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:

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.