Friday, November 26, 2010

Kindergarten baby, stick your head in chakalaka

The classic Setswana taunt, naturally.

(The sign I helped re-make in the main hallway/auditorium/lobby.)

This week was the last week of school at the orphanage where I work. Monday and Tuesday were the final days to practice for the kindergarten graduation, and then Wednesday was the big day.

(The courtyard of the kindergarten.)

I got to school a little before nine and the cooking had already begun. All of the teachers helped prepare traditional Setswana foods for the parents' celebration lunch. I peeled and chopped potatoes, finely sliced cabbage, cut carrots in match sticks, chopped chilis, and cleaned. We made two kinds of rice, mashed pumpkin, potato salad, chicken, and chakalaka From Scratch (ingredients are onion, cabbage, carrots, beans, green bell peppers, green chilis, and some kind of Indian tandoori paste or something).

(The kindergarten teacher chops potatoes.)

(Raw chicken in a garbage bag. Awesome.)

(The four-year-olds' teacher cooks the chicken.)


The Christmas pageant started at 10:30, which was arranged to occur at 11:30 just for the day. About 20 mothers and aunts came to see the show; I think there was one or two dads. Our kids sang "Must be Santa" with sign language taught to them by L. I was actually really impressed they got the hang of it so well over the past few weeks since I still can't do it. Then our kids went to change into their graduation gowns, while the babies and 3- and 4-year-olds sang some Christmas songs and did a little nativity play.

It was completely incomprehensible (garbled English in baby voices), but super cute.

(Only two kings could make it on such short notice.)

(Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.)


The kindergarteners were really cute, too. The girls had their hair done and several of the boys were wearing little suits.

Each kindergartener received a special certificate of school readiness from the teacher and a gift bag from L and the school. Inside the bag was a book, colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, a cute ladybug pencil, a plastic cup and saucer set, a lollypop, and a page with photographs of that child throughout the year.


Time for a dance party!

They ended up not doing the catwalk but just having some of the kids dance. The mothers LOVED it.


So that's the end of the school year and now I won't see the kids again until January, when we start with a new class. In the meantime, I'm going to be cleaning and sorting books and other toys to get ready for the new year!

It's one of my goals to help my teacher make better use of the resources she has in her classroom--there are a Lot of unused toys and arts materials hiding in boxes or tucked away. I have also made it a goal to help my teacher incorporate more reading into the lesson plan--I try to read a book to the kids every day, and I also want to make the book corner into a really comfortable and inviting station for when we do stations.

There is also a small preschool-wide library that is basically completely unused and a total waste, imho. I am going to see what I can do to sort through the books in there (I found a pamphlet on unsafe abortions hiding in that mess), fix it up and make it into something that would actually be used by the teachers.

The mature adult I married

...once again requested a train cake for his birthday.


I know I owe you photos of our wedding party, but since none of those are on my camera, they'll have to wait a bit. In the meantime, here's how we celebrated A's birthday.

On Sunday, we had brunch with our lovely and amazing friends at the No. 1 Ladies Opera House Cafe (a difficult-to-understand spin-off of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency franchise). It has a theater where there are sometimes shows, as well as a restaurant and outdoor cafe.

(Doesn't it look awesome?)

We had a delicious brunch under the trees, which included a sideboard of various cheeses, great scones with raspberry and apricot jam, soft pretzels (?!), carrot and banana cakes, rolls, and unlimited mimosas, followed by eggs to order with toast, plus decent coffee.

It's unabashedly an expat/tourist spot, and the prices reflect that. But for all that, the sun was shining, a breeze was blowing, the food was great.

We were in heaven for a few hours.

Then came chocolate cake with sprinkles, a birthday surprise from a friend. It was delicious even though we were all stuffed by then.


In the afternoon, A and I tried to swim in our apartment pool but it was green and murky and we got scared.


If you can believe it, that night we went to another friend's birthday dinner, where there were two more cakes!


And Monday was train cake, Botswana-style. Since we don't have loaf pans, I made smaller train cars in a jumbo muffin pan using this chocolate cake recipe and then buttercream frosting from scratch (in the food processor--yet another use for this awesome wedding gift!). I bought some gum drops, dinosaur gummies, oreo wafers, rolos and more to decorate. There was a car for coal (oreos), one for milk bottles (gummies shaped like milk bottles), and one for dinosaurs. (You laugh, but how else would you recommend transporting dinosaurs, hmm?)


Last night was Thanksgiving and we had a UPenn expat potluck with about 15 people. Our apartment provided mashed potatoes with caramelized onions, stuffing (I was amazed by how good this was considering I completely made up the recipe), Martha Stewart's macaroni and cheese, and pumpkin pie. There was also a Turkey, with regular and vegetarian gravy, homemade rolls, broccoli casserole, two types of spinach, twice-baked potatoes, chakalaka, apple crisp, and ice cream, and probably more. It was quite a feast.

