Settling in

We’ve only been here for two full days and already it feels like I’ve been in Botswana for a long time.

Yesterday we registered for classes in the morning. My UB class will be a religious studies class called “Contemporary African Philosophy,” which I’m super excited for. It took a while to look through the course catalogues and pair them with the course timetables to see if classes we wanted were being offered and being offered at times that worked for us, but we eventually got all our choices squared away.

The road we walked to get to the nearby mall.

That afternoon we took a quick trip to one of the nearby malls, about a 15-20 minute walk away, and then met up with Professor Volz and the rest of the program to go to a nearby restaurant to meet our Setswana teachers for a more official ACM welcome. The place we went to was called “The No. 1 Ladies Coffee Shop,” a joke on the popular Alexander McCall Smith books set in Botswana, which is unfortunately the only way many people in America ever engage with this culture: though a book series written by a Scottish dude. But alas, it’s at least a more accurate representation than most Western media portrayals of Africa.

Our Setswana teachers and Mary, the ACM program coordinator who lives here in Gaborone, talked to us about culture issues and did some skits on avoiding petty theft and dealing with the ever-present patriarchal structures we will encounter. Afterwards, we had a traditional Setswana meal, with most of the dishes cooked in large pots over a fire for a long time, and featuring shredded meat, which is made by beating the meat for a long time until it is very tender, and typically only done for weddings and funerals. The food was delicious (I guess I can’t speak for the meat, but I heard good things), and it was fun to spend some time with just our little ACM group, knowing we’re going to do a lot together this semester.

Dinner time!!

Today we had our official orientation in the morning, walking around to see a lot of important places on campus, and then went on a driving tour of Gaborone, stopping at the Three Dikgosi Monument to take pictures and get a short history lesson from a curator who worked there. The monument depicts the three chiefs who were critical in Botswana’s fight for independence. The statue on the far left is of  Khama III, the father of the current president of Botswana, and a great representation of the way political power has been held tightly by only a few families and political parties for all of Botswana’s history. When we got back on the bus I had a great conversation with a current UB student who is studying politics about all the difficulties of those power struggles. Especially coming on our own inauguration day, it was so interesting to chat with someone about the unique challenges that each of our countries face; challenges that are very different, but similarly rooted in monopolies of power and influence.

Finally, tonight two of the other Grinnell students and I had dinner at a restaurant at the nearby mall, and even though it was pretty slow, we had a lot of fun and I barely even thought about the fact that the inauguration was happening back at home at about the same time. We heard “Africa” by Toto come on twice while we were there, was hilarious and gave me all sorts of throwbacks to 80s Harris at Grinnell. We got a taxi back to campus since it was dark out and we don’t know the streets well yet, but even that was only 30 Pula, the equivalent of about 3 dollars. Tonight my roommate invited me to her church this Sunday and I am so excited to see what a Lutheran church in Botswana looks like!

Dinner at Embassy, an Indian (and Chinese, and kind of a variety of everything) restaurant at Riverwalk

Between long days and high temperatures, I’m exhausted and heading to bed. I still haven’t gotten the Ethernet plug in my room to work consistently, so I’ll post this from the student center in the morning where I can get wifi. Goodnight, everyone!

This picture was from our walk to dinner on Thursday afternoon, but we later learned more interesting facts about this building behind Zach and Sophie, so I’m adding it on here. That building was a maximum security prison during the colonial era of Botswana, and was in operation until 1982. That tower on the far side of it was where executions took place, and the death penalty is still in existence in Botswana, though human rights groups are currently fighting it.
We can’t end on that dark note, so here’s a photo of Sophie and I doing the tree pose outside of our hostels during one of the (fairly frequent) periods of waiting we’ve encountered here. I’m getting used to everything moving slower and sticking less strictly to a timetable, but it will still take a bit of adjustment to realize that a meal that starts at 8:30 might not actually begin until 9:20.

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