The Beauty Contest

This has to be one of the more interesting cultural experiences we have had so far.  To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Botswana’s independence our village hosted a beauty contest for women born in 1966.  One of the women who works with Teresa was entered.  Everybody at work said they were going and that Teresa should attend.  So we decided to go.  None of them showed.

Saturday night and it was supposed to start at 7:00 and so we were told to be there by about 8.  Of course it was dark but we set out walking the 2 kilometers to the community hall with our head lamps, not sure if we should be wearing them or not.  It would help you see the rocks and sand that you would trip over otherwise but it also marks you as a foreigner and kind of points out the target in case somebody decides to do a mugging, which is not uncommon.  We have only been out after dark a few times and usually don’t have to walk very far.  This time we did a get a ride about half way there and then ended up walking with 3 young women who were also going.  It was 20 pula to get in and they didn’t have that much so we had to leave them at the door.  However, they did get in a little later so that was good as we were feeling guilty that we just didn’t pay for them but we really try not to come off as rich Americans even though we kind of are although we don’t generally live like it.  When we entered we were escorted to the head table which was empty and on the stage slightly above everybody else for absolutely no reason other than we are white and guests in their village. We wondered if other white people (there are several that live in Gabane) would have been shown to the head table if they had been there.  We do have a hunch that we are probably better known to the HCNs (host country nationals) than most of the other foreigners that live here even though some of them have been here for years.  The people at head tables get water and a little snack and that was really appreciated as we had not brought any and had not planned on being there all night. Below is the view from the head table for those of you who have never had this perspective 🙂


Anyway it started about 9:00 and there were 15 women entered all the age of 50, the same as Botswana.  There were also 3 men who entered the arena with them and we still are not sure exactly what their role was.  There were also two women who escorted the groups of women in their strolls around the arena.  First they all went then they went three at a time with their escort, kind of shuffling/dancing to a rhythm around the arena smiling and waving to the crowd.  I think they did this three different times, very slowly.  They then changed into traditional wear (note the blanket) and demonstrated a traditional act such as sorting/cleaning grain, pounding grain or meat, cleaning with the traditional broom used here and several other acts.  The men were also escorted through each of these except the traditional one.  Two of the men never cracked a smile and we think the third male may have been the escort, not sure, he did smile a bit.


There was a brief entertainment interlude for a polka dancing exhibition.


They did another presentation all together and then moved into the evening gown portion and each of the groups did this one and then all together or maybe the altogether was before or maybe they did it both before and after.

Then the poet came out flanked by two “friends” who stood with hands on hips glaring. The poet seemed to be doing a gangsta rap routine but not being able to understand what he was saying, we can only guess. (no pictures of this)

By this time it was approaching midnight and we were getting concerned because we did have our 2k walk home to do yet.  But they called out five women and we assumed that this was fifth to first place finishers but no so lucky.  These were the five finalists and they were about to each draw a question and then talk about whatever it was about.  You do have to remember that all of this was in Setswana and we had no idea what was said throughout the evening. The mike distorted the sound so badly that we probably would not have understood if it had been in American English.   By this time it was almost 12:30 and we decided to leave, awkward to say the least, since we were at the head table on the stage in full view of everyone.  But we did- making polite goodbyes to the apparent hosts and stopping to have our picture taken with the organizers.  We then walked home, getting there about 1 am. It was a beautiful evening so we declined the ride offer from one of our regular taxi drivers when we saw the open bottle of beer in his passenger’s lap.

We do have to say that the crowd was wonderful, screaming and clapping and cheering for all the contestants, some more than others but everyone was included.  The smiles and pride that was evident in all of the contestants and the fact that they were 50 and, some rather traditionally built, made it by far the most worthwhile beauty contest we have ever witnessed, and certainly the longest. (the person from Teresa’s work is second from right as you look at the picture- she is the short one.She is also the one sweeping above.We also apologize that one of the 15 is not visible)


The Patlo

A patlo, we know you are intensely curious, is one of the elements in the traditional wedding ceremony. There are several ways to “get married” in Botswana and traditions vary greatly by region so this post describes what is done here in Gabane. Patlo means ‘to ask for a woman’s hand in marriage’.

Marriage Method 1 is to have two patlos- one for the groom with the men and one for the bride with the women. Holding those two events plus paying the lebola (bride price- usually about 8 cows and often involving gifts of clothing to the bride, aunts, uncles, and anyone else who can get in on the deal) makes you married. You then register with the government but there is no civil ceremony.

Alternatively you can just go to the registrar and fill out the paperwork and be married. Or, you can have a church ceremony. Some pastors are sanctioned to make the marriage official. If your pastor is not so honored, you also have to go to the registrar to make it official.  No matter which method is followed, many families will not consider the woman married unless/until she goes through the patlo. You must have participated in your own patlo  to fully participate in the patlo and to be involved with future marriage negotiations. This is particularly important if you are the oldest sister and therefore will be the oldest aunt some day. Marriage negotiations are typically handled by the oldest aunt of the bride and uncle of the groom. I was honored they allowed me to attend, given I am married but did not have a patlo. If I hadn’t been married, I would not have been allowed.

Or, you can have any combination of the above described methods of getting married.

But, I digress again (did that last post too).  So, back to the patlo. This post will talk about the bride’s patlo as only Teresa got to go. Gary has not been to one yet. It takes place usually the day before the wedding (this one was a week before because that pesky independence week is really messing up people’s plans).  Kerri Rodkey, Bots 17 PC Trainee, was shadowing me so she got to go too since she is also married.

