Project starting & Journey of Life

It has been an absolutely crazy couple of weeks, in the best way. I’m super glad to be busy and to know I have things to do. That is a challenge among many PCVs–feeling like you don’t have enough work and that your time isn’t productive. I had been worried that I would feel like that, since it was a slow start at first with the holidays. Thankfully, I’ve found several things to do that I’m very excited about!

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To start, I spent about two weeks working on a grant application to start a garden on my NGO’s property. We have support groups–some with female sex workers and some with men who have sex with men, all of whom are HIV positive–and one of my coworkers and I are planning to have them work on the garden. Food security is a major issues for those populations, so the garden will provide some nutritious food as well as teach them a skill that they can use at their own homes to then grow food and either eat or sell it.

Along with that, I’m working with a coworker on a website for the NGO. I’ll be posting the link soon so you all can see where I work and what we do. It’s been an interesting time, trying to figure out what should be included and how we can appeal not only to an audience in Botswana but also an international donor audience.

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Finally, another coworker and I have began looking through facilitation guides for economic empowerment sessions. All of our support groups have issues with money–many are poor and often when they do have money, they don’t know how to manage it (an issue that plagues many young Americans as well). We’ll be doing workshops with them on getting jobs, budgeting, and how to keep your finances in order.

Needless to say, I’ve been running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

I was given a break last week when I was in Gaborone for a Journey of Life training. The training is mandatory for all those who work with NGOs. It wasn’t a super useful training for me, as the program is focused on children and I work primarily with young adults, but there were some interventions for parents I’m hoping to use.

Regardless of the actual training sessions themselves, I had an incredible time this week. We stayed at a resort in Gaborone (a very serendipitous mistake on Peace Corps’ part) and it was absolutely inSANE.

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Our room had a giant king sized bed and air conditioning with a rainfall shower, there was a pool with a covered pool bar, but the best part was the BUFFET.

We ate at the buffet for every meal and it really was not good for staying fit. Luckily it was only a week. They had Indian food, Setswana food (including game meat, like Eland), a waffle maker, cheese plates, dessert every night, and the shining star, a stir fry bar. I had stir fry twice a day for the entire week. Absolutely incredible.

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I can’t even describe how wonderful all that food was. And the hotel too. I left the hotel only one time the entire week and I don’t regret it one bit.

Now I’m back at site, and getting into the groove of work again. I also have a new little family member! Her name is Toothless (for anyone who’s seen How to Train Your Dragon, you’ll see why) and she’s an absolute adorable little gem.

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Christmas and New Years!

This is going to be a super long post so bear with me! My mom will enjoy this, at least.

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All of us crammed in the living room to open presents

I’ve officially spent my first Christmas and New Years outside of the United States, which was exciting and sad and overwhelming (especially since this year, 2018, will be the one year that I live entirely in Botswana).

For the holiday season, I went up to Kasane to visit some friends who live up there. They were super gracious in hosting us–our group totaled 15 people, an insane amount to fit in one house.

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Since not all of us could sleep inside, we put tents up in their yard and camped out there. Sarah and I shared a tent, planning to have a girls escape but of course the rainy season was in FULL effect so we ended up actually sleeping on our Caitlin & Charlie’s floor–they were super nice about it, though if my husband & I had 15 people staying at our house the last thing I’d want is them sleeping in my room.

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The present table!

As difficult as it is to be in a totally different country for Christmas, we definitely made it very special for ourselves and each other. Christmas morning Ashley, Sarah, and I made spiced wine for everyone and then we all crammed into the living room to do Secret Santa. Caitlin & Charlie (in true mom & dad fashion) had little gift bags for all of us with Velveeta cheese (thank god) and Burts Bees lip balm & lotion (again, thank god).

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The day after Christmas we went on a game drive and a boat cruise. The weather wasn’t great–it was raining and drizzling on and off, so some of the animals weren’t out as much as usual. It was ok though–we still saw elephants and impala and dingoes which was exciting.

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Our boat cruise was similarly interesting–since it was overcast the land animals weren’t out as much, but the hippos definitely WERE. We saw SO many hippos on our cruise, and since our boat was so small the captain made sure we were all quiet, just incase the hippo got mad and sunk our boat.

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Caitlin & I with the hippo

We spent a day after that hanging out and playing games before we embarked on the scariest part of our trip–Devils Pool at Victoria Falls.

Devils Pool has been a bucket list item for me (as you can see on this blog) and Ashley since before we were even cleared to come here. Her and I started chatting on Facebook and one of the first things we wanted to do was this particular activity.

It was absolutely terrifying.

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We went across from Botswana to Zambia by ferry and then taxied to Livingstone, where the falls are. We hiked a bit and enjoyed the falls from the bottom–as soon as we started Devils Pool we stayed on top of the falls the whole time.

