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

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.

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

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.