Watercolor World Map

Watercolor World Map
Dream of traveling the World- Only those who wish they had your courage will tell you not to follow your dreams*

Friday, July 31, 2015

Closing time... for some...

Well, COSC was fun! We got spoiled in the beautiful northern village of Kasane. We stayed at Chobe Marina Lodge, which is far out of my pay grade. We ate too much food and had some great reflection time with the whole group. We had sessions to discuss reverse culture shock, reflecting on our experiences, and sharing some of our moments during service. Staff were present and sociable throughout. We also had our last language exam. Oops! Kind of went downhill. Luckily, I get to report my highest score which was a good one! But, I have failed at learning much of the language here. I can definitely understand more than I am able to verbally respond, but I still have a long way to go. Gotta impress the in-laws and all! ;)

Luckily, my cohort was not as dramatically excited to finish service as I assumed the overall attitude would be (sorry guys! And thanks!). For those of us extending, it was a very different time. I wanted to participate, but also had to deal with the fact that some things didn’t apply to me yet. I took some of it to heart for sure, I have a month home coming up and I fear the infamous supermarket breakdown that seems to occur to RPCVs. I get overwhelmed at a restaurant here in Gabs sometimes, how will American restaurants and stores compare!? Reverse culture shock is real. I experienced it coming back from Belize when I had only been there 2 weeks, let alone 2 years of Botswana.

I talked with some PCVs about souvenirs and what to take/what not to take home with them when they COS. It was interesting. I think many of us share the desire to live with less. However, I want my house to be a living, 3-dimensional scrapbook. I don’t want useless things, but at the same time I want house décor that shows where I have been, where pieces of my heart still reside. I am finding one fun way to do it though, is to wear it! Jewelry and purses: functional souvenirs if you will. I have my pouches from Belize, so why not add to the concept! Baskets. Very Tswana and very functional. Tah-dah! Crisis averted. I will be bringing home lots of Botswana with me. I have bone salt and pepper shakers that were gifts. Ostrich egg jewelry and paper beaded bracelets and necklaces. Wearable culture; and helping out some local artisans at the same time. Done and done.

I am now busy in the prepping stages for the newest intake group. Staff have put in tons of effort to plan for this new training, and some volunteers have also put their hours in. We have a great group of language and cultural facilitators that have also been working hard already. I am so excited to see myself two years in, viewing the newness all over again through the eyes of our newest trainees. The wonder, the awe, the shiny. Before a bad moment here and there taint their eyes.I still hold on to the wonder, but it’s not as striking anymore, and it has been stained for sure. Some days darker than others. I look forward to being revitalized by the young energy as I move into my 3rd year, and close out my second year on a high note. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a PCVL, to work with the new trainees and current volunteers a like in this capacity. MoH will only be a wonderful addition to that. Cheers to more new!



Friday, July 3, 2015

Monna na le bonna!

I finally feel like I did something legitimately. I mean, I have been busy since being here,having done quite a bit by way of working in the community and youth, but I like more tangible things. I was able to organize a 2-day workshop for Parent-to-Child Communication on sex and sexual reproductive health. I was able to get the activity idea put on our evidence based plan last year. It was funded! Which means I was able to provide tea and lunch to the participants; a must for a successful workshop here.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do it in my own community, but I traveled just down the road to a neighboring village. Per our plan, we need to complete activities in every village, and we were due for one in our neighboring community. So with the help of the DAC office, and the primary school in the other village, we were able to mobilize 17 parents who each had a child in standard 5, 6, or 7 at the primary school. This was necessary as I gave them homework that involved a discussion with their child.

The workshop was such a success! The parents wanted more days! We often had to cut off conversations at some point because we had a lot to cover. They were all encouraged to keep the discussions going outside of the workshop, and they seemed enthusiastic to do so. So what did we cover? Breaking sex down so that it’s not so scary to discuss. Seeing opportunities in our daily lives to breech the topic. Focusing on the emotions and responsibilities of sex, not just the act. SEX IS EVERYWHERE. A blessing and a curse. A cure, because we HAVE to discuss sooner or later, sooner than parents would like, for sure. A blessing, because it’s everywhere! The opportunities for these discussions are knocking down our front door.
Sexual relationships on TV. Pregnant livestock. Sexual adverts in media. Movies, TV, radio. Technology is coming to Botswana quicker than ever. Luckily, this village doesn’t really have any internet and computers yet, so we didn’t have to go there quite yet. But the parents are aware. I also had just about the best group of parents ever, who were way ahead of my session plans. Most had already begun talking to their kids, and some still needed to bite the bullet.