I did start to feel kind of homesick though, since Thanksgiving is such a big holiday in our family. So I missed hanging out in my pajamas all day, various relatives coming in and out, football on the television in the background (though we did manage to stream the Patriots-Lions game on A's computer), running to the grocery store for last minute butter or eggs, and slowly assembling a table full of food, only to get full in about two minutes and then spend the rest of the night moaning about it and playing board games by the fire.

Also when it's hot it's not as fun to be cozy.

So I will say that when I heard our entire family Thanksgiving this year was vegan--even the pumpkin pie!--I was a little gratified. I mean, who cares about missing vegan Thanksgiving?

I'll wait until next year, when everyone is back to eating normally.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

That wedding I mentioned before...

Well, it was ours. For a variety of legal, technical, and yet deeply romantic reasons (read: my visa status), A and I decided to get legally married last week--though we'll still have our Jewish, real, and deeply romantic wedding next fall.

And yes, you do have to get us two gifts.


So, what does an American wedding in Botswana look like? Well, lucky for you I am devoted to blogging that very information.

(If I could, I'd do it all over again, but this time I'd stand up straighter.)

First, about a month ago, we went to the American Embassy--the most high-security place in Botswana. After being essentially strip-searched, A and I were rewarded by being allowed to pay $100 for a signed affidavit saying neither of us had ever been married before. We then headed over to the Botswana marriage registry, where it costs $6 to get married. (So make that $106 if you're American--we always pay the white people price, sigh.)

Our names were posted publicly for three weeks (called "posting the banns") and anyone who wanted to object to our marriage was allowed to do so. Luckily, nobody did, although I did see some posted objections to other marriages!

Then we came back, again with witnesses, to sign the marriage registry and finally, last Thursday was the big day.

(A thinks if his eyes are closed nobody can see him.)

The bride wore a lovely traditional German print skirt and white top with tan sandals, much to the delight of the Batswana in the room. The groom wore a coordinating blue shirt and his navy pants, which are the nice ones, for the occasion. Our witnesses also looked resplendent.

Our courtroom wedding took place along with 8 other couples, much like a cult except that we were allowed to choose which person in the room we wanted to marry.

(I almost picked this other dude, but The Leader thought it would be best if I married A.)

We were the only suckers stupid enough to show up at the requested time of 7:30 a.m. Other couples started strolling in around 8 and the ceremony got started at 9. Our official photographer also documented this cute little girl.

(Good job, photographer.)

And me reapplying my lipstick.

(I was a total bridezilla, obvi.)

Since we got there first, we got married first. But before we could get married, the district commissioner had to give us a lecture about the responsibility of marriage. We'd been warned about this and had expected it to be quite funny, but actually it was pretty tame. She told that the pillars of marriage were love, respect, and trust, and not to hide text messages from each other or we wouldn't be able to trust one another. All good advice. She lectured in Setswana and then in English.

After that, A and I stood up. We requested to say our vows in English, which was allowed. The D.C. made everyone applaud me for looking pretty. Then we said our vows.

Or at least, we thought we were saying our vows. We were actually vowing that we'd never been married before, were over the age of 21, and mentally healthy enough to know what we were doing. But A still looked deeply into my eyes while saying it.

Then our witnesses vowed the same.

And then we got to exchange rings. We used my engagement ring and a cheap $5 ring we bought at the mall for A--that way our real wedding rings will be special.

The D.C.: "Although you are under no legal obligation, if you so choose, you may now kiss the bride." We kissed, blurrily.

The room was filled with applause and ululating, most of it from people who had come to support their own friends and family but pretended to be equally excited about our marriage. I felt a swell of emotion, and then we moved on to the next couple. And the next couple, and the next. After five couples, they dismissed the first half of us.


Outside in the parking lot, we started to relax, hugging friends, drinking a sparkling grape juice toast, and checking out the "Just Married" sign, written in soap on our car by the roommates. I was enjoying myself so much that I hardly noticed when my purse was bumped as a man walked by. By the time I had confirmed that my cell phone was gone, the guy was nowhere in sight.

A says he thinks of this, my first pickpocketing experience in Botswana or anywhere, as "something borrowed."


Coming up next...the party!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


(My enormous floppy hat protects me and my enormous nostrils from the vicious sun.)

This is embarrassing for you. You are so far behind on what's happening here in Gabs. You think we're sitting around in our living room trying to kill toaster-sized grasshoppers. Couldn't be further from the truth. We've moved on to bigger and better critters. Like since then I've discovered our oven is full of dozens of daddy long-legs (now dead--baking pumpkin muffins is my preferred form of critter extermination).

