Monday, June 8, 2009

Sala Sentle

(SA-la SEN-tlay) Stay well; a farewell, said to one remaining ("Go well" said to one leaving)

I am now back in Canada. The last week passed in a complete blur of reflection and goodbyes...and last minute shopping.

We said goodbye to the Hospice staff, sadly. One of the hardest to say goodbye to was Anna, the cook, who was a hilarious woman and so friendly with us. This also reminds me that the cooks and the driver and the cleaning ladies and the volunteers are all seen as an integral important part of the hospice, never as another `level`or simply as nameless `support staff`as we might call them here.

We tragically couldn`t say goodbye to the patients, because they hadn`t been to the hospice in three days, because the Combi had been in for repairs, and they had no alternate means of a final reminder to us of the lack of resources.

In our final group debriefs, we talked about what would happen when we get back. It`s been three days, and already I am experiencing what I`ve been told, that the learning from the trip continues for months, while I continue to reflect and realize things, and how it changes my opinions of people, and my understanding of any world or health issues I learn from now on. One thing we talked about, was that when we get back and speak to people, we have a large power and responsibility, in the way we talk about Botswana. As they said, people will always ask `how was Africa`...and as a girl in my group said " 'Africa' describes a continent, not a culture"

Interestingly, I've already found that people are often not quite ready to listen and hear about Botswana. They either want short anecdotes, or one sentence summaries - which would never justify an entirely different country, culture, people, and situation -- or they feed me what they want to hear. People don't ask how it was, or what the city was like, or what living situations were like, they only say "It was sad. Wasn't it." or "There was a lot of poverty, right?" or "They have very little there, don't they." or "You saw a lot of..etc" I can hardly blame them, for what they've been fed by the media, but this is a whole new type of patience for me to learn. And I read in East of Eden while I was away, that people can really only see what they want to see.

We sent our final donations to Maselo and her family in Mochudi (from the house build), including blankets I bought with donations from family members. She said Thank you and God bless you, and I am waiting eagerly to see pictures of the final stages of the house. Stepping Stones international was instrumental in this project.

On our last full day in Botswana, we climbed Kgale hill again. We left at 5 am to get there early enough to climb in the dark and reach the top for sunrise, and had champagne at the top. It was absolutely beautiful and a perfect ending to our trip.

I can't thank enough, all of our local partners, WUSC, the Hospice staff, SOS Children's Villages, my student group, University of Guelph and our staff coordinator, and all of my family and friends for their support.

This is certainly only the beggining for me.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ka Leboga

(KA LAY-bo-ha) Thank you

After a few upsetting and/or frustrating days this week, the last few were a different thing altogether.

On Thursday, we finally went to the preschool affiliated with the hospice. Its for OVC clients, and children of clients/patients of the hospice, and theyre all 3-6 years old. While it is part of the hospice, its physically in a different part of town entirely, and since transportation is always a big problem (maybe the biggest problem), it took us until this week to convince and remind them to let us go, and find a way for us to get there.

It was incredibly fun....basically just another day of playing with cute affectionate children. And yet again, we watched one of the "older" ones (5 or 6), spoon feeding a younger one (3 or 4), to help him finish his food, and then clear his plates for him.

Interestingly also, this week within our group we've done all of our ASO (AIDS support organization) presentations. So, it was just, within our group in the evenings we gave short informal presentations about our various placements, the organizations, and our own 'accomplishments' and challenges. Though we've all been discussing our placements throughout the past weeks, it was good to do a slightly more organized, official, presentation. One of the advantages of coming in a group like this is that we get to hear a lot (and occasionally see) about the other placements, in addition to experiencing our own. Oddly enough, it came across that half the placements are very well funded and have all the resources they need, and the other half are in a constant financial struggle. This is because they are all NGOs and mostly funded by international donors, resulting in a very wide range of levels of support.

On friday at work, the Combis (vans) were apparently being serviced, so there were no patients, and no home visits for us....essentially nothing to do. Rather than sit around, I left right after lunch and met some other people in my group at the hospital, and spent the afternoon visiting and playing with children in the pediatric ward at the hospital. A doctor at their clinic placement had asked them to start going, because some of the childrens' parents are busy working or live in a rural area too far to visit them.

Visiting sick lonely children obviously sounds like a sad experience, but it was a lot of fun -- no matter how sick they are, children will still be children -- and felt pretty meaningful, and was really rewarding. Since then I've been back to visit everyday, and started to even get to know some of the children.

Yesterday we went to play at SOS childrens villages again, and then went to Botswana craft. It's a craft store where everything is actually guaranteed to have been made in Botswana. We saw the most beautiful and intricate (and expensive) baskets!

Today we went to church again, and I loved every minute of singing and yelling and clapping as last time. It was even better this time because only 4 of us went, and I'm realizing that the smaller a group we are, the more integrated into the community or the people we are with.

On thursday, as a group, we all threw all the donations we'd brought from home on the floor, and then divided them up between placements appropriately (kids clothes went to placements with kids, books to placements that need them most, etc), and we took them to work on Friday.

