You Should Watch, Listen, Read, and Do These

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, there is a lot of ‘down time’. The work culture is more relaxed, your social life is different, and most of the time there is no need to be outside after it gets dark. With that being said, here is my recommendations for books, podcasts, tv shows, movies, and things to do. A short disclaimer: These are books, movies, etc. that I have read or seen during service as well as some of my all-time favorites.

Books

I will start with my favorite category: books. I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember which is probably a result of my mom being an elementary school teacher who did her Master’s thesis on reading. I enjoy reading just about anything but lately have really being enjoying nonfictional books (particularly on development practices), Christian works, and classics.

Here are some that I have read while being in Botswana and would recommend:

  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (Thank you Mrs. Foss!)
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • In the Company of the Poor by Dr. Paul Farmer and FR. Gustavo Guierrez
  • Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
  • When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Finkkert
  • Bread and Wine by Shana Neiquist
  • The Ladies Number One Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
  • To Kill a Mocking Bird by Maya Angelou
  • Crazy Love by Francis Chan

These are next on my ‘To Read’ list:

  • The Cursed Child (Harry Potter) By J.K. Rolling
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • I Believe in Zero by Caryl Stern
  • Led by Faith by Immaculee Ilibagiza
  • Middle March by George Eliot
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • Poor Economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
  • Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
  • Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemogld and James Robinson

Podcasts

I listen to podcasts all the time. I listen on the bus, when I do my laundry, and when I cook. They are fantastic and so informative.

TED Radio on NPR is the BEST, check out the following talks:

  • Making Mistakes
  • Solving It
  • Courage

Eternal Leadership is FANTASTIC as well, some I really enjoyed are:

  • Essentialism
  • Becoming a Kingdom Leader
  • Live a Successful and Significant Life

Dirtbag Diaries

Serial – this is my next series to get ahold of

Music

I go through huge music phases and it just depends on my mood and what is available to me. I have been on a bit of a binge of the following artists:

  • Freshly Ground – went to their concert in Gaborone which was amazing
  • Hillsong United
  • Trampled by Turtles
  • Various African Artists

TV Shows

I have always been a fan of shows about the world (Blue plants, BBCs nature’s most amazing events, etc) which I think began with watching Secrets of the Ocean Realm with my dad when I was younger. I am currently watching The West Wing which is a great show for those who have not seen it yet.

  • The West Wing
  • Human Planet – AMAZING, everyone should see this
  • Planet Earth – My personal favorite

Movies

I am not a big movie person but some of my favorites are:

  • Miracle
  • Shawshank Redemption
  • Remember the Titans
  • The Lion King
  • The Breakfast Club
  • RENT
  • 7 Years in Tibet
  • Saving Private Ryan

Workouts

The list would not be complete if I didn’t talk about what I did to keep healthy in my free time. I like to run but for now am switching over to more resistance and body weight training. I have found these to be great resources:

  • Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide
  • Sean T’s Insanity Work Out Videos
  • Various Yoga Videos, Podcasts, and PDFs

Recopies

As I have previously mentioned I no longer measure things and have little access to the modern conveniences (grocery stores, certain kinds of foods, ample counter space, etc) but cooking has become a great outlet for spare time and creativity. Here are some of my favorites:

Hummus served with vegetables for dipping

  • Chick peas or garbanzo beans (mashed with fork)
  • Tahini sauce
  • EVOO
  • Lemon juice
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cumin
  • Paprika

Pancakes

  • Flour
  • Honey
  • Oatmeal
  • Cinnamon
  • Salt
  • Baking powder
  • Egg
  • Oil
  • Water
  • Fruit like apples or bananas
  • Peanut butter for topping

Omelet

  • Egg
  • Avocado
  • Peppers
  • Onion
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Spices – garlic, parsley, mixed herbs, etc.
  • Cheese – goat is my favorite

Curry and Chappati (or roti, nan, tortilla – whatever you prefer to call it

  • Vegetables
  • Maybe meat or beans
  • Curry powder and random other spices
  • Coconut milk

For the chappati

  • Flour
  • Water
  • Oil
  • Salt
  • Mix all ingredients, kneed, roll out, and fry or bake

Salad with dressing

  • Lettuce
  • Cucumber
  • Carrots
  • Tomato
  • Onion
  • Pepper
  • Maybe a fruit like a pear or raisin
  • Maybe a seed or nut like semame seeds or walnuts
  • Maybe a protein like tuna or an egg

Balsamic Dressing

  • Dijon mustard
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Happy watching, listening, reading, moving, and eating!

Watch Out Africa

“Watch out Africa” was what someone said when they heard that Abby and Keely would be visiting me for almost three weeks. The three of us have been friends for about 10 years, but have not been together for over a year. You can imagine how exciting it was to plan this reunion, let alone live out the experience. This morning I sent my two best friends off on a plane back home, but the memories we made, discussions we had, and adventures we experienced together will last a life time.

 

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This trip came at the perfect time because it marked almost a year since I came to Botswana as a Peace Corps Volunteer, it was summer vacation for Keely after her first year teaching, and was a period of time after Abby graduated from nursing school and before she started her new job as a cardiac nurse. You can say that God knew we needed an adventure together.

I get antsy when I know that something of this caliber is coming up and cannot stop talking or thinking about it. I left for the Francistown airport with excited anticipation, and upon arrival was greeted with huge hugs and impressive amounts of energy from Abs and Keel since they had been traveling for over two days straight. We stayed in a hotel for the first night and spent time catching up on life. A lot can happen in over a year, and somethings just cannot be expressed properly over the phone.

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Now there seems to be a theme to me traveling and getting sick because I literally had digestive issues our first night together and for the next 3 days (TMI??? Sorry not sorry). Anyway, we got our first dose of public transportation (not the ideal place to have digestive issues seeing as there are no bathrooms on buses, but I made it, thank goodness) in Botswana traveling up to Victoria’s Falls where we saw multiple wild elephants, giraffes, and warthogs. We met up with other Peace Corps volunteers from my cohort and crossed the border to Zimbabwe.

We all stayed at the Victoria’s Falls backpackers which was a fun and quirky place full of interesting people. We met PCVs from other countries, individuals who were volunteering in Botswana, and people who were just traveling around. It was a blast to get to know all of these individuals and hear their stories.

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The main reason that so many people were going to Vic Falls this particular weekend was the Vic Falls Marathon on July 3rd. We had been training for the half marathon (some more than others), and this was my first ever half marathon. The morning of the race was fantastic. There was so much energy in the air you could just feel the electricity. The race began with a run over the bridge from Zimbabwe to Zambia and a view of the falls – what better view could you ask for when running 13.1 miles? In general, the course was hilly but absolutely beautiful. I finished my first half with a time of 2:34. However, I really don’t care about the time. It was a great experience. I would not consider myself a runner, in fact I struggled to run a mile five years ago, but I think this race was a testament for me that I can do whatever I put my mind to. I tried for years in high school to be a ‘runner’ but absolutely dreaded the 2 mile run we did each year for soccer tryouts. It was in college, when I had a roommate who was on the UW track team (Jess – that’s you), that I attempted to start running. Jess encouraged me a lot in this process and I cannot thank her enough. Who knows what I will do next? After the race my health took a turn for the worst so I stayed close to a bathroom while Abby and Keely enjoyed bungee jumping and a cultural dinner experience at Boma complete with game meat, togas, and drums.

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The next day was American Independence Day, the good old 4th of July. I usually go to my family cabin on Leech Lake for the 4th, but that was not feasible this year. Instead we decided to celebrate with a white water rafting trip on the Zambezi River. I would HIGHLY recommend this as it is considered one of the best commercial rafting experiences in the world and I understand why. Before we began the trip our guides explained multiple scenarios of what was going to happen – when you fall out do this, when you flip do this…. WHAT?! Don’t you try to avoid flipping? Well, yes, but that is just not entirely possible here. This section of the Zambezi has class 2 to 5 rapids and we went through rapids 11 to 23. In my boat was Stewart, our guide, myself, Abby, Keely, 2 PCVs and one of their friends, and two wonderful individuals from Canada who are volunteers in Botswana. We hiked down a gorge to the start of our river rafting experience where we met up with a caravan of rafts and rescue kayaks. We paddled, hit rapid after rapid, fell out, got rescued, swam, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was one of my favorite activities of our trip. At the end we hiked out of the gorge and had a great lunch. After the rafting trip we went to see the falls. I can see why they are one of the 7 wonders of the world as they are a spectacle to see. The sound is almost deafening at points, there is a perpetual rainbow, and the mist makes it seem like its always raining… magical. After the falls, we had a dinner, and while there were no fireworks, it was a great 4th of July.

