Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lions and Leopards and Cheetahs, oh my!

Since we don’t have tigers or bears here in Africa, I had to alter the title slightly.  But I since lions, leopards and cheetahs are some of the most difficult animals to spot in Africa I consider myself very fortunate that I got to see all three in one day during my camping trip.

As I mentioned previously, I took last week off from blogging out of necessity.  I was camping in Namibia and didn’t have daily access to Internet during my trip, hence my temporary silence.  However, now that I am back online and took a record 2148 pictures during my 10-day camping trip, I will spend the next few days catching you up on my adventure.

I booked the camping trip with Wild Dog Safaris and they did ensure a wild ride.  Our tour guide and driver, George, along with our camp assistant, Manfred, took 7 of us (2 Germans, 1 Brit, 1 French girl, an American couple that is currently living in Bangladesh, and me) on a 3,000 kilometer trip around the northern half of the country.

I haven’t been camping in a few years but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it this time around.  We departed from Windhoek on Friday, December 20th and headed north to Etosha National Park.  Etosha is the largest national park in Namibia; it is three times the size of Holland.  It was given its name because the Etosha Pan is located almost entirely within the park.  The pan makes the park unique compared to many of the other national parks I’ve visited in Africa.  Most of the national parks I’ve seen have the brush and mopane and baobab trees, but because of the salt pans Etosha looked quite different.  Believe it or not the pelicans and flamingos are particularly attracted to the salt pans, but we saw plenty of other animals wondering around as well.  Here you can see one of the salt pans which seems to extend forever:
While on our way north we saw plenty of the typical animals which I’ve already mentioned before: baboons, monkeys, impala, kudu, eland, oryx, giraffe, elephants.  But there were a couple of animals I was VERY excited to see.  I’ve seen lions before, but we saw three females hunting a wildebeest.  I’ve never seen lions hunt before in real life and it was awesome.  In the end the wildebeest got away, but we spent about 20 minutes watching with baited breath:
Later that same evening we found two male lions roaring, calling the females over:
We also saw a leopard that had just made a kill.  It was interesting that he took the meat, jumped up into a tree nearby and then began to eat it.  Given the fact he is licking his lips here, I’m guessing it tasted pretty good:
The good thing about seeing a leopard and cheetahs in the same day is that I now can visually tell them apart.  Prior to seeing both of them almost back to back I couldn’t distinguish the difference.  But as you can see here, cheetahs have solid black spots (as opposed to the leopard’s multicolored spots) and black stripes down the front of their faces.  I’m sure there are many other differences that I don’t know yet, but at least now I will be able to tell what I am looking at, a leopard or a cheetah:
I have plenty of other fun pictures from Etosha, but I will save them for another day.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

In case you missed these….

This week I am offline because I am camping in Namibia and there generally aren’t many electrical outlets, or Internet, when you are camping.  But I know I have a few loyal blog followers who may still be checking my site this week.  If you are one of those people, thank you!  I thought the best thing to do would be to post a few links to my favorite blog posts.  That way, if you’ve missed something you know where you can catch up on the best and most popular stories.  I will list them in chronological order according to when I arrived in Africa.  If you didn’t see them the first time around I hope you enjoy them now.  And hey, if you did see them before feel free to read them and laugh again.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

“I Love Christmas Down in Africa”

This morning I left on my camping trip around Namibia.  I don’t anticipate having any Internet access during the next week and a half, so my blog will be going dark for a bit. Since I won’t be back online until after Christmas, I wanted to share this with all of you now.  My Uncle Dan sent me this holiday compilation video with a special African twist.  I hope you enjoy.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Political Correctness in Africa?

Last week I wrote about how Christmas in Africa is very different from back home.  Though the decorations have been up for a while, I haven’t given the holiday much thought until recently when I started to see en-mass Facebook postings about friends’ preparations.  Some of those social media comments have reminded me how political correctness often finds its way into our celebrations in western countries.

Every year it seems there is what I like to call the battle of the greeting. Some people are staunch “Merry Christmas” wishers.  Others, in an attempt to be all inclusive, and to avoid offending anyone, prefer “Happy Holidays.”  Either way, someone is always unhappy.  The Merry Christmasers get offended by the Happy Holidayers: “Damn it! It’s Christmas! Just say ‘Merry Christmas’ already!  I don’t believe in this PC crap!”  Of course, you also have the Happy Holidayers who are relegated to sidestepping “Merry Christmas” as their jobs or companies prohibit “Merry Christmas”ing.

