A view of Mochudi, a suburb of Gaborone

A view of Mochudi, a suburb of Gaborone
A suburb of Gaborone in July, 2008

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Episode 13: The Okavango Delta and the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve

“Stay in your tent!  There are lions in the camp!”  It’s very early in the morning and most of us were awakened by that stage whisper.  I think, “Oh, yeah, right.  What kind of dupes do they take us for, we’re not that kind of gullible tourist.  They probably do this to all the tourist groups, gives the tourists a thrill, gives the guides a laugh.”  Roll eyes, roll over, go back to sleep.

“Quick, get in the truck, we will follow them.”  What if they’re not kidding?! What if I can’t get my pants on fast enough to get out of the tent and into the truck?!?  Where are my shoes?  How many zippers are there on this damn tent?!?  Why am I running TOWARD lions?!?!

About twelve of us managed to race to the safari truck and heave ourselves in without benefit of a ladder, and there they were, in the early morning starshine and, when possible, the headlights of the truck.  The whole family we had watched yesterday evening was there:  two adult females, four young lions, and one giant male lion, holding himself back in the shadows.  They were as curious about us as we were about them.  We found some canvas, which the guards had said had covered the camp’s meat supply on the first day, dragged into the bush where the youngest lions had apparently been playing with it.  We tracked them for about a half an hour before they melted away into a landscape that even our giant safari truck couldn’t penetrate.   The guard then showed us where some of the lions had rested – immediately adjacent to two students’ tent.  They had thought someone was playing a fast one, brushing up against the tent like that!  But no, we had heard the lions all night because they followed the road back to our camp.  We could only hope that they found us as entertaining as we found them!
That morning, for me, was the highlight of our week-long safari in the Okavango Delta and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. [I have put many links relevant to this text at the end of this blog entry.]

In fact, turning our attention to non-human animals was an antidote to some of the inevitable culture shock.  The trip did not disappoint.

We flew Air Botswana to the Maun airport, near the world’s largest inland delta, the Okavango.  We were blessed to have been prepared for the trip by Jon Titus, a Fulbright Scholar and biologist who spoke to us about the geology and ecology of Botswana and surrounding countries, with a special emphasis on the Okavango as he know that we would visit there soon after his talk.

We moved in to Audi Base Camp, into “tents” that characterize the low end of high-end Botswana tourism.  Mine had two twin beds, a small dresser, a bookshelf, and electricity.  We arrived early enough for five of us to walk to the airport to hire a 5-passenger airplane, which flew us low over the Delta for an hour and a half.  It was the best $100 USD I have spent in Botswana.  The Delta was a vast Dr. Seuss landscape with blobs that resolved themselves into hippos (so many hippos!), ostriches, giraffes.  We could see the white islands of salt, whose presence and relative scarcity, remain one of the world’s great scientific puzzles.  How can all that water enter the world’s larges inland delta, evaporates leaving behind tons of salts, and yet also create a gigantic freshwater ecosystem?

After an afternoon of napping for the students and reading for me, we had a wonderful evening meal and went to bed in our luxury tents.  The next morning, the students departed for the launch point for mokoro trips.  Mokoros (mekoro is the more correct plural for mokoro/makoro) are dug out canoes indigenous to the peoples of the Delta (many of who are not Setswana speaking).  While local people use them for transportation across the shifting landscape, they also take tourists along shallow shores, to show us the landscape close-up, the opposite of the bird’s eye view from yesterday.  They saw hippos and water birds very close up indeed.  After establishing base camp on an island, small groups went with individual trackers, and found creatures such as elephants and even water buffalo, in addition to the ubiquitous zebras, giraffes, ostriches, and various creatures that appear to be a fugue of variation on the theme of “antelope.”

The next trip was a long drive to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.  We were a bit uneasy, as we had been fortunate to speak with a Fulbright scholar, Pat Coy, who is here working at the Centre for San Studies.  He introduced us to two San UB students, who spoke with us about the challenges of all the discrimination they and their peoples have faced, and about the critical problem of the coerced removal of peoples who once lived on that land and now live in unhealthy, desperate relocation villages outside the CKGR.  But the trip had been planned before we had properly educated ourselves, so we talked about our unease but also tried to make the best of it while resolving to encourage future groups to go to Chobe or some other less fraught destination for game viewing.

