The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Peace Corps or the United States government.

7.12.2014

The End.

That's all, folks. I ended my Peace Corps Service on May 16, 2014. For various reasons I decided to stay in Botswana for a little bit longer and left towards the end of June. The most important reason for my stay was a visit from my Uncle Greg and friend Elyse to join me on a two-week long safari in Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe (but I'll have to save a description of that trip for another post)


 On the Chobe River with the hippos
Visiting Victoria Falls from the Zimbabwe side

I have so many emotions wrapped up in my departure from Botswana, and from Peace Corps. As always, it's taken me a long time to sit down and write this post. Each time I try, my eyes fill up with tears and I walk away from a blank computer screen. I can never find the proper words to fit my feelings into, and each sentence I write looks bland and generic to me. It's not enough to say, "I found myself" or "I loved my time there" or "I'm excited for the new adventure that awaits me".... I wish I could put my heart on this blog and you could see how it has swelled with admiration and affection for all those I lived and worked with in Botswana. 







 Many people have asked me since I came back what I've learned. If I "feel" different. If I think that I made an impact, or that my work will continue on without me. How my relationships changed. How my goals for my future life have developed. 


I've learned so much more than I imagined I would, in ways I never expected. I didn't gain the book smarts that my pre-Peace Corps self thought I would. I assumed that, with all my new free time, I would give myself the education I never had. That I would read all the classics, see all the movies, catch up on my current events and come home the smartest little idealist ever. That did not happen. My free time was spent either surrounded by hoards of children or sitting in pure, simple silence. By the time I had a few moments to myself I often didn't have the mental energy to read anything, much less struggle against my useless internet connection to try to download the New York Times. 

But I found that my street smarts were heightened. I could give you a hundred tips on how to hitch hike effectively. I gained cultural sensitivity that, when I met PCV's during my first few months of service who also had such sensitivity, I arrogantly assumed was racism or sexism. I figured the exact science to how many cups of water I needed to adequately bathe myself when my taps ran dry. I could talk for days about the struggle faced by women for equality in Botswana and why many aid programs simply don't address the necessary issues to be successful. I got frustrated when people asked, "how is Africa?". Africa is not a country, it is a continent. Diverse and rich with culture, Botswana is just one small portion of a huge continent I hope to explore more some day.

Do I feel different? Yes, because I am different. Often times since I've been back, I've felt like that weight on my chest is getting heavier. The other day at lunch, the waitress asked my sister and I if we'd like bread while we waited for our food. Instinctively I asked, "is it free?". My sister made a face at me as the waitress said, "of course", and while she walked away, my sister asked if I'm going to be weird like that for a while. I don't intend to be, but I guess I will. I'm also different from who I was when I first departed. Watching children you love die of AIDS will do that. Trying to convince your male clinic workers that it's not OK to laugh at someone's HIV status, or that women deserve sexual independence, will too. So will being a single woman in your mid-twenties in a culture where, if you don't have a child you're considered broken. And being asked for money from people you thought were friends, who you never hoped would look at you like an ATM. I'm different in the sense that I'm a little more stoic; my jokes are slightly off-color, and my heart has a much greater capacity but a bit of a wall around it now.

My relationships have changed in both wonderful and challenging ways. I found a group of friends who became my pillars through the storm; we uplifted each other time and again (and again and again), and laughed our way through the hard times. When projects failed, family members passed away, we got into fights with people back home who just couldn't understand what we were doing or how it was changing us, we were there for each other. We "got it", so they say. No need for explanation or questions, we were there night and day when one of us needed each other. I can never thank them enough for making my service what it was, nor can I describe just how necessary they were to my survival. In my darkest moments, I knew I could reach out to my fellow volunteers, and that they would be able to relate to what I was experiencing. 





I made Batswana friends that rejuvenated my desire to continue in the field of development work. Ma Sangweni, my counterpart at Camp Hill for the last few months, worked tirelessly no matter what I requested of her. She had three children at home and a husband who passed away last year from cancer, but she showed up to work on time every day and gave me energy when I desperately needed it. When she could tell I was becoming frustrated because of a cultural misunderstanding, she would do a little dance and slap my back, wrap her arms around me and remind me that we were both doing our best. She made my passions her own, and treated me like a daughter. I will never forget her bright laugh and tender disposition.


