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