This weekend is my three month anniversary of leaving the States, and my one month anniversary as a Peace Corps Volunteer living in Shakawe. In some ways I can’t believe it’s been that long, and in other ways, I can’t believe it hasn’t been longer, but regardless of my personal feelings on the matter, it has been three months and I have twenty-three more to go. I was kind of hoping to have some momentous event, symbolic statement, or deep inner-reflective moment to postulate on as a commemoration of this occasion, but no such luck—this weekend was no different than any other in my service.
But then it occurred to me—this weekend was just like any other day in my service: entirely unpredictable and nothing short of bizarre. It’s just that I’ve gotten so used to it that all of the crazy twists and turns no longer throw me for a loop (haha…twists and turns…loop…ahh, it’s a good thing I’m so easily amused…). So rather than try to make some grandiose statement, I can think of no better way to commemorate this milestone than to provide a glimpse into the strange world that has somehow become a mundane part of my life as a Peace Corps Bots-er. And I think it actually speaks volumes as-is, without trying to superimpose some higher meaning onto it. Because, really, sometimes things just don’t make sense, and coming to terms with that is just a part of Peace Corps life. So here goes….
Saturday morning I went for a three-hour run, nearly to the border of Namibia and back. On my way up, I saw a flock of what I later found out are extremely rare birds—large, black, and with very long, bright red beaks—hanging out in a field with a herd of cows. I was heckled by a group of construction workers (no surprise there) who, on my way back, were extremely concerned that I did not have enough water and insisted that I stop while one of them drove to the Mohembo ferry to buy me some. So I waited and we chatted about my knowledge of Setswana, and they insisted that I should have learned French instead since it is widely spoken throughout Africa and (obviously) also France. (I tried to explain that I wanted to learn about Setswana culture, and also that the Peace Corps requires us to learn Setswana, but I don’t think my point really got across.) Once the person returned with the bottled water, I drank it, and our chat was concluded with their declarations of love, requests for my phone number, and a marriage proposal. (In their defense, that was one of the longest conversations I’ve had since being here before those things came up.) I of course explained that I am not looking for a boyfriend and don’t give my number to strangers and proceeded with my run.
Then, when I was almost home, I ran into some tourists from Europe who were trying to get to Namibia but were lost (well, they were a father and son—men—so of course they weren’t “lost,” just “having difficulty with the map” haha—if you guys happen to be reading that I couldn’t resist adding that, sorry… :o). We chatted for some time and I pointed them in the right direction (there is a strange and wonderful sort of camaraderie amongst all of the travelers and volunteers I met—I quite love it and think I have officially been bitten by the infamous “travel bug”), and then headed home.
Except that instead of going home, I actually went to the house of the other Peace Corps volunteer in Shakawe, because the previous week her cat had had a urinary blockage (thanks to the help of some wonderful expat animal lovers, we were able to save his life), and I needed to cat-sit to make sure that he was recovering properly, because the other volunteer had to go to Gaborone for mid-service training (MST). And because she is not one of the twenty or so NGO volunteers in Bots, she has government housing—which means two bedrooms (each bigger than my entire house), two and a half baths (with running hot and cold water) a real kitchen (with actual counters and cabinets, a large pantry, a sink with hot and cold water, a real full-sized stove/oven and fridge, which are reasonably new and in perfect working order), fully furnished (queen-sized bed, nice headboard, dresser, solid wood dinner table and chairs, coffee table, couch, etc.), and entirely finished interiors (ceiling, rather than exposed tin roof, tiled floors instead of exposed concrete, actual lighting fixtures, and plenty of them, instead of my single dim exposed bulb...you get the picture…). So instead of taking a bucket bath, I got to take a hot shower...sigh…(incidentally, this is NOT to imply that her experience is any easier than mine—each experience is different and poses its own unique challenges, and many volunteers lament having the opportunity to have the “Peace Corps experience” which I am actually extremely grateful to have. I’m quite happy with my housing…but realistically, of course I’ll jump at every opportunity I get to take a hot, clean shower—who wouldn’t?!)
Following my run, I went to meet my best Motswana friend, because one of her friends promised us a boat ride when we ran into him at the beach earlier that week. So, we went to meet with him, and he told us that his other friend (who of course just had to live all the way across town) had the boat, and that if we met up with his other friend, his other friend would give us a boat ride. My friend suspected he was lying (apparently he had tried to get her to give him my phone number because he wanted to date me, and he was upset when she told him I was not looking for a boyfriend), but considering we had no other plans, we decided it was worth a shot.
So we walked several miles across town to her friend’s friend’s house (I don’t mean for this to be as difficult to follow as it is, but without using names it’s tricky!!). I spent a good portion of the walk explaining to strangers why I wore a headband the day before (there was no reason—I just felt like wearing a headband. But around here people talk, and as a white American, I stand out…so when I do something a little different, word gets around…so at least a dozen people said “Ah, I saw you yesterday, you were wearing something in your hair!”), and saw my first Botswana squirrel (pretty much the same as regular squirrels, but exciting nonetheless), and discovered that my friend shares my warped sense of humor (she told me how she likes to fool people from outside of the Delta by making up crazy stories about the plants and animals of the Delta, and I told her about how I thought it would be awesome to be a Park Ranger because you could make up all kinds of crazy stories and everyone would believe you because you’re a Park Ranger…and then I told her about Venus fly traps, and we laughed because she couldn’t tell whether I was serious or messing with her…hahaha). On the way, to her friend’s friend’s house, I ran into one of my other friends who was picking lemons from her yard and insisted that we take a very large bag full of them (again, the collective culture works both ways—awesome!), so we did.
When we arrived at my friend’s friend’s friend’s house (are you up enough on junior high she-said-he-said skills to follow this?!) he was not there, as we initially expected. So, seeing as it was starting to get dark, we began our long trek home. On the way home, I ran into yet another friend. While chatting with him, this amazingly sweet, totally trained and neutered dog appeared out of nowhere. We learned that the dog had belonged to an American who left him behind when he returned home to the States. The dog apparently sensed what a crazy animal person I am and immediately bonded with me. So as the sun set, we walked home on a trail right next to the river (SO beautiful), carrying the world’s biggest bag of lemons, and trailed by who would soon become my dog (well, until I can place him with a permanent resident who shares my opinions on companion animals—I’m working on it as we speak), talking about Sasquatch and Botswana monster legends (since it was getting dark and we were walking through the “forest,” we decided to exchange scary stories) all the way home.
Sunday morning I woke up and walked with my new dog to Choppies so that I could meet some of my friends to go to church at my supervisor’s house. My supervisor is an expat from South Africa and lives in an amazingly gorgeous house right on the Delta—it feels like a little oasis, almost an entirely different world from downtown Shaks. Because most of the congregants of the church are from South Africa, church was held half in Afrikaans and half in English. Following the service, homemade pastries were served and I drank REAL coffee, played with dogs that only knew German (because my supervisor’s son-in-law is German and they are his dogs) and watched the monkeys (vervet monkeys and baboons…!!!) play in the trees and try to eat the paw-paws, while we chatted about potato farming in South Africa. Then I returned home, picked my dog up from Choppies, did chores, worked on my Peace Corps community assessment, watched some Gossip Girl, and wrote this blog.
So there you have it…an average weekend in the life of Peace Corps Bots-er. Three months in Africa (and counting) and somehow my sense of normalcy has been turned entirely on it’s head!