 My friends and family abroad kept me going with unconditional support, in every form. Care packages, letters crafted with love, emails and phone calls came pouring in from every corner of the globe. Leaving the warm bubble I had created for myself in the States was one of the most difficult things I'd ever done at the time, but it proved that many of my relationships are strong enough to endure the distance. It's never easy to walk away from the people that you care about, but the foundation I had at home is what gave me the strength to pursue my dreams. For that, I am eternally thankful. 


In Botswana, I found love. Meeting Fritz last year was one of the best things to ever happen in my life, and I wholeheartedly believe that, ever the romantic, I was always meant to go to Botswana to find him. I'll simply say that I can't imagine a more perfect partner for my life. He energetically celebrates my every victory (even something so insignificant as FINALLY learning how to throw a frisbee), and does everything in his power to put a smile on my face when I'm down. I am the luckiest, and the thought of moving to Idaho with him to start our life together brings me so much joy.



As for our future plans in life, that remains to be seen. Working and living in Botswana for these last three years gave me the highest highs and the lowest lows I've ever experienced. I wouldn't trade a single moment for anything, though, and I think I'd like to do something like this again later in life. Perhaps not Peace Corps, and perhaps not for such an extended period of time, but I'm certainly not done with this area of work. I thrive on the adversity faced while living in a completely new and different place. I enjoy the social engagement that's required in grassroots work, and selfishly I feel good about trying to do good.

I guess that's what I've learned: that my bleeding heart is mine alone and not the responsibility of anyone else. No one asked me to go to Botswana; most of the people in my villages probably didn't want me there anyway - I went because I wanted to contribute to some greater, global thing. But in doing so, I learned that the people in these rural areas where I strive to be have survived (happily, at that) for thousands of years before I arrived, and will continue to do so for thousands after I leave. Serving in the Peace Corps humbled me in great ways - it taught me that if I really want to do something significant, I must re-evaluate my motivations. I honestly don't know what will become of my projects now that I've left Botswana. I hope that they will be continued, but I don't know for sure. More than anything though, I hope that I left my mark on the hearts of the children and adults I spent my days with and that if they don't remember my work, they will remember how much I love them. 

5.21.2014

Let's Talk About Sex

It’s been so long since my last post, and the more time that fills the space the more I feel as though there’s just too much to say and I can’t possibly fit it all into a few paragraphs. But, a lot is happening on this side of the world these days, so I feel compelled to try.

After spending two full months in PA for home leave and medical hold, I came back to Botswana at the end of March. My time at home was as rejuvenating as it was challenging. I struggled with not feeling a sense of purpose; having no concrete job to attend to, knowing my work at Camp Hill in Otse was sitting there waiting for my return. I felt at odds with all the American-ness surrounding me, and the culture I’ve come to feel comfortable in. My saving grace was the moments I spent with family and friends, enjoying therapeutic catch-up sessions with people I’ve lost touch with and picturing the many roads that those I love are walking.

Since then I’ve mostly been keeping my nose to the grindstone at work. My job with Camp Hill began with the broad task of revising the curriculum at the primary school, Rankoromane, to align with Camp Hill’s approach to education as a Waldorf School as well as a leader in education for people with disabilities. It would involve creating a more cohesive curriculum that spanned the 3 divisions (Rankoromane Primary School, Le Godimo Youth Training and MotseWaBadiri Vocational Training) so that learners who passed through the Camp Hill program felt a sense of fluidity and connectedness throughout the divisions.

I spent my first few months with Rankoromane simply getting acquainted with the teachers and staff there. Having two previous years of experience and language training in Motokwe gave me the advantage of understanding certain social cues and expectations, and I think it has helped ease me into the community. In a few short months I’ve come to think of the dormitory mothers as my own God-given mothers; they cook for me, care for me and treat me as though I’m their daughter whose social life they have a vested interest in. The teachers have become friends who I have genuine, engaged relationships with. In Motokwe I more or less felt as though the teachers could take me or leave me; they didn’t seem to care for me beyond what gifts I brought them from America, and I never formed substantial relationships with more than a handful of them. At Rankoromane, it feels much more personal. Perhaps it’s because their English is better, or perhaps because my Setswana is improving, but I feel like I’ve gained access to a secret circle. The relationship between teaching staff at any school has it’s own energy, and this one is filled with laughter and support, and a bond that spans back to when Rankoromane was opened over 10 years ago. Touches of affection shine in their every day lives, from watching each other’s children to making homemade birthday cards, collecting money for a mother whose son has to go to the hospital and helping me kill & cook my first chicken. They look out for each other and, as I’ve become an honorary member of the circle, for me.

