Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fearing change, accepting change and being a changed me.

6 August 2011

As I prepare to go home for my brother’s wedding in a week I can’t help but wonder how much I have changed since I arrived in Botswana almost 16 months ago. There have been many ups and downs; some days it seems like even more downs. However, the beauty of this place is that the good days or hours or sometimes even just minutes can seem to outweigh the long, difficult and depressing times. I know I have gone through many painful moments, many scary scenarios and have seen many things I wish I hadn’t. I also know I have been blessed to have gone through many beautiful moments, many uplifting scenarios and have seen many things that will forever remain in my heart. The changes have been hard; both physical and emotional. I look different and I feel different. I wonder how my family and friends will view me once I set foot back in America. I look and feel considerably older. At 28 years old I look at myself and see an old face. I see a face that has gone through a lot, too much I would say at times. I see my white hairs and I don’t see the product of wisdom, I see the outcome of stress and hardship. When you don’t recognize yourself you begin to wonder what happened and why? Mostly, I can answer why. I’ve seen pain and suffering and I’ve experienced sadness and fear.
These things are all part of life, I know. And I truly believe God doesn’t give us anything more than we can handle though sometimes I question why He challenges us the way He does. I can only imagine that one day we will understand but until then I try to pursue the beauty and hope in the most darkest of places. Sometimes that beauty and hope lies within the light: In the smile of a child, in the voice of an old woman, in the handshake of a wise man. And then there is the beauty and hope that lies within the darkness: Burying a 6 year old girl in the village but listening to the whole community sing her to rest, a student being beaten over the maximum 5 strokes but rising above and speaking out against the injustice, a child who cannot afford to come to school unknowingly gets support from her fellow classmates who are raising money for her school fees. There is beauty and hope everywhere.

Though I feel changed in ways I wish I wasn’t, I am grateful for the changes that have gotten me this far. As I reflect on these past 16 months I realize that the pain and sadness I have felt were a way to show me what needed to be seen. As I prepare for the remaining 10 months I realize that there is still so much to be seen and to be felt, both good and bad. I am as ready as one can be I believe.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Update on the violence surrounding the strike in Botswana:

The deaths were rumors apparently, sorry if that scared anyone but that's the only information that was being stated at the time. When people in your village (students, teachers and friends) and other Peace Corps Volunteers are all saying stories about deaths and violence, what they've seen and/or heard and you have no real way to get correct information, sometimes you tend to believe what is being said. Also, miscommunication between Volunteers and Peace Corps can also cause major problems.
We are awaiting more information but we have been told everything is ok and we are not in any harm here. The strike however is still on going and the violence did in fact occur so still praying for things to be resolved.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Deaths, riots, violence? Peaceful country?

There has been a civil service strike in Botswana for 5 weeks now. Teachers, nurses, etc have been striking to get a raise. Students have been left in empty classrooms and are expected to pass exams at the end of the year, with no guidance. On Friday, the students finally got fed up with teachers not being at school so they decided to counterstrike. Unfortunately this has led to violence on that day and continued today.

Today Botswana government shut down all schools in Botswana. Apparently, the riots have gotten out of control since Friday. Students being tear gassed, students beating teachers with bricks, one teacher was stabbed in Gaborone which is only 25K from my village. Police cars lit on fire, school's trashed...and it's only Monday. Of course, rumors can spread like wildfire and no one is sure as to what is true and what isn't.

Deaths, riots, and vandalism? If so, my safety is in jeopardy, the safety of fellow volunteers are in jeopardy, the safety of students, teachers and innocent by standers are in jeopardy. I feel crippled.
Though I feel safe I live close to Gaborone and Molepolole where the violence has been the worst. Who is to say that the people in my village will not react just as the others in surrounding places have been acting. Students were told to go home today and that schools are closed indefinitely, they were told to go peacefully. Now, all over Botswana there are students who will not be in school, students who are frustrated that their education has been stripped from them and we expect that they will just stay silent? One can only hope that they make the right choice and stay calm but the worry is that they will follow suit and become violent like the students in other villages have been.

I will stay safe by laying as low as I possibly can. However, I was due to go to Gaborone to get much needed groceries tomorrow. I have 1 apple, about 2 cups of rice and half a jar of peanut butter.

I hope the students and civil servants find a way to make their points without violence. I hope the police learn how to stop all this destruction and madness. I hope we all remain safe. I hope.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My apologies for never blogging....found this in a word document that I guess I never posted...

12 January 2011

I’ve never seen so much strength in children. Resilience is an understatement. These children deal with death at every corner of their lives, they live in poverty, they take care of sick and dying relatives, they put up with extreme abuse from not only strangers but family and through all this they strive for excellence. They strive for a better life. They desire to succeed. I am utterly amazed everyday, completely blown away and touched. They inspire me and give me hope for this nation.

