26 March 2012

Morning in Botswana

When people talk about Africa, they almost always mention the sunsets.  There’s a reason for that – the sunsets are breathtaking, with colors more vibrant than if it had been painted.  My favorite time of day, however, is the early morning. 

I love that in my time here I have gotten on the earth’s schedule.  When the sun goes down, I get sleepy, and when it rises I am ready to greet the day as well.

I love the breeze that comes in my door as I get ready for work. The heat of Botswana can be stifling, even throughout the night, but when I wake up and open my front door, it’s a breath of fresh air in every sense.

I love that the sounds of morning, which were once so foreign and jarring, are now the backdrop to my life.  Chickens and their babies clucking, chirping, and scratching at the ground for breakfast.  The dogs taking a friendly morning romp on the grass outside my window.  The birds that live in my roof haphazardly flying into my wind-chime.  Katlo, my host cousin, running back and forth across the family compound as he gets ready for school.  And let me not forget the roosters incessantly crowing from all sides.  These sounds have, mercifully, replaced the noise of cars, trucks, and television in my morning routine.

I love the walk to school.  The sun has just come over the top of the acacia trees and it bathes everything in rose and golden hues.  Lizards, ants, and mice scamper in the grasses on either side of the path and the breeze that came through my door now ruffles the tree tops.  As I walk past the primary school the students wave to me and giggle when I respond in kind.

So yes, African sunsets are beautiful and mesmerizing.  But there is nothing like a Botswana morning to clear the mind and prepare for the day ahead.

22 March 2012

Meeting the President

Or, My Close-of-Service Conference

Peace Corps service is marked by various trainings and conferences: two months of Pre-Service Training, then two weeks of In-Service Training, then Mid-Service Training halfway through, and finally a Close-of-Service Conference when there are only three months left.

March 12 – 14 was my training group’s Close-of-Service Conference, and I have to say it was my favorite conference by far.

We stayed at Phakalane Golf Resort – a.k.a. the nicest hotel in all of Botswana.  The food was delicious and the rooms were nicely and uniquely decorated.  There was an infinity pool that looked out over a pond and the golf course. 

Most of the sessions in the conference were about the future.  We reviewed the process of ending our service at site, using our Non-Competitive Eligibility for government jobs, and how to share our experiences when we get home (among other things).  For our first night, they arranged a game drive at nearby Mokolodi Game Reserve followed by a braai, or barbecue. 

The next day was a formal luncheon.  All volunteers were allowed to invite two guests from their villages, but there were also many VIPs present – the Minister of Health, representatives from the Ministry of Local Government, as well as officers from the Ministry of Education and others.

I had been chosen as one of four volunteers to give a speech in Setswana at the luncheon, in front of all the honored guests.  This made me very, very nervous.  As if that wasn’t enough, I found out the morning of the luncheon that the Tautona wa pele, Former President Rre Festus G. Mogae was going to be in attendance!  Can you imagine?  That is like, Bill Clinton status! 

Needless to say, my palms were sweaty and I felt a bit nauseous leading up to my speech.  I couldn’t even focus on what other people were saying.  Lucky for me, all those years of acting really pulled through and I spoke better at the luncheon than any time that I had practiced.  (Daniel took a video of my speech.  If the quality is good enough, I’ll post it here in a few weeks.)

This was already an honor.  But then a woman from The Daily News, the government newspaper, came over and asked to take my picture with President Mogae!  She asked me because I was wearing a traditional dress.  Two days later, my picture was in the paper, in color, shaking hands with President Mogae.  I even had my left hand on my right forearm, following proper traditional Setswana culture.

It was one of the most special moments of my time here in Botswana and my life in general.  It might even beat meeting Michelle Obama.  What a way to end my service!

President Mogae and myself

Shaking hands

The following day we took one last group picture and said our goodbyes.  For some reason, it didn’t hit me that this would be the last time I’d see many people – not only the last time in Botswana, but likely for the rest of our lives.  I know that the people who have become my family here will certainly always be in my life, but it’s unrealistic to think I will keep in contact with everyone.  It felt a bit like high school graduation.

So here I am, with 78 days left of a life-changing experience.  While meeting two famous, influential people are some of my favorite memories, they barely scratch the surface of what the past two years have been like.