After many weeks of trying to lose myself in the pulse of the school, I saw that the more pressing issue among teachers at Rankoromane was the lack of confidence in their ability to teach Sex Education lessons. As my two years of work in Motokwe equipped me to recognize these gaps and to work with teachers on filling them, I thought it would be better to apply my skills in that capacity, rather than taking on the task of revising the entire organizational curriculum. Mostly I was intimidated by performing a task that required a proper teacher’s training, which I do not have. Plus, my passions lie deeply in advancing the rights of people with disabilities to have control over their own sex lives; a foreign idea to many people in Botswana, due to the lack of visibility of people with disabilities in mainstream culture.

So the focus of my time at work lately has been all thing sex related: reproductive rights, all-inclusive puberty education and biologically accurate name calling of all body parts. There is a very interesting cultural undertone here, which commands that you don’t call a spade a spade. To reference sensitive body parts in Setswana, you rather go “around it”, as they say, and use either a very polite word or a word that means an entirely different thing. For example, in Setswana a woman is mosadi and a man is monna, but if you want to refer to the vagina or penis respectively you can say bosadi or bonna, meaning literally “of a woman” or “of a man”.  Or, you can call a vagina the various words that don’t actually mean vagina, my favorites being kuku (chicken) or nnyo(little thing) or pheshe (fish).  Granted, English has a fair share of slang words for these body parts, but the American approach to this sort of education (or at least, my experience of the American approach) is much more no-nonsense. A penis is a penis, a vagina’s a vagina, and that’s that. We all learn it, because we all have it. And although some pockets across the country might be shy to be so direct, I think that overall the Western perspective on this is more open than I’m learning the Botswana perspective to be. So it’s been a fun, and funny, process of gaining the trust of the teachers I work with in order to encourage them to open up on this issue. Essential to the process is a strong sense of humor, as the mention of these words produces a fit of giggles from most Batswana.


We’ve come a long way since October; our Sex Education Team, composed of a representative who teaches Sex Ed from each division at Camp Hill, has made great strides in developing a common language to broach the topic. Through hours and hours of workshops, meetings and lunch breaks sitting in the shade of a tree, we’ve evolved to the point of developing a syllabus specifically for the Primary School and teaching tools to accompany it which were created for, and by, people with disabilities. I’ve been amazed and impressed with the progressive minds on the Team, and their fierce advocacy that we improve the Sex Education process in order to improve the quality of life of the kids at Camp Hill. It will be a long road until sex and sexuality are discussed openly in classrooms the way I think it should be done. But that’s the beauty of this type of development work; no matter what preconceived notions or expectations I had of what exactly I’d be doing here, I’ve quickly come to understand that what I want and what the community needs are two very different things. As long as I can keep that at the forefront of my thoughts and actions, my work will be all the more sustainable.

3.02.2014

Love, Love, Love.

I've been home for a few weeks now, and I'm delighted to say that I am settling into life in Pennsylvania much easier these days. No more emotional breakdowns, LL Bean-induced panic attacks or word vomit of hating on the women with 18732984 bags at the local Target. I gave myself a much needed reality check, and sure enough the dust settled as the days at home grew more comfortable. Life in America came back to me in the piecemeal way it always does; I forget funny little things here and there, like how to deposit a check at the bank...but who knows how to do that without an iphone anyway?

Among many other exciting things I've done since I've been back, I attended the wedding of two of my best friends, Supriya Shah & Brendan Williamson (now the Williamsons!) in Key Largo, FL. Friday night before the wedding we all attended a traditional Indian ceremony called the Pooja, to seek blessings from the divine for the couple on their union. It's typical for the bridesmaids to perform a dance for the bride-to-be during the Pooja, so a bunch of us awkwardly banged out some Indian dances that (despite our MONTHS of practice) didn't quite look as in-sync and professional as we'd hoped, but it was a blast to learn and perform. I'll save us all the shame of posting a video; suffice it to say it was a good show though.




Supriya and Brendan's wedding was one of the most beautiful things I've ever been a part of, and I was honored to be one of the 9 bridesmaids who helped them celebrate their life together. Their relationship has been filled with nothing but tenderness and happiness, and they're two of the best people on earth. I can't say enough wonderful things about them as a couple, and as my friends. So here's to love!


