Saturday, August 05, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Planning for Okavanga Delta and Chobe

I went to the travel agent in Riverwalk mall today to see if I could get a quotation to go to the Okavanga Delta as well as Chobe Park. They gave me a quote last week and I needed to make some adjustments to the schedule. I came away no closer to confirming an itinerary. I hope to do that by Monday at the latest. The accommodations at the delta and Chobe are always booked up.

The itinerary they suggested is to fly from Gaborone to Maun then on to Kasane (which is in Chobe National Park) in the early afternoon. Then a boat cruise at 3pm. Dinner at the riverfront restaurant where apparently it is one of the best views of the wild animals that come to drink at the river. Then the next morning we depart for the Zimbabwe border for the day trip to Victoria Falls. After viewing the falls, it’s off to lunch and then browsing at the flea markets and some sightseeing with the taxi driver who will be taking us. Then back to Kasane for dinner. Next morning is a morning game drive where you see the wild animals in their natural habitat – not a zoo as we’re used to seeing them. I am really looking forward to that. I have a mental picture of what that might look like but the closest thing I can think of is African Lion Safari in Ontario that I visited many years ago. I am feeling like a regular tourist instead of a volunteer who’s been living here for several weeks already.

It’s possible to do a game drive in that afternoon as well because there are different types of animals that can be seen. There are supposed to be about 60-70,000 elephants in the park so I’m sure I’ll see one or two. I wish Izabel was here to see it with me. She’d love it. When we went up to Jasper in May, she saw some mountain goats and the had their little kids with them. We showed them to her and she wanted to know if the baby goats were sitting in their mommy’s laps. I told her that the baby goats were sitting next to their mommies. At three, she interprets everything as she sees and hears it. The next day she saw some more goats and wanted to talk to them but didn’t know how to call them. So this is what she said “Pssst, where are your babies”. The goats didn’t answer her but I was sure one of them was smiling at her.

She’d just love to see a live baby elephant. In fact, so would I. Back to the itinerary. After 3 nights in Chobe, we fly back to Maun then it’s off to the Okavanga Delta in a small plane. The luggage allowance is 10-12 kilograms. What’s the meaning of that? That’s my hand luggage allowance. What ever will I do? I may have to buy an additional seat just for the extra luggage allowance. Well, it may very well be a necessary expense. We get to the delta for tow night and I think there is a game drive there too but perhaps with different animals and birds.

The delta is supposed to have a wide variety of birds and animals and of course the usual pesky malaria mosquitoes. That means malaria meds for sure or I’ll be returning to Canada with a bad case of malaria. Not fun and not what I want to be bringing back. Something exotic and tropical but definitely not malaria. I am still amazed that I grew up in Guyana and the only childhood illness I got was measles. Nothing more serious than that. I got chicken pox in Canada as an adult. That was no fun either especially given the fact that I was pregnant. Lucky for me and my baby that it was not a serious case.

Okay I keep getting distracted by the comings and goings today at the house. The delta trip will include a mokoro boat trip. The mokoro is a kind of dugout canoe navigated with a long pole that is used in the delta area. I’ll find out more as I go along. I wonder if it’ll be anything like the gondolas we saw in Venice with the gondolier serenading us? I’m expecting this to be more rustic and outdoorsy (is that a word)? Two nights in the delta with all the wildlife you can enjoy. That’s the general itinerary.

Kathy got two tickets for a dinner theatre tonight at the Gaborone Sun Hotel– Moulin Rouge – so we’ll go out to dinner and then Winnie will pick me up at about 9:30 to go to Likeleli’s house for her birthday party. Her birthday is actually tomorrow so the party is starting late this evening so that we can still be there by the time it turns midnight and it’s officially her birthday. I just hope I can stay awake till midnight. I am usually a night person but these days, I wake up early and go to bed early. I’ve heard a lot about the Gaborone Sun being one of the best hotels around. Lisa was saying that she had the best apple pie she’s ever eaten there. In fact, she said it was one of the best meals she’s ever had. I hope it’s as good tonight. Some of the Sedibeng graduates are working there so maybe I’ll see a couple of them there tonight although they’ll likely be in the kitchen and not in the dining room.

