"I am certainly not one of those who need to be prodded…"

02.06.11 mogobane

Posted in personal by Stuart J. Sia on February 6, 2011

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.

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09.28.10 mogobane (inside my house)

Posted in personal by stuart sia on September 29, 2010


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.

02.21.10 holiday updates (tsetsebjwe, francistown, sowa, etsha 6, shakawe, maun, windhoek, swakopmund)

Posted in personal by stuart sia on February 21, 2010

TSETSEBJWE

Took 8 of my students to Camp GLOW in Tsetsebjwe on the Tuli Block adjacent to the South African border. The bugs were insane. The showers smelled pretty terrible due to their proximity to the pit latrines. I don’t think saying they smelled like death does their pungency justice. But the kids had fun, and that made it all worth it.

We (the volunteers) decided to put together a dance number for the talent show. Our song of choice: Single Ladies by Beyoncé. We redefined awesome that night. The booty slap became very popular with the kids, an unintended consequence of our performance. To this day, my GLOW students like to end every meeting with a Single Ladies’ booty slap.

Another highlight was the campfire, during which each delegation performed a traditional song and dance from their home villages. Jill and I performed a charming little Setswana love song I wrote. Lyrics will come in a future blog update.

FRANCISTOWN/SOWA (THE “N-EAST”)

Passed through Francistown on the way up north. Stayed with my old friend, Mike. Spent a couple nights in Sowa with Erica and Jill. Single Ladies – Part II was well received.

THE OKAVANGO DELTA

Had Language Week with John, Paul and Tori at Allison’s place in Etsha 6. My God was it hot. It was great to be reunited with my bro (John), though the reunion did stir up some competition; jealous of our camaraderie, Allison and Tori decided to become “bras.” It must, however, be noted that whereas our “brohood” was established on the bond of friendship, their “brahood” was clearly reactionary.

We spent Christmas Eve on the hot and humid Okavango Delta at Heidi’s place in Shakawe. My God was it hot. The rivalry between the bros and the bras continued on throughout Christmas day. Though the bras’ attempts to outshine the bros were positively precious, the bros were the undeniable victors. Brohood can’t be learned overnight, after all. Nor can brahood.

Spent a couple nights in Maun with John at Roberta’s (or, as we call her place, “The Berta’s). Ran into some volunteers at the Old Bridge, a lodge at the riverbank with a good crowd and lively atmosphere. By a stroke of good fortune, met a nice German couple who were heading to Namibia first thing in the morning. It was decided that I would join them.

WINDHOEK/SWAKOPMUND (NAMIBIA)

Left that morning for Windhoek with Lina and Jan of Cologne. They were planning on spending New Year’s in Namibia, though they would ultimately return to Capetown, South Africa where they are studying law. The other happy beneficiaries of their kindness were Danielle and Julia, two Peace Corps volunteers who had just completed their service in northern Namibia. Having begun their well-deserved travels in Zimbabwe and Botswana, they were on their way to spend New Year’s in South Africa via Windhoek. They are at this moment on the beautiful island of Zanzibar off the East African coast, for which reason, I hate them. The four of them made such lovely company, that it seemed silly to alight in Ghanzi as I had originally intended (the plan had been for my friends who had rented cars from Gaborone to pick me up at the junction to Charleshill just south of Ghanzi). I, instead, rode with them all the way to Windhoek, where we spent the night.

That morning, I headed down to the city centre where I killed time at a café, walked around a bit, and bought a hat. My friends finally caught up with me, having spent the night in Gobabis, a town 2 hours east of Windhoek. We departed Windhoek around 10 and arrived at our final destination, Swakopmund, in the late afternoon, where I had my first glimpse of the ocean in over half a year. It was breathtaking.

The following day was spent looking for a man bag (a murse, if you will). Found one, sold to me by a beautiful Namibian girl by the name of Sharon, who, as you will learn, is my great disappointment of 2009. It was a charming affair really. We shared a few laughs, engaged in some witty banter, and ultimately exchanged numbers. She asked what I was doing that night (it was, after all, New Year’s Eve). I informed her I was having a braai (an Afrikaans word meaning barbeque) that evening with some friends, but that afterwards, anything was game, Why, do you have any suggestions? She replied, You should come to the beach; there’s a big party at Tiger Reef. I responded rather coolly, Maybe I will.

