Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halfway there?

I've officially been in Botswana for three months today. I've touched on this in one of my earlier posts, but sometimes I get so wrapped up in my routine that I forget the real reason I'm here. I'm living in Gaborone to volunteer with the Botswana Network of AIDS Organizations (BONASO). While my work isn't going to change the state of AIDS in Botswana, it will, at the very least, help me gain insight into simultaneously the most hope-filled and heartbreaking situation of which I've ever been a part.

Botswana is a country of less than 1.7 million people, 350,000 of whom are HIV positive. Life expectancy here is 34 years; it would be 72 if AIDS was not a factor. These are not just faceless numbers, they are my neighbours, my co-workers, and my friends. AIDS has infiltrated every facet of Botswana's society, so much so that one of my colleagues at BONASO fell victim to it in August. Some might say that if someone at BONASO, who has all the information, can still become infected, how can we expect to help? The answer, in this case, is in the question. Information can only go so far. A box of pamphlets can't prevent a woman's husband from cheating on her, all the workshops in the world won't stop a rape, and a week of classes can easily be forgotten after a few drinks.
Information without action is just trivia.
Luckily, there has been a genuine movement in Botswana to shift focus from awareness to behavioural change. Programs are beginning to incorporate more than just ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, and use Condoms), they are becoming full-scale curricula designed to equip Batswana, people from Botswana, with the skills necessary to make life(style)-altering decisions. By understanding the ramifications of their actions, the hope is that people will change their ways to save themselves, if not others. There's no guarantee that this will work all the time, but I'm willing to bet it'll be more effective than telling people to never have sex.

In a country where cheating is a way of life, and AIDS is viewed by some as an inevitability, there is still a long way to go. Much longer than, say, nine years. The UN-created Millennium Development Goals, one of which is to eliminate HIV transmission by 2015, may ease hearts of the West, but they are a slap in the face to the people working in countries like Botswana. Putting a deadline on one the most valiant fights of our time is, at best, irrelevant. Watching the clock tick down is nothing but a reminder that this "goal" will not be accomplished. What's needed is a generous programming budget, readily available ARVs and testing sites, and the dedication required to beat this disease, regardless of how long it takes.

A person could read this article and think that working in this situation has made me jaded. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have seen so much hope in these three short months that I know an end is in sight. It will take a massive co-ordinated effort, but if the rest of the world could harness a fraction of the perseverance found here, AIDS will be beaten. I'm excited to see the progress that can be made even in my remaining three months.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I spelled Pharaoh wrong in the last post, but for some reason, I can't edit it.

I didn't forget about my blog

It's been 2 weeks since my last post, and a lot has happened.  The wedding in Mochudi was a no-go: my roommates and I were all really busy with work, so we couldn't devote the whole weekend to a wedding.  We've all been assured that there'll be another one somewhere before we leave.  We did manage, however, to make it to a Botswana Zebras versus the Egypt Pharoahs soccer game.  The game ended in a 0-0 tie, but everyone at the game was pretty excited, because the Pharoahs are the current African champs.  Botswana isn't really known for its soccer, so a tie game was just as good as a win.
Last weekend, my roommates and I went  to Johannesburg, South Africa, for a Jay-Z/Rihanna concert.  We had to get up at 5am to catch the bus at 6:30.  The bus ride took about 7 hours, including an hour and a half wait at the border.  The concert was a lot of fun, but there were a couple of casualties.   About 10 after we got into the Coca-Cola Dome, Graham's camera was stolen.  I didn't even really know that pick-pockets even exist, but apparently they do, and they're very good at what they do.  Not long after that, my phone was stolen, and I didn't feel a thing.  After being temporarily blinded by rage, we decided we might as well enjoy the concert.
The ride home was also not without a hiccup.  We woke up at 6:30am to catch the 8 o'clock bus.  This one was from a different company than the one we took to Johannesburg, and at the onset, it appeared to be much better.  The seats were really comfortable, the hostess provided chips and juice, and we got to watch a couple of movies from the Martin Lawrence Collection (no joke).  About 40km from the border, things changed. 
The bus was leaking transmission fluid, so we had to pull over to the side of the road.  The driver wasn't sure whether it was fixable, so he called a mechanic from Gaborone (about an hour away, excluding crossing the border).  We had to wait in the bus, with the AC off, until the mechanic got there, which took about 3 hours.  Keep in mind that we had been up most of the night at a concert, and it was our second day in a row of waking up  before the sun rose.  Plus, there was no time for showers in the morning.
When the mechanic finally got there, he worked for about an hour before deciding that he couldn't fix the problem.  We were given a partial refund and were told that we had to hitch-hike back to Gaborone.  There was a police blockade set up to help with the hitch-hiking.  We eventually got a ride from a South African guy who was going straight to Gaborone, so he was able to drop us off at our house.
The silver lining (for me, anyway) was that our co-ordinator from Canada, Tammy, was in Botswana for the weekend.  She had HER phone stolen somewhere along her travels, so she had to buy one here.  Phones bought here don't work in Canada though, so she just gave it to me to use for the rest of the trip.  It's a nicer phone than the one I had, so I kind of ended up on top.
The "ferocious rooster" I mentioned in my last post is really getting on our nerves.  He's grown so bold as to come into our backyard to crow his heart out.  He usually flies away when we go outside, but there are only so many times a man can run out into his backyard, pantsless, in the middle of the night.  If anyone has any ideas on how to get rid of this guy, or any suggestions on a proper sidedish for Horrible Rooster a la King, it would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A long-overdue update

