Africa Lite ?: Boomers in Botswana

Africa Lite ?: Boomers in Botswana

by Christopher M. Doran

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The author says DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.......

unless you want to spend the day laughing out loud while being inspired by Africa and the Peace Corps

In 2008, Dr. Doran and his wife made the extraordinary decision to leave the comforts of America to join the United States Peace Corps. Assigned to Africa for two years, they participated in the fight against HIV in


The author says DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.......

unless you want to spend the day laughing out loud while being inspired by Africa and the Peace Corps

In 2008, Dr. Doran and his wife made the extraordinary decision to leave the comforts of America to join the United States Peace Corps. Assigned to Africa for two years, they participated in the fight against HIV in Botswana, a country which has the second highest incidence of HIV in the world. On one level, this is an inspiring chronicle of their work together and the joys and challenges of Peace Corps service for the Boomer generation. The book however, is much more than that. Throughout, the author relates the story of a fictional newspaper, the Kalahari Khronicle, of which he is the editor. Taking reports of news items from around the world, Kgosi (Dr. Doran's Botswana name --meaning "Chief") consistently entertains the reader with sharp wit and political commentary. Written in a style reminiscent of Dave Barry and Pat Conroy, the Khronicle articles provide clever and at times hilarious observations on both American and African culture.

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Africa Lite?

Boomers in Botswana
By Christopher M. Doran


Copyright © 2012 Christopher M. Doran
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4685-0703-4

Chapter One

Warning to the Reader!!

If you began reading this book at the title page followed by a careful perusal of the Introduction, you are part of American intelligentsia. You understand that if the author takes the time to write an introductory comment, it is usually important to read it, since it probably sets the stage for what follows. You are no doubt, a discriminating reader and are to be congratulated. It is also possible that you are just obsessive-compulsive. In any case, you may skip this warning and proceed to the first post.

If, after the cover, you immediately skipped to the "beginning" of the book which you perceive to be here, STOP READING IMMEDIATELY AND RETURN TO THE INTRODUCTION! You obviously missed the first sentence of the introduction that said "Read Me First." You are also probably a person who, when you purchase a new technological toy, rips open the package, ignores the installation instructions, rapidly connects the wires in whatever way seems convenient, turns the device on and hopes for the best. It is absolutely essential for this book however, that you read the introduction to have any possibility of understanding it. If you are in that much of a rush to ignore this warning however, you also probably don't care whether you will understand it or not.

As a last safeguard against ignorance and non-comprehension however, this book has one other feature. If and when you proceed beyond the first two pages of text without reading the Introduction, the book senses what you have done and will open an embedded program initially developed for Mission Impossible. Once this sequence has begun, the book will automatically self-destruct in 15 seconds. Not only will the book deteriorate into ash, your Kindle, Nook, IPad or smartphone will also immediately be rendered into a pile of smoking silicon.

You have been warned.

November 8, 2008

And the winner is....

The two presenters come to the microphone clutching the long-awaited envelope with the official Peace Corps invitation inside. Drum roll as the audience holds its breath....

"Dear Christopher and Maureen,

Congratulations! It is with great pleasure that we invite you to begin training in Botswana for Peace Corps service beginning on April 16, 2009"

The crowd explodes in cries of "Ooh, Ahh, Yeah, Botswana rocks"

It has been a long time coming but our patience has been rewarded. We both think that Botswana will be an excellent choice of placement for us. It is a country with considerable resources and a well-developed infrastructure. It is the longest standing democracy in Africa and has a sizable middle class. We don't know where we will be stationed and it could still be quite rural, although our project assignments would suggest that it will be in a larger town or even a city.

My role will be as a District AIDS Coordinator volunteer, which involves significant administrative, teaching and coordination work among various levels of the ongoing HIV/AIDS effort in Botswana. Maureen will be doing capacity building with a Non-Governmental Organization focusing on care for orphans and home care for individuals living with HIV.

April 13, 2009

"It's OK Sir, I'm Packin'"

(Russell Case from the movie Independence Day)

Two days until liftoff and miraculously we have packing under control. I was going to title this posting "Mission Accomplished", but I think somebody on an aircraft carrier used that one already and we all know where that led.

MAY 2, 2009

Botswana Arrival

Greetings from Botswana to all our readers. I will apologize now for the use of many abbreviations but the Peace Corps has a lot of them and I am big on shortening my typing. From here on out I will use BW for Botswana and PC for Peace Corps.

Our trek began with a flight from Denver to Washington DC last Thursday. Friday we had a 5 hour "staging" to meet our fellow members of Bots 8, the identification of our group—the 8th group to arrive in BW since the PC returned.