That evening we had the braai. Fast forward to two hours before midnight:

My friends and I arrived at the beach bar, Tiger Reef, which was absolutely packed with people. Sharon texted me, and long story short, we tried to find each other and failed. Sad, right? Yes. It was.

In retrospect, maybe she was just trying to sell me a bag, maybe I should have invited her to the braai, maybe I shouldn’t have tried to be too cool for school, maybe, maybe, maybe…

But, although I wish things could have gone differently, I’m not altogether disappointed. It was a fun experience to be back in the game (having conclusively ended my most serious relationship ever a mere few months before). My first half a year in Botswana was overwhelming, to say the least, during which I was stretched to my limits, emotionally, intellectually, and otherwise. That brief two-hour period before midnight, despite its admittedly disappointing outcome, was invigorating. I don’t know if I can articulate why, but maybe it’s enough to say, it made me feel strong, unafraid, and quite simply alive.

So alive, in fact, that the next week was spent sky diving, sand boarding, quad biking, speaking in German and Afrikaans, eating seafood including crustaceans (to which I had, for the past couple years , had an aversion), drinking good wine and beer, and basically being the classic world traveler. For some reason, Swakopmund loved me, and I absolutely loved Swakopmund.

07.17.09 mogobane

Posted in personal by stuart sia on July 17, 2009

Today marks my 2nd week living in my house, and my 4th week here in Mogobane. At the moment there are two men painting my bathroom door. It’s 10:09 on a Friday morning, which means, I ought to be in school, but they wanted me here to supervise, I suppose. Like many day laborers here in Botswana, they are from Zimbabwe and speak Shona, which I’m sure my Swahili teacher, Mwalimu Zuhura, would be stoked about, having studied Shona herself.

My fridge came a couple days ago, and I couldn’t be happier! It’s been great cooking without worrying if I’d be able to finish everything, or if this meat would go bad, etc. My kitchen is now complete, with a stove, refrigerator, and water filter. I just need curtains for the window.

I have two bedrooms, one of which I use mostly for laundry. My bedroom has a desk, a bed, hot pink curtains graciously donated by my counterpart, Thuli, and a bamboo mat (the one I got with Laura at the Game City mall in Gaborone) where I do my exercises every morning and evening [cue gasps and disbelieving shaking of heads from friends who cannot imagine I would have such self-discipline; I’m trying to keep in mind the New Year’s resolutions I made half a year ago.]. I was thinking of putting the mat in the living room, it certainly is large enough, but then I thought, my room ought to be a refuge and a sanctuary—somewhere I feel safe and comfortable. Call me Asian, but I love the feel of bamboo pressing up against my bare feet.

My bathroom has a new door as of yesterday, which is getting a fresh coat of paint as we speak…or as I type, rather. As I reported in a Twitter update earlier, I do indeed have hot, running water, which is a commodity here of which I am very much appreciative. The broken light has not yet been replaced, though I haven’t exactly been pushing for it; I bought a candle last weekend and have been bathing by candlelight every night since. No complaints here.

My living room has a couple chairs, a love seat, a coffee table, an ugly old desk I use as an ironing board when necessary and a corner table for my books in all other instances, another set of hot pink curtains (ke a leboga thata, Thuli) and beautiful pictures of all my beautiful friends all over the walls…the ugly pictures of my ugly friends are in the laundry room…just playing ;) But forreals, I love my living room. It was with careful thought that I put my pictures up in the living room instead of my bedroom. Inasmuch as I wanted my room to be a refuge and a sanctuary, I did not want it to be a hermitage or a hole I would seal myself in. My friends, you are with me in Botswana, in the photographs scotch-taped to my living room walls. Now, if only I could figure out how to bewitch them to move like they do at Hogwarts and the rest of the wizarding world…

Speaking of which, I’m totally bummed to be missing out on Harry Potter fever. But, I think they may be showing HP6 in Gaborone. I know a few Harry Potter fans here who would be keen to check it out. Maybe I should come dressed like Harry Potter…or not…what kind of nerd do you take me for? Jesse Carrasco (a big nerd who works for UCLA Orientation)?