We have only 2 days left of our placement, and then just another day and a half in this country. Sadly.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


(DEE-jo) food

The past couple of days at work have been...well there's no one word.

This week I went on home visits with the social workers, which was very interesting. Though everything was in Setswana so I couldn't follow them at the time, the social worker was very nice about translating for me afterwards. We saw the whole range of things, from very young OVCs to be registered in our preschool, to "naughty" teens....naughty was the word she used with her second-language-English, but we would use a different word for it in Canada.

I had a great morning with the patients. I read the newspaper to the one who is visually impaired but has very good english, and then I taught the a patient who speaks no English to play checkers. We had a board, but used dominoes as checker pieces. All of the patients got involved in the game and were very excited!

That is the last cheerful thing I have to say in this post.
(Thats a warning).

The following day we were on home visits with social workers and nurses. I saw a man very very sick with cancer, but he was 90 years old. He was not sad, and his diseasse was not sad, (its not tragedy for a 90 year old to die of cancer, anywhere, its life), but the situation was. A young girl, maybe 17, was caring for him. She looked sombre and tired. And he was laying in a room only big enough to fit the bed, and the blankets he was laying on the floor beside it. When they pulled some blankets away I saw that he was laying on a biohazard bag. While this is practical, and it is obvious why you would put plastic sheeting under a bed, it seemed symbolically very sad.

We then went to the house of a woman we've visited twice, with AIDS and cancer. We were pleased to be visiting her again, but when we arrived, people were sitting in front of the house, and the nurses sat down with them. We finally found out in translation, she'd died that day. The nurses were very sad, as she was from their home village, and one of them had been visiting her on weekends.

This morning at work we found out that two of our clients, a mother and the premature baby she'd recently given birth to, were both very ill. They told us that the mother was extremely malnourished (as is the baby) and she would probably die today or tomorrow without Ensure, the nutritional supplement. Though it seemed like no one was doing anything, we - the students - felt a sense of urgency at this. We agreed among ourselves to donate the equivalent of about 15$ CAN to buy it for today, but then my colleague spent the day on the phone with some contacts, and we helped her work on a donation letter. While the 15$ is nothing to us, 70 Pula is a large sum here, and our one-time donation is not the long-term solution they need. In spite of her condition it wasn't until the end of the day that we handed over the money to a social worker who promised us he would go directly to buy it and take it to her. Though we can't be sure if this was actually the situation or an exaggeration, it was an intense day for us.

On that note, a girl in our group visited a hospital in a nearby town a few days ago. She said it was an enormous, modern, beautiful hospital. Expensive building, poorly run. For a gigantic hospital she said there were only 10 doctors. She saw a baby who she said was the sickest person she'd ever seen. He was 15 months old, severely malnourished, and clearly suffering from a range of nutrient deficiencies. She found out later that day he'd died. The mother was young, younger than us. But still, why didn't she bring her baby in sooner?

I've read it before, but never truly understood that malnutrition is one of the most shockingly common health problems worldwide, and perplexingly easy to solve. And it's not as though Botswana is one of the countries with a problem of hunger and starvation...relatively.
I have no more words about this day.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Isn't It!

This expression is in English. They say "Is it" or "Isn't it" constantly, the way we might say "right?" or "Eh?" or more precisely, "do you agree/understand". It is clearly a literal translation from some Setswana word or phrase that they say almost as a filler, but I'm not sure what that word is yet, unfortunately. My friend suspects it is something that sounds like "A-ka-ray", because we hear it so often.

This has been a week full of conversations.

We sat at the hospice one day with nothing to do, and the director came and sat with us. We spoke for a long time about the hospice, what it does and does not accomplish, and the limited resources. She is a real business woman and very interesting to talk to. We went out Wednesday night and at the bar I spoke to a friend of a friend for a very long time about every social and political issue in Botswana. They were things that my group had often discussed, but this was the first time I heard an actual Motswana's perspective, and he had many interesting things to say. Similarly last night we spoke to someone about the problem of funding AIDS support services in the city when there are as many, or more, problems in the rural areas.

This week at our placement we spent a few days putting together case studies for the hospice to present to an American financial partner in July. It was a good contribution for us, as we are much faster and more efficient with Powerpoint, but it was also a great opportunity because we got to study some case files. It was really interesting to be able to see their full stories. Also, when we needed to write "Followups", and couldn't find the information in the chart, the nurse came in and was able to tell us, from memory, all about each patient. That was impressive and important, for us to see just how meaningful their connections with the patients are.

