Tuesday, November 1, 2016

next phase

So, on with the next portion of our journey...parenting.  John and I have been slowly working our way through the process of fostering from training, CPR & first aid certification, lots paperwork, interviews and getting our house up to spec to all the required heart to heart conversations that go along with any decision that drastically impacts family, friends, and our life as well as the child/children we will take into our home.  We finally finished the process of getting approved (YEAH!!!) early October and in the same call that informed me of our approval I got a proposal of our potential placement.  While was exciting it was also a little scary as we began to question everything about ourselves.  Unlike having a really young child we had to worry about things like, what if he doesn't like us?

Our placement...he is an amazing and energetic middle schooler who just turned 13 a week after moving in with us.  Yes, we have a teenager now.  He also has siblings all living in different places and has lived in many different places over the years himself.  He has become attached to many people who have been taken away from him throughout his life and has only had one year of his schooling where he began and ended the school year in the same school.  He has had many different people telling him who and what he should be all with conflicting ideas of what that means.  His short life has had more loss and challenges than many adults that I know and he deals with it better than most of them, especially since he has had no control over any of these decisions. Even though he has only been living with us for 3 weeks, he is our kid and our number one priority.  We want nothing more than for him to be happy, healthy and succeed in life (success does not mean rich, success means self confident, physically and emotionally healthy, having healthy relationships feeling in control of his situation and able to support himself in the long run).

Some of the questions running through our head are:

  • How do we deal with school and the multiple appointments along with work, especially given that many people in our life and work do not treat growing a family through fostering the same as growing a family through having a baby (many people thing it is plug and play which is not the case)?  
  • How do we help catch him up at school?  
  • How can we get him to fully trust us and let him know that we want him to stay long term if that is what he wants?  
  • Who is he and who does he want us to be?  I feel like we know him somewhat well but there is always something to learn. 
  • How do we keep up with all the paperwork and required training? 
  • How do we maintain his current healthy relationships, especially since we do not know anything about the people he has had in his life (friends, etc) if they are people we should maintain contact with or discourage? 

We also now have long term questions such as how do we get to the point where we can try to get his sibling(s) and how fast is too fast for Travis and us while weighing the other's welfare?

One of my biggest frustrations lately has been work and how if I had a kid I would have been granted a maternity/paternity leave.  I do not need a long time, just enough to get through the initial several weeks of appointments and change. Yet here I am completely out of PTO and if I take any unpaid time off (can't take FMLA due to only being here 11 months) they can post my job.  We really need to work on doing more to support foster kids and foster families.  It is hard enough putting kids into a new home with all the stresses involved (not to mention any historical stresses that are probably still affecting them) yet to increase their stress level by making it even harder for foster parents who are already struggling with change and doing everything in their power not to take it out on the kids.

An additional thing I struggle with is all the comments other people make about us as foster parents (both out of kindness or assumptions about the system/kids).  For some comments people make: here is a great blog post: http://www.ourgoodfamily.org/2016/02/what-foster-parents-dont-want-to-hear/

The system is a challenge, but all the restrictions, paperwork, training, rules, and appointments are there for a reason and most foster parents completely understand this within a short time because there are so many things about a child's (or adult) behavior where it would be hard to identify cause without seeing the tiny patterns.  We do daily and weekly logs that help us see this and not just fall into bed at the end of the night thinking today was a challenge, maybe tomorrow will be better.  We have to discuss what actually happened that day.  Kids in foster care are amazing kids there through no fault of their own.  They are struggling with the challenges of growing up compounded by the challenges of losing everything at least once and often over and over again.  No matter what happened to these kids before foster care, their family was their family and world and they loved them.  It was all they knew.  Some of them had really good parents who were lost due to death, illness, or imprisonment.

People make assumptions about them being behavior problems, but how many people did not have a friend who grew up with their parents who had behavior issues (or maybe you were that friend). Not all of them have behavior problems just like bio families.  My son is no different that your son or daughter except that we know we need to get to know each other and all our firsts are happening at a different age.  I can't make assumptions about who he is based on his history, we have to talk about everything and don't have habits (both bad and good) that have been built through years.  I wish I had memories of his younger years, but we have the rest of our lives to make memories.

