Daily Life: Laundry

We’re rapidly approaching the end of the semester. I leave in FOUR days!!! I went to church for the last time here this morning, and one of the elders asked me if I would read the passage next Sunday and I had to tell her “Oh, I won’t be in Botswana next Sunday” which is just wild to think about. If you haven’t figured out by now, I am directing these “daily life” posts at future students studying in Botswana so you can get a glimpse of life here and have some tips for starting out your time here. So here we go with the story of how I do my laundry.

One of the biggest things I will miss about Botswana is doing my laundry outside by hand. At the beginning of the semester I thought it was kind of annoying and time-consuming, but now I eagerly look forward to the days when I have enough dirty laundry to go spend a couple hours getting it all clean and nice with my own two hands.

If you don’t want to hand wash, there are washing machines and dryers available, but they always have a pretty long line depending on what time of day you go, and it is kind of a pain to get tokens for them cause you have to go to a couple different offices with different receipts to get it done. It’s definitely possible and not a big deal to do it that way if you’d rather not hand wash, though. I know some people will wash their clothes in the machines and then dry them on the clotheslines outside the laundry area. That’s an option too.

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 12.29.15 PM

But seriously, hand washing your clothes feels amazing. It usually takes me about an hour to an hour and a half to wash a week of clothes, and then a couple hours for things to dry on the clotheslines. I load up one or two good podcasts on my phone, grab my dirty clothes in a little duffle bag (I would highly recommend bringing some kind of small bag like this cause it makes for a great laundry bag and is really great for the short weekend trips you will take), grab my empty yogurt container full of clothespins, take my box of laundry powder and head out to the laundry areas scattered around our dorm area. These clothes lines are frequently pretty full, so sometimes you have to get creative with drying stuff in your room, but that also isn’t a huge problem.

I typically use three sinks to wash my clothes. One has a little bit of laundry powder (it is easy to overdo it, and then it takes a bunch of rinses to get everything unsoapy, so don’t go too wild), the next I use for rinsing out the initial soap, and the third stays pretty clean, but gives me one more chance to rinse out the soap. In each of those sinks I will swish my clothes around and scrub the cloth together, and then wring everything out as much as possible before moving it to the next sink. There aren’t plugs for the sink drains, but you can wad up a plastic bag and use that to keep the water from draining out.

IMG_2341

A huge recommendation when packing for the semester is to make sure you bring clothes that won’t be easily messed up by washing them like this. When I read blogs about hand washing before I came I thought to myself “Oh, hand washing is what they recommend for really fancy and delicate clothes, so it should be fine on my plebian t-shirts, right?” but between my limited skill in hand washing, a desire to work quickly, and laundry powder that seems much more apt to make your clothes stiff than American detergent, I would recommend you try not to bring your nicest things that you won’t want to mess up with harsh washing practices. I only brought a small number of workout clothes cause I thought it would be awkward or unacceptable to run at UB in my normal running shorts (that’s a whole other story, you totally can run here, don’t worry about it), but I wish I had brought more because not only are my running clothes the first things to get gross and sweaty after a few uses, but they also are made of really great material for drying quickly on the line.

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 12.32.08 PM

Another warning, one of the women on our program had a few of her shirts stolen off the clothesline, so I always try to wash my absolute favorite clothes first so that they can start drying while I am still in the laundry area, and then bring them inside with me to dry in my room when I leave the clotheslines.

It sounds kind of pathetic to say it, but laundry is really one of the biggest things I will miss about Botswana when I go home. It’s so relaxing to just stand outside in the warm sun, scrubbing your clothes, splashing in the water when you get too hot, and sometimes chatting with other students who are also doing their laundry. This semester I have missed cooking a lot because it is my favorite mindless activity that feels productive while also letting you just settle into a simple task without thinking too hard. This semester, laundry has been that replacement. Maybe I can find a way to do some hand washing outside once I get back home.

For now, I need to finish up my research paper, study for my UB philosophy final, visit the hospice a few more times, and then I’ll be heading home! I think Tuesday will be my last good laundry day. I’ll be sure to make the most of it!

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 12.29.43 PM

My Last $100

ACM asked the communications assistants to keep track of how we spent $100, or about 1000 Pula for me here in Bots. I decided I was going to be super on top of it and made an excel sheet to keep track of all my expenses for a little while, but of course I don’t know how to function without procrastinating, so it took me a while to actually turn that log into a blog post for y’all.

$100 in Botswana gets you pretty far. There really isn’t much to spend money on here outside of food, so almost all of my purchases in this list are food-related. I documented my spending from Tuesday April 18th to Saturday April 29th. That included a weekend trip to Serowe where the program was paying for our lodging and food most of the time, so $100 might not normally get me through a full 12 days, but it comes pretty close. I kept track of my purchases in Pula, and then converted it on a 10:1 ratio, but that’s not the exact conversion rate, so this is actually probably more like $96 total.

Mom, if you’re keeping track of my meals with this it’s going to look like I skip meals right and left, but that is really just that I eat peanut butter sandwiches in my room quite a bit. Pap and butternut squash get pretty old after a while, but good ol’ milk and cereal will never fail me.

April 18th

$0.30 (P3) fatcake on my way back to my room after Setswana class.

-$1.68(P16.80)- Takeaway lunch at Curry Pot, the dining hall closest to our dorms. This gives you a giant blob of starch, meat (if you’re a meat eater), and a couple scoops of cooked veggies. See my food blog for more on that.

