Saturday, March 12, 2016

Two countries

Here we are on our next-to-last night in this amazing place. We have heard about national branding and the promotion of tourism from the Botswana Investment and Trade Center, and we have heard from the US Embassy Economics Officer about the challenges of doing business in Botswana as a foreigner. We have interacted with tutors and school children in an after-school program for vulnerable youth and also heard about the national education system and English language learning and the gaps therein. Today, during an outing to Mokolodi Nature Reserve, we learned about efforts to stem poaching in Botswana. The government has a very hard stance on this issue, but in a country of just over  2 million people (and slightly smaller than the state of Texas), enforcement is an issue. Punishment may be little more than a modest fine. At the level of tribal government, however, this may be much more severe.

Botswana is full of dichotomies. There are extraordinarily rich citizens, thanks to diamond mining, and there are extremely poor Batswana as well. Yet, according to The World Bank, Botswana is classified as a "upper middle income country." HIV-AIDS is still a huge problem here. The government pays for treatment (including antiviral drugs) for HIV+ citizens. What happens when the diamond money runs out? 

Yes, Botswana is full of contradictions. At some point this week, though, our shared human values began to emerge. Despite many divisions, the "Botswana way," as we have learned, has everything to do with human connection. Shake every hand. Smile. Acknowledge. Listen. Communicate. Listen. Listen. Listen. 

If there is one thing I wish we could learn from our friends here, or one thing the importance of which  we might be inspired to revisit, it is the power of face-to-face, human-to-human, spirit-to-spirit communication. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes an openness of mind and heart that, in our  world of easy one-way communication, we often ignore. As we spend one last day here, I hope to think about the way my own patterns of interaction might be affected by my many encounters here in Botswana.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Two steps forward, and one drive backwards: Dominican life in reverse.

The past two days have been extremely busy ones, so it's time for a recap! Monday we started the day by going to visit a small children's school and a water filtering place. We learned how they were able to filter water and provide it to the community at a low cost. We even got to see them sealing the water bottles. 
After that, we headed to a local hospital. This hospital, however, was nothing like what we would find in the states. 

While we were there, we learned that the center is very popular for doing eye surgeries, and their optometry department was one of the biggest parts of the hospital. We were able to go into most of the different rooms and areas; we even got to see their operating room, and we were able to see some of the people both pre and post-op surgery.  One of the people coming out of surgery had been sedated, but there were no machines hooked up to her. It was pretty weird because they almost have no way of monitoring a person; we didn't even see an IV. They also had big centers for hearing, children, and general doctoral needs.
After the hospital tour, we got to visit a Dominican university. It was the first university to be built in the New World, and it was beautiful! The campus was huge, and the views as we were walking were perfect. There was a slight breeze blowing the palm trees, and everything was just very calming. There was artwork spread thoughout the entire campus on the walls, ceilings, everywhere. On our way back to the house, we passed a special restaurant, and we had gone to far... Our bus driver then proceeded to back up on a BUSY Dominican road for a seemingly long amount of time. We were all dying of laughter by the time Rafael, our driver, had finished backing up. 

On Tuesday, we ventured out to a super cool cave, toured la casa de campo, and visited a batey. The cave was cool and dark, and we made a friend with the little boy who was also in our group.  

At la casa de campo, we found a super cool amphitheater. It was beautiful, and it had an abundance of stairs. 

To end the day, we visited a batey, which is a Haitian neighborhood in the Dominican Republic. We got to talk with some of the people who lived there, and we also got to play with all of the kids there. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hope and Peace

Two words that describe our day: hope and peace.

Here is another: lekgoa--a complicated word in Satswana, the language spoken in Botswana. Uttered by a child when seeing a white adult make for example, it may seem innocent enough. "Lekgoa!" or "White man!" (I remember similar comments from smiling, inquisitive children in China when I was there a year ago on a teaching exchange.) Spoken by an adult, it may not be welcome.

The term literally means "vomit from the sea," and comes from a time when differently colored strangers (European) arrived in Africa in ships in the 18th century. What did the native people know of "other?"

Today, as we interacted with Peace Corps volunteers and the staff and children at the Hope Worldwide Botswana after-school program, I watched the faces of the children as they played. What did they know of the import of skin color? The were running, playing games, laughing, reveling in the moment. Their faces were warm and bright and our hearts were full!

Here we are in a country where white-skinned people are in the minority. My thoughts turn to our community at home and recent events. I am also reading a great book  (thanks to a recommendation from a dear friend): Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nahesi Coates. You can see where my head is currently.

We have learned so much about Botswana in just a few days, and we're not done learning and experiencing. But WE are not done at home either, with the work of living together in a diverse community where mutual respect, integrity of word and action, and an overriding humanity inform our work and interaction. We've scratched the surface, but there is so much more to work through.


One thing to know about a country with a lot of stray dogs: bring earplugs because there will be a lot of barking and you will without a doubt be woken up before you want to be. 

We started our second day with a talk by Dr. Saamdu, a Lama who gave us a presentation about how Bhutan measures their growth and success. Rather than measuring by gross domestic product, they measure in gross domestic happiness. They believe that if you have a country that has a lot of economic success, but unhappy people, they can not be considered a successful country. After the presentation we went outside to share tea and have Q&A session about how this measurement has been successful for the country. 