Getting to know my son and his brothers is one of the best things to happen in my life!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A very sad day

Well, today is officially my first day after Peace Corps service and I feel a huge hole in my life where my Botswana friends and family belong (this is not exclusive to Motswana, but encompasses everyone there including Peace Corps volunteers and staff).    To let those who don’t know what happened in on the last month and a half, John and I were sent to the USA for medical purposes and with the full expectation and desire to come back to our home in Botswana.  We completed everything successfully and were cleared by our Dr and due to one last request from Peace Corps (with only 1.5 weeks left) to be cleared by another type of Dr which it takes weeks to get an appt I was unable to get an appointment in time and have been medically separated.  Officially as of yesterday I have been medically separated and John has interrupted service.  What this means is that if I can fulfill the last clearance and we complete all the Close of Service requirements we can be reinstated but the reinstatement process can take a couple weeks, we are not guaranteed the same site and our close of service date would change.  So, we are in limbo, still.  We are doing everything in our power to get reinstated, but also have to set up life here in the USA and which ever happens first dictates our choice. 

Since we have been back in Louisville, our families have been amazing and we want to thank them tremendously for the support they have been giving us (as well as the few friends I have reached out to). We have been partially behaving like hermits because the whole experience is a lot to take in between culture shock and feeling like we have had the rug pulled out from under us for the next 8 months of our life.  All of our plans and desires have just disappeared.  The first 16 months of our service was rough due to a broken foot and focusing so much of our time in the village because we planned to do some of the fun stuff for us, travel, visit our Botswana family & PCVs, and do collaborative projects more.  In the months right before leaving, I finally felt like I got into my swing with the projects which meant most to me and now I will not be able to complete them.  A lot of this has not been written up on here, but I would like to do updates to fill in the gaps.  I am also sad about the way we left.  We did not get to see everyone we wanted to as many of our friends are scattered all over the country and the ones we saw we had more of a somber goodbye rather than celebrating the time there.  Most of all I am sad that I will never see many of my good friends again or even be able to talk to them, especially the kids who have no access to e-mail.  Just thinking about this makes me want to cry out of such a profound sense of loss.  I am not who I was before I left and never want to be that person again but I have to figure out who I am and who I want to be.  I know this is a journey we all take throughout life, but being in the middle of it right now is a lonely place.  One thing I really looked forward to with completing service with everyone else is having such a big support group in the Bots 11s who all came over with us and will all end around the same time dealing with the same stuff.  Instead now there are just a few of us dealing with the same thing.  I am thankful for my fellow Bots 11s who are “this side” right now and how we are supporting each other as well as those still in Bots who reach out and are receptive.  Right now as I feel so lonely I also know I have so many caring families all over the world yet when I joined the Peace Corps, I only had mine and my husband’s which felt like a huge gift in and of itself.
For those friends in the US that I have not contacted, please know I will in time, it’s just that the culture shock on top of everything else has been a lot to take and in some ways is harder than when I went to Botswana. 

John and I love you all and have and will tremendously miss our Bots crew.  If we do not make it back to serve we hope to visit before the Bots 11 COS.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Winky Blinky

Sad news, while we were on vacation in Namibia, Sally (the Winkster)  got out of the house and has not returned.  She was gone a couple days before we returned and we have now been back 4 nights with no sign of her.  We spent time walking around the village calling her name and asked people all over the village to be on the look out for her, but alas there has been no sign.  Given the nature of our village I do not imagine she is still alive as there are many dogs, people drive cars very fast and drunk and many people hate cats and link them to witchcraft.  I have heard people talk about killing cats and the only one (other than those living with the Afrikkaner family) I have seen here was dead.  Much as I would love to hold out hope I can’t.  L  We would let her out sometimes, but she was never gone for more than an hour or 2.  Normally when I woke at night I would see her lying by the open window just watching us sleep.

What was Sally to us?  She was more than part of the family, she was the only thing during our experience that was always positive, even when she brought mice in the house (both dead and alive), woke us up in the early morning and came back covered with tlhoeleles (spikeys and I am sure I butchered the name) that we had to pick off.  The first few times these things irritated us, but it was nice knowing that she meant well with the mice, we could never oversleep (as she tended to start meowing as soon as our alarm went off and didn’t really stop until we got up…she just wanted us up not food) and picking off the spikeys were almost meditative.  Sally almost never fought us on that, she was very patient and seemed to like it a bit.  She even let us rub her belly, pick her up without a fight, stick my finger between her toes (which most cats hate), and wherever we were she followed us.