~This evening I went for a walk out into the lands (a secluded area of land where Batswana have plots to plow and harvest) and it was so peaceful. I was alone with my thoughts and watched the sun setting in front of me. The best part however was not the quiet but the swarm of children as I almost reached home. There were 7 of them and they playfully fought to hold my hand and walk me back to my house. I couldn’t stop smiling as they babbled to me in Setswana. I had no idea what they were saying but neither I nor them seemed to care. What a great ending to my day.

14 January 2011

It was pouring rain outside but I wanted to go for a walk and just be alone so I ventured out. As I got further and further away I started to feel at ease. That is until I heard roaring thunder! Even while blasting Destiny’s Child on my ipod I could hear the thunder rumbling above me. Now, normally I wouldn’t be scared but let me tell you...when you live in the desert there are not many trees or buildings to distract the lightning bolts from hitting you. I nervously turned around and started a light jog. Then, BOOM! thunder rolled again, sounding like it was directly over me. My jog turned into a sprint and me being the only tall thing around at a staggering 5‘4“ my heart was pounding! I wish I could say I was cool enough to get struck by lightning and live to tell about it, but boring me made it home safely, drenched and laughing at my almost (but not really) near death encounter.

15 January 2011

GO PATRIOTS! I hope that when I post this the Patriots will have beat the Jets and moved on to another Playoff game. However, if they lose then this could be viewed as I jinxed the whole game...I will be wearing my Mike Vrabel jersey and pretending that I am watching the game as I sit in my living room and stare at the wall. Here’s hoping.

25 January 2011

The roads here in Botswana are very dangerous. There are many drunk drivers, no street lights and many large animals on the side of the roads ready to cross when they see headlights approaching. Last week I was driving home with a teacher from a meeting we attended in a near by village. We passed a car that was surrounded by people and clearly had been in an accident. There was glass everywhere and the cars front end was smashed in. We parked up the road and walked towards the wreckage. The teacher I was with began asking what had happened but since it was in Setswana I could only catch a few words here and there. I understood that they had a collision with a ‘beast’ a.k.a. a cow. The windshield was broken but completely inside the car and I wondered if anyone was sitting in the passenger seat because if they had been they must have been severely injured. I asked the teacher to ask if anyone was hurt and that led us to a women who was quietly standing near the car, at least 6 months pregnant and obviously in pain. We used our phone lights to assess the damage. She was bleeding from many small cuts caused by the shattered glass all over her back and shoulder. Also, she was covered in cow dung. I still don’t know how it happened but the poor thing was covered. There was glass stuck to her body and in her hair. She was shaking and spitting up glass. I ran back to the car and grabbed my water bottle and cardigan. We started to clean her off gently. I asked her where it hurt and I immediately grew scared when she held her belly and said “here”. The police finally came and took her to the clinic and I can only hope that she is ok today. As we walked back to the car I heard a low groan. I looked to my right and there in a ditch off the side of the road was the cow. He was still alive and in so much pain. I asked if the police were allowed to shoot the cow to put it out of it’s misery but the teacher said no. I was sick to my stomach and silent the rest of our trip home.

~Today I received my second batch of letters from the CCI kids! I loved reading their responses to my letter! I told them that I plan on reading 250 books while I am here as a personal goal and they loved it and almost all their letters were telling me I can do it (even though I think that maybe 250 books is a little much) I’m only at around 40 in 9 months but maybe their support will get me to speed up my reading! I can’t wait to hang up their letters and pictures in my house, it is things like that that keep me trucking on when the days get tough! Thanks Kelly and CCI!:)

~The next group is coming in April, Bots10. I am so excited to meet them and be at the point where a new group is coming! I remember thinking to myself, ‘Just get to the point where the newbies come, just get there, just get there!’ Now that it is just around the corner I can’t help but think how fast it has gone. Yes, I have missed so many things back home that I never thought I’d be emotionally able to miss. For example, my sister getting pregnant. It feels strange to have missed her whole pregnancy and the next time I see her she’ll be a mother and there will be a new addition to our family. Also, my brother got engaged and he will have his wedding most likely in August 2011 but thankfully I will be going home for that! Nothing could make me miss his wedding! My Godson’s first steps. My friends getting engaged...Kelly and Nate who will marry in October, I am so unbelievably sad I will have to miss it but I know it will be beautiful! Jasmin and Ben who will tie the knot in April 2012 in England, I’m still hoping to make their American celebrations whenever those might be! People moving, people getting new jobs, people kicking butt at Harvard (My home girl Jules). Though it is incredibly difficult to not be a part of their successes and happiness I am still there with them in some ways. Not a day goes by where my family and friends are not in my thoughts! As my one year mark approaches I am thrilled and proud to have made it to where I have. I hope the next 17 months are filled with great learning experiences, love, growth, happiness and above all else strength to get through the difficult times.

Peace and Love, Mary “The Dinkster” Duggan

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Without suffering there would be no compassion."

