It has been about three weeks since we returned to the USA. I had heard that readjusting to the USA can be difficult but we are doing just fine. Here are 10 observations on returning to the states…
- Driving is not a problem. Even though I had only driven once in two years (and that was on the wrong side of the road), getting behind the wheel felt normal. We purchased a new car and have been enjoying getting around Atlanta in our 2013 Hyundai Azera.
- Most people don’t seem to be very interested in our Peace Corps Service. We had been told by other Volunteers who had gone back home on vacation to expect this, and it is true. We get together with people we have not seen in two years and are bursting to tell about the life-changing experiences we just went through. We can’t wait for them to say, “Tell me all about it”, but they don’t even ask the question. I find myself chatting about local events and sports that I am not current on and don’t particularly care about. Some people are genuinely interested and proud of what we did, but we have noticed that most are not curious or interested.
- The memories of Africa are already receding. Tish and I talked about this and it seems to be true for both of us. It is weird. Even though we lived in Mochudi for two years and it has only been three weeks since our return it feels like it was all a dream. Almost like it never happened.
- I find that I retain some of the attitudes I gained during the two years spent in Africa. Example: I am not in a hurry like everyone else in the US. I tend to drive the speed limit (to the irritation of all the others on the road), and don’t have to worry about getting a ticket.
- Sometimes we compare life here with what we had in Botswana and are amazed. I remember when Malebogo, a student from Stepping Stones, was visiting Tish in our house in Mochudi. She looked in our little refrigerator with amazement and said, “Lesago, you have too much food!” I was reminded of this when we stepped into my sister’s walk-in pantry which is huge and packed floor to ceiling with all manner of food. We wonder what Malebogo would make of it.
- No one walks here. We look around for pedestrians and there aren’t any. All we see are really nice cars usually carrying one person. That is a big difference from the landscape of Mochudi where most people walked everywhere and we passed many friendly people on our way.
- People are a lot older here. I believe the census showed that over 50% of Botswana’s population was under 21 and we got used to seeing many young people. Here in the states we see a lot of old people. And fat people.
- I haven’t seen or heard a chicken, goat, donkey, cow, the radio of a neighbor or a noisy church service since we left Botswana.
- I haven’t seen anyone urinating in public since we left Botswana. I can’t say I miss that.
- We were ready to come home, but we miss our little home in Mochudi and our simpler life there.
It is official. We are not Peace Corps Volunteers anymore. Today is our Close of Service (COS) date and from now on will be referred to as Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV).
After living in Africa for two years we are coming home. Today at 1:20 pm, we board a flight in Gaborone to begin the long trip. We will fly to Johannesburg on South Africa Airways where we have a layover and then we take Delta flight 210 that goes non-stop to Atlanta. We arrive in Atlanta at 7:20 am.
Our good friend Jan, who dropped us off at the airport two years ago, appropriately will be the one to pick us up. Since Granny is in the hospital and will be moving to a rehab facility, we will be staying in her empty condo for a few weeks and then with my sister, Marilyn.
See you soon !
This past Easter weekend I was all the way across on the other side of Botswana helping with the Okavango Half Marathon, 5K and Health Expo. I have been collaborating with two Peace Corps Volunteers on the this project for months. This event was the brainchild of my friend, Peace Corps Volunteer Dinah Sandoval who serves in Shakawe. The event was part of a larger project to expand health care access in the Okavango Sub-District in northwest Botswana. Dinah wanted the event to inspire the community to live healthier lives and to raise funds for a mobile health clinic/ambulance to bring primary care services to hard to reach areas in the greater Shakawe community.
Dinah brought Peace Corps Volunteer Carolyn Mambu in on the project because Carolyn lives in Gaborone, the capital, where most of the larger donors are headquartered. Carolyn also has a lot of experience in event planning and fundraising.
Around January of this year, they realized they needed an online presence so they asked for my help. I created a web page for the event to give information to the public, and which allowed people to register online; as either a Race Participant, a Health Expo Exhibitor or a Health Expo Vendor. My job was to maintain the web page updating information as needed. I also was in charge of keeping track of the registrants who registered online or emailed their race application to the special Okavango Half Marathon email address I created.
