Tuesday, December 27, 2011

rain & holidays


So here I am sitting writing a blog post when I am supposed to be on my way to work. I was just about to step out the door when the rain started pouring down. Since I have a 20ish minute walk to work I am giving it a rain delay since rain here rarely lasts long and I do not want to destroy my notebooks and everything. Although rain is a welcome thing here since water is always a problem. Hopefully we will get enough to increase water pressure so it makes it to the house.

Most importantly hopefully people’s livestock will stop dying nice we get more rain. Each piece of livestock that dies is a big financial hit to the individual as a cow can be worth 3-4 thousand pula (I believe). Since we have been here we have seen many animals dying and just lying on the side of the road. The largest area with dead animals we have seen is at the Hukuntsi pan. Animals come there for water and end up dying. It is heart breaking and disturbing how quickly I have gotten used to seeing dead animals.

On the amazing side rain has made this place so much more green than it used to be. There are little splotches of color all over and maybe we can get a bit of a garden started soon. We just need more seeds…shopping trip time. Shopping, that’s not an easy thing this far out. In Hukuntsi we can get the necessities, but to get anything extra (which includes things like cheese, lentils, split peas, or any food that could add variety or misc things like seeds for a garden) or go to a bank to get money we have to go to Jwaneng which entails a 3-4 hour bus ride. We can make it a daytrip which would allow us to have 1 or 3 hrs there depending on which bus we take. Nothing is easy here!

Outside of my tangent, I just wanted to wish everyone a happy holiday! John and I went to Kang to spend Christmas and got a wonderful surprise of taking a daytrip to Lerucama Bushcamp. It was beautiful up there and we had a wonderful time. There were 4 families there and the few of us from the Peace Corps who joined them. On the way up there we were able to spot a turtle (which we stopped to move off the road) and a chameleon. With the chameleon everyone piled out of the car to get a better look and it crawled under the car. Eventually we got it to climb on a branch and moved it off of the road as well. The whole event reminded me of a time when I was a teenager learning to drive and my dad and I were driving somewhere. We noticed a turtle and he stopped the car to move it off of the road. I felt at home immediately with our new friends once this happened.

Once we got there everyone mingled with some coffee and cookies. Next was a church service for those interested. After more mingling, we had a feast. Later in the evening once the animals were more likely to be spotted we got to go on a game drive where we saw ostriches, wildebeest, warthogs, zebras, camels, a tortoise, vultures, and some beautiful birds. There was also a lot of card playing including some Uno with the kids. It was a great way to spend the day and the hospitality was amazing! They also sent us home with some real butter which I cannot find anywhere, especially this far out. John and I cooked some popcorn last night and put real butter on it…mmm mmm.

This is our new house, or shall I say home, for the next few years.

On a side not we saw and killed our first scorpion last night. It was running on the outside wall of our house and almost ran inside. Checking shoes before sticking your foot in it is important with all the scorpions and black widows around here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holidays, pics, and what what

Happy Holidays from John and Tracy! It is odd to think that Christmas is less than a week away. It is extremely hot and sunny. There is no snow and relatively little decorations. A few of the shops have decorations up and occasionally I hear Christmas music but it is nothing like the onslaught of “cheer” in the stores, on houses and at work in the US. Here most people travel to their home village for several weeks to be reunited with family, kids, spouses, and significant others. Since Hukuntsi is a govt town, it is clearing out fast while a few people are coming are returning here that live elsewhere. Work will be very quiet for the next several weeks, so I plan n spending this time working with some people in the office who are native to Hukuntsi on computer training. We are planning to go to Kang for a day or two to celebrate with a few other volunteers.

We are in our new house and have a refrigerator…yeah! It is nice not to have to go to the market every day especially when everything closes early. The house is a 1 bedroom with large rooms and a yard. Kabo (John) and I are hoping to plant a garden soon when it rains again. We also have room to kick the soccer ball around and practice a bit.

So I am finally getting around to posting some long overdue pictures. We have attended many events including an open day for government services, a departure party for the deputy Kgosi, and a community forum for the hospital to address any issues/questions/comments from the communities (all of Kgalagadi North). The biggest issue with these kinds of forums for the district is that once you go past Hukuntsi there are no tarred roads. One community has a gravel/sand road going to it that is only 30 km from here but all the rest have sand only and a 4 wheel drive vehicle is required. There is no public transport to these places. The farthest community is almost 200 km from here.

Most events here include a traditional dance group and a choir that sings and dances. Food is also supplied to all attendees (and expected) making events expensive. There is normally a central table with the VIPs and everyone who speaks is expected to follow the protocol of greeting all VIPS and honored guests. Kabo and I have had to stand up during introductions all in Setswana, so it is important to listen closely even if we do not know the language extremely well yet.

The posted pictures depict the amazingness of sunsets, bugs, and events here. There is also a picture of our temporary living space and 2 pictures from our swearing in ceremony. Once I get a picture of the house I will post it as well.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Moving day and transport

So here we are sitting in our temp house all packed up and ready to move. This morning we found out that the transport we had set up to move us has an issue with the tire, so we waited. A couple hours later we found out that there is a vehicle available at the RAC yet there are no drivers to be found. Some days I wish I was allowed to drive because it is hard to find a driver and a vehicle in working order with fuel at the same time. Transport is the biggest issue here. Since we are all packed up and we are still holding out hope on moving today lunch is consisting of beef jerkey and some dried fruits and nuts that came in a recent package. Thanks mom & dad!