I’m not entirely sure that I fall into either camp.  I believe in equal opportunity.  I think I demonstrate this best by the fact I am an equal opportunity dater.  In high school, one of the gag pages speculated as to which majors we would all select in college.  Mine was listed as International Relationships.  Due to my inability to discriminate when choosing boyfriends, I have celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Diwali, Chinese New Year and a host of other holidays I can’t even remember.  And even if I’m not a card carrying member of a particular religion or ethic group, I’m always happy to give and receive the appropriate corresponding greeting.

Personally, I think there is more stress on the wisher than the receiver.  I had a close group of orthodox Jewish friends in college.  I remember being out with them around the holidays one year, a year when Hanukkah fell the same week as Christmas actually.  We were at a store where the clerk wished us all a “Merry Christmas.”  My friend Eric responded, “Thank you!  Merry Christmas to you too.  And Happy Hanukkah as well.”  I asked if he minded when people wished him “Merry Christmas” and he said, “No, not at all.  Why should I mind it?  They are just being nice. I think we should always be wishing each other a Happy Whatever based on the next upcoming holiday, no matter what it is.”

Here in Africa we don’t wish anyone “Merry Christmas.”  During the month of December you regularly receive a “Happy Festive Season” or “Blessed Festive Season.”  After conducting some non-scientific research in which I asked six different friends (1 Zimbabwean, 1 Tswana and 1 Bushman both from Botswana, 1 Mozambican, 1 Namibian and 1white South African) the consensus is that “Happy Festive Season” is not an exercise in political correctness.  It is simply the holiday greeting here.

Thus, it appears I should amend my previous blog post in which I wished everyone a “Merry African Christmas.”  Instead, I hope you all have a “Blessed Festive Season.”

Thursday, December 19, 2013

How to Make a Speech (in Africa)

In Africa people take themselves very seriously.  There is a lot of pomp and circumstance and reference to protocol.  Back home informality is considered more friendly, personal and preferred.  Here, you don’t dare call someone by their first name unless they invite you to do so.  Instead, you must greet them with their surname and the proper title (Mr., Dr., etc.).  It’s not really my style, but you get used to it to an extent.

Given the preference for formality, speeches are VERY important.  If you invite someone to speak at an event there are certain rules to be followed, and failing to do so is considered uncouth.  In case anyone reading my blog plans on taking a trip to Africa in the future and making any kind of speech or presentation, please follow these instructions:

1.      Acknowledge and thank EVERYONE.  Before making a speech you find out everyone else who will be addressing the audience and you acknowledge their presence, as well as whoever invited you to the event and any ‘dignitaries.’  Keep in mind just about everyone is a dignitary of some kind.  I often record events which I attend so I make sure when I quote someone it is 100% accurate.  In a recent conference I attended the first person who spoke on a panel said the following, “Thank you to the University of Botswana, the International Tourism Research Center, the Faculty of Business and the Department of Tourism for inviting me to talk today.  I would like to especially thank Mr. Mongokoki for organizing this event; Mrs. Siya, the chair of the Tourism Department; Mrs. Mahachi, the coordinator of the Hospitality program; Mrs. Tsheko, one of the esteemed lecturers in the Faculty of Business; Dr. Ketshabile, the Associate Dean of the Faculty of Business; Dr. Pansiri, the Dean of the Faculty of Business… [he named about 6 other UB administrators I won’t mention here].  I would also like to appreciate how honored I am to be in the company of so many other wonderful presenters, such as the Director of the Department of Tourism, the lady from the Department of Wildlife, the Minister of Tourism… [as well as 3 others].”  Not an exaggeration, I still have the tapes if you want to listen to them.

2.      Observe protocol. After acknowledging everyone you then recognize that protocol has been observed.  Literately, that’s what you say.  The guy who made the above introduction followed it by saying, “Protocol observed.”  Every time I hear this it makes me laugh inside a little bit.  I sort of equate it to eating dinner and then formally stating, “Dinner has now been eaten.”  Maybe only I see the humor in this.  Please excuse me if you don’t appreciate this as much as I do.

