Saturday, July 22, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: R & R – that’s rest and reading day

I spent a good part of this morning cleaning house. It desperately needed a cleaning. After that was done, I went outside to wash the mop and spent another hour washing the outdoor furniture and the concrete. Most homes don’t have a lot of green space but I was told it’s because the weather can be quite hot in the summer (over 40C sometimes) and there is usually a scarcity of water in the dry season (which is now).
In the afternoon, I wanted to go to the bookstore but I found a book in the house on Nelson Mandela and got engrossed in it. I stayed outside and read for a god part of the afternoon (in the shade of course). The weather here takes some getting used to. The days can be quite warm – about 20-24C but the nights can be downright cold – about 6-8C. I thought about working on the website but the Mandela book was so interesting, that the website was put on the back burner for a bit. The book was interesting because I actually knew some of the places they were talking about, even the prison he spent time in. Also the stories that Mosie Moolla told us helped the book to make sense. He was such a good story teller that what he told us in about an hour and a half was told in the book in about 150 pages (with more detail of course). The book referred to Mandela spending some time in Bechuanaland (now Botswana) which at the time was a British Protectorate. That was new to me. It’s different from a colony but there are lots of similarities as well. Anyway, Mandela came though the border at Lobatse which is where we left from last week when we spent three hours at the border.
Later in the evening, I went over to Kathy’s for dinner and met her husband Geoff as well as another WUSC staff member Cindy who will be monitoring the Botswana students’ progress in Canada. We all chopped and diced and sliced our way to dinner. We had a nice visit – talking about the opportunities and challenges in development work. Geoff told me about the time he and Kathy’s former brother-in-law (who is Guyanese) gave her hot pepper to eat and didn’t tell her it was hot so of course she burned her mouth off.
We talked about their life in Zimbabwe and several of the other places they lived in – Newfoundland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Scotland, South Africa and now Botswana. It’s going to be hard to retire to Canada when they’ve had such interesting lives.
I got home about 10:30 and of course no work was done on the website. Maybe tomorrow. The Mandela book is beckoning especially since Mosie didn’t get to tell us the part beyond the late 1950’s.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Reception and weekend

Another weekend upon us. Am I the only one blogging? That either means that I have no life which gives me time to write, or I like journaling and don’t mind or I’m getting credit for this so I’d better do it or a simple explanation is that I love writing and sharing my experiences and all of the above too.
Today I finished the outline for the workshop that I’ll be doing next week. I think all the catering students as well as the instructors will be attending the first series. Some of the graduates who are still unemployed heard about the workshop and want to attend too but the space is limited (we only have 6 computers in the lab) so we may have to run the series again but maybe one of the instructors will facilitate it and I can observe. This way, when I’m gone, they can still provide this necessary skill to the students.
Priya and I worked on the layout of the webpage and I think by next Wednesday we should have it in place. I’ll do some work on it this weekend – mostly formatting and editing. Now all we need is for someone to provide some funding to get it up and running. I feel somewhat at a disadvantage because I don’t know the businesses and organizations that could provide some of that so it’s going to be a slow process. I’ll have to do some networking within the WUSC community.
This afternoon I attended a reception for the thirty seven Botswana students who will be going to Canada to attend university. They will be at several universities in Canada including Western and Eastern Canada (Toronto too). They all looked so young and a little scared. I’m sure they’ll have a great experience and WUSC is doing the orientation in Botswana as well as Canada and will be overseeing their studies while they are at university. I met Baagi and his wife Tata who studied in Canada. Tata works for a Canadian company who sells tracking devices (her cell phone has a GPS). I am getting technologically savvy even though I don’t have internet or a land line at home. I was talking to Baagi about the courses at Sedibeng and he knows a lot of people so I asked him to assist me with some contact information for hotels or restaurants where the graduates can find employment. We arranged a meeting for Monday and I’ll ask Mitho to attend as well since she has more background information on the centre and would be the best person the continue the networking when I’m gone.