I taught a couple lessons this week. One was on peer pressure (for the Form 1’s; equivalent to 7th grade) and the other was on date rape (for the Form 3’s; equivalent to 9th grade). I love teaching. I love the classroom environment. I feel at ease. And I love talking about this sort of stuff. Walking up and down those aisles, chalk on my hands and my coat, I could have very well been back in Los Angeles with Planned Parenthood’s Middle School Program talking about sexuality with middle school students…except every now and then it would be Setswana that I would have to translate something into instead of Spanish.

The date/acquaintance rape lesson was a particularly important one for me personally and one that I wanted to make sure was taken to heart (see my post entitled “take the high road, and just walk away”). We had a great discussion going, and I tried to illuminate (almost used the word “illustrate,” before I realized that might send the wrong picture…) for them the difference between sex and sexuality, (i.e. sex isn’t the only way to express sexuality) a concept, I think, they were able to appreciate after the discussion. Having decided that dating was certainly one way to express sexuality, and one that did not always lead to sex, I asked, but do some people think it leads to sex? To which they responded, yes. To which, I explained, well that is how date/acquaintance rape happens, when one person thinks sex is going to happen and forces it to happen regardless of what the other person wants.

One thing I was afraid of in approaching this topic was challenging traditional beliefs and values, because in a relationship, traditionally, the man makes all the decisions, even simply whether or not to have sex, let alone the decision whether or not to use a condom. This belief is engrained even in the ceremony of matrimony, where the groom is required to pay a lebola, or bride price, to the bride’s family in exchange for the bride. Of course, I am in no way suggesting that Setswana culture is any more or less chauvinistic than our own American culture (we certainly have remnants from our patriarchal past, some of which are benignly vestigial, but others of which continue to hamper the progress of women today). But, while I feel liberated to openly criticize my own culture, I feel understandably less so here in Botswana.

So, to lead them to the conclusions I hoped they would arrive at, I gave them a brief, annotated history lesson: A long, long time ago, in America, there were some white people who thought they owned black people. Just as I own this book in my hand, and can take good care of it, if I wish, dust it off, if I wish, read it, if I wish, or can step on it, rip out its pages, or burn it, if I wish, so too did those white people feel it was their right to control, command, neglect, and punish the black people they “owned.” [Was that fair?] Now, not all people felt this way. Some white people, despite having the power, despite having the “right,” forfeited that power and that right, claiming (righteously so) that it was never theirs to give up—some notion of “all men being equal.” [Would it have been easy for you to give up such power?] It took a long time for America to learn that all men are equal, that a white man is American, a black man is American, and even someone who looks like me is American. [Did you think I was an American when you first saw me?] And it may take a longer time, still, for us all to learn that all people are equal, because, just as those white people had thought they owned black people, do some men believe they own women? [And as important as it is to embolden and empower women, in the same way people of color have been emboldened and empowered in America, is there a role for men to play?] Speaking to the men in the room: Just as there were brave and righteous white people who forfeited the power the law had unfairly given them over black people, so too can we, as men, forfeit the power society has given us in our relationships.

I rather enjoyed that lesson.

06.21.09 last week of training

Posted in Uncategorized by stuart sia on June 21, 2009

Updates:
I have been placed in Mogobane Junior Secondary School.
It’s in the village of Mogobane, which has a mountain and a dam.
My counterpart is the school guidance counselor.
Her name is Thulaganyo Koti.
I have a puppy.
Her name is Hermy.
My house is small and on a family compound; 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, and 1 living room/kitchen.
It’s mine. So, it’s perfect.

This past week has been crazy. Last Friday, we had our final Language Proficiency Interview (LPI). Last Saturday, we threw a thank you party for our host families. We had our last days of training on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday, we went shopping for house furnishings in Gaborone. Thursday we were sworn in. And Friday, Saturday, and today, we have been parting ways and moving in to our respective sites.