3.      The speech itself. Once you have made your introductory statement and announced “protocol observed” you may then begin making your remarks.  Again, there are more rules associated with making remarks:

a.       You must time your predecessors’ remarks and make sure your statement is the same amount of time, plus you must add 10%.  If the speaker before you spoke for 10 minutes you must speak for a minimum of 11minutes.  This is particularly important if you have a direct counterpart.  For instance, if you are Vice President of Botswana and the Vice President of Zimbabwe is also in attendance, you MUST speak longer than the other VP.  If you have the bad luck of speaking first then you are out of luck because the Zimbabwean VP will basically take everything you say, repeat it and then say some more stuff to make sure he speaks longer than you.  This is definitely an example of “first is the worst, second is the best.”  You want to speak second so you can prove you are better than whoever went first.

b.       If you are given a time limit for how long you are permitted to speak you absolutely must ignore it.  I spoke on a panel where all the speakers were told we should limit our comments to four minutes or less.  I spoke first for three minutes exactly.  The other speakers on the panel spoke for between 10 and 26 minutes.  Yes, I timed them.  So, the panel which was supposed to be precisely 30 minutes lasted a full two hours.

c.       Feel free to ignore the start time for your presentation.  You might be told you are presenting at 8am.  No one will be there at 8am to watch you.  In fact, your host won’t even be there at 8am.  Come to think of it, the building won’t even be open at 8am, so you will be standing outside, by yourself.  If you are delegated an 8am start time no one expects you to arrive before 9am and no one else will be there before that time either.

4.      In conclusion… At this point you have acknowledged and thanked everyone, noted that protocol has been observed, and talked for as long as you want about whatever you want.  Ready to wrap it up now?  At the conclusion of your speech you must state that you are concluding.  And you are permitted to be as long winded in your conclusion as you like.  You are also encouraged to use the term conclusion as much as possible.  At a speech during the UNWTO conference, the Zambian Minister of Tourism stated, “In conclusion…. Thus I can conclude by stating…. A concluding thought I advise you remember…” She used the words conclusion, conclude and concluding no less than 9 times during her 21 minute conclusion.  When I first arrived in Africa I would always look forward to someone stating, “in conclusion” with great anticipation thinking to myself, YAY! This is almost over!  I have since learned to ignore “in conclusion” as it means absolutely nothing.  Now it’s more like a tease because you know you are no closer to the end than when you started.

To recap, don’t start on time, ignore time limits, say hi to everyone, observe protocol and make sure you note when you are getting ready pretending to conclude.  Happy speech writing!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Summer Break Starts Today

Since Botswana is located in the southern hemisphere we are in the midst of summer right now.  It’s strange to Skype with friends and family back in the U.S. who mention ice storms and snow days while I am lathering myself with sunscreen and sweating through every last inch of clothing on my body before noon.  Last week the U.S. Embassy sent me north and put me up in a hotel for two nights.  It was the first time I slept in air conditioning since I arrived here.  It was heaven.

While the hot weather may be a little less than ideal at times, I am very happy to announce that summer break officially starts for me today!  Actually, it really began yesterday, but no need to be overly precise.  I am free and clear until classes begin again on January 20th.  I plan to take advantage of having the next few weeks off by travelling around Africa, writing blog posts and experiencing the sorts of things that make people want to invite me to dinner, “This is Kelly.  You should be friends.  Ask her about the time her elephant died in Las Vegas/she met Leonard di Caprio/she was arrested for walking with intent to cause a car accident.”
Speaking of interesting stories, I was scheduled to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro this week.  No, really, I was.  However, while I was in Uganda last month tracking gorillas I got sick and it took nearly three weeks for it to clear up.  I went to my doctor who ran some tests and told me my oxygen capacity was significantly lower than normal and too low for a good climb right now.  He recommended I postpone my climb for a couple of months to give me time to build back up my cardio endurance.  So, I will not be summiting Kilimanjaro on Christmas day after all.  Oh well.

