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

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.

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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.

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.