Sunday, July 13, 2014

RPCV

Claire Psarouthakis, RPCV

Its weird, I don't think the whole thing has sunk in yet and I'm sure that it is going to be a process that takes a little bit of time. I'm in Cordoba, Spain now. Hanging out at my hostel, and thinking about going to one of the performances for the guitar festival tonight. As per usual I have my giant freaking backpack, but not per usual, I won't be going home this time. Saying "home" may be confusing for a few of you, especially those of you who may not talk to me on a regular basis, and have heard me refer to Rams as my "home", but that is what it feels like. It feels like at the end of these two weeks in Spain/ the Netherlands, that I'm going to pack everything up, get on the plane, take a few buses and will be using my key to open the door of my little yellow house, just like every trip has ended for the past 27 months.

But this isn't going to happen this time...

This time, I will get on a plane, fly to Boston, get on another plane and land in Detroit where my family will be waiting for me. This is going to be wonderful in and of itself, I haven't seen my family in close to a year and there truly is no place like home.

But also, home is where the heart is...

And I feel like I left part of my heart on the runway in Gabs. I feel like a large chunk of my heart is sitting on the front porch of Mma Monyatsi's house, waiting with a cold Black Label to welcome me home. I think one more part is being held safely for me, by an amazing family of Volunteers that helped me keep it all together at the worst of times, and helped me love life to it's final inch in the best of times. How can someone both be heading home and going away from it at the same time? How does one cope?

And then there is the loss of the life style, one that has been more independent than I have ever known, and one I'm not 100% sure I'm ready to give up yet. I started this whole thing as a 22 year old, fresh out of college, excited to change the world, ginger chick. Now I'm 25, I haven't been inside that type of classroom for over three years and I'm still excited to change the world I'm just trying to figure out how I'm going to o it in this new chapter of my life. Of course I'm also still gingery, couldn't go changing that.

I'm moving in with my parents which is going to be wonderful, and difficult. I'm going back to a social circle of friends who at the best, have checked in and kept up, and at the worst, said they were going to do those things and then didn't respond even after I reached out to them. I'm going back to no job, though an awesome, unpaid internship with Equality Michigan by the sounds of it. I don't know how I am going to be able to do something that made me feel the way PC work did, but I'm going to try.

The whole thing is so split feeling, and then I feel bad for not being completely excited to go home, especially when my family and friends are so happy about it. Saying goodbye to my friends and family in Botswana was a whole different ball game, and at some point I quite literally emotionally tapped out. I just couldn't feel anymore, and I'm guessing it was more of a protective mechanism than anything else. I'm worried this may happen again when I get home, that I just feel so torn that I prevent myself from really being happy about the fact that I am in a wonderful place, with beautiful people I haven't been able to spend real time with for two years.

There are some clear bits and pieces of PC life that I'm trying to hold on to more than others. I have, what most would consider, WAY TOO MANY travel plans made already. San Francisco and Chicago in September, New York for New Years, El Salvador in February, and possibly a trip to New Orleans at some point? I don't think my head has wrapped around the fact that traveling in the states requires a lot of things that I don't have, like money and a completely independent work schedule. I just can't get over the idea that on any given weekend, I can't just get into a bus or go catch a hitch and spend a few days in a completely different part of the country.

Larger future plans are even more of a blur. I have the feeling that at some point I'm going to end up going to graduate school, but it is something I would like to avoid if at all possible. Its not that I don't like academia, I really do, but I don't want to be in a classroom any more, I want to be out in the world. There is a chance that I'm going to gear up to take the Foreign Service Exam, the next time they post a date for it, but I'm still playing around with that idea, since I'm not sure if I really want to work for the US Government. If I can find a "big person" job, I will get on that in a heartbeat, I'm just not sure if that is going to be possible with only an undergraduate degree and my PC service.

Then we get to the blast of interests and things I have suddenly decided I want to learn like Brazilian Jui Jitsu (my friend Marshall's fault completely), belly dancing (probably my friend Jada's fault) , silks (personal circus dream for a while now), and to work on my ability to skull (rowing.) I don't know where all of these came from, but it feels like I'm wanting to become a bit of a nomad in the life experiences column of existence, I just don't know where I am going to find the time. There was always something new to learn in Peace Corps, and I wouldn't say that, that isn't a possibility in day to day life at home, but it seems like it will be more of a stretch to keep me interested.

There is also the question of whether or not I want my day-to-day life to be in America at all...

Having lived outside the states for two years now, I realize some of the incredibly destructive habits we have acquired. Obviously this is true of any country, and I would be the first to say that there were portions of Tswana culture and tradition that I wouldn't want to be around for the rest of my life (I say this while still having a deep love for the place.) I'm just not sure if the US is the set of problems I want to be in.

We hate on our bodies constantly and obsessively, it has been made clear that the political sphere in the states has been high jacked by the rich elite, more so than in a country that would have a smaller population of rich elite people (Princeton just declared that the US isn't even a democracy any more but that we have become an oligarchy.) We are slowly heading down the road of having a whole generation of students that never were, because they can't pay to go to school. We have a conservative Christian right that is willing to use the name of Jesus in justification of some of the worst hate rhetoric happening in the states. I get that all countries have problems, but from the outside looking in, our problems are so much more hateful than they need to be. We have such potential and we are ruining it.

I had a long political conversation with a close friend recently about how America has crested as a super power and that we are on the downward slope to a different status on the global stage. I don't think this is a bad thing. I think we have forgotten to live within the global community while trying to run it. The worst part of this whole internal struggle is that I love the United States, I'm proud to be an American, and I want to see us change, but that is not a fight I want to dedicate my life to at this point.

But I have gotten caught up in a tangent, and there will be more on my thoughts on America and Botswana a little bit later down the line.

Needless to say this whole thing has been hard, and figuring out what happens from here is a bit terrifying, but its going to be great too. I know it is going to be great, because it is an opportunity to do new and amazing things, and life is change, and the transition is scary but that's okay.