After the reception, we went to Lisa’s house. It was her birthday and I’m not sure I’m supposed to say how old she is so I’m not but she looks much younger than her birthday years. I met some other people and I wish I could say I remembered all the names. I’ve met so many people in the last three weeks that it’s hard for me to keep everyone’s name straight. One of the girls I met wanted to know if anyone knew a seamstress because she needs some clothes fixed. I said that Sedibeng had some unemployed fashion design graduates who would be glad for the work. The day turned out quite productive.
I got home about 10pm and thought about doing some work on the website but that thought vanished as soon as removed my shoes and coat. I’ll leave that till tomorrow.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Small world or coincidence? Happy Anniversary to me!

This is an anniversary of sorts for me. Exactly 36 years ago today, I left Guyana for Canada. I really had no idea what life would be like and I was a reluctant immigrant. It’s hard to believe that 36 years later I would be in Botswana celebrating or at least acknowledging that anniversary.
I got an email from Sharm today telling me that she was in Toronto and will likely be visiting my friend Prakash. I told her to call my other friend Paul who lives about 5 minutes away from Prak’s restaurant. Why is all this important anyway? Well, Paul was one of my childhood friends who was at my farewell party the day before I left Guyana and he was as reluctant for me to leave as I was to go. We have remained friends for over 40 years. In fact, in September, it will be 41 years since we have been friends. It’s a lovely thought to think that my daughter will be spending time with my childhood friends.
The really weird thing is – Paul’s niece Christina is doing an internship this year with WUSC. To make it more interesting, she was also in Botswana. And if you don’t believe in coincidences, she was placed at Sedibeng. This is the exact place that I am doing my internship!!! How is that for small world. I think Christina was vacationing just before I arrived and is expected to return to Gaborone today. Maybe I’ll get to meet her and I can tell her all about how Paul used to teach me to jump off a moving train when we were kids. Okay so he didn’t teach me I watched the boys doing it and it looked like fun so I tried and found that I was good at it. Girls were not allowed or supposed to do those things but I didn’t always follow the rules about the roles of girls and boys.
We had our little party today for all the graduating students from the catering department. I baked a big apple cake and 36 muffins and some of the other people brought chips and crackers and cookies. There were also two social work students from the University of Botswana who were finishing their field experience today as well. That’s something that the centre really needs – a fulltime social worker. It’s amazing that they can function with so little but they manage. We talked briefly about adding some of the things that I baked to the items for sale from the restaurant. Mitho thinks it may sell well.
I am working on the content for the employment preparation workshop. This morning we had a meeting with the staff about how the workshop is going to be delivered. The students were told today to prepare for it and they are excited. They all want to work at the Gaborone Sun (a big hotel in Gaborone) but the hotel can only take so many students and for some reason they only take the boys so the girls are left to figure things out themselves.
I was talking to one of the graduating students today and she was telling me that she’ll be coming to volunteer at the centre for the next few weeks because she has nothing else to do. She has no job and no prospects of one. She is such a dedicated student and I could see that she wants to learn from the way she takes the initiative to do things and she is so careful about what she does. She tries to earn money to comes to school everyday but sometimes has to walk an hour each way (she uses a shortcut route and that’s an hour). She buys a bag of candy for 6 pula which is about $CDN1 and sells the 100 candies for 1 thebe each (100 thebe = 1 pula). That gives her enough bus fare for one day (2 pula each way). If she doesn’t sell her bag of candy in one day, she walks to/from school. Her dad died when she was 6 and her mom died when she was 14. She lives with her aunt who cannot afford to pay for her transport to school. So the student manages in whatever way she can to attend school. Her big dream is to work for enough money to take care of her younger sister. Those are some of the stories you hear and many of the students who attend Sedibeng have the same kinds of stories.
I don’t know how this particular student’s parents died but Botswana has the highest cases of HIV/AIDS in the world. 38% of the adult population has HIV/AIDS. So the young adults (18-45) die leaving their children (who usually have the same) to be raised by grandmothers. Funerals are very frequent and often elaborate. The government is giving away free anti-retro-viral drugs for HIV patients but most people don’t want to go for it because it means that they will have to first get tested and second, seek out clinics where the drugs are being given. They don’t want people to know that they have HIV so they don’t get treated.