As the race approached there was a lot of work for me to do. As sponsors came on board, their logos were added to the web page; new registrations came in every day; travel and lodging information had to be added; and the spreadsheet of registrants grew larger.
Carolyn and I had run in a lot of races, Dinah never had. None of us had ever ever organized one. Carolyn and I thought about all the races we had been in and determined what we would need. Water, cups, tables, tents, caterers, a DJ, etc etc. In addition to the details of the race and expo, lining up sponsors was a big job. Dealing with sponsors and vendors was especially challenging here in Botswana where everyone seems to run on Africa Time, even businesses. Everything was done at the very last minute, if at all, and we were all on pins and needles, wondering if we were going to have to go to “Plan B”.
We were notified a week or so ago that Tish’s mother is ill and in the hospital. She is almost 90 years old and we are very concerned for her. Please pray for Granny.
We asked the Peace Corps if we could go home a few weeks early to be with Granny and help her. They agreed and moved our Close of Service (COS) date up to April 11th. This means we will be leaving five days from now.
Time has flown by. It seems like just yesterday that we arrived here in Africa tired but excited after a 30 hour trip. At that time we were counting down the years until our return, then the months, now just five days left. It is hard to believe. We are proud of our Peace Corps Service and enjoyed our time here (most of it anyway), but we are ready to come home.
Once again we are leaving our house which is full of our things and memories of Africa, packing up two suitcases and leaving all the rest behind… in just 5 days !!
We will be arriving in Atlanta 7:20 am on April 12th on Delta flight 210.
Our blog is read by a lot of Peace Corps applicants who hope to be serving soon. Some of them have contacted me with advice about blogging. This post is for them…
If you decide to keep a blog you are not alone. According to Wikipedia, as of February 2011, there were over 156 million public blogs in existence. About one-third of them are WordPress blogs.
A lot of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers here in Botswana have blogs of their own, if you would like to take a look at some of them, click HERE to see a page listing them all.
Why publish a Blog while serving in the Peace Corps?
- To Accomplish Goal 3: The Peace Corps mission has three goals. The third goal is, “Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” Blogging is one way to achieve this goal.
- For Family and Friends: Another reason to blog is to keep interested family and friends up to date on your activities. Our own family and friends seem to enjoy reading our blog posts.
- As a Personal Journal: Your blog can serve as your personal journal that you may want to refer to after you are through with your service.
- To Publish: Some people I know have even turned their blog into a book. Our friend Kip Doran did this and published his book recently: Africa Lite: Boomers in Botswana.
You must choose your blogging platform. There are many blogging platforms to use. WordPress is the most popular, but Blogger is also popular; and there are others. The hosted versions of both WordPress and Blogger can be registered for free and are very easy to use. Personally, I think WordPress is best. I use a self-hosted installation of WordPress for this blog. I have also used a hosted WordPress blog for several web pages I have created during my Peace Corps service. Since I use WordPress, that is what I can tell you about, but Blogger works much the same way.
As I write this we have less than two months left of our Peace Corps service. In fact we have already purchased our tickets to return home. We will be flying out of Botswana at 4:20 pm on May 8th. (Edited to add: Due to an illness at home we were able to push our COS up a few weeks and we actually left Botswana on April 11th)
The end of a Volunteer’s two year Peace Corps commitment is called COS (Close of Service). We use the acronym “COS” both as a noun or as a verb. Examples: Noun: Tish’s COS is coming up soon. Verb: Marion will COS soon.
The word COS is like the word “Christmas” or ”Retirement”. It is a word that just makes you feel excited and good. It is something to be looked forward to. The word “COS” is rich in meaning to us:
- It signifies big changes ahead…the end of our life in Botswana and the beginning of our new life somewhere in the USA.
- It signifies a satisfactory completion of a huge goal.
- It means seeing family and friends.
- It means leaving behind our Batswana friends and co-workers.