That reminds me that I have to try to visit a few more restaurants to see if we can get some additional partnerships going, the kind of partnership we have with the Gaborone Sun. That would give the students another training centre and maybe even give the graduates another few places to get employment.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Emily's last day and the farewell song

This morning when I came in, it was cold and some of the students were huddled in the kitchen. The others were outside sweeping the yard. They do that every morning with brooms made from the ribs of the palm leaves. We used to call them pointer brooms in Guyana. The yard always looks very clean and there is a leaf pile at the back of the yard which the burn when it gets too high. The students use the same brooms to sweep inside of the centre – much like we used to do in Guyana - but it gets pretty dusty and if you’re allergic to dust, it can be a real problem sweeping. I have the sneezing and watery eyes when I’m exposed to too much dust so I cannot finish the sweeping if I start it. There is a vacuum cleaner but it needs to be fixed and there is no money to do it right now so we use the brooms.

It is so cold for the last few days that people who live here are complaining that it’s cold and a couple of students asked if I had spare socks (which I don’t have because I didn’t really think it would get this cold or feel this cold!!).

While I was doing my usual morning routine of hooking up my laptop and checking my email, I heard this loud joyous singing but it was not coming from the restaurant area where the morning services are held. I went outside to see where the group was but they were not outside either. So I came back into the building and opened the sewing room door. There were about 6 or 7 students in there just belting out a hymn so quickly got my digital camera which records short video clips and recorded about a minute and a half of impromptu singing. I wish I could find a way of including it on the blog. I will give it to Thapleo to include in the website.

This was Emily’s last day at Sedibeng and we had a party for her. I baked a big strawberry/apple cake and we had some fruits and other snacks. It was such a lovely send-off especially when the students started singing a song about Emily and Canada which they adapted from some gospel music. It was quite a compliment because although they were singing in Setswana, the song was about their Emily- meaning that Emily was now a part of them. Of course there were tears and laughter and gifts and dancing – which I have recorded and will make a copy for Emily so she can have that remembrance of her time in Botswana. The students will miss her a lot because she really did make a valuable contribution to their well-being. She is leaving on Monday so she’ll have at least a few more hours on Monday with us.

The new volunteers came over to Kathy’s tonight for dinner. We made mulled cider and wine, bolognaise, pasta and some veggie pasta sauce. Chocolate cake and some kind of caramel cake topped off the evening for dessert. The best part of the evening though was the roaring fire and I made sure that I enjoyed every bit of it. It warmed up the house nicely and felt like a nice cosy evening with conversation around the fire. It was nice to hear how everyone was doing at their placements and to see the new ones asking questions – much the same as I was at the beginning of July.

Melissa is working with the Ministry of Education Vocational Training Division doing work with instructors to imbed HIV/AIDS content into their curriculum. I do the same sort of work at Red River College in the course on Diversity and Inclusiveness and it’s always a challenge to incorporate themes of Diversity and Inclusiveness into technical/vocational curriculum. We had a good talk about the similarities and challenges we face. Having been a tradesperson for over 30 years and a vocational teacher for about 17 years and now teaching college instructors for the last three years, I can see how some curriculum content would lend themselves better to certain courses and not so easily to others but employability skills – much like those outlined by the Conference Board of Canada are a necessary part of curriculum. Having done DACUM workshops, employers are saying that they want people who are adaptable, who can manage change and who have good teamwork skills. Along with the technical content, it is imperative that graduates possess those skills. Okay that was my bit of school/teaching related stuff. It was heartening though to see that the challenges faced by the education system in Botswana are similar to the ones faced in Canada.