It usually takes place early in the morning. For us it was 8 am which was fortunate because it has turned bloody hot here and you can see from the picture that we were not dressed lightly. My supervisor, Mma Leburu, obtained a traditional wool blanket for Kerri (I have my own and as of today I even have the pin to close it up) and skirt and apron for each of us. The white blouse and kerchief (dukwe) are mine. I feel I bear a strong resemblance to a nun but Kerri’s husband Paul, was thinking Amish. Then again, possibly my Russian roots- think babushka.

We proceeded to a location near the bride’s house where we could see a group of about 50 women gathered.They were sitting on the ground on plastic tarps with their legs stretched out in front of them. When the groom’s women arrived, we formed a line and snaked our way into the courtyard where we sat down facing the bride’s women with our legs stretched straight out. When I tried to bend my legs to get more comfortable I was told I couldn’t do that. Kerri and I were given people’s handbags to put under our knees which made a huge difference. (right about now you are all getting out of your comfortable chairs and sitting on the floor trying this- now hold that pose for about an hour with no back suppport). I am in total amazement how these women can hold this position for hours on end.  In total, there were about 100 of us.

They placed a tarp in the center and brought the bride out. The bride is covered by a heavy blanket (it is a miracle she didn’t faint from the heat) and she is placed sitting down facing the groom’s people. (This is all being done “to” her since she can’t see). She is never uncovered during the roughly 1 hour ceremony. There was a prayer (as there always is to open events) and then one of the groom’s women says, “Ke kopa metsi” which literally means, “I want water”. In this case, it is referring to the bride. Then, one by one, various women from the bride’s side get up and sit by the bride (stretching their legs in front of them) and give her advice about marriage. Unfortunately, we couldn’t understand it as it was all in Setswana. I did keep hearing the word “lorato” which means love so that’s good. At the end, they get the bride up and lead her back into the house. She will not appear uncovered  before the groom’s family before her wedding day which is usually the next day, so not sure what will happen this time since it is a week away. Seems similar to our custom of the groom not being allowed to see the bride on her wedding day.

The bride’s women then got up and danced while we thankfully got to move to chairs and shade (still keeping the blankets on). We were then served tea and magwinya (fat cakes)- think fry bread but a big ball.

I am sure there are those of you out there with inquiring minds who now have all kinds of questions- why is she covered? why do our legs need to be stretched out? why do they equate the bride with water?  Answers to all of the above- I don’t know. I should ask I suppose but my guess is the answer is, in the voice of Zero Mostel- TRADITION. Why do we have something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue? Why do we throw the bouquet and the garter?

It was not appropriate to take pictures during the ceremony so these before and after will have to do.


However, turn about was fair play. Several women insisted on taking OUR picture 🙂





Customary Court and The “Toss”

Thursday was a fascinating cultural day. I couldn’t help comparing what would have happened in the United States under similar circumstances. Basically, my Centre is owed about P30,000 ($3,000 US) which may not sound like a lot in US dollars but to put it in perspective- P30,000 is a little less than we spend on food for the kids during the year. Petrol runs us about P40,000 for the combi that picks up and drops off the kids.

I got all the accounts computerized so it is easier for us to know how much is owed and to show folks how much they owe. For the past year my supervisor has been saying we were going to take people to the kgotla (customary tribal court) to get them to pay. Well this week we started the process.

To digress a tad- there are two parallel court systems in Botswana. Small local disputes are brought to the kgotla, including minor criminal offenses for which the punishment is usually beating but that is a post for another time. Then, there is the governmental civil (and criminal) court system. There is also a small claims court on the government side. The kgotla handles civil cases up to P8,000 and small claims takes over from there but not sure how high it goes before it is a civil suit.  In actuality, disputes are supposed to first be settled by the extended family then on to the Kgosi (tribal chief) or one of the lesser chiefs (Kgosana or Headman) if a resolution can’t be found. Each village has a Kgosi and depending on size, a number of Kgosanas who each preside over a ward within the village.

We have been sending notices regularly telling people what they owe us but with little success.  Two  weeks ago we called the “offenders” and told them we were going to the kgotla the next week. About half the individuals on “the list” came and either paid in part or in full or promised to pay by the end of September. On Monday we met with the Chief Kgosi, his clerk and one of the Kgosanas. They gave us letters to give each of the 12 people. The letter requested their appearance at the kgotla at 8 am on Thursday. Of those 12, three came to see us between Monday and Thursday and either paid full, in part or promised to pay by the end of September.

On Thursday, Botswana time was in full play. The court appearance was scheduled for 8 am. Two people came around 8:15 (we didn’t get there ourselves until 8:10). Then one came a little after 9 and the other 3 were there about 9:45.  Just imagine a US court appearance and being almost 2 hours late for it.The Kgosana was the hearing officer and he said this stage was arbitration. He is 96 years old but you would never believe it. He let them tell their story and then basically told them to pay up. Overall, of the 9 who we expected to come, 6 did and either paid or promised to pay.

So, the three that didn’t show up will now have cases opened against them and the kgotla will work on finding them and making them pay. There are no court fees. We pay nothing but we do work with the kgotla on reaching the people. No collection agencies, skip tracing, process servers, etc. And they get credit just for showing up. It was not at all confrontational and didn’t feel litigious like it would have in the US. For those who made promises, they know that if they don’t keep their promise, they will be brought to the kgotla again.

