Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mozambique and St Paddy's Pics

Hi all,

Here are a few pics from our lovely trip to Mozambique and a party we had with some PC friends for St Paddy's Day.

Love to all,

E & J

Chris (Ramotswa), Sarah (Matangwane), and Lissa (Bobonong).

Lissa (Bobong) and Anneliese (Nata).

Laura (Rakops) and Jojo.

Chris (Ramotswa) and Sara (Masunga).

Jojo, Christy (Mosetse), Sarah (Matangwane), Anneliese (Nata), Sara (Masunga), Chris (Ramotswa).


Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Perks of Peace Corps

All Volunteer Conference
After only 2 ½ weeks in Tonota we once again headed down to Gabs for the first ever Botswana Peace Corps All Volunteer Conference.  We were put up in a swanky resort for 3 nights and had sessions that focused mostly on best practices.  It was great to meet all of the 130 volunteers in country.  Since we all live in villages spread around the country, it is rare that we get a chance to meet any of the volunteers from other groups let alone see our fellow Bots 14 (that is our intake group).  I also finally got a chance to meet my mentor who lives in Shakawe (northern delta) which was a treat, she is one cool girl.  That will be it for conferences for a while.  The next time that Bots 14 will be together will be in November for our Mid Service Training Conference.  That means that we will pretty much just get to see the volunteers that live in our region.   The truth is that we had a hard time concentrating during those few days because we knew that Mozambique and the ocean were just around the corner.
          Former Botswana US Ambassador talking to us at  our All Vol. Conference. (This was literally her last day in office)

One of the perks of being in Peace Corps is our opportunity to travel.  I remember before we found out about our site, I was hoping to be placed somewhere that we would have a chance to explore.  Botswana as it turns out is a great jumping off point to see Southern Africa.  I have a list of must-see places and Mozambique with its beaches and abundant seafood was our first priority.   Our wonderful traveling companions included our friend Chris, Sarah, Botho (Erika) and Dawn.  We left Gaborone on Thursday right after the conference.  After securing our visas we opted to take public transport from Gabs to Joberg which ended up being the cheapest option.  Once in Joberg we had about 7 hours to bum around until our overnight bus departed for Maputo.  We found a nice restaurant and parked ourselves.  After arriving in Maputo, feeling like a bunch of zombies we walked aimlessly around the city until finally meeting up with my mom’s cousin who works for the US Embassy there.  It was great to meet up with him and find out more about Mozambique and life in the Foreign Service.  We then headed to the famous fish market where after an hour of complete and utter chaos we sat down to what turned out to be the best meal of our entire trip.  We ordered a 2.5 kg Record Fish (might be the best fish I have ever had) and 2 kg of the famous Mozambique Giant Prawns. The following morning we once again got onto a bus and headed for our final destination, Tofo Beach.  The 10 hour bus ride seemed endless but finally when we arrived it was all worth it when we got our first glance at the Indian Ocean.   We had booked a chalet with 3 bedrooms which was a traditional straw design.  We had our own kitchen but the best part was that our porch looked right over the beach with it’s super soft sand and warm salty water.  I knew I would not want to leave this beautiful place.  We spent the rest of the week eating seafood, absolutely amazing fruit, reading, playing dominos, throwing frisbee, surfing, taking walks, collecting shells, doing yoga, playing in the waves (trying not to get stung by the many jellyfish) and overall relaxing.  There is not so much a town, only a few stalls selling local crafts, local produce, and booze.  One night we decided to buy a fish from a local fisherman and ended up with an enormous Barracuda.  There was enough fish to feed an army but we managed to stretch it out over a few days.  We also bought prawns and calamari from the market for another meal.  The seafood was not only amazingly fresh and delicious, but cheap too, a grilled lobster for example was about 4 bucks.  For me the highlight was the fruit.  The avocados were huge and beautiful and tasted like nothing you have ever had.  The mango, bananas, papayas, pineapple, passion fruit, and coconuts were so sweet every time we ate one we would say it was the best one ever.  Our final day we rented some quad 4x4’s and took a tour of the surrounding area which was breathtaking.  I’ve never seen so many coconut palms and cashew trees.  I thought Tofo was beautiful until we got over the hill and saw Barra Beach, it was amazing.  Driving through the villages was really the highlight.  All the kids would run after us saying hello and the houses and compounds were so different to what we are used to in Botswana.  After a week of sun and sand, it was time to head home.  The journey home took us over 36 hours, I can’t say that was fun but it was totally worth the effort. 

