Month: October 2015

One week reflections: Installment #3: Community Integration and Talking Trash

The two topics are really unrelated so don’t look for any hidden meaning.

During the first 3 months of service we are “on lockdown” (last 3 months too but can’t think about that yet). We are not supposed to do any “real” work but are to spend our time getting to know and getting known in our community and our organization. While our organizations know this, they also have work they need done so we are trying to find a balance and look for every opportunity to integrate.

So far this week we have done ok on the integration front as well as getting actual work done.

* We went to the prize giving ceremony at Gabane Primary School. It started at 9 and ended at 2 with a full lunch for the honored guests. We got there at 11 which was fine as it was very hot and all in Setswana. Our neighbor’s boy cleaned up in prizes for his grade- Standard 6, so that was a great way to relate to them. We were asked to present prizes- We gave them out for math and science and public speaking. We met several community leaders. My supervisor wanted a particular juice and they were all out so the Deputy to the President (of Botswana) offered me his which I graciously accepted. He was the guest speaker. Imagine a Deputy to Obama attending an elementary school graduation!

So, lunch- a typical meal served at these functions and it included:
rice, samp (kind of like hominy), chicken, seswaa (pounded beef- the national dish), beef (stewy type), potato salad, cole slaw, beans, beets,and bogobe (sorghum porridge that is thick like polenta). After eating ALL of this, one is comatose for the rest of the afternoon and thinking you will never eat again but you do!

* When we walk to town to catch the combi to go shopping we have been hitchhiking the 3K (very common here and relatively safe if you aren’t stupid). Pretty lucky getting rides in, not so lucky the other direction. Yesterday we got picked up by a man and two women who were going to Gabs so we got a ride all the way to Gabs. In talking to the man, he said he wants to go to the US to get a Master’s in Strategic Management. Teresa had just heard about a scholarship program for Africans going for MBAs at Stanford so she got his contact info and emailed him with the info. He also lives near us in Gabane.

* The Librarian at Gary’s school wants to learn Spanish so we are going to try to trade Setswana tutoring for Spanish tutoring.

* Gary is attending various classes to observe student and teacher behaviors and teaching techniques. So far, the biggest issue is teachers not showing up for class. Teachers are frequently 5-20 minutes late for class so Gary usually just sits and waits. The first time a teacher didn’t show up at all was a Humanities class, 80 minutes long. 3/4 of the kids talked and messed around and 1/4 took out Oliver Twist and took turns reading it aloud to each other. At one point about half the class got involved with the reading. The next class, the teacher was late. While waiting, Gary introduced himself to the class. When the teacher left for the next class (kids stay put and teachers move), Gary stayed. The teacher for the next class didn’t come so the kids asked Gary to continue speaking about himself, Peace Corps and America. It was very hard to describe “America”. Go ahead and try it! So far Gary has also learned about Physics, Agriculture, Sexual Reproduction of Plants, Moral Education (one class was sex ed and the other was on HIV with two very passionate teachers).

* Teresa is working on a brochure for the Centre which is hosting a Home Based Care fair in November and needs a brochure to hand out. She is also trying to get a handle on the Centre’s technology. First day, one of the computers up and died- nothing, nada. Will be a while before she can have it looked at for free, Others are way old- Office 97 on one. Printers with no ink and only certain computers can print to certain printers as the computer is too old to accept the new driver or the printer is too old and the driver is not available for the newer computer. Have one very new laptop that is great. Could use two more like it, a network and new printers as well as a data projector. Then training on how to use it all. We have a cellular modem to access the Internet which Teresa finally got to work Friday night! Problem is it was donated by the Cell phone company (BeMobile)- 10mb per month for 6 months- not much and after that- who knows. We’ll see what two years brings.

*Combi drivers- twice now we’ve sat in the front right next to the driver. They have both been super nice and helpful. We learned how they get their routes (they own their combi and work for themselves. They pick a route and then apply to the Dept of Transportation to get licensed for that route.) At P3.50 per ride and 15 people and the price of gas (petrol) at about $3 per gallon, they are not making much.

Now let’s talk trash. We really owe more to Lady Bird Johnson than any of us probably realize. The impact she had on how Americans look at litter has been grossly underestimated. Perhaps we should begin a campaign to nominate her for sainthood. Like other countries we have traveled to (ie Guatemala, the attitude towards trash is to drop it wherever you are when it goes from valued possession to trash. Here in Gabane you are able to get trash pickup but we are not exactly sure how. We have been piggy backing on the Centre’s system. That said, Teresa went on trash patrol this morning and gathered two grocery bags full of yard trash (yes they do have plastic bags at the grocery but you do have to pay for them and no paper available. We try to bring our own but the bags do have their uses here). There are two bushes with killer thorns (Gary had to save Teresa whose hair was having an intimate moment with one of the bushes) that seem to be where trash wants to go when it dies so for now, that trash is safe. What we do admit to doing is throwing edible trash (vegetable peelings and the like) on the ground since there is literal army of scavengers- goats, cows, donkeys, chickens, birds. We have an empty field behind our house and it is amazing how fast it disappears when we throw peelings and apple cores, etc. back there. What is hard is to actually take that plunge and throw something on the ground- which brings us back to Lady Bird and the effect she had on us. Like Teresa’s relationship with spiders, though, we can change. It is true that one person’s trash is an animal’s delightful dinner.

