Monday, July 28, 2014

Zambia

Hello to all.  Jojo and I were lucky enough to be able to take some time away from the village last week and make a trip up to the north of Botswana, and then cross the boarder into Zambia for a few days of much needed vacation time.  We left Tonota and headed up to Kasane which is located in the extreme north of Botswana.  The Chobe and Zambezi rivers come together and form a boarder where 4 countries meet.  Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe all share this amazing little part of Africa.  The first night we stayed with one of our Peace Corps friends who is lucky enough to be placed up in this amazing part of the country.  Kasane is the gateway to Chobe National Park (home to the largest concentration of elephants in the world - 120,000 is the latest estimate) and has many high end lodges and safari companies which operate tours and game drives into the national park.  The other big thing to do is take a boat cruise on the Chobe River.  I have to say that it was one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life.  All of the animals come down out of the bush in the late afternoon to drink, play, and cool off in the river.  It was just awe inspiring to see these animals in their native environment interacting with each other.  Truly amazing.


Africa
Lazy hippos.


Elephants are my favorite.

We then crossed the boarder into Zambia where we had booked a few nights stay at a lodge located on an island in the Zambezi River.  The place is called Jungle Junction and is operated by an old hippie dude.  You have to take a mokoro (dug out canoe) over to the island, where there are several reed "chalets" that you can stay in.  At night there were hippos eating grass directly in front of our chalet, and we could hear lions roaring in the distance. There is also camping, but we chose to treat ourselves a little (I mean this place is still super cheap by US standards).  It was so peaceful and relaxing being on the island.  The food was really good, they have an awesome garden on the island, so it was so nice to have fresh salads and other vegetables to eat.  I went out on the mokoro and fished for tiger fish in the river while elephants were drinking on the opposite bank in Zimbabwe.  Sometimes I get overwhelmed by living here in Africa, this trip was seriously one of those times.





The bar.


The "chalet" from the river.


"Chalet"

The dock.
Beautiful vegetable garden on the island.

Zambian chicken house.



Preparing lunch in the village across from the island.


Traditional lunch.  No meat.
After two really great days on the island we hopped over to Livingstone to check out the famous Victoria Falls.  It was definitely worth the trip, and yes it is big.  So big in fact that we really couldn't see all of it because of all the spray.  There are times of the year (rainy season Feb-June) that you can't even see any of the falls because the river is so swollen and the spray is just too thick.
It was really fun to check out another African country.  Even though Bots and Zambia are neighbors they couldn't be more different.  Everything from the language, tribal culture, fabric, dress, and food were slightly different in very interesting ways.  Jojo went crazy at a local fabric market (2 yards for like 80 cents) and got some really beautiful prints.  Can't wait to see what she does with them when we get back home.  We hope everyone is doing great back home.  We miss you all!



Love,
Erin & Jojo

Saturday, July 12, 2014

July in Botswana



I am freezing as I sit in my house writing this blog post.  It is so strange to think about everyone back home enjoying the warm summer days while we are here in Africa freezing our butts off.   Happy 4th of July to all!  The 4th of July is one of our favorite holidays back home.  The weather is always beautiful, and the day spent with family and friends, eating delicious food and enjoying good beer.  Oh how great it is to be an American.  We did get to spend the 4th with some PCVs that live in the area so that was nice but it is just not the same.  The end of June, beginning of July is also the start of birthday season in my family, I wish everyone (Mom, B, Bill and Ellie) a very Happy Birthday!  We will be with you in spirit.  One of the hardest things about being away is missing the big events.  Our good friends got married this over the weekend of the 4th in Fort Collins and it breaks our hearts that we had to miss it!  I can imagine that there was enough Omaha Steak, amazing Vietnamese food and booze to keep everyone loving life.  Congrats to Bill and Sheila, we love you guys!  We are also looking forward to hearing about a few new babies that should be arriving in the next few weeks. 

Life is good in Africa, what can I say.  We have both been staying busy with work and will be taking a trip to Zambia / Vic falls next week.  I am so excited to get away!  This is will be our first trip on our own and it feels like we have not left the village in a long time.  It is hard to believe that we have been here for almost a year and we have yet to take a trip together by ourselves.  We are also looking forward to the new Bots 15 (new intake group) arriving in less than a month.  There is supposed to be almost 80 of them which is crazy to think about.  We also heard a rumor that they might be putting another volunteer in Tonota so we are keeping our fingers crossed.  It would be nice to have another volunteer so close and Tonota is a great village.  We both have mentees in the group, actually Erin has 2 because there are not enough guys in our group.  We have a couple that is actually our exact age which is kind of strange because we are an odd age for Peace Corps.  Most people are either younger or older then us.  We have been in touch with them via email, trying our best to answer their questions. The truth is there is no way that you can really prepare someone for this experience, especially since everyone has such a different situation.  Either way, we are really excited for some new blood and look forward to meeting the new group.  Both Erin and I will be doing some sessions at their training in Serowe in August which should be fun.  It reminds me of all the excitement and fear that I had prior to coming here.  Funny thing is that none of the things that I was worried about at that time ended up coming to pass.

