We are leaving – by Carol and John – Oct 15, 2013

From JM:  We have come to the end of our service.  Today we recieve a new status known as RPCV, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.  We are flying out of Botswana for the last time tomorrow, Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 with new experiences, perspectives, lessons learned, friends and tons of memories.  We will never regret any part of our service and will cherrish what it has created inside of us.  Below are some final words from each of us.

airplane

From Carol:  I normally spend a long time crafting my posts on this blog – but I simply ran out of time and I am quickly trying to say one last thing before we leave Africa/Botswana.

I am emotionally drained.  It has been so hard to say good-bye to so many people that have done so much to change my life, teach me about a different way to live, loved me, cooked with me, taught with me, raised children with me, and had fun with me.  I had a home here.  I lived Botswana here.  Now it is packed-up.  Our things all sold or given away.  We have four suitcases to take our life belongings back home.

Of course there are the dogs - OMG!  Saying good-bye to those dogs was so hard.  I am a little ashamed to say – I cried the most over them.  I take comfort in knowing they are in good homes now.  I know they are being loved and cared for. 

We had three or four good-bye parties or celebrations and it was great seeing so many people express gratitude about our work and about us. 

We were scheduled to leave our Molepolole home yesterday morning.  All morning, from 5:30AM to the moment I left at 9:00 AM, children came to my house for one last hug and one last good-bye.  I literally don’t think I can cry anymore.

I am grateful to have a vacation in Spain before coming home.  It is very stressful to be coming back to no home, no car, no job, no phone, no computer, no nothing.  But, I am confident things will work out; they always have.  But it has been emotionally devasting saying all these good-byes while looking at an empty slate back home.

I am grateful to have many friends and family that I will be seeing for the first time in two years!  We will see what the rest brings. 

 By JM:

It is truly a bittersweet ending.  The past 3 days have been an emotional roller coaster during sad Good Bye’s and happy future plannings.  It’s too soon to use retrospect and make valid comments on our service other than the obvious feelings of gratitude to those who supported us and feelings of satisfaction in the quantity and quality of things we have accomplished here.

At this moment my greatest fear is that soon this whole two years will be a flashing memory that will seem as if it never really happened and will no longer be a part of my life.  I know I will carry new ideas and perspectives in my future and I will stay in touch with several new friends for at least the immediate future.

On a practical level, however, I am scared to death of coming back to Chicago with no certaintly to return to.  We will enjoy seeing our friends and family and staying with my parents while we figure out the next stage of our lives, but at the moment I am more pessimistic than optimistic.  That being said, we have a couple weeks in Spain to look forward to, to ease our adjustment back into the real world.  That will be enjoyable.

As my final words on this adventure I would again like to thank all the folks back home as well as our local support groups here in botswana for making this experience the best it could have been.

From Carol and JM:  We love you all.

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A community – September 27, 2013 – By Carol

My Community:  One of my favourite things about living here is the sense of community, which is encompassing.

In America, I remember parents and grandparents telling of neighbourhoods where everyone knew everyone.  Children played without play dates and cell phones, chips or bracelets indicating diabetes, because everyone knew who had diabetes and which kid lived where and every parent could manage the children at their house.  Parents never knew exactly where their kids were, but could find them quickly if they didn’t come home when the street lights came on.

If a stranger came into the neighbourhood everyone knew that person didn’t belong, and people followed up about why he/she was there and it was difficult for a stranger to engage in mayhem.

If you needed eggs, sugar, or a drill you could easily borrow one.  Gardens, pets and one’s home were always watched for free when you were gone over the weekend, vacation, or just for an evening.

It is like that in Botswana.  Even more so.  Everyone is strongly encouraged to report bad behaviour for the good of the community.  Both children and adults are always telling me if people were drunk around my house or who came and knocked on my door when I was gone or who threw a stone at my dogs.   There is no thought of “I don’t want to get involved” or “It isn’t my business”.

Everyone knows everyone else’s business and that information is generally used to help take care of everyone, although it is sometimes used to try to control people and make them stay in the “community norm”.

As you can imagine there are good and there are stifling bad things about this sort of community.   But, as a stranger in a strange land, I have enjoyed being in the bosom of this kind of a community.  However, this weekend I realized one the biggest benefits that I have taken for granite.  It is so safe to live in a place like this.

 

Me and the school/community guard

Me and the school/community guard

How I found out:  About a year ago a man who looked fairly poor came to our house and asked for piece work which is like the jobs illegal immigrants do in America.  Piece workers work for very cheap asking for P100 ($15) for a days work.

They usually don’t work hard and almost never finish the job, but “piece jobs” work is how the poor survive.  When we hire someone I also provide food and drink all day and transport money to get home, which almost doubles the pay.  They are living on far less then my meager allowance.

This one man had a story about his six kids and no food.  He was very skinny but clean.  We hired him  and he worked hard and was grateful for the lunch, drink and transport money.  We told him he could come once a month to weed our yard.  Sometimes he would bring a small child with him and he would tend to the child while he worked too –he looked like a good dad.

At the beginning of the school year he brought his daughter, who was starting junior school, and introduced us telling his daughter she should consider me to be her mother at school.  This wasn’t anything out of the ordinary – but he did say it about 10 times, trying to make the point stick.

The child was one of 850 kids for the first several months.  Then she started failing and getting into some trouble with teachers.  One of the teachers brought her to me while he was lecturing her about her bad behaviour.  He told me she was my daughter and I better do something about her.

