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.
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.
I am Krista and am studying at the University of Botswana this semester. I arrived in Gaborone, Botswana six days ago, and the first thing you notice is the heat! It is very hot here, but the morning and evenings are very nice. An interesting thing that is very common here is people walking around with umbrellas. People walk with an umbrella to block the sun and create some shade for themselves – what an awesome idea! The biggest thing in Botswana though, are greetings. The way people greet each other in this country is by saying “Dumela mma” (hello m’am) or “Dumela rra” (hello sir) and you shake hands. They have all kinds of cool handshakes, especially the men. Now, each person does not greet everyone he or she meets on the street, though it is common to do so before you ask for directions or order food, or they will not be very friendly. On Hope’s campus we have a similar culture of greeting strangers, but greetings here are shown as a sign of respect which is very important in Botswana’s culture.
I am also a white girl in an African country which makes me stand out and many people stare, but I have noticed that once I say “Dumela” they say hi and smile. The people are friendly and are curious why we are in their country. I have also learned that they do not have an equivalent of “You are welcome” which is very strange to me. They only say “ok,” or they reply with a “thank you.” I keep finding little interesting differences between Botswana and America, but they are also similar in many ways. There are several malls in Gaborone and they are very similar to American malls. Batswana watch American movies, and some American soap operas. They listen to much of the same music as Americans. Overall, Botswana is great, and I am very excited for the semester to start next week! And this is the group from America that I came with through CIEE!