Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Who goes to a restaurant only once per month?

As many people who know me are aware, I don’t particularly like eating at restaurants.  I’m not necessarily opposed to restaurants, but if given the choice between making my own meal at home or eating out I would choose the first option 9 times out of 10.   The biggest reason for avoiding restaurants is my food allergies and wanting to avoid getting sick.  But at the same time eating out is probably the number 1 social activity in the U.S. I found out today that is definitely not the case here in Botswana.

I hadn’t noticed it until the conversation began, but there are practically no restaurants here.  There are probably about 5 restaurants at the mall. But driving around from place to place I never see any restaurants.
I completed my PhD at Purdue (Boiler Up!) in Lafayette, IN.  According to UrbanSpoon there are 259 restaurants in Lafayette, which has a population of 67,000 people.  That means for every 258 people in Lafayette there is one food outlet.  If the same formula was used, that would mean there should be at least 900 restaurants/fast food operations here.  We could even be conservative and go for half that.  But there is not 450 food and beverage outlets here, not even close.  I would be shocked if there were 100 restaurants here.

This afternoon I was visiting with two friends on campus, Mompati and Gladys, and the topic of food was broached.  As the “new kid on the block” they were asking if I could cook.  I told them that yes, I cook, and according to my taste testers I was an excellent chef.  Of course I failed to mention most of my tasting victims were graduate students who could not possibly be completely objective and were probably stressed out as I was standing over them insisting, “Do you like it? Do you? DO YOU?”
Somehow the conversation shifted from recipes to restaurants.  They asked me about restaurants in the U.S. and I easily listed and described 20 or more from memory.  They were dumbfounded.  They told me it would be unusual to eat in a restaurant more than once a month here.  Sometimes they didn’t even eat out once a month.  I told them that was unheard of in the U.S. and sometimes people eat out every day or even multiple times a day.  Mompati and Gladys looked at each other in such shock; you would have thought I just told them I was an alien.  Though I can relate in small part to their disbelief, I can definitely think of a few people who would find a year without McDonald’s, Chic-fil-A, and Pizza Hut a little tough.

For the curious out there here is the ONE fast food chain my friends could name for me.  I will check it sometime and report back.  Also, I should mention there is only ONE location for that chain (the chain in South African, there are no true Botswana fast food chains) in the entire country.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Third World Problems: Power Outages and Water Rationing

Shortly before I left the U.S. I spoke to a friend who informed me he was “so upset” because his key fob wasn’t working.  Instead of being able to push the button to unlock the door to his car he now had to go through the hassle of putting the key in the door, turning it and then opening the door.  “How terrible! That’s heartbreaking!  How DO YOU make it through the day?”  His response? “Don’t make fun of me, this is serious.”  “Yes, that’s very serious, kind of like famine.” I know I am just as guilty of magnifying my first world problems from time to time, but nothing brings that into perspective as clearly as having real, third world problems.

I do have to say that Botswana is the least Third World country I’ve ever visited.  It has a lot of infrastructure and luxuries which aren’t available in other third world countries.  But, it is still considered Third World.
The term Third World was first used during the Cold War.  First World countries included capitalist countries, such as the U.S. and other western countries that were part of NATO. The Communist Bloc: the USSR, China, Cuba, and their allies; made up the Second World.  Any countries which weren’t part of one of these two alliances were considered Third World.  Obviously, the Cold War is over, so the designation of First and Second World countries is no longer appropriate, but the term Third World is still used to describe “developing” or “least developed” countries as determined by the International Monetary Fund and the UN’s Human Development Index.

Though at first glance Botswana seems rather cosmopolitan and advanced, at least to me, there are times when it’s Third World status is glaringly evident.  In the past 24 hours I’ve experienced two major incidents which reminded me of this.  Last night while I was at dinner the electricity went out.  My dinner companions had already been served their food, but mine was still being prepared.  They continued to eat in the dark, while I waited as my lamb chops sat in the oven failing to cook.  Two hours later, when the lights were still out, I decided I would rather eat the kale chips I brought with me in my carry-on and call it a night.
Today I woke up to find there was no water in the house.  This did not come as a total shock as my neighbors had warned me to save some water the night prior due to water rationing.  We are in the midst of the dry season here in Botswana, so there are designated days each week when the water is shut off for various communities.  If you don’t save water beforehand you better hope your neighbors like you or else it’s bound to be a long, dry, thirsty day.  I never realized how much water I use on a daily basis until I was limited to the five containers I saved:

Water is precious here and the Batswana people know that (Batswana is the plural term for citizens from Botswana- that wasn’t a mispelling.  In case you were wondering Motswana is the singular). Pula is currency here.  It is named after the Setswana word for rain because rain is so scarce.  But pula also means blessing because rain is considered a blessing, and of course, having money is a blessing as well.
I expect by the time I leave Botswana some of these Third World challenges will be routine to me.  Hopefully this will also remind me there are a lot of people in the world who would love to have the inconvenience of my First World “problems” rather than the normal day-to-day goings-on of Third World life.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

“Hopefully your bags won’t be completely empty”


This morning we called the airport inquiring whether my bags had finally surfaced.  Thankfully they had; I was beginning to lose hope.  One of the staff members in the International Affairs Office, Monare, took me out to the airport to pick them up and along the way he gave me a brief tour of Gaborone.  I say brief because it’s a relatively small town, only about 65 square miles.  For a point of comparison Lubbock is 124 sq. mi.
When we arrived at the airport Monare and I had to wait a short while before they had a person who could take me back to the baggage storage room.  As we were chatting Monare said to me, “Hopefully your bags won’t be completely empty.”  No doubt anyone who has ever spent any amount of time with me can imagine the look on my face.  All I could say was, “I hope my bags aren’t completely empty either.  I’ve been wearing the same clothes for three days now and would really like people to know I can dress better than sweatpants and sneakers.”  He went on to clarify, “You NEVER want your luggage left in South Africa.  They will go through it and take anything they think they can use or sell.”  Awesome, thanks for the tip.

Needless to say, my luggage was all there and it was not empty.  I suspect my clothes and toiletries weren’t particularly appealing to any would-be thieves.  However, one of my bags did meet a rather sad fate.  I’m not sure whether someone tried to rip it open, if it was dropped from the plane, or maybe it feel off the luggage cart and rather than pick it up and return it to the cart, the driver chose to continue dragging it across the tarmac.  But, it has a huge hole in the bottom and likely will have to be retired:

The unfortunate thing about this bag was that it belonged to my mother.  And it wasn’t just any bag, it was a piece of Disney luggage.  I have a distinct feeling there will be a short period of mourning (on my mom’s part, not mine, though I appreciate being able to use and ultimately destroy the bag) followed by my mother reminding me I promised to would take her to Walt Disney World when I return to the U.S. next year.  Now there is no getting out of that promise because she will no doubt delicately remind me, “Remember that time you took my luggage to Africa and killed it?”  Sorry Mom, it wasn’t my fault.  Really.  After all, you NEVER want your luggage left in South Africa.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Honeymoon

Everything has a honeymoon period, whether it is a relationship, a job or a new toy.  My honeymoon with Botswana is definitely in full swing. I actually thought to myself today, “This place is awesome.  I could stay here forever!”

I have to say, the University of Botswana really has it’s act together.  This morning I went to campus, where I met several of my colleagues in the Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management (THM).  THM is in the Faculty of Business (FOB).  The FOB is equivalent to a College of Business in the U.S., just a slight difference in terminology.
After my meet and greet I was taken to my new home, which IS an ACTUAL home.  I have a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 2 story house with a backyard.  It’s much more than I expected.  And the best part is that it’s comfortable enough to accommodate guests.  Now I just need to start recruiting guests.  “GUESTS!”

The house was furnished and had most of the essentials, like plates and utensils, but was still missing a few things I needed, so we went to the mall.  The mall excursion included registering for utilities and water, as well as purchasing a few necessities, such as pillows and linens.  While at the mall we also ran in to another Fulbright professor and his wife (Phil and Brenda), both of whom have been here since January.  I was so happy to meet them as I’ve been emailing Phil with questions for a few months now and his help and advice has been invaluable.
The rest of the day included completing more paperwork, applying for my residence permit, etc.  But!  One of the highlights of my day was seeing a monkey cross the road on campus about 10 feet in front of me.  I was so shocked by this I didn’t have time to take a picture, not that I was prepared to do so anyway, but it looked similar to this:

All in all, I would say my first day was excellent.  Everyone has been so hospitable and welcoming.  Apparently my arrival has generated considerable excitement, interest or great pleasure, thus prompting an exclamation of surprise or wonder.  The reason I say this is because the vast majority of people who met me today greeted me and then said, “Wow.”  That reaction was very unexpected.  I’m not sure whether the definition of “wow” here in Botswana adheres to the dictionary’s meaning, but until I am told otherwise, I am content making that assumption.  Plus, I figure this just shows Botswana is having similar honeymoon-type feelings.  As Rick said to Louie in Casablanca, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Welcome to Botswana! Your luggage isn’t here? You will probably never see it again.

