Thursday, November 23, 2006

Good news

On Monday, I went for my first ever HIV test.  It wasn't because I had done anything that put me at risk, but I've been working in the field of HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention since August, and I've felt like a hypocrit because I didn't know my HIV status.

 
The voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) centre is about a minute's walk away from where I work.   My roommate Graham and I arrived around 7:30am to beat the rush.  There were a couple of people ahead of us, but it only took about half an hour before it was our turn to get tested.   In Botswana, they use rapid-result testing (it has only recently been approved in Canada), which detects a certain antibody associated with HIV, and results are found within 15 minutes.   Although I knew that I had to be HIV negative, I was still a little bit nervous.
 
I couldn't help thinking about all the times I've cut myself here, or played with all the kids in my neighbourhood who seem to always have scrapes and scratches.   I have, and promote, all the information that says transmission is virtually impossible through those means, but for some reason I couldn't help wondering if maybe I was going to be the exception to the rule.   After the wait, I looked at the results and found that, as expected, I'm HIV negative.  Although I knew what the results would be, I was still relieved to actually see them.
 
Then I started to think.  If I had actually been worried that I might be HIV positive, would I have had the strength to go and get tested?   I'd like to say that I would, but it would definitely be difficult.  I looked around the lobby at the people waiting to be tested.   How many of them were getting a routine check, and how many had come to see the repercussions of a one night stand or broken condom?  I'm not trying to justify people that don't get tested, but imagine how hard it would be to have your whole life turned upside down, and in most cases drastically shortened, because of an accident or mistake?
 
I have tremendous respect for those people who have made mistakes and are still brave enough to be tested.   I've already written that most of the work now being done is on prevention and behavioural change.  What has been lacking, and I'll be the first to admit it, is a way to recognize the people who have been tested, found out that they're positive, and ensured that they would not infect anyone else.   These people help work towards prevention, by indirectly stopping countless other infections.  Of course, with confidentiality being paramount with regards to HIV testing, their names couldn't be posted in the paper or anything.   At the same time, it is important to think of these anonymous people and realize that they are working as hard as anyone to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ups and Downs

Last Thursday, Graham and I flew up to Maun, in the Northern part of Botswana, to see the Okavango Delta.  The delta is much more lush than most of Botswana, and is home to crocodiles, hippos, lions, elephants, giraffes, and pretty much any other animal you can think of, except tigers.  Maun is the closest town to the delta, so it was where we stayed for the weekend.  We woke up too late on Friday to catch a safari; we didn't know, but they leave around 7am.  As a result, Friday was spent lounging around the hotel's pool and exploring Maun.
 
We had a safari booked on Saturday, for 7:30am.  We drove in an open-topped truck for about two hours to the delta.  On the way we saw a herd of zebras, some wildebeest, and a buffalo, along with all kinds of birds.  Compared to the other safari we'd been on, in Mokolodi, this was already better.  You kind of have the feeling in Mokolodi that the animals are on display.  In the delta, you're definitely in the wild. 
 
The truck finally stopped at the beginning of the delta, and there we saw what are called "mokoros," which are hollowed-out tree canoes.  Graham and I got in, and our guide, Prince, pushed off.  The water at this part of the delta isn't very deep, so the mokoro is driven like a gondola, where one person stands and pushes off the bottom with a large stick.  We had only been in the boat for about 10 minutes before we saw about 5 hippos.  We couldn't get too close because they're pretty aggressive, but we were still only about 100 feet away.  We couldn't see them that well because they spend most of the day in the water, but it was still hilarious to see their heads pop up and spray water out of their nostrils.  After going through the delta for about another hour, we finally reached land.
 
There, Prince took us on a bush walk.  At first it looked like we weren't going to see much, besides all the different animal dung that Prince pointed out.  Eventually we saw some elephant tracks, so we started to follow them.  We walked up over a little hill, and we almost walked right into an elephant.  Well, not really; it was probably about 70-80 feet away, but it was still pretty close.  We watched it eat a little bit, then it turned and looked at us.  It gave us a little fright, especially since we were just standing there, out in the open.  The elephant then just turned back and continued on his way.  On the walk back to the mokoros, we saw a couple of other elephants in the distance, and a few baboons.
 
When we left on Sunday, it was looking like this was our best weekend yet.  That changed when we landed back in Gaborone.  When I got my bag back from the luggage area, I opened it up to find that my phone had been stolen.  In case anyone is keeping track, this is the third phone I've had stolen since I've been here.  It's been pick-pocketed twice, and now once out of my bag.  I don't even know why I had it in my bag, I think probably because I didn't want it stolen out of my pocket at the airport.  Anyway, I told the guy at the main desk about it and apparently Air Botswana's policy is that they're not responsible, even though only about 3 people touched my luggage between Maun and Gaborone.
 
