Well, Packer season is a quarter the way through and I can not explain the type of withdrawal I am going through. I am so used to being able to release my “crazy” during the season as I get up to date news coverage, live games both on TV and at LAMBEAU, and weekly discussions about personnel and strategies to beat that weeks opponents. I am used to being able to release my joy or frustrations with the team in a setting surrounded by other fans feeling similar or reversed (bears/Viking fans) emotions!

But what to I do now? I live in Botswana where I am lucky to find someone who knows what American Football is even without knowing the rules. I try to find an outlet. I use other volunteers, but only a few really care that the season is going on with my passion. I try to teach others, but it becomes frustrating at times. I even purchased wireless internet for my house with the sole reason of trying to stream games (doesn’t work, so if anyone knows good sites to use for audio please let me know!). Without this access maybe this is a good opportunity for me to break my “crazy” and have a football free year. I could focus on other things and the team will get by without me for two years. It is just a game anyways…Right?

Wrong!! Being a Packer Fan is a lifestyle! I may be cut off from live coverage and watching the same sportscenter three times a day, but I will have to show my passion in other ways! I have a Packer wall or “shrine” as some would call it with all of the cut outs of news people have sent. I have pictures of “Brent” and the “Turkey Neck” Chicago QB posted on my dart board. I also take every opportunity to tell people why I am a fan of the greatest sports team ever, albeit after a few pints at our local pub! I dawn my Green and Gold shirts every Sunday that usually turns into a 2:00am Monday morning here as I stay up to watch a delayed Game Cast on ESPN. Are these things “crazy” or are they part of a passion filled lifestyle that few understand? I guess its debatable.

So please send me news, or send emails with some NFL banter. I get texts (even if it is 2:00am here) with “live” updates. I may be an ocean away, but when I wake up in the morning put on that green G and watch the sunrise I can hear those other 75,000 “crazies” gathered at our cathedral of a stadium chanting Da Da Da, Da Da Da Da, GO PACK GO!!!!

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So over the weekend I got the chance to play the “Worlds Worst Golf Course” in Francistown, rated by BBC, BBC NEWS | Africa | Battling Botswana’s dusty golf courses. Two other volunteers and myself heard about this course and had to jump at the chance to play the “Worlds Worst”. We asked locals about the course and many did not even know that there was a course in the area. So armed with a golf set you would purchase from a Wal-Mart and a borrowed set that was used in the 70’s we set out to play early in the morning before the brutal heat kicked in. We talked to the club officials the day before and they told us that they would not be around but we were free to go out and play for free, but recommended taking a cattie to show us around the course.

We arrived at the course at 7:00am and the heat was already upon us. We were met by our cattie “Rasta” who started to explain the local rules to us. One of the most interesting rules is that you can tee the ball up on every shot. This is because there is no grass on the course as the fairway is made up of sand, clay and rocks. You can hit a perfect shot down the fairway only to hit a rock and send your ball in all sorts of directions into the bush. This can be very frustrating but makes for an interesting round. It also is the great equalizer therefore no need for handicaps. Teeing up every shot does help with those 601 meter (657 yards) holes where you can hit Driver, Driver to make up for the distance. The other interesting feature to this course is the greens, but here they call them “browns”. It is too dry to grow grass so the course uses sand covered in old motor oil to produce a putting surface. They are actually black in color and really does play like a sand trap. So how do you putt what our first question when approaching the first “brown”? Rasta pulls out this roller/rake tool that he uses to smooth out the surface between your ball and the hole. You really had to be aggressive with the putt but surprisingly the line was fairly true.

After playing a few holes and laughing like crazy at the ridiculousness of the course we came to the fourth hole, the most difficult according to their rating. I hit a beautiful drive but right away I know it is too long for this dog leg right. We look everywhere for the ball and it ends up being on a dirt path in a sewage stream and a large garbage dumpster is between me and the hole, hilarious! This is one of the many beautiful images that this course provides along its scenic landscapes.

