Sunday, April 29, 2012

"Ke bereka le tsa HIV/AIDS"

 “I'm working on HIV/AIDS”

My second full week on Botswana brought with it a feeling of finally setting in to a routine and into my surroundings. I spent most days away from my host family for training, but made a conscious effort to spend my evenings with them, cooking, cleaning, watching SABC or BTV and looking after my 6 month old host-niece.
A major part of this routine were language lessons with my LCF Lesego and Mpho (Mignon), Thato (Nathan), and Sethunya (Molly). Lessons are held a ten minute walk from my host family’s home, in a small room on Sethunya’s host family compound. Our days were spent learning the importance of greetings in Botswana, how to introduce ourselves, basic transportation and grammar points. We also had the pleasure of celebrating our LCF’s birthday.
Lesego had been working as and LCF for Peace Corps Botswana for several years now, and one day before our lessons began she happened to mention that it was her 34th birthday. Well, she didn’t mention the 34 part, we rather sheepishly pried that part out of her. We have daily hour long lunch breaks where she returns to the main Education Center for lunch. Mpho and I took this opportunity to take (let me point out our very first) taxi to the local supermarket to buy her a cake while Sethunya and Thato stayed behind to make her a card. It was a lot of fun and a great bonding experience for our group…despite Sethunya’s 12 year old host brother spoiling the surprise and telling Lesego the moment she was dropped off of our plan (apparently surprise parties aren’t a known concept in Botswana).
The week itself was full of training, language, setting up our bank accounts in Gaborone, yoga, and getting into the routine. My time here began to become more routine.

I thought I would use this opportunity to talk a little bit more about HIV/ AIDS in Botswana and Peace Corps history here. I’ll first begin with some basics. When looking at HIV/AIDS statistics it is first important to understand a few definitions.
First, my disclaimer: I am no expert; I’m just sharing with you what I’ve learned through my training and experiences here.

Incidence v. prevalence: Incidence is the number of new cases as a percentage of the total population, and prevalence is the percentage of those infected in the total population.

Epidemic types:
Low level: Less than 1% prevalence rate
Localized/concentrated: Less than 1% prevalence rate among the general population, but a higher prevalence rate in marginalized high risk groups
High risk: Greater than 3% prevalence rate

             So now to talk about how this all relates to Botswana and my two years here: The overall HIV prevalence rate in Botswana is 25% (15-64 age group), for males 31-49 years old it is 34.5%, and females 31-49 it is highest at 40.9%. The overall incidence rate in Botswana has dropped drastically over the years but is still at 2.9% per year, which translates to approximately 20,000 new cases per year. In 2009 there were 350,000 PLWHIV in Botswana, where the general population is only 2 million to begin with. There are approximately 10-15,000 AIDS deaths per year. Thus it is easy to see how this epidemic has affected virtually every individual, and is a huge drain on the country’s resources and human capital.
            There are many drivers of the epidemic in Botswana, but it is important to understand them in order to understand why the epidemic has grown so severe in Botswana compared to even neighboring countries (Botswana has the second highest prevalence rate of HIV in the world, second only to its small neighbor Swaziland). Multiple-Concurrent Partnerships MCP’s, low male circumcision rates, high prevalence of STI’s, a high rate of alcohol abuse and gender inequality are all major contributing factors.
            I’ll begin with MCPs. If you’ve read the book “The Invisible Cure” by Helen Epstein then this issue of MCP will be very familiar to you (and if you haven’t and have any interest in the HIV/AIDS epidemic I strongly encourage you to read it). In Botswana MCP is a very common practice, a common proverb in Setswana being “Manna poo ya a agelwe mosako” –please excuse my spelling, but it translates to “A man cannot be contained in a kraal”. And 1/4 of females and 1/3 of males self-report to be in a MCP. This is a very dangerous partnership style when deal with HIV because it essentially forms a ‘super-highway’ for the virus, as the viral load of HIV is highest in a newly infected person, and they are thus more likely to pass the virus on and in long term partnerships (as most MCP relationships are) they are less likely to use any form of protection.
            The second major contributing factor is low male circumcision rate. Less than 15% of males in Botswana are circumcised, and global statistics show that the HIV prevalence rate is as much as 8 times higher in uncircumcised men as men are 60-75% less likely to get HIV if they are circumcised. Men also are already at a lower risk than women
            Thirdly we look at the STI prevalence in Botswana and how this affects HIV. If a person has and STI that causes blisters or ulcers they are 1-8 times more likely to get HIV because it serves as a portal of entry making it easier for the virus to enter the body.
            Next it is important to look at the high rates of alcohol abuse in Botswana. According to a 2006 survey 31% and 17% of women fall into the category of ‘heavy drinking’ which is defined as more than 21 drinks a week for men and 14 for women. Studies also obviously show that alcohol increases the likelihood one would engage in risky behavior 3-4 times. Alcohol however also creates many other societal problems including dangerous road conditions as the legal driving limit is approximately 3 times higher in Botswana than the United States (from what I’ve been told…don’t quote me on that) but needless to say, alcohol abuse is a major issue here.
            Finally is the issue of gender inequality, this is a major overarching issue that extends into the problems of intergenerational and transactional sex. In Botswana 28% of women admit to having sex with men 10+ years older than them, and in many communities transactional sex is exchanged for commodities such as cell phone airtime. These issues not only affect the spread of HIV but also have greater negative implications.
            I think that is enough of the negative for today, in my post next week I will talk about a few of my cultural experiences, including attending my first wedding and funeral in Botswana!
Best wishes,
Neo Koloi