The centre is trying to do information sessions around HIV/AIDS because there are lots of young people who come here for information. I don’t know a lot about it (not my area of expertise) but my friend Joan back in Canada said she would help. If anyone of you is reading this blog, give Joan the URL for the blog and tell her to contact me. I’m not even sure what I would need. This is a learning curve for me – part of the Life Skills that needs to be imbedded into the curriculum.
I’m beginning to feel like I’m going to need more time here but I do have my school work to complete. Maybe it’s time to explore some long term volunteer opportunities with WUSC. So WUSC, what do you think? Can I do that? Okay my family, how is that for a retirement plan?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: plan for an employment workshop

Today I asked some of the students what they will be doing after graduation and several of them had no plans for employment. It gave me an idea that part of what I came here to do was marketing and publicity. I had visions of the website which is still on track but before we could really talk about marketing, the students who will be graduating tomorrow need to be prepared for the world of work. With that in mind, I talked to Mitho and offered to do a series of workshops on employment preparation. She thought it was an excellent idea and will make the initial offering to the graduating catering students as well as the students who have already graduated but have not found employment.
I spent some time working on an outline for the workshop. It will likely be one hour a day for 4 or 5 days depending on how much we get covered. The teachers will be invited to attend the workshop as well so that after I leave, they can offer it to their students. I came up with what I think is a workable format. It comes in handy to have some teaching experience. I asked one of the students if they had to pick three employers they would want to work for and they could only name one – the Gaborone Sun. There are lots of other hotels and restaurants in the area but because they did their first three months at Gaborone Sun, they all want to go and work there. Not realistic. They’ll have to do some homework for this workshop but hopefully at the end of the series, they will have at least three employers in mind that they will go to look for a job, they’ll plan and prepare a CV, and they will attend a mock interview. Mitho thinks this will be good for the teachers as well.
I’m planning the workshop content in such a way that if the teachers attend the first series, they can then do the workshops on their own – a teach the teacher format. The idea is that for the centre to be sustainable, the staff have to either be prepared to do some of the skill development so that they can prepare their students or they should be able to find the necessary resources to assist the students.
I did some more work on the website content. Its coming along nicely but I am getting the feeling of running out of time. Priya doesn’t have that much time left till she leaves so I am suddenly feeling the time crunch.
I came home about 5:15pm and the house is again like a pigsty. The kitchen looks like a mud hut floor but I’m sure a mud hut floor would be cleaner than this. Hygiene is not a strong suit for any of these people. I ate a couple of slices of left over pizza that I ordered at lunch and stayed in my room for the rest of the night. I spent some time reading the travel guides for Botswana. I’ll call the travel agent that one of the other students told me about. She is supposed to have some good prices for Chobe, Victoria Falls and the Okavanga Delta. Maybe this weekend we’ll be able to do something with Kathy or I can call Catherine to see if I can go up to Palape to visit since she did invite me. Kathy is going to Ghanzi so I’ll try to hitch a ride with her.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gauteng, South Africa: Our origin and the Cradle of Humankind at Sterkfontein Caves

Plans to visit the apartheid museum on Monday did not materialize because it’s closed on Mondays. We had to make a decision to visit there today or visit the Cradle of Humankind and the Sterkfontein caves. We decided that since we saw so much at Constitution Hill yesterday, it might be a good idea to go to the caves. I think we were all feeling a bit of sensory overload after two days of such intense history.
I am including the website for the Sterkfontein caves for those of you who want to read more about it. This is a World Heritage site – protected for future generations. One website is:

I was so amazed at the history of the site. Some of the bones date back to over 3.5 million years. The caves were really something. If you’re claustrophobic, this is not a good place to go but it was worth it for me – even if I’m slightly claustrophobic. The stalactites and stalagmites were not drippy like the ones I saw in South Dakota but they were very much older. We went many feet below the ground – a total of about 119 steps to get below the surface and some additional ones once inside. Seeing such a site makes you wonder if civilization as we know it started there and we all share one common heritage, what was the point of apartheid?
