June 21st, 2011

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Natalie Dunn 

            We arrived in Johannesburg on Saturday, exhausted from our eighteen-hour flight, but excited to finally explore Botswana and South Africa. That night, we stayed in a wonderful hotel called “Airport En Route,” and departed for Gaborone the next morning. Driving through South Africa was absolutely lovely. The driving itself shocked us, initially. I’m still adjusting to passenger seats on the left side, especially because young children often sit there. Anyway, we wore sunglasses, listened to interesting music, and enjoyed the beautiful view. Southern Africa is flat. Looking outside, you can see miles and miles of dirt, shrubs, and sunlight, all underneath the biggest, bluest sky imaginable. It’s a nice contrast to gloomy Oregon weather, and we’ve been in good spirits partially because of that. After crossing the border, we were introduced to the principal of Maru-a-Pula and settled into our dorm rooms. Maru-a-Pula has truly amazed me, in many ways. The students greet us with such enthusiasm, and I’ve already made new friends. People in Botswana always say ‘hello.’ If you don’t respond to them, it’s considered rude. I love that, and feel so comfortable approaching random strangers here.
            Since our arrival at Maru-a-Pula, we’ve done service work, spent time with students, and met with Dr. Ava Avalos, from the ministry of health. The service included math tutoring, science tutoring, English tutoring, playing with kids at a local educational center, raking, sweeping, and painting a mural. It feels great to be out here in the sun, just having a great time teaching and playing and cleaning up. Today, I tutored a thirteen-year-old boy from Gaborone. Back in the states, I worked with two Catlin middle schoolers, studying math, but I’d never experienced such difficulty explaining basic concepts and facts. I definitely felt challenged, even teaching simple material, because he had such trouble understanding it. However, when it finally clicked for him, he could explain the ideas and their importance. After studying science for a while, he asked Kate and I the dreaded question, “where do babies come from?” As a sixteen-year-old, I’ve never really thought about giving “the talk,” and I had no idea where to start. At first, Kate and I exchanged surprised glances—I mean, it really took us by surprise, especially because he was almost in the eighth grade. Eventually, I thought to myself, “Okay, Natalie. This needs to happen, just explain it, and everything will be fine.” Once I’d covered the details, which embarrassed us both, he said, “Oh! I get it now! Disgusting. That is disgusting.” Afterward, he pulled out a short quiz on HIV/AIDS, which he’d struggled with at school. We discussed the meaning of each question, and he answered them all correctly. Now that he knew how sex works, he could understand sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS to a fuller extent. One of my Botswana goals was to tutor children, but I never anticipated that conversation, and it definitely forced me out of my comfort zone. Afterward, nevertheless, I felt very accomplished. I look forward to more of these experiences throughout the rest of our trip!