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img-20160720-wa0087.jpgThe next day we traveled back to Botswana where we picked up our rental car. It was quite interesting to drive at all (I have not driven a car in about a year) let alone drive on the opposite side of the road, but we managed throughout the entire trip. We got pizza and milk shakes and went to an animal sanctuary where we held a snake and bush babies. However, our main objective of the day was to get Abby’s luggage as it had been lost in Johannesburg. The Francistown airport put in a lost luggage request, found the bag, got it to the airport, and gave it to a random bus driver to meet us in the Kasane bus rank. It all worked out and we watched the sunset over margaritas at the Chobe river.

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Then began our Namibian leg of the trip. We were doing self-drive through Namibia and a LONG self-drive at that. I wanted to fit in as much of Northern Namibia as we could on this trip, which meant a few long driving days. However, some of these days were the best because we spent time doing a devotional, having great discussions, and just gave us time to enjoy one another’s company.

We drove through the Caprivi Strip (the small skinny strip of Namibian land between Botswana and Angola), which is a very traditional and remote area, to our first stop – Ngepi Camp. Ngepi is a really neat place with camping, bush huts, tree houses, and outdoor showers and toilets all on the river. Our first day we swam in the river which we considered a kind of free cage dive with crocodiles and hippos. We also met a bunch of really interesting people including a Namibian entrepreneur who is moving to Canada to start a agricultural and technology business, a South African man who was determined that we would try everything from African beer to homemade jerky, and two individuals who are exploring unchartered areas of the Okavango Delta in Angola (check out the upcoming documentary Into the Okavango for more information – seriously its so cool).

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We camped the first night at Ngepi making our dinner over the fire and sleeping in my tent. It seems like people in Southern Africa do some pretty intense camping as massive canvas safari tents, campers with fully catering kitchens, and some vehicles the size of semis seemed to make up the bulk of our neighboring campers. We looked a bit funny in our Subaru, a little 3 person tent, and minimal gear.

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The next day we went on a mokoro ride which is like a traditional canoe in the morning where we saw some hippos. Then we decided that the tree houses were just too cool not to try out so we rented a tree house right on the river and spent the day enjoying the sun and our new neat accommodation. Disclaimer: I think everywhere should have outdoor showers and toilets. They are SO COOL. There is really nothing like taking a shower and seeing the sky or looking across the river and seeing elephants.

Our next stop was Etosha National Park which is renowned for its animal life. We saw herds of wild beast, zebras, spring bock, jackals, bush buck, giraffe, elephant, and even a lion.

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Now our few days traveling to/from Etosha was a lot of car time so we all were ready to get outdoors and be active. Spitzkoppe was the perfect place for this. I had taken screen shots of directions from Google maps to each of our destinations and when we turned off the main road on our way to Spitzkoppe, Abby commented, “Kenz, are you sure this is right, and if so, then where on earth are you taking us?” It turned out to be a delightful surprise. Spitzkoppe is known (apparently) as the best rock climbing place in Namibia as well as an area with San rock paintings. The rock formations rise majestically out of the desert creating a mythical look. We spent the day exploring different hiking paths up the mountain which was fun as well as a work out.

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From Spitz we traveled West to the town of Swakopmund on the ocean. It was quite a contrast to go from the desert to the ocean. Swakop is a swanky German influenced sea side town that I adored at first sight. We stayed at Skeleton Beach Backpackers which is about 50 yards from the beach and full of interesting people. We ate sushi and spent the day on the sand. The next day we decided to learn to surf. I have always wanted to try it because I thought I would really like it and I was correct. We struggled into our wet suits courtesy of Element Riders, had a short lesson, and jumped into the waves. While we never actually ‘rode’ a wave all three of us did stand up at some point. It was a blast paddling, eyeing up various waves, and attempting to catch one. When we were done our instructor offered to let us go again the next day to which we agreed. After our surfing experience we rode camels in the desert. It was a day full of new experiences to be sure.

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The next day we went surfing again. We tried to sand up on our boards and watch dolphins. I think I could take up surfing as a regular hobby and perhaps will make it a priority for the next place I live. Something I did not mention is that there are PCVs all over the world, Namibia included. I was wearing a Peace Corps shirt while we were grocery shopping in Swakop when someone stopped me and asked, “Are you a Peace Corps?” she was as well and she invited us out to see her assignment area. She was assigned to an arts and crafts center and technical school, so on our way out of town we stopped to check it out. It was filled with beautiful handmade baskets, paintings, wall hangings, fabrics, beaded jewelry, leather goods, and other crafts. We got a tour of the facility and learned about the artisans and mission of the center which I really enjoyed.

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From there we continued on, until our Subaru started having issues. Now the last thing you want is to have car issues in a place as remote as Namibia. We stopped at the nearest gas station and were assisted by a mob of Shell workers. They topped off our oil and coolant and away we went. This day was basically all driving because we wanted to get as close to the Namibian/Botswana border as possible. We drove through Windhoek which was a challenge because NOTHING was labeled and the google maps directions were not accurate. It was a bit of a stressful day and we ended up sleeping in the car. The next day we almost got detained at the border due to our visas and then had a major car break down in Botswana just south of Maun. The only thing I can say about all of this is traveling with Abby and Keely is great because at no point did any of us freak out (although some choice words were said) and we did the best we could with the resources we had and circumstances we were in. I would travel with them any day. I also think that these kind of experiences are part of traveling and having adventures and the way you respond to challenges makes all the difference. We made it safely back to my village in decent time.

I did not plan anything for the time in my village prior to the trip, but I was extremely excited for people from back home to see my home in Botswana. And, as chance would have it, Ambassador Earl Miller who is the US ambassador to Botswana was in the area right as we would be arriving in G20160715_104108.jpgweta. We set up a time for him to come to the clinic. It was quite the event with many pictures taken with clinic staff, good discussion about the community and facilities with my supervisors, and a great cultural exchange for all involved. The Ambassador invited us for dinner and we set up a little excursion to the salt pans. In between all the excitement I had the opportunity to show Abby and Keely around my community. We saw the health care facilities, visited the middle school, and met various community members. It was one of m20160715_1033120.jpgy favorite parts of the trip – introducing my best friends to my community and sharing the culture of my community with my best friends. That afternoon we took a trip to see the meercats (I LOVE meercats I think they are my favorite African animal besides the kudu), visited the remains of the massive Chapmans Baobab tree, took a jumping picture on the salt pans, and enjoyed a lovely fire and dinner at Planet Baobab. A HUGE thank you the Ambassador Miller.

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The next day we had planned to do a bunch of activities but to be honest we were worn out so we ended up hanging out at my house laughing, talking, debriefing about the trip, eating delicious food, drinking mimosas, and watching movies. It felt just like old times. Our last full day together was low key as well. We stayed in a hotel, ate Indian food and ice cream, and played some games. I appreciate the depth of our friendship where we understand things about one another that most people would probably miss. I feel like their families are my own. We can have conversations about faith, the world, our lives, and anything under the sun. There were a lot of things we took away from this trip: new experiences, a stronger friendship, a continued thirst for adventure, a stronger love for the Lord, and ideas that challenge the way we view the world. It is incredible when a trip is more than just having fun but is also a profound experience.

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Now, I sit writing this as Abs and Keel are enroute back to the States and I am so thankful for the unique experiences we have had together and for our rare friendship.

Peace Corps 101: A Guide to Becoming and Being a PCV

 

So you are thinking of joining the Peace Corps…… and even if you are not view the ‘Videos, Blogs, and Other Resources to Check Out’ about half way down the page for a look at PC life and have a good laugh.

The Basics: What, Who, Where, and Why of Peace Corps

The Peace Corps is a volunteer program through the American government that was started in 1961 by John F. Kennedy to promote world peace and friendship through service abroad.

Excerpt from the Peace Corps Act (22 U.S.C. sec. 2501)

The Congress of the United Sates declares that it is the policy of the United Sates and the purpose of this Act to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United Sates qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower, particularly in meeting the basic needs of those living in the poorest areas of such countries, and to help promote a better understanding of the American people on the part of people served and a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people.

