A view of Mochudi, a suburb of Gaborone

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

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!