Friday, April 11, 2014

WWCS: Weird White Chick Syndrome

I have wanted to post about this subject for a while but was trying to figure out how I wanted to go about explaining this phenomenon. I would like to also say that this is not something that is specific to any one gender along the spectrum and could just as easily be titled "Weird White Person Syndrome." These phenomenon happen almost exclusively after someone has come to realize that I am not, in fact, a tourist because I speak Setswana and have been living here for two years (AS OF TODAY!)

I believe the main factors of these types of interactions are based on a few things: 1.) I am an EXTREME minority in this country, and even more so as a white Botswana resident who speaks Setswana, which makes me a bit of a fascination. 2.) The assumption that because I am white, I have certain access to resources that I may, or may not, actually have (white privilege is a whole different ball game here.) 3.) Even though I am a resident, I'm still a foreigner which means I am not completely subject to the rules of social etiquette; therefore I am an open ear to any taboo topics people feel they can't talk about with other nationals. And 3.) Because I work at a clinic, I must be a doctor...

This will be a blogpost in three movements; The Hilarious, The Heartbreaking, and the Heartwarming. I hope you enjoy!

The Hilarious: Sex and Candy

I live about 45 mins-1 hour away from the shopping village I get the majority of my groceries from (depending on how fast the bus/combi/hitch is going) and within that shopping village I pretty much always go to the SPAR store. I do this for a few reasons; it is close to the rank and the hitch spot, so I don't have to lug stuff around as much, it is clean and the staff are friendly, and it is right next to an ATM for the bank I have an account with in Botswana. 

Because I go to the same place every time I go shopping, and because I go shopping once every two weeks or so, the majority of the staff at the SPAR know me by name, and have come to be friendly acquaintances. I often chat with these ladies about what is going on in my community, what I have been up to, and where I am coming from/ going to (if I happen to be traveling.) A few of them have tried the "you will take me to America with you", or "you will bring me a white man" to which I give the usual response: "If you get a visa and want to pay for the ticket, sure" and "if an available one comes to visit I will make sure to bring him by." 

It is not unusual at all for any of the staff to approach me while I'm shopping and start a friendly conversation, so I was not at all surprised when one of the security personnel came up to me in the cereal isle. 

Security Lady: "Dumela Tlotlo! Le Kae? (Hello Tlotlo [my Tswana name]! How are you?)
Me: "Dumela Mma! Ke teng, wena le kae?" (Hello Ma'me! I'm fine, and you?)
Security Lady: Ke teng (I'm fine) I want to talk with you about something. *Puts on serious face and gets a little more quiet*
Me: Okay, what would you like to talk about?
Security Lady: I think you might know about these things more, and I don't have anyone to talk to since it is *shakes her head*
Me: Okay Mma, you can talk to me, how can I help?
Security Lady: Well when my boyfriend and I are...*longest pause ever* know...sharing a blanket (common Setswana verbage for having sex)
Me: Being intimate?
Security Lady: Eh Mma. I am never *gestures to her pants* being so much wet.
Me: Ohhhhhhhh

I would like to point out that even though I have talked about masturbation with truck drivers, how to put on condom properly with village chiefs, and sex toys and their benefits with nurses, that asking about natural lubricant in a grocery isle while I'm trying to buy coffee still caught me a bit off guard. So I took a second or two to gather my thoughts before answering.

Me: Well Mma, there are a few ways you can fix that, but the fastest one may be to try and buy some lubricant. You can get it at the local pharmacies behind the counter and it costs about p50. I have a few free samples at my house that I can bring you next time I am shopping and if they work than you can try and find a place to buy more of your own. Does that sound like something you want to try?
Security Lady: Eh Mma! That would be great, thank you so much Tlotlo. You still need to give me American candy. (I had told her about when I went home for Christmas and she had asked for candy. Normally I turn people down for this but had agreed this time.) 
Me: Eh Mma.

So low and behold, a few weeks later I was walking into the SPAR with a little bag with two sample size lubricant packets (thanks to a member of the support group who brings lube to all the meetings) and two Worthers caramel candies. I talked to her briefly about making sure she was using a condom, and that her and her boyfriend should get tested, and that having "warm up" time may get rid of the need to buy expensive lube since foreplay and anything but missionary sex are still new concepts in Botswana's sexual landscape, and wished her luck. I also said I could help her find a place to buy her own if she liked them, and that it was good that she wanted to have lubricated sex, since the trend of using "drying powders" is still something that happens here quite frequently.

All in all it was exactly the type of interaction that, in my opinion, is one of the biggest changing factors when it comes to Peace Corps Volunteers. These one on one conversations that truly have an impact and are easily followed up on. She wasn't in the last time I went shopping, but I'm going to ask her about it next time I see her. I hope everything was...slick. ;)

The Heartbreaking: No Cycle

Everyday I head to work, I walk down the main road of Ramokgonami to get to the clinic. Over the course of this walk I pass the crazy lady neighbors house, who seems to enjoy speaking to me in RAPID Setswapong (the regional dialect of Setswana) despite the fact that I don't know what she is saying, one bar, and the newly opened TK's butchery. 

The butchery has been under construction pretty much since I came to Rams and opened up a few months ago. There are always a few people hanging out and many times there is some sort of dead animal carcass hanging in the tree. I always call out and say "hi" to everyone and then have to explain that the reason I don't come in is because I don't eat meat, but I hope they are getting a lot of business. 

On this particular morning I called out, and a woman came out of the shop and told me to hold up. I recognized her from around but didn't know her name. She greeted me and then we got down to business pretty quickly, which is always an indication that a conversation is going to be serious since the cultural norm here is to have a 5-10min chat about each person's lives before getting to the topic at hand. 

She confirmed that I worked at the clinic and then said that she needed some help since she hadn't gotten a period in a while. My mind immediately jumped to pregnancy, since that tends to be the usual case of the missing period, but when I asked exactly how long, she responded "Since 2009." 

