The Valentine’s Day That Almost – But Didn’t – Break Me

February 14, Day 563
Wake up at 6 am. It’s early, but it’s show time today! Today is the day of the couples testing Valentine’s Day dinner, and there is too much work to be done, so I need to be moving early.

Didi, Dapper and Dijo all slept on the bed with me last night while precious Lulu snored on the floor. Didi and Dapper slept under the covers by my feet, while Dijo slept on my neck. Dijo and Dapper seem to be able to tolerate one another in the same room as long as my body is there to act as a wall to divide them.

Get up and let the dogs outside. Go inside and make some eggs and coffee for breakfast. The dogs come inside and chase one another around and I sit down and eat breakfast while Dapper casually sniffs around on my egg sandwich.

Turn on the geyser and take a shower. Dapper has to come in the bathroom with me, of course and decides halfway through my shower that he wants to go out of the room.

“Sorry, buddy! I can’t get out of the shower and get the floor wet, you’ll have to wait,” I tell him as he scratches at the door.

He sits down and patiently waits by the bathtub until I’m done.

Let him out, get dressed. The housekeeper arrives and I greet her and ask her to keep the doors closed with the dogs inside for 5 minutes until after I leave so that they don’t follow me today. She agrees.

I bait them all inside with a treat, and then start my walk to work.

It’s Valentine’s Day! Colden and I are supposed to make heart-shaped pizzas together tonight for dinner. I also wore my “Office Uniform” today and heart-shaped glasses.

A few weeks ago, Bontle showed up with this really cool hat. It’s perfect and small to fold up and put in your purse when you’re not wearing it, but the perfect protection from the sun during the day. I decided I wanted to get one, so I bought one at the China shop last week. Mabe also liked it, so he bought one, and so did Baitshepi! Now we call it the office uniform in our matching hats.

Walk, and walk, and walk. A few kids wave and say hello as I walk by and I wave back.

Arrive at BOCAIP, and Baitshepi is outside scrubbing the white tablecloths for the VIP table with dish soap and water in a bucket outside.

“Dumela, Baitshepi! O tsogile, jang?” I ask her (Hello, Baitshepi. How are you this morning?).

“Dumela, Mma. Ke tsogile,” she replies (hello, mma. I am well). “Abbie, do you have decorations for the VIP table?” she asks.

“Umm, no. I think we will need to make some crafts if we have time today. I ordered 40 mugs two weeks ago and some candy to give as a gift to each couple, but the supplies department still has not processed our order yet and I am nervous,” I say.

“Okay, I will ask if we can borrow some decorations for the table,” Baitshepi says.

Phew! She is a godsend. Baitshepi tells me that we have only tested 15 couples so far for HIV. The dinner is for 25 couples, and Tebelopele promised to help with couples testing and yet has not tested anyone, but the hospital is helping with testing couples. We agree to proceed with whomever we can get by the end of the day, and Baishepi says she’ll set up a tent for testing by the grocery store this afternoon to get some more people.

I decide to walk to the DAC office and see how the order for the mugs is coming. As I walk into the office, I can feel the energy before I see anyone. Mabe and Bontle are working hard filling out paperwork to get the order for the candy and mugs processed now that the supplies department has decided at the last minute to process the documents.

I immediately sit down at the computer and finish writing the program for tonight. Print out 20 copies.

I call Pastor Chimbambe to confirm she is coming tonight. In the Botswana culture, someone can tell you they will attend a meeting in advance, but you must also call on the day of the event to confirm or they may not show up.

“Dumela, Pastor Chimbambe!” I say.

“Dumela, Mpho. O teng?” She answers back.

“Ke teng, Mma. I am calling to confirm that you will be attending the Valentine’s Day Dinner tonight and provide us with a speech?” I ask.

“Yes! What time does it start?” she asks.

“We ask that you please arrive around 5 pm, so that the event can start at 5:30 pm,” I say.

“Great, I will be there.”

Phew!!

Now on to the next stressful item… the sound system. I have literally asked everyone in the entire village if we can borrow their sound system, and have not been able to find one. I even suggested we hire a DJ, and have approval and budget for it, but the supplies office moves too slow for us to be able to request one.

What the heck will I do??? We can’t have people sitting there in silence. I decide in my head that if I do not find a sound system by lunchtime, I will find a way to go back to my house and get my Bluetooth speaker and use that, though it likely won’t be loud enough.

I call around to three different places, and no one has a sound system we can borrow. I give up on that.

Bontle and Mabe rush out the door to go collect the supplies for tonight and process GPOs (government purchase orders).

I call Kgosi Toto, the Village Chief, to confirm that he will be attending as the guest speaker for the evening.

“Dumela, Kgosi, this is Abigail from the DAC office. I am calling to confirm that you will still be attending as the keynote speaker for tonight’s Valentine’s Day Dinner event?” I ask.

“Dumela, Mma. What time will the event start tonight?” he asks.

“We are asking people to arrive at 5 pm for a 5:30 pm dinner,” I reply.

“Unfortunately, I have had some pressing matters arise and will not be able to attend. I have asked my Dikgosi to attend on my behalf, and he has asked our other Kgosana, Mma Seiphiri to attend with him,” he says. “And they both will require transport to attend the event.”

What??? Where the heck am I going to get a car to pick them up? The DAC office vehicle has been broken for months.

“Tanki, Rra,” I say. He gives me the phone number for his Dikgosi to arrange for transport.

I decide to wait until Mabe is back, maybe he will have a good idea for how we will collect the Village Chiefs for tonight’s event?

