Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Back from Bots and Battling

It's been a long time since my last post, I know. My last day in Botswana was August 19 and I landed on Canadian soil on August 20. I've been 'home', and I use that word lightly, for almost three months now. I should have written this post a long time ago, but I didn't. Maybe it's because I was lazy, but more likely it's because I couldn't bring myself to bare my soul and break the wall I've put up around my heart since I've gotten back.

If you've been following my bustlings, you know that the turning point for me was the weekend I spent in Maun, Botswana and the children of Motse Wa Tsholofelo. Remember these two little divas? Well, they changed my life. From that weekend forward, each day that brought me closer and closer to leaving Botswana and the incredible work I was doing, was increasingly difficulty. I spent my last day, packing and crying, cleaning and crying, taking care of last minute business and crying, saying good-bye to such amazing people and crying. Did I mention I was crying? I was privileged enough to be in Botswana long enough to see my students off at the airport. As I watched each of the thirty-eight students say tear-filled goodbyes to ten plus members of their extended families and friends, I had to turn my back, take a deep breath, and tell myself to keep it together. Seeing grown men and women with tears streaming down their cheeks, knowing full well that this was the last time they would be seeing their families for at least two years, was almost too much for me to bare. Urging the students to say those goodbyes and get through airport security was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. As I waved to the last student I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and inspiration. I was on the same flight as half of the group from Johannesburg to London. As I lead them from one Heathrow terminal to the next, to the Air Canada counter to get their next set of boarding passes, and then to the main departure area, my heart was full and the feeling of accomplishment was indescribable. As I waved good-bye for the final time, I assured them all, "You're going to be fine, next stop, Canada!"

I had a horrific trip home. After almost missing my connection in Johannesburg because my flight left late from Gaborone ("No Hurry in Africa"), I also arrived late in Chicago due to one incredible thunderstorm. Let my trip be a lesson to myself and everyone, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT leave yourself less than a two-hour layover if you're transferring internationally through the Chicago airport. First of all, only one of my bags actually made it Chicago. The one that did make it, the bigger one that weighed about sixty pounds, had a broken pull handle meaning I had one heck of a struggle lugging it through the airport, or should I say getting lost in the airport. By the time I made it to the proper counter, I was already late for my flight. It is necessary to mention here that I had been traveling for approximately thirty hours at this point and that this particular flight was the final one in my trip. I had one more two-hour flight and I would be in Manitoba.

When the woman working at the ticket counter told me she couldn't find any record of me in the computer system, I started crying, just a bit. By the time they finally found record of my existence, I had about twenty-minutes to make it to my gate. Twenty-minutes might have been fine, except the check-in woman didn't have the necessary clearance (or something) to allow me to check-in to my flight with only twenty-minutes left to boarding. I had to see an agent. So, instead of taking me directly to an agent who did have the necessary clearance, she directed me to the back of another long line. I started crying a little more as I played out possible scenarios that could occur when I missed my flight. I could sleep in the airport. I could check into a nearby hotel. I would definitely need to try and get a hold of everyone anxiously awaiting my arrival at home, but I didn't have a cell phone so I would have to convince someone to let me make a long distance call with their phone or spend a fortune on a payphone.

An angel (because that's what she was) in front of me kindly asked me if I was ok. While attempting to hold back tears, I sobbed that I really wasn't and explained my entire scenario. She put her hand on my shoulder and told me I could go ahead of her. See?, angel. There were still two people ahead of me, but I figured if one person could be so kind, maybe a couple others could too. I swallowed my tears (and my pride) and begged them to let me go ahead. It is times like these that reiterate to me the reason I believe in the inherent goodness in people. They graciously moved aside and I was first in line. As the agent at the counter asked how she could help me, I let it all out. By 'all', I mean the pent up buckets of saline solution that my eyes were holding onto. I bawled and, between sobs, pleaded with the woman to just get me home. She made me sign a release on my luggage declaring I was a late check-in and I was off, running, yet again to catch my flight. As I sat in my seat on the final plane of my journey, the tears just wouldn't stop.

Looking back, I suppose they were tears of relief, but they were also tears of sorrow. The same tears of sorrow I've cried many nights since I've returned to Canada.
They come from an emptiness inside of me, a dark and lonely place that Botswana once filled. I miss the place; I miss the people, but most of all, I miss the work. I want to spend the rest of my life working for the betterment of the lives of those less fortunate. There is such a significant lack of human capacity in the world's developing nations. It is easy to get people to contribute money to build a new playground for a not-for-profit pre-school, but to get someone to provide the necessary funds to employ a teacher to instruct the children, is nearly impossible. What is even harder, is convincing people to venture outside of the safety of their comfortable bubbles to give of themselves for the benefit of others. I know this first hand; it took me a few years to conjure up the courage to get on that plane to Botswana. Once I got there though, it ripped me apart to get back on that plane and come back to Canada.

And now it's time to be brutally honest. I struggle everyday with the overwhelming sense that I am wasting my life here. I sit at my desk, stare at my computer, and think about the work I could be doing in Botswana or in any developing nation for that matter. At the same time, I know I have to be here for a number of reasons:
1. I need to finish my undergraduate degree. So many more opportunities will open up for me once I have that official piece of paper and can sign my name with a BA (Honours) behind it.
2. I spent all of my savings over the four months I was in Botswana. In order to financially sustain myself, I need to save more money before I can afford to work again without monetary compensation.
Ok, so I guess the 'number' of reasons is really only two.

I've been back in Canada for three months now and the thought of buying anything I don't absolutely need still sickens me. When I say 'sickens', I mean I physically feel sick to my stomach. When I walked into my apartment after being half way around the world for four months, I didn't feel a sense of comfort at finally being home; I felt nauseous. The ridiculous amount of stuff I have is disgusting. I lived happily with the things I could pack in a suitcase for four months. Some of the people I met in Botswana lived with less than that. In short, I don't need anymore things.

Don't get me wrong, I am proud to be Canadian. I love my country. I know a lot of great people here who support me in all that I do. My heart, however, is just not in my life here. It's buried in the vibrant red soil that stains my shoes, floating on the warm dry wind that wraps the sand around my skin, with the little girl who played with a stick and bottle cap until I gave her the doll she now cuddles. Ke rata Botswana. You and I will be together again someday, but not soon enough.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tears and Tuli Block

After three months living together, adjusting to a new country together, dealing with culture shock together, and sharing our most intimate secrets with each other, Angela Dore, Emma Dickson, and I held back the tears as best we could as we said goodbye...for now. It's my hope that November will find me in Ottawa (where both of them are living) for a reunion. These two girls are the only ones who truly understand the experience I've had in Botswana and how bittersweet it is to be going home. I need them like the deserts need the rain!

That's a photo of our last night out together in Gabs at Bull N Bush. It was a wild night, full of entertaining antics, and a plan to stay up until Angela's taxi arrived at 5:45 a.m. I think we made it until about 4:30 or 5:00, fell asleep, and were up again to say one last goodbye...for now. Now Angela and Emma are both back in Ottawa and I am sitting at the desk in my office, looking at their photo and wishing things could just go back to normal...the normal I've been used to for the last three plus months. But, those thoughts are for a whole other blog post that is soon to come. For now, let's move from tears to Tuli Block.

After my girls left, I was thankfully able to distract myself from the loneliness by taking a trip into the eastern part of the country. I tagged along with a volunteer for Ark n' Mark Trust while he went to meet a group of Canadians with a plan to bring thirty high school students to the area in March 2012. The project the students will be assisting with is the construction of Camp Ark, a retreat site for orphans and vulnerable children in Botswana.

The program run at Richmond High School in BC is called Global Perspectives Canada and it is one cool initiative. It's a program that I think should be run in all high schools; if only everyone thought like me! Now, the camp itself is going to be amazing. It's going to take one heck of a pile of work, but it's going to be fantastic. I'll most definitely stay in touch and follow along as the project unfolds.

