Planet Baobab and Nxai Pans Nat’l Park

Easter was a four day holiday weekend so we didn’t need to use any vacation days to travel. We are saving the biggest attractions and vacation days for when we have visitors (hint hint) so we decided to go some place a little different. The area is called Makgadikgadi Pans but we actually went to a piece of it that is the Nxai Pans National Park. The Makgadikgadi is where the huge migration of zebras happens as well as an annual air race (think Utah Salt Flats).

If you are looking at a map, we stayed close to Gweta and the park is about an hour’s drive further west. We stayed at a cool place called Planet Baobab- so named because of the amazing baobab trees that grow in this area and have been for literally thousands of years.  The large one in the picture was about 75 ft in circumference.

The road into this park is apparently one of the worst in Botswana- who knew? 4 wheel drive only and then only for experienced drivers- sandy and lots of ruts. Our total day was 11 hours long, leaving before dawn and getting back almost at sunset.  We had an amazing guide, Jonah, who knows the area and the wildlife intimately. The only downside was the 10 hour bus ride to and from Gweta but well worth it.

The picture of the building which looks like it has a garden around it is actually the ablutions building for a campground (toilets/showers) and is elephant proofed. In the dry season, the elephants will do anything to get to water and can destroy pipes and buildings so they have concrete pieces with rebar spikes to keep them out. There is a narrow entrance that human feet can maneuver to get in. Not the place to be in a wheelchair or even crutches.

We did not see any lions- the resident pride had killed and eaten a couple of days before and were deep in the bush/shade sleeping it off. Didn’t expect to see lions so we weren’t disappointed. Next trip- that one is in July. We did get to see two cheetahs resting under a tree. They are brother and sister. One brother died early and mom left them a couple of months ago but they are good hunters and are doing well on their own. They will mate with each other then, brother will take off, leaving sister to raise the cubs.

It is also very green which we did not expect. Our recent rains (last two weeks) are what made the difference. There were wildflowers everywhere.

If you hover over the middle, you will get the caption. And for the zoologists out there- it is actually a herd of springbok not oryxes but I was too lazy to remove the picture and redo the gallery


This was the week that was

Some or you reading this will remember the TV show (1964 in the US) with the same title. Well, this post won’t be as funny and satirical so sorry about that but it will give you an idea of what our life is like on a daily basis and serves as my journal. Starts out pretty mundane but if you stick with it, you will see the patterns emerging that form our daily existence.

Last Saturday started out with a trip to the new grocery store in Gabane. (Saturday or Sunday is shopping day) A new Choppies. What Botswana doesn’t really need is more Choppies and this one is only about 1.5k away from the other one but it is just enough closer that we can reasonably walk to it and then take a taxi or combi home. All well and good but it still doesn’t have a lot of what we want. This week- no lettuce- so we have resorted to a variety of other types of salads- we are so flexible.  Also stopped at the post office and no packages- two are on their way.

We did have water all weekend though which was good so we did a lot of deeper type cleaning on Sunday. We shouldn’t have bothered but that is later.

Monday morning, my supervisor and I met with a youth pastor who wants to work with our kids on Saturday and give us stuff. Then,  I met with the Board Vice Chair and another Board member to review the revised Constitution (aka bylaws) and Financial Policy.  I was supposed to spend the afternoon with our tutor who is also an accountant and she was going to review our Quick Books setup but she had car trouble so I was able to go with Gary for an appointment at Mmokolodi Primary School to pitch our community parenting idea.

Mmokolodi is about 7k from our house and there are kids who walk from there every day to get to school so we figured no big deal. We got a ride there and turns out the primary school is another 2K from town but the person that took us got lost so we got a tour of Mmokolodi. Appointment was for 3 and we were only 15 minutes late or so we thought. Actually we were 15 minutes early (someone else had made the appointment for us). Then they asked us to stay for a PTA Executive Committee meeting which started at 4:30. If we could be first then we could be walking home by 5 and that gave us 2 hours  to walk the 6 miles until dark. We weren’t sure we could find our way for part of it in the dark as it basically goes across country on dirt paths. No parents showed up and it was now 5 pm. The key people were at the Kgotla on the other side of town with no transportation. Silly of us to think it would start at 4:30 anyway. At 5:10 we called it and started home on our 6 mile walk. We tried hitching but the first two cars passed us by. At about 6 pm a saint stopped- Land Rover with AC that worked and she actually used it! (a first) and gave us a ride all the way home. Turns out she is a fairly close by neighbor.

Tuesday morning I went on a donor prospecting mission with three of the Board members. We visited various businesses in Gabane and Gaborone, leaving a letter of introduction and a brochure . Anyone who knows anything about fundraising can quickly point out the many errors in this approach but that is another story. And no, we got no definite commitments and did not talk to one decision maker but several promised to get back to us. On the flip side, another Board member went the next day to a local dairy, spoke to the head person and got a commitment for 15 litres of milk every Monday. (They called later in the week and offered us 5 live chickens which we have accepted and will be lunch for the kids on Tuesday. I plan to be absent Monday as I cannot watch that again- the first time was traumatic enough. I may be eating meat but I am ok with keeping my distance from where it comes from.)

We got back at 1:50, I hadn’t eaten lunch yet and at 2:00 Gary and I needed to leave for an appointment at the other Junior Secondary School. We got lucky and got a ride  fairly soon with one of the teachers who was going to take us directly there but turns out she was actually going near the third primary school that we hadn’t been able to reach by phone. So we stopped there and made an appointment for next week. We were then going to walk to the JSS but got another ride. Had a great visit at the JSS and took a combi back as far as we could (the one that gets us closer to home came right after we had given up and taken the other). We were pretty tired but resigned to the 20 minute walk but as luck would have it, got another ride about 10 minutes later. Many of the teachers live at the school in teacher housing and most have cars so that gives us lots of opportunities for rides with people we sort of know.When someone says Dumela Mma Gary, I know it is someone from Gary’s school as he is known as Mr. Gary.