But I am still taking full advantage of summer break.  On Sunday I flew from Gaborone to Johannesburg and on to Windhoek, Namibia.  Since Nelson Mandela’s funeral was the same day I was travelling I was afraid going through South Africa would be terrible, but it was only slightly more chaotic than usual.  I will be here in Namibia for the next two weeks.  I was supposed to be visiting my big house but less than 48 hours after I arrived we ended it.  Instead I am hanging out in Windhoek for the next two days, then I will be going on a 10 day tour around the country, so at least I will make the most of my time here.  After Namibia I go on to Mozambique for about a week, and then Johannesburg for a few days before returning home to Botswana.
Here is what I will NOT be doing this summer break:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Police Report: White Woman Causes Accident on Shashe Rd

It’s really hard to be popular.  I’ve mentioned before my attempts to blend in here in Botswana have been ill received.  White people in Africa are sort of like unicorns.  You hear about them, but you can go your entire life without actually seeing one in real life.  So when you do see one you have to seize the opportunity. For Rra Mmanokowa, he finally saw his unicorn/lekogwa/white person last week.

I do not own a car, so I typically walk everywhere, take a combi, or occasionally use a taxi if I’m travelling a long distance.  Many people here walk, so this is not uncommon.  Last week I was walking to the store to purchase my groceries.  As I was walking along I saw a man driving by, practically turned all the way around in his seat to look at me.  Again, this is not uncommon.  I’ve asked other lekogwa about this, but few seem to report this phenomenon.  Apparently I am special.

However, this time I was a little bit too special.  As the driver was looking at me, he swerved into oncoming traffic and hit a car coming in the opposite direction.  You know how you are supposed to check to make sure everyone in an accident is ok?  That is the moral thing to do, right?  In Africa that is generally a bad idea.  No one here drives particularly fast, so both drivers were fine.  But as I was getting ready to continue on to the store the police arrived and insisted on taking statements from all of us.  That’s when the trouble started.

The police wrote up the traffic report stating that “a white woman walking along Shashe Road caused a traffic accident.”  Excuse me?  I most certainly did not.  How is it my fault?  Mr. Mmanokowa claimed I distracted him.  I didn’t yell anything obscene, run across the street right in front of his car or take my shirt off.  But that was how the traffic report was written.

After the accident I was required to go to court to determine whether or not I was guilty and if I should pay a fine.  Are you kidding me?!?!?!  I do have to say that court was quite an education.  After a lot of back and forth the judge finally decided I was innocent and let me go.  I’m not sure who in the end was found guilty or what kind of fine he had to pay, but I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible before they changed their minds.

I should mention however, that as I was sitting in court waiting for my trial a man was being tried for murder.  He was found guilty and made to pay a 400 Pula fine.  That is equivalent to about $50.  Nope, I did not misinterpret the sentencing or the penalty.  Though I certainly didn’t understand how murder would only cost you $50.

I started asking around about murder and the “low cost” penalty.  Apparently this is the standard practice.  Someone told me that in South Africa you have to pay about 250 Rand a month for a television license.  Inspectors randomly show up at people’s houses and if they find you have an illegal television you have to pay a 1,250 Rand fine.  However, the penalty for murder if you are found guilty is only 500 Rand.  In other words, don’t bother getting a television license and don’t worry about getting caught and having to pay the fine.  If the Inspector turns up, just kill him and pay the equivalent of two months of television licensing for the murder charge.  Yet again, TIA!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Obtaining a Beef Permit

Remember when I said I finally got a mailing address and could receive mail?  I take it back.  Please do NOT send me mail.  If you decide to risk it and send me anything, I would recommend you send something small, that if I never receive it I won’t be upset, and neither will you.  If you are brave enough to send me something I hope it’s nothing with an expiration date.  My boyfriend sent me a postcard from Namibia, you know, the country right next door?  He sent it on October 23rd.  I got it today.  Nothing like 50 days to receive a postcard.  If it had been a Christmas card I probably wouldn’t have received it until Easter.

If you really love me (Don’t worry, it will NOT hurt my feelings at all if no one loves me.  In fact if the roles were reversed I wouldn’t love me either.) and decide to send me a box you MUST have it tracked.  The biggest reason for tracking packages is because there is a high likelihood that customs will seize the package.  I’ve had two packages sent to me and customs seized both.  But at least if the package is tracked than the shipping company (normally Fed Ex) will contact me and tell me what hoops I need to jump through in order to get the package.
Recently my amazing graduate students sent me a package.  Once it actually arrived in Botswana it only took 13 days, three trips to two different offices, seven phone calls, and a slight decrease in my sanity to receive it.  When you send packages to Botswana you are required to list the full contents of the box on the customs declaration paperwork.  In my package there were a couple of t-shirts, a mouse pad, a few personal necessities I can’t buy here, and some beef jerky.  In a country where one of our primary exports is beef, customs threw a fit when they saw beef jerky listed.

