I am a Peace Corps Volunteer!

Finally! After months of training, we have all sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers. The US ambassador to Botswana gave us our oath and we can finally call ourselves volunteers instead of trainees. 


It was an incredibly exciting day, where most of us wore traditional outfits we had designed for us with fabric we bought. Many of our host families showed up and we had choirs and traditional dance teams come and perform for us. 


Naturally we all celebrated our new change in status with a braai afterwards. 


The next day we all moved to our permanent sites. I’m still getting my house set up fully–there’s a lot of cleaning and unpacking to do still!

I’ve met my neighbors who have all been extremely welcoming and coming over to see me and invite me to parties and weddings. 


I also just finished my first week of work! I will definitely have to work out what projects I want to focus on at each organization, but so far everything has been going smoothly and I’m excited about what’s to come!

The end (of PST) is near…

…and I could not be more relieved. I’ve loved being with my host family in Molepolole and enjoyed spending time with our cohort but pre-service training is really exhausting for all of us, and I’m beyond ready for a change of scenery, my own house, my own space, and my own routine. 


We’re starting to wrap up, in fact, tomorrow is our last day of training, on Wednesday we swear in and then will leave to go to our sites. This weekend has been a massive time of packing and getting my life back into suitcases once more. 


Recently, we had a party to thank our host families for having us which was fun but bittersweet. They have loved having us and we’ve enjoyed being with them and getting to know them and their cultures. We made them a ton of food (which surprisingly they enjoyed our cooking) and our choir sang for them and then taught them American dances (somehow this ended up being us all doing the Cupid Shuffle…hello middle school). 

We also had a holiday weekend for Boipuso (Independence). As of September 30, Botswana is 51 years old! Hard to conceptualize that, when America is over 200.


For Boipuso, we spent time hanging out, visiting a few local bars, and cumulating in a braai (BBQ) where we had a potluck and a bunch of steak and hotdogs. I usually am not a big steak person, but this is definitely an exception. It isn’t steaks how we as Americans view it, but it was still incredible. 

The rest of tonight I’m spending packing up my things and getting prepared for our LAST DAY OF TRAINING tomorrow. It’s about time. Spending the entire day inside of the school building is wearing on us all. Plus, we’re totally ready to start our jobs and do what we actually came here for!

Next time I post, I’ll no longer be a Peace Corps Trainee, I’ll be a Peace Corps Volunteer 🙂

Back to PST…and missing my cat

Tribute to my Blossom, who I love and miss
Sadly, site visit had to come to an end! The end of our week was absolutely incredible though!

Unfortunately most of my pictures won’t load, but it isn’t a huge waste as I didn’t take many. I spent the week enjoying everything and not worrying about photos, which was very liberating in some ways!

The last days I spent were actually not at my site, but at a site 45 minutes away, where me and two others trainees stayed with volunteers who have been there for a year already. We were able to see how they live and the work they do and start to get to know the people who will be in our area. 

Our two hosts were absolutely incredible! They took us on a game drive, where we saw numerous impala, Eland, zebras, and some giraffes so close I could’ve walked up and touched them. 

After that, volunteers from around our area came over and we had a braai (the Botswana equivalent of a barbecue). The food was incredible, and it was fun to get to know the people I’ll be living near for the next year (until they leave in 2018!). Next time, it will be us welcoming the newbies. 

The best part of the trip though, was their cat who slept right on my chest. It made me homesick for my little Blossom, but I absolutely loved having a cat to cuddle again. It’s official, I’ve made the transition to full cat lady. 

This week we’re back at Pre-Service Training, which is a bit rough. The days are long, and we’re all antsy to get back to site and start working on our projects. Plus, I’ve been sick for this last week and it’s been tough to balance the stress of traveling from site, long training days, and not feeling well. Luckily I’m almost at 100% again!

Next week is our last week of formal training, and after that we’ll be preparing to swear in and move! Exciting times! 

First week of site visit!

Finally I get to visit and see where I’ll be living for the next two years. My town is absolutely wonderful. It’s green, it has paved roads, and it has STREET signs. Up until now, I’ve been using taxi stops such as “the T-junction after the blue tuck shop,” which sometimes does and sometimes does not work. Now, I can tell the driver the actual street which is a large improvement.