We had lunch at the museum restaurant and left for the Botswana border. On the way there, I was browsing through a book that Karim bought about the displacement of the San people. There were many stories that were similar to the stories of the First Nations people of Canada.
We decided that it would be a good idea to use a smaller border crossing. We decided on Ramotswa and headed for that general direction. I say “general direction” because I think we made a wrong turn off and ended up on a very long gravel road. That wasn’t so bad but we then had to do a detour into a little village and it was getting dark and we had no idea where we were. We stopped and asked for directions and people were generally helpful but not always clear. Fortunately, none of us were panicked. Besides we had some sleeping bags if we got stuck and had to sleep under the stars.
It turned dark quickly and we were still driving. We finally got to the border and the agents cleared us without incident except for Choloe. The agents were counting the days she left and returned to Botswana and gave her some additional days on her visa. Canadians can stay in Botswana for 90 days per year without a visa so that’s what they were doing – making sure that she could stay the maximum amount of time without applying for a visa.
We dropped off Reynold in Otse and returned to Gaborone about 8:30pm. I want to go back to Jo’burg to visit the apartheid museum. I heard about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and found the website @ but I feel like an idiot for not knowing anything about it.
I promise that I will do more reading about the history of SA including the more recent events. It was a good weekend but I have to say that I was feeling mentally exhausted. I had a shower and went to bed with no supper.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Jo’burg, South Africa: Constitution Hill

After the build up by Mosie yesterday, we couldn’t wait for Constitution Hill. I was fully prepared for the visit but I only really thought so. It was not to be an easy walk.
We took a guided tour of the area – formerly the prison for holding until criminals were transferred to bigger facilities in Pretoria. The prison was opened in 1893 and you would not believe when it was closed. This is history? It closed in 1983. 1983. 1983 was only 23 years ago. I was raising a young family when the prison was finally closed.
We walked into the Fort – the area where the white prisoners were held. Even in jail there was segregation. White guards for white prisoners. There was the Flogger’s Frame where the prisoners were shackled and bound and flogged. Then there were the isolation cells where the lights were kept on 24 hours a day. There was no toilet – only a slop bucket but the prisoners still managed to communicate with each other through the bars and mesh and even played chess. They were only supposed to be kept there for a maximum of 15 days but many of them were kept there for months to break their spirit and drive them insane. Although this was a section reserved for white prisoners, Nelson Mandela was kept in this area because the government was afraid that he would escape and in a black population, he might not be missed for a long time. In the prison, there was no distinction between murderers and political prisoners. They were all treated to the same degree of cruelty.
In the coloured part of the prison, it was worse. How could things be any worse? Inhumane could barely describe what I saw. I could only be grateful that it was now a museum. Even in the world of prison, there are hierarchies. IN some of the areas, there are running videos of some of the former prisoners telling their stories of the cruelty and inhuman conditions they had to endure. One of them talked about being beaten with a donkie piel – a weapon used by the guards to hit you where on the first impact it wouldn’t break your skin but would actually cause you to bleed internally. The second hit would make you bleed. Some prisoners on arrival at the prison would be made to run through a line of guards who would hit so that by the time he was at the end of the line, he may have endured several lashes with the weapon.
The sleeping quarters would house up to 60 prisoners in an area that seemed to hold about 15 of us on the tour. The area was laid out by the chief prisoner who got half the cell, his 4 body guards getting one quarter of the cell and the remaining 55 or so prisoners had to share a quarter of the space. They were called the sardines and were fair game for abuse. I wanted to run out of there but I forced myself to stay so that I will always remember those images imprinted in my mind and hope that I never forget. But I listened to what Nelson Mandela said in one of the video recordings. I’m paraphrasing. He said remember the past but don’t live there. Let it only be a guide to the future so that those wrongs will never be repeated.
We left the prison area and visited the Constitutional Court which deals with matters pertaining to the constitution. There are 11 judges representing the 11 official languages and people of SA. The inside were built with brick from the dismantled sections of the “Awaiting Trial” block of the prison. One of these very bricks was given to Nelson Mandela.