No good pictures for this post. Will need to get one of a combi and will post later. PC and country of Botswana has a policy about posting pictures of kids so unfortunately, we won’t be able to post some of the best shots.

One week reflections: Installment #2: Spiders, goats, kids and yardwork

Those who know Teresa, know she is phobic about spiders. Guess that isn’t true anymore. The only ones Gary has had to kill are those directly threatening her. Yes, threatening is a strong and subjective word and is purely in the eyes of the threatened one (Teresa). She has come to recognize that spiders eat lots of other bugs which abound in this country. The other problem is that spiders in Botswana could win gold medals in the 100 yard dash. They are big and they are faaaaast… And you dont’ want to make them mad by trying to kill them just to have them outrun you.

There is one breed that is particularly prevalent. They are called flatsies because they really are flat. They are harmless, scared of people, big and very very faaast. One PCV blog had recommended naming them and treating them like pets. so, that is what we are doing. Teresa decided to follow the hurricane process and name them alphabetically after flowers. So, the first one who likes to hang in the living room (literally and figuratively) is Amaryllis (amy for short but Amaryllis when we’re mad at her). The hallway/bathroom one is Begonia. We think she is different than Amaryllis but it is hard to tell. The attached picture is Amaryllis. We tried to get a shot that showed scale but she was not feeling very photogenic today, having been roosted from her napping spot when we moved the table to clean the floor.

Goats are everywhere but you don’t want them in your yard because they don’t eat what you want them to eat and they do eat what you don’t want them to eat. Long story why but Teresa has the keys to the Centre this weekend and looking out the front window, lo and behold, there were several goats inside the grounds. They had literally moved aside a concrete block to squeeze in the gap in the gate. the big billy was still outside (probably too fat to get in). So, we grabbed about 5 of the neighbor kids (ages 3-10) figuring they knew how to herd goats and we weren’t wrong. In about 5 minutes we had a stampede of 30 goats (way more than we thought were in there) making for the gate which luckily Teresa was standing near and she opened it wide for them to leave. The kids were rewarded with about a half hour playing on the Centre’s playground. Of course today, they want to go back to the playground- Pandora’s box is open.

Yardwork: We are expected to keep our large yard (about 1/4 acre) free of weeds,grass and anything that could hide snakes. Batswana take pride in having dirt yards that they sweep. We are waiting for a weeding hoe to come from the US as apparently the preference here is to bend over and use very short tools. We bought a few small implements to get us started but our neighbor took pity and lent us (the expression here is actually borrowed us) a rake and shovel (with a short handle). The shovel worked pretty well actually and is on our list for our next shopping trip. Look for the picture of Gary carrying rake and shovel home. In any case, our yard is huge and the work is back breaking. We got a fair amount done today but have a long ways to go.

Life’s lessons from this entry: Neighbors are a precious commodity. Our neighbor has offered to take us and show us where we can get wood so we can make a fire for cooking or making s’mores. It’s also never to late to change and grow. Never thought Teresa could co-exist with an arachnid.

One week reflections: Installment 1- Security , Locks and Electricity

We have been in Gabane a little over one week now and we have experienced so much. This post turned out long so it is offered in 3 installments.

Security: We never thought security was such an issue but it is. We have locks and burglar bars that would put any New York apartment dweller to shame. We also have a security system with whom I have spoken several times. They do not want to drop the previous PCV from the list so are still contacting her and don’t seem to be sure who we are. Apparently despite the strong family relationships and sense of community, there is a problem with thievery- probably related to the extremely high unemployment rate. Young people, even with education, can’t get jobs which results in high levels of drug and alcohol abuse which we know is tied to criminal and other risky behaviors. We even left some clothes on the line after dark. Our neighbor called and told us it wasn’t safe to leave it there over night- it might get stolen!

