June 23, 2010

Going To The Chapel…Or Not

This week marks one of the more difficult times in my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  No, it is not because of anything that has happened to me, nor does it have to do with my NGO, my house, or anything to do with Botswana.  It is because this weekend is the weekend that my little sister is getting married.  My real little sister (not a host family member), in the United States.  And I am in Botswana.  Of course, I knew that this would happen—we both knew it—when I accepted my Peace Corps invitation, we knew her wedding date, which has been set for over a year, was within the three-month “lockdown” period, when volunteers are not permitted to take any leave.  But it doesn’t make me want to be there any less, or feel any less terrible that I cannot be.  It’s one of those days that makes some people say Peace Corps service is incredibly selfish and others say it is incredibly selfless, but personally, I just think it’s life—my life was calling me to be here, and hers was calling her to take this huge step this weekend, and neither of us could really help it. 

That said, if I weren’t the worst sister ever, I would have been her Maid of Honor, and made the big toast at her reception.  Admittedly, it’s always nice when you get to avoid making a rather personal statement in front of a fairly large crowd, but this is one of those few times where I actually wish I were able to risk making a fool of myself publicly in order to honor my sister properly.  Of course after the beautiful and poetic toast she delivered at my wedding (yes, for those who didn’t know, I have been married and divorced…good times…), nothing I could say would even begin to live up…but remember, she is an English major, and I haven’t been in school in years!  Nonetheless, I wanted to post something for the occasion.  For the record, I’d probably shorten it and clean it up a bit, were I to actually give it aloud (and I’d also have the opportunity to have others look it over), but it’s the internet, and I’m in Africa, so I can say what I want :o).  And for the record, I’d rather post this on the actual wedding day, but internet is not reliable enough here to risk postponing posting this and missing the big day!  So, without further ado, here it is, for Laura and Denny:

As sisters, Laura and I have been through many difficult times—Laura chasing me with “dirty” hands (Laura, you know what I am referencing, and yes, I am referencing it at your wedding—could you expect any less?) and me letting Laura have a “dirty” face in front of Hanson (which may or may not have been intentional sabotage).  We have also been through too many wonderful times to even begin to reference.  As such, as we grow up I can’t help but to be the crazy big sister, plagued with constant nagging sisterly concern because I want so much for you to get everything you deserve out of life, Laura. 

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that when you and Denny first exchanged promise rings in high school, I couldn’t help but feel a concern that you had seen a few too many John Hughes movies, which always have glorious climaxes, but precariously cut off right before “real life” sets in.  And after all, most high school students could not even manage to commit to a major, let alone to another person, for life. 

But this was not just any high school student or just any high school couple.  This was Laura and Denny.  And as they say, cheesy though it may be, when you know, you know.  And regardless of their age, they knew.  And (really savor what I am about to say; you know how rarely it happens) they couldn’t have been more right, and my overprotective sisterly instincts couldn’t have been more wrong.

Laura, I could not even dream up anyone better for you (and I have a pretty vivid imagination).  Over the years, Denny has demonstrated his love for you time and time again.  Not only accepted our crazy family, but jumped right in.  He has been to Hanson concerts (and even chatted it up with Zac), persevered through the entire Gilmore Girls series, and undoubtedly given many an opinion on various crochet and cross-stitching projects.  If that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.

Denny, I have considered you family for so many years, that it doesn’t feel right to say “welcome” today—you’ve been like a brother ever since the first time you witnessed one of Laura and my girltalk sessions, and not only suffered through it, but actually participated.  So instead of “welcoming” you to the family, I’ll just say it’s official—you’re stuck with us!  But I know that the happiness that you and Laura share will make it all worth it.

And so, as you enter the commitment of marriage, of giving and receiving, etc., I wish you nothing but love, laughter, and joy.  And I know you will have it.  You have shown us all a happier ending, and given us more hope for finding true love than any John Huges movies ever could.  So let us all raise our glasses to celebrate the union of Laura and Dennis Pelton.

CONGRATULATIONS, MR. AND MRS. PELTON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  (Well, almost, Mr. and Mrs. Pelton, at the date of this posting…but what can you do?!)

P.S.  NO stealing my speech, Lindsay!  Now it’s all on you!  Don’t let the bridesmaid team down!!!

