Tag Archives: Botswana

New Year, Fresh Start

Well, I probably should have written a post a while ago, but a lot has been happening and it took me a while to wrap my head around everything. I’ve been in Gabs for the past two weeks while I wait for training to start. If you read my last post, you know that I’ve been evicted and was in the process of getting a new home in my village. If you follow my Facebook, you know that I have since found out the house I was to move into has fallen through and now I am in Gaborone waiting to find a new village because they couldn’t find me any other housing in Ralekgetho. Now that the situation isn’t as fresh, I think it makes a funny story, but I’ll save that for when I get home.

So, anyway, I am not only houseless, but also villageless. A lot of people at this point have asked me why I’m staying. Many people have left and a lot of people here have said they would have left if they had to go through what I’ve been handling. It’s actually been kind of challenging staying in the hotel that the people who are ET-ing (Early Terminating) are also staying at. I spent two weeks listening to people tell me why they were going home and that they were surprised I would stay after dealing with the already challenging aspects of my village and then being evicted and having to relocate and people trying to decide if they want to stay or go home. This was especially hard because I was trying to actively listen and help them while they were talking themselves into leaving, staying, and then leaving again, without feeling like leaving myself.

The truth is, I have thought a lot about ET-ing, but in the perspective that it really isn’t something I want to do. It’s just one of those things that you have to consider when you’re in these situations here. When I first got evicted, I was upset and wondering if it was my sign that I wasn’t meant to be here, but that thought went away pretty quickly. There are of course reasons why I feel like I don’t need to be here. In a lot of ways, I feel like Peace Corps doesn’t really need to be in this country. I feel like we have been here long enough and that the country is developed enough that we aren’t really needed. In a lot of ways, I feel like Peace Corps is used in this country as a status symbol and a way for the country to get more funding. Most villages here request Peace Corps volunteers because they want to have an American (and are usually disappointed if they’re black) in their village. Of course this isn’t always the case and just because they don’t need us, doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff for us to do. However, I am also always questioning why I am here and whether I am perpetuating a stereotype that white people are smarter and therefore are the only people who can solve the problems in Africa. And why did I decide that I was qualified to come and help a country with a problem that I haven’t even studied? I don’t have a public health background. What kind of expertise do I have to really help the people of Botswana, that the people of Botswana don’t already have? Why can’t they help themselves? Even with all of these questions and internal struggles I have with myself, I’m not ready to go home.

I came here for more than this idealistic image that I was going to be some sort of savior. I came here to learn about another culture, help under privileged populations, learn about my culture through others eyes, process my own knowledge and opinions of my own culture, learn more about myself, make growth and positive changes for myself that I didn’t think were possible in the toxic environments in America, and broaden my horizons. I wanted to have knowledge and experience beyond my little American bubble so that I could understand more about what people in this world are going through and how they’re culture and views affect that.

In these nearly 6 months, I have learned so much about myself, America, and Botswana. I have grown in ways I wasn’t sure were possible. I’ve accomplished goals that I have been struggling with for years. And I’ve already touched people’s lives around me. I’m not ready to go home, because I’m not ready to stop this journey. I want to see how healthy I can get living in the desert without a car and eating a diet that is nearly all unprocessed foods. I want to see how many more mental health changes I can make to eliminate even more stress, anxiety, and insecurity. I want to challenge myself in ways that aren’t possible in America. I want to read fifteen books a month and not be falling behind on other stuff. I want to learn how to really live on my own, budget for myself, cook for one person without wasting food, and finally get some routine in my life. I want to use this opportunity for everything it’s worth.