I can not explain how big a deal having a child is here. It is pretty much the pinnacle of womanhood in a lot of communities and often times the only thing women aspire to do. In some areas a man and a woman must prove their fertility prior to getting married, and in many places the lebola (bride price) goes up depending on how many kids you have had. I've been told many times that because I am 24 and have no children that I am "not yet a woman" and that I should start on that soon. When I carried my land lady's daughter around on my back in the typical Botswana fashion a bunch of people in the community asked if I had, had a kid. An older female RPCV who was stationed near me had no children and was constantly having to explain that decision to those around her.  

I asked if she had seen a doctor and she said that she had gone to the clinic and they had referred her to the Mahalapye Primary Hospital where they had done a bunch of tests and that nothing had come up. I explained that I could try and look some things up, but that I wasn't a doctor or a nurse and that she would have much better luck talking with a medical professional. She asked if I knew of any surgeries in South Africa or pills I could get from the US to help, and I had to explain again that since I wasn't a doctor, and didn't know what was wrong with her, that I wouldn't even know where to start. 

In the back of my mind I wanted to tell her that this would leave her time to do other things, and that not having a kid didn't mean the end of her life, but who says that kind of thing? This would probably mean she would never be married, that her community may never recognize her as a full woman, and that the sacred gates to motherhood would never be opened for her.

I told her that I would ask at the clinic, and that I would be praying for her, and walked away feeling like I had failed a member of my community. It is times like these that I do wish I had all the answers, and that the US had some sort of magical pill to make medical problems go away. But I don't, and it doesn't.

Heartwarming: Toothpaste Buddy

I stick out when I am traveling around. I stick out to the tourists because I am sort of dirty looking, and I tend to be walking from or towards a bus rank or hitch spot, and I stick out to the locals because I am white, and even more so because I say "dumela!" instead of "hello!" This is not helped by the fact that I carry around a bright orange backpack and it is usually so full that I look like some huntched over dwarf who is bringing back her daily hull from the mines while singing "hi-ho." When the main two compartments of my pack are full, I tend to shove things in the water bottle pockets. I had to learn the hard way that though this is acceptable for certain things like socks, or flip flops, it is not so much for others like...cell phones, after getting one stolen a few months back in Mahalapye. 

This time around I was just in Palapye for a few hours to pick up some food, and then go to Lindsay's house to grab a shower while I waited for my bus to leave, since my water had been out for about a month. I had therefore shoved a toothbrush and toothpaste into the side pockets since I like the feeling of being clean all over simultaneously and thought it would pair well with my first legitimate shower in weeks. I had just arrived from the bus rank and was cutting across the Junction's parking lot (it is the little outdoor center with a bunch of shops.) I'm heading for the little back path to get to Lindsay's house when a woman calls out for me from the driver's seat of a car.

Fatima: Ma'me! Ma'me! Excuse me!
Me: *turning around and walking back the window* Dumela Mma, le kae? (I like to greet people in Setswana a.) because it catches them off guard and b.) it kills the notion that I am a tourist pretty quickly.)
Fatima: I'm well! Would you mind if I borrowed your toothpaste?  

This just made me crack up because it was just the most random thing in the world to happen and we both had a good laugh about it as I pulled out the toothpaste from my water bottle pocket and handed it through the window to her. She busted out a toothbrush from some pocket to the side of her and globbed a big thing right on there as I continued to laugh like an idiot in the parking lot. 

She asked where I was from and where I was going, and said that she was heading back to Gabs where she lives. When I told her I lived in Ramokgonami, she asked what I was doing there and I gave her the whole Peace Corps Volunteer, teaching health schpeel. She was super nice, and incredibly friendly, so when she asked for my number I didn't hesitate to give it to her and tell her she should buzz me the next time she was in the area. 

PEOPLE SHE IS SO CUTE! She proceeded to make sure I got back to Ramokgonami okay by texting me later that day. This was followed up by a phone call that weekend to see what I was up to and when I told her I was out visiting Janina near Bobonong, she wished me a happy visit. She called again a few days ago to chat and said that I MUST come stay with her next time I was in Gabs, and when would I be coming down? When she found out I am leaving Bots in July she offered to help find me a job so that I could stay, and when I said I needed something with a pay check and that it was probably time to see my family, she offered to find me a husband. When I told her I had no interest in a husband, or getting married any time soon, SHE AGREED WITH ME AND SAID SHE DIDN"T WANT TO EITHER!!!

Guys, guys...GUYS! If you have been reading this blog for any amount of time you know that the idea that a woman wants to hold off getting married so she can, in Fatima's words, "be free" is freaking unheard of and I was just so excited that I had made a new toothpaste friend. She also didn't ask me to take her to America, or find her a white man, or ask me to give her stuff (other than a bit of toothpaste.) It is something I am really going to miss about living in Botswana because I feel like it is the type of interaction that just wouldn't happen on the regular in the US.

Ultimately she just seems like a big ball of sunshine and I hope to be able to visit her next time I am in gabs or next time she is up in this region again.  

In Conclusion

I hope these case studies have been both entertaining and informative in giving you an idea of the symptoms and side effects of WWCS. If you or a loved one are experiencing any or all of these, or similar symptoms, you may want to consult a local on the possibility of you being a Peace Corps Volunteer, ex-pat, or foreign resident.

As always, hugs and smooches, 

p.s. Happy two year in country anniversary to me! :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Re Cap

Nothing too structured today, just wanted to let you all in on what is going on with life, and where things seem to be heading.