The Three Goals of Peace Corps:

  1. Meet need for trained manpower
  2. Increase understanding of Americans
  3. Increase understanding of other people by Americans

Core Expectations of Peace Corps Volunteers:

  1. Prepare yourself for 27 months
  2. Commit to improving the quality of life of the people with whom you live and work (share your skills and learn new ones)
  3. Serve where PC asks, under conditions of hardship, with flexibility
  4. Integrate yourself into your host community and culture respectfully because successful and sustainable development is based on local trust and confidence
  5. Be ‘on duty’ 24/7
  6. Engage with host country partners with cooperation, mutual learning, and respect
  7. Behave according to PC and local rules and regulations
  8. Exercise judgement and personal responsibility to protect your health, safety, and wellbeing of others
  9. Represent the United States
  10. Represent your host country

 

“Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us”

– Sargent Shriver (first PC director)

 

Who Serves?

Peace Corps is for American citizens over the age of 18 ready to leave in a year or less.

There have been over 220,000 individuals who have served in the Peace Corps since its start and there are currently around 6900 serving overseas.

Notable RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) are: Bob Vela from Home Improvement, Chris Matthews from MSNBC, Lillian Carter, Reed Hasing of Netflix, Peter Hesseler from NYT and NPR, and China Hudson from WWE

The average age of a Peace Corps volunteer is 28.

There is a wide array of individuals who serve all with different backgrounds, ages, life stages, ethnic groups, races, marital statuses, sexual orientations, etc.

What Do You Do?

As a Peace Corps volunteer you live and work in a community for two years.

There are 6 different sectors in which Peace Corps Volunteers work:

  • Education
  • Health
  • Agriculture
  • Youth in Development
  • Community and Economic Development
  • Environment

These are very broad categories and what you will actually do on a day to day basis varies greatly not only from program to program but country to country and individual to individual.

Where Do You Serve?

Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 140 countries since the start, and currently serve in 60 to 65 countries depending on the political climate, safety concerns, etc.

Different areas that you can serve:

  • Latin America
  • Caribbean
  • North Africa and Middle East
  • Africa
  • Eastern Europe and Central Asia
  • Asia
  • Pacific Islands

 

Where Volunteers Go

Where Volunteers Serve

Each country has its own program and while the ultimate goals are the same each program is run very differently. To give you an idea:

Peace Corps Botswana

Peace Corps Botswana started in 1966 when the country gained Independence and lasted until 1997 where volunteers served primarily in educational roles. Then there was a brief break until 2003 when PC was asked back to assist with the AIDS epidemic. There are over 100 volunteers currently serving in Botswana under the health and youth in development sectors. There are 4 different assignment areas: Life skills (who are based in schools but not teaching), Clinic and Health (based in clinic and district level health facilities but not nurses or doctors), Local Government Capacity Building (based in social work and District AIDS Coordinating offices), and NGO Capacity Building (work with NGOs, CBOs, and nonprofit organizations). The framework we work under involves teaching life skills, doing work with HIV prevention, capacity building organizations (i.e. supply chain management), and assisting with programs that provide care and support for individuals living with HIV. Each intake group over the past few years has been between 70 and 80 with a wide range diverse individuals.

Well, Why Would You Do That [Join Peace Corps]?

Why did I join?

  • To serve
  • Love people and build relationships
  • Challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone
  • Experience a new culture
  • Pursue my passions

I wrote these reasons multiple times before I applied, when I applied, while interviewing, during staging, and even today.

There are benefits to Peace Corps Service:

  • Opportunity to serve country by promoting peace and friendship
  • Offering your skills and meeting the needs of individuals abroad
  • Training (language, cross cultural, etc.) opportunities
  • Living stipend, readjustment allowance, and financial assistance
  • Opportunities for employment and graduate school
  • Chance to see a different part of the world
  • Experiencing living in another culture and exposure to new things
  • Making friends in a new part of the world
  • Travel
  • Chance for personal growth and challenge

Well that sounds like a sweet deal….

There are also some big challenges

  • 27 months away from family, friends, and people you love most
  • Isolation and feeling alone
  • Adaptation of a different life style and culture (pace of life, treatment of animals and children, view of work, different foods, access to resources, gender norms, etc.)
  • Emotional stresses such as being different or having to change parts of your identity
  • Unwanted attention and harassment

Just to name a few.

Peace Corps is a challenging yet rewarding experience to be sure.

 

The Application Process

Before you even begin the application process I would suggest:

  1. Doing an internal inventory on why you want to join the Peace Corps
  2. Doing your research: look at online resources, speak to a recruiter, talk to currently serving volunteers about what their experience is like, and connect with RPCVs (returned Peace Corps volunteers) to hear about what their service meant to them
  3. Check out the different opportunities available on https://peacecorps.gov

Once you have contemplated whether you want to join the application process begins. The application is shorter and asks your basic information and qualifications, has a brief essay, and asks for two individuals (one personal and one professional) to act as references. Over all it is pretty painless compared to what it used to be.

In the application you get to view all the open service opportunities: what the job description is, where it is, when you would leave, etc. and you rank your choices and submit…..

Then you wait. I waited months which is probably because I applied over a year in advance.

Finally, you will get a nomination which will specify the service opportunity and country, neither of which are guaranteed.  Then you will have an interview (mine was an over an hour skype conversation) where I was asked about why I wanted to join the Peace Corps, which one of the core expectations I may have difficulty fulfilling, and various aspects of my ability to adapt like: are you willing to live without electricity and/or running water? or what are your normal coping mechanisms and how would you go about coping if you couldn’t cope in your normal way? Then you thank the interviewer for their time, ask them some questions, and say goodbye.

It took less than a week for me to get my acceptance but that varies from individual to individual.

 

Videos, Blogs, and Other Resources to Check Out

Poop in a Hole – video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koUWaAr-itY

So you want to Join the Peace Corps – video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-wDq17zyN0

Blogs

http://whatshouldpcvscallme.tumblr.com/

http://howapcvputsitgently.tumblr.com/

http://kullyum.tumblr.com/

10 Things I Wish I knew Before Joining Peace Corps

http://www.gooverseas.com/blog/10-things-wish-knew-joining-peace-corps

Reasons you shouldn’t and should join Peace Corps

https://www.themuse.com/advice/4-reasons-you-shouldnt-join-the-peace-corps-and-1-you-should

PC Bots

https://youtube.com/watch?v=UreBOoRoLT&feature=youtu.be

PC Bots Blogs

http://mobleyfamily.info/?page_id=4230

http://peacetomycore.wordpress.com

Learn Setswana

http://www.youtube.com/user/LearningSetswana

Facebook pages for PCVs are great. Here in Botswana we have a PCV Bots page as well as a group for each group i.e. Bots 15, 16, 17, etc.

Lessons Learned and Words of Wisdom from Current PCVs

  • “Own your service”
  • “It will be the hardest job you will ever love”
  • “Learn to laugh at yourself”
  • “Laugh even when you want to cry”
  • “Peace Corps is 90% psychological”
  • “Be flexible”
  • “Just keep swimming”/ “Preserve”/ “Anything temporary is doable”
  • “Stay positive”
  • “Prioritize self-care”/ “Learn your limits and stick to them” / “Prepare coping skills accordingly”
  • “Remember you are in a controlled environment”
  • When packing remember that “you are not going on a camping trip” (although you may go on a few camping trips)
  • “You will have to adjust to a new climate (both culturally and geographically) so come prepared”
  • “Download your VRF” (Volunteer Reporting Form) and anything you could want to download (aps, computer programs, videos, music, etc) for that matter before coming
  • “Eat all the taco bell” (or your food of choice aka enjoy your favorite things before you leave)
  • “Pay your private loans” and “figure out your student loans” and “save money for vacations”

 

The Acceptance Process

I got the acceptance email while I was at work. Then after reading the email multiple times and having a wide range of emotions flood my being from euphoria to terror within 5 minuets I decided to call it a day early. Then, I called people to share the news of the acceptance. My family and friends were very supportive. I had prepped them before time so they were aware of the commitment and accepted my news with bitter sweet feelings.

You have to officially accept the nomination, but that is the only beginning. From there you begin a series of portals: medical, background, safety, and a bunch I don’t even remember.