Since two people had now told me she was my daughter, I started taking some responsibility for her school life.

Over the next few months I learned she was being severely abused by her father.  Since the school and I have a different idea about what abuse is, I usually can’t get help from the school and there simply are not government structures to protect children as there are in America.  I could not make school officials take legal actions, I could not convince the child to report the abuse, and the Peace Corps regularly told me I was not to be involved as my safety could be compromised and it was the school responsibility to deal with this.  But after he started to threaten school officials as well as his child they started to become very concerned.

Eventually I got the school to authorize me to report the incidences to the Social Worker’s office.  It took the social workers about 10 days to get to the girls home and do interviews.  They found she was being cruelly abused (their words).  They warned all officials at the school that the man was angry and unstable and we best all be careful until they could get him in jail or remove the child.

I contemplated how safe I was and how safe I could keep myself.

It was then I realized how nice this kind of neighbourhood is.  If the bad man should come into the school grounds, (which is also where I live) everyone would know he shouldn’t be here.  There are neighbours literally 4 feet from my house and up and down the street that would never let me be hurt.  I think the man would be pummelled before he got to my porch.

He made some tiny threat to my counterpart, who is a small sized man.  By nature, Botswana are peaceable and my counterpart is one of the most peaceable.  But he was outraged by the threat and has spent the last several days saying how he isn’t scared and he will beat on that man until he is silly.  At first I thought it was an amusing bravado – but I came to see my counterpart is so angry that the father is threatening many people’s safety and it pushes him to a place he would never go on his own.

I know I am as safe as a person can be.  If I was in America I can’t imagine the whole neighbourhood being on the lookout for this guy, and if people did see him menacing me or hurting me the majority would believe it wasn’t their business  and would choose not to be involved.

In Summary – I have found one more good thing about Botswana:  I have the strength of a whole community to help me, care about me and want to keep me safe.

 

Onicah on a happy day.  She is so sweet and so beautiful.  I still can't believe how much her father hurt her.

Onicah on a happy day. She is so sweet and so beautiful. She deserves to be happy and grow up with love.

 

Post Script:  1 month after I reported the abuse this girl and her little sister were removed from the home and relocated 12 hours away with a grandmother that was so very happy to have her two granddaughters safe with her.  Her family elders are meeting to find a way to get the mother, who is believed to be abused too, and her other four children back home this weekend.  Everyone at school is amazed how quickly this family got emotional and logistical support to be safe.  I was out raged every day that nothing happened, but now feel as though I was part of something good that could change a girl and a families life – and the amount of time it took seems irrelevant.  We are both soooo very happy now now.

 

The day she got to leave for grandma's house.

The day she got to leave for grandma’s house.

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Beds, Computers and Pants…

Two years is a LONG time…Or is it?  Time seems to have some interestingly different effects here.

Apart from “African Time” encompassing the a disregard for being on time to meetings, or getting to work on time, or delivering finished products as promised, there seems to be an accelerated aging going on here in more ways than one.

We arrived in Botswana in September of 2011, almost exactly 2 years ago.  When we left America we were allowed by the Peace Corp rules, to bring 80 lbs of baggage each.  That had to include clothes for hot and cold seasons, shoes, electronics we wanted to have, personal items,  books, games, favorite pillows and lots of other stuff we would need to anticipate not being able to purchase over here. Over the past two years we have learned that there is a very clear difference in the quality of goods used here vs those same goods (even the same Name Brands) used back home.  We speculate that there is a little machine at the end of the Quality Control production line at each manufacturing company that separates each produced item into two bins; one bound for America, and the other earmarked for Africa. Items and Brands such as Duracell Batteries, Seagate Hardrives, Sealy Bedding, Listerine Mouthwash, Bic Pens and many others are easily found in most all the larger villages.  These same items here, along with an endless list of other things such as fans, light bulbs, thermometers, DVDs, alcohol, kitchen utensils, toiletries and so much more are all made so obviously inferior here and just don’t withstand the tests of time that we are used.  Duracell batteries last 1/4 of the time we expect, major Name Brand hard drives crash prematurely for no apparent reason, beds develop bowls early, Listerine just doesn’t have that “pain” if you leave it in your mouth too long and Bic pens seem to run out of ink or just stop working sooner than they should.

A few recent examples of our different brushes with time start with our bed, purchased from a top quality bedding store here in roughly Dec, 2011, about 20 months ago.  After my complaint to the PC Doctor about the old mattress being nothing more than 3″ of foam, my office paid roughly P6500 (roughly $900) for a new mattress and box spring.  It is a Sealy Posturpedic, queen size, pillow top, extra firm, really nice mattress.  In the US it would probably have some 10 0r 15 year manufacturer’s warranty and even a 5 year in-store warranty, but not here.  As of about 2 months ago my back was hurting more than usual in the mornings and upon inspection of the bed i found two permanent indents in the mattress.

A few weeks ago the Netbook (small laptop computer) that we received free as a promotion when we signed up for a two year DSL Internet contract (again about 20 months ago), crashed.  The hard drive just stopped working. This was Carols’ computer and she treated it like a baby, so there was no reason it should have such severe problems so soon.  At the same time, the fan in MY 5 year old laptop computer also failed and I spent an entire day travelling to Gaborone to a Computer Repair place that replaced the fan.    However, they returned the laptop to me with the keyboard bent and improperly inserted back into it.  Then when i got it back home, the laptop kept shutting itself off, due, I’m quite sure, to either the wrong fan replacement or an inferior fan that did not meet the minimum cooling requirements of the laptop. These problems with computers and other electrical devices could result from variable and unreliable power, but I suspect strongly that its more of a product quality issue and we are finding that life expectancies of products are just not as they are in the US.