Sally was also entertainment (and that is something there is not much of here) through playing with her, personifying her actions, and just laughing at the kooky things she often did, like finding her way under our winter blanket in the middle of summer while we were sweating like crazy. She would find her way into the most unlikely spots and positions.

Most importantly she was unconditional love.  She accepted us for who we are and enjoyed being around us.  She never told us we are doing things wrong, never lied to us, never made us feel like we should not be here and are not wanted, never laughed about rape, child abuse or other horrible things, never made us repeat something 15 times until we said it right, never left us out of things or said something we can not understand looked at us and started laughing, never told us we should give her our clothes (or camera, computer, lunch, basically anything), and never expected us to buy them a ticket to the USA or find them an American spouse, and never told us that we should cheat on our spouse with them.  At the end of the day she was therapeutic, helped us handle whatever crap came our way and made our house a home.

All in all she was a cool cat and will be missed tremendously!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

And now for your amusement and entertainment: A co-written post in the 1st person

This post is long overdue.  More than a couple weeks ago John and I had the pleasure of hosting a visit from some of our friends from the USA, Jen & Liz.  We had an amazing time!  It was wonderful to share our life here and have our first real trip with such great friends.

They flew through Johannesburg in SA and spent a night there and we met them in Gabs the next morning…getting to the airport was a mess for us at first as the taxi we had set up the night before had a flat tire and only let us know when we called 5 minutes after he should have arrived. We set up the ride with someone we did not know well since our normal taxi would have to have picked us up an hour early (7am) and we wanted a bit more sleep…bad mistake.  The taxi driver then proceeded to give us a number for another taxi who was out of town.  We trekked to the local shopping center (which was not open yet) in the rain and luckily found the only taxi driver who dramatically overcharged us, but we got there in time which was all that mattered at that point.  While relaxing with a cup of filter coffee their plane landed and I was overcome with excitement and nervousness.  Up to this point it was like I had two separate lives, my Peace Corps life and my USA life and in only moments the two would merge.  Thoughts were rolling through my head about who I was, who I now am, and wonder about how much I have changed.  That’s the amazing thing about a true friendship though you are accepted for who you are!  Thanks Jen & Liz!  After lots of hugs, we went to pick up the rental car and headed to our lodge.  This day really composed of running errands (getting groceries for the road), heading to a San (local tribe in our neck of the woods) art exhibit at the museum, and just generally catching up with each other.  

We had a great breakfast at Metcourt with lots of bacon and other goodies and then got on the road.  After a quick initiation of avoiding a baby goat without hitting any humans on the first day, Jen got the full driving experience in Botswana.  Before the trip would end we would see 4 lanes worth of passing vehicles on 2 lane roads, elephants crossing at elephant crossing signs, more cows than a factory farm, the Tropic of Capricorn, and a number of precariously loaded vehicles.  Stopping for gas the first time, we spent about 5 minutes trying to find the little latch in the car that would open the gas tank and after reclining the seat and popping the hood, someone finally figured it out.  It needed to be pushed from the outside and it opened right up.

We arrived at the Rhino Reserve in Serowe and were very impressed.  The four person chalet was spacious and had a braai pit right outside.  We got in our first game drive of the trip and saw impalas, warthogs, zebras, and black rhinos.  We got within 50 yards of a small herd of rhinos and sat in tranquil silence at the majestic scene.  We noticed there were notched out of most of their ears and our guide explained that it is an anti-poaching technique.   All the samples are sent to an international center that catalogs the DNA and if someone is caught with rhino horns then they can trace where it came from to see who was responsible.  It was a great day and perfect weather for the drive.  We ended the day with a meal from the restaurant and a fire in the braai pit.

We continued north and completed our first quest of the trip: finding a BeMobile Sim card.  In Gaborone we went to 4 different places looking for one and were unsuccessful including a BeMobile store (this would be like going to AT&T and them telling you sorry we don’t have phone plans right now).  We grabbed a local delicacy, the wonderful Fat Cake (makwinya - deep fried dough), and got some gas. 