Nighttime Noises

So I believe I mentioned in an earlier blog that one of the first things that I noticed about Botswana was how quiet it is here.  This is very true.  BUT it is true in a weird sort of way—it is so quiet that it’s actually incredibly noisy.  Kind of in the same way that you only hear a leaky faucet at night.  Normally the sounds of everyday life like the TV, radio, vacuum, computer, voices, etc., would drown out something so soft, but at night once those sounds have died down, you suddenly find yourself plagued by the nagging drip…drip…drip…drip.  Well, it is rather similar here.  You see, there is no traffic sound, few electronic sounds (in fact, on many nights since I’ve arrived in Shakawe the power has been out) and no insulation in the cement block housing to muffle noises.  So out of the silence created when one settles in for bed, arises a cacophony of the more subtle sounds, which would go unnoticed in most living situations in the States.  Add to this that your sense of hearing seems heightened in the pitch black of night—just as the quiet is very quiet, without street lamps and little VCR lights blinking relentlessly, the dark is very dark—and that there are an array of noises that are not common in most parts of the States, or at least not common all at once, and the end result is that it is actually quite noisy. 

So, what are the sounds that make Shakawe feel like a city that never sleeps?  Here are a few—which, for the record, are frequently happening simultaneously:

Hippos (I don’t know how to explain this sound, but am quite sure that there must be some sort of audio clip somewhere on youtube, or whatever internet medium that has sprouted up and taken over since the two months that I’ve been away…I suggest checking it out)
Roosters cock-a-doodle-doo-ing (they go all night), and chickens scratching around (yes, you can actually hear when a chicken is walking by your house at night; that’s how quiet it is)
Dogs barking (sometimes terrifyingly aggressive, with growling and howling, other times more recreationally)
Donkeys braying (also happens all night, although less frequently than the roosters)
House music and revelers from parties and bars
Crickets and other harmonious bugs
Mice/rats squeaking and running around
Whatever my nighttime creature is, scuttling around my room (I have decided it is a rare African Nocturnal Lizard.  Although I have no evidence to back this up, and in fact much evidence to contradict this fact, it is what I have decided, and have named him Reynold, in order to avoid thinking about the fact that it could in fact be something more precarious.  I don’t want to see any replies saying that there is no such thing as an African Nocturnal Lizard.  Don’t take this from me.)
And my personal favorite, angry cow moos.  They don’t like it when they are awakened.  So they wake everyone else up out of spite.  People often underestimate how spiteful cows can be.

So, my friends, that is what Botswana (or at least Shakawe) sounds like tonight.  For the record, this was written at 2am, and at the moment, I can literally hear each of the sounds listed above (actually, Reynold already paid me a visit tonight and seems to have left, or is taking a nap, which is not especially nocturnal of him).  There may be other sounds that I can’t think of at the moment, because I’m so preoccupied with the ones occurring at the moment, but I think you get the drift. 

Oh, and for the record, despite the fact that I don’t have a faucet, and won’t be seeing any of my beloved rain for another 9 months or so (sigh), I still have a drip.  The large water filter that the Peace Corps gave me when we left for site is quite possibly THE slowest water filter in the world (I believe the package said it filters at the rate of 1 liter per hour—actually), (oh, and incidentally, it also has quite possibly the best [in a so-terrible-it’s-awesome sort of way] slogan ever imprinted on it: it says “drink and thrive”…get it?  Yeah, it’s an actual pun which seems to make light of “drink and drive”…wow…great marketing…), so whenever I fill it up, I get a serious case of the drip-drip’s all night long.  (Thanks again, SO much, for the nice, FAST, better-tasting water filter, Dad!!!). 

Anyway…I’m going to try to get some sleep.  Oh, but I must now add a new noise to the list—I think it might be bats?  Hmm.  Oh well…enjoy your highly insulated and mechanically-produced aural numbness to the world while I try to telepathically explain to the roosters that they’re only supposed to crow in the morning, AFTER the sun is up.

P.S.  Umm…if you want to hear something amazing…try to find this song…I don’t know what it’s called, but I think it’s South African, and it’s literally written around the whole falling-from-heaven-must-have-hurt-because-you’re-an-angel pick-up line.  There can’t be many songs like it; I’m sure it can’t be that had to find on the interweb.  It’s pretty fantastic (again, in a so terrible-it’s-awesome sort of way).  Oh, or the “Marry Me, Marry Me” song.  I don’t know what either of them are called but they’re slowly seeping into my head and ruining my life!  Ok, goodnight for real now!

