We’ve been in Botswana a little over a month now, and I’ve come to realize that many things I thought were essential, I can actually live without.
Take toilet seats for instance. Never thought about them much. I just hadn’t previously envisioned a toilet without one. In Botswana, you may or may not have a toilet seat attached to your potty. You can perch on the edge and very comfortably accomplish the business you set out to do, with no real inconvenience. You are just thankful you have a flush toilet instead of a pit latrine, and the very essential, full roll of toilet paper. Of course, having the seatless potty located in the women’s facilities is essential for a spotless rim. I can’t guarantee the experience would be the same in the men’s room.
Then there is running hot water. It is a true luxury, but I can live without it. We have running water where we live, with sinks and toilets and spigots just like in the US. It’s just not hot. So we heat water in a kettle on the stove or use an electric kettle for tea or coffee or washing dishes. The adjustment came with taking a bath. I know Marion has described this previously, but what he didn’t let you in on, are the games you start playing with yourself in the process. We have a bucket that probably holds about three gallons of water. The kettle, in which we get the water to boiling, will fill the bucket about half way. We use a one liter measuring cup to scoop some hot water out of the bucket, dilute it with cold water from the tap, and then pour it over ourselves to bathe.
The first scoop wets your hair, the next ones your body. Then you lather up, from head to toe, carefully scrubbing all the important places. Next you proceed to scoop, dilute, and rinse, hoping you will finish before the hot water is gone and after the soap is. And not burn yourself in the process, if your proportions of hot to cold get skewed. It’s become a challenge now to see how much water I can still have in the bucket when I finish. I’ve started dangling my head over the bucket when the first scoop wets my hair, so the excess clean water falls back in the bucket. I wash my hair first so when I rinse it, the rest of me gets wet. I’ve become a contortionist when pouring water to see how many square inches of skin I can cover with one scoop. My record so far is finishing with a quarter of the bucket of hot water still left, no burns and no chill bumps. I can even add in shaving my legs and have water to spare. I am one evolving Peace Corps trainee.
So out of the bathroom and in to the kitchen. Let’s talk about food, or lack of it. Don’t go feeling sorry for us, we have plenty to eat. We just don’t have ready access to all the convenience foods, snack foods, or variety of foods that are available in the US. The Peace Corps delivers a food basket to our host mom every two weeks, to supplement the household food. It has rice, pasta, sorghum, maize meal, flour, sugar, eggs, oil, onions, cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, chicken (no half pound chicken breasts here — there are some starving chickens in Africa), bread, peanut butter, jelly, milk, apples, and one big ass box of cornflakes. No cheese, no Ritz or Wheat Thins, no cookies, no chips or salsa, no nuts. Not a granola bar or bagel in site. We do get an allowance of about 25 pula per day, which we can spend on food if we like. However the walk to Choppies, our local version of a mini Kroger, is 1.5-2 miles, each way. We could spend the pula on crackers, but nothing as good as a Triscuit or Wheat Thin. Most of the cookies taste like sugar infused Styrofoam and are not worth the calories. But, eating my way through the cookie shelf in search of a satisfying cookie has given me another interesting game to play. There is a Botswana version of cheetos, made from maize, that is sold in roadside stands for the bargain price of one pula, if you’re really desperate for “fast food”. As a result, we are eating more healthfully, just because we don’t have easy access to all the calorie laden junk food that you obese Americans have. My love handles are disappearing and they are definitely something I can live without.
Now when it comes to washing clothes, I will have to admit, I’d love to have access to a washing machine. Our host mom has one, but it doesn’t work. Or so she says, as Peace Corps thinks it’s important that we learn to hand wash clothes. Marion has taken to laundry duty and seems to get a challenge out of timing how long it takes to wash, rinse, squeeze, and hang things out to dry. He’s always hoping to beat his time from last week, seeing if he can reduce his transition time from the washtub to the clothesline. Who knew his duathlon racing skills would come in so handy in Botswana. I, personally, have just redefined “dirty” when it comes to my clothes. Who said you can’t wear that shirt over and over and over again?
So even with these little inconveniences in Botswana, there is an upside to Peace Corps life. Sometimes you just have to be creative to see it.