The guided part of the tour finished and we headed off to the Women’s prison. Surely I thought, things would be better there. Women would not be treated as inhumanely as the men. But that was not the case. The women were as badly treated as the men and the degradation seemed to know no bounds.
This was the prison that Winnie Mandela served some time as a political prisoner. Her first child was born there with the assistance of another prisoner who helped take care of her so she would not miscarry the baby. Again there was a section for black women and one for white women. The treatment was intended to break the spirit. I visited some of the cell blocks and saw some videos of former prisoners as well as one wardress (a female warden). I listened to the women talking about how they were stripped when they arrived in prison and how one humiliation was piled on another. One of the most humiliating experiences was having to witness elder women being stripped in front of younger women. There was no respect for culture. Then two women talked about the clothes they were given to wear. A shift with no underwear and no shoes. They talked about getting their periods and having the blood drip down their legs and being embarrassed. They then graduated to being given pads but no underwear to hold them in place so they walked in a peculiar manner trying to maintain some degree of dignity.
If this makes any of you uncomfortable, try to think of how the women must have felt. They lived in filth and squalor and had to endure it. The part that made me cry was when one woman talked about having her baby in prison and there was only enough soap to last for 5 days of the month to wash the baby’s diapers so for the rest of the month, they had to make do with whatever they had. They were punished if their babies cried and many of them although they missed their children, sent them home to be raised by family. Keep in mind that many of these women’s worse crime was that they dared to cross over to an area that was restricted to whites only.
The constitution of SA protects the rights of the individual and was based on the fair and humane treatment of all persons. To think that as recently as 1983, this prison was still in operation. Nelson Mandela said (I’m paraphrasing again) that the measure of a society is not how well it takes care of it’s rich citizens but how it treats its poor.
The protection of the marginalized, disenfranchised and vulnerable is the reason I hope that what I came here to learn, I will have learned. This has been an emotionally exhausting day for me because I wonder in what part of the world the same atrocities are happening and I am not aware. There are times when I am aware that I am aware but there are other times when I am not aware that I am not aware. How do I develop that awareness and when I do, what should I do? What am I supposed to do? How will visiting this museum change my life? It has certainly made me more aware of the issues women face on a daily basis.
As a woman of colour, I am much more aware of the position of privilege that I come to Botswana with but I am also aware that as a transnational feminist, there are many challenges that I still face. My own diasporic location in Botswana as a Canadian graduate student gives my certain privileges as well as challenges. I have a lot to think about.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Jo’burg, South Africa: Conversation with Mosie Moolla

This morning we got up and I made omelette and pancakes for everyone for breakfast. We decided that we would cook dinner at home tonight and since there was a Sunday flea market around the from Kathy, we would go and check out the activities before going to meet Issy and Ramni at 3pm.
I love flea markets. They are so much better than the big department stores and so much more interesting. There was everything from soup to nuts in the market. I found some gifts for my family and checked out the Indian spice section. There is a kind of pepper powder called peri-peri but I didn’t buy any. I did buy some biryani rice mixture which I cooked for dinner along with some soy protein and veggies. Kathy bought fish and I made a kind of curry with coconut milk and lime (first time trying that invention and it turned out great).
We left home about 2:30 to go to Issy’s place and when we got there Mohamed was waiting for us. We met Issy and Ramni and they offered to take us to one of their friends who lives “right around the corner” (actually 10 minutes drive by car). He said that his friend was the SA Ambassador to Pakistan and Iran but also lived in exile for a period of time.
We arrived at this most beautiful house belonging to Mosie Moolla and what we were about to hear next would literally mesmerize all of us.
Mosie was a slight man with silver hair and beard and one of the most dynamic and interesting people I’ve listened to in a very long time. He was introduced to us by Issy as one of the youngest people in the history of South Africa to be charged with high treason. He then took over by giving us a history lesson in South African history and what a lesson.
He started off by telling us that he arrived in Jo’burg as a teenager in 1949 to go to school because there was no high school in the little village he was living in. The year before (1948), the Nationalist Party came into power and they believed that they were ordained by God to save the blacks The “Black Manifesto” was enacted against all non-whites.