What I found amazing was one person who is the sister of one of the “offenders”. The mother of the child at the school has disappeared and left the 4 year old and a younger sibling presuming family will take care of them. The family got together and came up with half the amount owed and paid it. The traditional extended family is something that is unfortunately changing in Botswana culture.  While not perfect, kids with less than stellar parents still stand a chance with aunts/uncles/grandparents to be a steady influence. There is virtually no homelessness either. Some houses may not be great but you don’t have people living in culverts and under bridges.

The other unique experience today was observing a “toss”. While waiting for our “offenders” to show up, I got to witness something new. Every 3 months or so, people, who are looking for work, line up . Today there were about 35 people in line. They draw either a yes or a no. If yes, they get to work as part of the ipelegeng program for the next few months. This is like the WPA- picking up litter and other community type projects (right now everything is getting painted blue/white/black for the Botswana 50th Independence Anniversary that is just 2 weeks away. (those are the colors of the Botswana flag). For some people, this is their only source of income and if they draw a no for several drawings, they can be truly hurting with no money to buy food. I don’t know how many “yeses” there were.

Unfortunately I did not take any pictures.It just didn’t seem right. but I pulled these off the Internet to give you a sense of what a kgotla and iplegeng workers look like.They are from Botswana, just not Gabane. Kgotlas can look very different but this one bears a very strong resemblance to ours.

Image result for customary court botswana imagesImage result for ipelegeng images botswana



Ostrich Migration


Title got you didn’t it? We didn’t actually see an ostrich migration (not sure there really is one) but get to that later.

It’s been a month since we last posted. Guess that’s because life has become pretty routine. Working on our community projects  and at this point looking at funding. So, get ready, we will soon be putting the word out about how you can support what we are trying to do. the two projects we are working on are a Kids Club for 7-12 year old orphans and vulnerable children to make them more resilient against the drivers of HIV/AIDS. The second is a Community Parenting Skills Initiative and we have developed a basic parenting skills workshop that we want to pilot then train the trainers. The biggest expense on these endeavors is food- people won’t come if you don’t feed them and the concept of brown bag or pot luck is just non-existent. Peace Corps has a web based grant program whereby we post our need and you all (friends and families) support our project(s). Tax deductible for you and a big help to us. We are still working on details but we promise to let you know when it’s time to give 🙂

So, back to the Ostrich Migration. A few months ago we joined a group- it’s actually international- called Hash House Harriers (google it). We meet every Sunday and go for a 6-8k run/walk (you figure out which WE do) and then we have a braii (BBQ to Americans). It is mostly ex-pats from all over the place- mostly British but not exclusively. Lucky for us, a wonderfully generous couple who live in Gabane, is willing to be our chauffeur and they pick us up every Sunday since most of the places are hard to get to without a car.

Every year the group goes away for a weekend and has what is essentially a 50-60k relay race. This year we went to Groot Marico not far over the border in South Africa. We stayed at what was once a farm and we stayed in what had been the stables with the stalls converted to rooms. We cooked our own food and got to spend time near running water- a RIVER!   Yes, we digressed from the Ostrich Migration.

So, this is how it works. There are 5 teams of about 9 people each including children. Each team is responsible for one leg of 8-9k along a dirt road (very dusty- looked like Sedona red dirt). There are two cars that each hold half the team. One person runs (holding a stuffed ostrich- after all the ostrich IS migrating and we are helping) about 75-100 metres (more for the young and fit, less for the very very young and the not so fit). They get picked up by one of the cars and someone from that car gets out and runs the next 75-100  metres. The first car leapfrogs over the second car so they can pick up the previous runner and drop off the next runner. All told, each leg took about an hour. Weird- yes, Pointless- yes, Fun- most definitely.  We then got back to the lodge, relaxed and had a delicious dinner. All in all a very relaxing weekend with a bit of exercise thrown in. A very nice way to spend our 37th wedding anniversary- certainly memorable.


An added treat was that two of the group members got a puppy from their daughter who lives in South Africa- a 7 week old Jack Russell Terrier. They plan to breed it with their English bulldog. Apparently it is a recognized breed- Bully Jack. Got our doggy fix.


Next up is a trip to the Tuli Block with a group of 10 people. This is during Independence Week. This year marks 30 years of independence for Botswana and the official date is September 30/October 1. We feel a little bit guilty to not be in our village for this but we will celebrate out in the bush which is also appropriate. There is a torch moving through the country and that will come through Gabane on September 21 so we will be here for that. Everyone is painting everything black/white/blue for the Botswana flag. Kind of crazy but also a very special time to be here.

This is also the time that is famous for volunteers to get depressed- called mid-service crisis. In another week we hit the halfway mark. While there are some very frustrating aspects to what we are doing, we are holding up pretty well. Having each other really helps.


Just another elephant


Never thought we would write those words, Just another elephant. But on our recent trip to the Okavango Delta, we did get pretty blase about seeing elephants. Let’s backtrack a bit

It has been close to a month since we last wrote. We both had the  month of July off from official work and until the end of it, really didn’t do much although we were busy all the time- go figure.  The first week was spent with the Botswana Book Project, receiving the shipment from the US and getting it distributed to schools and libraries throughout Botswana. Our house is currently housing about 40 boxes of books waiting to be picked up by Peace Corps Volunteers who couldn’t arrange transport.

