Sunday, October 31, 2010

In which we experience some culture for once.

Yesterday, we went to a wedding in Pitseng, a village of about 1,000, about a one-and-a-half hour drive from Gabs. Our lovely Setswana teacher took us, as she has worked in the village there for several years, bringing groups of students from Ohio to experience cultural immersion in Pitseng. She is a friend of the bride and groom. Pitseng is a lot more rural than Gabs--no running water, and the kids immediately started staring at us weirdo white people.

(I attempt to win children over by photographing them.)

We definitely stuck out, which is a pretty unusual experience for us in Botswana. We do look pretty weird, I guess.

Anyway, over the course of five or six hours, we got a glimpse of what a wedding reception in Botswana is like--the bride and groom sit at a head table, with ceremonial bowls of various dried foods.

(The bride and groom bow their heads in prayer.)

Relatives and friends crowd around at long banquet tables.

(Please note the baby in the bottom right-hand corner. There were some seriously cute babies at this party.)

The reception was in a big (hot) tent. A and I inquired and it would actually be less expensive to get them to do the tent for our wedding than the tent company in Philly.

Everyone related to the happy couple is introduced by the emcee--even us! We tried to smile and look nonthreatening. When we were introduced to them, our Setswana teacher told us to say "Re itumetse," which means "We are happy/Congratulations." I got nervous and accidentally said "Ke itumetse," which means "Thank you!"

Someone gives a sermon--apparently about how you shouldn't beat your wife because a wife is a good thing to have--and reads from the bible. Various women perform religious songs. The groomsmen and bridesmaids do some impressive choreographed dances in the heat.

(They did the same dance over and over. It was like 100 degrees with no shade. The groomsmen were too cool for school with sunglasses, etc.)

There are many chickens nearby.

(I took a lot more pictures of chickens than people. There are fewer concerns of making a cultural faux pas.)

The food was quite good. One thing that's convenient for us pseudo-vegetarians is that none of the non-meat items are cooked with meat fat or flavoring. In fact, they're not flavored at all. Batswana seem to really enjoy bland food, except for the popularity of Nando's and Indian food. Most people also had huuuuge piles of shredded goat meat on their plates, but I know how to say "Ga ke je nama."

(From top, clockwise: rice, chakalaka (curried veg), samp (corn), potato salad (?!), mashed sweet potatoes, grated beets.)

Unfortunately, the bride didn't look very...happy. I don't know if that's a cultural thing, or if she just wasn't that excited. She was also at least in her late 30s. It's very common here for people to have children together before they get married, and also to have children with multiple people.

It's also possible she wasn't happy because she had to change outfits like three times and it was really hot outside.


On the way home, we stopped in Kanye to get a drink. Turned out a drink meant a beer--for our driver. We didn't realize that till we were almost home, though. I guess I wouldn't sniff at someone drinking one beer and then driving, but drinking one beer while driving seems like a bad joke.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Last night around 4:30 a.m. a huge thunderclap woke A and I. It was right over our heads and actually kind of terrifying. The storm lasted for about half an hour with no rain (we are waiting for the first big rainstorm because then you're not supposed to drink the water for a few days). Every time we thought it had moved away, the room lit up with lightning again. The thunder sounded like those big metal sheets they use to make thunder in productions of The Tempest. (n.b.: Shira's best comparison for actual thunder is manufactured thunder, specifically an image derived from Wishbone. Discuss in comments section.)

Eventually, A got himself out of bed.

"The end of the Phillies game is probably on right now."


We watched the new Wall Street movie last night at one of the two movie theaters here. It was sort of weird to watch a movie set in the financial world of New York City in a shopping mall in Gaborone, and it actually made me miss Manhattan, which I don't think was the point, really.

I assume now that Batwana audiences think all Americans drive motorcycles, attend galas at the Met, and can afford half-million dollar diamond rings, but actually those events at the Met are pretty hard to get into.


Four new mosquito bites, all on my face.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Five weird things.

My combi driver last week--I was alone on the combi--asked to be my friend.

"Sure!" I said.

"What's your phone number?"

"I don't have a phone yet," I lied.

"I want to be more than your friend. I want to be your best friend, your boyfriend."

"Oh. [Sigh.] I'm married."

"You don't want a Botswana boyfriend?"

"No." Pause. Start to feel bad + need to get where I'm going. "But...thanks."

Having determined he was not going to get what he wanted, he made me get off his combi and get on another one.


My combi driver on Monday had a miniature Barbie doll hanging by the neck from his rearview mirror.


On Monday, I came into work and found that the teacher had decided to play hip-hop music and have the 3, 4, and 5 year-olds walk sexily down the "catwalk" one at a time in front of the rest of the class.


My Australian coworker tried to tell my Motswana coworker about the gay college student who killed himself.

"So he was having sex with another man..."


"Wait, that's not the bad part."


At this past Saturday's soccer game, the Mochudi Chiefs played the Township Rollers, aka Palastina. A Palastina fan was carrying a sign that said "We are not Jews. We are not Mochudi tribe." Pretty mild, except it kinda implies that Mochudi sucks cause they're dirty Jews.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Please, sir.

