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

11.06.10 ramotswa (cinematography workshop)

Posted in personal by stuart sia on November 13, 2010


11.06.10 ramotswa (cinematography workshop)

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!

09.29.09 gaborone, mogobane

Posted in personal by stuart sia on September 29, 2009

Dumelang ditsala! Ke mo ofising ya administration ya sekolo as has become my habit 7 o’clock, every morning, Monday through Friday. I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while. I think its been well over a month now since my last correspondence.

PEACE CORPS WORKSHOP:
To recap where I last left off, ke ne ke le kwa workshopong ya Peace Corps kwa Gaborone. It was a great chance to see ditsala tsotlhe tsa me di di tswa kwa all over Botswana. I got to see the volunteers down south in Verda/Middlepits, far west in Ghanzi/D’kar, northwest in Shakawe/Etsha, up north in Maun, up way north in Kasane, northeast around Francistown, and of course everyone down here in Kweneng and the Southeast District. Don’t these places sound amazing? And what with the all the rain we’ve been experiencing, I know its only going to get more beautiful.

I saw the worst movie ever with Shelly, Mike, John, Jeff, and Luke. It was G.I. Joe, and man was it terrible. But it definitely fell in the “so bad that it’s funny” genre, and it was definitely a good time. I think Jeff liked it more than he cares to admit, but he’s a nice guy so I forgive him for his poor taste in cinema.

I learned Yooker! a card game from the Midwest played in teams. I doubt the name of the game is supposed to be capitalized, and am certain that it isn’t followed by an exclamation point, but its kind of fun that way don’t you think? It’s like Yahoo! though I must admit, I am a Googlehead. My old friends from Ntloolongwae, Mpho le Thabang were eager to teach me, and I finally caved, sat in on a game, and became quickly addicted. Because losing can be demoralizing, some teams will give themselves a name to boost morale when things are going badly. Jonathan and I, unfortunately, found ourselves in this situation. We dubbed ourselves the Liquor Jacket (no plural “s”), or LJ for short, and sure enough, we ended up winning throughout the day. On the other hand, the winning team may, in the mean spirit of competition and spite, celebrate their anticipated win when they’re “in the barnhouse” (one point away from a win) by “milking the cow,” rudely directing the milk into the other team’s faces. For those of you who are familiar with the “awkward cow” method of diffusing awkwardness, it’s exactly that. Jonathan and I tried to do a variation thereof incorporating the LJ symbol we had given ourselves (yes, we had not only a name, but a gesture), but it was unforgivably awkward and I cringe inwardly at the mere memory of it…

I just got a text from Megan correcting my spelling of Yooker! Apparently, its Euchre, which is actually even cooler than Yooker! It almost looks Greek or something.

MOGOBANE:
The Dorans and the Pappajohns visited me a couple weeks ago! They were my first visitors ever, and it was a good time. I made them brunch, which turned out alright, though they insist it was more than alright and, in fact, excellent. I think they’re just being nice. I just found out Colin, who’s working with people with disabilities, is learning American Sign Language! The ironic thing is that the very night before, I temporarily lost my hearing (I was frying rice, and when the crackling subsided, I realized I could no longer hear out of my right ear!), and upon contemplating how great a loss hearing would be for someone like myself for whom music and language are undying passions, concluded that this momentary loss of hearing (I was sure it would come back) was an opportunity to experience, even in small part, what being deaf was like. While a far cry from actually experiencing Deaf culture, the experience did provoke me to learn more about ASL and Deaf culture at large. ASL is a fascinatingly expressive language and has made me acutely aware of the incredible eloquence of nonverbal language.

A man came to Mogobane CJSS on behalf of the Ministry to discuss our opinions on inclusive learning for students with disabilities, and he said one thing that has rung in my head ever since: disability is a social construct. While I have long accepted the idea that race, gender, and even sex are social constructs, I never thought much about disability. But, here in Mogobane, whose roads are not paved but dirt, it hit me how very inaccessible this village must be for anyone with a physical disability. In America, where schools are expected to have wheelchair ramps outside every building and Braille signs labeling every room, physical disability does not imply inaccessibility to and inequality in education as much as it is implied here. It was a good discussion that we had, and I know that through impassioned people like the gentleman from Gaborone and my counterpart, Thuli, equal and accessible education for students with all forms of disabilities will be a possibility here in Botswana.

Since getting back to Mogobane, I’ve been teaching a lot. Nothing new to report. It has been up and down to be honest, but such is the ebb and flow of teaching the youth. Some days, they’re with you 100%. Other days, you wonder where their mind has run off to, and whether they like you or not.

I finally started a choir! We’ve dubbed ourselves the Mogobane Gospel Choir, though we haven’t given ourselves a symbol or gesture of some sort…the Liquor Jacket has kind of ruined that for me…

Like teaching, starting this choir has been no crystal staircase. For starters, the students are great kids, but I don’t think they’re used to approaching singing with the focus and discipline that I expected. Furthermore, for some of the songs, I have distinct parts (soprano, alto, and tenor) I want covered, but they are so accustomed to making their own harmonies, that such direction is, for them, wholly unexpected and is probably something akin to micromanagement. But, I’m accepting that my conception of my role as director of this choir must change, because the reality is that their approach to singing is a beautiful one that I celebrated when I first got here—I cannot forget that.

I had the students select the first part of our repertoire, which now includes six of their favorite songs in Setswana. I am including three American Gospel pieces I learned from Professor James Roberson at UCLA. They’re fun pieces, and I’m excited to hear what my students can do with them.

P.S. I got a cat I never told you about. She was kind of a rebound cat, after my dog died. Her name is Fiona and she ran away. But I’m okay with that, because she was mean. She hissed at me and tried to scratch me. She wasn’t very nice. She’s still my cat though. I just haven’t seen her in over a month…

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.