A view of Mochudi, a suburb of Gaborone

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

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!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Episode 7: Too tired for a catchy title

January 5, 2011

Kudos to the superb staff at the University of Botswana Office of International Education and Programs for meeting, greeting, welcoming, and shuttling over 50 international students today, and for extraordinary improvisation under stressful circumstances! All 23 of “my” students in the ACM program are here.  They have all had pizza.  They have a flat place with mattress to sleep.  They have met Cha and David, two local undergraduates who will help them for the next two weeks.  And every single one was in good humor despite plenty of opportunities to be grumpy.  Some of them have most of their luggage; others have a sheet to sleep on for the night and are trusting in luggage delivery tomorrow (I do believe it will work out just fine).  Every single one of them was a gentleman or lady, despite difficult circumstances, for example they distributed the few bed sheets there were first and foremost to the ones who had the least luggage!  I’m so proud to get to be their faculty director.

Orientation begins tomorrow at 9, but they will be taken to a cafeteria for breakfast in the morning.  Then on we go! Classes to begin the 10th.

I hope that I will get to have time to get a little orientation for me in tomorrow….perhaps a meeting with Dr. Sabone, my Head of Department in the Faculty of Nursing (nursing! How exciting!).  

Today I was told that I should be a stand-up comic.  I told them, what do you think I am already, I teach five hours/day back home, to the same students!  So I’m sorry that this post is not so funny – I’m just exhausted but wanted any friends & family of the ACM crowd to know that we are all here.

Here is my first safari photo, lions or perhaps cheetahs but certainly not vultures or hyenas at a feed….

And here is the nicest room in my “flat,” which is actually a townhouse.  The rest is much much plainer, but they do go in for plush, comfy living room furniture!  Very nice.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Episode Six: The luggage, the ditch, and the wardrobes.

January 2, 2011

     Never fear, the luggage arrived before I did.  As it flew by itself and did not have a means to pay, it apparently arrived for free – I would have had to pay upwards of $200 for the kilos above 30, had it traveled with me.  Parting (with one’s luggage temporarily) is such sweet sorrow (apologies to poets everywhere).  So sorry that it caused Amanda so much grief!

     Caveat flyer:  pack extra underwear, something to sleep in, and a change of clothes in your carry-on.  It is rare for all luggage to arrive in Gaborone at the same time as the particular passengers who were originally associated with that specific luggage.  You are very likely to arrive with someone’s checked luggage, just not necessarily your own.  That will arrive on some other flight, perhaps sooner than you, perhaps later.  Thus it all works out in the end, just like a Mma Ramotswe story.   Just have your own “end” covered with some extra clothes in your carry-on!  Your carry-ons must not weigh too much, so you might have to unpack them and carry multiple lighter bags rather than two heavy ones.  This calculus confuses me but it works for South Africa Air Express.   Best to say Thank You and not ask too many questions.

     Today I learned that it might or might not be the rainy season.  It rained all of last night, accompanied by a cozy chorus of crickets.  It isn’t that hot, but holy cow is it humid.  It rained much of this morning as well, but is not raining now that it is evening.

     I also learned how to install a cell phone’s sim card, activate it, and text the United States (dial 001, not just 1, for the country code).  I found out that “follow the road straight” in Botswana does not mean “go straight,” it means follow the road especially if it curves dramatically and nevermind if the hand-drawn map shows the road being straight.  Also, key landmarks such as “the clinic” are readily apparent if you have Setswana eyes, but alas not so obvious with my U.S. American ones.  Nevertheless, the important thing is to keep strolling, not too far, not very fast, only ten minutes in the end, and you will indeed arrive at your destination, in this case the touristy Riverwalk mall.  Ditches in Botswana are shallow or entirely lacking, and there are safe paths to walk along the side of the road, sort of like sidewalks but without the bother of cement.  And even if it rains, buy the groceries you need because chances are a taxi driver will be happy to give a ride for P20 ($3.50).   Wait staff are ever-ready with the phone numbers of taxi drivers.  And in case any of you worried that I might miss out on seeing Tron as I also missed out in the 80’s, never you fear, it’s playing every night this week.  (A sign of the film’s greatness?)