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I’ve been staying with a second host family here—this one consists of my host mom and host uncle. My host mom has been absolutely wonderful, plus her house has hot running water and I’m able to wash my hair with a tap, not a bucket. Huge, huge improvement. When I arrived, she had three dogs (now there are three dogs plus two puppies) and they all are so wonderful and nice and sit with me when I’m on the porch reading. No one even thinks of coming to talk to me with those dogs. Although a lot of Batswana have dogs, my host mom is one of the few I’ve met who actually LIKES her dogs. Many Batswana dislike or are afraid of dogs.

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This week has been a whirlwind of meeting people in town. My sitemate and I have been going with our counterparts to meet the hospital heads, clinics, government workers, churches, the kgosi, important NGOs, etc. etc. We have been EXHAUSTED but also excited about starting our integration in our new home for the next two years.

We’re very lucky in that our town has a lot of amenities. There’s a pizza place we’ve already been to several times, clothing shops, grocery stores, and general stores where we can get pretty much everything we need. Plus, since we live near the dam that supplies water for our whole region, we don’t have to worry about water shortages. These things we are super grateful for, especially knowing that some people don’t have it so easy and may have to travel several hours just to get groceries

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The wall of our pizza place

Aside from exploring the town, I also have spent time at my organizations. I love both of my counterparts and it’s been exciting to see what programs and projects are in the works for us. One organization wants me to help with statistics and organization of data, which I’m very excited for. My other organization is looking at more programming help and working with key populations (female sex workers and men who have sex with men), which I also am very excited for, especially since finding an organization that is actively funded for and looking to do programming with key pops is rare.

My counterparts along with my host family have been really good about helping me settle in and make sure that I’m comfortable and happy for the next two years. I’ve also been able to meet up with the PCVs that are near me, some of which have been here for a year already. It’s nice to know that we all have a support system around us.

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REAL coffee in Gaborone! 

Right now, I’m writing this from a hotel in Gaborone. I’m getting some shots this week and Peace Corps has put me in a room since my site is 6 hours away and traveling back and forth would be ridiculous. There is a shower here, which is amazing. I’m cleaner than I have been this entire month for SURE. I did pass some baboons wandering through the office building park while I was walking to the Peace Corps office, which was definitely the most bizarre thing I have ever seen.

I’ll be headed back up for the end of my site visit on Wednesday and then we will be back in Molepolole for the end of training the following week. I’m excited to see my host family, but definitely ready to jump in and start working!

Also, I’m thinking of everyone from home who has been affected by the hurricane! Thinking of those in the US Virgin Islands as well as Florida 🙂

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Blurry photo of the sunset on my drive to town

Site placement & supervisors workshop

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I finally found out where I’m living and working for the next two years! This is a long time coming for me. To everyone who has asked me what I’ll be doing, at last I can give you an actual answer. We definitely went out to the Lodge to celebrate finally knowing what we’re doing the next two years…

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I’m not going to say the name of my actual town due to Peace Corps policy, but for any Facebook friends it’s on my wall. I’m moving to a large town of about 49,000 people. Primarily, the town was a mining town, but recently the mine has closed. The mine closing is the only reason I’m able to go there, actually. There were volunteers there before in 2012, but when the mine opened it was determined the air quality would be too poor. It’s a bit bittersweet—I’m excited that I’m able to go there now, but I also know that the closed mine means lots of economic issues.

I’ll be situated on the eastern side of the country, and I’m smack dab in the center—perfect because I’m not too far from either the north or the south. Bad news is I have to take malaria meds because I’m above the malaria line.

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I’ll be working for two organizations—one national organization that works on the HIV/AIDS campaign (testing & counseling) and one smaller local NGO that works with key populations (female sex workers & men who have sex with men), substance abuse, and economic empowerment.

We’re spending the end of the week getting bussed to and from Gaborone so we can do a workshop with our supervisors. Before getting into that though, I want to stress how incredible it is to have running water after a month of not having it. I went into the bathroom, could FLUSH the toilet, washed my hands with RUNNING WATER, and used a PAPER TOWEL to dry my hands off. It’s the little things. Never enjoyed a public restroom more.