Everyone left Kathy’s about 10pm to do other activities but Kathy could only think it was a long day and sleep was beckoning. I tried reading but my eyelids were heavier than the book I was holding so I gave up. This is obviously being posted on Saturday where I do now have access to internet, albeit dial-up.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Finally some business cards

I found a flyer today and by coincidence, there was an advertisement for business cards. The price was very good – 50 pula (about $10) for 100. I then had to use a magnifying glass to read the small print which said “only for repeat orders”. I called anyway and the agent said the first 100 was 181 pula and each additional 100 would be 50 pula. I gave her a sob story and said that I already had the card designed and they would have no additional work to do to set it up. My sob story paid off. She offered me each 100 cards for 50 pula.

Thandi and I went down to the printing store and paid for 200. That should be enough for a while. I paid for it myself because there is really no money to do much and it seemed like such a small amount that will pay in dividends. By the time I’m done my internship here, not only will that cost me a whole bunch of money, but the little things I keep buying each day adds up too. I’ve decided not to add too much because it’s worth it.

After the printer, we went into a mall that sells craft items. I was looking for anything interesting or unusual that the fashion design students could be making to sell in quantities. We found a store that is selling custom quilts and they are charging about 2500 pula for a size that fits on a single bed. That’s a lot for Botswana. I could see our students making perhaps place mats or wall hangings to sell. There were also some beautiful cloth handbags that were made with Indian inspired and sari prints. I’m sure the students could also make those for sale for a lesser price and equally good quality. We mentioned it to Likeleli and she said she would take a look at them too. It gave me an idea that we could use the placemats in the Sedibeng restaurant and put a “For Purchase” sign on them too.

Today was a bit warmer than yesterday but not by very much but it could be that I dressed super warm today so I may not be feeling the cold as much.
We baked scones today to send as samples to the people that usually order the morning rolls. These were cinnamon scones and I’m hoping that if the usual customers like them, we can offer them once or twice a week instead of the bread. Today I had stewed soup bones to eat. Sounds odd but I saw the students eating it at lunch and asked if I could have a taste. It’s basically soup bones that’s made into a stew and eaten with rice or pap or boiled sorghum. Most poor people buy and cook the bones because they cannot afford meat. The bones have a lot of marrow and flavouring but no meat. I tried it and they thought it was great that I would even want to. They were cheering.

They call me Mama Sandra and spent several minutes explaining that Ma means Madam (which is how they address anyone in authority) and Mama means Mother which is even more respectful and affectionate than Ma. I even have a Motswana name – Boitumelo – which means Happiness. I like my Motswana name (that’s what a person from Botswana is called). Many Botswana people are called Batswana and the language of Botswana is Setswana. There’ll be a test on this when I get back home so make sure you’re making notes.
I’m done for now and it’s time to go home.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Brrrrrr – very cold!!!!

I am trying to send some files today but it’s not working. The files are large and the internet is not cooperating. I made a template for some business cards. A set of cards were created but they are printed at the centre one at a time and with the choice of colours, it’s very expensive with the cost of ink. The new design is simple – the logo of the centre which is a well and black text which is easy enough to reproduce. We could get bulk printing at a printer but the cost is still expensive. I’ll have to shop around to see what I can get.

Last week we had a great start to the employment preparation workshop but it is till not complete because of other commitments last week. I was trying to see if I could bring one student at a time to work on their CV’s but the kitchen is short staffed and all the hands are needed. Eleven catering students graduated on July 20th and two of them got jobs at Gaborone Sun (Hotel). The workshop was for the ones who have no found jobs so are continuing to volunteer their time at the centre’s kitchen. There are about 6 or 7 students rather than the 11 so it means that I help out when I can. I can easily do the typing of the resumes but I feel that if the students prepare it themselves, they can take ownership of it and they’ll be able to modify it whenever they need to.

I had to recreate a new database on one of the computers in the lab because the one in the office is so old that it doesn’t work very well. I created the first one the day after I arrived and didn’t know at that time that the computer was so inefficient. Jayanthi has started inputting the data so that should not take too long.

