Okavango Half Marathon and Collaboration

My friend and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Dinah Sandoval, is organizing a big event in her village of Shakawe that includes a half marathon race, a 5K race, and a Health Expo.  She hopes to raise enough money to buy an ambulance/mobile clinic to increase health service delivery in hard to reach areas in Shakawe and the surrounding community.  Dinah has asked all the Peace Corps Volunteers in Botswana to come participate whether they run in a race or man a booth at the Health Expo.


Even if I was up to running a Half Marathon again, there is no way I would want to endure another 16 hours on a bus to get there.  We visited Diana back in November 2011 and I wrote about that in a blog titled Longest Bus Ride… Ever.  It is a LONG way, and seems even longer if you don’t have a car and have to travel using public transportation.  Not doing that again — no way.

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The Ups and Downs of My Biggest Peace Corps Project…

…The Teen-Caregiver Communication Workshop

LaronaIn March of  2012 we had our monthly Teen Club meeting.  The Teen Club is for HIV positive youth ages 12-19, almost all of whom were born with HIV, before much was known about the virus, and before Antiretroviral (ARV) medication was available.  At the meeting the kids revealed that they get very little support at home in dealing with HIV.  No words of encouragement, no “how are you feeling?”, not really any acknowledgement that they are living with HIV.  Most of the teens feel pretty isolated.  My heart was breaking as Larona, a kid with a big smile and contagious laugh, said to me, “Oh my mother might say, ‘if you don’t take those pills you will die!’”  How could a teenager be expected to deal with a potentially life threatening chronic illness like HIV without encouragement and support from his family?

I discussed this with my counterparts at Stepping Stones International and we decided something had to be done.  This needed to be addressed with the caregivers.  I use the term “caregivers” because most of these kids have lost their mothers or fathers to HIV/AIDS and are living with grandmothers, aunts, uncles, or older sisters. Since I am the primary person responsible for Teen Club, I took on the task of organizing a workshop to address communication in the home about the challenges teens face in living with HIV.

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A Beautiful Sight

Yesterday, Maggie, one of our social workers, called to me, ”Do you want to be part of something special?”  “Sure”, I replied.  Who would turn down an offer like that?  She waved me over and I followed Maggie, Mosa (another social worker), and eight kids in to the staff room.  Mosa was carrying a small box.  As I passed I could see what it contained: hard-shelled eyeglass cases, each labeled with a child’s name.  Yes, Yes, Yes, my mind screamed, as tears welled up in to my eyes.  Maggie shared my joy and gave me a smile and a nod.

Last April, Stepping Stones International (SSI) partnered with another NGO, Ipelegeng Health Institute, to put on a Community Wellness Day for our youth, their caregivers, our community partners and neighbors.  I asked them to include vision screening, as we wanted the SSI participants screened for health problems that could affect their school performance.  If you can’t see the board, you are going to struggle in school.  Ipelegeng showed up with computer generated Snellen charts, posted them on a wall, measured the spot where the person being screened should stand, grabbed a couple of older youth and told them to start doing vision screening.  As I watched I realized they didn’t know what they were doing, so I took over.  If I uncovered someone with an abnormal result, we referred them to the eye clinic at DRM, the local hospital, for a formal eye screening and follow-up.  Crudely and unprofessionally done, at least it was a start.

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Last Stop – Mozambique

Continuing from part 2 of the series of posts about traveling with Betsy and Mike…

To satisfy the anxious, anal participants in our group, we left for the Kasane airport early, about 12:30 pm to catch a 2:40 pm flight.  The cab ride took all of 10 minutes.  So we were in for a two hour wait.  Then to make matters worse, it was announced that our flight was delayed by an hour making it a three hour wait.  Our plan for a relaxing two hour layover in the Johannesburg airport with nice restaurants took a hit.  The Kasane airport is small, with only a snack stand, so we entertained ourselves with people watching, reading, pacing and fidgeting.  I spent time making multiple trips to the bathroom, dealing with a lingering upset stomach (Be glad I left that part out of the safari trip.)

Then as we waited, another announcement came – instead of going non-stop to Johannesburg; our flight was going to make a stop in Gaborone and would not arrive in Jo’burg until about 7 pm.  We had a connecting flight to Maputo, Mozambique at 7:10pm.  We were looking at 10 minutes to go through immigration and make it on to a flight on a different airlines — it was going to be impossible.  Before we boarded our flight we expressed our concern about our connecting flight and Air Botswana staff took our connecting flight information and reassured us we would make it to Maputo.