- It means leaving behind our Peace Corps Volunteer family with whom we have gotten so close.
Being at the very end of things means we need to concentrate on finishing up projects, and turning over projects. We should not start new ones.
Recently I had to back out of a project I had been planning to do for months because I just do not have enough remaining time here. I had heard that Molefi Senior Secondary school had a small computer lab and I thought I might be of help there. I visited the school about three weeks ago. The computer lab consisted of about 30 desktop PC’s for over 1,000 students, and one very overworked teacher. I sat down with the teacher and we brainstormed how I could be most useful. I went home and looked at my calendar and realized how few days I have left to work. My calendar showed that of the weeks remaining some days were taken up with Regional meetings, some were taken with our COS conference, three separate weeks were taken up with leave days I either take or lose, and many days are taken up for trips to Gabs for Peace Corps Medical (related to COS). So I decided I just can’t take on that project. Not enough time left.
One of things that has made our Peace Corps service easier is the fact that we are married. We have each other to talk to and vent about what happened that day, someone who is sharing the same experiences, fears, and goals. Currently there are about 350 married couples serving around the world in the Peace Corps, which is about 10% of all Volunteers.
I don’t know how the single Volunteers do it. Especially during the “lockdown” periods when Volunteers are not allowed to leave their village. These “lockdown” periods are the first two months after you to go your village and also the last two months before you go home. During those periods you cannot leave your village to visit other Volunteers unless you have official business. Peace Corps feels you need to stay put and work on integrating with your community those first two months. I am not so sure why they make you stay put your last two months, but that is the rule.
Whether you are free to travel or not, day to day life in your village can make you feel lonely. Peace Corps Volunteers often feel isolated. There are Batswana people around you, many who speak English, but there is a wide gulf between you and them. Their English is usually not very good and there are big cultural differences which makes it difficult to have a close Motswana friend.
Because I am married I can come home and be with my best friend and I am not so isolated. This is good.
The bad news is that being married in the Peace Corps can be hard on a marriage. There are a few other Peace Corps Volunteers whom I have met here in Botswana. One couple who served 2010-2012, Mike and Jerry, are 50-somethings from California. During our Pre Service Training (PST), they spoke to our group and shared some of the benefits and challenges of being married in the Peace Corps. I remember listening and finding their talk interesting, but it only now resonates with me since time has gone by and I have experienced the same things.
We find that one of the biggest challenges is that we are together much more than we were in the USA, and we don’t have our other outside interests. Back home Tish spent a lot of time with her girlfriends or played tennis on her ALTA teams. I spent a lot of time skydiving and riding my bike. In the Peace Corps the term “healthy outlets” is used a lot. The term refers to positive outlets for stress. Being able to talk things over with my marriage partner is a healthy outlet, but it is not healthy if we take things out on each other.
At the very first meeting I had with the teen leaders for Mochudi Teen Club in 2011, they asked about getting T-shirts. They wanted to design shirts and have them made. I acknowledged it was a nice idea, secretly blew them off, and went on to the business of planning the meeting. I didn’t know enough about anything in Botswana at that point in my Peace Corps service to figure out where to get the funds or to have the shirts made. During the next year and a half, they mentioned it again and again.
At a Teen Club later that summer, I asked them to come up with a Teen Club slogan and a symbol. They divided in to small groups and brainstormed for ideas. Each small group presented back to everyone, and then they voted on their choice. Shapa, Mochudi Teen Club, Shapa, Life Goes On… is the slogan. Shapa means something like alright or OK. Life Goes On… was to indicate that there is life beyond HIV. The symbol they agreed on is a heart with an airplane inside of it. The airplane indicates moving in to the future, going places you have never been, adventure, etc.; and the heart shows the love and support that comes from Teen Club and its sponsors: Stepping Stones International, Deborah Retief Memorial Hospital (DRM), Infectious Disease Clinical Center (IDCC) in Mochudi, and Baylor Children’s Clinical Center of Excellence in Gaborone – the founder of Teen Clubs in Botswana. Pretty nicely done, I thought.
Teen Club Logo