All the paperwork for the Ramokgonami Tree Nursery is done! Now I am just waiting for One Acre to fund the project online, wait a week or two and then have the funds in my account. I'm a little concerned that we are starting this project in the winter. When I had originally applied for this I thought we would be able to get the funds by February, which means we could have had at least a pseudo crop by the time the rain stopped and the cold rolled in, but I am thinking that is no longer going to be the case. This is not the end of the world since one of the main community contributors grows moringa, so really the more important part is the construction of the shelter and then the workshop training about how to harvest, and prepare the leafs and the seeds. Hoping we can have a test run with using the seeds to filter water out in the lands before I go, but only time will tell.

The LGBT support group is going on a retreat over the Easter weekend and I'm pretty pumped! I'm going to be running a workshop on Community Mobilization, as well as helping out with the talent show. I love this amazing group of people and I have yet to spend any amount of time with them without learning something new about the world, orientation and identity. Last meeting we had a creative outlet section and everyone was able to read poetry or share stories that touched them. Our President shared a story out of an Ivan Coyote book I gave to the group, and another individual wrote a rap about domestic abuse. I really want to try and get these wonderful people more resources before I go, by way of books, movies, literature and anything else I can get my hands on. If you have a lead on how I might be able to go about this, please leave a comment! (In the next month or so we are getting at least two copies of "the GENDER book which I could not be more stoked about.)

My water is still out, which is worrisome seeing as I have about 5 people coming to my house this weekend. My land lady has been out in the lands farming so I haven't been able to talk to her about whether or not she has received my rent from the Ministry of Health. It sorta irks me that she just put in a new fence, but then turns around and says she doesn't have money to pay the water bill...something here seems fishy to me.

Still working on trying to get the pre school roof fixed, at this point we need to set up a bank account so I can help them put together a crowd funding campaign.

It will be like this...but bigger
Because of my extension, and Janina's invitation to serve in Peace Corps Response in El Salvador for the next 8 months, my epic month long trip to Southeast Asia has been canceled. In its place I think I am going to attempt to summit Kilimanjaro.  I have had a few friends do this, and though I have never in my life climbed a mountain, I figure go big or go home...right? And when I say "big" I mean Africa's tallest peak, and the world's largest free standing mountain... The tentative plan is to try and get a bunch of PCVs together along with my Aunt's sister, who is currently living in Tanzania, and fly out around July 12th, spend 6 days on the mountain, and then have some recoup time in Zanzibar. Then I"M COMING HOME!!

I have been reading the Bhagavad Gita lately at both the suggestion of a friend and the want to expand my knowledge of different faith practices. This one is especially close to my heart since my partner is Hindu, and I want to try and have a deeper understanding of their religious beliefs. It is a truly beautiful piece of writing between Arjuna and Krishna, and talks a lot about ones eternal calling to devotion, as well as touching on the essence of "being." I was balancing this, with a book called Dancing in the Glory of Monsters which details the complex political intricacies of the Congolese wars. Yeah...apparently I have been feeling deep lately.

I'm trying to make sure I am able to get in shape for the possibility of the Kilimanjaro summit attempt, so I started doing a fun workout called "Slim in 6" while I was out this weekend in Gobojango visiting Janina. Holy heck...I...HURT...SO...BAD! But in a good way :) Going to try and do this at least 4-5 times a week, and may even start running at some point (I have never actually run as an adult due to a pretty major ankle injury, so we will see if this is even possible.) I have pretty much given up on yoga at this point, despite my want to be into it. I just have a hard time getting into workouts that aren't a little more cardio active. I was talking to my yogi friend Daniella about this and she said that my crazy jumping around, squat routine in Slim in 6 can be yoga too, it would just be an asana.
Claire "yoga"

What is an asana you ask?

"Basically, asana is any physical exertion practiced with steadiness and ease. Carried out in this way , the exertion decreases your restiveness and helps you contemplate the infinite. Eventually, you reach a state of equanimity with the outside world." ~Daniella

"Asana is mindful crazy yoga." ~Claire

I think this will probably more so apply to when I start rowing again, because there is something about being so incredibly in touch in a good row, when you are flowing with your boat, and the water is smooth, and everything is set, that I doubt doing lung squats in my kitchen will get me.

I have started the process of attempting to get an internship with Equality Michigan and in said process spiffied up my resume and cover letter writing skills! It sounds like I am going to be gunning for an internship in their Advocacy department with split time with the Public Policy department, which I'm all about, especially seeing what is currently going on in Michigan when it comes to the fight for equal rights.

I'm have been writing a lot lately, and that makes me happy.

So that is pretty much it, trying to stay strong while I'm going crazy with work here, but I sorta love it. I have a check list for the day that I am about half way through, so its time to go get on the other half and then go home to clean...WOOT!

Hugs and smooches,

p.s. If there are any people out there who emailed me questions about serving in Peace Corps Botswana and I did NOT respond to you, please shoot me another line. Life has been crazy lately, and I promise I am not ignoring you :)

Friday, March 28, 2014

A Little Fall of Rain

I am going slightly more than a month without running water in my house at this point. This is because my land lady hasn't been able to pay the water bill due to a.) there being an issue with the amount because we had a leak on the compound that the Utilities people wouldn't come out to fix for a few weeks and b.) that my rent is behind by almost a month since the Ministry of Health continues to insist that they don't have my paperwork, which is what they do every time the rent is due.

The incident to be described happened a few weeks ago, and this will be one of the rare instances where I actually copy an entry from my personal journal:

"I filled my buckets with rainwater today as if God were my water delivery person. He opened up the sky on my little tin roof and I thought to myself about whether or not I would have ever known that the rain can be so loud you can't watch the new bootleg you picked up over the weekend, had I staid in my comfort zone.

I went outside to watch the commotion and realized that with my little tin roof acting as a funnel, and the sky as my tap, that God had turned my water back on even though my land lady has been unable to do so for the past two weeks.