On Monday, I was talking to Maggie and Thandi (floral design and catering teachers) on how we can utilize the restaurant to market some of our services better. One of the very simple things is to include business cards with the floral arrangements that we sell or the catering orders that we deliver. It seems like a “no brainer” but many people still don’t know about the centre’s services and this would be one simple and cost effective way to get our name out there. We are also going to make small floral arrangements for the dining room tables with a small “for purchase” sign on them. One minor detail that I forgot to mention – we don’t have business cards. Tomorrow I’ll call around to find out the cost of some cards.

I got a ride home today with Jayanthi and Jim even though they don’t really live anywhere close to where I live. They said they were going to the mall near where I live so I was glad for the ride. It’s been such a cold day – the coldest since I’ve been here. The temperature dropped to -2C last night and today the high was 7C. That doesn’t sound too cold but the centre does not have heating except for the computer room so many of the students were huddled in the kitchen where it was war from the cooking and baking and some of them were huddled around a 100 cup coffee maker filled with ht water for the serving trays at lunch time. I haven’t been this cold for a long time. Jim explained that in Lesotho, many people wear woollen blankets around them in the winter instead of coats and they sometimes wear them in the summer too. I did see some people in the mall wearing the blankets but I don’t know if that was what he was referring to and he only mentioned it on the way home so I couldn’t ask him if that’s what he was talking about. A couple of the students Karim and Choloe are in Ghanzi and it’s desert there where it gets cold at night. They’re probably colder there. It’s supposed to be snowing in Jo’burg where it never snows. I went home and made a large pot of spaghetti sauce for dinner on Friday. Kathy is having a casual dinner for the new interns – much like I was last month. It’ll be an early night tonight.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Our anniversary – 36 years

I’m sort of celebrating my 36th anniversary today. I say sort of because I’m in Botswana and my husband is in Canada. He reminded me that except for our first anniversary when we were poor students and he was working out of town and could not afford to come home, this is the only other one that we have no spent together. Only now we are not poor students. I am the poor student albeit not as poor as I was back in the day (to use Subhadra’s expression).

I almost thought I would not live to write about this day. Kathy was driving me to work this morning and we were on one of the main roads. A car from a side street literally drove right in front of us. Kathy was driving a land cruiser and the other driver was in a little car. She slammed on her very good brakes and avoided hitting him by about a foot. His passenger looked at us indignantly and showed us some finger signs as if to say “you saw us trying to intercept you, so why didn’t you wait?” Well that was the start of my day. It went downhill. The internet was intermittent so I could not call Robin nor could I post anything on the blog. It’s either the internet not working well or there is something wrong with the blog site because more often than not, the page takes such a long time to load up that it times out. We had a storm today – rain and very cold so that may have been affecting the internet and the cell phone lines.

I was really glad that Lemogang offered me a ride home while I was walking to the combi stop. I left the house today dressed for warm weather (it was quite warm) but by the time I was ready to leave for the day, the temperature had dropped by several degrees so the ride home was much appreciated. I was feeling so out of sorts that I could not skype or call to Canada that I went home and baked a cake. That doesn’t make any sense unless you love to cook and bake and realize how therapeutic it is to do something that tastes and smells nice at the end of a disappointing day.

Some interns from the Coady Institute arrived today and Kathy was giving them some assistance with computer use, grocery shopping rides to their house. I accompanied her to their home which was a part of town that I had not been to. One of the volunteers got mugged yesterday so Kathy went over to visit and make sure she was okay. It’s good to know that someone is there to care when you’re so far away from home. We are all told to be cautious but sometimes we forget or think that nothing will happen to us but it can happen to anyone. It was a sober reminder to all of us that we need to be attentive to our surroundings even when we think it’s safe.

