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,