Also, other important things happened in the last week, like we met President Ian Khama, went through a 10-hour blackout, experienced another wedding, etc.

I haven't uploaded all my photos from this week yet, so it might take a while to catch you up. But let's start with last Friday's concert. It took place at the military base here in Gabs, and came highly recommended by A's coworker. I drove the gang there in our new gray '98 Toyota Corolla--not great for safaris, but perfectly serviceable for concerts.

(The stage. The auditorium reminded all of us of a college auditorium.)

First we waited around for a while for President Khama to arrive (okay fine, so we didn't meet him but he was really close by) and then the show began with the presentation of enormous checks to worthy charities. I was surprised when the orphanage where I work was one of the recipients of a giant check, and when the women next to me heard that I worked there, they began taking my picture as well.

(Blurry, but you can see how big the check was!)

After that excitement, the concert got started with a performance by the atrocious military marching band. They were seriously awful, like junior high school students who haven't practiced. I guess it's because Botswana is such a peaceful country.

This was followed by a series of much better performances, though, from a diverse group of singers, instrumentalists, and dancers. There was marimba, acoustic guitar, big band-type jazz, traditional dancing, tap dancing, drumming, etc. Each performance was very short, and quickly followed by the next so we never got bored. There was also a lot of physical comedy that all seemed based on the fact that poor, somewhat demented old men beating each other up is funny. (Developmentally speaking, Batswana comedy is about 50 years behind American comedy.)

At one point, I asked the woman next to me (who was half-way out of her seat singing and dancing along), to translate what was happening. She attempted to do so, explaining "It is entertaining in a humorous way."

(Traditional dancers. They were awesome.)

We took off about three and a half hours after the concert started--with probably another hour left to go.


On Tuesday, we experienced our first real blackout. It lasted all afternoon and evening--almost 10 hours--and then the electricity went out again overnight. We tried to take advantage of the situation by getting some beers, lighting some candles, and taking the night off from TV and internet.

While the roommates went to a bar to buy beer, I stayed home in our dark apartment and used my friend's iPhone to email my boss that I wouldn't be able to work that night. I opened my inbox and discovered a very unexpected email from a different editor, telling me that I was finally getting a little promotion after three years of working for them. I'd been waiting for that email for a long time, and it was too weird to get it in a blackout on an iPhone in Gaborone.

When my roommates got back, we had a toast, and watched a very cool storm roll in.


The preschoolers continue to practice their catwalk-style modeling daily. Apparently, it will be part of the Christmas pageant next week. Only the 4-year-olds best able to imitate the sexy swagger of an adult will be chosen to participate.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I've been warned.

I've been warned about not posting any more gross-out photos of bugs on this site. So I thought I would just post a photo of a toaster, so you can think about how big a toaster is, for the sake of scale.

I literally thought a bat had flown into our apartment last night. That's how big this bug was.

We were just settling in to watch a little Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist after dinner, and I went to fill my water bottle (I've become one of those disgusting people who never stops sucking on their water bottle, like a baby with a pacifier). That's when I saw something huge and black fly in the kitchen window (it's stuck open), ram itself against a ceiling lamp, and fall onto the counter.

"It's a bat!" I screamed.

"No, it's not," said my roommate S. "It's a grasshopper."

Oh good, I thought.

But no! Not good! We tried to chase it out but man, this thing was fierce and practically the size of a toaster (see above). Using S's squash racket, a pot, and the bathroom trash can, we managed to scare it into hiding under the refrigerator. Still shaking, S, A, and I settled down to watch the movie.

An hour and a half later, literally as the credits rolled, our little friend poked his head out from under the fridge. We were off again! Thirty minutes of squealing, yelling "you try to hit it with the squash racket!" and "ew don't use my shoes!", and hiding in the bedroom later, and P came home.

And he killed it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A photo is worth a thousand words but I'm going to add some words on anyway.

1) The lizard that lived in the window of the upstairs bathroom of the lovely, comfortable home of L and M, whom we had the good fortune to house-sit for last month. Hello, lizard!

2a) Can I make challah in Botswana?

2b) I can make challah in Botswana! (Actually, I also found it in the grocery store, labeled as kitka bread. Any ideas what "kitka" means?)

3) The Cool Time guava icee I bought at a soccer game. It looked sooo nice and cold but it stuck to my teeth and was rather gross.

4) For a country this hot, there is just no excuse for the crappy quality of the ice cream. Here, A eats some Milky Lane, which was OK. I would kill something small and defenseless for Pinkberry.

5) I found this book in the bookstore at Riverwalk and thought it was really funny. Templates for "challenging communications" like condolences when someone dies, firing someone, etc.