     Almost everything has been unpacked and stowed in one of my capacious wardrobes (closets).  The Batswana must value closet space, as the townhouse cannot be characterized as full of anything, except that it is full of otherwise empty closets.  The kitchen is not really organized yet, but I guess another day should put that in order, too.  Still no internet at home, and it may or may not be a city holiday or a federal holiday through the 4th or possibly the 5th, so it may take a few more days for the Mascom store to be open so that someone can show me how to use the mysterious USB modem.  I’ve got the software installed, but I think that I have to pay some money to get the network activated.  I can’t wait to activate it so that I can “chat” with home in the evenings, when it is still morning or early afternoon in the U.S..  I did call home for exactly 38 seconds, and home called me for 1 minute 42 seconds, but I have not figured out how to tell how much of the P60 phone credits that actually cost.  I guess if I stop being able to use the phone, I’ll know that it cost too much.  I think texts are very cheap, so text me if you dare!  Amanda has the number.  As soon as I have a chance to go to the Equatorial Café to use the wireless and upload this blog, I will also send the number to all of the ACM-Botswana students, so that they will know how to contact me during their travels.


Sweet Adelines Tag #1

January 1, 2011

   For those readers who do not sing Barbershop, a “tag” is a musical bit added to the end of a song, for the purpose of both prolonging and heightening the emotional content of the performance.   We also use tags to eke out several more opportunities to show off vocal skills.

   These Blog Tags are for the Velvet Hills Show Chorus, though I hope that you will all find them amusing.

   Ladies!  As I sat in the airport hotel in Johannesburg, eating dinner while pondering the missing luggage, what song should come over the audio but “When You Wish Upon a Star.”  It was New Year’s Eve, I was in Africa, I was eating chicken &  butternut squash pasta and sipping a South African white.  To think how I started out in a little town in Nebraska, the weird kid who liked to read & sing …. and look where I ended up!  This year Rome and Botswana, next year Beijing and (fingers crossed) France….and of course Houston.

   And now we have the photos of the adventurous PIB.  Here she is will all the luggage.

   But she had to slim down quite a bit in order to fit in "economy stowage," so here she is ready to travel.  She did so well!  Must have been all that jumping around on the risers.

   Never fear, she has managed to regain her original beauty perfectly and is on the dining room table, resting!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Episode five: in which my luggage and I have independent adventures

Greetings and Happy New Year from Johannesburg, South Africa!

After quite a few conversations with Delta as well as conversations between them and the ACM, I was allowed to board the flight to Atlanta, and the flight to Johannesburg, as well.  Hip-hip-hooray!  Now that I am in South Africa, no one cares a whit that I do not have a visa to stay in Botswana longer than 90 days, but Delta was certainly concerned.  I hope that next year’s Director has a visa ahead of time, to satisfy U.S. American procedures.   And thanks to the red-jacketed Delta representative who ultimately decided that “should have a visa” is different from “MUST have a visa” and let me leave Colorado. Thank goodness the computer screen said "should."

To add pula (blessings), I flew the entire 16 hours in a 3-seat row all by myself.  I must have slept at least 10 hours.  A father with very good humor boarded the plane with his partner and their young infant; to a round of applause he passed our earplugs to everyone seated nearby.  Now that’s class. There were actually two families with young infants on the flight, and at customs, the South Africans insisted that the mothers with babies skip to the very front of the line.  Again, how classy!

The airport in Joburg was lovely, with hardly any other flights in evidence.  It was just me, the two young couples with infants, and the retirees, all on their dream safari vacations. Everything went perfectly except that my checked luggage did not arrive with me.  The South African Delta sales representative was very impressed with the fact that the luggage contained all of my travel destinations, dates, and contact numbers and was also labeled properly with my jaunty red luggage tags.  My bright orange luggage is rather striking, so I really could tell that it did not arrive.  One of the nicest Delta employees teased me quite a bit, saying that I really should be more careful to have easily-identified luggage.  And even though I was the very last DL200 passenger to leave the baggage area, Mr. Tia from the hotel had waited all that time and took me directly to the hotel.

Amanda stayed up all night New Year’s Eve and was ultimately able to ascertain that Delta believes that my luggage will arrive in Gaborone before I will, this morning at 10:30.  It is already almost noon, so perhaps my luggage is already enjoying Setswana hospitality.  Thank you Amanda.  I promise I'll make it up to you!

The South African landscape visible as the flight lands is stunning – it looks like paradise. 

Many pula to all of you for this new year.