I want to tell a story that is filled with pain, fear, frustration, anger and love. I will tell it exactly how it happened in my eyes only leaving out the real names of the others who were involved. Those who are in Peace Corps Botswana with me will know who I am writing about but out of respect for their families who may not know what occurred I ask that you do not post their names here or on any other public site.
This story has both a tragic and a happy ending. Five women were part of a scary robbery, five were exposed to HIV+ blood and are now on PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis) and five are forever tied together.

On Friday the 28th of January four friends and myself went out to the capital for an Indian dinner. We had won a costume contest back in October dressed as the Ghostbusters and were treated to a night of good food, good laughs and good friendship but ‘M’ who hosted the Halloween bash. The dinner was full of all those for mentioned things. We ate too much but didn’t care, we laughed so hard our cheeks hurt and we enjoyed each others company to the fullest. Sometimes great moments are shattered. There is a quote I hate to love because it rings true too often and it says, “I think I'm afraid to be happy because whenever I get too happy something bad always happens."-Charlie Brown. As we all walked out of the restaurant we planned to head back to M’s house and have a good old slumber party. On our way to the combi stop we talked and laughed. I was walking ahead a few steps with C while M, K, and R gossiped and giggled behind us about life. There was a moment of silence to which C said, “Mary, there’s a guy” meaning I should move out of the way so he could pass. As I moved to my right I turned and was face to face with a man. I knew in that split second that something wasn’t right. His face was covered in shadow but I could feel his look of cowardness. He immediately grabbed my purse which was slung over my shoulder. I moved away while holding on tight to my bag but his second violent tug ripped my purses strap and as I screamed he ran off into the tall grass with my bag. R and M ran a little ways on the sidewalk after him but soo realized that it wasn’t worth it. I began to cry, not because I was hurt but because of how he made me feel; anger, vulnerable and helpless. As I paced back and forth screaming “Legodu! Legodu!” which means thief in Setswana he still continued to run into the night. I can’t recall who exactly called th police but someone did. I was too upset to do anything but cry and pace. I am thankful for my friends who took charge and made the necessary phone calls to the police and to Peace Corps. The man who grabbed my purse was still in sight while we were on the phone with the police. He was waving his phone light and yelling to us. We stood there in disbelief that this man had the nerve to be calling to us for something. He was about 50 yards away, right off the main road where there were 4 lanes of traffic rushing by. All I remember screaming was “What??! What do you want you have EVERYTHING?!?! EVERYTHING!” R walked a few feet into the grass to try and hear what he was saying and then we all heard him say “Give me 200 Pula!” I absolutely couldn’t believe that he had my purse with p400, my digital camera, my phone, my I.D. and my credit cards and he had the nerve to ask for more money! Anger was seeping out through every pore. C and K helped me calm down because I was yelling “You have EVERYTHING Rra (which mean Sir), everything, just take it and go, leave us alone!” but he kept coming closer and asking for more money. At this point M and R were telling him to give the purse back. I remember R was saying “Do the right thing Rra, do the right thing, give her the purse with the I.D. in it and take everything else. Just leave it there and go.” He kept asking for more money and R said she would give him p200 if he gave her the purse back. I kept begging them to not go near him and bargain, my purse wasn’t worth it. I was so confused and angry that they would risk their lives for my stupid bag. C and K just kept telling me that M and R wouldn’t put themselves in danger and that there’s nothing I could do to stop them. I was freaking out because I didn’t understand why they were bargaining with a man who was potentially dangerous. I paced and watched as the man took off his shirt to hide in the night from all the car lights rushing past. He approached R and M slowly and held out the purse but told them to come closer to him. When they both said they would not come closer he said he would stab them if they tried anything. He said “I don’t trust you two” and I laughed at the idiocy of this man who said that he didn’t trust US. He was shaking and nervous and clearly a coward. The three stepped slightly closer to each other and switched the purse for the money. Then he ran off again into the night. When they handed my purse back to me there was my wallet, no cash but it had all my credit cards, my bank cards and my I.D. He stole my phone, my camera and my money but left everything else down to my chapstick and cosmetic mirror. The police called us back and told us they couldn’t find us anywhere so they wanted us to cross the street to the gas station. Why they couldn’t find us was beyond me...we were in the middle of a busy city, right near a mall and two gas stations standing under a brightly lit billboard and they had been given all this information. All in all from the moment we called the police until R and M made the switch with the man it had been about 25 minutes. I truly believe that if they had shown up on time they would have got there to catch the man who was dumb enough to hang around and bargain.

