Monday, July 27, 2009
Still, the morning started a little rough... There was nothing but a shovel to dig yourself a hole with to do your business, so after I attempted to dig through the rock hard sand, I gave up and decided I might be able to hold it for three days. After a quick breakfast, we all bundled up into our layers of pants, socks, shirts, sweaters, toques and winter gloves and began our walk, excited for what lay ahead. After 15 minutes, we exhausted the change in scenery for the next 72 hours and became focused on reaching the finish line. The first 2 days were fairly easy-going for me. I had friends to keep me company, and thanks to my hiking shoes and socks, I remained blister-free! But on the last day, I had some glands popping out of my groin, my right hip was popping out of place, Maryam had the flu, Spojmai was bleeding with blisters and Ruby and Amy were walking slowly behind. Everyone was too tired/annoyed to do any talking, and so, it gave me a lot of time to reflect, thinking about Botswana, dreaming of home, thinking about the travel plans, and trying to answer “Why care?”... after all, the walk was being run by an organization called YCARE.
Maybe I was tired (and still am) from the walk, but I couldn’t come up with any sort of good reason. Even after spending 3 months in Botswana, I still don’t know what I would say to someone if they challenged me and said “Why care?”. It reminds me of the pharmacist I went to fill my Malaria pill prescription. After being told I was going to Botswana, he replied by twisting his face and asking “WHY BOTSWANA?”. I didn’t have a good answer for him then, and after 3 months, I still don’t. I could talk about the youth in Botswana who need to be given the skills, the support, the friendship, the CHANCE to make it... I could talk about the AIDS patients who are left abandoned by friends and family who need a companion to talk to in their dying days... I could talk about the environmental destruction that is happening every day to one of the most beautiful countries on the planet because of a lack of awareness and education... but would that change your mind? I mean, aren’t these already things we all know? Aren’t these issues being thrown at us daily by the media? Isn’t caring something we all should know from the way we were raised, and not something that makes us scrunch our face in confusion?
So I’ve come to the conclusion, with the help of my good friend Jason Mraz, that “Justifying reasons why is an absolutely insane resolution to live by”. When I get home, I’m not going to exhaust myself by trying to get people to care. I am excited, however, to talk about my experience and perhaps bridge a more personal relationship between my friends in Botswana and my friends in Canada. I hope to be an example that anyone can be a source of hope and change and that “caring” isn’t always as hard as it sounds. I also hope that those who have been following my blog realize that “caring” doesn’t mean travelling across the globe and living in a village to start projects. Instead in simply means acting with your heart to help out others around you. I was telling my friend Maryam that in Mochudi, I was able to do some pretty cool things... I got a recycling and composting program developed, I helped build a house, I developed some life skills and study skills curriculums, etc... but at the end of the day, the people that I’ve come across aren’t going to remember me as “Mateo, who organized that cleaning campaign” or “Kagiso, who helped us learn how to use flash cards” or “Matt, who taught us how to make smores at camp” (I have a few different names here...) Instead, they are going to remember me for the relationship that I formed with them, the tie that they now have in Canada, the trust that was built and the friend that they made. I had been away from SSI for almost a week with the YCARE walk and meetings. When I was “reunited” with the kids on Thursday, they were at a camp at Mokolodi. When I came into their view, one of the boys, Knox, came running at me with a huge smiles, his arms wide open and jumped at me with a big hug. The rest followed, giving me props and doing the “snapping handshake”. Knowing that I have been there for them as a friend is more satisfying that anything else I could have done.
And I think this wraps up my time in Moch. I’m posting this on Monday and my last night in Mochudi is tomorrow (making Wednesday my last day at SSI). My stomach is in a knot as I am ready to leave the country, but not yet ready to leave the kids. I’ve planned to spend my last day with them just taking it easy – I’ve prepared a slideshow with pictures of them from the last 3 months, I made red and white bracelets for all the kids (something they love to wear) and have prepared a few short activities to do that will help me say goodbye. Tinny and Lisa, my co-worker and boss, have said they want to take me to the airport on the 14th of August, after travelling, as one last chance to say goodbye, so that will be nice. And then, I’ll be home-sweet-home on the 15th. My sister’s birthday is on the 16th... I can’t help but feel like I’m the best brother in the world – what could be a better birthday present? Haha. And in case I am not able to get internet on the 6th, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!! I’ll be sure to have a beer in your name.
