Thursday, July 28, 2011

Backyard Garden - July 2011

I have wanted a backyard garden since I got to Botswana, but living in an apartment complex made that idea seem unattainable. Then, last month I moved and I have a large open yard. The garden project was back on.

I borrowed a few tools from a neighbor and then started digging. The top 1-2" are a fine sand and I moved that layer away with little effort. Then I hit the hard-packed dirt. The pickax seemingly bounced off with no effect. After several minutes of this and very little result, I got an idea. I filled two buckets with water, wet a portion of the dirt, and then waited for the water to soak in. The digging was a little easier and the dirt came up a few layers at a time.

Using this method, and with about 8 hours of work, I was able to get two rectangular holes dug. they are 10 feet long by 6 feet wide and are about 18 inches deep. then came the really fun part. I had visited a local chicken farm a few months ago to get some chicken manure. The soil here is very poor, consisting of mostly sand and rocks, and needs some additives for growing plants. I got 4 large bags of chicken manure, with each bag weighing around 50 pounds.

I put some soil back in the holes and then added chicken manure. After that, it was just a matter of adding a bit more soil at a time while mixing it with the manure.

It took three days of work and I have several large blisters on my hands, but everything is set to go. Now all I need is some vegetable plants. Time to see if I have a green thumb*.

*This will be a continuing series and I will post monthly updates and pictures

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cat Scratch Fever

Botswana is considered to be one of the top destinations in Africa for those wanting to go on safari and see wildlife. A big reason for this is that Botswana is only 1 of around 7 countries where the famed "Big Five" of Africa can be found in the wild. The Big Five was coined by early game hunters in Africa and is supposed to be the five hardest animals to hunt on foot. The Big Five animals are the lion, the leopard, the Cape buffalo, the elephant, and the rhinoceros. Most tourists consider the lion to be the "best" of the Big Five and want to see it on safari.

I have been lucky enough to see lions on two separate occasions. Seeing lions can be quite addictive. If I see one lion, I want to see two. If I have seen two lions, I want to see three. Now that I have seen a few, I want to see more out on game drives and it can be disappointing not to see lions on a game drive no matter how many other animals I have seen.

Over the weekend, I went to Moremi game reserve and saw 5 lions over the course of 2 days. It was incredible. On the first day in the park, we got there right at sunrise so we would be one of the first trucks in the park. The advantage to this is that you can still see the lion tracks in the road before the other cars obscure them.

The guide found a set of tracks right away and we followed them for a few kilometers. Then we suddenly came upon 3 giraffe that seemed to be intently staring at something. Most of the animals in the park will react to cars being close and at least glance at them briefly. These giraffe did not move and kept staring off into the distance. the guide explained the giraffe were particularly good at spotting cats because they are so tall, and they were indicating that a cat was nearby.

We turned down another path and sure enough, there were three female lions resting in the sun no more than 150 yards from the giraffe. We followed the lions for a little bit and watched them slink off into the bush to possibly hunt some impala.

We spent an hour or so just watching the lions and it was amazing being around such a beautiful and powerful animal. I tried really hard to be grateful for getting to see those three lions but I admit to spending the rest of the day scanning the shaded areas hoping to see more.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Traditional Beer and Condom Demonstrations

There really is no typical condom demonstration but they are fairly similar. The peer educators work in groups and pick their own sites based on outreaches they do. We have done presentations at hair salons, factories, and other businesses but a majority of them happen at local “bars” called shebeens (SHA-beens).
A shebeen, needless to say, is an interesting place. They are typically located at a person’s house (in the back or side yard) and they sell a traditional beer called Chibuku (Chi-bu-ku), or more commonly called “Shake Shake.” Chibuku is brewed from local grains like millet and corn. It is fermented only a few days and has small bits of the grains still in it. It comes packaged in cardboard milk cartons and it must be vigorously shaken before drinking, hence the name “shake shake”. It light brown in color and looks almost like weak chocolate milk. It is definitely an acquired taste, but I happen to really like it.
People who drink Chibuku will sometimes drink it from sun up to sun down and become quite drunk. A big reason is that it is cheap. It costs 5 Pula per liter, which is about 80 US cents. Needless to say very intoxicated people rarely make good decisions about anything and we have identified this as being a prime place to do outreaches. (Not so much for the fact that they are all drunk, but are a captive audience that most likely are not reached through traditional prevention education).

