It has been six weeks since we were sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers. Not long enough to really get a handle on things, but at least we are here and trying. The first few months our main goal is supposed to become integrated into the community, meet people, settle in, and learn our way around. We have been doing those things, and going to work every day too. We have met our co-workers, know how to get to the library, the post office, grocery stores, and our house.
Today was a typical day in this early phase of our service. My day goes something like this…
At 6 am my alarm goes off. I don’t want to get out of bed because it is so cold (it is winter here below the equator). The warmest place in our house happens to be under the covers. It is about 36 degrees outside, and it is about the same temperature inside, because houses here do not have insulation. In fact there are vents all over the house placed on the walls right beneath the ceiling placed there to be sure that outside air gets in. Maybe it will make sense to me in the summer when it is 100 degrees outside. We sleep nice and warm under two blankets and we use flannel sheets. I force myself out of the bed and quickly put on three layers of clothes and a jacket, so I will be warm walking around inside the house. I took my bath the night before when it was warmer.
I have to be at work at 7:30, and Tish goes in at 8:30, so she is taking her time. I go into the kitchen to find something for breakfast and notice the light on the “geezer” is red indicating it is on. The geezer is the hot water heater, which Tish turned on at about five am, so she would have hot water for her morning bath.
Unlike hot water heaters in the US there is no thermostat and they run continuously using up your electricity. Another difference is they are located on the roof of the house. There is also a solar panel of some sort which I assume works well during the hot summer months to assist the heating of the water. I do not know why they call a hot water heater a “geezer”, it is not a brand name. Someone told me it had something to do with the word “geyser”, and that kind of makes sense because every now and then a pressure valve will release and you will see a shower of water spray from the geezer for at least three minutes. Because the geezer has been turned on there is some hot water for me to wash my face.
Speaking of the electricity the geezer uses; you have to keep an eye on the electricity meter. When the number of KWH (kilowatt hours) gets low you go purchase more. To buy more electricity, I take my identifying card to the local gas station (called petrol stations here). I hand them my card and ask to purchase electricity in whatever amount I want (usually 50 or 100 Pula) and hand my cash over. She then does something on a computer and returns with my card and hands me another card with a mag stripe on it. When I get home I insert the card with the mag stripe into the box and it updates the number of Kilowatt Hours I have. If it gets to zero we don’t have electricity anymore. This method of replenishing your electricity is one of many accommodations necessary in a country that is mostly cash based. I read somewhere that only 20% of Batswana have checking accounts, so this is not a country where they can bill you and have you mail in your payment.
Around 7 am it is time to leave for work. I am dressed “business casual”. I put on my outer coat (layer number four), hoist my backpack, get my gloves and stocking hat ready and unlock the wooden door and the burglar bar door. Stepping outside I lock everything back up, put on my gloves and hat and depart for work.
The walk to work is almost exactly one mile. I have to walk to the main road, cross it and walk alongside it for about half of the way. We have been in Botswana for over three months and I am just now getting used to the cars driving on the left side of the road. It can be dangerous crossing the street if you are looking in the wrong direction for approaching cars.
The walk to work is one of my favorite parts of the day. The air is fresh, crisp, and clean. The sun is just coming up, and the sunrises and sunsets in Botswana are beautiful. I walk on rocky dirt paths beside the road for half of the journey, and then head away from the road on a shortcut to my office for the last half mile. On the way I am exchanging greetings with Batswana on their way to work, some are waiting for a combi or hitching a ride. I pass kids in their uniforms walking to school. On the way I pass cows, donkeys and goats, and have to watch where I walk because of those animals.
The office has a janitor (called a “cleaner” in Botswana) who arrives around 7 am and opens the doors. She is there when I arrive, but if not I have a key. It is only slightly warmer inside the office, so I take off my coat, leaving three layers on, which I still need. I get the Peace Corps laptop out of the filing cabinet in my boss’s office and turn it on. You can’t just plug things in in Botswana, you have to check the plug to be sure you have the correct one, or an adapter. The older homes in Botswana have what we call “round” plugs, the newer ones have “square” plugs. Most appliances sold in Botswana have either the “round” plug and sometimes a third type I don’t know what to call. It has two round prongs, smaller than the ones on the “round” plugs. So people have an assortment of Round to Square or Square to Round adapters laying around (unless someone has walked off with them); and adapters for the third type. I have the kinds of adapter I need so that isn’t a problem.
Coming from America with electrical devices presents problems other than just the shape of the plug; the current is different here too. In America the current is 120 volts AC. Here it is 220 volts. The good thing is that most modern devices handle either and so all you need is an adapter to switch from American plugs to either the round or square type here. For example my Toshiba laptop has a charging plug, and written right on it is 100 – 240 Volts. Some other devices are not so considerate, such as the hair clippers we brought. Those do not say they will handle 220 volts, so I have to plug it into a “converter” which changes the current from 220 to 120. If I did not use a converter with that device, when I plugged it in and turned it on there would be a little puff of smoke and then silence. (This happened to a friend of ours).
Today I have the Peace Corps laptop set up and I am putting the finishing touches on the agenda for today’s Excel Training Workshop which I am presenting for the office staff. Today’s class is the second I will hold. The staff is excited to be learning some things about Excel that will make their life easier. This is “capacity building” in its purest form, I am “building” their “capacity” to perform their jobs better. Once we are through learning about Excel, they tell me they want classes on all of the MS Office products and any other subjects I think would be helpful.
