Saturday, October 18, 2014

The last few weeks

The last two weeks or so of my service have been kind of crazy, between exams coming up this school term, saying goodbye, and all of the logistics of completing my service and time in Botswana.

The logistics of leaving included cleaning the entire house, taking everything off the walls, packing, figuring out what to keep and what to give away (the women’s shelter in Gabs got a large donation, as did a volunteer a few villages away), burning a large pile of paper that wasn’t going with me, closing bank and phone accounts, and getting a lot of things signed at the Peace Corps office to be official.

Saying goodbye to the village involved several trips around to find the chief, the primary school teachers, the police, the clinic staff, and a friend that I found out is currently living in Gabs. I didn’t find everyone, but I found most people, and left word with them to tell the ones I missed goodbye. I also tried to explain to my neighbors that I was going, and to their kids that play in my yard. I gave a few pieces of clothing to the adults and a lot of tin cans and egg cartons to the kids. I didn’t want to give away too many things because there is a new volunteer immediately replacing me, and I don’t want people asking her for lots of things because of me.

Saying goodbye and finishing up projects at school bumped into testing and craziness. At the end of September the form 1 and 2 students took end of month tests, and the form 3s took mock form 3 exams, all at the same time. I got permission from the school administration to add a 1 hour guidance and counseling exam to this stack of tests, so I could try and measure what I taught my students over the past year, and be able to report some of those numbers to my school and Peace Corps. This was a good idea in theory, except the testing fell partially over the Botswana independence day celebrations, and there were several school days with few teaches and students (that’s another special story for another day). So my test got bumped almost 2 weeks, leaving me a week to grade 700 tests instead of the 3 weeks I had planned. I got my classes and 3 others graded, and left my counterpart with 6 classes ungraded to do whatever she liked with them.

I was also saying goodbye to the students, letting them do a question session for their last class, and taking pictures with them at the end of study period one day (pics in my last post). This was time consuming all around, but I was glad to be able to a) say goodbye to the students and give each class a picture b) answer any questions they had about me, America, the class, sex, condoms, etc. and c) give them their exams back, and go over with each class the body fluids that can transmit HIV, since EVERY STUDENT got that question wrong on the test. It gave me and hopefully them some closure from our classes and my time with them these last two years. I also gave a final post test to the GLOW girls that went to our last camp, and gave them pictures from that as well, and gave them hugs and encouragement in the next steps in their lives.

Saying goodbye to the teachers, the people I’ve made the closest friends with in my village, was harderst. I printed some pictures for them, gave a few gifts, and collected lots of email addresses. The Thursday night before I left they gave me a going away braii that I posted about previously. 

Wednesday we left my village at 4:30 in the morning, in the dark, like I came. It’s still surreal to think I won’t be going back. I’m sad to leave my village, and I have lots of complicated feelings about what I was and wasn’t able to do, but I’m also proud of what I accomplished. I have good friends I hope to keep in touch with. I’m also excited to be going home soon, to finish my service, and ready for my next step in life, whatever that winds up being. 


Maybe it’s okay that I’m not one of those volunteers that completely fell in love with the neighborhood children.

Maybe it’s okay that some days I preferred goats over children. Maybe it’s okay that happened most days.

Maybe it’s okay that I tried to do as much as my sanity allowed with them, like letting them in my yard frequently to play, and sometimes playing with them. Maybe the fact that I didn’t let them inside my house isn’t the end of the world.

Maybe it’s okay that even though I didn’t learn all of their names, I learned some.

Maybe it’s okay that I never gave them candy, but I did give them time. And water. And tin cans.

Maybe it’s okay that I didn’t let them in my yard 24/7. Maybe it’s okay that I hid from them occasionally, rather than yelling at them if I wasn’t up to kids that day.

Maybe it’s okay that I yelled at them a more than few times. Maybe it was the first time someone had given them boundaries like, ‘you can only come at this time’ or ‘don’t throw rocks at my house’. 

Maybe it was good for me that even after I yelled at them, they still came back to play.

Maybe it’s okay that most of them won’t remember me very well because they are too young. Maybe it’s okay that they’ll probably confuse me with other volunteers that have lived and will live in this village.

Maybe it’s okay that I didn’t satisfy their need for attention, because it might not actually be satisfiable. Maybe it’s okay that I made a dent.

Maybe they didn’t learn a lot of English at my house, but maybe they learned some. Maybe they learned even more than the funny looking foreign lady liked them.

Maybe it’s okay that I have conflicting emotions over these kids; I love them and they frustrate me and wear me out. Maybe that’s how parents feel a lot.

Maybe it’s okay that I’m not going to miss the stress of small fists banging on my door. Maybe it’s okay that I will miss those smiles, and shouts of ‘Lesego? Lesego! LESEGO!’

Maybe time is more important than new words, skills, or tokens.

Maybe I did enough for them even if it doesn’t feel like it.  