After the uncomfortable trip down rutted “roads” in the back of open safari trucks (with roof, but no walls), we were glad to arrive and help establish base camp.  This time the tents were tents, but we still had a sleeping cot and a bed roll, not to mention three meals a day including a magnificent evening supper complete with three courses and dessert.  It was not the time of year for the best game viewing, as it was wet and there was no need for large groups of mammals to congregate.  We mainly saw springbok, ostriches, and Kori bustards, though we did see one vulture (hurray) and of course on the second day we watched the lions for about 1.5 hours before dusk.  It was obvious that the animals were quite accustomed to being in the presence of large vehicles full of primates; the guides insisted that even lions will not attack a group of people in a truck, because a “truck” is somehow different from “a potentially delicious gigantic slow primate” haplessly walking in the actual Kgalagadi.

The Kgalagadi is somewhat mis-named “desert” in much the same way that my home state Nebraska was once mis-named as part of the “Great American Desert.”  It is no “desert” matching the American imagination with its dunes and camels.  Rather, it is a dry grassland, but grassland nevertheless, and this prairie girl’s heart sang just to see the open space and so much grass, grass, grass.  If only Amy Clampitt had seen the Kgalagadi, what poetry would that have begat?  If only I were a poet and could tell you about it more completely. 

is much less rain in the Kgalagadi than in Nebraska, and the grass when we visited was only ankle-high in places.  There were stands of acacia interrupting the grass, but mainly, it was grass. We did see one of the great, flat salt pans that annually fill with water and become otherworldly shallow but wide, so wide, “lakes,” producing the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen (in photographs taken by friends who were in the Delta when the pans had water).

In between morning and evening game drives, there wasn’t a lot to do in the midday heat.  Some tried sleeping but generally is was too hot for most of us, and while we had a few books with us, we restless Americans quickly ran out of activities.  Much to my amusement, a ball of string a student had purchased to repair his shoelaces became all the rage.  Can you imagine more than a dozen college students playing cat’s cradle, braiding, making friendship bracelets – all with one ball of shared white string?  I did find several people who like to play cards, and learned to play euchre all over again.  One of these days I will even remember how to play.

But the night times, my friends, the night times!  Have you ever seen the Milky Way so thick that you could touch it?  The Southern Cross was just one of the sky’s marvels. 

Taking care of necessities at night did become amusing, however.  The first night, before seeing the lions, individuals would leave their tents and go five or so yards away to pee.  By the last night, however, plenty of people practically peed on the tents rather than encounter any more lions!
After breaking camp on the last day, we left reluctant to leave behind the peace but also eager to find showers and electricity.  We had one last thrill, as driving away we came across a slinky black mamba sunning itself across at least 1.5 lanes of the road, bringing the number of snakes some had seen on the trip to two (I myself had missed out on the spitting cobra near the edge of camp, but I’m okay with that). The adventure concluded with our departure from the Maun airport, carried off without a hitch despite the complete lack of electricity in the town, and our arrival at and dispersion from the Gabs airport.  Sadly, I may never again see a semi-wild lion 8 feet away, or reach out to touch the Milky Way.  But then again, we all have much to reflect upon whether tourism works out to be a net benefit for either the average Motswana or the non-human animals, let alone the plants and other components of the ecosystems here.

To see a film that captures our reluctance to encourage others to go to the CKGR, we recommend “A Place Without People,”  a film about the Masai and the Serengeti in Tanzania.  We saw it at the marvelous Ditshwanelo Human Rights Film Festival, and cannot recommend it more highly.   The situation is Botswana is remarkably parallel.  There are many different peoples who lived in the Kalahari, and the word “San” is not how they describe themselves, preferring to use their individual tribes’ names and languages, or if they must use a collective term, then often “Bushmen:”  we don’t even have a proper vocabulary to talk about the situation.   We had definitely “consumed” the CKGR while local peoples had only recently been forcibly removed, quickly leaving many of their descendants insufficiently knowledgeable to return to the CKGR, even if they wanted to and if the Botswana government would tolerate their presence.  In addition to everything else, the only primary education available in the relocation villages is in Setswana (not their native tongue; all primary education here is in Setswana even though many Batswana citizens do not speak Setswana at home). a One has to read no further than a history of the “Indian Schools” in the 19th and 20th century U.S. to get an idea of the devastating results of such intentional and total cultural obliteration.  Had we been knowledgeable in the first place, we would never have gone to the CKGR.  We hope that future ACM students will be more responsible than we were!  (Isn’t that the hope of every generation when it speaks to the next?)

No one can say how long the animals we saw will survive in the midst of veterinary fences that cut off migration yet do not really stem the spread of infectious diseases, global climate change, and increased competition between humans and animals for scarce land resources.  Will my student’s grandchildren even have the option of viewing innumerable hippos from the co-pilot’s side of a small plane?
Without a doubt, the trip was one of the highlights of our brief stay in Botswana, and certainly helped us see why the nation is so justifiably proud of its magnificent natural resources. 

