Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Random...

It's been a while since I wrote in this blog, so I figured I'd do a little update. I haven't really been up to anything exciting in the last little while. Actually, I didn't venture too far from my house this weekend, due to some suspicious meat. It gave me a chance to take everything in, and it was kind of a little vacation for me. After reading three books and watching countless movies, I was kind of shocked when I finally left my house on Saturday night to realize that yes, I'm still in Botswana.

Since I don't have anything that exciting to write about, I think I'll just write down little things I've noticed here that I haven't mentioned yet.

-I've been here almost a month and I hardly know any Setswana. I can say "Hi, how are you?" "I'm fine," and "Goodbye." Oh, and "No Smoking," but I just read that off a sign.

-When you meet someone on the sidewalk, and you have to get out of the way, you have to veer left here, not right as most of us do at home. It probably has to do with the fact that people drive on the left-hand side of the road. Needless to say, I bumped into a lot of people in the first week.

- Coke (the pop) has taken Botswana by storm. Everybody drinks it, all the time. In fact, sugar itself is really popular here. Once, someone asked me if I wanted tea, and before he handed it to me, he dumped a heaping tablespoon of sugar into it. I usually don't put any sugar in tea, but I didn't want to be rude, so I said that was fine and drank it. He was surprised that I only took one giant scoop, as he continued to put about 4 in his.

- Every day, I learn that AIDS is more prevalent than I imagined. I just finished editing an article about a youth orchestra in Lobatse (a village outside Gaborone). Recently, the orchestra has taken on an income-generating initiative. They play at funerals. Weddings and other events requiring music aren't as frequent, so funerals was decided as their most viable option.

- Even in a city as metropolitan as Gaborone, certain rural aspects are not out of the ordinary. For example, today, as soon as I left the gate of my subdivision, I saw two donkeys on the side of the road, eating some grass. There wasn't a farm or farmer around, so I don't really know where they came from, but they didn't seem too concerned, and neither did anyone else on the street.

- Some things here are relatively cheap, like P10 ($2) for a full meal, but other things have about the same price they have at home. Gas is over 5 pula per litre, so a little over one Canadian dollar per litre. Also, most appliances cost about the same here as they do at home. It's the same companies that distribute them (Black & Decker, etc), so they probably don't change their retail price much from country to country.

- Even the most mundane animals look "exotic" here. There are little birds, that are everywhere here, that look like sparrows. They're grey-ish brown on top and pretty bland. When they fly, however, you see that their bellies are a bright, shimmery blue. Even the pigeons here have dark red spots on their heads.

- I think people are starting to realize that my roommates and I are going to be around for a while. We aren't being asked for taxis as much, and people don't think we're lost when we go to the bus rank. I guess we're starting to fit in around here.

- Every day after work, I have to pass by a hairdresser's place. Every day after work, the hairdresser yells, "Haircut!" at me (a few of Youth Associates, including me, are trying to see how long we can grow our hair). Every day after work, I say to the hairdresser, "Not today." If I do break down and decide to get it cut, that hairdresser is the man for the job.

 

Monday, August 21, 2006

Pictures

I finally got my Botswana pictures uploaded. You can see them at http://connorinbotswana.spaces.live.com

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Moving on...

I spent most of last week traveling to Kanye, the village where my co-worker was from. It's the largest village in Botswana, about an hour from Gaborone. The drive there was beautiful. Gaborone is built essentially on a flat desert. The way to Kanye, however, is highlighted by rolling hills speckled with trees.
In Botswana, a "wake" lasts about a week, with prayers starting every evening. The deceased's family comes to his/her house from all over the country, staying in the house or camping outside. I attended the wake on Monday and Thursday. Friends and family gathered inside a small stone chapel. A reverend (the family belongs to the International Pentecostal Church, a southern Africa denomination of Christianity) led the prayers, but the part that stands out was the music. After each prayer, a choir made up of community members would sing, acapella, the most moving songs I've heard. I couldn't understand the language, but the passion, grief, and hope expressed was universal.
The same goes for the funeral. As a member of BONASO, I was asked to be a pallbearer. It was a little odd, because I had never done it before and I hardly knew this woman, but I was honoured to be a part of the service. The burial lasted about an hour and a half. It consisted of more singing and a few prayers. The entire process, from funeral to burial, went from 6 - 11am on Friday morning.
On a lighter note, last Sunday my roommates and I traveled to Mokolodi Game Reserve for the afternoon. We were on a guided safari for about 2 hours. We saw warthogs, different types of antelope (impala, hudu, etc), two young cheetahs, a giraffe, and four elephants. The elephants were bathing in a lake, mostly splashing each other and slapping their trunks on the water. It was fun to see such huge creatures act, pretty much, like babies.
I'm working on getting a website just for my Botswana pictures. I'll post it here when I get it set up.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Honeymoon's Over

