Thursday, August 10, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Moving Day - Again

Today was another moving day for me. I moved to Barbara’s house this afternoon. I’ll be house sitting while they are vacationing in Canada. There was a bit of an emergency. Her husband Wayne is a presenter at the AIDS conference and he forgot his poster and papers at home and they only discovered that when they arrived in Jo’burg so she called and I got a taxi to take it over to his office on the Western Bypass and someone there will make sure he gets it tomorrow morning.

There are many good things about being a short-term volunteer and I’m loving all of it. The down side is that housing is not readily available for a such a short term so accommodations can be a challenge. It seems that I have not been in any place long enough to unpack and feel settled and I keep accumulating much more than I brought here even though I promised myself that I wouldn’t buy anything too bulky. Of course there are the two teak tables that I couldn’t resist and the price was right. Now how do I get it home? And there is the heater, but I can give that away. And of course the cell phone that will work anywhere in the world except North America. How’s that for “anywhere in the world?”

The news today was quick – about the police in London arresting 27 people plotting to plant explosives on planes going from London to the US. Kathy called and told me because she knows that Robin is flying to Botswana via London and now people cannot carry any hand luggage. Does that mean that planes are safer if there is no luggage in the overhead bins? I can’t make sense of that because it’s he hand luggage that usually gets checked and not the checked luggage. Hey but who am I to question the police when their security procedures don’t make any sense?

I have to pack tonight to go to Ghanzi tomorrow morning. We are expecting to leave about 7am but with so many of us going, I’m sure we’ll leave later. In any event, I’ll be ready. I’m looking forward to the trip. I’m not sure what to expect – about the San Bush people or the desert. I was told to prepare for the weather because the days will be hot and the nights will be cold. Not any different from Gaborone for the last month. This time I’m going to try to pack lighter than I did for the trip to Jo’burg. Emily said she thought I was going for a month rather than days and I thought I was packed pretty lightly.

I was planning to work on the garden today but that didn’t happen. The fire from yesterday was still smouldering so I’ll let that burn out till Monday. That will give me some time to talk to Reynold about the grey water system. I asked the students to clean up the small stones from the garden but without supervision, it doesn’t happen. I’ll have to do some bargaining with them. I know they like to use the computer lab to learn to type so I’ll have to bribe them with the use of the lab in exchange for doing some of the work outside.

Oh, this is some exciting news for me and the students. I called Peter who is the person who is in charge of Mokolodi Game Reserve to ask about the price of a game drive out there. They have an all day one for P150 (CDN$30) and a 3 hour one for P50 (CDN$10). I told him that I was a WUSC volunteer and would like to take some of the students (the Catering program graduates who are volunteering their time in the kitchen) on a game drive and I would be paying for it. He was great and offered me a half price fare for the two hour drive. I was so excited that I was doing a little hop and dance.

I told the catering students that I would be taking them and they got very excited as well because none of them has ever gone. They cannot afford the cost. It’s my little treat for them because they work very hard starting from 8:00am to about 4pm – many times without a break. Psepho (a catering student) said that I was blessed. I asked her to explain that. If I am the one paying and she is the recipient, it seemed logical to think that she is blessed. She didn’t see it that way. This is how she explained it: Mama Sandra, you are the one who is blessed. If you did not come here, none of us would ever get to see Mokolodi. When you talked to that man, he heard the kindness in your voice and he gave you a special price so you could take us.” That was good enough for me. Kedy (another catering student) gave me such a high compliment today. She said that she wished she was my daughter and had my genes because it means that she would work hard and be a kind person. And I wasn’t even giving her anything and it was before they knew anything about the game drive. I would like to lead be example and if it makes a difference to someone’s life, then I would have succeeded.

There is just so much I would like to do though and I feel like I’m running out of time. The beginning of September will arrive quickly and it’ll be back to school to try to finish 12 months of work in 8. I was going to try for 4 months but that may be a bit too much. Better get my things packed for tomorrow morning. I’m sure I won’t sleep much tonight. I can hardly wait and I have to remember to take my Canadian flags and pins.

1. August 14th, 2006 by Robin Sukhan
I hope Wayne receives his stuff for the AIDS conference. I also I hope that the situation is better when I arrive in London on August 18. The trip to Ghanzi should be an experience for you. The trip to the Game Reserve will be an experience for the students. Take care.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Botswana burning…..Not quite…. it’s only our rubbish pile

I got to the centre this morning and the first thing out of Sepho’s mouth was a very surprised “Mama Sandra!!!” They’ve never seen me in jeans and a T-shirt going to work so their surprise was genuine. I even walked with my shovel and rake from Kathy’s. Thandi and I got started with the raking and pretty soon, several of the kids joined in. We had a crew of about 11 including me and we cleaned much more than I intended to do. We raked and separated garbage from leaves and started the burning pile. They were wanting to rake everything into the fire but I made them separate out the plastic and aluminium cans for the trash (they do little or no recycling here) and the rest of it we burned.