When we got to the gas station we were waiting about 10 minutes when a police truck pulled in. They were driving really slow and didn’t seem to be in a hurry. M flagged them down and they gave a wave and a smile. We were confused. They drove slowly by and said “Hey ladies, how are you?” Our jaws dropped. They were hitting on us. M was enraged. She went over to the truck and asked them if they were here to help us and they looked all confused saying “No, we didn’t know, we’re out patrolling for muggers.” To which M said “WE JUST GOT MUGGED! Help US!” They said they couldn’t assist us but other officers were most likely on the way if we called it in and then they drove off. We all stood there stunned. M called the police and screamed at them for taking so long. R decided to call my phone that had been stolen just to see if the idiot would pick up and he did. I will not try to write down exactly what was said because I was not a part of the conversation but in short the man said if we didn’t get the police involved he would put the camera in a bag, drop it off somewhere near the police station and then call us to tell us where he put it after he was long gone. After 50 minutes since our first call to the police they showed up at the the gas station. They said, “Get in the back of the truck” which was a pickup truck with a cover. Simultaneously we said “NO!” The fact that the first thing they said to us was get in the back of a truck that is clearly where they put prisoners after waiting as long as we did for help was outrageous. There was no ‘How are you girls doing?’, ‘Are you ok?’ or any other type of comforting words, just ‘Get in the back of the truck and we’ll take you to the station.’ R told them that she had just been on the phone with the mugger and that he said he was going to drop off the camera by the gas station. When she said this all three officers laughed in our faces. One said, “No, no ladies how could you believe him, he’s a thief.” Another said, “Of course he told you that, he was just trying to fool you.” Their smiles continued. I forget who but someone said, “How could you be laughing at us right now?!” Looking back on it now of course we realize that maybe the man was just telling us what we wanted to hear but at the time, after just being robbed and humiliated we believed him and we expected the police to be comforting not condescending. Although every instinct told us not to get in that truck with them we knew we had no other choice. We were scared, they were the police so it had to mean something, right?

At the police station I filled out a police report while the girls helped me remember all the details. Since R gave her p200 in exchange for my purse she also had to fill out a written statement. The female officer laughed at her handwriting and other officers stared and laughed at the 5 of us who were clearly angry, vulnerable and distraught. We were their entertainment of the night. Peace Corps told us not to leave the station without a copy of the police report but when we asked for it they said they couldn’t give us one then, we had to come back on Monday morning. There was some back and forth about the ridiculousness of them not giving us a copy but they still refused. They said it was a new policy that they needed the report to be stamped and registered before they could release it to us and the person who does that only works Monday thru Friday 7:30-4:30. We had lost another battle that night. Feeling defeated, humiliated and tired beyond belief we insisted they give us a ride back to M’s house. Thankfully they agreed. If they hadn’t I am not sure what havoc we would have wreaked in that station.

