Sunday, September 25, 2011

I'm in Africa?!?!

 I have been in Botswana for over  one week now so decided it was time to sit down and write a blog post. I don’t know when I will have a chance to post this as there is only internet available at the internet café in town which is about an hour and a half walk away (or a 10-15 minute cab ride, but on a Peace Corps budget I’d prefer not to spend the money!) and we cannot walk around after dark. Since we get out of training around 5 pm every day and it starts to get dark around 6 or 630 I’ve only been able to get on the internet once so far. Anyway, I guess I should start from the beginning! We left Philadelphia for JFK airport on Wednesday morning around 3 AM, even though our flight did not leave until 11:15. This meant a lot of sitting around and waiting at the airport. Over 24 hours  and one stop over later, we arrived in Gabarone international Airport. The plane we took from South Africa to Gabarone was very small and we walked down steps directly outside instead of through a terminal into the airport. Everyone was exhausted from the trip, but it felt great to finally be in Botswana. We were greeted by some current PCVs as well as the Country Director and some other PC staff which was exciting! I’m really in the Peace Corps! From the air port we were taken to a lodge called “Big 5” for the wildlife that is found in Botswana. The hotel was very clean and pretty and it was wonderful to sleep in a bed after so many hours on the plane. The next morning we woke up early, had breakfast, and boarded the bus to Kanye which is where we will be spending the next two months for training and is about an hour outside of Gabarone. Once in Kanye we attended the Host Family Matching Ceremony in which important members of the community spoke, welcomed us, and talked a little about Botswana. Finally it came time for us to be “matched” with our hosts. We had all been given little slips of paper with a name and a number on them and had been practicing pronunciations all morning. One by one our numbers were called and we had to announce the name we had on our paper and our host parent had to read off our name and then that was it, you were matched! My host mother welcomed me with a big smile and several hugs and told me she was very happy to meet me. We all had lunch at the center and then we were on our own with our families for the weekend. This made me a little nervous. I have never lived in a host family before and as it was only our second day in the country still knew very little about the culture, what to expect, etc. so the whole weekend ahead of me was quite daunting but also exciting. We drove the short distance from the center where the ceremony took place to my host mother’s house, and lucky me it has electricity AND running HOT water! Hooray! I also have my own room and closet which is very nice. My host brother was waiting at the house when we got there and we got along right away. It has been very interesting to see how people here perceive Americans and the United States based on the media and movies that make it over here.
Anyway, the weekend had its ups and downs. I had to find my way around the kitchen basically right away and cooked lunch for about 6 people on my second day here which was stressful but also funny. Interestingly enough as a vegetarian I have been placed with a poultry farmer! We joke that we think Peace Corps finds it funny to put volunteers in to families that are the opposite of them to see if we last. For example, one fellow trainee who is Jewish was placed with an evangelical Christian family!One highlight was a nice long walk around the village which is basically just sand/dirt roads and houses and lots of roaming cows, donkeys and chickens!
Anyway, after the first few nights I started to get used to the roosters (although they are still waking me up at 4 am every day) and began to adjust to my new environment. I made friends with my nine year old “host cousin” who is very smart and helped me over the weekend with my Setswana skills. She was also very interested in the pictures I brought of friends and family from home. One picture was in front of the ocean which she has never seen before and she was totally blown away. We got into a good conversation about the creatures that live in the ocean! She was very fascinated. I am alos teaching her how to shuffle cards which she has been practicing at very hard.  
 Training started on Monday and has filled our days up. So far a lot of the information has been more general about Peace Corps policies and such but we have also started learning about the HIV/AIDS pandemic and how it is affecting Botswana which has been interesting. A huge part of the issue is the stigma surrounding HIV positive people which makes it difficult for those living with HIV. ARVs are free and available here, but the issue arises for people who cannot afford to get to the ARV distributing centers.
 On Wednesday we got a chance to walk around town a bit since we got out of training early and we checked out the public library (which has lots of funny books from the 70’s and even a vegetarian Indian cookbook!) as well as a local café that sells French fries! Today, a group of about 7 or 8 kids knocked on the door wanting to meet me which was pretty cute; everyone is pretty fascinated by the Americans in town. On Saturday I went to a wedding which was held at another volunteer’s host family’s house which was very cool to see. We were welcomed into the wedding very graciously and got to eat lunch at the reception and spend the day at the wedding. Today I hand washed all my clothes which was actually a lot more involved than you would think!! . Anyway, I’m just taking one day at a time and trying to take it all in! 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Getting Ready to Leave

So I leave for staging in Philly tomorrow which will officially start my Peace Corps Adventure! I still have packing to do, phone calls to make, and general organizing/tying up loose ends to finish in preparation to leave for 27 months. Right now everything is feeling surreal since I have been waiting, thinking, planning, etc to go to Peace Corps for SO long. This whole process started around this time a year ago so it is hard to believe that the time has FINALLY come to leave. Anyway, I'm really excited but also really nervous! Looking forward to meeting everyone in the Bots 11 group and getting started on the journey. I'm hoping I will have enough internet access to keep this blog updated, but we will find out! Ok, it's almost 2 pm and there is still a mound of stuff on the living room floor waiting to be packed so I need to stop procastinating and get to it! More later!