Like a friend and fellow volunteer once said to me, many people leave well paying, horribly lit cubicle jobs to join the Peace Corps, and are disappointed when they arrive to the same fluorescent environment in a foreign country. People don’t join the Peace Corps to become “Cube Dwellers.”

That’s why my job is new. Revamped. New to me, new to Peace Corps, and new to the District AIDS Office where I work. Previously called the “District AIDS Coordinator,” Peace Corps changed the position because A) each District AIDS Office already employs its own District AIDS Coordinator (they head the department) and B) the volunteers in this position used to spend every waking moment inside their office.

Now called the District Community Liaison (sexy, no?), this position needs to be broken-in like a new leather loafer. As one of its first occupants, I’ve been attempting to set precedents and hold my ground so I can defend the main difference between the two positions – that I am to spend half of my time in the office and half of my time out in the community.  From the beginning I knew I had to set the right example so coworkers wouldn’t assume the new PCV is just a slacker.

I arrive at work at 7:30 sharp each morning, dressed in the best PCV work clothes I can muster (ha). On the surface, the DAC Office in FTown is similar to a typical office in America.  I encounter the usual office chatter, people sitting at desks typing on computers, and coworkers calling each other on their respective phone extensions. Of course, the screaming difference being that most of this is done in Setswana. For half the day I attend office meetings, read materials on the current AIDS situation in the district and country, and plan my community work. I always eat lunch at home, and for the other half I venture out into the community. To keep me focused, I’ve taken the list of  ~80 organizations in connection with the District AIDS Office – the NGOs, churches, clinics and other HIV/AIDS affiliated organizations in the community – and walk to four or five of them a week to meet their leaders and become familiar with the layout of the city.

So far it’s worked out splendidly. People are pleasantly surprised to meet me, especially knowing I’m taking time out of my day to introduce myself to them.

The other part of my first three-month plan is to compile all of that contact information and make a public listing on Google Maps.  I want to make one website that will direct people to a map and listing of all of the HIV/AIDS services in the area. The internet is catching on in Botswana, and especially in FTown. All of the corresponding organizations could use it as a referral, and though many people still don’t have internet in their homes, they do go to internet cafés. With this one site people could easily and anonymously get the HIV/AIDS information or counseling they are looking for.

The position will shift a lot in the next two years, and I’ll have more goals as soon as I find my footing (which, in this city, could take a while), but at least a precedent will be set and people will know more why I’m here.


Site Announcement!!!

“To affect the quality of each day is no small improvement in”….. Francistown!

On Saturday we finally had our Site Announcement Ceremony. The quote above was what I read just before discovering my name on a large map of Botswana. The announcement was especially exciting for me because, at the request of Peace Corps staff, I had been keeping the secret that two other trainees and I were switched to another program. I really, really wanted to tell people.

My new position is as a member of the District Community Liaison program, and will work in the office of the District AIDS Coordinator (DAC). The DAC is a district-level, government appointed position that oversees the funding, technical support and resource dispersal to programs, organizations, offices, and clinics responsible for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

My job as a District Community Liaison will be to serve as the liaison between the DAC office and the community, and will split my time almost 50/50 inside and outside the office.  Within the office I will be an inter-departmental liaison as well as a colleague to the DAC and the Assistant DAC, and outside the office I will strengthen the connections the DAC office maintains with local non-governmental organizations through technical assistance, community mobilization, and resource mapping.

So, I’m doubly excited. I’m thrilled because I feel the DCL position really fits my prior experiences and future goals. It is a great job for my current place in life, as it will be challenging and rewarding but I feel capable to dive in and get started.

I’m also ecstatic about moving to Francistown. It is the second largest city in Botswana, and home to approximately 150,000 people. Someone told me that it’s like the capitol, Gaborone, in terms of its activity level, but it is slightly smaller and does an excellent job of maintaining a rich, African culture.

I will be one of two PCVs in Francistown. The other will work directly with a local non-governmental organization. But many other PCVs will be located just an hour or two outside of Francistown, so I’m happily expecting visitors on a somewhat regular basis.

This Wednesday we all head to our sites for the weekend to see our future home and office, and to figure out what furnishings we’ll need to purchase before we move to our sites.

I will obviously blog about this tour as soon as I can. Once I move to site, however, my access to internet will significantly increase.