We made it to Nata Lodge where we checked in then headed out to meet Caroline who is a good friend of ours from Hukuntsi (featured in some photos previously on the blog making fajitas with us) and was transferred to the Senior Secondary School.  She was kind enough to give us a tour of the school so Jen & Liz got to see a bit of the non-tourist parts of Bots.  This was a beautiful new school where the majority of students are boarders.  It has the normal issues where many classes have no teachers but the reasons seem administrative and bureaucratic rather than lack of trained teachers as many teachers have to wait years after completing schooling to get posted.  Jen and Liz also got to see a Kgotla and local driving school as Caroline had a lesson there in the evening when we left her.  We ended the evening with dinner at the lodge and drinks on the back porch of one of the rooms.

Tuesday began our trek to Zambia from Nata.  On the way we stopped in Kasane with the intent of leaving our rental car at one of the local lodges, but first ran errands and grabbed cash at the ATM.  While waiting in line I unexpectedly ran into Octavius who I thought lived farther from Kasane.  He graciously allowed us to leave the car at his place and we all hung out for a little bit before having to catch a cab to the ferry (there is no road, only a ferry to get across).  The Bots side of the ferry was sparsely populated but tarred roads, but the Zambia side was seemingly utter madness with cars everywhere waiting to cross, mud all over (our car would have had a hard time making it), and taxi drivers & hawkers who accosted us as soon as we left the immigration area.  John quickly ran to find out the currency translation rate to pula and we negotiated a taxi ride to Livingston where they dropped us at the ATM to withdraw money so we could pay them.  It was madness, but nice to see that kind of commerce and entrepreneurial spirit. 

We checked into Jolly Boys, a nice hostel, for the evening and went for a walk to find some dinner.  Stopping at a pie shop, we got chicken peri-peri & the illusive spinach & cheese pie which we have been on a quest for all throughout Botswana. I guess we were just looking in the wrong country.  Then our tour of Livingstone continued to a mall with vendor stalls where vendors will barter and negotiate price.  Although it was fun I was taken completely by surprise and extremely out of practice because most people in Bots won’t negotiate.  The amount of customer service and salesman ship was amazing and great to see so close to Botswana where those are not strong qualities. On the way back to the lodge we ran into Rachel & Julia, other PCVs, and spent a relaxing  evening just hanging out at the bar in the backpackers.  It is always great to know our friends get along well!

                This part of the trip is best summed up with pictures!  We went to the Royal Livingstone Hotel and got just feet away from zebras & giraffes.  This was just before we took a boat to Vic Falls,
Zambia side, and into Devils Pool.  We took some pictures of the falls from a side view and then put our camera into the hands and waterproof bag of our guide.  He took a small canoe over while we got to swim through the falls to a small island of rock!!  The water was warm and refreshing and the experience was fantastic.  All four of us jumped into the small pool of water that is literally right on the edge of the waterfall.  After hanging over the side and being constantly on guard against the small fish that bit at our toes we swam back to the mainland and were fed Eggs Benedict and coffee.  All this before noon.  Again we can’t recommend this enough if you find yourself nearby and in the mood for an adrenaline rush.  While waiting for our taxi to arrive we were serenaded by an eight person choir singing traditional songs.  There were very few guests about so it was like a personal show just for us.  Sitting there in shorts and a tee-shirt I felt a little uncomfortable, but that passed and we got a ride back to the backpacker.  The truck from the next place we were to stay, Jungle Junction, was pretty late so our group drank some beer and Tracy and I played pool on the worst pool table ever.  The rails fell off if the ball hit them so all bank shots were out.  The tables in southern Africa I have seen so far are pale comparisons against American ones anyhow but this one took the cake.  If you made a ball you had a fifty-fifty chance when it went through the return that it would fly out the side of the table and roll away on the ground.  It was fun mostly because it was ridiculous.  The truck arrived full of supplies so we all crammed into the bed of the truck.  There was a mattress for some and others got the wheel well.  It became a bumpy ride and between branches smacking me in the face and trying to keep crickets from taking my eyesight I was pretty preoccupied.

