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.