2.03.2014

Home Sweet Home?

Home is supposed to be a place that feels safe. A place that feels comfortable and warm and familiar, a refuge in your dark hours. I have always maintained that “home” for me is not a location but rather a state of being; I’m ‘home’ when I feel those things. Most frequently throughout my life that physical place has been Schwenksville, the town where I grew up in Pennsylvania, along with a brief period in Motokwe.

I came home to America on Jan 28 to the open arms of my family and friends who I love so much. I had been looking forward to my month of being stateside as a much needed break from everything that was piling up in Botswana – the stress of living in a new, larger village, the workload of a much more demanding job, the lack of relationships I’ve forged with the children in Otse and the sadness it causes me. I was looking forward to all the things America is known best for: convenience, customer service, speed, etc. I was NOT looking forward to the imminent culture shock I knew I would face – my previous two trips back home during my Peace Corps stint have taught me that I need to be patient with myself and expect certain things. I knew from experience that I would have a hard time coming back to the excessive culture of America, but I had no idea just how intense it would be this time around.

When I got off the plane in Washington I smiled upon the aromas that made me salivate instinctively, a handful of restaurants and shops dotting our walk to the connecting flight – in just 1 strip of building there were more than in an entire town in Botswana. I almost kissed the ground I was so happy and excited to be back! After hugging my sister and nephew in Philly and loading into my old car, we started the drive back to my parent’s house where I felt my nerves on edge as my heart raced while hundreds of cars zoomed past us. More people, bigger highways, faster cars I reminded myself. Just take a deep breath and you’ll get home safe.

After being home for a bit, I had an errand to run at Target before dinner. I went alone, needing some time to regroup my thoughts and brace myself for the slap in the face that consumerism in America would hit me with. All I needed was a toothbrush, but as I stood in the isle with infinite options in front of me my heart raced again. And then a screaming toddler ran by, yelling at her mother that she didn’t care that she had 15 other toys at home, she wanted THIS one! Kids in Botswana don’t have any toys. They play with old car tires and dirty rags. It had begun: an internal dialogue with myself that I’ve grown to hate, yet can’t control. I knew it would happen because it’s happened every time I come home from a trip abroad, but this time it was different. As I walked through Target I was constantly evaluating things and people; judging them. I was disgusted with myself and the awful thoughts going through my head, so I went home and tried to let it go. Just enjoy your time at home.

This past weekend I went to the King of Prussia Mall with my mom – one of the biggest malls in America. Another simple task, all I needed was a good sturdy pair of flip flops due to the tremendous amount of walking I do now. As my mom went to the checkout line of LL Bean, she told me to pick out a pair I liked and meet her there. That’s easy. Again I stood in front of all my options, and it felt like a weight was getting heavier and heavier on my chest. I couldn’t pick anything because I was so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of crap in the store, and all around me employees were trying to convince people to buy more of it. Money, greed, materialism. I felt like I was going to throw up, and I couldn’t stop the tears as they gushed down my cheeks. Embarrassed at my inability to complete something so simple, and horrified at my anonymous judgment of those around me, I left and sobbed into my hands at the balcony outside the store. My mother, saint that she is, was patient and gentle with me while I made my second attempt at purchasing the shoes. We left the mall almost immediately, and the nauseous feeling in my stomach grew stronger. I feel lost, like I'm floating in between two cultures and not belonging to either. I don't know where I fit in anymore. I feel like I can't quite connect, like I'm trying to fit a square plug into a round hole, and while that has always been a familiar emotion to me, for some reason now it is paralyzing. 

Every day since I’ve been home I’ve waged a battle with my inner thoughts. I’m saddened and disappointed at where our culture is – how do we have so many brainless reality TV shows about rich kids and their spending habits? Why is every house I pass big enough to fit 3 families in? Why can’t anyone at a restaurant simply look at the person sitting across from them instead of poking around on their smart phone? I’m not proud of these thoughts, but they exist so I feel that I should name them. Yet how can I be so severely critical of others when I possess many of these qualities myself? I’ve wasted hours in front of a TV that I could have put to better use doing something meaningful and productive, our house in Otse is 3 times bigger than my house in Motokwe was and it’s filled with stuff I don’t need, and I may not have a smart phone but I certainly don’t always listen attentively the way I should.