Also, about a year ago I noticed that all of the 15 pairs of socks and 8 pairs of underwear and 6 or 7 white undershirts that i brought with me from the US were all developing holes and rips.  I didn’t really think much of this since as Peace Corp Volunteers we have substantially lowered our appearance standards.  However, a couple of weeks ago, when the first of 3 rips showed up in my expensive American cargo pants I began to suspect that the laundry detergent here is probably just very harsh.  This, coupled with the very hard water, the intense drying sun and the sand and dust continually blown into the wet, drying clothes, creates a somewhat harsh environment for clothes washing and again changes the life expectancy of clothing.

It starts to seem like there is something magical about the two year mark for products here to start falling apart.

The point of this post is not so much to bitch about harsh environments, or inferior products, but for me to reflect a bit upon the concept and expectations of time here. Although I’m quite sure that minutes and seconds are measured here the same as back home, it seems quite clear that 2 years here has a different effect than the same two years back home, at least on things such as beds, computers and pants.

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I am a good teacher! August 18, 2013 – by Carol

When I first got my Peace Corps assignment, which was to work in a school to capacity build teachers, I was quite intimidated.  It seemed ridiculous to assume people from America can teach teachers who have received degrees in Education and taught for years how to be better teachers simply because we are from America.  It is particularly curious that 22 year old people with no experience or training in any work field were also given this assignment.  (Double click in the blog to see the picture full size).

Mma Mere is a great teacher who didn't need to be capcity built, and in fact taught me how to use the smart board interactively to teach math.

Mma Mere is a great teacher who didn’t need to be capcity built, and in fact taught me how to use the smart board interactively to teach math.

It did not surprise me that teachers resisted our efforts to “capacity build” their teaching ability.  Many teachers would let a PCV teach in their place,but few teachers were open to our great American suggestions on how to improve their teaching methods.

However, it turns out that many of us, including the inexperienced 22 year olds, did have pretty good idea’s about teaching simply because we were taught by good teachers using innovative, interactive and motivating methods.  I was able to learn from my peers and to add value to some classes and truly co-teach and teach on my own after a short time in serve.

I quickly learned that teaching, like everything else, is much harder than it looks, especially when we had to deal with an additional 100 challenges included overcrowded classrooms, no desk or chairs or books, no chalk boards, mixed ability children, no classrooms, no climate control, no copy machines, no computers, no internet, a very limited library, parents who don’t care and administrators who will not help you.

I found I was spending 3 to 4 hours to prepare for a 90 minute class. In the beginning I thought I had mastered the art of teaching, but then realized, the children were really only mesmerized by my white skin and American way of speaking English.  Needless to say, those attributes didn’t keep their attention for long and despite my detailed preparation I often could not keep the children focused or motivated.  I did have some successes along the way, a great classroom here and a brilliant student there – but mostly it was so much work for so little reward.

I especially struggled at the NGO where I was teaching extremely disenfranchised children.  The students had previously failed their 10th grade test and many had very significant personal issues they were trying to overcome (poverty, learning disability, rape, incest, and raising babies). If a child fails the 10th grade test their education cannot continue.  These children were very difficult to teach.  I often hated going to that class as  I felt like a failure as a teacher and a person.  I kept wondering why I didn’t have the ability to help these 15 year old girls learn very basic things in two fairly simple classes including English and Commerce.

Finally, a couple of months ago, I found that it was only taking me about 30 minutes to prepare for a class and I was totally capable of making major adjustments in any class setting such as having 3 or 20 kids.

One of the things I decided to do is give up teaching to the  test.  I started to believe ALL of them were going to fail the test again.  Since I believed they were going to fail I felt free to try and teach idea’s instead of class material.  It takes a real leap, as a teacher, to trust that you can skip the material and get children to think allowing them to will figure the material out on their own.

After a couple of weeks of this sort of improvised teaching I asked the students if  they wanted to go back to the books, and allow me to help them complete their homework and go over the take home test, or if they wanted to keep having the “fun” class.

The class was divided.  Some kids have no confidence in themselves and the only time they get their homework correct is when I do it with them, but they still could not pass the test.  They hoped if we kept going over the book they would have a better chance of memorizing material and providing correct answers.

However, some children had experienced a break through.  One girl begged me to keep teaching the “fun” way, saying I was really making her brain buzz and she could feel herself thinking.  Others seconded and further confirmed they were learning besides having fun.  Of course the proof is in the pudding – and several of them were able to work through their homework on their own and get as good and sometimes better scores.  Sadly, too many were still failing – but I am just a beginner at this teaching thing!

It feels very very very very good to know I am a good teacher.  I learned how to be a teacher while I was here.  What an awesome thing to be able to do for the rest of my life.

Teaching Social Studies at Kwena Sereto.

Teaching Social Studies at Kwena Sereto.

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JM wins 3rd place in Beauty Contest!

Raising funds for one thing or another is a very common need here.  There is never enough money allocated from the government or any other source for HIV/AIDS activities.  One of the more popular ways of raising funds for something is to hold a Fashion Show or Beauty Contest and charge a nominal entrance fee to the contestants as well as the audience. As with most things here, the events are usually highly disorganized and everything is done in a rush-rush manner the day before the event.   Advertising is almost always left til the end, and done the day of the event, and as a result, attendance is usually poor.