Wednesday (during the night and throughout the day) the heavens opened up and boy did we get rain. Amazingly the power held so I holed up in my office and worked on writing the new Personnel Policy since a follow up meeting with the Board Vice-Chair got postponed. It’s kind of like writing the Union contract the way you want it without the nasty negotiations. We’ll see how my version stacks up against Botswana Labor Law.

We did manage a visit to Gabane Primary as part of the Parenting Initiative and were lucky there was a break in the weather so we could walk there and back without drowning. Gary also came over before the school visit to meet with my supervisor and counterpart as he is going to supervise their final social work project for a certificate course they are taking.

Wednesday afternoons is Gary’s Grass Roots Soccer day which is a HIV prevention program for teens and I am helping him but it got postponed to Friday as the kids are in exams and need to study (even though they don’t).

I was supposed to go to Gabs for a 5 pm meeting and was riding in with the Centre’s combi which left at 4, getting me to the combi rank by 4:30 for the half hour trip to Gabs. I posted some pictures on Facebook that showed the water situation and will repost here. What this doesn’t show is that the roads (only one is paved (tarred)) are all dirt and water and dirt make…. MUD. The force of the water and the strong wind also creates major crevices and ditches. Luckily it slowed down long enough for me to wait for the combi to Gabs. (Yes, I brought a raincoat with me to Botswana although the folks here don’t wear them, but did I have it with me? No, just a small umbrella). The nice thing about rain in the summer though is that it isn’t very cold.  The combi trip is usually less than a half hour but took close to an hour and there were places where the water was reaching the tops of the tires for regular cars. I was a half hour late for the meeting so right on time Botswana style except I was meeting other Americans. One of them lives in Gabane so she gave me a ride home which was harrowing as it was pitch black and those crevices are hard to see but we made it safely.

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Gary stayed home because the security alarm people were supposed to come and replace a dead battery. This had been postponed from Saturday when they didn’t show up and Monday when they called and said they had dispatched a technician but we weren’t home so that wasn’t going to work. I had then made this appointment for 3 pm Wed. They called several times but I didn’t get the call and when I called back they hadn’t sent the guy because I hadn’t answered the phone. Shall we define appointment? (actually no different than the US). While I was in Gabs they called Gary for directions to the house and then canceled due to the rain and rescheduled for Friday at 4.

Here’s where I make a pitch- the meeting was for the Botswana Book Project which gets books for Botswana schools and libraries through Books for Africa and ships a container annually if funds are available. So, we are set for 2016 but if you want to help out, go to the Botswana Book Project web page ( donate for the 2017 shipment- I will still be here to benefit from it. I am co-coordinating the Peace Corps recipients. At this meeting I also learned there is, apparently, an effort underway to create a public library in Gabane which I will be finding more about in the next couple of weeks.


Thursday I was supposed to meet with my tutor/accountant friend. But, the rain just kept coming so I didn’t want her to get stuck in the mud, literally, so we postponed. (Are you counting how many times I am using the word postponed, rescheduled or canceled?).  This was also the day for the postponed Mmokolodi meeting but when I called, since we hadn’t heard anything, they said the meeting wasn’t happening and would call us.

So, my supervisor told me I needed to go with her to the house of one of our kids whose aunt died and we needed to pay our respects because neither of us had made any of the day/night services and wouldn’t make the burial on Friday. Please understand, it was pouring rain, mud everywhere. I had to go home to get a head scarf and literally had no way to get to the house without going through two places where there was standing water up to my ankles. Our house was literally an island. As I said earlier, at least it wasn’t cold.  The Centre combi took us, we sat with the women and drank tea and ate warm paphatas then went back to work where I managed to finish the Personnel Policy first draft.

Did I mention the water went out Tuesday so we were dealing with the mud and rain without running water. Why all tile in this country is white is beyond me- should be a mottled brown. It would relieve a lot of guilt.

So, Friday- I started by taking my first malaria pill as we are going to malaria country next week over Easter. I take the one that might give me hallucinatory dreams- we’ll see.

I get to work at 7:30 to find that the door to the Admin trailer, that had not been doing well, is now unable to be opened.  Can’t go in through windows because there are burglar bars on all the windows and the alarm is set. So, I could not get to my office.  I’m flexible. It’s ok. But here’s the deal. We needed to call or get a note to the parents about a special event on Saturday at the Centre. Should have been done earlier in the week but no one did it. The phone numbers are in the inaccessible trailer. Both printers are in the inaccessible trailer as I had moved one to my office as part of preparing to meet with my tutor/accountant. My laptop that also has student information in it is guess where?… I said all that is missing is that the inspector who postponed from the previous week would probably show up today and the paperwork she needs is- you got it- on the desk in my office. Did she show up?- you betcha- at 1 pm. We have been waiting on this licensing inspection for several months. Luckily she believed us when we recited our previous deficiencies and how we had corrected them. One would have thought she would have had her own copy of the report from last September but that’s not how things work here.  Postponed yet again the follow up meeting with the Vice Chair as the material we needed to review was……. Yep- in my office

On a cheery note, I did manage to slip in a trip to the Post Office to pick up one of the two packages we were waiting for and got a ride back with one of the teachers from Gary’s school who greeted me as Mma Gary while I was waiting for the Centre combi to come get me so I knew it was a teacher- in fact 3 of them.

Got back 15 minutes late for a meeting but the other party hadn’t showed up yet- gotta love Botswana time- can work to your advantage sometimes. The representatives from an organization that has a grant to do HIV work in Gabane finally arrived and we discussed how we can work together.