-$8.50 (P85)- I got some groceries at the on campus convenience store: three liters of long-life milk, a liter of orange juice, and a bottle of aloe vera juice for a little treat.

April 19th$1.53 (P15.30)- Dinner at Curry Pot

$3.65 (P 36.50)- Loaf of bread and a box of Rice Krispies

April 20

$1.68 (P16.8)- Dinner at Curry Pot

$3.98  (P38.80)- I was feeling kind of sad and frustrated that a lot of my comfort shows aren’t available on Netflix in Botswana, so I bought my two favorite episodes of Parks and Rec on Amazon. It was a great decision.

April 21

$0.7  (P 7)- Kombi ride (basically a large van that operates like a bus here) to and from the hospice for my community engagement work.

April 21 to 23rd we were in Serowe with our whole program, so I didn’t have as many expenses. 

April 23

$2.55  (P 25.45)- chips and cookies at a gas station on the way back to Gaborone

$8.14  (P 81.4)– Grocery run to Spar, one of the large grocery stores at the Riverwalk Mall. I got a chocolate chocolate chip loaf of bread (my favorite indulgence here cause it’s one of the only things I can get easily that feels like real dessert), some brie, and two aloe vera drinks.

$14.05 (P 140.45)- Got some more groceries at Pick and Pay, the other grocery store at Riverwalk with a slightly different selection. Bag of carrots, saltines, boxed custard, a cucumber, 3 avocados, a bag of oranges, and two lemons to make my water more fun.

April 24

$0.35  (P 3.5)- One way kombi ride to the hospice cause I was cheap and impatient on the way back, so I decided to walk instead of ride.

$1.53 (P 15.3)- Dinner at Curry Pot

April 25

$0.3 (P 3)-Phapata bread from the Hot Spot food stand for a mid-morning snack.

$1.68  (P 16.8)-Takeaway lunch from Curry Pot.

$1.53  (P 15.3)-Dinner at Curry Pot with the group after our development seminar.

April 26

$0.35  (P 3.5)-My walk back from the hospice the other day showed me that it’s actually possible to walk from there in under 40 minutes, so when I got tired of waiting at the bus stop and having taxi drivers yell at me, I decided to walk instead. This was a one-way ride back from my community engagement a few hours later.

$1.53  (P 15.3)-Lunch at Curry Pot after our Urban Africa class.

April 27

$1 (P 10)-Egg and cheese sandwich before Setswana class

IMG_3012
I am in LOVE with these things. It’s just an egg and a slice of processed cheese on phapata bread, but they are fantastic.

$1.68  (P 16.8)-Takeaway dinner at Curry Pot

$14.61 (P 146.1)-Grocery restock! Three liters of milk, a liter of orange juice, sleeve of Oreos, yogurt, and a box of cereal

April 28

$0.7  (P 7)– Kombi ride to and from the hospice

$0.3 (P 3)– Fatcake before class

$0.35 (P3.50)- Kombi ride to dinner at Airport Junction Mall

$7.58  (P 75.8)– Shampoo, conditioner, and a loaf of banana bread at the gocery store there

$10 (P 100)-Dinner at Cappuccinos restaurant. I got penne pomodoro and a milkshake! Delicious!

$2 (P 20)-Half of the cost of a cab ride back to campus, my share among our group this time.

April 29

$0.3 (P 3)-Phapata bread

$5.13  (P 51.25)-Three liters of milk from the convenience store.  I go through a ton of milk here. My secret is that I got a little container of chocolate Nesquik powder, which makes kind of weird-tasting long-life milk (it doesn’t have to be refrigerated until after opening) taste great for a late night snack.

$1.68  (P 16.8)-Lunch at Curry Pot

$1.5 (P 15)-Dinner of beans and samp from the gate. For 15 Pula you can get a small container of food from the informal vendors around campus and load it up with whatever you want. I usually just go for beans and samp cause it’s delicious and I figure I can’t get food poisoning from beans, but there are lots of other great options too!

That brings us to a total of $100.86. I know none of these things are exceptionally exciting, but it goes to show that $100 can take you pretty far in Gaborone!

IMG_3111
My original concept for a featured image of Pula to go with this post. Kind of failed when a 50 Thebe coin fell in my eye while selfie-ing, and I realized this all just looked very weird.

A Picky Eater in Botswana (Daily Life: Food)

This blog gets this title because it is the exact phrase I googled approximately 30 million times in the months leading up to my departure for Botswana. It was my biggest worry going into the semester, and I figured now was the time to write a blog about food. This one goes out to all of you potential study-abroad-ers who have the palate of a five year old and are cowering in your room wondering if you can get Mac and Cheese in Southern Africa.

The answer is no. (I know, I’m going to eat SO MUCH mac and cheese this summer, I am VERY ready)

But the bigger answer, the answer to whether or not you can make it as a “selective” eater at the University of Botswana is a resounding yes.

In some ways, it is almost easier to be a person who likes a lot of the same foods, not a ton of flavor, and not a ton of variety. If you want to eat plain rice for every meal of the day, every day of the semester, it’s so easy to do that. But what kind of life would that be? I’m a picky eater, but I’ve been known to enjoy a little bit of flavor too.

So here are some thoughts on food at the University of Botswana. I’ll include pictures of food at the bottom. Bon appetit!

