Monday, July 27, 2015

Fare thee well. Almost.

Hi to everyone back home, hope that you all are having a great summer.  We are entering the home stretch in our 2 year Peace Corps adventure with just 3 months remaining.  There are a wide range of emotions to hash through at this point in our service.  We will miss many things about Botswana, and feel good about the way we have lived this side.  I feel humbled at the kindness of Batswana and the way they have almost universally welcomed us into their country.  We have learned so much, laughed a lot, and helped where we could.  Re a leboga Botswana, re mmogo!  Some of the work we have done will be lasting, some will not.  That's just the reality.  The actual relationships with people that have taken 2 years to build are the things I am most proud of.  It is going to be so hard to say goodbye to our host family and other friends and co-workers, not to mention all of our PCV hommies.  But.... that also means we are coming home, and I cannot wait to see family and friends!!  There are so many new additions to our lives since we've been gone, including one just last week.  Huge congrats to Sheila, Bill, and Esme!!  We are still in the process of making final plans for our after Peace Corps lives.  Stay tuned.

We had an absolutely amazing trip with our Portland family back in June.  Seriously, trip of a lifetime!  Thank you guys so much for coming all this way to see us!  It meant the world, and we had such an awesome time.  We got very lucky with wildlife, hung out with a lot of our Batswana friends, learned how to speak 'village voice', saw a big waterfall, and drank about 100 biers (okay maybe 300).  It will be hard to top in the future, but I can't wait to try.

Last week we had our final Peace Corps conference!  It's called the Close of Service conference and it's kind of more of a celebratory atmosphere as opposed to the mostly training oriented previous conferences we've had.  You have a lot of administrative sessions dealing with post service medical (they put us through 3 days of med tests before you can leave the country).  A bunch of other sessions about how to be a real person again.  You know resume writing, job searching, eish...  How to act normal when you get back to America, seriously people, I think many of you will think we are weirder than we were before.  Food, showers, a variety of activities to do in your community, all these things will just become normal again after a short time, I hope.

After the conference we took our last leave days before we settle back into 'lock down' where we can't leave our village for the last 3 months.  Along with Mike and Botho we rented a 4x4 truck and drove out into the bush for 3 nights of camping.  We drove about 300 km into Chobe National Park to a place called Savuti.  This place was the most wild and beautiful part of Botswana I've been to.  Absolutely amazing numbers of elephants and giraffe in stunning landscape.  We saw two different prides of lions with males and a mother lion nursing 3 small cubs.  We camped in the bush at a public campground.  At night there were hyenas sniffing at our tents and scavenging through camps and we could hear elephants stamping through the bush next to our camp and lions roaring in the distance.  Super fun to drive on crazy sand trails (Jason Clouse dream) and come upon a family of elephants playing in a water hole.  So lucky to have been placed in Botswana, definitely appreciate it for many reasons but this one being high on the list.

Now it's 12 weeks to go, and I think it will fly by.  Jojo will be very busy writing and researching, and I will try and keep myself busy with gardening and planning for life after Peace Corps.  We wanted to again say thank you to our Portland family for visiting and bringing us so much awesome stuff kwa America.  We feel very spoiled.  Another very special thank you to Liz & Dave Graves.  Two of our oldest and dearest friends, thank you guys so much for the package.  It made our day in more ways than you could know.  We love you!

Finally to close out another exciting blog entry I'll give you a little taste of one of our Close of Service conference sessions.  We were given a short list of questions to consider in order for you to try and process certain parts of the experience of being a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Here are some of my responses, some snarky, some serious, with explanations where needed in parenthesis:

- What I liked best:   Tea Time  (here in this Anglo-centric part of the world we stop and have tea sometimes twice per day.  It's very civilized).
- My biggest accomplishment:  That I made it!
- Something I will never forget:  THE WILDLIFE
- Something I'd like to forget:  Male gender norms.
- Something I've learned:  A bit of Tswana culture, and a lot of new music.
- Biggest challenge I overcame:  Dealing with PC rules  (hard to be an adult and have so many rules and regs to deal with).
- At work I've...  Shown up and been present  (the only way to learn anything).
- People who have been special to me:  Host Family!!
- I'd like people in my community to remember me for:  Smiling and greeting.

Bots 14.  What a crew!
Sisters :)

Team RJ in the bush.

