Saturday, April 30, 2011

8.5 hours left in Botswana


Yesterday we spent packing, saying goodbyes, going on a combi ride to nowhere so A could experience the thrill that is combi riding, and trying to soak in whatever was left to be soaked in.

The goodbyes were no fun. It's hard to say goodbye to people you think you may never see again.

Today it feels like we've been here no time at all.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Workers unite!

(Tiny photo via Mmegi)

If you don't read the Mmegi, you might not know there's a massive strike on right now in Botswana. CNN finally picked up the story--90,000 out of 103,000 possible strikers are refusing to go to their jobs at border posts, schools, and hospitals (those numbers may be a lot higher). They're requesting a pay raise, which the government hasn't given them in three years.

Some union members have decided not to strike because they can't afford to lose two weeks salary and potentially lose their jobs. Some medical professionals are also not striking because they feel a duty to help the sick people in their care. The government is also requiring 30% of people--"essential service workers"--to stay at work; I'm not sure if that's really happening or not.

The border closings were supposed to be the straw that broke the camel's back, but the government has sent military scabs to do the jobs of the people that are striking. Borders are open as usual. This is a violation of strike rules, and the union people are unsurprisingly angry (although this does mean I'll probably get to leave the country on May 1!).

Even though the strike started with a little bit of that confusion Botswana is known for--are we striking? I think so. OK cool.--it's really taken off. Check out the comments at the bottom of this Mmegi story on the strike starting. I kind of wish the strikers were more visible; this is where not having a town center in Gaborone seems like a handicap. I saw them across the street from Princess Marina Hospital, but just barely.

Of course, if you're only listening to government news, you might not even know the strike is happening. On Monday, the government radio didn't even report the strike had begun. Since then, they've done an abysmal job of pretending to be an unbiased news service.

This would be an excellent time for me to get kicked out of the country for criticizing the government.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I love you and Buddha, too.

(Not just God, but Jesus.)

Before meals at the kindergarten, the students pray.

“God bless our food. Amen.”

They have to say it with their hands together and their eyes closed. They all know they’re not allowed to touch their food until everyone has been served and those words have been said.

Sometimes the kindergarten teacher has the children say a longer prayer, blessing the hands of the person who prepared the food and thanking God for the nourishment the food will give their bodies. It’s hard for the kids to keep their eyes closed for so long, so their faces get all screwed up in concentration.

The kids also sing songs about God—not just God, but Jesus. Jesus and me and the Bible and all that stuff. One of the songs is super catchy:

“Oh Lord…I read and I pray…Oh Loooord, I read and I pray. Oh Lord…I read and I pray…In the Bible, I read and I pray.”

Then there’s a bit in Setswana and a dance; the kids know all the words and they clearly love singing it and showing off.

It’s really nice. Which is really weird.

Because I think I’m supposed to be a little appalled. I mean, who is protecting these orphans and vulnerable children from the religious beliefs of their teachers? What are the teachers telling the kids about Jesus behind closed doors? What are these children who have already experienced significant hardships being led to believe about punishment and reward?

Sure, the orphanage is a privately funded NGO (they may get some government funding—I’m not sure), but it’s not an explicitly religious place. I wonder if parents and caretakers might not expect (or desire) the religious education their preschoolers are receiving.

("We're All Friends And Sunshine And Kitty Cats")

Recently, I organized some of the educational videos we have. One morning, I popped in a seemingly harmless one called “We’re All Friends And Sunshine And Kitty Cats” or something like that, only to discover the second or third song in that it was evidently created by some American evangelical group with a clearly defined image of God/Jesus, a gendered system of values, and an agenda to spread the message to unsuspecting children. Plus all the kids in the video were white. It was weird.

But while I’m thinking “whoops” and getting up to switch to Barney or another PBS-sanctioned show, the other teachers are like, “Oh, this is lovely. Look at the costumes, and the dancing, and the message.”

So then it’s like, well okay, maybe I just have this visceral approach to a certain Christian element in the United States and that just has no meaning here. I don’t know that there is anything intrinsically harmful about little children singing about God. Unless your heart is made of stone or you’re Christopher Hitchens, that image is sort of peaceful and wholesome, right?

Or maybe I’m just okay with kids singing about the Bible and God in sort of neutral terms. But when they get into Jesus dying for your sins like they did on the video or even when Jewish preschoolers sing about Israel or the Messiah, I get the heebie jeebies.