We pruned trees, stacked bricks, separated stones and generally cleaned up the place. By the time we were finished, I’m sure the smell emanating from us was not too pleasant because Mitho kept telling us that we should have a shower. After the third time, I got a ride home with Thandi and had a nice shower. I even realized that I smelled like a smoke stack. After that I went to the travel agent to pay for my tickets and took a combi back to the centre. When I walked in this time – dressed the way I usually am – there were cheers and hollers.

Mitho said that she felt bad for us because we looked so dusty and that’s why she was insisting that we have a shower. She said that I looked so “blue collar” this morning – far removed from the business attire that they are accustomed to seeing me in. I just wanted to show that I could get down and dirty when I have to and I won’t say that things need doing without being willing to do it myself or at least to do my share. Reminds me of the fundraising idea we had at Winnipeg Technical College when I said that we should have a dunk tank and people can pay to dunk the teachers. The planning committee wanted to know which of the teachers would be willing to get into the tank and be dumped multiple times. Well, guess what? I decided to volunteer and did I get dunked!! But it was the other teachers doing the paying. As it should be anyway. They had fun and I got wet – but for a worthy cause.

My hands have a couple of blisters and my leg has a big bruise from one of the branches attacking me. But that’s okay. My nails are in shreds but that’s okay too – for a few hours. Tomorrow we’ll work on clearing up the rest of the stones in the area that we’ll use for the garden and on Monday when I get back from Ghanzi, we’ll try to install the grey-water system and work on the garden beds.
When I was at the mall today, I bought 10 chocolate bars for the students helping with the burning. I gave it to them and pretty soon several others were asking how come they didn’t get any. I said it was just for the gardening helpers. I’m sure in the next few days, I’ll be getting lots more help.

Okay, enough for now. I’m posting this early today so the rest of the day will have to wait till tomorrow. I have to go home and remove a few slivers and thorns from my hands. This is a good reason to get an education. Manual labour is hard work!!!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Checked out organic garden

This grey water system is so fascinating to me that I really think that we can install one at the centre and make it work. At the same time, we can make a garden at the back in an area that I think was supposed to be a spot for collecting and burning leaves but instead has turned into a bit of an eyesore especially when you’re in the dining buffet tables. There is garbage being dumped there and it’s totally unnecessary because there is garbage pickup twice a week.

I called Kathy and she said that there is Kelly who is a WUSC volunteer doing some organic gardening. That was music to my ears. I called her and Thandi and I went over to see it (about 3 minutes drive). It was quite well done and they are hoping to get a program started for women and the disadvantaged to learn how to garden and compost. I was impressed and we talked to Keneilwe the Environmental Planner about forming some kind of partnership with Sedibeng to supply the produce that will be grown there. That way, they’ll have a constant market for their product and we at the centre will be able to support them by buying their produce. It could be beneficial to both of us. As well, if the price is good, they can perhaps plant the kinds of things that we use on a daily basis at the restaurant – lettuce, cabbage, carrots, beets, onions, spinach and a kind of green like spinach but I don’t remember the name.

We came back to the centre all excited because we were really intending to go there to see what they were doing and how we could replicate the same. Our space is too small to have a large enough quantity to supply the restaurant but we could certainly grow some of it for ourselves – the quick growing things like onions and spinach. We decided that tomorrow we would get started on the cleanup. It’s going to be a big job because the pile is big but if we start tomorrow, by Monday we should be ready to make the garden beds.

Today we had a staff meeting after the students were finished for the day. It lasted for about 2 hours and there were several points discussed from the last agenda. After reading the items from the last meeting, I had some suggestions about marketing the centre in a more structured way and we discussed strategies that each of the instructors can do to assist with the plan. We discussed the sustainability of the programs. If students are getting the training at the centre but cannot find employment or are still unemployable, then the programs are not sustainable and will eventually fold.

We also discussed an Open House which was scheduled for August 24. I said that I would my part but I will likely be in Kasane or the Delta at that time. Mitho said that she was planning on asking me to MC the evening so they changed the date for August 31 so I could attend. That works out better anyway because we are wanting to invite some dignitaries as well as some of the funders/donors. It will be a sort of graduation too for the students who have completed their programs this year. We decided to use the occasion to launch our website as well. I’m looking forward to the event but it’s a bit late to be doing some of the planning. It just means that we’ll have to work hard in the next two weeks.