Everyone got tswana names.  Aratwa (Becky-adorable), Ditedu (Blake-beard), Mma Dijo (Lisa-Mrs Food), Kabo, Neo, Ditau (Rick-Big Cat!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Hello again from Botswana

Hello to all.  We know that it has been a while since we last posted.  It's not that there hasn't been a lot going on over here, it's just that blogging is kind of hard.  We never know exactly what is of interest to the anonymous masses out there in cyber-land. Since our last post we have been busy with work and projects, spent quality time with our host family at the cattle post, had an amazing visit from Jojo's aunt Gail, and generally have just been living the typical Peace Corps life.  The weather has thankfully cooled off a bit from the 'please kill me' heat of Jan-March, and now is pretty much beautiful every day.  It won't rain for 6-8 months, and will slowly start becoming cooler at night.  We have about 5 months to go in our service, which I feel is the perfect amount of time to wrap up and plan for the future sustainability (hopefully) of projects and start looking forward to life after PC Botswana.  Jojo has started to write her thesis paper for grad school which will keep her very busy over our last months here, and I am starting to mull over the thought of actually having to work again.  EISH!  We are both really starting to soak in and enjoy the simple pleasures that life offers in a small village of a developing southern African nation, as we know that soon this journey will come to an end.  But I am kind of getting ahead of myself as we still have some months to go, as well as a trip from Jojo's sisters and brother's in law, which we absolutely can't wait for!!  Below are some pics from the last few months.

Peace & Love -

After a long hard road, the Tonota Clinic Garden finally has vegetables planted.  This project has been a great learning experience and super fun for me, but also very challenging.  I am so excited to have planted, and am looking forward to hosting a Permagardening Workshop here in Tonota for some other PCV's who are interested in gardening and other details of this project.  We will finish digging plots in the other half of the garden and plant seedlings.  Currently there is swiss chard and kale planted as well as sacks of herbs. 

We made the signs with bones collected at the cattle post.

Botho (Erika) and Jojo a little too close to the rhinos.  This is at a small game park located within the closed village of Orapa where the largest diamond mine in Botswana is located.  Botho's boyfriend Mbaki works at the mine, and was able to get us passes into the village.  They are very very protective of the diamonds and as such security is crazy around the mines.

We miss you all!

The obligatory Baobab shot.

This is what is looks like on the opposite side of all those animal pics.

So many elephants in Botswana.

I think I love seeing them on the road the most.  It's just crazy that this is their home.

Hell yeah Rams!!

Jojo's Gender Society hosted a really cool village clean up event.  We were able to organize over 100 youth from the village to come out on a Saturday morning to clean up rubbish from around the village.  There is a world wide "Global Youth Service Day" which encourages youth to volunteer in their communities, and we were very proud to be able to help organize this event in Tonota.

Riding donkeys at the cattle post.

Nuff said.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

10th Anniversary - Western Cape, South Africa

Greetings from Botswana!  We hope that everyone back home is doing great.  2015 is the year we return home, it is crazy how time has both flown by and crawled at different times over the past 18 months.We miss our family and friends terribly, and this blog is an outlet for us to at least feel somewhat connected with you all.  We are looking forward to a visit from Jojo’s Aunt Gail in April, and we are crossing our fingers for another visit of some really special people in June (don’t want to jinx it).  We are off and running on various ongoing and new projects here in Tonota and we have a very positive outlook for our last 8 months of service.  Next month we will give more of an update detailing our various work activities.  

Although it may seem that our lives are filled with vacations and big game sightings, we are mostly engaged in the daily business of grass roots development work.  To some this might have a romantic, saving the world type ring to it but let me tell you honestly that although we do occasionally experience incredible highs, mostly our work is thankless and hard to measure.  This makes life as a PCV very difficult at times, and it is hard to find that motivation it takes to put yourself out there and do the work of a development volunteer on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.  We are lucky to have each other to share that burden, bounce around ideas, and generally pick each other up when needed.  Life here in Botswana is a constant wave of both new and mundane experiences.  This dichotomy can be both exhilarating and very boring, which is difficult to process.  One way I do so is to notice the changes in my own perception of things around me and how those perceptions have changed so much since arriving in 2013.  I have basically gone from a well-intentioned wide eyed trainee, to a well-intentioned realistic PCV.  It has been very interesting how even our small amount of experience here has led to a deeper understanding of so many things, yet there are many times I still feel like a fish out of water.  I have learned so many things about the people of Botswana in the past 18 months, yet I have only barely scratched the surface of truly understanding the lives of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers who face challenges that we as western educated middle class white people could never truly understand.  My very basic level of Setswana precludes me from having a deeper understanding of Tswana culture that can only be known through the intricacies of language, yet by simply greeting people every day we share a real meaningful cross cultural experience.  My American ideals around time management, gender roles, and political correctness for example cloud my view of many different parts of the culture here in Botswana, yet I feel like certain things I’ve tried to implement have rubbed off.In the end I am very proud of the way we have tried to integrate and come to a deeper understanding of things through open minds and I think that is all we can ask of ourselves.