 Thus began our time at Jungle Junction which was an amazing relaxing place to let go of the weariness of travel.  It is an island about a kilometer long with outdoor showers and a self-service bar.  We arrived by dugout canoes, and got introduced to the staff that live on the island and were warned to secure valuables as the monkeys who live here like to filch things.  Our time here included a mix of activities for differing people such as a village tour, hiked the island in search of hippo tracks, mokolo (mokoro or canoe) rides to go swim and an evening campfire.  One day we ventured back into Botswana, in Chobe Park, for a game drive.  It was broken up into two activities: a 4x4 and a boat ride.  The 4x4 allowed us to see all kinds of birds, a ton of elephants and we even got to a spot where they crossed the road letting us get within 30 feet of them.  The highlight for me was seeing a momma lion and her cub walk around.  I could have watched her all day and we certainly wanted to take the cub back.  I think Sally could find a way to befriend her!  She could definitely teach her hunting skills.  Also on our 4x4 ride there was a dung beetle attack.  These mostly hollow bullet bugs can get as big a thumb and have a super hard exoskeleton, but the oddity is that they fly.  You see them all the time careening through the air like something from a video game.  Well the truck was going pretty quick and it had a canvas top but was open otherwise and the dung beetle smacked right into someone.  I was a seat back so I never got the details, but between Jen and Liz they got it out of the truck.  No one went to the hospital so it is now just a good story.

We reluctantly left the island and due to the local currency we paid over a million kwacha all together so we felt pretty flush.  At the local Zambian markets you can get the old inflated Zimbabwean dollars.  I think the highest is 50 trillion dollars.  If we make it back that side I want to pick up a “set of them” to get a little brick of history and a good reminder of what inflation and bad governance can do to a country.

This began our trek back to Gabs.  In the morning Brett and Max drove us to the border and we had to say a sad farewell to Zambia.  We crossed the border (ran into a nurse from a village near Hukuntsi that Tracy knew – it is a small country), stopped for cookies (very important as they were mint coconut chocolate crème biscuits…mmm), picked up the car from Octavius and bid him a sad farewell, then headed out to Francistown where we stopped for the night.   We made it back in time for Mid-Service Training and Jen and Liz became well versed in all that Gaborone has to offer.  I am sure there are huge gaps in events even some off timing, but we wanted to share another part of our adventure with you.  We love and miss you all.

Tracy and John

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

5 and 1

September brought Tracy and I some milestones (or maybe kilometermarkers would be more appropriate?) in the form of being in Botswana for a full year and also celebrating our five year wedding anniversary.  Both of these seem equally unlikely while at the same time quite concrete.

Every so often I will bring up a story about high school or living in Australia and get surprised that Tracy doesn't remember being there.  Of course she is surprised since we did not even know each other back then.  The other side of the coin is looking back at photos and realizing how much we have grown and developed in the space of 5 years.  Some big accomplishments seem small and other ones have engrossed our lives.  Learning to talk openly, honestly, and often seemed like a no-brainer, but has been one of the most rewarding aspects of our marriage for me and one of the most difficult at times.   We have gotten to travel to Cumberland Falls, the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador and the rainforest, India, all over the USA, and now live in Africa.  Just shy of a new continent for each year of marriage – watch out Antarctica we are coming for ya’!

Also our individual growth over the last half a decade shocks and delights me.  I have now quit smoking, moved out of my dad’s rental house (that had no stove or kitchen cabinets, but a sheik’s quality vanity in the bathroom) got a degree, sold a house, cut my hair, had a “real” job, lost that job, got another “real” job, quit that one, and moved 8,079 miles away from home (12,999 km).  The Peace Corps has brought out aspects of me that I never knew existed and has given me a real respect and understanding for what immigrants that come to America experience.  I am especially glad to have spent these last 5 years with a thoughtful and loving wife engaged in enjoyable and good times.

We did finally get away to Maun, Botswana for a small anniversary celebration and went on a motor boat jaunt.  It was fun but we realized we have been skimping too much on vacations.  One year in and I have yet to see an elephant or giraffe!!  Luckily our friends Jenn and Liz are heading here in about a month and we are going to see a lot of things we have wanted to.  It will be along the eastern coast of Botswana and will include Victoria Falls (Zambia side) and the Rhino sanctuary.  I am really looking forward to traveling for pleasure and some relaxation.  For a view on traveling and vacations here that I completely agree with, a good friend of ours wrote an excellent post that really captures how it feels: http://livinglearningandservinginbotswana.blogspot.com/2012/09/exhaustion.html