I had a lot of quiet time to reflect during this particular trip and many times I found myself lost in a surreal sense of reality. As I traveled down back dirt roads coloured vibrant red from the iron-rich soil, paused to allow a group of zebras, impalas, baboons to gracefully cross, gazed at the vast expanse of stars stretching on for eternity, and marveled at the opportunities that abound on this continent, I found myself constantly wondering: Is this truly my life?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It's All Built Up to This

For a while now I've realised that my blogs have mostly been consisting of my personal "playtime" adventures here in Bots rather than the real reason I am here, my volunteer placement. For the most part, that is because the day-to-day happenings of my placement would be quite boring, I imagine, to any regular Joe. It involves a lot of office work and research which is really not all that exciting. Of course, I love it, but that's just crazy li'l me! My entire placement here with WUSC-Botswana and the International Scholarship Management team builds up to the Pre-Departure Orientation in late July. I play a major role in developing the programming for the orientation as well as facilitating sessions and acting as the token Canadian student. Basically, I've spent my summer processing study permits, police clearances, medical examinations, loan documents, and doing research on Canadian universities. July 21 and 22 had me and my fellow staff members in a conference room with 39 Batswana students. The two days were full of interactive information sessions on everything from Canadian lifestyle to the inner workings of the students scholarships. Of course, with any orientation like this, some of the sessions were boring, but for the most part, the students were engaged, participating, and having a lot of fun. At the end of the two days, I was exhausted, but filled with pride and inspiration.

On August 17th, 39 Batswana students will leave their homes in and around Gaborone, Botswana, get on airplanes for the first time in their lives, fly over 12,000km, and land in Canada; their new, albeit temporary homes. Bon Voyage and Live It Up!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kickin' it in Kasane

Once again, I really have no idea how I am going to manage to put my latest adventure into words. We'd been planning this long weekend trip since our arrival in Gaborone nearly 3 months ago. The four-day long weekend in July would be our only opportunity to travel up north for long enough to truly experience both Chobe National Park in Kasane, Botswana and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. First step, acquire tickets on the overnight bus from Gabs to Kasane. This required me finding my way to, around, and back from the Station/Bus Rank in Gabs all on my own. That, my dear friends, is the thing (for me) that nightmares are made of. But, I came, I saw, I conquered and we were booked on the Friday night bus. Next step, convince Angela that she could come on the four-day trip without luggage. You see, she was on her way back from Ethiopia and as luck would have it, her luggage got lost in none other than the Joburg airport (notorious for losing luggage). She called in a panic, but after a concurrent 'just get your ass down here' from both Emma and I, she was on her way with only the clothes on her back and the couple things she had asked me to bring for her. Moving on, wait three hours for the bus to actually arrive, get pushed and pulled while people fight to get onto a bus that has assigned seating, drive around Gaborone for an hour looking for a fueling station that is not out of petrol (apparently there was a shortage in Gabs), and finally leave the city 4 hours after we were originally supposed to. Now that we are actually settled on the bus and on our way, we decide we should at least try to get some sleep despite the frigid temperature, bright interior lights, and ridiculous movies playing all night long. At approximately 4 a.m. the bus stops, everyone has to get out, and we are instructed to step in what looks like a small crate of wet, muddy paper towel. This is a veterinary check-point to stop the transfer of foot and mouth disease. Please, don't ask! Back on the bus, back to sleep, and I awaken at around 7:30 a.m. because a suitcase from the overhead compartment has fallen on top of my head. Only a couple more hours and we arrive in Kasane at last.

After that horrific bus ride, the trip only gets better. We call Chobezi Safaris and immediately get picked up by a driver and taken to Chobe Safari Lodge where we arrange a boat cruise, lunch, and then an afternoon game drive. Let the magic begin! Hippos, crocodiles, monkeys, monitor lizards, impala, warthogs, water buffalo, and wild birds galore. Then a fabulous buffet lunch and off we go on a game drive. This part of the trip, from start to finish, is indescribably magnificent. We drive into herd after herd of elephants and just sit there and watch them. These beautiful giants are so close to us that, if allowed, I could have reached out and touched one's forehead. I kid you not. This video is as close as I can get to sharing the experience with you. Enjoy!

Alright, so although the title of this blog is "Kickin' it in Kasane", we actually spent most of our time in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The reason: Shoestring Backpackers. It is where all of the volunteers who travel from Gabs to Vic Falls stay. Reason #1 it costs $10 a night. Reason #2 the atmosphere is incredible.
This is a photo of the basic gathering area of the hostel. There's a bar, a little information/convenience store, an internet room, a kitchen, a living room area, and a restaurant (sort of). Everything was so cheap and every night the locals would come in to party. If you know me, you know I'm not much of a party animal, but I stayed up and chilled out with the other gals for as long as I could stand it. What I mean by that is, for as long as I could take being hit on mercilessly by men who when I told them I had a boyfriend needed to know, first, where he was from and, second, whether he was black or white. I took an educated guess and figured 'black' was the correct answer to get them to leave me alone. It worked...until they forgot they had already talked to me and the cycle would start all over again. I thought the Motswana men were bad, but the Zim men are ten times worse. My breaking point came when I had to respond, "No" to: "But won't you just help me to complete my life's journey?" It was likely only around 11:00 p.m., but it was time for bed!

Out in the town of Victoria Falls, when we weren't being accosted by locals trying to sell their obsolete currency and handi-crafts, we were being followed by young children begging for money so they could by food. Perhaps only thirty feet away or so their mothers and fathers would be sitting feeding their siblings candy. Yes, it really was that bad. We did a bit of souvenir shopping and then made our way to the famous falls. Yet again, I have no clue how to describe the magnificence that I saw. We opted out of the raincoats that were available for rent, deciding that getting completely soaked was all part of the Vic Falls experience. The beginning of the walk consisted of the odd misting of light water droplets. "This isn't bad at all", we thought to ourselves. Soon enough, however, the light misting turned into a torrential downpour and we were drenched from head to toe. The final point of the walk is called Danger Point. The rocks are slippery. There are no guard rails. We climbed out on the rocks despite the name of the location, turned around to take in the full 360 degree view, and saw the most beautiful rainbow. I found myself completely speechless in the presence of the brightest red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet I am likely to ever see in my life.

I have rarely been more thankful in my life than I was when Emma and Angela agreed that we would fly home rather than take the bus. We arrived back in Gabs dirty, likely a bit stinky, and completely exhausted, but the trip to Kasane and Victoria Falls was worth it and so much more.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Meandering in Maun

I honestly don't even know where to start with this blog post, but here it goes.

July 8, 9, and 10 found my roomies and I in Maun visiting a fellow Students Without Borders volunteer. We set foot out of the airport and into the city itself. It's touristy, developed, and the sand isn't bright red! Almost immediately upon exiting the central hub of Maun we see some of the worst poverty we've seen so far. An incredible woman we met there described Maun as a thriving city inside a dying village and that couldn't be closer to the truth. There is a severe racial split in Maun, almost as bad as South Africa, with the white ex-patriots running the majority of the local businesses and the black locals living in filth and battling starvation. We went to a bar on Friday night and it was full of white people. It was just like being back home in Canada and while it was comforting because it was familiar, it just didn't feel normal. It's hard to describe, but I missed the get-togethers in Bots where everyone dances and dances well because they're black and they were born with natural dance talent...I'm really not kidding. We found a small group of black women bustin' some moves in a corner and spent most of the night with them. The local people are truly Africa's finest asset.