Yes, I live in Africa. Yes, the people in Botswana that I’ve worked and lived with have been of the lower (or lowest) socioeconomic status in the world. When I give an old shirt to a friend in the village, it might spend every day on a different family member’s back before returning to the person I initially gave it to. That’s their culture; they share everything. I wish I could be that way, and that’s the root of my dissonance. Yes, it’s normal to feel this way when I come home. I know all this from reading Peace Corps’ literature about reverse culture shock upon coming back to America from your country of service, and from living it myself.  But that doesn’t seem to help, nor has it given me the proper tools to control my reactions. I don’t write about this to alienate myself from anyone here in America who subscribes to these cultural norms, or to make anyone feel bad or guilty (well, maybe that’s not entirely true because I think that guilt can be a great motivator for action). I write about this for anyone who’s ever been in my shoes, and as always, to give a brutally honest portrayal of the emotional rollercoaster that this lifestyle has brought me on.

This morning I found out that our house in Otse was broken into. Since I’ve been in America for about a week now, and Caitlin is working in Gaborone there’s no one staying in Otse on a daily basis. Thieves must have been watching the house and paying attention to that, because last night they broke through our burglar bars and completely destroyed our home, eating food and tearing our shelves apart looking for electronics and things to sell. The house was a filthy mess, so I've been told. Thankfully, since we’re volunteers, we don’t have much to offer so they left fairly empty-handed save some mall cameras and jewelry. My gut reaction was to be furious: angry at the people who felt they could help themselves to what few possessions we have, and angry at myself for being completely helpless in the situation since I’m so far away.


After a few hours, I realized how ironic it all is. Here I am on my high horse, judging those around me in America for valuing their possessions while I do the exact same thing in Botswana. It’s an important, albeit tough, lesson in materialism for me. No matter how much I want to be a certain way, I am not and will never be that way. It’s in my nature to place value on things because of the culture I was raised in, and regardless of how much monetary value those things hold, they are still things. Things that I can live without, and things that others look at and probably judge me for. I need to learn to accept that, or I will spend the rest of my life being a hypocrite.  

1.16.2014

To Act, Or Not To Act...


I am fortunate to never have experienced or witnessed abuse in my short, sheltered life. Until coming to Botswana, I had never seen any act of violence played out in front of my eyes; I may have heard about it, but never has it been so close to home. Since moving to Otse, my experience (and my personal connection to the issue) has completely changed. Twice now I’ve endured the gut-wrenching sickness of watching women I love and admire process the emotional toll that abuse takes. Twice is too many times.

In Motokwe I was very aware of abuse; corporal punishment is practiced regularly in Botswana and has proven to be my greatest barrier to feeling a deep connection with this culture. I fought against it every day, trying to show by example for the educators that I worked with that providing love and comfort to a child is exponentially more effective in dealing with bad behavior than simply punching them in the head a few times and sending them away, sad and confused because no one ever explained what they did wrong. My voice was weak and my message fell on deaf ears, and after 2+ years, during my departing weeks in Motokwe I still came into daily contact with corporal punishment. 

On one occasion in September, two girls were sitting on the benches in the main office, both of them crying, when I came to have a meeting with my School Head. I sat down and asked them what had happened, but our language barrier prevented their stories from being accurately told. One of the girls was San and spoke only Sekgalahari (we’ll call her Sarah), the other a Mokgalahari and spoke Setswana (we’ll call her Mary). Naturally, I could understand Mary’s Setswana much better and my non-verbal cues of active listening were felt more by her than by Sarah, who visibly retreated into herself to the point where she simply stopped looking at me or answering my questions. The story, as far as I could tell, was a common one of racial insults thrown back and forth and physical violence. The class had been left alone in the classroom (something that happens far too often in remote villages), and when Mary and a bunch of other Bakgalahari children mounted their offence on the “backwards, dirty, bushmen” San children, fists went flying. Racism against the San runs rampant in Botswana, and is sadly not perceived to be a noteworthy issue amongst the other tribes. Sarah, wanting to defend her family and their traditional culture, fought back.  A short scuffle ensued before both girls were brought to the principle.