My co-workers come in around 7:45 and greet me in Setswana, and laugh at my feeble attempts to answer. They love it that I am trying though, and help me with my pronunciation. Our language skills have deteriorated somewhat since PST ended. We plan to hire a tutor soon and get back on track.
My boss, the DAC (District Aids Coordinator) and the assistant DAC were out of the office in meetings for the last seven work days, so we were to have a meeting first thing and catch up. The meeting is in the DAC’s office, we drag in an extra chair or two and sit down. Mma Mokoti starts the meeting and the first thing she does is turn to me and ask me to say a prayer. Praying before meetings is part of the protocol in Botswana for just about any meeting. Some of my Peace Corps Volunteer friends who are atheists or agnostics have been asked to pray, and not wanting to offend have come up with some lame attempt at a prayer, others just decline as best they can. For me it is not a problem as I am a Christian and prayer is part of my daily life. I kind of like it.
After the prayer we have a meeting not unlike most meetings I have attended during my career in America, except for the fact that 80% of it was in Setswana. Everyone in the office can speak English, but they are more comfortable with Setswana and so go back and forth. As the meeting begins they speak more English, but by the end it is more Setswana than English. It is interesting how much you comprehend by understanding just a few of the words and observing the body language; you may not get all the detail but you can get the big picture of what is being discussed. The meeting is another opportunity to pick up on ways that I could be of service in the office. For example, they discuss the need for better record keeping, so I make a mental note that record keeping is something I might be able to give them some ideas on. The meeting lasts for about an hour and we go back to our offices.
This is kind of funny… one of the duties of the Assistant DAC is “keeper of the toilet paper”. She hands out a roll to everyone once per week. We keep it at our desk, and take it with us when we head to the bathroom to take care of business. So you might see someone walking down the hall, toilet paper roll in hand, and you know exactly where they are headed.
Lunch is from 12:45 – 1:45 pm. For lunch I usually walk down the hill to a small shack where a woman named Mma Maphane has a lunch business serving traditional Setswana foods. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday she serves my favorite dinawa (beans) and chicken. The beans are not like any in the US. They are called ditloo and are really good. They resemble large black eyed peas. They serve the beans with something called samp, which is a part of the mmidi (maize) kernel. Sometimes the mmidi kernels are mixed in. Mmidi looks like our corn, but it is larger and chewier. I am told that in America is is only used to feed horses. The chicken is just good old fried chicken like my mama used to make. In Botswana they serve massive amounts of food. For 16 Pula I am handed a take-away box that is really heavy. I take it back to the office and eat at my desk.
Lunch is over at 1:45 and my workshop begins a little after 2 pm. We all sit at the large conference table. My laptop is attached to a projector so they can see what I am talking about. The meeting lasts until almost 4 pm and could have easily gone longer. They were eager to learn, and had fun trying out the things I was teaching them.
I am pretty excited about the possibilities for IT training to build capacity. I will be meeting at the library in a day or so to start up a project there in which I will train the staff and the community. Also, at Tish’s NGO, Stepping Stones, I will be very involved in their new Leadership Center building where they just unpacked about 15 new computers that will be used to train the youth who come there.
By the time everything was put away it was a little after 4 pm so I called it a day. I lock the Peace Corps laptop up, put on my backpack, Tilly hat and shades, and head for home.
My fair skin needs to be protected from the sun and so I wear sunscreen every day and a hat most of the time. My hat was a Christmas present from my sister-in-law (Thanks Kim!) and I love it. It is called “The Airflo Tilley Hat”. It is insured against loss and guaranteed for life. It is the only hat I have ever owned that comes with an owner’s manual. It even has a secret compartment that I put a 50 Pula note in, for an emergency. I don’t wear the Tilly hat in the morning because the sun is not overhead and it would not serve any purpose to wear it. Going home the sun is somewhat overhead and the hat is a big help. There are a few things that I am very glad I brought to Botswana and my hat is one of them.
I enjoy the walk home almost as much as the walk in the morning. If we need anything from the grocery store, there is one on the way home and I can stop in. In Botswana we don’t have a car trunk (or a car) to put our bags of groceries in, so we buy a few things every now and then instead of a lot of groceries every other week. I usually grab a treat for myself, a Tab (the only diet caffeine free beverage available in Botswana). I also get a bag of Simba Chips – smoked beef flavor – translation… barbecue potato chips. If you ask at a restaurant for “chips” they bring french fries.
When I get home I unload my backpack and turn on the geezer, because I plan to bathe before bed and it needs a few hours to get the water hot. Bathing in the evening before it gets too cold is my preference. You just don’t spend a lot of time out of the water in your birthday suit. That air is cold.
Tish comes home after me, but we are both in the house with the doors locked by nightfall (around 6 pm lately). Tish usually goes right to work in the kitchen and we enjoy our dinner followed by washing the dishes by hand (I really miss the dishwasher). After dinner we spend our time with conversation and/or reading and/or a game of backgammon or scrabble. Then it is off to bed by about 8:30. Under the covers is the warmest place in the house so we go to bed early, followed by more reading and/or watching some recorded video I have of TV on my laptop. I am hoping before my supply of recorded TV shows are gone we will have gotten more from some incoming Peace Corps Volunteers (more are arriving in September).
Another day complete, we go to sleep warm and cozy under our blankets.