With my service ending in a little over four months, I find myself wondering, where has the time gone? It’s flown by faster than I ever imagined it could, which is both exciting (in that the number of months between now and when I finally see my family and friends again is countable on one hand) and frightening (trying to figure out if 4 months is really enough time to wrap up my work here). I’m tempted to update on everything since I last corresponded, but I feel that would be overwhelming for the both of us. Instead, I’d like to focus on one project that is at the forefront of my work right now.
At the beginning of 2010, I started working with the Mogobane Disabled Persons’ Committee (MDPC), an organization functioning primarily as a support and advocacy group for people with disabilities (PWD) in Mogobane. One project they had been trying for years to get started is a community garden where people with disabilities can work and thusly contribute to the community. After a focus-group discussion on HIV/AIDS and disability conducted by Colin Pappajohn, a Peace Corps Volunteer working at an organization serving PWD in the neighboring village of Otse, the MDPC established that PWD were particularly vulnerable to HIV infection and developing AIDS due to their dependence on caregivers. Revisiting their momentarily stagnant community garden project, the group decided that the community garden would not only benefit PWD by providing them greater autonomy and increasing self esteem with this avenue to contribute to and be involved in the community, but would also benefit people living with HIV/AIDS in the community (PWD and otherwise) whose immune systems would be bolstered by the nutritional foods produced in the garden.
Phanuel Nage, the MDPC Chairperson, Colin Pappajohn, and I have finally made headway with the project after a year of…extensive research. When I say “extensive research,” I’m referring to the number of government offices we visited, the number of bureaucratic steps we took towards dead-end grants, and the number of miles we hiked searching for an old government borehole that by all reckoning shouldn’t have been altogether too difficult to find, all in the name of this project. Now, I don’t regret that year of “research.” Rre Nage, Colin and I learned a lot in that time that I think has made all of us more capable community leaders and has assured me that we certainly know what it takes to build a community garden.
We submitted a grant proposal to the Peace Corps Partnership Program, which has as of last week been approved! Our donation page is on the Peace Corps website and I’m hoping it’ll been no more than 2 months before we’ve raised the $4755.63 we’ve set out to raise. This ought to give Colin and I a good 2 months to get this garden up and running before the bittersweet conclusion of our service.
For any of you who might be interested in contributing to the project or even simply learning more, we’ve created a website: http://mogobaneDPC.wordpress.com,
and a very short but entertaining video posted on youtube:
Please tell anyone interested in projects relating to HIV/AIDS or disability about our project! Every little contribution helps. If you know an organization that would be willing to hold a fundraiser specifically for our project, please let me know! And of course encouraging words, thoughts, and prayers in our direction are always most welcome as well.
at a book sorting organized by pam shelton of the botswana book project. took place at baobab primary school in gaborone. i got my school library over 400 books! a handful of books for the clinic, and 200 books for each of the primary schools too.
colin pappajohn and kip doran put on a great workshop in ramotswa as the first phase of their south east district movie competition, bringing together professional film makers and youth participants to creatively address the issue of teenage pregnancy. my form 2 GLOW students formed a production team and can be seen here active and engaged in the task at hand: an unfinished script whose story they must finish!
so, after being in botswana well over a year, i’ve decided to finally begin a sincere chronicling of my experiences on video. forgive me for it’s length; i’m new to video journaling. my penchant for editing may suit me as a writer, but it has inhibited my readiness to share more visual renderings of my experience. but that, i hope, will be a thing of the past. expect more videos, and definitely expect more photos.
this is a video of my home in mogobane.
For anyone doing work in development, a short 3-minute video on why focusing on girls may be the most sustainable work that you do.
Just got back from a three-week trip to the Philippines a week ago today, and I think my internal clock is only now finally reoriented. It had been 6 years since I last visited. We had gone for our grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary in Concepcion, Tarlac. We don’t visit often, because plane tickets are always so expensive, so when we do, it’s always precious, and this trip was no exception. And that I was going to see my brother and sister, whom I hadn’t seen in over a year, made it all the more special.
