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

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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