Windhoek Strategic Planning Meeting (and skydiving)

May was consumed with travel. On May 8th, I left Maun to travel to Namibia, specifically Windhoek, for SAREP’s Second-Phase Strategic Planning Meeting and Workshop. To give this a little context, SAREP is a five-year project that had to be approved at the half way mark in order to proceed. We passed with flying colors, and so SAREP staff and partners (as well as myself and my PCV successor, Becky) participated in this gathering to brainstorm and create structure, solve existing problems, unify the team, and bring everyone to the same page as we move forward. We also did a fair bit of schmoozing.

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Karine Nuulimba from one of our partners, the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation of Namibia (IRDNC).

All of our partners (like IRDNC shown above) presented their work from the last two years. Additionally, the SAREP technical team presented the work of the various components, which opened up discussion on how to further collaborate with each other. Being a member of this technical team I also presented a snapshot of the year the HIV/AIDS component took off and “became a thing,” and received great feedback from our partners of ideas and suggestions for integrating the HIV/AIDS component into the other biodiversity, water and sanitation and livelihood components.

All in all, it was an excellent way to see Namibia and Windhoek and interact with my colleagues outside the office. Before leaving for the trip, my supervisor suggested I take a detour either before or after the workshop to visit Swakopmund, a tiny, affluent beach town directly west of Windhoek on the Namibian coast. So, I did. Took a few days before the planning meeting and ended up going skydiving! It was a much needed break  and an incredible experience!

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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.

Severe Culture Hangover

It’s been a while since I wrote – my life’s been pretty hectic with work and play and hosting people. I spent Thanksgiving devouring American food with friends in Selebi-Phikwe, went camping in the rain with other friends at Letsibogo Dam (near Phikwe), and coordinated with the DAC office 5 World AIDS Day Celebrations in Francistown. Oh, and I attended National World AIDS Day in Palapye, where I chatted with our Ambassador Steve Nolan and watched President Khama give his annual WAD speech.

Immediately after the final World AIDS Day celebration in Francistown, I hastily took off to Cape Town for a two-week long holiday. I had no idea 2 weeks could have such an impact on me – it made me realize just how slowly time passes here in Bots. If I could do as much as I did in those two weeks, then it’s become a resolution of mine to fill my time here more efficiently as well. Course, I’m back on my Peace Corps budget, so “filling my time” might mean “reading more books” and “exercising more frequently” as opposed to the following:

Things I did in Cape Town:

  • Ate copious amounts of sushi
  • Drank delicious, high-gravity beer with this crazy thing added called “flavor”
  • Visited 6 vineyards in the Stellenbosch region (only really remember the first 5 though)
  • Met and befriended several locals from Stellenbosch and Cape Town – sincere thank yous to Couch Surfing
  • Saw Harry Potter at the Waterfront – a part of town near the ocean filled with malls and breweries and restaurants by the water. The area has a huge ferris wheel and other fun attractions like “still-dude-in-all-bronze” and “man who makes portraits of you and advertises this talent with his portrait of R. Kelly”.  Also, choirs.
  • Visited Simon’s Town – the cute touristy spot just north of Cape Point – one of the most southern parts of Africa.
  • Enjoyed many hours shopping the markets and cafes in Cape Town – and though it’s hard to find a restroom, the urban design of some of these areas are beautiful, welcoming, and green.
  • Stayed at one hostel for the duration of the trip – the Kimberley Hotel – and by the end really felt like family there. Highly recommended, assuming they provide a fan in your room. Their cheap breakfasts of eggs, toast, beans and coffee really saved me a few mornings. It was also fun to watch people finishing their beers while eating these breakfasts.
  • Climbed Lion’s Head with my friend Hays and viewed all of Cape Town and the ocean from one single point at the top
  • My New Year’s Day consisted of visiting a Turkish Bath, watching The Social Network at the Labia Theater,  hitting up a Mexican Restaurant, a jazzy cigar bar… and a brewery at the Waterfront.
  • Drank 2 exquisite martinis – one bar-made and one home-made
  • Went salsa dancing, then later got booed off the stage singing Karaoke (crappy song + drunk people = little patience for anything other than “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond)
  • Ate at a Kurdish restaurant called Mesopotamia, shared a tobacco hookah, watched a belly dancer who later invited me to belly dance with her… which i did.
  • Drank a neat Laphroaig (this deserves a bullet of its own)
  • Ate a perfect meal with an incredible person at a restaurant called Blonde
  • Laughed until I cried at least twice
  • Danced and danced and danced with truly great friends

