In Closing

Folks, I’m not sure if this is known to all by now, but I’m back in America. I’ve been back home since late July, but have been pretty much a hermit for a large percentage of this time because I had come home not remembering silly things like how much a carton of eggs should cost (they’re sold in “cartons”, correct?), and also most of my clothes had 3 years of Africa worn on them.

After settling at home for a while I can tell you I’m quickly remembering how to be a person here again (and, yes, I bought some new clothes), and I’m ready to move on to whatever I decide to swing at next. Dallas is my home for the very extended time being, and so I’m delving into wonderful things like “the GMAT” and local events like “FlugTag DFW.” Today I’m headed to a Marketing and PR course put on by the Dallas Entrepreneur Center.

Between Peace Corps and home, I made a quick detour to the lovely village of Tofo, Mozambique. Friends told me great things about this little town, and I figured getting there from the States later on would be a lot more expensive than from Joburg. Because of the timing, I tripped it solo. This was at times really pretty boring since it seemed to be the off, OFF season, but nevertheless the experience served as an excellent buffer between Peace Corps life and life at home. It was gorgeous. Crystal clear beaches, lovely people, great seafood, and lots of time to reflect on the past three years and also what I want to do with the next.

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More pictures of Mozambique

Now that I’m home and moving on, I think it’s time to put this little blog to rest. It’s done a great job of doing what I wanted it to, and I’m going to keep it live for reference and reflection.

In lieu of this blog, I’m starting a fresh, new Tumblr.  I’ve also been using Twitter for quite some time and have no intentions of giving that up.  For Twitter, please find me here, and for Tumblr, you can find me here but please be aware it is currently a serious work in progress!! Who knows what I’m going to post next on that thing, or what theme I’ll choose, or which accounts I’ll link it to (probably all of them), or what purpose it will serve (but it will serve one eventually.)

If you follow me, I’ll follow you!

With that, thank you all for your attention and support, and please stay in touch!!  I’m always around to talk about this experience or anything else. It’s been one hell of a ride.

Alexis

A Perk as a Third-Year (and Texan): Meeting Former President Bush and Former First Lady

In the midst of traveling for all of these tiny-regional meetings I had the opportunity to attend a gathering with former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush. The presidential pair was in the country supporting, “See and Treat,” a PEPFAR funded program supporting cervical cancer diagnosis and treatment.

During the trip they made a planned stop to a tiny village just outside of Gaborone, Gabane, to visit a home-based care organization for people living with HIV. A fellow PCV, Tija Danzig, put the event together with the help of the Bush Center Staff, and so several volunteers (Texans, extendees, and former military) were also invited to attend and support the event.

It was surreal meeting the former President and First Lady, and I was honored to receive the invitation. We spoke with Mr. and Mrs. Bush individually, formally as a group, and in a causal “mingling” setting. He asked me what I was planning on doing after service and when I was heading back to Texas, and while several of us were chatting in a group he voiced his strong appreciation for the Peace Corps as an institution (to his credit he brought Peace Corps back to Botswana in 2003 after a six year absence).

Irresistibly I had to wear my cowboy boots to the event, and as we were arranging ourselves for this group photo Mr. Bush exclaimed, “I like your boots!” I thanked him and explained that the boots are perfect for walking around on Botswana’s very dusty, Texas-like terrain. Boot wearing success.

This service has certainly brought me to some unexpected places, and I think this event juxtaposes nicely with meeting First Lady Michelle Obama last year. All in all life as a third-year is much busier than before, and I’m enjoying how it’s all rounding out. Posts on my new role at SAREP and life in Maun to follow.

More photos of the GWB event can be found here.        

Life as a PCVL: No Sleep till Tsabong

The day I moved to Maun I spent the night in my new one bed-roomed apartment, sleeping on a bare mattress with a sleeping bag and surrounded by clutter and boxes. The very next morning I left Maun to travel south to Kanye, a village on the opposite end of the country. It was swearing-in time for the new Bots 12 group, and Peace Corps wanted the PCVLs (Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders) there for support. This is the life I’ve been leading since early June – fast paced, consistent travelling and direction changing at the whim of Peace Corps. As much as I love my new home in

Meeting my successor to the Francistown DAC office, Dominique Shephard, at the Bots 12 Swearing-In Ceremony

Maun and am glad when I have a weekend to do laundry, I’m acutally enjoying the opportunity to get out and interact with Peace Corps Botswana on a deeper level.

Our first action item as PCVLs was to set up tiny-regional meetings in various shopping villages in the country. The three PCVLs coordinated and conducted our own meetings and wrote follow-up reports, ensuring we accounted for all volunteers traveling and collected their feedback. I held meetings in three villages: Maun, Ghanzi, and Tsabong. If you were to compare this to Texas, that would be kind of  like having meetings in Ft. Worth, Odessa, and Laredo, respectively.

The meetings were great opportunities for the new volunteers to get to know the earlier intakes and ask questions like, “When will I get a house?”, “What do I do when strange men come to my house after dark?” and, “How do I check for gas tank leaks?” The earlier intakes helped to answer these questions, and also discussed issues of their own like communication problems with staff and each other, technical issues, travel issues, counterpart problems, and questions about other aspects of their service. Much of my job, aside from conducting the meeting, was to give and receive feedback and liaise between the volunteers and staff.

Some of the PCVs participating at the Maun tiny-regional meeting

It was also good just to hangout with volunteers from all over the country inside their respective regions. I’m trying to wiggle my way into a comfort zone with being a PCVL. PCVLs are not staff, and we’re still just volunteers, but other volunteers tend to look at us as a gateway to staff, and so this can put an awkward cramp on some normal volunteer-to-volunteer interactions. So I made a special effort to ensure volunteers that:  a) I’m here to provide support first and foremost, b) my job is not to rat on volunteers but to help them keep their service productive, and c) yes, I would love a beer.