Daniel and me, of course
Why Former President Rre Festus G. Mogae is special to Peace Corps:
Peace Corps has been in Botswana since the 1960s.  But, as I mentioned before, the country made such amazing progress, Peace Corps pulled out, no longer needed.  Then, when the AIDS epidemic struck, it threatened to undo all of the progress Botswana had made.  President Mogae asked for Peace Corps to return strictly to address this health issue, and thus he is the reason we are here. 

I especially admire President Mogae because he stood up for what was right even when his peers were not.  When the AIDS epidemic struck, the leaders of countries surrounding Botswana (such as South Africa and Zimbabwe) refused to acknowledge HIV.  They would not accept help nor direct social/health initiatives to educate and inform their people.  President Mogae, however, saw HIV for what it was – a fatal disease – and took prompt action to ensure a healthier future for his country.  I can’t imagine the pressure he must have been under, and the strength it took for him to be the lone leader.

03 March 2012

Fry His Face Off

Today I met with my favorite group of girls.  We were working on a play for the English club to perform when the Minister of Education comes to Motswakhumo in two weeks.  I brought some magazines and school supplies for them, and we ended up hanging out much longer than we worked.

What I love about spending time with small groups of students (especially chatty teen girls) is that it allows for us to share experiences, ideas and opinions.  We talked about discrimination, current events (...Beyonce and Jay-Z's new baby), stereotypes, overbearing parents, drug and alcohol abuse, peer pressure, and of course, boys.

The girls started talking about polygamy.  They didn't agree with the practice, claiming that they wouldn't want to "share" their husband.  I said that my problem with polygamy is that often men are allowed to take multiple wives, but women cannot take multiple husbands.  Tshireletso (the quietest girl, but who really says something when she speaks) agreed with me, saying that it is discrimination against women.

The mention of polygamy brought up the issue of multiple concurrent partnerships that happens extremely often in Botswana.  Judy, one of my new favorites, burst out in a very passionate monologue (please roll your "r"s when reading it in your head):

"If I find out that my husband is cheating on me, oh, I will tell you what I will do.  I will buy 2 litres of oil, and I will boil it, and I will frrrrrrrrry his face off!  Then when he goes to see that other women she will say, 'Ah-ah!  I cannot be with you looking like that.'  And he will come home to me and I will tell him, 'No one will ever love you like I do.  So don't cheat on me ever again.'"

Judy sat back with a smirk on her face as we all were laughing, then continued, "Yes, that is what I would do.  I would frrrry his face."

Obviously I can't condone violence to my protégées, but it was the funniest thing I've heard in quite awhile.

[The girls told me that apparently, throwing boiling water on a cheating husband is relatively common in Botswana.  If the husband then seeks justice at the kgotla (traditional court), they will basically tell him that he got what he deserved.  I've never heard of that before today though!]

24 February 2012

My Brother

My brother’s name is Herrence Modo.  He is a handsome boy with big ears, light in complexion and short in height.  Herrence is eleven years old, he is doing standard five at Tlhabologo Primary School at Gaborone West.

He is clever.  He usually performs with grade A and B at school.  His favourite subject is Mathematics and his favourite food are noodles, cake, hot wings, and instant porridge.  Herrence like to play with toys, tv game, play cricket and playing racing cars on a computer.  His role model is my uncle.  A pet that he like most is a dog.  He is so clever like a dictionary that he could help me with some difficult words.  Herrence is a person who is active in everything that he does, and he is not as lazy as I am.  He likes to help my mother to do some things like sweeping, cooking and washing clothes.  And he is a person who likes to do good things that will benefit him in life.

I like my brother because he is a responsible person, he is as handsome as a fresh banana and he always obey his parents and his sister, who is me.

By Ofinah K. Modo, Form 2 Student

[In English club I like to have writing workshops every now and then.  Some of the students' work is cute, funny, and/or impressive, so I'm sharing it with you.  Keep in mind that English is these students' second, third, or even fourth language.  I am posting these exactly as written, including misspellings and other grammar/language mistakes.]

