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!


  1. Hey! I love reading your posts. I don't know what happened to my first comment though, basically I said that I thought it was interesting that they had public universities there , and I was wondering if they have private ones too, because in Peru they have both. The problem with the public universities is that they are always having strikes, and so I have friends who have been studying 7-8 years to finish 4 year degrees which is obviously very frustrating, and also it seems that a degree from private universites is held in higher weight when applying for jobs, which is too bad. As far as the maid goes, in Peru you can get one for 2-3$ a day, which is really depressing. They have street sweepers too! But they do have big trucks they throw the garbage bags in, so it is a bit more sophisticated I suppose. While the lack of efficiency sounds really frustrating, the personalization is super. I love how they have butchers, bakers, candlestick maker( couldnt resist) tailors and all that sort of thing in little shops still all the rave when here most things are mass made.It really seems more human. I'm sure you will be okay with the strike, it seemed that in Peru strikes were always happening, but as long as you stay in better areas of town you should be fine, and don't get sick! scary! But at least we always have an easy out as foreigners, you could always get on a plane and fly to south africa if you needed to. I don't know how you sleep with that spider in your closet. It looks huge! ahhh! Well, keep having an awesome time and doing great things! much love from a finally hot Canada :)

  2. I've been really thinking about economics here in Thailand too. I spend about 100 Baht on food and drink each day. That is just under $3.50 CAD. Yet I know people here often live on 30 Baht or less per day for food. (less that $1 CAD). This means meager pickings but it is still entirely possible. They would be giving up the fresh fruit I so much enjoy unless they can scavenge some, and it would mean they would not have access to clean drinking water. I feel terrible to haggle with the vendors in the marketplace because I know I would pay that much or more for their products in Canada. I think the tailors might be right that I am a rich farang and I could afford to buy one of their fancy Italian style suits, not that I have any use for a suit.

  3. Thanks for the comments gals. Gem, I am sure you see so much of what I see here in Gabs. As for universities, yes there are private ones, but only 2 that I know of. Those ones aren't free though. Here, education is free up until graduate school if you go to public institutions. Lucky for the U of Botswana students, the strike started after they were finished classes. Also the gov't sponsorships are only for U of B students.

    Michelle, I hear you. I have never been a haggler and here it is worse. 10 pula (about 1.25 CAD) means so much more to them than it does to me. It's really hard.