Letters From Earth:  Susan in Botswana

by Donna Schoenkopf

Susan is in Botswana as a Peace Corps volunteer.  She writes amazing letters about her life there.

Here is one.

I am hoping the stress of the holidays has passed and you are enjoying
yourself and having a wonderful holiday.

This will be my Holiday Card for you but I will encourage you to save
it and read it in January or February when you have nothing to do and
it is cold outside.  I have been saving some stories and the update
has grown and it is quite lengthy and I know you are busy now and
trying to enjoy your families and friends.


I told some of you about my garden and me harvesting some zucchini.
It is still doing quite well and I have been able to share with my
friends.  I took one to the Agriculture Officer in my village in order
to show off, of course, but also to show him that this variety of
squash grows quite easily and fast here and would be ideal for a
backyard garden and to supplement a families food supply (which is so
desperately needed here).   He is a very sweet man and he was
pleasantly surprised.  Shocked may be more like it – that I could grow
it? Or that it grew here?  I am not sure.  Anyway, he said “I have to
see your garden”.  He came right up that evening.  We had a lovely
visit.  He was impressed with my garden and the size of the zucchini
plants.  We sat on the porch with me and we had a nice long visit.   I
shared some seeds with him and we talked about gardening, agriculture
in Africa, the rains, the lands, etc. until dark.   He loves farming
and he loves his job and wants everyone to raise food and animals.  He
has lands of his own and he said he had a huge garden at his home in
another village.  He took some zucchini seeds from me and is planning
to plant the and invited me to his village and home to see his garden.
 I am hoping he encourages others to plant zucchinni and other squash
in backyard gardens.  The seeds are available here but they call them
baby marrow?   I was very pleased with myself that I could impress the
Agriculture Officer with my gardening in Africa!

The Bugs – the good, bad and ugly.

So watching all the animals and insects   ( I enjoy seeing the baby
animals -  baby chicks, donkey and goats are so adorable, even goats
look cuddly when they are young with their soft, clean coats)       is
an interesting pastime in Africa.

However, with the rain brings the bugs and other things like you would
not believe.  In the morning is you walk after it has rained the night
before there are all kinds of things scurrying around on the ground.
Large worms – everything seems to be bigger in Africa.  Beatles are
huge.  Anyway, worms, lizards, etc. are crawling around and there is
this unusual small red bug that comes out after the rain and it is
absolutely beautiful.  It looks like velvet and is bright red!

The first time I had a fellow PC volunteer stay with me was right
after a big rain.  That night we sat on my porch with our white wine
out of a box! And had a lovely time because it was cool and there was
a breeze and I have a very nice view.  Then, we went in to cook dinner
and all hell broke loose.  It seemed like all the bugs were at the
doors and windows and wanted inside.  There was one creature that had
big wings and somehow found its way into the house.  Lots of them –
they were swarming.  They also seemed to go through their life cycle
right here in my house.  They had the wings and then lost them and
then they were a bug crawling around on the floor.  We were ducking
and swatting and trying to get dinner cooked without unwanted added
protein.  I do not know how they got in the house.  It was awful and I
was really disappointed because I wanted to properly entertain my
first guest.  She was fine, of course, because if you are a PC
volunteer you are prepared for most things.  I finally called a
neighbor and ask her – what, what, what.  She said they always come
after a rain and I should have closed my windows and doors.  (I do
have screens on everything)  They manage to get through the screens or
in somehow.

We drank more wine, ate quickly and turned off all the lights.  They
subsided as the evening went on.  What an evening!

They have not been as bad since but I have made sure I shut the
windows and doors and I bought a door guard and put a towel at the
bottom of the door.  Sounds like an easy solution but when it is this
hot and there is no air-conditioning, it is hard to make yourself shut
the windows.

