A lot has happened in the past week, and I’ve fallen behind with blogging in the midst of it all, so this will be an attempt to recap some of the adventures (a positive term for a lot of frustrating events) of the past week.
Last Thursday we got word that the student strikes from the previous week were happening again, and classes were officially canceled for Thursday and Friday. At the beginning of the day it just seemed like a continuation of the same kind of demonstration that we had seen the week before (the situation being that not everyone had been paid their government allowances yet, even though some people received them after the first strike), but by the afternoon things got much more intense and a little bit nerve-wracking.
A few of us went to Curry Pot, one of the dining refectories on campus, for lunch, and after we had paid but before we actually got our food we saw a massive group of protesters marching toward the building. The workers had already locked all the doors in case this happened, but as the group moved towards us all the employees started taking their cashboxes to the back room, though the food servers continued to fill people’s plates. The protesters began banging on the doors and eventually broke through the doors and started coming into the refectory. We had been reassured by multiple people that we would be fine, the protesters might loot the place, but they weren’t going to bother the customers, especially those of us who were clearly international students. We hid out in the back office for a few minutes and then the employees let us out the back door, allowing us to walk around the back of the refectory to get back to our dorms. We could see people throwing food outside, breaking plates, and chasing employees out of the building and I was happy to get away from everything going on (though, to be clear, I felt COMPLETELY safe the whole time). I ended up eating a peanut butter sandwich for lunch with the ginger beer I had successfully purchased before everything went down, assuming that by dinner the refectory would be open again and I could have good food. Spoiler alert: It’s now a week and a day later and I still haven’t eaten at Curry Pot.
The rest of the day was less eventful for me personally, but the campus ended up getting officially shut down, which meant all the local students had to leave, which was really difficult for people like my roommate who live several hours from Gaborone. I can’t imagine what it would be like if Grinnell just shut down unexpectedly and everyone except international students suddenly had to go home. The police were active on campus, and we had to carry our passports everywhere in case they stopped us and questioned us, but really the rest of that day just involved a lot of lying low in my room and waiting for more information.
The next day we were already scheduled to leave for our weekend homestay in Gabane, a more rural village about half an hour outside Gaborone, so it was perfect timing for getting away from a slightly difficult situation on campus. I will write a separate blog about our homestay weekend, but all in all it was a really great experience.
When we returned to U.B. on Monday we found a still-empty campus, and not a lot of hope for it to reopen soon. Yesterday (Thursday), we finally learned that campus will not reopen until March 6th and that the mid-semester break scheduled for the following week has been canceled. We were scheduled to visit the Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls over that week, so I had a brief moment of worry that the trip I have been most looking forward to might get canceled, but it looks like we will make it happen, whether that means going up north earlier or missing a few days of class to take the trip as planned. ACM has reassured us that we will still get all the credits we were counting on, so that is good to know. This week has been weird since we are the only ones around, but we have had a lot of good adventures, from Galentines day brunch at our favorite coffee shop, to taco night at Professor Volz’s apartment, and just hanging out with one another. We’ve gotten to know the combi system in Gaborone (sort of like a bus system, but the vehicles are just big vans), tried out the U.B. swimming pool, and foraged for food off campus. Between restaurants and surprisingly delicious and cheap street vendors, we’ve been doing alright, and in some ways this unexpected break from business as usual has been a nice chance to venture outside our comfort zones and learn more about Botswana. Our Setswana class, Urban Africa, and independent study seminar have continued meeting, just unofficially and in off-campus locations, so we still get to have some solid academic time in the midst of it all.
Yesterday we took a trip to Parliament, which was super interesting and a lot of fun. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but the building was really nice. After a few minutes of waiting, the parliamentarians began to arrive, several of them even greeting us in the balcony area as they walked into the chambers, and we watched their proceedings for about 20 minutes. The room is set up with parliamentarians from the ruling party on one side and the opposition parties on the other. Within those sections they are ordered in terms of tenure and position in Parliament. Something that was really interesting to me is that almost all of the ruling party parliamentarians are also ministers of different departments, so instead of the president having a cabinet that is separate from the legislative branch, the departmental ministers are all also sitting members of Parliament. It was interesting to see this system in action, and see the parallels between the Tswana and British systems, an interestingly ongoing influence of colonialism. After visiting Parliament we went next door to the House of Chiefs, or Ntlo de Kgosi. This is a smaller government body that is made up of representatives from throughout the country who are meant to advise the President and Parliament on important decisions. It is intended to help preserve more historical and cultural legitimacy in the government, but I didn’t get the idea that in practice they have much influence over policy decisions.
Today I woke up slow (which meant sleeping in until 7:30 cause the sun comes up so early here that you can’t stay asleep much longer than that), went to the gym, and now am typing this while I wait for my laundry to dry. Later today Lauren and I are planning on taking a combi to explore one of malls we haven’t been to yet, and getting dinner while we’re out. Tomorrow I might go with Professor Volz to visit Thamaga, where he did the Peace Corps back in the 80s, so that should be fun.
This is all nothing like what I expected to happen a few weeks ago, but I’m rolling with it and it is good.