Monday, September 25, 2006

Snakes on a plane, hotdogs in a pizza

On Saturday, Graham had organized a CD Launch concert for an album being released by the group he works for, YOHO.  The concert was free, and took place almost all day in Old Neledi, a suburb of Gaborone.  It's one of the poorer areas in the city, as we could tell by the number of shoeless children and pantsless babies.  Everyone had a good time at the concert though, and there were boothes set up to hand out information on HIV, as well as provide rapid result HIV testing.  The kids at the concert were great, and were pretty fascinated by Graham and me.  There were 3 girls in particular, probably about 8, 10, and 12 years old, that followed us around most of the day.  They were always lined up according to height, and were pretty content to just stare at us.  We talked to them a little bit, but they didn't know a lot of English, and we barely know any  Setswana.
Speaking of Setswana, on Friday, we received our African names.  Graham is now known as Bagwasi.  I'm not really sure what it means, but it's the name of a very unpopular former member of parliament here.  Apparently the guy is really huge, which is ironically why Graham has that name.   He tips the scales at about a buck-fifty.  My name, it's been agreed, is much better: Rra Pula.  It means "Mr. Rain," or "Rainman."  I don't know why it was picked for my name, but it sounds a lot better than Bagwasi.  Amy, our other roommate, got a new name too, but I can't remember what it was. 
Last night, Graham and I went to the theatre to watch Snakes on a Plane.  There were only about 20 people in the theatre, but it was probably the most fun I've ever had watching a movie.  People were cheering and clapping the whole time, and letting out screams pretty much any time a snake did anything.  It was definitely worth the wait.
Before the movie, Graham and I got pizza at a restaurant called Debonairs.  It's a franchise in Southern Africa.  We ordered the "Crammed Crust pizza."  It was a regular chicken pizza, but the crust of each piece had a hot dog inside it.  Plus, each hot dog was stuffed with cheese.  As a man that devoted an entire day to hot dogs (Hot Dog Day, 2004), I appreciate when someone takes it to the next level.  I can only hope that this innovation makes it to North America, so we can all experience the best thing to happen to pizza since pepperoni. 
The next post will be a serious one, I promise.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Lost in Translation

We've noticed that there are some North Americans here that over-enunciate everything in English, so that "the people here will understand."  This not only makes the North American sound ridiculous, it's insulting to the people from Botswana when someone is talking down to them like that.  As a result, my roommates and I have made an effort not to fall into that trap.  For the most part, it's been working, and we've found that it doesn't create the divide between Africans and Canadians that can so often happen when the "baby talk" is used.  We don't sound ridiculous, and the people we work with or see during the day appreciate the fact that we treat them like everybody else.
There are, however, some times when it seems like we're playing a game of Telephone.  For example, earlier this week, Graham and I went to Pie City, a restaurant that exclusively serves pies.  For the record, "pies" here aren't like the pies at home.  They're flakey pastries filled with different meat and vegetables; kind of like what Toaster Strudels would be if I was running Pillsbury.
Graham got himself the chicken peri-peri pie, one of our favourites.  It was 9 in the morning, so I wasn't really in the mood for a pie.  I decided to just get juice.
"I'll have an orange juice," I said.
The girl behind the counter replied, "One Russian Chili*."
I tried again, "No, I'll just have an orange juice."
"Oh, juice.  What kind?"
"I think I'll go with orange."
That was that.  I got my orange juice and continued on my way.  It may have taken a little longer than usual, but at least I didn't sound like Emo Phillips.
*Russian Chilis are the equivalent of a chili dog.  Giant hotdogs and sausages are called "Russians" here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Trip to the Kalahari

There's been a slight change in plans. It looks like I won't be going back out into the desert until next week, if at all. Funding has become a bit of an issue because there would be a lot of travelling involved.

Regardless, I still got a chance to go out to a couple of villages on the weekend for part of the HIV/AIDS awareness shows.