I made a nice pot of masala chai and Kathy and I enjoyed that with a piece of the cake. No much of an anniversary but I hope that in a couple of weeks when Robin arrives, we’ll do something fun to make up for this day. Maybe go to Sanita’s for lunch. Kathy and I stayed up till almost midnight and talked about WUSC, Uniterra and other organizations doing work in Botswana. There are a lot of opportunities for volunteer work in many countries and they all sound so interesting. It’s cold so I’m going to call it a night.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Eating mopane worms – not exactly yummy

I don’t know how I forgot to mention this but last week I tried Mopane worms which everyone here eats. They sell the dried worms (caterpillars really) in the markets and you can eat them just like that as a sort of snack or re-hydrate them and cook them in tomato sauce with onions. I don’t know that I could actually eat the hydrated version but the dried ones look like dried worms and when you break it open, it looks like a peanut and tastes like a combination of salty wood and dust. I’m not sure that I would want to eat it again and I was offered the tomato sauce version but I declined. I’m willing to try different things but I never thought I’d eat a worm on purpose. Hey but I can say I tried it. I don’t know if any of my Guyanese friends/family remember but sometimes when we used to bite into a guava, we’d find a worm in it and promptly throw it out. Now I’m actually eating it by choice although I won’t likely be trying it again. Here is a link to a site that explains what the mopane worm is.

Harvesting the worms are also a problem as the website will explain and if there is not a sustainable way to do it, the worm will become extinct. One of the great things about living in another country is that you learn to appreciate differences and you also learn to appreciate the lifestyle you left behind. I can feel that my experiences here will change the way I view the world.

I travelled to work and home today by combi (a mini-bus that’s used a taxi). It was quite an experience. I went to the Riverwalk mall and the combis were coming about every three or four minutes but they were packed. These combis should seat about 12 people but there are sometimes 15 or more. And it’s quite a system if you happen to be seated at the last seat at the back and you have to get out. The people seating in the two folding seats (one in the second row and one in the third row) have to get out, then the whole back row has to get out so that the last person can get out and everyone climbs in again but move over one so that other passengers can get in at the front part. Well I was lucky because they didn’t ask me to move to the back. Apparently I got a preferential seat (not as good as the one in the front but then again, after seeing the way the drivers drive, I would rather sit in the second or third row. I was lucky both ways that I got a good seat.

It was a kind of quiet day at work. Priya came in with the last set of changes to the website layout. I did some editing and it looks good to go. I sent the file to Thapelo to review and with some luck (keeping fingers and toes crossed), it will be ready for viewing. I seem to be saying that each week but there are a few of us working on it and with everyone volunteering their time between full-time jobs, it takes longer to get done.

This afternoon the students had a nice lunch of curried chicken and rice and pap (a kind of sorghum cereal). Everyone in Botswana eats the pap sometimes with gravy or sweet with milk or sour with cream of tartar. I tried the sour version but didn’t like it as much as the sweet version with milk and sugar or even with gravy. I also tried samp which is a kind of corn product made like a potato dish. The students were really happy that they were getting such a feast of chicken and rice. One student had not eaten since Friday. Yes Friday. That’s three days ago. The last meal was on Friday at the centre and nothing over the weekend. Many of them are orphans living with relatives (sometimes in a shed at the back of the house) and the families cannot always afford to give them food. The AIDS epidemic is beyond a crisis and it really affects everyone. Offices cannot find qualified people to do some of the jobs because by the time some people have the necessary education, they have died from HIV/AIDS. There are posters everywhere and many foreign NGO’s and educational institutions are doing research and work here on education and prevention.

Each day, the students get three slices of bread and sometimes if they are lucky, they might have a pat of butter or some peanut butter that someone donated or brought in or they may share a few eggs among a dozen students and that is the only meal they’ll have for that day. It’s sad really. It reminds me when I used to teach in Winnipeg and very often one or more of the students would come to school hungry. These were adult students who worked full-time during the day and came to school Monday to Friday evenings from 4-10pm for a one year program in hairstyling. There were days when some of them would work all day and have no time or money to buy or make dinner. I used take my dinner to school and give it away to whomever didn’t have dinner that night (pretending that I had already eaten or wasn’t hungry because I could always go home and eat).

