Here is an article that Elsa prepared for the US Embassy in Botswana Website. Unfortunately, it did not get published there but it did make the most recent edition of the Peace Corps Newsletter in Botswana. Enjoy!

 

clip_image002

Peace Corps has been the best thing for our marriage and the worst. Peace Corps service is always a study in contrasts – the juxtaposition of many things. “How is it going?” my friends back home ask, “I love it; except for the times I hate it”. I have a friend who lived in Africa for several decades; her rely to that comment, “I know exactly what you mean”.

Experiencing our first Christmas in a 375 square foot house with temperatures inside approaching 102 degrees F, does not lead to great marriage relations. Missing friends, family, and even snow, with self-pity and doubt reaching ever increasing levels, something not too pretty was brewing . The temptation to just emotionally check out was strong. Being crowded into that tiny, hot, and lonely space, made emotional check out seem like a very reasonable choice.

But then there is the flip side of the coin – the marriage building experiences. The opportunities to truly be partners in a number of joint ventures have been very positive and part of a goal of ours for many years. Raising kids and career obligations rarely allowed for a project where we both were equal partners – in commitments and load sharing. It was no one’s fault – it’s just where we were at that time of life. The Peace Corps has opened opportunities to envision, plan, organize, and execute projects that have truly been both of our dreams. Jeff in his capacity as a volunteer at an NGO called Vision Support Group and me, as a volunteer at Xhosa Clinic, planned and executed a successful HIV testing event in February, 2013. We shared in the responsibility of running planning meetings, brainstorming sessions and setbacks, the logistical planning, letter writing and ultimately the satisfaction of being involved in the project from start to finish. Of course we could not have managed this without the assistance of both the clinic staff and Jeff’s boss.

Aid work is now-a-days about sustainability and our second joint project took us in the direction of a “Training of Trainers” (T.O.T.). Church leaders, elders, and pastors are called upon by the District Commissioner here in Mahalapye to be increasingly involved in family, couples, marriage, and youth counseling. “We need more training, There is no money for training” is the familiar loop in situations like these. While not counselors by vocation, it is something we have much experience in as mentors. Having been married for 37 years carries some weight as well, no doubt. Our Peace Corps Training promotes the concept of “Self Starting”. If you see a need, try to meet it. Don’t think about the qualifications you don’t have – think about the need and the opportunity. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and see what you end up with. Keep dodging the setbacks and see what shakes out. Invite 30 people to your event and if only 2 show up, feel successful. Because even in just 2, you have multiplied your skills and wisdom years past your own Peace Corps service. This philosophy is a good starting point for many Peace Corps projects. So with no money, no venue, and no curriculum, we began.

clip_image004

On March 20, we presented not to 2 but to 14 which led to a second invitation for May 5th where we presented to 16 church and community leaders and their spouses. We had started the project with a blank sheet of paper – best practices, what works – pitfalls to avoid. Within a few hours the outline for a curriculum took shape. Our next step was to carve out 4 Tuesdays to spend together fleshing out and expanding the outline. Back and forth – write and rewrite – remembering and rejoicing but gradually it emerged – the curriculum – right there on paper. It was a compilation – a great deal of how we had managed to make our relationship endure and in fact, thrive for 37 years.

Peace Corps, Botswana has been the ultimate test and the ultimate prize. TIA – This is Afica.

Oh dear one – if you get a chance could you please read the blog again. It wasn’t a plea for sympathy, it wasn’t intended to hurt the hearts of those who care for us by pointing fingers at those who may not seem to. It wasn’t any of those things. It was a story- a picture – you tell me that you see in pictures remember!  It was our story- our picture. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of it is a true story, some of it is imagined, complete with monsters under the bed!  Isolation, fatigue, heatstroke, and discouragement can make you  feel and or imagine all manner of things. But all of it is a lived story. Lived by us here on the dusty streets of Mahalaype, far from family and home. Grasping and  groping for context and meaning. God is my strong tower. Are we not at bedrock (Ps 18).  It is just an account of how it felt – not a head count of readers and non readers. A new journey always goes through some dark places. I’m not the kind of person to clean it up and just tell the pretty parts. Maybe I take too much liberty when I read the Psalms and see myself in David’s stories. Psalm 40: 9,10 The Message (sorry) "I’ve preached You to the whole congregation, I’ve kept back nothing – you know that, I didn’t keep the news of your ways a secret, didn’t keep it to myself  (even though it’s pretty bad publicity for other 57 something’s thinking about a similar stint) I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough. I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth for myself alone. I told it all, let the congregation know the whole story."  If you only knew how I fought with God; how He wanted to birth it on paper – paint the picture – using words, but I resisted. “I’ll be misunderstood, accused of feeling sorry for myself seen as trying to guilt the gentle ones who just like to look at nice pictures. It will hurt Lord!!! They will call me a fool, a whining fool "you asked for this" they will say "so what’s with this belly aching?” But some will look below the surface, gaze long into the colours and remember "He is no fool…"

There are many ways to do the same thing. The God who has created  a million shades of green surely doesn’t send emissaries in one way only. I don’t believe Peace Corps is  the wave of the future of missions — even without my bad publicity!

But there is an interesting response, even in a poor country when you tell people  "I don’t have a home in the U.S. I don’t own a car in the States. I sold them and gave away many of our belongings. I didn’t ship them here in barrels – didn’t come with funds to outfit us here.”  All of this is God’s story. Not his only story for sure. I know it ends well, but the living of it has to be done, and there are days that it hurts really bad. Its just the unvarnished truth; the un-retouched photo. "I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth for myself alone."

Love to you for your care and support – you are awesome – please don’t feel guilty, for you have no need.

Elsa