Here is a list of most of the animals I am sure that I have seen in Botswana:

Blue Wildebeest
Water buffalo
Cape hare
Rock hyrax (dassie)
Ground squirrel
White rhino
Black rhino
Black mamba
Water monitor
Sacred Ibis
Egyptian Goose
Great white egret
Wood sandpiper
Cattle egret
Common sandpiper
Crowned plover
Lappetfaced vulture
Secretary bird
Kori bustard
Crested francolin
Helmeted guineafowl
Morning dover
Redfaced mousebird
Laughing dove
Swallowtail bee-eater
Yellowbilled hornbill
Pied crow
Blue flycatcher
Longtailed shrike
Burchell’s starling
Redbilled quela
Paradise wydah
Pintailed wydah
...and of course plenty of H. sapiens sapiens.

LINKS related to the blog:

Kalahari:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalahari_Desert and http://www.amazon.com/Voices-San-Living-Southern-Africa/dp/0795701926

San Research Centre: http://www.namibian.com.na/index.php?id=28&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=70571&no_cache=1 and http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all~content=a936392861~frm=abslink

A Place Without People:  http://www.anemon.gr/place.html

Ditshwanelo (link has been down a lot lately):  http://www.ditswhanelo.org.bw

Peoples of the Kalahari: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12300290 and http://www.ethicaltraveler.org/2011/02/botswanas-bushmen-win-fight-for-the-right-to-water/ and http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/decapua-wikileaks-bushmen-21jan11-114351914.html

Use of relocation and "education" in the genocide of American Indian peoples:  American Indian Higher Education Consortium:  http://www.aihec.org/

Center for Applied Conflict Management at Kent State: www.kent.edu/cacm/index.cfm 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Episode 12, Better late than never?

I realize that I have been a poor blogger this past month, having written nothing since 13 February.
Plenty has happened since then.  I will restrain myself and just tell you about two:  Valentine’s Day and going “on safari” to the Okavango Delta and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.  This post is about Valentine's Day, to give myself some more time to write about the safari!

Valentine’s Day
I would have thought that a fake-o U.S. holiday would not be much in evidence here, and I would have been wrong wrong wrong.  Sometimes in my cynical moments it seems to me that every single one of the very worst aspects of U.S. consumerism have been transported directly to Gabs and then allowed to grow wild, like mint in my garden.  That one mint plant looks like a good idea in the nursery, but then once it has been transplanted outside, it becomes an outrageous nuisance and you wonder what you were thinking in the first place.  I often wonder if the elders of Botswana, who sacrificed so much for today’s under-30’s, ever wonder the same thing about shopping malls and fast food and cellular telephones.
I should have known that Valentine’s Day was going to be interesting just by watching the windows at the Riverwalk Mall, where there are many fashionable clothing outlets.  There is a store called Woolworth’s (“Woolies” in South Africa) that sells both high-end groceries and fashionable preppy clothing.   They always have these window displays featuring mostly white people and mostly white manikins, and they are packed, absolutely packed with people who appear to be Batswana.  For the beginning part of February, the manikins stripped nearly nude and sported what I can only characterize as obscene underwear intended to accentuate the human body’s various erogenous zones. I didn’t even know that there were male torso manikins that could look like that – and the male clothing was much tamer than what few scraps bedecked the females. 

By accident, I ended up going to a Valentine’s Day dinner.  We were trying to say good-bye to a Fulbright friend, and her last day in town was February 14th. So we had gathered to eat a farewell feast only to find that the only options were to attend a Valentine’s Day special dinner party somewhere, or to eat fast food.  We chose the Valentine’s Day special dinner, thinking, how bad can it be?

We chose poorly.

First, we had to buy tickets in couples, and put our names on the tickets.  This caused some anxiety later, as you will understand in a minute.  We were not in couples – we had only two “couples” with us, actually.  So the rest of us cavalierly paired up and did not worry too much about what the doorman might think of our gender- and race-blind associations.  As we bought the tickets, we became aware of white female manikins, this time wearing even more obscene clothing (if you can call it that – or should I say wearing even less obscene clothing?). They were wearing one-piece fishnet outfits that had long sleeves and long legs, and therefore had holes for the manikin’s head, arms, and legs.  And crotch.  Completely crotchless.  Might as well have installed a giant blinking neon arrow pointing to the location in question.