Waiting for our transport a man walked into the police station asking for someone to help his friend who was waiting outside the station doors. In actuality there were no doors, just an open bay. From where we were sitting we could see a man bleeding from his right arm. He had a piece of cloth wrapped around the wound but it clearly wasn’t stopping the bleeding that was spilling onto the pavement outside. C said “That sound can’t be his blood hitting the floor can it?” I replied, “No, it sounds like rain, there’s no way...” C stood up to look over the counter and when she looked back at me she said, “Mary, it is his blood.” C went around the counter to the man and was miming to him how to hold pressure on his wound. He didn’t seem to quite understand so instead he was squeezing the open gash and blood was going everywhere. She kept repeating and showing him on her own arm how to do it properly. While C was trying to help him M, R, K and myself were begging and pleading for the officers to assist him and get him transport to a hospital as soon as possible. I wish I could explain it better than this but the best way I can describe how the police responded was complacent. They didn’t care, they moved slow, they seemed heartless. I joined C over by the man who was growing weaker and weaker and bleeding more and more. We screamed for a chair and I don’t even remember who brought a chair over but thankfully someone did. In my opinion he wouldn’t have lasted standing much longer with the amount of blood he had already lost. We were finally able to get him to hold his wound correctly and above his heart but the blood was continuously flowing through his fingers and onto the floor. I can’t speak for the others but I felt helpless. Everything inside me wanted to help him but in all honesty my mind couldn’t see past all the facts I have learned about HIV here in Botswana. My heart was screaming for me to help but my mind was stopping me and keeping my feet planted on the ground, I was ashamed because if I had been in America I wouldn’t have hesitated in helping him. Would that be stupid? Yes it would, but watching someone bleed to death when you have the knowledge and ability to stop it is worse. As I wrestled with what to do in my head K came over to C and I and handed us a zip lock bag full of latex gloves that she always carries in her purse. I looked at C and she looked and me and in that moment we both knew we were thinking the same thing, ‘Lets go.’ We put on our gloves and immediately I held pressure on his wound. The gash was so long and barely visible through all the blood that I couldn’t tell where all the blood was coming from. It was still pouring onto the floor. R took off her shirt because she had an undershirt on as well and offered it to us. C wrapped his arm tightly with the shirt. This seemed to stop the constant bleeding although I continued to hold his arm above his heart with one hand and over the wound with the other. It seemed like only seconds later the blood came spilling out again. C and I, who both have medical backgrounds, were frustrated that nothing was working. We were puzzled as to if the blood was coming from his arm or if it was just coming off the soaked shirt and bandage. I looked down at the puddle of blood on the floor and realized my feet had many little drops of blood on them. I’ll never forget looking up at C and whispering, “C, look at my feet...shit.” She said, “Ok, ok, I’ll get some water, it’s ok.” I felt that she was scared too. She came back with water and subtly doused my feet but it was too late, the splattered blood was all over my ankles as well. I said, “It’s ok, what’s done is done, shit.” to her and then to the officers standing around watching the show, “He needs to go to the fucking hospital NOW!” One of them replied “The transport is coming” to which of of us yelled “WHEN?!!??!”
After about 35-40 minutes from the moment the injured mans friend walked into the station asking for help, transport arrived. We were told by an officer that “This is also your ride home. We will drop the man off at the clinic and then give you a ride home.” I said, “Is someone going to take this mans arm from me?!?!” there was no response so I said “Can someone help me take this man to the car, I can’t do it by myself!” and again no response or movement to help. As the man stood up his friend thankfully helped me take him to the car. We were all thinking the ‘transport’ that was coming to help this man would be an ambulance or police car but we were shocked to see it was a white pickup truck, no cover. I asked C to take the mans arm and continue to hold pressure while I climbed into the back of the truck with the injured man. A pool of blood had already formed in the bed of the truck next to the man and mine and C’s glove covered hand prints were all over the tailgate and inside the truck walls. Three officers climbed into the back with me, the injured man, his friend and C, R, K and M. Right as we were all getting situated the driver floored it and I flew back into the tailgate slamming my back into my own bloody handprints that I had left from climbing in. I was wearing a tank top, white shorts and flip flops. My entire backside I would learn later was covered in blood. The driver then slammed on the brakes before he pulled into traffic and I was catapulted into the man, slamming my knee into the bed of the truck and into the pool of blood that had formed by his side. Everyone else in the back of the truck was sliding around but all I remember was my left knee bent in a pool of blood and directly under the mans right injured arm watching his flowing blood pour all over my legs. There was nothing I could do to stop the flow of blood. I was holding as much of his forearm as I could but the cut was so large that no matter what I did I couldn’t cover his whole gash. Literally his blood was spilling onto my legs and feet and the way I had been thrown into him I couldn’t move without slipping or losing grip on his arm which I felt was the most important part. I closed my eyes and prayed that I hadn’t made a mistake by helping this man and I immediately felt I was answered. Of course we did the right thing and again I felt ashamed but this time I felt that way for even thinking that what I did was wrong. This man would have bled to death. Plus, how could I discriminate against someone for having or not having HIV? Everyone is equal and that’s what I am here for, not to stigmatize, not to judge, but to love no matter who the person!
We arrived at the clinic and when I asked for someone to help the man off the truck none of the officers even glanced my way. I told the man that on the count of 3 we were jump together and he nodded. “1, 2, 3..” and then we hit the ground, his knees almost coming out from underneath him but thankfully he was strong enough to hold himself up. A wheelchair was brought outside for him and while I still held his arm he was wheeled through the waiting room. He left a trail of blood throughout the entire path and my bloody legs rubbed against one another. Once a trained person took over C and I were told to follow a woman into a room to wash up. C had blood on her feet and some on her arms as well and we both silently washed ourselves over a drain in the room with a bucket of warm water and gauze. R helped scrub the back of my legs and the places I couldn’t reach. At that moment as I watched the blood seep down the drain I felt sick. I felt sick for the way the police treated us, how they ignored the injured man, how the night had turned from fun to scary to heartbreaking. R called Peace Corps medical and our Doctor was sending a driver to pick us up and take us to the medical office. We waited out in the parking lot and shared our fears along with nervous laughter and jokes to hide the tears. R decided she needed for her own sanity to go back in the clinic and ask if the man would reveal his HIV status or be willing to take a rapid HIV test. She had also gotten some spattered blood on her feet and had a few bug bites and an open cut. K also had blood on her jeans and t-shirt and although M wasn’t aware if she had gotten any blood on her, we were all close enough that anything was possible. R came back with the news that we all feared but didn’t think possible. The man was HIV positive. I broke down in that very moment. I had been swimming in this mans blood, with bug bites and a couple small recently healed cuts around my ankle. The mans face flashed before my eyes. His kind and thankful eyes. Did we save his life and take our own?

If you’ve read this far then I hope you continue because like I said this story is a tragic story but also a happy one.

