Farewell Foreskin

20 11 2012

Finally, after a year of service SMC (safe male circumcision) has been offered in Salajwe! It has been a long journey to provide this HIV prevention service to my community. The Docs came November and will leave on December 14. For those back home not well versed in the HIV and public health fields; male circumcision reduces a mans chances of conteacting HIV by 60%. This is a huge number and has the potential to have large impacts on the number of new infections in Botswana. Circumcision also has many other benefits including better hygiene, and reduced chances of STIs.

My contributions to this effort have been many. I helped the DHMT (district health management team) create and draft the project outline. But most importantly I have been mobilizing the community. This mostly involves giving health talks to educate people about the benefits of SMC and making them aware of the opportunity. I love gathering groups and teaching about health. I talk about SMC to men, mothers, school boys, government employees and anyone who will listen.

I’ll be continuing to push SMC in my community for the rest of my service. This is such an important element in the fight against HIV/AIDS and one of the most effective prevention tools we have.

Cold Coffee

10 11 2012

Yup, its that time of year again. When it’s so hot that I set my alarm an hour early to make my coffee and then go back to sleep. I have to do this because I wake up already covered in sweat from the unbelievable temperatures, and having to drink anything hot might cause me to pass out. room temp coffee is better than nothing.

Quarter Century

4 11 2012

Last week I turned 25 and celebrated my 2nd birthday in Botswana. My birthday this year was an eventful day. I had been in my shopping village for the weekend and decided to catch a ride back to Salajwe with one of the teachers I know from the Junior school (this is always preferable because 1. No waiting in the sand for a hitch 2. Guarantee of sitting in the cab of the truck 3. But most importantly its free – which always takes precedence over the previously mentioned perks). I was told I would be picked up at 5pm, which would get me home just after 7pm. It true Botswana fashion he came 3.5 hours late and had to make more stops after getting me. We didn’t hit the village of Letlhakeng till 10pm (this is where the tarred road ends and my journey continues for another 60km) where we were told that the main road was too flooded from the recent storms and we should take the alternate route. No one in the truck knew the route we were taking well and we took a wrong turn outside the village of Metsiblotloko . We drove straight into a flooded salt pan and got stuck in the slipperiest mud in the world. Why you ask was this mud so slippery? Not only because of the minerals in the salt pan but also because cows graze through the pan and defecate. We got stuck after 10pm and help didn’t come till 3:30am. It took 2 trucks to get us out of the mud and then in turn we had to push and pull each truck with rope till all 3 could move. Those hours stranded were exhausting, funny and covered in cow shit. I rang in my 25th ankle deep in the mud sharing a beer with some Batswana. Not too shabby.
The ending of my birthday was just as unexpected. After having tried to sleep during the day I was exhausted and going to bed at 8 when there was a knock on my door. There were 3 people that had been doing some work in the village and they got stranded here because of another storm. The power was out (which means no cell service) and they needed a place to stay for the night. I took them in and gave them what I could, which was apples and hard boiled eggs and some space on my floor.
What a great reminder of community and Ubuntu. The day came full circle from stranded and needing help to being able to give help to others in need. Not quite the birthday I imagined, but memorable none the less.

Summer in the Kalahari

21 10 2012

As we enter into summer once more the temperatures are getting… extreme. It’s been around 105 lately, but hit about 115 recently. Luckily this year seems to be going well for pula (rain). We have already had a few good storms.

One of the benefits of living in the desert are the lightning storms in the summer. The lightning is a constant dance of flashes in the sky; each bolt creating a different light pattern. Some illuminating the sky as if it were daylight. Others showing a perfect bolt through the sky, striking the ground.

If there is one word to describe the Kalahari desert it is ‘intense’.

New PCV for Salajwe

20 10 2012

I’m embarking on the second half of my Peace Corps service. Even though there can be hard days, time is flying by.

One of the new trainees has been placed in Salajwe with me. Mary will be posted to Lempu Community Junior Secondary School. My village will now have two volunteers; she arrives in about a month.

1 Year!!

21 09 2012

That’s right folks, as of last weekend I have been in Botswana for a year! 14 more months here and I’m feeling good about the time to come.

Cohen’s in Africa

3 07 2012

Cohen’s in Africa!

Mom and dad just spent nearly 2 weeks in Africa touring with me. They flew into Gaborone intl airport where I picked them up and whisked them off to my village in the back of a pick up truck. In Salajwe they got to see my house and meet my friends in the village. We spent Friday going to the schools and playing with the children at the day care centre. All the women at the clinic were thrilled to meet my parents and even pulled out the jumping ropes to show off.

After a day and a half in Salajwe it was time to move on to more exciting African adventures. We went back to Gaborone, stopping at Desert Race on the way. Desert Race is a huge off road overland race where people drive supped up trucks across the Kalahari desert. Basically an excuse for people to gather on the side of the road and braai and drink; the closest mostwana come to a tailgate.

The next morning we flew to Maun where a bush plane took us into the first of 2 camps in the Okavango Delta. The delta was awe inspiring and truly a beautiful place. On a walking safari we saw elephants eating, on a mokoro trip we spotted giraffe on the airstrip (the same airstrip that we had to ‘buzz’ the day before because of baboons) and hippos were all around on our boat rides. The four days I spent in the Okavango Delta was the most peaceful vacation I’ve ever had.