To move onto a more present moment, I'm having an amazing time in Cordoba, and it is wonderful to have a little bit of me time before really hitting this transition hard back home. I will be here until Wednesday and then I'm heading to Madrid for a few days before heading up to The Hague to hang out with my friend Andrew, whom I haven't seen in almost three years! Coroba is amazing and a place that I first heard of, and decided I needed to go to, back in my senior year of high school, while sitting in an amazing Humanities course. I'm not actually 100% sure if I'm going to be spending a whole ton of time in Madrid. I looked at my hostel today and they have day trips to Toledo, which is a place I would prefer to get to. Just passing through Madrid with its city streets and butt tons of people was a little nerve wracking. Cordoba, which is not a large cit by western standards at all, still has me a little agoraphobic, which is probably something I should have taken into account before deciding to travel alone straight out of PC. Oh well, you live and you learn.

There are going to be a lot of posts coming up about this whole transition period because I believe it is an important part of my post service, and because I think it is a period of time in an RPCV's life that doesn't get talked about a whole lot. To get you to keep coming back here, here are some things we are going to be talking about:

-I want to do a comparative, somewhat lighthearted piece on the differences between the US and Bots
-Back in the USA: First Impressions of The Home I Left
-Stuff I Couldn't Post While Serving (hitching, serving queer [yeah...didn't mention that on purpose but pretty sure you knew if you were paying attention], and critiques on PC as an organization)
-What I'm Doing Now

There are probably going to be a lot of other posts as well, though I can imagine there is going to be a bit of a lag for a few weeks since I will be getting back home and then trying to settle a bit. Not to mention I think there should be at least one or two posts on my reflections of service now that I'm done, but I'm just not mentally ready to go there quite yet.

Hugs and smooches to all, and we will talk more soon soon
Claire

Monday, June 2, 2014

GLOW Camps

Apparently a chilled out, have time to say goodbyes, have time to pack up my place, kind of last month in Peace Corps is just not at all what my subconscious scheduler was lookin for. I have spent the last two weeks helping run youth camps, otherwise known as "Guys and Girls Leading Our World" (GLOW) These camps were part of a grant that a group of PCVs wrote in order to run 5 camps in different communities in the central district.

Our first camp was in the Lotsane Senior Secondary School right outside of Palapye, and the second one was held in Ramogonami, but we brought in students from Sefhare (since Sefhare doesn't have a boarding school so would be unable to host its own students for a 4 day camp.) I was really around to be a gofer type person, but I also got to present the "Sex vs. Gender" presentation at both camps, which made me happy since it is pretty much my favorite thing in the world to do with students.

The camps had a ton of ups and downs, and it was interesting seeing the differences between issues at the first camp versus issues at the second. The first camp was at a senior secondary, that is right outside a pretty major hub. The students that were a part of that camp were actually from three different schools, but all within Palapye, which is a pretty large and industrious community. The second camp was at the Rams Junior Secondary school, and the students were all from one school but in a much more rural community.

A lot of the issues at the first camp revolved around making sure things ran smoothly, and that a diverse number of kids were participating. We had a lot of situations where having to calm the kids down was important. We had a bit of an issue with a stolen phone, and a brief problem with the fact that there was no hot water in the bathrooms on the girls side (which was more a problem for the facilitators than the students themselves.) There was also a lot of problems with the administrators at the school but I wasn't really a part of that so I'm not sure the details.

A lot of the first camp was hammering out how we worked together, making posters that could be used for sessions, working out holes in our communication techniques and getting into the rhythm of camp.

The second camp came with a whole mess of mathatas.

Because we were bringing the kids in from an outside community we had a slew of problems finding transport, and then actually getting the kids over. What we had planned as an hour and a half of entertaining earlier groups of students while later ones came in, turned into three hours really quickly. After that, the community cooks who work for the school and were in charge of making breakfast, tea and lunch were a lot less autonomous than I had hoped they would be. We had food, and a menu, but they had no idea how much of everything to make for a group of about 60. We had a lot of extra rice and pap the first day but had it worked out by the time the second round of meals went down.

The kids were a whole different ball of wax. We had a lot of issues with students who just flat out did not speak enough English to be able to fully comprehend what we were trying to teach them. It was wonderful having the four community volunteers we did, because we pretty much just ended up using them as translators. The kids also pretty much flat out refused to answer questions or participate which, as any educator knows, is infuriating to the nth degree. This is in part because these kids are in an education system that focuses completely on route memorization, and absolutely NO critical thinking on the part of the students. Believe it or not...this is a sole reason for a lot of larger societal issues in Botswana, they are turning their students into lemmings, not free thinkers.

So we had a few kids who opened up over the course of the camp, but it was pulling teeth every time we needed feedback, or discussion or answers to basic questions on the material we were going over. I think for the last three camps, the material is going to need to be simplified and we are going to need a translator on hand at all times. Even with the students who understood what we were teaching, they were so incredibly self conscious about their English that they wouldn't speak up (even when we gave them the option of speaking in Setswana.)

The issue of "Africa Time" also came up...a lot. All of these kids were confined to the main hall, the kitchen area and the dorms, and yet somehow still managed to be late for any session that had a break or meal before it. Our solution to this was to keep track of any minute they were late on a board in the front and make them wake up that much earlier. The problem was it is a 4 day camp, and these types of discipline measures are something that need a few weeks to kick in. We also just had a few sassy students who were being brats, but that is to be expected.

All in all we got things done, everyone was fed, we got in some lessons that it seemed like the kids were interested in, we had an awesome condom olympics (so at the very least all of them are aware of how many lemons and limes are able to fit into a condom, and how to put one on properly) and we did have some excellent moments with individual students.

There are going to be awesome pictures added to this post. :)

More on life later, now I just want to pass out!!

Claire 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Spamming

Because this blog is public, there is a certain amount of spamming that happens here. I try to deal with it the best that I can, but lets make one thing clear.