Life in Tonota
I remember someone telling us that it hardly ever rains in Botswana.  Well either we are having a crazy year or they did not live near Francistown.  Before the New Year, we could not wait for the rain to come and our neighbor kept saying, “don’t worry, it will come.”  She was right, since the end of January it has not stopped raining.  Over the past week since we have been back from Mozambique, it has literally rained every day.  The up side is that everything is really green and beautiful, the crops are doing well, cows are getting fat and overall it is a nice relief from the heat back in Oct. – Jan.  The downside is that when it rains, it is difficult to commute to work and we usually loose power, that being said we have been taking a lot of baths by candlelight.  We usually have enough power on our computer to watch a show in the evening but then it is time for bed.  Our kindles are our best friends.  Erin just got one for his birthday and it has proven to be the best gift ever!  Work for both of us is good.  We are trying to get some things off the ground but as with everything else here in Africa, things move really slowly.  It will be very satisfying when projects that we have been working on since we got here are finally up and running.  Until then we are contributing where and how we can at our respective work places.  I feel that we both have really good relationships with our counterparts and it is very nice to see little things rubbing off on them.  We are really excited about our growing herb garden.  Erin has been scouring the neighborhood to find rubbish that we can use for containers.  We are looking forward to hosting a big party next weekend, part birthday party for one of our PC friends/part St. Patrick’s Day party.  Either way it is just a good excuse to get our friends together.  We also just bought a tent over the weekend which we are so happy about.  Its maiden voyage will be a trip to the North at the end of the month (Shakawe & Maun) to participate in a Permagarden Workshop as well as a GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp hosted by some other PCVs.  Both will be very interesting and we are both really excited for the GLOW camp.  Influencing kids in a positive way is one of the most important things we can do here, so it should be a fun experience.  It is a lot of traveling on buses but having things to look forward to is a great way to get through the weeks. And we will get to see some animals, as they all live up in the north of Bots.  Finally some good news came over the weekend from our Bots Country Director.  Erin and I both applied to be on separate Peace Corps committees.  It is actually pretty competitive, there will only be 4 or 5 on each committee from our group of 60.  After applications and references, Erin was invited to serve on PSDN (Peer Support and Diversity Network).  This committee serves as a peer support system for Peace Corps volunteers.  I will be on the Gender Committee.  This committee deals with Gender projects, helps volunteers apply for grants, organizes the abundance of resources, and facilitates gender workshops.  We are both excited that we will have something else to keep us busy.  The committees will not only allow us to get more involved with Peace Corps, like being able to participate in Peace Corps trainings (i.e. Bots 15 Pre-Service Training / In Service Trainings) but it also gives us an opportunity to work with Peace Corps volunteers around the country.   Not to mention more travel.  We will both be at meetings at least once a quarter but again, it is nice to have something to look forward to.   That is all for now.  Keep in touch, I know that it is hard to comment on this blog post but feel free to send us an email.  We both have pretty consistent access at work and check them frequently.

We miss you all!

Peace and Love,

Jojo and Erin

*  We are having lot's of issues with power and therefore internet in our village.  I will add pictures next week, I just wanted to get something up since it had been a while.

