26 May 2011


Throughout my life I’ve held on to this belief that spring is the best season of all – the temperature warms, there are spring showers, my birthday happens, school simultaneously rushes toward final exams and slows to a snail’s pace with vacation looming, and there’s this feeling of life’s renewal.

But as picturesque as it sounds, there is just something about fall that makes it truly the best season of all.  Now that autumn is upon the southern hemisphere, I’m reminded of the things I love best.

June is considered the windy month in Botswana, and the past few days have certainly held this true.  The wind rushing through trees’ leaves is so loud I thought it was the patter of raindrops.  Despite the warm sun bravely trying to dispel the chill, stepping outside of my house makes goosebumps prickle up and down my arms.  Dry crunchy leaves scatter and swirl around my feet as I hang my laundry.  The nights are frigid but the weight and comfort of three blankets allows me to sleep better than I have for months.

And my favorite part of autumn: the scent of the air.  I step outside my house and it just smells like fall.  I love it.

Cold seasons get a bad rep.  People are quick to tout summer as the best out there, but really, are short shorts and tube tops the best we got?  Please.  Give me a pashmina scarf and black blazer any day.

So I’ll admit it: I love autumn!  Bring it on, Mother Nature.

Delicious autumn!  My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.  –George Eliot

22 May 2011

Sunday Series: Appliances I Miss, Part Two

Part Two: Kitchen Sink (and Dishwasher)

I could’ve guessed before I left for Botswana that I would miss a dishwasher.  Doing dishes by hand is one of my least favorite tasks in the world (wait… did I say that about laundry too?)  But seriously, there’s a reason I never took a job as a waitress.  Dirty dishes gross me out.

However, upon arriving at my house, I was a bit surprised: “Okay, electricity? Check.  Indoor bathroom?  Check.  Kitchen?  Che---wait!  Where’s the sink?”  For all the other amenities I am lucky to have, a kitchen sink is not one of them.

So if I thought washing dishes before wasn’t fun, they certainly haven’t gotten any more pleasant.  First, I heat up boiling water in my electric kettle, and pour it into a plastic tub.  I used to set this tub on my kitchen counter, but it meant washing all my dishes, setting them aside, then re-filling the tub with fresh water and rinsing all of them.  This made for a soapy mess on my counter and a longer-than-necessary project.

So now, though it took a few trial-and-error sessions, I have found the most efficient method for me.  The only running water is in my bathroom, but the bathroom sink is far too small to use.  Thus I put the dishes tub in my bathtub, use the tub faucet to rinse, and then bring my dishes into the kitchen to dry.  It’s a lot of walking back and forth but luckily my house is small.  The only nuisance with this method is that not only do I have to wash my dishes, but then I have to wash my bathtub.  But, I guess at least it stays clean. 

I realize now that I’ve typed this out how weird and unsanitary this must seem to anyone back home in the States.  But a girl’s gotta do what girl’s gotta do.  And hey, I am in the Peace Corps, right?  

17 May 2011

Emaciation is Not Equivalent to Beauty

One important lesson that women can learn from living in Africa is that beauty truly comes in all sizes.

My friends and the women in my village all have different body types: from those that are stick thin to those that take up half of my seat on the bus when they sit next to me.  Since I grew up in a non-diverse town, it took me by surprise when I first arrived to see women with huge behinds or huge chests – sometimes both.  I’ve also seen women with such a perfect hourglass shape that even I can’t help but staring (where are their ribs?!).

In America, a person’s weight is constantly being judged.  While I feel this is especially true for women, it affects men too.  Those that are considered “overweight” or (heaven forbid) “obese” are often followed by the connotations of “lazy,” “slob,” or “unattractive.”  Is this horribly wrong?  Absolutely, but is it the truth?  Unfortunately yes.

In Botswana (and I would wager many other African countries), larger women are considered beautiful.  Men here love nothing more than “junk in the trunk.”  One of my good friends here got teased mercilessly as a child for being too skinny.  When I first arrived, my host mother would urge me 4, 5, 6 times per meal to eat more.  She threatened to call my real mother in America and tell her that I was losing weight.  (Little did she know, I had already called my real mother to celebrate the same fact.)

This doesn’t mean that everything in Botswana is great, of course.  High blood pressure and hypertension are practically epidemics in my village, and many Batswana never eat a nutritionally-balanced meal.  Exercise is slowly becoming more common, although it generally means simply taking a lovely stroll after work.

While I wish I could say that the past year has made me less self-deprecating concerning my appearance, I still obsess over what I eat and how often I workout.  It will take time to undo what American culture has done to its females, but it is absolutely worth noting that here in Botswana, emaciation is not equivalent to beauty.