You can eat on campus

The refectory (dining hall) closest to the Las Vegas hostels (dorms) where exchange students typically stay is called Curry Pot and it’s decent. You pay P15.30 ($1.53) and get a plate with a starch, meat, some veggies (which they refer to as “salads” no matter how cooked or uncooked they are), and a cup of concentrated juice. The basic things you can always count on:

Starch:

Pap: Ground maize meal, which looks like mashed potatoes but tastes like absolutely nothing. Still a decent base if you mix it with stuff

Sorghum- Also made into a porridge-type thing, sorghum also doesn’t taste like much, but has a ton of fiber, is generally pretty healthy, and is a lot more gritty than pap

Rice: So much rice. All the time.

(Pretty frequently)- Pasta. Usually spaghetti, the only trick is that they don’t use marinara sauce or any typical American type of spaghetti sauce. You can get “soup,” which is kind of a stew/gravy kind of thing on top of it, but it’s kind of gross and non-vegetarian friendly. Plain pasta it is for me!

-(Occasionally) Samp- Basically maize cooked with some salt and stuff. Actually tastes super good.

(Occassionally)- Samp and Beans- ding ding ding, we have a winner, this is the BEST thing ever. I am seriously going to miss samp and beans so much when I leave Botswana, it tastes amazing and it’s so filling. Not everyone agrees with me, but I LOVE it.

(occasionally)- Dumplings- These are pretty rare, but sometimes they have what is basically just a round blob of wheat flour, cooked. They’re alright.

            Meat:

-Lol, sorry, I can’t really comment on the meat much cause I’m a vegetarian, but there is almost always chicken, and sometimes beef and sausage. The meat-eaters in our group seem relatively content with it. Pro-tip, some in our group have bought bottles of Nando’s peri-peri sauce at the grocery store and bring it with to add to their food to make it tastier.

Salads:

Butternut: I’ve become a big fan. Butternut squash (though no one says “squash,” they just stop at “butternut”) is a staple and usually prepared just as chunks of boiled squash. Doesn’t taste like much, but it’s alright.

Beetroot– They call it “beetroot,” not “beets” and will look at you weird if you say “beets.” I hated beets before this semester, but now I eat them all the time and they’re pretty good. Just call me Dwight Schrute.

Cabbage: Oh goodness, so much boiled cabbage. In my first few weeks here I started to really like it. There are some seasonings they put on it that make it taste pretty good, but now I’m pretty sick of it.

Broccoli and Cauliflower– Mom, look at me, I eat this now!!! It’s just steamed Broc and Caul (do people ever shorten those names? They should) and doesn’t taste like much, but they have it about twice a week and it’s exciting

-Steamed Carrots: The best. Tastes like home.

-Weird carrots shredded and mixed with mayonnaise (maybe, I can’t really tell what it is). This tastes weird.

-Boiled potatoes: Chunks of potato either covered in mayonnaise (mayo is way to common here), or with a pretty good tasting redish sauce that I can’t describe or identify on them.

– Chakalaka: This is a mix of beans, pepper, onion, tomato, and chili pepper (and maybe some other stuff). It’s way too spicy for me, but I mix it with pap and it’s alright.

-Spinach: This is African Spinach, so it tastes a little different, but it’s pretty good. It is usually cooked with some onions and tastes like pretty standard cooked spinach. I’m a fan.

-Actual Salad- This is what to be wary of. It looks good, a chance to finally have some lettuce again (The Grinnell salad bar will look SO GOOD next semester), but in our group we have noticed this is the most common thing associated with us having… “intestinal trouble” to say the least, and that happens enough here that you’ll be pretty eager to avoid it if possible. I stay away from the salad now.

I might have left of one or two things I forgot about, but that’s pretty much it. It sounds like a lot of variety when I type them all out, but if you tried to type out all the dishes in the Grinnell dining hall it would take forever. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is the complete menu, on rotation. So if you can come to enjoy these foods (or tolerate them), you’ll be alright.

Street food:

Sounds sketchy, really isn’t. There are people selling food at the gates of UB all the time. They generally have the same traditional food that is at Curry Pot, but sometimes it tastes better and you can always get samp and beans at the gates even when it’s not at Curry Pot (my main reason for using it).

Hot Spot: This is the little stand in the UB student center that sells fatcakes and phapata bread for 3 pula (30 cents), but the best thing is THE EGG AND CHEESE (dramatic theme music plays). We’re all obsessed with this. It’s literally just an egg and a slice of processed cheese on a sliced phapata bread, but it tastes more like home than anything else, is quite filling, and only costs 10 pula ($1). After Sestwana we always race to try to get one before they run out (and they run out early). Egg and cheese will change your life.

Another pro-tip: if you get a fatcake (which is basically just fried dough) and dip it in yogurt or put yogurt in the middle of it it tastes really good and feels like a better approximation of a donut.

Restaurants:

I have always hated restaurants, but I have eaten at a lot more of them this semester. The Riverwalk shopping mall is about a half hour walk from campus and has a decent range of places you can eat where you can get things to switch up the boredom of Curry Pot food. Also, the No. 1 Ladies Coffee Shop is close by and a really wonderful place with a lot of good food. If you follow their Facebook page you’ll see notifications when they have events. They host a lot of interesting art events that are fun to check out. There is a fast food Mexican place called Mochachos (yes, it’s spelled weird) that is near the Three Dikgosi Monument in the Central Business District. It’s hard to get there without a taxi, so I’ve only been once, and the food wasn’t great, but it’s nice when you’re just desperate for some Mexican food. Don’t expect much more than Taco Bell quality, though. Finally, the mother of them all, we discovered a restaurant at Airport Junction (a mall closer to the airport, pretty far away, but you can get to it easily on the Block 8, Route 3 combi) that is just wonderful. It’s called Cappuccinos and it’s relatively cheap for a pretty nice restaurant (You can get a milkshake and a meal for around $10), but it is the sort of place that I would think was really fancy and nice even in the US. It’s become our Friday night splurge and it’s fantastic and will restore you for another week of Curry Pot.