Currently myself and the 4 others girls are taking a drug called Combivir as a precaution in case any of us were infected with his blood. For two the drug makes their muscles ache and gives them headaches, for the other two it makes them incredibly exhausted and for me I have crippling nausea and fatigue. It has been a week and a day since the incident occurred and I have had many different feelings. I have wanted to go home, I have wanted to cry, I have wanted to scream. I have laid on the couch on my back in hopes that my nausea would go away only to lay there for hours with no relief. I have slept for 14 hours and when awoke still couldn’t get out of bed. After all this I am still here. I am still replaying that night in my head. This is what I think and if you don’t believe in God then you may think what I’m about to write is crazy but I’d love for you to read it anyways. I have been thinking, ‘What if I wasn’t robbed that night? Would anyone have helped that man? Would he have been left to die?’ So with those thoughts I have looked to God and I have thanked Him for putting me where I needed to be that night. I needed to be at that police station and I needed to look into that mans eyes and know that it was now or never for his life. If helping that man means I need to take medication that makes me tremendously sick for 28 days, then I will do it and I will do it proudly. I do not regret one second of that night. I am sorry that the night was filled with so much pain for me, for my friends, for that man and now for my family and friends back home that know what happened but I am not sorry for what we all did. Life is filled with suffering but sometimes I think “Without suffering there would be no compassion.”
To C, R, K ,and M: You are angels. If we weren’t already going to be in each others hearts before January 28th, 2011, we are now. You’re bound to me and I to you. Thank you for everything you are and represent and don’t ever forget that you’re heroes.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Witchcraft, Contaminated Water and Beaches

It’s been a while, my apologies! There’s really no excuse to not be writing especially because I am just wrapping up my schools summer break which was 6 weeks long. I was surprisingly busy which in Peace Corps is a great and sometimes rare thing! I’ll begin with my time spent at the Bobirwa Youth Forum:
Early December- A Youth Forum takes place a few times a year in different regions in the country. Students are chosen from surrounding schools in the chosen region and invited to participate in a week long program which focuses on empowering youth. When I arrived I felt like I was back in my familiar territory, a camp-like setting. I was happy to see kids running around and playing! For that week I stayed in a hostel with some students and a teacher. I was given the oldest girls hostel and we all immediately bonded. The language barrier was quite a challenge because I was in the Eastern region of Botswana where the children’s’ English is not as good as it is in my village being so close to Gaborone, the capital. Although the girls were older they had trouble communicating with me but I found a way to connect with them anyways!
Boy was it HOT up there! I woke up every morning drenched in sweat and covered in dead bugs...yeah gross. I actually don’t even know what kind of bugs they were, not mosquitos because they’re somewhat yellow but they fly around the lights but when the lights turn off they fall to the ground and seem to die...I don’t know but let me tell you, disgusting. It didn’t help that I was on a top bunk right above the light. Heat rising, bugs falling...perfect. on to the craziness that was my witchcraft encounter, no joke. No one told us that Bobirwa district was a ‘witchcraft’ district. Of course if they had told me it wouldn’t have actually mattered because I would have brushed it off like I always respect but don’t believe all the stories about witches (Botswana and a lot of the African continent have strong beliefs in witchcraft) Anyways, in another hostel there was a little girl about 7 years old with a few other children and adults. One night the little girl was claiming to be called by her ancestors to come outside. Now this is a common belief of Batswana that ancestors sometimes come and take you away for celebrations and/or duties and then bring you back...eventually. When I say ancestors I mean dead ones and when I say come and take you I mean literally you go with them and disappear into another realm or world. Clearly I am no expert in explaining the belief in ancestry or witchcraft but this is the only way I can explain it in terms you’ll understand...who am I kidding I still don’t even fully understand. Ok, so back to the little girl. She said that her ancestors wanted to take her but there was too strong of a conflicting presence in the room. It turns out the conflicting presence was one of the adults who was a Christian and was wearing a glow in the dark rosary. The ancestors could not cross the threshold to take the little girl away because of the strong energy of Christianity. Are you still with me? After speaking with multiple Batswana at the youth forum about what was happening I was told not to worry because we can’t interfere with the energies. When I asked, “Why isn’t the little girl scared of being taken by ghosts or spirits or whatever they are?” The reply was that “ancestors aren’t bad spirits and people want to be taken because it’s their duty to go. They are always returned back to their lives in a matter or days or months.” Yes, I said months. According to belief a lot of people just poof, disappear and are returned a month later. Golly gee I just don’t know.
Without going on and on about this I will tell you a story that a child told about what happened to him:
One 14 year old boy said (and I am paraphrasing here but this is pretty close to exact words) “Three weeks ago 6 albino mongaloids came into my room and put a piece of red carpet on the floor. They told me to poop on it. They told me I couldn’t poop again until they came back to get more. I can’t go to the bathroom anymore and it hurts.” Now, I asked a few of the people working with me at the forum, “Why doesn’t someone give him laxatives to help him go so he’s not in pain?” To which they replied, “Oh no, no we can’t interfere with the ancestors! He has to wait until they come back to collect.” I knew right at that moment that I was in way over my head with this ancestor/witchcraft business. If grown adults believe that this young boy has to sit in pain for weeks and weeks not going to the bathroom because he must wait for the spirits to come back I was lost. The seriousness in beliefs are strong and who am I to interfere...I mean even if I wanted to that wouldn’t be right, right? I thought that I was over the culture shock of it all but after that week and learning so much about the beliefs and customs I was thrown back on my butt and splashed with a cultural wake-up call! Do I believe in witchcraft? Well I don’t think so but at the same time seeing and hearing what I did I can’t say for sure now. At first when I arrived in my village people would tell me that their parent or friend died and when I said, “oh I’m so sorry, how did they die?” I would get a lot of this, “Well, the witches got him.” I kind of used to think oh geez, am I in the twilight zone or what? How do you tell someone “No, the witches didn’t kill your Dad, he must have died from something else” Who do I think I am if I were to do that?! I wouldn’t but that doesn’t mean I don’t think their thoughts may be a little deluded...but then again how would I know? Call me confused because that’s what I am when it comes to witchcraft and things that I can never begin to understand. short (I know, I know, that’s not possible with me) the youth forum was great. Tiring, hot, a lot of emotional draining things which I don’t have the heart to mention now, but it was amazing to see the children transform and leave with some great skills. I will for sure go to the next one and I am curious if it will be as interesting as my witch adventure!