Lesego's Birthday cake and card!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

“Ke tla nna mo Botswana dingwaga tsepedi."

“I will stay in Botswana for two years.”

Time is an interesting concept; some weeks seem to fly by while others drag on, and some weeks can seem both long and short simultaneously. This was how I felt as my first full week in Botswana came to a close. How could it be that I had already been in Botswana for a full week? My process in applying for the Peace Corps literally took years, how could it been that I was finally here? Many of the other trainees in my group have had similar experiences, some had placements cancelled the day of surprise parties, some had their placements cancelled multiple times, some had been placed on over 3 continents before finally becoming a part of Peace Corps Botswana. I do not want to say that this was the case for every volunteer, some had a seemingly flawless process, but you would be hard pressed to find many such volunteers. We all came with different backgrounds, degrees, attitudes, expectations and aspirations and we ranged in age from 21-64. Regardless, we were all here together.
PST (Pre-Service Training) is an interesting experience that can vary from country to country. In most countries PST is a three month process, however for Peace Corps Botswana the process has been condensed into two months (for a multitude of reasons). However this means that our days are full and long with topics ranging from language, cross cultural etiquette, safety and security, medical, HIV/AIDS biology and epidemiology, technical information, etc.
One point of pride that Peace Corps holds strong and fast to is the focus on language acquisition and the effectiveness of their teaching methods. For our language classes we are split into groups of no larger than 4 trainees and matched with an instructor. Language clusters, as they are termed, are all run slightly differently depending on the learning styles and speeds of each group. After the first three weeks of language lessons the clusters are then restructured based on the results of a practice LPI (Language Proficiency Interview). Language clusters for our first three weeks are based on the location of host families’ homes to make logistics easier. We meet daily at the home of a fellow trainee’s host family to have our language sessions. I have found that Setswana, while much easier than Mandarin Chinese, is challenging in regards to pronunciation and grammar. I have also found that I have to be much more vigilant to not mix up words as I speak, for example using Chinese, German or Spanish words mixed in with Setswana. However in general I am finding my Setswana to be progressing at a slow but steady rate.
PST general sessions are run in a large group format, and due to the cancellations of posts in Latin America in January 2012 (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) our training class, Bots 12, is larger than usual consisting of 45 trainees (we would soon become 47, then 46 but that is a story for later). Our first week of PST covered general topics such as Personal Security, the Peace Corps Approach to Development, Sexual Assault Awareness, Cross-Cultural Etiquette Role of the Volunteer in Development, and Common Illnesses/ Malaria. While all very informative being such a large group can make such sessions difficult to get through, and very impersonal. I know that I personally cherished our language time where our small group of four was able to get the one-on-one attention we needed for language learning.
One session from our first week of PST that really stood out was the session on Cross-Culture Dating that really had many volunteers laughing and learning. Our Language and Culture Facilitators (LCFs) spent the session teaching us dating and flirting habits of the Batswana…and some were very surprising. I learned that if a Motswana shakes my hand and simultaneously rubs their finger on my palm that I’ll be drawing my hand away! This session while fun, was also very informative as many in our group (not just the women!) have received numerous ‘marriage proposals’, some as jokes yelled from passing cars, and some very much serious proposed by mothers, aunts and the men themselves in as strange of places as church! In my first week I’d received four such proposals, my responses have varied from laughing them off, to coming up with a preposterous bride price of 200 cows, to telling them I’m too young to be burdened with a husband. All of which have provided much amusement to the asking party!
Speaking of church, my first week in Botswana wouldn’t have been complete without attending my host mother’s church with her. She attends the Zionist Church, and let me first be clear that I am in no way well informed about the history of the church or its structure, I can only speak to my experience. Upon arriving at the church at 11 am on Sunday morning my host brother Thato separated himself from my host mother and I, and I would soon learn that this was because as with many formal functions in Botswana men and women are seated separately. The congregation however was predominately female, from my estimate about 75% of the congregation being female and 25% male. We had arrived fashionably late, as per usual with my host mother, and we slipped into a side pew on the women’s side. As I glanced around I realized that every woman in the congregation, excluding me and one other Peace Corps trainee in attendance had covered their head, most with a head scarf, some with hats. While I realize that as a foreigner and newcomer my failure to dress appropriately would be overlooked, nonetheless I spent the majority of the service feeling somewhat subconscious. I had made such an effort to cover my shoulders, and wear a long dress…alas I’d learned for next time. The service was full of singing and dancing, with a large portion of the service dedicated to praying for the sick. For this portion (more than one-third of the overall service) those who were ill were seated in the center of the sanctuary while the rest of the congregation gathered around praying, dancing and singing as the church elders, pastor, etc. prayed over each person individually. As the service finally drew to a close I spent the last half hour or so playing with the children outside as the church members held a members only meeting.
When the week finally drew to a close I was both surprised at how quickly it had flown by, as well as how long it had dragged on. With the first full week down, I had at slightly more than eight to go before I would be able to call myself a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ke nna mo Kanye le Mma Koloi

