20 December 2010


I don't often beg for things, but this warrants it.

Someone please please PLEASE find a way to get this movie to me after it comes out.  I will be forever indebted to you:  http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1637333/20100419/phoenix.jhtml

17 December 2010

White Christmas?

I'm dreaming of a sunny Christmas
Just like the ones I've never known
Where we seek shade inside shops
And children eat ice pops
Just to drink something that's cold

I'm dreaming of a sunny Christmas
With every care package that comes
May your days be merry and fun
And may all your Christmases have sun

15 December 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas

*With notes for clarification

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a cow in the middle of the road.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me two doves in my roof.

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three Botswana hens.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four calling roosters (when I’m trying to sleep).

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me five diamond rings!  (Although I’ve yet to see any Batswana with a diamond from their own famous mines.)

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me six donkeys a-braying (it sounds like they’re in pain).

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me seven safari animals (especially elephants).

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eight maids hanging laundry (after hand-washing it).

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me nine traditional dancers.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me ten traditional doctors.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me eleven precious “dipudi.” (Goats)

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me twelve mosquitoes buzzing.

Thus, sung like this:
On the twelfth day of Christmas,
My true love gave to me,
Twelve mosquitoes buzzing
Eleven precious dipudi
Ten traditional doctors
Nine traditional dancers
Eight maids hanging laundry
Seven safari animals
Six donkeys a-braying
Five diamond rings
Four calling roosters
Three Botswana hens
Two doves in my roof
And a cow in the middle of the road!

14 December 2010

Insomnia Will Follow You

  1. Boycott Lunesta.
  2. Watch an episode of “True Blood” before going to sleep.
  3. Are scared, so put in romantic comedy to take your mind off of vampires. ETS (Estimated Time of Slumber): 11:00
  4. Have a weird dream and wake up to a mosquito buzzing around your head.  Assume it’s at least 3 or 4 am, when really it is 12:43.
  5. Spray DOOM in the room, then hide under your sheet to avoid inhaling chemicals that will kill you as well as the bugs. ETS: 1:00
  6. Wake up in a haze at 1:30 to your phone ringing.  Spend an hour on the phone with your American bank, trying to figure out how you can actually get money out of your account.  ETS: 2:45
  7. Wake up at 4:00 to the dogs barking right outside your window, a nightly occurrence.  ETS: 4:20
  8. Finally, sleep until the morning!

Sleep is over-rated.  -Sarah Mather, circa junior year of high school

09 December 2010

My Trip To Francistown

Or, Why I’m Superstitious

Or, Relying on the Kindness of Strangers 

It always amazes me at how slow people can walk – especially on busy sidewalks.  I was crossing a pedestrian bridge at the Gaborone bus station with a heavy duffel bag (and I had packed light this time) at 11:57.  Buses from Gabs to Francistown leave every half hour, but with a five-hour trip ahead of me I wanted to catch the earliest one possible.

Dodging between meandering couples and single mothers who should look into using leashes to control their children, I managed to get on a bus on its way out of the station.  Literally, the driver stopped the bus in the middle of the road so I could throw my bag underneath and then climb aboard.  What luck! I thought.  There were even empty seats so I didn’t have to stand.

As I settled into my seat, I thought about a time when I had been on a bus that broke down in Pennsylvania and we had to wait for a replacement bus to be sent.  I’ve never heard of a bus breaking down in Botswana, and I wondered what they would do if it did.  These thoughts were quickly pushed aside when I realized that I had, in my haste to board, left my lunch and all my reading material in my duffel underneath the bus.  Cue tears.  (In my defense, I hadn’t eaten since dinner the previous evening.  And the trouble I had even finding something to eat for lunch is a blog entry in itself.)

Two and half hours into the ride, we made our first stop at a village called Mahalapye (mah-hah-lah’-pay).  I asked a woman to save my seat and dashed out to get my lunch (of nutritious potato chips).  Crisis averted… or so I thought.  Not ten minutes out of the station, the bus slows down and pulls over to the side of the road.  The driver gets out of his seat to look at the engine while men get out of their seats to go pee by the side of the road.  Minor setback, I assumed, and continued reading my book.

Five minutes later an announcement is made in Setswana.  The girl sitting behind me taps me on the shoulder and translates that they are going to replace the fan belt.  Ten minutes more of waiting, another Setswana announcement, and my new friend tells me that they don’t have the tools to fix the bus so we’ll have to get some of our money back and hitchhike, or wait for another bus to be sent.

“What are you going to do?” I ask her.

“Probably hike to Palapye and then get on a bus from there to Francistown.  You can come with me if that would be okay.”

“That would be great.”

The girl’s name is Dorica, and I’m halfway convinced she’s my guardian angel.  She managed to flag down a car to bring us to Palapye, then flag down another car to bring us to Tonota, and then had her boyfriend pick us up and drive us the rest of the way to Francistown.