We sat down with some trepidation, as we entered a world something like the Nightmare Before Christmas meets Valentine’s Day.  We were the only ones not seated at a table for 2.  The décor was outrageous, over-the-top in the extreme:  giant size champagne flutes filled with pink or red colored stones, red and pink streamers, huge table centerpieces that must have been designed by a gay man making fun of straight people as he laughed all the way to the bank.  The men were dressed in reasonably dapper suits, and the women were most often dressed in very slinky prom dress outfits in sexy black or red.  But the women of Botswana can rarely be described as “slinky,” at least in the income bracket that could afford the price of the tickets.  So it was sort of like those adult-only renaissance festival days where women of all sizes are wearing corset-boustiers jobbies that must surely impede breathing.  I myself cannot be characterized as slinky, so I have some sympathy for the awesome female confidence on display at this event. But still, it was a bit much.

I will leave out the food, which was unremarkable except that in addition to serving watered down Indian food, they also served pounded beef; women ate the Indian food and the beef; men ate the beef.

On to the “entertainment,” which everyone except our table did appear to find entertaining, so perhaps I should remove the quotation marks.  There was a d.j./host fellow, and several camera crews with gigantic flash lights or spots for taking pictures.  To our horror, the host began by explaining the reason we had had to put our names on the tickets:  they would be drawing the tickets out in order to award prizes to the lucky audience members written on the ticket!  What if one of us had been chosen?  I am convinced that the world would have come to an end that very moment.  Anyway, we weren’t chosen, not even as the lucky couple who would get to take home the fishnet lingerie that welcomed ticket-purchasers to the event.  The host would interview each couple with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge behind every word, and then the couple would win something “romantic” like a pedicure.  The whole performance of gender was painful to watch, as every possible stereotype was on display, especially the insatiable uncontrollable man who literally needs sex, and the woman whose job it is to satisfy under conditions where satisfaction is literally unattainable.  

There was a Rasta singer who sang about the love of Jesus for about 7 minutes.  There was this odd hip-hop or house lip syncing guy who came on stage with two women who walked around like they were auditioning for Tyra Banks while he lip synced.  Except he was a really bad lip syncer, and also there really wasn’t much to lip sync to given the dominance of the (recorded) rhythm section.   One performer’s climactic number ended with him sexy-whispering into the microphone “let’s make a baby tonight” to a spellbound audience; after he crooned that phrase, you could have heard a pin drop -- in Joburg.

Thankfully, I have blocked out any further memories of the night.  Valentine’s events in the U.S. undoubtedly have just as many painful stereotypes on display -- I do not often go out to watch them.   I do know that for many us visiting from the U.S., gender relations and gender roles seem to be somehow “intensified” here compared with what we experience in the U.S..  This perception must be wrong, or at best incomplete, as every culture has a range of norms and people who violate those norms, and we must not understand the norms here.  On the other hand, what I perceive as intensified need to fulfill certainly stereotypes about masculinity and femininity really rub me the wrong way -- they do seem sexist, and harmful to both women and men.  My students and I, we wonder, what do Batswana think of our gender roles and relations?  Are the gender roles and relations in Botswana really all that different from the ones on display in the U.S. movies at the Gaborone theaters?  To what extent do we fulfill exaggerated gendered expectations?  Do they impact our health as surely as sexual norms affect the health of Botswana’s peoples?  Certainly, it is so much easier to look at someone else than it is to really see myself.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Episode 11: A glimpse of Johannesburg and Soweto

Trying to learn anything about Johannesburg and Soweto in a single weekend is shear folly, yet it would also be irresponsible to fail to reflect on the experience.  If any of you have been to “Joburg” (“Jozi”) or Soweto, or have studied these cities, please share your thoughts and suggested readings with me.
At 10:30 on Friday morning two weeks ago, 27 of us set off for Soweto:  24 undergraduates, 1 Batswana assistant, 1 Batswana bus driver, and me.  The first thing the 23 of us from ACM learned is that a 28 seat bus is too small for 22 U.S. undergraduates, let alone the 27 of us squeezed into the bus.  I have some students that anyone would characterize as “petite,” and yet even they could not rest their shoulders on the back rest while sitting adjacent to anyone else.  Fortunately, I am absolutely blessed with a group of traveling companions who are almost always in good humor, or willing to try to put themselves in a good humor.  It would not be a good idea to try to travel from Gabs to Soweto with anyone grouchy.  One would be tempted to leave them on the side of the road with only the cows for company.  For future travel on buses, I plan to request 1.25 seats per ACM person.   Functional air conditioning would also be a nice touch.

We crossed into South Africa at the Tlokweng border.  We learned that we may never understand why it is necessary for people to walk across the border in the heat instead of getting back onto the bus to drive across the border.