I went to the mall after the meeting to pay for my tickets to the delta but the travel agency was closed so Jayanthi, Jim and I (they gave me a ride to the mall) went to 25°East (the Indian restaurant) and had barfi and masala chai. And I didn’t even eat dinner yet!!

By the time I got home to Kathy’s, Katherine was there. She is the WUSC volunteer who picked me up the first day and brought me to the house I was staying at. She was very kind to me and it was great to see her again. She has done some wonderful work on establishing a home for orphaned children. The place is in Palape and it’s called House of Hope. They provide meals and education for orphaned children and she was one of the volunteers who worked tirelessly to get the project off the ground and make it successful. She is going back to Canada tomorrow because her contract is finished but I don’t think she wants to leave. She says she loves it here and you can see it in the way she talks so proudly of the people and the House of Hope. What a great name for such a place. I was hoping to get there to see it but I have not managed to do that yet. Kathy made a Thai dinner and I made flambéed bananas for dessert (only because we had some overripe bananas). That was two desserts in one night and a small bit of supper but it was yummy.

I went to bed feeling quite satisfied that today was a productive day and tomorrow will be more of the same. I re-read parts of the grey-water installation system and I think that after some consultation with Reynold (he installed one in Otse) this weekend, I should have a better idea how to make it work.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Results day

I wish I had something interesting to say about today but the day was a totally blah day. This morning I had a couple of surprises waiting for me. One was the installation of a washing machine which was donated to the centre in April but was never hooked up. I was commenting last week that the students are doing laundry in a bathtub and it’s quite difficult to be bending over the tub washing large table cloths and heavy towels.

I made a comment about “wouldn’t it be nice if we had a washing machine” only to be told that a brand new one was donated to the centre in April but was never installed. I offered to pay for the installation but today two students brought it out of the store room and hooked it up to a water and drain pipe that was already in the kitchen (even the space was there). The students will be happy to have that. The next surprise was a cash register (almost brand new). Last week I was commenting that we need to have a more efficient system of managing the money that is coming in from the restaurant at lunch time – either writing receipts or some way of recording the restaurant sales. To my surprise, there was a cash register that is not being used. It’s now hooked up and ready for the students to be trained on how to use it.

This afternoon Emily left at about 2:30 for Canada and many of the students piled into the back of two pick-up trucks and went to the airport to see her off. There was no crying – I think she did all that on Friday afternoon. I’ll likely see her in Toronto and I know her time here would have changed her life significantly. It already did because she was supposed to leave on July 18 but extended her time till today.

I had to go over to Barbara’s place today. I have not mentioned her. She and her husband and three year son Jacob live in Gaborone and he works for UNAID. Jacob looks a bit different from when I saw him two weeks ago. He was on day two of chicken pox and he was red and spotty but doing quite well. They are going to Canada for a vacation and I’ll be house sitting at their house for the rest of my stay in Botswana. I called a taxi to go over and he said he would be there in 10 minutes but after waiting for more than 45 minutes, I got a ride over to her house. That’s one of the things I have to get used to – that taxis will say 5 to 10 minutes and you could be waiting for an hour or more. They don’t want to lost the fare so they say they’ll be there in a few minutes without actually meaning it. And if it’s dark, you wait for an hour until it arrives because it’s too dangerous to walk at night.

Barbara’s house is a very big bungalow. It has a double garage, 4 bedrooms, a study, a dining room two living rooms, one and a half kitchens (one part for the maid and one part for the family), three and a half bathrooms, two patios (one for the living room and one for the bedrooms), a huge yard with a jungle gym, a trampoline, a large swimming pool and several fruit trees. She also has a maid who comes in 5 days a week but I said I didn’t need her while I was there. I might rethink that because after I walked around the property and saw the list of things I would have to take care of, I wondered if I shouldn’t have said that she should come. Oh, I forgot to mention the two dogs, a cat and three goldfish. I’ll be moving there on Thursday when they leave to go to Canada. I was telling Barbara that I was originally from Guyana and she said that she and her husband were there many years ago. They lived on a houseboat in the Caribbean for three years and while he was doing some work in Guyana, she visited him in Georgetown. Small world and it’s getting smaller.

Barbara gave me a ride to Kathy’s and I made a pot of chicken soup which Kathy and I shared over conversation. She is so knowledgeable about so many things that I love talking to and listening to her. I’m always picking her brains for nuggets of information that I can then store in my brain for future use. She really works hard and is totally committed to what she is doing. I sometimes wonder if she really ever has time to rest and relax with the procession of people in and out of her house, the mothering that she does and the general taking care of the needs of the volunteers. Her house sometimes reminds me of mine when it seems on any given day there could be international students , family friends or whomever staying over, eating over or needing something that we can help out with.