We had bought three dozen balls to split between the three of us for the round expecting lost balls to be on a “hole”ly basis. This would have been the case if it were not for Rasta and the many other people helping out. We hit so many balls into the brush, rocks, and dried river beds to count, yet only lost a combined five balls for the round. Incredible! We would hit a shot, laugh, and just start walking thinking it was lost, Rasta would then go scaling the rocks and jumping through the bush finding almost everything. And with local rules, if we found it we were expected to play it. Therefore creativity of shots was at a all time high, but unfortunately always didn’t put us in a better situation.

We were the only ones out there playing the course. This does not mean we were the only ones on the course. Pathways carve out the course for people to walk though on short cuts. This causes a few problems. We would wait as people congregated on the fairways or around the “browns”. Others would be trying to relax in hidden areas out of the way only to see our balls come flying past. And others would pop out of nowhere in front of the tee box as we were teeing off. On this day we almost took out three civilians with errant balls and another two with perfectly hit fairway shots. We would yell “four” but I do not think that translates very well in Setswana. They would laugh and ask if we were trying to kill them? We explained how little talent we have to control the balls and probably the safest part of the course was right in front of us as we are not the straightest shooting bunch of players.

The heat defeated us on this day, but we had a great time playing this “Worlds Worst Golf Course”!! All of us were able to break 100 and I even shot a 90 after the long layoff. When playing this type of course a different strategy is needed, and we will be ready the next time. Had a great time and can not wait for our next round…

So it is wedding season in Bobonong!! This means that there will be day long celebrations which include great food, music, and dancing. Like in the states this is a great time for the family and community to come together and enjoy the union of two people. Unlike the states anyone is allowed to attend. Therefore my Saturday is set! There are three weddings going on that I will try to attend throughout the day. I think one of the reasons why getting married is so expensive is that it is expected that you must feed everyone.

To get married a man must first come up with the dowry to pay the woman’s family, usually a certain number of cows. Then they must pay for two weddings, one in her village and one in his own. The cost adds up quickly, and I understand why so many people are reluctant to get married because of the financial burden it puts on the newly weds. Like I said they are also responsible for feeding whoever shows up. People will come off the street for a free meal (including myself). But they told me that is how it is done in Bobonong. Do not wait for an invitation, just show up. So that’s what I did…

That morning two of my friends picked me up to start our “Wedding Hopping” day. We first went wedding of one of the Ambulance drivers we know from Semolale. We arrived at the preparation stage between the wedding and the reception. We did not spend much time here as everyone was getting ready for the night. I did see a few people I knew from around town, and told us to come back later.

The second wedding was for one of the Councilmen’s daughters. The Councilmen does a lot of work with our office, so we have gotten to know each other, and it was nice enough of him to “invite” us. They had some reserved seating that we were able to use and people would come around offering us refreshment. I had one of their local ciders, that was a little like apple cider but much sweeter. It was very busy and they said they were not serving the food until much later, so we went to search out another venue.

It is easy to find the weddings! All you have to do is drive around until you see a large white tent. We found one near to where I live, but non of us knew anyone at this wedding. We waited outside of the fence (with my beer and koozie) watching the celebrations, I know very classy. An usher approached us and said they he had made room for us under the tent to get out of the sun. At first we declined as we did not want to intrude and were enjoying the sights, but he insisted. I thought he found us a table near the back where we would be able to see. This was not the case! He led us down the isle disrupting everyone and sat us right next to the head table (he made members of the wedding party move so we could sit). I don’t think my face has ever been that dark of red, as I looked at the bride and she glared with those eye’s saying “who the hell is this crazy Lakoa(white guy)”!? We enjoyed the rest of the celebration including the singing and dancing. It was then time to eat!! Set up were two sets of buffet lines that included all of the traditional food, Sesswa, Bogobe, Chicken, Cabbage, and much more. We had stacked a small mountain on our plates. The food was delicious though as we laughed and feasted with the wedding party. The day went on with more dancing, but the food comma had set in so it was time to go. We thanked the family, and they said they were happy to have us (even though they had no idea who we were). Ended up being a great day and can’t wait for more wedding weekends in the future!

As some of you have requested I will start to do some posts on some of the prominent people in my life here. I hope this will help to give some insight into the type of people that I work/live/play with and how they impact the local community. I also hope for any new suggestions or topics that people want to know about to try and keep the blog as interesting as possible.