Thanks everyone for watching and see you all on the other side!
Cheers and Go Siame,
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Recently I read a novel called The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz. It took a while for me to get into it, and it wasn’t necessarily my favourite book I’ve ever read, however I did learn a lot from it and it has most definitely allowed me to see the possibilities of adding an international development component to my future career.
After reading about Jacqueline’s experiences and thinking about my own (both in Canada and Bots) I have come to realize that my Beyond Borders professor, Joanne, has perhaps given me the best advice I have ever received, and something that I will keep with me for the rest of my life: “If you’re not frustrated, then you’re not learning anything new”. Maybe it doesn’t sound so profound at first glance, but believe me; when you find yourself overcoming a situation where you felt massive amounts of frustration, you will no doubt understand the truth behind it. Moreover, reminding myself that frustration = learning has been something that has definitely helped me get through more than a few days here in Bots!
There was an interesting quote used The Blue Sweater, by Lao Tzu: “Go to the people: live with them, learn from them, love them. Start with what they know; build with what they have. But for the best leaders, When the job is done, the task is accomplished, the people will say: ‘We have done it ourselves’ “. I think this idea is exactly what the theme is behind the Beyond Borders program. It ties in closely with Paulo Freire’s ideas from Pedagogy of the Oppressed. A simple as it sounds, though, it is definitely harder to implement that I had expected. Unfortunately I don’t know if I was able to carry out my projects so that the people will feel as if they have done it themselves. To be honest, I think 3 months might even be too short to effectively invoke change in this way. BUT, I do feel proud of what I have been able to accomplish while here and the way in which I have been able to go about it – Friere and Tzu’s ideas will indefinitely be something I practice in future projects that I participate in.
I just wanted to write out the last paragraph of The Blue Sweater. I feel like it has so much hope in it and is important for everyone to hear. It’s also a good representation of why I am here and why it is important for everyone around the globe to do their part in being a global citizen:
“Today we are redefining the geography of community and accepting shared accountability for common human values. We have the chance to extend to every human being on the planet the notion that all men are created equal, and this will require global structures and products we are only beginning to imagine. Though the average citizen cannot, of course, match the enormous gifts made by successful entrepreneurs such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, each of us in his or her own way can contribute something by thinking-and acting-like a true global citizen. We have only one world for all of us on earth, and the future really is ours to create, in a world we dare to imagine together.”
So as I wrap up my time here in Botswana, I am left feeling as awkward and vulnerable as I did when I first got here. There are a stir of emotions I have, ranging from excitement of travelling and getting home to see family and friends, to scepticism that the programs I have helped implement at the centre will continue, to disappointment that I can’t stay longer, to sadness that it will be time for me to say goodbye to many friends that I have developed real relationships with over the last 3 months. I am also worried about talking about my experiences when I get home... I am so excited to go through pictures and videos and talk about my time here, but I only hope I will be able to find the right words to give justice to this place I’ve called home for the summer of 2009. I also hope I can effectively explain my experiences such that you might have an understanding of what this trip has meant for me.
Anyways, the next 2½ weeks will fly by, as my entire time here has. After that, I will be off on my 2 week travelling adventure with Maryam and Ruby, and then I will be heading home!!!!!!!!!! If I don’t get another chance to blog before all this, I will make sure I wrap up this blog space with an update to how life is back home by the end of August. In the meantime, I’ll take all your prayers and thoughts in helping me conclude this crazy summer I have had!
Also, I missed the 3-Amigo Birthdays in Southampton this weekend – hope everyone had a blast, as per usual. Happy birthday Kyle!