Since I was “importing beef” I was required to go to the Ministry of Agriculture to obtain permission.  Despite the fact this was for personal consumption with no intent to sell, I still had to get approval.  I showed up to the Ministry to find about a dozen men all dressed in safari khaki waiting to talk to the one office clerk who was processing applications.  Being adorable, and obviously out of place, I took the opportunity to strike up a conversation with one of them.  It turns out they were all cattle ranchers and being that we live in a pretty small country, they all knew one another, which was why they welcomed making a new friend.  Since I had no idea what half the questions on the application meant, one of the ranchers helped me fill it out.  Then I had to go through a line of questioning.  Here was the conversation:
Clerk: We don’t import beef into Botswana.  What is this you want to bring in? What is beef jerky?
Kelly: It is the same as biltong (the name for beef jerky here in Botswana, but here it’s pretty gross).
Clerk: Why don’t you just eat the biltong we have here?
Kelly: Ummm… Here’s the problem, customs has my box and they need approval for the beef jerky, otherwise they won’t give me anything in the box.  Can you please approve the permit?  I’m not going to sell it; I’m only going to eat it myself.
Clerk: Well, how much beef jerky do you want approval for?
Kelly: One kilo.
Clerk: One thousand kilos….
Kelly: No, no, just one kilo. (clerk looks at me quizzically)
Clerk: One kilo? (looks at everyone else in the room and they ALL collectively laugh)
Kelly: Yes, as in, the same amount of food I will probably cook for dinner tonight.
Clerk: Well, this is a lot of work for one kilo of beef jerky. 

When he said that all I could think to myself was, EVERYTHING in Botswana is a LOT OF WORK!!  Need a faculty ID on campus?  That takes two weeks and countless visits to the same office.  Need to have a meeting?  Plan to spend your entire day there because no one will show up on time and then they will break for tea, so they can’t be rushed.  Need your residence permit? You will get it the last possible day you are legally in the country about an hour before they decide to deport you.
Clerk: Ok, I will process the paperwork.  You can come back in the morning to pick it up.

The following morning I excitedly woke up and returned to the Ministry to collect the permit.  Guess what happened when I got there.  That’s right, no permit.  I had to see a second person who questioned me and then informed me they don’t grant permits for fewer than 10 kilos of beef.
Kelly: Ok, then can I please have a beef permit for 10 kilos?
Ministry Director: No.

After another thirty minute inquisition the Ministry Director wrote me a note stating that I had permission to import the beef jerky.
I love Africa. There is no such thing as a dull moment here.  And in the end, my beef jerky sure was good.

Friday, December 13, 2013

What does Africa REALLY think about Mandela’s Death?

Today I wrote an op-ed article which was featured in The Baltimore Sun newspaper about the perspective of Africans (those not living in South Africa, that is) about Nelson Mandela’s death. Please check out my article by clicking here.

You can also cut and paste the link directly into your browser:


Thursday, December 12, 2013

An African Christmas

Being here in Africa, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas.  I’ve spent the majority of my Christmas holidays in either the U.S. or Europe.  But even when I’m in Europe and not with family, it still feels like Christmas.  Part of that is probably because it’s cold, but also because you see reminders of the holiday everywhere.  One of my favorite things in the world is going to see the Christmas tree in front of Notre Dame and the animatronic windows at Galeries Lafayette in Paris:
I spent one Christmas in Dubai and another in India.  Both of those Christmases were nice.  In the resorts and hotels you would see Christmas trees and Santa Claus. I remember getting my picture taken with Santa at the Atlantis Resort in Dubai.  Of course, as you can see here, Santa was significantly more petite and tan than what I remember as a kid:
India was another fun Christmas.  There was no Christmas music or cold weather, but at least there was a tree made entirely out of poinsettias.  Poinsettias are grown mostly in Mexico, Australia, Malta and Egypt, so this must have been a pretty costly tree for the hotel where we were staying:
But Christmas this year is a little different.  There are no Christmas parties or gifts being exchanged.  Occasionally you hear Christmas music interspersed among African house music and traditional tribal rhythms and there are a few Christmas decorations in the malls.  Of course, on the one hand I feel as if someone just took all the western holiday decorations they could find and put them all up together.  In the mall the other day there was a small Christmas tree flanked by two 8-foot tall blue Easter bunnies holding baskets and eggs.  But the bunnies were gone today, so apparently someone alerted the mall cops to the mistake.