However, also as with most events here, somehow they still manage to take place, they accomplish at least part of their goals and for the most part everyone seems to have a good, relaxed time with no finger pointing or criticisms about how it could have been done better.

Such was a recent Beauty Contest that I was asked to participate in.

JM and Khumo win Third Place!

JM and Khumo win Third Place!

Last week on Wednesday, I was approached with the request to be a contestant, on Friday night, with a randomly selected partner.  Carol would not be a contestant as all the contestants were from my work place. I volunteered to create some cool Admission Tickets that could be sold for 25 Pula (Roughly $4.00) and a Program and a Flyer for advertising.  I whipped up some nice documents but no one was around to review or accept them until Friday morning, so our driver spent 4 hours driving his big truck all over town, at $5 per gallon, to hand deliver some notices of the event to a few key people, in hopes they would attend.

The event was scheduled to start at 8:30 pm.  As usual, at 8:30 pm, when i arrived in the frigid cold, un-decorated gymnasium, there were about 200 empty chairs and a group of 3 guests so far and no organizers.  Around 9:30 pm organizers showed up and began to get things going.  Around 10:30 pm the boys and girls had been separated to different rooms and had adorned our first set of attire, Jeans and T-Shirts.  We met up with our partners and paraded around the gym floor and greeted the 3 judges.  We then all met in a back room and because the theme of the night was “Workplace Wellness”, each couple was assigned a word having to do with “health” such as Water, Diabetes, Cancer, Exercise and others.  Our second and final parade was in our formal wear (I can’t believe I still remembered how to tie a tie!) and we all had the opportunity to spend 5 minutes addressing the judges and (very small) audience with our thoughts about the significance of our assigned word and how it relates to Workplace Wellness.

As happens more frequently than not, the power went out on the Amplifier and so we lost our music and DJ and microphone half way through the event.  It took about an hour for the organizers to decide whether to continue the event with no music and no microphone, or to call it quits.  It was 1:00 am and it had been 3 1/2 hours so far and everyone was very exhausted, there was only a handful of people left in the audience, no electricity and we all just wanted to go home.  Again, as happens here on just about all occasions, the organizers were fixated on protocol and procedure and insisted we continue with the rest of the show without the electricity, because that is what was “supposed” to happen.

Again, as so often happens, they somehow managed to get the electricity going again about an hour later, so at 2:20 am, the judges finally chose the top 3 (of 10 or so couples) and yours truly and my beautiful date, Khumo, were chosen as the Third Place Winners!

This story of good ideas, poor planning, forced implementation, inevitable obstacles and ultimate partial success is quite the model for just about all functions.  It’s frustrating and takes superhuman tolerance and flexibility to not criticize, but it shows that things can be accomplished here, and in the end, it is another fun memory.

(Click to enlarge any image)

Wellness Day Beauty Contest Jul 19th, 2013 001

Me and Khumo is our “Jeans and T-Shirts”

Wellness Day Beauty Contest Jul 19th, 2013 003

Me and Khumo in our Formal Dress

Wellness Day Beauty Contest Jul 19th, 2013 002

The three Judges

Wellness Day Beauty Contest Jul 19th, 2013 004

Couple #1

Wellness Day Beauty Contest Jul 19th, 2013 005

Couple #2

Wellness Day Beauty Contest Jul 19th, 2013 006

Couple #3

Wellness Day Beauty Contest Jul 19th, 2013 007

Couple #4

Wellness Day Beauty Contest Jul 19th, 2013 008

Couple #5

Wellness Day Beauty Contest Jul 19th, 2013 009

Couple #6

Wellness Day Beauty Contest Jul 19th, 2013 011

The Top 5 (missing one!)

Wellness Day Beauty Contest Jul 19th, 2013 012

First Runner Up

 

 

 

 

First Prize Winners!

First Prize Winners!

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A Birthday Party and more communication issues – July 8, 2013 – by Carol

 

Botlhe - perfect little girl

Botlhe – perfect little girl

Bothle’s Birthday:  Bothle’s is one of my favourite kids from the neighbourhood.  She is the youngest of three children.  She is super smart and is one of the few students who consistently gets good grades.  She is a natural teacher translating for me and helping me teach the other children. She absorbs and then implements every single study method I give to her.  She has flashcards for everything!  She sets aside study time and won’t let anyone take her off her schedule.  She speaks perfect English and is one of the few children that can constantly translate for everyone, on every topic.  She just turned 9 last week.

This little girl is one those children that always offers to clean my house and she washes every dish in my house even when she didn’t dirty it.  She has perfect manners, always knocks, takes her shoes off when entering, never gives me a guilt trip when I don’t want to play, and is just an all around perfect little girl.

Many kids are good here, but there are few that have perfect manners, are very smart, and are constantly openly grateful for the part I play in her life.  I truly love her.

Her mother teaches Moral Education – which is ironic since she drinks nearly every day and is rarely home to take care of her children, each of which have a different father.  She is completely neglectful (by American standards) – with the focus of her life being to “find a man”.

Bontlhe told me her mother was going to have a birthday party for her.  But Bothle’s mother told me Bothle thought that John and I were having a party for daughter.  I said John and I could bake a cake, come to the party, and help supervise the children, but it was her job to have a party for her very special child.  She reluctantly agreed.  I failed to remember that reluctant agreement means “I am not doing this”.  I remained hopeful that I had convinced her to be a good mother.

