in owning your identity and not letting others oppress you, or even worse oppress yourself to fit into what others want you to be. So I didn’t hold my beliefs back when my host mom asked. With her, it was OK because she thinks of me as her child and believes she has to accept me no matter what, but there are a few people that it causes tension with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not yelling from the rooftops “Hey Christians, I don’t believe in God”, but if I’m directly asked if I believe in God, I don’t like lying. I should be able to celebrate my own faith and that shouldn’t really be anyone else’s business. My host mom is very religious, so I went to church with her one Sunday. They had someone sit with me and translate because my mother is in the choir, so I was sitting alone. The woman translating for me kept asking if I knew the various stories and when I would reply that I didn’t she looked shocked each time. Then, at the end of the service, I was cornered by a gentleman who asked me what my prayer group was at home, whether I was a Christian and then the question I can’t get away from “Do you believe in God?” When I told him that I wasn’t raised Christian and that I don’t really believe in a God, he wouldn’t leave me alone about it. He kept saying things like “if God doesn’t exist, how do we exist?” and when I would respond, he would just ask it again in a different way and say things like “No, Kesa, there must be a God. How can you not believe in God?” So I’m still trying to decide if I will start skirting around the question more, or just keep owning my identity no matter what others think.
“Why did you draw on yourself, Kesa? Will they come off?” These were the first questions that my host mom asked me about my tattoos. They’re definitely not as common here, but they are becoming more accepted as more youth get them. My host mom’s views have fluctuated on it. Once, she told me that she liked my tattoos and wanted some herself, but was afraid of needles. Then the other day, she saw my thigh tattoo for the first time. She told me she would beat my brother if he ever came home with a tattoo and that I would never find a husband. I told her that I didn’t want a husband that didn’t accept and like my tattoos as a part of me. She didn’t have much else to say after that.
That’s all I can think of right off the bat, but my personal site, Ralekgetho, is going to be an even more drastic difference. My brother mentioned to me yesterday, that he thinks I’ve gone through good transitions to get me ready for my official site. From America, to South Africa, Gabs, Molepolole, and then Ralekgetho. It’s been a small step further into the middle of nowhere with each new place. I can’t wait to see what other new changes are in store. Here I come, Ralekgetho!!
This post was written on September 17th. There are some delays with editing and getting them posted on this site.
Today was my first hard day that wasn’t because of grief. It was hard for multiple reasons. I felt really sick for the first time since getting here, started feeling slightly ill equipped to help, started missing home (especially food and my loved ones), and started feeling like I was being confined in my site. And if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I don’t like being put in a box of preconceived notions and expectations. This site placement is definitely going to be a challenge, but through my homesickness and stress today, I realized that I need to own my service and set boundaries now.
When I first got here, my supervisor made it a point to tell all the teachers and staff at a staff meeting at my school, as well as the chief and community during a Kgotla meeting, the things that I shouldn’t be seen doing. He made a point to say that I shouldn’t be driving, doing drugs, drinking too much, sleeping with married men, or having other inappropriate sexual relationships (in the staff meeting, he even turned to me and asked if I was allowed to mate). He made sure to tell my counterpart that he was in charge of knowing where I was at all times and if I was gone too long on the weekends or went somewhere without telling him, he was in charge of handling that. Now I understand that they’ve never had a Peace Corps Volunteer or even an American in the village, but for me, this is really challenging having everyone watching me like I’m an unruly teenager. I came here to work, not to break rules that could get me kicked out of Peace Corps. I try to always remember that everyone has the best intentions. He wants to make sure that I’m safe, that the village cares about me, and that I’m going to actually help them instead of just sitting on my ass. I’m just not used to having so many people in my business. This is one of those cultural things I need to work with though. The other thing that concerns me is the way my village talks about my home here. It’s on a family compound and my supervisor and others have referred to that family as my new host family, and told people that my new surname will be Phoro when I move there. For me, this feels like another confining situation. I don’t feel like I’m my own person here, I feel like I’m the village trophy. I know that in a collectivist society, like this, I have to get used to losing some of my individuality, but on the other hand, I’m supposed to also be sharing my culture and a huge part of that is my independence and individualism. After talking to a few volunteers (so many have checked in with me today, I’m definitely acquiring a peace corps family ☺), I realized that now is the time I need to set boundaries and plans for how to handle these situations. I already spoke to my counterpart. I told him that I understand they want me to be safe, but he doesn’t have to watch me like a hawk because I have a great track record for taking care of myself and I’ll reach out if I need help. He’s awesome. He told me that he thought I was perfect for this placement. I talked to my tutor who is a woman around my age and she told me to be who I am and not let others opinions matter too much. She’s awesome. Now I just have to get over my fear of conflict and authority anxiety and sit down with my supervisor. I know it will be so much better after I do, it’s just hard for me to stand up for myself in situations like this because I want to make the best impression I can. I know though, that it will be worse for me to make an impression that I am extremely flexible and end up breaking under the pressure. I’m still excited about my site, and I still feel so lucky to be here. I just want the small village family to come naturally, not be forced on me from the start.
