Saturday, July 29, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Tending garden at Kathy's

What a relaxing day. I got up early – about 5:45am because Kathy and Geoff were leaving for Ghanzi (pronounced Hanzi) and it’s a 7 hour drive. I helped with whatever I could – packing, coffee, and taking things to the car.

I fed the dogs. One is about 14 pounds and the other is about 130 pounds. They are so cute together. Then I started on the potted plants I miss my garden so it’s nice to work on someone else’s. That occupied me for a couple of hours. Jayanthi, Jim and Priya picked me up about 11 and we went to the Riverwalk Mal where local artisans sell their crafts on the weekends. There were some lovely things but the problem is that they all make the same things to sell so after you see or buy things from one crafter, everything starts to look the same. I think if they had a variety of things to sell, they would do really well. I did manage to find some things to buy.

I then went to a travel agency to ask about trips to the Okavanga Delta and Chobe (prounounced Cho-bay) National Park. By the time she gave me the price, I thought for sure that I’d have to mortgage my house to afford to go. Botswana is probably the most expensive place to go on a safari in Africa. Every tour book you read tells you this. They put it politely – “this is not a destination for the budget conscious”. That is a bit of an understatement if I ever heard one!! The government of Botswana keeps the safaris high so that they only attract the people who can afford to go. That way, the area stays relatively free of “tourists” and the environment is not destroyed by too much activity. It’s a good way to manage a business without compromising the environment and it’s been successful so far. Botswana can afford to do this because much of their money comes from diamonds so they are not as dependent on tourist $$ as some other poorer African countries like Kenya. Looking ahead, the diamond industry is supposed to slow down or dry up in about 15 years so the government may have to look seriously at the tourism $$ to sustain the economy.

As for the safari, the Okavanga is the largest inland delta system in the world and this is a good time to be visiting – Winter (the dry season) – because the animals have to go to the delta for water when it’s dry. Chobe National Park is supposed to have about 60-70,000 elephants. I can hardly imagine one or two, never mind 60-70,000. Ivory is banned in all countries around the world because of people killing elephants for the tusks. But I was reading that the problem now is that the Botswana government has been stockpiling tusks from elephants that have died and they would like to start selling it to countries like Japan which uses the ivory for decorative knives. But the ranking of the tusks is still extremely high so the pile of tusks keep growing and do the number of elephants. This is causing a problem for farmers in the region who say the elephants are destroying their livelihoods. It’s such a delicate balance to know how to protect endangered species without endangering others in the process. It’s similar to the over-fishing problem in Canada especially with cod.

When I read all of this, it makes me think that we can’t think of sustainability as affecting one environment. The social, built, natural and must be viewed as a whole and no part is any more or less important than the other. The relationships are interdependent. It requires us to be self-reflexive when thinking about our areas of interest (mine is more of the social environment) and how it impacts the other environments. So how did I get started on this? Because I was looking for a trip to the delta and to Chobe.

Okay, back to my day. Well we went to Game City Mall to do some more shopping or browsing. What a mistake!! It was the end of the month mall madness when everyone gets their paycheque and head for the mall. It was horrible. The parking lot was full and people were getting frustrated at not finding parking spaces. The line-ups at the checkouts were about 15 people long. And all I wanted were a couple of apples, oranges and bananas. I could not bear the thought of standing in a long line to purchase a couple of items so I sat outside in the parking lot watching people fighting for parking spaces.

We left there and I offered to take the Wilson family out for lunch since they have been so kind to me since my arrival. We went to a restaurant called Sanita’s. It was the most beautiful sight I’ve seen in a long time and it’s in the most unexpected place – a garden centre selling plants and herbs. We were seated under a giant shade tree which I think was a decorative fig – the kind I have in my living room for about 25 years and it’s only about 6 feet high. This tree was massive and it was a perfect setting for restaurant seating. There was a lot of greenery and in a country where so much of it is desert and there is not much greenery, this was a welcome sight, especially after the horrible mall experience.