We then had several rounds of visiting Volunteers which gave us an excuse to cook and bake. Teresa is really perfecting her tortillas and bagels.

Then on July 18 we set off on our grand adventure. We rented a car and picked it up at the airport. On the plus side it was a national holiday so learning to drive a manual car on the “wrong” side of the road was much easier with no traffic.  Never quite got used to having the steering on the right, Gary said his right hand would drop to shift and hit the door.The down side is we decided to save money and get as close to the airport as we could before getting a taxi. This meant two combis to Airport Junction which is about 8k from the airport and as close as you can get with public transportation. However, arriving at a mall on a holiday at 8 am- not so smart. A nearby hotel eventually called a taxi for us (Teresa’s phone wouldn’t work and Gary forgot his) and we got a taxi for the bargain rate of P60. So, including combis, we saved a grand total of P26 which is about $2.60.  Lesson learned!

We then gave a ride to a fellow volunteer to Molepolole. According to the map at home there is a paved road from there to Kang where it meets up with the road we needed to get to Ghanzi which was our first stop. but, on the map we had in the car, it showed as dirt most of the way. No dates on the map. so, ask someone you say. What you have to understand about Botswana and directions is that you will get the answer they think you want and not necessarily reality. It isn’t out of meanness, just a desire to be “helpful”. We considered calling a volunteer who lives along that route but the alternate didn’t add too much time so we opted for the safer route.

We rarely saw a car on our 7 hour drive to Ghanzi but had to stop quite often for cows, goats, donkeys and horses to cross the road. They are actually quite used to cars and after a few go, much of the herd will stop and let you go through- just as if there were a stop light they were obeying. We did see some ostriches but that was our only “wildlife” viewing.

cows crossing

In the course of the first day we also went through 3 police checkpoints. Made us think about what is going on in the States but we felt no fear. Picture this- a two lane road and you haven’t seen a car for the last half hour. You approach a checkpoint- maybe there’s a stop sign, maybe not. So, you pull up to where the person is seated. Then you get a lecture on stopping at the sometimes non-existent stop sign and waiting to be called forward. Or, the one officer who said we were going 122k/hour. Last speed limit sign we saw said the limit was 120k/hour- really? but no tickets- just warnings. One time, after presenting his Arizona license, the question was- where was it issued?Phoenix?  Arizona? United States? (US is the correct answer in case you were wondering)

In Ghanzi we stayed with Peggy Flynn, for those Santa Cruzans reading this- some of you will know her. She had a US friend visiting so the 4 of us had a lovely two day visit. Peggy took us to a quarry that had an underground spring so is now an oasis of water- used to allow swimming but no longer- it’s called the Gat (pronounced Hut). We went to a restaurant that serves game meat and looks over a watering hole. Gary had Gemsbok. Teresa tasted but couldn’t get herself to order a full plate of it. It was actually quite tender and good. Wednesday we went to a local San art studio and shop that Peggy works closely with. We also introduced Peggy and her friend, Laura, to Pass the Pigs. They loved it. We also played several rounds of Phase 10 and watched a strange but captivating movie-

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Thursday was off to Maun and our 3 day boat safari in the Okavango Delta. We didn’t leave until Saturday so on Friday we explored Maun- went to a basket weaving cooperative that offers classes- maybe next time. Of course, we bought a basket. In the afternoon we went horseback riding for which we have now determined we are too old and out of shape. Better to stick to basket weaving. The horses were beautiful and we went along the river and through the “woods”- thank goodness we had helmets- low hanging trees with thorns, cantering, you get the picture. On our ride with us was a 13 year old Italian girl. Her family was in Maun for the wedding of her stepsister to a local.

We were both staying at a place called Old Bridge Backpackers where you can camp but we stayed in a permanent tent with bed and our own bathroom for about $26 US per  night.There is a self catering kitchen where we made some of our meals but they also have a restaurant that is very reasonably priced and the food was good. (Teresa ended up having pizza 3 times in 8 days at 3 different places- each was very good!). Not sure what happened to the pictures of our tent/chalet but this was  very industrious pair of   golden weavers who spent the 2 days we were there making this nest.

Looking at the guest register, there were people from all over and actually very few Americans. At the next table they were speaking Spanish, will get to the French in a minute and lots of Dutch. Really takes you out of your America focused bubble. BTW- the whole rest of the world knows about Trump and they are not happy- if that’s any consolation to us- we do have sympathy for our potential plight.

So, Saturday morning we left for our 3 day boat safari. Turns out there is only one other couple- a young French couple- Yves and Barbara. The third couple apparently had a car accident on the way there so did not make it (they were not hurt so not making it is not a euphemism). That meant four of us and our guide- KK.  We heard later about other volunteers who did a trip that promised no more than 16 and ended up with 40!

boat with kk

It was a very relaxing, informative and beautiful trip. We camped two nights on an island (nice tents with cots, mattress, linens, shower, good food). This is the time of year for NEW WATER in the Delta. This means it’s when the water comes in from Angola and floods the Delta, making many new channels that will be gone in a few months. This meant the animals are more spread out rather than gathering at water holes but we still saw plenty.  Imagine you are at Disneyland and are on the jungle cruise-elephants, hippos and crocs jump out of you and bellow or whatever the sound is that hippos make is called- we now know that Disney imagineers must have gone on this boat safari and been inspired. We took over 200 pictures so these are just the highlights.

