Amy McBride

Amy McBride, second from right, is pictured with her crew at her Language Week. Tonic, the instructor, is to her left. 

Editor’s note: McBride is in her ninth month in Botswana, where she is serving as an HIV and health-capacity building specialist with the U.S. Peace Corps. She lives in a village near Gaborone (which she can’t name for security reasons) and works with two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help them better serve a country where one of five people are HIV-positive. She writes a monthly column for the Montrose Daily Press and also maintains a blog, www.amyinbotswana.com. You can email her at amylopermcbride@gmail.com with your questions or comments (or to get her address).

It’s the day before my deadline and I was working on this column at the “big table” at one of my non-governmental organizations, which is where we all sit because that’s where the internet works, when my coworkers’ morning tea conversation (in Setswana) turned to goats (dipodi — I finally have enough vocabulary that I can pick up on what’s being said).

Everyone was pitching in (100 pula or $10) to get a goat, and I joined up. Within an hour there was a live goat tied to a tree behind our office, and my coworkers were sharpening knives. I proffered my Leatherman (which turned out to be the sharpest of the bunch) and quickly the live goat was dead and hanging from the tree.

I helped (minimally) with the skinning and then my coworkers sliced open the belly and dumped the guts into a tub and I was enlisted to help clean them. Out of that tub, nothing was wasted except the “waste” which went into a hole that a coworker had dug. We saved the head for the brain and tongue.

And four hours after the goat idea surfaced, we were enjoying afternoon tea with fried goat liver (monate … delicious). One of Botswana’s lessons is that it can take weeks to prepare a funding proposal, but we can discuss, execute and enjoy a goat between morning and afternoon tea.

May 1 was Labour Day (and a public holiday, hooray!). Alhough Botswana is listed as an upper middle-income country by the World Bank, there is a wide gap between the rich and poor.

The minimum wage recently increased to 5.14 pula/hour (about 50 cents), which, at 40 hours/week is less than one-third of my living allowance from Peace Corps. Also, unemployment is near 20 percent, with higher rates among young people.

A complicating factor is that on April 1, new transportation rates went into effect. A combi (minibus) ride rose from 3.5 pula to 4 pula, shared taxis went from 4 pula to 5 pula, and “special” taxis went from 20 pula to 25 pula.

These increases might not seem large, but if you’re making minimum wage and need to take two combis to get to work, it’s more than 5 percent of your income.

Despite the rate hike, I continue to enjoy my combi commutes, and I’ve kept my pledge to only speak Sekgatla (my area’s dialect), which gets me laughs, appreciation and marriage proposals. People try to teach me new words (and sometimes they’re inappropriate, to which I say, “O setoutu,” or “You’re rude.”) My hair (moriri wa me) attracts a lot of attention, with people wanting to know if it’s real (and asking if they can pull it to confirm). Speaking of hair, I am amazed each day by the intricate and artistic plaiting designs among the women of Botswana.

We’re coming to the end of the rainy season, for which ke a leboga (I am grateful) since it means cooler temperatures and a decline in insects.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness recently warned of a continuing malaria outbreak in my area (and as you likely know it is spread by mosquitoes), which is unusual since we are below the “malaria line” that runs about 100 kilometers north of here. I’m taking a holiday to northern Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe with a friend from Australia in a few weeks and will start my malaria meds before I go.

In addition to mosquitoes, the rains bring ants and termites. New populations spring up in my house, coming in through cracks in the floors and walls. As soon as I’ve located and contained one outbreak, I find another.

A fellow volunteer from a neighboring village spent the night recently and termites started to build a mound on her shoe while she slept. Eish! (That’s Setswana for “Can you believe it?,” pronounced eh-eesh.)

I was robbed last Sunday. I had organized an Intensive Language Week in my village, with three volunteers staying with me and two nearby. They arrived in the afternoon from throughout Botswana and dropped their bags at my house. We headed to a nearby pub for beer and chips (French fries) and returned two hours later to find my lock broken and my door pried open, and three laptops, one iPad, and various other electronics, adapters, and cords gone. We called Peace Corps and they contacted the police, who came and took a report. Since my door no longer locked, Peace Corps arranged for us to go to Gaborone where Tonic, our excellent Peace Corps language and cultural facilitator, led us through an enriching week of Setswana.

I returned from Gaborone on Friday, and my landlords had fixed my door with a heavy-duty steel plate. I did a thorough inventory, which I hadn’t had time to do after the incident, and discovered that in addition to my electronics, the thieves (magodu) had taken 14 rolls of two-ply quilted toilet paper (and left three single-ply scratchy rolls), an unopened 2 kg bag of handwashing detergent, a new bottle of Handy Andy liquid cleaner, an iron and a half-used bar of soap.

The good news is that I brought a back-up laptop and hard drive, both of which I had loaned to co-workers, so I can quickly return to my projects. There were many teaching moments from this experience, including that six Peace Corps volunteers in one village attract a lot of attention, so one must take extra precautions. I’ve put out the word in my neighbourhood that I’m offering a reward for return of the laptops and iPad, so hopefully I can share good news next month.

Next week, I head to Johannesburg, South Africa to spend a few days with a friend. We plan to visit the Apartheid Museum and some craft markets, and eat fresh seafood and drink good beer (neither of which are abundant in Botswana). Peace Corps warned me that I might not be able to go since there have been protests in South Africa’s North West Province calling for the premier (provincial governor) to step down. My bus passes through the Province, but since it stays on the major route, I’m cleared. It boggles my mind that Johannesburg has twice as many people as all of Botswana.

BotswanaPost let just one package through last month (thanks, Dr. and Mrs. Winkler!), so I’m sorry if you sent one and I haven’t acknowledged it. I got several letters including a delightful one from Sherry Lynn Nicolas, who has been a family friend for many decades. She reported on various funerals, illnesses, and relatives, and that she and Babe Faussone enjoy my columns, which she reads to him every month.

I met Babe (who Sherry Lynn describes as “a little, 90-year-old Italian farmer”) about five years ago when he started a permanent book fund at the Library to buy audiobooks, which is how he fills his appetite for reading due to his diminished eyesight. He and Sherry Lynn are among the most compassionate people I know, and her letter showed me that community and extended family is alive and well in America, and that I needn’t feel quite so envious of Botswana’s strong kinship ties.

Thanks for reading my columns and blog (www.amyinbotswana.com) and for your letters and packages. Please email me at amylopermcbride@gmail.com with comments and questions or to get my address.

Finally, I wish Matt Lindberg and his family the best of luck in their new adventure. It has been a joy to work with Matt and I am grateful for his help in satisfying Peace Corps’ “third goal” — to share the culture of Peace Corps Volunteers’ countries with folks in America.

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