We have to begin by thanking everyone who donated to our women empowerment project. If you haven’t heard it has been completely funded! We are very excited. Gontle (the woman we’ll be working with) is very thankful and feels this is the best gift she has ever been given. We will be working on the plans with her the rest of this month, hopefully buying the machines in December and starting the project in January. We will send updates to everyone who donated. Thanks!
Last weekend we went to Gaborone for the 50th anniversary party of Peace Corps and 40th anniversary party of Peace Corps Botswana. Every current or former volunteer in the country was invited. We drove down with a man who volunteered here from 1977-1980. Needless to say he has a lot of stories and insight. The party was a blast. We got to catch up with our close friends and Posta-Faced-Killah did a ridiculous job selling jewelry and crafts for people in Maun, which made them a lot of cash.
While we were in Gaborone we stayed with a PC staff member who truly
treated us and a couple other volunteers like extended family. We felt
so lucky to be able to spend time with her, cook meals, relax and
partake in the comforts of TV and live streaming NFL football for Mr.
Moagi! The PC staff/hostess has been in the Peace Corps, so she knows
what we go through and her thoughtful hosting won’t be forgotten. !m
After the weekend we went to Kanye to meet the new group of Peace Corps volunteers who arrived in Bots in September. We did some presentations for them about our experiences, but mainly spent time getting to know them and learn more about where they will be living. Each new group of volunteers grows the Peace Corps family. We didn’t pick our families back home and we don’t get to pick who ends up here. None of these volunteers will be placed close to us, but we’re sure
some will visit before we go.
Finally we spent this past weekend with our host family. We’re sure all of you remember the kind, old woman, Mma Neo, who took us into her home for 2 months when we first came to Bots. Mma Neo’s oldest daughter is named Neo. In Setswana Neo means gift and she is quite a gift to us. Whenever we are in Gaborone, she goes out of her way to offer us a place to stay, drive us around, take us out to eat and make sure we are ok. On Saturday, Neo’s daughter, Laone, who is around our age, got married.
There are a couple of different types of weddings in Botswana. In August, Laone had a ceremony called the lebola. This is a very traditional ceremony that includes the man’s family paying cows, goats and sometimes other animals to the bride’s family. We weren’t able to make it to this ceremony, but most people in Bots really love this tradition. Sometimes families will mix the lebola with a more modern wedding following the ceremony. Other times families have them on separate dates which is what Laone did.
The wedding we went to was modern, but still had a lot of Botswana flair. The church service was all in Setswana, except for the awkward moments when the priest would stop and say maybe the two people in the room who clearly aren’t Mostwana don’t know what we’re saying so let’s translate. The reception was held at a giant resort/casino in Gabs. It was beautifully decorated, had one of the best buffets we’ve ever eaten, open bar, a DJ and amazingly a singer who sounded exactly like Kenny Rogers. We recorded that! It’s also customary for the entire wedding party to do a wedding dance. Mr. Moagi will be in a wedding in December and has to learn a dance, which will be hysterical. This being Botswana there were a lot of toasts/people speaking. About 4 hours of people speaking to be exact.
The toasts had modern themes poking fun at Laone needing to watch sports and her husband needing to buy flowers for Valentine’s Day. There were also speeches a little more traditional thanking each family member and recognizing them with applause. Our favorite moment of the night was when the bride and groom spoke about each other. They gave extremely open emotional offerings to each other in front of about 350 people, which is rare. They talked about being each other’s best friends, which is actually something we have never heard here. Many people were in tears listening to their descriptions and it was really inspiring.
After the speeches we danced the rest of the night as people awkwardly took videos/photos of us on the dance floor. Neo drove us to her house. We talked about the whole day and what it meant to her. That night as we went to sleep we just couldn’t believe how lucky we are to have a family like this in Botswana. I don’t think we could meet people more generous than Neo and everyone in her group. It’s refreshing to spend time with people who care about us in that way. Postah-Face-Killah also pointed out it was nice to see a celebration and not hear the words HIV/AIDS. We do so much work on the issue that it’s easy to forget life goes on despite these problems. And the life Laone and her husband are creating gives us major hope that young people in Botswana are working to change the past, to secure their lives in friendship and provide a positive example to others to do the same. We love our family here! Makes missing our families back home a
Moving into our house, Moagi and I soon met our new neighbors/guards: a family of 4 dogs. There’s the mama dog “Snoopie”, papa dog “Shumba,” and two children Quinn, the baby of the group, and Pantsula. When I inquired into what Pantsula meant, our landlord’s young grandson told us “It is a rocker who causes trouble and wears converse shoes.” Alright, guess that explains it. Throughout the 1 1/2 years we’ve been here, there were also 2 litters of puppies that unfortunately never made it made past 3 weeks. It is this reason we decided to reach out to the Maun Animal Welfare Society (MAWS), to have the dogs spayed and neutered (which is kindly offered for free).