We talked about puberty, hormones, changing times, faster rates of development, virtues that we need to all be observing, acting, and speaking on. We talked about “sex” versus “gender,” evolving gender roles. We watched two STEPs films that show youth engaging in conversations about sex with their peers, about culture and how it evolves, about the pace of today’s teenagers versus when the parents were young teens. Condoms, statistics, abstinence. What is appropriate developmentally to discuss when broken down by ages. I think we covered it all! Albeit, quickly to touch upon a variety of things. The parents have some resources now.

They were shy to use some of the correct anatomy words, which I expected, so we spent some time gaining confidence in using words. I had the whole group shouting, “Monna na le bonna,” and “Mosadi na le bosadi!” “A man has a penis,” and “a woman has a vagina!” They all joined in and were laughing, clearly they think I’m crazy, but it helped take the edge off. The next time those words came up, during the puberty discussion, they were easier to say! Crazy white girl for the win!

I could go on and on, because I am so happy with how it turned out, but think I got the point across. It was so fun for me, fun for them, and a great 2 days. I hope it is fruitful in the long term. They were given additional homework assignments to keep the conversations going with their children and to share the knowledge they gained with other parents/caregivers. They all verbally agreed to do so. Oh, and the certificates at the end were obviously the best part!

I have some busy weeks coming up, starting with another friend and her mom visiting from the states! They are already travelling around but I am meeting up with them at the tail end of their adventures next week! So looking forward to it! I am happy to share my village with people from afar, to see what I’ve really been up to these past two years. I am expecting them to be able to attend a club session too, which will be fun J
Then we have COSC, our close of service conference. We will travel north for it, to Kasane which is one of the most beautiful, albeit touristy, villages. We will even get some excursions in like a boat game cruise. It will be the last time some of us see each other before departure as our service ends. After COSC, a second community integration period will begin, where we stay at site for our last 3ish months. As stated in my previous post, this will be weird because the majority of my group will be preparing to leave Botswana, while I’m still so busy and preparing to stay for a 3rd year. I look forward to the conference though, to see everyone together one last time, to remember the good, the bad, and the ugly… and the beautiful… that is Peace Corps Botswana with Bots 14. It’s a very emotional transitional period for me. After COSC, we have a holiday weekend, then a few days at site, and off for some prep work for the incoming group (Bots 16) of trainees to arrive! I have a few weeks with them at they begin their pre-service training. Wow. This is the second cohort to come in since I've been here. And since I'm extending, I will also see the Bots 15s through their whole service... it's just weird. 


Friday, June 26, 2015

Beginning to Transition

The idea of extending as a PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) came to me, I think day 1 of PST training. It was premature, a distant idea. Who knew how things would turn out during my 26 months in PC. I had only just arrived. Always being drawn to mentorship roles, it seemed like a good possibility though. Toss in a good experience thus far and a marriage and here I am.

I got two separate phone calls from staff, one saying my extension application for the Ministry of Health was approved, and a few days later, one saying that I was selected as a PCVL. So here it is, my official statement to say, I am extending my PC service by one year. My new COS date will be mid-November 2016. Which seems oh-so-far-away. I will probably be going home for the month of November, or sometime around there, for my 30 days of mandatory home leave. I am looking forward to getting back for an American visit soon!! And by soon I mean over 5 months away. Time is relative.

I watched the countdown on my laptop desktop jump from around 130 days until COS to over 450 days. I kind of panicked. But in a good way. I am not beginning to go through but stuck in this very strange and complicated transition period. The extendee. We are a rare breed amongst PCVs. I’m currently in this weird matrix of a world where, even though I am extending my service by a year, I suddenly have no time left at site. The transition period has begun, due to the nature of my role. Workshops, leave, preparing for the incoming intake group. I knew it would be a huge process and take time, but I didn’t process what that meant by way of needing to work to close out of my current site. I have to finish a Parent-to-Child Communication workshop I created and am co-leading, have Peer Educator’s club, alert my colleagues of my new reality as it develops, say buy to my… community. I thought I had until October. Now it’s shortened because of the role I will play in the new groups training. Which is wonderful, I just need to get a move on it! Talk about multitasking.

The group of PCVLs is diverse and amazing. I think we will have a great work with such a dynamic team. We just participated in a general training of the trainers who will be at the Bots 16s PST (New intake group; Pre-service training). We worked up the knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs) that every volunteer needs and worked to create learning objectives from them. From which sessions will be built for the training using and expanding upon current material. Participating in this kind of workshop gives PCVs a whole new appreciation for staff and LCFs (learning and cultural facilitators). I am very much looking forward to PST. It was great to feel like such a part of the training team, and being able to give volunteer perspective from real village life. The perspectives were well received and heard by staff.