I’ll write more soon. I am just trying to let myself process all of the change first.
This title is a little misleading. I can pronounce it every three or four tries when the phlegm in the back of my throat works right. Anyway, this is my future home! I found out today that I will be living in this tiny village (also called a small settlement) for the next two years. It’s probably about thirty kilometers from Molepolole and maybe sixty or so from Gabs. So I’m below the Malaria line!! I will be working in the primary school (grades 1-7) which is most likely a small school of only about two to three-hundred kids. I won’t be teaching, but I’ll be there as a resource to other teachers and to run clubs and other activities for the littles (this is my favorite term, so I’ll probably use it often). The village itself only has a population of 430. It’s the seventh poorest village in Botswana and is comprised mostly of agricultural workers. It’s in the middle of nowhere with no paved roads entering the village at all. In fact, it’s probably about twenty to thirty minutes of driving on dirt roads to reach a large enough village to warrant pavement. I honestly know very little about it because there is no literature on it. Most of the other volunteers received a little information about the village and what previous volunteers did there, but I will be the first volunteer to ever serve in Ralekgetho, so no such information was available. I have been informed that I will likely have running water (unless the village is out which is common in the drought we’re in), but it’s unlikely that I will have electricity. So it will be an exciting time to figure out how to preserve food and keep up on my blog posts! It’s unlikely that there will be any internet in my village, but I’m hoping to maintain the little internet I’m able to get on my phone. I’m extremely excited! I know that it will be challenging to work with an extremely impoverished community and not have things like electricity that I take for granted, but I also know that I will really be able to make an impact as the first volunteer and I will also be able to grow so much more because I am not relying on my Western amenities. My country director told me that I am going to have a really unique Peace Corps experience because it is actually becoming really uncommon to live in a village this rural. I’m really excited for this experience and I will be trying to maintain a regular blogging schedule, though (I promise!). My host mom is not as excited as I am. She thinks I should have been placed with electricity (I’m not surprised because she spoils me and thinks everyone should [Which, duh! Everyone should spoil me]), and she also thinks I should be working with college age students because I am so smart. She really loves and thinks highly of me. I guess I made a really good impression or she thinks all Lekgoas (white people) are that way.
So to give you an idea of how they kept our excitement growing today: They had us all sit in designated seats for trainees, raise our left hand, drop it on our arm rests, reach underneath, and guess what was there! Used chewing gum, just kidding, it was a small slip of paper that had a number on it. So that’s how they decided what order we went in (I was number 26, my best friend, AKA my PC spouse AKA Bethany was number 5). Then they took us up, one by one. We opened a small envelope with our names on them, read a proverb (all of them were different) that ended with in (insert village name here). Then we all screamed and got excited. We then walked to another table, got an envelope with more information in it (that is if you had someone in your placement before, mine just informed me what school I’d be in), walked onstage and got our placement put on the map. Then we got a cookie with the number we were sited on it and watched and screamed for everyone else! It was the most exciting day we’ve had and there were only a few people upset by their placements. It really is a crazy time now because we are all just ready to be there. Our next two days are spent meeting our supervisors and doing supervisor workshops to make sure we’re on the same page. Then on Saturday we travel to our sites and are there for a two week site visit. We stay with new home stays; mine is a woman on the staff at my school who has a three or four year old. I’ll be trying to write more posts during my site visit, but it’s going to be a pretty crazy time. Then on the weekend of the 25th, I’ll travel to a neighboring village, Thamaga to shadow two volunteers who currently live there. They purposefully placed me near this village because there is a large pottery/ceramics community there. The only thing I requested was to be near pottery, I didn’t ask for amenities or a specific grade level, I just wanted to be near the possibility of continuing my wheel throwing. After the shadowing, I will be traveling (by myself for the first time) back to Moleps for three more weeks of training. I think it will be hard to go back to Moleps after getting a taste of my village, but at least we’ll all have a chance to debrief together. I am so excited for this adventure and every day it becomes more real. I can’t believe it’s already been a month, because I feel like I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg. I can’t wait to see my village and discover where I can help for the next two years!