IF YOU SPAM MY BLOG WITH COMMENTS ABOUT AN HIV "CURE" IT WILL BE DELETED, AND I WILL BE SENDING ANGRY VIBES YOUR WAY FOR AT LEAST A MINUTE OR TWO.

That is all. :)

More to come on the GLOW camps soon!

Claire

Friday, May 23, 2014

Shop Talk

We have finally broken ground on the tree nursery, and as per usual things aren't going as planned (but really, when do they ever?)

The guy we got to do the construction is either a.) completely devoid of knowledge for what would be needed for this type of project or b.) an idiot. I know it is probably not that simple, but I wish he would have been more honest with us about the quote. We have had to shuffle things around three times to get him money for supplies he didn't account for. At this point in time the nursery is "complete" but the thing looks bad, and not at all what I think any of us were hoping for. Hoping that there will be some left over money once the solar dehydrators are completed so we can add to what look like a very poor skeletal structure.

Speaking of which...

Nothing in Botswana seems to be set up for DIY construction projects. I have figured out how to get a drill and router (thanks to Hollis, an amazing PCV east of me) but am now having serious issues figuring out how to get the actual materials needed, despite the fact that I have a supplies list in metric now (the first version was in imperial.) There are a few problems, but let me list a couple of the major ones.

Firstly, timber here is not cut into the same dimensions as in the states, so even though I know know that a 19x38 is equal to a 2x4, none of the stores I have been to have this as an option for buying wood. The design I am using requires 2x4s, 4x4s, 1x4s, and 1x2s. The only thing that the shops have out of these are the 4x4s and then a bastardized 2x4 (114x38.)

Secondly, apparently the only people that go into hardware stores to buy this kind of stuff are people that are professionals. I came in with a list of supplies, a rough schematic and a general verbal description of what I am planning to build and got NOWHERE with any of the staff people working at any of the businesses I went to for a quote. No one could help me, make suggestions or suggest replacement ideas of the parts I needed that don't happen here. On top of all this, no one I went to said that they would be able to cut the timber to the sizes I needed, saying I would have to cut it myself, so it is looking like I am going to need a hand saw and a horse.

It doesn't really help that in all of this you have me, Claire, who hasn't really constructed anything in her life without the supervision of someone who knew what they were doing and had access to a fully stocked shop. I have enlisted the skills of Lindsay's brother to help me out but they are leaving on June 10th, and I'm horrified that I won't be able to get the stuff I need. At this point I'm not really even thinking about the actual building part, as much as I am concerned with getting the materials. I will figure the rest out later. EISH.

Please send me some good vibes, I'm going to need them.

Hugs and smooches,
Claire

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Virgin and The Whore

I live on the edge of the community, it’s about a 20minute walk from the clinic and about a mile away from the library. This isn’t an issue to me, because I really enjoy walking, but for some reason I am just out of the radius of how far people are willing to walk to come visit. Where some Volunteers get lots of people “checking” on them on a regular basis, I don’t really have that. For the most part I don’t mind that so much because I’m really only home before 7:15am and after 5pm, and on the weekends and the greater portions of those times are times I want to be alone, or I think I want to be alone.

Anyways, Saturday I had a visitor. Her name is Pelo (“heart” in Setswana) and we met on the bus and struck up a fun conversation. She has come to check me a few times, and usually we just end up talking about the differences between the US and Botswana. This was the first time she had actually been inside my house, so the plethora of pictures and letters that plaster my walls were very much a fascination to her. What ensued was a two hour conversation that ran the gamut of emotions. I got angry when she insisted that her perception of the US was more accurate than mine, i.e. “It is easy to become famous in America, you are wrong.” I was agitated and also slightly tickled at some of her broad sweeping statements, “All white people do look alike, you can’t tell the difference between any one of you.” I laughed when she was perplexed by how much grass carpeted the outdoor scenes in my photos, and promised that if she came to the US to visit that I would show her snow.

Then we got to the part of the conversation that I knew would come. She asked to see, and this is exactly how she phrased it, my “what.” She asked a few times to see my “what” and refused to elaborate more than that. I finally figured out that she was asking to see a picture of my boyfriend, which I don’t have. I do have a picture of my ex, so I showed her that, while explaining that I didn’t think it was necessary for someone to have a boyfriend or a husband in order to be happy. This concept was so foreign to her that she began to insist that I must still be in love with my ex. I tried to convince her by saying that my ex has a new girlfriend, and that we talked a few time while I was here, and that I wished him well, but am very much not in love with him.

“So you still talk with him, and you have a picture of him...I understand” she said with a knowing smile that made me want to wipe the condescending smirk off her face with a frying pan. I told her that she didn’t understand, and she insisted that she did. I have had enough experience with 17 year old girls to know this was a fight I wasn’t going to win, so though I was incredibly frustrated I let it slide and moved on to a new topic. I asked why, in this culture, people were not okay with someone not having a boyfriend or girlfriend? She said that people who say they don’t want someone must be sleeping around. Those are the options, case closed; you either want someone or you want everyone, wanting just yourself is not an option.

At that point a taxi driver I had exchanged contact information with called me from Palapye. I got this guys number and gave him mine because it is always good t have a few cab numbers in your phone. When it became clear that he was calling to flirt I cut the conversation short and hung up the phone. Her first reaction: “that is your Motswana boyfriend?” I told her “no”, and that I had no interest in having a boyfriend in Botswana, or America. She started to tell me about her boyfriend, and how he was pressuring her into sex, and that she had told him “no.” I gave her a high five and told her that she had EVERY RIGHT IN THE WORLD to refuse to have sex until she felt like she was ready. She said he told her he would find someone else to be with. She told me that she thought she was going to have to leave him soon, because she didn’t want to have sex with him.