Strangers With Candy

Learning to integrate into another culture can be such a mental roller coaster.  There are some days when it doesn’t feel different here, and I start to think I’ve totally got it down, and others when it seems that the very fabrics of Setswana and American culture are literally mirror opposites and I’m living in Bizarro World.  And not in a bad way—or a good one, either—just that things here are so different that there are moments when I feel like every instinct I have is wrong, and in order to succeed I should just do the opposite (and yes, that was dripping with Seinfeld references—when you’re feeling removed from her own culture, what can you do but cling to the familiar?).  But really, it can be quite unsettling at times—an, again, not even in a bad way; just in a “I need to entirely relearn each and every social skill that I have developed over the past 27 years if I am to succeed here without going crazy” sort of way.  Take, for example, the following scenario:

You go for a run.  As you leave your house, a complete stranger tells you he likes your shoes and demands that you give them to him.  Then you run into a woman who you met once before (and by “met,” I mean passed on the street and said “Hey, what’s up?”), she asks for your cell phone number, and informs you that she will be coming over for dinner tomorrow night (and, in fact, she will).  Finally, as you run past houses and compounds, every single child that is out playing begins screaming “white girl / foreigner” (lakgoa) and many join and trail behind as you run, demanding candy, money, or toys.

Now in America, each of these three events would not only be uncommon, but be considered pushy or rude, and one might assume that each of these people were either discriminating against a foreigner or trying to take advantage; the children would be severely scolded for leaving their house without their parents’ permission, talking to a stranger, and following her for miles.

In Botswana, however, none of these people were overstepping their bounds; if anything, these actions were attempts to welcome me into the community.  You see, Setswana culture is a collective culture.  People really don’t think of things as his and hers, yours and mine.  Whether it’s food, a computer, a shirt, or a broom—if I have something you need, you are free to ask for it and, in most contexts, it is expected that I will oblige.  What’s mine is yours—literally—even if I have never met you before.

And admittedly, this is the portion of Setswana culture that I have struggled with the most.  As an American, we are so swept up in ownership, that even to an anti-materialistic so-called “hippie” like myself, the ideas that it’s okay for someone to demand to use my things (people here really do not ask—they only demand, which is also initially off-putting when acclimating from American culture), and that I would be the one who would be considered rude if I refused…well they were really hard to grapple with—I was initially unsure whether I was attracting people who were trying to take advantage of me because I am a foreigner.  But on the contrary: in Setswana culture, in part, because employment is difficult to come by, and there is a great disparity between those who have and those who don’t, it is simply expected that people will take care of each other, and that if I have something that someone else needs, I will give it to him/her (and, he/she would do the same for me).  The gentleman asking for my shoes was not only not out of line, but in a way, acknowledging that I was a part of the community, by expressing his feeling that I should share my things with him.

Now, onto the woman asking for my number and inviting herself to dinner at my place.  In America, even asking for someone’s cell number in this context, let alone putting a perfect stranger in the position of hosting a dinner would be far outside the realm of normalcy.  Yet here, this is absolutely routine.  Nearly every person that you have even the smallest interaction with—the person you sit next to on a bus, someone you meet on the street, someone you have a brief conversation with at the grocery store—will take your number or give you theirs, and extend an invitation to their house, or say they will come to “check” you (another piece of Setswanglish—no one comes to “visit” or “hang out,” they “check” you). And unlike in American culture, where a remote acquaintance might say “we should get coffee sometime,” but both parties know that nothing will come of it (and even if it were to happen, it would be at a coffee shop, a neutral meeting place, not at either person’s actual home, and neither person would be responsible for entertaining the other), here, people actually mean it.  It is entirely normal among the Batswana for nearly complete strangers who live in different cities to become friends on the bus, then spend the night at each other’s houses the next time they are in town. 

Now, were I just to read about this and not actually experience it, I would probably get all warm and fuzzy from the thought of how great it would be to just be part of a big family.  And it definitely does have its perks—it is actually a shame, because I have met so very many kind people here, but because of my lack of familiarity with Setswana, and the sheer volume of people who have given me their contact information, I find myself with dozens of Setswana names in my phone, and dozens of memories of people I have met, but absolutely no idea which name corresponds to which person, and if I could remember, I could call on any of them at any time (I just don’t want the embarrassing mistake of calling someone and trying to figure out exactly who they are and how I know them). 