Ahhh there is so much that has happened in these last 2 very busy weeks! To save you a long post and to save me from all the typing, I’m just going to briefly tell you what’s been going on – for any more detail, you’ll have to wait until I get home!
From July 30 – August 5, some of the WUSC volunteers and I travelled up to Maun and Shakawe on a Cultural Hike Trail. We drove all the way, which took over 13 hours, but the travels were definitely worth it. I started the trip off being pretty sick and running a fever of 103 F, but I went to the doctor who prescribed me some meds and I was better within 2 days.
Our first big stop was the Tsodilo Hills. These are 4 famous hills found in the north west part of the country. We began by visiting a small community who sold jewellery to make a living. Without getting into much detail, this was by far the most obvious poverty I have seen since living in Botswana. There were naked babies covered with flies, women with no teeth, huts with no doors and just an overall sense of scarcity. Given all that, the mood of the community was positive, the people were full of smiles and you couldn’t see any desperation in their eyes. I still felt uncomfortable there though. After buying some jewellery, we headed for the hills. We climbed the female hill (the second largest of the 4) because it is full of ancient rock art. That night we camped out in Shakawe and slept to the sounds of hippos outside our tent all night.
The next day we crossed the Okavango River and began our cultural hike. We took many modes of transportation: car, ferry, walking, donkey cart ride and mokoro boats! We were able to have traditional San food while watching San dancing and camping in the middle of the bush. On the mokoro trip, we were instructed to keep a watchful eye for crocodiles and hippos, which was quite nerve-racking! We even had the chance to play with some local children and taught them some games. It was hilarious playing with them because anytime one of us would say anything, the group would roar with giggles and laughter!
On the way home from Shakawe, we got into an accident with someone who was swerving to avoid a pothole in the road. Then we arrived in Maun and decided to go on a safari in Moremi National Park. The safari was more than successful – we had close encounters with elephants, hippos and giraffes, were able to see a huge variety of antelope, saw zebra and jackals and watched lions feeding on an antelope. We even got a little too close to an elephant which was not happy to be surprised by us and we thought he was going to charge us! Then on the way home from the park, the safari truck’s brakes failed and we went smashing into a cow that was crossing the road at the wrong time.
Needless to say, the trip was an amazing experience and I have been told by locals that I have truly seen the country. Since we arrived late from the trip, I spent the night at my boss’s house and my Monday using the Internet. I was tired from the trip and had a long day at the house. After seeing some pictures that my sister had posted of her summer, I was actually feeling a little homesick, missing my family and friends. On my way back to Mochudi, I was in a pretty bad mood – I was feeling like I might be getting sick again, I was stressing over all the work I have left to do and details regarding the community cleanup. I was tired and grumpy and just wanted to head to bed when I opened the front door to my home and found my host mom greeting me with a huge smile! She was excited to see me, told me to sit down and that she was all ears to hear about my trip. It made me feel so much better right away and reminded me about how much I owe this experience to the amazing people I live and work with.
Just this past week we had the environmental seminar for the kids on Wednesday and the community cleanup yesterday. Both were a huge success and the collaboration with Stepping Stones and Someralang Tikologo was very appreciated by both organizations, WUSC and the community. There were over 70 people who came out to participate in the cleanup and all were provided BBQ meet, garden salad, pap and chakalaka. I feel very proud of Ruby and my efforts to put together the workshop and cleanup. I think it was more than well received from the community and everyone had fun participating.
And now I sit here panicking, thinking about next weekend: the 150km YCARE walk! I definitely feel like I am not prepared to do 8 hours of hiking through the desert in Botswana for 3 days straight. Thanks to everyone who was able to donate to me. I was able to find a sponsor in Gaborone, Bokomo, who was willing to make up for the funds I wasn’t able to raise. They have given me some T-Shirts and hats to wear during the walk so I advertise their products, which is awesome! They are even providing me with energy bars for the walk.
This week I am working with the students on their art design that they will paint on the walls. I will let you know how that, and how the walk, goes next week! Wish me luck!