There only seems to be one set of keys for everything everywhere. We experienced this in Molepolole during the homestay but it wasnt an issue because we were always together. Here is our journey to get a second set of keys made:
1. First shopping trip to Gaborone we went to a locksmith. He could only duplicate one of the keys.
2. First week we shared one set. Thought we’d be smart and Gary would come in the back door. It isn’t on the alarm bypass so it triggered the alarm (My first call to the security folks including a visit from them!) So, Gary would come by my work on his way home and get the keys.
3. Went to Gabs yesterday, went to a hardware store that copies keys. Their machine was broken. they sent us to Gaborone Garage- nearby. The person who makes keys was at a funeral and they didn’t know when he would be back. (also, the person who sells the electricity also wasn’t there). They referred us to Kenny’s Locksmith. (for my Santa Cruz friends- guess all locksmiths are some derivative of the name Ken). Since we had to take a taxi to get there, I convinced the clerk at Gaborone Garage to call (using my air time of course) before we made the trip since this would now be our fourth try. She obliged (people are really very nice and helpful). They had the blank and the clerk told me the taxi should only be P4 each. So, when offered a special taxi for P25 we pressed on until we found the shared taxis and off we went.(Shared taxis fit 4 people plus the driver and doesn’t leave until it is full). Kenny’s made the keys for us and to our utter astonishment- when we got home- they actually worked. Better than my experiences at Home Depot with key making. The added bonus was we got to see the African Mall which is basically an area around a central square (aka parking lot with a tree in the middle) with one fabric store after another. We did manage to get some fabric to cover our dining room and living room coffee tables.

kennys locksmith

Electricity: We then went back to Gaborone Garage to buy electricity and he still wasn’t there so we went next door to another store and bought it there. Problem was, we got home and our meter hadn’t changed. Apparently you have to enter a 20 digit code into your meter to get it to register. Who knew? Apparently many of our fellow Bots 16ers as one posting on our Facebook Page and within minutes we were trained and thoroughly electrified- at least for about 40 more days.


This was a very strange day. On my way to work (crossing the street) my neighbor asked me if we had gotten water today. Apparently it came on between 3 and 7 this morning. She did her laundry at 3 a.m. Gary had tried the faucet around 6 but nothing had happened and the open taps in the bathroom never signaled there was water as had been our plan. Needless to say we were very disappointed and figured we had lost another week and were figuring out how to scrounge and scrimp.

The Center has been closed for two days as they were out of water and had requested a tank come and fill their jojo. I have been charged with the keys just in case they came when no one was around since I am right across the street. Well, they came just as everyone was leaving around noon today. So the jojo got filled about 3/4 of the way which is a good supply and could have helped us out if we needed it.

Then, about 5 pm the neighbor’s son came over and told us the water was on. Once again, we tried all the inside taps and nothing. The two outside spigots did indeed yield some water and once the air was out of the lines, it got better. The front spigot was stronger so we started filling every container we have. This gets us to about 350 liters of stored water plus our laundry got done (which takes about 180 liters all on its own). It was a great way to bond with our neighbor and the kids as their spigot is right over the fence from ours. We spent the next 2.5 hours filling slowly with the laundry done up to the final rinse which will happen in the morning and then I will hang it all out to dry before I go to work). With the outside spigots off, we do get a little in the pipes in the house once the air is out of the lines but we now understand why we didn’t know we had gotten water during the night. I guess our neighbor will be our warning system! We told them any time, day or night- let us know.

slow but steady
slow but steady

The best part is they offered to send the kids over on Saturday to pull all our weeds for only P10 each!!! We probably need to bake cookies too!

So, every time you brush your teeth, flush a toilet, turn on your dishwasher or washing machine- think what you would do if it just weren’t that simple. Certainly gives you pause and makes me truly appreciate what I have taken for granted for 60 years.


Not sure why they didn’t post with the previous post so trying separately

View from our new backyard
View from our new backyard

Our home for the next 2 years
Our home for the next 2 years
Living room of new home
Living room of new home
Kitchen of new home with outgoing PCV Mara
Kitchen of new home with outgoing PCV Mara
Defeathering chicken- Mara, Leunyo and Gary
Defeathering chicken- Mara, Leunyo and Gary

Home in Gabane

On Wednesday we swore in as newly minted Peace Corps Volunteers. This means we survived PreService Training- no easy feat but it’s done. We also took the same oath as the President so we are primed and ready to defend the US Constitution from all enemies, domestic and foreign. We both passed the language proficiency interview which means Gary can greet people properly and Teresa can ask where the bathroom is. Luckily English (or a form of it) is widely spoken as long as you can remember the weird ways the British refer to things such as pegs instead of clothes pins and flapjacks instead of pancakes.