I mean, that’s why what we do in America works, right? Like I don’t really care if the Ten Commandments are displayed in a courthouse, but that’s exactly why I personally don’t get to decide. Someone else might not care if kids sing about Jesus in public schools, but that's why they don't get to decide, either.

Still, I admire Botswana’s community-generated prayer system. When we got married at the magistrate’s court—definitely a government office—the day began with a prayer, but the prayer was led by whoever in the room wanted to lead it—not by the magistrate. Probably everyone in the room was Christian; I don’t know what would have happened if one of Botswana’s Muslims or Hindus had led the prayer. I’ll be interested to see how Botswana tackles religious diversity as their religious minorities grow.

In the meantime though, (and I'm not saying this should guide public policy) it almost seems petty to care if the song or the prayer or the video is about Jesus or not. Like who really cares if someone leading a prayer before the ceremony mentions Jesus or Allah or Visnu. I wonder if the next moment in religious pluralism will require that we be able to recognize the common human hopes and uncertainties that inhabit prayer. And even that we be able to pray if the words are not our own.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Figured I might as well jinx everything...

...just so I could tell you the happy update to my last post, which is that we found someone to fix the car for $200 instead of $300 and we found a buyer who will pay us in dollars.


I should really have taken the combi to the orphanage this morning, but couldn't quite get up the energy--I'd have to take public transport and it's cold out there! I'm wearing a fleece and slippers! It's definitely a nice change to have cool afternoons instead of blazing hot, but the mornings are so chilly.

A is getting over a cold and now my throat is starting to hurt--I think it's best I just stay home and drink tea and apply for jobs. I'll go to the orphanage tomorrow when I can drive.


Tonight we pack up our apartment and tomorrow we move to Penn housing. Which means tonight is our last night sleeping in this apartment. Ironically, while Penn has had awesome internet all year, suddenly it's gotten really slow the last month or so. So internet won't improve, but then again we leave in like...a week and a half. So who even cares about internet speed.

I can't believe I don't care about internet speed.


A full update on our two seders coming soon. Time for tea and possibly matzah brie.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

So that's what Alanis was talking about.

(This not our car.)

One of the biggest stresses of this year has been purchasing, insuring, checking out, and now, selling, our car.

And the funny thing is, it's a great car! Festus (we named our car after Festus Mogae, president of Botswana from 1998 to 2008) has given us zero trouble, has been checked out and given a clean bill of health from a mechanic, and really all of the issues have come from external sources. First, the car dealers messed us around, then the insurance people took forever and kept raising their price.

On Friday, we were on our way to meet the person we're selling the car to, to initiate a bank transfer, and a Tropicana truck backed into us while the car was parked in front of the hospital. I'll try not to use the word "shitstorm" too many times from here on.

(And then Festus was granted three wishes and used one to become this car! But then he wished for more wishes and was disqualified.)

The damage isn't that bad, luckily. But it's bad enough that the hood needs to be banged back into shape and the lights need to be replaced.

First, we waited for over an hour for the police to arrive so we could file a police report, which took another hour and a visit to the police station. They also said they were going to fine the (pretty nice) guy who hit us, who as it turns out was at the hospital for a rather unfortunate medical reason, which then made us feel bad for getting the police report, which we now think we can't even use because we don't have time to file an insurance claim before we leave the country in two weeks.

Basically, after visiting four different car repair shops, we're resigned to paying $300 out of pocket to fix the car. But now, our buyer has decided to back out--he had taken a loan out for the full amount and the bank had charged him about $400 in fees, so he didn't have the money anymore. Since the car had been damaged, we had to return his deposit, and even though we offered, in our desperation to fix the damage AND sell the car to him for $400 less, he wouldn't budge, and actually went out and bought a different car later in the day.

So where does this leave us?

Now we have to get the car fixed as quickly as possible so we can show to any prospective buyers we might be lucky enough to stumble upon in the next like three days. If we can't sell it to an individual, we'll have to sell it to a used car dealership and potentially lose another $2000 or more.

All because this truck driver didn't use his mirrors and really just tapped us.

Needless to say, dealing with this is not how we want to spend our last two weeks here and have I mentioned we're hosting 12 people for Passover and I'm not sure how we will deal with not having a car this week?