We visited the homes of some of the children that attend Motswe Wa Tsholofelo Pre School and Day Care Centre (that's where Sara, the SWB volunteer we went to visit is placed). While Sara did some interviews with the families, we played with the children. It was a beautiful experience, making macaroni necklaces and having three-legged races with the children.
Try as I might, however, I couldn't help noticing the one-room (no larger than my bedroom) in which ten plus people, mostly children, lived. As the flies landed unnoticed on the baby's face, I had to keep the tears from paving paths down my dust-covered cheeks. She is the face of Africa that I am used to seeing in the Canadian media. The face of poverty, the face of reality, and, dare I say it, the face of hopelessness. I'm not going to post the photo we have of her here; if you want to see it, it's in my facebook album, "Bouncin' Along in Bots". Instead, I will share with you the photo of these two precious divas. The sweetheart on the right attends the daycare. The other pretty little doll was so shy when we arrived that she wouldn't come near us, but she soon warmed up to us when we brought out the paints and starting making necklaces. If you look closely, you can see the 'jewelry' we made together. Friday, my friends, was a tough day.

Saturday, we spent the day with Botswana's best known tourist attraction, the Okavango Delta.
Sara set up the tour for us, so we really had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into. A mekoro tour, ok, so what's a mekoro? A small boat paddled by a Motswana guide. As in the ones that are easily tipped by hippos and crocodiles? It can't really be that, can it? O, yes it can! I'm not actually that terrified, but close. It was an incredible experience, but I would only recommend a half day tour rather than a full one. We spent eight hours getting smacked in the face with reeds, getting covered in bugs, and feeling the effects of the sun and wind on our faces. I know that makes it sound horrible, and, at times, it really was. Being able to say that I took a mekoro tour of the Okavango Delta, however, is priceless and an experience I am glad I had. We did see a few animals, zebras, an elephant, and reedbucks, but traveling only a foot or so above water level through miles of tall reeds, really limits the number of animals one is able to see. Alright, enough about that, let's get back to talking about what I really care about...the volunteer work and the people.

On Sunday, we spent the day at Motswe Wa Tsholofelo hanging curtains and decorating the walls of the meal time area. Getting that room usable and welcoming was one of Sara's main mandates during her placement and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to help.

To conclude this post, I'm going to tell you how much I want to stay in Africa, volunteering - forever. If money was no object, that is exactly what I would be doing. There are so many projects here that need one simple resource...human capacity! I urge each and every one of you who reads this to volunteer abroad. Whether it's Africa or somewhere else, leave the safety and comfort of the box you call home behind and experience another part of the world first hand. At the very least, look past the images provided to you by the media and educate yourself about the reality of places of like Maun and the beautiful people that make their existence there.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

POC Reading Challenge

I was randomly surfing through the Globe and Mail the other day and came across an article entitled "Reading challenges: Like a triathlon, but with books" so of course it peaked my interest and click it I did. As I read through the article, I found myself thinking, 'what hole have I been living in that I didn't know such things as reading challenges existed?!' I love reading and I love a challenge so it is only fitting that I would love reading challenges. It's simple logic really. My next step was to google (I really love that 'google' is now an acceptable English-language verb) said reading challenges and see what I could find. I came across a number of different variations, but the POC Reading Challenge was the one that stood out to me the most, likely because of my current situation which finds me in Gaborone, Botswana.

POC is short for People of Color. The idea is that for the year you try to read as many books either by or showcasing people of color. The basic reality is that the majority of accomplished authors today are white. There are 5 levels within the contest to choose from depending on how many books you want to challenge yourself to read. Since I'm coming into the contest in July, half way through the year, I've decided to enter at Level 3 which means I need to read 7-9 books by December 31. I'm counting 4 books that I started reading before I found out about the challenge, because, technically, I did read them in 2011.

So, basically, after completing each book, I write a short review and post it to the monthly review section on the site. Each month, the creator of the challenge, Pam, randomly chooses a winner from the people who have posted reviews. The winner receives what all readers love, a book, of their choosing from a list. It's great!

With all of that said, if you are interested in reading my reviews, I've started a new blog: Books, Books, 'N' More Books.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Canada Day in Bots!

Canada Day comes but once a year and typically I have a pretty low-key day that ends with watching some fireworks. This year, since I happened to be in Gaborone, Botswana, unable to fly to Maun to visit a friend due to the high cost, my roommates and I decided to host a Braai (that's a BBQ, but African-style). In Botswana, July 1st is also a national holiday called Sir Seretse Khama Day. Sir Seretse Khama was the first president of Botswana after the country got its independence from the British. It worked out wonderfully because all of our Gaborone friends were free as well. The only hiccup we had was failing to purchase enough alcohol the day before and then struggling to find an open liquor store on the holiday. But try we did and successful we were!

So, basically a braai consists of a large quantity of people, loud music and various dance moves, and one huge pile of food - none of this Canadian-style hot dogs and hamburgers, but heaping piles of steak, sausage, chicken and all the fixings which included pap (a maize meal type porridge, but thick like mashed potatoes), chakalaka (a spicy vegetable relish and what our Batswana friends call salad), and samp (a mixture of dried corn kernels and beans that take forever to cook).
In addition to all of that, us Canadians decided to add chili and lasagna (two things you can't really get here in Gabs). We also had buns to go with the chili. Sound like a lot of food? It was, but it all got eaten! The picture above is Emma holding the 5kg bag of pap. I think we likely cooked about half of that bag leaving us with quite a bit leftover. Besides that pap and a bit of chakalaka though, every morsel of food got devoured. The photo to the left is one round of meat on the grill. I think we had about three total. Here us Canadians were thinking we had entirely too much food, but boy were we wrong! People who showed up later missed out on the delicious grub.

We celebrated Canada Day with our Batswana, American, German, and Irish friends! Emma brought temporary tattoos with her from Canada which were a hit. Almost everyone at the party left donning a maple leaf, a Canadian flag, or simply the word 'Canada'.

In the photo above is Angela, Tshepiso, Emma, and yours truly in front of our nation's flag. Note the smaller Canada and Botswana flags as well. It was a perfect day with great weather, friends, and food.

And now I must add one final photo - Angela's marvelous jello shots made inside oranges! It was quite a process to make them and we spent most of the day leading up to the braai worried that the jello wouldn't set, but it all worked out. Aren't they ab fab?! We thought as much and so did all of our guests.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Taking the Bad with the Good

I'll begin this blog by reiterating how great the people here in Gaborone really are. If you need directions, help finding something in the grocery store or mall, or just feel like striking up a random conversation, the people here are wonderful.

Now, what you are about to read may lead you to believe differently, but please, keep that first statement in mind throughout the following paragraphs. Before I get into the "meat" of the story, some prep work is required. Before we left Canada, we were told about the theft in Botswana. When we arrived in Botswana, we were told about the theft in Botswana. Don't walk around with your laptop, camera, cell phone, anything of value really, in plain sight. Any opportunity that presents itself will be taken by someone and the result will leave you with one less item in your possession. Since I got here, I've been careful with my laptop. I've been careful with my camera. I haven't, however, been careful with my cell phone. I take it out everywhere, walk around with it in my hand, think nothing of it - it's honestly a cheap piece of junk that gets me by. Or at least it was until last Thursday.

One of my roomies and I decided to get some exercise and go for a walk. It was still light outside so we decided to take a little path and discover, what we hoped would be, a shortcut to the grocery store near our house. That was mistake #2. Technically mistake #1 was leaving the house with my cellphone in one hand and my keys in the other. As we came to the end of the path and were presented with a decision as to whether to turn right or left, two teenage boys came strolling down the path. We didn't think anything of it. We pass people all of the time. It's no big deal. Well, this time it was. One of them grabbed my phone to which I reacted by clutching it tighter and yelling at him. I guess I wasn't scary enough, what with my 5'3" frame and all, because he proceeded to bite me until I let go of the phone.

Now let me clarify; it's not the piece of junk phone which I've since replaced for around $30 or the $50 in airtime that was on it when he took it that upsets me. Not in the least. I mean it was annoying to have to go and buy a new phone, but that was taken care of with little effort. What bothers me is the insecurity, stupidity, violation, frustration that I now have to get over. I will get over it, it'll just take some time.

Please remember, after all of that, that Botswana is a wonderful place to visit. Although it has been deemed a 'middle to high income' country (which is ridiculous by the way), there is a lot of poverty and, in turn, desperation. In the grand scheme of things, the vast majority of people here are the most kind-hearted people you will ever meet.