The landscape
After being in Botswana for a year, I am happy to say we are doing well and still challenged on a daily basis.  We find inspiration almost as often though and that makes it worthwhile.  We are working on a “Child Abuse talk” for the local school teachers and have a great counterpart and team being assembled.  Both Tracy and I have some work to do for it, but it is the kind of thing we envisioned doing here.  The school year is winding down now and I will not see a lot of the graduates again so there is a bit of sadness.  We got to attend the Form 3 party for the departing students and it went wonderfully.  Mr. Keitatotse and I had put together a “movie” (more a slideshow with music) of a trip the students got to go on.  It was a big hit and the kids loved seeing themselves on the screen.  I learned we needed more close ups of individuals and surprisingly pictures of the buses.  No idea why but they went crazy over the buses.  One of the newest teachers sang a song and danced for them also.  He really stole the show and was very entertaining.  I need to get him to help me with some dance moves and choreography.  They also had a 3 man play that addressed the importance of education, but I missed a lot of the finer points since it was in Setswana and I have not grasped the language as I had initially hoped.

Mr. Dimbo and Soldier
Everyone wants to watch
Peter Keitatotse - he planned the whole event!
The crowd
The Drama
Since arriving here a short year ago, we have matured personally more than many years combined.  Getting to know 35 American strangers and living in a room with a host family has become 35 friendships and a new branch on our family tree.  Moving to Hukuntsi and hitchhiking all over the country (mostly the lower half) has stirred up a self-transformation also.  I feel confident and comfortable that I can talk to anyone from the most bedraggled shake-shake (a thick local brew with twigs and an unmistakable smell) drunkard to a government minister with a suit and tie sporting around in an air-conditioned vehicle.  I recall going to coffee shops in the US and not speaking with a soul.  It seems kind of other-worldly now.  I look forward to the future and seeing which things stick and who I keep in contact with.  There are a handful of teachers I hope to see in the states one day and get to return some of their generosity and warm.

Lastly September saw Botswana celebrate its 46th year of independence.  Tracy and I had one of the best days of our service celebrating in the nearby village of Lokwabe.  Between that and the loss of Major Mautle we have been on the roller coaster of life recently.  While excited about our future here, I definitely hold our past in fond esteem.

Hugs and kisses,
John O.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Being married in the Peace Corps

A while a go I promised a friend I would post this--sorry for the delay Julianne.

The following is an article I wrote for the Botswana PCV Newsletter that is sent out every month.  It is a great newsletter and I look forward to getting it and seeing what is on everyone's mind all over the country.  John and I had been going through a rough patch and I had talked with single friends about the different challenges of being a married PCV here.

"Being married in the Peace Corps sounds wonderful when thinking of sharing these experiences with each other and having someone to lean on and support you when the times are hard (or to fight a battle for you that would have made you throw the towel in).  Sometimes it works that way and sometimes it doesn’t.   Everyone has heard married people and non-married people go through different trials and tribulations and here are my experiences with them. 

In the US we both had our separate lives during the day.  There were constant activities we could do separately with friends or even with a group together, but not really being together all the time.  People saw us as individual people who chose to be together.  Now anytime they see one of us the first question is “Kabo (John) o kae?”  People are shocked when I don’t know and keep questioning.

 I also have found a disturbing change in myself; I am becoming a bit co-dependent.  Instead of just going to the store by myself or going for a walk when I need to get out, I find myself asking John along or waiting for him.  This is a habit I am slowly breaking as it is destroying my self esteem.

Although it sounds nice having someone to do projects with, having it be a spouse is difficult.  I hold John to higher standards than I do anyone else, which always brings about stress.  If one of us is not motivated, it is easier than expected to drop the other person’s motivation.

In the US I did not have to defend my marriage and the idea of marriage daily.  I don’t want a small house.  I was able to have male friends without people assuming I am cheating and telling me they are going to tell John.  Although it has brought up a lot of good conversations, the whole thing gets taxing a bit as about 75% of my conversations now discuss John in one way or another. 

The most difficult thing is that our entire relationship has changed.  During the first few months at site we fought more than we have ever fought in our entire relationship.  We even discussed going home to save our marriage.  One of us having a bad day often means we both have a bad day…that is a lot of bad days and sometimes multiple day long fights.  For the new couples, it does get better in time. 