Mom cancelled the party two days before the birthday saying it would be the following weekend – which is another way to say it will never happen – I also failed to understand this.   So I helped Bontlhe make formal invitations to send out to her rescheduled party.  We made a guest list and planned a bunch of games.  The mom told me she was buying the decorations, food and drinks.

I did prepare for complete lack of preparation from mom and I had plan B in case mom did not stay home for the party.  I did not prepare for mom not being there and taking the child with her so there could be no party!!!

She had 10 stories about how or why this got messed up.

Bothle came to my house 2.5 hours after the party was supposed to start with big sad cow eyes. Her mother had told her John and I cancelled the party I told her we could have a party now now (at this moment) at my house if she went and got her friends.

That is one really cool thing about Africa – Plan Z always exists and often is the plan that eventually gets implemented.  It is likely not what you want – but something will usually happen.

As we all know – Plan Z is often very inferior.  In America we usually have provisions for Plans B and C, sometimes even plan D – but we don’t accept the sort of planning that occurs at Plan Z and the event would be cancelled with blame accessed so appropriate consequences can be paid for total failure.

I like the way America does it – because the events or programs enacted are usually quite nice with a decent output and outcomes.   I like the accountability in America too.  But I’m not in America.

We had a party with half her invitation list, half the games, in half the time, with almost no food (we did have cake and I whipped up popcorn along with crackers and peanut butter) – but it was a birthday party!

Shuby and his 18 year old brother won the water balloon toss with John's help.

Shuby and his 18 year old brother won the water balloon toss with John’s help.

The children were happy to be able to come to a party no matter how late with no knowledge of what was compromised.  The children had so much fun that they all wanted us to plan for their own birthday parties.  We told them we would have one huge neighbourhood birthday party – and then they must plan their own parties from now on.

Birthday snacks after games.  They never heard of Scavenger Hunt and it now their favorite game.

Birthday snacks after games. They never heard of Scavenger Hunt and it now their favorite game.

Maybe we should try to enjoy plan Z a little more often in life.  I have decided to forgive the mother for abandoning her daughter, me for not understanding the mother was never going to do this this, and Botswana for not loving her children.  Everybody went home happy – so why shouldn’t I?

 

 

 

Most importantly - a good time was had by all.  Bothle got a special birthday!

Most importantly – a good time was had by all. Bothle got a special birthday!

I served as a translator in Setswana:  The University of Louisville sends a group of students and teachers here three times a year as a part an international program.  I often serve as a liaison between them and the administrators at my school.  I had a glorious moment when the teachers started talking to University students in Setswana and the students had no idea what was being said.  They turned to me and I could actually interpret for them.  It was basic “How are you?” “Where are you from” “How long are you staying” – but I don’t care how simple – I was actually Interpreting!  Me!  I was the one!!!!  Oh my Goddess it felt good.

Cross Cultural Communication:  While the Louisville students were here they worked in a class room that had smart board.  They asked if they could use the boards.  The Deputy Head told them, that no one at the school knew how to turn the smart boards on.  When the reason was relayed to me I assured them that the teachers did know how to turn the machines on and in fact the smart boards are used nearly every day.  The school administrators didn’t want people who had not been trained to use the boards– so they said they didn’t know how to turn it on.

It seems likely to me, that in America, we would always provide a policy reason instead of say something that would allow people to think we are stupid or incompetent.  Here, no one ever wants to confront anyone or say anything that may be challenged or hurt someone’s feeling.

I knew the Deputy head meant, “You cannot use the board, because I don’t trust you not to break it”.  But it is also likely that if the Deputy had told a Batswana no one knew how to turn the computer on, the Batswana person would not consider the actual implications of the statement and would know the answer simply meant “no” – no more and no less than “No, you cannot use the board”.

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All Pulling Together

Mmanoko is a rather small village located about 10 miles East of Molepolole, my village.  My good friend, Nathan, is the Peace Corps Volunteer stationed there.   Before he arrived there a couple years ago, another PCV had started a project at the one and only school in the village.  The project was an outdoor amphitheater.  Basically just a semi-circular seating around a small stage, made of cinder blocks and concrete, and to be used to host dramas, public addresses and many other functions.

Mmanoko Ampitheatre June 2013_06

It started with a small, partially built wall and many far away piles of rock and sand

Nathan arrived to find the project had stalled for want of labor, materials and motivation and decided he would adopt it.  There was very small, quarter built brick wall and several large piles of sand, rocks and broken concrete, all scattered over an area the size of a couple of football fields.  He called on some friends and managed to arrange for the donation of some concrete, more dirt, gravel and stone.  This was almost 2 years ago.  Since then he has failed over and over to get anyone from the village or school to help him continue the project.  This is a very typical scenario on larger projects.

As luck would have it, the US ARMY has a special program where they send 20 or 30 ROTC (Officers in Training while they are attending Universities) Cadets to various countries to help on a multitude of projects. So, last weekend, Mmanoko was descended upon by 30 US Army personnel who spent a day and a half doing seriously hard labor.  Under the supervision of myself and Nathan, this energetic young group of cadets relocated the 4 huge rock and sand piles from 100 yards away to right next to the building site, carrying one shovel at a time.  They sledge hammered large rocks into small rocks, dug several one foot deep trenches in the ROCK HARD ground to prepare for Cinder Block footings, shoveled dozens of tons of hard sand and rock to level the surface, mixed dozens of wheel barrows of cement, built two long circular Cinder Block walls and performed many other terribly laborious tasks.