Our first stop was on Friday, in a village called Phuduhudu. It's a tiny village of about 500 people. On our first drive through, there appeared to be more goats than villagers. The roads within the village were made of sand, and the people lived in either round, thatch-roofed huts, or rectangular, 8 x 10 cement houses. Unfortunately, the performers couldn't make it to Phuduhudu on time because they blew four tires(!) on the four-hour trip. They had a pretty old truck, and it was weighed down with a lot of gear, so we kept travelling on to Kang.

Kang is a bigger village, deeper in the Kalahari than Phuduhudu. There were two events planned for the day; one in the morning for the general public, and one in the afternoon at the local boarding school. The morning event began with a prayer, and an introduction of the six performers, Ms. Elizabeth Ramalkile, District AIDS Co-ordinator Ms. Olebent Dikgabe, and us (people from BONASO). Approximately 44 people were in attendance at the Kang community hall.

The first performance by the dancers was well received by the audience, especially the children. People were dancing along with the dancers. After the dance, there was a question and answer period in which the performers quizzed the audience on their knowledge of HIV/AIDS terminology. Participants who correctly answered the questions were given t-shirts and HIV/AIDS information packets.

Following the question and answer period, Ms. Ramalkile spoke. She is the current runner-up to the Miss HIV Stigma Free 2006. She encouraged the audience to get tested for HIV, and take advantage of the services that are available to them. She also promoted the importance of fighting stigma and discrimination, and spoke of the benefits of support groups for HIV+ members. She then took questions from the audience. She was asked questions from children as well as adults, and used her personal experience as a person living with HIV/AIDS to promote HIV counselling and safe sex.

The dancers once again took the stage to perform a musical number about "The Modern Man." Dressed in miner's uniforms and aprons, the dancers addressed the topics of abuse against women and PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission). This concluded the morning event, as the venue did not have the facilities to support showing a video.

The second showing in the afternoon was to a group of boarding school students, aged 13-17. There were approximately 360 students, with equal representation of males and females. The event followed much the same format as the morning showing, with the addition of a dance contest for the students after Ms. Ramalkile spoke. There were five boys, probably around 14, who competed. All the girls in the audience were screaming and fanning themselves, like when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan (that's for all my aunts and uncles reading this). We didn't get a chance to stay to watch the HIV videos, because we had to get back to Gaborone, and it was about a long drive.

Pictures should be up on the website later on today. Http://

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Big News

I just found out yesterday that tomorrow I'm going on a field trip. A Botswanan company has started a project that aims at promoting HIV awareness and prevention in very remote villages through videos. The videos will be in the villagers' language, as English is barely spoken in the isolated areas. I'm going with the project to get data to write a report on its effectiveness. Tomorrow I'll be in a village called Phuduhudu, then on Saturday I'll be in another village, Kang. Both villages are in the Kgalagadi region of Botswana, in the southwest corner.

From Monday to Friday, I'll be going with the project again, this time to the Kalahari Desert, in central Botswana. These villages are home to the San people, or "Bushmen." They've essentially rejected changes in technology and live as they have always lived. Their language includes sounds that aren't in English. For example, one of the villages I'll be seeing is called New Xade, pronounced "New (click)-ahday." Most of the villages in this area have just a few hundred people, and I've heard that there's a good chance I'll be the first white person a lot of the villagers will have seen.

Accommodations haven't been worked out yet, but it looks like from Monday to Friday I'll be camping in the villages. They don't have electricity or running water, so a hotel is out of the question. I already expect this to be the chance of a lifetime, so I hope it lives up to what I anticipate.

After I write the report on the project, I heard that I might be presenting the findings to international journalists. It was mentioned kind of off-hand, so I'll worry about writing the report and experiencing these villages first, then find out what's going to be done about it. I thought I'd write this little update before I go, then when I get back I'll be able to go into detail about what the experience was like and if it lived up to my expectations.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Here's a long one

A lot has happened in the past week or so, so this is going to be a pretty long update. 