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Our supervisors workshop has been incredible so far. My supervisors from BOTH organizations showed up which was a surprise and super exciting to get to talk with both of them. They both are incredibly nice and seems super excited to start working with me.

For the larger organization, it seems like I’ll be working on organizational development mostly—doing NGO management, working on program planning and implementation, etc. For the smaller one, I’ll be working on more projects and initiatives, depending on what parts need the most help and work. I’m sure there will be some overlap with both sides, but it’s nice to know my main tasks at each.

My larger NGO has an incredible program that works on the intersection of tuberculosis and HIV, which I’m excited to get to be a part of, and will involve some work with data which will be interesting.

My smaller NGO has some programming with key populations (female sex workers and men who have sex with men), and part of what we discussed was doing a permagardening initiative with them to help with food security as well as giving them something to do.

Tomorrow, we leave to go stay at our site for two weeks (and to shadow another volunteer) so we can see where we will be living and working. My site is only about 5 hours from Gaborone, and the national director of my large organization is sending a driver to come pick me & and another volunteer up—exciting!

I will point out that not everything is always rosy in Botswana. Though it’s a peaceful country, there are problems and clashes just like in the United States. 

Unfortunately tonight there was some unrest in Molepolole, and I want to take a moment to acknowledge and send good thoughts to all those affected. 

As for right now, all of my Bots family (PCV and host) is safe 🙂 

Field trip to Gaborone!

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We finally got to go to Gaborone and actually SEE the city, as opposed to our first four days in country where we stayed in Gaborone but couldn’t leave our compound. We got a bus tour, and finally got a feel for what the capital city looks like.

To start, calling it a “city” is probably giving the wrong idea of Gaborone. It IS a city, but it isn’t a city in the way that Americans imagine one like New York or Chicago. Gaborone is fairly westernized in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t have the same high-rise buildings and overwhelming size that a lot of American cities do, which makes it feel much easier to get around in.

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We drove by the bus rank, which is a giant lot filled to the brim with buses going all over the country (there is even one that goes from Gaborone to Johannesburg in South Africa) along with people in tents selling food, airtime (data for a phone), and little trinkets and candy to take with you on the bus. Most bus ranks have small tuck shops like that, so you never have to worry about getting hungry while on the bus.

One of our main stops was at the Three Dikgosi monument, which is a set of statues of Botswana’s chiefs who met with Queen Victoria to request to be a protectorate. The country recently celebrated their 50th independence day, and all over the capital there are “Botswana 50” signs. We had the chance to take pictures with the monument, and found that there were also some people taking pictures of us! A man had his friend take a picture of him in front of all the lekgoa’s (ley-ko-ha, means “foreigner”) and then ran away so we wouldn’t notice (we noticed).

 

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The AK Glam Fam in front of the Dikgosi Monument!

Part of our driving tour was to go around the governmental hub of the city. We were all calling it “Rodeo Drive,” because it had palm trees, nice white fences, and big buildings housing ambassadors and government workers from all over the country and world. It was a very nice area. We drove past the American embassy as well as the United Nations building in Botswana, which was super exciting for me.

We also were allowed to drive past the president’s house as well as through the parliamentary houses. It was for “authorized vehicles only,” which is then how we realized that this entire month we’ve been carted around in official, government vehicles which is incredibly cool.

One of our stops before heading to eat was the Peace Corps office! It was in a compound filled with palm trees, though not QUITE as ritzy as the American embassy…
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The main stops we made though, were at two malls in the capital—Airport Junction and Riverwalk (there was no river there, just a riverbed 😦 it’s dry season right now). Both malls were what you would expect out of an American mall—lots of food, homeware, and super cute clothes I can’t afford. The highlights of both those malls were the food. Our language teacher Akanyang got us chicken wings from Chicken Licken, one of the two main fried chicken places in Botswana. They were 100% the best chicken wings I’ve ever had in my life.

At Riverwalk, we stopped for an actual lunch, where we went to a restaurant that let us sit in the VIP section, a roped off area with couches and tables for us to eat at. We all got burgers, which was an incredible choice. I got a peri-peri burger (peri-peri is a South African spice that most people know because it was brought to Portugal and is used in the restaurant Nando’s, a favorite of mine from London) and fries which was absolutely wonderful and definitely hit the spot of me that was craving American foods.