(Click any image to see Full Size)

Mmanoko Ampitheatre June 2013_08

One of the several rock piles to be moved

Mmanoko Ampitheatre June 2013_07

Broken concrete and filler material

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Cinder Blocks to build the walls

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The Outline comes alive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was refreshing to see the military spirit of teamwork in these young people and the three officers in charge were working just as hard, right along side them.  This little village was even blessed by the presence of our Country Director, Tim Hartman, who brought his family to see American work ethic at it’s best.  He parked his truck near the building site and put on some fun work music for everyone.  Then he and his family joined in for several hours and helped.  They even brought a chocolate cake, which, despite the slightly crunchy texture from the constant dust cloud we were all working in, was delicious and much appreciated!

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Assembly lines move the rocks & blocks

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Tim Hartman does his part

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Tim’s wife does her part too

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Moving dirt one barrow at a time

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Leveling the center

Mmanoko Ampitheatre June 2013_01

Digging for the footings

Mmanoko Ampitheatre June 2013_18

The first of 3 sets of ring walls

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True Teamwork

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Everyone has a part

 

The ARMY photograher and Ray, who donated all the cement

The ARMY photographer and Ray, who’s company  donated all the cement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of a day and half of solid work, we had accomplished a tremendous amount and left the project substantially advanced.

Mmanoko Ampitheatre June 2013_19

A Huge THANK YOU to these great volunteers! (that is our dogie mascot being held up on the far right)

The project moved along substantially but remains with much to do.  It is hoped that perhaps with some help from the American Embassy personnel, we can some day again make another giant step toward it’s completion.

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Worst Day of His Life, Spelling Problems and Corporal Punishment Updates

The Worst Day of his 8 year old Life:  One of our neighbours invited us to play scrabble and upon arrival her 8 year old boy gave me an essay to read titled “The Worst Day of My Life”.  He wrote that his mother dropped him at school in his underwear.  He expressed his humiliation, especially in front of his enemies who laughed loud at him many times over the day.  Some laughed so hard they fell to ground and on each other laughing at him.

I wondered what the real story was and turned to his mother.  She told me he had lost his new shoes and if his shoes were not important to him then neither should his clothe be important.  She ordered him to strip down and then took him to school in his underwear.

When I hear stories like this now – my brain freezes for a moment.  I used to try to think through what was really meant or try and figure out how I misinterpreted what I just heard.  Now I freeze, knowing the story is usually real and try to compose myself for continued conversation in a civil way.

I told her, in my most helpful tone of voice, what she did was horrible.  She acknowledged she probably did go too far as she didn’t really mean to put him in a position that his enemies could laugh at him the whole day.

While the above story isn’t an everyday type of occurrence it does illustrate the little regard there is for children, as not one single person thought it would be appropriate to give this child clothes or to send him home if his mother sent him to school nearly naked to be humiliated the entire day.

At least the child has the inner strength to articulate his feelings and share his shame with his mother and a few others – that is something that I usually don’t see – and I hope it is a tiny step in the process of social change.

 

The day he went to school in his underware was the worst day of this little boys life.

The day he went to school in his underware was the worst day of this little boys life.

Spelling Anyone who has ever worked or schooled with me has noticed my challenges with spelling.  I have kept the existence of spell check on my gratitude list since I discovered it.  Before spell check, my English 101 teacher told me I should look up every single word with more than 6 letters.  Despite my challenge, my spelling ability has continued to improve over the course of my life………… until now.

I always knew British and American spelling differed – but I thought it was contained to words like color and labor.  Another difference is the use of ise instead of ize, sometimes, but not always.  Civilisation is correct but so is agonize.   There are rules about these things but they are so detailed and obscure that learning the rules makes diagramming sentences look like a fun Saturday night activity. So I use whatever the UK English spell checker says to use, and let the locals change it to Botswana brand spelling without request for clarification.

I did not know, until I moved here, there is a differnt set of rules for British grammar when talking of more complicated rules such as progressive tenses and also mundane things like the use of a period (called full stop here) after Mr. and Ms.  At this moment my computer, which is set to British English is telling me Mr. and Ms. are wrong because both abbreviations have a period/full stop after the last letter.

ENGLISH AVAILABLE IN MICROSOFT:

Austria                                 Belize

    Canada                          Caribbean

India                              Ireland

Jamaica                           Malaysia

New Zealand                       Philippines

Singapore                    South Africa

    Trinidad               United Kingdom

United States                     Zimbabwe

 

Another 88 Counties use English as the primary or official language – and I suspect they all imposed their own culture into the language. 

 

I recently learned that nearly 1 Billion people live in countries where English is the primary or official language.  I am so happy I was born in an English speaking county considering my ability to learn new languages. 

 

I also did not know that nearly every country that uses English as its official language has a different version of proper spelling and grammar.  Microsoft  Word has 16 different English languages to choose from.  Botswana seems to have a unique English blend of American, British, South African and an undocumented Botswana.  Most spellings are British, but there are a fair amount of words that are special like councelling.  (Botswana English almost always doubles the last consonant when adding the progressive ing).

Sometimes American use of grammar or spelling is ok – but other times people are adamant that American grammar/spelling cannot be used, more as challenge to American righteousness than rules regarding acceptable writing styles.

In Botswana grammar, past tense often uses a t instead of ed so one says, “I learnt that”, instead of “I learned that.”  The only time it would be proper to use learned is if one wants to say “He is a learned (learn-ed – meaning well educated) man”.  The British spell checker approves “learnt” but the grammar rules say it is not preferred usage.