It took me well over a day to get from Mogobane to Manila. Took a khombi from Mogobane to the A1 Junction, a bus to the bus rank, crossed the bridge over the railway lines to the station, hailed a cab to the airport (GBE), flew to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB), had a 2-hour layover, flew to Dubai (DBX), had an hour layover, flew to Manila (MNL) finally arriving in the late evening to find my sister, Stephanie, who had just flown in from Los Angeles, and my Tito Emi and Tita Zeny patiently waiting for me. We drove to their home in Las Piñas, where my Kuya Ronnie was stuck waiting for a conference call, and I had my first Filipino meal in forever. Oh. My. God. I love Filipino food.
The next day, after a sleepless night of catching up with my sister and my cousin, we drove up to Concepcion, my mom’s hometown, and de facto seat of the Castro clan. We went straight to our lolo’s house, where we found our Tita Landa, our cousin Patrick, and, of course, our Lolo Aurelio waiting for us. Throughout that day, we had relatives pouring in and out of the house, some of whom had changed so much I hardly recognized them, some who had hardly changed at all, and others who 6 year ago had yet to be born and whom I was meeting for the first time.
The next week was spent between Concepcion and Manila, shopping, catching up with cousins, karaokeing, just having a great time. It was so great to see my younger cousins, all big now, studying at some great universities in the city. They’re all studying such great courses like management, nursing, dentistry, medical technologies, etc. Patrick has already been working for some time as a nurse at our Tito Dick and Tita Lita’s hospital, and Tosca just passed the board exam, which gave us even more reason to celebrate. I’m just so proud of them, and I know they’re all going to make the world a better place.
Stephanie and I flew out to Negros, a southern island in the Visayas, where most of my dad’s family are living. It was an hour-long flight to Dumaguete, the capital of Negros Oriental, and we were welcomed by our Auntie Luvis, Ate Aileen, Ate Stella, and Ate Mylah. We had lunch at the mall, where we ran into our niece, Stacey, who just finished her studies and is now working. Something interesting to note, in our father’s side of the family, we are the youngest, for which reason a number of our nieces and nephews are our age or even older. We drove out to Dauin where Ate Ai’s parents, Auntie Ipin and Uncle Dudoi, live and we got to meet her super chubby and super cute darling baby girl. We headed back to Dumaguete to our Uncle Lloyd’s place, where we stayed for the next three nights.
We drove up to Vallehermoso, our dad’s hometown, with Ate Ai and Ate Mylah the next day to see our Auntie Gaynor and the old house. We had wanted to overnight there, but only ended up being there for a few hours. The incidence of dengue fever had been on the rise and they were afraid we’d catch it. We drove straight to the elementary school our Auntie teaches at and our dad had once taught at. It’s amazing how similar all of my dad’s sisters are. I mean, I’m sure they don’t see it, but all those mannerisms and manner of speak that I love about my Auntie Jane in Germany (we see her a lot more regularly than we see them), I see in them too. Before heading back, we also got to see Grandma Dolores, who had been our nanny back in America for a few years. She’s related to us in some way, though I have yet to figure out exactly how. She didn’t recognize us at first, but when it hit her who we were, she was so happy. She’s such a sweet old lady, and I’m so glad we got to see her.
The next day was jam-packed with completely unplanned activities. That morning, our Tita Leta came out to see us (we had been planning on visiting her in Bayawan, but we were all so worn out from the long trip to Valle that that wasn’t going to happen). Our Ate Stephanie’s husband was really sweet and took us around Silliman University, the alma mater of our dad and several other relatives, that afternoon. In the early evening, Uncle Lloyd and Ate Stella took us out on their mopeds to the edge of Dumaguete to visit some close family friends of our dad. We ended the evening with Ate Stella again and our Cousin Steve, who took us out for some delicious crispy pata and ballroom dancing. Before heading back, he and I topped off the night with some balut (hardboiled duck fetus). Ate Stella and Steph expressed no interest in partaking.