Back In Tonota

After 2 ½ weeks in Gabs (the Capital) we have finally returned to Tonota.  We were in Gabs for our IST (In-Service-Training).  This is the first time that Peace Corps had it over such a long period of time which we have all come to a consensus was a bad idea, just too long.  The hotel we stayed at was actually quite nice but 17 days is just too long to spend sitting in training sessions.  Some of the highlights were:
·         Grassroots Soccer Training – Very cool program incorporating soccer with life skills and HIV awareness.  We are really excited to start this up in Tonota.
·         Getting a chance to see and hang out with the other PCVs – Getting to hear about everyone’s life in their villages was great.  It was really interesting to hear how people are dealing with their work/living situations.
·         STEPS Training – Another really cool program that consists of a series of over 50 documentary films which you can screen to a variety of different groups i.e. youth, adults, support groups.  The purpose is to start a conversation about issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.  I know that both Erin and I will be incorporating these into our service.  Hopefully we will get a chance to do some of the screenings together.
·         Counterpart Workshop – This is when our counterparts (co-workers) came to Gabs for 3 days from Tonota to participate in some of the training sessions.  I found this to be really helpful in getting me and Nginya (Assistant District AIDS Coordinator in Tonota, my boss) on the same page with my project ideas, one-year work plan and general working conditions. 
if     My 37th Birthday - Yes I turned 37 on January 18th.  It was a very special birthday.  I got to celebrate it with so many of my new friends.  It was on a Saturday so we were able to go out for dinner and a few drinks.  I wish all my birthdays could be so special.

Now back in the village, we are actually getting to work.  I have to say that it is quite exciting to be starting some of these projects.  That being said, I know that we are both going to have to have a lot of patience because things move really slow here.  Here are a few of the projects that we will be pursuing in the next few months:
·         STEP Film Screenings
·         Participating on the Gender-Based Violence Committee
·         Working with the local youth group “Powervoice” to help them plan and implement their 2014 activity plan.
·         Learn Setswana (we got a local Tudor)
·         Jojo - Creating a Website for our DAC office & organizing electronic files in the DAC office
·         Erin – Working to get a local teen HIV support group, and teen pregnancy support group up and running, as well as building the clinic garden.
Another very exciting project that we are working on is planning our trip to Mozambique at the end of February.  We have been itching to take a trip and finally nailed down the days.  We are both looking forward to putting our feet in the sand and hearing the ocean.  We will be traveling with a few of our PCV friends and visiting a family relative in Maputo so it should be a good time. 
Question and Answer:
Now that the holidays are over, what will be happening in your office/district?  - Now that the holidays are over my office is back to work.  Since I have been gone for training for most of the month, I have not really been involved much but here are a few things that are on our office calendar:
·         Village Multi Sectorial AID Committee (VMSAC) Training – VMSAC is a committee within a village that coordinates activities related to HIV.  Our office goes out to the villages in our district and trains community members on how to run a VMSAC within the village.  It is hard for our office to cover the entire district so these committees plan an essential role in getting the communities sensitized to the issues surrounding HIV.
·         They will attend a variety of other committee meetings including:
o   Sub-health meeting
o   District Heath Management Team (DHMT) meeting
o   Technical Advisor Committee (TAC) meeting
·         Community Conversations:  One of our staff members in the DAC office is a Community Conversation Capacity Enhancer (crazy title hu?).  He is responsible for training community members on how to have lead conversations
as well as have his own conversations throughout the district in the different villages.  These conversations are actually a very specific program that is headed by the Botswana Ministry of Health.  They are focused on Batswana, the conversations are held in very traditional ways according to their culture.  These conversations are supposedly extremely effective as they usually target the youth. Many times when people are getting information about HIV, they are just being lectured at and this is not very effective so when you can sit down with a group of youth and just try to have an open conversation, people respond.  The only problem for me is that because I am not Motswana and do not have the language skills, this is not a program that I can really participate in.  I will probably attend some of the conversations but the reality is that I will never be able to lead one.  I am hoping to be able to incorporate the STEPS films into these conversations.

