Monday, July 27, 2009

Why care? / Wrap Up

So we did it! We walked the 150km (in reality only 120 km) across the Makgadikgadi Pans! The trip started off a little annoying, with some transportation mix ups, delays and dealing with freezing temperatures. We arrived the first night to our campsite in the dark and couldn’t see our hand in front of our face, let alone the scenery. I woke up the first morning extremely tired and grumpy from only getting a few hours of sleep – I was up most of the night shivering in my Zehrs sleeping bag thinking about my bed in Mochudi (which is comparably warmer than the sleeping bag) wondering why I was doing this... BUT, once the sun was rising and we opened the door to the tent, the view of the pans made it all too obvious why we were there! It was b-e-a-utiful.

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

On a more serious note...

I haven’t written too many meaningful blogs since I’ve been away – I have mostly been focused on attempting to describe my experiences in Botswana and the various projects I’ve been working on. However, as my time in Bots is nearing its end, I’m left with thinking about my experiences here; what have I learned? How have I changed? What have I left behind for Mochudi? What have the students at SSI learned from me? What will I be leaving behind? How have my future goals and plans changed?... and literally a million other things. As silly or strange as it might be, one of my fears in doing this whole thing was that I wasn’t going to feel like I had learned anything – I wanted it to be more than just a summer doing something kind of cool... and now that I only have 2½ weeks left, it feels overwhelming with how much I have grown and learned, I’m actually having a hard time trying to sort everything out. In organizing my thoughts, it doesn’t help that the last 2 weeks and the next 2 weeks have been/will be the busiest weeks since I’ve been here... so much left to do in such little time!

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!


Travelling and Enviro update

First off, Tuesday is my Grandpa's birthday, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY GRANDPA! Sorry I can't be home to say it in person!

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!

Go Siame,