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Namibia, 16 days and GLOW camps oh my!

How the hell is it already 2016!? WHAT! Craziness. Time is flying and crawling at the same time and I’m still trying to figure out how that’s possible.

I would apologize for my lack of blogging but I kinda figured I’d spare everyone my cranky ramblings until I actually had something to say. And I don’t even know if I actually have anything to say or if I’m just dying of boredom on my layover back to Bots and its somehow making the words flow. *Edit: I’ve been trying to post this for over a month and a half but this goddamn Botswana wifi is ruining my life.

The first few weeks back after my security incident were hard. Like really hard. Like way harder than the first few weeks in Bots ever were. I got by with a little help from my friends (and a lot of help from Peo). Life was pretty slow with a lot of downtime (more than usual) to think about what the hell am I doing here? Honestly, some days I still don’t know the answer. And then life got more exciting (for a period of time)

NAMIBIA

The last week of October, we took a much-needed vacation to Namibia! And it was amazing. So amazing. We all crammed in the van and started on our hella long journey through South Africa and up into Namibia. First stop: Fish River Canyon! It was so big. And so beautiful. It is commonly referred to as “The Grand Canyon of Africa” and I’ve never seen the actual Grand Canyon but FRC was pretty damn cool. We did some camping, exploring and sundowners. After surviving on PBJ and whatever other foods we brought for all of a day, we got hangry and ventured to a nearby lodge (aka a lodge literally in the middle of nowhere) and found the biggest cheeseburgers and the yummiest cheesecake I have ever eaten. It was basically heaven. After two nights at FRC, we continued on our journey to Soussusvlei. And what a journey it was. We had some hiccups. And by hiccup, I mean the roads in Namibia are the worst and we had a minor accident resulting in the loss of our trailer and then having to pack the car full of dirty Peace Corps Volunteers, our bags, camping shit and food. The first place we found to stop after that, we naturally ran for meat pies and cried for joy drinking 40’s in the desert. After setting up camp, we set off to see the dunes. I hate walking on the sand at the beach so I don’t know what I was thinking that climbing sand dunes would be fun. But they were incredibly beautiful. Pictures don’t even do it justice, at all. So worth the traumatic car ride. Realizing you can only stare at the dunes for so long, we cut off a night at the dunes and added an extra night in Swakopmund. I think Swakop might be one of my most favorite cities I’ve been to. Its this cute, quiet little German/African town on the coast. I mean, just being a beach town is enough for me to love it. We ate so much yummy food and went on adventures camel riding, quad biking the dunes and everyone else went sandboarding but being the pussy I am, I took one look down and said HELL NAH. But watching them wipe out from up above and seeing the ocean on one side and the sand dunes on the other was still pretty great. We got classy and went to dinner on the pier and it was so dreamy. I think I could live out there. Okay, maybe the only problem with Swakopmund is that it was SO COLD and so rocky on the beach. Like hello, can I get a little sunshine!? From Swakop we took the tar road to Windhoek for Oktoberfest, which was the main reason we planned the trip in the first place. When we got in, we had dinner at this cool place that served all kinds of cool game meats and beers. Being the picky eater/pain in the ass I am, I stuck with a big ol steak rather than anything too exotic. It was still delicious. After dinner, we went to see BOYZ TO MEN and it was so fantastic. Who knew they’re still a thing? The Namibians knew. Apparently all of their fans are in Namibs and they went ape shit, they were so excited. It was so awesome. Those old dudes sure can sing. (And what part about getting white girl wastey with your besties and singing “I’ll make love to you” doesn’t sound like the best?) We brunched the next morning and were all on the struggle bus but put on our big girl panties and headed to Oktoberfest! It was super fun. Beer, pretzels, beer, music, big beer mugs. It was great. RIP big beer mug.

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Babes & Fish River Canyon

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Supply Chain Management

After a few days in the village catching up on as much Peo snuggles as possible, we headed to Gabs for another round of Supply Chain Management training. But this time we brought counterparts! It was awesome getting to know my counterpart better at the workshop and planning ways we would implement SCM back at the clinic. And not to mention how great it is having air con, showers and Americans to hang out with.