It wasn’t until after she left that the true weight of the conversation we had, had really hit me. This culture, or how she had experienced and lived within this culture, was one where she was required to have a boyfriend in order to avoid the label of being a lose girl, the type of girl that sleeps around and gets pregnant. Within this relationship she was required to have, she was being pressured and threatened with sex which, would again put her at risk for pregnancy. Now, we have talked about using a condom, so I hope when she is ready to have sex she will use one. But I can also imagine there is probably a correlation between boys who pressure their girlfriends to have sex, and boys who pressure their girlfriends to have sex without a condom. I have no data to back this up, it just makes logical sense to me. 

It was an enlightening conversation, and keyed me into the idea that no matter how much time you spend in a place you still have a lot to learn. More thoughts on this later.

Claire

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Big Girl Shoes

I have been thinking about the future an awful lot lately. Thinking about what it means for me, what it means for my relationships with people, thinking about jobs and this blog. "A Ginger Goes to Peace Corps Botswana" is fast approaching 25,000 views, which isn’t a ton for something that has been running for almost three years, but considering that it really only caters to Peace Corps Volunteers/people who want to be Peace Corps Volunteers/ my family and friends, I would say that is pretty good. I have been trying to figure out whether or not I am going to continue writing here when I go home, and I think I am going to. Obviously the name will change, and I will probably reformat a bit, but I want to write these things down, and put them out there, and I think this would be a good place to do it.

It’s such an interesting time in your life, your 20s. Some people will graduate from college, out of a school system that they have been in for nearly 15 years, and suddenly you are out in the world, and homework is not your number one priority. You make decisions, decisions about graduate school, or a job, or joining Peace Corps. The world is open to you to some extent and unless you got married or had a kid, you have no one but yourself to answer to. I delayed this whole process by going into Peace Corps, and now I am facing that terrible steppe of opportunity for the first time. I applied for my first big girl job today; an application that wanted a resume, and a cover letter and a writing sample. It would be a dream job for me too, it’s as a Program Officer with the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get it, but I’m applying anyway and the prospect is thrilling.

The job is based in Oakland, they are looking for someone who has at least five years of professional experience (I have maybe three.) They want someone who has worked out of North America for at least two years (check), and on the posting they said that “proficiency in Arabic or another Asian language” would be preferred. I have a year of college level Turkish, an Asian Studies Specialization and a Middle Eastern regional specialization so though I’m not proficient in Turkish, I am familiar with the region, and I would love to start learning again. The job would require overseas travel after training, and according to the posting would start July 1st, which clearly isn’t going to be possible for me, but maybe if they like me a whole lot they would be willing to delay that a bit.

One of the tags for this was “LGBT” and they specifically mention trans women in the posting. I don’t think I will get this job, but it gives me an idea of the type of job I am reaching for. The type of job I want to get into, and that is just so terribly exciting. The potential for a job like this, the potential that I have to be the person I am becoming, is so thrilling it makes me want to run around (and I hate running.) It so scary too, what if I fall short, or fall on my face, or fall over my big girl shoes? I get that you never really become a set individual, or at least I don’t think you do, so what if my change is too slow? What if everyone else is changing faster and I am unable to change quickly enough to keep up? You know what is even more scary than not getting a job like this? GETTING A JOB LIKE THIS! What if I did get the job and then suddenly I’m a human rights worker, which I like to think I kind of already am, but this would just make it official. What if I can’t give all the peoples all their rights?

You know what being a human/ civil rights worker entails? It entails signing up for a job that you know you aren’t going to see the end of. It means believing in a cause so vehemently that you don’t care that you will never see the big win accomplished, or the end goal achieved. It means opening yourself up to the evils of the world, and being willing to face and fight. It means casualties, for you and the people you are working with, and not all of them will be mortalities of the human kind (though some, in some fields, will be) but sometimes it means watching ideas die, or hope die, and then you are in charge of moving forward and finding new hope (Star Wars!) and new ideas.

It means cashing in karma instead of a pay check, working odd hours, traveling a lot, and being willing to mystique (X-Men!) your way into new cultures and climates and not in a vacation way, but in a living way. It means putting on others people shoes, or their lack of shoes, and walking more than just the mile. It means understanding that chopping up your heart and giving it to different communities actually makes your heart bigger and not smaller.

You remember the first time you went on a roller coaster? You are so excited and so scared and you get to the top of that first drop and you think you are going to laugh and vomit all at the same time. That is where I am at, I’m at the top of a hill looking down, and I’m about to drop into the world as an adult and I may giggle or I may wet myself, but either way it is coming. My Dad always likes to say “Life is an adventure, if you so choose.” Well, I’m choosing, I’m dropping, I bought the ticket so I’m going to ride the ride.

Here goes...everything

Claire

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

*Jeopardy Music*

Just wanted to give y'all a quick update on life and the what not, I figured I owed you all after the not so organized mess of a post proceeding this one. :)

Tree Nursery: We have bought the materials and actually everything came in under budget, so we now have an extra p100 to spend on something that may come in over budget. Hoping to start construction next week, and I will be spending the weekend formatting a lesson plan for how to teach the community about moringa. I will hopefully be passing this lesson plan, along with a few community mobilization pointers, on to the ladies by the end of May so they can start running workshops as soon as we have the solar dehydrators built.

-Solar Dehydrators: I have found a brother of a PCV who says he can make up a supplies list for me, at which point I will try and get some price quotes from the local hardware stores. Fingers crossed that we may have the funds to build two of these babies.

Pre School Roof Project: I'm meeting with the Red Cross and the pre school teachers today to talk about a few issues. The two biggest ones are going to be if we can bring the pre school back under the umbrella of the Red Cross and if we can use their bank account to do an Indiegogo campaign to fix the roof so they can actually start having class there again. Send me good thoughts about the teachers showing up, they were unable to the last time.

Kilimanjaro: Has been canceled since I couldn't get a large enough group of people together to make it affordable. The two front runners for Claire's ever changing COS trip plans are now Budapest and Barcelona, and then a quick hop over to Belgium to visit my friend Andrew who is living in The Hague (the area not the ICC itself.) I'm keeping it in Europe because I got a partial e-voucher from British Airways after the crash when I went home and it expires after a year, so I would really love to take advantage.

