Field trip to Gaborone!

IMG_1475

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.

IMG_1480

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).

 

IMG_2035
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…
IMG_1491

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.

IMG_1406
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!
IMG_1444
“It’s too cold to eat!”

Meeting the kgosi, permagardening, and the AK Glam Fam

IMG_1381

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.

IMG_1182

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.

IMG_1184
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.

IMG_1187

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.

IMG_1256

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.

IMG_1239

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!)

IMG_1344IMG_1366

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!

IMG_1194

 

 

 

Ga gona mathata…

It means no worries…in Setswana. Pronounced “ha ho-nah matata.”
IMG_1015
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).
FullSizeRender 3
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.
IMG_1037
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.
IMG_1053
We each were given a Setswana name by our family, mine is Masego (mah-se-ho) meaning “blessing.”
FullSizeRender 2
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.
IMG_1098
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).
IMG_1094
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! 

Two weeks away!

I can’t believe how quickly staging is coming up! It really is insane to me that I’m about to be leaving for Africa, and it’s even more insane how many things I still have left to do (ie. actually packing my bags).

I’m incredibly excited, but the closer I get the more I’m starting to have some nerves too. As I pack up my house in Bloomington and make sure my cat is settled for when I leave, I realize how much my life is going to change, and I think it’s finally hitting me what a huge thing this is.

The anticipation is always the worst part–there’s such a combination of nerves and excitement about what the experience will actually be like, so I’m excited to just get there to Botswana and start my PC adventure!

 

The packing struggle…

Figuring out what to pack for the next two years is insanely difficult, especially since a lot of the advice I get is to “pack for a two year business trip.” I have been on zero business trips, let alone one lasting for two years, so thanks for that advice, everyone.

I’m lucky since I have access to other Peace Corps Volunteers and their blogs for information, but at the end of the day I’m deciding how to pack my entire life into two bags.

Since Peace Corps is paying for our checked bags, we have to stay within the very specific requirements airlines have for luggage, which adds another dimension to the process: not only have I not figured out WHAT to pack, I also haven’t figured out what to pack it IN.

I’m allowed to have two checked bags. Seems simple on the surface. These bags must not weigh more than 50lbs each. Again, not bad. But then we get to the dimension requirements. The combined dimensions of the bags (length + width + height) can’t exceed more than 107 inches, but the larger bag also can’t exceed 60 inches. So of course that means that the suitcase I already have is too big and can’t be used.

I’ve spent a lot of my day calculating what combinations of bags I can check under these requirements and it seems like the optimum situation is this:
*Large rolling suitcase–26″ (comes to about 57″ total, just under the 60″ maximum)
*Rolling duffel bag–22″ (brings my checked total to 97.5″, perfect)
*45L Osprey hiking backpack (carry-on, can’t be filled up all the way or it won’t meet the carry on requirements because nothing about flights can be easy)
*One personal item to carry on (probably a tote bag)

What exactly will be packed in each bag (and what of my packing list I’ll actually be able to FIT) is yet to be seen. Wish me luck!

First blog post

I’m fairly sure that if you’ve come across this blog you’re a family member or one of my friends hoping to see what’s going on with me in Botswana. If you’re anyone else, welcome! I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer leaving July 21, and I’m getting this blog together so I can keep a record of my experiences not only for the people in my life but also for me.

I booked my flights through PC yesterday, so it’s definitely real. I’m going to Botswana for two years. Scary and very exciting.

I’ll probably write a few posts before I leave, as I prepare by packing (what a monstrous task…) and starting to learn Setswana.