So, the extendee. We are seeing the last of the 12s and 13s basically head out. A few still around, but I’m not necessarily friends with them. The 15s are now heading into their second year in country. I will see them through their whole service. I will also see the 16s through their first year. The 14s, my group, are gearing up to close out and head home. We have our close of service conference (COSC) in a couple of weeks where we will begin saying bye to each other. Our last 3 months are where we have another community integration period where we do not spend overnights out of site (PCVs tend to call this “lockdown”). I am cheating the system by being a PCVL. My last 3 months at site will actually be spent out of site, at the 16s training site. I will be there almost the whole 11 weeks of their training. We will be at COSC preparing ourselves for our role in PST of the 16s while the rest of the group prepares to leave. Our mental states and attitudes are dramatically different. Maybe once they are home they will miss it here, maybe even though we chose to stay, we will be envious that they are restarting their American lives. It’s a complex transitioning period. I will be getting my gameface on to welcome in the new trainees at the same time. All transitions, all very different, all at once. I’m going to work to put together a session for extendees at our COSC so we have some time to be together, in the same boat, debriefing and such.

So my positions: I will be at Ministry of Health working in conjunction with the CDC on the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon campaign. The focus is on HPV vaccinations and on a “See & Treat” program. My role at this point is to be determined. I should be meeting the team I’ll be working with at the beginning of August. I think I will potentially help in organizing trainings for nurses on the See and Treat program/technique using white vinegar on the cervix to detect abnormal cells. The program has been piloted and well received, and MoH wants to expand it to more clinics now. Girls nationwide are also being given the HPV vaccine as cervical cancer remains a silent killer among Batswana women. PCVL is my second role and with it I will be participating in the above mentioned training, another support for PCVs, a liaison between staff and PCVs, and assisting staff with any tasks in the office as needed. Helping to organize the All Volunteer Conference is another task and possible assisting in housing security checks and site development for PCVs. There are many tasks and responsibilities but that’s an overview. I am grateful for the opportunity at hand and have enjoyed getting started so far, albeit, as an unofficial PCVL at this time. Need to get medically cleared to actually extend still!


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wedding and "non-honeymoon"

The Tswana wedding. It happened! I’m married! Ultimate cultural integration? Well, no. But I have a family now so I am working on it!

So to recap the process. Wednesday we went sign papers for our marriage being in or out of community. We also got a two hour lecture on how to be good [Christian] spouses by three pastors. At least they had a sense of humor and promoted things that are not usually part of (what I have seen) culture here, i.e. holding hands and kissing even in public! Thursday was then the real marriage ceremony. We went with our witnesses and a few close family members (my parents were here!!) to the District Commissioner. There were 10 couples getting married. We had another couple of hours of being a good spouse lecture, then couple by couple, our witnesses recited back their oaths. Next, couple by couple, we said our portion which I barely remember due to excitement and anxiety. I recall simply having to declare I had never been married and was of sound mind and assumed my partner was also of sound mind. So, it’s legit guys, we aren’t crazy! I cried like a little baby and could barely get through what I needed to say. Strangers “aww-ed” me which was a little weird. But everyone ululated and cheered for us. We signed out marriage certificate as well and were on our way to lunch at the in-laws. Which was delicious. It began to rain and we were reassured by the family’s pastor that our marriage was blessed as we brought some rain. Pula!

The night before the wedding (which was on Saturday), the bride and groom are not supposed to spend the night together. I, at the same time, was being super protective of my white dress because the “bad luck of seeing the bride’s dress or the bride in her dress before the wedding” is not observed here. But I held on to my tradition of such. The married elders have to dress the new bride in her white/traditional dresses. They were supposed to hold on to the dress until morning and then “gift” it to me. We had been traveling for a week and the dress was pretty wrinkled, so after the elders viewed it, we received permission from the grandmother to take it to the hotel to try and steam it a bit. No one said no, but some faces seemed upset by this. My groom reassured me it was okay since Granny approved and understood our travels. We kept it in my parents’ room though, not mine, and the elders dressed me. We tried to balance it all out though. And I just truly, truly hope no one *was* offended but didn’t feel they could speak up.