This is a LONG process and Peace Corps needs to clear you on a TON of fields before you can be officially ready to depart. I think I blocked a lot of it from my memory to be honest as I was finishing my last semester of college while doing this, but here is what I remember.

Medical:

  • A barrage of questions
  • A medical appointment that covers every aspect of you possible (doctor signature needed)
  • A dentist appointment with papers to sign, xrays to upload, and multiple fillings
  • A eye appointment (new glasses and contacts….. shhh don’t tell Peace Corps as they recommend not bringing contacts)
  • Vaccines: Rabies, Boosters, Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Hep A, B, and/or C, Meningitis, etc – basically everything and what you don’t get now you will get in country
  • Medications: We did not need to get malaria medications for Botswana because only volunteers in the North need them (I am now on malaria meds) however you will need at least a 3 month supply of any medication.

Background check:

  • Get fingerprinted and pass

Various learning portals:

  • I truly do not remember the specifics but I know there was a safety and security and a country specific that covers whether or not you need to get a visa and such

Paper work:

  • You get a Peace Corps passport (got my pictures taken at Walgreens), upload an updated resume, write an aspiration statement, a mini bio, and probably a few more things that I truly don’t remember.

Flight Booking:

  • You book a flight from your home of record to what’s called your staging site

 

Then once you get that all done comes the important stuff…. Your personal life

 

Preparing Your Personal Life

Student loans, Finances, Banking, etc. aka everyone’s favorite topic….

Banking: keep your bank accounts at home because you will use them for travel but know that you will be given one in country.  Contact your bank(s) and tell them the situation (that you will be living abroad for 27 months and where exactly you will be), and make sure there is someone on your account who can access it if need be.

Finances: This depends on the individual but make sure you just communicate with whoever is managing them

Student Loans: This also depends, private or government, interest rates, ability to pay, future plans, etc. There are a few options like pay them off (either all at once if you can do that or schedule automatic payments), defer (talk to your loan provider but PC service should be a condition to defer them), or PSLF (Public Service Loan Forgiveness). I opted for PSLF because it just makes sense for me. You can get more information about it at the PSLF website. Getting my loans taken care of was a hassle because there are certain time frames that papers need to be signed and turned in (grace periods, dates you start working for the company, etc). My advice on student loans is try to work it out before you go and get power of attorney (I printed the POA sheets from my home states government page) so you can have someone back in the States sort things out for you if need be.

Insurance: I am a personal believer in being over prepared rather than under prepared. I got life insurance through Peace Corps as well as personal property insurance (for what? Because its not like I have much but I got it anyway) through Clements.

Technology

Phone: Call your company. Your options will probably be to cancel your plan or pay for the cell company to save your number. I would suggest unlocking your phone so that you can get a sim card in country, getting a life proof phone case, and choosing carefully what aps you have on it because it is VERY difficult to find strong enough wifi to download or update aps (I would HIGHLY recommend having whats ap, facebook lite, gmail or whatever email you use, and facebook messanger – there are other aps that I only use occasionally such as regular facebook and skype for when I get wifi, google maps for when I am traveling, wordpress for my blog, maps.me for mapping projects, and google drive)

Computer: I got a cheap basic computer with antivirus and Microsoft office and I am so glad I did because viruses are rampant, the environment is hard on technology, and replacement parts for apple products are difficult to come by.

What to buy: 1 TB external storage hard drive because you will want it then put things on it (music, workout videos, movies, tv shows, personal videos of family and friends, books, things you want to work on, cook books, etc), ereader like a Kindle (the batteries last forever), find what adapters your host country uses and get them before you leave the US, bring extra chargers and headphones, and download everything you could possible want before you come and put it on your hard drive

Misc.

Female things: I would recommend ecofriendly tampons, reusable cups like the diva cup, or an IUD but be warned with an IUD though that there are implication with Peace Corps medical requirements so check into it before you make a decision.

Relationships: I spent the three months after graduation and before leaving for the Peace Corps spending time with friends and family, writing letters to everyone, and preparing myself and the people I love most for goodbye. It was great being able to spend time with the people and enjoy some of my favorite things before I left. I am also in a long distance relationship while in Peace Corps. The best advice I have for relationships back home is to prep them well in advance about your desire to join Peace Corps, spend ample time with one another before you leave, and then be patient when figuring out what the best mode of communication is in your host country.

Other: Spend time just enjoying amenities of the USA before you leave – eat your favorite foods, do your favorite activities, etc.

Packing

You are packing up your life for two years which is not the easiest task in the world. Some people can leave their stuff right where it is, others sell everything, some get storage units, I packed all my stuff in boxes and stored it in a relative’s building. The bigger question is what do I bring?

I will start by saying that what you bring wholly depends on you as a person bring what you need to be comfortable. My items that I am so glad I brought:

  1. Computer (one that is not top of the line)
  2. Smart phone (should have unlocked it before I left)
  3. Kindle (I am a reader)
  4. Chacos (I brought two pairs and wear them all the time)
  5. Tennis shoes (running is part of my coping)
  6. French Press (jet boil is like a French press for camping)
  7. Kitchen Knives (good ones are hard to come by here)
  8. Sleeping bag (I like to camp)
  9. Yoga mat (aka hobbies to pick up as well as a good coping mechanism)
  10. Personal items (pictures, letters, maps, Bible, Journal, and things that I enjoy)

Bring things you can work on like hobbies (gardening, exercise, knitting, computer programs, language books, musical instrument, etc)

Also Take advantage of discounts for PCVs. There is a wiki out there which has all the stores you can get a discount or perk for being a PCV (think Chacos, Kelty, etc).

My Packing List

Peace Corps Packing List

  • 1 suitcase and 1 backpack (two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) should not exceed 100 pounds total with a maximum weight of 50 pounds per bag)
  • 1 carry on (45 in max)
  • 1 personal item
  • With luggage tags and locks

Clothing/shoes

(A range of casual to proper dress wear – summer and winter, bring clothes you LIKE to wear, wrinkle free, prem press, that can stand up to handwashing and keep in mind you want to be culturally appropriate aka no miniskirts, short shorts, etc.)

  • 2 bras
  • 5 sport bras
  • 20-30 pairs of underwear
  • 3 wool socks
  • 2 liner socks
  • 5 regular socks
  • 2 flat socks
  • 2 spandex
  • 3 tanks
  • 5 shirts
  • 3 running shirts
  • 2 pjs
  • 2 dressy shirts (bus cas)
  • 3 dress
  • 2 slacks (bus cas)
  • 4 leggings
  • 2 skirts
  • 3 shorts (running)
  • 3 pants
  • 2 sweatshirts
  • 1 flannel
  • 2 sweater
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 Jacket (warm)
  • 1 Rain gear
  • 1 hiking boots
  • 1 tennis shoes
  • 2 pair of dress shoes
  • 1 extra pair of niceish shoes
  • 2 chacos
  • gloves/hat/scarf material (I plan to learn to knit)
  • belt
  • 2 tights

Electronics

  • Kindle
  • laptop
  • smart phone
  • adaptor cords
  • extra chargers
  • external hard drive (1.5 TB)
  • flash drives (32 G)
  • Adaptors (M and G)
  • Headphones (multiple pairs)
  • Head lamp/flashlights with extra batteries
  • portable charger

Kitchen

  • JetBoil french press
  • wine opener
  • 10 in nonstick pan
  • knives (paring, chopping, serrated cutting)
  • spices (cinnamon, garlic, pepper, salt, curry, cilantro, cumin, cayenne, paprika, chili powder)
  • Insulated coffee mug or thermos with lid (double as wine glass in evenings)
  • tea and coffee
  • Travel/American snacks (granola bars, trail mix, beef jerky)

Personal Items

  • 3-month supply of: Sunscreen, old spice fiji deodorant, lotion, qtip, shampoo, soap, conditioner, medication
  • facewash (gentle because of the harsh and dry environment)
  • face moisturizer
  • toothbrush, tooth paste, floss, mouthwash
  • nail clippers, tweezers
  • small mirror
  • night guard
  • hand sanitizer, wipes,
  • razor/blades
  • feminine hygiene products
  • quick dry towel
  • 2 washcloths
  • 2 pair glasses
  • contacts
  • contact solution
  • makeup basics (mascara, foundation – darker than usual)
  • Hair clips/hair ties/headbands/bobby pins/comb
  • Chap stick
  • dry shampoo

Misc.