After that we headed back to Molepolole where some of us went to Lemepe Lodge to play cards and visit. It’s still winter in Botswana, and it’s cold here! The mornings and nights are around 34 degrees, and the days are around 70. Although I’m not enjoying bucket bathing and walking to school in the cold, I know I’ll be wishing for this once summer comes and it’s 100.

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Mme & I
My Mme always says she enjoys the winter, but my host sister says it’s “go serrame thata” (ho ser-ah-may tata, too cold). You can see in the picture below how she’s dealing with the weather!
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“It’s too cold to eat!”

Meeting the kgosi, permagardening, and the AK Glam Fam

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One of our recent cultural excursions was to go to our local kgotla to meet the kgosi. A “kgotla” is essentially the home of local government in Botswana, and it’s headed by the “kgosi,” which is the chief. The chiefs are hereditary, but there is also a system of elections in place for each region and village to determine members of parliament.

It was incredible to see how welcoming everyone was to us, with the kgosis taking time to answer all of our questions. The main takeaway for most of us was the importance of culture (“ngwao”—pronounced, “nwah-oh”) to the people of Botswana. While the kgosi handles lower level disputes and governing issues, their main job is to “preserve the culture of the village.”

We met the kgosis that preside over the kgotlas in our “wards,” or neighborhoods. Our language group along with the other groups near us went to the Goora Mmopi Kgotla, in Boribamo.

I feel very lucky with my language group and especially my language teacher, Akanyang who has taught us so much Setswana in such a short amount of time. She has a fashion boutique called AK Glam, so we’ve named ourselves the AK Glam Fam, and we’ll all be styled by her for swearing in.

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Along with learning about the culture of Botswana, we also have been learning certain technical skills that will help us in our jobs. Some are for community programming and mobilization, and some are more labor intensive, ie. PERMAGARDENING.

I was super excited for the permagardening session, and was not disappointed. For anyone who knows my dream of an urban farm, this is step one in the process. Maybe I’ll even get some chickens.

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My gardening overalls

Permagardening is often a super good idea to do as a community project, because it doesn’t require many resources and can end up helping to provide food for the village. I’m hoping to do a trial run on my own yard to see what works, and then hopefully find some people in the village excited to join me on a community project.

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As much as I absolutely am enjoying my time in Botswana, and did score an incredible bus driver, who stops us at the food stalls near the hospital to get magwinya (fat cakes) and mafresh (french fries with chili powder), it definitely is tiring to be in pre-service training.

I’m getting so much information at once that I know it’s a good thing I took notes, because I won’t remember it later. We spend around 10 hours a day in sessions learning things, and then getting home right before it gets dark to help with dinner, dishes, and studying before bed.

I’m fortunate in that my host family is very cognizant of the busy schedule I have, and make sure we all take turns with household chores so I always have time to catch up on work if I need to.

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Thus far, though, my adjustment hasn’t been as harsh as I thought it would be. Sure, I have to make adjustments (bucket bathing isn’t bad, but I’m sure I’ll always miss showers) but it’s a slow transition into the full Batswana culture. We spend a lot of time with Americans, and even have a KFC at the mall. Pre-service is a nice in-between of getting assimilated into the culture without feeling like a fish out of water.

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More recently, we went to Buhurutse Cultural Village, where we were able to spend the day learning about the culture of Botswana. We watched a traditional “wedding,” saw  some traditional practices uses to cure sickness, as well as riding a donkey cart to the cattle post. They fed us well while we were there, and we even got seswaa (pounded meat, similar to pulled pork and incredibly delicious!)

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Next week during training we will continue learning about our jobs along with how to stay safe and healthy while in Botswana. The week after that, we learn our sites!