Back home Christmas is not my favorite holiday, which is probably why I don’t feel compelled to participate, and often travel instead.   I don’t like the pressure of gift-giving and one-upsmanship when it comes to competing to see who gave (or received) the best present.  I much prefer Thanksgiving or even July 4th.  I like an excuse to get together with friends and family, but don’t like the consumerism attached to Christmas.  I’m told that Christmas here is more like our Thanksgiving because people gather together to celebrate, but there are no grand gestures or gifts involved.

Over the last few days I’ve seen the Facebook traffic related to Christmas pick up significantly for my friends back in the States and in Europe.  It would be nice to see everyone, but I like this slower paced Christmas season here better.  Happy African Christmas Everyone!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Singing and Dancing with Siyaya in Zimbabwe

When you live overseas as an American citizen you are assigned a Public Affairs Officer (PAO).  This person typically meets with you shortly after you arrives, checks in with how and what you are doing sporadically, and if you get into trouble, you call your PAO.  My PAO, Amanda, came to visit me at UB about a month ago.  During our visit I told Amanda about my background, what I am teaching and about my research.  At the time Amanda mentioned she was getting ready to host a U.S. Embassy youth exchange between Botswana and Zimbabwe.  Since the youth exchange was related to wildlife conservation, economic opportunities and health, she asked me if I would be interested in being a guest speaker since my field covers two of the three exchange topics.  I agreed and rather than just guest speaking for an hour, I spent the entire week with her, 30 high school students from Botswana and Zimbabwe and another 20-30 adults and chaperones.  I will talk more about the youth exchange in another post, but for now I wanted to share a small part of the experience with you. 

While we were in Zimbabwe there was a cultural program in which the students performed.  In addition to the students’ performances, a local Zimbabwean group called Siyaya came and did a routine.  The group’s manager also talked to the students about the value of the arts, education and finding a passion.  He was great.  Siyaya was formed about 25 years ago and performs all over the world.  They’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Europe, and I can understand why; they are excellent.  Unfortunately, this video does NOT do the group justice at all.  The lighting was poor and my video camera died right before the best song of the night, but here is a short clip from the nearly one hour concert we enjoyed from Siyaya.  I have to say, this is one of things I will miss most when I leave Africa:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Trip to the Gaborone Game Reserve

Here in Gaborone we have our own Game Reserve.  I always find it funny when there is a Game Reserve within city limits, but that happens a lot here in Africa.  It makes me appreciate animals so much more.  In the U.S. you have to make an effort to plan a trip to the zoo.  Here, you just get in your car and head to the Game Reserve.  The animals aren’t in cages, they are in their natural habitats.  I think that is one thing I will really miss about living in Africa.  I’m not sure I will ever be able to go to a zoo again and enjoy it.

Since we do live in a city and it is close to people we don’t have any predators in our Game Reserve.  But there are still plenty of animals you can enjoy.

We have eland and impala:

Lots of birds; in fact Botswana has TONS of birds.  I could do an entire blog post about birds:
And baboons:
Somehow I can’t manage to get a decent picture of an ostrich, but we have lots of those too, as well as zebra and mongoose. 


Friday, December 6, 2013

Don’t Call a Meeting, Schedule a Tea Time

Here at the University of Botswana they have a great appreciation for committees, meetings, protocol and procedure.  Meetings are always very formal.  An invitation is sent out, along with an agenda ahead of time.  Of course, this is generally a moot point as no one ever arrives on time.  Fortunately I am a quick study.  It only took me one time to arrive at 8:59am for a 9:00am meeting where I sat in the conference room alone until one other person finally arrived at 9:36am to recognize the importance of never being without a book. The chair of the meeting didn’t even arrive until 9:42am!  By about 10:15am four of the six people who were supposed to be in attendance had finally surfaced.

As the meeting finally began to gain some traction around 10:40am, someone pointed out it was tea time.  Tea time!?! You just arrived twenty minutes ago! Why should I reward you for being 72 minutes late by interrupting this meeting for tea?  The funny thing was I was the only one who had this opinion.  When Ms. 72 Minutes Late suggested tea time the other faculty willingly stopped mid-sentence to commence with the tea preparations.