  • Elephants (and livestock before we crossed the barrier that keeps livestock out of the wildnerness area) like to stand in the water and eat the new tall grass. Never have seen land animals spend so much time in the water. In addition, elephants grab the grass with their trunk then swish it around in the water to clean off the rocks and sand (makes sense to us) and then eat. They are very inefficient though and only digest 60% of what they eat- the rest- you got it- passes through- more on scat later.  In some cases the boat goes right by them- so close you could touch them. Some of them are rather uninterested but others are a bit peeved and let you know it- they bellow, flap their ears and stamp their feet pretty much all at the same time.
  • Hippos- this time of year spend a lot of time in side pools with only their two eyes and two ears showing. A few were in the channel and if they got too close then the guide guns the boat as fast as he can and off you go. Watching the hippos in the pools, you can see them moving very slowly closer and closer to you.  Several seem to charge at us but it was hard to tell because they would go underwater and come up much closer.  If it looked dicey then the guide would say kodak moment is over and off we would go.   Hippos are considered the most dangerous animal here.  You have some animals that would attack for food or because they felt threatened but a hippo will just do it because they are grumpy although they are usually feeling threatened as well.  Fathers are known to kill their own sons to eliminate them as a rival as shown in the picture of the dead hippo.
  • Crocodiles: It was amazing how still they lie until they don’t and all of a sudden they are in the water. We thought the first one we saw was dead until it opened its mouth after a good 5 minutes of us just watching him/her.  But, this baby actually moved slowly- we didn’t realize it was moving forward until we saw the pictures. The “fat” one appears to be sleeping off his binge eating as he/she looks very full.

  • Monitor lizards- these are huge and very shy- we saw several but never for very long except one we got a good shot of.
  • monitor lizard
  • The hamerkop bird makes a huge nest- sometimes several to throw off predators then the unused nests may get used by other animals such as snakes. This has led to a myth that the bird is a witch because it shares its nest with snakes. Witchraft is widely believed in here.
  • hamerkop nest
  • Giraffes- so beautiful and graceful. Several babies and one mother to be- unfortunately she didn’t give birth while we were there but it had to be close.

In our camp there were baboons and during the night an elephant came and shook the palm tree they were sleeping in because he wanted the nuts that grow on the tree. Baboons can be very loud and apparently they need to talk about what happened. An elephant shaking a tree is pretty loud too. Not much sleep going on unless you are Gary who can’t hear anything anyway. In the morning, we had a warthog come visit.

baboons in camp

We did a short mokoro ride.  A mokoro is a wooden canoe that sits very low in the water and is poled like the boats in Venice. Notice the hippo damage to the front of Yves and Barbara’s mokoro- luckily not on our watch! From the mokoro and the last morning we did bush walks on islands that are actually quite large. It was our hunt for lions and other animals. We did see several giraffes, warthogs and red lechwe (a kind of antelope/deer) but apparently the zebra were scared away by a lion whose scat we found complete with hair and bones in it.  There are buffalo as well but they were also running from something so we saw their dust and their scat. (At this point, let’s pause and say that all our guides really know their shit- and we mean literally. They can look at scat and prints and say there were X number of (fill in the animal) going in Y direction about Z hours ago.  Did you know you can tell the difference between a male and female giraffe by the shape of their excrement- the females is pointed and the males is flat. Now that is some serious trivia.

We did see some zebra from the boat and a variety of antelope/deer (various types of “bok”such as steenbok. The variety of birds is also absolutely amazing. We have never been birders but Botswana could change that. Lots of fish eagles which look a lot like the bald eagle. We didn’t write down names of each at the time but took pictures so we could identify later- probably not for this blog post so just enjoy the pictures.

The ride home was 10 hours and uneventful other than coming through Gabs in rush hour in the dark. Our favorite was this roadside picnic site with the sign about not littering (we didn’t stay).   And actually I think an animal dumped the trash can because most sites were very nice,  Only one wildlife sighting- a kudu- surprised both of us.

On Wednesday morning we had to return the car and Gary made Teresa drive (her turn in morning rush hour traffic). Let’s just say they both got a greater appreciation for what it was like to be both driver and passenger.

And, a few miscellaneous pictures from the trip:

We left the US one year ago- hard to believe.The new cohort is now here. If this coming year goes as quickly, we will be home before you know it. But,there is still time to experience the beauty of this country with us.





Apparently our automatic post to Facebook wasn’t working so this never got posted. No worries- will update it with a picture of YOGA IN BOTSWANA IN WINTER.  While many of our colleagues have been complaining of the cold for days now, today is the first we’ve felt truly cold… (and the slippers to the left went on partway through)

winter yoga

We haven’t blogged in a while but we are still here and doing well. Just haven’t had anything interesting to report.

Gary started English tutoring during school study time but only got a few sessions in when end of term exams started so he will go back at that come August.

We finished the first class of Grass Roots Soccer which is an HIV/AIDS prevention program for youth that uses soccer drills and terminology to talk about HIV/AIDS. We had about 30 kids sign up and 26 graduated (attended 7 or more of the 11 sessions). Tuesday is the party with certificates, cupcakes, and a some other goodies.

grs with teresa 2

Teresa got a new Board of Directors with a new Chair who will be more involved than the last one so hopefully we can move forward on some of the systemic improvements we’ve been working on.  The stove she is buying with a grant is delayed yet again (are we surprised?) so she can’t finish that grant just yet which is frustrating.  So close….