At some point my School Head walked out of his office and into the hallway where we 3 were waiting, and helped to interpret some of the girls’ story for me. He had been alerted to the issue and was waiting for both of their parents to arrive before addressing it with them.  When Mary’s mother walked into the office, my school head began slowly explaining the story to her.  Her eyes widened and her face instantly bore outrage when he got to the part where Sarah hit her daughter, and before I knew what was happening this grown woman was chasing Sarah out of the office and around the school grounds. Sarah was screaming and crying, running as fast as she could to escape the angry mother, but her efforts proved futile as she was wrestled to the ground and I watched in horror as Mary’s mother slapped, punched and beat her. My body was frozen, my words stuck in my throat, as it seemed was the case with everyone around me who had come out of their classrooms due to the riot. After a few moments I snapped out of it and ran over to them, screaming at the mother to stop what she was doing and think about the example she was setting for the hundreds of little children watching her actions. She dismissed me with a wave of the hand and a mouthful of spit at my feet, and my rage was boiling up as my School Head came outside to call all parties involved into his office for a meeting to discuss the situation. I was promptly dismissed at his door, saying he would “call me when they needed me”. I went home, knowing that the meeting would result in a slap on the wrist for Mary, perhaps a few more beatings for Sarah since she initiated the physical violence, and absolutely no repercussions for the abusive mother.

I’m not the type of person who can sit idly while something like that happens; I have a hot head and can tend to act before thinking things through, and my School Head perhaps acted in his own best interest by not allowing my presence at the meeting. To some degree I understand his choice, but mostly I felt helpless and furious.

When I arrived at Camp Hill in October, I was thrilled to read in their Staff Handbook that corporal punishment and physical violence of any kind are strictly forbidden. All employees must handle misconduct or bad behavior in a way that is in line with the Camp Hill vision, which strives for “a world of dignity, respect, choice, opportunity and community inclusion for every person”.  Finally! I thought, no more beatings, no more scared, timid children, no more abuse. Just love, affection and open minds. I was ecstatic, and I naively thought that my work with Camp Hill would protect me from having to come into contact with the issue again.

But Camp Hill is not an island, and Otse is a much larger village than Motokwe (about 8,000 people, as compared to about 1,500). This provides for a certain degree of anonymity, and what I failed to realize in my celebrations of Camp Hill’s approach to education is that I live in the village, surrounded by people who don’t have to adhere to the Camp Hill doctrine.

In the last month alone I’ve comforted two women I care deeply for as they deal with the emotional tolls of being victims of abuse. In one instance we decided to take action and call the police, hoping they would advocate on behalf of the victim and take the appropriate (and legal) action against the perpetrator. Sadly, that’s not what happened. The police arrived about 40 minutes after we alerted them, impervious to the story we told, visibly annoyed by the late hour of the night (it was about 2am). They rushed her through the draining process of telling her story, spoke to each other in Setswana rather than addressing her in her native tongue of English, and when the victim decided she didn’t want to press charges for fear of the repercussions, they simply said fine and promptly drove away after giving a light verbal warning to the very drunk perpetrator, who in all likelihood wouldn’t remember the event the next day.

The most recent instance has sent me reeling into a haze of sadness and confusion; sadness that the perpetrator could behave in a way I never expected of him, and confusion as to why the victim would want to return to him (which I later discovered is a result of economic abuse, the victim not being able to support herself without him). In offering my support to the victim I’ve tried, and failed, to withhold my shock.  As she sat at my kitchen table and told me the story, I winced when she lifted her swollen purple and blue eye to meet mine.  I desperately wanted to help and listed the gamut of options she has, trying to remove my personal feelings from the situation. I felt lost and ill equipped to maintain the clear, level head that addressing it necessitated.

I grew up in a context where physical violence of this nature is unthinkable. I’d like to think that if a man ever raised his fist to me he’d have a knee in his groin so fast and so hard, he wouldn’t know what hit him. I’d like to believe that I would fight back, defend myself, and take all the legal action possible to ensure that it never happens to another person again. Doesn’t everyone want to believe this? Don’t we all hope that we’re capable of that? But women in Botswana haven’t had that empowerment; in many places they still believe it’s their duty to be submissive to their husbands and boyfriends. Far too many women here, as in many developing countries, don’t have the tools, knowledge or support systems in place to fight back. They are trapped in cycles of abuse, perpetuated by cultural norms and tacit approval by community and family members.

