Tag Archives: Molepolole

Clouds and trees

What I Wish I Had Known (Part 3): Weather

Coming from Washington, I’m really used to one type of weather: rainy. When I lived in Montana, I got to experience a hotter Summer and a much colder Winter, but I was fully prepared for that and I had access and money to make apparel edits when needed. Unfortunately, I was not as prepared for weather here.

When we arrived in Molepolole, Botswana, it was pretty warm for most of the day, but colder at night. That was OK because I was coming from Washington Summer which was rather hot last year, but still not as hot as it gets here. I was also 280 pounds and had clothes that fit me well. I wore a zip-up hoodie almost every day and long pants or skirts. When I arrived in Ralekgetho in mid September for site visit, it was rather cold and windy for the whole two weeks. Ralekgetho is more desert than Molepolole though, so there was less of a wind shield and fewer things to retain heat. When I arrived at site officially in October, it was full Summer. Very hot and dry. We had many rain and lightening storms, but mostly just very hot days. I didn’t have electricity, so I didn’t have a fan. I spent most of my days in as little clothing as possible or in wet clothing. By November, I was also down to 240 pounds. My record high for Ralekgetho was 110°F.

I got evicted from my house in late December and I stayed with my best friend in Otse for 3 weeks. She lives in what we call Narnia. Her house is surrounded by orange and mango trees and grape vines, so she has a lot of shade. Her house was much cooler for those three weeks which were also in the high 90s/low 100s. In the beginning of January, it became apparent I couldn’t stay in Ralekgetho and I was put up in a hotel in Gabs until our In Service Training (IST). So I got to stay in an air conditioned hotel for two weeks before IST and the four weeks of IST. I really lucked out on not having to endure those six weeks of crazy heat.

When I got moved to Kanye in mid February it was already cooling down and I also have electricity, so I was able to immediately invest in a fan. I only used the fan for about a month before I no longer felt like I needed it. I also was down to 220 pounds at that point and my body had far less insulation than previously. It has been a nice couple months of being in the 70s and 80s, but these past two weeks have chilled considerably. Kanye is also a much different terrain than Ralekgetho. We’re in and on many hills here and it gets much colder apparently. The mornings have been in the mid 40s and the afternoons have barely gotten to the low 70s.

I am not handling the cold as well as I thought I would. I’m at around 210 pounds now and still losing, so I have lost 70 pounds of fat insulation and will be losing more. I also didn’t have a fan for most of the summer, so I had to endure the heat a little differently and I think I acclimated a little more. I also no longer have any clothes that fit me well. All my warm clothes are far too big, and I also didn’t bring a lot of clothes because I knew I was going to lose weight. Our houses are also made of cement and have no insulation, so they are often times colder than it is outside. Luckily, Peace Corps provided us with large and warm blankets, so I stay warm at night, but have the worst time getting out of bed in the morning. And this isn’t even fully winter yet. July is supposed to be the worst. My brother will most likely be visiting in July and my plan is to do awesome things with him, but otherwise spend the rest of July in bed or working out since the school takes all of July off.

Clouds and trees
Storm in Ralekgetho, 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!

Cows on dirt sidewalk by wall

I’ve acquired a fear of being trampled by a herd of cows

You may find this amusing, but death by cow is far more common than you realize. Never the less, I do get laughed at here if I approach the cows too gingerly. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first I should explain where these cows are. And the answer is everywhere! Here’s a cow, there’s a cow, oh there’s a goat, another cow, ooh, a donkey, don’t forget the flocks of chickens everywhere as well. I think I’m still getting ahead of myself. Anyway, it is very common for all sorts of animals to be on the loose here. I actually have never really seen any animals fenced in anywhere.

