People assume and learn certain things about “Africa” from society and predispositions in the United States, but I find many of these “facts” to be unfairly assumed or slightly ridiculous. When I decided to study abroad in Botswana, I kept saying I am going to study abroad in AFRICA! Well, guess what guys? I wasn’t able to visit every place on the continent. I did visit five countries in Southern Africa, but I find when people ask, “How is Africa?” I want to tell them well, my time in Botswana is great, and I am not sure that I can generally speak for all of Africa. So here are some facts that I think are important to note:
1. Africa is a continent not a country
2. There are many things in Botswana that do not pertain to the whole continent
3. “African” encompasses SO MUCH
4. We do not say yea I’m going to North America!
I have talked to my program director about this specific topic, and she agrees that people generalize the whole continent too much, but I grapple with this issue because people from Botswana do it too! Multiple Batswana have said, “I hope you enjoy Africa” or things similar in nature. Is this their doing or their acceptance of the Western view of grouping the whole continent together? I don’t know, but I do know Africa is the second largest continent, and we need to give it the distinctions it deserves.
Finding time to travel can be a challenge while studying abroad because there are times when school work is overwhelming and there is lots to do! So every time there is a break during school — GO SOMEWHERE!
My friends and I decided to go to Durban, South Africa for Easter break. Unfortunately we didn’t buy bus tickets to Pretoria far enough in advance, so the bus to Pretoria was full and our combi rental to Durban fell through, but somehow we made it! Even though some travel issues arise, I have never had to cancel a trip and everything turns out fine.
Our journey started at 5:30am when the combi driver picked us up. While I was waiting a couple minutes from my host family’s house in the dark for the driver to arrive, two guys pulled over and decided to wait with me to make sure I was safe. I have encountered this frequently in Botswana throughout my travels, making it evident that Batswana care for each other. When we arrived in Pretoria, we went to the Union Buildings. I would highly recommend going, as you can high-five Nelson Mandela (his statue), take pictures of beautiful flowers and architecture, and lay in the grass! OH THE GRASS! I missed grass so much; I took off my shoes and rolled around in it.
Then we were off to DURBAN! On Saturday we ended up just walking around, looking at street vendors and cool city buildings. We also went to a rugby game, the Durban Sharks against the Cheetahs! The game was really fun, and a couple people I was with knew how to play rugby, so I was able to learn much about the game. After the game, we ate Indian food by the waterfront. Durban is known for an Indian street food dish called bunny chow. It is curry that is served in a portion of a loaf of bread.
Easter Sunday we went to a market with both African and Indian shops. We were recommended to eat at an Indian restaurant nearby. We looked up the address, but still got lost! Apparently they changed the road names and we were going in the opposite direction. This is also a common issue I have encountered while traveling: getting lost. When there is a certain place you want to go to, many people may not know where it is, and some people may give you wrong directions just to be polite, so ask often, get directions, and get a map. We ended up going to a different restaurant, and then spent the afternoon at the beach which was wonderful!
Last week was our short vacation for school which is the equivalent to spring break in the U.S., and I was able to travel to Swakopmund (Swak), Namibia and Cape Town, South Africa with a great group of girls. We left early Saturday morning on a highly cramped mini-bus and spent about 16 hours traveling to Windhoek, Namibia where we spent the night to the catch a bus to Swak the next morning. Namibia is a very young country as it only gained its independence in 1990. It was previously colonized by the Germans and you could feel the German influence upon Namibia. When arriving in Swak, there were many German restaurants and several coffee shops (which are never seen in Botswana). The city of Swak was a very cute beach town that reminded us of a beach town on the coast of California. While there, we were able to sand board (great fun!), hang out at the beach, and go on a desert tour. The desert tour was very fascinating as we learned about some awesome desert plants like the welwittcha (look it up!).
Then we were onto the next leg of our trip, CAPE TOWN! While being in Botswana, people raved about Cape Town. We had so much fun and we were able to do so much! We went to Simon’s Town which is one of the only places where there is still an African Penguin colony, we went to the most western point of the African continent (Cape Point), toured the botanical gardens, did a wine tour, and visited Robben Island where Mandela was jailed. We were also happy to go out to eat and get something different than Tswana food (food served in Botswana), and we went all out. We got Mexican food one night, Ethiopian the next, and then American food. It was great! Being in a developed city was very nice and made me feel more at home, but it also made me appreciate the place I am calling home for 5 months. Botswana is not glamorous like Cape Town, but has provided me with a learning experience I wouldn’t be able to have in a developed place. I am able to experience a very different culture than my own and try to adapt to it. I loved spring break, but am very happy with my location of study abroad in Botswana.
Since I am in a public health program in Botswana, I have learned much about Botswana’s health system. Botswana is one of the most stable countries in Africa, and most of its economy is reliant on diamonds, tourism, and beef. This being said the government has quite a bit of money and is able to provide health services to all of its citizens. This is very helpful for the country, since many people may not be able to afford health care services that are needed especially anti-viral treatments for HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS is very prominent in Botswana, yet there are many initiatives to educate the people of the country about preventative measures.