Somehow you think in Canada people don’t go hungry at least not in the cities where things are readily available but they do go hungry. The staff here are really caring people and they do whatever they can to help but they also have families of their own. They have to really want to be here because the wages are not that great and some of them quit well paying jobs to be here. What the centre needs are some donor organizations who could help support them with cash or contributions of food, equipment or HR services like a full-time counsellor or social worker. This makes me realize even more how much of a consumer culture we have gotten used to in Canada but in spite of that, I am still grateful to call Canada my home. Hopefully the website will attract people and we created a section for donations and contributions.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Journaling, reading and gardening

This was a very quiet day. I thought about all the things I could do including going to Mokulodi Game Reserve especially since all the catering students are working there this weekend at a function but I was loving the quiet time so I decided not to go anywhere. I worked on Kathy’s plants, deadheading flowers and digging and tending to the herb garden. The pots look great now. They needed some trimming and it’s been such a busy time for her, that I didn’t mind doing it. Her gardener went back to Mozambique to visit family so I got to do his work which I loved. The soil here is red – similar to the soil in the country areas of Guyana especially Dekendren where my sister Bena and my brother Karran used to spend our holidays with my aunts and uncles. The clay turns almost to brick if it’s left alone. There was a big heap of leaves in the backyard but I don’t know if it’s a compost pile or it’s going to be burnt. They do that a lot here – burn the leaves and other rubbish even though they have garbage pick-up twice a week. I’m thinking of my two compost bins at home and wondering if my flowers are doing okay and if the bins need emptying.

I watered some of the plants and then remembered Kathy saying that last year there was a drought and they were banned from watering the lawns so the grass died. She was explaining that many people used grey water (water used to wash dishes and bathing) to water the lawns. I think that’s a great idea. The pipes from the sinks drain outside into a waste water receptacle so it would be easy to collect the water before it goes down the final drain. That was a new thing for me – seeing the recycled water used to water the lawn. We should do that in Canada. I suppose when you live in a country that is mostly desert, you learn to appreciate the value of water. The people of Botswana even name their currency after that. Pula (their dollar) means “rain” and thebe (cents) means “raindrop”.

In the afternoon, some teak furniture that Kathy ordered from Zimbabwe arrived – a coffee table and two end tables. They were a different colour from the teak furniture she already has which is a nice shade of brownish red. I asked Chris the delivery person how come it was different and he said that the light colour of the furniture eventually oxidized and turns the beautiful shade of red. The end tables were quite nice and the slatted tops folded in half (like a TV table) to be stored. I asked him if he had any more and he said he had two smaller ones. I asked him to bring them and I bought them. I have no idea how I’ll take it back to Canada but I’ll find a way. The tables were $30 each for solid teak. I would probably pay at least 3 times more for it in Canada.

This is interesting but has nothing to do with anything. I saw a store called IKEA and for anyone living in Canada, or at least in some parts of Canada, the name IKEA is synonymous with unusually designed contemporary furniture at a decent price and many students shop there to furnish their homes . Well imagine my surprise when I went into the store and it was a sort of corner store with no furniture. I asked the owner how come he was using the name IKEA when it was not a real IKEA store and he smiled and said that he knew the name was popular so he decided to use it. I even saw a ROOTS store that had nothing to do with ROOTS Canada.

It got me to thinking about appropriating someone’s name and calling it your own. Are there international laws that prohibit that? What could the real IKEA do if they know that another business is using their name for marketing purposes? The sign was exactly the same – down to the colours. What about designer knock-offs? They are everywhere. I saw them in China, Hong Kong, Brazil, Mexico and even Puerto Rico which I thought might not be allowed. Anyway, it was just an observation.