Alrighty, now for the good stuff! Thanks to one of the other volunteers here who knows my love of books, I was invited to come and help pick out books for the library at the Stepping Stones International centre in Mochudi (that's where her placement is). Of course, I was thrilled.
When I walked into the school hall where the collection of books was being held, 'thrilled' doesn't even come close to describing the emotion that came over me. I had heard that there was a possibility that the books had come from Books for Africa, and while a part of me was hopeful, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be that lucky. When I walked into the room and saw the hundreds of brown cardboard boxes with the red Books for Africa logo on them, I nearly screamed, fainted, cried, and/or all of the above. Some of you will know and understand why. For those of you who don't, I'll try my best to explain why this was one of my life's dreams come true.

Over the last two or so years, we've (by 'we' I mean my fellow WUSCers at Brandon University) collected used books (textbooks mostly), packed them, and shipped them to Better World Books. As partners with Better World Books, we were able to choose from a number of literacy organisations that we would further like to partner with. That organisation is Books for Africa (BFA). By partnering with BFA, the money from our sold books and/or the books themselves is used to further fund literacy projects in Africa - like the Botswana Book Project. So you see, being in that room with all of those books (even though they weren't Brandon University books) meant that I saw my work come full circle. I saw the smiling faces of the teachers and community group leaders as they carried out boxes and boxes of books. It was incredible. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the hours spent unloading book collection boxes, packing books into shipping boxes, and loading those boxes onto the truck, is worth it. Sometimes it's frustrating, all of the time it's back-breaking work, but being in that room, surrounded by those books, will make future shipments from our little prairie university so very worthwhile. One thing I can tell you for sure, is that from now on, the money raised from our books will be specifically designated to the Botswana Book Project.

Before signing off, I need to bring your attention to Pam Shelton who is otherwise known to me and many others I am sure as Wonder Woman. William Moulton Marston created the original Wonder Woman with a mission to bring ideals of love, peace, and sexual equality to the world. Pam Shelton has a similar mission, but in addition to peace and love, Pam seeks to provide education to build an informed nation; and build education she does. Judging from my glances at her listing of book recipient, 30+ schools and community groups received books from the shipment she brought in. If that in and of itself is not impressive enough, Pam doesn't see a single penny or pula from the donations that come into her self-founded organisation. She doesn't have an office space or an office supply budget and she doesn't pay herself a salary. She does all of it, each and every ounce of it, out of the goodness of her heart. Pam Shelton is my hero and who I want to be when I grow up. She is living my dream and if I had to leave Botswana right now, I would go home having had the experience of my lifetime.

One last tidbit (I know I said that already) to those of you who know me. You can bet that as soon as I get home, I'll be planning a fundraiser for Pam and her incredible Botswana Book Project! You can also bet that I'll be needing your help :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jump Jivin' in Joburg

As much as my time in Botswana is about the volunteering I am doing here, I also manage to find time to travel at least a little. Last weekend found me in a rented van with 2 of my roomies, 2 good Batswana friends of ours who happen to be amazing dancers, and two hired drivers (also the cousins of one of our friends). We were heading to Johannesburg in South Africa for a dance competition of which our two friends would undoubtedly be the stars.

The drive there was a little tense at times considering it was dark, our driver was a bit inexperienced (or something), and the highway was way worse than any I've experienced in either Manitoba or Saskatchewan (Canadian joke, sorry to anyone who's a non-Canuck).
You really cannot imagine how thrilled we (those are two of my roomies, Emma and Angela) were to find out that our B&B was a little slice of paradise - a rather chilly paradise, mind you - but paradise none-the-less. We piled on the blankets, tucked ourselves in, and before we knew it, our alarm awakened us for our first official day in Joburg. Up 'n' at 'em , a nice hot breakfast, and out the door to head to Soweto (a name formed from South Western Township) where the dance competition was taking place. Soweto is the biggest township - which is basically a nice name for a slum - in South Africa, or perhaps in all of Africa; I'm not too sure on my facts there. What I am sure about is that Soweto was formed during the Apartheid as a place for the black people to live apart from the white people. It's really only expanded since then and while it's rather well developed now, the remnants of what it used to be are still fully present. The houses (which are better than shacks, but not much) are small and so closely packed together that it would be difficult to walk between them. It is also still very dangerous and although I wasn't there long enough or out and about enough to see the poverty first hand, I do not doubt that it exists in abundance in Soweto.

Moving on...the big plan for Joburg, in addition to the dance competition, was to make it to the Apartheid Museum. Other than being one huge city, Johannesburg really doesn't have much to offer except this widely acclaimed museum which showcases the depressing history of the country. Our friend's aunt assured us she knew where it was (close to the hall that the dance competition was being held in) and she had no problem taking us there. We were pumped. Where we actually ended up, however, was the Hector Pieterson Museum which only showcased one devastating event (the death of Hector Pieterson) that occurred as a result of apartheid. It was informative if nothing else and therefore not a complete bust.

Now for the dance competition. We knew it would pretty much be an all day thing. We knew that it likely wouldn't be on schedule (because nothing is here). What we didn't know was that being "behind schedule" meant 8 hours behind. The entire competition was supposed to end at 4 p.m. We left at 11:30 p.m. after finally seeing our friends dance. If we had been able to watch Tshepi and Mike dance more often throughout the day, it would have been phenomenally better. Instead we watched the same groups of young and inexperienced ballroom dancers over and over and over again. Now don't get me wrong, I love dancing. I love any and all forms of art. I even liked watching the dancing for the first few hours, but by hour 5 or 6, I really just wanted to cheer on our friends and back to the B&B to rest. Seeing Tshepi and Mike Samba, Cha Cha Cha, Rumba, and Jive pretty much made up for the long day of sitting in the bleachers though. They were fantastic and if Botswana had better resources for the arts, I am sure they'd both be famous professional dancers.

Take a look for yourself - Tshepi and Mike Dance the Jive:

In short, Joburg was gigantic, fast-paced, and the random people that I passed on the street weren't nearly as friendly as the ones here in Botswana. I can honestly say, I missed the quiet life in Gabs last weekend and was glad to arrive back "home" on Sunday.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Dangers of Living in Africa

Alternate title: Why You Should Always Buy The Suggested First Aid Kit

Upon planning to volunteer abroad, I was given a list of suggested things to bring along on the trip. One of these things was a first aid kit. I contemplated not buying one, because, I mean really, what would I need a first aid kit for? It just so happened that upon buying some cargo-type pants, I spotted travel first aid kits that were relatively inexpensive and after a brief consultation with my mom, decided it couldn't hurt to take it with me. Into my suitcase it went. I was pretty sure I would never even open it.

Let's jump ahead about 5 weeks now to June 14 at approximately 8 p.m. My roommate, Angela, usually does the cooking and I do the cleaning. It's not that I can't cook, I just prefer not to. She likes to cook so it works well. On this particular night, Angela had some other things to take care of which required her to be out of the house. I could have waited for her to return, but I wasn't sure how long it would take and, after all, I can cook. So I got some chicken out, put it in the oven, cut up some vegetables, started reheating some rice; life was good. Upon checking the chicken, I realised I had the oven on broil, not bake and one of the pieces was burnt. That was the first "shit" moment of the evening. Ok, no big deal, just get another piece of chicken out.

Before I continue, a little background information on the chicken is required. It was frozen crispy chicken schnitzel (incredibly delicious as a side note) but the freezer at the grocery store does not really keep things all that frozen. With that said, the pieces of chicken were slightly thawed allowing them to stick together.

Alright, now on with the dangers. The last two pieces of schnitzel were frozen together so in order to cook them, I needed to pry them apart. Easy right? - WRONG! Out came a knife and I proceeded to attempt to pry them apart. I say attempt, because I never did get them separated. Instead, the knife slipped and plunged its way into the meaty part of my hand just below my thumb. I have no idea where the knife ended up or the chicken for that matter; all I know is I dropped them, squeezed the skin on my hand together to attempt to stop the bleeding, turned the elements on the stove off, and went to my bedroom/bathroom to assess the situation.

