Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Easter in Salajwe

Our little friend Kgosi turned eight years old on April 21, the week before Easter. Lucas and I offered to throw a birthday party for him and his friends. Kgosi lives with his grandmother who is a teacher at the primary school.

Lucas and I decided to share a little bit of America by hosting an Easter eggs hunt and piñata. Lucas hard-boiled 11 eggs. Since we didn’t have food dye, we decorated the eggs with markers. I soaked strips of newspaper in a water/flour mixture and wrapped around a balloon to make a piñata. We filled the piñata with candy and toys, and sewed a string threw the sides so that it could hang from a clothes line.

We met with Kgosi’s grandmother so that she could explain the rules of the egg hunt while we hid the eggs. Kgosi’s grandmother lives in a small, square compound on the primary school grounds. There are no bushes, no grass. We struggled to find hiding places. We slid some in random bricks laying in the yard, in window sills, and holes in the ground. It seemed pretty obvious where eggs where hiding but for kids who have never played, it was a bit difficult. The kids would move as a group rather than spreading out. When one egg was found, the rest would dig in the ground like dogs looking for the rest. When an egg was found, the child would peel the egg and gobble it down. There were enough eggs that every child got at least one. It was a big hit.

Lucas and I passed out cake and watermelon and gave Kgosi a gift. He is a huge fan of match box cars. So we wrapped up five cars that had never been used and gave them to him as a birthday gift.

For the final game, we taught kids how a piñata works. Lucas would tie a bandana around a kid’s eyes, spin him around a few times, hand him a broken broom handle and give him three swings. I was surprised most of the children were reluctant to try. In fact one kid waited until he was finished being spun around and just pulled off his bandana without taking any swings.

When the piñata was finally knocked down, there was a stunned silence instead of the normal chaos of American children rushing to collect candy. I picked up the piñata and poured all the goodies on the ground. Then they got the idea. Even the grandmother was collecting some candy.

The next day Lucas and I left to meet up with some Peace Corps volunteers who had friends visiting from Spain. Their friends offered to cook an authentic Spanish meal for everyone. The next morning those who were interested ran a 6-mile “Easter Bunny Fun Run.” I hadn’t run since the 4-mile “Turkey Day Fun Run” at Thanksgiving. But I still gave it a go.

I had been suffering from a head cold for almost a week so Lucas and I called it an early weekend and traveled back to Salajwe. Before heading back, we gave each other a P100 budget (~$14) to give each other an Easter basket. We exchanged the Easter baskets in our family’s traditional way. Lucas’ basket was waiting for him in the morning prepared in a mixing bowl with a scarf as “grass.” Lucas hid my basket. Very fun but I am horrible at hiding games. I was never really good at Easter egg hunts…

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Daycare Playground was Born

This building with wonderful paintings and letters scrawled on its sides stood empty for our first year of service. It was sad to see a daycare facility empty with the amount of little village kids running around. To our desires, the daycare was soon opened and filled to capacity. 30 kids running around, singing to Katie, chasing each other, playing with rocks, learning and taking naps were a handful for the staff of 2. I could see that climbing trees wasn’t going to last forever so I asked the teacher how I could help. She told me that the kids didn’t have much to play with and that’s when the idea of a playground was conceived. I went home drew up plans, built a scale model and started getting professional opinions from an architect in our group (Ryan Mannion). It took some generous funds, donations, and helping hands to get the materials and start the project. Finely, something I can do with my hands, see with my eyes, and strengthen my muscles. It was hard work but just seeing it come together, an idea of my own, was a magical and rewarding thing.

With the raised funds I bought the wood (gum) poles and collected all the tiers. The tires were easy as pie to get; I guess almost everyone has an old tire lying around. The slide I cut from a rain water storage tank that has ruptured and fallen down. The Lempu junior secondary school had the jig-saw, drill and drill-bit that I needed to do the technical parts of the construction.

The key to child proof success was to first build it loosely in my yard. Our house has electricity for one, but by doing it at home none of the anxious kids would be playing on it early. With Kaite, a PCV John, and my dad’s help we got the model formed. With out the ratchet my dad brought, we would have had a heck of time finishing. The slide and monkey bars can even hold my weight so we must have done something right. I made sure to sink all dangerous bolts, curve all plastic and cover all nails before I took it apart to move.

In one day with the help of a local friend named Taylor, we took apart and transported the entire structure over to the daycare. The re-assembly was a little bit trickier, seeing as everything in a re-build never quite lines up. Piece of advice, having the right tools for the job makes that job that much easier –Scott Scharmer. It’s so true, using a screw driver as a chisel and a hatchet back as a hammer just don’t work as well.

With it finely assembled and up, we blocked it straight. We pushed into level and upright position in each of the gaping post holes before we poured in the concrete. The concrete was mixed and poured, no moving it after that little trick. It looked great, even with out kids climbing all over it.

While we waited a few days for the concrete to dry, Katie painted the most wonderful patterns on the 4, 2X4 planks that would soon become the swings. They look great. I think they’re the best part about the pay ground. With the teachers help, we kept the kids off the jungle gym until it was dry.

Once released for pay, they were obsessed. Up the tires down the slide, like 100 times each. (the little ones are still nervous about the slide) They didn’t quite figure out the monkey bars until we put the swings up and we showed them how the monkey bars worked. They loved it and the teachers loved it too. She must have said thank you 8 times.

This Blog is dedicated to all those generous donors at Rejoice Lutheran and to those individuals who assisted in its building or gave goods to make sure this playground was born. Thank you!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Scharmers Come to Visit

I’m going to tell this story a little bit different. I am going to tell a little story about each picture in succession from the beginning of our trip to the end. This trip was by far one of our favourites. The Scharmers got to experience fully what Botswana has to offer.