 Groceries:

We don’t have access to a kitchen, but my roommate has a mini fridge (and you can rent them at the start of the semester), so I keep milk, yogurt, cheese, carrots, and bread in there all the time. I have cereal, peanut butter, nuts, and a bunch of other snack food in my closet and it makes it pretty reasonable to eat things in your room when you don’t feel like Curry Pot. Pick and Pay is the one store I have found that has avocados, and that’s a game changer. Sometimes I mix avocado and cheese in with my pap from Curry Pot to make it taste good. I was too cheap to spend $12 on a hot water pot at the start of the semester, so I make instant coffee and oatmeal with hot water from the sink, but that’s kind of nasty and it would be worth it just to get a hot water kettle here.

Some familiar brands won’t taste familiar

Soda is the most obvious thing, Fanta orange and Coke are common here, but they are made with real sugar so they taste wildly different (and much better) from American soda, but there are lots of other things too. Oreos, Doritos, and ketchup are some foods that don’t taste quite the same, but they get the job done. Oh, also fruit juice. There isn’t any pure fruit juice of any one type. You can get fruit juice blends, which are misleading cause the box will say “Orange: 100% pure fruit juice” but then in small print it says “a mix of orange, pear, apple, and other fruit juices” but they still taste alright.

When I was little, my preschool wouldn’t allow kids to bring their own lunch from home, saying that if kids don’t have another option outside of the school lunch, they will learn to eat it. My mom (bless her soul) thought that was ridiculous and told me I didn’t have to eat anything I didn’t want to, knowing that her stubborn daughter would (and did) refuse to eat the food. I would hold out to the end of the day, and my mom would bring me peanut butter and cheese sandwiches (yes, I was a gross kid) after school or take me on a trip to the nearby AM/PM for a corn dog and a slurpee on the way home. My preschool’s logic is horrible for 3-5 year olds, but honestly it kind of works for college students. I have become a lot less picky this semester, cause when I’m hungry, I eat what I can get. I’m going to appreciate food a lot more when I get home. Sometimes I watch cooking documentaries on Netflix and just salivate over the thought of sautéed veggies. We will be there soon enough.

My main message here is that if you are thinking about studying abroad (anywhere, really, but especially in Botswana) and are a picky eater, vegetarian, gluten intolerant, allergic to cashews (just reppin’ all the ACM Bots 2017 identities here), or anything else, you might have a slightly more difficult time, but you can make it work. And it will be fine. Don’t stress. I know how scary the fear of a semester unable to find food you enjoy can be, but it’s very doable and you will make it work.

Pictures!! You can mouse over these or click on them to see the captions of what everything is.

Joburg, Cape Town, Rhinos, Meeting Dignitaries, and More!

I’ve missed writing about a lot of things going on here, so here are some headlines of exciting things that have been happening. Here goes!

We went to Joburg!

Almost a month ago now (has it been that long?) we went to Johannesburg for the weekend with the whole ACM group. We went to the apartheid museum, Nelson Mandela’s house, the Hector Pieterson museum (focused on student protests around apartheid), and a lot of other places. It was odd how different Joburg felt from Gabs, even though it isn’t very far away. I hadn’t realized how much I missed seeing consistent streetlights on the roads, for instance, and seeing a real city skyline almost made me cry. Gaborone is a capital city, but it’s still relatively small and doesn’t exactly give you the “big city feel” that Joburg does. Driving into town I had the same emotions as I did the first time I drove to Minneapolis from Grinnell and was so suddenly overwhelmed by the beauty of a city skyline once I had gotten so used to nothing but flat fields. Gaborone is much more of a city than Grinnell, IA, but still.

On the way back to Gabs we stopped at the Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind and got to see where some excavations of early homo sapiens were done!

We went to Cape Town!

For Easter break (UB had Friday and Monday off) Jadah, Nasra, and I went to Cape Town! Jadah and I had our flight delayed/ canceled when we were supposed to fly out on Thursday night, so we spent the night back at UB while Nasra (who had been on an earlier flight) navigated Cape Town for a day on her own before we arrived the next evening. It was a journey, but when we got there…oh man…. Cape Town is gorgeous. We stayed in a really inexpensive Air B&B right on the water that was a beautiful studio apartment with views of Lion’s Head and the ocean and it was fantastic. In the mornings we would walk down to the gas station on the corner and get coffee and look out at the water. I relished in the joy of having coffee (even gas station coffee) so close. It was amazing. We didn’t have a lot of time in Cape Town, but we made the most of it, spending sometime in the tourist-heavy waterfront area, hiking Lion’s Head Mountain, going on a boat tour where we saw some penguins in the water, spending a day on the beach (the best thing imaginable), and just walking along the shore. The last morning we were there Nasra and Jadah went to the city center to find some souvenirs and I had a little morning to myself. I went on a really long walk along the water, bought a pancake from a food truck (THERE WERE FOOD TRUCKS!), ate it while sitting on some rocks by a tide pool, and then stuck my head in the ocean (I didn’t have a towel or a swimsuit with me, so I didn’t want to fully go in, but I couldn’t resist a little more ocean action). My favorite thing of the trip probably should have been something cool and unique to Cape Town, but the best part was that we had a kitchen in our Air B&B and I got to cook! We made pizzas one night and I made homemade pasta the next night, which was so much fun and so delicious, it gave me hope to keep on keeping on with the food for the rest of the semester.

