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

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…

08.23.09 gaborone

Posted in personal by stuart sia on August 29, 2009

I HAVE INTERNET, and its great. I finally gave in and signed up for wireless internet in Gabs and I am now officially connected to the rest of the world. That’s my big news for the week.

I’ve been in Gaborone for a week and a half now with the other Life Skills and NGO volunteers, and it’s been good. We went to a restaurant/bar/club called the Bull and the Bush last Saturday. I had an amazing calzone and danced until 1 am. Good times with good people.

It’s Tuesday and the counterpart component of the workshop has begun. My counterpart, Thuli, arrived last night and its been great catching up with her. Today we discussed our expectations of each other and what we hope for me to accomplish in these next couple years, and the discussion went well. My two-month assessment of Mogobane has given me a lot to think about, but I’m choosing to focus on a couple in which I can really make a difference.

To summarize some of the issues we face in Mogobane Community Junior Secondary School: low grades, low rate of promotion to secondary school, alcohol abuse, truancy, and teenage sexual activity.

IDEA 1:

The Life Skills Curriculum developed by the Ministry of Education aims to address such issues. And although the Guidance & Counseling Department of each school has been mandated to be the “vehicle” of this curriculum the Ministry of Education has been wise to acknowledge that Life Skills are neither measurable nor something that must necessarily be “taught.” That is to say, Life Skills (such as assertiveness, high self-esteem, confidence, interpersonal communication, etc) can and should be taught in a variety of settings; hence, the concept of “stream-lining” the curriculum.

The Ministry has now charged all teachers to implement and integrate the Life Skills Curriculum into the regular curriculum. I am a fan of the concept but a critic of its implementation.

In a nutshell, the teachers have the resources to integrate Life Skills into their individual curriculums. The issue, however, is that the resources are not easily accessible and many of the teachers aren’t actually trained on how to use those resources. And what I mean by “accessible” is not that the resources are not there, but that they are not easily utilized. As useful as an abstract discussion of Life Skills is to understanding the importance of Life Skills, it is less so for the teacher who must construct her or his lesson plan from scratch. How does an agriculture teacher promote assertiveness skills? How does a math teacher promote decision-making skills? Although not impossible, it is, admittedly, challenging.

I want to make it easier. The teachers at my school are stretched thin as it is, with 20 teachers filling the committees and the roles normally filled by 50 to 100 teachers in larger schools. Lesson planning is time consuming, and it is not always easy to be creative. If I can make the Life Skills resources provided by the Ministry more subject specific, I think the teachers are more likely to utilize them.

IDEA 2:

Most of what is learned in life is learned outside the classroom. While it is not a bad thing to address such issues in the classroom setting, it is negligent to not address such issues outside of it.

My school is small: it numbers about 200. The great thing about a small school is it offers more individualized attention and an intimacy lost in larger schools. However, this also comes with a poverty of resources and opportunities.

I want to give students opportunities to build their self-esteem, to develop interpersonal skills, to have their efforts and successes recognized, and to feel a sense of ownership of their school.

There is unfortunately a poverty of such opportunities in my school. In conducting appreciative interviews with several of the teachers, I tried to find out what sort of student clubs and activities our teachers have the knowledge, talent, and interest to run. And I would also like to find out the sort of clubs and activities the students themselves would like to see at their school. What I ultimately hope to establish is a variety of student-initiated, student-lead, and subsequently sustainable groups, whose activities are guided, recognized, and appreciated by teachers.

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