The view outside the bus was pastoral - for most of the way, there is either beautiful savannah with tall grasses like a prairie but with acacia trees, or well-kept farms of corn or milo (sorghum).
With no air conditioning and the wind blasting all of us, and the driver's ever increasing commitment to louder and louder bad pop music coming from the radio, it was not my favorite road trip ever.  I think this was true for everyone, except that it was worse for the students who really were packed in the bus like herrings. We rode with the windows down and our hair flying; the students tried their best to sleep in various contorted positions.  When we stopped in Zeerust for lunch, I discovered that my entire front was bone dry but my entire backside was plastered to the seat with sweat.  I was amazed the people in the back of the bus had not fused into one giant student.

We found Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers without any problems; in fact there were nice tourism-oriented signs directing us once we got close.  The signs were a bit incongruous in the setting where sometimes it appeared that the signs were of higher-quality materials than the housing. 

I have not stayed at a “backpacker’s hostel” since about 1991.  I am not really a backpacker.  My backpack is intended for short-term trips to peaceful libraries, or longer term trips to dog parks.  Not to a hostel, which not by mere chance sounds to me a lot like “hostile.”  This hostel was a beautiful jewel of a hostel – friendly owners, clean, comfortable beds, good breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a bar to buy bottled water and/or beer, and a “rec-room” outdoors, containing fusbol, a pool table, and a dart board.  The students LOVED it.   I, however, am clearly an old fart.   There was constant extremely loud reggae music, the same album played over and over and over and over and over.  I was ready to take some sort of guerilla action when one of the students persuaded them to switch to a different (reggae) album, and to turn it down a notch.  So it was one party after another – but in this the hostel was not alone.  All around, all night long, people were playing loud music and partying, all Friday and Saturday night. Truly, I have no idea how anyone old or young survives the weekends in Soweto.

Soweto (SOuth WEst TOwnship) is a really big, really poor city, not particularly better or worse than other equally large, impoverished cities.  I think there are 2.5-5 million people there.  It used to be a giant collection of single-sex dorms -- confusingly called hostels -- where the South Africans required migrant mine laborers to live. Then women and children started to move in.  In the 1970's, 80's, and 90's it was the heart of the anti-apartheid movement, and certainly the heart of one of the most influential and successful youth protests in the world.  Sowetan school children, most younger than high school age, actually themselves rose up to protest "Bantu" education (which was worse than no education at all -- and even 6 year olds got into the fight).  The Afrikaaner police actually fired on and killed children who were protesting -- and not just once.  For those of you who remember the news footage from those years, please know that Soweto is nothing like that now .... it is populated by the descendants of those activists, but is nowhere near as dangerous as it once was.

We saw more of Soweto on the four-hour bike tour the next morning, which began at 10:0 a.m., when the sultry sun had already climbed high into the sky.  The palest of us suffered sunburns, despite thick layers of SPF45+ sunscreen.  I rode in a combination golf cart/motorcycle driven by Lebo himself (the owner of the Backpacker’s Hostel).  We stopped at a shebeen, an informal bar where a woman makes and sells sorghum beer from her home.  The making of sorghum brew was once a quintessential wifely skill, and the drinking of the beer was the duty and pleasure of a lucky skillful husband.  But the conquest of Southern Africa by Europeans followed by apartheid and then grinding entrenched poverty has taken this tradition and turned it into something sinister.  In apartheid times, men would drink a foul brew so horrible that it was not even bottled, but served in boxes, to escape from the misery of the mines, miserably crowded hostels, and the pernicious effects of relentless overt and covert racist discrimination.  In the present day there is a horrific relationship between alcohol abuse, sexual risk-taking, disrupted intimate relationships between men and women, and HIV/AIDS.  I found the book “The Baboon Woman and a Bagful of Locusts” very informative in this regard, and of course I recommend “Love in the Time of AIDS.”

But, we were just touring, not thinking these sober thoughts, and so everyone gamely tried a batch of beer served in a gourd, and some were willing to taste the sour milk.  Then we moved on to a very poor neighborhood, which clearly lacked clean water and had sewage running in the streets under the bicycle tires.  Meanwhile, literally across the street there were half-built houses intended to have electricity, water, sewage treatment…..but there they stood, unfinished.  The guides explained that while the ANC-dominated government has long promised healthy, safe housing for everyone, this goal is still not possible because of the cost, and the difficulty of destroying unsafe housing only after first relocating gigantic populations to safer housing.   Also, according to Lebo, there was a plan for the people who moved into this better housing to pay for at least some of the costs of electricity, water, and sewage treatment, but of course the people living in the unhealthy houses across the street could ill afford to pay anything for these services – so exactly how this housing development was supposed to help the people in Soweto who most needed the help was very unclear.

