December 29, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Letters from Botswana: A Peace Corps Odyssey By Dawn Khalil

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Botswana: Peace Corps Botswana : The Peace Corps in Botswana: December 29, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Letters from Botswana: A Peace Corps Odyssey By Dawn Khalil

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Letters from Botswana: A Peace Corps Odyssey By Dawn Khalil

Letters from Botswana: A Peace Corps Odyssey By Dawn Khalil

Letters from Botswana: A Peace Corps Odyssey

By Dawn Khalil

Would you ever quit your job, sell everything and volunteer to disappear into the heart of the Kalahari for a few years?

Turning thirty, Dawn lands in Ghanzi, Botswana – a “burp of a town” without telephones, vegetables or paved roads. Her job? Recruit local entrepreneurs from tribal settlements, some unfamiliar with the concept of money.

A humorous compilation of actual letters written to her family, Letters From Botswana reveals Dawn's transformation from an excited, idealistic volunteer into a pragmatic remote industrial officer who gradually lets go of her Silicon Valley expectations to embrace the slow pace of the Kalahari.

These frank and unpolished letters let readers become a part of Dawn’s extended family: experience the Peace Corps and Southern Africa with her; discover the challenges of living without hot water and working among several tribal languages; and feel the heartache of missing enormous family changes at home.

Exerpts from Letters From Botswana

24 May 1990

It’s Ascension Day today, Botswana is on vacation. I just woke up and felt like talking, so I’m writing. It’s been a challenging two weeks here in Ghanzi. Kevin left on Monday and I’m officially in charge. I’m still as lost as when I came on the 10th and am feeling the stress of this job already.

I’m an Industrial Field Officer (IFO), which means I deal with small-scale income generating projects and assist people getting, or applying for the FAP (Financial Assistance Policy – a grant for businesses). They fill out a long form asking them their life history and financial status. I make sure the info is correct and present it to the Production Development Committee (PDC) to approve. If it’s approved, I let the person know and arrange for them to be in some business/bookkeeping class as well as make sure they have made their personal contribution. Then I handle the logistics of these classes. I also run around the district to check and follow up on projects and report back to the committee and the ministry on how they are doing. I’m also a supervisor of the extension team in !Xade (pronounced “tsk-ady”), a bushman settlement. I’m not sure what that means. I’m on about four committees and so far have been to three meetings, which normally take up at least half a day.

Some challenges so far are: 1. I have no complete list of projects I’m supposed to be following up on. 2. I am not sure of the procedures… who gets which copy of what. 3. I am supposed to teach business classes and am clueless of the material level not to mention how to stretch it over a week. 4. logistics of these courses… I have to provide transport, find a place for the class as well as sleeping arrangements, find a cook and provide all the food for a week. Now I know you all know my stellar cooking talents…

As for the office, everything has to be done in triplicate and we have paper everywhere—forms for everything. Where or how to fill out these things is still unclear, but I know I’ll always need more than one copy. It would be nice if we had a copier, but without electricity, that’s not possible. Carbon paper is spread all over the office.

The phone system here is only good for the village of Ghanzi and there’s a limited number of lines, so it’s just about useless. People in different offices go to everyone else’s office to talk to them. Therefore, nobody is ever in their own office cuz they’re hunting down someone else. All the meetings I’ve been to so far have started 45 minutes to 1.5 hours late.

In my office, I have three desks and five people. At this stage, I don’t know what to give these people to keep them busy as I’m trying to get a grasp on the different projects. So the majority of the day, they’re sitting outside reading magazines. The ministry is supposed to have all of us IFOs down to Gabs in June sometime to tell us how to do everything. Just wish they’d do it sooner. The biggest problems here are transport and communications. I’m to find participants for a sewing machine maintenance course. To do this, I have to go to all the settlements, talk to the extension workers there and get names to the ministry. Some of these settlements take up to 10 hours to get to on sandy paths. After we find the people, then we have to bring them wherever the course is. Our two trucks take turns getting repaired which can last up to three weeks because every vehicle up here gets quite a beating.

Ah, enough of this, today is a holiday.

About Dawn Khalil

Dawn Stutzman Khalil worked for high technology firms in and around San Jose, California before joining the Peace Corps in 1990. She grew up on Long Island, and earned a business degree from the State University of New York, College at Oswego.

Having lived with an exchange student in high school, and spending a year in Germany during college, Dawn had an intense interest in different countries and cultures. Five years out of school, she explored Southeast Asia, which opened her eyes to the third world. She wanted to be a part of it rather than just a tourist, and Peace Corps gave her that chance.

Today, Dawn lives with her young son, and works at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Contact Dawn at

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Botswana; Writing - Botswana



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