Left work at 1:30 after the inspection, went home and the water was on so I filled everything that we had emptied during the week, did a quick mop of the very dirty floor and met Gary for the Grass Roots Soccer program. (In this picture if he hits the cone, he gets HIV/AIDs- each cone stands for a risk factor for getting HIV/AIDS)


Left GRS a little early so I could be home by 4 for the rescheduled security alarm visit. Did they come at 4? Are you kidding? At about 4:30 we got a call and had to talk them into a soft landing at our house. They told us where they were but they were actually coming from the other direction. I am standing in the middle of the road with hundreds of kids walking home from the school with a phone in my hand, looking for Godot. But, along they came and I waved them in and they replaced our battery so we are safe and secure once again.

Is this a typical week? Not sure. Last week was pretty intense too. At this point we have a lot of irons in the fire but aren’t sure which are going to get hot.  But, as you can see, it’s never boring and we are never sure what a new day will bring. Are we getting anything accomplished? Maybe, maybe not but you do what you can and hope some of it is useful and sticks.

Future blog I will regale you with how we spend our non-work time!

Funeral Customs- A Cultural Comparison

We’ve never really given much thought to funeral customs. When you think about it, though, it is one ritual that even though you may not be practicing the religion you grew up with, chances are the funerals you are used to, reflect that religion. They certainly do for us- Teresa grew up Jewish and Gary, Methodist. It seems as though funerals, more than any other rite, have maintained strong elements from that faith’s history. Take the Jewish custom of burying within 24 hours then sitting shiva for 7 days (receiving visitors and saying prayers). The reason is simple. bodies deteriorate quickly in the desert and since Jews don’t believe in embalming (traditionally that is), it was important to bury the body quickly. The next week is then set aside for remembrance, prayers for whatever comes after, and support for the bereaved family.

OK- so why this topic and why now? This past weekend we had the opportunity to experience the one part of the traditional Botswana funeral that we had not experienced in our two previous funeral experiences. And, what we found most interesting are the differences from what we are both used to. Basically, the process is the exact opposite of the Jewish custom even though the environment is as hot and dry as the original Palestine.  We also learned that customs vary by tribe and therefore by region. This most recent funeral was someone from Gary’s school. The school provided a bus for about 40 of us to travel 9 hours (north of Francistown on the Zimbabwe border) each way (in 100 degrees without air conditioning we might add). We went up Saturday and home on Sunday, but more of that to come.

So, here is what we have learned is the custom:

When a person dies, the body is taken to a funeral home where it remains until the night before the burial. Burials are usually on Saturday or Sunday.  Typically, there is about a week between the death and the burial (although in 2 funerals this past weekend the person died on Monday or Tuesday and the burial was on Sunday. Yes, we had two funerals in one day but more on that later). Gary’s school head’s father died in December and in that case there were about 10 days between the death and the burial since family members were coming from very far away (the granddaughter of the deceased was in England). Why is this time important? Well, every day before the burial, there are two prayer services- one in the early morning and one in the early evening. And, anyone and everyone in the village is welcome at either, both, all, some. This means feeding everyone each time- this is often just phaphata (bread) and tea but it adds up and it is tiring for the family! Luckily the tradition of extended families helps  There are brown tents and chairs to rent (white tents for weddings). Not sure where all the plates and cups come from but rarely is plastic (or foam) used.

Then, on the night before the funeral the body of the deceased arrives during the evening service. The coffin is usually kept in the sitting room where the family stays with it. Everyone else is outside. After the prayers (it is now about 6:30) there is a break until 9 pm when the overnight vigil begins.  At the one this last weekend the family sat vigil until midnight then family and friends were expected to take over. Our group was given an unused house to rest in- women in one room, men in another. We brought our camping mats and rested (slept) from about 9 to 2. Then we both happened to wake up and went over to where the vigil was. Not sure who was inside but outside a large group of about 100 were praying and singing. As we rested, you could hear the singing throughout the night. Since we didn’t understand the prayers we only lasted about an hour. (Turns out that wasn’t totally our fault- most of the prayers were in Kalanga which is a local language. Not that Setswana would have made a huge difference but still….). We rested again until 4 then everyone was getting up to bathe and get ready for the burial. This is a good place to mention that dress for funerals is very proscribed. Women wear dresses below the knee and cover head with a kerchief and shoulders with a shawl or large scarf- no matter how hot it is! Men wear long sleeves with a vest or a coat that would cover long or short sleeves.

By 5:30 2-300 people had gathered. More prayers and a funeral service with eulogies and all. This included an interesting section where the card were read out loud from all the flowers that were to be placed on the grave (most of them were plastic). Since several of these were in English, we finally understood something- if we could hear it.  At some point the family all went in the house to view the deceased, then the open coffin was brought out and everyone filed past. We have been told that the reason for this is so that everyone knows the right person is in the coffin and that they are truly dead. Around 7 am we all loaded up in various vehicles and went to the cemetery. By now there must have been about 400 people and there was another burial going on right next to ours. We couldn’t hear or see much but there was a grave already dug (no backhoes in sight) and after more prayers in Kalanga, or so we were told, several people began filling in the grave by hand. All during this rather long process the singing continued.

Graves in Botswana usually include a canopy made of a mesh type material- like a heavy duty screen- and attached to a metal frame. There is a metal plate with the deceased’s birth, death and burial date on it. In glancing at some of the other graves, it brought home the severity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 2000’s. Many people between 20-35 so one can only assume the cause of death.