On my worst days, I want to escape… return back to the comforts of my American society that condemn abuse and stand up to it, rather than this culture that generally sweeps it under the rug. But then I think, that’s exactly why I’m here. As hard as it is for me to be a spectator to it, I must remember how agonizingly painful it must be for the women and children that endure it. You could argue cultural relativism here; that my upbringing puts me in the delicate position of bystander, without a right to judge the circumstances. But I believe, to some degree, in universalism; that basic human rights should be afforded to all people, regardless of culture, and physical safety is one of them.

1.03.2014

Zambia!


Zambia: the land of haggling. At least that’s what I’d call it. In December Fritz and I gave each other an early christmas present: a trip to the historic Victoria Falls, where we stayed on the Zambian side. Everywhere we went we were bogged down by people who wanted to sell us something; they waited outside our hostel gate, followed us down streets and hounded us at the Falls to show us their metal bracelets, leather crafts and small stone carvings. Botswana is, with a population of only 2 million people in a country the size of Texas, much more scarcely populated than Zambia’s 14 million . So it stands to reason that we haven’t encountered as many street vendors or hawkers, and when we have they don’t display nearly as much persistence and intensity. It’s more of a, “hey you, you wanna buy this stuff I have sitting on this table in front of me? No? Fine. You married? Got any kids? ….” And then the conversation turns down a path very unrelated to the buying and selling of goods.

Livingstone's recycling program

Victoria Falls Bridge

The trek to Zambia was by far the worst public transport experience I’ve had in my life. We booked two tickets on a bus called the “Gaborone-Lusaka Express”, which we’d heard great reviews of, that was to pick us up at the Gaborone Bus rank around 7pm, drive through the night, cross the border to Zambia around 8am, and arrive in Livingstone by 10 at the latest. That was the plan! So at 6:45pm we arrive at the bus rank, backpacks stuffed and ready to go. Around 9:30pm, after much confusion and heated words exchanged with the staff at the ticket counter who kept insisting the bus was, “just down the road getting gas” for two hours, we finally boarded.  We took the last two seats in the very back, next to a man who was so drunk he couldn’t put two sentences together. Frustrated and exhausted, Fritz and I attempted to shut the world out and sleep but were interrupted when our fellow drunk passenger started vomiting on himself about 10 minutes into the ride. Neither of us knew what to do, except to check his pulse and make sure he was still breathing, so we alerted the bus staff… who didn’t even bat an eyelash. We had to sit next to that mess for 12 hours, and when we arrived to the Kazungula border post the next morning, 3 hours after we were supposed to, we were told that this bus wouldn’t take us across the border. There was a mix up in tickets, and we would have to wait ANOTHER 3 hours for the other bus to arrive, so it could take us across to Livingstone. I was fuming, and Fritz seemed to me taking it all in stride so I let him handle the negotiations. Part of me didn’t want to give up our seats because we’d paid a ridiculous amount of money to be taken all the way to Livingstone, but the other part of me didn’t want to continue in the living hell that had been that bus. So we ate the cash and left our fellow passengers, and decided to just hitch hike from the border into Livingstone.  The rain started up again as soon as we sat down in a cab, and that paired with the winding bright green forests on either side of the road helped my clenched fists relax, and I could see how absolutely beautiful Zambia is.



Botswana is an arid country, and after living in the Kgalahari Desert for two years I became accustomed to a certain dry type of weather. But as it’s the rainy season here in Southern Africa, we were fortunate enough to get a shower a day. We spent our first day in Livingstone wandering around the town, soaking it all in, and then a “short nap” for me turned into a long night’s sleep. The next day we were picked up and taken to Jungle Junction, aka Bovu Island, on the Zambezi River along with a very sweet couple from South Africa on their honeymoon. 


Jungle Junction has been operating for years, and sits just a few kilometers up the river from Victoria Falls. Boasting a very laid-back atmosphere, delicious food and open A-frame huts that look out across the Zambezi and into Zimbabwe, the island was the perfect place for a vacation. 



No electricity necessitated candlelit dinners and solar-powered devices, and the constant fire beneath the hot water tank allowed for boiling hot showers every day (something I’m very unaccustomed to now). We were offered a sunset cruise, Mokoro rides in the river and a fishing trip as part of our stay there. I took off my shoes to dig my toes into the wet sand as soon as we arrived, and didn’t look for them again until the morning we left. 