“I live in Kanye with Ms. Koloi”
I will use this post to provide a somewhat general introduction to my host family, my host family’s home and then some of the acronyms I will probably use in my subsequent blog posts.
To begin I will introduce my host family. My host mom’s official name is Dinah Koloi, although I have never heard her called by this name, most people call her by nick names and I just call her Mma Koloi. She is 50 years old, a divorcee, and an important person in the local community. She is a Chancellor/ Counselor (I am unsure what the term directly translates to in English as I have heard both). What this means is that she is an elected official, elected by her ward (part of town) to serve in what is effectively a town council role. Elections are held every five years, and she is currently serving in the third year of her second term, thus has been in office for eight years. However unofficially this means that she is very involved in her community in many ways including but not limited to advising members on personal matters, speaking at ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, driving constituents to the hospital, etc. She is always busy. Besides these roles she is often also taking care of my host niece, her 6 month old granddaughter.
This leads me to my host sister, Matlhohonolo (who goes by a nickname that I am unable to spell). She is 27, and my host niece, 6 month old ‘Natasha’ is her daughter. She graduated from the University of Botswana with a degree in Accounting and works for the government in the capital of Gaborone. She is extremely hard working, working 7 days a week most weeks, leaving before 7 am and often not getting home until after 8 am factoring in her daily 2 hour commute. When she arrives home then she spends what precious time she has with her daughter. The baby’s father left when he found out she was pregnant, and thus she is raising her daughter on her own with help from her family and community. I asked once about how child support in Botswana works, she informed me that in order to claim child support you must file through the Magistrate Court, similar to in the US. However when I asked whether she received child support she said no, that it is popular belief in Botswana that if a woman files for child support and the man does not want to pay that he can go to the witches and have her cursed. While she knows logically this is untrue, she is still reluctant to file for support. This will be the first of many gender inequalities that I will write about, as well as the first of many myths that perpetuate through society.
Secondly I have my host brother, Thato. He is 16 and in Form Four, meaning he will graduate high school in a year and a half. I find him the easiest to relate two because he is often home, and his English is very good. But besides this he is also very responsible, sweet, helpful and smart. Thato has shown me how to do most everything at home, is the one who is sent to check up on me, and as the youngest takes on much responsibility in the home such as cooking, cleaning, taking care of his niece etc. He has his moments when he is what I would call a ‘typical’ 16 year old boy in the US, but for the most part children here grow up with so much responsibility in the home that by his age they are much more capable than most 16 year olds I knew back home.
Finally I have two older host brothers whom I have not met.  They are 29 and 32 and live in Gaborone. I sometimes feel as though my host family is much larger though, because Botswana is such a communal culture that the home is always filled with neighbors, family, friends, colleagues etc. Also if you are in someone’s home and a meal is served, you will be served a plate. From an outsider perspective this making meal planning a bit chaotic, but somehow there is always just enough in the pot.
To move on to my host family’s home, it is a well built and seemingly new building on a large plot. The ceiling is made of wood, and floor of tile and the house is kept very clean, excluding the kitchen. While the house is set up for indoor plumbing it has not worked since long before my arrival. Due to drought we often do not even have water coming from the standpipe. We keep water stored outside for washing and in a large barrel in the kitchen for drinking and cooking. I once attempted to carry a 25 liter jug of water from the standpipe to the house…let’s just say my attempted prompted a good laugh from Thato. Adjusting to bucket bathing is not too difficult, the only challenging being my hair. The advantage of living in Botswana is that tap water is generally potable. The only times that I worry are when water is stored in unclean containers, particularity when I get to the bottom of the barrel as there is often a lot of dirt and debris in the water.
I am sure that as time goes on I will speak more of my host family and I hope to be able to post photos of my host family and their home to my Facebook, they should be available there in the near future.
Finally I just want to quickly run though a few acronyms relevant to Peace Corps and to development and HIV/AIDS just so I don’t end up explaining them each time I use them.
Peace Corps
CCB: Community Capacity Builder
COS: Close of Service
DAC: District AIDS Coordinator
DCL:  District Community Liaison
ET: Early Termination
IST: In-Service Training
LCF: Language and Cross-Cultural Facilitator
MST: Mid-Service Training
NGO: Non-Governmental Organization
PCMO: Peace Corps Medical Officer
PCV: Peace Corps Volunteer
PST: Pre-Service Training
RPCV: Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