We are experiencing a major ant infestation, primarily in our kitchen . We believe they are coming from under the sink as the counter is, shall we say, not much of a barrier. The landlord is supposed to replace the counter but she has been promising that since the last volunteer so we have to content ourselves with committing major genocide several times a day.

The termites are also eating our door frame (isn’t it nice of them to replace the wood with their “dirt” which traditionally is mixed with water and laid down for the “hut” floor because it is so durable like concrete and then they mix cow dung and water and put it on for the glaze for the floor. We don’t know if anybody still does either one or both with the advent of concrete but we wouldn’t be surprised because we are sure there are lots of dirt floors in the more rural villages). Also supposed to get fixed but the landlord claims the Ministry of Health has not paid our rent so she won’t buy the materials until she gets her rent. Speaking of the Ministry of Health- apparently our security service bill has not been paid for almost 2 years. Peace Corps intervened as they were going to cut us off.  These are our major frustrations but nothing we can’t handle.

Today we met a group of US and British ex-pats who run what’s called a HASH. They get together every Sunday near someone’s house and walk 4-6 k or run 6-10k then eat and drink. It was a great mix of folks of all ages so we felt very comfortable. There is a couple in Gabane who are very involved and we went with them. We walked as you can guess- maybe Teresa will run someday but not today.

Weather is actually quite lovely- a bit cold at night and in the morning and with no heat, it means bundling up but the day time is high 70s and just very pleasant for walking and sitting outside. Teresa did break down and buy a traditional blanket as is worn by married women. If she has to go to a funeral and wear a skirt, the blanket will come in handy. This is usually given to the bride by her mother-in-law but that isn’t going to happen so she bought her own 🙂 Looks great with the orange day glow sweat pants- don’t you think?

teresas new blanket

Thursday is the last day of the term then we are both off the month of July with a trip up north planned for a week. Should have good pictures to share after that.  In the meantime, here is a picture of Gary’s latest  project- anyone surprised? He is going to put in a patio. Landlord gave us the bricks.

future patio

Next week will be our 11 month anniversary in country. The new group is scheduled to arrive August 1 with the group before us starting to leave already with October 14 as their last possible day. That makes us the senior class. Our group has started taking over the various committees, newsletter, etc.  It is amazing how much we have learned this past year about Botswana language and culture and about ourselves.

We have learned how much our family and friends mean to us. Not being home for major life events that friends and family are experiencing is difficult but we are fortunate we are able to communicate via email, text, google chat,Facebook,  etc.  Would be so much harder without those tools. We still welcome any and all visitors and really enjoy hearing from folks- makes us feel much more connected although if Trump wins, bet many of you will want to come join us!



Dinner Party Follow up

In the post over the weekend we mentioned we had 7 people coming for dinner Monday night. Well, one was sick, one had to help someone with car problems (she did drop off a bottle of wine), one had to help her daughter with homework as husband was not available (she stayed for a few minutes), two never showed. So, two came. So, we encouraged one to go home and get her two children who were at home nearby- a 20 year old and a 2 1/2 year old. Not as bad as the time we gave a party and no one came- some of you know that story and for those who don’t, suffice it to say we are a little gun shy about having parties with people we don’t know very well.

dinner party


It was the first time any of them had eaten lasagna. Cheese just isn’t very popular here. The cows and goats are all used for meat not dairy and cheese (what there is) is very expensive! (It is a major splurge for us but we decided we deserve it) The little boy LOVED it. Mom was so surprised. Unfortunately we forgot to take a picture of the beautiful lasagna and bean salad. Guess we could have taken one tonight since we have lots of leftovers! But, here is the dip and crudites and caramel apple pie. Missing is the ice cream and caramel sauce that came on top.

Do we seem obsessed with food? We have noticed that PCVs post a lot of pictures of food so guess we are normal.

Well, off to eat some of the leftover pie with ice cream and caramel sauce- life could be a lot worse!




Bicycles and other doings

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Hard to believe we haven’t posted since May 2. Here are some highlights of our doings since then.

Teresa spent a week at Peace Corps HQ helping to plan the training for the new group coming July 31.  It was a great week and we made a lot of changes which will hopefully result in a more rewarding pre-service training than we had. Teresa really appreciated the openness of PC staff to new ideas and ways of doing things.

We had our Kgotla meeting to have our community parenting skills initiative sanctioned by the tribal chief. The working group meets this Tuesday so wish us luck.

We held a family fun day at the Centre. Families had a great time and learned the value of play in their child’s development. It was heartening to hear a parent say they used to tell their child to stop playing and get serious and  now they know it is important for them to play.

Teresa also served on a panel of volunteers to speak to a group of visiting students from Furman University in South Carolina. They are studying the cultural factors that are inhibiting the eradication of HIV/AIDS and what we, as PCVs are doing to help. Of the 19 students, our guess is that at least 15 of them will end up as PCVs.

Most of the equipment ordered through the grant has come including a photocopier. OK- those of you who have worked with Teresa know that copiers and she have a love/hate relationship. Teresa loves them, they hate her. She did get it set up and now the fun begins since we don’t have a maintenance contract… Gary, in the meantime, is being a dear and is putting together desks and bookcases.

Meanwhile, Gary is staying busy too. He just finished week 8 of the 11 week Grass Roots Soccer program. This week’s lesson was all about condoms- how to put them on and take them off properly. It also touched on the value of circumcision (circumcision results in a 60% less chance of getting HIV and by using a condom and being circumcised the protection increases to 100% for the male).

