Monday, November 21, 2016

Tactical Compassion

I have a safety pin to a Trump supporter yesterday...

She asked if she could have one from the box in my cubicle and I explained what it meant. I told her that the pin itself meant little, because a pin can't start a conversation, lead someone to safety, or insert itself in dangerous situation, but she could. She asked if I thought people would think she was a hypocrite for wearing it (she had made it clear through social media, who she voted for), and I told her they might, and that she could be getting some very legitimate anger her way. "But if you truly believe that you are willing and able to provide a safe place for people of color, immigrants, Muslims and queer folks like me, I think it may be even more important that people like you wear this." She agreed she would do it, and we talked about getting lunch at some point in the future. I don't know if I could have the full conversation with her about the impact of her vote, without getting angry, right now, but I want to. I want to listen to why this kind human being in my life, would put her most basic political power behind a person so vile. I want to understand, and more importantly, I want her to understand, we NEED to understand. So I gave a Trump supporter a safety pin yesterday, and I think my heart hurt a little less in the process. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Last First Day!

Here it is folks, my last first day of school! I of course am saying this with the sincere hope that I don't get it stuck in my mind to go for a PhD at any point, though goodness knows that might happen a bit farther down the line. Anyhoo, here is what you have missed while I have been away.

I'm currently working for the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department, within their Integrated Planning and Analysis Unit. I really couldn't be happier this with job, as it allows me to take on project from across county departments. For example, at the moment I'm working as part of a task force to end chronic homelessness in Hennepin County before the end of 2017 (learn more at while also helping out some folks that are running a program to help children that have been take from their homes by CPS, to have an easier transition in school. I will get to stay in this position until the end of the year, and I really couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity. 

Part way through the summer I was invited to TA for one of my favorite classes last year, AKA Qualitative Analysis Methods. I know this might not sound exciting for most of you, but I'm really into it. I get to teach lab, and help student work their way through a semester long research project. This was the same class I did research on individuals who use the term "queer" in their sexual orientation labels last year, and it was pretty epic. :) First lab tomorrow, I'm going to show these peeps how to write a bang up literature review, and we are going to talk about the IRB process!!! Okay...maybe I do need a PhD?

On top of this I was elected as the Chair of the Gender, Sex and Policy Events Committee at the Humphrey, and will be finishing out my term as the elected Community Engagement Chair for the Public Affairs Student Association. Just so we are keeping on top of the math, that is 14 credits, 20hrs of county work a week, 10 hrs of TA work a week, and 2 different student groups. 

I'm also auditioning for One Voice (which, hereto after shall be referred to as "Gay Choir") because music makes me happy, and it is okay for it to take up time in my life. 

The cats are well, my partner is awesome, no one in my family has cancer any more (congrats Mom and Lil Bro bro!), and though life is busy, I'm really happy. 

More check-ins to come!

Hugs and smooches, 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Goodness it has been a while! I said I would try and post regularly and then, as per usual, life got a bit in the way. It isn't that life wasn't in the way during Peace Corps, just that life was slower, and more relaxed, and life here...well, isn't.

I've been feeling good lately, my want to board a plane to anywhere only comes up once every month or so. The work I am doing, both academically and professionally feels important, like I'm setting things up and accomplishing them all in one. I have a qualitative project I'm excited about, I'm presenting a policy brief I have been working on for the last five months to my bosses bosses at the County Election Office, and I have been offered an internship in New York, had a successful interview for one in Washington DC, and have moved on to the next level of review for another job in the county here (which would be paid, and run for a year!)

My partner has been invited to interview for a new job next week. Mom and Little Brother are in remission, my Little Sister received a summer fellowship with NOA, and Dad is going to be able to start rowing off his stress in just a week from now on the water.

I was elected to the Community Engagement Chair of the Public Affairs Student Association and I believe that I am going to be able to implement a "Rent-a-Grad" program similar to a program we used while I was an undergraduate rower at State. I have a few hundred dollars in my budget and I am hoping to be able to support a program called Laundry Love that opens up a laundromat for free washes for people that need them.

I had an allergic reaction to tuna, and now know what hives look/feel/itch like...

My partner and I are going to take the Foreign Service Exam this summer and I'm currently studying under a 20yr Foreign Service Vet learning about bilateral and multilateral diplomacy.

We don't have bugs!