It wasn't gushing blood, so I figured that was a good sign. I washed it and thought to myself, 'What the hell am I going to do now? Do I need to go to emergency? Can I handle this alone? Am I going to pass out?' Then, in the midst of what I am pretty sure was at least mild shock, I remembered my first aid kit; the one I almost didn't buy; the one I was sure I would never need. I pulled it out, unzipped it, and found butterfly stitches! Two butterfly stitches, a dab of Polysporin, a bandage, and an Advil for the pain and I was set...maybe. In the morning I was still pretty frazzled and after cleaning the cut again with antiseptic wipes (from my first aid kit) this time, I once again returned to wondering if I needed stitches.

I decided I better go to a doctor of some sort. I called a cab, went to the clinic we were shown during orientation, waited about an hour and a half and saw the doctor. He took a close look at it through a magnifying glass, told me I was lucky it wasn't worse, put some cream on it, bandaged it up, and sent me on my way. NO STITCHES!

So now, with all of that said, ALWAYS buy the suggested first aid kit because you never know what dangers lurk around the next dinner table.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pleasantries and Perturbances in Pretoria

After some last minute planning and frustrations with Africa's High-Cost/Low-Volume policy on tourism, Angela and I decided to spend our long weekend in Pretoria, South Africa. Thursday, June 2nd was Ascension Day here in Botswana. I have no idea what the holiday is for, but I am guessing something of a religious nature. We both asked for Friday off, booked the bus, booked the hostel, and away we went. Let me now enlighten you, dearest reader, with our adventures.

The Taxi - Our bus was leaving at 6:30 a.m. from Gabs so the night before we called to arrange a cab - no problem. He was set to arrive at our house at 6:00 a.m. 6:00 a.m. Thursday morning came and went so we called again and the driver assured us he'd be there in 15 minutes. 6:15 a.m. came and went so we called again and the driver assured us he'd be there in 3 minutes. Thankfully, he arrived. We get in, we tell him we're going to the bus station near Main Mall. He says, "the bus rank?" And we say, "NO - the bus station near Main Mall." "O - ok, he says." One thing we have definitely come to be very aware of here is that the cab drivers NEVER listen.

The Bus - The bus was nice, packed, but nice. It should take about 4.5 hours to get to Pretoria from Gaborone, but the bus took 8. It took us about 2 hours to get through the border; fill out paper work to exit Botswana; fill out paper work to enter South Africa. It really wasn't much of a hassle, there were just about 100+ people doing the same thing we were doing. That, plus a few stops along the way to let people on and off and finally we arrived in Pretoria.

The Hostel - We booked our hostel with Hostels.com and basically took our chances. 1322 Backpackers International was a little slice of paradise.
We really couldn't have asked for a much nicer hostel for the $20 a night that we paid. Our first night the power went out and even though we are in Africa, we are far enough south that it gets damn cold here at night, like see your breath, below zero cold! I know we are supposed to be tough Canadians, but at night, if not dressed properly, we freeze our temporarily African asses off! With the power out, the little heater in the room wasn't working so we bundled up in layers of clothing, climbed under layers of blankets (2 folded in half, so technically 4) and dreamed of the hot African sun! Our second night the power went out - not cool South Africa - not cool at all! Thankfully, our third night, we had lights, internet, and HEAT! I actually didn't have to sleep in my slipper boots and two fleece sweaters.

Dinner, Hooka, and The White Box - After finally arriving in Pretoria on Thursday and settling into our hostel, Angela and I decided to take a walk and explore Hatfield (the area around our hostel known for its restaurants and bars). We had some yummy pasta at Mimmos Restaurant where the drinks were two for one and the chocolate brownies were served warm with ice cream! Our next stop was a Moroccan Hooka Cafe where, at 27 years old, I willingly inhaled tobacco into my lungs for the first time. It was melon flavoured and I only got a small head rush once. And now for The White Box! We contemplated, momentarily, walking (about 10 minutes) back to our hostel after our evening out. If walking at night in Gabs is not recommended, walking at night anywhere in South Africa (including Pretoria) is definitely not recommended. After being followed about a block by a man saying "Thank you Ma'am for the white box" over and over and over again, we decided we better call a cab. The white box, you see, was my leftovers from Mimmos and there were just so many men begging on the streets. While it was really quite sad, it was also very frightening. We put the "white box" in Angela's purse and waiting outside a brightly lit restaurant for a taxi to take us to the hostel.

Pretoria Art Museum, Union
Buildings, and Fleecies - Friday we got up, had a little breakfast and headed out. It took us about 45 minutes to walk to the Pretoria Art Museum and we just so happened to walk down one of the streets where a number of embassies were located. Pretty cool to see if I do say so myself. The art museum was small, but interesting. Being the nerd that I am, I plan to look a little more into both Township and Resistance Art, two areas that really interested me while touring the gallery.
Our next stop was the Union Buildings which were a fine site to see. I decided that they are best described as a glorified mix of Ottawa's Parliament and the International Peace Gardens. We got a little lunch and relaxed for a bit in the park that surrounds the buildings. The park actually reminded me a bit of Central Park in New York (albeit on a much smaller scale), a beautiful green space in the midst of a huge city. After some reading in the park, we took the jaunt up the steps as high as we could go and took in the magnificent view of Pretoria.
The entire place is basically dedicated to World War I. I'm not sure exactly why, but I am sure I could be a bit more knowledgeable if I just did a little research. Maybe someday... To end our second (or first full) day in Pretoria, we stopped at Hatfield Square where we bought warmer clothes a.k.a. fleecies. Well, I bought a fleecy, Angela bought some warm pants and a few sweaters too, but by far the best purchase we made: the boot-style slippers for about $10! So comfy and so warm. We also bought some scrumptious food to cook for dinner, but we soon arrived back at the hostel to find that the power was out for the second night in a row. Sigh...and deliver it was - which, by the way, is a genius idea, one delivery company and about ten different restaurants to order from. You call the one company, place your order with them and they take care of the rest. It's brilliant!

The Cradle of Humankind -
For our second full day in Pretoria we decided to
book one of the tours that the hostel offered to coordinate for us. We decided the Sterkfontein Caves and the Maropeng Museum, all part of the Cradle of Humankind, sounded pretty interesting. "Interesting" really doesn't even begin to describe the day we had. It was brilliant, magnificent, and every other word like those that a thesaurus could come up with! The basic idea behind the entire set up is to educate people on the evolution of the human species. I knew quite a bit about evolution prior to visiting the museums and caves, but it was still fascinating. Our guide was great, and despite the ridiculous questions(Do you believe in God? How did people breathe back then, like was there air? How do you know they cooked their food?) and comments (I'm still not buying any of this) from certain people in the group, the tour was truly indescribable...guess you're just going to have to come to Africa and see it for yourself! Basically, we climbed down about 60 metres and briefly toured through one of the main caves. There are thirteen total in the Cradle of Humankind. In short, we saw where fossils were found; we saw casts of famous fossils; and we were really just in awe of the sheer magnitude of the caves and the historical timeline of our species.

The last part of this post will encompass our wonderful (written sarcastically) bus trip back to Gabs. About an hour out of Pretoria, we pulled over on the side of the road because we had mechanical issues. After waiting for around an hour, a mechanic (or so they say) showed up, did what I think was nothing, and we got back on the same bus. Another half hour or so into our journey we pulled into a small town where we, once again, got off the bus and this time waited another hour and a half or so for a whole new bus. Fun times! At this point we were also told that "normally" the bus makes it across the Botswana border before it closes at 12 midnight. "Normally?" - so there was a slight chance we would have to spend the night at the border if the new bus didn't hurry itself up. THANKFULLY (yes, capital letters are required) the bus didn't take long and we made it home to Gabs around 11:30 p.m. only about 2.5 hours later than we were supposed to. It could have been worse; we could have spent the night in the bus at the border!