The thank you party went amazingly well. Each of the committees deserves a big thank you for the great job they did. And, of course, Alex Price deserves special recognition for being so on the ball and making sure we pulled off a rocking party. The family loved the food, which was supposed to be American with a Setswana twist, complete with BBQ chicken, rice, and salad. It was probably more like Setswana with an American twist, and the chicken wasn’t really barbequed (unless boiling it, then baking it briefly in the oven counts as BBQ; a creative solution Ric came up with upon discovering the grills had been forgotten). But, hey, everyone including myself enjoyed it, and there was plenty to go around. The talent show was also a hit, with Shannon on guitar, Katie and Luke swing dancing, Meesh walking on her hands, Shelly and Matt juggling, Richard stepping, and a couple of original songs from yours truly.

Wednesday was well needed and well deserved, and the perfect way to cap off training. We got the results of our LPI back. Jonathan, Megan, Kip and I all got Intermediate High. We were pretty stoked. I went shopping with Laura and we found some great stuff. We have nearly the same of everything. She’d find a great deal (e.g. a bamboo floor mat on sale for P89!) and I’d have to get it. Or, I’d find something really useful (e.g. a wide mop with an extendable neck) and she’d have to get it too. We had lunch with Mike, Erica, Amy A., Jeff and Richard at Café Rio. I had the sizzling chicken. We shared some dumplings. We did a little more shopping, and topped off our day with coffee at Mugg and Beans. I was feeling spontaneous, so I indulged myself with a Pedros, which was more of a desert than a coffee, complete with Amaretto and Irish whiskey. It was delish. The entire day was delish. I could’ve eaten it with a spoon, perhaps the very same spoon I used to down my Pedros.

The swearing-in ceremony was long and ran late. But it felt great to be finally sworn in and called “volunteers” instead of “trainees.” As we repeated the oath delivered by Ambassador Nolan, we thusly became Volunteers of the United States Peace Corps. We got little pins with the American and Botswana flags. We ended the day as we end all good (and bad) days: at Lemepe Lodge.

Friday, I left Molepolole for good. It was sad to say bye to my host family. I was so lucky to have them. Thank you Onnie and Edison. You were great host parents. And I will miss you Angel and Richard. Don’t worry; I will visit often.

To dampen the pain, I took someone with me: a puppy called Hermy.

Hermy’s mother is Ferari, a gentle and nurturing mutt, and we believe her father is Picasso, a rambunctious, strong and irresponsible American pit bull, though he’d have to have been quite young at the moment of conception. He’s only eight months old now…maybe he’s just a lucky dog. One could say, he likes the gray foxes. They’re so much more mature and experienced after all.

“Hermy” is short for “Hermés,” the Greek god, who is messenger of the gods on Mount Olympus. The spelling is French. After all, “Stuart” is the French spelling of the old English name, “Stewart”, which comes from “estate steward.” I suppose Hermy isn’t really much shorter than Hermés. And in pronunciation, the two are essentially one, the accent merely implied. In any event, I use Hermés when I am angry or particularly stern with her, and it is in those moments that she knows the accent is there. Perhaps a more appropriate orthographic representation would be “¡HERMÉS!” for when she upsets me, and simply “hermy” for all other instances.

“Hermy” comes from “hermaphrodite.” I cannot lie, however cruel the truth may be. At birth, her sex was questionable. She was, as it were, the runt of the litter. And even still, her genitalia befuddle me. I had thought she was a male with a small penis (For runts, everything comes small, right?). Then, as her nipples became undeniable, I reassigned her as female with a large clitoris (Runts always have some deformity anyway.). The neighborhood boys are certain she’s a male, and have since taken to using the male pronoun in reference to her. I, however, am sticking with “she.” And I’ve exchange one Greek god (Aphrodite) for another (Hermes)…and I’ve thrown in an accent (Hermés)…and as of 5 minutes ago, all caps and a couple of exclamation points as well (¡HERMÉS!).

She is adorable.

And as of this moment, she is licking my small toe…

¡HERMÉS!