I was in stress-free bliss, with the freedom to explore and wander as much as we wanted since the island is so small and isolated.  In an attempt to stick to our budget we made a lot of our own meals; chopping vegetables and cooking dinner in the small, traditional kitchen with the staff was one of my favorite moments. I prefer to get the feeling of a country through its’ people and their stories, not so much through places to visit or things to do, so the chance to sit down with a few people who weren’t trying to sell me something or make money off of me opened the floor to the chance of genuine conversation.


When we got back to Livingstone after our island adventure, there was only one thing on both of our minds. I’d been told since before I even arrived in Botswana that I absolutely couldn’t miss bungee jumping at the Victoria Falls Bridge (the 3rd highest platform in the world). 


If you remember my birthday “bucket list” post from last year it was one of the things I wanted to do in the next 25 years of my life. So we did! Financially it made more sense (and was way more fun) to do 3 activities – bungee jump, tandem swing and zipline – so we went all in on our last day. 


It was absolutely as thrilling and exciting and terrifying as everyone says it is!!! I loved every moment, especially getting to swing through the canyon with the water rushing beneath us and an incredible landscape all around.


After the activities, our adrenaline was pumping so we decided to sit at the bar overlooking the bridge to enjoy lunch and watch fellow crazies jump 111 meters to the canyon below. We had brought a loaf of bread and some avocados to make sandwiches, and as we started laying out the supplies I noticed little monkeys gathering around the bar area. They were in the trees, bouncing around on the ground, and slowly getting closer to our picnic table. My nerves were already on edge after having had a stand-off with a family of monkeys on the bridge; they were blocking the ladder I needed to climb up after my bungee jump, and as there was no one else around to help me I kept walking up tentatively to their group, asking nicely if they would leave, and then one of the big ones would bear its’ teeth and jump at me and I’d run down the bridge screaming bloody murder. This went on for about 15 minutes until a guy who just finished his bungee finally made his way up the ladder after me, and after a brief synopsis of my predicament, he charged straight at them screaming and waving his hands around. Of course, they all ran away immediately and we climbed the ladder with no consequence. 


After all of that, my affection towards the cute little monkeys had waned a bit, so when they started to surround our picnic table I started to freak out a little bit. All of a sudden a little baby ran up and snatched the slice of bread I had in my hand, and as I was laughing and reeling from how close he got to me, a momma monkey jumped up to the table and took the whole loaf of bread! Of course this caused me to scream some more and jump out of my seat and run around like I was being chased, while the whole staff and fellow patrons at the bar got a good laugh at us. Fritz continued sitting at the table like nothing had ever happened, and it took a few minutes before I felt safe enough to sit down again, to everyone else’s amusement.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the Victoria Falls National Park; as it's just the start of the rainy season, the water level was very low. Known in Setswana as, "rain that thunders", the Falls are a powerful and essential source of life in Southern Africa. 



Another 12-hour trek via the not-so-hospitable public transport system in Botswana brought us home at the end of the trip, exhausted and filled with a refreshing affection for the culture around us.


11.26.2013

Welcome to Otse!


We’ve been living in our new home for about a month now, and I can comfortably say that Otse will be one of my favorite places in the world for the rest of my life. I feel so settled here, so perfectly suited to the surrounding deep red mountains and rolling hills, to my job with Camp Hill and the wonderful, dedicated people I work with, to our huge kitchen where I’ve spent hours creating, dancing, experimenting and enjoying the company of the people I love the most.

Here’s a little tour of our new digs! –











Our house sits on the downward slope of the southern tip of the village, and from the scaffolding in our back yard where we risk our lives to climb up and watch the sunset we’re given a bird’s eye view of the valley below us. Life unfolds as family members shuffle from one compound to another, carrying babies on their backs or bundles of sticks on their heads, weaving through the traditional Botswana design of living surrounded by extended family.  

My 10-minute walk to work has been plagued by tiny, screeching voices telling me to come and play, or cough up some money. I’m always slightly amused yet simultaneously heartbroken by the young age at which kids here adopt the mindset of, “lakgoa, mpha madi (white person, give me money)”.  Two years into living here and I have finally learned to take it with a grain of salt and not let it ruin my morning (as I would have in my first few months in Botswana).

I'm slowly acclimating to the constant cool breeze that sweeps across my cheeks in the early mornings and late evenings; it's a notable change from the climate of Motokwe but, as with everything in my life these days, I'm learning to welcome the change with open arms.