20 February 2012

The Real Queen

They all sat on the seat
That my grandmother owned
But they all vacated the seat
To find a proper place to sit
Because the seat was not suitable for them to own
For the real queen was born
My only sweet loving grandmother

Short as an infant’s shoe
Quick as a gun shot
Strong as a Mahindra truck
Funny as a qualified comedian
Always smiling like a bride on her wedding day
Proudly showing her missing teeth
With that twinkle in her eye
Which shines like a diamond

Some people confuse her to be American
But she is a real African queen
A queen who most hate
But loves all
Her light colour reminds many
Of the Asian princesses
Even her greatest enemies
Have turned up to be her best friends
Because they just can’t resist her beauty
Her god given beauty
The only queen in Africa
My Grandmother!

By Tsaone Garegae, Form 3 Student

[In English club I like to have writing workshops every now and then.  Some of the students' work is cute, funny, and/or impressive, so I'm sharing it with you.  Keep in mind that English is these students' second, third, or even fourth language.  I am posting these exactly as written, including misspellings and other grammar/language mistakes.]

18 February 2012


Life is sweet
Life is adorable
Life is expectable
In life there are no
Second chances
Once you die you will
No longer live again
You will die forever
So once God
Gives you a chance to live
Take care of it

By Agnes Leteane, Form 2 Student

[In English club I like to have writing workshops every now and then.  Some of the students' work is cute, funny, and/or impressive, so I'm sharing it with you.  Keep in mind that English is these students' second, third, or even fourth language.  I am posting these exactly as written, including misspellings and other grammar/language mistakes.]

17 February 2012

Preparing for International Women’s Day

Every year, worldwide, the month of March is dedicated to women – more specifically, to the pursuit of gender equality and women’s empowerment.  March 8th is the particular day for celebrating these efforts.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is: Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.  Quite fitting, considering some of the projects I’ve been involved in over the past year.  I’ve had my girls’ club, and they have all become fast friends.  In fact, every single one of them was just elected to the Student Representative Council (I was so proud).  Also, with the help of CDC, we piloted a new life skills program at my school, which was all about identifying with your future self, in order to make better choices today.

To commemorate the day, my counterpart (the senior teacher of guidance and counseling) and I are disseminating information to every student through our “weekly theme.”  On Thursday, March 8, at our house assemblies, students will present on the information we’ve given them.

The more fun commemoration will come on Saturday.  I’ve been working with a women’s group called Mma Sechaba (Mother of the Community).  We’re going to organize a march starting at the kgotla, marching through the village, and ending up at the junior school (my school).  We will then have an afternoon of refreshments, music, and sports and games.  We’re going to do relay races (I’m pulling for three-legged and wheelbarrow races), football games, and netball (similar to basketball) games.  While men and women, girls and boys will be participating in the march, the games are only open to women and girls, to let everyone know that the ladies can kick some ass, too.

I want to take this post a step further.
I want to encourage you, my dear readers, to do something about International Women’s Day. 

To the right of my page, I have a graph of Women’s Day planned activities around the world.  Please go to the website, look at what’s good, and get involved!  If you’re in an urban center, there’s probably something being planned.  If you’re not – take the initiative!  Post something on your facebook/twitter/other ridiculous social media, put flyers and posters out at your workplace, call your family, send a mass email, or if you’re a girl – have a sleepover and talk about all the amazing things you will do with your lives (while braiding each others’ hair)! 

Really into the idea?  Hold a fundraiser of some kind and donate the money you raise to your favorite women’s empowerment non-profit organization or UN Women USA.

The ABCs of Fundraising*:

Afternoon tea/morning tea: have your family, friends or fellow students bring a plate of food and charge an entry fee to all participants.
Artwork sale or auction: hold an exhibit for your family, friend or work colleagues to showcase and sell the artwork created by their own family and school community.
BBQ: hold a BBQ at your school or for friends and family and charge an entry fee or charge for each item consumed.
Benefit performance: organize a concert in your school hall where students perform and charge an entry fee.
Caption competition: get a photo of your school principal or your boss doing something unusual and charge for participants to submit a caption.
Casual day: hold a casual day at your school or workplace and charge each of those who join in.
Contacts: Write to your family, friends and contacts asking them to support International Women’s Day by making a donation

Most importantly, celebrate being a woman or having women in your life, and all the women around the world who work so hard but never get recognized for it.


16 February 2012

My Self

My name is Refilwe Simane.  I am a girl who is short and clever.  I live in Mahetlwe but I board in Motswakhumo Junior Secondary School.

