Wednesday, May 13

Tsala sentle Botswana!

Today was my last full day in Botswana. I packed up an entire semester in a matter of a few hours. I leave tomorrow afternoon for what will be a long journey home: Gaborone to Johannesburg to London to Detroit.

Tomorrow, my best friend here, Jami, and I will go to Main Mall for one last time and peruse the vendors.

I will miss almost everything about Botswana. I will miss Botswana time, Batsi, my CIEE friends, my local friends, combi rides, walking everywhere, and probably marriage proposals too. The only freak-out I am having about leaving is the fact that I may never be able to come back to Africa again. It is a magical place.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my blogging these last four and a half months. I have appreciated your readership. If I see you back in the States, I’d be more than willing to share more stories with you. If not, that’s okay too. There are so many stories, many that some people will probably never here. If I sat someone down and told them about everything I’ve done, seen and learned here, it would take a good month or two.

Go siame bomma le borra. Boroko Botswana.

Here’s some pictures from throughout the semester:
Batsi telling us about our upcoming semester at orientation
The whole CIEE group and Batsi yelling "Pula!" to all our semester goals
Our first time at the University of Botswana - registering for classes
Climbing Kgale Hill, the highest point in Gaborone
Top of Kgale Hill
Some CIEE and other international students at the Manyana Rock Paintings in Gabs
Grinding sorghum... ain't no thang
Some of the CIEE group with the Tlokweng's Kgosi (Chief)
Zebras in the Okavango Delta
Leopard in a tree in the Okavango Delta
Giraffes in the Okavango Delta
Mokoro (traditional wooden canoe) rides in the Okavango Delta
Some of the CIEE group with a traditional healer and his teas and roots in Tlokweng

Saturday, May 9

Nostalgia's setting in

Yesterday a lot happened that was very typical of my experiences in Botswana. It was like a culture cluster - some things that I never got used to and some that no longer phase me at all.

My friend, Jami, and I walked to River Walk, about a 20 minute walk from UB. We walked there at least once a week this semester. Walking everywhere is something I got used to quickly. Even though Gaborone is a “city,” everything is very spread out. Taxi rides quickly became not worth the pula.

When leaving UB, the security guard asked for my shirt (a souvenir from skydiving in Namibia), told Jami and I that he’s looking for a white woman to marry and asked if one us would marry him. Proposals happen often. I wore a ring on my ring finger for a little while because it was one of the pre-departure suggestions from my home university’s International Center staff to ward off proposals and men in general. But that really didn’t ward off anything at all. Setswana culture allows for promiscuity and my being white trumps Batswana men’s morals.

We got several hoots, hollers, and whistles on the walk over. We also got a few people shouting “lekgoa,” a Setswana term meaning white English person. “Makgoa” is the plural form.

We went to Bimbo’s, a fast food place, for lunch and waited a good half hour for our food. Botswana Time/Africa Time definitely exists. People show up an hour after they say the will. Events last longer than expected. Meals take three hours.

That evening, I had my last final exam, for my Social Structures of Southern African Societies course. I arrived to the room where the exam was being held 10 minutes early, expecting to be one of the first ones there. The room was full - about 60 people were already there. The professor walked up to me while I was putting my bag down with the rest of the bags lined up against the wall. He asked me where the others were – referring to two other Americans in the class.

Jordan and Emilie came to UB through Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM). I think my professor, and others, assume that all the international students are always together. Jordan and Emilie live in a completely different part of campus than I do and I rarely see them, especially after classes ended. I told him I didn’t know where they were and he told me to sit in the front.

There were seats everywhere so I don’t know why he wanted me to sit in the front. I went and sat in the front, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. (One thing I never got used to was the stares.) After a few minutes, the professor approached me in the front row and asked if I had Jordan’s or Emilie’s number. I had both but they were in my phone which was turned off in my bag on the other side of the auditorium. We walked to my bag, again feeling everyone’s eyes on me. I gave him Jordan’s number and he went outside and called her.