BROOKIES

On the in between days of SCM and MST, another volunteer and I spent the weekend in my village snuggling Peo, screaming in fear of thunderstorms and baking brookies til we got tummyaches. Weekends like those are my favorite. But after bringing brookies into the clinic, I’ve created a bunch of brookie monsters and I’m obviously the worst and haven’t made more (sorry I’m not sorry)

MST

Mid Service Training – WHAT?! Weren’t we just getting off lockdown to go to IST? Shit is crazy. MST was actually probably my favorite training so far. Our group is much smaller which makes it less overwhelming to be all together but also sad seeing how many faces we’re missing. It’s crazy to think the next time we’ll all be together will be at Close of Service Conference WHICH IS IN 6 MONTHS! WHAT?!?

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16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence Campaign

I’ve been so excited to do something with 16 Days since I first heard of it at PST, and in the events of the last 6 months I was even more excited after seeing how much a campaign like this is needed in Botswana and all over the world. 16 Days is an international campaign raising awareness against Gender Based Violence. It goes from November 25 – December 10. In Botswana, we do a purple ribbon campaign in which you wear a purple ribbon to show that you are personally taking a stand to prevent and end Gender Based Violence, as well as agreeing not to commit acts of GBV. Of course it started the last week of school so it was kind of crazy organizing time to meet with the schools. We actually ended up doing our 16 Days activities at the Junior school before the campaign officially started. I coordinated a meeting with a teacher friend to attend the morning staff meeting and do a brief presentation on what GBV is and how teachers can help students affected by it. I was pretty sure everyone’s eyes glazed over the entire time I presented but I think that’s just how they are. When the School Head asked to talk to me after, all I could think was “oh great, he’s pissed I put his teachers to sleep” but actually he wanted to schedule an assembly to meet with all of the form 1 and 2 students about Gender Based Violence because he recognizes how important it is to talk about this (SCORE!) I was so excited after our meeting to talk to the teachers and hear their interest in signing the pledge and working with the students. And I was even more excited when we met with the kids and they were basically tackling eachother to get ribbons because they were so excited (is it the free stuff, the crazy ass white girl or because they actually care? I don’t know, I don’t care) and what was even more exciting was returning to the school the next day (the official kick off of 16 Days) and seeing a sea of purple ribbons! And then continuing to see all of the ribbons on the students as they came into the clinic or were walking home (or whatever they do) and they were equally as excited to show me they remembered to wear it. Everyone at the clinic was also equally as excited to wear their ribbons for the 16 days. Each morning, we started with health talks on GBV with the patients while they waited to be seen. And even when I wasn’t there, the nurses still did it without me! 16 Days was really exciting. I wish I would be around for it this year in the village, but America (or wherever) is calling my name. AND America needs some serious work in the area of raising awareness on GBV too.

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BotsFamThanksgiving & GLOW Camp

We spent our second and final Thanksgiving in Botswana all together – turkey and all! It was delicious and really great to all be together. Following Thanksgiving, we ran a GLOW (Guys/Girls Leading Our World) Camp in Palapye. Luckily, all the sessions for the camp were written up in a GLOW manual by some of the other volunteers so basically we just had to figure out who was doing what, familiarize ourselves with the session content and hang with the kiddos. Of course it didn’t all go without mathata (that’s a story for another day and probably not very goal 3) but none of the hiccups kept us from the camp running mostly smooth. I love when kids participate and when you can actually have a decent conversation with them, and most times I find the girls are usually the ones willing to engage but this time the boys at the camp were the most chatty and involved. We talked about decision making, puberty, gender based violence, condom Olympics and everything in between.

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Another ‘Tswana style Thanksgiving!

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GLOW Camp babies!