I filled my buckets and washing bin and used an old cheese cup to transfer it into the empty two liters that has been eyeing me since I got back with a look of judgment on my lazy water filling habits. God provided and even though my blood sugar is all kinds of low because of my Ash Wednesday fast, I will have a pasta feast with the help of my rainwater bank deposit. I worry I don't have the creative capacity to accurately get down moments like these but I will do my best as I listen to the last remnants of a mighty kerfuffle between God and my little tin roof."

Shortly after the evening I just described, my friend Steph came over and it again poured cats and dogs. I repeated my ritual with my water storage containers and once those were all filled up we decided it would be a perfect time for a shower. This time we used the funnel that is my little tin roof as a shower head and shampooed and conditioned in the mini waterfall it created. I'm crossing my fingers that due to all the rain any shit on my roof would have washed off way before that point, but life goes on either way.

There is something so inspiring about the rainy season :)

Hugs and smooches,

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Crazy Day

So there are days when you count goats under a tree and then there are days like today.

Site visit from my PM this morning, counterpart is gone, and the supervisor is too busy since she is the only head nurse currently at the clinic and we had a lot of people this morning.

No big deal, meet with my PM and give him the clinic number so he can call later and conduct the interview over the phone.

Drive to the library to show them the future site for the tree nursery, am told by the head librarian that Bob Rothschild is coming for a visit at 2pm. mean the multi millionaire who funded this whole library and 19 others like it around Botswana...YOU MEAN THAT BOB?!? Oh, cool.

While checking email before Bob's arrival, I receive the official notification that I am through the grant process with the tree nursery project and it has been posted online...with the wrong amount due to the fact that I put two lines of the budget under "grant money needed" instead of "community contribution." The grant posted online is now $50 more than it should be and I freak out that the One Acre people are going to think I am trying to pull one over on them.

100 emails later between our AMAZING WONDERFUL DPT (Director of Programming and Training) and I, and she says she will contact headquarters to try and get it fixed. My Dad also tells me to calm down, and that this is not something worth losing my head over (because he is also wonderful and amazing.)

Feel the need to write a blog post about this whole thing while waiting for Bob.

So Bob get here with his awesome wife Sara and I'm told I have to give a presentation on the tree nursery we just got funded. This is not at all an issue since I have been up to my eyeballs in this thing for the past two weeks. I give a nice little speech to Bob, Sara, the Library Board, about 30 students from the Junior Secondary School and Primary School and anyone else who decided to wander into the presentation.

Afterwards am approached by a community member who thinks we need a youth center in Rams, and since I got money for the library, I can help him write a grant too...right? SURE! LETS DO THIS! I warn him in advance I'm not extending for anything past my July date, but that I will help him gather information on possible donors and he can take it from there.

Back onto the email and the budget issues are still there, my DPT is working her butt off but the numbers just aren't meshing. I tell her I am going to take them home with me and figure it out.

*cracks knuckles and pretends like this is a normal...which it isn't*

Oh Peace Corps :)

Friday, March 21, 2014

The End of an Era

I saw a joke once (probably on “How A PCV Puts it Gently”) that had a picture of people jumping all over the place getting excited and above it was the line “How I felt when I got my Peace Corps invitation”, right below it was the same picture again, but this time the line was “How I feel now that I am getting emails about COS.” It’s funny because it is SO true.

At some point in your Peace Corps service you start looking at your time and counting the days until you get home. It took some people in my group (myself included) almost two years to get into Peace Corps, and yet a lot of Volunteers still find that they end up doing this. Until about the four month mark, that is when you start freaking out about going home (you can check out “When Home Became Scary” if you want to hear more about that.) You freak out because you have adjusted to this, and it has become comfortable, and now home isn’t where the comfort is.

I went to my COS conference a week ago. The first time I was cognizant of COS was when they handed me this nicely laminated card that had all of our big meeting dates on it. PST (Pre Service Training), IST (Inner Service Training), MST (Mid Service Training) and COS (Close of Service); it was this neat little card with no warning of the emotions that would be connected to any of these gatherings. COS was far away, it was about as solid an idea as what job I was going to have when I get home. At some point COS became the goal line, the mythical gate that outgoing Volunteers had to pass through to get to the Promised Land (Microsoft is telling me to capitalize this so I’m going with it.) I think it started being this when I saw my Bots 11 friends going to theirs.

And then it was my turn, and I showed up to the nice hotel and had to deal with who I am going to be in a few months, and saying goodbye to the only group of people in this world that really understand what this has been, and think about something other than Botswana for a hot second. It was hard, we were finally be given permission to think about home and encouraged to plan for it, and yet that meant we had to think about all the other things, like leaving, and not having this life style any more, and saying goodbye.

I lucked out, I had a training group that managed to be pretty close. Even those Volunteers in Bots 12 that I didn’t spend a ton of time with, I still felt like they would have my back in a scrap. The group of people that encompass Bots 12 are some of the hardest working, caring, and determined individuals I have ever met and that is saying something since I have met a lot of wonderful people in my life. There were reusable pads, soccer tournaments, special Olympics, GLOW camps, condom distribution in taxis, M&E workshops, systems analysis and overhauls, reading rooms constructed, gardening projects, farmers markets organized, gender empowerment, LGBT support groups, computer training, English, math, and science classes taught, art competitions, pen pal programs, health and nutrition talks, small business development, a bajillion condom demonstrations and a million other projects that were accomplished by this group. Our diversity of projects is only mirrored in the diversity we have as a cohort.

We came with the want to change our communities for the better, and we managed to do that, in our own little corners, in our own little ways. We may, or may not, have moved mountains, but we took axes to the cliff face all the same. We lived for two years in a foreign land, and pushed ourselves to physical and emotional limits we had never thought to see. All the while we sang songs, and called each other, and crashed at each others pads, and shared our care packages, and at the end of the day we came to COS, knowing that for some of us it would be the last time we would see each other “on this side.” I wasn’t prepared, I didn’t realize how attached to this rollercoaster of an existence I had become. I thought I was ready for it to be over, and I still think I am in some part of myself, but there is a lot I am afraid to lose.