Representing my Roots in the TJP

The Director of Communications at the elementary school I grew up attending recently asked me to write an article to fit with this photo of me with Mma Obama. The article is an introduction to my service, Peace Corps service in general, and my experiences during my first year. It was just picked up by the Texas Jewish Post. Hopefully it will serve to help some understand more of what Peace Corps is about, and also perhaps get those who are considering joining the Peace corps, or making huge life changes in general, to take that step and do it already 🙂

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Former Levine Academy student meets her future — and Michelle Obama — in the Peace Corps

Posted on 21 July 2011 by admin

By Alexis Kanter

Alexis Kanter (left) speaks with Michelle Obama at a recent event in Gaborone, Botswana. Kanter is serving a two-year term in the U.S. Peace Corps. | Photo: Caitlin Anzalone/U.S. Peace Corps

If you had asked me three years ago if I’d be interested in joining the Peace Corps, I would have chuckled and said, “no thanks.” Already three years out of college, the thought of running off to serve a two-year stint in the Peace Corps seemed like an escape from developing a stable career at home. But after realizing the opportunities Peace Corps service can provide, I look back on the past year and know it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.

I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2005 having majored in history and anthropology. During my college career, I wrote for the university’s newspaper, then later worked in politics on a gubernatorial campaign and at a lobby firm, and had a private-sector job with an architecture firm. Through these activities I developed a passion for the way policy and culture influence the well-being of communities. The decision to finally apply was mostly based on the desire to challenge myself to live in a culturally new environment, and commit to a long-term goal that would enable me to grow personally and professionally. My uncle, who served in Peace Corps Peru during the early 1960s, became an inspiration to me when considering Peace Corps service. His enthusiasm for the program stoked my curiosity, and the more I looked into the benefits, the more I liked the idea of being able to work closely with locals on a local income level.

Following a year-long application process, I arrived in Botswana in April 2010, and was assigned to spend my service in Francistown, the second largest city in Botswana, and home to a vibrant population of over 100,000 people representing all levels of the wealth spectrum. It has a wonderful, distinct flavor that incorporates both traditional and modern Setswana culture. I work with smart, passionate men and women in the District AIDS Office, which is the government office that oversees all HIV/AIDS organizations and programming in the district. Part of my job entails introducing fresh ideas to help improve the way the office functions. I also help connect the District AIDS Office with the community at large, mostly through involvement in HIV/AIDS related campaigns and helping the HIV/AIDS organizations address challenges and improve their skills so they can better serve their community.

Volunteers and locals work together toward promoting positive behavior change, and as a Peace Corps volunteer, my primary focus always centers on making sure the change I bring will be sustainable after I leave. Peace Corps volunteers work not to save the world, but rather strive for incremental improvements that will last after service is complete.

Along with fulfilling my initial goals, new experiences I encounter daily continue to bring a wealth of knowledge I couldn’t acquire in any other setting. For instance, the cramped, long-hour bus rides between cities taught me an etiquette to maintaining order on a bus with almost zero personal space. I’ve seen elephants and lions roam their native habitat, attended a huge wedding celebration in the tiny village of Mapoka, been awakened to beautiful traditional dance and music, and feel as if I’ve become a part of real life here.

More significantly, I’ve worked on a campaign where teenage boys in Francistown signed up by the hundreds to voluntarily get circumcised in order to increase protection from contracting HIV. Never before had I seen such an immense sense of personal responsibility displayed at such a young age.

My work here is fulfilling, and I’m fortunate to have made lasting friendships with volunteers and locals. But service is not easy. I can’t say that I haven’t had some trying days, but that’s where personal growth comes in. Once out of your comfort zone you may begin to answer questions about yourself you never thought to ask before. And then out of the blue, things beyond your wildest expectations push you forward, and answering those questions becomes a little easier.

Recently, Botswana Peace Corps volunteers attended an event held at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in the capital, Gaborone. We were given the rare opportunity to shake hands with First Lady Michelle Obama during her visit to Southern Africa.

It was a fleeting yet incredible experience that reminded me how great things can happen when risks are taken. It’s not every day one gets to shake hands with someone who is essentially living history, and it made me proud to be where I am and do what I’m doing. I try to take nothing here for granted, and so for the rest of my service (and beyond), I intend to live up to that handshake.

Ann & Nate Levine Academy alumna, Alexis Kanter (’96) is the daughter of Nancy and Jay Kanter. She is in the middle of a two-year term of duty with the U.S. Peace Corps. For more on her meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama and her life in Botswana, check out Alexis’ blog at http://www.alexiskanter.wordpress.com

Keeping Austin Weird

While in Austin (which was one of the best weekends of my life – such an amazing city and friends, ah! ), I spent the remainder of a Book People gift card on a great book entitled Keep Austin Weird: A Guide to the Odd Side of Town by Austin’s very own creator of the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan, Red Wassenich.

What a terriffic book! It’s a little dated (shows the Intel building as still standing), but it’s got all the amazing intricacies of Austin that I want to take with me and share with those who have never been. I may have to tape up little peep cards over photos of Leslie, in case my future host family wants to take a look, but I’m proud of everything in here.

Back in Dallas now, and I’m already perusing through the book with a misty-eyed longing for Austin. No offense, Dallas.

A bit of Austin

Also – don’t let up: Save the Cathedral of Junk!

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!