The most frustrating thing for me is that I am missing a workshop in Kang I really wanted to help out with to move today. Sadness! Luckily this give us a chance to practice soccer a bit before the teachers return and want us to play.

The key to making it in the Peace Corps is patience and flexibility. Also a good book to read while waiting is helpful.

On the positive side we were able to get a dongle recently and have access to the internet occasionally. It is really slow and expensive so there will not be much usage, but enough to occasionally post a blog or send an e-mail.

Hopefully my next post will be in our new house.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Walking to work & morning routine – Dec 8, 2011

Here is my morning routine for those interested in what life here is like.

5:00 am – My phone alarm goes off and I get up to check for water. If there is water I run or jump rope. If not, I go back to sleep.

6:00 am - I boil water. If there is electric I boil it in the kettle, if no electric I boil it on the stove. If there is water I shower (cold water only but I am glad to have a shower) if possible. If no water and we have enough in reserve I might take a quick bucket bath otherwise I go without. Boiled water is also for instant coffee and porridge (our normal breakfast).

7:00 am – I begin my walk to work. This normally takes 30 minutes, but often someone stops and picks me up. Sometimes I know them and sometimes I don’t. We normally have a good conversation and lately it has been mostly people I know picking me up. During the walking part of my commute some days I end up stopping and having several conversations with people rarely initiated by me. Everyone knows my name as well most of which I have met but occasionally not. The problem is I do not remember everyone’s name no matter how hard I try. There is no way to be anonymous, which is hard enough in a small town let alone being a minority in a small town. It is hard to get over the feeling of being rushed which comes with the US society I do not want to be late, but I have to budget a little extra time walking to talk to people. Lately a man who drives one of the govt. trucks has taken to yelling my name and stopping and saying hi to me in the mornings. He is not heading to the RAC so I do not get a ride, but I have learned to take any positive attention as a good thing and talk to anyone who is friendly. This is extremely important because during the day there are so many things that destroy the day mainly due to misunderstandings, cultural differences, ambiguity, or just plain hitting a stress/exhaustion wall.

John and I hit a bit of a stress wall the other day and have had a hard time fighting our way out of the funk but are beginning to see the light. Right now we are in temporary housing which is a 10’ by 10’ room with multiple water leaks that began upon the rains beginning. This has been a huge stressor as there is no way to really move everything out of the way of the leaks. Today we looked at a nice 1 bedroom house that my boss is working on getting a lease signed for. We are excited and look forward to getting in it. Our stress level is seeing light at the end of the tunnel! If possible we will keep you posted.

Rain, bats, and creepy crawly things – Dec 3, 2011

We had our first major rain last Thursday Dec 1 (we had a minor one a few days before) and learned that although I was excited to see it and yell “Pula” we were not prepared for the implication of rain. Our roof has two leaks, which can be a real problem when everything you own is in a 10’ x 10’ room. One of the leaks was over the bed, and a bucket was not catching everything, so we moved it as much as we could and piled everything in the dry area. Luckily nothing was ruined since we caught it as it was happening although sadly we had to re-wash some clothes, which is my least favorite chore. After a while the rain stopped as did the leaks and we could move the bed back. The storm knocked out power so all this happened by candlelight and headlamp.

After that we settled into an evening of reading since our computer was dead. Currently we are hooked on watching the Wire to unwind and deal with boredom. We had the door and window open to cool off the room along with a doom coil burning to keep the mosquitoes away. Within minutes a bat flew in and started circling the room. We ducked and ran out of the room laughing and slightly irritated because we were ready for bed since it was 10:30 and we had to get up at 5am. After circling the room for a few minutes it irritatingly crawled under the bed, so we waited. Eventually a bat was circling the room again and crawling in all the crevices we could not reach. I started knocking on the walls to see if it would get it moving and it did. After about 30 minutes we were able to drop a sheet on it as it landed on the bed. We quickly stripped the bed and moved our sheets outside to watch it crawl away. Relieved that we could finally settle down and think about sleep again we remade the bed and sealed the windows doors in ways we had never before. Our blood pressure dropped and John finally fell asleep while I read. A shadow flew across the room again and I jolted John awake. We threw clothes and shoes on and got out of the room. After a few minutes the bad had not moved, so we were silent listening for it and heard a rustle near the stove. After initially cautiously, then frustratedly, tearing apart that area of the room we thought maybe I was just losing my mind, although I knew I saw something. 20 minutes later I sprayed a bit of bug spray hoping to irritate the bat into moving again. It was right after that when John saw the bat hidden on our stove. I removed everything from the stove while John waited patiently with some Tupperware to drop on it. This worked although the bat was none too happy and started screeching. If you have never heard a bat screech it is a piercing sound and does not leave your head easily. We got it out of the room finally and are still not sure where it came from. Sleep did not come easily after that and we are now discussing using a mosquito net to make a screen for the door.

