All of my pictures of wild African animals and blog posts about traveling with loved ones from back home may leave you wondering if I ever actually do anything as a Peace Corps Volunteer. While I do get to have my fair share of fun and adventure, I promise that I am actually spending time in my community – and loving it. Here is a snap shot of what my life is like in Gweta, Botswana on a day to day basis.
Taking a photo with some young friends
The Morning Routine
Mornings are my favorite part of the day. Gweta and the surrounding area is so flat that the sun explodes across the sky as soon as it gets above the tree line. In the summer it got light at around 5 am which made it a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning. The sun rises later these days, as it is winter, so it doesn’t get light until about 6:30 or so. Summer is coming though because temperatures have been rising steadily. During the winter the temperatures (the following are in F although I measure most things in C now) can get down into the 40s at night and 80s during the day. During the summer it rarely cools off with temperatures reaching highs of 120 with the lows being in the high 70s. The shade is a key here in the dry desertous climate. There can be 30 degree difference between the direct blazing Botswana sun and the shade cast by one of the large palm, Marula, or Baobab trees. When it gets that hot I wear skirts or dresses which I NEVER did in the states, but here it is just too darn hot. I drink liters upon liters of water, carry an umbrella not for rain but for sun, and use gallons of sunscreen. During the winter I dress in layers and return to my house at the end of the day wearing considerably less clothing than I did when I left that morning. Speaking of morning,
I usually workout in the morning which is usually a run, yoga, some sort of body weight training, or a workout video like Insanity. Afterward I bath. Here in Botswana we use the terms bath, bathing, or bathed as proper English terms. For me, bathing used to mean heating up water on the stove or my electric kettle and then giving myself a bucket bath in my bath tub. However, I recently got a plumber (this is a story for later) to install a hand held shower head and fix the hot water tap which has been a game changer. I did not mind bucket baths, but its the small things like having a hot shower (or cold shower in the summer) that sometimes gets you through the day, am I right? As mentioned in a previous post, I only wash my hair about twice a week so most days I can bath pretty quickly.
Then I make breakfast with coffee or tea and sit down to some time with Jesus. I am doing the Eat this Book Challenge from Black hawk Church where I am reading the entire Bible in a year. Thus far it is going pretty well. I just finished the Old Testament and have moved on to Matthew.
After enjoying the morning full of personal time, I head out to the clinic at 7:30.
The Clinic and “Work”
The walk to the clinic is short, about 5 minutes down the bumpy gravel road that passes by my house and ends at the single tarred road in town in front of the clinic. During the short walk I greet everyone I pass with “Dumela, O tsogile jang?” which is “Hello, How did you rise?” and respond appropriately. There are my regular individuals I greet: Maa Pauline who is a mosadi mogolo (elderly lady) who lives next to me in her traditional house called a rondavol. She doesn’t speak any English but always yells “Dumela Ngwanaka!” which means “Hello my child” and waves me fiercely off to work every day. Another neighbor, America, lives two plots down from me and he is usually up early working on one project or another whether it is rebuilding a traditional house (rondavol) or molding sheet metal into buckets and wash tubs that he then sells. The traditional houses are made out of only a few materials: cow dung and termite mound sand for the siding plaster, long grasses for the thatched roof, and some sticks or logs to add structure on the sides and top. I actually assisted with making a structure with the dung and sand mixture recently. Its quite an interesting process mixing the ingredients with water and the spreading and shaping it using your hands. America loves to listen to music while he works and usually has his radio playing on an Botswana radio station that plays African pop music. I also greet the individuals who work at the government departments I pass on the way: wildlife, veterinary, and agriculture. Then, once I get to the clinic I greet all of my coworkers as well as the people waiting for clinical services.