All of you will always have a place in my apartment/ house/ cardboard box/ van down by the river whenever you need it. No questions asked, for as long as you need.

Three days after COS wrapped up, in the middle of a PSDN meeting, I received an email from the One Acre Foundation congratulating me on getting the tree nursery fully funded by their organization. I turned the grant in, in December and hadn’t received any sort of confirmation of receipt so had assumed I had been taken out of the running. It would be a crazy task to set myself to try and get everything done before my June 10th date, which is why I will be extending for another month before coming home.

I don’t know if I hoped to somehow convey the mixed emotions at this decision by prefacing it with my tale from COS. I’m excited to end my service with such an amazing opportunity, but moving a date that has been in my head from when I first received that little orange card, felt like standing on the edge of a cliff and being told to jump. Ultimately I know this is the right decision for myself and my community, and after sitting with it for a day, I'm not quite as hyped up as I was before (you know...yesterday.) This puts a bit of a wrench in my plans to travel around Southeast Asia for a month, but things happen. Claire makes plans and God laughs. :)

Promise to post more soon, and to those that are just now getting their invitations to serve in Bots 15 and may have stumbled onto this blog, CONGRATULATIONS! Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have, and I promise to get back to you ASAP. (Check out: Comments, Questions, and Answers for more info on how to contact me.)

Hugs and smooches from my side of the world to yours, 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Work Update

I’m trying my best to make it so that not EVERY SINGLE post from here on out is me focusing on the future of what life is going to be like after Peace Corps as compared to how it is now. I keep telling myself that four and a half months is a long time, and that I need to try my hardest to live in the present. So I’m going to talk a little bit about the projects I am working on!  

I helped the library apply for a One Acre Grant to try and get money to construct a tree nursery on their compound. It appears that One Acre didn’t get that, or that the application was so dismal they just didn’t respond. I don’t have time to chase it out at this point, so we are setting ourselves up to apply for a “Self Help” grant from the embassy. The only thing that changes in this case is that we wouldn’t get the money until, at the earliest, May, which means I would be around for construction, but not much else. This isn’t horrible since I should be able to run a few workshops on Moringa between now and then which would set the women up to run everything once I left. We all knew I wasn’t going to be here for the whole thing anyways, and these ladies are on top of their business.

The preschool, a place from which I have derived so much joy, has closed due to the roof situation. I want to fix this before I go. At this point it is too late to apply for a Peace Corps Partnership Program grant, and I don’t think either of these ladies wants to be the one having to keep receipts for the project, so what we are going to try and do is raise the money ourselves. Mma Mashabela was getting a quote yesterday for the whole roof. The first one she got was just to fix the patch that is currently sagging, but I told her I would rather fix the damn than plug the hole, so to speak. I don’t think it is going to be that much money, and if the community can raise at least half of it I am pretty sure I can find the other half. This would be a lot less of an issue if PC didn’t have such tight rules on fundraising.

There is a woman at the primary school who has approached me about getting some hands on learning toys for the special ed class, and she is really a person I want to help out. This woman has already created a curriculum for these kids, and views it as her calling to help them in any way she can. What she wants are blocks, tactile toys and things that make noise, to help them out. I’m not sure if any sort of resources like this exist in Bots but if they don’t than I am hoping to hook her up with some companies that might be willing to donate stuff. At the very least we are hoping that if schools in the region close down, we might be able to wrangle some of their supplies. If ANYONE HAS ANY IDEA HOW TO HELP ME WITH THIS, please, please, please comment or look up the email address I posted on this blog a few months ago (I'm not going to re-post because I got a wave of spam after doing it the first time.)

The LGBT group in my shopping village is coming along wonderfully and includes some people I count as my closest friends in Botswana. We have started to plan a group retreat, as well as some community projects. One of my favorite authors, Ivan Coyote, sent me two signed copies of his book and it got the group thinking that it would be nice to have some sort of queer resource center. I plan on leaving them absolutely every scrap of material I have on the subject when I leave, but ultimately that isn’t a whole lot. We have talked about asking publishing companies that deal in LGBT literature to donate copies, but I want to make sure the letter is coming from the group and not just me, so I am waiting till the next meeting to get it all together. These people are the future of human rights movement in Botswana and are one of the things I hold the most pride in being involved in. AGAIN, IF YOU CAN HELP ME WITH THIS, PLEASE SEE ABOVE CAPS! ...THANK YOU!

Lastly, I want to try and gut out the computer system at the clinic; too many files, not enough organization and just a heap of copied, duplicated, files. At the very least I want to make sure that everyone knows how to maneuver through this endless forest of documents, which I think has already happened, but double checking never hurts.

It’s going to be a full last couple of months, but I think this is a good thing.

I’m also setting a few new personal goals, I want to start writing letters home on a regular basis. I left my address book at a friend’s for a few weeks so I was using it as an excuse to not write as much, and now that I have it back I’m aiming for two letters a week. I also want to start working out again; Janina, Aimee and I are going to Southeast Asia (we finally planned things out a couple of days ago!) I want to look awesome while hanging out on the beach, and really enjoy the new body I have crafted here. I think I will feel even better about this if I put some active work in.

I want to end my Peace Corps service on the high note that is started, and that means refocusing myself on my personal and professional goals. I would be lying to say that I am hoping that this refocusing won’t also help me to balance out my emotional state currently. I’m not an alone person guys, and the solitary state that tends to embody the peace corps life style is not for me. I’m ready to be around people on a regular basis again, but my mother made a wonderful point about this when I was home. She told me “This will not be the last time you are lonely in your life, but this is probably going to be the last time that you are this alone. Take what you can from it, and know that it won’t last forever.”