Ok, so I lied; before signing off for good, I just have two more little B-bits to share.

1. We met this incredible couple, Oksana and Arlo, at the hostel. Oksana is originally from Russia, but, after doing a high school exchange in Alaska, decided to go back and do her university degree there. While doing that, she met Arlo and the two of them have been in Alaska together ever since. So what is so incredible about this couple you might be thinking? Well, let's see. Almost a year ago, they quit their jobs, sold most of their possessions, and decided to take a trip - Around The World! When we met them they had been through the U.S. and South America and were making their way through Africa to move on to Australia and New Zealand. Eventually, they'll end up in Russia and decide at that point whether they can afford to tour Europe. To say the least, I was in utter and total awe. It does get better (if you can imagine anything better); they are video blogging about it: Postcard Valet. Just one more thing about them because I really can't get enough of their story; they have budgeted to travel on $100 a day. Let me just say...I hope this is me and Brendan in 5 years time. Let the saving begin!

2. Ok, last thing, I promise.

That's me sitting out on a rock at the top of Kgale Hill. The "hike" was more like a mountain climb. It was hot. It was sweaty. It was so worth it. Behind me you see a decent part of Gaborone and, again, the photo just doesn't do the view any justice whatsoever.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

At Least the Wheels on the Taxi Go Round and Round

Alright folks - one of the most difficult things to contend with here in Gabs is the transportation that gets us from Point A to Point B and back again. Sunday was, by far, our most trying day yet. Before I get to Sunday, however, let me tell you about Friday night. There is a mall not too far from our house called Riverwalk. Typically, we walk there, but after dark it’s just a little too far and a little too dangerous for four white girls to be walking about. With that being the case, we walk out to the road, hail a taxi, get in, and start negotiating the price. First, he says he’s going to charge us 60 Pula (1 Pula = 7 CAD. You do the math; I’m an English major.) which is atrocious because we normally pay 30 Pula. So we just laugh at him, tell him no way and that we are only paying 30. After he agrees to that, the next thing out of his mouth (and this is no word of a lie) is ‘so, which one of you can I marry?’ Yes, friends, that is our life here in Gabs. Just to add some context and hopefully a few more laughs to your blog reading experience, I’ll give you a few more details of this particular cab ride. First, we ask him how many cows he has because, you see, Botswana still has a very traditional way of doing things meaning that dowries are still paid to the wife’s family. On average eight cows would be given to a local girl’s family and the number would go up the farther north the woman is from. Considering we are from Canada, we figured at least 150 cows would be required before any of us would agree to marry our cab driver. Cattle are also a traditional means of telling how wealthy a man is. This particular cab driver told us he owned about ten cows (honestly, I don’t think he owned any) and so we proceeded to tell him that wasn’t nearly enough to marry a Canadian girl. We’ve also been told in situations like this one to tell men that they wouldn’t like Canadian girls because we don’t like to cook or clean and we are very mouthy. We told our enamoured taxi driver all of these things at which point he pretty much stopped talking to us more so, in my opinion, because he likely thought we were crazy. Good story, right?!

Alright, on to Sunday. We heard about a Farmer’s Market happening at the #1 Ladies Opera House and Café (yes, named after the books) and were really looking forward to some homemade African wares. Once again, we hail a cab and ask him if he knows where the market is that is supposed to be at the Opera House which is near Game City. He says ‘yes, let’s go’. We arrive at Game City (the biggest mall in Gaborone) and as he is pulling into the parking lot we remind him that this is not where we want to go, where we want to go is the market. To this he responds, ‘market, what market?’ And, once again folks, this is my life in Gabs. Our driver proceeds to ask random people on the street where this place is to no avail. Apparently no one knows where this place is. Finally, we get directions from a friend and tell the driver only to have him ask, ‘are the directions from a Motswana (person from Botswana)?’ We respond with an annoyed ‘no’ and tell him where to drive. When we finally get there, we realise why no one knows that this market and Opera House/Café exist; everyone there is white. It is definitely a Farmers’ Market of the North American variety. We enjoyed it none-the-less until the point that we realised we needed to find a way back into the city somehow. Everyone else had their own cars and so commenced our walk. Luckily, in our few weeks here, we’ve made a few friends. We called one of them, asked them to get us a cab company number and waited. The next fun part of our adventure included trying to explain where we were so that we could actually be picked up. That, my dear readers, was an epic fail! Thankfully, a man in a jeep took pity on us and asked if we needed a ride somewhere. He was from Botswana, white though, had a South African accent, and had family that he was planning to visit very soon in Canada. He was legit, our saviour. Once we’d been so kindly dropped off at Game City, we met our taxi who was, in fact, waiting out in the middle of nowhere for us, but we just weren’t at the same spot in that same middle of nowhere. He’s annoyed and charges us more than we should have paid, but, at this point, we just want to get home. Home we get and decide to chalk this all up to an experience and a few lessons learned. The main lesson being, never assume a taxi driver knows where he is going!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Dedicated but not Limited to - "All the Single Ladies"

If you so choose, please take a moment and play this song in the background: Beyonce - Single Ladies.

Yet another cultural phenomenon to which I have to get used to here in Bots is the utter shamelessness of the men here. In all honesty, I don't think I'll ever get used to it. We were briefed on this aspect of Botswana culture prior to leaving Canada and again, in a bit more detail, upon arriving in Gabs. We were basically told that it would be common to receive marriage proposals daily, that personal space did not really exist in Botswana, that the men here cast a very wide 'net' in terms of picking up women, and that MCPs (Multiple Concurrent Partners) are the norm. Now I have not personally been proposed to per say. I was told by a man that if he was Canadian he would definitely marry me so perhaps that counts. One of my roommates has, however, already been asked if she wants a Motswana (person from Botswana) husband. Tempting...but NO!

We walk down the streets here and get stared at. Mercilessly. The men holler, whistle, walk up to us and engage in conversation, greet us with lines like, "Hi Gorgeous" or "Good Afternoon, Beautiful". In fact, in the grocery store yesterday, I had a Motswana man say "Hello, How's it?" (the same as saying 'how are you') and after I said "Hello" and "Fine" back in my usual cheerful demeanor, I continued on my way only to hear, "You look very nice. Maybe I can help you with your shopping?" At that point, I just ignored him (I was already at the other end of the aisle), shook my head, and purchased my lunch. Things like that happen everyday, everywhere, pretty much every single time we go anywhere in public. It's harmless, but gets quite annoying.

You see, one of the major issues in many parts of Africa is the fact that white people are often stigmatised as being 'stuck up' or even worse, 'racist'. With that said, we hardly ever completely ignore people who try to talk to us. That would just be rude and we'd be playing right into the stigma. There is a very fine line, however, between acknowledging and being nice to the men when situations such as the ones above arise, and being too nice and therefore encouraging them (not that they need any encouragement to persist).

On that note, enter into this blog, our first party at the WUSC House. We met a load of people, but one person in particular will stand out in my mind for at least a short while. Sadly, I don't have a photo, but let the story of China (a typical Motswana man) begin. I really have no clue whether that is really his name or not, but that's what he told everyone. My experience with China began with a normal introduction (I'll show you the typical handshake when greeting young people some time) and then a secret. He proceeds to whisper in my ear, "You're very beautiful." My response, because I'm me, "That's not a secret!" And we laugh - he he ha ha. The night goes on and I agree to dance with China at which point the conversation goes pretty much as I expected.

Begin conversation:
C: You seem insecure.
B: No, I just have a serious boyfriend at home in Canada.
C: Well, let me tell you something. I have a girlfriend in South Africa. They are both so far away so what does it matter?
B: (at this point, I think to myself, 'typical') It does matter to me.
C: Ok, then I don't want to kiss you or make love to you, I just want to dance and maybe show you around the city.
B: Ok, we can dance.
C: Do you know why I really like you?
B: Why?
C: Because you smell good.
B: (again, I think to myself, 'uh huh - nice line') Well, thanks.
C: You know what else?
B: What?
C: I really like girls with glasses. I think they are smarter.
B: Well, I am pretty smart.
C: Smarter than me?
B: Maybe.
End conversation.

