Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tonota Sub-District World AIDS Day

This week we were lucky enough to be a part of our Sub-District’s World AIDS Day commemoration.  The event was put on by my office (District AIDS Coordinator).  This was our last big event for the year and I have to say that it was fun to see it all come together.  The event was held in a village called Borolong in our district, about an hour bus ride from Tonota.  It took place at the Kgotla (traditional village meeting place).  The event began in the morning and the program included different speeches from community leaders as well as entertainment which included traditional dancing and a drama performance.  There was a candle light ceremony in honor of those lost to HIV.  This was by far the most touching part of the day, many tears were shed.  It really puts our work here in prospective to see the emotion coming from the survivors and affected family members of this horrible disease.  Everyone in this country is affected by HIV in some way.  After the program we handed out condoms and literature about HIV prevention and ARV treatment.  The event ended with lunch which as I have said before is a requirement if you want anyone to show up.  Tswana food is always the same with a bit of variety in the preparation.  Weddings always have the best food, but most catered lunches/events will have the same fare.  You are always served samp (corn-like starch,) Bogobe (sorghum porridge,) beef stew (similar to what we would make in the US although the cuts of meat are very different and very chewy,) sometimes chicken, and some sort of vegetable (called “Morogo”, usually cabbage or other greens cooked in a lot of oil).  I have to say that even though the event was all in Setswana and over six hours long, we still were able to generally follow along.   I have included some photos of the event below.

Sometimes it is hard to know what to write about, things become normal here very quickly. So here are some questions/comments that friends and family from back home have asked and I thought if they were wondering, someone else must be wondering too.  I will try to add a few questions at the end of the next few blog posts for the inquiring minds.  We have both contributed to answering the following questions:
1)      That's so crazy that you (Jojo) have a 45 minute walk to and from work every day!   - Yes this is pretty crazy!  I have to say that once I am walking I do not mind much and in fact enjoy time to myself to think.  Also it is pretty much the only exercise that I am getting right now.  There are some days when it is really hot on my way home and that is not cool to be honest.  I have also gotten rained on a few times but that is not a big deal, things dry really fast here.

2)       Have you (Jojo) gotten a bike yet? - No, I have not yet gotten a bike although I am planning on getting one so that will help the commute time although nothing is as easy as it sounds over here.  There are crazy thorns so not only do I need a bike but I also need a patch kit, pump, tools and everything else that comes along with riding a bike in Africa.  It feels overwhelming to me for some reason.  Also, I need to find a ride to Francistown to buy one because I have to buy it there and I will not be able to bring it home on the bus.  Transport is the biggest issue here, finding a ride is a challenge.  I am in a holding pattern right now until our office driver has the time to take me up there to buy it.   Also I bought a yoga mat off of one of the other volunteers last weekend so now I can do some yoga at home!!

3)       Do you ever feel freaked out? - We love this question, we really had to think about it for a while because of course we feel freaked out on some level, we live in Africa for heaven sakes.  But I think that the question was to find out if I (Jojo) am ever freaked out on my walk to work and the answer to that is NEVER!  It is not scary here at all, I know it is really hard to believe, being that we are so far away living in a small African village, but Batswana are very peaceful and in no way intimidating.  Especially after you greet people in Setswana, everyone just smiles and waves.  Sometimes you will be passing someone who in another reality would seem very scary and as soon as you say “Dumela Rra,” they will give you the biggest smile and respond back with nothing but kindness. I think that the two biggest things to be scared of here are getting into a car/bus accident (no different than in the states) they drive really fast and dangerously pass a lot, and getting robbed.  We have heard of other volunteers getting their houses broken into but ours feels really safe and I have Erin with me.  Our village is also pretty mellow, we met with the Police Commander the other day and he was telling us about the crime, not much happening.  Mostly bar fights, house break in’s, and issues with immigration (many Zimbabwean’s come across the border looking for work).  Sound familiar?  Also we do not go out at night and would not feel comfortable doing so.  If anything were to happen it would be at night, there are no street lights so when the sun goes down, the village is pitch dark and spooky.  The towns are different than the villages, there is definitely more crime there such as pick pocketing and what not.  When we go into Francistown, we are way more conscience about making sure we do not flash money or leave our bag unattended.  The bars here are also different, mostly men sitting around and getting really drunk.  I do not want to make generalizations but from what I have seen, people at bars drink hard.  People drink to get drunk, really drunk, kind of like college kids in the US.  This creates a sloppy scene that is not very comfortable or safe to be around.  Needless to say, we do not go out to the bars, if we have a drink it is in the safety of our home.  I have mentioned this in the past but we are also lucky enough to live on a compound with a police officer (also our best friend in the village).  She is really good about telling us what to do and not to do in order to keep us safe.  For example, at night it is very important to leave your front light on, close all the windows, and lock all the doors.  We take all of these precautions very seriously.

