Thursday, June 14, 2012

Every day conversations

One of the most amazing things about serving in the Peace Corps in Botswana include the conversations that happen.  This morning I am working in the DHMT (District Health Management Team) helping with April’s data compilation and reporting. 

I started talking with a friend and coworker, initially it was about the weekend which turned into a conversation about her friend who passed away late last week.  This family has had a very hard couple of months.  The woman who passed away was young, not yet married and didn’t have kids yet.  One night she had a really bad headache and neck ache but it did not seem like anything out of the ordinary crick in the neck from sleeping wrong. The next day she never woke up. 

To make it worse, last month her brother, who was also somewhat young, passed away.  What this means on this side of Botswana is every day between the point when the person died and the burial (from Thursday of 1 week to the Saturday of the next week in this case...10 days) around 5pm friends stop by the family’s house for a vigil.  The family of the deceased feed dinner to all the guests, and in some cases lunch.  This can be a huge expense and large stress.  She mentioned that on the other side of Botswana this has been changed to where guests are only fed on the day of the burial which is much more manageable for the families of the deceased.

Later we ended up discussing the specifics of her position (TB health educator) and how to battle some of the main issues she works with such as lack of transportation for patient home visits and delays in contact testing for large groups such as the prison. Which later turned into differences between Botswana’s main struggles of basic health issues and access to food and clothing for many vs those in the US (some do have those struggles, but we also have more resources to fight against higher level thing such as child/domestic abuse and whether disabled people have access to public facilities).

Side note….An example of things I took for granted in the US was that all kids on sports teams (or most kids in general) have shoes.  I started helping coach one of our primary school’s football teams and noticed that only 2 of the almost 50 kids (both boys and girls team) had shoes.  The govt does not fund primary schools sports equipment (although it does fund secondary schools) and many of the parents cannot purchase them.  It is also important to realize that there are burs all over the sand and in some cases large stickers (one went right through John’s running shoe). The kids are going to be in a tournament in a week and many of the other teams have shoes.  I worry for my kids toes.  L  We are discussing ways of acquiring funding.

The funniest thing is that at the end of any event the kids want me to say something to them. I used to never be prepared, but I have gotten pretty good at thinking quickly and having someone translate because thinking quickly in Setswana is never an option. One thing I still haven’t gotten used to is being introduced at any public event along with the honored guests, no matter how far back I try to hide myself. Now back to my previous stream of thought.

About 10 minutes later One, who I had met a couple other times, stopped by the office looking for someone and we got to talking about a few things.  Such as how she used to work with kids doing environmental education which then led to a conversation about the environmental club at Lehutshelo.  One thing led to another and she invited me to a bridal shower for someone I do not really even know.  This will be my first bridal shower, so I am excited to see any differences here.  I have been to a few baby showers, one for a woman I only barely knew and another for a good friend.  It is amazing the difference that makes.  My friend had me sit by her and explained what was being talked about when I did not understand. As far as I can tell some baby showers are a time to completely embarrass the mother to be.  (Now I have another reason to wait to have a baby although everyone keeps telling me we should start our family here and just stay.) I am excited to meet her baby in a month, which will probably be walking and maybe saying a few words when we leave Botswana (and only a few months behind our new niece). 

Then a couple hours later I found myself in a co-worker’s office giving him some training material for Microsoft office and he mentioned how he was going the next week to Gabs to deal with an ongoing court case. Several years ago he was robbed at gunpoint. This of course turned into conversations about the criminal system, etc. This got me thinking about a random 5 minute conversation we had with a street vendor we have gotten to know. (disclaimer…I have no idea how far from the truth this is) She mentioned that Botswana does have the death penalty and it is not done by lethal injection. She said there was some sort of chair used that basically hangs the person by lifting the head.

Sometimes I come home at the end of a day and feel like I have only had superficial conversations, mostly niceties.  I wonder how often days like this happen and due to the lack of attention to detail I completely miss them. 

Go siame!

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