My next village may have even fewer amenities than my last or it could have way more. Hey, maybe I’ll have running water and electricity. The village could speak more English than my last village did. It could have more infrastructure than my last village. Ooh, it might have some form of transportation besides hitch hiking in pickups that look like they may just break into a million pieces in the middle of the ride. Maybe my school will have more corporal punishment, or maybe it won’t exist. Maybe there will be more than one hundred students and seven teachers. It might even be a Junior or Senior secondary instead of a primary school. We really have no idea, but it also doesn’t matter. I didn’t come here to work with one specific population on one specific issue. I came here to work in Botswana wherever they needed me. Wherever I am, there will be challenges, but another word for challenge is OPPORTUNITY!! That’s all this is. It’s just an amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and make an impact in a different place. So, no, I’m not thinking of going home. Even if I wanted to, I have no money, so I would just be couch surfing until I got a job. Why not stay in a safe, secure, and beautiful place for two years and have a little more money and experience when I come home instead?

Food ready for meal on table

A New Home for the Holidays

A lot has happened this month and I have yet to document it. First off, I had a training in Ghanzi and got to live a week in a malaria zone! During that week I learned that the rash I’ve been developing has not been heat rash, but is instead something called Dermatitis Herpetiformis (I just call it DH). DH is a rash associated with Celiac Disease. So this confirms that I got my moms genetics and now every time I get into gluten (even trace amounts) I get this rash. Celiac is an autoimmune disease, so my body is essentially attacking itself instead of the gluten that it can’t process. It really sucks to find out that for the next 80 years of my life (yes, I’m planning to live to 102 like my great grandma) I won’t be able to eat any gluten, but it’s also kind of what I needed to get myself to stop eating it. I have a nasty habit of letting myself cheat and I doubt I would have ever reigned myself in well if I didn’t finally have something show me the severity of my condition. Right before figuring this out, I also decided I was very allergic to chicken eggs and have since confirmed that. So I can no longer eat any gluten or chicken eggs (if only there were ducks here in this landlocked desert country!). So that’s what’s been happening on the health front. I’ve also officially lost over 50 pounds since getting here, so that’s another step toward a healthier me!

After my training, I went back to my village. I was supposed to stay there from the second week of December all the way to Christmas Eve, but that changed a little when I got back. There is no school in December (it’s their summer break here), so I was spending most of my days spending a couple hours hanging out with my tutor/one of my only friends in the village/one of the only people who understands and speaks enough English to talk to me, and then watching a couple movies and reading a ton. So I was essentially doing nothing and it was quite nice, but a week before Christmas, I was laying in bed barely awake when my supervisor and the village councillor came to my house. They told me there was a problem with my rent and asked how long it would take me to pack my things up and move. I was shocked. My landlord hadn’t said anything to me (although, there is a huge language barrier there) and my supervisor never once said there was a problem brewing either. All I wanted to do was call someone because I was really freaking out, but I was expecting to be able to charge everything that day at the clinic, so all of my electronics and battery packs were dead. I had to just send my phone and charger with my supervisor and hurry up and pack.

I got all of my things packed and ready in 2 hours and then my supervisor and a few villagers helped me load everything in a trailer and move it to the school compound into a teacher’s house. The house was currently vacant because all of the teachers were gone for the festive season and the teacher who had lived in that house wasn’t returning. But as soon as the new teacher comes in January, I’ll have to be out of that house. My supervisor just kept saying he didn’t think there was a house in the village for me and they were probably going to send me to a new site. I called my Peace Corps program director and he was very helpful, but said he wouldn’t be able to come out until the next day and I just needed to sit tight.

So I spent a night in an unfamiliar house, terrified of these little beetles that have infested the school grounds (They lay on you and essentially pee. Their urine burns your skin and you have basically a chemical burn the size of a quarter. It’s horrifying.), hearing noises that sound like my door being opened, and sleeping with the light on and a can of Doom (bug spray) by my side in case I was attacked by these flying beetles. Needless to say, I got maybe 3 hours of sleep that night.

The next morning, my program manager and the volunteer liaison show up to talk to me and my supervisor. It turns out that it was a huge misunderstanding between my supervisor, landlord, and the Ministry of Education who pay my rent. So my landlord was frustrated and decided he wanted a different tenant and my supervisor overreacted and pulled me out without considering options. Luckily, my supervisor was able to find a new house for me though. So we went to see the new house, it’s beautiful! Way bigger, it’s going to have electricity, and it has so much more privacy than I had before. I’m very excited for it, but it, unfortunately, won’t be ready until late February, early March. So for the moment, I will be staying on the teacher compound, but moving to a smaller house so that two teachers can share the larger one I’m in right now. They may not love me for that, but I’m not supposed to live with someone. I think this really was a good thing because I was very uncomfortable in my old house (mostly just tolerating it because I thought it was my only option) and this new house is going to be amazing. And because this all happened the week before Christmas, I got to go to Bethany’s house early!