There is no way that he would’ve called a local student to see where he/she is at the time of a final exam. It is completely inappropriate that he called them to make sure they were coming. He’s one of the UB professors that give clear preferential treatment to American students.

The exam itself was ridiculous, just like the entire course was. We had two assignments the entire term. The exam prompt (all of my exams were essay form) was these two assignments crammed together. Here is the prompt:

‘The mineral revolution in South Africa, the migrant labour system and apartheid combined to give the Southern African region its distinct identity as both a geophysical entity and a political construction.’

Using the foregoing claim as your starting point, construct your ‘story’ of Southern Africa, showing how the process of regionalism and regionalization has unfolded in this part of the world. Carefully explain various concepts and terms that you may use in this essay.

I wanted to laugh out loud when I read it. I finished in 45 minutes, waited 15 minutes for someone else to turn his/her exam in first, and ended up turning mine in first anyway. Two hours are allotted for all final exams.

I’m not done with Botswana, but I am now officially done with UB. I have 5 days, 1 hour, and 30 minutes until I fly from Gabs to Joburg on the first leg of my long trip home. No worries though; I will post again.

Sunday, May 3

And the countdown begins

My computer won't turn on again. That's why there's been so much time between my last post and this one. Here's what's happened since Mozambique:

  • I was in a group that performed a folk tale in my African Oral Narratives class. I had four lines in Setswana. I had the role of one of two jealous sisters.
  • A few friends and I rented a car and headed north to Victoria Falls. We went through the Zimbabwe side. It was gorgeous.
  • Classes ended on Thursday.
  • I took three Setswana finals on Thursday: two oral and one written.
  • I went to a Gaborone United soccer game in Molepolole, Botswana's largest village, about an hour away from Gaborone.
  • I have four finals this week, and then I'm officially done with my semester at UB.
I have 11 more days left in Gaborone, in Botswana, in Africa. Yesterday after all the CIEE participants presented our semester projects to each other and to Batsi, Batsi talked to us about wrapping up our semester, returning to the States and reverse culture shock. I think it's really starting to hit me how much I am going to miss this place. I have made a life for myself here and now I'm leaving and I don't know if I'll ever come back. And even if I do come back, it will not be the same.

Saying goodbye to the CIEE particpants will also be hard. The 12 of us have been through so much together, grown together and shared struggles and joys throughout our time here. We're from all different parts of the U.S. and will probably never see each other again.

One of the things Batsi touched on in his talk with us is, even though we may not realize it now, how independent we've become. We've had to do a lot on our own in setting far outside our comfort zones. I hadn't thought about it before Batsi pointed it out, but he's right. Going through a semester in a foreign country forces an individual to become more independent. Partly because there's really no one to be depeddent on here and partly because if you don't put yourself out there in a program like this, you won't get the most out of it as possible.

Also, there was so much build-up coming to Botswana from the States. But how am I supposed to prepare myself to return home, a home that will be different from the one I left 4 and a half months ago? It will be different for many reasons, but for me, I am especially worried about resenting aspects of American culture now that I've seen America from an outsider perspective.

I don't have a whole lot to do in my remaining 11 days, so that will allow plenty of time for self-reflection.

Friday, April 17

Short stories from my recent travels

“We are beautiful. All the others are ugly.”

There were quite a few people packed into our combi on the ride from Gabs to Joburg, the first leg of our trip. We were not surprisingly the only white people. An outgoing lighter-skinned woman was in the front. As soon as she got on, she expressed her excitement that there were ‘beautiful people’ on the combi and passed out Tupperware catalogs. After speaking to some people in Setswana for a while, she turned her attention to the four of us and switched to English. She asked the usual questions: where are we from, what are we doing here in Botswana, have we enjoyed it. She told us that she would like us to find a job for her in the States (not an uncommon request). She called us all her grandchildren, pointing to us one by one, “Granddaughter, grandson, granddaughter, granddaughter.” And then pointing to herself, “Grandmother.” She went on, “I am friends with all your mothers.”