The peer educators will come in with a loudspeaker, a microphone, and the condom demonstration models. They set up the speaker, play some traditional music and announce that they are there to discuss HIV and do a condom demonstration. They ask people what they know about HIV and condoms and field questions. There have been some very interesting questions but it shows that as much information people here receive about HIV, there is still quite a gap in knowledge.
They will then go through a demonstration of both male and female condoms. Female condoms are still relatively new and unknown here (as well as in the US) and they engender a wide range of responses, ranging from laughter to astonishment. (Much of the laughter might also be from seeing the anatomically correct female demonstration model.)
The demonstration ends with a few more questions and then the peer educators give out a handful of condoms to everyone there. They also typically leave several hundred condoms for the owner of the shebeen to make available to people.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Things, They Are a Changin'

There have been some major changes in my primary work assignment over the last few months. Light and Courage started in 1998 in response to the AIDS epidemic in Francistown. Before the government began providing ARVs, people were dying in large numbers and the center was started to provide palliative and respite care. They continued this task up until recently. In 2006, the center received a substantial grant from PEPFAR to provide in patient and home based care for people living with AIDS. The former director even flew to Washington to meet with President Bush.
The center had nurses and assistants that would care for people and help them manage the disease. They provided counseling, education, care and some rehabilitation for a few thousand clients. Sadly, funding does come to an end and the grant expired in November 2010. The center had some remaining funds and used those to finish up the grant and operated until March of this year. In March, most of the staff was let go and the center proceeded with closeout procedures from March to June. This mainly involved a financial audit and the preparation of a closeout report that summarized all the activities and results of the PEPFAR grant.
Meanwhile, the center did get one grant from an NGO in North Carolina (RTI) that focused on HIV prevention to ask risk populations. In comparison to the PEPFAR grant, it is small grant that employs 5 people and a few volunteers. The project focuses on training peer educators who then go out to various parts of the city to teach young women HIV prevention and provide referrals for sexual and reproductive health services such as HIV testing. A major focus of the project is to do outreach in local bars called shebeens (SHA-beens). It is never a dull moment when you go to talk to people getting drunk on traditional beer about condoms and HIV.
The project has 14 peer educators and I work with them to do training and support of their outreaches. I wanted to be directly involved in an HIV prevention project when I came here and it has been both challenging and fun so far. I did training for all the educators on the basics of HIV and other STIs and showed them how to do peer education and condom demonstrations. We meet weekly to discuss the previous week’s work, do refresher trainings, and I sometimes go out into the field with them to do condom demonstrations and other trainings.
This is a big change (for the better) from what I was previously doing at Light and Courage. It is almost like I have a whole new work assignment. I have more than enough work to keep me busy for the next 10 months and it has been illuminating in showing what it takes to run a project in the “real world” and the major challenges in HIV prevention and behavior change (and all the paperwork that goes with it).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Winter in Botswana

June in the US is a good month. The weather is warm, baseball season is in full swing, and summer is just getting started. In Southern Africa, June is the dead of winter. I drastically underestimated just how cold the winter here would really be. It is easy to conjure up an image of steaming jungles and tropical heat when you think of typical African weather, but it is not always like that. (In fact, there are no jungles in Botswana).

When I was packing to come here, previous volunteers warned me about how cold it was and told me to be sure I packed a sleeping bag, wool socks, and a good sweatshirt or jacket. I felt dumb putting my winter clothing in my bag to carry over but I am so glad I did. This past month has been bitterly cold. The lowest low was around 26 F and it routinely gets below 40 at night. These temperatures wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that my house is not insulated. It is a concrete box that seems to be very efficient at trapping in and amplifying the cold air. (Unfortunately, this effect will reverse in the summer and it will trap in and intensify the heat).

If there is an upside to it being so cold, it is that the sun will come out during the day and quickly warm things up. For most of June the lows were in the 30’s and 40’s but the highs were in the upper 70’s. This made dressing for work a challenge. I would leave my house early in the morning bundled up in a jacket, able to see my breath; then I would come home in the afternoon under an intense sun, sweating while carrying my jacket. It is a small wonder that I haven’t gotten sick from the wild temperature swings.

All during the last summer when I was dripping sweat, I would wish for it to be winter. As the nights began to cool off in May, I became excited for the break in temperature and told everyone that I was looking forward to the cold weather. Now, all I want is for it to warm up enough that I can be inside my house without a jacket and take a bath without shivering.

I might be rethinking that after the first 100 degree day when the only way to cool off is to sit in a cold bath. I guess the grass really is greener on the other side.