LGBTQ Support Group: So our Easter retreat got canceled which makes me sad, but I'm hoping I will get to help participate in the other fun stuff we are going to be doing over the next two months. Also looking forward to getting my copy of the GENDER book, both for my own personal use and education as well as starting to pass around a second copy to interested groups in Botswana.

Women's Empowerment Workshop: The library is hosting a woman's empowerment workshop tomorrow night that they have asked me to come sing/ play guitar at. I was kind of happy to have my hands off this one because things have been so busy with the other projects, but I'm happy to lend a hand the day of. Should be a fun time, I have been asked to wear an "evening gown" which I don't have, but I will work my best.

That is pretty much what is going on in the world of Claire. Turning 25 next week which is a little crazy, seeing as I started this whole Peace Corps process at 21. Weirdly enough this whole portion of my life has both made be think about my biological clock and the goals I want to accomplish in my life in relations to a family and babies and the like, as well as want to put it out of my mind forever. Fingers crossed this is just a mid twenties insecurity thing.

Hugs and smooches,
Claire

Friday, May 2, 2014

Hardest Thing

One of the most common questions I get as a Volunteer is what is the hardest part of my service. There are a million answers to this, depending on the day, depending on my mood or what may be irking me, but we are going to look into some of the big ones.

The first and foremost for this is loneliness, hands down this is the most common “hard thing” I deal with on a daily basis. I’m a people person so being on my own is difficult, and it has only gotten worse as my service has gone on. I used to be SO PUMPED about weekends on my own, weekends where I could write and clean and read a book and just enjoy my time without having to worry about work or inter cultural communication. Now I dread them. I’m sitting here in my house writing this blog post on Botswana Labor Day because sitting in my house alone makes me desperate. Do I really have any business posting stuff this personal online? I guess my shot at a political career was probably killed when I started talking about sex toys and lube J

On a particularly emo day I wrote into an online advice site once and asked “How do I deal with loneliness?” Their answer focused along the lines of being okay being by myself and making sure that I wasn’t afraid of being alone because I was afraid of the company I would keep. Unfortunately, this isn’t really my situation, maybe it was at one point, but I truly believe I have passed beyond it. I still do need alone time, truly, but the amount I get is too much for an extrovert that needs someone to debate politics with, who doesn’t cook very well unless she is cooking for someone else, and who likes to talk about the books she is reading with other people. I live 30mins car ride from the closest Volunteer, which in Peace Corps land means practically next door, but I want to be around people more often. I want to be able to talk gender, politics, identity and race with people that can follow me, and don’t immediately switch to “homosexuals are Satanists”, or just have those conversations without having to tip toe and wonder if I am going to put myself in danger. That just isn’t possible with where I am currently living.

The next biggest thing is that I tend to over compensate with those I am trying to communicate with back home, which I then over think about, and then stress out about. I am one of those types of people who can be pretty damn confident in person, but have a lot more confidence issues when communicating through writing (which is weird because I LOVE communicating through writing.) Example, one of my absolute FAVORITE bloggers asked for politically minded people to watch a video of them answering questions that mostly dealt with intersectional points between race, fetish, sexuality, identity and gender, and to give them feedback on language and possible touchy points. I was SO desperate to be a part of conversations like this, and to be a part of the work they are doing that I stupidly offered to do so. I have very little formal training on gender work, I have slightly more education on race and pretty much my entire library of queer knowledge has been acquired due to my own initiative here, through online blogs, books, conversations with the LGBT community in Botswana, and my own experiences. I HAVE NO BUSINESS CRITIQUING A GENDER EXPERT!!

I watched the video, took running notes throughout about what I would have gone about differently and proceeded to write almost four pages to this person. I edited, re edited, took out the majority of my opinions, and re worded things a million times. I was worried that they would think I hadn’t watched the video, which would come off as unprofessional, and seeing as I want to do similar work when I get back, I didn’t want them to think I had just forgotten about it, so I sent it. I sent it and then I freaked the hell out. This is an email, this individual doesn’t know me in person and though I meant everything I pointed out from a loving perspective, sending opinions on race and identity through an email can get so twisted, and they are an expert, and who did I think I was??? I also riddled the email with small jibes at myself about how I wasn't qualified to do this, which just made me look more like a psycho. I called my partner and proceeded to freak to them about what I had done, and which point they tried to get me to calm down.

You know the GENDER book I was plugging in a few different posts on here? As much as I have only received positive feedback from the group that are running the project, I still worry that they view me as the freaky girl in Botswana who is a little stalkery in her enthusiasm. I sent an email to Ivan Coyote, whose books have been an amazing support and outlet for me here, and all I can think about it how, after the second update on how the support group was doing, that they probably weren’t interested and I was probably wasting their time...DESPITE the fact that they sent me a book...a signed book. You question yourself here in so many ways that you never would have thought about back home because you have too much time to be in your own head. I get that this is a normal process for a 24, soon to be 25 year old, and I can’t wait to get a little older, and to be a little bit more stable in myself, but I have the ability to be such a confident mofo, and the isolation just points out so much that is hard to escape and it throws me off my game.

Thirdly, and this is a super duper fun one, Peace Corps can sometimes act as this weird twilight zone kind of space when viewing your past and your future. I will preface this one with the fact that this maybe a specific experience for someone who has joined the service young. It is your real life, but it is nothing like the life before, so it is hard to mesh them together. It makes you question things like whether or not you actually want to live in the united states for the rest of your life, it makes you wonder about whether or not this nomadic type living may be what you want forever. It makes you think about what your life would be like had you stuck on the course that some of your friends had, like graduate school, or getting married, or babies. A friend of mine had an INTENTIONAL CHILD! I had a friend who had been married for a few years and actually planned, and succeeded in getting pregnant. I had friends who had unintentional babies, which was wonderful and still a delightful surprise, but people my age are now planning on getting pregnant and...you know...doing it...DOING IT FOR THE SAKE OF BABIES!