Her schedule reminds me of the time I invited a Mexican student Jorge (we were his Winnipeg Welcome Family) and asked him to bring his Columbian roommate David for dinner and my son-in-law Trent went to pick them up but came home with an extra person who no one knew. Trent found him at the side of the road with a suitcase in hand (he had just arrived from Kamloops after a 72 hour bus ride and the taxi dropped him off at the wrong address). Trent offered him a ride to the place where he was supposed to stay and no one was there so Trent brought him over to our house because I’d know what to do. So what did we do? We invited him – Ronnie, a total stranger from Bangladesh – to have dinner with us, go have a rest in one of the spare bedrooms and when he woke up, we would find and take him to his friend. He must have thought we were all freaks who would hurt him or we were very nice people who he had the good fortune to meet. What would you think if you were stranded at the side of the road in a strange city and a stranger offered to pick you up and take you home to his mother-in-law who invites you for dinner, offers you a place to sleep for a few hours? I know I would say “thanks but no thanks” or I might be so tired that I would say okay and hope that I didn’t get poisoned or worse.

Telling that story a few years later still makes us laugh. We could start it would with “there was this Mennonite man, who went to pick up a Mexican and a Columbian and came back with them and a Bangladeshi to the home of a Guyanese family…. It sounds too unbelievable or some kind of a joke that someone makes up. Maybe someday people will wonder if it’ll be an urban legend or if it’s true. That’s the way the world should be.

That was my day. Well, maybe one more thing. Thapelo came over today and had some good news for me regarding the website. The domain name is registered and we are just waiting for confirmation. All in all, not a bad day – results oriented after working on several things the last few weeks.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Learning about grey-water systems

First I have to mention about last evening’s dinner theatre at Gaborone Sun. Kathy and I went to the hotel and it looks very much like the old colonial hotels in Guyana complete with the wicker furniture. It was quite lovely and looked very elegant. I think it has a rating as a 5 star hotel. We walked around like two hotel guests and I was really trying not to gawk or look too touristy. I think I failed because it was the first time I got dressed up too go anywhere remotely dressy since I’ve been here.

The dinner was buffet and I was glad to see two of our recent graduates from Sedibeng – Chris and Pholoso – working serving at the buffet. I talked to them briefly – I didn’t want people in the line to get impatient – and they said they were tired because they were working long hours. At least they have a job but we have to give them appropriate information on employee rights regarding employment in Botswana. The only problem is that some people are so desperate for work that even though they may know the employer is taking advantage, they’ll stay at the job which for them is better than no job. Gaborone Sun pays well and they even pay overtime. We just need ot find a few more employers like that.

The dinner was quite nice – rolls, several salads, meats and veggies. There were also a few desserts of which I had a taste of a small piece of carrot cake and a sort of trifle. I had a Malawi shandy (non-alcoholic) and Kathy said there were a few more but I could only manage one. It was kind of gingery but tasty. Then there was entertainment with a group from South Africa singing songs from the movie Moulin Rouge. They encouraged people to get up and dance and normally I would do that – haha – but decided that I’d let the others have a good time. Someone won a dinner for 4 at the revamped Mahogany restaurant but it wasn’t me L L .

Winnie was supposed to pick me up at 9:30 to go to Likeleli’s birthday party but when 10pm rolled around and no Winnie, I called and she said she’d be there in 5 minutes. We arrived at Likeleli’s house at about 10:30 and there was enough food to feed a small army but I was so full from dinner that I tasted a couple of things and that was it for me. I met her partner who is an obstetrician and was a former professor at the University of Nairobi , now living in Botswana. We had an interesting discussion about religion, politics and the social injustices of the world and how NGO’s can contribute in developing countries. He was surprised to hear that I was from Guyana and said that I didn’t sound at all Guyanese.

I think my kids would disagree especially when they hear me talking to my Guyanese friends. Apparently when I’m talking to someone Guyanese I use my Guyanese accent and when I’m talking to someone Canadian, I use my Canadian accent. Which reminds me, Amara another Uniterra volunteer said that he has to make sure that I get to meet some of the expat Guyanese who are working here. I have not met a single West Indian, let alone a Guyanese and there is supposed to be a large community. Maybe they live in a different part of town, not that this is a large town by any means. I keep listening to the different accents when I go into stores or I meet new people, but they are really hiding out from me.