From the delta we flew over to Kasane and spent 2 nights at Chobe. Unfortunately I got food poisoning and was out for most of the time there, but before I got sick I was able to see an entire pride of lions on a game drive.

Lastly we went to Victoria Falls…need I say more. If you have ever been to the falls you know the great beauty and force that is Mosi-o-ti ya. I had such an amazing time with my parents and am so thankful that they came to my home in Botswana.


24 05 2012

I went to Mozambique for a week with my friend Danielle or her birthday. We had too much fun and there was so much to write about that I decided to do a top 10 list.

Here are my top 10 moments from my trip to Mozambique:

1. Seeing the ocean for the first time in 8 months
2. Watching the sun rise over the Indian Ocean while walking on the beach in Tofo and then going for a morning swim
3. Drinking from coconuts
4. Riding on a zodiak to the coast and snorkling
5. Buying lobster at the fish market in Maputu
6. Bus rides through the country (long but beautiful)
7. camping under a tree in Tofo
8. Drinking good beer and Tipo Tinto rum
9. Amazing craft markets
10. Blue Cheese and Fig ice cream in Johanessburg

O Dira Eng?

3 05 2012

O Dira Eng? (What are you doing?)
Many people have been asking about what it is I do here in PC Botswana. This blog post aims to answer that question. Most importantly I work with HIV/AIDS, this is my main focus and my activities are aimed at prevention, treatment and care.
I am posted to the clinic in my village; this is where I report to and is my official counterpart. However, my projects do not have to be directly related to the clinic.
Most days I attend the morning meeting at the clinic and spend at least a few hours there. While at the clinic I pack pills to be dispensed, check expiry dates, weigh babies, give out child feeding packs, enter data into the computer, teach computer skills or just sit around and chat with people. After some time at the clinic I either come home and work more on my computer or go out into the village if I have things to do.
Early on in my service I did a permagardening workshop. We discussed gardening skills and techniques and tied it into HIV/AIDS by talking about good nutrition and health. In January I started going to the day care center in my village once a week to play with the young kids. Together we sing, draw and play games. The kids are really cute, but trying to organize 30 children who don’t speak English can be frustrating.
I am still trying to organize a male circumcision project. Circumcised men are 60% less likely to contract HIV. This project is, in true African style, taking a long time to come together. I’m sure it will happen, I just need to be patient as I wander my way through Botswana bureaucracy.
Recently I have gotten more involved at both the primary and junior secondary schools in Salajwe. This week and next week I will be launching a reading program at both schools. Essentially students will receive points for books they read and the student who earns the most points will win a prize. At the secondary school I have led a few life skills talks (topics such as leadership skills, healthy relationships, HIV/AIDS, other STIs, public speaking, contraceptives).
I am teaming up with another PCV to run Women’s Self-Defense and Empowerment classes. The first class is next week!! Women signed up so fast that I had to schedule more classes to accommodate. I’ll write a blog post about the class after it happens.
I do many other things on a day to day basis, but these are the larger projects.

Thoughts on Transportation in Botswana

16 04 2012

**disclaimer** Transportation can be dangerous and you have to keep yourself safe at all times. However, you need to get where you are going and sometimes that leads to some very interesting times.

I have ridden in the back of pick-ups and ridden shotgun in Mercedes, sometimes in the same morning. I have sat next to farmers coming from the cattle posts and next to school children that stare at me for 2 hours. I have held people’s babies and people have held my groceries. It’s amazing how much of a community activity traveling can be.

For those of you who don’t know my village, Salajwe, is about 70km from the end of the paved road. This means that the public transportation stops 70km out from Salajwe. To get in and out you have to wait for someone to drive by and take the hitch. Actually hitching is not so bad, but waiting for up to 6 hours for a hitch to come can be a bit painful. Peace Corps has definitely forced me to work on my patients…and taught me to always carry a book with me.

Like buses and taxis you pay for a hitch. However, if you are lucky enough to get in the cab of the truck you have the opportunity to sweet talk the driver, use your Setswana skills and hopefully get a free ride. It is very encouraging to my Setswana studying everytime I am able to get a free hitch.  I can only hope it happens more and more as my skills improve.

Around Botswana vehicles are “road safe” until there is nothing left on the car to tape, strap, screw together, or weld. It can be quite unnerving to watch the screws holding the bed of the truck to the cab of the truck slowly unscrew as you travel 80km/h down a bad dirt road.

Often times when I am on the dirt road in and out of Salajwe vehicles breakdown, most of the time this is a puncture, other times its a broken axle or running out of petrol. One epic journey lead to 7 of us picking up a truck with our hands because the jack was broken. Then the spare we put on was flat and of course the pump was broken. the next 2 trucks that passed were also carrying broken pumps; it wasn’t until a third truck passed that we were able to get a broken pump that could be fixed on the spot.

Although all these “excitements!” can tack on hours to a trip it gives a lesson in community. People couldn’t move around or get where they needed to go without working together. And community is one of the best aspects of Botswana culture.