The history lesson went like this:
□ 1652- first whites arrived in SA
□ 1820’s – first British settlers arrived in SA
□ 1834 – slavery abolished
□ early 1860’s - Indians arrived as indentured labourers to work on sugar plantations and mines; many of these labourers went to British Guiana, the Caribbean and Mauritius
□ late 1860’s – passenger Indians arrived; settled as shop keepers and business people
□ 1860’s – diamond discovered – industrial and gem grades; rush of diamond seekers
□ 1880’s – gold discovered; gold rush; conflict between the Afrikaners and Brits; beginning of the Anglo-Boer War
□ 1890’s – Mahatma Ghandi called to settle a case and stayed for 20 years; had his own business, began to organize people for the civil disobedience movement
□ 1894 – Natal Indian Congress is first political party on the African continent; start of the colonizers educating some of the middle class to serve the empire
□ 1906 – Bombatha Rebellion where the Brits retaliated mercilessly
□ 1912 – African National Congress (ANC) formed - direct response to government dividing up the country and allocating 87% of land for whites and 13% for non-whites
□ 1930’s – the era of the Great Depression; many Afrikaners became “poor whites”
□ 1940’s/50’s – Industrial Conciliation Act whereby only whites were allowed to hold positions of authority; South Africa has highest prison population in the world;
□ 1944 – Nelson Mandela is part of the youth league of the ANC
□ 1949 – ANC Youth League took over from ANC; wanted t confront the enemy which was not whites but the policies of the white government
□ 1950 – Suppression of Communism Act – to suppress opposition to nationalism but on the pretext of suppression of opposition to communism; general strike called; first in the history of SA
□ 1952 – nonwhites oppose apartheid laws and went to jail for defiance; Congress of the People Campaign lasted for almost 2 years
□ 1955 – Freedom Charter established
□ 1959 – Pan African Congress (PAC) formed to serve interests of black SA; PAC expelled from ANC because of intent to use violence
□ 1960 – state of emergency called; ANC and PAC banned; Freedom Charter became the rally cry and what bound people to a common cause
□ 1961 – Spear of the Nation founded; rather than attacking individual whites, terror attacks would be made to symbols of white power
□ 1961 – Treason Trial – 156 people picked up and charged for high treason including Mosie; lasted for 9 months Monday to Friday and Mosie had to attend each day; 60 charges were withdrawn; 30 convicted
□ 1962 – Mandela arrested
□ 1963 – ANC underground headquarters discovered
□ 1963 – law enacted whereby anyone could be detained for 90 days without charge; Mosie was picked up and served first 90 days; served second 90 days; served almost one year in jail without charge sometimes in isolation and incommunicado (even from lawyer); many exiles left SA for lives in other countries; Mosie exiled and goes to India to set up arm of ANC still fighting apartheid
□ 1990 – Mosie returns to SA

By the time Mosie was finished with that part of the story, two hours had passed and Issy asked him to wrap up but how do you wrap up your life in a few minutes. We wanted to stay but it was getting late again. Issy told us to ask about the time Mosie escaped from jail dressed as a woman in a sari but we didn’t get an opportunity. Mosie told us of the time he and Mahatma Ghandi’s son were imprisoned for civil disobedience. He beseeched us to visit what is now Constitution Hill (in earlier years it was simply known as The Fort (the jail) and it was a place of terror. We wanted to hear more of his life but time was not on our side.
On our way out, I asked Issy about his time in prison and he said it was horrible. He served his first 90 days and then his second 90 days and by the time he was finished that, the law was changed so that a person could be detained for up to 180 days without charge so he served another 180 days for not producing his Pass card when he was asked to do so by the police. The Pass card was in essence a card that restricted people’s movements to certain areas of the city or country and if you could not produce it when the police asked, you were thrown in jail. Some people chose to serve the prison time than walk with their cards. Issy was one of them.
The seven of us came home very solemn. It’s one thing to think that such atrocities happened, it’s another to meet the people it happened to and to see that they survived without the bitterness. Nelson Mandela was also one of them. What a troubling story but one of indomitable spirit.