I’m planning a trip for after COS, and it was supposed to be Kilimanjaro but it doesn’t appear like I am going to be able to get a big enough group for it, so I’m planning something else. What I really want to do is go to Mongolia for the Naadam Festival which is this awesome nomad sports competition, which includes one of the largest horse races in the world. I want to do this, because the logical choice of Spain, seems to easy for me now. It doesn’t seem like enough of a travel challenge. SPAIN, I’m such a snooty world person now, that freaking Spain, which is one of the most interesting cultural clashes in the world of Islamic and Christian empires, doesn’t seem like it would be interesting enough. I have half a free ticket through British Airlines, which doesn’t fly to Mongolia, but does to Spain, and still I am thinking about Mongolia. I have spent the last 2 yrs getting paid about $300 a month, and half a plane ticket isn’t tempting me enough to knock out other options.

Stupid Peace Corps...

So the hardest thing about Peace Corps, is being in Peace Corps. It is going to open you up, rip out your insides, smoosh them around, and then put them back in you and do a shoty job of stitching you up. It’s going to make you question, and doubt and turn things around over and over in your head so much that they wear a track between your frontal lobe and the left and right hemispheres of your brain. It’s being your only option for company, and cooking for one, and questioning whether or not your role models think you are creepy, and at the end of the day going to bed, knowing you are going to have to wake up and do it all over again.

The best part of Peace Corps, is knowing that you can, and that you will, and that the painful process of expansion leaves you with a version of yourself that you love that much more.

It really is the hardest job you will ever love...

Thanks for reading my freak out, hope all is well where you are!
Claire

Friday, April 11, 2014

WWCS: Weird White Chick Syndrome

I have wanted to post about this subject for a while but was trying to figure out how I wanted to go about explaining this phenomenon. I would like to also say that this is not something that is specific to any one gender along the spectrum and could just as easily be titled "Weird White Person Syndrome." These phenomenon happen almost exclusively after someone has come to realize that I am not, in fact, a tourist because I speak Setswana and have been living here for two years (AS OF TODAY!)

I believe the main factors of these types of interactions are based on a few things: 1.) I am an EXTREME minority in this country, and even more so as a white Botswana resident who speaks Setswana, which makes me a bit of a fascination. 2.) The assumption that because I am white, I have certain access to resources that I may, or may not, actually have (white privilege is a whole different ball game here.) 3.) Even though I am a resident, I'm still a foreigner which means I am not completely subject to the rules of social etiquette; therefore I am an open ear to any taboo topics people feel they can't talk about with other nationals. And 3.) Because I work at a clinic, I must be a doctor...

This will be a blogpost in three movements; The Hilarious, The Heartbreaking, and the Heartwarming. I hope you enjoy!

The Hilarious: Sex and Candy

I live about 45 mins-1 hour away from the shopping village I get the majority of my groceries from (depending on how fast the bus/combi/hitch is going) and within that shopping village I pretty much always go to the SPAR store. I do this for a few reasons; it is close to the rank and the hitch spot, so I don't have to lug stuff around as much, it is clean and the staff are friendly, and it is right next to an ATM for the bank I have an account with in Botswana. 

Because I go to the same place every time I go shopping, and because I go shopping once every two weeks or so, the majority of the staff at the SPAR know me by name, and have come to be friendly acquaintances. I often chat with these ladies about what is going on in my community, what I have been up to, and where I am coming from/ going to (if I happen to be traveling.) A few of them have tried the "you will take me to America with you", or "you will bring me a white man" to which I give the usual response: "If you get a visa and want to pay for the ticket, sure" and "if an available one comes to visit I will make sure to bring him by." 

It is not unusual at all for any of the staff to approach me while I'm shopping and start a friendly conversation, so I was not at all surprised when one of the security personnel came up to me in the cereal isle. 

Security Lady: "Dumela Tlotlo! Le Kae? (Hello Tlotlo [my Tswana name]! How are you?)
Me: "Dumela Mma! Ke teng, wena le kae?" (Hello Ma'me! I'm fine, and you?)
Security Lady: Ke teng (I'm fine) I want to talk with you about something. *Puts on serious face and gets a little more quiet*
Me: Okay, what would you like to talk about?
Security Lady: I think you might know about these things more, and I don't have anyone to talk to since it is *shakes her head*
Me: Okay Mma, you can talk to me, how can I help?
Security Lady: Well when my boyfriend and I are...*longest pause ever*...you know...sharing a blanket (common Setswana verbage for having sex)
Me: Being intimate?
Security Lady: Eh Mma. I am never *gestures to her pants* being so much wet.
Me: Ohhhhhhhh

I would like to point out that even though I have talked about masturbation with truck drivers, how to put on condom properly with village chiefs, and sex toys and their benefits with nurses, that asking about natural lubricant in a grocery isle while I'm trying to buy coffee still caught me a bit off guard. So I took a second or two to gather my thoughts before answering.

Me: Well Mma, there are a few ways you can fix that, but the fastest one may be to try and buy some lubricant. You can get it at the local pharmacies behind the counter and it costs about p50. I have a few free samples at my house that I can bring you next time I am shopping and if they work than you can try and find a place to buy more of your own. Does that sound like something you want to try?
Security Lady: Eh Mma! That would be great, thank you so much Tlotlo. You still need to give me American candy. (I had told her about when I went home for Christmas and she had asked for candy. Normally I turn people down for this but had agreed this time.) 
Me: Eh Mma.

So low and behold, a few weeks later I was walking into the SPAR with a little bag with two sample size lubricant packets (thanks to a member of the support group who brings lube to all the meetings) and two Worthers caramel candies. I talked to her briefly about making sure she was using a condom, and that her and her boyfriend should get tested, and that having "warm up" time may get rid of the need to buy expensive lube since foreplay and anything but missionary sex are still new concepts in Botswana's sexual landscape, and wished her luck. I also said I could help her find a place to buy her own if she liked them, and that it was good that she wanted to have lubricated sex, since the trend of using "drying powders" is still something that happens here quite frequently.