Mid December- This will be shorter I promise! Another volunteer organized an Alcohol Awareness Youth Camp in her village which is in the Western part of the country. Her village is called New Xade and it is a settlement where many of the residents were taken from the CKGR (Central Kalahari Game Reserve) and made to relocate there because of mining for diamonds and such. I won’t get into the politics of it but it is sad to see people taken from their homes, uprooted and placed somewhere else. The togetherness and strength these Batswana have is beautiful.
A few volunteers were invited to bring some of their skills to the program, me being one of them. I did a team building activity that went well, or the best it could have gone seeing that the language barrier was the toughest I’ve run into. In New Xade they do not speak Setswana. In fact it was the first time I heard the “clicks” that is so stereotypical when people think of African language. I thought Setswana was hard...heck no, not compared to the clicks. I even tried and tried but my mouth just won’t allow me to do it!
I am so happy I got to travel to these other villages in different parts of the country because I have been somewhat stuck in my South East region for the past 8 months. A change in venue is sometimes what’s needed!

Late December/Early January- VACATION! Firstly, I’ll say that though Christmas is gone I still don’t feel like I missed it or that it even exists here. Sure, the holidays are just as important to Batswana as they are to Americans but it’s just different. The weather is scorching and it doesn’t feel right to be wearing a tank top and shorts and sweating. Well, maybe that feels normal to someone from Arizona but not me from Massachusetts where Christmas time means snow, hot chocolate and frozen limbs. Don’t get me wrong I DO NOT wish I was freezing and having to wait for my car to heat up just to survive but I missed the 'feeling’ of a real Christmas. In a way it made being away from family easier because it didn’t feel like it was even occurring. The downside of that however is seeing pictures and knowing that yes, indeed Christmas time DID happen...and it happened without me. How rude!
Anyways...I had an amazing Indian dinner with about 40 other volunteers on Christmas Eve and awoke Christmas morning only to put on my bathing suit and go to a pool at a hotel with all of them and sizzle in the sun! So though it didn’t feel like Christmas, it felt good to be around people and enjoying basking in the rays!
One the 29th of December my friend Caitlin and I began our adventure to Mozambique. Did I mention we bused it the whole way there...not cool. The first bus ride was from 6am-1pm and we got to Johannesburg and began our wait for the next bus that was leaving at 10pm (yes, overnight busing it) We were wondering the streets trying to find a place to grab lunch. During lunch this couple who was eating there was nice enough to give us pointers as to what we should see while we had a day in the South African capital. It turns out that this couple (Michelle and Grant) wanted to do more for the clearly confused and tired American travelers that were Caitlin and I. They took us to their house and let us put our heavy packs down and then Michelle took us for the grand Jo’burg tour around the city in the her. We saw the botanical gardens and we even went to the top of this ridge and saw the most amazing view of the whole city! It was breathtaking and something I would have never seen otherwise. We met up with Grant again later and we went for dinner and drinks and talked about traveling and such. It was a great day that was supposed to be filled with wondering aimlessly for hours probably not seeing anything cool to meeting two great people who showed us great sights and did I mention let us shower at their house! Cheers to them!
We boarded our overnight bus and I was attempting to be drugged up on sleeping pills but it was a bummer to have o stop at the border in my sleeping stupor. We arrived in Maputo, Mozambique in the morning and needed to haul butt to ATM’s to get Meticais (their currency) and figure out where we get the bus to our final destination. After a confusing encounter with a man named Roberto who was nice enough to give us a ride to the bus which actually turned out to be the wrong bus depot, we arrived at the Maputo bus rank otherwise known as my hell. Ok, it wasn’t that bad but I was tired and just wanted to get a seat by a window because though Botswana is HOT it is not humid and let me tell you Mozambique is freaking HUMID! Not only did we NOT get good seats on the bus but we actually got the worst two seats available! The way back of the bus in a row made for 4 but if you’ve ever been to Africa they love to shove people in so we were there with 3 other grown adult men and a man was drinking whiskey (did I mention it was 10am?) So, there we were 6 people in a 4 seater in the blazing heat for 10 HOURS! No joke. The bus would pull over every now and then for bathroom stops...those bathroom stops consist of the side of the rode and a bush. Needless to say I held my bladder for the whole ride.