The clinic consists of a two of buildings with a few smaller structures surrounding like pit latrines, a cough spot (supposedly to be used for TB patients but I have never seen it being used), and a few storage rooms. Each building has different rooms that house different services. The main structure houses the office, screening and registering of patients, an area for injections, would dressing area, a room for the child welfare clinic (more to come on the CWC), the drug store room, and a small pharmacy where drugs are dispensed. The other building houses services like our youth friendly clinic, sexual reproductive health, specimen collection like blood drawing, a kitchen that serves as a staff room, and indoor staff toilets. The waiting areas are characterized by long benches at the front and back entrances of both buildings or plastic chairs placed under the large tree. There are no appointments made in the clinic, so clients are taken on a first come first serve basis. In the summer, it is packed in early in the mornings as everyone is trying to beat the heat and in winter it will get busier later in the morning when it starts getting warmer in the day.
The clinic is open from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm Monday to Friday and from 8:00 am to 11:00 am on holidays and weekends. Clinic staff arrives around 7:30 am. We spend the first half an hour or so getting the clinic ready for the day: cleaning, sweeping, chatting, etc. On Mondays and Wednesdays we have morning staff meetings where we discuss (in Setswana) any pressing matters arising in the clinic, the weekend report, and anything important going on in the community. From here my day can take various different paths.
It took me a while to establish my role in the clinic and place in the community. As a volunteer, your goal is to capacity build, and in Botswana it is to capacity build in the areas related to HIV/AIDS. This is broad and not super straight forward for both the volunteer or the host organization. When I first got here I had to explain over and over that I was not a nurse or a doctor. In fact, my first full day on the job I went with our home based care volunteers (group of individuals who visit patients who are home bound) to visit an elderly man and had to set the nurse perception straight. Now keep in mind that this was at the beginning of my service and my Setswana (particularly medical terms) was pretty rudimentary and the home based care volunteer does not speak English. We went to the house and I basically just sat and observed while our volunteer talked to the gentleman about how he was doing and with the family about what their needs were so that we could report back to the clinic. Then all of a sudden, every eye was upon me. I could tell by the insistent way they were communicating that they wanted me to do something, but I could not for the life of me figure out what. This went on for a while and someone was sent to fetch a neighbor who could speak English when it became clear that I was not going to understand. The neighbor came in and began to explain that the device for the bag needed to be changed. Then it dawned on me that they were asking me to change his catheter. This is something I have no clue how to do and had to tell them that a nurse from the clinic would have to come and do so because I was not a nurse. I have come a long way since then.
Delivering wheelchairs to home based care patients
Sometimes I will help out in one of the different areas of the clinic like the Child Welfare Clinic where children are weighed and their growth is tracked, Rations where the children under 5 are given government supplied food, screening where we take vitals and admit clients into the computer system, mobile health stops where we travel out into the bush where people have their farms and cannot easily access clinical services due to distance, or the stock room where I manage health care commodities and their movement throughout the clinic. I have been working the most with the stock: creating a stock book, reorganizing the stock room, creating in an ordering system for the clinic, conducting monthly stock counts, removing expired drugs, distributing stock to various different areas of the clinic, and training the staff on good supply chain management techniques. I have been tracking the progress (number of health commodities out of stock, expired drugs, etc) and will have a full report for the year. The goal is to improve various aspects of the clinics management of health care commodities in order to better serve our clients at the clinic.
A health talk at the local primary school
Sometimes my work takes me outside the clinic because I have the freedom to work on any projects that I see fit to undertake and that have adequate community support and buy in.
I am an active member of different community groups. I attend and sometimes help plan various meetings and events. I am involved with the Village Development Committee, the Village Extension Team, the Village Health Committee, The Gweta Disability Committee, the PACT (Peer Approach to Counseling by Teens) Club at the junior (middle) school, Youth Friendly Clinic Support Group Ambassadors, and many other community groups and establishments.