After the burial, everyone goes back to the house where the younger women have been preparing food all night over an open fire. (Teresa asked about helping but was told that older women don’t cook or serve but sometimes get to clean the pots- luckily the bus had to go before she got to enjoy that chore). So at about 8:30 in the morning you get served a meal of phaletshe (  from corn and pretty flavorless but looks like cream of rice or grits that have been sitting for a while ),or bogobe (from sorghum like cream of wheat but thicker and no salt), samp (from corn but round and semi-soft and also pretty flavorless), seswaa (national dish made of pounded beef- bones and all), and cabbage. Everything has a smoky flavor due to being cooked in iron pots over open fires. The best part is the drink that is traditionally served made of ginger, hot water, sugar and possibly lemon.

When someone dies, the service and burial are almost always in their home village. In the three we have attended thus far, one was in Gabane, one in a village about an hour from Gaborone and this last one 9 hours away. Gary talked about this in his most recent blog entry- government workers- teachers, doctors, nurses, pilots, wildlife officials- are all at the mercy of the government in terms of placement and families are quite often separated. It is not uncommon for dad to be one place, mom another and the kids with a grandparent or other relative.  Gabane is a growing bedroom community to Gabs so there are more and more people from other places who come to live in Gabane and go to school or work in Gabs since the rent is less expensive.

Our problem this weekend was that the brother of Teresa’s counterpart’s partner, died on Tuesday. Since we went to the funeral up north, we went to the Friday night prayer service for the Gabane funeral and this was considered sufficient in terms of paying respect. In December we went with a group from Gary’s school to one of the evening prayer services and then decided to go back for the burial but we had to do it by public transportation and arrived in time for the meal and missed the rest. Meal was exactly the same though. So, we thought we should take advantage of the opportunity and experience the vigil and burial (and Gary did know the deceased who by the way was only 31 with a girlfriend and two children- he died of hypertension and complications from diabetes!)

No one ever seems to mention cremation. We need to ask about that. Since many religions prohibit it, it is possible that it is not an accepted practice.  One teacher said he only knew of two places that cremated in the country so obviously is not a common occurrence.

This week we get to go to a wedding on Thursday. We’ve only been to one of those so far so will be nice to enjoy the happier occasion. We do have to say that the music at all these events is just amazing. Come visit and I am sure we can find a wedding and/or funeral for you to experience. All are open to everyone- no invitations are needed.



A Day in the Education System: Part 2

This is part two of my story about the education system, however be warned my knowledge changes daily so I may contradict myself as I learn more over the next year and a half (can’t even say two years anymore).  I am going to give you a bit more background for all of this to make better sense.  Teresa is writing about the funeral we went to which is an important segue into the point I want to make about everyone having a home village.  This is a very solid and important part of the culture here.  People are always referring to “my home village”.   Everyone has a home village and in the past, generations lived there on a single compound that usually had 2-4 houses depending on size and longevity of the family.  Most of the housing in the villages is still like this.  In the city which is pretty much Gabarone the houses are beginning to look like Phoenix, red tile roofs, stucco walls and block walls around the subdivision although in this case there are block walls around each house.  I think this is partly security and partly tradition because many of the compounds have block walls with the poorer families having simple fences but almost all compounds are fenced.  Part of the reason for this in the villages is to keep the cows, goats and donkeys out.

Since independence (1966) and an influx of money from the discovery of diamonds in 67, the government has put clinics in most villages and schools either close to or in every village,  They have also paved roads and put in a great deal of infrastructure (except our village which only has one paved road) .  Long way to go but they have done more in the last 50 years than most countries have done it 2-3 times as much time.  They have moved from a 3rd world to a 2nd world status in less than 50 years.  In the past, some people would go to work in the mines in South Africa or other places and mom and kids would stay home in the village.  Mines have become more industrialized so that is happening less.  Probably the biggest employer is the government.  They manage the clinics, schools and have other government offices all over the country.  The government assigns a teaching position according to where it is needed, if you want a job you move, sometimes to another part of the country that speaks a different language but you have now left your home village and thus begins the fracturing of the family culture that has been so solid for so many years.  There is some resentment, of course, to having to leave your family or uproot them and move them to a new village.

In the last few years the government decided that the teachers should be treated like other government employees and work 7:30-4:30 with vacation time.  Now teachers do not get time off during school breaks, a little over 3 months all together just like home.  A month in July and a little more in December then 2 weeks in April and a week at the end of September.  They are supposed to sign in and be at the school if they are not taking official leave.  They do get a fair amount, I think about 40 days. The teachers resent this and have reacted by not wanting to work extra for after school activities or on weekends.  They also (some of them) take it as a sign that it is ok if they miss classes.

There is no substitution system here so if a teacher is sick or gone to training or anything then the class often does not get a teacher.  Sometimes, and the plan is that somebody would fill in, but it doesn’t seem to happen very often.  The students are used to it and do self study.  They also have an hour of self study in the morning from 6:50-7:50 when the first period starts.  Eight periods later school is over at 1:40 and they get an hour lunch and then have self study for 2 hours until 4:40.  Then there are the extra-curricular activities such as clubs and sports.  That is the general day. However the first 3 months I was here the kids were sent home after lunch or sometimes before because of the lack of water.

In the past Gabane has had adequate water with it going off for a while on a weekly basis but more on than off.  Since last August it has been more off than on and for the most part it was on a few hours maybe a day every 8-11 days.  Since Christmas it has gone back to old schedule and it goes off for a day or so every 3-5 days so not too bad if you have any storage system at all.  They renovated the school and put in all flush toilets taking out the old pit latrines which would seem like a good idea but the school doesn’t have enough water to manage 450 kids using flush toilets so they go home in the afternoons.  (Villages that traditionally don’t have water have pit latrines so it is not as much of a problem.)

