I’m to the point in my blog that I no longer remember what I’ve already talked about. So forgive me if I repeat myself!
It’s that time of the year again! Which means it’s simultaneously so hot I ask myself if I’ve died and gone to hell, while also being the holiday season. If you’ve seen me in from mid-October to mid-January (really everything stops after my birthday), you know that I take this shit seriously. While in Grad school, I planned a huge, but wildly under attended Halloween party, wore a Turkey sweater (his name is Gobble Gobble or Gobs for short) every day in November, made Thanksgiving dinner for my mom and brother all in dishes shaped like pumpkins, started the Christmas/Yule music and jewelry wearing as soon as Thanksgiving was over, and broke out my Santa sweater on December 1st. Those pumpkin dishes and Turkey sweater are some of the only things I left in America to be stored (besides 6 boxes of books). Priorities, people!
So, this may come as a surprise to you, but I care a little bit about the holidays. It does shame me to say that I do let the consumerism of the holidays take over, but it brings me great joy and happiness in a time of year that could otherwise be really challenging and depressing. So I’m writing it off as a good mental health practice.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you that the holidays are not treated quite the same here. Botswana society is definitely not as consumerist and we also don’t share all the same holidays. They don’t celebrate Halloween (because, like people who have tattoos, people who celebrate Halloween must be satanists or witches). It’s a scary idea for people. They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving for obvious reasons and Christmas is celebrated, but it’s celebrated in churches and village gatherings, not under a tree and with presents. Although, all of these are generalizations; I’m sure there are some families who celebrate Halloween or have a Christmas tree. So their holiday season doesn’t start as early, but I was surprised to hear Christmas carols in the grocery store on November 1st.
Last year, the holidays really stressed me and made me homesick. At first, it was because they were my first major American holidays in Botswana and then it was because I was evicted and dealing with that stress while trying to celebrate Yule/Christmas. This year, it doesn’t feel as stressful, partly because they’re my last major holidays in Botswana (I should be in Australia for Halloween next year and back in WA by Thanksgiving.), but also, now that it’s been so long since I celebrated the holidays in true Joiwyn fashion, I don’t miss it as much. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I’m not going all out this Thanksgiving and Christmas, but all out is going to look a little different.
This year, I’m hosting Thanksgiving for seven of my friends. I’m making a big Thanksgiving feast and we’re going to watch the Gilmore Girls Revival (again, priorities). I’m also going to be subjected to a football game because Bethany must watch it and I’m going to try to convince my friends to make Christmas/Yule decorations with me. I won’t have Gobs with me or my pumpkin shaped dishes, but I’ll have my Peace Corps family and some amazing food and that’s what really matters. I wish I could say that I’ll be able to bring back this non-consumerist attitude when I’m back in the States, but I make no promises. I doubt I’ll be as consumerist as before, but I think I’ll just have to find a happy medium between the two. Happy Holiday Season, Everyone!
Tomorrow is June 21st! Do you know what that means? It’s Yule. Yule is the pagan version of Christmas. It falls on the winter solstice, which in America is usually the 21st of December, but in Botswana, its the 21st of June this year. As a pagan, I usually celebrate Yule by lighting a candle a day for twelve days on a Yule log, celebrating the twelve days as the sun god grows a year older each day until he reaches adulthood at 12, decorating the Yule tree and house, having a Yule feast, listening to Christmas/Yule music, and watching Christmas/Yule movies (which include the Harry Potter movies, duh!). This year, I have my friend Ashley celebrating with me. I’ve had some family drama, so I haven’t been able to fully immerse myself in it until today, but it’s happening. I have a little Christmas tree and some other decorations a previous volunteer left behind, so we decorated the house last Thursday. I have over 1000+ Christmas songs on my computer, so we’ve been plugging through those. We’re going to watch Scrooge tonight and hopefully another movie tomorrow (probably Ashley’s Christmas tradition of Love Actually). I made spiced cider tonight and tomorrow we’re making the poor man’s Yule feast. We bought a small chicken for roasting, some broccoli, and potatoes for mashing. I don’t have a Yule log, but I’m making do without. It’s a beautiful time of year (albeit a chilly one) and my weather here is very similar to winter in Washington during the mornings and evenings.
Having been raised with some Pagan traditions, I really only have secondhand knowledge. Also, paganism is one of those things that people either have no ideas about or know everything about, there’s not much middle ground. So I have been trying to do more research on my own. I haven’t done much research surrounding Yule yet, but I have heard that many of the Christian traditions surrounding Christmas are borrowed from Yule traditions which is why they are so similar. What I’ve been mainly focusing my research on is the Full Moon.
I have loved the Full Moon and Full Moon ceremonies for as long as I can remember. I have very fond memories of sitting by candlelight, reading a ritual, putting cleansing water on my face, drinking milk and eating moon cookies (good old chocolate chip cookies), and doing Tarot. Unfortunately, my mom lost the book with the rituals (her book of shadows) when we moved to Startup, 14 years ago, so since then we have basically just done tarot every once in a while on the full moon when we remember. I wanted to change that when I got here though. I have been making a great effort to celebrate the Full Moon every month. My ritual hasn’t really changed much. I recite something, light the moon candle, write about something I want to release, burn that, cleanse myself, and recite the last part. I follow all of that up with some great tarot readings. I love it. I have felt more connected to myself and the earth. Each releasing ceremony has helped me stop obsessing about something and let that blocked energy flow. It also brings me some nostalgia of times when my mom could sit down and share a piece of herself with me.
My mom is not very open about her religion. She was raised Christian and instilled with Christian values, but didn’t feel like they fit her. She never pushed religion on us and I think that I am really the only one trying to maintain Pagan rituals, but I always felt like it brought my mom and I closer together. I have also always been fascinated by the flow of energy, the elements, and the earth. When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with the pentagram symbol. I drew it everywhere, I had jewelry with it and even a purse. I decided that that would be my first tattoo when I turned 18. I got a pentagram with an illustration of each of the elements in each point with the word pagan in the center. Paganism is a large part of my being that I have not let myself be closed off by, but also not been very open about.
I have many religious friends and even more religious parents of friends. I had one of my friend’s moms say that I should get a tattoo of a rosary around the pentagram to save myself (as a joke) and another one say that she hopes God doesn’t know what I got tattooed on me. The pentagram is a risky symbol because people in America connect it with witchcraft and satanism. It’s a misunderstood symbol, but it simply represents the intersecting of the five elements: earth, wind, fire, water, and spirit. I don’t know why I was always drawn to this symbol above all others, but I was. Once I had it tattooed, I actually stopped wearing my ring, carrying my bag, and drawing it everywhere though; I didn’t need to, I finally had it expressed on my skin.
I don’t hide my tattoo, or that I’m pagan, but I also don’t sing it loud. I think of religion as very personal. I’m not looking to convert you, so I expect the same from you. It’s all just about how you need to reconcile those big philosophical concepts anyway. This is how I reconcile mine. So, happy Full Moon and Yule’s Eve tonight (June 20th), and Happy Yule tomorrow.
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!