So after a major delay with the tent being set up, the women arrived and dressed me in my white gown. I had already had my hair and nails done by a fellow all-star PCV. The volunteers had just been hanging out around the hotel with me while we waited on the tent. Good bonding time… I guess. I got pretty anxious before my first grand reveal in my dress, luckily it was just out to the PCVs mostly. Then we drove over to Granny’s house to the wedding where I had the real grand reveal to the crowd, family, and of course, my groom. Obviously as soon as I saw him I started crying… again... as if Thursdays tears weren’t enough. We ate a delicious meal prepared by many family members and friends, we took photos on a hill of rocks with an overcast sky, and later I had the ‘married woman welcoming ceremony’ (this is what I’m calling it) where an elder aunt donned by head with a scarf and my shoulders with the family’s colored shawl – then later, a plain white one – which, as a married women, I will have to wear on certain occasions, like other weddings. This occurred while I sat on a goat skin rug. The aunt was saying things in a mix of Setswana and English and I only caught bits and pieces of it. The major piece I caught is that since I am now Motswana I should be buried in Botswana upon my death. She spoke as she waved the shawl over back and forth over the sides of my body, and bent on her knees at times to bend over my straightened out legs. At this point, I had also changed into a traditional German print dress that my in-laws had made for me. It’s hot pink and I view myself as a Tswana Barbie. And I looked adorable.

My fellow PCVs stepped up and helped make our day so special. I got my hair and nails done, a few other girls also go their hair done, we got a gluten free bride/groom cake, we had photography, and I had all the love and support I could handle!

The next week, my new husband and I traveled a bit of Botswana with my parents to show them around. We had a few bumps, as is custom when traveling in Bots, but we made it through, had fun, and enjoyed the catch up time. It was so great to show my parents what my life has been like for close to two years now. 

They were relieved to see how I have *actually* been living. Despite what I had been telling them; guess it was a great thing to break some of the African stereotypes and generalizations. We went on a game drive outside of Maun, “glamped” in Maun right on the Okavango Delta, and traveled down to the Kalahari Desert and took a walk in the bush with San and were showed many of the plants/roots that are used for medicine. This was most fascinating to me and I would love to learn more about the medicinal plants that are around. My parents stayed in a chalet but it had an open (to the sky) bathroom, as did the Maun camping, and a thatch roof! Aside from a giant wall spider creeping them out, they handled it all like champs!

Immediately after they left, I traveled North to go to a STEPs training which was awesome, aside from leaving my brand new hubby behind (no honeymoon for this couple! :o/ ) We held a training in a new style. Those of us previously trained-to-train acted as coaches; those there for the training on how to train facilitated the sessions to those who were there to learn how to facilitate. Make sense? It was pretty tricky. But it worked out with only minor minor bumps. It was great! And I always feel so accomplished after participating in a workshop like that, especially when the participants are so enthusiastic about the topic. Our workshop was even better this time around as we were lucky enough to have some guest speakers come in. One man was from a group that works to promote laws in Botswana protecting LGTBI human rights as well as support those LGBTI individuals. We also had a couple and their son that are the main characters in one of the STEPs films. They are both HIV+ and chose to have a baby who is now 6 and remains HIV-! They were wonderful, I was all giddy feeling star struck.

I am back at site for 2 weeks with the hubby. Was this our honeymoon?! We went camping in Khawa (a settlement in the southern Kalahari) at the President’s Sand Dune Challenge. It was a great time last year, too. Immediately after that I was off (once again, leaving poor hubby behind) to the second annual All Volunteer Conference in the capital for social, bonding, sessions, and good times with staff and volunteers alike. This year the AVC was themed “Re Mmogo” meaning “We’re together.” We had packed days of sessions from 8am until 10pm. After that and camping prior, I was EXHAUSTED to say the least. I slept for like 14 hours that night I got back.


Up next… extending…
The Tswana wedding. It happened! I’m married! Ultimate cultural integration? Well, no. But I have a family now so I am working on it!
So to recap the process. Wednesday we went sign papers for our marriage being in or out of community. We also got a two hour lecture on how to be good [Christian] spouses by three pastors. At least they had a sense of humor and promoted things that are not usually part of (what I have seen) culture here, i.e. holding hands and kissing even in public! Thursday was then the real marriage ceremony. We went with our witnesses and a few close family members (my parents were here!!) to the District Commissioner. There were 10 couples getting married. We had another couple of hours of being a good spouse lecture, then couple by couple, our witnesses recited back their oaths. Next, couple by couple, we said our portion which I barely remember due to excitement and anxiety. I recall simply having to declare I had never been married and was of sound mind and assumed my partner was also of sound mind. So, it’s legit guys, we aren’t crazy! I cried like a little baby and could barely get through what I needed to say. Strangers “aww-ed” me which was a little weird. But everyone ululated and cheered for us. We signed out marriage certificate as well and were on our way to lunch at the in-laws. Which was delicious. It began to rain and we were reassured by the family’s pastor that our marriage was blessed as we brought some rain. Pula!