Hopefully that will stop now because I basically get to do my activities and clubs dealing with HIV in the afternoons, difficult to do with no students.  Currently the students are still going home a couple of times a week because of a lack of funds to buy lunch and they can’t stay if they are not fed.  New fiscal year starts in April so hopefully that will change as well.  My school, if I haven’t said before, is a junior secondary school Forms 1, 2 & 3. (grades 8, 9 & 10) and they did not do well in terms of passing students. They only passed 63% on to senior secondary (grades 11 &12).  In a ten school district we came in # 9 in one area and # 10 in quantity failing.  If you don’t pass you simply do not go on and you are out of school although there are some vocational programs but I am not sure just how that works yet.  So anyway there is no where to go but up. Hopefully, I can do something to help out and improve the rate of passing.

I can’t even begin to describe all of the reasons that there are for the failure rate.  Certainly the lack of teacher contact is big, missing classes and leaving the kids to self study with a teacher walking around the campus and looking in the rooms to make sure nobody is killing anybody else. However, actual studying is left to the kids choice and the teachers don’t seem to get the connection or at least don’t want to.  They say they need the time but they are only in the classrooms about half of the time during the morning academics so they have, on average, 4 hours free time every day.  There are a lot of meetings, there must be 20-30 committees to be on and it is pretty much mandatory and most people sign up for 2-3 or more committees.  Lots of paperwork and all of the kids take notes in a different notebook for each class.  Most of them don’t have text and if a class does there never seem to be enough to go around.  All of these notebooks are graded and not only for content but for proper English and grammar ( I would so fail here).

One of my big projects is to set up tutoring for the kids who are failing or close to it.  I have started with Form 2 (9th grade) and plan to have tutoring sessions for about 40 students which is not all of them but I am assuming some of them won’t come anyway.  Needless to say I will have to have some teacher volunteers to help so will let you know if that works out.  At this point I am trying to get some sort of rough assessment and then decide on how to divide them up into small groups.  This seems like a no brainer that at this age, heck at any age self study is great for the motivated and ambitious student but for those that really don’t care, have poor self esteem and don’t really see a value in an education because nobody else in the family has one, it is pretty much useless.  Very similar to back home but I think one difference is expectation.  I think we expect more, not want more, but the expectation comes across and students just do the work because it is what they do.  Not so here, education is new.  Most of the parents have been to school but few of the grandparents went very far in school.

Traditionally an agricultural society and people still miss school when it is time to plant and harvest.  Full time academic subject is agriculture. I have learned so much sitting in on these classes.  The final test where I referred to above that failed 37% is state made.  All students in the country get the same comprehensive test and I know that they had to have missed some classes because of a teacher being absent.  Of course they are supposed to make up any missed information but there isn’t enough time to cover the material you are supposed to cover anyway.  And that being said I am now one of the bad guys.  I was given 2 classes to teach in guidance and counseling.  It took two weeks to get the assignment as I got form 1 students and the first week is orientation and then they have to sign up for options and schedules are finally handed out.  They have computers but don’t use them to do scheduling yet.  I then had to go to Peace Corps training for 3 weeks, could have been 4 but I opted out of the last week to get back.  Started my class and second time it was cancelled because of school elections.  We are now half way through the term, I am on week 2 of the syllabus and I am having my second session with each of the classes this week.

They also have a 6 day week for revolving subjects so instead of my class on every Wednesday it is on day 4 which of course is different each week.  I find it very confusing and haven’t gotten a very clear explanation for doing it this way,  But “it is the way it is done”.  Besides teaching the classes and setting up the tutoring program I am also going to start groups called GrassRootsSoccer.  This is basically a high energy class using soccer strategies and ideas to talk about HIV.  I just selected my first group today and will be able to start when I get the parent letters back. It is being translated into Setswana, so as soon as that gets done I will send them out.  Tomorrow I am also substituting for another teacher because she has to go to the doctor.  I am a little worried that I am going to be inundated with requests to cover classes.  Enough, probably too much but there is more so stay tuned.

Are we having fun yet?

In response to a recent post, a friend asked if we are having FUN yet. We were going to answer then decided it might make a good blog post. Yes, it’s been a while- we’ve been at Peace Corps training for 3 weeks which we can’t really say was much fun. The AC, swimming pool and 3 buffet meals per day were all very nice- we do admit.  Actually we did the two weeks of required IST then each did another week- Gary did Grass Roots Soccer and Teresa did Gender which included three different “techniques”/programs to address gender and issues of gender based violence. We were at different hotels and due to computer complications (too much to write here) poor Gary had no computer for this week and the captions did not work on the tv- he did read about 3 books though. We also had several days of Setswana classes punctuated by another LPI (language proficiency interview). Last time Gary was sick. This time Teresa spilled water on her computer just before she went in so was a bit preoccupied. No results yet.  Definitely NOT FUN!

Teresa also ran a trivia contest during one of the evenings while at training. It was so much fun, she did it another night and has been asked to do it again at the upcoming All Volunteer Conference in April. Could be a new part time career when she gets home!

Gary’s Grass Roots Soccer was lots of FUN. This is a program that uses soccer as a medium for discussion about HIV/AIDS and Gender issues.  It was actually one of the best trainings he ever attended and has a great reputation. He will be implementing it at his school along with a Botswana counterpart starting very soon.

One of the three programs Teresa learned about is called Kings Pack and that one morning was lots of FUN too. The other 4.5 days- not so much. Kings Pack is a large backpack full of recreational equipment- parachutes, jump rope, hoola hoop, cricket bat, and lots more. The idea is that kids don’t play enough and play is good for them. Also included is the gender slant whereby many of the games can also be used as a launchpad for discussion of gender related issues. One of the biggest contributors to HIV/AIDS in Botswana is young girls having sexual relationships with older men who often have multiple concurrent partners.  The girls get “stuff” like cell phones or even more basic things like food in return for sex. Not good.  Another powerful program is In Her Shoes which follows the stories of ten women/girls who have experienced some form of gender violence. The stories are true and the exercise is like a walking Choose Your Own Adventure story. You make choices for your “person”- you walk in her shoes and experience the consequences of her various choices. Very powerful and must be used with care.  Teresa’s counterpart is a teacher at Gary’s school and we are still figuring out how we are going to implement the various programs.