Development and HIV/AIDS
AIDS: Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome
ARV: Antiretroviral Therapy
CBO: Community Based Organization
CDC: Centers for Disease Control
CSO: Civil Society Organization
FBO: Faith Based Organization
NACA: National AIDS Coordinating Agency
NGO: Non-Governmental Organization
PLWHIV: People Living with HIV
PMTCT: Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission
UNDP: United Nations Development Programme

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ke gorogile mo Botswana ka moranang 2012...

"I arrived in Botswana in April 2012"
From now forward I will hopefully be posting here on a semi-regular basis. While my posts will hopefully be dated approximately one week apart, I may not have internet access to post them on such a regular basis, thus the date on the post will be the time it is written and/or the events occurred, not the date posted. My first few posts as well as periodic posts will be more event specific as I get settled in my new community, however once settled I hope to focus more on issues than events.

On April 10th I arrived in Philadelphia for the first phase of my Peace Corps service: Staging. Staging consists of acquiring the necessary documents for travel, completing and filing necessary paperwork, meeting our fellow volunteers, and several sessions discussing logistics, Peace Corps goals and expectations, etc. The day flew by and ended with many of the trainees (until we are sworn in on June 12th we are referred to as PCTs or Peace Corps Trainees—I’ll do a post on acronyms eventually) having a ‘last meal’ at a local brewery. Afterwards we all returned to the Crowne Plaza where we were staying the ‘night’ where we prepared for our 2:45 am departure for JFK in New York. Then in true Christina-fashion I overslept my alarm and came close to missing the bus to JFK…but in reality I know I wouldn’t have been left behind, I was responsible for passports and plane tickets for the second bus. Then we were off for a very long journey.
Once arriving at JFK we began our trek as a group of 45. The morning was a tad chaotic because we arrived at the airport hours before check-in began, unable to check our luggage until after 8am we sprawled out across the terminal. However for being a group of 45 we had a surprisingly uncomplicated travel experience…at least until we arrived in Johannesburg.
The flight itself to Johannesburg was one of the more pleasurable long distance flights I have taken. South African Airways lives up to its reputation. It was comfortable, provided excellent service, food quality was better than many airlines, and with the luck of the draw there were many empty seats…and on such a long flight the extra room is priceless!
Once in Johannesburg we knew we were in for a 7 hour wait…or so we thought. As it turned out they were unable to book us all on the same flight and 6 of us (the end of the alphabet, including me of course) were bumped from the group flight. While many would groan about a 9+ hour layover I did not, I borrowed a fellow trainee’s sleeping bag and slept through most of my time in South Africa. It was our arrival in Botswana that was more memorable.
I was very grateful for the time I was able to sleep in South Africa when we landed in Botswana and realized that most of the groups luggage did not make it on their flight, and the six of us had to wait at the baggage carousel to claim over 50 bags (including our own) and make our way through customs. It was an amusingly chaotic and memorable arrival in Botswana.
After piling all of the bags into cars and trucks and strapping them to roofs we made our way from the airport to our first stop, The Big Five Lodge in Gaborone. On the way our first glimpses of Botswana were at night, we were unable to see much except a large diamond processing center located in close proximity to the airport.