There are positive sides to all the insects and animals here also.
Although, I have not seen the monkeys or the baboons lately, the rainy
season brings other joys.  The other night I was sitting on my porch
and a flock of swallows raced by the house.  Recently, you can see
millions of white butterflies floating through the air.  I suppose
they eat something vital but they are a sight to see. It is like it is
snowing.  Well, today I was at my kitchen sink and I looked out the
window.  Now, I will have to tell you that I have rigged a grey water
system in my back yard.  (this does not surprise you, I know)  I
cannot stand the thought of all this water going into some kind of a
sewer system – I hate to find out details – especially when water is
so scarce and sometimes is not available in my village.  Anyway the
pipe goes from my sink to my garden so water is sometimes standing
(but not for too long) .  I looked out and these white butterflies had
landed in a puddle of water in my garden.  There must have been a
hundred and they were white with a gorgeous black design on them.
Small and delicate. I got my binoculars to get a better look.  Really
something.  I have taken a picture of the butterfly but it is not a
very good picture since it is hard to get close to them and I am the
world’s worst photographer.

Goat Dung

Ok, so the house I was placed in is great, but the yard is the pits
for a gardener.  The soil is really bad and as I have said before, I
think, it looks like I am growing rocks.  Therefore, I do go out in
the village with my bucket and look for better soil than I have or
fertilizer.  Cow manure is ok to use and plentiful but it is quite
large and seems to take a lot longer to break down.  I have asked and
been on the lookout for people who are raising goats which is all over
the village.   I spotted this house which is on the way from my house
to the library and they confine their goats clearly to one round spot.
 I finally saw a young girl coming from the house who might speak a
little English and I asked her if I could come and get some, well,
poop.   She laughed but said yes.  Yesterday was Sunday and I did my
household chores and worked in the garden.  I decided it would be a
good evening to go and fetch the goat dung.  I took my bucket and my
spade and walked to the compound where the goats live.  I approached
the house I saw 2 older ladies and 2 children sitting outside the
house. I was a bit apprehensive but as I approached the house one of
the older ladies ask me to sit down in one of their plastic chairs.
They were talking in Setswana but I knew they said something to the
affect: You want some goat dung?  They immediately instructed the
young boy to go and shovel the dung into my bucket.  It was cute that
they knew exactly what I wanted and were so happy to supply.  They
seemed like they wanted to visit; we did not speak each other’s
language but we tried our best.  The young girl who should be well on
her way to learning English could not speak it very well.  I began
giving her a lecture on why she should learn English.  I do not do
this because it is my language.  I do it because it is obvious after I
have been here awhile that the young people are going to have to learn
English if they are going to better themselves and have a future in
Botswana.  English is the official language of Botswana and everything
the government does is in English.  All the letters, all the reports
are done in English.  If you want to work for the government, you are
going to have to know English.  She responded to me that she did not
know English well and she did not like it.  After she said that to me,
her two elders were all over her.  They were speaking Setswana but I
knew they were saying- “you have to learn English, you must learn
English if you want to_________”  It was really amusing.    The
granddaughter, of course, rolled her eyes and tried to argue with them
but I think she lost.

The women and I continued to try to carry on a conversation and did to
some degree.  As I was sitting there watching them talk to their
grandchildren and I am assuming grand niece and nephew.  I was
suddenly reminded of my Great Osage Indian Aunts who used to come and
visit my mother and I in Shawnee, Oklahoma.  They were elderly women
without husbands when I knew them.  (they outlived them by a long
shot)  They were very independent, strong willed women and I always
enjoyed their visits.  They were very opinionated and knew what they
wanted and did not make apologies for it.  They looked Indian too –
not like my immediate family.  The women here are very independent too
and self sufficient and reminded me of my Great Aunts as I was sitting
there listening to them.   Anyway, these women talked on and on and I
could tell they were giving the children some lectures about school,
the English language, etc.  I sat there awhile and tried to
communicate the best I could and the best they could.  It was getting
late and they evidently told the children to carry the bucket up to my
house for me.  I did not expect this.  The children obeyed and walked
with me to my house which is all uphill.  They were sweet and seemed
interested so I showed them my garden and gave them some zucchini and
some radishes to take home and then I cut some flowers  - zinnias –
for them to take to their grandmother.  The manure looked very fertile
and my rock garden! really needs it.   I plan to go back for more in
the near future.  It was a delightful evening and I just had to share
the experience.