Of course, that isn't word-for-word, but you get the jist. I managed to avoid China for almost the rest of the evening. At one point I was talking to another guy, Soldier (likely another made up name) and China got a little jealous. He walked away mid-conversation and so I continued talking to Soldier. A little while later, I decided to get jiggy wit' it yet again and started bustin' a move with Soldier. It didn't take long and there was China, jealous as could be. I managed to use the good ol' bathroom break excuse (I did actually have to go though) and, in turn, avoid all men for the rest of the night. Success!

The best part about this whole situation is that China gave pretty much the same spiel to one of my roommates. He mentioned to her how he had never kissed a white girl before to which she responded something along the lines of, "That's nice, but your first isn't going to be with me." I guess it's alright for him to schmooze numerous girls throughout the evening, but it's an entirely different story if the girls he has his eye on talk to numerous guys. Apparently the double standard exists here in Bots too.

Another roomy of mine had an even more interesting night than I did. First she was asked to be in a lesbian relationship which was actually kind of heart-wrenching because homosexual acts are illegal in Botswana and punishable with jail sentences. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for that woman here. But let's keep this blog cheerful and continue with the night's festivities. She was also deemed to be a young man's soul mate throughout the night. He really would not give up and every time he managed to find her, he just kept at it. Talk about persistence. In his defense, she does look like an angel with her flowing blonde hair.

With all of that said, "ladies, ladies, ladies" (imagine that in kind of a sing-songy sleezy male voice), you could have a lot, and I mean A LOT, of 'fun' here if you really wanted to. On the other hand if you are naive and think these men are only whispering in your ear, you'd be setting yourself up for some serious heartbreak. If you're lucky, he'll be like China and divulge the fact that he has a girlfriend, but chances are that information will be the real secret he should be telling you. Relationships just aren't the same here in Bots...not the same at all!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen: "Botswana Time"

Prior to our arrival we were given a bit of a hint as to what exactly "Botswana Time" entailed. When we arrived here, we continued to be given bits of information relating to "Botswana Time". People joked about things taking longer here, people being 4 hours late for meetings, stuff like that. I mean, I had an idea what "Botswana Time" meant, but not until these last few days at work have I really come to realise exactly what everyone means when they say "Botswana Time". In short, it means that nothing happens quickly here. Quickly, really just isn't an option. We wait for everything here, everywhere we go. For example, my supervisor (did I mention how awesome she is?!) and I waited for at least an hour for Botswana Post to get about 10 or so packing slips ready so that we could ship some boxes. Everything was done by hand. Everything took forever. Another example, we went to the Tertiary Education Council and waited for only about half an hour for a woman that apparently wasn't even working that day, but no one seemed to know that. It's nuts! Emails hardly ever go through. Half of the time the phones don't work. And snail mail, well forget about snail mail. No one mails anything! Bills are paid by going to the place of business with a cheque in hand and typically waiting in a line...forever! Almost everything here is done face-to-face, hand-to-hand, in the flesh.

Now, face-to-face is not really a bad thing. It's just really not efficient. At all. What I have come to realise in my short time in Bots thus far is that efficiency really isn't a concern here, not like it is in North America. Pers
onal contact and relationships are more important here and the more I think about it the more commendable I think it is. In all honesty, the inefficiency is frustrating and, quite frankly, it's driving me nuts, but when I really think about it, the principle (for the most part) is understandable.

So now, it's time to get philosophical on y'all! Can a nation become "developed" and still keep the intimacy of doing business through human contact? I honestly do not know the answer to that. Nor do I know if I could give up the fast paced, instantaneous response world that I am so accustomed to.

Ok, a few more things on the economics here.
1. In case you follow BBC News or this makes another popular news source, there is a Public Service employee strike going on here in Bots right now. Basically all of the primary and secondary schools are closed along with a number of the publicly staffed hospitals. In some areas (NOT Gabs) the rioting has gotten pretty bad between the students and the police. The only cause for concern for us Canadian volunteers is in the case that one of us gets really sick and we need urgent medical care. While we would be going to a private clinic, there is some concern that because the public ones are so understaffed,the private ones will be overwhelmed. With that said, I don't plan on getting sick, so no need to worry your dear heads.
2. It is common place and actually culturally expec
ted that if you are averagely well-off you should have a person employed to clean your home. The basic logic is that people in that service industry would not be able to make a living if other people who clearly make more money than people in that service industry didn't employ them. Tuesday is the day Rita comes to our house and cleans it for us. I like Rita very much!
3. I will post a photo of the street cleaning crews here shortly, I just don't have my camera cord here with me now. So you know how in North America, we have those big machines that sweep and wash the streets and make them so purdy? Well, here in Gabs, that sweeping is done by hand. No word of a lie. Crews of people sweep (by hand), shovel (by hand), wheel bar
row (by hand), and dump (by hand). I didn't know until today that this manual labour is part of the Botswana government's strategy to eradicate poverty. The crews of people are comprised of members of society who cannot get work anywhere else. It's really very sad. The government pays them 600 pula (or so) every month I think which works out to about $85. My supervisor told me she tries not to think about how desperate these people are when she sees them because it upsets her too much.

Everyday, I learn a little more about this place. I love it here, I really do!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Alarms, Blackouts, Batswana, and Charlotte

Before I get started, if you read the last post where I said I would try to upload a photo of one of the adorable monkeys, I have now uploaded said photo of said adorable monkey.

Now, I'll write this post in the order of the topics listed in the title.

Alarms: So like I said, we have an alarm system in our house. In fact, nearly every house and office here has one. We weren't really given proper training on how to use the alarm which caused a few challenges. The first time we tried to set it, we set it off because we couldn't get the front door to lock. That wasn't a huge deal. The next minor incident occurred when I thought I had set it, we left for a trip to the mall, and got a phone call from a roommate saying that the alarm wasn't set when she got home. The most recent (and hopefully the last) occurrence went down on Sunday morning at around 1:00 a.m. One of my roomies tried to set the "night" alarm which consists of setting the motion detectors in just the kitchen and living areas, but mistakenly set the entire house alarm, setting it off as soon as she moved. She tried and failed 3 times...oops! It wouldn't be a big deal but when the alarm goes off security guards come immediately to check things out. Now, I am not saying this is a bad thing. It is quite reassuring to know that security arrives very quickly in the case of a house alarm; however, when the "culprits" are the people living in the house it's a little embarrassing. We have it all figured out now though so I think we're set for the rest of our stay!

Blackouts: Last night we had our first power outage in Gabs. Apparently it was the entire city and it lasted about 1.5 hours. The locals weren't really surprised. Some thought it was due to the strike currently occurring with government employees here and others thought it had something to do with the fact that electrical fees went up the day before. Who knows?! Luckily I had a flashlight so it wasn't too bad. We made salad and watched a movie on one of the girl's laptops. All was well - only a little concern. I try not to sweat much here unless it's a real cause for safety. I'm a very anxious person, so I've learned over the last few years that in order to stay sane and healthy, I just need to chillax!

Batswana: Botswana is the country. Batswana are the people. In my first week and two days, I have experienced many Batswana and when they say the people are friendly, they are mostly correct. Save that one nasty lady at the airport, everyone has been very kind. There is one thing, however, that plays a significant part in whether people are nice to you. That one simple thing is greeting. Greeting people is HUGE here. It's not enough just to smile, nod your head, or wave. You need to open your mouth, vibrate your vocal chords, and say Dumela or Hello. Once you do, a cold, stern demeanor turns into a vibrant smile. At that point, you can ask people for directions and they are more than willing to help. You also get better service at retail outlets.