There are about 15 kids that live in our neighbourhood.  For the first few weeks, they were pretty shy, but that's changed.   After explaining that Graham and I aren't brothers, and that nobody is married to Amy, we became friends.  The kids range in ages from about 3 to probably 13, and they play outside until dark every night.   Last Thursday, Graham and I joined them in a game of Touchball, which I think they just made up.  Anyway, it was just tag, but whoever was It had to hit someone with a soccer ball.   I was pretty good at it.  The younger kids were pretty fascinated with us; we had to show them our X-rings about a hundred times, and I've officially become kind of an amusement ride.   There's one kid, Tonto, who's about three, who won't let me in my house unless I pick him up over my head. 


On Friday, Graham and I were part of a parade that went through the city.  September 30 is the 40th Botswana Day, Botswana's Independence Day, so to open up the month, there was a torch lighting ceremony and parade on September 1.   Graham and I went down to watch, but then we saw that a lot of random people were joining in the parade, so we followed along.  We probably walked about five miles, in between a marching band and a group from the military.   The parade was followed by a short concert, from some traditional dancers, a group kind of like Stomp, and a choir.  Then, after the torch lighting, we walked back downtown.   I was about an hour and a half late for work, but the 40th Botswana Day only comes around once.


On Saturday, I travelled to Orapa (about a 5 hour drive) with some other BONASO employees to attend the 2006 Miss HIV Stigma Free Beauty Pageant.   There were 16 contestants, all of whom are HIV positive.  It wasn't really a traditional pageant, on the basis that whoever was crowned winner had to personify "living positively."   Between 100 and 200 people were in attendance, and the ceremony lasted from about 8pm to 2am.  The contestants varied in appearance from tall and slender to short and squat.   They all, however, were seen as role models for any of the thousands of Batswana that have not gone public with being HIV positive.  The pageant was a celebration of the contestants' bravery as well as a reminder that not everyone with HIV/AIDS looks "like they have HIV/AIDS."  


After the winner was crowned, there was some entertainment.  A singer called Maxy, who's very famous in Botswana, sang a few songs, and then a popular gospel singer performed, followed by a DJ.   If there's one thing Batswana love to do, it's dance.  People wouldn't even go to the dance floor, they'd just stand at their tables and dance up a storm..   Unfortunately, I dance like Janet Reno, so I saved myself some embarrassment and sat out most of the songs. 


Speaking of songs, I don't really know who the musical director was, but he or she knew what he/she liked.   As each contestant walked onto the stage (about a minute per person), and then after interviews and when the five finalists were announced and again brought on stage, the songs "I will be you Hero," (or maybe just "Hero," I'm not sure) by Enrique Iglesias would play.    I'd say that, without a hint of exaggeration, it played for about an hour and half.  I guess it wasn't that bad, we got through it anyway, but now I have to explain to people why I know all the words to an Enrique Iglesias song.


During the night, I ran into a man from Botswana named Brian.  He couldn't quite figure out why I was there after I explained that I wasn't with the TV crew, which was why any other white men were there.   After he responded with, "Then why the hell are you here?" I told him I was "the other white guy, sitting with people from Botswana."   He got pretty excited and wanted to introduce me to his aunt, Lillian, from Zimbabwe.  They were asking all kinds of questions about why I was there and what kind of work I was doing, and Lillian was pretty interested in getting involved in it.   Brian was more interested in asking me to buy him another drink.


I don't really have a good segue for this, so I'll just say it.  The cleaning lady at BONASO thinks I'm from Botswana.   She hasn't really said anything to me about it, but apparently when talking to other BONASO employees, she calls me, "The little one from Molepolole."


They've tried to tell her that I'm from Canada, but she won't hear it.  She just says, "No, I know his family, Khana, from Molepolole."  

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