The Batswana love their tea, and nothing will stand in the way of it.  In the U.S., like most people, I don’t have time for tea, or meals for that matter.  I barely scarf down breakfast in the morning as I am frantically responding to emails on my iPhone while rushing out the door to work.  Chances are, if I remember to bring a water bottle to work with me I might down a liter by the time I finish my 10am class, more so because I talk so much I get parched as opposed to making a concerted effort to hydrate.  I seldom eat lunch before 2pm.  Normally around 3, when things start to slow down and I finally realize I’m hungry I eat something at my desk while answering emails, talking on the phone and being interrupted every five minutes by either my department chair or a student.  I think the last month I was in Texas every time my boss entered my office I was eating.  This became such a frequent occurrence he would even mention it, “Sorry, I know I come in here every time you are eating but do you know….” I’m not a perpetual grazer, but if I don’t eat at my desk chances are I will roll out of the office around 6 or 7pm not having eaten anything all day.

My eating habits, or general work habits for that matter, would never be considered acceptable here.  My colleagues wander in to the office around 9:30 or 10. I normally see them standing in the hallway between our offices chatting with one another as they all arrive until tea time at 10:30.  I don’t dare knock on someone’s door between 10:30 and 11 as I will be interrupting tea time and told to please come back later.  (On a side note, I’ve never seen anything quite so bizarre as entering an office where three men the size of NFL line backers are gathered around someone’s desk drinking out of tea cups embossed with flowers on the sides.  The matching porcelain teapot, sugar bowl, saucers and miniature pitcher with creamer completed the set.  Wish I had gotten a picture of that scene AND the look on my face.)

Tea time concludes around 11 and then I believe people get back to work, though I can’t be sure.  My favorite time of day is between 1pm and 2pm, the lunch hour.  I stay in my office and work because no classes are taught during that time and the entire building clears out.  Not a soul to be found aside from myself and the security guard.  It is quieter in my building during lunch hour than at 8pm on a Saturday night.  And that’s not an exaggeration, I’ve been in my building at 8pm on a Saturday night and there was plenty of noise and movement at that time.  That was a surprise.

You would think since everyone returns from lunch at 2pm and the work day ends at 5pm that would give everyone a full three hours in which to work.  Not quite.  The afternoon tea time goes from about 3:30 to 4pm.  However, by the time you finish tea time at 4pm, there is only an hour left in which to work, and you can’t get anything done in an hour, so you might as well go home.

Recently a fellow American friend (he works in Namibia) and I were chatting about the peculiarity behind the inability of Southern Africans to show up to a meeting on time, yet you can practically set your watch according to when tea time begins.  He suggested next time I needed to hold a meeting that I should schedule a tea time instead.  I may just have to try that approach.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Confession

Bless me Father for I have sinned.  I recently littered, probably for the first time in my adult life, if not for the only time in my entire life.

As many people know, I used to work in Walt Disney World, the Happiest Place, and arguably, the Cleanest Place, on Earth.  At Disney you are trained so thoroughly that the corporate standards become second habit and you adopt them as your own personal beliefs.

For instance, Disney teaches you never to point because it is too abrasive.  If you need to give directions or draw someone’s attention to a particular area, you use either a two finger point or the entire hand.  This gesture is considered more welcoming, less aggressive and friendlier than a one digit motion.

Disney also instills in you a strong displeasure for trash.  That is particularly funny here in Africa, where trash is so abundant people live in trash in some areas.  I would LOVE to see Disney do a field trip to Africa with their cast members (You aren’t an employee because that is too impersonal; you are a cast member because you are playing a part on stage and the guests [i.e. the customers] are the stars of the show. See what I mean about the Disney culture?).  That would be an interesting experiment because Disney teaches its Cast Members that trash should never be ignored.  If you see a piece of trash on the ground you MUST pick it up.  If you are a cast member and get caught ignoring a piece of trash you WILL be chewed out by any and all cast members who witness the event.

The Disney anti-trash movement is so ingrained that there is even a named protocol: the Walk ‘N Scoop Method.  The Walk ‘N Scoop involves someone seeing a piece of trash, walking toward the trash, bending down while still walking, picking up the trash while still walking, and walking away, never slowing down or breaking stride.  It is expected that the Walk ‘N Scoop should be so effortless that an uninitiated observer will not even take note of what he has just seen.

