Thursday, June 25, 2009

It just gets better and better!

Ahh – I CANNOT believe June is almost over! Life at Stepping Stones International is amazing and I probably couldn’t be happier.

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

Just a small note

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

A post, this time from a not-so sunny Botswana

Hello everyone! I just thought it might be time for another update!

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: 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)