April 13th was my first full day in Botswana. The day began with programming at the hotel outside Gaborone, and then we proceeded by bus to the town of Kanye, about a one hour drive from Gaborone. Kanye is the site currently used by Peace Corps Botswana for PST (Pre-Service Training) and our group will be living in Kanye until after our Swearing-In Ceremony on June 12, 2012. Our arrival in Kanye was celebrated with a Host Family Matching Ceremony were we were greeted by local officials, the Peace Corps Botswana Country Director, and other community members. After the official proceedings concluded the trainees met their host families for the next two months. Many of the trainees have never lived with a host family before and were thus nervous, but I like to think we were all quite excited. When my name was called I was greeted by my dancing, yelling, smiling host mother in a bright yellow dress. Within seconds I was at her side and holding my 6 month old host niece, whose official name is Natasha, however no one calls her this, thus I have taking to calling her ‘nana’ or ‘baby’ in Setswana. As it turned out another volunteer, Mignon, would be placed in a host family very close to mine. Our host mothers are best friends and distant relatives.
After the ceremony concluded Mignon and I were piled into the back of my host mom’s pickup truck….along with 9 bags, 3 children, and Pam and her ‘host mom’. We would later realize how against Peace Corps travel regulations this was…but what else were you to do with that many people and that much stuff?
I will go into more detail about my host family’s home, Kanye, and my host family at another time.
My second full day in Botswana came with a first-hand introduction to ‘Botswana Time’ as Mignon, our host mothers and I showed up late for the host family training session. The session was very helpful because it ensured that all host families had the same understanding of what it meant to host and what was expected of them and of us as guests. However this wasn’t necessarily relevant to our host families as they had both hosted before when Bots 11 did training in Kanye, and both of our host mothers are important community members; my host mother being an elected official and hers a teacher and guidance counselor.
The day was also full of a few good laughs. After the host family matching ceremony we were all provided with a packaged lunch from a local grocery. Mignon and I both chose the lunch labeled ‘spaghetti with chicken’. We opened our lunches to find some hunks of fatty beef on the bone, some pasta salad, potato salad, coleslaw and beans…all mixed together. We could only look at one another and laugh as we sat in the back seat of the car eating this ‘mixture’. It’s a good thing I’m not a picky eater that’s for sure! (As a side note if my friend Chelsea reads this, know I thought of you at that moment.)
Our afternoon was equally amusing. Our host moms both went to collect a body for a funeral, obviously not amusing, however that we were left home with her 6 year old host-niece was. We are fairly certain that we were not there to watch her; however we were baby-sat by a 6 year old. A 6 year old, Fifi, that proceeded to spend most of the afternoon giggling as she attempted to teach us a few basic Setswana words. The evening concluded with Mignon and I scrambling to find something to fix to eat for Fifi for dinner. We scoured the cupboards looking for something we knew how to fix, and coming up with a half-hatched plan to make stir fry because samp, maize rice, maize meal, sorghum, and the other staples of the Botswana diet were very much foreign to us. As we began to fix what would have probably been a somewhat disastrous meal my host brother, 16 year old Thato showed up to pick me up. As I got ready to leave Mignon declared that if I left then that Fifi was getting peanut butter and jelly for dinner…her host sister then made a well-timed entrance just as I was leaving. I then arrived home to eat the delicious meal my host brother had fixed…it was embarrassing to be showed up by a 16 year old boy, but I would soon learn how much he really did daily at home.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sala Sentle, Tsamaya Sentle (Goodbye, Travel Well)

