June 22, 2008
So it turns out that the information I received about my Peace Corps placement was slightly misleading. If you remember back to May 31st you’ll recall that I was handed a paper describing my village and that on this paper all amenities and local services were checked “yes”.
In order to dispel the myth that Peace Corps Botswana is “Posh Corps” I’ve decided to correct the mistakes. Here’s what my site placement notes should have said:
* Electricity: Intermitted, goes off about 9 times each week for 1 – 4 hours at a time; you’ll have working lights in two of your three rooms.
* Cell Phone Coverage: Yes (whew)
* Water Inside House: Nope. Buy some large buckets. There’s a pump outside the house but sometimes the village loses water for days or weeks at a time. Oh, and water comes out white. Not sure what that’s all about.
* Toilet Inside House: Promised but, alas, not delivered. Pit latrine. Carry TP and bug spray.
* Access to Public Transportation: Combis to Gabs and Thamaga every 15 minutes… or sometimes 30… or sometimes 60 and NO you may not accept rides from the plethora of friendly Motswana who stop in their cars and offer to take you to your destination. Hitchhiking is strictly Against Peace Corps Rules.
* Post Office in Village: Nope
* Oh, and it’s not a category on your sheet but we thought we’d also mention that Internet, grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and paved roads are also not located in this village.
* Er, and the front door of your house is going to fall off its hinges in the first week. Heh. Sorry about that.
So the amazing thing about Peace Corps is that you learn relatively quickly that (on the whole) humans can adjust to just about anything over time. We’re creatures of habit—we crave routine. Someone says “no leaving your house after dark” we start a ritual of evening exercises, cooking and reading. Someone says “you have to bathe in a bucket” we purchase a big sponge and get to it. We crave schedules. We form habits. We’re resilient.
So in the Spirit Of Human Resilience this morning I decided to make my way up to Thamaga for Internet and groceries. It’s my first time traveling solo in Botswana and, as such, is very liberating. I’ve traveled alone all over Europe and Asia but the first go on a new continent is always slightly nerve-wracking. I sling a backpack over my shoulder and get started.
The thing about Human Resilience and Routine is that it does take Time. And mistakes. And lessons.
Here are the lessons I learned on my first Independent Journey in Africa:
1. Do not travel at noon. The mid-day heat, even in winter, will strike you dead as you wait on the side of the road for a combi.
2. Combi and buses are rarely labeled. Your best bet is to use broken Setswana with others waiting at the bus stop and follow them onto the correct vehicle.
3. Once on the bus practice breathing rituals to stay conscious. Motswana believe that opening windows will “let in flu” so you are bound to be breathing in the scent of bodies and sweating profusely throughout the duration of your trip.
4. Per Lesson #1 and #3 do NOT wear long sleeves with only a tank top underneath. Tank top is inappropriate in public and long sleeves are just plain masochistic.
5. Overcome the urge to Rail Against The Administration when you visit your PC friends in Thamaga to find them basking in a plush home of gardens, shutters, working windows and doors, Pier One furniture, gas, electricity, water, HOT water, radios, etc. Smile and put on your best Happy For Them Look. Resist the urge to steal their toaster.
6. Just because it’s a grocery store do not expect produce variety or freshness. Peppers and bananas, baby—count yourself lucky cuz Kumakwane’s only got onions.
7. Call ahead. Even though the sign claims that they’re open on Sundays shopkeepers can close whenever they feel like it. Internet rejection can be shockingly depressing.
8. Sunday’s rush hour is 4:00. Avoid traveling home at this time or you’ll be standing the whole way in all that bus-heat and b.o., praying for forgiveness for having worn the long sleeved shirt.
9. Do NOT be among the first passengers to enter the bus. Wait patiently at the end of the line so you get a standing spot close to the front door for easy exiting.
10. If, perchance, you are body-chucked into the rear of the bus make a valiant effort to work your way back to the front long before your stop. Waiting until you’ve arrived to push through the masses can take several minutes and result in the impatient murmurs of your fellow passengers and chastising remarks from your bus driver.
Three cheers for Cultural Integration, Awkward Transitions and Shopping Survival.
Dear Lord am I tired.