We had a very good lunch and they took me home. I did some more gardening and made myself some dinner, lit a fire and had a nice quiet evening. This was a welcome change from the last place where I was sharing the house with 4 other people and on any given day there could easily be 8 or 9 in the house. I continued reading my Mandela book which I’ve been getting distracted from. The book is almost 800 pages so it’s taking a while because now that I have other things to occupy my time, I’m not doing as much reading in the evenings and of course there is no time during the day.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Happy Birthday to Bena

I am posting this a day early because I may not have internet access tomorrow and I wanted to say happy birthday to my sister. Hope you have a good day. I made a cake for your birthday and fed it to my students. I’m writing as if this place is now mine but the students make me feel like I belong here.

This morning there was no internet service and I had to send several files so of course I had to go to plan B which was not even in the thinking stages. So I had to quickly come up with Plan B. I went to the kitchen while the morning service was going on and I relieved the student who was supposed to be mixing the dough for bread and I took out my frustration on the bread dough. The bread was so good that we got an additional order for some more so we made some more. In between, I spent some time defragging the 6 computers and rearranging some of the students’ files. They are just learning to save things on the hard drive and as such, they save it to any folder that comes up. When they try to find their documents again, they can’t. That took most of the morning by which time the internet was working again and I could do my work.

Today I was feeling a bit homesick so I turned on the 102FM radio station on the computer. It made me feel somewhat better. I’m going to post this because we are leaving the centre shortly. I’ll write some more later.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: do-everything-but-get-nothing-accomplished day

This felt like a do-everything-but-get-nothing-accomplished day. I started out great with plans to do all kinds of things but the internet was working like molasses in winter so mostly I spent the day trying to get things done without actually getting anything done. To make matters worse, I tried making and receiving phone calls on my cell phone and the Orange network which is one of the companies that provide the cell phone network was not working today so the phone calls were getting cut off or not dialling at all.
Priya and I worked on some more revisions for the website and I’m now feeling like it will actually get done. Thapelo who is the person doing the domain name registration, worked on his part as well. Fortunately we are all able to do our portions to get it done and he said that he may be able to have it up by this weekend. Dare I hope that it will happen?
We had an HIV/AIDS workshop today and there were about 30 people in attendance. Emily planned it and managed to get a couple of local guest speakers to come in. That’s a really good idea because using the local resources is so much better than trying to get the international volunteers to do that. I think that makes the plan more sustainable for several reasons.
We couldn’t work on the CV’s today because most of the students were at the workshop. I guess you make Plan A and if that doesn’t work, you go with Plan B which is to adapt the schedule for when the students can attend.
I did manage to work with the Fashion Design students today on learning and improving their typing skills. I’ve been doing that for all of this week because the computer instructor was not available. That was a sort of impromptu teaching. Fortunately the software is pretty easy to learn myself because it’s not one that I have ever worked with. There are 6 computers and 8 or 9 students so they have to take turns doing the typing.
The floral design students had a large order for 15 table arrangements for a function so they were busy working on that today. Then they have a big order for funeral wreaths. They certainly do have a lot of funerals over here and you can see why with many people dying from AIDS as well as a large number from road accidents. As morbid as it may seem, the floral design students could have a good entrepreneurial business going with providing floral arrangements for those occasions. I was looking for the students today and found them (about 6-8) diligently working on their arrangements in a storage room about 8 feet by 10 feet that is also used for storage. Makes me wonder how they manage to learn under those conditions. I walked over to the WUSC office, which is about 10 minutes and waited for Kathy who was having the same problem with sending or receiving her emails. It must be some satellite that was the problem because the cell phone network as well as the internet was malfunctioning today. The internet also works with satellite. I can’t figure out how all this stuff works but when it doesn’t, it can be very frustrating. I also missed Izabel’s call today and I did try calling back but was too late. I did speak to my parents on Skype but the conversation was very choppy so I gave up and signed off. All together a technology deficient day. We tried again tonight at Kathy’s home which has dial-up but it’s the same story. I think that maybe someone is trying to tell me to take a break. Tomorrow is another day. Maybe I should just read my book. That might be more satisfying.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Finally the move