A perfect example of an event that I assisted with that is outside the clinic but related to my mandate happened two weekends ago. I went to a Youth Friendly Clinic Support Group meeting. The YFC is trying to start up a group of youth in the village to serve as ambassadors to the clinic and assist with supporting and educating their peers. At the meeting we learned that there was a football (soccer) tournament being held the coming weekend to encourage HIV testing. Let me explain a little bit about how HIV testing and soccer tournament go together. There is a research study on HIV going on around Botswana called Ya Tsie. It is a collaborative effort between different organizations (Botswana Ministry of Health, Center for Disease Control, Harvard Medical School, Tebelopele – NGO that offers HIV testing services, and JAPIAGO – NGO that promotes safe male circumcision) that is looking at whether using a combination based approach (HIV testing, safe male circumcision, adherence to ARVs, etc) to combating new HIV infections. Ya Tsie organized the tournament to encourage young males (many of whom love to watch football here in Botswana) to get tested. Anyway, during the meeting we decided that we should do something as a group and we decided on condom demonstrations and distribution. So that Saturday morning I went to the clinic where we showed the YFC ambassadors about how to properly demo both male and female condoms, gathered our supplies, and headed to the Gweta Primary School football field. The first game was under way when we arrived, and we set up next to the SMC mobilizers and the STI committee. Then we went around the football field demonstrating and distributing condoms and promoting services at the youth friendly clinic. These types of events just seem to magically materialize, and it is only one example of the kind of clinic-related activities I do in the community.
Youth friendly clinic ambassadors at Gweta football tournament
Most recently I have been working with teachers and community members on something called a GLOW camp. GLOW stands for Girls and Guys Leading Our World, and it is a camp for youth to learn skills to become leaders. The Gweta GLOW camp is for Form 3 students (sophomores) at Kutlwano (the junior school) and is scheduled to take place at the end of September. A lot of my time has been spent meeting with community stakeholders about the camp, writing a grant to fund the camp, soliciting donations, writing curriculum, and working out logistics. I am really looking forward to the camp, and right now I feel as if the camp is like a puzzle. All of the pieces are there they just need to fall into place.
Tutume GLOW Camp July 2016
I love working in the community and have many opportunities to do so. The clinic is my host organization, and it serves as an excellent access point to the community. I can spend time there with my fantastic coworkers or branch out to other facilities or groups. My work is based on needs that community members express or that I observe. I have done team building game days with the clinic staff and primary schools, worked with the Botswana Book Project to get new books for the community library, and am currently working on starting a Teen Club (similar to a support group for HIV+ youth). There are a thousand things I would like to work on, but my time is limited, and more importantly, its not about me.
My work day is flexible, and I am able to make my own schedule. Work ethic is different here so there is a lot of time during the work day to take a nap, chat with various people I come in contact with, get a snack from the shops or the ladies who sell them on the side of the road, buy fresh produce from the man who comes to town once a week with his truck full to the brim with hard to get items in Gweta (bananas, peppers, etc), or take advantage of the wifi at the library. I usually try to be working until at least 4 or 4:30 whether it is helping at the clinic working on a community project.
Clinic staff watching a film on fun and games team building day
When I am Not Working
There are a lot of different things I may do after work. On Tuesdays I go to aerobics at the hospital and often lead the warm up. It is a great group of people who enjoy moving and grooving to different tunes. The clinic staff fondly refers to aerobics as ‘6 pack’. There are days when I get out into the community and walk around or visit friends. Sometimes I just head home if I am tired and will work on something for the next day, read a book, or call loved ones back home. I can get a lot of time to myself in the evenings. I am usually in bed by around 9:00 pm.
On weekends there are a lot of different things I can do. I usually try to do laundry and clean at some point because things get incredibly dirty here. Sometimes I go to Maun or Francistown for shopping and meet up with other Peace Corps volunteers. However, most of my time on weekends is spent relaxing or doing things in the community.
Community Involvement and Events
I have come to realize that a bigger part of Peace Corps service than what is considered ‘work’ that I report on the VRF (stands for volunteer reporting form where I tell Peace Corps what I have been doing and fit it into a framework of what my objectives are as a PCV in Botswana all of which are HIV related) is just being present and involved in the community. I have stopped seeing my service as a series of ‘projects’ although I do work on a lot of different projects, but I see it as more of just living life.
I attend events in the community like weddings, memorial services, holiday celebrations, church services, and funerals. I watch sporting events like football, netball, and volleyball. I have participated in fund-raising dinners, bridal showers, and birthday parties. Sometimes, if I have friends who want to go out, I will go to one of the local bars for a drink and dancing. I have friends that I try to check in on regularly and they do the same with me.