36 hours of travel, three airports, one long sprint, and no baggage- but I made it to Botswana!

Well, I am here.  Yesterday morning I wasn’t so sure I would make it.  My first flight from DC to NYC was delayed three hours, causing me to arrive at JFK airport 27 minutes before my New York-South Africa flight was scheduled to depart.  As per usual with most setbacks, it was followed by several more challenges.
Apparently if you arrive at JFK on a United domestic flight you have to exit the airport, take a train to the international terminal, go back through security, and then attempt to find your gate.  So, here’s my abridged play by play: Run from first plane to tram. Get on tram to international terminal while frantically looking at my watch.  Run to front of line at security and proceed to beg the security guard to let me cut the line. He agrees. Get in line to go through the x-ray machine.  Couple in front of me decides to take pictures of one another walking through metal detector. Security tells them to stop.  Couple continues to take photos.  TSA gets mad at couple and tells them to erase pictures.  Couple takes another picture. TSA shuts down the line. AHHH!

Enter Kelly. I turn to the couple and speaking with great enthusiasm say, “Don’t come to the U.S., break the rules and punish the rest of us.  If I came to your country (I had seen their passports and knew where they were from) and did something this stupid I would be thrown in jail.  Stop it!” Then I gave them the ever-famous “Phelan eyes of shame,” stepped in front of them, told TSA my flight would depart in 14 minutes and being a law abiding citizen I would appreciate it if he could please let me through.  And he did!  Thank you TSA.

I went through the metal detector without incident, but apparently there was something they didn’t like in my bag.  They asked me how long I had until my plane departed; I told them 11 minutes, so they waived me through and suggested I run.  And that’s just what I did.  I’m pretty sure I ran a mile.  They had just closed boarding, but fortunately opened it back up for me. So, I boarded the plane out of breath and sweating, but I didn’t miss my plane.
Fortunately my 18 hour flight to South Africa was relatively smooth.  I made it through the Johannesburg airport quickly and made a friend in the passport control line that I passed the time with during my layover, and then fell asleep the second I sat on the SA-Gaborone flight, so that flight was over in no time.

The only other hiccup arose while I was standing at the baggage claim here in Gaborone and realized everyone got their bags, except me.  I told the representative from the University of Botswana who picked me up.  His response? “Oh they are probably lost.  That happens a lot in Africa.  You will probably never see those again.”  Great!
In all reality, travel in general tends to be hectic, and in my experience, it is even more so in Africa.  But I arrived safely and that’s what counts.  Tomorrow I head to campus, where no doubt the adventure will continue.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Don’t worry about finding us. We will find you.

One of my most memorable jobs was in Alaska.  I lived in a small village called Galena along the Yukon River in what is known as bush Alaska.  The bush villages are not connected by the road system, meaning you must either fly into them, often landing on a dirt runway, or you arrive by boat in the summer, or via snow-go or snow-machine (known to everyone in the Lower-48 as a snowmobile) once the river freezes over.

When I was hired for the job as Residence Hall Director for a boarding high school, sight unseen, via a phone interview, I excitedly asked the principal on the other end of the line how I would know who to look for when I arrived at the airport.  I distinctly remember his response, “Don’t worry about finding us.  We will find you.”

In order to get to my final destination I flew from Baltimore to Anchorage and was then scheduled to take a six-seat prop plane to Galena.  In Anchorage I collected my belongings and checked in for my Anchorage-Galena flight. The difference between the major carriers like Alaska Airlines and the bush planes are immediately obvious to new arrivals who noticeably wince the first time they recognize that duct tape is used to hold the windows together.