  • Sleeping bag
  • Hammock with tarp
  • Leatherman multi-tool
  • dry bag
  • small rope2 water bottles
  • watch
  • good pens
  • notebook
  • journal
  • duct tape
  • Ziploc bags
  • lighter
  • stationery/envelopes (for writing home)
  • Reusable shopping bags
  • 2 sunglasses
  • hat
  • Scarves
  • scissors
  • Some paper books (Bible)
  • jewelry
  • Yoga mat
  • Games (cards, dice, Frisbee, soccer ball, ball pump, etc.)
  • forms (loan, immunizations, passport copies, pc invitation, etc.)
  • bank cards
  • host family gifts (USA maps and pictures)
  • maps/picture book
  • travel pillow
  • money belt
  • passport photos

My Thoughts, Updates, and Additions

Think consumable vs long term – do you want to bring things that will last two years or things (like food) that you truly enjoy and will be a great temporary pick me up

  • I love command strips for hanging things on the wall
  • Art supplies is always great for yourself or for the kiddos
  • Bring good pens because they are always hard to come by
  • Snacks and coffee are great always but are consumable
  • Local maps are super fun
  • I like camping so I wish I would have brought my full array of camping stuff

You can always buy more things but it just may take some patience because you may not be able to get them right away Also be warned that a lot of the things you buy will be of lesser quality. Your favorite brands may also be harder to get.

You will also have the opportunity to get traditional clothing made so don’t freak out too much.

Peace Corps does provide things but it depends on your program when you will get them. In Botswana you will get: a fully stocked medical kit, medications although it may not be your brand of choice, blanket, sheet set, pillow (of questionable quality), bucket, soap, laundry detergent, towel, money for each stage of service (PST walk around allowance, settling in allowance help buy one time things when you first get to site like curtains, official Peace Corps travel fund, etc), fire extinguisher, air horn, water filter, and in Botswana we got flash drives with a bunch of resources on them.

Then when you have everything packed, your flights to your staging set, it’s time to hop on a place to begin your adventure.

Staging

Staging is a whirlwind. It is basically how Peace Corps get everyone in same place (and does a little crash course) before you leave the country.  You all consolidate at a hotel (mine was in NJ), then you spend time getting to know each other, you have a few sessions on what Peace Corps is, what to expect, etc., you get all your papers signed, go over logistics from when you leave the hotel to when you arrive in country, and you have your last meal and night in the States.

Staging is also a time to reflect on what you want for your Peace Corps experience and decide if service is truly for you.

My feelings during staging:

Anxieties – not loving people back home enough, not giving enough of myself to those I am serving, and language

Aspirations – build relationships, learn a lot, speak a new language, learn new skills, serve in whatever capacity is required of me, challenge myself, explore a different country, travel Africa, and go to traditional gatherings

It was an exhilarating time for sure.

Arriving in Country

Props to Peace Corps for handling the movement of almost 80 people and over 160 pieces of luggage to a different continent because that is a logistical nightmare. Travel was long, that is all I have to say. Arriving in country was exciting though. We were received right away by a Peace Corps Botswana member who guided us through immigration, customs, getting our baggage, and transporting us to our accommodations.

We spent a few days recovering from jet lag and getting acclimated in a hotel. During those few days we got an orientation, met staff, bonded with fellow volunteers, retrieved all our luggage, had medical interviews, got emergency language lessons, received basic in-country needs like a phone, got bank accounts and immigration stamps, etc.

Then after all was said and done we headed to our training village to begin PST.

Pre Service Training (PST)

My training village was Molepolole which is the largest village in Botswana 70,000 home to the Bakwena tribe.

Matching Ceremony for Host Families: Upon arrival we attended the matching ceremony where we were paired with a host family. It was all very fast and before I knew it I was at my host families house. The purpose of living with a host family is to learn cultural norms, attend celebrations and traditional gatherings, assist with language, learn to cook and prepare traditional foods, learn to clean and laundry, assist with community integration, etc.  Now I had the best host family I could ever ask for, but not everyone’s experience is such. Amenities vary at each residence and everyone experiences different stressors living with a host family in a new culture. I truly enjoyed my host family experience. Some PCVs live with a host family for the entirety of their service while others only live with host families for a short period of time.

PST Logistics: you get a food basket (with dietary restrictions) to supplement your families food supply, you get a LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator) which is a host country national who assists you with language acquisition, cultural understanding, and assist with any issues you encounter. You get a small walk around allowance but for the most part you are dirt poor. The internet access and communication with the outside world is next to none so prepare yourself for patience while you get that figured out.

Daily Life: Training for us was from 7:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday with a half day of language or full day event on Saturdays. They really liked to keep us occupied. The mornings for me usually started around 6 am where I would bucket bath, eat breakfast, and prepare for the day. Then a group of us who had host families close to one another would head to our training site. We had language for at least 2 hours a day, sessions on PACA, VRF/MRE, framework, HIV/AIDS, program specific, resiliency, cultural competency, gender, diversity, PC approach to development, we had interviews with programming, medical, etc., healthy outlets which was time for us to just do things we enjoyed like Zumba, yoga, music, etc. Then we would head home. The sun set around 6:30 pm and we were told that we needed to be home before dark. Sometimes we would get together as PCVs and exercise or just hang out before our curfew or on weekends. I spent a lot of time with my host family: learning and practicing Setswana, making meals, doing cultural activities, getting to know one another, learning to do laundry by hand, etc.

Site Announcement: One of the most exciting part of PST is site announcement. This is a ceremony when you learn where your home will be the next few years. It happens about half way through PST.

Site Visit: Not every program does a site visit but we did. Our counterparts from our sites came for a brief introduction then we were off and traveling (some with and some without our counterparts). We spent two weeks where we were introduced to our host organizations, local leadership, and stakeholders in the community. I spent a lot of time just walking around introducing myself, familiarizing myself with my village, locating local resources, shadowing a current PCV, and taking notes about my community.

The Last Leg of PST: after site visit we only had a few weeks to hang out with PCVs, finish training, have language interviews (LPIs where we had to get Intermediate Low in Setswana in order to go to site), spent time with host families, and prepared for site aka shopped.

Swearing in: This is where you officially commit to being a PCV. There will be people who decide Peace Corps is not for them from before getting on the plane at staging to a few days before the swearing in ceremony (as well as after), but swearing in is a time where you take an oath of service vowing to serve the people of Botswana and represent America. It is pretty great. Then you spend your last bit of time with your host family, PC staff, and fellow PCVs before moving to your home for the next 2 years.

Community Integration AKA Lock Down

There are two periods of time where your traveling is restricted. One is right before you complete your service and the other is right when you move to your site. This is so you get accustomed to your site and become integrated into the community. There is a lot of alone time. My advice is to use this to your advantage. Don’t worry about finding your spot at work or starting projects, but use this time to build social capital in your community. Help out at your host organization, take community walks, spend time using your PACA tools, get settled, introduce yourself to EVERYONE, stop by random peoples houses to say hello, go to community cultural events, and just get out into your community so people get to know you and you get to know people.

The End.

There. That’s all I have. Thus far Peace Corps has been a challenging and rewarding experience. I have formed new relationships and become part of a new community, learned a lot and had a lot of personal growth, experienced a new cultures and different ways of life, traveled and seen amazing things, and continue to be excited to face each day whether it brings a challenge or success.

A South African Adventure

 

I boarded the plane from Gaborone to Cape Town with anxious excitement. It was going to be the first time in over 9 months that I was going to see my best friend. The two-hour flight went quickly as I spent the majority of the time sleeping, as I usually do in moving vehicles. I ran into a friend on the plane who was renting a car in Cape Town so he graciously offered to drive me to the Airbnb Sean and I were staying at for the week. I will put my plug in now saying that we did Airbnb this entire trip except for the last night (we wanted to stay close to the airport so I could catch my 7:30 am flight), and I would highly recommend it. For those of you who are lost, Airbnb is a web based company that connects travelers with people who have spare houses, extra rooms, or just a free bed to sleep on. It is much homier, more integrating into the community, and over all just better than hotels in my opinion. Anyway, while we were in Cape Town we were staying in Tamborskloof (spelling is always a matata for me so take that name with a grain of salt) which is right at the base of Signal Hill. Let’s just say you have to walk up a BIG hill to reach it, but it is so worth it when you get to the top. My friend dropped me off, and I rang the doorbell…. No answer…. I rang it again…. No answer. My friend looked at me from the car with a, “Are you sure this is the right place?” sort of a look. When suddenly the gate opened and there was Sean grinning ear to ear like a fool. I am sure the look on my face matched his and I gave him the biggest bear hug I could muster. Then, I waved goodbye to my friend and walked into the “pool house” to dinner cooking away on the stove, a two glasses of wine already poured, and lots of catching up to do. This was the beginning of my adventure to South Africa with Sean.