I'm making a sacrifice to the irony gods asap.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Botswana theater scene

Last night, A and I were determined to see one of the plays that is being put on as part of the city-wide Maitisong Festival and not to just spend another night eating pizza in our pajamas. Although doesn't eating pizza in your pajamas sound good?

We picked a series of short plays put on by students from the University of Botswana at Botswanacraft. Here's the play-by-play:

7pm - We arrive at Botswanacraft and park nearby. Even though the play theoretically started at 7, I wouldn't let A convince me to get there a minute before. As we got out of the car, I felt something hit my foot, but couldn't see anything in the dark.

7:05pm - For P30 each, we are handed paper tickets by a man sitting at a table out front, and then told to put the tickets directly into a box on the table. Classic. We get some beers and take our seats. The crowd is small, but I've had smaller.

7:15pm - I try to turn my phone off and can't find it. I send A out in the dark to look in the car. It is on the ground by the driver's door.

7:20pm - The show starts! Almost on time! First the cast performs a couple of songs. Not to be racist, but everyone in Botswana has a wonderful singing voice. Then they start the show.

7:25pm - A 30-second scene where a woman gives birth to a baby boy (clearly visible teddy bear), sending the audience into hysterics. Then she dies, and we all feel bad for laughing.

7:35pm - Ten minutes later, they figured out which scene comes next. A father is holding the now-concealed teddy bear. The grandmother of the baby demands he hand over the baby. They do a really good job of not letting us see the teddy bear.

7:50pm - We sit in darkness for ten minutes or so, and then they do a choreographed children's dance. One dancer's shirt is distractingly close to falling off. It's weird. Why doesn't she change? I wonder. The boy is now 16, and his grandmother is a drunk who mistreats him. Her performance as drunk old woman with comically large behind gets huge laughs.

7:55pm - Big chunks of the show are in Setswana, but we can still follow it. They are at the kgotla and the father argues for custody of his son. He loses.

8:00pm - They go to the magistrate court, and the father argues for custody of his son. He wins! Yay, modernity and progress.

8:20pm or so - We sit in the dark for a while, and then they remember to perform the final scene, in which the boy wins a scholarship in humanities to the University of Botswana for his excellent performing arts skills. The father and son dance and are happy.

8:40pm - The lights come back on and they take a bow.

8:45pm - I am satisfied and ready to go after almost two hours but A wants to stay for the rest of the shows. We don't have to wait long for the second one to start, and it's actually pretty good. A jilted girlfriend befriends a funny melted-ice-cream seller. An engaging 10 minutes.

9pm - The last play is getting ready to start. I'm antsy, but A wants to stay. We stay.

9:15pm - The last play starts. It's about two children who want different careers than their parents want for them. It's kind of like reading a Unity Dow book in that everyone is extremely overt about their feelings and motivations and the plot progresses So Slowly. (And I liked that Unity Dow book I read!) At the same time, there's clearly a lot of hard work going on onstage, and I think it must be hard to perform a show in your second language. Some of the actors are really quite funny. We eat a banana muffin I had in my bag. The play is still going. Finally, it ends!

All in all, a great night. As funny as it may seem, I left Botswanacraft feeling nostalgic and sentimental. I love Botswana in all its JV glory!

Monday, April 11, 2011

19 days to go

(Have I mentioned there are elephants everywhere?)

This whole "we're leaving Botswana in three weeks" thing is really distracting. I feel like every day is sort of sliding by with very few noteworthy accomplishments (I did fix the internet in our apartment all by myself today, though). So many big things are happening whether we like it or not--we have to pick an apartment this week, I have an interview for a job I'm excited about, and we're theoretically selling our car.

And at the same time it feels like we are so close to leaving Botswana with (fingers crossed!) no major problems to speak of, except one shotgun wedding, one broken rib, and one week stranded in the Namibian desert.

I think my tendency now is to sort of curl up and keep my head down and try to just get through the rest without screwing anything up.


Probably that is why my major concern today is chickpeas. Specifically, dried chickpeas. Does anyone else have trouble with these?

I'm trying to get through all the it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time purchases in the pantry, like risotto and dried beans, before we move to Penn housing.