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Girl Talk

Long story short, we’ve been trying to organize some health talks at the library with the students after school and for several weeks we failed, and then one afternoon I accidentally went there (I had literally given up on these damn talks) and found a bunch of kids interested (where the hell have you been every other Wednesday!?) Of course the boys stared at me and refused to speak so I sent them on their way and was left with a small group of girls dying to have someone to talk to. I asked them what they want to talk about and IMMEDIATELY (most times getting kids to answer is literally pulling teeth) the girls were like “Masa, we want to know about menstration” I was slightly taken aback and trying to figure out what to say to them but also weirdly overly excited to talk periods with a bunch of preteens. It kind of blew my mind when the students told me they get a one hour talk on puberty in a mixed sex group and that was it. (It has also inspired me to somehow get involved with the school and clinic to make a health education curriculum for the primary school but we’ll see how that goes) It also blew my mind that these girls had no one in their lives that they could talk to about girl stuff – not mom, grandma, female teachers, no one. I think talking to me about periods was like one of the most exciting things for my mom, she even got me this American Girl book about periods. I guess I’ve just always taken it for granted how lucky I am to have a family that likes to talk about anything and everything. We talked about what is actually happening in our bodies to what to do if you accidentally bleed in your skirt (really my answer would be die of embarassment but I made up some bullshit to make them feel like it wouldn’t be the end of the world) I can’t wait for school to be back to get more involved with the kids. It’s a pretty cool feeling being the person that kids trust and know they can go to with questions or if they need help.

HOME

I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about being home for the holidays after spending a few weeks at home over the summer but I was hoping being home for a happy reason and for less time would be alright. Being home is the strangest feeling. Its kind of like you never left and like your entire life in Botswana and the Peace Corps has just been a dream. I don’t even know how to describe it. It kind of feels like you’ve just been on pause while everyone else is settling into their real jobs, moving out, becoming more obsessed with their significant others, having babies and just totally growing up and at home. And everything you’ve seen and experienced is more than you can possibly explain; especially to that most awful “how’s Africa?” question that always makes me feel like I have everyone’s eyes rolling back in their skulls, but yo homies don’t ask if you don’t really want to know. And also, Africa is a fucking continent – ask me about Botswana. End rant (for now).

Stay thirsty ditsala same.

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Dad’s visit to Botswana!

It’s a weird feeling – packing whatever you can fit into 2 bags, 100lbs to take 8,000 miles away for two years and saying goodbye to your life and loved ones. You may have a plan to come visit home or have loved ones visit you during your Peace Corps service but you also just don’t know for sure because sometimes life just has a habit of getting in the way. I left for Peace Corps hoping I would be fortunate enough to come home 16 months into my Peace Corps service for Christmas. When I got the news my father was planning a visit in June, I could not have been more excited. Pacing around my house, telling P how excited I was, looking up travel plans for his visit. I started a countdown in my phone. I was an anxious mess. Not only was the idea of getting to see my father after 10 months exciting, but it is really amazing to be able to share a part of my world with my loved ones. Facebook, Instagram, blogging, phonecalls, etc just don’t quite do it justice. Until you’re able to walk around my village, see Katlo’s smile in person, experience the way I live, interact with my community – those are just things you can’t understand til you arrive in Botswana. Hope you all enjoy the photos of our trip as much as we enjoyed being together!

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320 days and we are FINALLY reunited! 🙂

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There is nothing cuter than when your smallnyana bestie and your dad have a bonding moment playing balloonies.

Destination #1: Nata Lodge

Destination #1: Nata Lodge

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Nata Lodge

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Drive on the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans!

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Dad learning to take selfies with the forward facing camera – GAME CHANGER

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Makgadikgadi Salt Pans!

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Sunsets & salt pans

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10 months in Botswana and FINALLY saw an elephant! Just boppin around on the side of the road.

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En route to destination #2: Kasane

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Crikey!

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Boat cruise on the Chobe river!

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Sunrise on the Chobe river

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Chobe National Park game drive selfies!

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Destination #3: Victoria Falls! One of the seven natural wonders of the world

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PONCHO LIFE

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SOAKED

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Indian food date night!

Indian food date night!

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Destination #4: Elephant Sands

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Is there anything better than happy hour and elephants?

