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.

Thursday, April 2

Photo Update

Traditional Healer

Game drive at the Gaborone Game Reserve in a combi. We saw ostriches and zebras. We followed an ostrich on the road for a little while simply because it wouldn't get out of the road. I'm hoping to post a video of the chase soon.
Braai at Batsi's
Graduate Village/Graduate Hostels/Block 417
This is our laundry hanging on lines in Grad Village. We use washing machines at a facility on campus, but not the dryers because they pretty much just blow cold air and spin your clothes around. There is no heat involved. Half the washing machines are always out of order. There are about 10 machines that work... for all 15,000 students.
This is one of the many signs posted on campus about sexually transmitted diseases.
This is the view of some of the undergraduate housing from Grad Village.
Corn in the classroom
Construction on campus
These are some of my friends from Rural Sociology in my room and outside in Grad Village. They're all 3rd years. They insisted that I take pictures of them so that I don't forget them.
En route to River Walk, a mall in Gaborone where we do our grocery shopping
Botswana doesn't have sewers. They have huge ditches to collect the pula (rain).
On our way to the Mozambican Embassy to get visas for our Easter trip to Maputo & Tofo :)
Art that was on display at a showing of War Child at a film festival put on by Ditshwanelo, a Botswana Human Rights Organization
These are made entirely of painted soda can tops.
Emmanual Jar's music video to his song, War Child