Some time back my closet friend here who is a part of the craft group
I have started was taking me around the village to meet some women
which have certain skills.  Maureen took me to meet a woman who can
arrange flowers and likes to cook.  We visited for awhile and then she
turned to me and said “I need to take you somewhere” .   I had no clue
as to where she was taking me or why but I followed.  We came upon
this house and a women and a small boy were sitting outside.  We let
ourselves in the yard and then I noticed a boy lying on a blanket
beside them.  He was flat on the ground.  Immediately I knew he had
cerebral palsy.  My friends and I sat down on the blanket and began to
talk with him and give him some attention.  He was a happy child and
smiled at all the attention he was receiving.  The other two women
talked with the mother and then translated for me.  The woman was very
poor.  She really had no income and was living in the house which was
her brothers.  She explained that the boy needed a wheelchair because
it was very difficult to feed the boy.  He was so crippled all he
could do was lay flat on the ground.   She said feeding him was a
challenge as he choked because he could not sit upright.  We asked he
if had been to the clinic and seen the doctor.  The answer was not
clear but he probably had not been in awhile.  Maureen, my friend,
insisted we say a prayer for the child before we left.
I went to the clinic the next day and asked how we could get this boy
a wheelchair.  They told me he would have to see the doctor first and
he would have to order the wheelchair.  The doctor comes only on
Wednesday to Kalamare, so the next Wednesday the friend of the boy’s
mother came to the clinic saying that the mother would not bring the
boy.  The nurses’ scurried around and the next thing I knew was we had
the clinic truck and we were to go after the boy.  We drove to the
house and walked up to the door.  I found the boy lying on the front
porch, alone.  I remember that his face was in the hot sun so I
immediately moved him back into the shade.  The mother would not come
out of the house.  An aunt of the boy who could speak English somewhat
came and said she would go with him to the clinic.  They changed the
boys clothing and we loaded him into the back of the truck.  The
mother still would not come out of the house.  When we pulled up to
the clinic, many people were waiting to see the doctor who only comes
once a week.  No one made a sound, everyone watched as the boy was
taken from the back of the truck and people were staring at us
especially me, the “white lady” and wondering, what is she doing?

We took our seats in line.  It is first come, first serve.  They call
it the “que”.   The next thing I knew was that the door where the
doctor sees patients opened and it was time for the next person to go
in.   They called us in to go next which was really unusual.  People
are very aware and protective of their place in line.  Everyone was
staring at us and they insisted I go in with them.  I walked in to the
office and I knew the doctor and I also knew he was very tired that
day.  I told him I was sorry to have to bring this difficult case to
him today but I really had no choice.  I did not know if he was
displeased or not but he began examining the boy and asking the aunt
some questions.  Then he said “why haven’t I seen this boy before?  He
needs to be on medication and I need to see him once a month.”   I was
quite relieved.  We told him that he needed a wheelchair and he made
the necessary notations on his chart.
I was glad to know that I had done the right thing.  My counterpart
who almost never speaks to me told me I was doing a good job when she
learned about me finding and bringing the boy.

We are still working on getting him a wheelchair.  You have to go
through the Rehabilitation Officer who is located in another town.  I
call her every week to see if she has one yet.  She says there are
none available and no money but I keep bugging her.  Batswana get free
medical care and wheelchairs should be provided but I am sure they are
scarce.  We might have to raise money ourselves for the chair but no
one in Kalamare has any money so it is hard to know what to do.

Besides the adventures  I tell you about in my stories, I am working
at the clinic three mornings a week weighing babies and trying to work
on HIV/AIDs problem and packing pills.  I have also started a Craft
Group and we had our first sale last week which went well for our
first attempt and no one having any money.  I am researching and
writing proposals for a couple of projects.  One is for the orphan
pre-school and one is for building a community hall.  The village has
no place for community events and meetings except outside.  I have
obtained and installed a typing tutor program on every computer I can
get my hands on and encouraging people to learn to type.  Computers
are coming to this village and no one knows how to type.  Those who
can use a computer are hunting and pecking.  I am working very hard to
get computers installed in the library so everyone will have access to
computers and the self guiding typing program.  We have met with the
Library Council and are pressuring them to get computers and internet
for the library.  It will probably take my full two years to
accomplish this.

Hope this finds you enjoying the holidays and I look forward to
hearing from you next year.


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