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Destination #5

Destination #5

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home is where your cat is

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My wonderful landlady, Mma Monyatsi, my sweet Katlo, and daddy!

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Embracing the village life and doing all of our laundry!

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and learning how to share meals with Queen P

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Someone was quite popular with the kiddos in my village

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Just your average game of tackle frisbee

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Destination #6: Khama Rhino Sanctuary with my girls!

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Destination #7: Serowe! American family meets Botswana family

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Destination #8: Maun! So lucky to have all my Bots besties together to meet my dad

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Tswana style 4th of July!

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What better way to celebrate America than a booze cruise on the Okavango Delta?

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I am forever thankful for the two weeks dad and I spent road tripping around Botswana. Ke a go rata thata.

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To The People Who Always Want To Be Somewhere Else

Thought Catalog

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This is for the people who can’t sit still.

Not in a literal, physical sense but in the intangible, universal scheme of things. This is a tribute to the people who are eternally focused on the next place, the next move, the next destination that will entice and compel them once they’ve tired of where they are. It’s for the people who seldom give the present a fighting chance because the future is so much more alluring. This is for the people who have an infinite attraction to what they have not yet discovered.

This is for the curious people. The ones who never stopped questioning where else and when else and what else they could become. The ones whose minds deliver a never-ending highlight reel of ‘What ifs’ and ‘Where else’s.’ The ones who wake up at 3am to pen down the next great idea or jumpstart the next…

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May 2015

I have written and rewritten this post and I can’t seem to get it right I can’t seem to make it flow. I can’t seem to get my feelings into words. Maybe because I try writing on the days I’m in a really bad mood or a really good mood, because days in between are hard to come by. While April felt like a month of life coming together in Botswana, May felt like a month of coming undone and questioning my purpose here. These feelings come and go, the highs and the lows of Peace Corps are like none other. I feel completely out of control of my own emotions more often than not, and I don’t like that.

There are so many days I question what the hell I’m doing here and if I’m making a difference or if it’s even possible. On those days, I find it difficult to leave my bed and leave my house. I want to curl up in a ball. I lash out. And then there are the days I am reminded of why I’m here. While feeling particularly shitty about having my GRS sessions not work out for a little over 2 weeks, I went to the school to visit the 7a class to remind them to come to GRS. I walked in the classroom and was greeted by 36 smiling faces cheering and clapping to greet me. I completely forgot how cranky I was with my counterpart for not showing up to GRS, for All Vol taking me away from the kids, for missing the earlier bus when coming home from Peo’s surgery. And I was reminded how much I enjoy those kids. How much I missed their smiles. How much I even missed bitching at those preteen boys for their awful behavior. And I remembered why I am here. If these GRS sessions can prevent one of these girls from getting pregnant at a young age, or one of those boys from committing acts of GBV to their future partner, or one of those kids making choices to not get HIV; I will have done something to be proud of. I have realized that the relationships I have with these kids and with the people in my village will be what I cherish for years to come when I am back in America wrapped up in all of my first world problems. I have come to accept that building a library or some other extravagant event in my village is just not in the cards for my Peace Corps service, and I am okay with that. And I am so excited for the volunteers that do.

To quote our wise Country Director, Tim, “As Woody Allen once said, ‘Eighty percent of success is showing up.’ I don’t know if Woody learned that from a Peace Corps Volunteer, but he certainly could have.” Somedays this quote angers me deep to my core because I am showing up and nothing is happening. But I have come to learn that showing up truly does make a difference. Just showing up and making it known you are around builds trust and relationships which is what you need to start these serious conversations.

At All Vol, one of the sessions was “Fail Fair” where we all got together to talk about the ways we’ve failed. And while that sounds depressing and discouraging, it was just what so many of us needed. It’s nice to know you’re not alone in that feeling of failure. It’s also a nice reminder that Peace Corps literally knows, expects and accepts your failures. Its all a part of what we signed up for. AND THAT’S OKAY. I don’t care what country you’re in, how many years you’ve been here, we have all felt like that. And if that’s not re mmogo, I don’t know what is.