So now, let’s talk about Yule/Christmas! So I got to Bethany a week early, and unfortunately a day before my holiday package from my brother and mom arrived, so I couldn’t pick it up. We have just been chilling and hanging out. I helped her with some stuff at her school the first few days and then we’ve been celebrating our holidays in little spurts to make sure we don’t get too homesick. It’s hard to celebrate winter holidays in the summer. It’s just too hot and feels very strange. It’s also hard to do some things that you’ve always done with specific people. I tried to sit down and watch Scrooge and the whole time I felt like I should be sitting with my mom watching it. It just felt wrong, but we did make delicious feasts. Of course, they weren’t as big as they’d be in the states, but when you normally make as little as we do, they felt like feasts. I made my favorites on Yule and celebrated my holiday and Bethany made her favorites on Christmas Eve to celebrate some of her traditions. Everything came out perfectly and I’ve probably eaten as much in this last week as I did all of last month.

Bethany and I haven’t tried to kill each other yet! So that’s a major accomplishment. Although, we still have nearly a week together, so you never know what will happen. I was granted a small extension to stay here through the 2nd because there were some concerns about my safety on the school compound alone since the other teachers don’t come back until the weekend of the 2nd. It’s all just a precaution though and I’m sure once everyone is back in the village I’ll feel much safer and things will go back to normal. It’s just been a big emotional mess.

I’m excited to get back to my site and start the new year though! I have a feeling it’s going to be a great one! As always, I miss and love you all back home. And I hope you had the merriest of Christmases and happiest of Yules, Hanukkahs, and all other holidays. My next holidays here are New Years and then my 22nd in a couple of weeks. Happy New Year everyone!

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

I hope you all laughed at that because it looks nothing like Christmas here. Although, in Letlhakeng where I was for the weekend they have a really bright white road and rocks and if you just squint right, it looks like snow. Then you also have to find a way to reconcile why it’s 95 degrees and it looks like there’s snow on the ground, but the world isn’t perfect, so you just have to do your best.

The weather is one of the biggest factors for why it doesn’t feel like the holiday season. It’s too hot, dry, and sunny for me to feel like drinking hot cocoa and preparing for a turkey slaughter. Obviously, those aren’t going to be part of my holidays for these two years, but they’re just a few of the things I took for granted back in America.

The holidays come with a lot of homesickness and that’s OK. They should, it means I have something at home worth missing and that is the most beautiful thing that I will never take for granted again. I want to acknowledge my homesickness, because as John Green so eloquently wrote, “pain demands to be felt”, but I also want to acknowledge that my homesickness is just one small part of my experience and I have so much to be grateful for here. I had a whole post written about my cynicism, annoyances, and homesickness, but in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I decided to write this one about what I’m grateful for instead. That doesn’t mean I won’t be posting a cynical one in the future, but you all get a small reprieve from my negativity for now 😊

So here are the many things I am grateful for this year:

My family. Both blood and built. I’m grateful for all of you and wouldn’t be where I am without you. I especially want to thank my mom and brother and two best friends Melanie and Bethany for all of the support they’ve given me through this adventure. My whole Peace Corps family is amazing and Thanksgiving was a little more bearable after we made an amazing Thanksgiving feast complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, peach crisp, and much more.

I’m thankful for hot showers and bath tubs. I don’t have either in my house, so when I’m off to a training or visiting a volunteer with more amenities, I am sure to be in the shower/bath at least once a day.

I’m grateful that my school has electricity and I’m able to charge things there. I really only miss having my own electricity occasionally. I’ve grown very used to it already.

