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.