That got me thinking: we spent the weekend in Maun, and met a ton of people, none of whom came close to being a threat, even though some of them didn't even have jobs and were visibly living in poverty.  Then, my phone (which is the cheapest one you can get, so I don't even know why someone would want it) gets stolen by some guy that works with Air Botswana.  I don't want to sound like I'm from St. Olaf or anyting (do Golden Girls references still fly?), but I would assume that by checking my luggage, that would ensure that it will by safe.  I can understand lost luggage; things can get mislabeled.  But for someone to open my bag, fish through it, and get my phone is inexcusable. 
 
And another thing; this it the third time it's happened to me.  I don't know if I have a big target on me that says, "Steal from me," or if I just have bad luck, but three times in three months is almost unbelievable.  Some people might say that I have to learn to not trust anybody, but that's a lesson I will refuse to be taught.  Maybe I'm an idealist, or maybe I'm just stuck with my small-town sensibilities, but I will always give people the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe I'll have to replace a few things every once in a while, but I will not consider it a fault to be trusting of other people.  I'm not talking about picking up hitch-hikers on a deserted road with eerie music playing in the background, but I am talking about being able to have faith that people I deal with on a daily basis will treat me with the respect I give them.  It's disheartening when things like this happen, but not so much that I will lose my trust in people

Ups and Downs

Last Thursday, Graham and I flew up to Maun, in the Northern part of Botswana, to see the Okavango Delta.  The delta is much more lush than most of Botswana, and is home to crocodiles, hippos, lions, elephants, giraffes, and pretty much any other animal you can think of, except tigers.  Maun is the closest town to the delta, so it was where we stayed for the weekend.  We woke up too late on Friday to catch a safari; we didn't know, but they leave around 7am.  As a result, Friday was spent lounging around the hotel's pool and exploring Maun.
 
We had a safari booked on Saturday, for 7:30am.  We drove in an open-topped truck for about two hours to the delta.  On the way we saw a herd of zebras, some wildebeest, and a buffalo, along with all kinds of birds.  Compared to the other safari we'd been on, in Mokolodi, this was already better.  You kind of have the feeling in Mokolodi that the animals are on display.  In the delta, you're definitely in the wild. 
 
The truck finally stopped at the beginning of the delta, and there we saw what are called "mokoros," which are hollowed-out tree canoes.  Graham and I got in, and our guide, Prince, pushed off.  The water at this part of the delta isn't very deep, so the mokoro is driven like a gondola, where one person stands and pushes off the bottom with a large stick.  We had only been in the boat for about 10 minutes before we saw about 5 hippos.  We couldn't get too close because they're pretty aggressive, but we were still only about 100 feet away.  We couldn't see them that well because they spend most of the day in the water, but it was still hilarious to see their heads pop up and spray water out of their nostrils.  After going through the delta for about another hour, we finally reached land.
 
There, Prince took us on a bush walk.  At first it looked like we weren't going to see much, besides all the different animal dung that Prince pointed out.  Eventually we saw some elephant tracks, so we started to follow them.  We walked up over a little hill, and we almost walked right into an elephant.  Well, not really; it was probably about 70-80 feet away, but it was still pretty close.  We watched it eat a little bit, then it turned and looked at us.  It gave us a little fright, especially since we were just standing there, out in the open.  The elephant then just turned back and continued on his way.  On the walk back to the mokoros, we saw a couple of other elephants in the distance, and a few baboons.
 
When we left on Sunday, it was looking like this was our best weekend yet.  That changed when we landed back in Gaborone.  When I got my bag back from the luggage area, I opened it up to find that my phone had been stolen.  In case anyone is keeping track, this is the third phone I've had stolen since I've been here.  It's been pick-pocketed twice, and now once out of my bag.  I don't even know why I had it in my bag, I think probably because I didn't want it stolen out of my pocket at the airport.  Anyway, I told the guy at the main desk about it and apparently Air Botswana's policy is that they're not responsible, even though only about 3 people touched my luggage between Maun and Gaborone.
 
That got me thinking: we spent the weekend in Maun, and met a ton of people, none of whom came close to being a threat, even though some of them didn't even have jobs and were visibly living in poverty.  Then, my phone (which is the cheapest one you can get, so I don't even know why someone would want it) gets stolen by some guy that works with Air Botswana.  I don't want to sound like I'm from St. Olaf or anyting (do Golden Girls references still fly?), but I would assume that by checking my luggage, that would ensure that it will by safe.  I can understand lost luggage; things can get mislabeled.  But for someone to open my bag, fish through it, and get my phone is inexcusable. 
 
And another thing; this it the third time it's happened to me.  I don't know if I have a big target on me that says, "Steal from me," or if I just have bad luck, but three times in three months is almost unbelievable.  Some people might say that I have to learn to not trust anybody, but that's a lesson I will refuse to be taught.  Maybe I'm an idealist, or maybe I'm just stuck with my small-town sensibilities, but I will always give people the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe I'll have to replace a few things every once in a while, but I will not consider it a fault to be trusting of other people.  I'm not talking about picking up hitch-hikers on a deserted road with eerie music playing in the background, but I am talking about being able to have faith that people I deal with on a daily basis will treat me with the respect I give them.  It's disheartening when things like this happen, but not so much that I will lose my trust in people

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