All in all it was exactly the type of interaction that, in my opinion, is one of the biggest changing factors when it comes to Peace Corps Volunteers. These one on one conversations that truly have an impact and are easily followed up on. She wasn't in the last time I went shopping, but I'm going to ask her about it next time I see her. I hope everything was...slick. ;)

The Heartbreaking: No Cycle

Everyday I head to work, I walk down the main road of Ramokgonami to get to the clinic. Over the course of this walk I pass the crazy lady neighbors house, who seems to enjoy speaking to me in RAPID Setswapong (the regional dialect of Setswana) despite the fact that I don't know what she is saying, one bar, and the newly opened TK's butchery. 

The butchery has been under construction pretty much since I came to Rams and opened up a few months ago. There are always a few people hanging out and many times there is some sort of dead animal carcass hanging in the tree. I always call out and say "hi" to everyone and then have to explain that the reason I don't come in is because I don't eat meat, but I hope they are getting a lot of business. 

On this particular morning I called out, and a woman came out of the shop and told me to hold up. I recognized her from around but didn't know her name. She greeted me and then we got down to business pretty quickly, which is always an indication that a conversation is going to be serious since the cultural norm here is to have a 5-10min chat about each person's lives before getting to the topic at hand. 

She confirmed that I worked at the clinic and then said that she needed some help since she hadn't gotten a period in a while. My mind immediately jumped to pregnancy, since that tends to be the usual case of the missing period, but when I asked exactly how long, she responded "Since 2009." 

I can not explain how big a deal having a child is here. It is pretty much the pinnacle of womanhood in a lot of communities and often times the only thing women aspire to do. In some areas a man and a woman must prove their fertility prior to getting married, and in many places the lebola (bride price) goes up depending on how many kids you have had. I've been told many times that because I am 24 and have no children that I am "not yet a woman" and that I should start on that soon. When I carried my land lady's daughter around on my back in the typical Botswana fashion a bunch of people in the community asked if I had, had a kid. An older female RPCV who was stationed near me had no children and was constantly having to explain that decision to those around her.  

I asked if she had seen a doctor and she said that she had gone to the clinic and they had referred her to the Mahalapye Primary Hospital where they had done a bunch of tests and that nothing had come up. I explained that I could try and look some things up, but that I wasn't a doctor or a nurse and that she would have much better luck talking with a medical professional. She asked if I knew of any surgeries in South Africa or pills I could get from the US to help, and I had to explain again that since I wasn't a doctor, and didn't know what was wrong with her, that I wouldn't even know where to start. 

In the back of my mind I wanted to tell her that this would leave her time to do other things, and that not having a kid didn't mean the end of her life, but who says that kind of thing? This would probably mean she would never be married, that her community may never recognize her as a full woman, and that the sacred gates to motherhood would never be opened for her.

I told her that I would ask at the clinic, and that I would be praying for her, and walked away feeling like I had failed a member of my community. It is times like these that I do wish I had all the answers, and that the US had some sort of magical pill to make medical problems go away. But I don't, and it doesn't.

Heartwarming: Toothpaste Buddy

I stick out when I am traveling around. I stick out to the tourists because I am sort of dirty looking, and I tend to be walking from or towards a bus rank or hitch spot, and I stick out to the locals because I am white, and even more so because I say "dumela!" instead of "hello!" This is not helped by the fact that I carry around a bright orange backpack and it is usually so full that I look like some huntched over dwarf who is bringing back her daily hull from the mines while singing "hi-ho." When the main two compartments of my pack are full, I tend to shove things in the water bottle pockets. I had to learn the hard way that though this is acceptable for certain things like socks, or flip flops, it is not so much for others like...cell phones, after getting one stolen a few months back in Mahalapye. 

This time around I was just in Palapye for a few hours to pick up some food, and then go to Lindsay's house to grab a shower while I waited for my bus to leave, since my water had been out for about a month. I had therefore shoved a toothbrush and toothpaste into the side pockets since I like the feeling of being clean all over simultaneously and thought it would pair well with my first legitimate shower in weeks. I had just arrived from the bus rank and was cutting across the Junction's parking lot (it is the little outdoor center with a bunch of shops.) I'm heading for the little back path to get to Lindsay's house when a woman calls out for me from the driver's seat of a car.

Fatima: Ma'me! Ma'me! Excuse me!
Me: *turning around and walking back the window* Dumela Mma, le kae? (I like to greet people in Setswana a.) because it catches them off guard and b.) it kills the notion that I am a tourist pretty quickly.)
Fatima: I'm well! Would you mind if I borrowed your toothpaste?  

This just made me crack up because it was just the most random thing in the world to happen and we both had a good laugh about it as I pulled out the toothpaste from my water bottle pocket and handed it through the window to her. She busted out a toothbrush from some pocket to the side of her and globbed a big thing right on there as I continued to laugh like an idiot in the parking lot. 

She asked where I was from and where I was going, and said that she was heading back to Gabs where she lives. When I told her I lived in Ramokgonami, she asked what I was doing there and I gave her the whole Peace Corps Volunteer, teaching health schpeel. She was super nice, and incredibly friendly, so when she asked for my number I didn't hesitate to give it to her and tell her she should buzz me the next time she was in the area. 

PEOPLE SHE IS SO CUTE! She proceeded to make sure I got back to Ramokgonami okay by texting me later that day. This was followed up by a phone call that weekend to see what I was up to and when I told her I was out visiting Janina near Bobonong, she wished me a happy visit. She called again a few days ago to chat and said that I MUST come stay with her next time I was in Gabs, and when would I be coming down? When she found out I am leaving Bots in July she offered to help find me a job so that I could stay, and when I said I needed something with a pay check and that it was probably time to see my family, she offered to find me a husband. When I told her I had no interest in a husband, or getting married any time soon, SHE AGREED WITH ME AND SAID SHE DIDN"T WANT TO EITHER!!!