On top of everything else all the proper nouns here are not in any English dictionary or in spell check and I only spell about 50 per cent (percent is not a word in British English) correctly.

I write a great deal here and people often ask for my help to write tests and reports.  No one ever suggests or questions my construction or grammar, but the spelling is under constant review.

I feel like I am in English 101 and I fear I will feel worse than that when I return to America with 4 other versions of English spelling in my head.

American

British

 

American

British

Trunk of Car Boot Gas Petro
Hood of Car Bonnet Bathroom toilet
Fries Chips Candy Sweet
Garbage Dust Bin To bathe To bath
Corn Maize Courgette Zucchini
Math Maths Fries Chips
Pants Trousers Chips Crisps
Diaper Nappy Cookie Biscuit
Eraser Rubber Soccer Football
Naughts and crosses Tic Tac Toe Cigarette Fag

 

Corporal Punishment Update:  The children are living up to the teachers fear and behaving worse and worse each day.  There are 7 or 8 fights a day at the school, and recently older siblings have been coming to school to get in on some of the brawls.  Yesterday the police were called to break up a huge fight with more than 100 children.  Students don’t attend class and don’t do homework.  Teachers do nothing – waiting to be told how they are supposed to impose a new discipline.

The School Head announced at assembly the children should know that the law does allow for corporal punishment and they should behave.  He said he won’t explain the law to them, but they should know they could still get the stick and better start behaving.

But kids are kids.  I guess I really mean kids are like all other people with a little ability to see long term consequences to such unacceptable behaviour.  If there are no immediate negative consequences for bad behaviour, it will likely rein.

Things are going to get worse before they get better.  It is amazing to me how long it takes adults here to think they may be able to influence a situation and take action.  No one seems to ever want to change the status quo or have to be responsible for “troubles”.  Even in an environment like this – change will happen – it always does.  I hope they  figure this before these children’s education is to badly compromised.

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A whole bunch of Stuff…

(Click any of the images to view in Full Size)

 

Our Dusty Road

I think I wrote about this road in front of our house when we first got here.  It is about a mile and as dusty as any road can be.  I walk it twice a day along with 850 kids, none of whom are remotely aware of the damage being caused to their lungs.  I wear a mask all the time, thanks to Rick Reckamp, but the effects are still there.

The last mile before school requires each child to breath in at least 1T of dust and dung

The Road we all walk down each day!

Dusty Road

So Dusty!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 7 months ago I started a campaign to find out who was responsible for this road and see if they could help with this devastating problem.  To keep a very long, boring, uncomfortable story about my failure after failure, short, I will just say this;  I ended up spending many frustrating hours and a lot of my own money on un-returned phone calls but finally managed to get through to the right people and put enough pressure on them that they finally installed 4 speed bumps on our horrid little road.  This has dramatically reduced the speed that cars travel, which in turn reduces the danger to all us pedestrians of speed and dust!   Although this accomplishment may seem rather mundane, here in Botswana I rate this as one of the most significant accomplishments in my service.

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Speed Bumps on the Road to Kwena Sereto

Ghanzi Metal Music Festival 2013

Each year in early June, Ghanzi, Botwans is host to a music festival that brings together hundreds of young people who share a common interest.  The theme of the music festival is Heavy Metal and metal music enthusiast from all over come to share a fun evening with a variety of bands performing live music while attendees dress appropriate to the theme and share camaraderie.

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Along  with “metal” music not being very popular in Botswana it is also quite misunderstood and misconceptions about the musicians and the followers of this type of music run wild.  Many people think that Heavy Metal enthusiasts are radical, gay, violent, or drug users. It is not a common occurrence in Botswana, to see expressions of individuality that are radically outside the mainstream culture.  However this brave minority, who attended these events and dress and act the parts, are just regular people, the same as anyone else.  They are generally good people who just enjoy a different expression than the vast majority of others.  Although they may look scary or intimidating, they are not violent or angry people and they do not use drugs or alcohol any more than any other group of like kind.

One of the main jobs of the Peace Corp Volunteers is to help people look past labels (such as thoughts that a person with HIV/AIDS must be a bad person) and treat each person fairly.  Occasionally,  I have taken the time to have conversations  with “regular” people about what “kind” of a people like Heavy Metal music.  I always enjoy the surprised looks of disbelief when I tell them I am a 52 year old man, married, educated, hard working and drug free, and I very much enjoy the loud, fast and crazy sounds of Heavy Metal music. This year 3 Peace Corps volunteers from Molepolole and several others from other villages around Botswana joined together to take advantage of this great opportunity to directly reach a prime crowd with an HIV/AIDS message.

We made arrangements with the show producers to address the crowd during the middle of the show.  Carol was the MC and spoke to the excited crowd about the Peace Corps role in Botswana, which is entirely dedicated to issues related to HIV/AIDS including, treatment, prevention, and organizational support.  She also addressed issues about safe sex and the importance of sexual responsibility. The Ghanzi and Molepolole District AIDS Coordinating offices provided us with many boxes of Condoms to be distributed during the event.   The crowd listened intently as Carol pointed out the many Peace Corps Volunteers in the audience who were there to pass out over 1000 condoms.

After the announcements, me and my buddy Nathan went up on stage and played a guitar and drum solo for the raging crowd.  They loved it and we spent the rest of the night getting compliments and listening to people telling us how much they loved it!  It was great time for us!

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Nate and I after our little “Concert”!