MAWS came to our house on a Sunday afternoon, complete with their doggy car that had 6 kennel-like compartments for individual dogs. The dogs were to be taken and kept overnight for the surgery and returned to us the next evening. The woman from MAWS asked “Do you pick up the dogs?” In America, the answer to this would’ve easily been yes. In Botswana, our dogs are mangy, outdoor pets that “bathe” in the river and only a few months after being here actually let us pat them. The most grooming we do with them is using our household broom to brush them.
Luckily, 3 of the 4 dogs have become very comfortable with us and we had a secret weapon: raw minced meat. We created meat trails for the dogs leading to the vehicle where we’d put one additional piece inside the dog compartment. Each of the dogs trustingly put their paws on the vehicle, as Moagi swooped them in. Pantsula, the converse wearing trouble maker dog was not so easy. To be fair, he seems to have been beaten most of his life and even the slightest movement causes alarm in him. The woman from MAWS kindly tried to work with us to coax the last remaining dog into the vehicle. Showering him with dog treats, the likes he’s never seen before. A half hour and 25 dog treats later, Pantsula still refused. The rest of his family was whisked away as he spent his first night alone in the yard.
Moagi and I were under the impression the dogs were getting the surgery that evening, or at the very least early the next morning. When the car arrived around 5pm the next day, we were exuberant to have our dogs back. This is where we saw the 3 stages of doggy drunk.
Stage 1 Drunk: Shumba (papa dog) was a drunk in party mode. The door to the kennel lifted and he was clearly thrilled to be home, though unsure of the 2 1/2 feet he’d have to jump to be in his yard. Nevertheless, he jumped to the ground tail wagging briskly from side to side, and crookedly walking/running to Moagi and myself, and even up to our landlord. He was licking our legs and nuzzling our hands to pat him, like he was at a club wanting to make out with everyone. This made our Batswana family quite uncomfortable. Shumba had been the first to have the surgery in the morning.
Stage 2 Drunk: Quinn (the baby) was 2:30am after the bars close drunk. When the door to her kennel opened, she looked confused and was like “Oh hell no I’m not jumping down to the ground.” Moagi picked her up and put her on the ground. It was like watching someone who’d clearly had waaayyyyy too much to drink stumble down a sidewalk, making a zig zag pattern and praying they didn’t walk straight into the light pole. Her back legs dragged behind her, functioning about as well as a wasted person’s motor skills. We braced ourselves as she refused to lay down, but instead wandered drunkenly around the yard. Quinn had the surgery after Shumba.
Stage 3 Drunk: Snoopie was passed out drunk. The door lifted, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t hear a damn thing. Moagi picked her deadweight body up, and placed her on a towel on our porch. She remained there for 7 hours, only occasionally lifting her head as if to check where she ended up after her big night out. When we put a bowl of water right up next to her face, knowing what was good for her, she guzzled it. Snoopie was the last out of surgery.
We are very grateful to MAWS for spaying and neutering our dogs, and providing some great entertainment! All the dogs have fully recuperated and are back to barking at random people, sleeping on our porch during the peak heat, and begging for food. Pantsula has yet to be neutered, but his time is coming….
By Mr. Moagi and Posta-Face-Killah
Hello! Is anyone still reading our blogs? We have been neglecting this for a while and we apologize. Here’s Mr. Moagi’s most recent Huffington Post piece http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ross-szabo/peace-corps-is-worth-ever_b_973199.html
Part of the reason we neglected the blog was because we were home in America for 9 glorious days to see family, friends, eat awesome food, drink the best beer and of course attend Mr. Moagi’s brother’s wedding! We had quite an agenda on our short trip. We slept in 5 different beds, hit a couple of cities, and even got to gamble a little bit, but never won. We didn’t have a cell phone the whole time so we apologize if we didn’t call any of you and given the tight schedule we weren’t able to see many of you.