There was another event going on at the hospice this week. They told us a pastor was coming to speak to the patients. Religion has a much bigger and more obvious role here, so we weren't surprised, and we certainly were not disapproving. Spiritual support is an important and effecitve part of health care and palliative care. What was more interesting though, was that he didn't just speak to them....he essentially was 'faith healing'. This was a thing that left me torn. Of course I have a hard time accepting it, and he did things I didn't agree with - like telling a diabetic they would no longer be diabetic. He also seemed to imply that everyone would be healed if they prayed enough...which seems to mean that those who aren't healed are at fault for not praying enough. He also demanded their agreement by saying "The pain is gone right? It's not? Well it's better right? It's not? will be." However, I know the patients probably shared some of my skepticism, but the hope and faith they had to gain from the experience is invaluable. He insisted that those who walk poorly and with a walking aid stand and walk on their own two feet.....and they did. And the look on one patient's face when he walked on his own for probably the first time in months was convincing enough. The 'logical explanation' would be that he was always capable of it and just needed the confidence...but if it takes religion and faith to give him that confidence, it is well worth it.

At the hospice, it is up to us to think of activities to do with the patients, because they are rarely given or suggested to us. On friday we thought to read the paper to one patient who speaks English very well, is definitely a very smart man, but is visually impaired and can't read it himself. It turned out, like everything else, to be just as beneficial to us as it is to him. Even though he needed us to hear the news, we needed him to understand it. After every article we read, he would answer our questions, or tell us his opinions. It will be yet another enriching experience to continue the rest of our time here.

Thursday was a holiday -- Ascension day -- so we went to SOS Childrens Village (one of our groups placement) to play Football (ie soccer) with the children. Yet again I got bored of sports fast and spent the rest of the time holding and playing with and singing to young affectionate orphan children. I had a great experience again, was so touched by these loving children. A little girl put a few braids in my hair, and did a great job. Seeing any OVC programs are always emotional and eye-opening experiences.

On thursday night we went to a Shaggy concert, which was tons of fun. On Saturday morning we rose early and climbed Kgale hill, the highest point in Botswana I think. I'm positive I have hiked higher hills in my own backyard (the escarpment I mean), but it was still a lot of fun, good exercise, and a beautiful view from the top. Yesterday I went to a Brai with the girls from my placement -- again, that's an African bbq, and generally just what people do, socially, on Saturdays.

I cannot believe how little time I have left here.

Monday, May 18, 2009


My internet time was cut short....

I'd meant to thank family and friends who donated money to this house build (in addition to making donations toward this trip).

Particularly my uncle Gerry and brother Alex.

Also, having a blog now, I can't resist publicly saying congratulations to Jenny and all the Lucyks for bringing home Zemy. I am excited to meet her!

Sunday, May 17, 2009


(Lor-A-to) Love (..I think..)

This week at the placement was good. I made real progress getting to know the patients, and have learned to have 'conversations' with ones who speak no English without talking. Communication is a very interesting thing.

The past three days we spent in Machudi, a more rural area outside of Gabs, kind of halfway between being a village and being a town. It was really beautiful and nice to be in such a different setting. It was lovely and very green and very quiet compared to the 'big city'.

We were in Machudi to do a group volunteer project as a break from our placements, halfway through, organized by our coordinator with Stepping Stone international. The project was a home build for a grandmother taking care of 4 grandchildren on her own. The fact that we were there to build her a home implies that, in spite of caring for 4 children, she didn't really have one. We were stunned to see the tiny hut and single mattress they'd been living in.

Obviously more valuable than our labour (being entirely inexperienced, unskilled, and pretty weak) was the money we'd raised. When we discussed this months ago, the goal was about $700 CAN, and even though we were a group of 14, people were pretty negative about paying more money than we already had for the trip. And yet once we got here, donations poured in from group members, their friends and family, and some organizations, and we pulled together about $2500 CAN, (I think), which goes a long way.

The money paid for three ACTUAL builders (thank god), and materials. We were able to contribute more 'labour' than expected though. Under builders' instructions, we did a ton of brick laying ourselves, and the horrifying job of mixing cement with shovels for three days....a job which, I realized eventually, would be done by a TRUCK in Canada.

It was an incredible experience for us to do as a group. The grandmother, Maselo, is an incredible woman and a prominent figure in the community. We also got to play with the kids a lot, especially the adorable baby girl One (Ohn-ay) and the 11 year old boy Kitso - who beat us at soccer.

One of the biggest problems of AIDS here is the missing generation - the 20 to 40 year olds - that leave orphans in the care of exhausted grandparents. It was really nice for us to do work that we could see concrete (so to speak) results of, and to have an opportunity to help one family torn by the disease.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


(SHAP) (spelling might be wrong...) superb

This blog only applies to people who know me, especially first aid friends, and I am just so excited I had to post it now, and it's a little out of character from other posts.

We were about to leave work when a nurse aid/counsellor came in looking for a blood pressure cuff and thermometer for a "patient who wasn't feeling well" (I know first responders love that kind of vague language).

She found that the digital's batteries were dead and I said don't worry, heres the manual, and she made a face, so I went with her. The staff brought the patient in and reacted verrry seriously to it and shut doors and blinds....the head nurse came in and looked at ME and asked for I got right to it and took b.p. and pulse. When I said pulse was 68 he said "Whats that. fast? or slow?"......then I thought I was finished but he said Wait... Handed me a chart, and had me write it all under NURSES notes.

I am cleeeaaarrrly an African cowboy-doctor. yeeeeeaaah.