The day has finally arrived. After what feels like countless setbacks I am finally departing for what is sure to be quite an adventure, two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana.

While I've prepared the best I could I know that every day will hold new challenges, and new life lessons. There will be good days, and there will be bad ones. What will be important is to remember why I chose to do this, why I am there, and how long I worked to make it happen. Every decision we make has repercussions for our lives, who we are and how we relate to the world and one another. Some of those decisions are small, and some large. This is one of those large ones.

Over the past few days I've been reading post and updates from fellow volunteers in my training class and feeding off their excitement, bewilderment, stress and sadness. I am looking forward to meeting the other volunteers for I know that they will soon be important people in my life.

So as I leave I will give a quick synopsis of what lies ahead for me.

I will leave home in the morning at about 7:30 am and head to my local airport (Cleveland Hopkins). From there I have a short flight to Philadelphia for what Peace Corps refers to as 'Staging'. This is when I will file the necessary paperwork, receive my domestic and government passports, go through a basic health screening, and receive some initial training. This is only a half day affair. Afterwords I along with the other 43 volunteers in my training class will take and overnight bus to JFK in New York and wait for our flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. We will then transfer and fly to the capital city of Botswana, Gaborone then we will be bussed to our final destination, Kanye.

The first approximately eight weeks in Botswana will be what Peace Corps refers to as Pre-Service Training (PST). Because of the nature and intensity of training all volunteers in a training class are located in one city (for Bots 12 that will be Kanye, close to the South African border, south of Gaborone). For the duration of training all trainees live with Batswana host families that speak both Tswana and English. Because this living situation is temporary one of our checked bags is stored in the Peace Corps Headquarters in Gaborone, and we will receive it upon moving to our permanent sites.

PST focuses mainly on language training (mainly Tswana/Setswana, occasionally other native languages for volunteers placed in Western parts of the country). However technical and cross cultural training are also crucial aspects of PST.

Well, it is off to bed for the weary...up early tomorrow to begin a long journey!
Sala Sentle!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Packing List

Days have begun to blur together and my to-do list grows as quickly as I am able to cross items off. I realized today that I was running out of time when I went to the grocery store to buy milk today and the expiration date on the milk was the same as my departure date!
The irony is that with the months of delays on my departure one would think I would have been packed months ago, but those that know me would never expect such a thing. I am a self-described 'high-efficiency procrastinator' meaning I am always busy, always active, always responsible...but always waiting until the last minute to do the important items, filling the in-between times with lists of other chores, tasks etc. (When avoiding a large task the house is always spotless, clothes clean, fridge stocked and stomach full!). 
So, to help future volunteers avoid the stress of compiling a packing list from the vague list of suggestions in the Peace Corps Welcome Book I will share my base list here. I will re-visit this list in the future to comment on what has (or hasn't) been useful...and what I regret not packing! Hope this helps someone someday!

Luggage: One large duffel (rolling), one small duffel (storage), large backpack, purse. 

Underwear (14)
Socks (7)
T-shirts (7)
Long skirts (3)
Work skirts (3)
Pants (1)
Jeans (2)
Cardigans (7)
Slacks (1)
Dress shirts
Dresses (3)
Tights (10)
Leggings (2)
Winter Pajamas (1)
Summer Pajamas (1)
Running shorts (1)
Gloves (1)
Scarf (2)
Rain jacket (1)
Winter jacket/fleece (1)
Swimsuit (1)

Household Items
Sewing kit
Laundry bag
Alarm clock
Sleeping bag
Duct tape
Water bottle
Key ring
Mosquito net
Small extra purse
Locker lock