I got to speak to family and friends back in Bots for the first time in a few months and it felt really wonderful. The want to get back to that side of the world is still pretty intense, but with new job possibilities around the corner, maybe not as far off as I thought it would be?

Sanders is on a roll :)

I will try and be better about this whole updating thing, no promises though.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Something We Can All Agree On

You may wonder why I announced a big rejuvenation of this blog and then disappeared, and this is why. (Written by my Dad)

Something I Know We Can All Agree Upon

Dear Family, Friends, Colleagues, Followers, and the rest of you wonderful people out there in the Internet universe that come across this post,
Thursday, December 17th is the occasion of my 55th birthday. This year and this birthday are especially poignant for me. Both my mother, Inga, and my Morfar, Sven Oscar Lundgren (my Swedish grandfather on my mother’s side), passed at age 55. So now is as good a time as any for me to take a look back and remember these two wonderful big personalities that had such a big impact on my life. Time has softened some tough memories, and I now fondly look back on many wonderful times I spent with both of them, especially Swedish Christmas.
But I write today (and will repost often this week, sorry about that) for another reason. In this day of contention, worry, derisive political antics, religious arguments and blustering personalities, I want to ask your help with something that I am certain will get 100% agreement from 100% of the people that read this, no matter your religion, political bent, what you look like or where you are from.
Cancer, Fucking Cancer……This insidious disease has recently touched way to many wonderful friends my family knows, and recently made a visit to my immediate family. As I am sure most of you can sadly attest, MF cancer (one F-bomb is probably enough) has touched way too many people we all know and love. Cancer hits indiscriminately, across all economic classes, religious and political beliefs, it does not spare nationalities or races. It has got to go!
Our personal family story:
After a routine mammogram this past July, my wife Lisa was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ commonly referred to as DCIS (or early stage breast cancer.) Shockingly just a few months later our son Adam was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Fortunately the prognosis for both is extremely positive.
Lisa just wrapped up her treatment last week, including racing (and qualifying for next year!) in the Head of the Charles regatta in Boston, 5 weeks after her lumpectomy surgery, in a Womens Eight for the Ann Arbor Rowing Club.

My mom in the center 
Last week Adam completed his first month, of what is expected to be a four to six month course, of chemotherapy that will take place every other week. He is grinding through his Computer Science, Statistics and Swedish finals at the University of Michigan this week and expects to stay in school next semester as well. Unfortunately Adam had to stop rowing for the Michigan Mens Rowing Team this year after a very successful first year competing that ended with Michigan winning their 8th straight team national championship at the American Collegiate Rowing Association National Championships. He plans to return to the team next year. Row Blue!
Lil bro bro rocking the row (he is in the hat)
What am I up to.....

So why am I tying all of this together with my 55th birthday you may ask? Obviously our family has a rowing problem, but we don’t need help with that.
On Thursday a few of my Ann Arbor Rowing Club teammates will half jokingly post that I should erg (an indoor rowing torture machine) 55 kilometers (~34.18 miles) for my 55th birthday. While I do not plan to do this in one sitting, pesky work prevents that possibility; I am going to do it and row a total of 55k this Thursday, December 17th.
In celebration of life and my wonderful family, but especially for Lisa and Adam this year, I am asking all of you to do two things to support my just over 34 mile rowing odyssey that will not take me anywhere.
mom, lil bro bro, dad
First please consider making what I am calling a 55 donation, $5.50, $55, $550, or even $5,500 or more, to support cancer research at the University of Michigan (where both Lisa and Adam are getting fantastic treatment), or the cancer research or treatment center of your choice. See links at end of this post.
Along with happy birthday wishes (who doesn’t want those!) this Thursday I would so appreciate to see confirmations of your donations (message me if you don’t want to publicly post about donations) so I can keep track and post a total raised……….once I recover. Make a donation on the 17th and you get a tax donation for 2015.
The second thing I would ask you to consider doing, please like, share this post and the link for this post as often as you are willing through Thursday, 12/17. Maybe we can get some deep pockets to contribute if this post gets enough traction and raise some serious cash for a very worthy cause, no matter where the money goes.
Thanks so much!
Our Family
Relavent Links:
University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center -!/med/umhs-ccc
List of best cancer research hospitals by US News and World Report -
Best cancer related charities by Charity Watch -
#fuckcancer #beatcancer #fightcancer #nomorecancer #cancersucks #breastcancer #breastcancerswareness #cancercure #cancerawareness #hodgkinslymphoma #lymphoma #lymphomaawareness #fightbreastcancer #fightlymphoma #InnovateBlue #LeadersAndBest #UMich #GoBlue 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Little Wins