Thursday, June 25, 2009
I met with Ruby, my friend at Someralang Tikologo, earlier this week to finalize the details for the environmental seminar I’ve arranged to come to SSI for the youth. We also worked out for the details for the Community Cleanup Event we’ve organized for July 11th. I’ve still got a ton of other work to do on writing and delivering letters for funding and invitations for the event, beginning the compost program, beginning my work term report and more! Needless to say, I am never bored here!
Last week, two of my good friends, Nicole and Sharon, called me. It was really nice to hear from them and know that they’re thinking about me! Also, thanks to everyone for the e-mails and messages along the way; I know it might not seem that significant to you back home, but they really do mean a lot! Anyways, after talking to them, I was left craving to be back home with everyone, sit on the patio at the Blue Moon, have a BBQ around the pool or head to Southampton for the birthday weekend. But after thinking about everything, I realized as much as I miss Canada, it’s not the luxuries that I miss. I don’t miss the pool or my jeep or my blackberry or even hot water and a laundry machine (although they all would be nice additions). But all those things that I have back home that I couldn’t imagine my life without turn out not to matter so much... the only thing that I genuinely miss is the people I left. I miss summer cottage trips with my family. I miss handing out in basements and camping in trailer parks with my friends. Not that I’m necessarily going to give up those luxuries, but this trip has just made it really obvious to me that all the things I thought I needed in my life back home don’t seem as important now that the people that matter to me have been removed from my daily life. Believe me, I will never take these people for granted again!
I think part of the reason I love it here is that for the first time in my life, I LOVE my job. I have yet to wake up in the morning, wishing I wasn’t going to work. That’s not to say life at SSI is perfect, but the frustrations that come with it is partly what I love (well... at least what I’m learning from these frustrations). I feel like I get so much accomplished at work-and it’s not mindless pouring coffee or statistical reporting, but instead it’s meaningful, important, interesting and fun work that I like to do! I have gained so much experience in areas that I never would have had exposure to back in Canada. The team I work with has been so supportive of every idea I have had. I need to especially thank my boss, Lisa, and my co-worker Tinny, who have helped me every step along the way.
Last weekend I attended the Toyota Desert Race in Botswana. I went with one of my co-worker’s daughter and a bunch of her friends. It was an absolute blast! We spent the first night camping, partying and braii-ing in the middle of a bush in the desert (just past Molepelole). We woke up early the next morning, cooked eggs and sausage over the fire, and chased the race, catching glimpses of the trucks and sand-blasters at various check-points. And when I say camping in the bush, I mean it! – no running water, no electricity, no BBQs – just coolers full of drinks and meat, fire and tents! I saw some very interesting things this weekend in Botswana, as well. Not only is drinking and driving commonplace on weekends and for big events, but the police are so relaxed and easily bought off that it is no wonder there are so many accidents. Afterwards, I spent my trip home from the race in the back of a pick up truck – almost the entire way the truck was speeding in the passing lane; since I could not see forward, I spent my time praying that there was no on-coming traffic! Eventually, I was so exhausted and was able to pass out in the blankets so I didn’t have to think of the realities and dangers of the situation.
We have booked our flights and arranged our travel plans for after our placements! Our schedule is quite ambitious, but I think we have planned well that we will get to see everything we wanted to. In 14 days, we will: go on game drives at Chobe National Park, bunji-jump off of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, white-water raft down the Zambezi River, bus over 18 hours from Zambia to Malawi, volunteer with a friend in Zomba (Malawi), snorkel and camp on Lake Malawi, fly to Dar es Salem in Tanzania where we are spending a day volunteering with another friend in an orphanage and lastly, spend our last 2 days in Africa relaxing on the beautiful beaches on the island of Zanzibar. I know it’s really ambitious, but I AM STOKED!
This weekend is going to be pretty relaxed – I’m going to cook dinner for my family. Then, on Tuesday, the WUSC office here is taking all the volunteers on a 5-day trip through Maun, the Okavango Delta and up to Shikawe. Every person here that I have told about the trip is jaw-dropped at the experience I will get; apparently these are some of the most beautiful places in Botswana that even most Motswana have never been!