Gary also submitted a plan to help with the high student failure rate. One of the primary components that has been approved is to do English tutoring for a group of 18 students identified as having problems.  Obviously there are more since over 200 are failing but they said only one class so far.They are taught in English but by rote memorization and when it comes to the tests (which are government standardized tests) the comprehension is really low so the students fail, not just because they don’t know the information but because they don’t understand the questions or the answers.

Our big news is that we got bicycles. A friend of ours helped us get them home yesterday.- Thank you Gloria!

bikes getting them home.JPG

The day included a celebratory lunch at Sanitas, a lovely nursery that has a teahouse. (That is a STRAWBERRY smoothie next to the salad. It was AMAZING)

We took our first ride today- about 4.5k round trip to the store to pick up ice cream (another story). We did fine except for a few spots where we hit sand which is kind of like hitting a brick wall.   PC pays for the bike and a helmet with the stipulation that you wear the helmet or you can be sent home. Remember the part about hitting a brick wall- let’s just say we are glad we have helmets. While we now officially look like Mormon missionaries (no offense to our LDS friends) we also believe we are now famous (notorious) in the village. Two old people (greatly revered here but not usually seen riding bikes) on rather nice bikes with helmets. The bike shop we went to is very good to PC volunteers- we got SUBSTANTIAL discounts on both the bikes and the helmets so that the PC stipend would cover them. Both bikes, while second hand, are much nicer than the typical bike you see here being ridden by average people so we actually felt a little like rich Americans which was a bit uncomfortable.  Feeling as conspicuous as we did, we will probably focus our riding in the other direction from our house which is out into the country between Gabane and Mmokolodi- no cars, few people, open and flat. Now we just need to figure out how to really ride them (Andrew- where are you when I need you?) and what is the best way to ride through sand? It has been probably 20 years since either of us has ridden a bike but a couple of Ibuprofen and a rest this afternoon and we are good as new!

Why the ice cream you ask? We decided it was time to invite a couple of Gary’s colleagues over for dinner as they have expressed curiosity as to how we entertain in America. The second goal of PC is to educate people in what American culture is like. So, Gary invited a couple of people and they in turn invited people (a very cultural thing to do/happen) so now we have dinner for 9 tomorrow night. What we don’t know is how many people are now offended because we didn’t invite them. We only have 4 plates so we bought some extra plastic ones. Luckily we have 9 forks exactly and the previous volunteer left us some styrofoam cups (sorry environment) as we don’t have 9 glasses. We will be serving crudites with a ranch style dip, lasagne, three bean salad, french rolls (homemade of course) and a caramel apple pie for dessert. This is not a typical Botswana meal at all so we will see how it goes. We also can’t seat 9 at our table so it will be lap eating which is very typical here.



It’s a Beautiful Day (and weekend)

Let us count the ways:

  • Weather is definitely cooling down- slept with a blanket last night and it felt so good.
  • Took a 4 mile round trip walk to pick up pottery for a Volunteer we are going to see next weekend. On the way back there was a goat who had just given birth to twins and we watched the younger(?) one stand up for the first time.
  • Today is a holiday- Labour Day- very relaxing- just woke up from a nap. Thursday is another holiday- Ascension Day. For those of you unversed in scripture and too impatient to google it (like we had to), Ascension Day comes 40 days after Easter Sunday and is the day Jesus left the mortal world and ascended to Heaven.
  • Got everything done on our “to do list”! (including reorganizing the pantry/cupboard)
  • We also learned on Friday that there is a Child Protection Committee in the Village that is comprised of the very stakeholders we are trying to reach with our community parenting initiative. We are very hopeful this will become the vehicle for carrying this project to fruition.  Why no one has told us about this before now, remains a mystery but no matter, we know now.
  • At the mall Saturday, Teresa stopped in at one of the stores she is going to get some of her grant funded equipment at. The refrigerator she had scoped out is no longer in stock and there was nothing for the same price- less expensive and smaller or more expensive for the same size. The wonderful department manager agreed to give her a more expensive one at the price  budgeted- a P600 savings (only $60 but huge for the grant).
  • Downloaded pictures from Teresa’s supervisor’s service learning project on learning through play and these were two favorites- let’s hear it for gender equality starting early! This project is bigger than it would appear. The whole educational system is based on rote learning and memorization starting in preschool. Teresa’s supervisor is in a certificate program for early childhood education/social work and has become a believer in the value of play in the early childhood environment.  She needed a supervisor for her community project which she is doing with her own organization and she is the most qualified person working there.  So given Gary’s 40 combined years in Early childhood/social work she asked him if he  would supervise her project.  She has decided that children might learn best through play.  This preschool and as far as we can tell,  all  of them are very academic.  We were both amazed when we first observed about how much it looked like regular school.  Teresa mentioned at one time about learning centers and how that concept worked and her supervisor jumped right in.  They developed four centers (store, clinic, house and art). We made play dough (which was a new thing to them). Last week they began  playing in the centers instead of sitting at their tables and “being taught”. Gary got to observe and she and the kids did a great job. The kids had a great time. She then gave a workshop to the rest of her staff and they are supportive. Change is always hard and  it is difficult for people to grasp that playing has value so we will see if it can be sustained.  This coming Saturday we will have a Family Fun Day to bring it home to the parents (literally and figuratively).  We did all this with no special funding (We contributed the flour and salt and food coloring. The stove is an old one the Centre had that no  longer works and is getting replaced by a 6 burner commercial one through the grant we just got). Everything else we made from what we had or folks gave us. In terms of Peace Corps this will not be a “reportable” HIV/AIDS  related activity for PEPFAR statistics other than when we talk about what we  did this quarter but it means a lot in the long run if we can help to set these kids up for a more successful educational experience.