Yesterday we moved into our two year house and pictures should get loaded now that we have Internet access from home. We are limited to 20 gb per month but if we don’t stream movies I think we’ll be ok. We spent today in Gaborone searching for the largest storage containers we could find in order to store water when it comes on- usually once a week or, if we’re lucky twice for about 3-4 hours. We currently can store about 250 liters which is what we figure is half what we need for a week. Getting the 110 liter barrel back on a combi was interesting- it, loaded with pots,pans, and other sundries as well as the fan all had their own seat- costs us P3.50 (about $.35 US) but it was worth it. Also what it costs us to go to Gaborone. If you read or saw the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency- it was very realistic regarding the portrayal of combis. Think of a VW van outfitted so it can seat about 15 plus the driver- personal space does not exist but people are very nice! If water doesn’t come on, we can get water from my Center (across the street but they are running very low to) and Gary’s work which is about .5K- doesn’t seem like much until you are carrying 5 liter containers of water and 10 liter buckets! Will take a picture next time.

Our house has a lovely view and is a perfect size for us. Only one bedroom but very big- has two double beds in it so we can have company, spacious living room and a dining room table, kitchen and bathroom. No pit latrine which is actually too bad given the water situation- never thought I would say that! It is great to be cooking and living on our own. Three months in someone else’s house is a long time. The pictures were actually taken during our site visit but we couldn’t get them loaded so the person you see is the previous volunteer and there is a picture of Gary helping to defeather a chicken.

On Monday we officially start work although the first 3 months are what is called Community Integration where we are supposed to get to know as much about our community as we can as well as get known in the community to build trust.

We may not have wild animals in our village but I still get a kick out of the free wandering goats- we left our front gate open and we had visitors and chickens- the neighbor’s chicken had about 15 chicks and they seem to prefer our yard which is fine with us.


We have been in the town we will be in for the next two years, it has been pretty exciting.  So far it has been a positive experience.  We are here for two weeks as a “site visit”.

This is something new for the Peace Corps here.  Usually they send trainees out to shadow a volunteer for a long weekend but not necessarily where you will end up.  I think it is a great idea, there has been a lot of anxiety over where one will
be placed and then when you do find out you wonder  “what does that mean?”

Well now we know.  We spend the two weeks staying with a host family but if our future home is ready and available then you get to see that as well.  You also get a change to go to your work site and learn about that as well as doing a lot of community visiting to begin to get a feel for your community.  This is also what one does for the first three months of service and then you begin to decide on your projects and begin those.  You are always supposed to be working with someone so I can see why it would take a while to connect in the community for community projects.  I am not sure what the expectation is for your
main work site but I am pretty sure I will start something almost right away although I won’t have much time.  Schools are out at the end of November and closed until after New Year’s so mostly I will plan and make a few connections and then start things in January.

There are 3 terms with two weeks off the end of April and then 3 weeks in July, also 1 week the first week in  October as mid term break and to celebrate Independence Day.  Anyway I really have no idea what I will be doing exactly but probably will start some peer counseling groups and hopefully some alcohol groups, not sure how to get them to join that one.

We went to a wedding the first day here and that was interesting, we actually went to one of the receptions, the whole things is often 3 days long, wedding ceremony reception at the bride’s and then one at the groom’s. If they are from different villages then it is spread over two weekends.  Pretty typical;  speeches, lots of food, music and dancing.  The difference is that the bride changes her clothes as often as she was given an outfit, this one 3 times.  They dance out of the tent to the house where she changes and then dance back, a whole entourage dances along with them.  Food is served to almost everyone then the other town folk that are attending go through the buffet and get food.  Everybody in the village that wants to can attend but there
does seem to be invited guests and extras.

Our town is about 15,000 people and is about 20 kilometers southwest of Gaborone, the capital. There were several weddings going on that weekend which is normal. One of our projects is to map the community and we have spent a lot of
time walking around and trying to figure everything out.

Our new house is really cute, 1 bedroom, LR, kitchen and bathroom, about 600 sq ft.  It is right across the street from where Teresa works and about 300 yds from my school but it is about 3 kilometers from the main road where the transportation starts, although we may be able to call for a taxi but that is bit much, 10p just to get to the main road where we can catch a combi (van size bus) and then go all the way to Gaborone for 3.5 p.  We probably won’t do taxis much except maybe to get groceries home.  Our main grocery store is about 8 k away 3 to the main road and then 5 down it so we can probably get a combi back for 3.5 each and then get a taxi for 10.  We will probably walk the 8 k to get to the store since we will have empty packs.  The only negative thing about our new home is that there currently is no water, they turned it on for a day all of last week.  This is relatively new, although it has been going for the last month or so, partly drought and partly a broken main.  Our closest water supply is 3 k away and we will need it for everything including the bathroom.  Most houses have pit latrines even if they have modern bathrooms but our new home only has the inside bathroom which is great if there is water.  However, whenever I think of complaining I remember that there are a number of volunteers that don’t have running water at all and no inside bathrooms so we are lucky.  We do have electricity.  We will be getting about 2000p a month to live on and that is not a lot, about $200; rent and utilities are paid and of course the Peace Corps takes care of our medical needs, so mostly food and transportation.