06.18.09 swearing-in

Posted in Uncategorized by stuart sia on June 18, 2009

The speech I gave at the swearing-in ceremony:

First and foremost, on behalf of the volunteers being sworn in today, I would like to thank the Government of Botswana and the very people of Botswana, for welcoming us so warmly and openly. In our relatively short stay here thus far, we have already experienced the hospitality and sincerity synonymous with Botswana, and we cannot begin to express how fortunate we feel to have been invited to your beautiful country.

A question I have been asked several times is, why? Why Peace Corps? Why Botswana? Why are you here? Why did you leave? Why would you leave?

I don’t know if I can speak for everyone when it comes to the individual reasons and motivations that brought us here, but I can confidently say, it wasn’t for the money. And really, that is a wonderful thing. I have gotten to know quite a few of these volunteers sitting before me quite well actually, and at the heart of it, what we want most out of these next two/three years is to be useful. It is a simple desire yet one that can seem so daunting at times, especially when words and phrases flow over us unfamiliar, and as we make our way through communities for the first time unrecognized. But, these men and women before me are extraordinary, not only for the knowledge, skills, and talents they possess, but more so for the spirit of service and dedication they bring into the work they do and imbue in the very lives they live, and if there is anyone who can accomplish the simply understood yet less simply manifested desire to “be useful,” it is these volunteers of the United States Peace Corps.

Once again thank you, Botswana. From Shakawe to Molepolole, Ghanzi to Francistown, Kasane to Maun to Middlepits, from the lush, fertile Okavango Delta to the dusty, windswept Kalahari Desert, you have accepted us into your schools, your clinics, your offices, and your homes. We hope the service and support we render over these next few years can repay in small part the kindness and generosity you have shown us.

For many of us here, the decision to come to Botswana was one whose implications were not understood until we arrived, and will perhaps never fully be appreciated until the day we leave. It was a decision we made whole-heartedly and without reservation, and a decision that gives me so much hope for the future.

I have reserved my last few words for the volunteers themselves, so forgive me as I lapse into my mother tongue.

You inspire me. You move me. You continually impress me. I have been privileged to know you all, and I am proud to be counted among you. I have learned so much from you, and will continue to milk your swollen udders of knowledge and experience for as long as we are here in the green pasture that life is (a metaphor befitting a country whose wealth is measured in cows). I know that we, together, will accomplish great things. We will touch lives and effect positive change. We will move mountains. Just as a missionary’s very life is a profession of her faith, so too will the mission of peace be the seal upon our hearts, upon our arms. Some people call these next couple years of ours a sacrifice. But, I think, we’ll call it an adventure.

“And in the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter and the sharing of pleasures, for in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning, and is refreshed.” –Kahlil Gibran

06.13.09 bots 8

Posted in song by stuart sia on June 13, 2009

A song I wrote for the volunteers:

Once upon a time, 61 Americans from all over the country, and really, all over the world, came to a beautiful, warm, and friendly country called Botswana. Leaving behind family, friends, and personal possessions and halting our careers, relationships and our very lives was not an easy decision, but it was a decision we made whole-heartedly and without reservation. We took on Setswana names, were taken in and cared for by kind Batswana families, and committed ourselves to the daunting task of adopting a language and culture rather unlike the one we left behind. 61 lives coalesced into one. This is our story:

There’s Alex boy, and Alex girl, Allison, Amy A, Amy Pappajohn, Annie Rose, Bryan, Carey, Cay, Cherry, Chris, Colin,

Connie, Courtney, Diane, Emily, Erica, Erin, Fatimah, Glenn, Heidi, James, Jeff, Jillian, Joan, John, Jonathan,

Karen A, and Karen B, Katia, Katie, Kelly, Kip, Laura C, Laura N, Lauren, Lisa, Luke, Mary G, Mary H,

Matt, Maureen, Megan, Mich, Mike, Molly, Paul, Phoebe, Ric, Richard, Roberta, Ryan, Sadie, Shannon, Shelly, Sonia, Steffy, Steve, Stuart…and Talya…and Tori…

I’m sorry, folks.
The time’s run out to hear our story,
Because it took four verses
Just to say our names.

We rise up from the dust stronger than before.
And our story is not through.
It’s just beginning,
Thank you.

ghanzi

Posted in Uncategorized by stuart sia on May 13, 2009

I went to Ghanzi last week.