The next part of the tour was more “uplifting” in that we saw the some more middle-class neighborhoods in Soweto.  There were morning glories, four-o-clocks, roses, marigolds, and cosmos everywhere, and gazillions of children who all wanted a high five as we rode past.  We eventually came to the Hector Pieterson memorial for the children killed in the Soweto uprisings of the 1970’s, and then after that to the homes of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, two Nobel laureates living close to each other in a single neighborhood in Soweto.   Neither of them were in residence in either house during our visit, but the guide was knowledgeable and told us a lot about the two men.  It struck me that there are a lot of great men in the anti-apartheid struggle and that the voices of women are not often included and certainly not venerated, a thought that would occur again at the otherwise wonderful Apartheid Museum in Joburg.
The bike ride ended with a meal at a small place where we were fed “bunny chow,” an unappetizing, nutritionally void and calorie-dense food that miraculously has not appeared in the U.S. despite these qualities.  Bunny chow is a hollowed out loaf of white bread filled with French fries (“chips”), a fried egg, fried bologna, a slice of tomato, and ketchup.  When asked to explain why it is called bunny chow, I was told that it was first brought to Soweto by “Asians” (people of Indian or Pakistani descent).  I still remain confused regarding how this explanation relates to the question I had posed.  The students all said it was “great,” so perhaps had I been pedaling, I would have appreciated bunny chow a bit more.
After the bike ride, exhaustion reared its head and most students napped for at least a few hours.  Some had to be dipped in vats of aloe, so sunburned were they, and several needed anti-inflammatories to help their entire bodies stop swelling up after the exposure to such heat and sun.   No one suffered any long term effects, but I did spend quite a bit of time encouraging endless small sips of water and rest, and wondering if it was time to get out the oral rehydration salts (which taste foul but do work).

The rest of the evening was spent much as the first, so I will spare you.

The next morning we went to the Apartheid Museum, where we were all randomly assigned to “white” or “colored” or “black” and entered the museum in our proper doors.  The museum is a compelling tribute to the remarkable struggles against apartheid, as well as a thorough documentation of the system of apartheid, its history, and its after-effects.  We spent around 3-4 hours there, when our guide kept trying to rush us through in 1 hour and 45 minutes.  The exhibit that included one of the giant armored vehicles used to subdue the people was literally frightening, while the newsreels from every decade literally brought tears to our eyes as each museum-goer met up with the reels that most reflected the time that we had first become aware of Apartheid.  I kept thinking, why didn’t I know about this until 1989?  What privilege, to remain in such ignorance and thus comfort!

The museum is extremely proud of its temporary Mandela exhibit, which will likely become permanent, but for me that was the least satisfying part.  It documented Mandela’s life in excruciating detail, and was so complimentary as to be embarrassing.  It used words from his own writings when possible, and those words were in a different color, as though I were reading a New Testament that has Jesus’ words in red.  It is not that Mandela is not a great man – for surely he is – but I believe that every great person is supported by a community that feeds that greatness and deserves equal if not more acknowledgement.  Reading between the lines, Mandela’s relationships with women and his respect for women probably place him up there (down there?) with Gandhi, showing that the struggle for equality among women and men has a long ways to go, even in South Africa which is justly proud of its constitutional commitments to civil, human, and social rights for all.  There was no exhibit about how women managed to raise families while their husbands traveled to and from the mines, or about how women also resisted apartheid, or about how women raised brave children who fought Bantu education.  There was almost no mention of females at all, except at the very end, when women’s organizations were mentioned briefly in a display about 1990’s political activism.  I’m sure many compelling stories about women’s bravery, endurance, creativity, and perseverance during apartheid could also be told, and I hope that a South African writer will emerge to document their story with as much passion as the nation now devotes to Mandela and Tutu.

I will try to insert some photos of Soweto when next I get the chance.

I would love to read your reactions to this post, and any comments you have about Apartheid or Soweto.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Episode Ten: Vignettes with images

The rainy season is in full swing.  Apparently it’s swinging a little too much – we are getting more rain than usual, which the Ministry of Health believes will cause a mosquito population explosion.  This in turn will probably lead to increased risk of malaria, so we are all taking mosquito-avoidance measures very seriously.  Some of us have decided to take our anti-malarial prophylaxis as well, though we are all getting mixed advice on that score.  Word on the street is that there is not yet a single confirmed case of malaria contracted in Gaborone, but on the other hand none of us wants to be the first case.  I think that anti-malarials such as doxycycline are available for very little money; I am waiting for the students to report back regarding whether they can get the medicine for free at the campus health clinic.