There are 59 members in Bots 8 ranging in age from 22 to 73, with 9 couples—the highest number to arrive in Botswana to date. There are a wide variety of volunteer backgrounds and life experiences—a number of nurses, one physician (myself), one attorney, several social workers, many with public health or administrative experience, and a number of volunteers who are directly out of college. It already seems like a very compatible group and we are bonding well.

On Saturday afternoon we endured the 15 hour flight to Johannesburg's very modern airport with no delays or complications. We changed money to South African Rands, ate from a selection of fast food restaurants (Nando's and McDonalds included) and took a short bus trip to a nearby hotel for a restful night to get over the jet lag. The next morning was to be a relatively short (4-5 hour) bus ride to the capital of BW, Gaborone. However, we ran into momentous traffic getting out of Johannesburg (or "Jo'burg" as all the locals call it) and ultimately showed up bedraggled in Gaborone, 10 hours after we started.

The Pre-Service Training (PST) began in earnest the next day with Setswana language lessons every morning and a variety of cultural, safety, role definition, medical and procedural sessions in the afternoons. The sessions involved a number of interactive, role-play and small group discussions. It is clear from the outset that this is a very bright and talented group top to bottom, with few showing any shyness or discomfort when getting up in front of a group.

We received the first of a series of shots (yellow fever, typhoid, Hepatitis etc.), and began taking malaria prophylaxis medication. With all the newness, excitement and effort put into learning Setswana, one of two native languages, the days have been tiring to say the least. Wednesday evening we had a special dinner with a number of local dignitaries and the American Ambassador to BW.

On Friday we boarded the bus for Molepolole, a village that is a 45 minute drive from the capital. We will be staying here to train for the next 8 and one half weeks. The Friday highlight was a lunch at which we met our host families. After welcoming speeches, the Batswana (the people of Botswana) sang their national anthem and we, the Star Spangled Banner. Each of us then was called up to the front to meet our host family. Most families were represented by women—there are 12 women for every man in Molepolole. There were a few men or couples.

Our hosts are Mma Seboko (translated "Madam Seboko" who is a grandmother) and her 20 year old grandson, Riccardo. The grandson speaks excellent English which will make our adjustment quite easy. We were given our Setswana names—Maureen's is Kopo (meaning "Request"); mine is Kgosi ("Chief" and pronounced KO-SEE). Right from the start, it appears that everyone will use these Setswana names throughout our time here, not our English names. Needless to say I am thrilled with appropriate recognition of my Chief status, although Kopo has so far refused to show the required respect and deference—this may be a losing battle. Our new home is spacious and across town from the training site. We are fortunate to have electricity, hot and cold running water, indoor plumbing and TV (although it gets only one channel). This family has hosted three volunteers from previous Botswana groups and is accustomed to having guests in their home. The grandmother welcomed us, then had to leave for a funeral—unfortunately a very common occurrence in BW these days because of the HIV epidemic. We settled into our room, unpacked then walked around the neighborhood with the grandson and his cousin.

Everyone on the road is quite pleasant and greeted us with a "Dumela" (Hello), "Eita" (Hi) or "Le kae?" (How is it going?). There are many children—42% of the BW population is under the age of 15—who are curious, smiling and engaging.

We met up with another volunteer and his host mother, and had an extensive discussion about BW life and politics, both here and in the US. The Batswana have followed the election of Barack Obama closely and are very excited about the possible changes that hopefully will occur under his administration.

Pictured below is yours truly with Kopo, Riccardo our host family grandson and Mma Seboko, our host family grandmother.

All in all, we have to really pinch ourselves that this is our new reality. Our emotions have been running high. All I can say is that this is everything and nothing that I expected. Miss you all.

May 10, 2009


We just received our assignments for "shadowing" a current volunteer from the BOTS 7 group who has been here for a year. I am going to Charles Hill which is on the border with Namibia and 10-12 hours from Molepolole. Kopo is going to Kasane up on the northern border of BW and Zimbabwe. We leave on Wednesday and return on Sunday. Each of us will be with at least one other volunteer from our group. The current Bots 7 person will meet us at our destination and host us at their work site and in their community. We are excited to both see other parts of BW and learn from our more experienced colleagues. Training is long and hard, but we are surviving and actually learning some Setswana!