I will start with my neighbors (also my landlords) who are a wonderful elderly couple who treat me as their fifth, and youngest son. They are constantly watching out for me, and bringing me all sort of food (eggs, chicken, pumpkin, and oranges). They don’t believe that I can cook for myself, so they always are trying to make sure that I am eating enough. Most nights they will stop by the house when I get back from work just to check in, and catch up on the days activities. They are always interested in hearing about stories and seeing pictures (send more) from home, how I feel about Botswana, and what type of activities I am getting involved with. They always offer to help me clean my house and aid in washing my cloths, but I always decline as it would kind of defeat the purpose of being here (even though some help doing laundry would be nice).

The old man, Rra (Sir) as I call him, is a 92 year old retired Moruti (pastor). He is a very prominent figure in Rastimela Ward (our local community/neighborhood). People always seek out his advice and he holds small prayer gatherings on Sundays for anyone who is interested. He does not speak very good English, and my Setswana is a work in process so there is a bit of a communication gap. He is always so interested in what is going on with me, so I guess my language skills need to increase so we can actually have a complete conversation. During the World Cup he would let me watch the games at his house. He would always fall asleep though and would wake up startled when I couldn’t hold back my cheers after some great goals!! He is still a very active man as he rides around the massive tractor that sits in my yard. For 92 he is still very sharp and active member of the community.

His wife Mma DD, is and exceptional Mosadi Mogolo (old lady). She is a bit younger than her husband and is a retired school teacher. Her English is wonderful so everyday we have some great conversations about local life. She is in the process of building one of the only pre-schools in the area next to our houses. She started building in 2008, and has financed the supplies by selling Magwinya (fat cakes) to the local kids on their way to school. She sells them for one pula each (about 15 cents) and buys a brick at a time for her school. The volunteer before me helped her to get some financing and speed up the building process, but there is still work to be done. On weekends I try to help out with the construction as much as possible. This will probably be one of the projects I will work on as we try to find a way to raise funds and materials to finish building the school. She is so passionate about her work and the kids in the area. The children in the area love to hang out in their yard as she so generously gives them treats and tells them stories to teach them life lessons. She has an infectious laugh and she seems to feed off the energy of the young ones in the area. I can not wait to see her in action once the school opens, as it will be a great benefit to the local community and school children.

When I moved here my office wanted me to live on a government compound with the other workers in cookie cutter brick houses. Thankfully I declined because I really wanted to live out in the village and make meaningful connections with my neighbors. And I have done just that. People are starting to accept me as an established member of their communities. Local kids come play soccer in my yard and lounge around on my porch. It has become an extremely comfortable living environment for me, and I truly can attribute that to having the wonderful neighbors around me.

So I may have mentioned but dogs are a bit of an issue here in Bobonong. There are so many strays and starving dogs that they will pretty much eat anything they can find. During the day they are very passive and lazy. They seem to fear humans with their skittish tendencies. But at night they seem to take on a new persona as they band together in packs to retake the dirt pathways throughout Bobonong!! I have already had a few run ins with these devil animals and you learn quickly to defend yourself any way possible. Rocks, sticks accompanied with some harsh words usually do the trick.

There is one “beast” that I pass on my way to work that seems to have no fear! This stealthy canine waits for me to ride by on my bike, and then…Attacks!! I have been able to escape pretty much without injury, just some damage to my shoes/pants and bike. Almost everyday this happens, he just waits for me to pass. It is strange though because for the most part I have not had any other problems with the other dogs, but this one is a little different. I thought it was my bike that got him in attack mode, so I started walking to work. This may have not been the best idea as my elevation and speed on the bike helped me to escape, on foot the advantage goes back to the dog. Thankfully I have learned to arm myself with sticks and rocks to fend him off, and even stockpile these items around the area so as not to get caught off guard.

The easy solution would be to take a different route to work, but this road is the only one over the riverbed to make the trip much shorter. What was strange though is the locals never have a problem, they walk right by and the dog just lays there watching, waiting it seems for me to come by. At first I didn’t see the difference in others and myself walking by, but then I realized a disturbing fact…This Dog was a Racist!! He would attack me solely on the color of my skin. I have been known to be a lover of dogs, but this “beast” is uninterested in my past history with man’s “supposed” best friend. No treats or kindness can change his mind, his mind truly is a one tract mind.