I’m grateful for my health and that I am able to just keep getting healthier. I’ve lost 50 pounds since getting here and can already feel the small changes that makes. I still have a ways to go to be to the physical fitness and health I want to be at, but I’m grateful that I’m able to make healthy and positive changes.

I’m grateful for my literacy. I can’t imagine not being able to read. Which brings me to my gratefulness of books. Books can bring you into such an alternate universe, and make you feel an amazing array of emotions. I’ve read 40 books since getting here and it has truly helped with my homesickness.

I’m grateful for the people in my village who really want me there and are making positive changes already. Even though it seems my supervisor is not at the same level of distaste for corporal punishment, my counterpart may be able to still help me abolish it. When I first met with my counterpart, he didn’t think we would be able to eliminate corporal punishment, or that any of the teachers were at fault for the poor results of the school. It’s very common here to blame the students, saying that they aren’t trying to learn, so how can the teachers teach them. Since that meeting though, he has brought up eliminating corporal punishment in a staff meeting with no provocation from me and told the teachers during a test results discussion that they must be doing something wrong and they all need to reevaluate their teaching strategies. These two small changes are huge here! I’m so happy that after only 2 months of knowing my counterpart, I’ve been able to plant little seeds of change.

I’m grateful for a roof over my head, and water to keep me hydrated. That’s more than a lot of people have and I am extremely lucky to have both.

I’m thankful for my resilience, openness to change, and drive. I know my drive can seem extreme and overwhelming at times, but it has helped me accomplish so much in my life. I am extremely happy to always be motivated for positive change.

I am grateful for the earth and how much shit it puts up with from us humans. I only hope I can help to protect it as much as possible in my short life.

I’m grateful for the insanity of time. Even when I think time is going to move so slowly and I’m going to be somewhere forever, I look at the date and realize I’ve been here 4 months. Time here is very different than at home because life here is so different, but I love that it’s been 4 months and that I still have 23 left.

I’m thankful for a lot of small things that makes America my home and I can’t wait to be home, but I’m also so grateful for this experience. It was definitely not the Thanksgiving I’m used to, but homesickness or not, I’m really happy here. I love that I’m doing something so out of the box and even if it’s not everything I thought it would be, it’s life changing.

Boredom Has Struck

This post was written on November 1st

I knew it was just a matter of time before my newfound relaxation was going to turn into boredom, but I was hoping I’d be able to stave it off for a bit. Unfortunately, it’s here. Yesterday was Halloween and it felt very strange for me to not be celebrating. So instead, I spent the day contemplating what I could be doing in various places in my house. Laying in bed, “maybe I should just keep reading”. Laying on the floor after doing sit-ups, “maybe I could watch a movie”. Sitting on the couch after my computer died in the middle of the first episode of ER, “maybe I should cook something, I’ve been meaning to try to make kettle corn”. Standing in my kitchen after deciding to not make kettle corn and instead eat a cookie, “I guess I could write some letters”. And so on and so forth. It got to the point where I couldn’t wait until it was dark and I could go to bed without feeling bad about myself.

Part of it is the heat, when it 99°F outside and my plaster house retains the heat so it’s really like 105°F inside, it’s hard to want to do anything. It’s also that this is more free time than I’ve ever had. When I was a kid, I was always at work with my mom and busy. When I started college, I was taking 20 credits and working four jobs. When I was in grad school, I was taking more than a full time load and working. I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m alone with this much time. There isn’t anywhere in the community I could go either unless I want to be ridiculed for my lack of Setswana at some random persons house because all the people I know are gone on the weekends.