We are still trying to figure out how to best cope with this.  Some of the main coping techniques we have come up with include:
·         Making sure we talk about our relationship
·         Not making promises we are not sure we can keep (i.e. talking to someone about something for the other person when you have a busy day)
·         Not trying to be a “back seat driver” to someone else’s project
·         Taking time for ourselves when needed
·         Allowing the other person to go out of town without you if you both don’t want to go

Although these are things we also did in the US the stressors are different and more intense and our support network and stress outlets have dramatically shrunk.  Overall it has gotten better, but when we let down our guard up pops a fight.  All in all I am glad John is here with me and I think this has strengthened our marriage, but definitely tested it. "

I hope everyone at home is well!  We miss you all (and all the yummy food there...especially sushi...mmm sushi).


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Independence Day & Horse Racing

Day 1 – September 30, 2012 – Botswana Independence Day Lokgwabe style
PS traditional dance
tribe choir entering kgotla

Dick, a co-worker of John’s, neighbor, and friend has been trying to talk us into going with him to Lokgwabe for Independence Day.  It is his home village.  Given that it is a 4 day weekend and right after our 5 yr anniversary we wavered a little bit, but ended up caving in and I am so glad we did.  Lokgwabe is a village only 10k from Hukuntsi (John has almost run there before) and has so much spirit.  Some of Dick’s family picked us up on the way and we stopped by his family’s compound to pick him up and then headed to the Kgotla.  I did not feel like wearing a skirt all day, so I wore jeans and wrapped a cloth around my waist to be allowed to enter without offending anyone.  We ended up sitting behind Thato who was nice enough to interpret for us when desired.  The event included the traditional speeches, a primary school traditional dance, one of the tribes had a choir dance, and a singer with back up dancers all of which was really nice, but the great stuff is what followed.
Annah one of John's students
Thato and me at the main kgotla

We then headed down to the ward level Kgotlas.  Unlike most villages, each family did not have their Kgotla in the middle of their family’s compounds, all Kgotlas are placed on shared ground to create a community gathering area for all of Lokgwabe where each family had their own area and was large enough for community events (rather than just using the main Kgotla).  Dick was kind enough to take us to each Kgotla and introduce us to the families.  He mentioned that they would be angry if he did not as everyone wanted to meet us.  This included lots of hand shaking and greetings, especially for the elderly.  Most were happy we were able to greet them in Sekgalagadi.  We then went to meet the councilor for our region whose home village is Lokgwabe.  He was extremely welcoming and proceeded to announce us to everyone over the PA system on his car and requested we be fed, which was not a problem as everyone wanted to feed us while we were walking around anyway.  This was repeated multiple times during the event.  At one point John walked by councilor and was requested to speak Sekgalagadi which caused a following announcement saying we know the local language (only basic greetings as our focus has mostly been Setswana and most people can speak English too).

Soon after this the dancing and games began.  Each Kgotla had a dance/skit/game.  The mosadi mogolo (old ladies) in Lokgwabe have an amazing amount of spirit and energy!  Many of them danced for over an hour combined and the dancing here entails short fast leg movements that make me tired after just a few minutes and sore then next day.  At one point there was a graduation dance which entailed all the mosadi mogolo holding sticks (the kind used for corporal punishment).  The lady in the lead was dancing and trying to hit the others while they all protected themselves with their sticks.  Occasionally she would lash out as it to get the crowd and everyone scattered.  The people she ended up striking, who were part of the dance, wore leather as to protect themselves from getting hurt.  Another game entailed everyone dancing in a circle moving clockwise to a very fast beat.  Whoever had the orange would step in while dancing after a certain number of beats while the person behind her/him would
step in too and try to catch the orange.  This often had people (sometimes in their 50-60’s) ending up on the ground but everyone just bounced right back up and kept going.  One of the ladies would catch the orange and then put it right in my face or Thato’s as if she were going to not catch it in time.  The councilor kept bringing the microphone up to me to have me try to say the words to the song they were singing, a few of which I could not pronounce.  If I am not over my fear of public speaking/performance/embarrasment by the time I leave here nothing will cure me. J