During my time in this country so far, I have observed in multiple public clinics, I have toured a hospital, and seen a couple of NGOs. Everyone has been extremely friendly to me as a visitor in the clinics, but sometimes I feel as if I am intruding. When I have had the experience of sitting in on consultations with doctors, the patients were not asked if I was allowed to be in the room. This violates the patient’s right to privacy, and when talking to a director for the medical school, Dr. Phaladze, at the University of Botswana, she was in complete agreement. Along with observing in clinics, we talk about our experiences with Dr. Phaladze. She says that patient privacy has been a big issue because nurses will come and go in the consultation rooms to talk to the doctor or for other various reasons. This is also a big issue for the hospitals because patients do not have separate rooms.
There are many areas for improvement in the public health care system, but throughout my time I have also seen multiple promising initiatives for improvement. At the clinic I was observing at in a village called Kanye, a man was training individuals on counseling people on their anti-viral medication, and how to make sure they had taken all of the medication when the patient came back for a refill, it was very heart-warming to see the people of Botswana improving its own health system.
Observing what I have in Botswana makes me appreciate everything I have been blessed with and makes me hopeful for the great successes that are bound to come to Botswana.
Early Sunday morning, 11 other CIEE members and I climbed onto a mini-bus with our luggage and headed to a village known as Kanye. Yes! The village is actually named Kanye like Kanye West, but I am pretty sure the singer was named after the village, not the other way around. When we arrived at the education center to meet our families, we were called one by one to the front of the room to pick a little slip of paper that had our family name for the next week. I went last, and I am so glad. I got such a great family! My host mother and father are both retired; my mother was a nurse and my father worked in the x-ray department in South Africa.
There were two grandchildren who lived with us, but I just called them my host-sisters. They were seven and nine years in age and full of curiosity. They always wanted to be around me which was adorable. The family was extremely accommodating probably because they had hosted several American individuals previously including peace corps volunteers. Before I had even arrived, they had bought me corn flakes, hot chocolate, and biscuits (the Botswana equivalent to cookies). They always boiled water for my bath in the morning and made sure I had enough food.
Village life is very different than living in a city in Botswana. The water situation is especially different. In Gaborone, the water is cut sometimes but it is only once a week at most, but during the week in Kanye, there was running water for about 2 ½ days. I also think the water started making me sick, so I had to switch and strictly drink bottled water. Cooking outside was also fairly common in the village. My sister and I cooked porridge outside over a fire. I found this very fascinating because my host sister and her friends were using matches to build the fire, but none of them were over the age of 12. Situations like this and similar ones may be why many young children come to the clinic in the village with burns. One of our professors also told us, these burns might happen because the mothers are not very knowledgeable about safety precautions and may cook with children in their arms or other similar dangerous situations.
The houses in the villages were just as nice as the houses in Gaborone. An interesting fact about property in Botswana is that it is more expensive to build in the village than in the city, which seems strange though the families in the village live on compounds with multiple houses (usually other family lives there). The compound I stayed with included an Indian family who was living in the other house on the property. Most of the surrounding compounds contained relatives of my family. My mother told me the villages used to be split by who you were related to, but that is no longer the case. Overall, my village experience was great, though I think I would have a hard time adjusting to life in a village for a long period of time because of the water situation and because everything is so far apart, but I cherish this experience that I was able to have.
Today was the first week of school, but not really…. at the University of Botswana, students still register during the first week of class and sometimes the professors don’t hold lectures during this time. I was also told that there is a concept called “Africa time” which means that everything starts 20 to 30 minutes late and that it usually doesn’t apply to class, though my first week seems to have proven this statement wrong. Two of my professors did not show up on the first day of class and most of the others were about 10 minutes late. My longest class lasted about 30 minutes.
The class structure is completely different. In the course outline you are given (equivalent to a syllabus) there are no dates for tests or assignments and most of the time you are not even told what assignments you will have to do. This can be very frustrating because I have been living in a very different environment at Hope College where I know what is expected, how and when to do it. At the University of Botswana, you have to roll with the punches. I had difficultly finding out what I needed to take to my biology lab; I was sent to four different offices and received no answer. I was proud that I did not become that frustrated, but I have realized these obstacles have led me to start taking things a bit too lackadaisical. I need to remind myself that this is actual school and it matters for my future, and this is not just a vacation.
During the first week when I didn’t have any lectures I had some time to explore Gaborone. I visited the Botanical Gardens (we saw prairie dogs!) with some friends as well as visited some nice restaurants. On Saturday we climbed Kgale Hill which was astoundingly beautiful (also shown below).
It was a tough climb, and my whole group was constantly looking at the ground to make sure they did not fall, but the locals were just running right up the hill. When we got to the top, there was an exercise class! Batswana are amazing when I think of them climbing this hill and then do push-ups and sit-ups at the top!
I hope to have more adventures to share, and will talk more about the local people in my next post!