Guys, guys...GUYS! If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time you know that the idea that a woman wants to hold off getting married so she can, in Fatima's words, "be free" is freaking unheard of and I was just so excited that I had made a new toothpaste friend. She also didn't ask me to take her to America, or find her a white man, or ask me to give her stuff (other than a bit of toothpaste.) It is something I am really going to miss about living in Botswana because I feel like it is the type of interaction that just wouldn't happen on the regular in the US.

Ultimately she just seems like a big ball of sunshine and I hope to be able to visit her next time I am in gabs or next time she is up in this region again.  

In Conclusion

I hope these case studies have been both entertaining and informative in giving you an idea of the symptoms and side effects of WWCS. If you or a loved one are experiencing any or all of these, or similar symptoms, you may want to consult a local on the possibility of you being a Peace Corps Volunteer, ex-pat, or foreign resident.

As always, hugs and smooches, 
Claire

p.s. Happy two year in country anniversary to me! :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Re Cap

Nothing too structured today, just wanted to let you all in on what is going on with life, and where things seem to be heading.

All the paperwork for the Ramokgonami Tree Nursery is done! Now I am just waiting for One Acre to fund the project online, wait a week or two and then have the funds in my account. I'm a little concerned that we are starting this project in the winter. When I had originally applied for this I thought we would be able to get the funds by February, which means we could have had at least a pseudo crop by the time the rain stopped and the cold rolled in, but I am thinking that is no longer going to be the case. This is not the end of the world since one of the main community contributors grows moringa, so really the more important part is the construction of the shelter and then the workshop training about how to harvest, and prepare the leafs and the seeds. Hoping we can have a test run with using the seeds to filter water out in the lands before I go, but only time will tell.

The LGBT support group is going on a retreat over the Easter weekend and I'm pretty pumped! I'm going to be running a workshop on Community Mobilization, as well as helping out with the talent show. I love this amazing group of people and I have yet to spend any amount of time with them without learning something new about the world, orientation and identity. Last meeting we had a creative outlet section and everyone was able to read poetry or share stories that touched them. Our President shared a story out of an Ivan Coyote book I gave to the group, and another individual wrote a rap about domestic abuse. I really want to try and get these wonderful people more resources before I go, by way of books, movies, literature and anything else I can get my hands on. If you have a lead on how I might be able to go about this, please leave a comment! (In the next month or so we are getting at least two copies of "the GENDER book which I could not be more stoked about.)

My water is still out, which is worrisome seeing as I have about 5 people coming to my house this weekend. My land lady has been out in the lands farming so I haven't been able to talk to her about whether or not she has received my rent from the Ministry of Health. It sorta irks me that she just put in a new fence, but then turns around and says she doesn't have money to pay the water bill...something here seems fishy to me.

Still working on trying to get the pre school roof fixed, at this point we need to set up a bank account so I can help them put together a crowd funding campaign.

It will be like this...but bigger
Because of my extension, and Janina's invitation to serve in Peace Corps Response in El Salvador for the next 8 months, my epic month long trip to Southeast Asia has been canceled. In its place I think I am going to attempt to summit Kilimanjaro.  I have had a few friends do this, and though I have never in my life climbed a mountain, I figure go big or go home...right? And when I say "big" I mean Africa's tallest peak, and the world's largest free standing mountain... The tentative plan is to try and get a bunch of PCVs together along with my Aunt's sister, who is currently living in Tanzania, and fly out around July 12th, spend 6 days on the mountain, and then have some recoup time in Zanzibar. Then I"M COMING HOME!!

I have been reading the Bhagavad Gita lately at both the suggestion of a friend and the want to expand my knowledge of different faith practices. This one is especially close to my heart since my partner is Hindu, and I want to try and have a deeper understanding of their religious beliefs. It is a truly beautiful piece of writing between Arjuna and Krishna, and talks a lot about ones eternal calling to devotion, as well as touching on the essence of "being." I was balancing this, with a book called Dancing in the Glory of Monsters which details the complex political intricacies of the Congolese wars. Yeah...apparently I have been feeling deep lately.

I'm trying to make sure I am able to get in shape for the possibility of the Kilimanjaro summit attempt, so I started doing a fun workout called "Slim in 6" while I was out this weekend in Gobojango visiting Janina. Holy heck...I...HURT...SO...BAD! But in a good way :) Going to try and do this at least 4-5 times a week, and may even start running at some point (I have never actually run as an adult due to a pretty major ankle injury, so we will see if this is even possible.) I have pretty much given up on yoga at this point, despite my want to be into it. I just have a hard time getting into workouts that aren't a little more cardio active. I was talking to my yogi friend Daniella about this and she said that my crazy jumping around, squat routine in Slim in 6 can be yoga too, it would just be an asana.
Claire "yoga"

What is an asana you ask?

"Basically, asana is any physical exertion practiced with steadiness and ease. Carried out in this way , the exertion decreases your restiveness and helps you contemplate the infinite. Eventually, you reach a state of equanimity with the outside world." ~Daniella

"Asana is mindful crazy yoga." ~Claire

I think this will probably more so apply to when I start rowing again, because there is something about being so incredibly in touch in a good row, when you are flowing with your boat, and the water is smooth, and everything is set, that I doubt doing lung squats in my kitchen will get me.

I have started the process of attempting to get an internship with Equality Michigan and in said process spiffied up my resume and cover letter writing skills! It sounds like I am going to be gunning for an internship in their Advocacy department with split time with the Public Policy department, which I'm all about, especially seeing what is currently going on in Michigan when it comes to the fight for equal rights.

I'm have been writing a lot lately, and that makes me happy.

So that is pretty much it, trying to stay strong while I'm going crazy with work here, but I sorta love it. I have a check list for the day that I am about half way through, so its time to go get on the other half and then go home to clean...WOOT!

Hugs and smooches,
Claire

p.s. If there are any people out there who emailed me questions about serving in Peace Corps Botswana and I did NOT respond to you, please shoot me another line. Life has been crazy lately, and I promise I am not ignoring you :)