I drove down to Johannesburg South Africa to pick up the Scharmers from their 16 hour flight over the big blue pond. We spent the night at a backpackers before we drove north the following day. It was a quiet evening with good food and better conversation. I was so excited to see them I lost my cell phone and left a calling card in the pay phone. I lost my head in a sense. In the morning we drove into Botswana and picked up Katie in our rental car at the bus station. Our first true cultural stop was at the Bahurutse Cultural Village. This is a place where people can go and stay in traditional Setswana houses, eat traditional Setswana food and watch traditional dancing and culture.

Doris and Scott are looking onto a basket full of sorghum, which is one of the staple foods in Botswana. The old woman is wearing traditional cloths and jewellery and in the background you can see the Kgosi (chief) of the village.

Doris looks in on the morder and pestle stomping process of how they turn sorghum into a flower like meal. She soon after joined in on the stomping process.

After we were shown our room and the festivities had ended, we were shown to the dining area for our first truly traditional meal. From the far end where Doris is there was an English muffin like bread, followed by a maze meal mashed potato like dish, then a sorghum pourage followed by the vegetable of cooked bean leaves that Katie is dishing. The last on the table is a dish of cooked caterpillars. Yum! We washed it all down with a swig of traditional sorghum beer.

We slept in the traditional roundival hut and experienced a few leaks during a ravishing thunderstorm. No harm done and a good breakfast and a tour of the grounds gave us a nice start to a great day.

On our way to Salajwe we ran into a little road water but the rental car pushed on through with out once having to be pushed.

The Scharmers came bearing gifts and a lot of them at that. We couldn’t have been happier! Thank you thank you to all those involved in getting us Oreos, Cheez-its, cereal, beef jerky and much more!

Katie and I took the Scott and Doris on a tour of Salajwe. We stopped at the Primary school where the school head gave a tour and some children sang for my parents.

From the Primary school we went to the clinic where Katie showed what she does as a Peace Corps volunteer. We even got to see a 4 hour old new born baby. Very exciting. Here is Scott checking out all the medications in the back room of the clinic. After the clinic, we toured the Junior Secondary school, the day care and saw some of what the rest of Salajwe village looks like.

Here the Scharmers are with the Chief of Salajwe and his wife, who is Katie’s best friend at the clinic where she works as a cleaning lady. Dad with some kids in front of a cooking house. That night in Salajwe we had some other volunteers over, John and Sadie, to share a meal of pizza.

The next morning, we went on our first game drive through Khutse Game Reserve and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. It is a unique desert landscape of low trees and open grasslands.

One of my favorite parts of our trip was when we took a ride in a donkey cart. I think I pushed for it more than anyone but when else will we have the reason to ride around Salajwe village with a troop of 25 kids following us? Never, it was perfect.

Following a lovely visit to Salajwe, our home away from home, we drove further north to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. It’s a game park where we stayed overnight and went on a game drive. We toured the town nearby and went to their markets to see how an African Market is.

The first game we spotted were a group of Giraffe that were grazing the tree tops. But the Rhinos where what were so fantastic for me. An amazing endangered beast that we got to see with our bear eyes.

After another night at the Rhino Sanctuary, we drove further north to the border town of Kasane. This is the road that is long, rough, but occasionally full of wildlife.

We spent 3 nights at Chobe Safari Lodge. It is built right on the banks of the Chobe River and designed to impress ambassadors and national delegates from around the world. Our first night we ate at the buffet. Just to name the meat I ate, not to mention the sides and desserts I had; Kudu, Guinea Fowl, Impala, Crocodile, and warthog. Scrum-dilly-umptious! It was late so we settled into our fully equipped, permanent standing camp tents.

The following day had a trip to Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, scheduled for the morning. We meet with our guide, Lucky, who took us to the Botswana border and then through the Zimbabwe border. All without interruptions or incidents.

Once inside the park we got to see the huge volumes of water pouring over the 200 meter falls. It was beautiful. At one spot, danger point, on the trail the mist is so bad that it is constantly raining. We were a bit damp but the hot Zimbabwe weather quickly dried our happy selves.

Lucky took us to a 2,500 year old Baobab tree. The oldest in the area with a huge trunk, short branches and long thick sausage like seed pods. Everywhere we stopped, vendors would pop out of the bushes with crafts for us to buy. Everyone’s trying to make a buck, who can blame them.

Katie, mom and Lucky pose for a picture at Mama Africa, a restaurant that served traditional Zimbabwe food. I got dried beef in peanut butter sauce with peanut butter rice. Everything has peanut butter in it it seams. When everyone had eaten their fill, we went to the big craft market. 30 some stalls with handmade crafts. Each stall contained a sales man that could sell a box of sand to Bill Gates. With our arms full of crafts and gifts we took our van back to Chobe Safari Lodge. Our night was spent river side with cocktails, cards and a heavenly sunset.

Our last day in Kasane was spent leisurely. We had coffee overlooking the river, walked the shops around town, saw the local markets, visited a hollowed out tree that was used for an old jail, swam in the lodge pool, played cards, watched baboons steal food from the buffet, and waited for Lucky to arrive for the evening boat cruise.

Again we were blessed with another wonderful game viewing experience. The boat cruise unique in the fact that you can get so close to the animals in their natural habitat because they are habitualized to seeing boats day in and day out. It’s like you’re not even there because you are not seen as a treat.

That was the culmination of our trip. From Kasane, the following day, we drove 10 hours south to the capitol Gaborone. We slept deeply and continued our journey south the following day to Johannesburg South Africa. It was a sad time seeing them walk through to their gate to go back to America but Katie and I both knew that we would be seeing them soon. What a great trip!!