I love my Mom J

Hugs and smooches,


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Happy Vibes

I have decided, at the suggestion of another, very wise Volunteer, to focus in on myself this next month. I have been in such a funk and she brought up the idea of hitting personal goals and rededicating myself to working on me for a little while. That being said: going to start writing on a daily basis again, working out at least twice a week for 30+ mins, and living in the present moment.

Hugs and smooches,

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Beginning of service when I showered everyday
I'm warning you, this post is gross

Because I'm nasty.

People I am straight up disgusting.

I haven't showered in a few days because of a burst pipe on my compound, so when the water is coming out of the faucet it isn't doing so very quickly, and I am usually too busy trying to fill everything up for the few minutes it is on.

I got heat rash, like stupid, insanely itchy, horrible to look at, kind of heat rash. On the backs of my hands, on the backs of my calves, and on my ankles and feet. It looks like I tried to make knee high "Pretty Woman" boots out of poison sumac and then walked around in them for a day or two.

My feet are sweating like a Turkey on Thanksgiving. This combined with the fact that I am in the land of sand, tends to create a weird sludge like substance in my keens at the end of the day due to sand and sweat mixing inside of them...which is just flippin lovely.

All of my clothing is faded.

My hair is greasy.

I haven't been paid in 6 weeks.

And I'm running out of cheese.


Its summer, and it was overcast today! The wind in the air reeks of possibility! I'm not only dripping with sweat, but with new energy to put towards finishing up the last of my projects! I'm positively stinking with the want to try and clock myself back in after a lot of time away from my village.

I was finally able to take a shower yesterday and even though I don't have money for hair products until we get paid, I have vinegar, baking soda and a little bit of left over conditioner, so I'm feeling a lot better. The amount of emotional happiness I get from washing my hair these days is impressive, which got me to thinking about a conversation I had with my friend Kate. We were talking about how Peace Corps has changed us, and I mentioned that I tended to be a little bit more feminine back in the states, whereas she had found the exact opposite to be true.

Now, I would never be what anyone would have called "girly" in the states, at most I would have been a "pracical femme" and maybe I am over romanticizing my ability to dress up, but I always had THE CHOICE to put on a skirt or a dress and makeup. I loved wearing boots, and though shopping makes me want to tear my hair out (with double wide, size 11 feet, who can blame me?) I didn't mind having a little specific retail therapy now and again.

literally this skirt
Now a days as I pull on my worn out much loved hiking boots, and slip into that faded ankle length "peace corps" skirt for the millionth time, as I wrap my stringy locks in a head band, hair tie, head scarf or bandanna, I find myself craving a level of flippant femininity that I never really reached for in the states. I want the cage heels, I want to know how to curl my hair in that blown out beach bum kinda way, to put on lipstick without looking like a 5 year old girl just broke into her mother's makeup case for the first time.

So suddenly, even though I am wearing a lot of skirts and dresses here, I feel like I'm not being feminine enough. I feel like if I am going to do it, I want to do it right. I want to be clean, I want to look good, and I want to go out so that other people can see my clean looking, goodness! My baby (20yr old) sister is really good at this, even when she is granola-ing it up with her outdoor peeps she has her own sense of style, so is my cousin Emily and my Mother, my Aunts and my Grandmother. All-in-all we are a pretty good looking bunch of women, and I have always felt like the knowledge of all the feminine wiles stuff wasn't something that was needed for me. My mother gave me a Sefora gift certificate when I turned 20 and said something along the lines of "its time", and I'm pretty sure, here at 24, that I still have most of the make up I used that card on.

My friend Daniella is also amazing at this and every time I travel up to her flat in Maun I find myself, for the first time in my life, flipping through her Marie Claire magazines, and perusing her closet and makeup stand, and wishing I had these things and that I looked this way. I have never seen Daniella look less than flawless but I think that is something that has come with years of practice so I am not reaching for that right at this moment.
This is what she looked like
AFTER cooking for everyone in our group
Its not so much that I want to steal how these women dress, nor do I think I am going to go back to the states and suddenly become this made-up, tight skirt wearing, woman overnight. I tend to be a little dirtier than that, I tend to be a bit more practical. What I want is to feel good about how I look and what I am wearing; be it stilettos and an LBD, or jeans and some flannel (*cough*Zoe*cough*.) I think that is something that I have missed while being here in Bots, I don't feel like I look good, even if I am having a more put together day.

So here it is, I have decided when I get home that some of my readjustment money will be going towards certain items I believe to be lacking in my life, because I want to be more femme.

- Makeup, but firstly a lesson on how to use it and what makes me look good. I'm never going to be an overly made up individual but knowing how to apply it and what to apply when I am in the mood seems like a good plan.

- Hair stuff, not that I need much because I am a redhead and we are just naturally fabulous. ;)

- How to do my hair. I can straighten it but it would be nice to have a few "styles" in my back pocket. Its like cooking, everyone should know a few special things to whip out for that special someone.

- Heels. I actually got a pair of these at home that are waiting for me, but I want more.

- A sense of style that I like instead of just tolerate. I was going to put "clothing" on here, but ultimately it is more than that. I don't need more clothes I need more style and the right kind of clothes.

Like I said before, I think the first step in all this is getting clean...good thing it rained this morning ;)

Covered in dust after a salt pans trip

Hugs and smooches,

P.s. I thought this was a pretty awesome post: Don't Date A Girl Who Travels

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Round Trip From Hell

Happy New Year everyone!

I finally made it back to Botswana, and would like to apologize profusely for not being more in touch when I was in the states. My trip was wonderful, I got to spend lots of time with my family, my friends, my sweatheart, and the new puppy! His name is Zeus and he is adorable. I watched hockey (boo Toronto Maple Leafs!) and football, and went ballistic when my Spartans clenched the Rose Bowl title for the first time since 1988. I went to my favorite bars and had my favorite beers, went to my favorite restaurants and had my favorite foods, went on walks around my neighborhood, and went out at night (which is not something I ever do in my village.)