But, again, it is like all aspects of cultural difference: it not better or worse, and the experience is very different from the idea.  For instance, because it is so culturally expected that I will open my home to everyone, whether or not I actually like my new “friend”is kind of irrelevant—unlike in America where I can choose my friends, here even refusing to give my number to someone, or not inviting someone to my house for dinner is considered extremely rude (unless the person is legitimately threatening or otherwise unsound).  My home is not really a private space—anyone is welcome at any time, so (especially since my living space is one room), I don’t ever really have the freedom to be messy, not have clean dishes, or not have food in the fridge.  I can’t really relax or be “off” until nighttime—because someone could come “check” me at any time, and I will be expected to play hostess. 

Of course, the same courtesy will be extended to me, should I ever need it.  When I stayed at my counterpart’s mom’s house on my way up to Maun with her, I was not allowed to lift a finger—dinner was prepared for me, they made my bath, offered me tea, and gave me all the hospitality that an American would offer a dear friend or family member—and they had just met me.  And it’s kind of exciting to take someone else’s number (when you actually remember who the person is).  There is a cashier at the Choppies who has been really nice to me, and I got her number and invited her to dinner; then when I accidentally left an item behind after shopping one day, she immediately texted me and made sure to hold onto it for me until I came back the next day.  Again, not good, not bad, just entirely, entirely different.

Now, onto the kids.  There is absolutely no perceptible concept of “stranger danger” here in Botswana.  Children do not hesitate to speak to strangers, and even the overblown cliché of avoiding “strangers with candy” is unheard of; on the contrary, children frequently follow strangers around asking for candy (which, as an American, raised with that myth, I can’t help but find an eensy bit comical).  Children are not at all scolded for following a complete stranger down the street for miles—they don’t even have to ask permission before leaving their houses.  The upside of this difference: a completely trusting society; children are not trained to fear each other, which creates an environment that allows for such ease in making friends, as discussed earlier.  The downside: a dozen children trailing me every time I run.  Well, it’s not entirely a downside—it’s nice to have company, and certainly makes me feel safer…but runners will understand; it’s much harder to “zone out,” which, for many like myself, is among the primary purposes of running in the first place.  As with the other instances—privacy and independence are sacrificed for a communal social structure.

Finally, as an American, when I was first faced with being identified as lakgoa by nearly everyone—and not discreetly or subtly, but openly shouted at me, even by children—I couldn’t help but assume that it was an insult, that I was being lauded for my different appearance.  Indeed, in America, were you to publicly announce or identify someone by their race or ethnicity, it would almost certainly be an insult or threat.  And admittedly, even in Setswana culture, it draws slightly more attention than calling someone tall.  But, really.  I’m a white American…in a village where over 90% of the population is African.  Of course this draws attention—but it’s not the word that does that.  Despite the fact that I am a distinct minority, there is no hostility intended by identifying me as lakgoa.  There is no difference between identifying someone as fat, thin, tall, short, black, foreigner—these are just identifiers, and they do not carry additional weight.  The Batswana I have met do sometimes identify certain traits as being lakgoa traits, based on other Americans and Westerners they have met, but there is no stigma intended.  Botswana actually has a remarkable history of interracial relations, particularly relative to this region.  The first president of Botswana, Tautona Sechele Khama, married a white woman from England—the very country from which Botswana gained its independence in 1966.  Even in America in 1966 interracial marriages were extremely controversial—so you can imagine what a huge statement this made.  Further, Botswana is a country composed of many different tribes, with many different cultural backgrounds, but tremendous efforts have been made both by the government and the people of Botswana to create a national identity that trumps local tribal identity—not entirely different from the “melting pot” approach to Americanism.  As a result, the identification as a foreigner, or acknowledgement of differences is not considered insulting, simply a statement of the facts.

Now I have to be honest, it has taken me a long time to adapt to all of these differences.  There have a lot of days full of annoyance and frustration, and it is something that I will inevitably continue to struggle with for the next two years—even though I am acclimating, I am still, after all, an American.  I actually avoided writing about this topic, because I was so concerned that addressing these differences would be considered offensive to the Batswana people, for whom I have the utmost respect.  But after having spoken to many Batswana, I realized that the only reason I felt uncomfortable talking about the cultural differences was because on some level I still had not accepted them, and was projecting my own views, without realizing that the Batswana are very proud of their collectivist culture.  When I tell the Batswana the way the scenario about going for a run would play out in America (ie: Go outside for a run.  Maybe say hello or wave to people you pass, or maybe pass without saying anything.  Go home.), they react with the same bewilderment and mixed emotions that any American/Westernerns probably did when you read the first scenario.