So now onto the real reason everyone comes to this blog: vacation recap and pictures.  As I’m sure many of you know Jojo and I just celebrated our 10th Anniversary!  Many of you who read this blog were there with us for that crazy, rain drenched, mudslide affected weekend 10 years ago in Santa Barbara.  It was one of the happiest moments of my life, and to have shared it with so many amazing people always makes me smile and feel blessed.  2015 also marks 20 years that we have known each other, and it was Jojo’s birthday in January, so to celebrate these awesome occasions my beautiful wife and I made a trip down to Cape Town and around the Western Cape in South Africa.  The trip was much needed, for as much as we love being PCV’s, we also love eating ‘normal’ food and not being constantly stared at.  

We flew down to Cape Town, which I have to say was so worth it, I really can’t take too many more 10+ hour bus rides.  Upon arriving you are immediately struck by the unique beauty of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, and Devil’s Peak.  These mountains dominate the horizon and make for really crazy views no matter where you are in the city.  The city itself is not that big and you can walk most places.  We also immediately got a bus pass, so between walking and the bus you can navigate all around the city very easily.  Some highlights from Cape Town were:  FOOD, seriously we were beside ourselves with the selection and quality of most everything we were eating.  We have discussed since being back weather things were really that good, or are we just jaded by living in a small village and having zero access to anything.  Either way we ate our way around the city and pretty much made ourselves sick with all of the rich food that we are so not used to eating.  Really good coffee, real pastries and bread, hot pastrami on rye sandwiches, pretty authentic NY style thin crust pizza,Thai,beer with taste, charcuterie, seafood seafood seafood, spice markets, a restaurant called Hallelujah was my favorite – highly recommended for anyone going that side.  Seriously if you’re going to Cape Town, go to Hallelujah.  We also loved walking the beautiful beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton, sort of the chic/fancy ocean front neighborhoods.  The Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens on the back side of Table Mountain was amazing.  Jojo and I love botanical gardens so that was a real treat, although we were about a month late for most of the flowers.  Table Mountain itself is really cool, and we got lucky with no clouds at the top to obscure the insane views.  

One of the most powerful experiences we had was visiting the District 6 museum.  District 6 is an area of Cape Town where mostly black and coloured (this is the actual term used by both the government of South Africa and everyone in the population to describe a person of mixed race) people lived and were forcibly removed during apartheid.  There still seems to be a feeling under the surface of a black/white/coloured divide in South Africa.  I am by no means an expert, but it is a very interesting/uncomfortable thing about being down there.  I think this especially hits home for us as we come from a village where we are the only white people, and although we are obviously different, we are treated with respect and kindness by virtually all Batswana we encounter in our daily lives. We saw at different times some really large “townships” on the outskirts of the city.  These are areas of thousands of corrugated tin shacks where black and coloured South Africans were forced to live during apartheid, and continue to do so.These shanty towns were really a humbling site to behold, and drove home the legacy of separation and racism that affected and still affects South Africa to this day.  We have seen many of these types of townships around Johannesburg, but to see them so close to such a cosmopolitan city was eye opening.  I’ll awkwardly get back to vacation talk now, which incidentally reminds me in a nutshell of the weirdness of race in South Africa.  On the one hand you have some pretty obvious poverty, and on the other hand right next door is westernized development, very beautiful scenery, hipsters, beach volleyball, Sir Richard Branson’s winery, foodies, and basically a rich person’s lifestyle.  Unfortunately I suppose it is this way in many if not most parts of the world. 

Moving on, we then picked up a rental car and drove the relatively short distance from the city out into wine country located just about an hour from Cape Town.  We stayed for a few days in this super beautiful landscape of mountains and vines, drinking amazing wine, and again eating really good food.  I think Jojo’s highlight was going wine tasting on horseback.  She had the biggest smile on her face all day and when it was over she said that this day would be her “groundhog day”.  Next we drove about 5 hours down the coast to what is known as the Garden Route.  We stayed in a tree house, hiked a really cool canyon with a rooibos (red tea) colored river at the bottom, went canoeing in another “black water” river, and just did a bunch of beach chillin’ for several days.   Finally we had to drive back to Cape Town and we stayed at a little beach community for our last few nights.  A huge highlight was Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town.  This beach is home to the African Penguin, and you can just walk right down on the beach and hang out with them.  They are so cute, and it was such a cool thing to be able to do.  After some planes, buses, and taxis we made it back to Tonota.  

Overall an amazing trip, I feel very lucky to have been able to do it, especially with some of the things we saw along the way.  Let us know how you are doing, we love getting emails, and we can’t wait to be back at the end of the year!  Below are some pics from our wedding and the trip to South Africa. 

Peace and Love, 
Erin and Jojo

In front of our guest house in Cape Town.

Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens

Top of the world.

District 6 Museum.

Bo Kaap neighborhood.

Franschhoek, could have stayed there for a month.

The vines at our guest house in Franschhoek.

View from the tree house.

Red tea river, so weird.

Kysna Heads, garden route.

Just one of the hundreds of empty beaches on the garden route.

Kalk Bay Harbour.

Boulders Beach, Simon's Town.

Penguins are cute.