When I’m bored in the states, I eat. I’m trying really hard not to do that here because it’s really not healthy and I don’t want to lose my momentum of losing weight (I’ve lost nearly 40 pounds). I tried filling my time with extra exercise, but there are only so many squats I can do when my legs are already tired from trudging through loose sand all week. I’ve been reading a lot (5.5 books this week alone), but that’s a lot of new information for my mind to assimilate, so I can’t fill all my time with that. I can watch about 2 movies before my computer battery dies, so that doesn’t get too far. And then once it’s dead, I can’t easily work on my community assessment or writing. I’ve been writing Christmas cards, but I get terrible cramps from my shoulder down through my wrist if I do that too long as well. I can write these blog posts, communicate with friends, and play solitaire on my phone, but my phone battery only lasts so long as well. So now I spend a fair amount of time chasing flies around my room trying to kill them and I’ve taken to learning all the solitaire games in the According to Hoyle book. It’s keeping me occupied for now. Maybe I just need to get a little more creative with how I occupy my time. Hey, I’ve got 2 years to figure it out, right?

It’s a Village Life for Me

Well, I’ve officially been at site for nearly two weeks (probably two by the time you read this). It’s been an interesting beginning. With a village this small and underdeveloped, they’ve never really encountered a white person or an American before. So I’ve kind of become the village show pony. This week we had two major events: a Kgotla meeting with the Vice President of the country and a torch lighting ceremony for the 50th anniversary of Botswana’s Independence. Both of these events were opportunities for the village to dress me up, make me sing and dance, talk to me in lots of Setswana that I couldn’t understand, touch my tattoos, and make me sit right in the front of everything. Both events made me very uncomfortable, but I’m glad my village is trying to accept me as one of their own and hopefully my newness will wear off a bit and they won’t all be touching and grabbing me. Setswana is probably my biggest challenge though. I managed to test as intermediate high at the end of training, but that really didn’t prepare me for speaking it here. Everyone talks very quickly mixing all their words together making it impossible to differentiate them and when I ask them (in Setswana) to repeat what they said slowly, they just change what they’re asking to fit their limited English. So I don’t feel like I’m learning any and I don’t know how to respond to something I don’t understand. Since my village has an extremely low percentage of people who speak English, even the kids who are supposed to be learning it in school for up to 7 years already, I’m definitely going to need to keep working on my Setswana. They say it’s the easiest language to learn and I’ll be fluent in the next two months! We’ll see about that.

Otherwise I’m just in my community assessment, so my days aren’t very busy. Once my Setswana is better, I plan to visit every family’s home and interview every member of the village! I think that would be a great way to get the whole community involved and hear what everyone thinks of the village. Currently, I just go to the school every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. I stay long enough to charge all of my electronics and chat with the teachers. When everyone else is busy, I study my Setswana, read, or work on my community assessment. On Wednesdays I go to the clinic to help with anything they need and chat with the nurses. They disperse their HIV medications on one of the last Wednesday’s of the month. In the evenings and weekends, I do my chores like washing the laundry, cooking, sweeping, bathing, etc… and I do lots of reading (I’ve read 4 books since getting here). Sometimes I’ll write some letters (I’m trying to make that a daily thing) or watch a movie, but I mostly read.

I also hosted my first visitors this past weekend. Mike and Marcy who are volunteers I shadowed with in a nearby village called Thamaga. They came over to help me hang my bug net, some picture, fix a couple door locks, move my gas cylinder outside, and help with some other household mends. My house feels so much more like home now! I was very happy to have some friends over who are so amazing and kind to help me! The next step for the house is to have my landlord and a roof guy come fix the roof so that when the wind comes, it doesn’t blow off (right now it lifts about 4 inches with big gusts of wind).

Overall, I’m settling in very well and I’m extremely excited to start my projects! I really feel like this is the perfect village for me and I can’t wait to see how these two years go! What an adventure I’m on!

Outside of building

Oh, that’s a scorpion

Well, it’s been a week since I swore in, packed up all my belongings, and headed to Ralekgetho. Of course it was my luck to start getting a stomach bug during the move and keep it for the whole weekend. That didn’t stop me from getting settled though! My house is called a two and a half because it’s two and a half rooms. On the left is my bedroom, it’s the newest room to the house and the plaster keeps shifting and crumbling off. It’s really fun when it’s one a.m. and I notice that’s happening because it falls on my face 😉. The middle is my small kitchen, and the right is my sitting room. I’m lucky to have a new house and the freedom to make changes. They’re also very helpful when I notice things that need fixing. My roof had some holes in the tin sheeting where my room would have flooded if the rain came, but they’ve already patched those up. When the wind really hits the roof it likes to lift up 2x4s and all about 4 inches. So hopefully my roof doesn’t blow off. But otherwise it’s very nice. I’m allowed to paint, so I’ll be doing that soon and as my landlord gets money he’s going to make improvements. I may even have electricity by February!