I am cool like a cool cat.  I like to pass my exam very much.  When I was doing standard seven I was take number 1*.  When I tell my mother that she smile with white teeth that look like a snow.

I have improved to speak English when I meet my friend.  She told me that practice makes perfect.  I also like English.  Nowadays when I speak English I speak it like Africans.

I want to be English teacher when I grow up.

By Refilwe Simane, Form 1 Student

*Taking "number 1" means that she got the best grades in her class.

[In English club I like to have writing workshops every now and then.  Some of the students' work is cute, funny, and/or impressive, so I'm sharing it with you.  Keep in mind that English is these students' second, third, or even fourth language.  I am posting these exactly as written, including misspellings and other grammar/language mistakes.]

12 February 2012

Story About My Mother

There are many people who I love but my mother is the only one I love more than everything.  I met her when I was born at the hospital.  She learned me how to talk and read.  I remember the day she wakes me up to go to bath doing that with her all love and smile.  Oh! my mother is genius.

My mother raised me by her own but she gives me all I need.  She is a caring and loving person.  When I have school work and I don’t understand she helps me peacefully.  When it is my birthday party she buys me some cake then I can invite my friends.  But when she don’t have money to buy some cake she gives me something or she sings me birthday song.  At Christmas day we had lot of fun because we were sitting together having a delicious food and drinks.

I love my mother because she gave me sense of belonging, she is my heart and my soul, she gave my freedom to participate in class, I understand things at school because of her and she is source of pride and self-image.

By Gaamangwe Montshiwa, Form 2 Student

[In English club I like to have writing workshops every now and then.  Some of the students' work is cute, funny, and/or impressive, so I'm sharing it with you.  Keep in mind that English is these students' second, third, or even fourth language.  I am posting these exactly as written, including misspellings and other grammar/language mistakes.]

10 February 2012

English Club Members

There are so many English members in the library
They are wearing their school uniform

They are with their beautiful teachers
I like to be an English member so that I can be able to say anything in English

I would like to encourage English members to go on with their club.

I am so happy about what I have seen in the library. 
Many students in the library are smiling.

There are many books in the library.

By Kagiso Jelankoo, Form 1 Student

[In English club I like to have writing workshops every now and then.  Some of the students' work is cute, funny, and/or impressive, so I'm sharing it with you.  Keep in mind that English is these students' second, third, or even fourth language.  I am posting these exactly as written, including misspellings and other grammar/language mistakes.]

Adventures in Corporal Punishment

Note: This post has been a long time in the making.  Peace Corps volunteers are instructed encouraged to only write about positive things, or to write about negative things in a positive way.  However, this is an issue that makes it increasingly harder for me to be engaged and motivated at work.  In fact, it’s an issue that makes me not even want to go to work.  I trust that my readers know all the wonderful things about Botswana and will not let this aspect of the culture taint their opinion of the country and its people.

Today during morning assembly, in a classroom behind us, I heard a repetitive “thwack, thwack, thwack.”  I instinctively knew what it was, but in a rare optimistic moment I chose to believe otherwise.  After five minutes, I couldn’t stand it anymore and peeked around the lockers to find: a teacher beating his students.  Without knowing (or caring) the students’ supposed infractions, I turned to the group of teachers next to me and declared, “I am not going to stand here while he beats students.  It’s disgusting.”

They laughed at me. 

“And you know what?  It’s not funny either.  It’s horrible,” I replied.  Then, in typical Tess fashion, I tossed my hair and stormed off, doing my best haughty runway walk.

I might have been abler to take this episode in stride, had I not experienced something similar yesterday.

Yesterday was one of those sporadic occasions where I was early to work.  Homeroom and attendance starts at 7:30, but this day I walked onto the school compound around 7:10.  Students were dashing toward the front gate, which confused me – school didn’t start for 20 minutes.  One of the HODs (Head Of Department) had students in a line, and he was taking a long, thin stick and beating each one on his back for being “late.”  Yes, you read that right.  Being 20 minutes early for school is a punishable offense.  Not to mention, many of these children are orphans, impoverished, and taking care of multiple younger siblings.  I often wonder if the teachers ever consider how difficult it must be to take care of three young children, then walk a full 45 minutes to school and still be on time.