We had a bit of culture shock upon arriving in America for the first time in a year and half. Everything is so fast. Normally we have to wait 10-15 minutes to do anything on the internet, so when websites loaded in 2 seconds we didn’t really know what to do after checking email and facebook. We looked blankly at one another in amazement and awe. All the new cars have those fancy touch screens on the consoles. We’re not used to going out at night or having so many options for food, drink, music and any other luxury at our fingertips at any point in the day. Posta had to adjust to so much grass and the allergies that can come with them. And it was kind of tough to put a year and half of experiences in Botswana into a couple of conversations with people. We basked in the comfort that family and friends can provide and got to be there for an amazing wedding that joined two people who truly deserve each other.
Then it was back to Botswana. Luckily South African Airlines aided us by giving us seats in the exit row! That was definitely some comfort. When we got to Maun it was 102 degrees. We greeted the dogs in our yard who didn’t seem to notice we were gone. We dropped our bags and started readjusting to having water for one hour a day. Getting back into the groove of a slow pace, no crowds, few cars and the quiet of Botswana takes some time. The rhythm we had built for a year and a half will come back quickly, because umm, it kind of has to. We shed a few tears and had some sadness after leaving America, but moving forward and doing daily tasks is a necessity in our lives here.
One universal remedy for culture shock on both ends is having people who care about you guide you through the process. We don’t have a lot of time left in Bots to complete the projects we started. Our friends and the people we work with greeted us with open arms and our happy we’re here. It doesn’t necessarily cure missing America and the people in it, but we are lucky to have been able to see so many people in America. The laughter, tears memories, and love will help carry us through our next 8 months here. Then it’s on to Argentina, where wineries will cushion the culture shock we will inevitably feel there!
We are working on a Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) to help our friend and young businesswoman to train other young women and expand her business in a rural village outside of Maun, called Shorobe.
At the young age of 25, Gontle is not only an entrepreneur, but a model for young women in her community. Just to give you some context, about 50% of women between the ages of 25 and 35 are infected with HIV in the region where I live. Many of the “drivers” of the epidemic are related to women’s inability to negotiate safe sex due to economic dependence, which also impacts their ability to leave abusive relationships or relationships where there partner has “small houses” (other sexual partners).
Please donate and help Gontle help the young women of her village!
Several times a week I go to the stadium to run. As I approached the stadium yesterday, I found a group of about 50 young people (from 5-15 years of age) sitting outside the gate. I knew from previous visits there that they are part of the government’s goal to train and identify young people to build a sports program. The kids come from the area surrounding the stadium and have usually been playing in the sand so they’re covered in white dust, and almost every piece of clothing is torn in some way. As I approached I got the high nasally “Hiiiiii” they do when they see a white person. I greeted them in Setswana, to be followed by many giggles, and continued on my way. The children waited patiently for their coach to arrive, so that they could pass security and enter the stadium.
As per my routine, I began my first lap of running to warm up for stretching. There was not a single other person in the stadium or on the track I was running. Ah, peace. About half way around the track, I noticed what seemed like a trickle of people coming from the front gate. Suddenly, it turned into a rushing river of children, sprinting at full speed. “Oh, that’s nice. They’re so excited” I thought. The first of them passed the gate to track but the sprinting had not commenced. At three quarters of my way around the track I thought, “Oh, shit, are they running towards me?!” In an instant I was being escorted during my run by the fastest sprinters who managed to get to me before the other ones. And yes, they were putting my running speed to shame.
Only a fraction of the children had made it to me, but as luck would have it, I do my stretching where I placed my water bottle, directly next to the track entrance and also where the other 40 kids were funneling through. Arriving at the gate entrance, the children started to swarm around me, giving me 12 inches of personal space. I greeted them again in Setswana, and suddenly even more children started running from the top of the stadium seating, down towards the Lekgoa (that’s me).
Next, I did what I’d normally do: stretch. I pulled my left ankle behind me to stretch my quad. In unison, 50 plus children enthusiastically did the same. 20 seconds later, I switched legs, 60 plus children did the same. I asked them if they could show me some of the stretches they know how to do. After two minutes of kids giggling and pushing their friends into my 12 inch circle, I decided to continue stretching bending over at the waist. All of them doing the same but lifting their head to ensure they always had an eye on me. Crossing an arm in front of my chest to stretch my shoulder (this action apparently caused confusion as one child just stuck his arm out to the same side and put the other hand on it).
Finally, their coach arrived, glancing at me quizzically. I greeted him and his look turned to surprise. Kindly he sequestered the children to the center circle of the soccer field, enclosed within the track. Their gorgeous brown eyes moved from him to me, and with a smile I said “Tsmaya [go]!” Just as quickly as they had flooded in toward me, they raced to the center circle to begin their own stretching.
It is with deep regret and sadness that we have to acknowledge winter has officially left us. The days are getting hotter meaning extreme temperatures are just around the corner. In honor of winter we’d like to give you our list of 10 things we will miss.