We arrived in Tofo at 10pm and dropped our bags off at Bamboozi lodge and searched for some much needed drinks and food after that ride. Nothing was serving food except a place on the side of the beach called “The Bread Shack”. We asked the man, “Are you still serving food?” He said, “Yeah.” We said, “Ok, what kind of food do you have?” To which he said, “Well, I can put food in bread.” Caitlin and I looked at one another and simultaneously thought ‘ok, food is food, right?’ We grabbed a beer and waited a few minutes. The man came out with two plates. Both consisted of the same: a literal loaf of bread cut in half and turned upright. There was a hole in the loaf and it was stuffed with some chicken stew concoction. Oh “Bread Shack”, how we were thankful for not the food but the laugh!
The next day we awoke to Heaven. Beaches. We had made it. The next couple of days were filled with sun, ocean, good food and friends. Some other volunteers were already there so we met up with them and rung in the New Year on the beach with fireworks and a unexpected, fully clothed swim in the ocean! 2011 started off with a bang! On the 2nd of January Caitlin and I ventured North to Vilunculous to spend our remaining days in Mozambique in a fisherman’s village where we spent our time pool side, restaurant side and snorkeling out on the islands! Of course to get there we needed to take another bus which we never managed to catch so we hitched (very normal and necessary) This hitch was unique to say the least. There are sketchy men all over the world and we landed in the back with Mr. Creep himself. The things that came out of his mouth were hilariously grotesque. Hmmmm...should I say one of his lines or is it too inappropriate? Ok, you pulled my leg. He was talking to us about the bender of a night he just came off of with his friends at the beach (mind you it is 5:30 am as we’re in the truck) and he says while referring to his lack of ‘getting any’ that previous night and what he says to women to try and persuade them, “I may have an ugly face but I have a sweet dick.” I almost died right there but composed myself to reply, “and that line didn’t work, go figure.” So although the guy was Mr. Sketch he was harmless but Caitlin and I decided to ditch the hitch when the truckload of men decided to stop on a road at 6am and have a beer with a bunch of other people drinking heavily as the sun was still coming up! “Just one beer and then we’ll be on our way again” they said but we couldn’t get out of there fast enough! We hoped on a ferry to a place called Maxixe and then got on a combi to our final destination. A combi is supposed to legally fit 15 people but most of the time they squeeze 18 which isn’t too bad. This was a 4 hour ride so you can imagine my ultimate disbelief when we rode the majority of the way with 28 people inside the combi...YES I SAID 28 PEOPLE IN A 15 PASSENGER VEHICLE! There are many times when I say to myself 'if I can just get through this I’ll be able to laugh in the end’...this was definitely one of those times! Man oh man the good old African continent knows how to keep me on my toes!
Oh I almost’re not supposed to drink the water in Mozambique. Well, would it be a Mary Duggan adventure if I didn’t do something stupid? No. So, what did I do? It was hot, majorly hot outside and Caitlin and I were walking around in the market place desperately searching for a place to buy water but we couldn’t find a place. We walked past this little house and it looked like they were selling things and I saw a fridge so I asked for “agua” (In Mozambique they speak Portuguese) The woman said “Si, Si” and came back with a pitcher of water and poured us a glass to share. Caitlin said, “Mary, we shouldn’t drink this, we don’t know where it came from.” To which I said, “I bet it’s fine, I mean right? I think it came from the fridge so it’s probably ok.” We stared at the glass for what seemed like ages and Caitlin said “You first” so of course my stubborn self took a big gulp and Caitlin followed with a smaller sip. Don’t listen to Peer Pressure kiddies because come the next day we had to deal with the repercussions. I don’t care how thirsty you get, DON’T DRINK MYSTERY WATER! For the last days of our vacation we weren’t doing too well. Thankfully Caitlin’s sickness subsided before mine but my body was punishing me for taking a monster sized gulp of the contaminated water. My stomach felt like a very small man was hiding inside and stabbing my every now and then with a dull knife and trying his best to escape through my belly button...this lasted up until a few hours until we got back to Botswana. Let me tell you...riding three buses (all 7-11 hours in length) over 2 days while having to run to the bathroom or cripple over holding my stomach is not my idea of a good time. Now I am safe back in Kumakwane with only very minimal aftershocks and the little man in my stomach is dormant. Thank God for clean water from the tap!

That’s all for now. I will really try harder to update more frequently so I don’t bore you with a million pages of ranting!

Oh...yesterday was my sister Amy’s baby shower so I wish her and little unborn Jace the best! Love you!
Peace and Love,