On the way to Ralekgetho, we would drive by herds of cows, donkeys, or goats and every time my supervisor would say Botswana is a cow country, Botswana is a donkey country, or Botswana is a goat country. They are everywhere and frequently hold up traffic. In my village, it seems the fences are more common to keep animals out of yards than in them. The school is fenced all around and yet, somehow, the goats or cows find ways in to eat the little grass we have. The headmaster of the school will ask the boys of one of the classes to go scare the cows or goats out of the school yard. There are also tons of chickens wandering around with their little flocks of chicks following them.

Unfortunately, because there really isn’t any other noise in the village, I’ll be laying in bed and hear a cow or donkey right outside my window. The other night it sounded like a donkey was dying outside my window for what seemed like an hour, no sign of it in the morning. Tonight, there were at least two roosters having a yelling contest a few houses down. You’d think that since I grew up on a hobby farm I’d be used to animals by now, but like I said, you hear them so much more here. In America, there are other noises drowning them out.

Here, there’s nothing. There isn’t even the buzz of electricity. You can hear so much more and while we’re on the topic, see so much more as well. I’ve seen more stars here than I could imagine in the sky and even caught a solar eclipse by accident. Living in places like this definitely change the way you see the world.

Women Sitting

Toto, We’re not in Kansas Anymore

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!!

Dancers at Dithubaruba Cultural Festival

Dithubaruba Cultural Festival

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.

They Call Me Kesa

Dumelang borra le bomma. O thlotse jang? Leina lame ke Kesaobaka. Sefane same ke Gosalamang mo Botswana. Kwa Amerika leina lame ke Joiwyn. Sefane same ke Lewis. Ke tswa kwa Washington State kwa Amerika. Ke gorogile mo Botswana ka di 3 tsa Phatwe. Ke moitaupi wa Peace Corps ke dira le tsa banana mo Botswana. Mo Molepolole ke ithuta Setswana le ngwao. Kwa Amerika ke ne ke le moithuti gape ke bereka ke le morutabana. Ke rata go bala le go robala. Ke a leboga!

Did you figure all of that out? Don’t worry, I won’t test you yet. Let me translate for you:
Hello gentlemen and ladies (don’t be surprised, men always come first). How did you spend your day? (the mid – late day version of how are you?) My name is Kesaobaka Gosalamang in Setswana (Kesaobaka means I praise him [for giving me another daughter]). In America, my name is Joiwyn Lewis. I am from Washington State in America. I arrived in Botswana on the 3rd of August. I’m a Peace Corps volunteer working with youth (banana) in Botswana. In Molepolole, I am learning Setswana and culture. In America, I was a student and a teacher. I like to read and sleep. Thank you!

Can you tell we’ve been working primarily on introductions? On the one hand, I can’t believe it’s been over two weeks since I left home already and on the other hand, it feels like I’ve been here for so long. I absolutely love it here. The people are so welcoming, the other volunteers are amazing people that I am so happy to have in my life, I’ve changed so many bad habits already (I have been really good about my dietary restrictions, have had better hygiene, haven’t watched any movies or TV besides the religious TV and news my host mom watches, haven’t been spending countless hours on the internet, and have been sleeping better and actually waking up in the morning like a normal person), I’ve learned how to do laundry by hand (sort of), have been doing much better with Setswana than I expected, and have been the least anxious I’ve ever been in my life. I can’t believe how much stress I’ve let push me around in life. I’ve had this amazing sense of calm and contentedness this past week. I know I am in the honeymoon phase of Peace Corps and there will be more ups and downs to come, but I honestly am just so ready to take this journey. But enough about my crazy Peace Corps high, let me tell you a little about my life as a Peace Corps Trainee.