So, it has turned out to be an interesting time to live in Gaborone and teach about malaria – next week and the following two are our unit on malaria.  The assignment for next week is to read the book “The Fever,” by Sonia Shah.  I recommend it to everyone.

The plants are very excited about the rainy season.  Everything is in bloom.  For example, here is a picture of a beautiful flowering tree just inside one of the gates at the University of Botswana.

The students are settling into their classes, including Setswana, which includes a combination of conversational Setswana and Setswana culture.  They are learning a lot, and passing some of it on to me – for example, I had no idea that when one arrives, it is one’s job to greet first.  So I had been rudely waiting for someone to greet me when I walk into a room, when instead it was my responsibility all along to ask everyone how they are doing, etc.  I am dying to know how e-mail is handled – should I start each one with a preamble inquiring into the recipient’s well-being?  If so, I have really been messing that up!   But none of the emails I receive from any Motswana have begun with such a preamble, so perhaps I am doing fine.  I have obtained a copy of a grammar written by a Peace Corps volunteer; the title of the grammar is "There is no word for grammar in Setswana."  I am glad the young people are taking Setswana and not this older person!!!

Here is an image of the New Student Centre, where the Office of International Education and Partnerships is housed.  There are ATM machines inside, the book store, and lots of other interesting places like a room full of lockers and a meditation room.  Some day there will be a food court inside, which is super duper exciting, but probably won’t happen while we are visiting.

Here is an image of the block of dormitories where many undergraduates live.  It is called “Las Vegas,” ostensibly because it is so much fancier than the older dormitories.  But one cannot help but wonder whether what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

In our biology & public health course, we have 6 local people and 1 visiting spouse of a Fulbright scholar.   Everyone worked in small groups this last week, and I was glad to see some of the U.S. students really going out of their way to work with the local people.  Their colleges should be so proud of them!  I am so grateful that 6 local women are willing to tolerate this crazy American professor.
Here is an example of a public health message at the University -- I think it is an anti-drug message rather than an anti-love message, but to my mind neither drugs nor love sound too attractive.  I wonder if there are many words for different kinds of love in Setswana.

I went shopping to the African Mall with my friends Melinda and Priscilla, where they bought beautiful traditional fabrics, called “German prints,” even though they are traditional.  Now that I know what they look like I can see women wearing them, which is apparently a sign of allegiance to traditional culture.  They are lively prints in beautiful almost jewel-tone colors of blue, purple, red, orange, green, and brown.  I would like to get an “outfit” of them made before I leave.  I would like to learn the history of these prints, to find out when they were first imported from Germany.  I wish that I could remember how to sew simple things, because then I could bring home a bunch of different examples and at least make some throw pillows or edge some table cloths.  It would be fun to have a bunch of Botswana pillows.

We leave for Johannesburg this Friday, to go to the Apartheid Museum, the Origins Centre, and tour Soweto through Lebo Backpackers.  Hard to imagine that I was part of a group that walked from Santa Fe to Las Vegas, NM to help raise awareness about apartheid, and next week I'll be in Soweto.  Shosholoza!!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sweet Adelines Tag #2

Visiting a friend, we sat inside her flat and watched monkeys playing outside.  As we were inside, and the monkeys were outside, we had the opportunity to know what it is like to be a primate in a zoo, being watched by another primate.  There was even a mother with an adventurous baby who couldn’t help but try to get as close to us as possible, despite the glass.  It was clear that my friend and I were the ones in the cage!

P.S. I swam 15 Olympic-length laps today!

Episode Nine: Nothing Fancy

Today I am finally trying to adapt to being here in a routine way, instead of treating each day as a new adventure.

I slept late and then began a day that might be similar to that of many expatriates living in Gaborone.  I walked 15 minutes to the Riverwalk Mall, which features expensive shops selling fashionable clothes, Nikes, imported art and home decorations from Zimbabwe, and a range of restaurants.  I had a very nice large cappuccino at The Equatorial Café, and was chatted up by a Muslim man in full Southeast Asian garb, who told me many stories about his family, and was certainly a genial addition to the morning.
After a couple of hours enjoying the sparkling water and the internet at the Café, I walked around the mall to see the less formal market that springs up on Saturdays.  Merchants – exclusively women – had set up stalls selling jewelry, hair ornaments, baskets, crafts, and clothing.  I have been blessed with a temporary Ghanaian roommate, who lets me know the reasonable price range for these kinds of items, and I believe I was offered every item at double the going rate, so I bought nothing even though some of the baskets and carved wooden bowls really caught my eye.  