My furniture is very nice. I have a couch, desk, chair, bed, wardrobe, kitchen cabinet unit, and stove! When I get electricity, I will also be getting a fridge. I can’t quite decorate yet because the walls get too hot. Sticky tack, and tape both melt with the heat of the walls and they’re plaster so I can’t put in small thumb tacks or anything like that. I’m going to enlist some friends to help me drill into my walls soon though, so that should help. My landlord essentially said I can make any changes I want as long as they look nice enough to keep for the next volunteer when I leave.

I don’t really have a lot of bugs because it’s so dry here. So I have the occasional fly, some worse than others. Otherwise, I just have some ants, the occasional chicken, and today I found a tiny scorpion in my kitchen. So I guess I’ll have to watch out for those.

So that’s a little taste of my home in Botswana!

I’ve Metamorphosed! (But I really think the word should be metamorphisized)

One minute, we’re a group of 74 trainees and the next we’re 74 volunteers! Swear in was a blast! Most of us wore our pretty new traditional dresses or shirts in the case of men (I really thought they should have worn the dresses as well, but none of them went for it.) We took tons of pictures together before the ceremony. Then we sat through long introductions and thank you speeches to the staff and host families. Next came the fun part! We all stood, raised our right hands, and said the same oath that the U.S. president and every other official government worker has to say. We also recited the first ever peace corps pledge for Botswana that our country directer and other staff prepared for us. At the end of the pledge, we were instructed to say “I am a Peace Corps Volunteer” and some of us started to tear up (I didn’t, because I’m clearly more bad-ass than that, but I did give a little squeal, a very bad-ass squeal). Then we sat through some more long and slightly boring speeches. And finally we shook hands with all the officials including the U.S. Ambassador and our country director and we finally received our official volunteer pins! We did it! We’re official volunteers! And for life! When I return, I’ll always be a returned (not retired or ex) peace corps volunteer. Here’s to volunteer life!

Joiwyn in Peace Corps Shirt

The 5 things that had nothing to do with why I joined the Peace Corps, and the 5 that maybe did

This post was written on October 13th.

It’s half past seven on a hot Tuesday evening. I’m laying in bed in a wet t-shirt, drinking ice water, and listening to the occasional Christmas song as my phone shuffles through my music. I’ve just finished packing all of my possessions in preparation to move to my site on Thursday. Today was our last day of training and tomorrow we swear in as official Peace Corps volunteers. We did it, we made it through training. Now we get thrown into the ocean to see if we’ve learned how to swim from the countless lectures we’ve gotten on how to doggy paddle. I think this is a perfect time to think about why I joined the Peace Corps, but first, let’s talk about what didn’t contribute to the decision.

I’m constantly asked why I joined the Peace Corps, even from other volunteers. I have yet to really figure out my answer, but I can tell you what didn’t lead me here and maybe a little of what did.