Hitching, or hiking as they call it here, is extremely common.  People rely on hiking as much as the bus system (which may show you how reliable the buses can be here).  You just stand on the side of the road, stick out your arm, wave around your hand, and if a car has room they will usually pull over.  If you hike, you pay the equivalent of what it would be to take a bus to your destination, which makes it a much more legitimate practice than hitchhiking in the U.S.  In my experience, I haven’t found the culture here to be entirely welcoming of strangers, but hiking proves just how generous Batswana can be.

With all of the setbacks, the entire trip only took me about a half-hour longer than it would have on the bus and was possibly cheaper since Dorica’s boyfriend refused to accept any money for the ride.  I considered it a successful adventure. 

Now that I’ve survived my first bus-breakdown, hopefully I’m safe for the rest of my time here.  Although I’m never, ever jinxing myself by thinking about a breakdown as I board a bus!

Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.  -Oprah Winfrey

08 December 2010

Some Women Like Smoking

Scene: Two Peace Corps volunteers, PACO and TESS, are waiting at the local hitch-hiking post.  A local woman, DINEO, is sitting at a table selling fruit, sweets, and ice pops.  A local man, SMISH, approaches.

Note: Translated from Setswana.

PACO and TESS: Dumela Rra.

SMISH: Le kae?

PACO and TESS: Re teng, Rra.  Le kae?

SMISH: Re teng.  Ke kopa madi.

PACO: Ah, sorry Rra.  I just spent all of my money on ice pops.

SMISH: But I need a smoke.  I have not smoked since this morning.

PACO: You should not smoke Rra!  It is bad for you.

TESS: You will live longer if you do not smoke.

SMISH:  Me, I am 38 years old.  Right now.  I am fine.

PACO: But you never know man, what will happen tomorrow.  If you stop smoking maybe you will live to be 58, or 68.

SMISH: I finished standard 7.  I started smoking and now it is life to me.

TESS: Rra, do you have a wife?


TESS: Women, they do not like smoking. 

TESS mimics vomiting onto the ground.  SMISH stops and thinks with a genuinely concerned look on his face.

SMISH: Some of them do.

PACO: Dineo!  Do women like smoking?

DINEO: Smoking?  Noooo!!

TESS: Ah, Rra!  See?  Ke boamaruri!

SMISH: But some of them do.

End scene.

07 December 2010

World AIDS Day 2010

December 1st is World AIDS Day, and I was lucky enough to be at the Tsetsebjwe Youth Forum for the event.  As I’ve mentioned, the Youth Forum is a week-long camp for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs).

Roughly 150 children attended.  The children are handpicked from schools in the region as those who are the neediest and would most benefit from the event.  Over the week they played games and did activities to build skills such as leadership and to address issues such as child abuse.  They also are provided one-on-one and group counseling when needed.  As with anything here, it was run much differently than a camp in the U.S., but it was still an undeniably great experience for the kids.

On World AIDS Day, the Peace Corps volunteers got to run all the morning activities, which was a great chance for us to step up and take some responsibility.  There were some things we didn’t have control over – such as a sermon in the morning and a half hour of hymn singing.  After that though, we had a candlelight vigil in honor of those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.  The kids were very respectful (even the youngest ones) and it was a really powerful moment. 

After, we showed the students a documentary about a teenager in Botswana, Keitumetse’s House.  It follows a teenager named Keitumetse, who was left the head of the household with two younger brothers after her parents died from AIDS.  Until their death, she had not even been aware that they had the virus.  It shows her struggle to stay in school, her rocky relationship with her brother, and her determination to volunteer in a youth group and keep her family healthy and safe.  After the movie, we lead a discussion.  

In a circle for the candlelight vigil

Two groups then performed dramas (or plays).  The kids all seemed to enjoy them, but to be honest I have no idea what they were about.  I’m definitely not fluent in Setswana yet.  At that point it was lunch time and we closed the World AIDS Day celebrations.

One of the two dramas that were performed

It was nice to hear from all of you back home who were honoring the day and also thinking of me and my students here in Botswana.

The STEPS movie series is a great program to not only educate people on issues of HIV/AIDS, but also to get them talking and, most importantly, encourage them to take the next step and do something about it.  Peace Corps provided training to any volunteers that wanted to become facilitators.  Check it out at: http://steps.co.za

Many people have been fighting for freedom.  I was still young when I heard about Apartheid, and about Mandela fighting for this and that.  I never took it seriously.  Now I believe that as long as we are still living with HIV and there is nothing done about it, we are not free.  We must go on fighting.  –Busi, from A Luta Continua, a STEPS movie

06 December 2010

Living "The Lion King"

Or, My First Safari

Picture it: Maun, Botswana. Late November, 2010.  The clouds hang heavy in the sky, ready to open at any moment and unleash a tempest.  Seven Peace Corps volunteers head out into the bush on their very first safari.  One of those volunteers… was me.

Okay, enough with the dramatics (although you get ten points if you understood the reference).  Last weekend a group of volunteers went out with a great guide to Chobe National Park to see some animals.  It ended up being a weekend of laughs, amazement, and pure terror.