In some ways it was a weird weekend for me because I was originally going to study abroad in Cape Town before the fees must fall protests at UCT made that difficult to do. On some level, when I was having a great time and feeling more at home in Cape Town than in Gabs, I was sad that my semester changed, but slowly I started to rethink that. I have learned so much more, gotten to go so many more places, and experienced more realities of a different culture in Botswana than I ever would have in the highly westernized city of Cape Town. I think it was a blessing in disguise that I ended up here instead. Cape Town might have felt more like a vacation semester, but this semester has taught me so much and shown me so many unique things that I don’t think I would choose differently if I were doing this again.

We went to Serowe

Last weekend we went up to Serowe, a town a few hours northeast of Gabs, where Seretse Khama (Botswana’s first president) and Ian Khama (the current president) are from. We went to a museum, stayed at a hotel in Palapye that we saw in some scenes of A United Kingdom, and on Sunday morning we went on a game drive in a rhino sanctuary and finally got to see rhinos!!

We got wifi in the dorms!!

It’s a little weak, but they installed wifi boxes in the hostel areas, so we don’t have to rely on just the Ethernet cables anymore! We’re moving up in the world!!

I want a nice place to sit on campus

On Saturday I got mad cause I walked all the way to the library only to discover that it closes at 4pm on Saturdays. I was so angry at the absurdity of that that I forgot to check what the hours are for Sundays (of course, they aren’t published anywhere online). Sunday morning, I waited a bit, assuming it wouldn’t be open too early, but walked over around 11:30, only to discover that the library doesn’t open until 2pm on Sundays. It wouldn’t be as frustrating except that it’s pretty difficult to find nice spaces to sit and study on campus except my room and the library. I’m so used to open classrooms, tables in public places, and comfy couches and chairs available for students at Grinnell. It’s easy to get frustrated when I can’t find anywhere to sit except hard metal chairs without tables nearby. The other frustrating thing about studying anywhere except my room is that people often approach me and trying to talk even when I have headphones in and am clearly pretty concentrated on something I’m working on. I know I should embrace the opportunity for cultural engagement and talk to everyone who wants to talk to me, but some days I just want to be able to sit down with my laptop, read some articles, and focus on my work without people coming up to me (even in really quiet parts of the library) and trying to chat. How I long to read a book on a comfy couch back at home.

We met the former president!

A few weeks ago we got to meet with Gaone Masire, an African Union official, graduate of Luther College (part of ACM), and daughter of Sir Ketumile Masire, who was the president of Botswana from 1980 to 1998. Five minutes into our conversation with her, the former president himself walked in the room and sat down to talk with us as well! He was so nice and talked to us a lot about Botswana history and politics. Who better to hear those stories from than a former president!! He eventually had to leave (He was meeting with an American historian who is working on a book about him), but soon after, Gaone’s sister arrived and told us we should stay for a while to watch a documentary that they were screening that evening about Botswana. Soon the filmmaker arrived, Donald Molosi, a young Motswana man who went to Williams college and UCSB (we had some nice California bonding there), but as we talked it became clear just what an incredible person he was! Donald has performed on and off Broadway, written one (or maybe two) shows performed Off-Broadway, was in the film A United Kingdom, and works closely with the UN and African Union on integrating performance and arts in children’s rights issues. He was incredible. And again, just someone who happened to walk through the door while we were there. It was pretty darn cool.

Winter is coming

It has gotten a lot cooler as we head into winter here (I know, it’s bizarre being in a place where June is the coldest month of the year), and it has been really fun to see how Batswana react to cooler temps. The hospice staff keeps being really concerned when I show up without a sweater (in 65-70 degree temps), and I saw a woman running the other day with a hat and gloves on while I was sweating buckets in my tank top and shorts. Living in Iowa has made me a little more obnoxiously proud of cold-tolerance when I go home to California, but here it is a whole new level, and it’s pretty entertaining.

I may never get used to people randomly barging into my room (but that’s not something one should have to get used to, is it?

There isn’t toilet paper in the bathrooms here, so you carry your own with you. Nicely enough, UB provides toilet paper for students, they just give it to you in your rooms instead of leaving it in the bathroom. The other day I was sitting on my bed when I heard a pounding knock on the door, followed immediately by someone opening the door with so much force that it looked like someone just busted their way into my room with a battering ram. The cleaning staff have keys to our rooms, and this woman had just walked in to give me more toilet paper. I appreciated it, and we actually had a nice conversation once she came in, but it’s still really unsettling and odd to have someone just enter your room unannounced on a Thursday afternoon. Our RA has done the same, and it’s really confusing.