Then I had lunch at Nando’s, which is a chain that serves chicken with various accompaniments, always including peri-peri sauce, which is sort of the Tabasco of southern Africa. 

Next, I stopped by the pharmacy to discover “tea” comprised of ground ginger root, honey, and sugar, as well as oral rehydration salts flavored “orange.”  I think both of these items are aimed at the same sort of ailments, and as I have had several students with these complaints already, I plan to let them know about the pharmacy.  Next I went to the small grocery store, Pick & Pay, where I bought 8 or 9 different sauce packets, ranging from honey mustard chicken to Durban curry.  Then I walked back home and stopped by the gym that is about 5 minutes from my house (Gym Active).  Whew, was it air-conditioned!  I wonder if they would mind if I bought a membership and sat still in a corner reading a book?  And only 5 or 6 people were in there, and they have an Olympic sized pool.  I am most interested in the pool, because treading water for an hour or so is very good for my bad knee.  I got the membership prices, then finished the short walk home, just in time for an absolute downpour.  I made it just in time!
It then proceeded to downpour regularly, for about 45 minutes to an hour, with 30 minutes between, for the rest of the day.  It is even reasonably cool, a great blessing.

I have been able to use the internet pretty much all day long at home, ever since I had wireless installed through www.lenong.net.  This access has revolutionized how comfortable I am here, and how efficacious I can be as a professor and administrator as well.  I would not recommend the Mascom “dongle” to anyone who is thinking of coming here.  (I would not recommend anything called a dongle to anyone for any purpose, let’s face it.)

I made my roomie and I spaghetti with homemade sauce I made out of ground beef, onions, garlic, canned tomatoes, a real tomato, basil, marjoram, rosemary, some vegetable bouillon, and a green pepper, and we had bread and butter on the side.  It’s too bad that she will be leaving Sunday for another trip to rural Botswana, but she will be back in a week or so for another short stay before she heads to another country to continue her graduate work.

I apologize for not posting more images of Botswana.  The problem is that I do not want to carry my camera with me most of the time, because it is reasonably heavy and also it is very intrusive to be the person snapping photos left and right.  But I will try to take some pictures this next week, I promise.

I am ripening a large Yucatan-esque avocado and saving a $0.50 lemon to make guacamole tomorrow.  

Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Episode 8: Peaceful Sleep, or DOOM!

Like me, you might be under the impression that “Peaceful Sleep” is the opposite of “DOOM!”  Not here in Botswana, you silly American Abroad!

I learned ("learnt!") this disconcerting concept when I decided a trip to the pharmacy was finally warranted for the ever-increasing red spots.  After consulting several helpful ex-pats, I learned that they probably are caused by mosquitos even though they look different from any mosquito bites I had ever had before.  The solution used by locals is insecticide, applied directly to your body or in coils or plug-in diffusers.  Much to my surprise, the two competing brands are “Peaceful Sleep” and “DOOM!”
I decided to go with DOOM! because Peaceful Sleep sounds too much like somebody besides the mosquitos just died.

Perhaps the conflation of rest and catastrophe can help provide some insight into why buildings on campus – and indeed in my University-owned housing – are numbered using some system other than actual ordering objects in a logical manner.  For example, if I leave my townhouse and turn right to walk down the road, I encounter Number 32 before I get to Numbers 21, 22, 23, and 24.  Similarly, my office is in Block 230, but it is not particularly close to anything I can find that is called “Block 229” or “Block 231.”  Perhaps these are over near 472 or 17.   If 472 and 17 exist at all.   Perhaps they are having a peaceful sleep, or have encountered doom.

This confusion is compounded by an almost total lack of street signs, and one other curiosity, which I like to think of as map avoidance.  As someone with absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever, I do have some sympathy for this position.  Nevertheless, I would gladly pay an extra month’s rent for a good map of Gaborone or even just the University campus.  One of my new Fulbright friends says that there is no word for “map” in Setswana.  I do not know if that is true, but I do know that my Batswana hosts look very dismayed when I ask for a map.   They have incredible spatial reasoning and memory, navigating from landmarks, and also no worries at all about finding a destination despite not knowing exactly where it is.  One can always ask for help, or just walk a little further down the road to look to see if there is a locked gate preventing that way, or a landmark visible that other way.  I think they are very tired of being asked for maps.  But I also think that a cartographer could make a killing selling a really good map of Gaborone or even just the University.  Perhaps the government doesn’t want any good maps of Gabz or the University out there, as some kind of security measure:  DOOM! to anyone who dares to survey and sketch?

Peaceful sleep (though not the permanent kind) to you, my friends!