I was leaving home this morning and the neighbour across the street came out and told me that thieves went into his yard last night and tried to burn his car. He wanted to know if the guard at our house saw anything but he didn’t. The security here is so tight that you have to be extremely careful. Lots of purse snatchings and break and enters on properties. Some of the people are so desperate that you can see the results of poverty culminating in petty crimes. They are generally not violent but it’s scary to have it happen. A few of the volunteers have had purses stolen so I’m going to have to be more diligent about hanging my bag off my sleeve or even walking around with my backpack which is easy enough to unzip when someone is standing behind me.
The security at the house I visited yesterday was very high – electric fence, guards on the streets at nights, dogs, bars on the windows and doors to keep parts of the house more secure than others. I’m not really used to that and it’s sometimes frightening to see it all. It’s even more so in Jo’burg where Kathy was explaining that the security monitoring companies have a three minute response time and they come with guns. Not so in Gaborone but who knows? Maybe it’ll eventually get to that. There are large influx of refugees desperate to leave Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique and those are just some of the countries in crisis. That’s not to say that they are the petty thieves, only that with so many more poor people to add to the existing Motswana poor, that it makes things worse for those who are struggling.
At lunch time I moved into Kathy’s house. It’s not within walking distance but I can take a combi if I need to which is 2 pula (40c) each way. I’ll probably get a ride with Kathy to and from work for the next two weeks.
I worked with the Catering students this afternoon on their CV’s. They usually finish at 4 but it was almost 4:30 and no one wanted to leave. I couldn’t keep them there much longer because it gets dark about 6pm and some of them have an hour’s walk to get home. I found some work for one of the fashion design graduates (alterations for some of the WUSC and other volunteers). She has no sewing machine but we’ve offered her to come into the centre when there are no classes and use one from here. Hopefully with enough work, she may be able to save enough to buy her own machine which is about 500 pula (about $100). She is so grateful for the work that she keeps thanking me but it’s really only making the connections through the network of people here. Some of the students only need a little break and they will do wonders. They are so willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. We just don’t want any of them getting desperate enough to offer themselves to some sugar daddy and end up with HIV. That is a very real problem here and one way to prevent the spread is to give the students a chance to succeed on their own merit.
I’m learning a lot about the impact of HIV/AIDS on the communities. Today I visited the Stephen Lewis Foundation website. They give a lot of support to many sub Saharan countries to educate on the prevention of HIV/AIDS. I have to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about HIV but I’m learning fast and I’m definitely seeing the effects of it on the people. Stephen Lewis’ book titled Race Against Time seems apropos for what is happening here. I have not read the book but I hope to do so soon. I really didn’t realize how big of an impact the disease has on these communities. We in Canada seem so far removed from the full impact so I suppose I didn’t pay as much attention as I should have. As soon as I’m finished reading the Mandela book which I am still working on (all 784 pages), I’ll try to see if I can get the Lewis book.
Kathy and I went out to dinner tonight to the 25° East Restaurant. We had a lovely meal and some masala chai that was about the best that I have ever tasted. It was almost like a dessert, which we did NOT have.
I felt very good about the workshop today. Kathy came for lunch at Sedibeng today and one of the students told her that she was learning a lot from me. I am going to talk to the restaurants in the Riverwalk mall to see if they are hiring. Most of the students who have resumes are not even sure what it says. They copied it from someone else and when I question them, they have no idea how to respond. For example I ask them what the section on objectives mean and they cannot answer. Most of them have statements that a corporate CEO would write not an entry level person. We have a lot of work to do. Anyway, it’s been a long day and I need some sleep but before I go I have to add one very good thing that happened toay. I spoke to my grandbaby Izabel who turned 3 in May. I talked to her on Skype and Sunita said that she was smiling the whole time even though she had to wake up early in the morning to talk to me (an 8 hour time difference). She was a bit confused as to how my voice was coming over the computer instead of the telephone. After I talked to her, I felt a bit homesick because I usually talk to her at least a couple of times a week and it’s been more than three weeks since I talked to her.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Frustrating evening

