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

05.20.10 updates (mogobane, molepolole, sowa)

Posted in personal by stuart sia on May 20, 2010

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…

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.

12.02.09 october – november

Posted in personal by stuart sia on December 3, 2009

It’s 6:42, late afternoon, the 2nd of December, and I’m in the middle of cooking dinner. I’m not quite sure how long ago my last correspondence was…early October maybe? Surely not as long ago as late September…oh, well according to the archives, indeed it was…forgive me; ke ne ke pitlagane…thata.

OCTOBER:

Visited my counterpart, Thuli, ’s hometown, Gathwane. It was small, quaint, and charming and her mom’s a sweetheart.

Climbed a mountain in Otse with Karen, Phoebe, and the Pappajohns. Wore the same shirt for three days in a row.

Gave recognition to a Form 3 student, the first recipient of the Mogobane Community Junior Secondary School’s Botho Award, an award designed to honor students exemplifying “botho.” Botho is a Setswana word that embodies all the good things one finds in a good person.

Celebrated Annie Rose’s birthday at the Grand Palm hotel in Gaborone. Had a couple bloody mary’s for breakfast. Got sunburned poolside.

Turned my pink bed sheet into a toga for the Halloween party at the Pappajohns in Otse. It was a surprisingly close match with my pink boxer briefs from H&M Chicago.

NOVEMBER:

Traveled up to Maun for a Camp GLOW facilitators meeting. It was beautiful. I came back with a little scar on my forehead from scraping the bottom of the pool. It’s really kind of cool actually.

Celebrated my birthday at the Cumberland in Lobatse with some great friends. Great chocolate cake.

Spent a week at Megan and Jonathan’s in Mochudi for language week. Second birthday celebration with ice cream and brownies. So much good food and so much euchre.

Put on an end-of-the-year program from the Form 1 and 2 students. Had them reflect on the past year and assess their changing roles at the school. Insightful.

Attended a life skills infusion workshop at the Oasis in Gaborone for a few days. For some reason, there were kittens all over the place and they were sinfully adorable.

Participated in a Secret Santa sort of thing with the school staff. I got a wall mirror.

Celebrated Thanksgiving in Mochudi. Helped make the turkey. Brined it overnight in a salt water solution with sugar, bay leaves, and black peppercorns. Smeared garlic butter, rosemary, basil, and thyme underneath the skin. Smeared harissa on the skin. Wrapped it in bacon, and stuffed it with an apple, an onion, garlic, a grapefruit and an assortment of other aromatics. It was savory, succulent, and simply divine.

DECEMBER:

Leaving for Camp GLOW on Saturday.

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!

06.13.09 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.