  1. I did not join because I thought that I was going to be an invaluable help to a whole community. Yes, I do think I can help with some things, but not really any more than a local could. The only difference between me and a local is that I was raised in a different culture. Just because my culture does some things differently and perhaps better (although absolutely not in every case), does not mean that my presence is going to change that much here. The main point is that I am not so full of myself that I can say I am really going to be able to help that much. I can try and I want to, but I am by no means an expert or that special. I have a lot to offer, but so does the next person. All I can hope is that my presence touches some people in a way that makes them empowered to help themselves and their community.
  2. I didn’t think that Peace Corps was a great way to get sent to another country and just drink and travel all the time on the governments dime. Some people do, it’s not as uncommon as you’d think. There are volunteers who barely show up to work, play the system to get out of things, and just spend two years breaking rules and being a bad image for who Americans are. These volunteers are not only wasting Peace Corps training hours and money, they’re also making it harder for future volunteers in their village.
  3. I didn’t join because I thought America was the best place on earth and I wanted to make sure other countries knew how awesome we are. In fact, I was really unhappy with a lot of what happens in America. I was tired of the ways we did things and hoping to learn more about ways to improve America. Surprisingly, in the short two months I’ve been here, I’ve started to realize that America is not as bad as I thought it was in many regards. We have a long way to go, but not quite as long as I thought.
  4. It wasn’t my intention to use Peace Corps to boost up my resume. My resume is already pretty impressive for a 21 year old and I honestly heard before I left that Peace Corps can hurt your resume. I don’t know how you can make this choice to sacrifice your American life for two years just to build up a resume. We don’t get paid enough for that.
  5. Lastly, I know I didn’t join the Peace Corps because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve known since I was 16 the basic idea for my career and it hasn’t changed that much. I thought my plans would stay pretty solid throughout my Peace Corps service, but was open to them changing if that’s where Peace Corps took me. And maybe they have, I’m starting to think of international work focusing on reducing the stigma associated with mental health now. But I didn’t join the Peace Corps because I felt lost.

The following are some possible contributing reasons for this choice:

  1. I want to grow as a person. I want to become healthier mentally and physically. I want to learn things I don’t know. I want to experience things I can’t experience in America. And most of all, I want to learn how to be a better person and how to control my insecurities and issues that haunt me from my past. I wanted to get away from my norms, and the controlling grip, expectations, and pressures of people in my life and American society as a whole, to help me accomplish these goals on my own.
  2. I wanted to learn about another culture and in the process, learn more about my own. America really is the melting pot and different parts of America have really different values and ideals. I’m learning about Botswana culture, but I’m also learning from my fellow trainees (nearly all volunteers) about other parts of America.
  3. I wanted to expand my experience by working with other cultures on issues such as mental health and education. As America has so many different cultures and populations, I think it’s extremely important to be open to these other cultures and be culturally sensitive when working with hot button issues like culture.
  4. I wanted to get away from America so that I could see what I take for granted and learn how to live more simply. We are so inundated with these contraptions, technologies, and material things in America. I wanted to know what it was like to live without those things.
  5. I wanted to take a break from school that was meaningful and productive. I didn’t want to just work a meaningless job that didn’t give me any fulfillment. I wanted to do something that was important and made some sort of impact. Even if it is small.

So really, I’m selfish in many ways. I didn’t make this choice with no benefit to myself. I came here to learn from the experience and hopefully someone else can learn from me. I’m not brave, I don’t think it’s brave to leave my privileged home to learn how to live less spoiled. The only difference between me and the locals in that sense is that I have been exposed to privilege where they’ve never had the opportunity. I just can’t imagine living in a world and not knowing how others who are less privileged live. How selfish would that make me? We live in a bubble. The only place that matters is the space around us, but there are people suffering all over the world. Botswana is not the poorest, or least privileged country, but they definitely have their challenges. And yet the Batswana are so happy, friendly, and welcoming. You may come over when they’re eating their last piece of bread, but they will break that bread in half to share it with you. We take for granted all the spoils and material things in America, but why do we really need all that stuff? Does it make our lives more meaningful to live lavish life styles when other humans are suffering? We don’t just live in America (I definitely don’t live in America right now), we live on Earth, together. One world, one species and that’s what matters. Our sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic status, religion, physical and mental ability, location, etc… none of that matters. All that matters is that we work together to make the world a better place for everyone. That’s really why I joined the Peace Corps.

Joiwyn in Peace Corps Shirt
Joiwyn

It’s Getting Hot In Here, So Wet Down All Your Clothes

Well, we’re officially in spring. I wish it were like the beautiful Washington spring, but instead it’s days of 100 degree weather with no air conditioning or cooling systems. I only just discovered that my home stay has ice cubes, but I can’t get used to that because I most likely won’t have a fridge/freezer in my site. It’s also culturally inappropriate to wear clothes that reveal your knees (specifically your knee pits) and your shoulders and armpits. So I have sweat more this month than I think I have sweat in the rest of my life combined. I’ve started taking cold baths nightly and soaking my t-shirt to get some coolness from that. This is mostly why I decided to cut my hair.