6 Months at Site

We have now been at site a little over 6 months (1/4 of the way through!). April is just about over and it has been a busy month. The new school term, Term 2, started on April 5 but Teresa had a PC training from April 3-9 then a few days off before the All Volunteer Conference started on April 13.  She managed to go home for one night to pick up fabric art and pottery from two Gabane local artists to sell at the art marketplace at the All Vol Conference. Gary left that Sunday for a two day training on the Lifeskills curriculum he is supposed to be implementing.  Teresa went back to her different hotel and spent one day presenting a workshop on strategic and fund raising planning and grant writing. Otherwise, she relaxed by the pool, watched Game of Thrones and read- your tax dollars at work- thanks!

Teresa’s training was on Journey of Life which is a dual program you can use with children and with parents and community stakeholders/caregivers. The one with children is intended to help them better deal with the challenges life presents by recognizing those challenges for what they are and developing coping skills. The community parenting one is intended to teach parents/caregivers/community stakeholders what challenges today’s youth are facing and how they can help the youth navigate through them.  We are hoping to use the parenting piece as part of the community parenting initiative we are working on implementing  (more on that after our May 12 Kgotla meeting). Unfortunately, the child part is not intended for pre-schoolers so may be harder for Teresa to implement.

Gary will have to explain the Lifeskills curriculum.

The All Vol Conference was fantastic- the sessions were all planned and mostly executed by other volunteers. A lot of sharing- what works, what doesn’t, tips and tricks, etc. There were several fun activities including an ongoing game of Clue- Teresa died day one and Gary on day two. Teresa ran a trivia contest again and everyone had a great time. This could be a new side gig to supplement those pensions when we get home. The highlight, however, was that we WON the Newlywed Game for our category which was romantic couples.  Our answers weren’t always truthful but we knew what the other would say. For example- you have unlimited funds, where would you go for a second honeymoon? We both answered Banff which was our original honeymoon destination but got canceled at the last minute. Unlimited funds- not likely we would pick Banff but we knew the other would think of it. 36 1/2 years has to be good for something besides perseverance!

We have some amazing Gabane artists. You can view their work (and that of other Botswana artists) in the new Bokapanyo catalogue. We have given this link before but there is a new catalogue out now. Gabane Pottery is new in this one as is Kealaboga who is the art teacher at Gary’s school- his work is amazing. Hopefully they have fixed the pricing in the catalogue- it was listed as dollars instead of pula so was 10x more expensive than it should have been.  We will be bringing back a lot from the fabric artist so place your orders any time in the next 18 months 🙂 (Potter and paintings would be a bit harder but we can talk).

So, back to our saga. Teresa finally went back to work after 3 weeks off (1 week between term break and then 2 weeks of training) and it was a doozy of a week. Teresa’s supervisor is finishing up a certificate in early childhood education/social work and  Gary is serving as her supervisor for her service learning project. This involved creating stations in the classroom to promote learning through play. So, Teresa helped set up a store, a clinic, a house and an art station. The latter included making 6 colors of play dough and a lot of improvising overall as we had no money to spend on it. 16 kids visited the stations the first time on Friday and it was a huge success. It was great seeing the boys cook, dress up and take care of babies as housework in this country is usually reserved for girls only. It took a while but the play dough caught on and they couldn’t get enough of it. (pictures to come later)

On Wednesday at noon we found out that the Centre had been awarded a contract to provide breakfast and lunch for 60 people at a workshop on THURSDAY- the next day. Combine this with the fact that we had just used our last cheque and are waiting for a new chequebook (a story unto itself), we had to scrape up money to buy the food. Thursday was hectic to say the least as we still had a preschool to run. We did have a few additional Board members to help cook.

In the middle of the food prep, Teresa got a call that her Embassy grant had been approved. (There was a Facebook post on this so won’t go into much detail). It is for about P 120,000 ($12,000) to buy all sorts of furniture and equipment for the Centre. This is current fiscal year money so has to be spent very quickly but those who know Teresa, know this is not a problem, although Botswana could be her Waterloo.

It was also a stellar week for spiders- also posted on Facebook so not repeated here. Suffice it to say that Botswana is doing its darnedest to cure Teresa of her arachnophobia.

One of the problems with PC service is it is often hard to measure the impact you are having and even whether you are even doing anything- worthwhile or not. We have a lot of feelers out for various projects and if they all come to fruition we are in trouble but more than likely only a couple will.  It is important to have community buy in and support as we want what we start to continue after we leave. But, we continue to have realistic expectations and this is serving us well- we know we aren’t going to change the world but already feel we have touched some people.  The group ahead of us (Bots 15) keeps warning us about the slump/depression we will experience somewhere around mid-service. Maybe so, but for now we continue to take it all one day at a time- every day we seem to experience something new or different so life is not dull.

We have learned to deal with the disappointments (HOLA no longer works with Netflix) and we also know how to take care of ourselves (yes- that is a cinnamon raisin bagel made by Teresa complete with cream cheese ) and make lemonade from lemons (or more appropriately, bread pudding from leftover bread from the catering). Now, nap time to continue this vein of self care…


Love to all of you and love to hear from you- brightens our day and makes us feel not so far away.