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Our tour started with a boat ride from a hotel in the area and they took us to Livingstone Island, a private island where only 15 people are allowed on at once. We just made the cut!

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Ashley, Josh, & I boating over. We were required to wear lifejackets on the boat but not to swim across the river…

From the island, we walked over to the Zambezi river–the huge river that feeds Victoria Falls. In order to get to the rock outcropping surrounding Devils Pool, we had to SWIM across part of the Zambezi.

When we went it was high season, and the guide made sure to warn us that “only strong swimmers can go to Devils Pool during this time.” I’ve been swimming since I was a kid, but even I was still super apprehensive about going. We were all absolutely terrified.

Swimming across the river was both more and less difficult than I thought it would be. The swim itself was not long, but partway through there’s a deceptively strong current that if you let it, will push you over the falls. There were lifeguard guides and a rope you can grab to stop you going over, but they can only do so much.

Once you get to the rocks, you go across to where the pool is. You climb down a bit, lower yourself in, and you have to ensure that your legs are straight down towards the bottom, and then they catch you by the rocks and you sit on top of the rock wall.

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Sitting in Devils Pool

We gave the guide one of our cameras and he took so many pictures for us! Group photos at the pool and falls, and then individual ones of us all leaning over the rock formation and looking over Victoria Falls.

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I can’t even describe what that was like, to be looking over and have my hand hanging over Victoria Falls, one of the biggest waterfalls in the world. It was stunning and scary.

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Our group on top of the Falls

After Devils Pool, once our adrenaline has worn off, you eat on the island. We had an absolutely incredible lunch there, with chicken & steak & couscous and an OPEN BAR that we definitely took advantage of before heading home and passing out immediately.

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One of our last days up in Kasane was New Years Eve, which we spent at a super nice resort in the area. They gave us all mini bottles of champagne (that were way bigger than I expected!) and we spent the night dancing until it struck midnight, and suddenly we were in 2018.

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The girls on NYE

So, on that note, Happy New Year!

Stomping out Malaria in Senegal!

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Sorry for the late post, but between returning from Senegal and going up to Kasane for Christmas (which will be its own post to follow) I haven’t had much wifi.

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a conference on malaria prevention in Senegal in order to get skills and ideas for programs to bring back to Botswana. This was the last Stomp conference, and it was really special to get to be a part of it.

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The flight there was incredibly long and absolutely terrifying. I never realized how big the continent of Africa really is until I was flying from Botswana to Ethiopia to Mali to Senegal.

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The pink river in Bamako, Mali

On our way there we stopped over in Mali. It was a super cool view, since there is a naturally pink river there, but also when we were about the land, the landing gear wouldn’t engage so we had to take off again before heading back. Not my favorite flight.

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How we ate every day! Five people around each bowl, sitting on the ground. I didn’t think I’d like it, but it was actually really nice and a good way to get to know each other. 

Once we were in Senegal, however, everything went much smoother.

We all got so many new tools to use back at site, including a trip to a grassroots malaria prevention effort that’s been around for 17 years. The man who started it began working with malaria after his daughter died, and he took his town from having a 40% incidence rate down to 1%, which is incredible!

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Strategies for grassroots malaria prevention

Everything we learned was so interesting, and I know more about malaria than I ever thought I would, but the most interesting part was hearing about the other countries. Each country gave two presentations–one on malaria in their country and the other on their “best practice” for malaria (for Botswana, we discussed the malaria prevention bike tours we go on!).

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Even though I know about different Peace Corps countries, it was really special to get to talk to people from those places and really understand what their service is like.

Halfway through the conference, we got a break from our long days (8:30am to 6pm or sometimes 9pm) and went to the beach! Seeing the ocean was so wonderful–it had been so long since I even had seen a beach or a body of water. We spent the day alternating between the beach and laying by the pool getting drinks, so it was definitely a good time.

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We got back to Botswana December 18, and then I stayed for about four days before heading up to Kasane for Christmas. Needless to say, December was an absolutely crazy month!

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In-Service Training

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Aerial view of Gaborone!

This is an early blog post! I’ve finally had the time (and wifi!) to sit down and write a fairly long one, so enjoy!

In-service training (IST) was absolutely an adventure and a rollercoaster the entire time we were there. All 70 of the Bots 18 cohort arrived in the capital, Gaborone, on November 19th and had training sessions until the 30th.

First of all, it’s insane how tiring it is to go back to full days of training. I don’t know how I did it during pre-service training, or high school for that matter. I felt so absolutely exhausted the entire time, even before I got food poisoning.

That’s right–food poisoning. Along with numerous other people in our group.