So, back to FUN. We are busy planning some trips which will be FUN. The first is over Easter when we are going to the Makgadikgadi Pans- wildlife, baobab trees, birds. Second is July- so far no one says they are coming to visit so we are starting to plan for ourselves. We contacted one reasonably priced outfit and they are almost filled up for July- major tourist season and not so bloody hot. We will be going to Moremi Gorge on a 3 day two night camping trip including time on a Mokoro (traditional canoe type vessel). We also hope to go to the Tsodilo Hills where there are ancient rock paintings. Hard to get to and may involve renting a car for a day- kind of scary but we’re ready!

We now have access to Netflix and since we were at 3 weeks of training, we have lots of data to use this month so that could count as FUN- just watched the first season of Grace and Frankie. Teresa still gets great enjoyment watching the chickens, donkeys, goats and cows who are always around. We also saw The Reverent while at training in Gabs.

We are officially off lock-down so our time is more our own. We are going to visit another PCV in Kanye in a couple of weeks who is having a housewarming- she had to change sites. It will be fun to see another village. We also met an young woman from Tennessee who is teaching at a school in Gaborone and living in a dorm. She and her friends are going to come to dinner weekend after next. This is probably more socializing than we did in 6 years in Santa Cruz!

Just thought of our most FUN game. We call it whack-a-mole. It’s really whack a termite. After it rains, at dark, the termites come flying in, attracted by the light. If we don’t close all open doors and windows in time, we can literally have the floor covered with them. That’s when the FUN begins. We each take a fly swatter and see who can whack the most. This picture shows you a very small sample of what it looks like. We have the floor completely covered. Last night’s score was tied at about 16 each.


There is also our ongoing tournament for Yahtzee, Phase 10 and Pass the Pigs. We count games won as well as points and at the end of two years we will see how it turns out. So far Gary is winning Pass the Pigs, Teresa is ahead on Phase 10 and we are pretty close to tied for Yahtzee.

The bottom line is life is life and it goes on pretty much at a routine pace punctuated by moments of FUN no matter where you are. We are pretty well settled in and now that our community integration is over (never really over but the formal part is) we are working hard at getting projects started, grants written, etc- basically- work is work wherever you are but in this case we have the added element of working in a culture very different from what we are accustomed to.

Life is good- we are healthy, have our basic needs met and are definitely enjoying a simpler life with a much less intense pace (at least for Teresa) than in the past. The days fly by and before you know it we will be home working at retirement.

A Day in the Education System (Part 1)

nsjss admin

     (Administration building Nare Sereto Junior High School)

We thought we would share some of our experiences that we are having at our respective jobs. Teresa’s was first, now mine. I amat a Junior Secondary School which is basically grades 8th, 9th and 10th. They call them Form 1, 2 & 3 andthere are 4 classes in each form of about 40 students each so 12 classes, and I think there were actually 460 students. There are about 40 teachers and maybe 15 support staff, cooks, cleaners, supply,

My introduction to school was in September when we came for a two week site visit. I have an official supervisor and counterpart. I met my counterpart during the training previous to the visit and got to know her a bit, very nice, very understanding of my lack of hearing and was pretty good at looking right at me when talking and occasionally filling me in during lectures when I missed information. During the visit I attended a staff meeting and introduced myself to the staff, there were about 20 teachers attending. The meeting was in English and I was told later that it was only done because I was there.

Since then all of the meetings have been in Setswana with occasionally a few things said in English. My counterpart is the senior teacher of the Guidance and counseling department, she is also the only person in the guidance and counseling department although one other teacher teaches a couple of the guidance and counseling classes. I spent most of my first two weeks reading the text books used and sitting in the staff room trying to get to know the staff who spoke Setswana to each other although when they spoke to me they used English, by the way they pretty much all would be classified as native speakers. The worst thing is they often use UK English and not American. I have learned several new words so my English is improving, can’t say the same for my Setswana. My only other major experience during that first two weeks was being introduced to about 25 students who are struggling in school. I was introduced as Mr. Gary and these are the “students who are failing”. “You are all failures and Mr. Gary is going to fix you.” “Would you please stand up and tell him why you are failing.” Nobody stoodup, surprise. Then I left and went back to training for another 5 weeks.

First day back on October 19th. I spent the first day making a list of all the students who received an E or U last term. They get A, B, C D, E and U. U is failing but most Es and Us will not make it to Senior Secondary school, Grades 11 & 12 or Form 4 & 5. You have to pass a national test to be able to go on to school. Big problem in the country since only about 50 to 80% pass, different schools have different levels of success. Mine seems to pass about 60%. That is a lot of kids who are out of school at the age of 16-17. There are some vocational schools and other training but most don’t go, by that time they pretty much don’t want to have anything to do with school.