I covered my ears (the sound of stick against skin makes me sick) and yelled at him, “But it’s only 7:10!” and briskly walked to the staff room.  Want to know how many teachers were at work?  One.  I doubt anyone was beating them for being late.

The fact is that you can’t escape corporal punishment in Botswana.  There is a quote from the Bible that people here use as a defense: Spare the rod and spoil the child.  (Thanks a lot, Jesus.)  It is used at home and at school, and more often than not parents feel that their children probably deserve whatever punishment they are given at school.

The worst case of corporal punishment I’ve experienced happened last year.  A random locker check revealed that some students had alcohol, knives, condoms, and dagga (weed) in their lockers.  Stupid?  Yes.  Illegal?  Yes.  So the school got the Kgosi (the chief) involved in their discipline.  The way these adults decided to handle it was to hold a special assembly for the entire student body.  The Kgosi brought a stick almost the width and length of a cane and beat the students, one by one, until they bled.  He then used that same stick, without cleaning it, on the next student.  Because, obviously, in a country with a 30% HIV rate, it’s really smart to be mixing people’s blood.

I didn’t see the beatings – I learned of them from the other teachers.  As soon as I understood what was going to happen, I tried to talk to the school head, to tell her that this wasn’t the best way to handle the situation, but she blatantly ignored me, and so I left.  I live a fifteen-minute walk away from the school, and I could hear the students yelling and jeering at their unfortunate peers’ all the way up to my front door – like some kind of perverted carnival, or a 16th-century hanging in the town square.  It made me literally nauseous, and I boycotted work the rest of the week.

But why, if the teachers, parents, and local authorities feel it’s okay, am I so adamantly against corporal punishment?

The students of Motswakhumo do not perform well academically.  Our pass rate for the entire school is around 50%, even though getting a 50% on an exam is considered passing.  Kids don’t want to come to school.  I’m not blaming corporal punishment for the students’ low grades (there are a hundred other factors) but I do think that in order for youth to thrive they need to feel safe in their environment.  It’s hard to feel safe when teachers walk around carrying sticks, and can beat students at their own discretion, whether it’s an incident of bullying or a student being punished because someone stole his notebook (true story).

More relevantly, I find it completely against my moral principles.  There is no scientific proof that corporal punishment works.  It’s just a way for teachers to use students as a sounding-board for their frustration and as a show of power.  It honestly kills me inside to work at a school where teachers demand respect from students that they then refuse to return.

I’ve had some minor successes on the issue.  Some teachers have come up to me and started a discussion on how things are different in America.  (Note: in these discussions, I always start off by saying that in some states, corporal punishment is still legal.)  One of my favorite teachers, Mr. Kgogobi, has stopped using the method, and when I see him with a stick he assures me, “I am only carrying it to scare them – I don’t beat.”  When I see a teacher going to beat a child, I ask him or her if she has filled out all the proper paperwork and submitted it to the head teacher, which usually stops them in their tracks (or if not, at least shows the students that there is protocol that the teachers should be following).  After the horrible incident last year, one of the HODs apologized to me at the staff briefing.  Although it was a fake apology – “we’re sorry that you were offended” – at least I brought some awareness.

Despite these few, small steps, I’m pretty hopeless that there will be true change.  Teachers ask me how I was disciplined as a child, and I explain to them about after-school detention, suspension, and community service.  But teachers won’t agree to supervise detention or community service without extra pay, of which there’s no chance of getting.  And suspension?  Students would only be too happy not to have to go to school – and their families would be relieved to have extra help around the house.

I suppose this gives a bleak outlook on the situation, but I don’t really see a way that I can sugarcoat it.  People beat children because they were beaten as children, and until a whole generation decides to change its ways, the stick will always be the first method of discipline.

08 February 2012

My Favourite Teacher

A middle-aged woman who has a tiny bright eyes.  Light in complexion with bright, long shiny hair.  This is my beloved teacher.

While it is her day, she came shining with smile.  She teach us happily without any fear.  She know herself as she know her subject, also what she have to teach.

This teacher’s name is called Ms. Mookinyana.  She love us as she love her children.

I would like to pass her subject with Merit that she will be surprised.  I would like her to live a long savely life.