A big proponent of the Walk ‘N Scoop myself, even 15 years after leaving Disney, I have largely abandoned that philosophy here.  Sadly, littering is part of everyday life in Africa.  People don’t think twice about throwing trash on the ground.  Part of that is probably due to the lack of trash cans.  More than once I’ve carried a bottle or package around with me all afternoon, keeping an eye open for a garbage receptacle and never finding one.  But I never thought I would contribute to the littering problem, until recently.

Two weeks ago I was at the mall, where I bought a miniature sized chocolate bar which I planned to take home and eat after dinner.  We are in the midst of summer here and it seldom drops below 100 degrees while the sun is up.  I was leaving the mall, chocolate in hand, to walk about a mile to the combi (minibus) stop to catch a ride back to my neighborhood.  As I walked along I could feel the chocolate slowly disintegrating in my hand.  It started to seep out of the package and into my palm.  Looking around frantically I could not locate a trash can anywhere and I didn’t want to carry the melting candy all the way home which was about a 20 minute ride stuffed into a clown-car type vehicle with no air conditioning.  Plus, even when I got to my stop I would have to walk about another mile to get to my house.  After a lot of mental anguish I finally decided to do it; I threw the candy on the ground.

Coming from a strict Irish Catholic family I couldn’t bare the guilt and told my neighbors.  The look of shame from them made me feel even worse.  “I don’t think you should be telling people that Kelly.  Of course, at the rate they pick up trash around here, if you go back there you may just see it in the same place you left it,” Phil suggested.

Always one for a good experiment, I figured I would test Phil’s theory.  I went back to the mall, right to the spot where I dropped my litter two weeks ago and shockingly, it was there!
I’m not sure if reclaiming the candy and properly disposing of it absolves me of my sin, but after identifying the candy as mine I did utilize the Walk ‘N Scoop, for posterity’s sake.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Here, have a condom

Living in Africa I have learned a lot about sex.  Not necessarily from the act itself, but because it is a constant topic of conversation.  Here people make reference to sex the same way you talk about weather or sports scores back in the U.S.

For one, fidelity is rare.  I know Westerners can’t claim to always be faithful, but the prevalence and acceptance of adultery here is just so customary it is unnerving at times.  If you haven’t read about my education surrounding big and little houses here in Botswana I recommend you start there so you have the vocabulary down.  But men and women talk about little houses openly and as a necessity; men need a little house as a means of escaping the demands of a marriage; women want to be a little house because of the monetary and social benefits it bestows upon them.
Part of the problem with infidelity here is the HIV/AIDs issue.  I had a friend tell me both her parents died from HIV/AIDs.  She said her father contracted it from sleeping around.  Apparently he knew he was sick, but never told her mother.  When her father died her mother was told by the doctor about him having had HIV/AIDs and encouraged her to be tested.  By that point her mom had already contracted it and died about a year later as a result.

The infidelity, coupled with the frequency of HIV/AIDs, has resulted in what I like to call a “Condom Culture.”  I have never seen so many condoms in so many places in my life.  And when in doubt, the answer is always, “here, have a condom.”  I mentioned during a shopping trip a couple months back that I was looking for a sink stopper.  When the store clerk couldn’t figure out what I wanted he gave me a box of condoms.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but that is the answer to everything here.  The other day I was in a store and mistakenly asked for pants instead of trousers.  What did the store manager give me? That’s right, condoms.
And the “here, have a condom” slogan isn’t evident just in my apparent inability to communicate when shopping.  In the women’s restroom in my building on campus there is a box of condoms with a sign, “Help yourself.  Practice Safe Sex.”

When I first arrived in Gaborone I stayed at a hotel for a couple of nights before I was given the keys to my house.  It was a nice hotel; the front desk clerk even took me up to my room to show me the amenities.  I’m not sure whether it was part of her rehearsed script or not, but she opened the drawer to the nightstand, pointed to a handful of condoms and said, “If you need more, don’t be afraid to ask.”
But I think my favorite “Condom Culture” experience was when I drove across the Botswana-Zimbabwe border.  A group of journalist friends and I were on a visit to Chobe National Park.  As we were shuffling through the small border check point on the Botswana side I turned around after getting my entry stamp only to notice a condom dispenser.  I was so shocked I looked at it for a minute.  There was a sign on the dispenser which read, “Have a good time. Be safe.  Help yourself.”