The night before the wedding (which was on Saturday), the bride and groom are not supposed to spend the night together. I, at the same time, was being super protective of my white dress because the “bad luck of seeing the bride’s dress or the bride in her dress before the wedding” is not observed here. But I held on to my tradition of such. The married elders have to dress the new bride in her white/traditional dresses. They were supposed to hold on to the dress until morning and then “gift” it to me. We had been traveling for a week and the dress was pretty wrinkled, so after the elders viewed it, we received permission from the grandmother to take it to the hotel to try and steam it a bit. No one said no, but some faces seemed upset by this. My groom reassured me it was okay since Granny approved and understood our travels. We kept it in my parents’ room though, not mine, and the elders dressed me. We tried to balance it all out though. And I just truly, truly hope no one *was* offended but didn’t feel they could speak up.

So after a major delay with the tent being set up, the women arrived and dressed me in my white gown. I had already had my hair and nails done by a fellow all-star PCV. The volunteers had just been hanging out around the hotel with me while we waited on the tent. Good bonding time… I guess. I got pretty anxious before my first grand reveal in my dress, luckily it was just out to the PCVs mostly. Then we drove over to Granny’s house to the wedding where I had the real grand reveal to the crowd, family, and of course, my groom. Obviously as soon as I saw him I started crying… again... as if Thursdays tears weren’t enough. We ate a delicious meal prepared by many family members and friends, we took photos on a hill of rocks with an overcast sky, and later I had the ‘married woman welcoming ceremony’ (this is what I’m calling it) where an elder aunt donned by head with a scarf and my shoulders with the family’s colored shawl – then later, a plain white one – which, as a married women, I will have to wear on certain occasions, like other weddings. This occurred while I sat on a goat skin rug. The aunt was saying things in a mix of Setswana and English and I only caught bits and pieces of it. The major piece I caught is that since I am now Motswana I should be buried in Botswana upon my death. She spoke as she waved the shawl over back and forth over the sides of my body, and bent on her knees at times to bend over my straightened out legs. At this point, I had also changed into a traditional German print dress that my in-laws had made for me. It’s hot pink and I view myself as a Tswana Barbie. And I looked adorable.

My fellow PCVs stepped up and helped make our day so special. I got my hair and nails done, a few other girls also go their hair done, we got a gluten free bride/groom cake, we had photography, and I had all the love and support I could handle!

The next week, my new husband and I traveled a bit of Botswana with my parents to show them around. We had a few bumps, as is custom when traveling in Bots, but we made it through, had fun, and enjoyed the catch up time. It was so great to show my parents what my life has been like for close to two years now. 

They were relieved to see how I have *actually* been living. Despite what I had been telling them; guess it was a great thing to break some of the African stereotypes and generalizations. We went on a game drive outside of Maun, “glamped” in Maun right on the Okavango Delta, and traveled down to the Kalahari Desert and took a walk in the bush with San and were showed many of the plants/roots that are used for medicine. This was most fascinating to me and I would love to learn more about the medicinal plants that are around. My parents stayed in a chalet but it had an open (to the sky) bathroom, as did the Maun camping, and a thatch roof! Aside from a giant wall spider creeping them out, they handled it all like champs!

Immediately after they left, I traveled North to go to a STEPs training which was awesome, aside from leaving my brand new hubby behind (no honeymoon for this couple! :o/ ) We held a training in a new style. Those of us previously trained-to-train acted as coaches; those there for the training on how to train facilitated the sessions to those who were there to learn how to facilitate. Make sense? It was pretty tricky. But it worked out with only minor minor bumps. It was great! And I always feel so accomplished after participating in a workshop like that, especially when the participants are so enthusiastic about the topic. Our workshop was even better this time around as we were lucky enough to have some guest speakers come in. One man was from a group that works to promote laws in Botswana protecting LGTBI human rights as well as support those LGBTI individuals. We also had a couple and their son that are the main characters in one of the STEPs films. They are both HIV+ and chose to have a baby who is now 6 and remains HIV-! They were wonderful, I was all giddy feeling star struck.

I am back at site for 2 weeks with the hubby. Was this our honeymoon?! We went camping in Khawa (a settlement in the southern Kalahari) at the President’s Sand Dune Challenge. It was a great time last year, too. Immediately after that I was off (once again, leaving poor hubby behind) to the second annual All Volunteer Conference in the capital for social, bonding, sessions, and good times with staff and volunteers alike. This year the AVC was themed “Re Mmogo” meaning “We’re together.” We had packed days of sessions from 8am until 10pm. After that and camping prior, I was EXHAUSTED to say the least. I slept for like 14 hours that night I got back.


Up next… extending…

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Month of Youth Against Aids... and How to Get Married in Botswana

Okay so two different topics but they came at the same time. The morning of the MYAA event, we went to register to get married...