The evening ended at about 2am and that is the latest I’ve been up in a month and that’s only because I was travelling on the plane to Gaborone. This morning I got up early and considering that I only had about 4 hours of sleep, I thought for sure I’d be exhausted this afternoon. But I was engrossed in reading a new book (I finally finished the Mandela book and can now read the South African paper and know who they are referring to). There was an article about Mbeki and I even knew who he was. I knew where Kwa-Zulu Natal was and felt quite proud when the paper referred to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

I’ve learned a lot about the history and politics of SA as well as some of the politics of many of the African countries. Anyway the book I read today (about 80 pages) was about the baobab tree. They are very interesting and some of the largest trees in the world. They are even bigger than the redwoods of California. The book said that the trees are found in the Caribbean and they are sometimes referred to as calabash or rat tail tree. I know calabash but the trees don’t look like the baobab. Maybe it’s a different calabash or maybe someone reading this blog who is West Indian or a botanist can explain if it’s the same.

I was reading outside today but even in the sun it was a bit cool. So what did I do? I asked Kathy what she did with the pile of leaves in her backyard and she said that her gardener Dominic usually burns them when he gets around to it. I decided to help Dominic with his chores (last week I tended the garden and yesterday I was helping to rake up the kindling as he was chopping wood for the fireplace). He doesn’t work on Sundays so I decided that this would be a good time to help him with his burning so I made a big pile of leaves and spent a good hour burning dry leaves and twigs. The fire was still smoking when I went out to see it an hour later and it reminded of the smoking heap we would have in our backyard in Guyana when we had a poultry farm. The fire pit would burn for weeks sometimes. Tomorrow I’ll separate the ashes from the sand and put it in the garden for compost.

I came in the house smelling like a block of singed charcoal but it was just like in the old days when we used to go to Dekendren for vacations but in those days we would burn coconut husks to keep the mosquitoes and sand flies away. Those sand flies were mighty small but they could pack a sting. I think they have them here too but mostly in the delta area.

Kathy and I had roast chicken and a salad for dinner and I made some flambéed bananas. For those of you who have tasted my flambéed bananas, you know they are yuuuuummmmmmyyyy!!!! I made some chai and settled in with my next book on how to install a branched grey-water system. I don’t know how well it would work in Canada with the ground being frozen in winter but maybe the book explains that too.

Reynold (the intern from Winnipeg who went with us to Jo'burg) was working on a system at Camphill (a home for disabled people) in Otse. I hope to go out there to see the system in action. He is not an engineer (in fact I think he studied Theology) but his heart was in the right place and he wanted to come back to Botswana to do some work here (he and his family used to live here). I think Camphill also makes solar powered hearing aid batteries and they are going to be doing some sort of needs assessment regarding the use of the batteries. I’d like to be involved in that even though I don’t really know anything about hearing aids but I’m a fast learner and I do know how to do research and how to collect data. That would be such a worthwhile endeavour. I’ve heard about solar powered batteries (in fact when I visited my aunt in Guyana a few years ago, she had no electricity where she lived so they used solar power to charge a car battery so they could get electricity for part of the night and then it was a lamp for the rest of the night) but I never heard of solar powered hearing aid batteries.

I am going to continue reading about grey-water systems and perhaps we could even get one done at Sedibeng so they can start a herb garden for the restaurant or at least provide some water for the shrubs and bushes in the yard. From what I’ve read so far, a system can be very simple or quite complicated and the cost can range from about $100 to several thousand dollars but the simpler, the better. More on grey-water later. I also found a book on Kathy’s bookshelf which looks interesting too. It’s written by the dean of my faculty Joni Seager and is titled Earth Follies: Coming to Feminist Terms With The Global Environmental Crisis. To quote the back jacket: “It is a crisis of culture precipitated by the institutions that shape modern life. Seager offers a provocative and original feminist analysis of the crisis that focuses on the structures of power within these institutions and the ways in which they are dominated by masculinist presumptions.” This will be my next read – after the grey-water book. It will be a good start to my next semester’s work which will be Education, Sustainability and the Ecological Crisis that will be offered by Joe Sheridan, my Faculty Advisor.

Off to continue my reading. Thank goodness for internet on the weekend. It helps me get my work done. Joe is going to have a lot of reading to do. My journal so far is 57 pages, single spaced. That’s about two pages per day. Maybe I can stop writing for a few days or a couple of weeks and I’d still be okay but I think my family and friends may show signs of withdrawal if they can’t read my blog. I think the WUSC people may secretly be wishing that I wasn’t such a keen blogger. Oh well, there could be worse things.