We flew back the next day to Manila.
Our lolo is so funny. Apparently, whenever he’s hooked up to oxygen, he starts speaking English. He gets very cheeky too. At least, this is what Tita Landa and Patrick were sharing with us when they picked us up from the airport. He had not eaten that morning on account of his medical exam in Manila. Upon being asked by the doctor whether or not he was hungry, he responded, “I’m not hungry, I’m angry! Because you didn’t let me eat this morning!” He was perfectly charming about it though.
His antics carried over into dinner at Kenny Rogers, a fried chicken place. I was daring Tos to drink her ice tea to which I had just added hot sauce. Instead, it was Lolo who stepped up to the challenge, and proceeded to further experiment with other even more exotic concoctions, like mashed potato muffin or fruit cup juice over rice. Tita Landa accused me of being a bad influence…on my lolo…
Our brother, my twin, Scott, arrived a couple days later. We had a party that day at Lolo’s and ended the day shopping with our cousins at the mall in Clark. The night before, I had given our younger cousin, Jamie, a crash course in photography. She was a great student, and we spent a lot of that day taking photos. When we finally got back to Concepcion, Steph and I spent another nearly sleepless night catching up with Scott.
We spent the rest of the week around Concepcion and Manila, seeing family and catching up. Ate Kori and Kuya Ranran took us out with Jamie and Patrick for dinner at a Chinese restaurant and karaoke. It was good to hang out with Ate Kori, she’s been so busy lately, being a mother. It’s amazing the things that change over time, and while it’s a little sad saying goodbye to the past and how things were, it’s exciting to know there are family members I’m going to love so much that haven’t even been born and that I haven’t even met yet. It’s definitely a bittersweet sentiment.
After a couple days of lounging in Concepcion, we went to Manila for Jo’s birthday. Tito Dick and Tita Lita took us out to a yummy buffet, where Scott (on upright bass) and I (voice) ended up performing Stand by Me for Jo.
Our Cousin Raymund, the son of our Auntie Leta and our oldest cousin on our dad’s side, picked us up the next day to meet his family in Rizal. Remember how I said we’re the youngest ones on our father’s side? Well, our Cousin Ray is a grandfather. His family was so nice and had us over for a delicious lunch, and we got to meet his newest granddaughter. He drove us back to Manila, and that evening Tito Fer & Tita Beth treated all of us (Fritzie, Aui, Jo, Chino, Patrick, and Tos) to dinner. We spent the night in Nikka’s room playing…snerds.
The next morning, Tito Fer and Tita Beth took us to Tagaytay, where Jamie and I resumed our photography lessons. It was supposed to be cooler up there in the mountains, but somehow, that day, it was hot and humid as ever. That night we went back to Jo & Aui’s townhouse for some karaoke.
We returned to Concepcion, for one last hurrah. Saying goodbye to Lolo was hard. I remember, 6 years ago, the last time I had to say goodbye, I lost it as soon as I saw Tita Lora crying. I think I was steeled for that this time around, because I managed to hold it together when I saw her. But as soon as I saw Lolo break down, I lost it, and every kind touch, shoulder squeeze, and nod had me in tears.
I flew out that evening at midnight. Jo and Aui sent me off with Elmo to accompany me back to Africa. Our cousin Benedict, Jo and Aui’s younger brother, passed away some years back from leukemia, and Elmo was his favorite Sesame Street character. It’s only been a week since Elmo’s been here in Africa, but I’m sure my cousins would be happy to know he’s already seen a rhino and some baboons. He’s grown tired of my cooking though. I think he misses Filipino food. He’s definitely missing crispy pata.
A short monologue containing 75 GRE words from Group 1 of Princeton Review’s “Hit Parade.” Enjoy.
This is Rhetoric 101. I am your professor, Dr. Anthropos.
Although I cannot stymie those of you who wish to abscond, I wish to disabuse the notion that my lectures are mere prattle. I am sure you will find my insights illuminating. I am, as it were, a rather lucid and eloquent speaker, albeit immodestly so.