But every single time I try to plump up dried chickpeas they're still "al dente" (as A says) by the time I give up. I started boiling these yesterday morning, turned off the heat and let them soak 10 hours, then boiled again, turned off heat, let them soak another 20 or so hours, and now they've been boiling for an hour and a half (on high! in fresh water!) and they are. still. hard.

Is it because I used them as gelt in a game of dreidel last Hanukah?


There's some kind of theater festival going on and Friday evening we had the option of going to one of three different plays. Needless to say, we were so overwhelmed by these possibilities that we spent the night at Fego and then watched The Wire in bed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Manyana and others

We're trying to hit all the sites in and around Gabs in our last few weeks here. A couple of weekends ago, we headed to Manyana, a nearby village, to see some 2,000-year-old San cave paintings.

In case you were wondering, "manyana" means "playful" or "childlike" in Setswana, not "tomorrow."

It was a beautiful day as we drove out of Gabs--sun shining, blue sky, pretty hills and trees. We got to Manyana and asked for directions (even Lonely Planet thinks "ask for directions" is an acceptable form of directions). Luckily everyone had a vague idea that they were "that side" and eventually we found them. They were closed.

We contemplated hopping the fence, but some neighborhood kids informed us that the man who worked the site was on his lunch break and would be right back. After 15 minutes or so, Justice showed up. "This is my place," he said.

Justice led us all around the rocks and caves, and pointed out all the faint and hidden cave paintings. We never would have been able to find them on our own, but jumping the fence might have been a good story.

Justice said before the fence was built, local kids used to come draw their own cave paintings on the rock. Some of those drawings are still there, so it's important not to get confused.

He told us about how this rock was a holy place for the San, who would hold religious rituals in front of and under it.

The views of the village as we climbed through the rocks were really pretty.

This is a plant called a strangler. It kills trees, but looks awesome while doing so.

Here are some giraffes, which were my favorite paintings we saw. Mostly because it's cool to think giraffes were wandering these parts not too long ago. But also because cave paintings of giraffes, like actual giraffes, are way sweeter than antelope or people.

All in all, our visit to Manyana was a success.


On Sunday, we headed to the Gaborone Game Reserve, a modest game reserve inside the city limits. While there wasn't all that much game to speak of (plenty of monkeys and warthogs, one zebra from afar), we did see some lovely trees.

I didn't mind that there wasn't more exciting game at the Gabs Game Reserve because the fences weren't all that good.


Lately, A and I have been working on taking photos of things we see in our everyday lives. This is the termite mound across the street from his office.

And here he is working at a clinic!

He's almost done collecting data, which means we might get to sleep in past 6am sometimes. Hooray!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

More Things I will not miss:

11. Mosquitoes, especially ones that fly near/into my ears at night.
12. People being able to talk about me without me understanding what they're saying.

Monday, April 4, 2011

More Things I will miss:

11. Endless summer.
12. 89.9 FM

Lists from Botswana

We're down to 26 days in Botswana. Time to make some lists.

Things I won't miss:

1) The drivers./The roads./The traffic.
2) The internet sucking.
3) My unhelpful, somewhat racist landlord.
4) Blackouts when I really need to do something that uses electricity.
5) The lack of black beans, fresh fish, chocolate chips, health food, etc.
6) Talking about medicine with medical people constantly.
7) Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which I eat almost every day.
8) Not having television.
9) The almost-hilarious bureaucratic nightmare of doing anything at all.
10) The speed bumps.

Things I will miss:

1) Having a car.
2) Blackouts when I don't have anything to do and we drink beer and hang out.
3) Being able to see the sky./The clouds./The storms.
4) Being able to count on most people being really nice and helpful.
5) Not having television.
6) Having time to cook dinner every night./Having time to read./Having too much time on my hands.
7) Having someone wash and iron my clothes twice a week.
8) Animals./Nature./Bugs.
9) Not having a full-time office/desk job./Making my own schedule.
10) Adventuring.

How to give directions in Botswana:

1) Start out by mentioning a neutral landmark, like a robot (traffic light). Ex: "Go to the robot." Do not identify which traffic light you mean.

2) First say to make a left, then later on when the directions need clarification, say right. Agree with whatever direction the person seeking directions suggests.

3) Refer to a recent neighborhood event to explain where you mean. Ex: "Where those men are working with the trucks."

4) Mention a landmark that is actually useful, like a major intersection or shopping center.

5) Explain that the person seeking directions should go there and ask someone else for directions.