4)       How are things there with the recent passing of Nelson Mandela?  -  Well it is strangely not as prevalent in our daily life as you would have thought.  First of all, when you do not have a TV or regular internet access it is amazing how little about the world we know these days.  We did hear about his passing first thing on Friday morning.  Most people are in mourning, he was more than just the former President of South Africa/anti-apartheid hero, he is seen as an African leader for all Africans.   But to be honest if you ask a local, most Motswana would say "he has been gone for a long time."  People here are paying their respects with memorials and they have put out flags around just as we would in the US.  In my opinion the passing of Mandela does not really affect the daily lives of Batswana and something that is hard to understand for us is that people here really live day to day.  I did have a conversation with someone at work who mentioned that she thought that Obama gave a wonderful memorial speech but then went on to say that he really screwed up by not mentioning one of his wives, “only a true African would understand the importance of this, she was the one that had great influence over his getting released from prison.”  Makes you think!

5)      Does the electricity go off regularly?  – Yes, the electricity goes out pretty regularly.  If there is a storm, you can be pretty sure that you will lose power at some point.  It can also go out any other time for no particular reason and for any amount of time.  You learn to make sure that all of your electronics are always charged because if you get stuck with a dead battery, you might be out of luck for a while.  We have head lamps and candles that we use when the sun goes down.  There are also scheduled power outages when they are working on lines.  We will usually hear from a neighbor or a co-worker that there is a planned outage.  It is a pretty normal part of life here.  Plus the water pumps are controlled by electricity, so when we have an extended power outage the water always goes out too (like on Thanksgiving).  Some of the volunteers here don’t have any power or water at all though, so it is really hard to complain about those types of things.  Also by worldwide Peace Corps standards we are living very comfortably.  I have heard Botswana called “posh corps” for this reason.  We didn’t expect that, so we are very thankful.  We also realize that most people in our village, let alone Botswana at large, and the world as a whole live with much less…

6)      Do you have such a thing as a refrigerator and/or freezer?  How about a stove? – Yes we have a fridge/freezer which is actually pretty nice.  When the electricity goes out we try not to open it and when the electricity is off all day, we just try not to worry about it.  We also have an oven/stove that is gas powered.  We have to turn on the tank and then light the stove top or oven in order to use.  It is not difficult, you get used to it.  Figuring out Celsius baking temperatures has been the hardest thing for Erin.

Keep the questions coming!  Anything you are curious about we would love to answer (if we can).  We hope that everyone back home is doing well.  We will miss you all during this holiday season…


Jojo and Erin

Head Table with Guest Speakers.
Candlelight Memorial.

My supervisor the District AIDS Coordinator (Chipo)
This kid literally sat here through the entire 6 hour event.

Traditional Dancers.

Traditional Dancers.

Drama performance.
Drama performance.


Female and Male Condoms.

Handing out free condoms after the event.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Summertime and the holiday season just doesn't sound right together!

As the holidays are approaching, I have to say it does not feel like it.  With average temperatures in the triple digits, it makes me laugh every time I go to the store and see Christmas decorations.  We hosted a bunch of friends for Thanksgiving which was really nice.  Erin cooked a wonderful meal (of course), we tried to stick with some of the classics but turkey was out of the question.  Some say that it is possible to get but by far too much hassle so grilled chicken it was.  We had stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, greens, carrots, mac and cheese and plenty of dessert.  To make everything really interesting we lost power at 7:00am and were without until around 7:30pm in the evening, just as the sun was going down.  When the power is out for that long, the water pumps stop working so at around 2:00pm we also lost water.   How do you cook Thanksgiving with no power or water?  Well luckily we have a gas stove and lost our American need to keep everything refrigerated at all times.  We went and got a few blocks of ice so at least the beer could stay cold, priorities people.   I am also a natural planner so as soon as the electricity went out I filled up my bathing buckets with water.  This was used for people to wash dishes, their hands, and for flushing the toilet once the water was off. I never knew how much water it took to fIush the toilet, the funny things you learn living in Africa.  It was really fun to have our new Motswana friends join us for an American holiday that they had never experienced before.  They could not get over that it was really all about the food, well for us it is anyways.  We were also thinking about our friends and family and hope that everyone had a wonderful time eating and spending time with their loved ones back home.  It is days that like that really make us feel far away from home but we are lucky to have met some really great people here in Africa.  Last week I set up our computer so that after 3 minutes the screensaver starts a slideshow of our photos on random.  It has proven to be some of the best entertainment!  We will literally sit for hours watching our photos and laugh and reminisce about all the wonderful people in our lives and experiences that we have had.  We are very lucky to have such wonderful friends and family.
We are planning on heading back to Serowe for Christmas to be with our host family which should be really fun.  I have learned that people do not exchange presents here, probably because most people truly could not afford it but the tradition here is that children get their new cloths for the year on Christmas day.  This is all they know so they get really excited about it.  I have to say that I think that this is real cool way to handle the whole present thing which often times gets carried away in America.
It is now summer break here, kids are out of school until mid-January.  Work for both of us is slow.  In my office, everyone is wrapping up the year.  Next week we will attend our district’s AIDS day in a village called Burolong (small village in my district).  The Botswana official World’s AID Day celebration was celebrated in Ramostwa (a village in the south) last week, but each district usually puts on their own event.  I am not sure of the program but I heard that the president might be attending and I assume there will be speeches and entertainment.  Lunch will of course be served, I have learned that if you plan an event here in Botswana and you do not serve food, no one will show up.  Batswana love their food.   