The schedule from here looks like this:

Wednesday, May 26- Sunday, May 30th – Site Visit in FTown

Saturday, June 5th – Host Family Thank-You Party

Wednesday, June 9th – Shopping Day in Gaborone (for house furnishings)

Thursday, June 10th – Swearing-In Ceremony (where we will transition from Peace Corps Trainees to Peace Corps Volunteers)

Friday, June 11th – Move to Francistown



Shadowing Cont’d – Birthday Braai and the Flood Plain

One of the most mysterious things to me before joining the Peace Corps was the daily schedule of the average community development volunteer. What do they do all day if they are not in an office from 8:00-5:00? Watching my host I learned that there is some downtime, usually around lunch, but the mornings and afternoons (at least for our shadowing host) appear to be somewhat busy with community meetings, clinic work, and other new and ongoing projects – such as helping a basket weaver’s group raise money. I also observed that the job really is as busy as you make it. It’s possible to sit around for most of the day and read, but that lifestyle would drive me mad with boredom and I would feel like it was a waste.

Friday was our host’s birthday, and to celebrate she planned to visit the flooded plain near the Delta and to cook a braai. A braai is like a barbecue, except without the sauce. People gather and cook meat outside, drink a little, listen to music, and socialize. Our host planned this by collecting 10 Pula from each eating attendee, and essentially delegating tasks to her Motswana friends.

The flood plain was surprisingly elegant. A friend of hers ferried us around in a large, wooden canoe, and the cattle and cattle egrets wandered lazily around us. We spent about an hour an half at the flood plain, and arrived at around 4 to begin preparing for the braai.

Around sunset people started trickling in to our host’s house. A Motswana friend brought the electric braai stove, another brought the freshly slaughtered cow meat, and another brought an axe and chopped some wood for a fire. The other trainee and I prepared a pasta salad, I tried a new alcoholic beverage called Hunter’s Dry, the ipod played some familiar hip hop, and everything came together as it was supposed to.

Getting to experience a local Motswana party was really something I needed. I learned more about their sense of humor, how they relax and socialize, and I also got a chance to see the beautiful starry Botswana sky. In Molepolole, aside from the fact that during training we have to be home before dark, the stars are muted as they would be in any well populated city. Out in Etsha though, I saw shooting stars and the Milky Way, and looked forward to living at my site and perhaps seeing that sky on a regular basis.

The Plan

Here is the plan as I know it so far:

Saturday, March 27th – Leave for Austin and party with my kickass friends from the Kinky Friedman Campaign (who are, without knowing them from the campaign, individually kickass). May go dancing later?

Sunday, March 28th – Breakfast tacos in the morning and then later on attend Junkfest! Rally to save the Cathedral of Junk from demolition, then, hopefully, the best Rockband night evar.

Tuesday, March 30th – Alexis’ Goodbye Texas, Hello Botswana Pint Night! at the Dog & Duck Pub

Wednesday, March 31st – Back to Dallas (goodbye, Austin! I will miss you so much)

pret-ty sure my sleeping bag should be here by now as well as my day pack. continue packing…

Thursday, April 1st – Going away party with the Hospice I volunteer at and then a drum lesson and then a Mavericks game with Dad!!

April 4th-8th – Dentist, haircut, packing, relaxing with family… maybe Salsa dancing.

Saturday, April 10th – fly out uber early to Philly, probably with no sleep from the night before

Sunday, April 11th – fly out at a reasonable time but after not sleeping for a day and a half to Johnannesburg, South Africa

“You will have 8 hours between the time you land in Johannesburg and when you have to depart.  You will walk some long hallways and pass through an easy immigration step (while not even leaving the airport) while there, which will end up giving you six hours to hang around the airport.  You may have to also get a boarding pass at the international transfer terminal so please pay attention to this factor.  It will be a bank of counters just after you pass through a South African immigration checkpoint (again, not leaving the airport).  Once you get your boarding pass for the flight to Gaborone, you will pass again through metal detectors before getting to the terminals.”

After which we arrive in Gaborone, Botswana, which is the capital of Botswana.

“From there, everyone will be bused to the hotel called The Big Five Lodge in Mogoditshane on the outskirts of Gaborone.  Trainees will spend four nights in Gaborone getting briefed and preparing themselves for the transition to community based, host family living. “

Ok, I think that’s a good schedule for now. More later on what this whole thing is about.

stay tuned!