I decided that I needed to get to know the system and the students so I began to sit in on the classes. They have different teachers for different subjects like we do but for the most part the students stay in one room and the teacher moves around. There are 7 core subjects. Math, Science, Social Studies, English, Moral Education, Setswana and Agriculture. Their education week is 6 days long, not scheduled Mon thru Fri but day 1, 2 and so on, evidently this is so that Monday holidays do not always happen on the same day, could be day 1 or 5 or so on. Noe really sure I understand the rational and I get terribly confused as to which day it is. Each of the classes get a different amount of time, Math and Science get 6 40 min. periods over the 6 days. The others get 5 or 4 40minute periods. They also get 1 40 minute period for a Guidance and counseling class as well as 1 period for a computer awareness class although I don’t think there is a teacher for that class. Then they get to pick two options and they have each of  those for 4-5 40 minute periods. The options are business procedures, office management, art, music, design and technology (shop), home ec, PE and religious education. A little different than ours but not a  lot except the part for the Moral education and religious education and guidance and counseling. Most of the material would be included in our psychology classes but lots more teaching of values however I was pleased to see that the values were taught as option, no one belief is put before another, here are the options and so on. Sex education; abstinence is best at this age but if you are going to participate then use condoms and etc. Much more frank about the whole sex thing than we usually do. It is possible it is more out there in the US today than I am aware since it has been a while since I took any classes and I am only marginally aware of what is being taught today. But the entire country is much more frank because of the HIV issue. Lots of billboards and advertisement for condoms and circumcision as well as not having concurrent sexual practices. Clothes, TV everywhere is the message about anything that will help reduce the spread of HIV. The country is about 90% Christian and the majority of that seems to be evangelical type, however in the RE classes they teach about different religions including ATR (African Traditional Religion) which is not widely practiced anymore except that a lot of traditions and cultural practices are based on what was taught as a religion years ago and of course there are still some of the older and more traditional people who still practice.

A little bit about the buildings themselves and then I will do another post telling you about what I learned during my observations. The classrooms look like our inner city poor schools. All of the desks are falling apart and there are not enough chairs in several of the rooms and the students share, 3 kids to 2 chairs. However, I have to say that they sit that way even if there are enough chairs. The Batswana are a very touchy close people. Even in the heat the students sit close together. The teachers always shake hands when seeing each other first thing in the morning and seem to hold the other hand for much longer than we do. They also do not have enough books to go around and so often 3-4 students will share, part of that is that the students forget to bring their books or they have lost them but in general they are short of books anyway. Most of the class rooms do not have electricity, it was there but has been torn out and a lot of the switches and outlets are gone and there are just wires visible, I am not sure if any of those rooms are live or not ( I should ask about that) and almost all of them have some windows broken, the walls look like they have not been painted since they were new and bulletin boards are torn with entire sections missing. They have green chalk boards but the teachers have to bring their own chalk with them, although I have noticed that students frequently have a small piece available when I needed it. Usually there is not an eraser but often a piece of toilet paper is used. A side note, one always takes their own toilet paper with them as it is rarely available in any public restroom anywhere. Not really sure why except people would take it home with them I guess although it isn’t terribly expensive.

Anyway, there is very little maintenance and of course there is no heat or air conditioning or fans in the classrooms. There is some air conditioning in the administration building and in the library. There is a computer room but the computers are pretty old, bulky desk tops with disks as opposed to flash drives . They are connected (hard wired) to the internet although it is very slow. Of course schools are different but so far all of the ones I have seen are pretty similar and I think this is pretty much the norm. It seems pretty discouraging to me but this is what they have and have not had anything else so I think they are pretty much accepting of the conditions. More in the next installment.

(View from Administration)njss long view 2


Several people have asked us- but what are you actually doing? So, we have decided to take the next few posts to talk about what we are each doing. This post is about Teresa’s work at Gabane Community Home Based Care (GCHBC). (Picture below- classrooms to right, kitchen in front and offices to right, playground-not shown). I usually get to work around 7:30 and leave about 3:30 or when the combi is ready to take the last load of kids and staff.



GCHBC started in 1997 in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis which was leaving many children orphaned. There was also a need to help people in their homes as they were dying. To meet these needs two approaches were adopted. The first was to establish a pre-school for orphans and children left vulnerable due to HIV/AIDS. The second was to develop a team of volunteers who visited patients in their homes and helped with self-care, cooking, medicine adherence, and social contact. This was done in coordination with the local health clinic. There was also a support group established for those who were living with the virus.

Flash forward almost 20 years and here’s what has changed. People aren’t dying so much from HIV/AIDS anymore as the government supplied ARTs (Anti-retroviral-treatment) are allowing people with HIV to live positively with the disease.  So the focus of the Center has shifted a bit.  First, the support group broke off and became its own NGO (non-government organization).  Patients are still being visited but are not necessarily suffering from HIV/AIDS. They may be suffering from other chronic, debilitating or terminal illnesses.  The preschool is going strong,  but not as many are orphans. There are still plenty of “vulnerable” children due to socio-economic conditions but the rate of transmission of HIV to newborns is less than 4%.  GCHBC is committed to providing pre-school free to this population as well as to families who can afford to pay, albeit GCHBC is the lowest priced preschool in Gabane. Transportation and two meals per day are also provided.

There are 8.5 “staff”- technically they are volunteers but volunteers get paid something in Botswana. There are 2 cooks, 1.5 cleaners, 1 driver, 1 office administrator, 1 teaching assistant, 1 teacher, 1 head teacher/center coordinator. There are also two national youth volunteers who are about 20 years old.

So, what does this all mean and why do they need a PCV?  They run on a shoestring. Since Botswana has been declared a middle income country, much of the outside support has dried up, particularly for NGOs. That doesn’t mean the government has let up on its regulations. So, I am there to help improve systems- financial, personnel, etc in order to put the organization in a better position to receive grants and other types of support.

They have gotten donations of computers but have no money for Internet although we do have a “dongle”. Recently, however, I have been able to save the Center quite a bit of money by finding competitive prices and alternate sources for goods and services by using my home Internet.  There is one reasonably new computer but the others are dinosaurs and the printers are even worse. One computer has Word 97 on it and the other has Word 2003. Printer drivers are not available for one of the printers so the newest computer (a laptop) does not work with it and if I need to print on it, I have to transfer to a USB and then the versions of Excel are not compatible although Word seems to be with some formatting glitches. I make a lot of PDFs in order to print. The other printer is good for about 250 prints before the ink runs out and at about $25 per cartridge (US) it gets pretty unaffordable. Sometimes I bypass the lack of black ink by making it only print using the color cartridge. This printer is also used to make worksheets for the kids. Whatever happened to the old mimeograph machines! Add to this, serious electrical problems and we may not have power to run anything on a given day or maybe some things but not others.  I gave you that detail so you can appreciate how I spend a lot of my day jerry rigging and figuring out what can be done where with what is available at that moment.