Not sweating! The joy of being able to walk around all day without sweat marks from under our arms and a horrible reddish color on our faces is over. Heidi sits at her desk in the summer while sweat drips down the back of her legs due to the strenuous task of typing.
No Bugs. A “joy” of summer is the layers of bug spray Heidi puts on in an effort to combat the mosquitoes that anticipate the mini-second she isn’t covered and bite her. Ross has been bit under 5 times in over a year, because Heidi is clearly more likeable. On the opposite side it is kind of cool to see the waves of new insects that come out during different times of the summer.
Needing blankets. It’s so much nicer to curl up under a big blanket or 3 to stay warm even if you have a winter hat, wool socks, three layers of clothes and gloves to stay warm, than it is to sweat through a fitted sheet, with a fan at your feet and a washcloth from the freezer on your chest.
Cooking new meals. This winter we were able to experiment with all kinds of dishes. Calzones, pumpkin ravioli, meatballs, quiche, chili, soups. Using the oven is great during winter, but during summer it’s generally salad everyday and no energy to get off the couch.
Working out. While we may attempt to workout in the over 100 degree temps to get our bodies ready for the beaches of Zanzibar for the holidays, it was much nicer working out in cooler weather and sweating a moderate amount.
Cool winds. Even though it was cold outside a crisp breeze that feels like it’s blowing through your ribs is much more enjoyable than walking and feeling like someone is holding a hairdryer to your face.
Not having to walk around town with an umbrella. This may sound absurd to most of you, but it’s one of the most ingenious, stupid looking things that works to keep you cool in summer. People walk around with umbrellas for shade. The locals are on to something with this one, you’ll just feel like a jackass. Oh winter, please don’t leave us.
Riding in moderate temperature buses. Many Batswana believe that if you open a window of a moving vehicle you will either a) get facial palsy, or b) get “the flu.” This poses no problem in winter when you’re looking for any heat you can get. But, this belief also holds true even when it’s 120 degrees out and the lovely bus you’re driving in is over capacity by at least 50 people all of whom are organizing against you to not open a window.
Having water. While we do go through outages during winter, they are much more frequent during summer. The rainy season comes with its thunderstorms, knocking out power, which eventually takes away our water too. Nothing like sweating through your clothes and coming home to a dry tap, then putting your dusty, sticky body in bed.
Not needing to wash clothes. If we’re not sweating in our clothes, then we can justify not washing them. Seriously. Ross went three months without washing the 2 pairs of pants he has on rotation for work clothes for the week.
As much as this blog may sound like we’re complaining summer won’t be that bad. Summer won’t be that bad. Just keep telling yourself, summer won’t be that bad…
If you have been living in a cave for the past 2 months then you may have missed that Heidi’s sister, Tracy, is on MasterChef season 2 airing on FOX Mondays and sometimes Tuesdays at 9 PM. We have been lucky enough to watch most of the episodes on Youtube or after some friends download them for us. We can’t help but laugh sometimes watching how many items the cooks have on the show as we sit in our living room/kitchen/food storage area. We thought we’d devote this blog to how we think a MasterChef Botswana edition would play out.
(Cue ominous yet appealing music) Announcer’s voice, “Last week on MasterChef Botswana, it was a mystery box challenge. All contestants eagerly anticipated what was behind the magic box. Some weren’t surprised to find maize meal, oil, salt, flour, margarine and unidentified meat. Ross and Heidi excelled at the challenge and Heidi ended up winning by making dumplings. It was a sad day for Camilo as his meat- flavored porridge didn’t appeal to the judges. Let’s see what is in store this week on MasterChef Botswana!”
[Chef Ramsey addresses the chefs first.] (Note biting sarcastic tone with added drama for no real reason) “Last challenge you had to cook for some of the hardest judges you will ever face ever in your whole lives that you could ever imagine ever. This week we up the anty!” (Chef Bastianich steps in with his cocky determined smirk) “This week you will be cooking for African dogs!” (Camera cuts to contestants with horrific shocked reactions) Graham Elliot finishes the introduction, “That’s right chefs. African dogs. These dogs are part domestic, part wild and always hungry. Constantly seen in yards barking at everyone, owned by no one and feared by all. Known for devouring whatever is dropped in front of them even if their mouths are completely full…that is, except for vegetables! This time you will be cooking in pairs. Are you up to the challenge?” Ramsey chimes in, “We’ll find out.”