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Ga gona mathata…

It means no worries…in Setswana. Pronounced “ha ho-nah matata.”
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I’ve arrived safely in Molepolole, where all 73 of us will be staying until we swear in on October 4th. It’s been overwhelming and wonderful and a lot of adjusting (bucket baths are easier than I thought, but still unpleasant).
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We arrived and immediately went to our Matching Ceremony, where we all get to meet our host families. It’s a very special occasion, where the head kgosi (kph-see) the paramount chief of the village, comes and we all sing and meet our families one by one.
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There is a lot of screaming and hugging and smiling.
I was matched with a wonderful Mme (mother) who gave me a big hug and immediately said “I love you!” Upon getting home I met my 24 year old host sister, Tumie, who speaks fluent English and has become a good friend of mine here in the village.
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We each were given a Setswana name by our family, mine is Masego (mah-se-ho) meaning “blessing.”
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I’ve been getting used to a long schedule, with Setswana lessons starting at 7:30am and ending our Pre-Service Training sessions at 5:00pm. Upon getting home, I help with dinner and dishes and study for the next day.
There definitely has been some adjusting for me, in terms of my living style as well as having a lot of people staring at me. In Botswana, I am very clearly different, which is a new and sometimes unsettling experience.
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It’s been much more fun that I expected to live with a host family, especially because mine is so accommodating and understanding.
I can tell that they really listened to the information Peace Corps gave them because they are careful to make sure that food is prepared safely for me, don’t get offended if I do something that seems strange to them, and are excited to learn about America and American culture. We made macaroni & cheese the other day, which was a hit.
My host mother is incredibly sweet and has been treating me like one of her kids. She watches out the window for me to get home safely, and surprised me this morning with French toast.
It’s been especially fun having a host sister near my age. She is good friends with the host sister of another Peace Corps friend, Bobby, and it’s a great dynamic to have the four of us hang out (we can always tell they’re gossiping about us when they start speaking Setswana and laughing).
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Despite some of the adaptations I have to make being here, I am starting to feel comfortable and even more excited about things to come 🙂

Hello, Gaborone!


We arrived in Gaborone, Botswana on July 24 after 17 hours in flights and about 30 total hours of traveling. 

It was quite eventful. Needless to say, 30 hours spent traveling have me a head cold and it took two days for my luggage to actually arrive here. Thankfully, it did. 

Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten to see much of Botswana yet as our first week of Pre-Service Training (PST) has kept us in lockdown at our hotel compound until we’re over our jetlag and are aware of how to stay safe while traveling. 

Botswana isn’t particularly dangerous, but most of us haven’t been to Africa (including me!) and it’s important to be aware of risks that can happen while traveling in an unfamiliar place (i.e. pickpockets). 

The compound we’re staying on is called Ave Maria, which is a hotel/conference center. It’s Jesus themed (I think it is, or was, a convent) but conviently has a cash bar, which we’ve enjoyed. 

Our days have been long, starting at 7am for breakfast and ending with dinner at 6:30pm. We have sessions on everything from Botswana, to our jobs, to teambuilding, and to a medical interview where we picked our preferred malaria medication. 

Most notably, though, we’ve had our first Setswana lessons! It’s a beautiful language, and makes me wish even more that I could roll my R’s (I’m practicing though!) 

Tomorrow we’ll be heading to our training site for the next 11 weeks, Molepolole to get our host families and start integrating into the community and improving our Setswana. 

Ke a loboga! (Thank you!) 

About to head to the airport…

…and I can’t believe this day is finally here. I’m insanely nervous, of course, as are some other people I’ve met and talked to. 

The last couple days we’ve been in Philadelphia for “Staging,” which is basically a time for us all to go over basic expectations and get to know each other. 

I’ve loved getting to meet my fellow volunteers (and prepare them for the inevitable One Direction documentary nights) but I won’t lie, those sessions were LONG. 

Especially when we spend a lot of the time talking about safety and security. It’s definitely important, but it brings to the surface all of those internalized fears, which are even more prominent being a woman going to a different country. 

It definitely will be a huge adjustment, but at the end of the day this is something I’ve wanted to do for years, and I’m ready to just get started and start to adapt and integrate to the culture of Botswana. 

Even more difficult was getting my luggage together. One suitcase I had was 70lbs and the other was 35. I’ve definitely done some moving around and am planning now to have two suitcases and two backpacks. 

Yup, I’m going to be rockin’ a backpack on both sides of my body. Wish me luck (and don’t laugh at me). 

Until next time! I’ll be in Africa!