Orange Game

The graduation dance

Foot race (john is a speck somewhere in there)
Next came the 100m footraces by age category in 5 year spans.  John participated.  At first everyone was shy to run against him but eventually 6 other guys came out.  He put his all into it, but only came in 4th place.  Some of John’s students were watching at the finish line.  It’s a good thing school is on break this week or they would tease him relentlessly and they still might.  I did not participate since I threw out my back a few days earlier sadly since I think I would have had a good chance.  Most of the women in my age category were in skirts and did not have shoes on while running on gravel.  I have to give them kudos for the valiant effort they put into it though.  Afterwards we ate and a band set up to play which was later followed by a football (soccer) match oon a pitch just out of town.  As we were leaving we thanked the councilor.  I mentioned that next year I plan on running and we will have to train up on sprinting since we normally run longer distance races.  He proceeded to announce over the PA that next year would include a 10k race.  Ha ha.  I really enjoy his spirit although he did a great job of embarrassing us thoroughly.  We stopped by the football match for about 10 minutes before heading home as it had been a long but wonderful day!
Us with Thato at the football pitch

John & Dick

Day 2 – October 1, 2012 – Horse Racing at Inalegolo
Talk about a great way to start the month.  I tagged along with a few friends to head to Inaleglo for something that all my fellow Louisvillians (not exclusively) would love…horse racing.  Sadly John was unable to make it due to a tutoring engagement. L  Now remember this is nothing like the horse racing at Churchill downs with all the polish, but it makes me wonder how close to horse racing of the past it was.  Thato & Francina pick me up around 7:15 and we hit the road after stopping by Kang for some airtime and a pie (Americans, this is nothing like our idea of a pie, it is more of a meal and completely awesome but that is another post) and continue on our way.  Inalegolo is about 2.5 hrs from Hukuntsi and 20-30 minutes down a gravel road which shakes my fillings out while I hope I have not directed Francine the wrong way. She is new to the area and Thato was riding in the bed of the truck being the kind gentleman he is (actually sleeping on the foam pad we threw in there to make it more comfy).  Eventually we come over the hill and see a cell tower…yeah we are not lost.  Pulling through Inalegolo which took about 1 minute since the settlement is only a few hundred we run into a tent where the event has just begun.  I eyed my friends, waved at them, and tried to catch as many words at possible (which was fairly low today due to my attention span).

As always the kick off included a few speeches, traditional dancing and a surprise (to me) show by Vee who is a great Motswana musical artist originating from my wonderful village.  People are crammed all around to see him perform along with some great dancers.  It is a mix of break dancing and miming…love it!  At one point during the show there were some teenagers behind me with a little girl of about 4 who sat in my seat while I was standing.  They realized I wanted t sit and pulled her away, so I let her sit in my lap forgetting how terrified a few kids are of me because I look so different than most people they know.  The poor girl was terrified, but sat calmly and no amount of encouraging made her comfortable with me.  Hopefully I have not scarred her for life, but luckily I saw her later and she did not run away or anything. 

Soon after the horse racing began.  Horses were paraded out in front of the crowd which just stood by the sidelines (marked by caution tape), they then walked down the straight track, and ran toward us (we were at the finish line).  Most races only had 3-5 horses and the jockeys were full grown men although one race had a youngish boy.  Often there were no saddles and men rode on blankets on the horses, some of which looked a little mangy, but the best looking horse did not always win.  It is interesting watching a horse race with little to no info about the horses or jockeys.  The crowd loved it and rivaled the cheering at Churchill although there were no bets made, just pure fun.  One lady who owned some of the horses always ran after her horse when it passed.  All in all there were about 7 or 8 races which lasted 3ish hours.  In between the races Vee and his crew manned the DJ stand and it turned into an all out dance party as often happens in events in Botswana.  While I did not dance at all, although Thato kept trying to talk me into it even though he had no intention of dancing, we sat around talking and laughing, people watching, and took lots of pictures of kids, dancing, and horses.
We all went to eat food prepared by the event coordinators.  During the race Francina went to run an errand for someone, which turned out to be picking up a slaughtered goat (luckily the blood was drained).  Surprise!  Ha ha.  I found a ride back with some of the people from Hukuntsi who work in the Council so we did not have to debate who was riding in the back with the dead animal.  Mmm mmm  I can tell I have acclimated to life here enough that I volunteered to (not that Thato would have let me) before we found the ride.