MAY 16, 2009


We returned from our shadowing experiences after VERY long bus rides (13 hours for Maureen and 9.5 hours for me). The west where I travelled is the dominated by the Kalahari desert. Unlike the Sahara "shifting sands" landscape that I had envisioned, it is flat and covered with shrubs and small trees. It is sparsely populated and maintains a much slower pace of life. Many ethnic tribes live in the desert and several different languages are spoken. The San people are the original natives (don't call them "Bushmen" as it is an ethnic slur) and seem to be the low men and women on the societal totem pole. By all estimations, they unfortunately get the least and poorest services. The San make beautiful jewelry from ostrich egg shells into necklaces and bracelets, so I purchased two as souvenirs of my trip. My Peace Corps volunteer host Mike W was very congenial and has the distinction of having the only elliptical trainer in that part of the country. He is a veteran long-distance runner and has run the Boston Marathon 17 times, so he felt a strong need to have a training machine in his house, but don't ask me how he got it there!

The town I stayed in, Charles Hill, is very small—only 300 people. The town consists of houses, several shops, a café, a bar, post office, hardware store, food store and a private junior high school. There is no senior high. It is not uncommon for students here to board at the school and 95% of the students in Charles Hill are San people from the surrounding cattle posts. The District AIDS Coordinator's office (abbreviated the DAC office) is small and several positions have been vacant for some time. The government of BW can assign employees to any position in the country regardless of where you might currently live, so many of the staff are relocated from cities elsewhere in the country. These employees live in government housing, often without their families, and only travel home on an occasional weekend or holiday. It is not an ideal system to say the least.

It will be my role to work in one of these DAC offices but the specific location assignment will not be made for another several weeks. I realized from this trip that I preferred not to live in a village of this size. We are able to express our preferences to the PC, but it is clear that there are no guarantees in placement. Couples' assignments are a bit more complicated since PC staff must find positions for both of us in the same town. Most of the DAC offices are in larger towns and villages; Charles Hill being something of an exception.

Kopo travelled north to Kasane. It is a medium sized town with tourists who fly in and are based there for river trips to see the wildlife via river boats. She and her fellow volunteers there went on a river trip and saw elephants, hippos, antelope, crocs, baboons and many beautiful birds. Nice perk! The price for getting there though, is a 13 hour ride in a Combi (a 16 seat older VW bus). The road is terrible with more potholes than pavement. She also got to visit with Tom and Jana, the PC Bots 7 volunteer couple that we had Skype'ed several times prior to our overseas departure. They have Internet in their residence which is something that we dearly hope we can obtain as well.

A big piece of news that will influence our placement is that Kopo received a call from the Botswana PC Director asking her if she would consider switching programs from the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) track to the Life Skills track (which deals with students in the school systems). Apparently the PC has had her listed as a Life Skills volunteer right from the start, but sent us the wrong information on her position. The Director said that this change would give the PC more flexibility in placing the two of us together. Having had teaching experience Kopo decided to agree. The upshot of this change is that she will be working in a school with teachers and students, and probably speaking English most of the day. English is the required language for classes and exams in all schools. It also means that as a couple we will likely be placed somewhere in the Southeast (more populated) part of Botswana, as that is where the Life Skills positions are posted. All in all, we think this is a positive turn of events.

Our Setswana lessons are 2 to 4 hours per day and were very difficult at first. It is simply a complicated Bantu language. Things are gradually beginning to fall into place and we are beginning to be able to make simple sentences. Small differences in one syllable can make a big difference though:

"Molema" is left and "Molemo" is medicine.

"Mabele" is sorghum (a grain staple) and with slightly different pronunciation, "Mabele" is a woman's breast

"Moja" is right and "Mojo" means absolutely nothing in Setswana but came from of an old Austin Powers movie.

We had our first practice LPI (Language Proficiency Interview) and were both rated as Novice Mid-level. There will be another practice LPI next week, then the final one that counts in 4 weeks. I had expected to sail right through the oral exam, but as with most of the trainees, the PC staff person giving the exam was not our teacher and had a significantly different pronunciation accent. Even when I knew 90% of the words in the sentence, one or two small words kept me from understanding the question. The word on the street is that Botswana PC placed dead last of all the PC stations in the world last year in cumulative LPI scores. We therefore, are getting over twice the amount of language training that any previous PC group received.

We are getting an excellent crash course in HIV/AIDs including the biology, the modes of transmission, myths, treatments, the resources already in place and the BW governmental programs to deal with the crisis. BW has made an extensive and multi-faceted effort to deal with HIV. Although all BW residents with HIV/AIDS get a triple combination of the antiretroviral medications (the treatment of choice in the world) without cost, there is still a significant lack of manpower to educate, and counsel. This is where the PC comes in.


Excerpted from Africa Lite? by Christopher M. Doran Copyright © 2012 by Christopher M. Doran. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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