A few weeks back, I was able to participate in a retreat with my office which was actually really fun.  It is a retreat that the office goes on every year to put together our proposed activity plan for the following year.  It is call the EBP (Evidence Based Planning) Retreat and all DAC (District Aids Coordinating) offices in the country do this.  The participants are all members of our DMSAC (District Multi Sectoral Aids Committee).  This consists of all of the district stakeholders including Tebelopele Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center, CCE (Community Conversation Enhancer) Master Trainer, National Blood Transfusion Services, District Health Management Team, Department of Youth & Culture, True men Trust, Botswana National Youth Council and Botswana Red Cross Society.  The role of my office (the DAC) is to organize and plan the district’s aids activities and these stakeholders are the ones that actually are supposed to implement them.  This is just in theory though, since our office often times are the ones that are actually out doing it.  Overall, I learned a lot about the planning process and what actually goes into these plans that we follow.  More importantly though it gave me an opportunity to get to know these people that I work with and will continue to work for the next year and half with on a personal level.  It can be difficult to get to know people in the office setting, mostly because of the language barrier but also because I am often working on other projects that are not associated with the DAC. 

Another big success is that we finally got our Tonota Gender Committee registered.  It is a long process which took a lot of patience, kind of like everything else here.  Our new name is the Tonota Society for Gender and Human Rights.  Now that we are registered, we will be able to apply for funding and sponsorships which will help us to implement gender activities and events in the district. We also held our first In Her Shoes workshop for the Tonota Council which was really successful. We had 26 participants and have already been asked to hold more in the future. In Her Shoes is an amazing tool that Peace Corps trained us on.  Following the workshop, I was asked to write an article for the District Council Newsletter.  Here is a bit of the article which will give you an idea of what the workshop is all about. 

In Her Shoes is a toolkit used to help spread itself awareness about the different ways violence manifests itself in the daily lives of women, and brings us face to face with the multitude of challenges women experience when seeking help. The workshop begins with the participants reading through 10 stories of real women who have experienced violence in sub-Saharan Africa.  The participants were able to personally connect with the experiences of these women living with violence, and the barriers they face when seeking counsel for their situations. As the participant read through several days in the lives of these women, they had to make choices at each opportunity to seek help from a variety of resources just as the women had to choose in real life, including family and friends, health, legal and counseling services, religious leaders, and others.  Stories include sensitive subjects about women experiencing abusive spouses, early unwanted pregnancy, rape and a variety of other types of violence which spurred a group discussion around how as members of the community, they should commit to taking action and improving their support for survivors of violence in Botswana. 

The garden at the clinic is also coming along well.  Erin had a few struggles with funding but was able to gather donations from people at the clinic, including some of the doctors who can really afford to help.  He has also been organizing work days on Saturdays because that is the only time when people do not have to work and he can take advantage of getting many people together to do some of the bigger jobs like setting the poles and putting up the net. (See pics below) His other big success is the beginning of Tonota Teen Club!  He has done an amazing job organizing this thing from the ground up.  Teen Club is a branch of Baylor which has Teen Clubs (HIV Positive) all around Botswana.  Unfortunately, they have lost their funding for satellite clubs so Erin was able to take what he could from their model but basically built the rest from the bottom up.  The good news is that there are a few super stars at the clinic that are really invested in the club and without them, there is no way it could be pulled off.  This Saturday will be our second meeting and we are hoping to get a few more kids to show up. 


Before the garden


Measuring the holes

Cutting the poles


Mixing the cement for the poles


Setting the poles




Starting to come together


Some sad news about our chickens, the other day, right after she laid two eggs, Julia went missing.  We found out a few days later that she had been trapped in our neighbors coop.  When we went to inquire if she was over there, our neighbor told us that they had just killed a few to eat and she must have been one of them.  It was sort of her fault, she was always hanging around their compound but we are still a bit upset by the whole thing.  He told us that he would give us another one but that is yet to happen.  The worst part is that our other chicken, Pearl is very lonely now.  Not sure what we will do next but we will keep you informed.

I think that is all I’ve got for now, we miss everyone very much.  Please stay in touch in any way that you can, Facebook, email, snail mail and phone all work for us.

Also we want to give a shout out to our wonderful friend Liz who sent us an amazing care package.  You have no idea how special it is to open a box from the US with Luke’s artwork and a plethora of tasty treats from home. 

Peace,

Jojo and Erin

Hanging with friends

Erin doing what he does best

View from our kitchen window


Our new obsession

Our retreat was held at a resort called "Oasis Zanzibar."  It is located in the Tuli Block in Eastern Botswana.  Beautiful grounds and pool, too bad it was too cold to swim.

Fire pit, conference room and small lake where the resident crocodile lives. 

Gare and DK

Tonota Sub-district DMSAC Team

Jojo on the Limpopo River (boarders South Africa)