This is porridge.

In a darkly ironic way, it's amusing that the orphans at the preschool where I work have porridge for breakfast. It's not so bad-looking when it's hot and smooth, but by the time the last kid is served, it takes on an unappetizing lumpiness that evokes disapproving clucks even from the teachers who have been watching kids choke it down for years.

Ideally, porridge is served with whole milk splashed on top, but the past few times we ate it, the kitchen was out of milk.

The kitchen runs out of food a lot, even things the kids eat every day like bread and milk. I can't tell whether this is an issue of not having enough money for those items or simply being disorganized. I also get the impression that various people tend to use the preschool kitchen as their personal milk and bread store, including the people (from the village?) who keep trying to break into the pantry.

There also aren't enough spoons for every child. The lack of spoons becomes an issue every other day, when porridge is served and the last ten or so children have to wait for the first ten or so children to finish their porridge so they can use the spoons.


I mention the issue with spoons because it leads me into my current research focus--Why America Is Better Than Everywhere Else.

A and I have been violently loyal soccer fans ever since we went to the last game at the University of Botswana between the Miscellaneous and the Gunners. This weekend, two important teams (based on us having heard about them)--the Mochudi Chiefs and the Township Rollers (aka Palastina, the one A has a jersey for)--are playing.

With our privileged American perspective, we assumed that there would be some sort of internet homepage, where information about when the teams are going to be playing would be listed in advance of the game. Extensive research has revealed that not only does such a website not exist, but nobody even knows Where (as in, in what city) the next game will be played. All week long, we were told it was in Lobatse. Yesterday, I happened to run into the guy giving us a ride to the game and he told me actually it was here, at UB again.


Both of these problems could clearly be fixed in about ten minutes or less. Lack of spoons? Buy some spoons. Lack of information about soccer games? Make a website. Lack of maps for where the combis go? Sit down and make one. Lack of straightforward information about how to obtain a visa extension? I'm going to go cry in the corner now.

And yet, naturally, nobody ever fixes any of the problems. I'm not saying we do things perfectly in the U.S. Obviously, I'm being facetious when I say America is better than everywhere else. But at least we use the internet for things.

I know, I know, I'm supposed to embrace the slow pace of life and stop trying to be so efficient and just be or something. But I just get so aggravated! I'm gonna go make brownies.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Africa is dangerous.

A and I had a quiet weekend this weekend. We just realized that the only places we went to were malls. On Friday night we went to Riverwalk Mall to celebrate a friend's birthday at Spur. Spur is to American Indians what Outback Steakhouse is to Australians. Only I think Spur actually makes less of an effort to be authentic. I had "enchiladas" with "sour cream" and "guacamole." And rice.

At one point the waitstaff brought over a dish of ice cream with a sparkler stuck in it and sang a birthday song.

On Saturday, we went to Game City mall. Game City is the equivalent of any mall in the U.S. and as a result, not that fun to visit. It's expensive! I found a ridiculous light-green safari hat I wanted, but it cost $20 and in the time I took to think about it, the store closed. Oh well.

Also, I think someone tried to pick-pocket me in Game, the grocery store. But the attempt was pretty half-hearted.


The spices here have names like "chicken spice" and "beef spice." Are they for flavoring chicken or chicken-flavored?


On Saturday night, we socialized with A's external hard-drive and watched four episodes of Veronica Mars in a row. Show's kind of jumped the shark in season two, but more importantly, should comfort food television be this creepy?


Africa really is terrifically dangerous, but not for the reasons you might think.

Africa is dangerous because of these!

Thorns! Aren't they terrifying?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More like bureaucrazy.

(flowers at Planet Baobab)

I don't want to get into all the bureaucratic trouble I'm having staying in the country on the hilariously unlikely chance that someone who would care is reading this. Actually, that is such a ridiculous notion that maybe I'll just tell you but first, a quick story.

I met a Motswana woman in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today (where I was sent after the Immigration, Labour, and Passport divisions managed to get rid of me) who told me she had gone to university in the United States. (By the way, my first impression of her was that her English was perfect and she reminded me a lot of my friend Deb, who also speaks perfect English.)

I asked her where she had studied, and she said, "Connecticut."

Me: "Where in Connecticut?"

Her: "New Haven."

Me: ""

Her: "Yeah, Yale."

I was so confused about why she wouldn't just say "Yale." I know there is this phenomenon of people saying oh I went to school "outside Boston" when they went to Harvard, so they don't have to "drop the H-bomb." But why on earth did this woman find it necessary to be coy when we were standing in her office in Gaborone, Botswana? I'm so tickled by it. Of course, I forgot to ask her what year she graduated so we could play "Do you know...?" Do any of my friends who went to Yale know a Motswana lady?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I mostly survived.

(The sun here will eat your face off.)

Thanks for all your concern over whether I was eaten by lions or not. I am alive. It's taken me a while to post because I've been sick since I got back. Anyway, I hope the suspense gave you some insight into the anxious mind.

