from a snowy walk in the Rattlesnake, Missoula, Montana

Friday, January 25, 2013

New year, new challenge?

I think that we often forget how bless we are. And when I say "we" I mean, everyone reading this blog. Often we find things to complain about in our lives--traffic, weather, "living pay check to pay check," our friends, our family, the president, etc. We never really take time to think about how fortunate we are. When I live in America, I never feel overwhelmed/overcome with patriotic pride. Being an American is just something that I take for granted. The ability to vote and elect our own president, the ease of transportation, the ease and convenience of banking, going to the grocery store or talking on the phone. Looking at a bigger picture, living in a country where as frustrating at times our government system is, for the most has its shit together. We have rights, civic responsibilities and access to services. Most of the world doesn't live like this.

In my American life, I was very connected to the news, world events, etc. Ever since I have been in Botswana, I haven't had regular access to...well anything. Come to find out, Egypt is still erupting in violent political protests, other countries in the Middle East are facing similar political conflicts. I have been blissfully ignorant.

I haven't been blissfully ignorant of how blessed I am.

Living in Botswana for the past 5 or so months, I am constantly reminded of how blessed I am. At times I get the impression just by "being an American" I have a leg up on things. Which is sad. My nationality shouldn't determine how fortunate I am, it shouldn't determine my fate....but it does. Not all Americans are as fortunate as I. Or as my family is. Or as my friends are.

When I took the Peace Corps oath (btw, very similar oath that the President takes), I took the oath to serve my country. The past few months, serving my country has taken on a new meaning for me. In my eyes serving my country isn't just acting on behalf of my country or defending my country. Don't get me wrong, my baby brother is a Marine and I am SO proud of him. To me, serving my country is comprised of many things, including sharing other cultures with my own. Rather, fitting that I joined the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps has three goals (see below) that governs their mission and every PCV throughout the world.
  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
In light of those goals. I challenge you to take the Peace Corps Challenge. Now, I am not challenging you to join the Peace Corps (but, if you do--thats great!). I am challenging you to track your current spending for a few weeks, then live like a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) and THEN donate your saved money to a charity. (If you really want to make me happy, tell me about your experience!)

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I live like my village does, translation I live on about 8 US Dollars a day. 8 USD a day, is actually a rather comfortable living allowance for the majority world or  as it is more commonly known as "developing countries"

In starting this challenge, decided how long you want to live like a PCV--if you decide to live like a PCV for 2 weeks, monitor your NORMAL spending habits in the US (that includes groceries, electricity, cell phone bills, cable bills.....ANY BILL YOU HAVE) and total the budget. Now, as a PCV, I live off of 8USD a day, so, if you take the challenge for 2 weeks that means your budget will be: 112USD total (yes, total. As in you only have that amount of money...nothing more, no credit cards allowed). 

Just a brief glance into my Peace Corps life. I live in Lehututu--which is about 4 or 5 hours from the nearest bank (and ATM), grocery stores are sparsely stocked, the only vegetables in my village come once a week and consist of onion, potato, tomato and bell pepper, I don't have electricity, my water access is sporadic, I walk every where and I pay for internet access by the megabite and cell phone texting by the message. Get the picture?

For your challenge...I challenge you to live like me. You need the ATM? Walk around for 4 or 5 want to charge your computer? I walk 45 minutes to school to charge, which means once your/my battery dies--no computer, electricity...out of the question--use natural light or candle light. And speaking of electricity, I don't have AC or heat, so turn it off. Bundle up, or bundle down depending on the season. Oh by the way, don't use your fridge either--I don't have one! Test the bounds of food security.  I don't have a car, I rely on hitch hiking, the khombi (tax/mini bus) or walking) if you want to get anywhere--hoof it, hitch it or take the bus...but remember to track every penny you spend.  So, you want to eat? There are no "fast food" options in Lehututu, so plan on cooking everything. And groceries in Lehututu are roughly the same price as they are in the US.   As you can tell, life is different. Very different. Can you take the challenge? I dare you.

No, I really dare you. There are many people living in your own community that live in utter poverty. Homeless and low income citizens are a marginalized population. A population not talked about in the US with is a population of disgrace and stigma. But in the US, when looking at the rest of the world--we view tho
se populations with compassion. Don't forget about your neighbors, your own fellow Americans.

Please, take this challenge. Tell me your stories, if you don't have a charity in mind, I will gladly give you a list of my own favorite organizations.

And above all, remember that we (as Americans, by that right) are blessed. No matter how bleak life is in our eyes, there are millions of people our there who have it worse. Engraved on the Statue of Liberty is " Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me/I lift my lamp beside the golden door."  So please, lift your lamp to the homeless, tempest-tossed--your fellow Americans. 

Never forget what our forefathers, brothers, sisters and parents fought for. As Americans we hold certain truths...."to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Most of all, be thankful, give thanks and give back.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Just call me Miss Rice...

For Christmas, I went to Medie, Katy's village--our friend Amanda came down for Rwanda for the holidays. It was a wonderful holiday vacation, spent with wonderful friends-good conversation-lots of laughs and a few tears. It took me most of the day to get to Medie, on a hot cramped bus rides and an even more cramped hitch on a bumpy dirty road to get to Medie. But worth the journey! We made our Christmas tree--from tree branches in Katy's yard and decorated it with popcorn, flowers, local berries and topped it with a star!

We thought it would be a wonderful idea to kill our own chicken for Christmas dinner. We set out wandering around Medie to buy a "Setwsana Chicken" instead we got a "white chicken" which are tastier! On Christmas morning, Matilda was brought to our door step by village children! In typical IYFD fashion, we said good-bye to Matilda before her slaughter and thanked her for her sacrifice. 

Katy and Amanda saying thanks. We even fed her a wonderful last meal of dried fruit!

Warning...graphic image. Katy held Matilda down, and I had the honor of....making the cut and Amanda was in charge of documentation. Truthfully, its a little traumatic to make that cut. Matilda finally went limp and Katy let go....the next thing we know--Matilda jumps up, wings flapping and started to run around Katy's yard--with her neck half cut off! We were all in shock and little bit of panic...and yes, I think we each had tears in our eyes. Finally, we chased her down and well...had to do the deed again. 

After your chicken is dead, you then put the body in hot water then pull the feathers off, then proceed to de-bone said chicken. Also, I would like to take this opportunity to say...why are we single? Look at us, we can kill a chicken and we are educated (and very smart women) 

We, went even further and cooked over a fire! Motswana style! Most of the Motswana I encounter, don't think that Americans can light a fire--none the less cook over the fire.

I am a the Junior Secondary School in Lehututu, which is a boarding school that houses about 300 students. Our classrooms are large open rooms, with a chalk board and small desks; there are about 50 kids per class. The kids use a pit latrine and go to a stand pipe for water (when we have water). 

Three days a week, kids line up for assembly. This would never happen in America! They line up in rows, like little sardines, sing a religious song and say the Lords Prayer.

The Form 1 students are from Lehututu and from the settlements of Ukwi, Ncaang, Monong and Make. There are 101 Form 1 students, 60 of them are failing--receiving Ds and Es, possible grades are 0-100 (with 100 being the highest). Most of the Form 1 students have little English skills, or Setswana, students from the settlements speak primarily Sekgalagadi (there are many dialects of Sekgalagadi). There are not enough class rooms or teachers in school, so the Form 1s are stuck in the school hall for lessons. I have been teaching Guidance and Counseling classes to all three forms. The kids call me Miss Rice, also when I am walking through the village I hear Miss Rice over and over again.