[Waits for laughter that never comes.]
Ahem, I concede, there may be no real good reason to believe me versus the reviews on BruinWalk discordant with my aforementioned claim, and I must say I appreciate the magnanimity of those of you resisting the, in my humble opinion, virulent censures against me and the precipitate demands exhorting my termination and fulminating against my tenure. That year was admittedly tortuous, what with my extemporaneous lectures and my sporadic attendance, both of which were due in large part to the untimely synthesis of all things onerous in my life: the dissolution of my marriage to my truculent and irascible wife of 11 years, the noxious book reviews purporting my writing to be “convoluted,” “nebulous,” and worst of all, “obtuse,” once again seemingly refuting my aforementioned claim to perspicacity, and then, there is of course the tragic death of my beloved box turtle, Cecelia; your loyalty never wavered, my dear Cece, and while getting over you may have been easier for your thickheaded brother, Oscar, who took care to satiate his voracious appetite with your torqued foot not an hour after your passing, precious little has assuaged my grief and ennui…
[Pauses a couple moments. Breaks from his reverie, blinking several times, momentarily stupefied by the hundreds of eyes staring at him.]
Sorry, uh, where was I? Ah, yes, the previous year… I must be clear, this…soliloquy, if you will, is neither an attempt to exculpate myself for the previous year nor is it an equivocation to elicit sympathy. That year was aberrant, an anomaly, though part of me does fear it to be a prescient harbinger of even more sordid affairs, heralding the nascent and ultimately perennial dark ages of my enervate life!
You. Your water!
[Chugs down the entire water bottle. Takes a couple deep breaths to calm self. Grimaces.]
No, I expect no sympathy, and have become, in fact, inured to the audacious critiques due to erudite philosophers of learning like myself. Indeed, I suspect the administration of a predilection towards my termination, having responded with an unconventional amount of alacrity to the solicitous feedback of my former students, taking no qualms with extending my administrative sabbatical, and even admitting, upon exploration of all canonical recourses and exhaustion of all administrative options, that they would uphold my contract, albeit “begrudgingly.”
No matter. I desire no approbations. I need not be lauded with paeans of my intellect and genius by lesser, mundane folk like yourselves. And I may sound austere, but I do not care that for many of you in my lecture hall, taking this course is merely a perfunctory step towards completing your General Education requirements! To obviate any inclination you may feel to befriend me, know, I care little about learning the veracity of what motivates you and would much prefer ingenuous, reticent students without the effrontery to visit me during office hours! A bit of advice, the more disparate you are, the more I remember you; the more I remember you, the less I like you; and the less I like you…well, even ignoramuses like yourselves can figure out where I am going with this, so don’t try to be a peacock among peahens, and just try to figure things out on your own, okay?
Now an exigent matter I would like to draw your attention to is your upcoming midterm. According to your Filibus…
[Mouth twitches involuntarily, betraying his amusement and pleasure at his own wit.]
[Raises eyebrows. Looks around the hall.]
Oh, of course you don’t get it, its a neologism, a portmanteau really, of filibuster and syllabus, suggesting a syllabus of inordinate length! Dim-wits…in any event, as I say in the Preface found on page vii of your Filibus, examinations are an axiomatic component of my pedagogical methodology and will, therefore, be invigilated thrice monthly. The calendar can be found in the Appendix, and I would urge you begin your arduous revision soon, lest you be relegated to the lowest echelons of the class. There is precious little time to squander. The examination topics can be found on page 33, though do not take them to be static for they can be as capricious as language and rhetoric themselves are. I understand you may take this to be a prevarication, but I only mean to forewarn that more contemporary examination topics may be drawn from noteworthy news as it unfolds, such as political chicanery playing out at the Hague, the declaration of martial law by a dictatorial regime, the recanting of beliefs by a clergyman disillusioned by his church’s perfidy, or the biting and sharp-witted parody found in the Letters to the Editor section of the New York Times, written, of course, by yours truly.