On top of all this wonderfulness I also got an extra 5 day at home because the state was taken over by a polar vortex that canceled my flights four times, and froze my luggage into the plane resulting in an additional night with my Aunt Martha in Chicago. I was really thankful for this extra time seeing as it was 5 days of unscheduled, do-whatever-I-want kind of time, instead of the hectic planned out portion of the trip that the holidays had been. Which brings me to the next chapter of the story; never in my life, have I had a more hellish round trip flight experience.

I started off in Gabs by boarding a combi that would take me down to Joburg. Usually I am pretty good about picking seats, but this time around I had one in the back bench, by the window, which ultimately made for a stupidly sun burnt arm by the end of the ride. This was fishsticks compared to what was to come next.

Generally I really enjoy flying and in Peace Corps it is an extra treat because you know all the in flight movies are going to be completely new to you. I was on the 747, we had gone through the safety talk and I was about 4 minutes into watching the movie Turbo, and settling in for the take off. Suddenly the entire plane is shaking and breaking incredibly hard. It stops for a moment only to start up again, to the point where my headphones fell off my head. The first thing I hear is from a woman to my right is "The wing fell off!"

In my brain this does not seem logical, since last I checked wings don't just "fall off" of planes. I'm in the side seat of the middle section so I try and get a glimpse out of the window to see what is going on and all I can see is rising dust and a ton of bricks.

This was me:
British Airways Plane Wing Crashes Into Building

I was in a plane crash! So everyone is rushing to the side where we have crashed and taking pictures of the wing, the stewards are rushing up and down the aisles looking panicked, while wearing neon green reflector vests, the pilot keeps coming on the system and saying things like "ladies and gentlemen we have had a minor incident and we need you to remain in your seats while the crew handle the situation" and "please turn off all electrical devices" which we all knew meant they didn't want us taking pictures.

An older lady in the back of the plane (she told me about this afterwards) started shouting at an attendant that they needed to "let us all off or we are going to burn!" You know...because its important to be helpful in the face of an emergency. I didn't realize until the captain came on and said "we are now reverting all of the fuel in that wing to the center of the plane, there is no need to panic" that fires may have actually been a bit of an issue. The woman in front of me kept asking the people around her if they thought this would delay the flight much...


So there are a ton of police and fire trucks surrounding us at this point, and they attempt to roll a set of stairs up to the front of the plane, unfortunately the stairs got stuck in the mud, and so they have to take them to the back of the plane, which was kind of disappointing for me because I was really gunning for the idea of making an emergency exit on those inflatable slides. What was nice about this is that cattle class was able to exit first, which means I got on the first shuttle back to the terminal, which means I was first in line to get my hotel and food vouchers.

In line for getting those vouchers a young woman my age, with awesome tattoos, comes up and asked about the Peace Corps patch on my backpack, and come to find out she is in Peace Corps too! Steph and I were disaster buddies for the remainder of our time at the hotel and flight to London, which was nice because people all kinda grouped up and I would have been the only kid in the cafeteria without a lunch table otherwise. The next day British Airways set up a table in the lobby, with two phones, two laptops, and two reps and lined us all up to rebook flights out. I was able to get on one that left around 9pm, so I hung around the hotel and then bopped over to the airport around 6pm after eating dinner.

Steph and I get to the gate and see lots of familiar faces (there were 182 of us so we all kinda got to know one another.) They open the gate and begin boarding, I hand in my new ticket and then wait in line to get on the plane. 20mins later they tell us to go back out into the waiting area because there have been maintenance issues. The usual groan from the passengers who were originally booked on the flight goes up, but those of us on the crash flight pretty much just start screaming and pulling our hair out.

We finally get on the flight and by my calculation I will still have an hour and a half to grab my connecting flight in Heathrow, no biggy, its all good. NOPE!

We get to London and I see that my flight to Chicago has been delayed by two hours, this is a huge problem since my layover from Chicago to Detroit was only going to be about an hour. I show my ticket to the lady at the counter and she points me in the direction of the lounge. It is at this point that I realize I have been booked in business class, which is awesome, but I am too worried about getting home in time for Christmas to give it much thought. I get to the lounge desk and practically break down in tears in front of her...maybe "practically" isn't quite right.

"My flight is delayed...*sniff*...and I was on the plane that crashed yesterday...*sniff sniff*...and I just want to get home in time for Christmas and I'm exhausted and can you please just put me on the next flight to America so I can hitch hike home and hug my parents? *sob*"

She was a bit shocked and told me they had been hearing about the crash on the news all day. She calls a dude, who calls another dude, and at some point asks me if its okay that my luggage probably won't make it, to which I respond that I don't give a hell. She puts the phone down and tells me there is a flight to Dallas that is leaving in 20mins, and that I'm still in business (score!) and that I should grab a complimentary muffin, use the computer to inform my family, and get my ass over to the gate.

I do just that, and can almost see the plane, when I get pulled aside for a search through my entire 65 liter backpack. Why, you ask? Because I don't have any checked luggage... I tell them the story about the plane (which gets you all kinds of perk, go figure) and they end up having me open stuff up instead of taking stuff out, before sending me down the fairway to the plane.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, and prior to that point a broke college student, I have never in my life flown business class. I had the sense to change into a cute sweater before boarding and quickly stowed my giant hiking pack, which at this point is covered in dirt and looking a bit worse for wear, in our GIANT OVERHEAD BINS, before plopping down in my own little cubicle chair and acquainting myself with my surroundings. Out of no where and friendly chap with a British accent asks me if I would like any water, juice or champagne, and my eyes bug out a bit before I say that champagne sounds wonderful.