Been feeling the stress lately, so I wanted to make a list of my "little wins" for the week:

  • I got the top grade on a practice management memo in my management of organizations class
  • Went out for drinks at the neighborhood bar with classmates last night, and felt like there are some real friendships in the making going on
  • The class in which I met the aforementioned classmates is physically over and there are only two more short individual projects left to turn in next week (this class was...stressful, post about it later maybe.)
  • I was invited to interview for a policy job working on voter registration
  • I applied for an internship at the State Department (Bureau of Multilateral and Global Affairs, send good thoughts my way!)
  • I reformatted the blog! What do y'all think? The picture in the background is of me on a walk about on an island in the Okavango Delta. I thought it might be a good "I'm starting a new adventure" type vibe. Comment below!

Love you all, 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Welcome to the New Site!

...that looks exactly like the old site because I haven't really changed anything...

I'm going to try and figure out if there is a way for me to archive my "Peace Corps Ginger" blog within this site, and to make sure that those of you wanting to access my writings from during my service are still able to. In the meantime, however, I have been encouraged by a few people to continue my writings in blog format, for the adventures I will be having during my graduate education! I'm guessing most posts will read as follows:

Claire wakes up early to do the readings she should have done last night
Claire pulls an all nighter to finish a project
Claire geeks out over *insert policy topic here*
Claire finally understands the Minnesota "hot dish" (never to be confused with a casserole)
Claire gets lost in Mall of America and is never seen again

At this point you may have gathered that I'm attending school in Minneapolis, MN, and you would be right! I'm currently in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, working on my Masters of Public Policy, with a concentration in Gender and Public Policy, a minor in Human Rights, and a certificate in Nonprofit Management. I like to call this particular academic track: "how many fancy looking pieces of paper could I have on a future office wall?"

I'm a bit busy to try and reformat the blog at this moment, so I will leave you with this little nugget, pulled from a family update I sent out in my 3rd week of classes (I'm now in my 7th.) Talk more soon, and thanks for tuning in!

Claire's Top Three in the First Three Moments:

1st: Discovering that the "W. Mondale", who co-teaches my Politics in Public Affairs class was actually Mr. Walter Mondale, VP to President Jimmy Carter, and unsuccessful Presidential hopeful against Reagan. He is present in about 30% of our lectures, and it is hilarious to watch him butt into the regular lecture with stories about the politics behind the policy we are discussing. This man headed the domestic arm of the Church Committee, which was fascinating to hear about, and horrifying to comprehend.

2nd: Meeting a Zambian international student in my Gender and Public Policy class and being able to geek out over that corner of Sub Saharan Africa. Though Agness doesn't speak Setswana, I was able to look up a bit of Chewa and greet her properly by the second class. When the professor asked her is there were any other students she knew from Zambia, she said one, and then patter me on the back and said she now knew one from Botswana as well. You could not have sanded the grin off my face for the rest of the evening.

3rd: Being able to raise my hand in my Management of Organizations course, as one of the few students who have experience in the nonprofit sector, for profit sector and government sector. I'm in the middle/ on the younger end of my cohort at Humphrey, and there are some amazing students with insane amounts of experience in the program. If felt nice to think that I could hang with them, and that I'm holding my own as an outspoken student in a body of outspoken students.

~Claire (and still Tlotlo)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Flight Risk

The urge to run is like a million bugs beneath my skin
The want to tear up the roots
To find new soil
Like the earth itself is calling me, haunting and delightful

The urge to break away is like the cane in a vaudeville show
A lasso at a rodeo
The moment before a bungee jump
The stress, the want, the need, inescapable

Have I the nomads curse? 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Afterword

I know it has been so long since I posted here; the last time I spoke with you all I was in Spain, trying to come to grips with what had just ended and what was about to begin.

To go over the super duper basics: I was able to land two jobs about two months after getting back. One is with an organization that works as a middle man between a large foundation in Detroit and the organizations they give loans to (most of these organizations are ones that try and provide help to startup businesses in Michigan.) The other job is as a host at a local restaurant that I used to work at, though a different branch, that is based here in Ann Arbor.