During tea, Dash lost a tooth! We learned that the local custom is to find a rat and give the tooth to him to take away. So here is Dash giving his tooth to Ryan's stuffed rat. 
We visited the Bhutan Textile Museum where we watched a short documentary on how traditional Bhutanese textiles are made by hand and viewed some of the textiles that were worn by the Royal Family of the 4th Dragon King. Later on in the day we were able to visit a shop where they make traditional dress, accessories like scarves and purses, and wall hangings out of silk and cotton. 
Our lunch was at a local restaurant and was served family style. Here in Bhutan, chilies and cheese are their signature foods, so most things are very spicy. A lot of us treasure the times plain rice (and dessert!) are served. Despite the heat, all the local food has been incredible, and we're often taking seconds. 

We had a chance to visit the Royal Thimpu College. We started with a presentation by the President of the College and then had a tour of the campus. I'll tell you what, never again will I complain about the hills at Shenandoah because waking up hills at such high altitudes is quite the feat. It was well worth it though, the campus has the most gorgeous views of the mountain range, where you can see the giant statue of Buddha in the distance. They host international students from neighboring countries and fingers crossed they start an exchange program with America soon. 

Side note, every single time we pass a dog Taylor gets distracted and points it out. All the stray dogs on campus have been given shots so he FINALLY got to pet one. You don't know happy until you see Taylor Bloom petting a dog for the first time in days. We also learned that in the cycle of reincarnation, dogs are believed to be the step before becoming a human, so in Bhutan the stray dogs are well fed and respected by the local people. 

Dinner was at another local restaurant and was just as delicious as lunch. There was chicken, fried greens, cauliflower, white rice, a cheese and chili sauce to go with it, and momos- which is a dumpling filled with cheese and cabbage. I am obsessed with these things; I'm pretty sure I've eaten over 40 in the last 12 hours.  After dinner we headed back to the hotel and we all went down to the bar to share some local drinks and good stories. Kaadinchhey! (which means thank you, but is currently the only word we know, so it's being used for cheers!)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Oslo, Norway

27,183 steps per day later in this beautiful city has been the experience of a lifetime. Everyone is more friendly than we expected them to be. We love everyone in this group and we have all connected with each other more than we all thought possible. The architecture of the city blends traditional with modern and constantly captivates the eye.  The smells of the city tantalize the nose from the reindeer burger to the smultring (donut). It's colder than we expected but we've all adapted better day to day. As the biathlon has gone on we've seen free artists performing such as Eva and the Heartmaker, Gavin James and many more. This has shown us the culture of many others besides ours and some of us have actually downloaded this music already. Though the weather is cold, spirits are warm. The Norwegian people contrary to stereotypes has been incredibly open and willing to help us all out. The Oslo Opera House is deceptively small and due to government funding tickets are easily affordable making the Norwegian people more cultured than many Americans. We have also seen this evidenced by the beautiful sculpture park we visited earlier this week by sculptor Gustav Vigeland. We look forward to the next few days and can't wait to experience more of Norway. 

Team Botswana, GCP 2016

It took a while; but we made it safely and on time in Gaborone on Saturday afternoon.  This whimsical elephant statue (life-sized) met us at the airport! 
Wasting no time, we had a good dinner at our hotel, enjoyed a lovely evening settling in and planning details for our first day at Thamaga Pottery (with our guide in this photo),
Next, we were on to lunch and finally, to enjoy a short city tour and shop for beautiful fabrics.  Above, we are at the end of our visit to the pottery place.

Today, we had an interesting lecture on the diamond industry in Botswana, a tour of a diamond processing factory followed by lunch and then on to a government-sponsored health facility.

Tomorrow, we will put in a good day visiting Peace Corps Botswana HQ, where we'll offer help on projects there and shadow Peace Corps volunteers and projects at Hope Worldwide following a delicious lunch including seswaa (pounded meat), pap/phaleche and porridge.  Yum?  We'll see! 

Bhutan group finally takes Bhutan

After 36 hours of travel we finally landed in Bhutan! If you have a couple of minutes, do yourself a favor and look up videos of the fly in to Bhutan. It was absolutely breathtaking and I wish that the pictures on my phone could have done it justice. The descent starts with being able to see the peak of Mt. Everest peeking through the clouds and we continue down through the Himalaya Mountains, close enough where if you were standing on the wing you would think you could touch the sides of the mountain.  we land in a small valley and we get off the plane to be greeted by lush mountains and a small, picture perfect airport
Well, it wouldn't be the Bhutan Group if there wasn't a small snag to delay us from our adventure. While checking our passports, Tracy (yes, President Fitzsimmons, Tracy) has a passport that does not match the number we registered with. In between the time we applied for visas in Bhutan and actually arriving here she had to get a new passport and the number was changed on all the forms but this one. Or so she says, really I think she is in cahoots with doubt agent Ryan. After some time she was able to cross over and enter the country, on the condition that they hold her passport.  
The city of Thimpu is about an hour from the airport and we make our way on the only highway in the country. Although I use that term loosely, because it was a simple two lane road carved out along the mountainside. It's such a stark contrast from America, where we cut through nature to save a couple minutes off of our commute.
We checked in to the hotel and had some time to relax before we began our activities. First, we went to a stupor in the middle of the city where the people of the city go to pray every day. We walk around three times to make good wishes for the day. Next we headed to the 50 meter statue of Buddha that is just out of the city. On the inside there is a beautiful temple. The walls are covered in religious hand paintings, the ceilings in hand painted mandalas, and the pillars in hand carved statues. 
We then made our way to their weekend market where on the bottom floor they have all imported goods and on the top they have all local products. 

After a long day we headed back to the hotel for dinner where most of us called it an early night.