I had wanted your first midterm to be yesterday, but the department head alleged, rather argumentatively, that midterms must take place in the middle of the term, i.e. not before the term had even begun. Therefore, lucky you, your first midterm is in a week. With that said, let us begin our lecture…
For a long time in our history, people of color were denied the opportunity to fight, and even die for our country. In our vehemently racist past, a seemingly levelheaded argument was made that a person of color would be in physical danger not only from the enemy, but his fellow comrades who couldn’t be expected to see beyond the racial stereotypes and saw people of color as somehow a threat to white superiority. Nevertheless, people of color served, notably the 332nd Fighter Group of the US Army Aircorps (aka the Tuskegee Airmen), the first African American pilots to fight and die for the US, and the 442nd Infantry Regiment of the US Army, an Asian American unit of primarily Japanese-Americans whose families were being interned, which remains the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the United States Armed Forces. The remarkable thing is whereas the desegregation of the American South was issued by force and enforced with the firm arm of the National Guard, the desegregation of the military started by Eisenhower and put into nearly full effect by Truman had the backing of veterans and currently serving military who had come to appreciate the courage demonstrated by the people of color who had fought so valiantly alongside of them, albeit incidentally (God forbid that white soldiers should be forced to fight alongside black soldiers; segregation, fortunately, had ensured this affront to propriety did not happen often). As a follow up to Truman’s Executive Order 9981, Secretary of Defense McNamara issued Directive 5120.36, which empowered military officers to use economic leverage to influence local businesses and ensure that veterans were treated with dignity and respect regardless of their race, religion, or national origin. In other words, it wasn’t civilian society forcing desegregation and equality down the military’s throat, but rather, military officers seeking to protect their own men, and war veterans realizing the injustice of how the greater society treated their fellow comrades.
Similarly, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has the backing of men and women who have served alongside their once in the closet comrades who have since come out as gay. Just last month, hundreds of veterans converged on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress to repeal this discriminatory policy. The education and training one receives in the US Armed Forces is comprehensive, and teaches military men and women much more than how to load and fire a weapon. And beyond that are the lessons drawn from the battlefield, of what really matters, what America really represents, and what is really worth dying for.
The misogynistic enemy we now face cringes at the reality that they are fighting (and losing) to the women currently serving in our military. It is ironic that they are in full agreement with the right wing, überconservatives, who care little for the rights of gay Americans. Imagine their dismay to learn America no longer discriminates against homosexuals and that, indeed, openly gay men and women are among those battalions laying siege to their oppressive rule.
It’s the 20th of May, just four days after the month after the year since I first left Los Angeles.
The new volunteers arrived over a month ago. As a part of the Peer Support & Diversity Network (PSDN), I’ve been in and out of Molepolole, meeting and counseling the trainees. I just had a couple of them (Anna Gianola and Tess Korbesmeyer) shadowing me a week ago, and it’s funny but I already miss them. It was great showing them around Mogobane, and it helped me realize and appreciate how well integrated I am in my community and how well my work is going after all. And beyond that, Anna and Tess are really great people and I couldn’t have asked for better company.
Colin Pappajohn and I have been working with the Mogobane Disabled Persons’ Committee (a support group for people with disabilities and their caregivers) for the past 6 months, assisting them with a gardening project they have been trying to get off the ground. They’ve already acquired a parcel of land from the Malete Land Board in Ramotswa, and have purchased some building materials, but it’s still a long way from becoming a garden. We’ve submitted a proposal to AED for the funds to get the water connected, build a fence and handicapable pathways, and everything is looking good, though we have run into a couple snags along the way. We are still waiting on a quote from the water agency in Gaborone…forgive my language, but bureaucracy is a bitch. And we also need to start up a business account for the organization, which although relatively straightforward, has proven challenging with regard to the schedule coordination of all necessary parties. It’s been great working on this with Colin and Rre Phanuel Nage, the modulasetilo (chairperson), and although the snags along the way have been at times disheartening, c’est la vie. Andrew Sigman from AED has been very supportive of our efforts, and continually reminds me, it’ll all be worth it in the end. We are probably going to have to resubmit our proposal for the next funding cycle, but that’s okay, because that gives us the time we need to become an even stronger organization. Ga go na mathata.