All Vol also gave us a reminder of the importance of goals 2 and 3 in our Peace Corps service. We get so wrapped up in goal 1, that we forget how equally important the other two goals are and how much goal 2 & 3 work we do without even realizing. These goals include teaching Batswana about Americans and teaching Americans about Botswana. This is something we do in every conversation we have, and don’t realize how important it is. Letting Batswana know that America is not like MTV and we are not the Kardashian’s and no, we don’t know Beyonce or Chris Brown and that we have HIV and lots of problems too is SO IMPORTANT. And telling our friends and family and students in America about Botswana and the culture and traditions and what life is like here is so important to break the stereotypes of Africa; whether it’s informing everyone that Africa is not a country, how far we are from Ebola to showing them what life is really like living in a developing country.

Maybe it’s the scorpio in me, but I am a green eyed monster. And sometimes hearing about all of the wonderful things my fellow PCV’s have accomplished makes me want to rip my hair out. But All Vol provided an opportunity to not only learn from one another but also to be inspired by one another. I have taken away so many ideas that I can’t wait to implement in my village, and I would never have been able to do so without the help of my fellow volunteers.

So, anyways! Update on life as of May:

May marked 9 months in Botswana, and 1/3rd of the Bots15’s Peace Corps service being done! It’s a weird feeling of accomplishing so much and so little at the same time. From getting together for girls weekend in Maun to projects coming together (and coming apart) to our All Volunteer Conference, May was a month of “Re Mmogo” (we are together)

  • Cinco de Mayo Girls Weekend fiesta! We decided to celebrate Cinco de Mayo by having a girls weekend the 3 day weekend the first week of May. On Friday night, we enjoyed a fiesta of mojitos, tacos, pin the tail on the donkey, and a pinata! We spent Saturday relaxing and ended the day by the pool. These ‘Tswana style holidays just keep getting better! I cannot imagine Botswana without these girls and the constant support they offer.
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Pinata! Handmade by the Maun girls!

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not to name any names, but someone (ehhem, Parkers) is not pictured because it ended all the way over on the window lollll

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  • Pen Pals! After trying to coordinate a pen pal program with the schools to do some letter and cultural exchange (and goal 2 + 3!), I was beginning to give up with the lack of agreement to work with. And then Flat Stanley came to GRS and the kids thought I was crazy BUT he inspired us to write letters on our own without the involvement of the school. I was actually surprised how many kids wanted to participate, and unfortunately had to limit the number to only 24 for now. These kids have been my guinea pigs for GRS, and now for our pen pal program! We met at the library and I let them write about anything they wanted, which was strange to them since school is always SO specific here. Most kids briefly wrote about themselves, their families, where they’re from, what they’re learning in school and questions about their new pen pal. Some kids asked for money, balls and books – which I felt uncomfortable about once I read them but that’s what I get for no filter! They were dying to see the faces of their pen pals, so we decorated our names and sent photos to America in hopes to get some in return. The next day I was greeted by “DID YOU SEND OUR LETTERS? DID YOU SEND OUR LETTERS?” And it made me SO excited for the day I am able to give them their responses to be able to see the looks on their faces. By some miracle (I’m quite cranky with the post these days – don’t get me started), the letters arrived safely and quickly to America and the responses are being written. Now the daily question is “So Masa, if you had to guess, approximately how many kilometers til our letters arrive?” The lull between school years in America will luckily not effect us too much since the mail is so slow anyways. And hopefully by next school year, I’ll be able to arrange more classes to participate with more students.