It all started out regularly enough – we set up camp by the truck’s headlights and started a campfire to cook dinner over.  Then, as we finished eating, there was a loud noise behind me.  Oh, you know, it was just a hyena.  Ten feet away.  Wanting my food.  No big deal.  We fell asleep in our tents that night to a lullaby of lions calling across the bush to their tribes. 

The next day started out great with ostriches, zebras, baby wildebeests, and giraffes, not to mention dozens of birds.  Already I was content, but Botswana was not through with me.  In fact, it had not even begun.

A baby wildebeest, getting breakfast from its momma

We drove past a tree and it looked like there was a log or something underneath it.  Pretty normal.  Actually, no, it was a waterbuck carcass.  The interesting thing about waterbucks is that they have a white ring on their backside, so they literally have a target on their butt.  Alwyn, our guide, backtracked the open truck to investigate and we found two lionesses resting underneath the tree.

Yes, we were this insanely close to the lionesses

Lions eat roughly every four days, and they never know when their next meal is coming, so when they make a kill they completely gorge themselves.  After eating, they’re so full that they just lay in the shade and concentrate on trying to breathe.  Seriously – their stomachs expand so much that it presses against their lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

Lioness: I'm... soooo..... fulll....

We sat watching them pant for awhile and, resolving to return later, continued on our way.  We saw a pond full of hippos, which really means that we saw a pond with a bunch of hippo noses, ears, and eyes sticking out of the water.  There were times when the hippos would stand up and let their backs come out of the water and they are huge animals.  They’re actually very territorial (and thus kill the most people out of any animal in Africa) and they were warning us not to get any closer.  I was happy to oblige.

You can't really see the hippos, but they're there, I promise!

After that we ran into an elephant!  Need I say more?  He was precious and perfect.  I wanted to give him a big ol’ hug.  Now that I’ve seen one in its natural habitat, my life is complete.

Hello, I am an elephant and therefore perfect in every way
After lunch back at camp, we headed out again for another game drive and saw more elephants, giraffes, zebras, and baby warthogs.

Bebe Zebra on the right

The Botswana sky is massive and absolutely beautiful

This is the grandmomma elephant, who takes care of the herd.
When her ears stick out like that, it means GET AWAY!

I am totally inspired by the lushness of giraffes' eyelashes

'ello croc!
A little before sunset, we returned to the lionesses.  They were still half-eating/half-lounging, and calling to their tribe to let them know there was food available.  They looked so comatose I felt compelled to get out of the truck and give them a belly rub (that always makes me feel better after feasting).  That’s when we saw it in the distance – a hyena, lions’ eternal enemy.  He was scoping out the food prospects.  The lions weren’t worrying about the lil guy just yet, but Alwyn decided to drive our truck to a better position to watch.  He turned the car on, pressed the gas, and – ka-KLUNK.  Yes, folks, you got it.  We had a flat tire.

Our very flat tire

Complicating matters, we couldn’t get out of the truck to fix the tire.  The thing about lions is they view safari trucks as one huge animal that’s not worth attacking, which is why we could get so close.  However, if you make too much movement or get out of the truck, they realize you can be eaten.  Also, it’s against the law in Botswana for guides or anyone else to carry a gun, even for protection.

So you see our dilemma:  On one side, there are lionesses, in the distance there’s a hyena, the rest of the tribe is being called for dinner, and we are a truck full of hors d’oeuvres right in the middle.

This is what we were up against

Well, I think.  At least the lionesses are so full that they probably can’t even move.  No real danger.

That’s when one of the lionesses decided the hyena was too close for comfort.  She leapt up onto all fours, crouching, and crept through the tall grass – straight at our truck.  None of us dared to breathe.  Luckily she walked around us and continued to track the hyena instead of the humans, but so much for my “too full to move” theory.

Turns out that we didn’t have everything we needed to fix the flat tire, so with night quickly approaching, Alwyn decided to just drive back to camp rather than test our luck with the lionesses.  It was a long, slow, bumpy drive, and I was really happy to be back.

The next morning we had more lion luck and ran into two lions eating what the lionesses had left them.  They really are beautiful – the morning light seems to turn their manes into pure gold.  However, the beauty was fleeting as we then spent an hour watching them tear into a fly-infested carcass, blood and muscles spewing out everywhere.  Let me tell you, it didn’t smell too great either.  Ugh.



My friend Ross grabbed the carcass while the lions went for a stroll.
"Guys, it touched my leg.  The spinal cord touched my leg.  It was warm."

Sadly, it was time to head home.  On our way out we saw a momma ostrich with roughly twenty babies!  It was a cute, harmless ending to my first safari.

Baby ostriches running away from our truck, after their momma
completely abandoned them and ran away herself

I know I’m leaving out stories (like when the grandmomma elephant got mad at us for driving too close, and when one of the lionesses looked like she was going to attack us, but then she just farted).  All I can say is – get yourself to Botswana and check it out for yourself!

[If you would like a more detailed account of the safari and more pictures, check out my friend’s blog: http://fromwanderingsabroad.blogspot.com]