"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…

my host mom, brother, and sister

Posted in personal by stuart sia on June 28, 2009



host family

Originally uploaded by mestuloveyou

in molepolole

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

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.