March was Month of Youth Against AIDS (MYAA). So it was very last minute but we put together a health fair targeting the youth in my village. Youth are considered up to age 35 in Botswana; and teenage pregnancy remains an issue nationwide (as in any country, I’m sure) so it is always a district priority to address. So we had booths that the youth could stop by covering topics such as: teenage pregnancy, condom use, STIs, PMTCT (prevention of mother to child [HIV] transmission), youth services from the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture, and a youth empowerment activity.

The theme for the month was the same as AIDS Day last December: “Getting to Zero: Zero new HIV infections, Zero AIDS related deaths, and Zero stigma and discrimination by 2016.” My booth was for youth empowerment and STIs. We had a banner stating, “As a youth, I can ‘get to zero’ by…” And then the youth were able to trace their hand and complete the sentence in their handprint. We had a lot of the usual ABCs (Abstain, Be faithful, Condomize), but a few (my PACT club students!) included things like spread our proper HIV education to peers and others, and encourage our partners to also test for HIV/STIs. It was great! My STI education consisted of a symptom-STI matching game and then we discussed each correct answer, symptoms, requesting STI testing, and treatment options. We talked about the viruses which have no cure versus the bacterial or parasitic infections which can be cured. One man in particular was very grateful for this discussion. He stated he had only ever even heard of 2 out of the 10 common STIs we discussed. He told me I need to continue doing work to educate on STIs in the community as it was obviously lacking. I happened to see him 2 days later at my office and he shouted across the way, “Hey Naledi, don’t forget what we talked about!” It was great to see such interest in health and the desire to learn and educate others. Hopefully I can get in touch with him in the future for an STI activity or something… we will see!

*******************************
On the personal side, my parents are coming this weekend and I am SO excited to see them! I get to a. be reunited, and b. show them what my world has been like for the past 20 months!! We have plans to go on a safari up in Maun and then into the Kalahari to learn more about the San/Bushmen culture. The San are the indigenous people of what is now Botswana (as well as spread around the entire continent) and have been pushed out for further development, I guess similar to Native Americans. This is a quick reference to learn a little more http://www.knowbotswana.com/history-of-botswana.html.

And not to mention the best part of their visit… my wedding! Planning keeps moving forward, again, thanks to my fabulous in-laws-to-be. And early thanks to the volunteers coming who will help with making me a gorgeous bride, documenting the day, and celebrating with us! So, a little about the marriage process in Botswana… or at least, my process, as an American. We are skipping some of the traditions due to our mixing of cultures.

So first off, once you want to get married, you let the elders know of your plans. Then you get engaged and begin talks of labola (the price a man will pay the bride’s family to marry her- we skipped this. I disagree with what I know of the concept due to my own American culture, but also we discussed it as simply something my family is not expecting as it is not our tradition. We also have future financial needs coming up with immigration and flights, so we all agreed we could save the money for this process and use it for our future needs. The common labola amount is 8 cows, but it can be adjusted to include goats or actual money, depending on family negotiations and financial state. The whole family would pitch in for a man’s labola; a cow from one uncle, another from a different uncle, and so on).

Three weeks before the marriage (there has to be three Sundays left) you register with your partner and two witnesses to get married. A paper is posted in the community giving the notice of marriage and anyone could submit an objection if they felt compelled to do so. A foreigner needs to have, through the Embassy, an Affidavit of Marriageability which basically just states you are not currently married.

So, the legal marriage at the District Commissioners office takes place on Thursdays nationwide. I have often sat and watched marriages during my time working at the DAC office. The DC’s office is across the way from me. People can also choose to forego a legal marriage and maintain a traditional one, although it seems this is not be done much at this point. There are two ways to be married if legally marrying, which are in community or out of community. This means, you declare to share all your possessions in both names, or to keep items separate, like land or houses. My guess is that this mostly is due to the fact that often, when say, a husband dies, his family would then come into the home and take anything they wanted from the house and wife. Because she did not “own” anything; it is referred to as ‘property grabbing.’ So now, there is a legal way to state that all belongings are either shared or not shared. Clarifying this type of marriage is done on the Wednesday before the Thursday marriage, and the two witnesses for the wedding registration need to be present for the in or out of community marriage paper signing and then again for the marriage itself. The Thursday wedding is usually a small group of people; just the elders/immediate family members and best man/bridesmaid will attend this.

Saturday is then the big day! The celebration under a tent, outfit changes throughout the day, a big meal, invited guests, community members who hear of the wedding will come, and partying into the evening. It all happens again maybe the next Saturday, too! But not for us because the wedding celebration will take place at both the bride’s and the groom’s family’s home in their home villages. Some may marry at a church, or have a pastor perform a ceremony under the tent, or some skip that ceremonial step and just move to celebrate. The sense of community is incredible with neighbors showing up offering to help cook, lending out their large cast iron pots for food preparations. Family members come in from their respective villages to help with all preparations. At the wedding itself, community members will just show up, usually just for the meal, but share in the day as well. So, you invite 100 people specifically, expect another 100 to just show up for lunch! And then often I have seen a braii happen much later in the evening as the party continues in a more casual way.