Down Time:  
Sticky Notes
Spiral Notebook
Pencil Pouch
Business Cards

Running shoes
Flats (2)
Hiking boots
Kitchen Items
Can opener
Vegetable peeler
Bottle Opener
Kitchen knives
Cloth grocery bag
Non-stick pan
Fork, knife & spoon

External hard drive
Flash drive
Outlet adapter (220v)
Energy converter

Passport pouch
Luggage locks
Wet wipes
Protein bar
Bathroom Necessities 
Dental floss
Shampoo / conditioner
Nail clipper / file
Pepto Bismol
Advil and Tylenol
Feminine hygiene
Bug spray
Baby wipes
Hand sanitizer
Extra glasses

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Beginning: Application and Invitation Process

The time has finally arrived, I am now less than one month away from my departure for Pre-Service Training (PST) in Botswana. As this reality sinks in I feel as if I am finally ready to begin posting. This blog will chronicle my application process, preparations, and my personal and professional experiences as a NGO (non-governmental organization) Capacity Builder Peace Corps Volunteer in the southern African country of Botswana. I will be serving from April 2012 until June 2014.

It's been a long road to get to this point, one full of frustrations, excitement, let-downs, and then new excitements.

I began my Peace Corps application in June 2010 as I sat in the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on my way home from a field study course in Kenya. I first interviewed for a position in August 2010 via telephone just days before moving to Dalian China where I was to spend my final year of college. In September 2010 I was nominated for a position in Education in Francophone Africa departing in September 2011. Up until this point the process was seamless.

It was living in China and trying to complete my medical, dental and legal holds on my application that proved to be difficult. It wasn't until July 2011 that I was able to finally be medically cleared for service. However the day I was medically cleared was the same exact date that all pending applicants were informed that due to unforeseeable circumstances all pending applicants would have delayed departures, with the earliest being in January 2012. I was obviously crushed. There I was, having been back in the US for only weeks, expecting to leave in September or not long after and suddenly being informed that January would be the earliest possibility.

This change in plans, while somewhat unsettling, became one for the better ( as you must always see change). I was able to spend more time with family and friends, and given more time to prepare for my departure. Originally having no prospective departure date came as a challenge as a began a search for a temporary job. But as luck would have it I received an invitation just days before I was set to interview with Continental Airlines as a flight attendant in Houston, Texas. The invitation was to serve as a Community Outreach and Economic Development Volunteer in El Salvador beginning January 2012. I was ecstatic, excited to have a position focused on development and excited for the opportunity to improved my Spanish.

Thus October began a three month preparation process for my new post. I began work at a temporary job, I worked on my Spanish skills, read about the country, met other volunteers from my training group, completed all the necessary paperwork, began the packing process etc. Then just one month shy of my departure date I got the call that all too many applicants got. The call informing me that due to ongoing security concerns in El Salvador (also those trainees bound for Honduras and Guatemala) our training class would be suspended. It was a tough call to take. However when asked if I wanted to stay in the applicant pool, there was only one acceptable answer for me: of course. How, after all of the work, paperwork, stress, changes, let downs and excitement could I just give up?

Thus began the waiting process once again. I was luckily able to keep my temporary job a while longer, and with that worry out of the way I anxiously awaited my next post. In was the second week of January 2012 that I received the next awaited call. Because of the number of displaced volunteers it was difficult to get placed again before March or April, but I was luckily able to receive and invitation to serve in Botswana as an NGO Capacity Builder focusing on the HIV/AIDS outreach there.

I had been so let down, that I hesitated to allow myself to become excited about this new post. But with the support from the PC Staff in Botswana thus far, the outreach from fellow volunteers I have received, and all of the resources I have I feel that I am finally ready to let the excitement sink in.

I do not know what I am in store for in the next two years, I know it will come with challenges and rewards, with good and bad, with frustrations and excitements. But all in all I am glad that I did not give up on the process.

I've been trying to live life by a quote I found recently by Mark Twain: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did."

This extends to all facets of life, helping you to see that even when situations don't work out as you expected or wanted, that as long as you've tried, that you've done your best, that it is always better than never trying at all.

This all said, I am now at the end of the Application and Invitation Process. As I prepare to end my time as an 'Invitee' and begin my service as a 'Trainee' there is a lot left to do, and shockingly little time in which to do it!!!