Homesickness is still real

Even though there is only about a month left before I head home, little bits of homesickness keep nagging at me, which can be frustrating. It always comes up in small, unexpected ways, like when I was walking back from the store, heard a car drive by blasting the radio, noticed the tone shift as it passed me, and was suddenly launched into memories of my dad explaining the Doppler effect as a train zoomed past the beach in San Clemente in elementary school. I’m usually far away from my parents in Iowa, and a memory like that would just be some fun reminiscing, but here it kind of stings, reminding me of all the trappings of home. With only a month left I should just be excited (and sad, there are a lot of things I will miss about this semester, to be fair) to see fewer and fewer days standing between me and my flight home, but sometimes it instead feels like each day just takes me one day further away from the familiarity of home, when I didn’t have to exert so much emotional effort to do daily tasks. Often, I wake up in the morning and have to brace myself a little for whatever might come up in the day that I will have to figure out how to deal with. I have found comforts, like chocolate milk and swimming at the pool, that take my mind off of things, but some days I just can’t wait to be home and in the familiarity of the U.S.. I think sometimes study abroad is over glorified at liberal arts colleges, so that students who aren’t able to study abroad for one reason or another feel like they have missed out on something critical to their education. My experience has been incredible, and I am so thankful that I was able to do this, but there are also a lot of things that can feel crummy at times. My advice to future students worried about whether or not they can study abroad is to do it if you can, but not feel like you have missed something huge if you can not. There are so many meaningful experiences you can have back at your home institution (not to mention experiences abroad!) even if you can’t make it work to do a whole semester away. Your academic experience is no less valid, and there’s plenty of times I have been here and thought “oh man, _________ might have been better and more fulfilling if I had been in Grinnell this semester.”

My homesickness thing might be a darker picture than I mean to portray. I also wake up in the morning each day excited about the possibilities of things. Who knows when I might meet the former president, discover something as magical as the boxed custard I’m now such a big fan of (it’s like a juice box, but it’s CUSTARD!), or have a really interesting discussion about theology and culture while chopping butternut squash at the hospice. I anticipate that these next five weeks will fly by, and I’ll be here to make the most of them.

Guest Blog! Making the Most out of Bots

Hey everyone!! Had enough of my same old blogging voice? Well we’ve got a great guest blog from Zach Thal, fellow Grinnellian and ACM Botswana student. Check it out!

Dear Dedicated ACM Followers,

Salutations from Gaborone. As some of you may have noticed, I am not Hannah Lundberg. I am a different Grinnellian who so happens to be called Zach. I hope to give all you interested (and in my case perpetually worried) parents and friends a different perspective on our journey abroad (love you mom).

I have never blogged before. You are my guinea pigs in what I’m sure will be an illustrious yet short blogging career. I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to be doing or why Hannah handed the reigns to such an unqualified and peevish person. I just figure the best thing to do is be honest.

The many little differences here can make people go stir crazy. For example, I never thought it was possible to miss shower curtains this much. Jeez, it’s hot. What’s for lunch today? Let me guess – rice, chicken, and saccharine neon colored concentrated juice. No, sir, I will not give you ten pula. Being white is not the same as being an ATM machine. I’m pretty sure securing a UB identification card was a tactic used in Guantanamo. TIRE IS SPELLED WITH AN “I” NOT A “Y” YOU SCHMUCKS. Okay it’s now apparent I have overdone it with the kvetching (and the Yiddish). Allow me to reach my point.

Little differences are also what makes this place great. Last week I was restless. The shpilkes bug had hit big time (last Yiddish word, I promise). I had no competitive outlet. I found myself sneaking peeks at others’ Setswana tests to see if I had bested them (the answer being a resounding no). And then, basketball. Cue the singing angels and imagine a halo floating over the basketball’s plump and indulgent silhouette. Keep in mind, I am not particularly good at basketball. Let me put it this way, when you can remember exactly how many points you scored in your entire high school basketball tenure, you’re not very good. When the entire varsity team knows you not by your name but by your off-kilter shooting form, you’re not very good. Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox. You’re not here to hear me lament over my shooting woes. Stick to Botswana, got it.

Point is, last week when I headed down with some friends the UB basketball courts, we were met with wide open arms. Not only did they ask us to play with them, they encouraged us to keep shooting despite the consistent misses. They passed us the ball, laughed at our stupid jokes, and invited us back – an invitation we gladly accepted. Keep in mind that when I say “they,” I don’t mean just some dudes playing pickup basketball. These are guys who play for the UB team and some of the best club teams in the country. I know what you’re all thinking, and yes, I did get dunked on.

What I’m trying to say is that when a couple diminutive white kids stepped onto their court, the Batswana didn’t think twice before accepting us. This type of cordiality and kindness is not uncommon. When I first got here, fresh in my transition from Grinnell’s two block campus to UB’s sprawling grounds, I became hopelessly lost on my way to my first class. Disgruntled, sweaty, bearing a map and a look of pure chagrin, I was rescued by a Motswana girl. I didn’t even ask for help. She simply saw me, assumed I was lost, asked me where I was going, and led me all there way there. Complete and unrequited assistance to a complete stranger: that is the Botswana way.

And the list goes on. I stayed at my host mother’s house for three days and was immediately received as one of the family. I was expected to pitch in and do my chores just like everyone else. I was messed around with just like everybody else. I complained about Manchester United just like everybody else. Dorcas, my host mom, still texts me to say hello or to remind me to take my Malaria medication. We have been invited and treated as respected guests at not one but two Batswana weddings. My roommate once invited me to his church. Upon arrival, the entire congregation welcomed me, an outsider who had never before stepped foot in a church, like an old friend. One day at my internship a woman I had just met offered me a mopane worm, simply because I had never tried one. The worm itself was predictably disgusting, but hey, it’s the thought that counts.