I do a lot of just meandering around the village, although a bit less so than I did when I first got to site. However, now there is a big difference. Instead of hearing “Lekoga!” “Lekoga!” which means English/white person I hear “Tshepo!” “Tshepo!” I am never anonymous in my community which is a huge blessing and can be a curse at times. One of my favorite moments came about a week ago. I was on my way to the hospital for a meeting and was passing by a plot on the main road and there was a group of kids probably around the age of 5 or 6 playing in the yard. As I am walking, I hear one of the children yell, “Lekoga!” and turn my head just in time to see another kid give the perpetrator a playful reprimanding smack saying, “Nyaa, Ke Tshepo!” meaning “No, that’s Tshepo!” Being known as my name instead of a generic term that has a large amount of white privilege and connotations of being wealthy is a huge win for me personally.
In Gweta I get a lot less harassment now that people are more used to me. In fact, it is almost the opposite. Another project I have been working on is mapping Gweta using Open Street Map. There is a bunch of cool things you can do with a map, a GPS, and software called QGIS that puts the GPS coordinates on the map. I spent quite a bit of time making the map, and am now in the phase called field papers where I have printed off the map and am walking around the community making corrections on the papers. I walk around drawing structures, labeling objects, and get opportunities to teach people about maps. Mapping is not about the finished product because, for me, the best part is getting to meet people. Mapping has brought me into parts of the community that I do not regularly visit. People are often curious about who I am and what on earth I am doing staring at their house and drawing on a piece of paper. I frequently take a break from mapping to sit and chat with people outside their houses, assist them in mapping their own plot, and explain why maps are cool (or attempt to in Setswana). People have gotten into the habit of giving me watermelons during my mapping excursions. It was not uncommon for me to be walking around drawing a map with a watermelon tucked under my arm. A few times I even had to end my mapping early because I simply could not carry two watermelons and draw on my map at the same time. Batswana belong to a giving and taking society. They give generously and expect to be given as well. Sometimes it feels like people just assume I have money or should give them things because I am a white American, but I think on a whole other level it is just that in this society if you have, you give to those who don’t. I have been the recipient many times – of food in particular. I never thought that during my Peace Corps service I would take up collecting watermelons.
Women in Gweta mapping her plot
I have taken up a lot of random hobbies and past times besides collecting watermelons during my PC service. I was gardening for a long time until I was gone for a month on vacation and official Peace Corps business and the chickens attacked and my usual helper left for school break so there was no one to water it. I do want to replant soon though. When I do replant I expect to use my delicious home grown organic produce to assist with another one of my favorite past times: Cooking. I have had the chance to experiment a lot with different foods mainly because I have to substitute a lot of ingredients, cooking methods, and often just make due with what I have. I will say that this has given me quite a creative edge and has had some surprisingly tasty results.
Garden before it was eaten by chickens
I sometimes feel like I am running an after school program, which is not something I would have expected as someone who does not particularly love children under the age of 12. However, my house has become the neighborhood kids’ hang out spot. If you have ever tried to talk with me on the phone via whats app it is a guarantee that during one of our conversations I said, “Hold on a sec, there is someone on my porch.” People (kids especially) will drop by anytime. I think I have a good system down now where I will not answer my door if my burglar doors are closed (meaning I want some personal time) or its before 8 am on a weekend. I love the freedom in this culture to just stop by someone’s place unannounced but I sometimes do enjoy the structure of making plans. With the mass amounts of kids that come to my house I try to make plans with them to do various activities and activities we do. A few of the favorites is drawing or coloring, having a dance party, or playing with items (especially the parachute) in my big red back pack called the Base Pack courtesy of the King’s Foundation . I have come to realize recently that this would never happen in the United States where people do not spend the vast majority of their time out side, parents keep a very close watch on their children, and strangers would never just let random children in their house. I have come to truly enjoy this time with the kids even if I get annoyed sometimes.