[The hopeful chefs quickly search for who to pair up with] (Cut away to Ross) “I once saw a cooking show while I was drunk on a cross-country flight and knew I had to follow my dream. I am the best. I have no doubts I can win no matter who my partner is. I am choosing Heidi. Her cooking is usually fit for dogs.” (Cut away to Heidi) “My dream of cooking comes from this one time when I perfectly baked a microwave pizza. When I pulled that mini masterpiece out of the microwave and watched cheese drip from the paper plate I wondered if I could expand my skills. I have noticed some improvements during this competition. I am teaming with Ross. He has absolutely no cooking skills and is extremely cocky, but he’s hot. We really only need my talents to win.”
[The teams assemble, run to the kitchen and pick their ingredients] (Ramsey, Elliot and Bastianich huddle to discuss the challenge) Ramsey, “African dogs are really tough judges. I’ve seen them eat everything imaginable except vegetables. They could be starving, bones protruding through their skin and if you put any kind of fruit or vegetable near them they would rather die.” Elliot jokes, “I can understand that mentality.” Bastianich says, “I will be interested to see what the team of Heidi and Ross do, because I saw them near vegetables.”
[Joe walks to Heidi and Ross’s station] Joe asks, “What are you guys making?” Heidi, “We are going to wrap vegetables in pizza dough with some meat sauce on top. I am going to use one of three knives we have to dice the cabbage. Ross is going to make dough.” Ross, “While Heidi is using the big knife, I am going to use the medium sized knife to mince some steak. Then I will make the dough and bake this dish to perfection in the one temperature we have on our oven.” [Cut away to Ross] “I have been making dough since I came to Botswana. I can make it in my sleep. I could literally wrap dough around all of these fools. I am amazing.” [Cut away to Heidi] Heidi, “Slicing cabbage isn’t my favorite thing to do, but Ross insisted this dish would surprise everyone and get us the win. He’s the kind of guy who tries something once and thinks he’s an expert. I hope it works.”
[Joe walks back to the Graham and Gordon] Joe, “What have you guys seen?” Gordon, “I haven’t seen the slightest bit of ingenuity. Meat, meat and more meat. I am not impressed.” Graham, “I have to agree. It’s like no one is thinking outside the box on this challenge.” Joe, “Well if one team is, it’s the team of Ross and Heidi. They are wrapping the all too familiar cabbage in pizza dough topped with meat sauce. Really adventurous.”
[The contestants finish and bring their plates forward. The dogs/judges are brought out to examine the plates. Once released they gulp down every single plate as fast as they possibly can. In under 2 minutes all food is either gone or still being swallowed. Gordon, Graham and Joe look astonished.] Gordon, “I can honestly say I didn’t see this as a possibility. Who would have thought letting starving dogs loose would result in the gorging we just witnessed?” [Gordon is interrupted by a dog throwing up. The last meal he had was Heidi and Ross’s dough wrapped cabbage.] Joe, “Oh that’s just disgusting. I didn’t see it playing out this way, but I think we have the team that lost this challenge. Heidi and Ross please come forward. Explain what you think went wrong.” Ross, “I told Heidi vegetables were a bad idea. She said she is a vegetable expert and knows what dogs love.” Graham, “Heidi is this true? Cabbage was your idea?” Heidi, “To be honest this was the first time I ever used cabbage in my life. Ross said it was the best way to outsmart the dogs. I guess even African dogs are more intelligent than him.” Gordon, “Ok the judges will meet to determine who is going home.”
[Cut away to Ross] Ross, “I am not worried. I cooked the shit out of that pizza dough.” [Cut away to Heidi] Heidi, “I really don’t want to go home. I have worked so hard to get here and this will change my life. I hope they see this was Ross’s fault.”
[The judges return in their super dramatic poses. Ross and Heidi stand next to each other.] Gordon, “The challenge was to cook for African dogs. Not make them sick. These poor dogs have enough to deal with. This was really the worst effort I have seen. Ross, your dough was atrocious. Heidi, I didn’t think anyone could damage cabbage until I met you.” Ross and Heidi in unison, “Yes chef.” Gordon, “I liked the concept of tricking the dogs, but clearly it didn’t work.” Joe, “We’ve made our decision. Ross your dough was subpar. We have come to the conclusion the dog got sick from its utter lack of texture and flavor. You’re going home.”
[Cut away to Ross.] Ross, “I don’t know what to say. This has been my dream. I won’t give up. I won’t be stopped by a couple of stupid African dogs. I was the best, but I know Heidi could use the money.”
[Announcer’s voice.] Tune in next week for the finals of MasterChef Botswana!