Since you formally heard from me last, I got matched with my host family and started official training. In the matching ceremony, they called out the trainees one by one and then called out their families. When I stood up in front of everyone waiting to hear who my host mom was, I really had no idea what to expect. When they called out her name, Solofaleng Gosalamang, she jumped up and started yelling in Setswana. She came running to me, grabbed me in a big hug, tried to pick me up a few times and continued yelling in Setswana. Then she presented me in front of everyone with a few more yells. Since then, she has done this in other groups, and I believe her shouts are mostly “this is my daughter, my daughter, my daughter, my baby”, but that is a very rough translation. After we sat down, she told me my new name, Kesaobaka, told me I had three older siblings and started asking me questions. I was quite overwhelmed because I am really used to being the loudest most affectionate person I know, and she trumped me, by a lot. When she took me home, I was a little worried at first because I felt like a complete outsider being treated as an insider, which essentially, I was. She took me in as one of her children and immediately started worrying that I wasn’t eating enough and I wasn’t liking it at her home. At first this was a little hard for me to handle because I pride myself on being pretty independent, but then I started to realize how much she cared and how to navigate the situation and now I really do feel at home. She’s an extremely sweet women. She is very religious, but also very liberal. We have had amazing talks about diversity, labeling, race, and how we are all just humans and should love each other both because and despite of our differences. She says her English is improving already from talking to me and my Setswana is perfect (which, thanks to her, the few phrases I know are, but there is still so much I don’t know). Our house is great in love, but small in space. It has two nice size bedrooms, a very small kitchen (It has a refrigerator, freezer, and stove!), a small bathroom (but it has a working bathtub and toilet! No hot running water, though), and a decent size living room. Her son, my brother, Laone, lives in a house about the same size 10 feet in front of us on our compound. There are about 10 neighborhood children who love to watch me and talk to me. They will yell at me through the kitchen window when I am helping to cook, swarm around me when I am walking home from training, and watch me when I am walking around our compound. I am working on remembering their names and love to talk to them. They love to greet me and then they will occasionally yell to me that they love me when I am around.

Everyone is so friendly here. I have a small walk home after my daily training sessions (we have language classes from 7:30-9:30 Mon-Fri and then other classes until 5 on those days and then more language classes from 8-12 on Saturdays). During my walk, I am always greeted by at least 5 people, honked at by passing cars, waved and yelled to by young children and usually stopped by at least 2 people to have actual conversations where they ask me how I am in Setswana and when I respond correctly they reply with an emphatic “You people know Setswana!” It is also common for people in the neighborhood (known as the ward or Kgotleng here) to know my name. My mother is very well known and is often parading me around. We went to meet the chief of our ward, known as the Kgosi, on Friday. We had to do a small introduction of ourselves. After I did mine, my mother got up and ran over to me saying how well I did and hugged me. All the other mothers stayed in their seats. After the meeting was over, she was yelling to everyone about “her Kesa” and having me speak Setswana to them all. There was even one woman who came up to me and said, “Kesa, do you want it?” holding out her baby girl. At first I was very confused, but she kept pushing her infant toward me. One of the current volunteers here told me that that happened occasionally, but was usually a joke. It didn’t really seem like a joke though.

Otherwise our days aren’t too eventful. We just go to training and then I come home and have dinner. Every three days or so, I take a bucket bath (it’s common here for people to take a bucket bath twice a day, but I used the drought as an excuse with my host mom to get away with twice a week instead of twice a day.) I typically go to bed around 7 and read until I fall asleep around 8. The only things that hinder my sleep are the loud bar about 50 feet away, the pack of dogs that wait to bark until it’s about 9 and then all bark in tandem, and the man who walks around with a megaphone giving the village information about meetings and other events occurring in Setswana. That doesn’t stop me from reading though. I’ve already finished 5 books and am almost finished with my 6th. I’ve also been working on a long letter to my mom (it’s at 13 pages right now). I promise I’ll start writing to everyone else soon (and by soon, it will probably be more around my lock down, I mean community integration period, when I get to my site in 9 weeks). I of course miss you all, and there are things happening that I wish I could be there to support everyone with, but I really am extremely happy here and so proud of myself for doing this. I want to thank you all for your unending support and love. It makes this adventure so much more rewarding, knowing that you all support me. Sala Sentle (Stay Well).