I did some more work on the website today before my meeting at 12:30 with Priya and at 1pm with Dr. Thapelo. He is going to pay for the domain name registration and one year of hosting. We’re pretty excited about that. I gave Priya the my revisions and she’ll work on the smaller details tonight. It’s actually looking quite good. By this weekend or early next week, we should have it up and running and then I can send the web address so everyone can visit it.
I asked Emily to take pictures of all the fresh flowers and greenery that arrived today so we can create a teaching album for floral design students to identify the different kinds of flowers that they use in the various arrangements. Because Botswana is mostly desert, almost everything needs to be imported so very often the students are not familiar with the flowers they are using in the arrangements. Most of the flowers are imported from South Africa. The floral design students are really working at a disadvantage because they have very little to no resources. The cataloguing of the flowers will help them with their learning. I did the second part of the Employment Preparation workshop this afternoon. The fashion design students did not attend because they only come every other day and today was not their turn. I was asked to cancel the workshop but I went ahead anyway because I was really doing it for the catering students in the first place and the fashion design students attended too. There were a couple of other people who attended – one of which was not a graduate but she heard about the workshop via the grapevine and decided to attend.We did a bit of work on material for the CV that they will be creating tomorrow. Most of them didn’t think they had anything to write but after some brainstorming and thinking, they actually had some things to put on the CV. They were pretty happy about that. Tomorrow we are going to spend some time in the computer lab doing the CV and they’ll have something at the end of it. Then it’s the mock interviews. Tonight I was upset with myself. I was in the process of recharging my Palm Pilot and I inadvertently plugged it into an adapter instead of a converter and of course you can guess what happened. I messed up my re-charger. It is sometimes so confusing to remember what I need to be doing. Before I left Canada, I went into CAA and found what I thought were the right adapters and converters for Botswana. Well when I arrived here, the outlets were for Botswana (square holes) but most of the appliances come from South Africa (round holes) so almost everyone needs adapters for the appliances. Then there is the adapter for Canadian appliances that I have to use for my laptop and digital camera which have built-in converters and my palm pilot which needs a low wattage converter because it doesn’t have a built in one and my blow dryer which needs a high wattage converter. Now I’ve managed to confuse myself even more but it’s true. You can just imagine what the outlets look like with multiple adapters and converters plugged in and of course there is the power bars which have several things plugged in to those. It’s a giant mess really. So if anyone can find a replacement palm pilot cradle/charger, for a Palm IIIc model, please let me know otherwise it’s a whole new unit (which Robin said not to buy here because when I return to Canada I’ll have the reverse problem). Well tomorrow I move into Kathy’s house for two weeks. I went over to meet another family who will be going on vacation for 4 weeks and is looking for someone to house sit. The house is really big – 4 bedrooms, two living rooms, a big kitchen, and a swimming pool. They also have a cat and two dogs. I may decide to house sit but I’m beginning to feel like a rolling stone – three weeks at one house, two weeks at another, three weeks at a third….

Monday, July 24, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Too much computer time today