So from this experience I can see why some wait a long time before visiting the States during their service – I didn’t want to come back to Francistown. And though perhaps the sleepless night before the exhausting day of travel might have had something to do with it, I teared up a bit walking back to my house. Even in my wonderful tiny city of Francistown, everything seemed so flat in comparison to the saturation of culture and beauty I had just immersed myself in. I questioned what I was doing in Peace Corps again, but eventually resolved (again) to stick it out and use my time here as best I can. No sense in not living in a place like Cape Town if I’m just going to sit on my thumbs living in Botswana.

Though I don’t feel so energized to sit again in front of my screen in my FTown flourescent office,  I do, however, feel energized to fulfill some personal goals I’ve been sitting on for a few months. I need to act on them in a practical way  – like, inching forward by doing at least one thing a day on one of my goals. And I’ve got lots.

Will I mention my goals right now on this blog? Nope. Thanks to insight from Derek Sivers on TED I’ll be keeping them to myself for now.

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Happy New Year, everyone. And to quote the naked lady in the Turkish bath (who probably got it from someone else), “may the best of last year be the worst of this year.”

In-Service Training

Just a quick note to mention I haven’t abandoned this blog – haha, that would be ridiculous.  At times this blog is the most accessible concrete expression of my growth and experiences during my service, and the support I’m getting from readers is always heartwarming. For the past 3 weeks I’ve been in the capital city of Gaborone completing my In-Service Training. Aside from having little to no internet access (but a whole lot of access to a pool, jewelry markets, great food, and dance clubs), this was the only time the volunteers could get together for that long a period of time without taking leave, and most of that time consisted of interesting presentations by day and lots of heading out on the town at night. Gabs can be a lot of fun, to say the least.

Anyway, I’m finally back at home in Francistown. I really, really missed my house and this city. Some good blog post ideas are on the way but I’ll be taking a few days to clean my house and decompress. Like last night, for instance. What’s a better way to decompress than listening to relaxing music and drinking green tea while taking a bubble bath by candlelight? Anyone?

On My Way

I’m officially a Peace Corps Volunteer and headed to Francistown for good!

We are traveling by little white covered truck. Another volunteer is riding up front with my office’s driver, and rather than squishing in between them with no seatbelt, I happily opted for the back of the covered truck. So here I am, protected by luggage and pillows, sitting on this nice pad and relaxing on even more pillows. Listening to my ipod, and reading a good book! This is the best ride I’ve had in botswana yet.

Yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony was really quite nice! Several distingushed guests were in attendance, and we Volunteers got to celebrate at the memorable Lemepe Lodge afterwards. I will write more about this later – just wanted to send a glimpse of what’s happening at the moment!

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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

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Shadowing Fin – Maun

Saturday morning we hitched a ride in the back of a truck to the bus junction. It saved us about an hour’s walk, and I greatly enjoyed experiencing the business-like practice of hitching in Botswana. Hitching is how some locals make their car payments; others give them out in exchange for the company. Unless the driver is drinking or rowdy, one can assume that it is a relatively safe thing to do on occasion in Botswana.

We took a bus from the junction to Maun – and I began to count the immense number of hours I spent on a bus during my trip so far. After everything was said and done I’d spent 28 hours on a bus in five days.

Maun is a heavily visited tourist town. There are white people everywhere, I hadn’t noticed until then was a strange sight to see. We had some time to kill before our second evening at our comfy hotel room, so we hit up the Education Park to try to catch a glimpse of some animals.

The Education Park was pretty amazing. Though it was built for humans, the setting consisted of an expansive bushy grassland, with tall trees and termite mounds reaching 6 ft. from the ground. Animals were just living there, not separated from the human observers, and thrown rocks and loosely made signs pointed us on some sort of a trail. There we encountered warthogs, impala, strange blue-headed flightless foul, and lastly, a couple of incredibly tall giraffe. I mean, I know they’re tall, but I had forgotten just how tall. These creatures are like dinosaurs. 

 

My trip up to Etsha 6 enlightened me on what is to come, and helped solidify my desires for my own site placement. The announcement for our permanent sites will be on May 22nd.  I’ll be sure to post the news up then!!