It takes me all of five seconds to rip off my hiking boots and socks and slip on the fluffy slippers provided. I also take note of the duvet that has replaced the standard scratchy blanket, the large flat screen tv that folds out in front of my seat, and the noise canceling Bose headphones that are tucked inside what appears to be a vanity mirror next to my own little table. Awesome British guy brings back my champagne along with a menu which I am told I should look over before he comes around to take orders...because we have steak or salmon. While feeling like the black sheep of business class I settle in, and peruse the drink menu.

The flight was amazing and wonderful. I ate good food (ice cream sundae anyone?), watched a few good movies (Godfather Part II), ordered a scotch and soda before realizing that I am 24, and WAY too young for that drink, and ordering a whiskey and ginger ale and slept like a baby.

We landed in Dallas and I had a two hour layover before getting on the flight to Detroit. Not a huge fan of the Dallas airport, going to just leave it at that. The flight gets delayed on the tarmac for about and hour and a half and finally we take off. By the time we touch down in Detroit it is 10:00pm, Christmas Eve, and my usually emotional self is just too damn exhausted to do anything but hug the crap out of my Dad, do the same to my Aunt Martha and sorta just fall into the arms of my darling.

This post is all kinds of long so I will finish up by saying that on the way back my flights were canceled 4 times, and I missed a connection because of frozen luggage and staid in Chicago for a night, which ended up being cool because I was able to fly back on the same flights as my friend Kate. Also my baggage went missing again in South Africa, but got sent to Bots two days later.

It was a crazy journey, and I'm finally back to finish up the next 5 months, and getting settled back into Rams. I can't say I would want flights like that to happen again, but as an older, wiser RPCV once told me: "If it's not a good time, it's probably a good story."

Hugs and smooches,

Friday, December 13, 2013

When Home Became Scary

I was talking to my friend Boo on the phone the other day and at some point the idea of our impending COS date came up. I don’t know when it happened, if I woke up and things had just changed, or if it was a slow and gradual switch over, but at some point in the last 20 months, the idea of home became a little scary. Now let us be clear, when I say “home” I don’t mean my actual household filled with my loving family, I mean the general idea of moving back to the US. Boo agreed, and I doubt it is just the two of us.

Home used to be this big glorious infallible thing, but now the concept of it has become a little hazy and vague, and the idea of imagining what my life is going to be like is perplexing. Its like what thinking about Peace Corps in Botswana was going to be like before I left. My reality is in Botswana, my comfort zone is here, I have a job and a house, and people I enjoy spending time with. I have no job in the US, I'm going to end up moving back in with the parents for a little while, and there are a lot of different discoveries I have made over the past two years, and some that I made before but have now just started opening up to people about (maybe the distance makes me feel safe?) and they are going to change how I live my life. 

The Claire that left the states, the life she had, the perspectives she thought she held, and the actual mechanics of how she thought, are all gone. I get this is a part of living and growing up, I just think Peace Corps crams a bit more into two years than what would have happened had I staid home.

I remember before leaving for Botswana hearing a story from a girl who had a friend who had just gotten back from Peace Corps Madagascar. She was complaining about how this person had returned from Peace Corps and just couldn't talk about anything other than Madagascar. I remember how she rolled her eyes and spoke about how "it just came up in every conversation! I was like 'common! Talk about something else.'" What this individual failed to understand is that the majority of material that we draw on in everyday conversations and debates, comes from the past couple years of ones life. 

I don't want to sound like the douche bag that is trying to rub my experiences in everyone's faces, but if I am trying to contribute to a conversation on, lets say, transportation; it is completely possible that something like this comment will come out "I remember when a car we had rented to take my friends and I out of the bush broke down after helping run a youth camp in one of the more remote villages. We had to hitchhike on the back of a semi truck platform to get out of there." This happened a few weeks ago, and its not me trying to draw a similarity between myself and Indiana Jones, it is just a reality of how things work here.

You may be saying to yourself that this would be cool, and an interesting point in the conversation, but imagine hanging out with me and that kind of thing coming up regularly. I end up sounding like that bro who just came back from his eco-tourism vacation and makes a point to bring up the pygmy witch doctor he met, at every... possible... moment.

The other thing that freaks me out is that I am going to bore people. When people ask me about Peace Corps, they don't want to know all the details, the experiences, or how it changed me as a person. They want to know a quick 5 minute sound bite, and then move on to something they can relate to. I don't blame them, one way conversations blow. But Peace Corps is not a vacation for me, it is not me stepping out of my "real life" and then when I COS I will be going back to it. This was real, and not getting that kind of confirmation of my time is going to be difficult. 

Lastly, my independence. I have been living on my own, in my own little house, being in charge of only myself, for the past two years. This independence is made ever fiercer by the solitude that has accompanied it. I have spent a larger chunk of time being alone in the past two years, than any of my previous years on this earth. It has taught me a lot about myself and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity, but that suddenly comes to a halt come July 2014. The real kicker is that I am super social, I love talking with people and I am ABSOLUTELY that chick who will start random conversations with strangers whenever, and wherever possible. 

List of random places Claire has made new friends:

-Standing in line for Deal or No Deal try outs
-While waiting to get on the Ellen Show at Christmas time
-At the movie theater
-Amusement parks
-Post Offices

I'm just worried I won't know how to be that any more, or that I'm going to get overwhelmed. This whole idea is very overwhelming. I'm going back to a familiar place, but I'm no longer familiar within it, or with it for that matter. I know I'm lucky in a lot of ways, that I have parents to move back in with, that I have friends that are going to support me, that I have a sweatheart who has been out here, and who has been dealing with my freak outs as of late and so knows what they are getting themselves into (thanks honey.) Ultimately though, I have to figure out on a personal level how I fit back into America...or scarier yet...IF I fit back into America, and if I don't, where to next?

Thanks for tuning in, as ever. 

Hugs and smooches, 

p.s. Click here please, and then buy a book! Great Christmas idea: The GENDER book