Kids at my house playing parachute and coloring and eating banana bread
Peace Corps Related
A big part of my service has to do with Peace Corps itself. A lot of this work takes place out of my community and does cause me to travel. There are training throughout service (PST, IST, MST, COSC, All Vol, Mini regionals, and program specific – sorry for all the acronyms and the fact that unless you are a PCV you have no clue what those are). I will be going to Molepolole in October to assist with PST (pre service training) for the next group of Botswana Peace Corps Volunteers and Gaborone in November for my MST (mid service training) where we will talk about how the past year was, what we want to do for the upcoming year, and options for post Peace Corps.
There are also Peace Corps committees that you can be involved in. I am a PSDN (Peer Support and Diversity Network) member. As a PSDN member, I am available to listen to my peers whether they are going through a difficult time, want to celebrate a success, or just want to chat. I also do check ins with volunteers periodically, come up with ideas for initiatives to support volunteers, and assist with providing diversity sessions during different PC trainings. I also do the monitoring and evaluation for PSDN which may include surveys or compiling statistics. I feel honored to be a PSDN member and enjoy having the privilege of serving my peers.
PSDN Meeting July 2016
Finally, Peace Corps has provided me with opportunities to stretch my journalism, media, and writing skills. I think my sister inherited most of the talent in this area as she is studying these topics in college and has corrected all of my essays since my sophomore year of high school. However, with this blog and the Peace Corps Botswana newsletter travel column (of which I recently agreed to take charge of) I get to share stories of myself and others in through various mediums. While I do not think I will be a journalist anytime soon, I have enjoyed challenging myself in this area.
Random Stories of Life in Botswana
There are small nuisances about living in another culture that are challenging to even begin to explain. They are part of daily life and eventually you don’t even notice them happening. For example: its just more difficult to get things done here, sometimes you just have to roll with what you have, the social and societal cues are different, time and work have different connotations, and nothing ever works but everything works out. The best way to begin to explain these parts of every day life in through stories.
Story 1: The Plumber
Just last month, I awoke to a noise in the middle of the night. I got out of my bed and walked into the hallway where I stepped into a pool of water. My first thought, “Oh @#%!”. The pipe in my sink had sprung a leak and was spurting water all over the bathroom creating a flood into the hallway. I grabbed a bucket, mop, and phone. I began dialing the number for my land lord while praying he would answer at this ungodly hour of 2 AM. I have an amazing land lord and he did. I explained the issue and he told me where the shut off was and said he would tell a plumber to come right away in the morning. I got the water to decrease in volume but there was still enough where I had to wake up every hour or so and dump the bucket. The next day I waited for a plumber to come until 11:00 when I felt like I could not wait anymore and had to get to work. Sure enough, right after I got to work I got a call from a random number saying he was a plumber and he was on the way to my house. We met there and look a look at the issue. He then said that he would run to get the parts and would be back… well, waiting isn’t really my thing so I told him to come to the call me when he had the parts. He called me later that day and we met back at my house. Then he began his work. First, he played with all the water taps and shut offs and he removed the damaged part from the sink. Then, he decided to adjust the angle that the pipe was coming out of the wall. He grabbed a rock out of my yard and proceeded to use it as a hammer. Then he attached the necessary part and because there were no rubber stopper rings available he used pieces of plastic bags. He fixed up my sink and then rigged up a shower for me after I asked nicely. Once he was done with everything I asked if he wanted me to pay him for the extra work and he simply said, “Just buy me a beer or two next time you see me.” I have learned that everything will work out one way or another you just have to be patient and creative.
Story 2: Meetings.