In essence forget the temperature, forget the glitchy wifi, forget occasional smell of sewage. What am I going to remember in 20 years, the openness and warmth of my host mother, or the lack of shower curtains? The friendly and welcoming nature of basketball players and church goers alike, or a forgettable lunch menu? Once you find the chutzpah to engage people here, they will reciprocate (who are we kidding, Yiddish is simply the supperior language, so sue me). Spend time actively creating new and amazing memories instead of bemoaning past bad ones. Complaining is easy but hollow. Finding value where it’s not obvious can be hard, but will sustain a lifetime of beautiful memories. I rest my case.

All the best,

Zach Thal

IMG_1998.jpg
Editor’s note: Zach didn’t give me a picture to go with this blog, so I’m supplying this as a visual representation of him creeping on my blog and not killing me at Vic Falls, as this photobomb suggests. 

 

 

Community Engagement (Or “Hannah is Woefully Underqualified”)

As part of my semester, I have to undertake an independent study research project paired with a community engagement volunteer opportunity. Because of my interest in religious life and pastoral work, I am working at the Holy Cross Hospice in Gaborone, a palliative care facility run through the Anglican church, shadowing and aiding their volunteer chaplain and helping out with other tasks at the hospice as needed. I wish I had been able to start working there earlier in the semester, but as I have learned in the past two and a half months, business gets done very slowly here, and if you don’t just show up at people’s offices and pester them until they respond to your questions, it’s hard to get much done. Two weeks ago I started helping out at the hospice, and already there is lots to talk about.

I am only able to go on Monday and Friday mornings because I have class at other times of the week and it takes about half an hour via public transportation to get to the site, so it doesn’t make sense to go when I only have an hour or so between classes. I leave my residence hall at about 6:55AM, walk to the combi stop at the north gate of school, wait for a combi on the correct route, ride for about 15 minutes, and then walk through a neighborhood to the converted house where the hospice is located. We are supposed to get started at 7:30am (Holy Cross only provides day care on-site, so patients haven’t arrived at that point), but so far everyone has been about ten minutes to an hour late everyday, so I usually end up sitting around, drinking tea, and chatting with my coworkers for a while. Recently I have started helping out with the cleaning during that beginning time, sweeping and mopping the floor each morning while I chat with the two women who do the cleaning work as their job, and that is nice for actually getting to do something right away.

My favorite person at the hospice is the cook, Annah, who was the first one to welcome me and make me feel really comfortable getting to know everyone and helping out in a totally new setting. It’s a little overwhelming cause almost everyone speaks Setswana nearly the entire time, and my rudimentary skills from a few months of the language don’t help me much, but Annah has been really good at making me feel included even when I have no clue what is going on around me. She makes fun of me cause I’m not good at peeling potatoes without a peeler, but by the end of the semester maybe I’ll get the hang of it without cutting off half the potato in the process. I told her how to make my favorite food, homemade noodles the way my grandma taught me, and she got really excited at how good they sounded and keeps telling me she is going to try to make them for her family sometime. Maybe I can weasel my way into a dinner invitation.

Last week Monday was the first time I got to work with the chaplain, which was an interesting experience. Ketshotseng is a part time pastor at a Pentecostal church in Gabs and volunteers at the hospice twice a week, doing bereavement and end-of-life counseling for patients and their families. On Monday, a few minutes after our morning meeting, they loaded me, Ketshotseng, and Kealeboga, one of the social workers, into a van and took us out to Old Naledi, one of the poorest parts of Gabs, to offer bereavement counseling to two families who had just lost family members. I thought I was just coming along as an observer, but soon Ketshotseng told me that she wanted me to participate in the counseling, which was absolutely terrifying. I have vague notions that I’d like to be a pastor later in life, but I have never had any training in pastoral care and I am supremely under qualified to be offering grief counseling to families, especially families who only speak Setswana. I expressed this concern to Ketshotseng, but she paid it no mind.

I won’t give much detail on any specific families to respect their privacy (and I’ve made sure it is okay for me to write about this in general), but in that day we met with two families, one who had lost a 35 year old father, and one where we spoke with an 18-year-old man who had lost his 21-year–old brother. One of the issues I’m looking at in my research is how it is difficult to apply Western palliative care practices that are often used to care for a much older average population than the demographic that may need palliative care in Southern Africa, especially in areas where HIV/AIDS is prevalent, like Botswana. In many of these situations we aren’t just dealing with the loss of someone who has retired and no longer has dependents, but with younger people who are a vital and necessary part of the economic and social demands of their family and community. That makes everything more difficult.

At both homes we sat outside on an assortment of plastic chairs, pieces of wood, and blocks of metal that looked like they had something to do with car maintenance and spoke with the families for about half an hour. With the first family there was a young girl, either the daughter or niece of the man who had passed, who looked just a little bit older than my 7-year-old cousin, but as she bounced her baby sister on her knee and wiped away tears during our session, I saw a strong young woman who was experiencing much more than anyone that age should have to face. One of the issues we are working on now is figuring out how to get this girl back into school, because her birth certificate was somehow lost recently and it has created problems with her school registration. It struck me as an example of how this organization provides care not just for people nearing the end of life, but for all the many needs that are distantly related to those patients in the community at large. With both families we talked about the difficult realities of losing someone from the family, not just for the emotional loss, but for structural and economic reasons as well. The one young man was learning a trade from his older brother, but otherwise had no formal education, and with no one to complete his training he didn’t know what he would do to make money going forward.