Well sorry for the long note, hope everyone’s summer is going nice. I heard the weather in KW is up in the 30’s!!!
Monday, June 22, 2009
Firstly, HAPPY FATHER’S DAY DAD!!! I’m really sorry I couldn't be at home to have a beer with you on this important day! Either way, hope the weather was good and you found time to enjoy it.
I’ve been REALLY busy lately and haven’t found time to blog about what I’m doing, so here’s a brief list of some interesting things I’ve noticed in Botswana:
Ø Stop signs don’t necessarily mean STOP... most people think they mean “if you have time to slow down, give it try... otherwise shut your eyes and hope for the best”
Ø People show a lot of physical affection! When you greet someone, you shake the person hand (which is a combination of three different types of handshake) and then hold the persons hand for upwards of 2 minutes while you talk, regardless the age or sex of the other person
Ø Have you ever looked at those huge termite mounds and thought “mmm that looks tasty”?... well apparently they are rich in nutrients and are a nice snack in the afternoon. I think I’ll pass.
Ø In Mochudi, you say hello to everyone you pass and ask them how they are:
1. “Dumela mma/rra” (Hello ma’am/sir)
2. “Dumela mma/rra. Le chi?” (Hello ma’am/sir. How is it?)
1. “Ke teng, mma/rra. Otsu helay jang?” (I’m fine ma’am/sir. And how are you today?)
2. “Ke teng, mma/rra.” (I’m fine ma’am/sir)
Ø When you’re washing your laundry by hand, changing your underwear/socks everyday doesn’t seem as crucial... gross right?
Ø Would you like a meal with you salt and MSG? These are two huge ingredients in almost all food here! Unfortunately the MSG has been giving me some serious migraines so I have to start watching what I eat.
Ø Here, the term ‘dusty’ takes on a whole new meaning. My house lies on a dirt road and while I am walking to/from home, I am often forced off the road, crouched down with my coat over my body to hide from the dust stirred up from cars or the wind.
Ø With all the chickens, roosters, turkeys, donkeys, goats, dogs and cats wondering around, there is most definitely no need to buy an alarm clock. These guys will never let you down.
Ø When eating meat, there is no need for using forks or knives. EVERYTHING around the bone is edible, so you might as well just grab it with your hands and suck every last inch off of the bone. Either that or you quickly eat the meat you can find and throw the fat in the garbage before anyone notices.
Ø Tea breaks at work are equally, if not more, important than the actual work or meeting itself
Ø Expect the unexpected! (As a true BigBrother fan would say) EVERY day brings a new surprise and with almost every decision or questions comes an uncertainty that the person you are with actually understands what you’ve said.
Ø The ability to roll down your window in your car is a MUST. Otherwise, the fumes that somehow leak into the cars will quickly put you to sleep!
Ø A bus is NEVER full enough and there is no use trying to protect your personal space.
Ø Women have the ability to carry ANYTHING on their heads. I’ve seen heavy bags of rice and maize, bunches of bananas and even suitcases. The most impressive so far, though, was a large bundle of fire wood.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Today was the first time I've seen the sun since Monday! We have had full days of clouds and rain since I’ve been here… it was the first time that the temperature didn’t reach 25 degrees! Needless to say, the weather has been really amazing since I’ve been here and I’m having a hard time appreciating the rain and cold.
Last Saturday, I worked with the Teen Club Mochudi. This is a club run out of Stepping Stones International where youth who are HIV-positive can come to the centre and learn about their disease, how to take the medication properly, play sports, cook, goof around and be a kid! It was really inspiring to hang out with this group… we took them up to the museum in Mochudi, which gives a beautiful view of the village. Most kids had never been up there before and were very impressed with it. All the kids were so full of life and energy, you would never know they are dealing with such life-altering issues. It was a little overwhelming, however, as there were a few kids from Stepping Stones who are enrolled in Teen Club that I previously did not know were HIV-positive. One in particular has been a little hard for me to deal with; someone that I have become close with and very proud of their attitude at the centre. It really pulls at my emotions everyday when I see them at the centre now. BUT, through our seminars on HIV/AIDS, it is reassuring to know that so long as these kids stay on track with their meds, there is a good chance that most will never develop AIDS in the “full blown” way we often imagine in Canada. i.e. there is still much potential for these kids to grow big and old and live healthy and happy lives.