I've noticed that lately my updates have gone from awestruck to anecdotal.  I'm sure that a lot of the people that read this are probably more interested in all the different things I've been seeing, and not just hot dog pizzas.  It's kind of hard for me to keep thinking up striking differences between here and Canada, for a couple of reasons.  I've been here for two months now, following pretty much the same routine every day.  Life here has become the status quo, it's difficult to pick out differences because this has become "normal" to me.  I'm not going to be mistaken for a Motswana (someone from Botswana) anytime soon, but at the same time, my roommates and I are able to do anything and go anywhere in Gaborone. 
I remember a conversation I had with Jim Delaney, one of the Coady International Institute's staff.  I told him that I was excited to see all the differences between life here and in Canada.  He told me that isn't really the way to go.  By focusing on the differences, I'd still be separating myself from their culture.  Even a word like "accept" isn't quite right, because that kind of has the connotation that I'd be originally against it.  I guess the strategy that is most effective is to just live it.  People here have their own way of going about things, and to fully experience it, one has to adopt that way of life.  This isn't the same as the assimilation seen in the States (and even the "cultural mosaic" that is Canada), because I'm not being forced to change my beliefs, language, etc.  I want to learn as much as I can while I'm here: about Botswana, about Canada, and about myself.  To do this, I have to put aside any preconceived notions I have as a Canadian, and just experience Botswana for what it is: a beautiful, yet tragic country of which I knew nothing before coming, but one that I can, for now, call home.   
At the same time, for those of you who aren't living in Botswana, one of the best ways to visualize what it's like here is to hear about what makes it different.  With that in mind, I've thought up a few more aspects of life here that are different from in Canada.
-Roosters are everywhere, even in our complex.  They don't just crow at dawn, either.  They start around 4:30am and go pretty steady until probably around 10pm.  We're getting used to them now, but we all get woken up at least once a night by a particularly ferocious rooster. 
-Pedestrians have no right of way here.  Drivers keep a steady pace and it's up to pedestrians to walk accordingly.  I'm getting good at timing my street crossings so that I don't have to stop between lanes.  I'll bet I'd be a really good Frogger player now.
-Although there are a lot of erroneous ideas about Africa at home, women do carry things on their heads.  I don't know how they do it.  I've seen women carry bags of potatoes, boxes of Ice Pops (giant freezies), crates of pop, etc.  It's got to be the most efficient way of carrying things because it doesn't put any strain on your arms or shoulders.
My roommates and I have been invited to a wedding this weekend.  It's in Mochudi, a village about 30km from Gaborone.  Weddings here go on all weekend, and this one will begin on Friday with the slaughtering of a cow.  I'm pretty excited for the wedding, I've heard that they're a lot of fun.  I'll write about it next week.  That's it for now.

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