UPDATE: This post was written on September 10th before I went to my site and has a few facts wrong. Since then I discovered that I will have power during my two week visit, which started on Saturday September 12th. I will however have no running water. For the house I will be staying at starting in October, for the balance of my time here, I will have no power or running water. I will also have reasonable internet (although more limited and no MySocial plans) and phone. It is also about 88km from Molepolole and 95km from Gaborone on the roads. The distances in the above post are as the bird flies.
This time each year I go to the Evergreen State Fair. I almost never miss it and usually end up going at least two times. Unfortunately, I can’t teleport myself back to Washington State from Africa (Scotty really wasn’t helping me out), but I did get to go to the Molepolole version of the state fair. The Dithubaruba cultural festival was a small event in a very rural part of Molepolole. There weren’t any landmarks to be seen. We were just in a very sandy, relatively open clearing where they had set up tents, bleachers, a stage, a Kgotla, and a traditional home. We arrived at 8:30 in the morning and the event didn’t actually start until the village chief (Kgosi) got there. So nothing happened until 10:30. However, they were playing music. So a big group of us crazy Americans and our native language and cultural teachers spent nearly two hours dancing and then sitting down when we thought the Kgosi had arrived; dancing, sitting down, dancing, sitting down, and so on. Even though we were being watched (and filmed) like we were crazy people, it was a ton of fun and kept us warm because it was a particularly chilly morning. When it was clear the various Kgosis (there’s one for each ward and tons of wards) had officially arrived, some of the men were asked to stand by the Kgotla (the Kgosi’s meeting area). The Kgosis then walked through the audience followed by a procession of ladies carrying baskets or in one case big clay urns filled with traditional beer. After the procession of the Kgosis, there were traditional dances. I wasn’t feeling great, so I ended up taking a walk and only got to see one of the dances. There were also booths around the event selling things like art, jewelry, bags, ceramic work, shoes, clothes, and other locally made items. I purchased a pair of earrings made from cow horns, and a leather bracelet with the word Joy for my late friend Sarah Joy. At 1:00 they fed us traditional food of Seswa (pounded beef), Semp (pounded corn), Nama dikoko (chicken), spicy coleslaw, rape (spinach), and ginger beer (ginger ale). After our meal, we just walked around some more and then left around 3:00. It was an extremely fun afternoon. After it threatened to rain, the sun came out and I got my first burn since getting here because it was actually the most sun I have gotten. Most of our days are spent inside during that very sunny time of the day. It wasn’t the normal crazy rides and junk food, but it was a good substitute for my yearly tradition.
A few days ago, I learned that one of the most beautiful people I know passed away. It came as a shock to me and is one of the most challenging things to face when you’re living across the world. Sarah was battling Leukemia, but the last I heard from her, she was in remission and looking toward the future. In our last conversation, a week before I left, she told me that I inspired her and she was going to live vicariously through me. She said she had a new drive to help people and live life to the fullest and was even talking about going back to school for her Master’s degree. Sarah was an amazing, kind, beautiful, thoughtful, and courageous woman. She was always trying to help people and be the best person she could be, and she inspired me to do the same. I remember our time together so well and am heartbroken we don’t have more time together.
Losing someone always makes you question life. This is the first time I have wavered at all about moving to Africa and pursuing this dream. After talking to my best friends back home and here, I realized that was just grief talking. I am loving it here, and the best way to honor Sarah is to continue pursuing the dream that she wanted to live vicariously through. I know that this is what she would have wanted and I am inspired by her to continue to live my life to the fullest and be the person she saw me as. I know that this is the type of thing Sarah would have loved to have done if her health had allowed it, so I think the least I can do is dedicate my service to her. I have a purpose now to live my life in a way Sarah would have been proud of each and every day. I’ll be better about being gluten free like she told me to be millions of times, I’ll stop procrastinating as much as I do (like she told me to do a million times), and most importantly, I am going to try to touch others the way she touched me. After all, that’s really all we can hope to do in our short life times. Sarah was always in my corner for the most important things. She told me I was wise beyond my years when I wrote about being fat shamed on the street. She was always cheering me on when I decided to pursue grad school and Peace Corps, and she always told me that she knew I could accomplish my goals. She made me a better person and I always want to remember that. It’s only been a few days, so I know I am not done grieving the loss of such a beautiful soul, but I also know that she accomplished something in her short years that some people don’t accomplish in their lives of over 80 years. She inspired people, and expressed a love and kindness that I’ve known from few others. I cherish every friendship I have, and see how each and every one of you has inspired me. I hope I can inspire you, too.