We left early Wednesday morning. I’ve been having trouble sleeping since I got here, not that I slept much better in the States. I’m on some malaria meds called Mefloquine, of which “nightmares and vivid dreams” are side effects. Last Thursday night was certainly no exception, and I was not surprised to find myself waking up around 2 am. That was a couple hours early than I was planning on waking up (I was getting picked up at 5 am), so I went back to sleep. About two minutes later, I woke up to a car horn. Groggy and blurry eyed, I checked the time…4:54!!!

Certainly, not a great way to start my trip, but fortunately, not any indication of how things would go.

We had fairly cushy travel arrangements on the way there. A government combi (an Afrikaans word for van, I think) took 10 of us up to the western part of the country, through the Kalahari Desert. We dropped of Kip and Steve in Charleshill and continued on to Ghanzi, where Laura, Heidi, Glen and I were dropped off. The combi continued on to D’kar with Cay, Cherry, and the Pappajohns on board. Laura and Heidi had an hour and a half of travel ahead of them to New Xade (yes, that “x” is a click). But Glenn and I had arrived at our destination, and those 8 hours of travel were certainly enough for us.

We stayed with Brian, who is working with the DAC (District AIDS Coordinator) for the Ghanzi district. We couldn’t have asked for a better host. We ate and drank like kings.

Menu for those four days:

Wednesday – chicken gumbo

Thursday – steak

Friday – chicken adobo (by yours truly)

Saturday – IMPALA!!!

Yes, I had impala for the first time, and I must say, it was the most delicious meat I’ve ever ripped my canines through.

Thursday we shadowed Brian at the DAC office, learning a little bit about its organizational structure. We went to a conference where he was presenting some statistics, which turned out to be a most interesting and informative experience. The conference was conducted by a faith-based NGO known as TLW (True Love Waits) and attended by several leaders of the community. They were discussing the incidence of MCP (multiple concurrent partnerships) and its contribution to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The discussion took place in Setswana for the most part, so, Glen and I didn’t understand a lot of what was said, but we were able to figure out the gist. There was some fairly heated debate, especially with regard to gender roles and the various cultural customs of different tribes. If there wasn’t an impetus to learn Setswana before, wanting to understand what was being said in this debate certainly became that impetus for me that day. From what I could gather, there was disagreement over the acceptance of older men having multiple partners, some asserting that it was not an accepted part of their culture and some asserting the contrary. Regardless of whether it is or isn’t, was or wasn’t once accepted, they all agreed that MCP is indeed a major contributor to the proliferation of HIV/AIDS and that modernity has made such relationships at least permitted if not accepted. While I do not entirely agree with the abstinence-only approach promoted by TLW, I learned quite a bit about MCP.

For those of you who know me well, you know my disagreement with the abstinence-only approach has more to do with my frank disbelief in its effectiveness (because it frankly is not) than with any disbelief in the practice of abstinence itself. Indeed, it must be noted that abstinence is the ONLY 100% effective way of preventing pregnancy and STI’s like HIV, and this is something we reiterate in Planned Parenthood Los Angeles’s Middle School Program. In fact, we devote an entire lesson (of six) to discussing the several reasons a person might decide to abstain and brainstorming other ways people express their sexuality. While it is my sincere hope that each student is able to identify with at least one of these several reasons (because it is my personal belief that middle school students are much too immature for sexual relationships), the pragmatic and realistic part of me knows that such reasons may not ring true for all students, and that students who do choose to engage in sexual activity should be equipped with the skills to minimize the risks.

The next day, we went to D’kar, a small “village” of sorts about half an hour north of Ghanzi. The land is actually privately owned by a faith-based umbrella organization named Kuru, I believe, who is doing a lot of work with the Naro people. The Naro people (who number about 10,000) are one of the several tribes of “Bushmen” or “the San people” well-known for their phonologically unique “click” languages.