Print out little hearts and banners and start to cut them out for decorations.

Mabe and Bontle return. I call the Dikgosi to confirm his attendance.

“Yes, I will attend if you can send for transport for me. I will wait at the Kgotla at 5:15 pm. And I would like someone to write a speech for me,” he says.

“Yes, Rra, we will come to collect you and we will write a speech for you,” I say.

What??? How are we going to write a keynote speech? It’s already 3 pm. Ah!

I call Catherine and ask her how to write a speech. I know there is specific protocol using particular words, like starting a paragraph with “distinguished ladies and gentlemen”. Those aren’t words I would ever say in a speech in the U.S.; hence I don’t know the format. Catherine tells me to give it a try and write one.

Mabe asks me to go with him to BOCAIP to help unload supplies. He is still doing battle with the supplies woman for the mugs, but we have cases of water and cans of soda to bring over.

I arrive at BOCAIP, and realize that this place looks like a white pallet. It does NOT look like a place for a Valentine’s Dinner. Baitshepi has worked hard to make sure the walls are clean and the floor is swept and the tables and chairs are in order. But we need some decorations!

I’m stressed. And sweating. I’ll admit it; I don’t know how we are going to get everything done.

I tell Baitshepi that I have some crafts and a Bluetooth speaker at my house that I think we will need tonight. The previous volunteer who lived in my house left behind construction paper of all colors and wrapping paper (both things can be hard to find). Baitshepi agrees to pick up the Village Chiefs with her truck later tonight, and also to take me to my house to get crafts and the Bluetooth speaker.

We hop in the truck, and drive to my house. I quickly go inside and find a bag and load it up with all of the crafts I have.

Drive back to BOCAIP and I find red wrapping paper and cut big hearts from it. We have some red candles left over from World AIDS Day last year, so I take those and go outside to fill Styrofoam cups with sand and put the candle in the middle, and then tie little hearts on string to the cups as centerpieces for each table.

Susan from BOCAIP offers to help, so I show her how to make the hearts, and then sit down to write the keynote speech. I find the one we used for World AIDS Day last year and then start each paragraph the same, and finish it with another statistic about HIV in our district. Let’s hope this one flies! I send a picture to Catherine and she says it’s perfect.

Phew!

Walk back to the DAC office in order to print the speech because there’s no printer at BOCAIP.

Walk back to BOCAIP and help decorate the space. Slowly, it starts to come together. Woo hoo! Everyone pitches in to help.

Suddenly it’s 5 pm and people are starting to arrive and Baitshepi and I haven’t had time to change into formal clothing for the dinner tonight. We hop in her truck and we drive to Hanlie and Thomas’s house, where I’m dog sitting, and I grab an outfit for tonight.

Then we drive to Baitshepi’s house for her to get changed into a dress for tonight.

Drive back to BOCAIP, and I quickly run to the bathroom and change into a skirt and red jacket and dab off my profuse sweat with paper towels and throw on some red lipstick.

Let’s do this!

Baitshepi leaves to go collect the Village Chiefs while Mabe and Bontle arrive with the mugs. Hooray! They prevailed! They’re not the mugs we ordered, but they’ll do.

“Eish, you know, this supplies woman told me that the reason they do not process our orders when we submit paperwork is because we do not give them some of our food that we order and invite them to our events,” Bontle said.

“I think that’s called bribery, Bontle, and isn’t allowed. We shouldn’t have to bribe people to get the job done!” I reply.

We decide we will invite the woman from supplies anyways, just to make sure the food arrives and there are no issues.

People start to arrive, and I discover that while I was gone, Susan figured out how to make my Bluetooth speaker loud enough to fill the whole room. We play music while people get seated.

The Village Chiefs arrive, guest speakers and guests all arrive.

It’s now 6 pm, and Pastor Chimbambe has not arrived. We wait. I call her three times, and she answers on the third try. She tells me she will be there at 6:15 pm. “I’m on my way!” she says.

We wait. People are getting hungry.

FINALLY, at 7:30 pm, the pastor arrives with her husband.

The program starts, and it’s FANTASTIC. Pastor Chimbambe delivers a very animated speech that injects the much-needed energy back into the room. The Village Chief reads the speech I wrote and everyone giggles because my American English is a little different and it’s clear that he is speaking in English in a different way than usual, but he handles it with grace and humor.

I also invited a member of the youth in our community to come and share her story, and she does a great job sharing what it’s like to live with HIV.

The supplies woman arrives and helps to serve the food, and I see her sneaking sodas into her purse. It’s fine; at least she’s helping!

Everyone sits to eat, and then we dance a little. The night finally finishes around 10 pm.

We all stay behind and help to clean up. Bontle, Mabe, Mr. Wasetso, Baitshepi and I all high-five with one another.

“The dream team! We did it!” we tell one another.

Phew! This was the ONE event that Catherine asked for us to do. She is out on maternity leave and there is no DAC to replace her, but she asked that we find a way to do this in her absence. We are thrilled to finally have it done!

Around 11 pm, Mabe says he will give me a ride home. He drops me off at Hanlie and Thomas’s house, where Didi, Dapper, Lulu and Dijo all greet me with excited barkies and love and kisses.

I lay down on the couch exhausted. Dijo crawls onto my face and decides to lick my face silly.

Call Colden, and we agree to make heart-shaped pizzas on facetime tomorrow night instead. He’s the best, I’m so grateful that he understands how tired I am.

Watch TV for a few minutes and play with the puppies.

Go to bed. Didi and Dapper by my feet, Lulu on the floor, Dapper on my face.

Boroko 🌙

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