The next day when we stepped out of the house there were millipedes everywhere. Rain must have brought them out of the ground. Most of them are the size of earthworms, but every once in a while the granddaddy of millipedes shows up. It is a little less than a foot long and reminds me of the worms in the movie Tremors (this dates me, I know). I am told that there are some that get bigger too. I will now be shoving something under my door to seal the crack because I do not want to wake up with one of those guys in my shoe. They are pretty neat looking though and some of my co-workers said they do not get that big in other parts of Botswana, just where there is more sand.

Our plans for Friday changed as well. Right now we are going through the Community Study process where we spend time interviewing people and getting to know the community and services. We had planned to spend most of the day on this but realized we had more pressing issues. After talking to some people at the hospital we took the afternoon to get several large buckets for storing things we do not want getting wet and rearranged the room as much as possible. Some of the people at the school did get on our roof and fixed the apparent issues, but we will not be able to know if they got everything until the next rain. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

On a side note, I never thought I would use a headlamp much but this is one of my most prized possessions along with converter, bug spray, sunscreen, hat, buckets and a fan.

Pace of things – Nov. 23, 2011

I am having a hard time getting used to the pace of things here. There is a huge emphasis on getting to work on time (7:30 – 4:30) yet once we get there the pace is extremely relaxed. People seem to spend a lot of time on Facebook and just sitting around talking. This does not mean they don’t work, but it is a more relaxed environment here. A meeting scheduled at 2 is lucky to start at 3 and it is likely some of the attendees will no show without any warning. Sometimes this is due to transportation issues as there are no taxis and a lot of people do not have vehicles. Buses go some places, but not all places and the only bus out seem to pass at 6:00 & 7:00 in the morning. There are combis. I have not yet figured out the schedule of these and where they go. Hitchhiking is common as well.

It is also important to learn that people will say they will do something, but it is not always true. It is a very non confrontational society. I hear that eventually you get used to the pace of things and that the first few months are the hardest. We will get there eventually, but in the mean time I need to keep reminding myself not to take it personally when people say they will take me somewhere and it never happens.

Week 1 in Hukuntsi – Nov. 20 2011

I finally got a chance to get on the internet for a minute and am catching up the blog on four posts I have written over the last month. I apologize for any odd formatting, but some things are not copy/pasting well. So here goes:

So we have now been in Hukuntsi for over a week now and it has been quite eventful. We spent the first few days settling into a tiny space (10 ft x 10 ft) that has a double bed and a stove. We are supposed to have a refrigerator and a table too, but there is definitely no room. This should be temporary yet it seems difficult to find housing here as most govt. employees are two to a house. We are staying on the Junior Secondary School (JSS) property which is nice while the kids are in session because we can go play cards in one of the outdoor classrooms and some kids will arrive and hang out with us. We have taught a couple of them how to play a game called golf. Our neighbors are also really nice as are the people in the community. Everyone is willing to talk to us yet it takes time to really become friends with someone and even more so when you do not fully speak their language. I definitely need to spend more time learning Setswana as well as Sekhalagadi. It will help once we find a tutor.

So a quick overview of our week included:
• Our first days of work
• Meeting the Kgosi for an interview
• Attempting a few runs and realizing we are not eating right and out of shape.
• Found all the shopping in the village
• Found a makwinya spot…mmm mmm
• Played cards at the outdoor classroom almost daily and met lots of great kids
• I (Tracy) went to Zutswa for a meeting about an AIDS day event
• Started interviewing coworkers
• Found ways to hang our stuff from the ceiling
• Started a map of Hukuntsi
• Two water outages
• Electric outages
• Killed two black spiders with red hour glasses (black widows??)
• Killed lots of random insects and arachnids
• John got stung by a bee from the hive our neighbor keeps
• 3 broken plastic bowls and 1 coffee mug
• Hand washed every other day
• Met lots of people and forgot lots of names
• Watched 2 movies and finished Battlestar Galactica
• Bought 48 clothes pins
• Wrote 4 letters and 2 post cards…lots more to go
• Talked about all the food we miss multiple times a day
• Mainlined coffee to get to work at 7:30 am then walked 30 minutes back home to go to the bathroom during lunch because water was out and there are no pit latrines at the RAC

Lessons learned:
• If the light is on at night you need to have the doors and windows closed no matter how hot it is – a monster beetle flew in and we both ducked and screamed like small children
• When form 3 graduates from JSS madness ensues – there are papers everywhere and John broke up a fight
• Asking people’s names is a good formality but it is impossible to remember everyone
• You can never have enough water stored
• Nighttime is the worst time to lose electric – the fan stops, I wake up then John groggily asks why I turned the fan off
• Yes means maybe, maybe means no and you will never hear no from anyone
• Transport is always an issue and kids are the most likely to be on time anywhere
• There is no anonymity and if you feel the need to just hide out at home, it’s ok
• We now know where all of America’s MSG went (what is it supposed to do to you anyway??)
• When you live with a family for two months you become an intricate part of it – talked to our family in Kanye and realized they are worried about us and miss us as much as we miss them

We miss you all! Please eat some sushi for me. 