Guilt overtook me today for not working on the website this weekend so I went into the center early to get an early start. As things usually happen, I forgot my glasses at home so I walked back to get it (short walk).
As I came out of the yard on the way back to the centre, a woman was standing outside the gate of the house. She walked up me and mumbled something. I wasn’t sure what she was saying so I asked her again. I thought she was begging but in fact she was asking for a job. Just like that. She met a stranger on the street and asked for a job. I asked her what she could do and what kind of job she wanted and she said that she would clean my house or sweep the yard or do some laundry. I told her I didn’t need any of that (although I do) but I told her to come with me to Sedibeng and as we were walking, she told me that no one wants to give her a job because she lost her eye in an abusive relationship and people don’t like how she looks. I keep thinking that I’ve heard every sad story but each day there is a new and different one. When we got to the center, she was told that they could not help her because in fact she is a refugee from Zimbabwe and she is not eligible to go to school or to get assistance from the school. So here is a woman who is just 25, has one eye from an abusive relationship, with no money, no possibility for assistance and almost devoid of hope. I gave her a cup of tea (she had no breakfast) but before I could tell her to come back in an hour when the bread was finished baking, she was gone. It was the saddest look on her face. Bad enough surviving a civil war refugee but where is the hope? A lot of refugees come to Botswana from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola because Botswana is doing well economically (compared to other African countries) but there is only so much help and then what? I wish I had the resources to help everyone but I realize that I don’t so I do as much as I can to share my knowledge and skills so that maybe one day, enough people will be self sufficient. I think that’s what all the WUSC and Uniterra volunteers are doing. All this happened and it was only 8:30am. I wondered what the rest of my day would look like.
By the time I got myself settled into my tiny spot in the computer lab (where I have to put my chair sideways because it won’t fit into the space), the floral design students came in. However they did not come to use the computer lab but to keep warm because their classroom which is a covered shed outside (more like a two sided covered carport) was too cold to conduct classes.
Since the computer teacher was not there, I decided to fill in for him. This was a computer class like none I’ve ever taught. I showed some of them how to turn on the computer. It’s that basic. Then we started on a basic keyboarding program teaching them how to type. I used to detest typing as a kid so I learned how to type but without using the home keys like I’m supposed to. Well it was a long lesson in an very cramped space and when I say very cramped I mean very, very cramped. There were about 7 students and the teacher and me of course and 6 computers and barely enough room to walk sideways.
They did really well and we worked at it for over 90 minutes. I told them to take a stretch break and some of them did it for a total of about 30 seconds and wanted to get back to work. If any of you are teachers you’ll know how unusual this is. For all you students, when was the last time you told the teacher you didn’t need a break? I almost had to chase them out of the lab to take a break. It reminded me when I was teaching hairstyling in the evenings and the students didn’t want to go for supper breaks. Now that’s unusual!!
I finally found some time to get some of my work done. They all trooped in after lunch and wanted more. I had enough of the typing so I showed them how to do basic searches on the internet. Some of them were totally amazed when they typed in the word “flower” and came back with almost 60,000,000 hits. Then we looked for gerbera daisies which are some of the flowers they use in their arrangements. They learnt the biological name for it and found out that they are indigenous in South Africa. Then unbelievably, they wanted to do more typing!! Why would anyone want to torture themselves like that? I just remember the painful times when I was a teenager and I had to type multiple invoices for my dad for his business and back in the day when it was carbon paper to make duplicates, it was a horrible job. If I made one mistake, I had to start all over. I hated it. But now I’m a very proficient two or three finger typist. Sometimes I think I should have practiced more but it was so boring.
By the time they were done which was till about 2pm, I had some lunch and prepared for the employment workshop which was to be delivered at 3pm. I thought I was going to have 5 students and three teachers. Instead I had 16 students, three teachers, the director, one volunteer and one person who heard about the workshop from a family member and wanted to attend. I can’t believe how hungry the students are to learn. They were very quiet during the workshop and for a while I thought they didn’t understand (many of them speak Setswana) but they did. They shyly asked some questions after today’s presentation and I gave them some homework to do. They were even excited about the homework. I may decide that I like teaching in this country enough to stay or come back for another stint.
When I was leaving for home about 5pm, Mitho said that her cousin who is a Dr at the Gaborone hospital has offered to manage the centre’s website and to pay the cost of hosting it. I was worrying last week about how I would find the funds to do that but it appeared as if by a hope and a prayer. He is coming tomorrow at 1pm to see what we’ve done with the website. That means that I have to go home and get some serious work done.
I got home at 5 and worked for four straight hours (except for a 10 minute break to eat some of yesterday’s leftovers) and I think I have most of it arranged the way I want it to look. If Priya comes in tomorrow morning, we can work on the small details to have it ready for 1pm. I forgot to call Baagi today. I’ll have to do it tomorrow. Maybe he can come to the centre to meet the staff and see what we’re doing. Time for me to take a break. 12 hours of computer work in one day. That’s punishment. I deserve a break tonight. A nice cup of Ovaltine would be a welcome treat.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sunday in Gaborone – Gospel & Mandela