A DJ with good beats to dance to is a requirement; often the wedding party does a choreographed dance together as a way to introduce the married couple (we are skipping this as only 1 person in our wedding party actually wanted to dance, ha!). We will have the usual meal of cabbage/cole slaw, beet salad, beef stew, seswaa (mashed meat) of beef and goat, butternut squash, rice, chicken, samp,and more. We will serve cake with cream for dessert which is not the usual custom here. Usually the cake is made to last! It is a hard cake made of fruit and rum that does not get served to guests but the family later shares. Dessert is usually Jello (called jelly here) and custard.

The white wedding dress has become common and popular here but there are dressing changes for both the bride and the groom, often the whole wedding party has a change as well. So for me, I am wearing a white wedding dress in the beginning and for photos, then I change into a more casual but very stylish dress for socializing, then into a german print traditional dress. We will be doing the traditional portion of the wedding here where the married men in the groom’s family, and the married women of the bride’s family, sit the bride and groom down respectively and offer marriage advice. Since my mother will be the only married female family member of my family present, I think I will ask the married PCVs to stand in J.  I think during this part I will also be sitting on a goat skin carpet.

The whole day is an incredible sense of community. Everyone pitches in on costs, on cooking and cleaning, and making the day great for everyone. I am mostly excited for Thursday though. It will be more intimate, just the closest family members and friends, and my real wedding day. Saturday will be a great celebration, don’t get me wrong, but I am anxious about being the center of attention in a sea of strangers. I am a white American marrying into this culture of such a low populated land. This will be a wedding heard round the country… it’s overwhelming and not my ideal. I am glad Thursday come first, that’s the real piece to both my fiancé and I J


Marriage: that I call the will of two to create the one who is more than those who created it. ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Friday, March 13, 2015

How Christianity has affected my during PC

I have never been somewhere that was so obviously so Christian. I never questioned my own beliefs before because it never seemed to matter outwardly. I knew that many people around me were Catholic, but the topic rarely came up, and they weren’t talking about God daily or praying in front of me daily. It just wasn’t a factor in daily life. In America, I was raised Catholic, identified as Christian overall, but was non-practicing. Easy enough. No second thoughts. I wore the gold cross on my necklace that was given to me at confirmation without thinking of why I was actually wearing it other than habit. I don’t own much jewelry; I had simply been wearing the necklace since I got it at 16.

The unwritten rule being, you basically don’t talk about politics and religion because they just turn into too heated of debates. That’s how I lived.

I guess I gave religion some additional thought in college and even thereafter. Trying out a few different churches with friends – Christian, but not specific denominations. I went to eh Christian music concert put on by the Christian student association (I forget what the group was called) in college to be open to new things. I always felt some sort of anxiety being there (in churches), I took it as the overwhelming power of a collective group of people sharing a belief. Which then always draws my mind towards cult-like groups and just frightens and concerns me… but let’s not go there.

Being in Peace Corps gives a lot of alone time, me time, down time, time. Being in a country where religion is a normal part of everyday life, a topic that begins with youth praying in school every single morning, singing religion-filled songs prior to the start of classes – a huge priority, the number one priority – has been overwhelming to say the least. I have had all of this time to reflect on my own beliefs and figure out where I stand in it all. I haven’t figured it out completely and that doesn’t actually matter, the point is, I have now experienced what it is like to be a minority. I am different from those around me. To the very core of my soul. And dang, if it isn’t exhausting.

I was on a mini bus coming home from Gaborone the other day when we had a tire burst. The driver did a wonderful job pulling the vehicle smoothly off the road and then began the hour and a half saga of trying to obtain the right tool to change the tire. Many people stopped to offer help – an aspect of culture I love here – but it took some time before we were back on our way. During that time, someone commented on my accent and we proceeded to chat. Small talk really, nothing out of the ordinary, but that’s what is stressful. On numerous occasions of first meeting someone, the conversation usually goes like this, with questions on their side: “Where are you from? Where do you stay? What is your name? So, you’re a volunteer? What’s your religion?...” This is something I have had to adjust to, as it has never before been a question I was asked so regularly. So, on this particular day, while religion happened to be a hot topic at the front of my brain for a different reason, I answered as honestly and respectfully as I could: “I was raised Catholic, but I don’t not follow the Christian faith right now.” A woman, who had been listening to our conversation, GASPED the loudest most disgusted gasp I have heard in quite some time. I was taken aback by her vocal response that I just turned and looked at her. The man I had been speaking with said, “wow, okay, ummm, let me go help the guys up front.” Seemingly, that was a huge conversation ender and they didn’t want to speak to me anymore.