In the meantime, we can get started on the peer-education program. Oh sorry, rewind, okay, so, it was Colin who first initiated contact with MDPC after holding a focus group with them last year. Colin and his wife, Amy, are working at NGO’s and his NGO, Camphill | Motse wa Badiri, works with PWD’s and has been conducting focus groups throughout the southeastern part of the country to find out how to better provide HIV/AIDS related services to this at-risk population. At the conclusion of the focus group in Mogobane, MDPC committed to training 10 volunteers to reach out to PWD’s and their caregivers in Mogobane to educate them on HIV/AIDS and their unique risk as people with disabilities…hence, the previously mentioned peer-education program.
At school, I’m teaching guidance & counseling lessons as usual, though I have since expanded my scope. We have weekly themes every Thursday morning, during which time each of the teachers meet with their “families.” Something unique that we have started at our school is the division of “houses” (the school is divided into two houses, the Gold House and the Diamond House.) into even smaller units that we call families. Each family has about 10 students, 1 member of the teaching staff (teachers, administration, and myself included), and 1 member of the non-teaching staff (cooks, groundsmen, cleaners, etc.). The Guidance & Counseling Committee comes up with themes for the entire term, but I’ve become responsible for drafting short lesson plans for the heads of family to follow. The aim is to give students an even more intimate environment in which to share their thoughts and express themselves.
However, the project at school that I believe has the greatest potential for leaving a lasting impact is the Literacy Programme. Here’s an excerpt from my proposal to Mme Motswidinyane, the School Head:
In light of the previous year’s poverty of passing scores (2009) as compared to the number of passing scores the year before (2008), the School Head of Mogobane CJSS was prompted to explore possible reasons for the decline. This exploration discovered that poor literacy among our continuing students was perhaps the greatest contributing factor to the decline in examination scores. Upon the entrance of our incoming Form 1 students, it was discovered that they too experience a high rate of poor literacy, even higher than that of our continuing Form 2 and Form 3 students.
I go on to further propose 3 phases: Identification of struggling students; Testing for baseline literacy and possible learning disabilities; Remedial literacy lessons.
Right now, we just finally finished up with Phase 2, and seeing as how we’re getting into the 6th month of the year, I’d really like to get those remedial literacy lessons going. As it were, Colin’s mother, Jacqueline Starr, who I had the pleasure of meeting last year in Gaborone, happens to have a background in literacy and has played an immeasurably important role in this project. She has been kind enough to guide me along the way, and I can’t imagine how directionless I would be otherwise.
Okay, so I think those were all the updates I had with regard to my service…
Some snapshots from my life outside of service:
ロ Another memorable language week; this time in Otse.
ロ Playing guitar for the South East District Youth Against HIV/AIDS Day event. My students made me feel like such a rock star with the thundering ovation they gave me. The guest speaker (a news anchor from BTV) had to concede my celebrity nearly rivaled his own, but he was perfectly charming about it.
ロ Running naked amid thunder and lightning on the saltpans of Sowa to celebrate 1-year in country.
ロ Brainstorming a new TV show situated in town hall meetings with my friend, Erica. Go ahead, be skeptical, it’s gonna be a hit! We’re dead serious about this.
ロ Going to a wedding in Molepolole in stunner jeans and leather sandals (like the ruggedly fashionable Californian that I am) with the diva fabulous Irene.
ロ Celebrating “Diez y Cinco de Mayo” at Mich’s in Kanye with comida mexicana, a palate I have for over a year been deprived of. And, yeah, we know fifteen is quince…it’s a joke…relax…
ロ Oh, almost forgot, I have a new nickname that has persisted despite my best protests: Stu-balls…thank you Erica for the neologism, and asanteni sana Tunda na Irene for making it stick…