So as you read this, I find myself fully immersed in the very challenge that attracted me to Peace Corps service: learning to live in another culture, and integrate into a world so very different from my own, but in a way that still honors my own values and culture—to try to see the positive aspects of both sides; identify the similarities, and embrace and explore the differences.  And, as fate would have it, take candy from strangers…it’s not easy, but someone has to do it.

June 21, 2010

Making a List

Ok.  So, I must say, I feel weird even posting this, because you have all already provided so much support and encouragement—how could I possibly ask for any more?  BUT, I have received a number of requests, for a wish list, so I’ll oblige…but please, please, please don’t feel in any way obligated; your love and friendship means more to me than anything else.  But, here goes.  I’ll just keep this list updated as much as possible, and hyperlink it to the box on the right with my mailing address, so it’ll be easy to reference :o). 

My wish list:

Seriously, words are the best—letters, postcards, whatever!  Shipping to Bots is crazy expensive; a letter is a huge deal to me!  Don’t underestimate how awesome they are!


This is stuff that I pretty much always want/can’t have enough of/won’t get tired of…in no particular order:

Oreon/Newman-O’s…umm, they do have Oreos here, but they’re not vegan-how lame is that?!
Stonewall’s Vegan Jerkee…I like all the flavors…mmmmm!!!
Vegan dark chocolate/chocolate chips/cocoa powder (this should need no explanation!)
Gator Aid Powder (I’m trying to run here and dehydration is a legit issue—really, really need this, it goes fast!)
Falafel mix
Hummus mix
Tabouleh mix
(a small theme here…?)
Vegan sloppy joe mix (with all of the mixes, if you take them out of the boxes [but maybe include the instructions?] and put them in a ziplock bag, they might be easier to squish into a large envelope!)
Dairy free Mac & Trees (yes, I know it’s nasty for non-vegans…but I love it!!  I can get pasta here, so I mostly just want the sauce packet—there are some places where you can buy just the sauce packet, but if not, you could take it out, keep the pasta for yourself, and put the packet in a ziplock bag and stick it in an envelope!)
Nutritional yeast: a vegan’s best friend!
Braggs Liquid Amino Acids: goes so well with nutritional yeast!
Flax seeds: Omega-3’s, anyone?  Hard to get here; important for psychological stability!!!
Vegan mayonnaise-shelf-stable: there are a couple of brands: Nayonaise and Spectrum, and maybe some others
Tofu (shelf-stable, like Mori-Nu or something along those lines—allegedly there are a few places here where you can get it, but I have yet to find any, and I’m totally going through withdrawal!)
COFFEE!!!!!!!! (OMG, I NEED COFFFE!!  Pretty much all they have here that’s not prohibitively expensive is the instant kind with chickory…NOT OK!!!  I have a French press, so any REAL, good coffee, ground for a French press would be life-changing!)
Dried shitake mushrooms
Asian noodles (vegan chow mein noodles, rice noodles, bean thread, etc.)
Nori (mmm....vegan sushi!!!)
Quinoa mmm....protein...
Vanill extract...you can only get vanilla "essence" here...not cool!
Vegan marshmallows (this one is just a pipe dream—you can only get them at vegan specialty stores or online, and even in the States I can’t afford these more than once or twice a year…)


In other words, if you happen to get me any of this stuff, please e-mail me so that I can take it off the list because I don’t need that much of it! :o)

Outdoor thermometer.  Weird, yes, but the temperature extremes are crazy…total non-necessity, but I’d love to know whether I’m just being whiny, or my house is legitimately unsafely hot to be in…
Scented candles. Yes, this probably sounds like the weirdest request EVER, but as my last post indicates, my power goes out regularly, and I spend a significant portion of the time in my house eating by candlelight…may as well get some aromatherapy out of it, right? 
Molasses/real maple syrup-haven’t found any of this stuff or real brown sugar here, therefore much of baking kind of sucks.
Wheat germ-I need nutrients!!!
Hanson shirt…weird, I know(hahaha), but maybe Fansons will understand…I brought one, but it got destroyed—so sad!!  So if you’ve got an old one you don’t like…it would make me really happy!!
Other cute t-shirts and tank tops: I’m either a women’s/juniors small or medium (trying to stay within the confines of the small size, though), and clothes do NOT hold up well here w/ all the sand and hand-washing/hang drying.  I can buy clothes here, but our allowance is rather meager, so t-shirts and tank tops are always appreciated!!!!