The Chibuku Truck

One of the struggles of any Peace Corps volunteer in any country is not only learning the language and the culture, but the systems of the country. How do things work or not work, how do things get done. Because even in countries with slightly or more than slightly broken systems, things do still get done. Maybe not completed the best way possible, maybe involving bribes, maybe much later than expected, but unless you are currently living in Syria or Somalia, some things do get done.

Botswana has decent systems, even if they are painstakingly slow sometimes. They are the least corrupt country in Africa (and I realize that given some of its neighbors, that’s like saying it’s the tallest of the seven dwarves, but it is recognized worldwide for its low corruption rate); there are schools and clinics and social workers that provide some social safety nets.

But working in an extremely rural area, I see the faults of the system more than the strengths. The kids that miss meals because our school isn’t given enough money to buy food/books/beds/doors to replace the broken ones on classrooms. The preschool that closed in my village because people would rather drink the local brew than pay school fees. The road to my village that the government keeps repairing with construction equipment but never paves, so it has to be flattened almost daily in the rainy season. The school system teaching everything in English to make the students globally competitive, which in reality makes it so kids from my area fail because they don’t understand the lessons taught in and the exams given in English.

Sometimes it seems like everything is a bureaucratic mess, and then I see a Chibuku Truck.

Chibuku, also called Shake Shake, is the local brew made from Sorghum. Lots of people do actually brew it at home, but there is also the commercially available stuff, at only 6 pula for a liter (75 cents), and the largest bar in my village sells only Chibuku. It’s cheap, filling, and the drink of choice if you want to be drunk all day (which isn’t uncommon, especially in a rural village like mine).

Chibuku is delivered to my village on a regular basis in a large 18 wheeler truck. I’ve gotten a hitch in and out of my village in the cab before, because they have a space behind the driver seat that can fit up to 3 people. It’s an awesome hitch. The drivers are professional, and they seem to keep a good schedule, because on the way into my village there will be people waiting on the side of the road to turn in empty Chibuku crates from their cattle posts, and to buy new crates to take back. The truck is always clean, in good condition, and doing good business.

Often, I wonder why lots of other things in Botswana can’t work as well as the Chibuku truck and industry. It gives me hope for capitalism, in a country that is too reliant on the government for many things, but it’s also frustrating that the thing most in demand in this country is apparently bad tasting alcohol.* I wish other commodities could be delivered in a reliable fashion like Chibuku. I wish other businesses could learn to keep a schedule and customer service from the Chibuku industry. I’m not an economic volunteer, and I have no background in economics or business. I encouraged small businesses when I could during my time here, but that was sort of the limit of my abilities.

One idea in development is called appreciative inquiry. Instead of pointing out all of the ways things are broken and not working well (like the beginning of this post, ha), you find examples of people/ideas /businesses that are working better than most, and use them as a positive example to influence others around them. I feel like the Chibuku truck is a good example of this. Of course, the problem of alcohol abuse in this country is another issue, so I have mixed feelings touting the success of the Chibuku industry, but as far as their economics, I hope other companies and government agencies in Botswana, like delivering medicine, take note of a great business model.

*Chibuku is just nasty tasting. There’s no way around it for this lekgoa.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

These kids... They are awesome

Teaching these kids has been a highlight of my service. 

Not all of them pay attention, there's a few in the back that usually sleep.

The form 2s, in the formal picture above, are a bit more well behaved than the form 3s.

These are some form 3s :)

But they liked having the American teach them.

They thought my lessons were both weird and interesting, I think.
And I certainly woke them up when I pulled out condoms for condom demonstrations :)

The future of Botswana, y'all.

As I'm finishing up my time with them, I'm finally understanding the true value of Peace Corps. 
Yes, it matters that I taught them and that they learned something. But what matters even more to them, and also to me, is just that I was here. 
I struggled mightily with building relationships with these guys; most of them won't talk much, and sharing feelings isn't really something that people do here much if at all. So whereas in the US, I have lots of close friendships where we talk about lots of things, I didn't have that here but with a handful of teachers. I desperately wanted that with some of the students, but it didn't really happen. 
And that's okay. The relationship I have with these guys isn't what I thought it would be coming in, but hey, isn't Peace Corps all about turning your expectations on their head? :)
We spent time together, some of them talked, lots of them giggled, a few slept, and I hope many know how much I care about them, even if we didn't have that many one on one conversations. 

My goodbye party

Some teachers at my school planned a going away party for me.

After I sweet talked them, we had it in the teacher housing instead of my house, so it would be easier for them to come. 

They made a little program, with speeches and music.

We had a in house DJ, the business studies teacher.

A master of ceremonies who wanted us all to polka.

My friend Mma Modiakgotla, who did all the work.

They wanted to toast me.

 Apparently here, you stand on a table to be toasted :)

I gave a little speech, as did a few of my friends.

Food was had.

Meat was braiied.

A beautiful fire.

The local dogs all showed up for the meat scraps.

And there was a lot of dancing!

These people, these friends,

I am going to miss them.