By Lorato Sebopiwa, Form 1 student

*Side note - Ms. Mookinyana is my best friend here in Botswana!

[In English club I like to have writing workshops every now and then.  Some of the students' work is cute, funny, and/or impressive, so I'm sharing it with you.  Keep in mind that English is these students' second, third, or even fourth language.  I am posting these exactly as written, including misspellings and other grammar/language mistakes.]

06 February 2012

Poem About English

English! English you are the real light
A light to life
We use you in every subject except Setswana

You are the real light
We are taught English in every school,
No matter it is a Tswana medium,
A Portuguese medium or Afrikaans

You are the real light
Even students to go to senior schools
Teachers look to their performance on English
You are the chief of chiefs
A real chief

English a success to life

By Ofinah K. Modo, form 2 student

[In English club I like to have writing workshops every now and then.  Some of the students' work is cute, funny, and/or impressive, so I'm sharing it with you.  Keep in mind that English is these students' second, third, or even fourth language.  I am posting these exactly as written, including misspellings and other grammar/language mistakes.]

05 February 2012

What Does Your Name Mean?

There is an adage in Setswana: Leina lebe seromo.  It is the idea that a person's name will mould and shape his or her life.

Due to this cultural belief, parents name their children extremely literally.  There are the nice ones you would expect, like Lesego, Masego (both meaning lucky), Lorato (love), and Neo, Mpho, Dineo, Dimpho ( all meaning gift/gifts).  Another common name is variations of __me: Wame, Bame, Sesame, all basically meaning "mine."  Sesame (pronounced say-SAH-may) literally means "something that is mine."

Here are some other Setswana names and meanings:

Mothusi - helper
Mothati - a strong person
Tebo - vision
Bokamoso - future
Thuto - education
Bontle - beautiful
Dikitso - information
Khumo - riches
Thuso - help

One of my favorite students is named Atlanang, meaning "hugs," which I've always found sweet.

A particularly funny name I heard came from a colleague.  She has a daughter and a baby boy.  Her daughter's name is Ao (pronounced ah-oh, but in one syllable, almost like "ow"), which isn't actually a word but rather a noise made when someone is shocked, surprised, or offended - "Ao! Rra, what kind of girl do you think I am?!" etc.  I can imagine my friend finding out she is pregnant and exclaiming, "Ao!" and then deciding to just name her kid that.  To top it off, her son's name is Bao, as if she was too tired by a second pregnancy to come up with a new name, so she just added a "B."

Names can even be taken to more literal extremes than the Ao/Bao incident.  Many children are named Mosimanegape or Mosetsanagape - long names which mean "boy again" and "girl again" respectively.  I've heard of someone being named Botlhoko (pain) and I assume his mother had a long, arduous birthing process.

My dear friend Lily's middle name is Kebatho, literally meaning "it's a person."  When Lily was born, her father was upset to have a girl instead of a boy.  Lily's mother, however, cherished her, and gave her the middle name Kebatho to remind her father and everyone that women are people, too.

In all my time in Botswana, my favorite name that I've heard is Serati, pronounced "say-RAH-tee."  It means "something that I love," which seems like a very precious and thoughtful meaning, and it is a unique name here in Botswana.  When I first heard it, I thought I had found my future daughter's own name, but I can only imagine how Americans would manage to mispronounce it.

All in all, names are generally given thoughtfully and with love here.  It's a lovely sentiment to name your child after what you hope his or her future will bring.

...Unfortunately, I don't think it would ever work in the States - can you imagine meeting someone named "Education"?!

04 February 2012

It Is So Hot

It is so hot in Botswana…

…I walk around under an umbrella.
…the water coming out of my “cold” tap is boiling hot.
…makeup literally melts down my face.
…despite being a self-proclaimed sun worshiper, I haven’t laid out in over a year.
…I cuddle up next to ice packs after work.
…wet clothes on the line take less than an hour to dry.
…my friend and I were commenting one day that it didn’t seem very hot. We then found out the temperature was 98 degrees.
…the only time it’s cool enough to exercise is 4:30am.
…when strangers come onto my family compound, the dogs don't even care enough to move.
…drinking 5 liters of water per day still isn’t enough to keep me hydrated.
…cooking dinner on the stove is enough to make sweat drip down my face.
…I sleep naked!