My partner and I went on a trip to California for about a week, and I'm now convinced that I need to move to the Bay Area pronto.

Im saving up money so I can go on a trip to El Salvador to visit my good friend Janina :)

I have started applying to Graduate Schools in attempts to get a Masters in Nonprofit Management.

I don't freak out in grocery stores any more, though the mall is still overwhelming (then again, the mall was always a little overwhelming.)

I only think about Bots about 6 times a day, and half of those times sorta feel like you do when you are trying to grasp for a dream you had last night, and you can just barely put your finger on the details.

I guess we are going to get into the deeper stuff now...

I put off writing this for a long while because it felt like it would really be the end. That I would have to look back on the past two years and see that I had crossed the finish line. I also put off writing things because SO MUCH of the emotion that I have been going through has been hard to put into words, even for me.

Coming home didn't really feel like coming home, and yet my time in Peace Corps feels like a dream now. Like this weird, slightly un-relateable experience that was my whole existence for so long and is now just over. I feel like I'm being one of those douchey travel brats every time I try and contribute to a conversation with a Bots story, but it's all I have right now. I miss my house, I miss my community, I miss the library and I miss my friends.

I think the hardest thing about coming home, aside from all the adjustment and all the change, is that I feel like I have started to lose sight a bit of who I was in Bots. Now, in some cases this is a good thing, I for sure like having things to do in the sense that I can end the day saying I worked honestly for a paycheck. As those of you who have been following along should know, that is not always what life in Botswana was like.

But I also feel like I'm losing my ability to go out and have an adventure, or to be totally independent, or to stretch myself out of my comfort zone. Now that I have gotten used to the consumerism of the US again (believe it or not, that was more of an adjustment than you would think) I don't really leave my comfort zone a whole lot here, and I miss that. I miss having to throw caution to the wind and strike up a conversation in Setswana, or trying to figure out how I am going to get home with food when the combi breaks down. I miss trying to come up with plan A-Z because you know the first dozen plans are going to fall apart. I miss striking out on weekends with my pack and a vague plan, and going to visit people in different parts of the country. I miss the sense of camaraderie that you get with your fellow Volunteers. I miss feeling like I was really working towards a change that was making a difference in people's lives.

Don't get me wrong, I like my new jobs, but they just aren't the same. As I was getting trained in the busy restaurant where I now work, the person showing me around glanced back after taking a family to their table and asked if I was going to be alright in the fast paced environment, and that she hoped I wasn't getting overwhelmed. "Not much overwhelms me these days" I responded, thinking back onto my panicked first night at the house, or how stressful trying to get the tree nursery project done in the last couple of months was. A restaurant? Crabby patrons? This was nothing.

And now I have to face a really odd break in the path, one where I need to be making decisions about what I am going to be doing with my life. I can see the options laid out in front of me and I'm not sure what I feel about any of them. I could go to graduate school, get a job in the Non-Profit sector, get married, have babies, work to make sure there is enough money to travel at least once a year, and grow old. There is also the option to try and get back into the field immediately, to try and find something that isn't Peace Corps, but Peace Corpsesque. I could apply for jobs abroad, I could actually take the Foreign Service Exam and maybe go work in an embassy. But then when would I be able to have kids? And will my partner be willing to make those types of sacrifices so that I can do what I want to do? Can I handle the pressure of either a.) having another person make changes in their life to accommodate mine and/or b.) make changes in my life to accommodate another person? I've never done that before.

And what if I choose the straight, narrow and domestic, and I get 20years down the line, and I regret what I did? I regret not spending a few more years in the field, and I resent the mini van? This is a joke only a few will get, but I love the idea of owning a mini van since they are comfortable and carry a lot of things, and I have a lot of wonderful memories in our family mini van. My partner makes fun of me for this, since the idea of owning a mini van to her is almost physically painful.

It is hard for me to wrap my head around a lot of these things. It's hard for me to try and be a grownup, when all I want to do is hit the road again. I have the moments, the ones where I feel so content, and so happy, and those moments come somewhat frequently, but just as frequently is the pull to get back out in the world. The world of discomfort, the world of challenge, the world of adventure.

I'm going to post this as is for the moment, but there will be more to come. There will also be some debate on how this site is going to change a bit soon, and how I want to keep writing, but am no longer a currently serving PCV.

Hugs and smooches,

Sunday, July 13, 2014


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

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!!