There is a lot of gospel music on Sundays and close to where I live are several churches which have services starting quite early in the morning and lasting most of the day. The air is filled with the sound of the beautiful choirs singing.
I got up early this morning to continue reading about Nelson Mandela and to listen to the songs being sung. I also listen to the rooster next door who doesn’t seem to know daybreak from late afternoon so he crows all day. Sounds nice and reminds me of when I was a child in Guyana and the roosters used to wake us up like a regular alarm clock. It also reminded me of a few years ago when I went back to Guyana with Sunita and Subhadra to visit. We had travelled all night in the plane and arrived in Georgetown about 7am. By the time we got to Belair it was about 9am and the girls were tired. They promptly dropped into bed and wanted to sleep but a rooster kept crowing and kept them wide awake. Somehow the noise didn’t seem to bother me but it did them. Of course the next morning when the rooster started crowing at 4:30, they were not too impressed but it’s all the sounds that I grew up with so it made me happy. That’s how I feel when I hear the rooster now.
The website is not going to get done if I don’t finish reading the Mandela boo but it’s pretty thick so I’d better do some speed reading. I went outside to read but it was COLD!!! I insisted that I should read outside so back I went into the house for my thermos of coffee and my shawl.
Kathy came to pick me up at 10 to go to an Indian market. We walked around the Broadhurst Mall and there were several street vendors selling wares including several Zimbabweans who were selling everything from furniture to wooden carvings. One interesting thing many people do in parking lots in Botswana and South Africa. They’ll offer to watch your car for 2 pulas (about 40 cents). Kathy explained that in some cases, if you don’t pay, you can find your tires slashed. Fortunately for us, this never happened. Some of the groups are quite organized. They are supported by many churches and wear a kind of a bright orange or green sleeveless vest (much like you see crossing guards at intersections in Canada). They are (quasi) official car watchers who do this in exchange for a meal or two at the churches. I think it’s also a way to keep them from getting involved in and preventing petty crimes. Some of the watchers even offer to wash your car for a few more pulas. When you’re exiting the parking lot, they’ll stop traffic so that you can get out of your parking space safely. It’s all quite a system.
We found some spices at the Indian market and I even found some guavas which I immediately bought. I went home and cooked some of the stuff I bought. Jayanthi called and invited me for dinner and I told her that I would bring over what I had cooked. I continued my reading for about an hour or so and then went off to the main mall to do some browsing. By the time I walked there, everything was closed except for the grocery stores. It’s pretty quiet in town when you don’t know anyone and you don’t have a car to go anywhere. I went home, thought about working on the website and then went off to the WUSC office (which is not really opened on Sundays but Kathy and Geoff were there doing some work) to check my email and see if I could talk to my family on skype. I got there with only sufficient time to check my email.
I went over to Jayanthi and Jim’s home and was glad they had a heater. The things you take for granted that you can suddenly appreciate!! A heater or a wood burning fireplace. Makes me long for a furnace. I might not be saying that in September or October when the weather here gets hot but it’s downright cold.
I used to hear about the Kalahari in Geography class when I was a teenager (never really imagining that I would ever come close to seeing it) and Adele was reminding me in an email about our geography teacher Chito who used to teach us all about the desert and the Rocky Mountains and stalactites and stalagmites. I could not have imagined that I would ever see any of it but here I am experiencing all of it. Can’t say I like the drop in temperature at nights because of the desert conditions but I’m experiencing it and that’s what counts.
Another weekend over. Tomorrow I’ll work on the website for sure. It’s nearly done even if I didn’t do much to it this weekend.