Another important observation, pedestrians here do not have the right of way. What they do have is the right to be run over. Vehicles do not stop. If you cross one lane thinking that perhaps the car in the other lane will stop and let you cross, you will get run over. If you are crossing an intersection where the vehicle has a stop sign and you think they will wait for you to cross, you will get run over. Something that resembles a walking path in Canada is typically, in fact, a small road. If you are not careful, you will get run over.

I met almost all of the Batswana that are travelling to Canada this fall. My first real task here at WUSC-Botswana after doing a presentation to two members of WUSC's Board of Directors on my second day here (talk about tossing me in), was to help the students fill out their study permits. Most of the 43 students came all at once which was quite hectic, but I really got a sense for the capacity that we are dealing with when it comes to the International Scholarship Management. I learned a bit about my expectations for this position too. I came into it thinking that I would be an equal playing field with these students, that I would be their friend more so than "the white lady (lekoa) who works with WUSC". I'm not sure why I thought that, but that is definitely not the case. As a member of the WUSC-Botswana staff here, which I have truly been made to feel that I am, I am seen as a figure of authority. That's ok though, I look forward to the pre-departure training in late July when they are all together and I can tell them all about Canada. I am not sure if the intern has really done much in terms of presentation in the past, but I hope to get some speaking time. I met with two representatives of the Department of Tertiary Education and Financing today regarding the student sponsorships. Just another interesting aspect of my placement. My supervisor, Ona is wonderful. She includes me in everything she does and I love it!

And finally, this, my friends, is Charlotte. If you've been checking out my photos on Facebook you've already seen her. She lives in my closet and escaped the broom with which I tried to murder her. (Cruel, I know). Now, I have closed my closet doors in the hopes that she will continue to enjoy her life there. If I find her in my suitcase, I think I might have a heart attack! Everyone says I should have put something beside her to give you viewers some context as to her size. To those people I say, "you get that close to her first and then we'll talk." Take your average size coffee mug; she is about the size of the circular rim on which you place your lips to sip your liquid energy.

As I sign off another lengthy blog post...remember two main things if you are ever in Botswana, vibrate your vocal chords and move your ass!

And maybe one more thing, most spiders eat mosquitos so people do not kill them. I get that. When they are the size of Charlotte, however, if you are fraidy cat like me, you cannot get close enough to catch and release then. In fact, you cannot get close enough to kill them successfully. Therefore, you let them live, closed up in a closet and hope that they stay put.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Dumela Gaborone

O my goodness...here we go!

I am in Gabs and finally have decent access to the internet. With that said, here, my wonderful followers, is my first blog post from Botswana. I'm not going to lie to you; the 36.5 hours in transit was horrid. The planes were packed and hot. I got sick to my stomach about half way through the flight from Vancouver to London and it stayed with me the entire trip and for pretty much my first two days in Gabs. On the bright side, I feel quite normal now and am settling in nicely.

I arrived in Gabs minus one suitcase (as was to be expected). Of course, it was the one with all of my clothing, but perhaps that was better than it being the one full of school supplies. You see, when I finally got my bag (only a day later) the lock was missing and it was clear that the suitcase had been rummaged through. Luckily, no one wanted any of my belongings. Had it been

the suitcase full of supplies, I may have had a different story to tell. On a semi-related note, everything I have read has said that the people of Gabs are pleasant and most willing to help when asked. On the contrary, when I had to report my bag missing, the woman was far from pleasant. In fact, I am pretty sure she was making fun of me with her colleague. The reason I say ‘pretty sure’ is because she was speaking Setswana, but even though that was the case, I understood the gist of what she was saying. Needless to say, my first experience with a Batswana was not welcoming at all. It may very well have had something to do with the fact that she had a lot of difficulty with the man in front of me, so much difficulty, in fact, that she threatened to call the police. Fun stuff upon my arrival in Bots!

On to the house…which is wonderful. It’s likely one of the nicest houses in Gabs, living room, dining room, kitchen, 2 ½ bathrooms, 3 bedrooms, hot running water, fully functioning electricity, and…

an electric fence complete with barbed wire all around the premises. Security is a real issue here. Robbery and petty theft are the main worries here. With that said, we have the electric fence I mentioned in addition to a solid iron security gate and solid cement wall that surrounds the yard just below the electric part of the fence. We have to keep the blinds closed so people cannot see in and most importantly, never use our laptops in clear view of anyone. When out and about in the city, it’s very important to keep cameras, cell phones, laptops secured and unadvertised (as in not walking around like a tourist with a fancy camera hanging from my neck). If I let people know I have it, they’re likely going to find a way to steal it. Other than that though, Gabs is really quite safe. Serious crime is not an issue and the punishment for burglary is quite harsh. Basically, as we were told by the Botswana Police, ‘security starts with us’. So, I won’t be stupid, I’ll pay attention, and hopefully won’t have anything stolen. J I’m living in the house with 2 other Canadians who have different placements in Gabs. So far, so great! I think the next 3+ months will be wonderful.

Events thus far…

I’ve been in orientation until today. Monday was get-myself-legally-entitled-to-be-in-the-country day. The first step was the Police Station for passport authentification and then on to Immigration for an Exemption Permit. Now, I am official allowed to be here until August 18th.

In the afternoon, the group of us went to Mokolodi Game Reserve for lunch, a tour of the reptile gardens, and a mini-safari! It was incredible. Doug (the dreamy reptile handler from Zimbabwe) showed us a number of venomous and non-venomous snakes native to Botswana along with some lizards, tortoises, birds, and monkeys! The monkeys are soooo cute. On the safari, we saw impalas, warthogs, ostriches, giraffes, and hippos in the distance. In the next few weeks, they are supposed to be getting new cheetahs that people are able to go in and pet. Me thinks a return trip may be in order just to experience that (and perhaps see Doug again). Ha!

Tuesday was really just training all day. We had a session where we learned a bit of basic Setswana and a session on Gender and Development in the country. Both were great; however, I would have liked to spend a lot more time learning the language. Tuesday afternoon was a lesson in public transit, and let me tell ya, it’s interesting. Combis are small buses that carry about 12 people. They are packed, hot, and cheap. Public taxis are not as packed, just as hot, but not quite as cheap. It’s really quite difficult to explain, but with time, we’ll have it all figured out. One thing I do know for sure is that the private taxi drivers (the ones we’ve used twice now to take us home from one of the malls) are really quite rude, that and they never know where they are going unless you can explain it to them. Things are just so different here, but it’s all about the experience and I’m just taking it all in! Wednesday we had a general session about the economics, culture, and geography of Botswana followed by a session on HIV/AIDS in Botswana. It’s amazing how far this country has come in terms of the treatment of patients. Where the fight against the pandemic is failing is in the area of prevention. In the afternoon on Wednesday, we made our way to the small museum here in Gabs. There is an Art Gallery as well, but we didn’t have time to see that. I’ll have to make my way back at some point.

As for today, Thursday, it is my first day of work. I don’t have a lot to do right now because the staff just finished one major part of the application process with the students. On Monday, I will hopefully be able to meet most of them and assist them with their study permit applications. First step for me, fill out an application so that I know what I’m talking about! There are potentially 47 students who will be traveling to Canadian schools this fall, all studying some form of Engineering, all sponsored by the Botswana government. It’s impeccable that here education is free for every Batswana all the way up until the end of their undergraduate degrees. If only education was as important to every government!

In conclusion (finally) Gabs is great. Not quite as developed as I envisioned, but really a nice city. I can buy pretty much anything here that I can buy in Canada. The weather is gorgeous, much like a “normal” Manitoba spring really. It is quite cool in the mornings and evenings and nice and warm in the afternoon. Of course, the daily high is a bit above that in Canada (around 24 degrees Celsius), but it really isn’t scorching hot at all. The glories of Winter in Bots!

On one last note, I just found out that Friday is only a half day, meaning I finish work at 12:00 noon! I work 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every other day of the week so that is how I manage to work only 8:00 a.m. to noon on Friday! Score! I also just found out that I have to assist on a presentation to WUSC National Board Members who are visiting us tomorrow. Tossed right in and lovin’ it!

Go Siame for now!