I was trying to grow it out because I thought I would like to pull it back in a ponytail. That way I could go upwards of 6 days without washing it and it would be out of my face. That was a good plan until my sweat was making it so that I had to wash it more often, and I realized I don’t like just pulling my hair back everyday. So I asked Bethany and Evan to buzz my hair (Brenna came along to give support and suggestions). There was a little confusion on what I wanted at first and with how much hair I have, it took over two hours to get the first cut. So we stopped a little earlier than I wanted and decided we’d go back to it. Bethany cut a little more off the top a few days later. And about a week after that we went back at it with the buzzer. Evan didn’t feel comfortable cutting more off, so I enlisted Brad. He went at it happily and then Fatima joined in because she thought it looked fun. Finally we got it to a nice short length that I can not worry about for my lockdown period until In-Service Training in January where my friends will help me out again.

We’ll have to see how hot it still is in January. It will most likely be pretty terrible still as that is the end of summer/beginning of fall. It supposedly starts cooling down for winter around April. I’m not used to this weather, but I am adjusting slightly. We’ll see how it goes.

Three friends in front of peace corps sign

I get by with a little help from my friends

Well, I’m coming to the end of training and am about to go into my cultural immersion phase. The current and previous volunteers refer to cultural immersion as lockdown because you’re not allowed to really leave your village for more than just one day grocery shopping trips. So as I head into lockdown and all of my fellow PCVs and I go off to our respective villages, I think it’s a perfect time to reflect on the friendships I’ve made here.

There were 78 of us when we started and have since become 74. I have made many great friends who have helped me rejoice in my triumphs and supported me in periods of grief, homesickness, and frustration. My five best friends here even helped me chop off all of my hair; thanks Bethany, Evan, Brenna, Fatima, and Brad! There are a few who stand out, but I cherish them all. Training has been an extremely frustrating process because there has been a large lack of communication throughout the entire system and that has lead to a lot of chaos and disorganization. So it’s been extremely helpful to have friends and peers to commiserate with.

You’re most likely going to hear me talk about Bethany a lot. So I might as well give you an idea of our friendship. You’ve probably already seen posts and pictures of the two of us, may have heard me mention her in blogs, and if you’ve talked to me recently, you’ve probably heard me at least mention her. I would definitely say she is my best friend here. We of course get tired of each other occasionally and need a day or two without each other, but otherwise we are pretty much always seen together. People refer to us as soulmates, peace corps spouses, and besties. If we’re seen alone, we’re constantly asked where the other is. I’ve even had people tell me they didn’t want to do something with me that would make Bethany jealous because they’re scared of her. There was a joke going around that she and I were the only couple who got placed in villages near each other because all the other PST couples have been separated across the country (she and I are only about an hour and a half away from each other). She has been the most help while I was processing my grief and processing the changes I would need to make for my village, and she has been a huge supporter for me while I’ve been losing weight and trying to battle with some old scars that have come up with the emotional strain of this experience. I am really lucky to have her and we already have it planned that after lockdown, I’ll be spending a weekend a month with her. Today she made a joke that she bought us ice cube trays because I’ll be over so often. I know that she’ll keep me in check and I’m really lucky that our last names are the same, so we were assigned seats together on the 15 hour flight and a room together during orientation. Otherwise, I’m not sure we would have approached each other.

I could talk about my friends all night long, but I’ll save that for conversations we can have personally. I’m lucky to have so many people to reach out to here because it is a very stressful and emotional time. You never really realize how many emotions can bubble to the surface at a whim until you’re in a completely new and challenging environment. It makes the love and support I get here even more important. It also makes the love and support from you all more important as well. I love and miss you all, but overall, I’m having the time of my life here 🙂