Meetings here are frequent, and never have I felt like I deserved the mug with the saying, “I survived another meeting that should have been an email” more. Letters are often sent the prior to a meeting taking place. Sometimes the letters are received in due time but they are just as often received the day before, of, or even after. Meetings often change the day of whether it is time or location and they never actually start or end when you expect. I just never seem to be in the know of what is going on or how things are going to happen particularly when it comes to meetings. The best example of this is when I set up a meeting back in May. I wanted to meet with village stakeholders about the GLOW camp just to inform them about what would be going on. I sent out letters to all necessary parties, booked the venue a week in advance, and prepared a schedule of events and topics for the meeting. I arrived a half hour early to set up the space. I set up chairs, put paper on the walls to write down ideas that we brainstormed, and reviewed my notes for what I wanted to discuss. I had asked for people to arrive by 1:45 pm so we could start promptly at 2:00 pm. Well, 2:15 rolled around and I was still the only one sitting in the room but I had kind of expected that so I was alright with it. Then a women arrived who I did not know. “Fantastic!” I thought, “The word must be getting out and people who I did not specifically send a letter to must be interested which is great!” I could have not been more wrong. A few more people showed up who I did not know and I began to grow a bit suspicious. I tried to ask (in broken Setswana at first and then English when it was clear my question was not going across), “Are you here for the GLOW camp meeting?” The response I got was, “No, we are here for the court case” – clearly not the same thing. Well, I went around and found out that despite having booked the place a week before I was over booked by an ongoing hearing in the village and no one told me. By now it was 3:15, only one person had shown up for my meeting, and now I had no where to hold it. I was irate to say the least. We went outside and began to talk about what we would do. As we were talking about rescheduling, 3 more people showed up. They insisted that we could have a meeting and that we could do it right outside, so I scrapped everything I was going to talk about and do on my notes and just gave all 4 people an overview of the GLOW camp. Everything turned out fine but this is just one of many examples of attending and trying to set up meetings. Still to this day I cannot schedule a meeting without it starting late, being rescheduled, people not showing up, or something of the sort. I can say that it has made me a much more flexible and adaptable person.
Story 3: Sending a letter… or a suitcase…. or books.
I truly think the motto of Peace Corps Botswana should be, “Nothing ever works but everything works out”. I have come to live by this here. I was looking for donations for the GLOW camp last week so I called the local lodge to see if they would be able to assist. I was told, per usual, that I would have to write a letter with my request. Letters here are important but not only are the letters important but so is the official stamp because protocol is of the utmost importance here. I asked if they had a fax that I could send it to and they didn’t so I would have to find a way to get to and from the Lodge which is not too far away (mailing is not a good option for donation letters because it makes it too easy to ignore). Anyway I drafted a letter with a seal stating my request and printed (thank goodness there was ink in the printer because that is always a challenge). Then I began thinking about how I was going to deliver the letter. My options were as follows 1. I could walk which would take a few hours to get there and back but was doable 2. I could hitch hike which is acceptable but could take a lot or a little of time depending on whether people were willing to pick me up 3. I could pay for the bus to take me but I really did not want to spend my own money when I had other options that were free 4. I could request transport through the hospital 5. I could ask around and see if someone was planning on going and could drop it for me. So I had options, I dismissed the idea of paying for a ride because I would rather hitch or walk for free. I began by asking around but could not find anyone who was going. I eventually decided that I would try to request transport (you have to fill out a request, get it approved, and then wait to see if a driver would be available at some point during the day) and if that did not work then I would walk and while I was walking try to catch a hitch. Anyway I went to the hospital in order to get a request form, fill it out, and get my supervisor to sign it which doesn’t sound like a lot but when you are not guaranteed transport sometimes can seem like a futile mission. While I was there, a green safari vehicle pulled up and a gentleman got out. He came over and began chatting. I looked at his name tag and it was pleasantly surprised to see that it was bearing the name of the lodge I needed to deliver the message to. “Would you be able to deliver something to the lodge for me?” I asked and showed him the letter. He said, “Sure but you need an envelope.” Ok…. I need an envelope…. Well I ran around the hospital and eventually got one and he was able to take the letter. I was pumped. I don’t yet know if the letter got into the correct hands but I will find out shortly. There are many examples of things working like this. When Abby and Keely came to visit the airline lost Abby’s luggage. We liaised with them to get it to where it needed to go which basically meant it being sent via bus across country. I never know how things will work out but I trust that they will which is faith at its finest.
All in All
This is just a snap shot of the experiences I have on a day to day basis. It is a roller coaster of positive emotions and facing challenges. Life is similar yet different here but it just seems so normal now. I have my routine, and I understand how things work (kind of). I will say that having people visit or ask about my life is such a blessing because I love sharing what Gweta is like, what Peace Corps service is all about, and how I am being shaped through this experience.
My favorite baby donkey in Gweta