Here’s the worst part. This may have been the most uncomfortable moment in my life. Before she got dropped off in Joburg, she reminded everyone in the combi that there were only five beautiful people on the combi – the four of us and her – and then, in all seriousness, said that everyone else was ugly.

For our CIEE Language & Culture Practicum, we all paired up and selected semester projects. Jami and I are tackling colorism. According to Race, Gender, and the Politics of Skin Tone by Margaret L. Hunter, "Colorism is a systematic preference for lightness that stems from the larger and more potent system of racism. It is difficult to distinguish between our own innocent preferences for skin tones and the socially constructed hierarchy of skin tones informed by racism. Many have internalized this racism so deeply, that they can no longer recognize colorism and racism for what they are, and instead see them simply as individual tastes." So there it was, on a combi, our semester project hitting us like a brick. Of course, our experience on the combi was more racism than colorism. [I will post more about our semester project when it is completed.]

“My water is trucked in every week.”

In Maputo, we met some Peace Corps volunteers also taking the shuttle from Maputo to Tofo. Three of them are stationed in Botswana! One is in Mozambique. They shared a lot about their experiences with us. The woman stationed in Mozambique (somewhere between Maputo and Tofo) is teaching English to future English teachers. She said she feels like she is really making a difference and her work is wanted and appreciated. The Botswana volunteers, on the other hand, feel differently. One of them is in the Kalahari “in the middle of nowhere” where water gets trucked out to him weekly. Him and another volunteer are supposed to be doing HIV/Aids work (not surprisingly the most common Peace Corps work in Botswana), but hasn’t been assigned anything terribly specific and so he just doesn’t really do much. One woman is teaching English in a primary (elementary) school.

They feel useless because they just don't know what to do. Botswana is a pretty developed and well-off country, at least in the context of southern Africa. The Peace Corps left when Botswana established some form of stability and returned when HIV/Aids became increasingly prevalent.

Some of their experiences with culture were very similar to ours. A few examples:
1. Confusion/surprise when seeing other white people. We all figure that we're the only white people in Botswana and when we see others, it is unfamiliar and we are taken aback. We want to ask what they're doing here, especially other young white people.
2. Annoyance with men. The proposals, the stares, the hoots, the hollers, the whistles. Wow, do they get old. We're white and different. We get it.

“Management is trying to decide to send a mechanic or another bus.”

The Intercape bus from Maputo to Joburg left at 7:00 p.m. and was supposed to arrive at 4:00 a.m. Everything was fine until the bus broke down at about 11:30 p.m. We were pulled over on the side of the road for an hour with no communication about why we were pulled over and what was being done about it before Rebecca and I decided to go find out what was going on. We went downstairs (it was a double-decker bus), got off the bus and walked over to the driver and a man standing by the driver door. He said that management was still trying to decide to send a mechanic or another bus. Again, this is an hour after we pulled over.

Three hours later, another bus came, and there was a mad rush to get the good seats on the other bus. There was a lot of pushing and shoving – elbows everywhere. Then we drove about two minutes to our one rest stop of the trip. It was a petrol station… with a mechanic.

Wednesday, April 15

Pictures of Mozambique

Traffic in Joburg

Video of truck drivers striking

Meat in Joburg bus station

Remnants of apartheid
Huts en route to MaputoSunrise at the border - we walked across the South African-Mozambican border

Getting close to Maputo... people washing clothes in a ditchOne of many street vendors. Everyone's "brother" or "grandfather" hand-makes these crafts.

Our four-person bungalow on the beach in Tofo

Moon rising over the Indian Ocean
Waves crashing before sunset

Beach, beach and more beachTide pools

More beach

Tuesday, April 14

Easter on the beach

I got back from Mozambique yesterday at about 8:00 p.m. It was one of the best Easter weekends I’ve ever had! I have now been to four African countries! Mozambique is incredibly beautiful and diverse in its landscape and geography. We spent most of our time on the road, on long combi and Intercape bus rides, so we saw much of the countryside. We also saw a lot of poverty. It was the first time that I saw shoeless, emaciated children in Africa, just walking along the roadside. Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world with some of the lowest infant mortality and life expectancy rates.

