On September 14 my group, Bots 11, reached the one-year mark in our service. It was fun and sobering to look back at what our expectations were and what the reality is. I expected Peace Corps would mean I would create my own projects teaching or working with students and that I would be in a small village where I would get to know the language, the people, and respond to their needs. I expected Botswana would be as it was depicted in the book and TV series “#1 Ladies Detective Agency.”
The reality is that Peace Corps has very proscribed (and often contradictory) directives and the fact that PC Botswana is closely aligned with the Ministry of Education means it is difficult to create your own projects in teaching or working with students. The village I live in is relatively small (five to nine thousand people, depending on who you talk with) but is basically a suburb of the capital. It has been a challenge to learn the language, and integration has not gone beyond being identified as the ‘white lady.’
In our training Peace Corps told us Batswana are peace-loving, non-confrontational people. We were constantly told that we were fortunate to be in Botswana, as it was one of the best posts, often referred to as the ‘posh corps’ because we can drink the water, and it has most of the amenities of a first world country (paved roads, electricity, internet, etc.) The reality is even here, 20 km from the capital, the water goes off for days, electricity goes on and off and internet is not available in the village. All of that can be disturbing, but not unexpected when you sign up for Peace Corps work.
What was unexpected was the level of violence that we have been experiencing lately. A month ago one of the young volunteers staying in the village where we all do our training was attacked while walking on a road with a former Navy SEAL. The attackers came up from behind and separated them, knocked her front teeth out, and fortunately for her, were finally repelled by the Navy SEAL. She has since returned home for good. A couple of weeks ago another female volunteer was attacked as she walked three blocks from an upscale shopping mall to the home of a peace corps staff member. Three men came up behind her, one put his arm around her neck and lifted her off the ground. When she realized what was happening she began fighting back and screaming. Fortunately for her some people in a car stopped and neighbors came out of their homes. The attackers fled, leaving the necklace they had ripped off, and the knife they were carrying, on the ground. Two nights later a Botswana woman was attacked at knifepoint and died of her wounds.
On Friday September 14 I left the Peace Corps office and walked through Game City, the major mall in Gaborone, to meet some friends for lunch. At noon, in a crowded mall, I was accosted by three young men. One walked towards me asking if I was ‘visiting.’ I said “I live here” and kept walking. He walked me towards a wall, I felt something poke into my back and felt my backpack being lifted. I went into a rage, screaming at the men to get away from me. Although there were many people around, no one turned to look much less to help. The young men walked calmly away, having unzipped my pack but not having gotten anything out.