At both residences, Ketshotseng tried to get me to help with the counseling, and I eventually asked a few questions as she translated for me, but it was very uncomfortable. At the end of each session she asked me to pray with the family, which I felt slightly more equipped to do, but still, not fully knowing the cultural expectancies, ways of grieving, body language that would be interpreted as comforting in this cultural context, or even the religious beliefs of the families we were working with, I feared that I was doing more harm than good.

This Monday we met with one of those family members again at the hospice for a follow-up session, and later in the morning Ketshotseng dropped the bomb that this might be her last week working at the hospice because she’s having trouble finding affordable childcare for her daughter. After scheduling another appointment with this young man, she turned to me and calmly said, “So you will run the follow-up session with him next week, okay?”

No. Not okay.

I thoroughly expressed this sentiment, and was assured that one of the social workers can join me and lead the session if that would make me more comfortable (yes, please, and even then I’m not prepared and shouldn’t be trusted with this kind of thing), but then I frantically started asking Ketshotseng everything imaginable about how I could help in this setting, with no training, little cultural context, and a history of reading lots of things about terrible white people who enter an unfamiliar context and try to take control when they have no business imposing their ideas or “expertise” on a situation. To make matters worse, in this case, I truly have no expertise at all. Ketshotseng gave me some helpful thoughts, but I’m still woefully unprepared and terrified of worsening the grieving process for someone if they continue to ask me to do this.

There’s nothing like a real-life, daunting challenge to get you to the library. Monday afternoon I spent a long time in the UB library finding a stack of books about pastoral care and bereavement counseling. I had to set up an account at the library cause I hadn’t checked out books yet, and I think I concerned the woman at the circulation desk cause all my books had titles like “Understanding Death and Dying,” which is probably not often the first set of books someone typically checks out from the library. I will continue to try to get out of this position of counseling families by myself, or at least get myself to a position where I know I am doing something more helpful than not, but since it now seems like I will inevitably be doing something along those lines, the least I can do is try to be a little more book-smart about it all.

It is a good experience, and I know I will come out of this with a lot of positive learning experiences, right now I’m just terrified that my limited experience will cause me to leave a negative impact on a fragile community of people.

When I get back to Grinnell, talking people through roommate conflicts as a CA is going to feel like a walk in the park.

Coffee and the Patriarchy

 

This morning at church I was craving coffee. Nope, let’s rephrase that. Every hour of the day, every day in Botswana I am craving coffee. This morning it was especially bad. I was wallowing in self-pity, cursing the Commonwealth for making tea a big deal, but not coffee, and feeling saucy about the concept of a church that doesn’t have delicious, free coffee after the service. I decided I would take a hike over to the nearest mall, where I could get a nice big cup of coffee after the service and pick up some groceries while I was at it. I also wanted something nice because I was still mad about the security guard who got frustrated when I wouldn’t come over and talk to him (“Hey beautiful, pass by, talk to me!”) while I was on my way to church.

Maybe we need some more context here on the coffee situation. It’s incredibly difficult to find filtered coffee in Gaborone. For the most part people just drink instant coffee if they drink it at all. I’m cheap, so I didn’t want to buy a water kettle at the beginning of the semester (about a $12 investment, but 120 pula sounds like a lot), and now it is too late in the semester for me to justify the purchase, so I have gotten in the habit of making instant coffee using warm water from the sink, which will never really be warm enough to taste like coffee. And instant coffee will always taste gross, even with hot water. You can get coffee if you look for it, but it’s a long walk from campus to anywhere that serves filtered coffee. I’m going to literally cry in Starbucks when I get back to the U.S..

As I left church, I was in a great mood. It had been a really interesting service and the thought of real coffee never fails to make me incredibly happy. As I walked, I heard the usual chorus of taxis honking and people yelling things out their windows at me. I’ve gotten used to it. A combi drove past and a man leaned out the window and yelled “Hello sister, I want to have your number!” I ignored him and kept walking. There was a red light up ahead, and the combi had to stop, so I slowed my walking pace way down so I wouldn’t catch up to the man leering at me out of the back window, still yelling at me to come talk to him. Eventually the light turned green and I breathed a sigh of relief, ready to go get a nice cup of coffee and forget about annoying men. As I approached the gate to the UB campus, where I was going to cross the street and head in the opposite direction to the coffee shop, I saw the man again. He had gotten off at the combi stop and was waiting on the sidewalk, smiling at me while he talked to someone on the corner.

There goes my relaxing coffee.

I quickly turned into the UB campus so I wouldn’t have to talk to the guy, and headed back to my room to make a cup of lukewarm instant coffee instead. As I walked across campus I was mad. Like fuming with anger. But also sadness. I hate that we live in a world where a creepy man can keep me from walking to get a cup of coffee. Realistically I probably still could have gone and I would have been totally safe. Men here really like to catcall, and they are great at making me feel gross in my own skin, but I usually still feel relatively safe. Still, in that situation I would have wanted to have someone else with me if I were going to walk to the coffee shop and I didn’t want to risk an uncomfortable situation alone.

When I returned to my room I was pleasantly surprised to find the hot water heater in the bathroom working better than usual, so my instant coffee was almost hot enough to feel real, but it still tasted like defeat. It tasted like the patriarchy.

Later this afternoon I am going to a music and art festival with a bunch of people from our program and that should be really fun. If I’m lucky, maybe I can find somewhere to get a cup of coffee while we are out.

Update: I got coffee and we found a Mexican fast food place near the central business district later in the day, so I’m much happier!