Somewhere between 3:30 and 4, we finally boarded.  Once airborne, the pilot announced the flight duration and told us we would be landing in Gabs in an hour or so.  We learned once we got there, we would have to change planes to get on the Jo’burg flight.  That flight was going to take over an hour.  Our layover in Jo’burg diminished to nearly nothing and potentially in to the negative numbers.  I’m not a worrier, so I just decided we would deal with missing our flight when it happened.  We had a guest house reservation in Maputo, but hadn’t had to pay a deposit, so no money would be lost.  I also knew there was a flight the next day to our final destination of Inhambane, because that was the flight we would catch in Maputo.  I had chosen to make the overnight layover in Maputo rather than Jo’burg when I purchased the tickets.

The man I married is a worrier (now you know who one of the anal ones is), and he decided he needed to do something about this problem.  When we landed in Gaborone and were being escorted to the Jo’burg plane, which was waiting on the tarmac, already boarded by the Gabs passengers; Marion grabbed one of the Air Botswana staff, gave her our four names and our Maputo flight information and pleaded with her to call ahead and help us make the Maputo flight.

Off we went.  Our plane was going to land about the same time the Maputo flight was scheduled to depart.  After touching down and hearing the usual, “don’t get out of your seatbelt until we tell you to” speech, the following announcement came.  “Will passengers Mobley, Paulk and Hanna please indicate who you are – Air Botswana will escort you to your connection”.  The Jo’burg airport is huge.  It is THE international hub for all of southern Africa.  You have to take a bus from one area to the next for flight connections.  A nice lady from Air Botswana greeted us and handed us pre-printed LAM boarding passes as we got on the bus.  She told us, “When we get to the international connecting flight terminal, we have to run, okay?”  We all said okay, as we secured our heavy backpacks and curled our toes to clamp down on our flip-flops.  The bus door opened and the race began.  I again was quickly reminded of how out of shape I am.   Feeling weak and a little dehydrated, plus carrying a 20 pound backpack, and worrying about sphincter control, didn’t help matters.  I was falling behind and Marion graciously took my backpack so I could keep up.  The Air Botswana lady led the way, using her gate pass card to take us through employee only areas for a short cut to the Maputo gate.  Except she cut through one gate too soon, requiring us to back track a little.  As we arrived at the gate, huffing and puffing, they announced the flight would board in 10 minutes.  It had had a short delay in departure time, perhaps for us.  Whew!

We arrived in Maputo after 9pm, relieved that our prearranged transportation to Residencial Palmeiros Guest House was patiently waiting.  Given the hour, we decided to skip going out for dinner, live off of the airline food we’d eaten and called it a night.

After a good night’s sleep and a refreshing shower, we started the day with a wonderful Portuguese breakfast of tropical fruits and fresh squeezed juices, delicious fresh breads and pastries and hot black coffee.  We dined in a lush green garden tucked inside the guest house grounds. Two friendly house cats kept us company.  We had just enough time to take a quick walk around Maputo before heading back to the airport.  We found the local market, full of fresh vegetables, fresh fish, and fresh cashews. My eyes were sparkling with excitement.  Could it get any better?  We are not in the dry desert of landlocked Botswana any more.

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Six More Months

Actually we will be returning to the USA in less than six months, about five and one-half to be exact, but who’s counting?  I am!  If you are interested, you can see the exact number of months and days by looking in the sidebar to the right  —>

The Peace Corps calls it COS (Close of Service).  Our COS date is May 8th, 2013.  I can hardly believe we are this close to the end of our service.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that Tish and I sat in our kitchen eating dinner and discussing the possibility of joining the Peace Corps.  That was in the Fall of 2009.  During the following 18 months we were put through the ringer by the Peace Corps in their application process; and we had a lot of huge personal things to deal with as well, such as selling our house, selling cars, storing our possessions, and moving in with Tish’s mom for a few months…  and then we left for Botswana.

The last 18 months here in Botswana have also been a whirlwind.  I had thought time would drag, but it has seemed to fly by.  We have done a lot.  We traveled to Africa and it became our home.  We learned about the culture and a little bit of the language and went to work in Mochudi.  We adapted to a completely different lifestyle, and learned to do without a lot of the comforts of home.  We had fun and traveled to Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mozambique, and all over Botswana.  We have seen elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalo, and many more animals all up close (very close) and personal.  We have had failures, disappointments, and some successes as well.