What kind of meat do you eat?  Veggies?  And most important, dessert?  What kind of chocolate, if any?   British brands of candy bars? – We eat CHICKEN almost every day, no joke.  I have pretty much given up on beef all together.  It is just not the same.  We do eat vegetarian meals quite a bit.  At the store we can always get: Tomatoes, Onions, Green Peppers, Rape (kind of like kale), garlic, butternut squash, and apples.  Past that it is pretty touch and go since most everything else is being imported from South Africa.  The only lettuce we can get in Tonota is iceburg and that is not consistent.  At times there will be great options like eggplant, mushrooms, avocados, and green onions but you can never count on it which makes it hard to plan meals.  It is truly seasonal produce; we see what is available at the time it is harvested.  In Francistown, the selection is better.  Sometimes we will find herbs (although now we are growing our own) sometimes we will find mixed greens and other random things.  The biggest thing is that we just can never count on anything so you have to eat according to what you can get from the store on that particular visit.   For dessert, we buy chocolate bars and cookies.  You can find some British candy bars in the nicer stores but it is expensive.  To be honest, I have not found any chocolate that I love yet.  We can get Kit Kat and Snicker bars.  There are some other candy bars (all from South Africa) but I have not tried many of them, I am usually disappointed.  We also buy a ton of cookies, Erin is a cookie monster.  They have a lot of tea cookies, biscuits and wafer type of cookies.  My favorite treat is this black licorice, (Becky would freak) they are to die for.  I had to stop buying it because I can’t stop myself from eating it.  Dessert is not typical for Batswana, most will drink either juice or a soda after a meal.  I have seen some Jello-type dessert at weddings, just ok.  There a variety of pastries at the bakery section of the store but we have never been impressed.  Our absolute favorite snacks are “meat pies.”  This is very British as you know.  You can get them everywhere and they are really cheap.  Some better than others of course but there are some that are really good.  I usually get a chicken peri peri (spicy chicken) and Erin likes a “chili Russian (it is like a spicy hot dog.)  I have seen some vegetarian options on the menu but I have never actually seen any available, quite typical. 

Can we call you? – Yes you can call us.  Our family calls all the time, they are using the AT&T International Calling APP on the I Phone.  Not sure exactly how it works but I know you have to go into the store to get it set up.  I also know that a lot of other people use Skype to call.  The time difference is challenging but if you call either in the morning or at night, it is pretty much opposite for me.  My parents call me every Sunday around 5:00pm my time, so it is7:00am PST. 
Do you read? – A LOT!!!!!!  One of the other volunteer actually gave me this crazy library of e-books (over 12,000.)  I have a kindle so I am all set, actually it is so crazy to have such a huge selection.  We just bought Erin a kindle too because he does not have a reader.  I have a bunch of books that I am rotating around right now.  Primarily I have been trying to get through “Game of Thrones.”  If you have any suggestions, I would love it.  I can also download books from amazon but I just can’t see why I would need to for a while at least. 
Do you ever get upset stomachs? - Yes our stomachs do hurt from time to time but I have to say I thought it would be much worse.  I hate to say it but it is usually when we eat Tswana food which we now try and avoid like the plague, although it is hard at events for work and occasions like Christmas when we just do not have a choice.  I do make up a lot of excuses because I have stopped eating the beef which is sacreligious‎ here no joke.  The only meat that I eat these days is chicken as I mentioned we eat a lot of it.  We do not have pork in the market, sometimes bacon is available in packages but that is all.  99% of the meals we eat are at home.  When we cook for ourselves, the food is normal.  We of course do not have the selection and end of eating the same things a lot but we can make food pretty much the same way as back home (olive oil, butter, seasonings etc.)  Overall, I probably get upset tummies just as much here as I did at home from eating out.  The good news is our water is really good.  We drink it right out of the tap and it takes as good as Portland/Colorado water, better than Cali water.  Some others do not have this luxury, some have extremely salty water which would suck because we have to drink a ton of water, it is very HOT here!!!!!
Jojo and Erin

Our Northern Crew on our way to Gaborone for IST

Shave Head Crew
Getting ready for some Capture the Flag.

Tony got a new puppy!
Erin and Scooby

Ladies and Gentleman, we have herbs, game changer!