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.

Monday, November 11, 2013

So what the heck are we doing here anyways?

Well, it’s really not that simple, but I will do my best to give you an idea of our role in Peace Corps Botswana.  Our program is 26 months.  We began with a two month PTS (Pre-service training) in Serowe where we got a good overview of Peace Corp, the Botswana Peace Corps program, homestay, and language training.  Peace Corp is very standardized in many ways but in others not so much.  Each country has its own independent program and is run differently.  This makes sense considering the cultural differences and needs for each country.  I think that I mentioned this before but the Peace Corps in Botswana is here to help with fight against HIV/AIDS.  All volunteers in country are in some way working to help combat the disease.  There are two programs in the country, one working with “Youth” and the other working in “Health.”  The “youth” volunteers are what we call “Life Skills.”  Volunteers in this program work in schools helping to teach the youth about positive life choices.  The other program “Health” has three different areas:  NGO (non-government organization,) Local Government, and Clinic.   Your primary assignment is with one of these programs but past that we are encouraged to work on secondary projects in the community (I will expand in future blog posts).
            Now that we are in our village we are doing our community assessment which we will be working on for the next 2 ½ months.  The Community Assessment is an interactive tool used by Peace Corps Volunteers and their counterparts to complete an in-depth analysis of the needs of our community.  This analysis will serve as a basis for a long-term plan of projects and activities to improve the quality of life for community members while addressing the overall goals of Peace Corps Botswana.  Basically we go around and try to learn everything there is to know about our village.  We learned very quickly that there is process to this as there is with most things here.  We had to first be introduced formally to the village Kgosi (chief) before we were able to access anything or anybody.  Luckily we were invited to attend a Kgolta meeting where we were formally introduced to the Kgosi, our representative from Parliament, and the District Administrator.  They formally introduced us at the meeting as the new Peace Corps volunteers in the village, which was very nice, and also humbling as most of the village elders and other important people were there.  Now it seems we are free to move around as we wish and proceed with meeting various community stakeholders.
I (Jojo) am a Local Government volunteer working in the DAC (District Aids Coordinator) office.  The primary role of the DAC is for the coordination of sub district HIV/AIDS priorities and responses.  The office works with all the stakeholders (including gov’t, local NGOs, schools, etc.) doing HIV/AIDS work.  Capacity building is basically the main goal not only of the DAC, but also of Peace Corps in general (more on “capacity building” in a future post).  Our sub district is the Tonota Sub District which covers 11 villages including Tonota.  I work in an office in the RAC (Rural Administration Center) which houses all of the local government offices.  In my department there are 5 people including me.  We have the DAC, Assistant DAC (this is my counterpart, basically my boss), Community Capacity Builder, and a Driver.  I have my own office (see below) with AC and internet (sometimes, it is very unreliable) but overall I am not complaining, I think my situation is pretty sweet.  Over the past two weeks I have attended many meeting (mostly in Setswana) and participated in a few community outreach programs.  I am really just spending most of my time getting to know all of the people in the office, beyond my department there must be another 200+ people that work in the RAC all in different government departments.  There are so many people to meet not only in the office but all around town.  Everyone has been extremely welcoming but learning all of their names has proven be to a real challenge.
  I (Erin) am a CHT (clinic and health team) volunteer, and work at the Tonota Clinic as my primary assignment.  I work mainly with the IDCC (immune disease control center) section of the clinic, this is the department which focuses mainly on HIV/AIDS, and dispenses the ARV’s (anti retroviral drugs).  As a quick side note, I have to apologize for all the acronyms.  As I am learning, public health in general, and Peace Corps specifically is a constant alphabet soup of acronyms, so please bear with us.  As Jojo stated above, our first priority both at work and in the village is trying to meet as many people as possible.  This has been going good, and we are definitely celebrities in the village already.  I greet strangers all the time, and they say “Dumela Kabo”.  In the clinic my role is to support the staff and build capacity wherever possible.  This is difficult at first, as relationships will need to be developed before you can earn trust and are given more responsibility.  So in the beginning I have just been trying to meet everyone, and help out where I can.  Every morning there is a meeting with the clinic staff at 7:30.  The meeting is mostly in Setswana, but they do use a lot of English words, so I can usually follow along and understand the gist of things.  After the meeting, I go over to the MCH (maternal and child health) department for daily baby/child weighing.  This is usually the highlight of my day as the kids here are so darn cute.  In Botswana every child under the age of 5 is given an infant health card, and is to be brought to the clinic every month to be weighed and given nutritional rations.  Mostly mosadi mogolo’s (old ladies/grandmas) bring the kids in, and they line up to be hung from a scale and have their weight recorded.  I help the ladies wrangle the kids into these funny homemade “harnesses” that everyone must bring to hang their kid from the scale, and then I record the weight in their cards.  After that they are given rations depending on the age of the child.  There are three different types of rations given: malute (soy bean porridge), tsabana (wheat/maize porridge), or sugar beans (a type of dried bean).  Sometimes it is sad and scary when a child’s weight is either consistently under, or has dropped significantly from the previous months recording.  The government of Botswana takes childhood health very seriously, which is great, but I definitely see opportunities for general nutritional education.  Last week there was a nationwide campaign for measles vaccination, deworming, and vitamin A.  This was nice because it gave me something to do and I was able to be helpful to the nurses who are always overstretched.  I administered the vitamin A drops to each child, and then painting the pinky finger of the kids to show they had been vaccinated, prior to them going for their injection.  Lots of screaming and scared kids, but pretty funny too.  My other big project so far has been working with Tanya the PMCTC staff member (preventing mother to child transmission) on starting a support group for both pregnant and HIV positive teens in Tonota.  I have some experience in this area, and am excited to get this going over the next few months.  There is a serious need for a peer support network for this age group, and I am really lucky that Tanya is interested in this as well.  It is said that finding a person who is motivated to work with you on a project is the best feeling for a PCV. 
As we have said in previous posts, life moves at a much slower pace here, both at home and work.  Adjusting to this will take some time as we Americans are almost programmed from birth to be productive and diligent.  There are certainly many needs in our village and I am hopeful that together with co-workers and community members we can make a small difference in people’s lives.  Appreciating the small victories makes our work fulfilling already and I can’t wait to see what the next two years hold for us here in Tonota.   
Tonota Clinic
On my way to the clinic.
Neo's Office
Typical village scenery.  It's very dry here...  Daily temps are between 95-105 F.
Acacia bush.  Enemy of flip flops and bike tires everywhere.
Big sky Botswana

Every night we are treated to amazing sunsets.