So what now? Do we fight enough times until respect is gained. Or does cunning stalking and fear rule our normally peaceful and beautiful morning. I guess we will see over time. If we don’t change we both will have plenty of scars to show for our pointless morning struggles.

This past week has been faily busy here in Bobonong. Last weekend I was invited to a birthday party for one of my co-workers. Very similar to an American party in terms that you are surrounded by friends and family, cake and singing, and even a DJ with music playing late into the night. It was quite formal though as many people were dressed up and gave speaches. We all had to go on a stage and introduce ourselves which was a bit different. Overall though it was a great time joking around and dancing (they all found it quite humorus at my attempts at their local dance moves!).

Sunday I was invited to a local dance/drama/singing competition in the area for local out of school youths. The different “Wards” (neighborhoods) had different teams that all prepared different presentations or performances all dealing with local issues such as alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS, multiple concurrent partners, and even youth depression. These kids were all extreamly talented and gifted. It is amazing what type of performances they can put on with the lack of resources in the area and almost no funding for the Arts. I was invited as a guest so I was sitting back enjoying the show when the MC said my name and a bunch of other stuff in Setswana that I didn’t understand. Everyone clapped and they were waiting for me to get up infront of everyone for a speach. A little embarassed and not quite sure to say to over 100 out of school youths I congragulated them on the work they have done in their communities and how important it was for them to stay out for trouble as they become youth leaders. I am sure I rambled off a bit but I always find it funny that whenever you are invited to an event you are expected to say something even though not expecting it.

Monday we had our big youth day rally for Behavior Change. We invited speakers from across the country to come and talk/inspire the future leaders of our town. One of the biggest musical performers in the country Slizer came with her dancers to perform (she is actually from Bobonong). Everyone was very excited to see her as there were mass crowds to watch her dance. Our group got the chance to have lunch with her after the ceremonies. She seemed very down to earth and focused on reaching out to these youth groups to give them some sort of message of hope for them. It is difficult though as many youths find themselves out of school and with out work. There is nothing in these communities to keep them active so it is on them to stay busy which doesn’t always work and results in many problems. I have started to work with a few of these groups as they try to band together and come up with business ideas or activities that they can get excited about. But with limited resources and ideas it has been a difficult task to keep them motivated. Its too bad because they are great kids that are trying to make a difference and stay out of trouble, but how long can they keep a positive mindset without something to tap into. I guess that will be the next project, to find some local activities that people would find fun and exciting. As always open to any suggestions.

It has still been quite cold here and extreamly dusty. By the time I get to work in the morning I feel like I need another shower to wash off the coat of dust I accumulated on my walk there. My house has been great even though me and the bugs have been waging war the last few weeks. Too bad the World Cup is over as there was so much excitment around here as everyone around the area would be talking about the games. Overall though it has been a fun/busy week and hope to have many more that educate me on the cultural differences and customs in the community.

Integration into the local community has been going great so far!! Having the World Cup going on has made it easy as everyone is willing to invite me over to watch the matches, what unbelievable games though!! I usually spend half of my day in the office helping getting prepared for workshops, trainings and daily office work. The other half is spent trying to learn the community, ju trying to talk to as many people as possible. This has been great and I have met a ton of interesting people, but it is very difficult to remember everyones name. We are currently doing a youth HIV training workshop for some of the local out of school youth leaders. They seem to be a very motivated and promising group that are full of energy and fresh ideas. It will be nice to start up some of my secondary projects with them as they all seem to have many different passions.

A major issue here is lack of funding (and everywhere else). Our District AIDS Office has lost over half of our funding to go out to local projects. This makes it very difficult for many of the organizations that rely on these funds for their daily activities. So lately I have linked up with a few of the local NGO’s and CBO’s to help them try and find alternate revenue streams, and funding sources. So I currently have three proposals in the works but need to find different places to submit them too. If anyone knows of good US funders or orgainizations that I could look into it would be a great help!!

Life is going well though! My house has been great! Wonderful neighbors who constantly bring me food and check on me because they don’t believe I can cook for myself, probably due to some of the disasters I have made trying to cook from scratch but getting better. Just got a Braai stand (grill) that I can’t wait to use once the weather starts to get a bit nicer!! Hope all is well back home and love hearing from everyone with some updates.