If you’d like to fill up a flash drive, I’d be happy to fill it with stuff here and mail it back (we have a floating terabyte hard drive with lots of stuff on it), or if you could send a CD with any of the stuff below, I’d pretty much love you forever.  (As with the list above, if you send anything on the list below, please let me know so I remove it from the list…but please feel free to send anything that you think I’d like!)

HOWIE DAY!!  Any live stuff would be AMAZING—I’ve only got a few shows on here!
DMB.  Don’t judge.  But if you have some, I’d love it.
John Mayer: Anything...
Matt Nathanson: I have the Pretty the World EP and Waiting for Spring but would like any of the other albums!
Goo Goo Dolls!  I only have DUTG on my iTunes (again, how I managed to not upload my other albums eludes me!!); my favorite is Superstar Car Wash, if anyone happens to have it!

Any other stuff you think I’d like.  All the music here is just house music…I need more music in my life!!


SEX AND THE CITY!!!!!!!  I got Season 1!!!!  YAY LAURA YOU ARE MY HERO!!!!!  But if you happen to have any other seasons that are looking for a good home, I’m your gal!!
Dexter:  Season 4, and 5 once it starts!!!
The Office – for realz; how did I get all the way out here without this?!
The Big Bang Theory
Gilmore Girls:
Seasons 1 and 4—I’ve got the rest
BOY MEETS WORLD if someone could make this happen--SBTB or BMW...yeah, I think I might just idolize you forever...
Saved By the Bell – you heard me.  I think we need to make this happen to make my Peace Corps experience complete.
My So-Called Life –
I keep thinking “Ahh, I’ve seen this show too many times to still need it in my life.”  And I keep being wrong.
Boy Meets World –
Umm, Topanga would be so disappointed not to be included in my Peace Corps experience.
Freaks and Geeks / Undeclared - I <3 Judd Apatow

Any other shows or movies you think might be of interest.  I might even be willing to consider getting addicted to Lost…maybe… There’s not much to do after dark—and it’s dark here a lot!

I’m planning on setting up an Amazon Wish List…but in the mean time, if you have any books or magazines (I love Scientific American and news-related stuff!) that you’ve read and think are awesome, feel free to send them my way!  Let me know if you want them back, and I’ll make sure they get back to you!!! (although, depending on my ability to ship stuff, it may be at the end of my service…)


Ok, so it’s a little weird shipping me stuff…here are a few tips:


Ziplock bags. It’s best if you put pretty much everything in an individual ziplock bag...basically, pack like it’s going to go though 1,000 degree heat, dropped, squished, be drenched in water, attacked by ants, and opened and re-opened a zillion times.  Hopefully none of those things will happen, but, as with Peace Corps, when it comes to international shipping, it’s best not to have any expectations.

Expensive stuff.  If you are sending something like a flashdrive, it’s best to put it in a sock or something so it won’t be stolen.  So far, it doesn’t look like any of the packages I’ve received have been opened, but it’s just better to err on the safe side.  Of course, if you do send me something like that that you want returned and it gets stolen, I’ll obviously either reimburse you, or have a new one shipped to you on Amazon or something!! 

Addressing / Labeling:

My mailing address is:

Chelsea Chilcoat
Peace Corps Volunteer
Botshelo Trust
P.O. Box 313

If you send a package, you have to stand in line and fill out a bunch of stupid paperwork (did I mention how much I love you guys?!).  One of the lines asks you to estimate the value of your package—it is generally best NOT to write more than $15; if it is not thought to be expensive, it’s less likely to go “missing.”  Likewise, when listing the contents, I have heard that writing things like “religious materials,” or “educational materials” helps deter curious handlers.  You could also try writing “Botshelo Trust Orphanage” if you’re concerned about theft—that might also play up the guilty conscience factor (and I do, in fact, volunteer with orphans, so it’s not a lie—it’s just not part of the NGO’s name).

If you can, it’s best to try to get to the Post Office at a not-so-busy time, so you can talk with the Post Office staff about what the different shipping/pricing options are—I think they can vary significantly, even between mailing something in a cushioned envelope versus a box.  You might also look at the Flat Rate International Shipping boxes—those seem to be pretty reasonable as well.


Winter is usually from about June-August…summer is December-February.  Most of the time it’s pretty hot, but summer is REALLY hot (think highs of 115-120), and winter is a little more moderate (most days getting into the 30’s or 40’s at night, and 80’s during the day).  I’ve decided that it’s ALWAYS ok to send me chocolate (just remember the ziplock bag thing!), but obviously, melty stuff is best to send at a time when it’ll arrive during the “cold” season.  Shipping can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months…so…yeah.