So, our trip to the pans was many things--awesome, boundary-expanding, educational--but primarily, uncomfortable. You aren't allowed to hike in the national parks because you might get eaten or trampled, so we were basically in a Land Rover for four days straight. Temperatures reached about 100 degrees during the afternoon, and the only way to cool the car was rolling down the windows, which let the dust in. In between, we slept on the ground. Also, the last two days of the trip, I had a bad headcold and my throat was killing me. It was primal.

So back to Thursday. We left Gabs around 9 am and headed north on the A1 highway, which runs from Gaborone to Francistown, another major city. The first site we passed was the Tropic of Capricorn. It means we're closer to the equator than you:

It's good we saw one sight early on because that was pretty much the only thing we saw for the next Nine Hours. The scenery basically did not change the entire day, except for a quick stop at the nicest gas station bathroom I've ever seen and a stop for peanut butter sandwiches in the parking lot of a grocery store in Francistown.

We did discover that the sunsets in the region are unreal. The sun was unbelievably round and huge.

When we finally got to Planet Baobab, our digs for the night, we were all extremely relieved to get out of the car. Planet Baobab is this bizarre, hip campground and lodge in the middle of nowhere. They had a great restaurant, bar, and a huge swimming pool.

Baobab trees are these weird Dr. Seuss creations that look like they are growing upside-down, with huge trunks and weenie little branches. According to Joe, our driver, guide, and source of all wisdom, the local legend is that God was really pissed and threw some trees down upside-down, which I guess makes sense.

They're also big!

As we ate a lovely breakfast of oatmeal, canned peaches, and tea, we kept one eye on the giant ants crawling over our campsite. Joe explained they were "meat-eating ants," which I assumed meant they should be avioided. After breakfast, we drove to the Nxai Pan National Park.

Once we got to Nxai Pan it quickly became clear that this was the real outdoors. This is what a salt pan looks like.

It's basically a big flat, white expanse of nothingness. It's also salty.

We dropped off our trailer on the edge of a pan at our campsite, and headed over to the waterhole to track some animals. On our first drive, we saw lots of kinds of antelope (kudu, springbok, steenbok, impala, oryx), elephants, jackals, ostriches, and lots of kinds of birds. We drove around looking for lions for a couple of hours, with no success.

That night, we camped in an isolated spot. It was pitch black. For the first time on the trip, I started to feel nervous. It didn't help that our guide kept saying things like "Sleeping in Nxai Pan with the lions...what a rush" and "When you enter the National Park, you become part of the food chain." He warned us that lions or hyenas might enter our camp at night, and not to wander even a few feet away from camp on your own without a flashlight. He did Not warn us about scorpions, so when I found a big black scorpion as we were setting up tents, I was taken by surprise. We shooed it out of camp, and that was when I decided that maybe if I took my wise mother and aunt's advice and took a Klonopin, I could enjoy the gorgeous stars and dinner cooked over an open fire a bit more.

It was the right decision.

In the middle of the night, I heard something pawing around the flap of our tent. Appropriately, I flipped out, but after a few minutes, it scampered off. In the morning, I asked Joe about it and he said it was probably a mongoose.

I wasn't warned about mongooses!

I thought that was pretty lame because since I had already survived it, it might as well have been a lion.

We watched the sunrise as we drove toward the water hole for an early morning animal viewing. This time, we did see a huge male lion in the distance. He sat near the water hole and a few antelope kept lookout nearby. As soon as the lion got up and walked away, tons of animals came to the water hole, including antelope and zebras.

As we drove out of the Nxai Pan toward our next stop, Khama Rhino Sanctuary, we stopped suddenly. On the side of the road, outside the park, was a giraffe.

Definitely my favorite animal of the trip. Very weird. We spent the rest of Saturday driving to Khama, which took about six and a half hours. At Khama, we were back in a populated camping ground. I was in charge of dinner that night and I made rice and (unintentionally) smoky beans and chakalaka, this weird curry tomato sauce that comes in a can (I made it by opening the can). Sunday we did a rhino drive, saw four rhinos way in the distance, another giraffe (I'll spare you the photos), a bunch more antelope, ostriches, and birds, and then headed home to Gabs.


This is embarrassing.

I still think animals are boring.

Driving around, stopping to look at every steenbok and yellow-beaked hornbill, this does not get my pulse racing. The giraffes were cool, but we looked at giraffes for like all of 20 minutes of the entire trip. We spent most of our time looking at grass or the sun or a rhino that was so far away you could barely see it with binoculars. I got really, really bored.

I actually enjoyed the camping elements a lot more than I expected--cooking on the fire, looking at the stars, waking up early while it was cool and beautiful out. But looking at animals seemed somehow manufactured. There was always this barrier of the car between us and animals, which on some level made it feel like we were watching a program on television. It may have been The Wild, but it didn't feel like it. It felt like an organized, on-road, human-arranged viewing of animals placed there for that purpose.

It's sort of disheartening because I had this suspicion that safari, which is the main thing people do for vacation in Botswana, was not my thing, and it turns out safari is not my thing.

On the plus side, this trip was fun in other ways, and it got me excited for taking more trips in the region and seeing other parts of the country.


Also, I look great in a Land Rover.