So far I have developed a system to see who owes us money and how much, a more robust registration and attendance system, a system to track that we have the proper documentation for each child, a way to compare food prices at different vendors to get the best deal, a proposed personnel structure, and I am learning Quick Books as the volunteer who was helping with this quit and the Office Administrator still needs training.  With QB we will be able to easily invoice parents and issue statements. I also developed a marketing brochure.

Other days are spent riding in the Center’s combi (van) doing errands with the Office Administrator and Driver. There is basically no postal system for mail delivery and email usage is sporadic (I have it at home and check the Center’s email from there). So, whenever we need quotations in order to spend any money, we have to go to the business and get it in writing in person. This is required by our major benefactor, Pelegano Industries which doesn’t give us the money up front, but we have to get the quotation and then they are invoiced and they pay it for us. This includes food, petrol (gas), etc. So, a transaction often involves going and getting the quotation, getting it approved and then going back and ordering it, then again to pick it up. Sometimes, we have our own funds and this requires getting the quotation so we know how much we need, getting a check signed, going to the bank to cash it and making deposits of school fees at the same time, going to pay for the item- maybe get it on the spot- maybe order it and go back. I think you get the idea. This all takes a lot of time. It is not unusual for us to leave the Center around 10:30/11 and not be back until 3 when it is time for the kids to go home or sometimes even later and the kids are kept waiting.

Since none of the staff have cars, it is not unusual to include others on the trip and for extra stops to be made to accommodate various personal needs while we are in Gaborone.

I have also offered to do a story time once a week with the kids. We are expecting a shipment of books through Books for Africa (great organization to support) in June which should help the unfortunate state of our “library”.

Gary and I leave tomorrow for 3 weeks of PC training. One week is on gender issues. I am partnering with a teacher from his junior high school and when we get back, we will start doing gender work with the teens and I will try to incorporate some of what we learn into the preschool curriculum. Gender inequality and gender based violence are major contributing factors to the spread of HIV/AIDS but that is another entry for another day.

I know we could be more efficient if we had compatible computers, possibly setting up a network if we had Internet access or another means to communicate, and having up to date equipment. But there are so many needs, not sure when this will happen. We also need a new kitchen, dining area and more toilets in order to meet government licensing requirements. So I will be working on finding grant funding for that, although we will need an audit in order to apply for two of the sources I know about and that takes me back to learning Quick Books and getting the Center to use it appropriately so we can pass an audit.

I am afraid this is way too long so hopefully you have not fallen asleep or given up and gone back to more interesting Facebook postings. In a future post I will reflect more on the differences in working styles that I have found most interesting. I will close with a picture of our latest friend- our neighbor’s rooster whose favorite spot was the window ledge outside our back window until the neighbors made him go home with them at night. I named him Cogburn (yes, I am dating myself) and was promised he is not scheduled to be dinner any time soon.

Ten Things

Sitting around today we’ve been talking about what we miss  most about life in the U.S.  This is not intended to be a list of complaints about our life here. We are actually quite content and happy with what we do have.  Our experience thus far has just made us realize how much we take for granted.  We don’t stop often enough and just appreciate what we have when we have it. Guess that is one of the fundamental ways that service in the Peace Corps changes you.

The following is a list of the Ten Things we are most thankful we have back in the U.S.:

10. Being able to go out to eat or order in when we just don’t feel like cooking.(Corollary: Microwave oven for reheating things we do make ourselves like pizza)

9. Having pets

8. Flush toilet without worrying about how much water we are using

7. Consistent and dependable running water

6. AC when the temperature is over 90 degrees for more than a day or t      two

5. Having a car

4. Washing machine

3. Any recycling at all!

2. Curbside recycling

1. Regular trash pickup

But, then again- We don’t have this outside our front door in the US…

more mom and baby


sunset after storm

Water went off at 5 pm after 5.5 days of luxury. Storm hit at 6:30 and left a layer of dust all over the house. Power went around 7.  BUT- we got this beautiful sunset so no complaints.

Helicopter MOM!

bataleur eagle

We were sitting at our computers diligently working on our PC reporting form when we heard a major ruckus in our backyard. We looked out our window and a mama chicken (there are currently two mamas with a total of 13-not sure how many each) was screaming her head off and her chicks were nowhere in sight. Looking closer we saw this guy sitting on our clothes line. He flew down and she went at him so he backed off. Following a couple minute stand off (during which Teresa was able to get this shot), he flew off and four of the chicks emerged from under some bricks. (ok- could be a She eagle)

It appears to be a young Bataleur Eagle (but if there are any bird experts reading this, feel free to correct us). Another possibility is the Tawny Eagle but the face looks more like the Bataleur.

The next day, we got this shot and all chicks are accounted for although this only shows 6. While we are sorry Mr/Ms Eagle went hungry, we would prefer not having brunch be one of our own.

mom and 6 chicks

We wish we had seen her from the beginning when she decided to hide her chicks- maybe next time. Chickens have a reputation for not being the smartest animal but this was a brilliant display of resourcefulness.

The closeness and reality of nature is so powerful and immediate. This is one of the things we love most about being here. Our neighbors think we are crazy- they just accept it all as “normal”. Maybe in 2 years we will too.

Since we probably won’t post again before tomorrow- we wish everyone a very happy and healthy new year!