Mozambique was colonized by the Portuguese in the 1500s. When the country gained its independence in 1975, the Portuguese pretty much just up and left. There was no transition or easing into complete lack of control.

I wrote this entry on a computer in the UB library. When my Macbook decides to turn back on, I will certainly put pictures up. There are pictures of Maputo, the Mozambican capital where we spent one day and one night before taking a seven hour trip north to the breathtaking beaches of Tofo. I have about 200 pictures to choose from of the sunrise over the Indian Ocean in Tofo. Also, on our first night in Tofo we watched the moon rising over the ocean during our dinner at a restaurant right on the beach. The backpackers’ place (Fatima’s Nest) where we stayed in Tofo was great – location and price-wise. We stayed in the cutest four-person grass hut …though the bed bugs weren’t so cute. We had a couple great fresh seafood meals for the equivalent of $4 – 6. Women sold us cashews through the window at a quick stop on the bus ride from Tofo to Maputo. They were fire-roasted and delicious.

The Intercape bus ride from Joburg to Gabs yesterday was a bit strange for one reason: we watched a video that made it seem like we were on a fundamentalist Christian bus, not a secular one. For about a half hour, two white men preached about how evolution did not happen. An example of how they ‘disproved’ evolution was calling an airline and getting rejected when requesting a ticket for an orangutan with the justification that human beings are related to primates. It was possibly the most ridiculous thing I have ever watched. It made me miss the U.S. a little because if anything ever happened like that on the good ole Megabus, I and other passengers would’ve gotten that crap off the screen in no time. But here, people just sat and watched it.

It was good to spend some time away from the UB environment. I was getting a little antsy with my courses here. My descriptions in an earlier entry “School” still hold true. Professors still ask me to make sweeping generalizations about the United States. They still make assumptions about me and other Americans based on stereotypes. Students still do not participate in class, even 3rd and 4th year students. I’m getting back into the swing of things here, not that anything’s terribly swingin’ about UB.
My time is almost up in Botswana. After this week, there are two more weeks of classes remaining. I have one month left before I board my first of three planes home at the Sir Seretse Khama Airport in Gaborone.

If you have any questions about my time in Botswana, about anything that has happened to me at all, or what I think of something compared to the U.S., or absolutely whatever, please leave your question(s) in the comment section. If you’d prefer to remain anonymous, my e mail is I’ll be happy to answer them in my next post(s)!

Tuesday, April 7

Mozambique, here I come

UB students have a four-day weekend for Easter! Three CIEE friends and I are going to Mozambique, the country on Africa’s east coast on the Indian Ocean.
When we went to pick up our visas/passports at the Mozambican High Commission today, it was a bit of an ordeal. We were told to come pick them up today despite it being Women's Day, a national holiday. The High Commission employees observe it even though they're in Botswana. Luckily, the employees (who happened to be women) came into work after we made a few calls and gave us our visas/passports. I'll have to post a picture of my visa; it's pretty and in Portuguese.
We’re taking a combi from Gaborone to Johannesburg tomorrow morning and staying in Johannesburg until our bus leaves at 10:00 p.m. for Maputo. The bus will arrive in Maputo, the Mozambican capital, on Thursday morning. We’re staying at Fatima's Place in Maputo on Thursday night, then heading north to Tofo, a beach in Inhambane and staying at Fatima’s Nest on Friday and Saturday nights. There’s a possibility of us doing a number of things: laying on the beach (with or without drinks from the beachside bars), swimming in the Indian Ocean, snorkeling, surfing, diving with whale sharks, and just walking around the towns.
The earliest my next post will be is Monday. I’ll be eager to share about my time in Mozambique.