Dumelang Bomma le Borra

Greetings from Botswana! Internet is very sparse in which explains our infrequent updates. I have had a total of 35 minutes of connectivity in the past 12 days, kind of the opposite of what we were working with in the US. It feels good for it to not even be an option on most days. Things are going incredibly well and I am not sure we could have anticipated feeling so settled, comfortable and at ease so quickly. Since arriving in Botswana I often reference the Golden Roller’s motto, “Mood High, Expectations Low.” This has been my view of our Peace Corps experience so far. Prior to our arrival we tried to get an understanding of what life would be like by reading every morsel we could find on life here, we really tried to have a realistic impression of what to expect. Given that, we continue to be pleasantly surprised by how great things are! Sometimes I think the staff and current volunteers here paint a somewhat negative picture so that we constantly feel grateful. Maybe not, but that is how I feel regularly.

We have training (pre-service training or PST) for approximately 2 months. During this time all trainees (currently 74 of us) live with host families in Serowe, the 2nd largest village in Botswana. Our host mom is 65 years old but in many ways seems older than her years. She has two grown sons and usually lives alone. Her grand daughter lives with her sometimes and her mother just moved into the garage. She is fluent in English (it was compulsory when she was a girl) but is a native Batswana so she is a great resource for learning Setswana language and culture. She is super sweet and has led an unimaginable life, she is a very bold and strong woman (you can read about it when Jon posts his journals). Ma Mosei (what we call her) has made vegetarian meals for me each time that she has cooked, which is almost every dinner. Sometimes she will make some chicken for Jon. The day after we moved in she went to the store (Choppies) to buy me veggie sausage and Jon ice cream. She is amazing.

Our home is lovely. We have our own toilet room and bathroom, each with their own sinks. We have hot water at times and can take a bath with a shower nozzle, which is nice when it is available. Water goes in and out here and we have been without it for a few days here and there. On those days we go into the bathtub with a few kettles of boiling water, some old, cold water, a cup, bucket, and a washcloth. It is a cultural experience. We do laundry the same way. Buckets, in the bathtub, with old water and washing powder, then we hang it out to dry. We have electricity that has always worked. Our mom has air conditioning, cable, and a clothes washing machine in her bedroom (we have not used it, don’t worry!). Overall we are on the “posh” end of the homestay experiences though many other trainees feel just as loved and quite a few have as many amenities, some more though many less.

We have Batswana names! Wame and Bame (yes, seriously). They mean “mine” and “mine also”. The little girl who lives with us is named Same, can you guess what her name means? Our mom’s Setswana name is Manchagu, which is also a variation on “mine” – she goes by Antoinette. Our host families have been instructed to take very careful care of us so we are treated like we are teenagers, all of us, even the 70+ year old woman in our group. We are reminded about how to do chores properly, our mom is worried about what food we pack for lunch (and how it compares to the lunch of other students), and if we come home late (after 6:15) we better call and have good reason. It is really sweet; our mom takes her role seriously which seems to be consistent across host families. The first time we ran out of water and Jon expressed concern she woke up in the middle of the night (when water came back on) and filled the entire kitchen with water bottles. Love!

We have full days. Language lessons are at our home from 7:30-9:30am Monday-Friday, then we go to school. Classes end at about 5pm. We have a 35-minute walk home through “the bush” during which we are required to greet each passer by. It would take twice as long if we took the “tire road.” We have to be home before dark but sometimes have 30-45 minutes or so to stop by our local watering hole, the Pat Kay bar which is right outside of the school grounds. When we get home we help with dinner, take a bath, study, talk to mom, pack lunches, do dishes, watch House of Cards and fall asleep by 10:30. On Saturdays we have 4 hours of Setswana and then have “free time.” Last weekend we went on an almost 2 hour walk to the “new mall” which has a nicer grocery store, a fried chicken restaurant (which also sells soft serve), and an internet café. On Sunday we went on a run, did some yoga and then visited with our mom’s friends and family. That is about all there is to do. Go on a walk, try to find Internet, study, talk to mom, do chores around the house, or meet up with friends a school. Life is simple and full.

Overall, we are happy and well cared for. We really love the Peace Corps as an organization but the Botwana team seems to be an outstanding example of it. The staff are well organized and make us feel confident that we have made the right decision. We do miss our friends, family and the US in general but don’t feel any particular longing or homesick of any kind, so far. It is all so new and very exciting for us!

Some other random things that you might be wondering: the weather is just perfect. It gets chilly in the morning/night but warms up nicely with the sun. A light sweater and a sundress is the standard attire. The last time I remember reading the weather it was a low of 8 and a high of 28. It is so bright and sunny every day. The ground is sandy and dusty; there are lots of trees but little grass. Our shoes need to be scrubbed daily, it is so dusty! The sunsets and rises are post card perfect each and every day. It is really unbelievable how beautiful and pink the sky lights up on our walk home through the bush. I just want to take pictures after pictures but they would all look the same and you would think I was bragging. We eat cereal (All Bran) with milk for breakfast. Sometimes yogurt and/or apples with peanut butter or a Luna Bar (while the supply lasts. At this point, Luna type bars are the only thing that we can’t find a replacement for so far. That and tofu.). Lunch is leftovers or a PB &J sammie. Dinner is sorghum or maize meal porridge (mabele or paleche) with a variety of vegetables (cabbage, carrots, potatoes, butternut squash (called pumpkin). The food is simple but it is delicious, I love the grain porridges so much (some trainees are already sick of it). It is surprisingly easy here to be vegetarian and I think being vegan would be a breeze, too, for those wondering. This was surprising. There is no Ebola here and no one is concerned about it. We don’t get any news at all, so that is really nice to just be unconnected. The people what we are training with are wonderful overall and incredibly diverse. We are aged 21-72, there are 5 married couples, all American but from all over the world world. There are people who have just graduated college and retirees and just a few other weirdos (like us) who left solid careers to serve. There are a few people who have done Peace Corps before, for one trainee this is his third time! We have decent levels of comfortability with many trainees, if not most, and consider quite a few to be our friends already. We have found a few with whom we can make dirty jokes, so there is that.

We will be in Serowe until mid October at which point we can be assigned to anywhere in the country. We find out where mid-September so we will keep you posted. In addition to language classes we have had sessions about not getting Malaria, not getting diarrhea (and what to do if you get it), gender/women’s issues and how they relate to HIV/AIDS, lots of cultural issues, a few sessions about what volunteers do, also LOTS OF TEAM BUILDING. Lots. It can be a little touchy feely at times but it feels good to just jump into it and let your guard down a bit. That is kind of an unfamiliar feeling and that is OK, I am getting used to it.

Hopefully this update answers all of your burning questions. We apologize for not always being able to answer all individual emails and posts, we are trying!

We love you and thank you for all of the love that you have sent our way.

Be well! Go siame, Wame and Bame Goffberg

This entry was posted in Africa, Botswana and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • Shana D Liteful

    So exciting to read your update! Glad you are doing well and settling in…

  • whonichol

    Great and very helpful post as a Botswana 16. I am really enjoying your blog.
    -Nick V.