In some ways – on issues such as homosexuality, gender equality, the education system, etc. – Botswana is behind the U.S. (note: they only achieved independence in 1961).  On issues such as self-worth, materialism, and inner beauty, however, Botswana is ages ahead.

Gold star to Johannesburg Fashion Week 2011’s designer David Tlale, who showcased plus-size models!  Click here to see. (Once on the site, click on "next" to see more.)

15 May 2011

Sunday Series: Appliances I Miss, Part One

Part One: Washing Machine

A year into my service, I’m accustomed to washing my clothes by hand and generally it’s not a chore I mind.  However, you better believe that once I get home I’ll build a shrine around my washing machine.

Here’s how washing clothes goes in Botswana:

1. My landlord likes me to wash my clothes outside rather than in the bathtub.  That’s fine by me, since it gives me an excuse to be out in the sun, working on my tan.  I get my water from one of the taps behind my house.

2. I have a big tub that I fill up with nice, soapy, bubbly water.

3. I put my clothes in and let them soak for 30 minutes.  This makes it much easier to get the dirt out so I don’t have to scrub with my hands so much.  

During training, the only day I could do my laundry was Sunday – we had training sessions 6 days per week.  At this point in time, my hands were still very soft and certainly not used to such abuse.  My knuckles bled for quite a few weeks until I built up calluses.

4. After scrubbing, I rinse my clothes in fresh, clean water in a smaller bucket.

5. Then I hang them up on the line!  

Generally I have so many clothes I have to use my landlord’s clothesline as well.

6. I wash as many clothes as I can before noon.  Now that it's winter and a bit colder, I make sure to hang my clothes for a few hours in the sun to dry.  In the summertime, even my jeans will dry in 1-2 hours in the heat of the day.  

If you know me (or, God forbid, were my roommate at any point in time), you also know that I tend to put off doing laundry for say, oh, months at a time.  I thought this would change because I would have fewer clothes with me in Botswana.  Nope.  I still wait until I have absolutely no clean clothes before I actually get down to doing the laundry.  Some things will never change.

12 May 2011

Does That Make Me a Scab?

Disclaimer: This entry is intended to be an unbiased account of the current workers’ strike in Botswana.  I am in no way attempting to spread my own political opinion on the matter. 

For the past month, all government employees in Botswana have been on a strike.  That includes schools, clinics, social work offices, district AIDS offices, and government offices in the capital, Gaborone.  This is the first strike to happen in Botswana, but it is looking as though it might not be successful.

Government workers have gone years without a pay raise and yet inflation in running rampant in Botswana.  So the strike, which began on April 18, is to demand a 16% salary increase for everyone.  Originally, they had set dates for the strike – exactly two weeks.  However, they then decided that they shouldn’t count non-working days as part of the strike, so it extended into a third week.  When President Sir Seretse Khama Ian Khama still didn’t budge, the workers continued for a fourth week.

There is a strike stipulation that “essential services” must still run, meaning that a few teachers remain at the school to keep order, one or two nurses are keeping the clinic going, and so on.  I am under the impression that those who continue to strike are not receiving pay, but I’m not entirely sure about that.  Regardless, the students have been told to continue attending school and to work on their lessons by themselves or in small groups.  They are still being held accountable (via corporal punishment) for tardiness, misbehavior, etc.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, I try not to do any work on my own – I always try to involve other teachers.  You can imagine how my work came to a halt when all of the teachers suddenly weren’t at school anymore.  Luckily, I have a strong, committed group of students in my YES Club and so I decided to meet with them during their long hours of not having class.

We have done a variety of things – game days, silent reading time (I busted out D.E.A.R. from second grade: Drop Everything And Read!), spelling bees, study time, tutoring time, learn-about-America time, learn-how-to-use-an-Encyclopedia time, hang out time… well, by the end of week 3 I was really running out of things to do.

While perusing the library shelves during D.E.A.R. time, I came across Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl.  It seemed like a book the kids would really enjoy, so the next day I got a small-ish group together and read the book aloud, complete with different silly voices for all the characters.  Needless to say, they loved it.  I’m not sure children here ever get read to, and if they do, I doubt it’s a “dramatic reenactment” the likes of which I put on. 

It was such a success that I got a set of James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, both also by Roald Dahl, from a fellow volunteer.  Now the kids can share books and follow along.  I tried to get everyone to take turns reading a page, but they really love hearing my voices and seeing my expressions.  What can I say?  You can take a prima donna away from the stage, but you can’t take the stage away from a prima donna.  It’s been such a success that I hope to continue with this small group as an impromptu book club.

There are rumors that everyone will return to work on Monday, regardless of a pay raise or not.  It would certainly be a relief for the students who are bored to tears and extremely worried about exams.  I’m looking forward to getting back to my normal schedule… just hopefully with a little more Roald Dahl this time.