Go Siame

Wow, moved to Africa to get away from some of the cold and it seemed to follow me here.  I laughed when I first heard people in Botswana say that it gets cold in the winter, because being from Wisconsin we know how to deal with the cold!  But at night and early in the morning…Damn its cold.  I quickly realized that I did not pack for this type of weather, and my thatched hut doesn’t quite have the insalation needed to stay warm.  After dinner I find myself bundling up and jumping into my down sleeping bag to try to get warm.  Its even worse in the morning when I need to get to work.  The office gave me a bike (yes!! but it is in worse shape than the one I crashed in Tanzania, ha) and when I get going it is crazy cold. I even start wearing a hat and gloves.  What is strange though is that once mid day hits it goes right back to being hot and I find myself being overdressed, tough problem to have.  Otherwise life is going well.  Been busy with work and trying to learn everyone’s names and jobs.  Big meeting tomorrow to try and figure out our budget and what projects to approve this year.  And starting my coaching career tomorrow with my new volleyball team, should be fun!!  The house is coming together, and I people are starting to get to know me in town as they are always yelling “Hey Maatla! Le Kae” (the local greeting).  Good people and good projects make for an easy life here.

It was finally time to be done with training and officially become Peace Corps Volunteers!!  We had a large formal ceremony where the Chief, US ambassador and many other prominent people were there to congratulate us!!  We all dressed up with many peoples host families making them traditional wear outfits.  I went the short tie route.  Many of the young men in Botswana where these extremely short ties that look ridiculous so a few of us decided that if we were going to be working in Botswana we should start to dress like them.  To say the least we looked a bit ridiculous and our country director and ambassador didn’t quite get the joke, but what can you do.  We got through the ceremony and all had a great night of celebration as this was the last time most of us will see each other for some time, as we will be spread out throughout the country.  Well worth it.

My driver KG came to pick me up the next morning to take me to move into my new site.  I said my goodbyes to my host family as they were all very upset that I was leaving, and I had to promise to come visit as often as possible.  I packed up my things and realized that I had much more than I had come with and not to sure where the rest of it came from.  We loaded up the truck and made our way up to Bobonong where I will be living for the next two years.

Turns out I lucked out and got the house that I wanted.  A fully furnished thatched hut with hot running water and electricity (haha I know not the typical PC housing, but I will take it).  I have a huge yard with a garden and a primary school next door, so there are kids everywhere!! My landlord lives next door and are this great older couple that have been so helpful in getting me moved in.  It is really becoming real now and it looks like I am home for the next two years.  I have been trying to walk all the paths and introducing myself to everyone so people start to know me, they all call me Mr. Maatla (my Setswana name) now!! 

A few other Peace Corps Volunteers live around me and have to come through my town for groceries, so it should make for some great gatherings as people have to pass through.  We have a great group of friends in the area which makes for a very easy  transition into the area.

My first day of work was today!! And being the brave, adventurous person that I am I decided to take a short cut to work.  What happened was that it took me over two hours to get there because I seemed to take a few wrong turns and end up in the bush somewhere!! So I show up dirty and sweaty, and everyone just seemed to laugh at what happened.  I guess I need to find a better route.  We then went to a village meeting for the next three hours which was all in Setswana in the hot sun (they say its winter, but it is still very hot!!). 

Overall though I love the people I will be working with and there are a lot of opportunities here for me to build some projects and expand on some others.  I found a youth volleyball team that needs a coach which will be fun to do after work.  There are so many activities to get involved with that I will have to try to limit myself in the beginning to just a few so I don’t burn out.  But I am loving my placement and can not wait to explore some more and really make Bobonong my home for a while.

Well I got back from a great site visit only to get caught up by some sort of illness.  I became very ill and even had to spend four days in the hospital!! Not a very fun experience but the hospital staff was very accommodating, even though they never quite told me what was wrong with me.  They put me on an IV drip for four days (great way to lose weight, ha).  Had some great support from PC staff and friends which really was a blessing.  Hopefully this will be the last time I will be sick while I am here, but in Africa I guess you never know!!

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"Be the Change You Wish to See in the World" -Gandhi