Also on the weekend, I was left feeling overwhelmed and helpless walking home from the bus rank. I walked past a house where a mother was beating her children with a tree branch… the children couldn’t have been older than 10 or 12 and it was sickening to watch the young girl in a dress and no shoes jump in the air in hopes to avoid the stick from hitting her bare legs and feet. I had to do everything I could to stop myself from shouting at the woman and making a scene, but I don’t think that would have done anything anyways. In some homes, that’s just what happens here, and some young white boy yelling from the road isn’t going to change anything. It just leaves me feeling a little helpless.
I don't know the whole story yet, but Maryam was mugged earlier this week. She managed to scream so they only ran away with her cell phone. I'm heading into Gabs tomorrow so hopefully I can cheer her up a bit!
Those are the things that you never get used to; poverty, crime, illness, death, the extreme mistreatment of animals (I can’t wait to see dogs being cared for again!).
On to more happy news now, my projects at Stepping Stones International are really getting underway! I used the first couple of weeks to just observe how the organization runs and see where my skills might be of use. Since then, I have developed a Study Skills program and pitched it to the rest of the staff. Everyone seems very excited about the project and sees it as a real necessity. So far I have re-arranged the hall into a more study-friendly environment with a private tutoring area and a computer lab corner. I just need to get the 4 computers we have up and running so that students can begin to practice their typing skills on them.
I’ve also worked with the kids to develop new study rules that they put together that will help keep the study time productive. Starting this week I will begin giving some of the study skill lessons I have developed and have the students start applying them to their own studies. I think I will begin with the flash card lesson, where I am going to have the students make flash cards of Setswana words that they would like to teach me. Then I’m going to study really well and have them quiz me to show them how well flash cards work! They love trying to teach me Setswana, so I think they will like this activity. Then, in the weeks to come, the students will be expected to make flash cards for themselves using their own studies. I’m still looking for study ideas and help with the planners though!
Also at SSI, as a side project, I am working to begin a composting program and a recycling program to compliment the other environmental projects we have at the centre. In addition, I am working with my friend Ruby, who is volunteering with an environmental organization in Gabs, to have them donate recycling bins to SSI, come out and give a workshop to the youth on protecting our environment and teach the kids about how to recycle. Lastly, I am planning a community clean-up in Mochudi to launch these two new projects!
The last bit of exciting news is that Maryam, Ruby and I are planning to participate in a 150km walk through the Makgadikgadi Pans in July. It is a 3-day walk through an organization called Y CARE. It is an extremely difficult walk, however all proceeds go to charities in Botswana. Last year, Y CARE donated over $4000 cnd to Stepping Stones International! I would urge you all to check out their website at: www.ycare.org.bw and see exactly what I will be doing! With this walk, each participant is required to raise 6000 Pula (roughly $1000 cnd) to be a part of it. I don’t want to do personal fundraising from friends and family again – you all were far too generous in helping me get to Botswana to begin with! However, many companies and corporations have a mandate for sponsorships and donations. If anyone knows of any organizations that would be interested in sponsoring 1-4 people from Stepping Stones International (myself, another staff member and 2 students are interested in taking part in the walk this year) to participate in the walk, PLEASE PLEASE pass along the contact information and I can draft a formal letter asking for their donation. It would really mean a lot to myself and stepping stones. I am also going to try to find donors in Botswana, or else pay the sponsorship fee myself.
Well thanks for reading! Oh- and happy anniversary Craig and Lindsay… I know that is coming up on the 14th!
Take care everyone,
Kagiso (my Setswana name which means PEACE)