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I like to call myself a flexible planner. I love to have things planned out, but if things change, no sweat, I will roll with it. This is exactly how we did this trip. We both had ideas (mostly recommendations from friends and our Airbnb hosts) of what we wanted to do, then we would do a little research on how to do it (aka logistical things like ‘how do we get there?’), and then would do it. Now South Africa has A LOT to offer, but we limited ourselves to doing activities we like best (mostly exploring the outdoors, being active, etc) in Cape Town and on the Garden Route. Cape Town is a large city situated on the Western Cape of South Africa. The city itself is situated on the ocean and wraps around Table Mountain. It has a ton of quirky neighborhoods, plenty of history, and lots of activities readily available. The Garden Route is the name of a stretch along the Southern coast of South Africa renowned for its natural beauty. The second week of our trip we rented a car and drove out to see it.

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L- Cape Town from Lion’s Head, R – Nature’s Valley on The Garden Route

Our first full day was a Monday. I thought I would give Sean a chance to recover from the 35 or so hour trip to South Africa and have a chill morning. We woke up without an alarm, did some yoga, made coffee, read the Bible, and made breakfast. Disclaimer: Sean and I could run a bed and breakfast with the food we make. Breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day. The entire trip we made delicious breakfasts of eggs with cheese (CHEESE OH MY GOD I LOVE CHEESE!), sometimes vegetables or meat, sometimes we had bread, and always coffee fresh from the French press (Thank you Kellen for the Young Life Coffee!). Then, after our slow morning, we grabbed our hiking shoes and backpacks for a hike up Lion’s Head, which is part of the mountain range in Cape Town. We took off on our trek in the general direction our host told us and had a very enjoyable hike. Lion’s head takes a few hours and is a pretty decent hike at times. You basically spiral around the base of the mountain, then you do a series of scrambles, sometimes using ladders or handles bolted into the rock, until you reach the top to get a specular circular view of the city sandwiched between the mountains and ocean. It was pretty full with people, and I actually managed to see someone I played ultimate Frisbee in Gaborone with (clearly this world is too small). We topped off the day with sushi, frozen yogurt, and a trip to the grocery store. Here is the thing, most Peace Corps volunteers that I have talked to who have returned to the States have had their mental break down in the grocery store. I believe it. Why? 1. There are just so many choices, and good choices at that. 2. The prices (although I believe in the US it would be due to food being more expensive, however South African prices are in rans, so yes I could splurge and get the red peppers instead of the green – clearly the Peace Corps budget is a thing). 3. The proximity/location (I could have a different mentality knowing we were in walking distance and I could go back anytime I wanted if we forgot something aka I didn’t have to stock pile food for a mont). I think Sean thought I was slightly crazy for staring at lettuce for so long – there were so many kinds: baby spinach, regular spinach, rocket, spring mix, romaine, etc. However, we were eventually successful with Sean picking out all the protein and me picking out all the plant based food.

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The next day we took a walk, 17 miles to be exact, all around the city. Cape Town has a ton to see. We explored diverse neighborhoods like Bo Kaap, the V&A Waterfront, Sea Point, Green Point, etc., and we saw them all. It was fun just bumming around in the town and near the ocean taking in the sites and watching the people. I was struck by the cultural vibe of South Africa as well. There is a mix of European, African, Bohemian, and a few other feels mixed in as well. There are locals and many tourists in the area so you can see the local life as well as get the full tourist experience. Apartied clearly had a huge part in shaping the country – the racial divide is still very evident today. I hope to learn more about the history of South Africa and other countries as well.

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So if you didn’t already know Sean and I like food, drink, and being active. What is the best way to combine all of them? Renting bikes to explore wine country and visit various vineyards is the answer of course. South Africa is loaded with wineries so obviously we had to made a day of it. We ubered (is this officially a verb yet?) to Stellenbosch which is a very cute little town that has mountain views in the distance. We rented bikes and visited two different wineries. The first was Waterford. There we did a private tasting that consisted of 8 different wines and chocolates. The chocolates were created and paired specifically for these wines, so you know it was amazing. Our favorite was the cabernet with the rock salt dark chocolate. The next winery we visited was Peter Falke where we did more of a restaurant style experience (I am a bit of a light weight so food was necessary). We got a bottle of ruby blend, a cheese platter with 5 different kinds of cheese (again with the cheese), bread, fruit, and bruschetta. It was surreal eating delicious food, drinking amazing wine, all with picturesque scenery.

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I love mornings. I think I have finally fully grown into my mosadi mogolo (old lady) self where I can admit that I love mornings. One of the best part of mornings is watching the sun rise, and there is no better place to watch it rise than on top of a very high hill in a hammock. We woke up early, which actually wasn’t really that early in comparison to my usual schedule, and hiked to the top of Signal Hill to watch the sunrise in an ENO. The sun peaked just over the distant mountains and lit up the city, mountains, and ocean. It was absolutely beautiful. The rest of the day we hung out and played cribbage. Our relationship was semi founded on cribbage, and may actually end someday due to the game because we both can get a little competitive. Also, contrary to what may be on Facebook, I skunked Sean in the first game; however, I will admit I did go through a little bit of a losing streak for a few days after…. Anyway, that evening we got slightly dressed up (this may be shocking but I actually enjoy wearing dresses now and requested to have a day to get a bit dressy because I never get to do it as a PCV) and headed out to the Hope Street Market. We did not really know what to expect but were pleasantly surprised. The event was like the Madison Farmers market meets the Terrace (If you don’t know what I am talking about you should probably visit Madison, Wisconsin). There were vendors selling things from jewelry to clothes to fresh produce. There were also vendors selling amazing food and drink. I got a burger that I had been craving (the beef just tastes different here – probably because it walks around all the time) and Sean got steak sliders and empanadas. Then we split ice cream that was made Cold Stone style. There was also a live band so we just enjoyed the vibe for a while before heading home.

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Friday was a big day, and I am talking mountain big. Sean and I love hiking and the outdoors so an obvious activity for us to do was hike Table Mountain. We chose the Skeleton George route that starts in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. We ubered (again) to the gardens and began our hike. The hike may have been one of the most stunning hikes I have ever done. It was lush and green like waking through a rain forest, then you literally scramble up the rocks in a waterfall, all to make it up to the rocky and open side/top of Table Mountain national park. You can hike all over the place on the top of Table Mountain exploring the reservoirs, various peaks, and even the cable car (we did not visit the cable car though). We were WIPED out after the hike, so we did a little trip through the gardens and called it day.

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Saturday we lied low due to an unfortunate digestive issue on my end. It’s not a trip without a digestive experience. We had originally hoped to visit the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock for the market and see Robben Island where Nelson Mandela had his imprisonment, but tickets were sold out and all I really wanted to do was rest.

Sunday was a much better day. We got breakfast at Truth Coffee which had a very punk vibe, good coffee, and unique food. If it’s not clear yet, someday I would love to own a coffee shop/restaurant/bar that specializes in social justice, local food, and fair coffee, so I love checking out different places like Truth. Then we got our rental car and set out for the beaches. Huge props to Sean for driving a manual car on the opposite side of the road. I am sure glad we opted for the GPS because my navigational skills are not top notch. Sean was a champ of a driver though. We visited a few beaches including Boulder Beach which has one of the penguin colonies. The drive itself was like a commercial as well.

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20160508_151021.jpgThe next day we left Cape Town destined for the Garden Route. As previously mentioned [flexible planner] so we basically booked Airbnbs as we went along in towns we thought would be good to visit. It was a good 6-hour drive to the Garden Route, but with some beautiful sights. We spent the first night at Wilderness in a little cabin that was cozy, clean, and quaint. It was in a remote area on a big hill that over looked a lake and had mountains in the distance. What I am trying to say is that I would love to live there someday. We said hello to our host and headed out to the beach. Again we just went out on a limb and drove around to try and find one, and we scored big. At the end of a road there was a stair case that lead to a beautiful beach. It was the first time I ever dipped my feet into the Indian Ocean which is exciting. I still don’t fully understand how one decides where one Ocean ends and the other begins because they are all connected. From the beach we went out for dinner with an ocean view. We watched the sunset over seafood, perfect.