Somehow, we ate something bad or maybe was prepared with water our bodies weren’t used to, so we ended up all being insanely sick for days. I still am recovering from it! As if that wasn’t enough, our hotel’s ceiling caved in during a bad rain and the whole place was raining. There was waterfall down the stairs. I will not mention the name of this hotel as we did have nice rooms, AC, a pool, and showers so I don’t want to bash them.

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Girls’ date night

On the flipside, we had time to explore Gaborone for the first time since we got here. When we first arrived in country we couldn’t actually leave our hotel compound (we were jet-lagged, unvaccinated babies) but this time we could go out!

And go out we did.

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Mainly to eat, honestly. Even when we weren’t feeling well, we definitely rallied and did what we had to do to go have a nice meal every so often.

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My Peace Corps-issued antacids next to a plate of very fancy butters and an empty plate of very fancy cheese

Near our hotel there was another, much fancier hotel that we frequented. They had an Asian restaurant (Asian!), a steak place, and several bars complete with literal, actual Vervet monkeys running around.

One of these monkeys actually jumped onto someone’s table and stole some of their red velvet cake! They also had a very large, very vocal peacock that outshines any peacock you could see at a zoo.

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It was absolutely wild to see monkeys just running around. I loved the ambiance of the place, and the inside of the hotel was absolutely insane. It reminded me of a cruise ship in some ways, so anyone coming to visit me and wants to spend a couple days in Gabs will be staying there and will definitely be letting me stay with them as well!

On that note, I’m going to warn you that I may have a delay in terms of my next post. I’m flying out to Senegal on Sunday for the STOMP Malaria Bootcamp and I’m not sure how much time and internet I will have to post 🙂

My first African birthday!

Actually, it was my first birthday outside of America! It was a weird feeling, very bittersweet. I miss my friends and family and culture that I know, especially on that day. But also, I have wonderful new friends both from America and Botswana who made my birthday so wonderful and special. It’s incredible to know that after only 5 months I have friends that care for me like that.

We had a party the night before my birthday, but on my actual day I was in a bus for 5 hours traveling to the capital, Gaborone. I was able to spend the night of my birthday in an incredible hotel with Bobby so we could prepare for our malaria conference in Senegal. Having AC, a nice dinner, and going out was definitely a wonderful birthday gift.

Sunday we met up at a different hotel with the rest of our cohort (all 70 of us! Reunited!) for our In-Service Training.

IST is a couple week-long training for all of us to reconnect, start planning long-term projects, and learn new technical skills. It’s been absolutely exhausting to have full days of training again. I don’t know how I made it through 11 weeks of PST, because I’m in a hotel and I still am more exhausted than doing PST and living with host families.

It is so wonderful to be able to see my good friends again and talk and spend time with each other before we go back to site until Christmas!

I’m moved in!

Sorry for the late blog, I’ve been settling in to my home and job, and haven’t had super reliable internet recently!

  

I’ve moved into my house for the next two years! Finally, the time has arrived. My house is very cute (pictures to come in my next post) and I’m lucky that I have neighbors living on the compound with me who can help me with all the things I’m learning. For example, electricity is pay as you go. I did not know this and was confused when I didn’t have electricity! My neighbors and host mom helped me out and taught me what to do.


I’m very lucky with my amenities–I have a SHOWER! A. Shower. And hot water if I want it (though I haven’t, because it’s so hot that I only take cold showers). No air conditioning of course, but I bought myself a fan and it is by far the best purchase I could have made.

My town is also absolutely adorable. We have so many nice places and things here and I love both of my jobs and my coworkers. I go out to eat with them for lunch sometimes and they always tell me, “You’re skinny now, but if you keep eating with us you’ll be fat before you leave!” because people here eat a LOT of food. Like a LOT. It’s insane to me, but so many of them are still so small!

Right now I’ve been working on my community assessment–which is our assignment from Peace Corps for our first month and a half at site. We’re given a list of different topics and questions to figure out about our community, conduct meetings and research with community members and leaders, and then compile a 12 page report on the town or village we live in. This helps us not only to get to know people and let them get to know us, but to really understand what our community needs prior to starting any major projects.


Luckily for me, I live 15 minutes away from an absolutely gorgeous dam that you can hike to. You can also drive there, but we decided to take the scenic route. Hiked a half hour through the bush and then rock climbed but we made it, despite there being a bunch of monkeys growling at us! I’ve really missed being near water, and even though it was a dam and not a real lake, it was so good to hear flowing water again.


In other news, I’ll be attending a malaria conference in Senegal this December! Both me and Bobby were chosen from our cohort to represent Botswana in discussing best practices and getting technical information to help start malaria prevention programs in our communities! So excited!

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