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  • Grass Root Soccer! As I mentioned before, I have been quite frustrated with how GRS is going. But so is life and just gotta roll with it. The last Thursday in May was supposed to be our GRS graduation for the 7a kids but seeing that we are only about half way done, we’ll have to put it off for a few more weeks (maybe dad will be here for graduation!?)
  • Mother’s Day! Mother’s day was a hard holiday to recreate Tswana style because there is only one person you want to celebrate with and she is 8,000 miles away. And when the cashier at Spar handed me a Mother’s day card and I cried in the checkout line, that was a sign to go home and binge on chocolate. I miss that crazy woman!
  • PACT Club at Rams JSS! I attended my first PACT (Peer Approach to Counseling Teens) Club meeting at the JSS and I was so excited and so nervous and not sure what to expect. To put it gently, the first meeting was not what I was expecting and I was not excited to go back for a number of reasons. Then I missed the next meeting for All Vol, and was dreading the next meeting I was home for. But I am so glad I went. When I arrived at the school, the classroom was locked and the teacher told me she is not around and to come back the following week. And then a group of PACT members approached me to ask if I’m here for the club and to follow them. The teacher wasn’t there, and the kids still had the club meeting and were focused. As a teacher, I was shocked and impressed and knew I picked a good day. The topic of the day was a debate on looking at behavior and discipline between boarders and non-boarders. Without their teacher, we were able to have such real discussions. I was so impressed with these kids the entire time, and I cannot wait to go back. From teen pregnancy to drinking in the dorms to discussions on why the school encourages them to practice safe sex but won’t let them leave to go to the clinic for condoms, we had amazing discussions. I have been looking up various resources all week to prepare for the next meeting. At the end of the meeting, I asked the kids if they had any questions or if there was anything else I could do for them and one of the girls raises her hands and requests I come to the school on Saturdays for aerobics classes. My first instict was to laugh and say “is that a fat joke” but the other kids were immediately intrigued so I said yes. I am all for providing the kids with opportunities to stay busy, active and out of trouble. The girls lasted 2 minutes of jumping jacks, 30sec of high knees and 30sec of butt kicks and they were exhausted and called it quits. Needless to say, FAIL. I guess their idea of aerobics class and mine are quite different. I had a moment of wishing I kept the Richard Simmons tapes we did in college as a joke, and then after meeting with them I realized that would have been perfect. Maybe next time. We spent the morning talking, singing, dancing and laughing. These girls are so incredibly talented. I wish I had recorded them singing. I mentioned how it reminded me of Pitch Perfect and one of the girls agreed and said lets do that! So now we are on the hunt to find the movie to watch together for our next “aerobics” class.
  • All Vol! Peace Corps Botswana was fortunate enough to be able to have the 2nd annual All Volunteer Conference, 3 days where all of the Bots14’s, 15’s, extendees, PCVL’s and staff were able to come together. The theme of this years All Vol was “Re Mmogo” which means “we are together” to bridge the divide between volunteers and staff, and mistrust between volunteers. We also welcomed Ambassador Miller and his family and his excellency former President Mogae (the man who invited PC back to Bots!) to a dinner gala. Honestly, I was not excited for All Vol. The rumors and the bullshit that has gone on between PCV’s was worse than anything I experienced in high school, as a high school teacher and even as a cheerleading coach. I don’t play those bullshit games. But luckily, we were all able to come together for a nice conference, despite a few hiccups with accommodation and whatnot.
"A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you." Elbert Hubbard

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” Elbert Hubbard

Palapye//Serowe//Rams Fam

Palapye//Serowe//Rams Fam

Today, June 1, marks 200 days until I am on a plane back home for Christmas! I cannot wait.

Ke a go rata.

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21 Incredible Life Lessons From Anthony Bourdain On Life, Relationships, Travel And Most Importantly – Food

Thought Catalog

Anthony Bourdain's Facebook Anthony Bourdain’s Facebook

I first read Kitchen Confidential several summers ago when I bored one sunny afternoon lazily browsing a downtown library. I had seen Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations and enjoyed the show but it wasn’t until I started reading his books that I felt a true connection with his words and philosophy on the experience of eating and traveling. Over the weekend I’ve been revisiting some of Anthony’s most well known quotes and wanted to share some of Uncle Tony’s wisdom. Here are 21 of his best lessons.

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“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.”


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“We know, for instance, that there is a direct…

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“Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep alone under the stars. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here.”
Eve Ensler