This has all been making me think back to PST when some of the peers in my cohort were having a difficult time as some Jewish holidays were approaching. They were surrounded by Christianity in their houses; Emmanuel TV on 24/7 “to protect the house” with TB Joshua “curing” people of all sorts of ailments on a regular basis. They struggled to find a place for their own religious beliefs in a place where Christianity is so open and out there, visible and vocal, present. Jews, in general, are minority in the states, even more so in Botswana. We, as humans, seek comfort, norms, routine, respect, acceptance. I remember asking for more information on these holidays as I am unfamiliar with Jewish traditions and holidays. I partook in their celebration to offer support to their beliefs despite them not being my own. I learned, I experienced. They never forced Judaism upon me, just informed me of their customs and purpose of a particular holiday. I respect them for that. Sharing your beliefs with me is just fine, and I encourage it actually. It helps bring people closer together, to understand one another. Damning someone for not sharing your beliefs is another issue, and one that I perceive here often, more recently as I plan my wedding with my fiancé (but those specific details are not as important).

As a Christian, are you not supposed to assure everyone that the Christian God loves them anyway, despite what “sins” they commit or beliefs they may have? Are you not supposed to be non-judgmental? I thought “only God can judge.” Are you not supposed to be kind and respectful to all you meet? I feel like we are lacking some basic principles when I am gasped at so loudly, so publicly. I feel like we are not being respectful when you say, that without Christ in your life, you cannot succeed. I what?!

I am not by any means trying to bash Christianity; I am trying to understand people who follow the Christian belief system. Maybe we are all just contradictory in most aspects of our lives. But I do not claim to be much, because I can’t justify talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Maybe that’s just me. But hey, I believe you can be successful no matter what your religious beliefs are or are not. And I wouldn’t condemn someone and tell them they couldn’t do something because they don’t share my belief system. To me, that statement seems unchristian. But again, I don’t know all aspects of the religion or bible.

Going back the minority topic, because I got carried away: I never felt like I was really a minority here in Botswana. Being white never fazed me, being American made me realize cultural differences, but I wouldn’t have felt the word minority suitable. My perception was that I was treated differently or had different experiences at times because of being American, not white, but this was only my perception. For all I know it was very much because I was white, no matter where I came from. This being, probably, because I have never thought about race, especially my own before. I guess I’ve also learned a thing or two about “white privilege” since being here as well, despite my hatred for the concept. Coming to terms that I do not identify as Christian, in an overwhelmingly deep sea of Christianity though, has now made me feel like a minority. I have a new-found respect for the struggles of my Jewish friends during that time in PST.

We seek that familiarity. The comfort of our own. Of like mindedness. Now, I would not have joined PC if I hadn’t wanted to be part of some new experiences and to learn about a culture that was different from my own, but I also know that I seek the comfort of my fellow American volunteers who can related to me in a way no Motswana can, not even m Motswana friends or Motswana fiancé. I guess when I opened myself to the possibility of new culture, I didn’t realize how much religion would be part of it. Even if I had, I wouldn’t have known how it would ultimately affect me anyway. Maybe this is a little taste of what it is like to be homosexual, or anything other than heterosexual, in the states (please note I am only saying a little taste of!). I have never felt so disrespected before than that gasp. I have never felt so strongly undesired or, dare I say, hated, for having a different thought. It was an eye opening experience. One that I haven’t been able to shake in the past few days since it happened.

I have this guilt sitting in me now. These thoughts of, hey, maybe it’s easier to just play along with what’s normal and accepted. I think to myself, is this what a 15 year homosexual boy feels like? This is why he covers his self and dates a girl in high school. It’s easier. Well, it’s not easier internally. I can’t lie or cover up my beliefs. But this religious belief in a setting like this is certainly no where as dramatic as the response to homosexuality – I get that. It was just the comparative thought that ran through my mind as I walked to work one morning. I feel guilty. Should I just be Christian? Just force myself to try to believe. Even my parents are still identifying as Catholic despite not practicing for many years. Should I?


Then my rational brain hits me and says a resounding no. I can’t force myself to believe in something I do not. But, now it is dealing with it that remains a problem. I have and will continue to try to avoid all religious conversations, but again, it is not easy here. I will continue to do my own soul searching and research to find comfort in what I do believe in. I will not make anyone feel shame for having differing beliefs than me. I will hopefully encourage respecting all people despite of beliefs. I will keep being true to myself. I will keep being respectful to others. I know I am a successful person, with or without religion. I know I will continue to lead a successful and happy life. I know that I am a kind person. I know who I am. And to me, that’s most important.