Jojo and Erin

Cooling down in my wash basin!

Our friend's really cute puppy (Abbey)

Our first attempt at growing herbs, keep your fingers crossed.

Our favorite snack, kind of like Cheetos.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Blogs are boring without pictures!

I spent some time last week looking through a ton of blogs from other PCVs in Botswana.  I realized that we are actually doing a pretty good job with keeping ours up.  Erin and I are both visual people so many times we will just scroll past the text and look through the pictures.  That is why I am committing to always including pictures with all blog posts.  I will also say that even though you might think that our lives here are filled with excitement every day, the reality is that we have a lot of down time to say the least.   So what do we do with your free time?  I am glad you asked.  Thank goodness Erin loves to cook, he spends a lot of his time in the afternoons and evenings preparing dinner.  We have been eating pretty good, I am a lucky girl.  When Erin is cooking I am either chatting with our neighbors, reading or playing on the computer, but since I now have internet access at work by the time I get home I don’t usually want to work on the computer anymore.  We do have a lot of movies and tv shows on our computer so once the sun goes down we usually watch something, just as we did in the States.  BTW, if you have not seen BBC’s The Human Planet, it is amazing! Sometimes our lives feel very normal.  As many of you know, we have move around a lot, this house is the 10th house that we have lived in together, crazy hu?  We are used to moving, starting over, meeting new friends and getting accustom to new environments.  With saying that, living in Africa brings its own excitement and challenges but ultimately we came here to learn how other people live.  Last Saturday, we woke up and as we were drinking our coffee Erin turned to me and said “so what do you want to do today?”  We both laughed because we have limited options compared with our old lives (even in Vermont).   Keep in mind that it is hot everyday which limits pretty much all physical activity, after some discussion we decided to go to the store for two reasons.  First, we needed some food for dinner; the second reason is that they have air conditioning.  This might sound funny but it is no joke.  We will literally walk around the store for an hour, looking at all the products just so that we can cool down.  As we left our house that morning, we noticed some of our neighbors from the next compound all sitting under a tree.  They had taken the mattresses out of the house and were all just sitting under the tree laughing, talking, and passing around the babies.   After greeting and talking with them a bit we laughed and said, “I bet they did not ask each other what they wanted to do today.”  This is just an example of the difference in lifestyles and makes us really appreciate the slow pace of life here.   By the way, did I mention that it was hot?  Now I know that we should have expected moving to Africa we would be dealing with some heat but it is so hot, averaging over 100 degrees every day.  The only thing I can compare it to is living in Arizona in the summer without A/C.  We have a fan that we worship and we sleep with frozen water bottles next to our bodies at night.  Unfortunately we are not supposed to open our windows at night for security reasons but we are slowly learning how to deal with our new climate. That is all for now, we hope that everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends and of course good food.  We will be hosting at our house this year with some friends so that should be fun.  We are going to try and make some of the traditional items but I do not think that we could get turkey even if we tried which is fine by me, we will probably just make chicken, close enough right?  


Jojo and Erin
Sunsets are amazing!

Tuck Shop = corner store (these are everywhere)

View from our kitchen window.  I love that tree!

Homemade pizza, African style.

Chris and Tony in our hammock.

Peace Corps friends at our mini regional in Francistown.

Can't get enough of the sky.


Pedicures with Sarah, I refuse to let myself go.

Typical corner with a car wash and hair salon.