I came into work this morning and found out that someone at BONASO died last night. I didn’t really get a chance to meet her; she had been out sick most of the time I’ve been here. She did come in on Monday for most of the day, but was hospitalized soon after. Apparently she had been in and out of hospitals a lot lately, and last night she finally succumbed to what people in the office are calling complications due to AIDS.
The cloud I’ve been riding has finally dropped me off back on Earth. I’ve been so caught up in everything that’s positive about living here that I had created a separate Botswana in my mind, one in which everyone isn’t affected by AIDS. I’ve realized today that we still have so much to learn. There are aspects of life here, such as the death-grip AIDS has on the country, that we thought we knew about, but even now have only scratched the surface. I doubt I’ll ever truly understand how commonplace it is to have family, friends, or co-workers become just another statistic.
I’ve been coming into this little office every day, thinking that it keeps me isolated from the "real" Botswana; that I’d have to get out in the rural areas to see the culture. Today I’ve realized that this is as real as it gets. AIDS has permeated through the society, becoming a part of the culture unto itself. A big part. People wake up every day facing the disease. These people can be farmers, lawyers, doctors, or members of an AIDS service organization. The one thing uniting them is their incredible resolve to fight back.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Storytime

Here’s just a little story about the hospitality of people in Botswana.
On Saturday, Amy, Graham, and I went to a soccer game at the National Stadium. It was between two local Premier League teams, Gaborone United and the Kaiser Chiefs. Of the approximately 1,000 people in attendance, we were the only three white people. Throughout the game, a few Batswana (that’s the word for more than one person from Botswana) came and asked how we were enjoying the game, told us about Botswana, taught us a few words, etc. They were so welcoming to us, we couldn’t believe it. I have a hard time believing that if there was a stadium of 1,000 white people and three Africans, the white people would be as accommodating.
Anyway, after the game was over, we took a chombi ride about fifteen minutes back to the bus rank. From there, we walked about another ten until a truck pulled over in front of us. The driver leaned out of his window and asked us how we liked the game. He told us he recognized us from the stadium and wanted to make sure we had a good time. We assured him that we did, then chirped him a little bit because the team we were cheering for had won.
It was crazy: all the way across the city, this guy just pulled over to make sure that we, complete strangers, had a good time at the game. Granted, we were pretty recognizable as the only white people there, but we could tell that he wasn’t concerned about any racial issues, he just wanted to know that we were enjoying his country. So far, so good.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

We made it

I’ve been in Botswana for six days now, and I already love it. The atmosphere is so laid back, but also chaotic. For example, to get to work, Graham, Amy, and I have to walk to the bus rank, where chombis (15-seat van-taxis) can take you all over the city. Everyone walks to the rank at a pretty leisurely pace, but once you get there, it’s pandemonium. We took about 10 minutes to find the right route to get to work, then we ended up missing our stop, running across a highway to catch another chombi, then finally getting to work. When I strolled into work at BONASO, ready with dozens of excuses, nobody was the least bit worked up because I was late. As long as I get there in the morning, it doesn’t really matter.
I haven’t had much of a chance to see the "real Botswana." Living in Gaborone is essentially the same as living in Halifax. There are malls, movie theatres, etc, that are basically the same as what we have in Canada. I have an office on the third floor of a building, overlooking downtown Gaborone; it isn’t at all what I expected when I found out 4 months ago that I’d be going to Africa. That isn’t to say that I’m disappointed here, I’m just surprised at how ignorant I was. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, once we get settled in, a trip is in the works to see one of Botswana’s many animal preserves.
Our house in Gaborone is phenomenal. It’s a two-storey townhouse with two bathrooms, three bedrooms, and a large dining room. It’s pretty bare right now, but within a month or so, it should look just like home, except at this home we have a lemon tree in the backyard. I hope to upload a picture in the near future.
Another thing I didn’t expect about living in Botswana was how cold it gets overnight. It’s the tail end of their winter now, and yesterday morning I could see my breath outside. I thought the winters just got Africa-cold, not cold-cold.
My first assignment at BONASO was to make a powerpoint presentation for my boss to give at the international AIDS conference in Toronto next week. She said it was good, but I was a little nervous doing my first real job. Before that, I just spent the days proofreading people’s work. It seems like after this, a lot of my job will entail writing proposals for different community groups to get funding for AIDS awareness programs.
I apologize for having such a disjointed entry, but things just pop into my head randomly, then I write them down. I’m still getting the hang of this online journaling, so maybe it’ll get a little more smooth as time goes on. I still don’t know how to end each entry.

Locations of visitors to this page