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The next day, we were in the mood for a little adventure so we rented a kayak from Eden Adventures and paddled up to where the river ended and a board walk began then eventually ended at a small waterfall. It was very scenic and peaceful. It was also very special because I miss being out on the water (Bots is almost all desert ya’ll). We bought food at the local grocery store called the Kwik Spar and had a Braai that night. For those of you who are unaware a braai is the South African way of saying a grill out or BBQ. Sean braaied up lamb, a marinated pork chop, and pineapple, while I made a salad. Then we had a dinner and a glass of wine over a few games of cribbage and chatted with our host.

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We decided our next stop was going to be Natures Valley and Plettenberg Bay. However, our day obviously had to start out with watching the sun rise over the mountain from the deck on the lake. Then we headed out to Natures Valley (we both think this is where the granola bars got their name). It is one of the most scenic places I have ever been in regard to nature. There is a small estuary, hills, and a beach. The greenery from the hills literally runs right into the sand. We spent the bulk of the day here just hiking around while enjoying the scenery. Then we went to Plettenberg Bay. At this point there is something I need to confess, I can have a major sweet tooth, which can actually be a problem at times. Sean and I can either be great advocates for each other in this department or we can be extremely detrimental. There was also a Facebook post about this. Something about Sean looking up an ab work out while I was looking up ice cream places in Plettenberg Bay. Now, we did do a few workouts and lots of hiking so I did not feel the least guilty on getting ice cream multiple times. If you were wondering, we did get ice cream and do a workout in Plettenberg Bay.

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Plettenberg Bay has amazing beaches as well as Robberg Nature Reserve. We explored both before starting our drive back. We decided we wanted to do the bulk of the driving on Thursday so we could just take it easy on our last day together. We drove through the mountains, next to the ocean, and through farm land to make it to Hermanus where we pretty much just went to sleep.

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Our last day together was spent just enjoying one another’s company. We had no plans except to return the rental car and check into the hotel near the airport. I don’t think either of us were anticipating how difficult it was going to be to leave one another. I was very mentally prepared to say goodbye to my culture, the things I knew, and the people I loved most when I left for Peace Corps Botswana. However, when planning this trip I had only thought about how much fun it was going to be and how excited I was to see Sean. I did not think about what saying goodbye was going to be like. It hit us both on Friday that the next time we were going to see one another was in over a year. That was a hard reality to swallow. We talked about it extensively, and here is where I am now: I am so thankful that we had this trip together because not only was it loads of fun, but we got to connect and reconnect with each other, which was the best part of the trip. The fact that saying goodbye was so hard just confirms that we are doing the right thing by continuing our relationship during the time I am in the Peace Corps. I am so thankful for Sean and feel amazingly blessed with our relationship. Also, can I just say that I am blogging this, WHAT??!!! I would have never have said this, let alone blogged it, a few years ago. Funny how time changes things, especially being apart for long periods of time.

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We said goodbye for the final time in the Cape Town airport where I boarded by plane back to Botswana and later that day Sean left to the States. South Africa was amazing in every way, but the best part of the trip was being together.

My Super Power

If you could have a super power what would it be?

This question is a classic and, until recently, I always knew my answer.

I would want to be able to split into two because it would allow me to do twice as much. If you knew me, you would know that I am often over involved, love doing things, and am always pressed for time. This super power was a way of overcoming the challenge of time, and was my choice for a long time.

Then I came to Botswana and the super power I want changed. What is my new super power? I want to be able to enter into another person’s consciousness. I am not talking about mind reading or control or anything of that nature. I want to be able to perceive the world another individual perceives it.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, I enter into another world for 27 months. However, not only do I enter in to another world, but I become part of it. Day in and day out I am in another culture and live life in a way that is vastly different yet amazingly similar to before. There are days where I feel completely at home and there are others when I realize I have not even scratched the surface of what it means to live as a part of this community in this culture.

This experience is such a blessing as it gives me a chance to try and perceive the world as the people of this culture views it. Living in another culture has made me realize a lot about myself, about the influence of culture, and about how the world works. It has helped give me an understanding and empathy for others. It is an incredible gift which has made me realize if I could have any super power I would want to perceive the world the way others do.

See World Differently

Small Successes

I think some of the greatest successes that I have found myself having thus far in my service has been in subtle interactions that come about by just being present in my community and intentional with relationships. I find myself often exposing people to new things or different ways of thinking. I have 3 specific topics that can serve as examples: food, drink, and fun.

Food. People are always curious about what I eat. I like eating relatively healthy foods and experimenting with cooking. I have invited multiple people over to my house to make food together (banana bread, pizza, etc.) or for them to come over and try a new type of food that I made (Mexican, quinoa, etc). It also blows people’s minds when I eat things like raw vegetables because almost everything Batswana eat is cooked. I mean char broiled or its not done – lets just say medium rare does not exist here. However, I now realize that this exposure to new and different foods is not just fun but can have a larger impact. My counterpart said to me, “Tshepo, I saw you eating salad the other day so I decided to try it at home. It was quite nice.” I think my showing openness to trying new foods (including eating Setswana food), exposing people to new foods, and teaching people how to cook new foods safely is a huge success in my service.

Drink. I have been asked, “Do you take alcohol?” to which I usually respond, “That is a loaded question here.” Alcohol is widely used abusively and widely detested here in Gweta. Its either you don’t drink at all or you really DRINK. You can pretty much drink anywhere: bars, shabeens with home brewed traditional Setswana beer, or in the car. “Roadies” are normal here. It is completely acceptable to be driving down the road with drinks in hand. It was and still is really bizarre. I am personally a fan of responsible and social drinking (having a glass of wine with dinner, grabbing a few drinks with friends, and ensuring I have a sober ride home), so I try to model this behavior in my community. I have friends probably could be borderline alcoholics and friends who have never tasted a drop of alcohol in their life. I think a huge part of my service is modeling responsible drinking, supporting healthy decisions in regard to drinking, and educating people both formally and informally about drinking.

Fun. I think we create our own fun or our own boredom. I am frequently told, “There is nothing to do in Gweta.”  or “We want to do something but don’t have the materials or money to do it”. Which I entirely disagree with. I enjoy making fun out of nothing. And as a former Young Life leader I have a plethora of random games and activities up my sleeve that works for a variety of all ages. One example is doing team building days with clinic staff also known as Fun and Games Day. I used the King’s Foundation Base Pack (a huge red back with versatile sporting equipment that is a genius invention) to do a variety of activities with clinic staff in order to build cooperation, establish better communication, and have some fun. At first, people seemed a bit reluctant but by the end of the day we could not stop having fun. I have had multiple requests to do it again, and will make ‘team building’ a monthly activity for the clinic staff.

Even if I do not make a seemingly huge impact within my community I will rest assured that simply my presence in this community will have made an impact.

The Eight Month Mark

Hello! I am currently sitting on my porch typing this as the sun is getting low in the sky getting ready to paint it as only African sunsets can and while one of my favorite neighbor girls is coloring a picture. After being here for 8 months, life in Botswana feels completely normal. It has been almost two months since I have been back from my month of training in Gaborone, and I have come to call the village of Gweta my home. Here is an update on my life here in Botswana, my home away from home.

What did I do when I got back to Gweta? Well, the first week after I got back from Gabs there was a lot of reintroducing myself to people in the community assuring them that I did not leave them for good. Then, I did a lot of laying the ground work for the projects I want to do in the community which means meeting with key stakeholders, attending various meetings, and planning how I will implement my projects.

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Hanging out with one of my colleges – Eating with my hands is one of my favorite parts of African culture – I will probably bring it back to the States

What projects have I been working on? As mentioned, I have been doing a lot of preliminary work which I think Peace Corps would label as community mobilization. There are certain individuals in my community who are amazingly dedicated and ready to do things, so I am working with them on making plans and getting things started.

