Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April 28, 2008

Our four host mothers are holding a competition called Whose Volunteer Can Learn Setswana the Fastest. There is an enormous amount of time spent scolding us for conversing in English and spoon-feeding us new language without translation. This amuses us for a while and then annoys us and now rolls off us like so much of the oddity we’ve been swallowing this first week.

First week.

Today was the one week marker from the day we crossed the border South Africa into Botswana. The general consensus is that this week has felt much more like a decade. Will two years feel like a lifetime? Fortunately there are escapes in the midst of a bizarre language, pesky bugs and strange cleaning habits (my swollen knuckles are healing from a painful afternoon of hand-washing laundry).

My First-Week Escapes:

- tea after dinner while studying Setswana with my 15-year-old sister
- pink Botswana icecream for 45 cents
- washing dishes in the quiet back yard under stars and surrounded by dogs, chickens and roosters
- holding a whole conversation in Setswana with curious villagers (this ultimately breaks down into a confused garble but I can hold my own for about 3 full minutes!)
- constant, chronic, gorgeous s u n
- little girls playing with my hair
- the absence of mirrors
- the allure of UNO cards
- marriage proposals screamed from passing cars
- enormous aloe cactus plants
- playing handball with the all neighborhood kids
- learning the names of all the neighborhood kids
- shoveling weeds with my host sister (to her great amusement)
- having a tan
- picking up baby Ara for the first time without her screaming at the-weird-white-face
- neighbors yelling “Dumela Bonkle!” when I pass their house (Bonkle is the Setswana name my host mother gave me last week… it means Beauty)
- dancing with my host mother and sisters to American pop
- meetings other PCVs who have survived the first year and look sincerely happy (and sincerely sympathetic)
- sleeping through the night for the first time
- music everywhere, always
- mastering the art of Bucket Bathing
- walking home from school over desert grass at dusk

We met a volunteer in his third year today and he told us candidly that Pre-Service Training was one of the toughest times we’d face in our service. We nodded in unison and waited eagerly for more validation. And he smiled back at us. Just smiled.

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