[To briefly explicate on the terms “Bushmen” and “San,” there is disagreement as to which term is acceptable and which is pejorative. Linguists and anthropologists believe the term “Bushmen” to be pejorative in the sense that it connotes a primitive lifestyle and that it is gender biased. That being the case, they prefer the term “San” in reference to the Khoisan language family, of which their languages are a part. But, of course, the term “San” originates from a phrase meaning “one who eats off the ground,” which clearly has perhaps even more negative contexts than “one who lives in the bush.” The debate continues.]

We were able to meet a team of Naro scholars (they themselves are Naro) working on translating the entire Bible into Naro by 2020. They have been essentially working from scratch, creating an orthography to represent the 28 different click sounds and using both Greek and English texts to translate from. One thing they have been doing, which I am so excited about, is teaching the Naro people how to read and write in Naro, which is hopefully instilling in themselves a pride for their language and their people. I have come to learn that there are people marginalized in every society, and for Botswana, it seems to be the Bushmen who experience such treatment. But, I do have hope, and it is inspiring to see much of these efforts coming from within the Naro people themselves.

For our last day in Ghanzi, Glen and I were set to take a swim in a water-filled quarry owned by Brian’s friend, Julian. Julian is a British South African who has lived in Botswana for several years and owns a number of quarries in the Ghanzi region. Being the hospitable man that he is, he invited us to his home for some leg of impala before our adventure to his quarry. We had been planning on eating around 1 in the afternoon, but as it were, the leg of impala took longer than expected to roast, and we ended up eating around 4 instead. The time was well spent in conversation and drinking cider, but we were, unfortunately, unable to visit the quarry. Nonetheless, the meal was certainly worth the wait. What we had was nearly a Thanksgiving feast with, of course, a leg of impala instead of a turkey. The cook was a friend of his, also a South African, whose name escapes me, but whose company I cannot forget. We shared a love for witticism and exchanged wits throughout dinner. Mike, another volunteer, was sharing his experiences in the CKGR (Central Kalahari Game Reserve), to which she quipped, I’m not too keen on acronyms. I chimed in, FYI, neither am I. Cider, impala, and witticism: it was a charming affair.

first week of training 05.02.09

Posted in personal by stuart sia on May 2, 2009

so, i’ve been in-country for about 2 weeks now, and in molepolole for about a week, and i’m doing well. i’m living with a great host family, who have given me the setswana name, “tshiamo”, meaning “goodness” or “righteousness.” i like my host family, and i like the name they’ve given me. i was thinking i should be named “lesego,” which means “lucky” just because i felt so lucky to be placed into such a nice family. but, i like tshiamo. 

i’ve been going through intense peace corps training, which has had its ups and downs. i’m really enjoying learning setswana. i’m in a language cluster with erin, megan, and jonathan of indiana (yes, they’re all randomly from indiana) and we’re “lucky” to have a great teacher, named…wait for it…wait for it…lesego. i’m picking up on it fairly quickly i think, thanks to having learned swahili (asante sana, mwalimu zuhura), and i’m getting a kick out of the phonetics. gotta love those clicks. and those tones can really get you too. you really don’t want to go to town asking for human breasts when you’re really looking for sorghum.

we’re going on individual site visits next week, which we are all uber excited about. i’m going to a place called ghanzi, which is in the western part of the country. it’ll only be about 4 days, but i’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of the country. i’ll be traveling with another trainee, glen, and we’ll be staying at the home of a current volunteer, brian. brian isn’t a life skills volunteer, like i will be, but is instead working with the district AIDS coordinator office. nevertheless, i’m sure it will be helpful to see how he lives day to day and how he’s able to integrate into his community. and, i think it’s always beneficial to understand how other sectors functions. afterall, we are all intertwined in this multi-sector approach to eradicating AIDS anyway.

that has been interesting too, learning about the government of botswana’s approach to this pandemic. for those of you unfamiliar, botswana offers free HIV testing and anti-retroviral medication to its citizens, which is pretty amazing. but even then, there are still institutional and organizational inefficiencies to overcome. and when we take into account the perhaps more fundamental cultural challenges (issues of stigmatization, attitudes towards promiscuity, attitudes towards homosexuality…) ,  we find ouselves in a fairly similar boat as other people fighting the disease elsewhere.