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Writing and Riding – A Month for Personal Goals

November turned out to be a very busy and productive month for me personally.  I accomplished two big personal goals that I had set for myself.

Goal #1:   Write a Novel  

An idea for a book had been percolating in my mind for years, but I had never written it.  I had started to write the book on previous occasions, but didn’t get much done and never finished.  As November approached I decided to finally start and finish the novel.  Why November?  Because November is National Novel Writing Month according to the NaNoWriMo web page.  This web page encourages people to write a 50,000 word work of any genre during November.  The web page offers encouragement, advice and motivation.  It facilitates communication with others attempting the same goal.  The web page helps you keep track of your words as you move towards your goal, and suggests that you not get sidetracked editing the work you did last week, but instead bang out the 1,667 words per day you need to get to 50,000 in a month.


It also helped that there were about six other Peace Corps Volunteers giving it a try as well.  I even created a web page so the six of us could compare our progress as the weeks of November went by.

I would write at home and sometimes at my office.  It really didn’t take all that long to write the book.  In fact, it almost seemed to write itself.  As I said, the general outline of the story was already formed in my imagination; I just had to get it down on paper.  I wrote every day and ended up getting to 50,000 words by around the 20th of November.  There were times that I would get stuck, and struggle with the plot or a character, but I would often think those problems through on my morning bike ride.

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There are times when I get frustrated here in Botswana.  I am supposed to be “building capacity” and doing sustainable projects.  There is that old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”  I am supposed to be “teaching how to fish” as the saying goes.  Often the people in my office seem to only want me to “give them a fish”.  They want me to do things for them and do not want to learn how.  I am especially aware of the importance of teaching rather than doing, now that there is only about six months before we leave.

Example…  The District Aids Commissioner, Mma Mokoti, recently came to me asking if I would create an Access database of the VMSAC (Village Multi-Sectoral Advisory Committee) members.  I had done something similar earlier for the DMSAC members.  I reminded her that I would be gone in a few months and I did not want to create the database, instead I wanted to sit down with her or someone else and teach them how to.  She seemed frustrated and never got back to me.  I asked her about it a few times and finally I realized she was not going participate, so I went ahead and created the VMSAC database for her one day mainly out of boredom.

Another example…  In a meeting a few months ago Mma Mokoti told us that the District Commissioner wanted everyone to come up with an innovation, a new idea.  She asked if I had any ideas.  I suggested that we create a web page for the DAC office.  It was received with great enthusiasm.  I told them I would get the ball rolling but then one of them would have to be my counterpart and learn how WordPress works so they could step in when I am gone.  Also, I said each of them would need to provide content and help design the web page, since it is their web page.  Despite repeated reminders that we needed to get together  — no one wants to do it.  The most I could get them to do was give me the soft copy of information that I uploaded to the web site.  At one point, Nozi, the assistant DAC flat out told me, “Rapula, you probably won’t get anyone to help you with the web page”.  When I asked why, she said, “Aiish, we are all just too busy, and can’t you just do it?”   (Believe me, they are not too busy.)  While I waited for them to get back to me I kept adding things and ended up creating the web page myself.  I have not given up though, I am still trying to get someone interested in learning how to maintain and update the web site.

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Chobe – Part 2 of travels with Betsy and Mike

Continuing from where we left off in the last blog post…

We headed back to the Zimbabwe-Botswana border from Vic Falls early the next morning.  We were met by a guide from Kalahari Tours and transported to their base in Kasane.  Another win, the company showed up as promised.  After a nice breakfast that included real coffee and Botswana donuts (a fat cake in the shape of a donut with a little powdered sugar on top), we joined about 20 other folks for a Chobe River Cruise.  It was a beautiful cool breezy day.  The boat was a double decker pontoon with two guides.  Betsy was always fascinated with hippos as a child, and I hoped we would see a few.  Not only did we see a few, we saw many, many, many.  Large clumps of them in the water and a couple grazing on Sedudu Island.  We saw crocodiles galore and water monitor lizards that look like prehistoric animals, as well as a few elephants, all different kinds of antelope, buffalo and beautiful birds.  Best of all for me, was watching Betsy and Mike spot wild animals and marvel with glee at what they were seeing.

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