Below are links to download videos from our fun.  The first one is a short video of a local band.  The second one is a long (6 minutes) video of our solos.  I had to compress it to reduce its size and lost much of the quality and the audio did not record too well, but it is still fun to watch if you can manage to download them.

Ghanzi Metalfest 2013 Local Band  8.0 MB      Number of Downloads so far: 195

Ghanzi Metalfest 2013 JM and Nate Solos   21.0 MB     Number of Downloads so far: 160

Ghanzi is normally about 7 hours if you drive normal and strait through.  A long way to travel for a very short one night weekend.  We had met a man on a hitch hike several weeks before the event, who offered to drive us there since he was heading that way anyway.  We very gratefully accepted as we recalled the 12 hour hitch hike nightmares we went through last year. However, when he showed up at our door on Friday morning with his junky old car we had doubts about it. He assured us he has never had a drop of alcohol in his whole life, nor ever even tried a cigarette and we had no choice but to believe him so we climbed in.  The trip up took us over 9 hours as we stopped every hour or so for one reason or another and as he drove 80 kph (50 mph) the whole way worrying about his fragile car!  Luckily, we made it safe and sound and on time.  We were not so fortunate on the way back as we made it 3/4 of the way before we had to stop every 20 minutes to add water to his leaky overheating radiator.  It took us more than 10 hours.  Welcome to Africa.

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Our car overheated continually!

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A Cattle Water spigot in the middle of nowhere!

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Others filling water too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letlhakeng Pottery Workshop:

This past Saturday, June 8th, myself and 3 other Peace Corps Volunteers in Molepolole to went to a village about an hour away to host a one day Pottery Workshop.  This was the second one I had done at this school in the past year.  The last one was for 35 students and this one was aimed at the staff and other adults.

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The morning session was focused on Hand Building and included a projector presentation as well as some instructional videos.  Attendees had a couple of hours to get their hands full of clay as they made their own pots. After a surprisingly good lunch was served, the rest of the afternoon was devoted to Wheel Throwing.  I showed some more instructional videos and pictures of my pots and then did a demonstration of wheel throwing. It was a really fun time for me and everyone was very thankful and happy to have participated.

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Molepolole College of Education (MCE) Music Department:

My buddy Nathan lives about 30 minutes from us in a very small village called Mmonoko.  He has no running water and must walk long distances to get anywhere.  He is 26 and has played guitar all his life and is very talented.  There is a College here in Molepolole, on the other side of town (read as two or three taxi rides away) that has probably the best Music Department in the whole country.  Music is not at all developed or appreciated here and its virtually impossible to find musicians with interest beyond traditional extremely simple and basic cultural music. We are more than lucky to have this Music Department in our village and because I have done much computer work for the college, the Dean of the college likes me and has agreed to allow us to come twice a week and teach any interested students about guitars and drums and, in general, about rock and roll music and bands.   There are 51 students in the music curriculm and very few know how to play a single instrument.  Further, there are about 10 staff in the Music Department and not a one of them knows how to play a single instrument.   The school teaches only theory and history but since there is no one who knows how to use the instruments, there is no hands-on teaching at all.  The school has about 20 nice, modern brass instruments, most of which have never even been taken out of the very expensive cases they are in. There are 15 new acoustic guitars, 2 electric guitars, 2 new bass guitars, about 40 very expensive electric pianos, 4 large mixing boards (one of which is a $3,000 top of the line board), a very nice drum set, amplifiers, speaker stacks and lots of other musical equipment. When we first came to the school all of this was locked in the huge, very modern, completely sound proof “practice room” and most of it covered with dust.  This was a band’s dream!  We spent three weeks cleaning everything, organizing, repairing broken items and setting everything up the way a real band would have it. About 30 students came to a meeting we held when we were done to see who would be interested in private (FREE) lessons.   As it turned out, 3 of the 30 actually pursued us and we ended up teaching a few lessons, until they eventually just lost interest. After that Nate and I invited the bassist from our old band to come and so now on Tuesday and Thursdays we enjoy a couple hours of fun playing time in this incredible studio. The pictures below show the really nice drum set, complete with 10 microphones going to that fabulous 30 channel mixer board.   Note that the mics are propped up on old broken speakers, taped to broken drum sticks as boom extensions, and in general, just rigged to work.  This is how we do it all here in Africa.

MCE Miked Drum Set 2 MCE Miked Drum Set 1

Top 10 Items our Friends and Family have sent us that have helped us survive better!

0)     Double Bass Drum Pedal and good Drum Sticks!

                      1)      Face Masks for the dusty road                         6)      Coffee Press

                      2)      Movie Projector                                                7)      Gorilla Glue

                      3)      Big Screen PC Monitor                                     8)      Listerine Mouthwash

                      4)      Lightweight clothes                                           9)      Knife Sharpener

                      5)      Flannel Pajamas                                             10)      Endless DVDs!

You are all life savers!

 

Our Little Spider:

The other night our dogs were barking in the yard and when i went to see why, they had cornered this little Tarantula.  It was about 8 inches from tip to tip.  It was night so I had a flash light and could see its white fangs displayed when the dogs got too close and it reared up in defense!

Trantula in our Yard

 

And of course, what post would be complete without some little mention of our puppies…

 Rati

Our little Rati just after her first (very disagreeable) grooming!
Phoenix

Our  beautiful little Phi Phi after her first grooming.

Fif Fi and Rati After Grooming Fi Fi After Grooming Rati and Phoenix after grooming Rati after Grooming 1

and last but not least,  a Doggie Feast fit for a King!

 

Feast for a King

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