I have been working closely with the disability committee to benchmark different disability services in surrounding areas, conduct home visits to assess needs of people living with disabilities and their caregivers, and strategize the committees’ next moves. I have been collaborating with community members and other PCVs to start planning a leadership (GLOW – Girls or Guys Leading Our World) camp which I am hoping to do with students finishing their last year at the local junior school (equivalent of 10th grade in the US). I am hoping that this will be held in September as part of the Botswana 50th Independence celebration and will include topics like leadership, health, and culture. I have been doing a lot of supply chain management in the clinic like reorganizing our stock room, establishing systems for managing the stock, training staff, and creating a stock book. We are conducting a survey at the clinic in order to create a schedule for health talks.

I am also: creating a condom distribution campaign, conducting team building days with clinic staff, planning fun activities for primary (elementary) school students, starting a teen club, and working with the PACT (Peer Approach to Counseling for Teens) club at the junior school.

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Left – Clinic watching a STEPS film during a team building day

Right – a coworker and myself during a PACT club

What am I doing in the community besides projects? I feel like a full-fledged member of the Gweta community at this point. I enjoy going to community events. There was a concert that was part of a safe male circumcision campaign from Vee who apparently is a famous rapper. I have never seen so many people in one place in Gweta. People were listening to him perform and watching his comrades dance all over the place (literally all over the place – they were dancing on anything they could find including cars and a telephone booth).

I have been hanging out with friends like William, Kgomogelo, and Gloria. William and I threw a going away party because Gloria got a job as a teacher and has since moved to another town. I am bummed that one of my best friends from the village is now far away, but so excited for her to be teaching and glad that the students got such a great teacher. I have neighbor kids that come over pretty much daily and when I am not busy we garden, color, or bake. It is very fun to do different activities with them.

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Left – My neighbor and I eating banana bread we made (she really liked it as you can see by the difference in size)

Right – more neighbors coloring beautiful pictures

I went to a football (soccer) game that the local team in Gweta called the Springbocks played in and won. This is actually an entertaining story. I figured since the game started at 3:00 I would leave my house around 3:00 in order to be on time for kick off (this is Africa time). Well, my timing was entirely wrong as the other team hadn’t even shown up yet upon my 3:30 arrival. With time to spare, I decided I would chat with the team for a bit, and as things would have it, the coach decided to make me the team medic for the game. Now, I am certified in first aid but have limited knowledge in major trauma, so I was hoping nothing serious would happen. Within 5 minutes two players smashed their heads together going to head the ball, and there I was with the team manager running out on the field with medic bag in tow. I am pleased to say that both gentleman were fine, and truthfully, I was not needed because the team manager had everything under control. I will be going to another game on Sunday, and we will see if I will be the team medic again.

Other than that I have been working on establishing my garden, getting into a workout routine (I am in the process of starting to train for a half marathon), and reading the entire Bible in a year (thank you to Blackhawk church for the Eat This Book challenge from 2012).

What have I been doing most recently? I have actually been traveling a lot. I benchmarked two disability centers with the chair of the Gweta disability committee in Maun, visited Francistown to meet with PCVs about the GLOW camp and grocery shop, attended trainings in Gaborone and Bobonong, and went to the Okavango Delta for Easter.

PSDN. I was elected to a Peace Corps committee called PSDN (Peer Support and Diversity Network) where I will be supporting fellow Peace Corps volunteers through quarterly check-ins, monitoring trends in challenges and successes in our cohort (I am also the PSDN cochair M&E officer), and conducting sessions related to diversity and support during Peace Corps trainings. I went to Gaborone to get trained and introduced to the committee. I can say I feel very honored and am excited to be a part of the committee.

Maps. Right after PSDN training I traveled out to the Eastern part of Botswana to Bobonog, which is a large village that has fantastic geodes and other neat rocks, for training on mapping. Remember when I posted about open street map and mapping Gweta? Well here is what it is for. First of all, having an accurate map is important, so open street map uses crowd sources data to create maps. OSM has satellite images that people can use to trace the objects they see in order to create a map. Then, people on the ground can print this map with something called field papers to walk around the community with, label what the shapes on the map are, and relabel them into the map on open street map. Now comes the cool part, you can collect GPS coordinates, and using a tool called QGIS, you can create data points on the map! This opens up a TON of opportunities for mapping like condom distribution points, places of crime incidents, or cases of diseases like malaria. You can analyze this data to find trends such as whether or not there are areas of the community that don’t have easy access to condoms, if certain types of crimes take place in certain areas (like bars for example), and where certain people may be disproportionally susceptible to various diseases. A HUGE shout out to the Peace Corps Office of Innovation officer who did the training. Thank you! Because I am super excited to be able to use this tool over the course of my service.

Vacation in the Delta. From this training I traveled to the far Northwestern part of the country to the village of Sepupa in the Okavango Delta. It is a quaint tiny town situated close to the river. There were 12+ peace corps volunteers that camped together at a lodge called the Swamp Stop. It was a blast. We went on a sunset cruise on the delta, had a bonfire where we made s’mores, and did an all day cruise where we had drinks, swam in the safe parts of the river, and had a braai (grill out) on an island. It was amazing and I would highly recommend it. The delta itself is a forest of papyrus, reeds, and lily pads teeming with basks of crocodiles and pods of hippos. I didn’t see any crocs, but we did have a hippo encounter at our campsite. We were all woken up at 2:30 am by hippo noises coming from the river 20 feet from our tents. The conversation that proceeded for the next half hour included googling how to deal with hippos (there is a great wikihow article on this), calling the lodge owner to ensure we were alright, and he assured us that, “The tents would be fine” to which my friend responded “Yes…. But will WE be fine”, and creating outlandish action plans for escaping hippo attacks. My fellow volunteers are clearly a great bunch. I returned from the Easter weekend vacation exhausted with a mild sunburn and a few mosquito bites but extremely happy and content.

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The Okavango Delta

How do I get to all these places? I do not feel like I can talk about my travels without talking about how I travel around the country. All of my travel over the past few weeks has been via public transportation. My opinion of public transportation has drastically changed over the past 8 months and I can say that I have become a more laid back, flexible, and relaxed traveler.

There are four main modes of public transportation: buses, sprinters, combis, and hitch hiking. Buses are great because you can store your luggage pretty comfortably underneath, but there are no bathrooms so you have to make sure you go before you go, go quickly at a rest stop (and I mean quickly because there are many stories of people being left behind), or tell the bus driver to STOP (yes this is real, I have seen it happen but have never personally done it). Sprinters are like mini buses; they are faster but slightly less comfortable than buses due to less space. Combis are like 15 passenger vans that you pack to the brim with people. Finally, yes, hitch hiking is a thing here that is quite acceptable and pretty safe.

Here in Botswana there is no official written schedule for any sort of public transportation. I have learned when public transport comes through Gweta via word of mouth and personal experience. If traveling outside of my village I simply show up to the bus rank or nearest stop and ask one of the nearest sellers (usually selling a variety of things like fried chicken meals with fries, meat pies, airtime which are prepaid phone minuets, cold water, pop, chips, fruit, and sweets) when the bus to wherever leaves. Then you wait. The longest I waited was 3 hours – sometimes the bus just simply doesn’t come. It has become a normal part of my life, and while I don’t love it I have found ways to make it manageable. I enjoy striking up conversations with people around me at the bus rank, using the extra time to run some errands, or just observing what is going on around me.

All I can say is that it is going to be weird going back to the States where they drive on the wrong side of the road, things are measured in gallons and miles, travel is much more timely yet less relaxed, and I am allowed drive…. If I can remember how.

What is next on the horizon? I will be working on my projects in the coming weeks and enjoying my community. Mid-April I will head down to Gaborone for our All Volunteer Conference. This is a conference that is Peace Corp Botswana volunteer lead and driven. We will have revolving sessions taught by current volunteers and experts in various fields where we can choose which one best fits our needs. I will be hosting two booths at a session called the activity fair which is similar to a career fair, home show, or college fair. One booth will be for PSDN where we are handing out free hugs and high fives and the other is a booth highlighting what projects I have been working on at site.

I will also be going on my first official vacation to Cape Town, South Africa in May with one of my favorite people in the world, Mr. Sean Foley. We are planning to hike Table Mountain, see the penguins, visit wine country, explore the city, and road trip the Garden Route. I can’t even lie about it; I AM SO EXCITED!

So……. Overall, life is really good, I am learning a lot, and there is more to come.