Unaware of the nuances associated with Alaskan travel I was taken aback at the Anchorage airport when I was told I needed to step on the scale.  After significant confusion and objections on my part, the woman behind the counter said, “We have to weigh you because we need to know exactly how much weight the plane is carrying so we don’t overload it and cause it to crash.” As if the mention of a crash once wasn’t daunting enough she mentioned I needed to wear my winter coat on the flight.  “But, it’s August and 90 degrees out.” Shaking her head and rolling her eyes disapprovingly at my ignorance she responded, “Yes, but this is Alaska, we have lots of mountains and snow here.  If the plane crashes on a mountain you don’t want to freeze to death!”  It took every fiber of my being to restrain myself from telling her if the plane crashed I would like to request a much swifter demise than freezing to death.

Obviously, I survived my first Alaskan plane ride, and dozens more during my two years there.  And the principal was right, when I arrived in Galena, they found me right away.  I suspect my dazed and confused expression of relief at finding my feet back on solid ground in the Galena “airport,” which was really a wooden shack about eight feet by eight feet, may have given me away.

I remembered this story recently as I was preparing for my flight to Botswana. I emailed my new department chair with my flight itinerary and was assured I would be met at the airport and taken to my new home.  Without any idea as to the location of my accommodations or a phone number to reach someone in case I arrived and no one was there to meet me I asked him how I would know who to look for when I arrived.  His response was familiar, “Don’t worry about finding us.  We will find you.”  Here’s hoping lightning strikes the same phrase twice.

Here's also hoping my escort brings doesn't bring a moped to pick me up:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dr. Livingstone, I presume? No, just Dr. Phelan.

After my first blog posting, several people emailed me asking the reason behind the title of my blog, Dr. Phelan, I presume?  In preparation for my move to Africa I’ve read a considerable amount about the history of the continent, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, and I have Dr. Livingstone to thank for that information.

Dr. David Livingstone was a British missionary and explorer in Africa between 1851 and 1876.  Livingstone was one of the few westerners who were successful in making a transcontinental trek across Africa.  Plenty of individuals attempted the journey prior to and during Livingstone’s time of exploration, but few survived due to the prevalence of diseases such as malaria, dysentery and sleeping sickness.  It should be noted all these are still significant problems in Africa, but due to the miracle of modern day medicine, there are treatments and vaccines which make these considerably less fatal now.

Dr. Livingstone’s goal in traveling throughout Africa was two-fold, as a missionary attempting to spread Christianity, and as an explorer, trying to discover the source of the River Nile.  He was also a strong opponent of slavery, and later made its abolition his primary objective.  His motto, “Christianity, Commerce and Civilization” is prominently located at the base of his statue at Victoria Falls.

During three different journeys in Africa (1852-1856, 1858-1864 and 1866-1873) Livingstone became the first westerner to see Victoria Falls (Zambia/Zimbabwe), crossed the Kalahari Desert (Botswana, Namibia and South Africa) and discovered Lake Nyasa, aka Lake Malawi (located between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania).  Sadly, despite nearly 20 years and countless attempts, Livingstone did not find the exact source of the Nile, though he was impressively close.

In 1869 Livingstone had been missing for three years.  In an effort to find the next big story, and wanting to move away from strictly political coverage into human interest narratives, the New York Herald newspaper funded journalist Henry Stanley to find Livingstone.  In October 1870 Stanley travelled to Africa and after eight months of searching he saw one man with unusually pale skin.  Stanley deduced this must be the man he was searching for, and approached him, asking, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

So, that’s the story behind my blog title.  While I will strive to emulate Dr. Livingstone by accomplishing a lot during my year in Africa, I can’t possibly expect to be as successful as him.  But I certainly hope I don’t spend several years lost in the jungle, or share his ultimate fate (death caused by malaria and internal bleeding due to dysentery- yuck!).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Where in the world is Dr. Phelan? Botswana!

Remember the game, “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?”  That was one of my favorite games as a child, which should have been a forewarning to my parents that I would end up a world traveler with a passport bulging at the seams with stamps and visas.  For anyone unfamiliar with “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?” the aim is to follow the infamous criminal, Carmen Sandiego, and her gang of villains to different countries where they have stolen a famous landmark (like the Statue of Liberty) and ultimately arrest her.  Those of us who grew up in the 80s idolizing the spy-culture liked the game for that reason, and were blissfully oblivious to the knowledge of geography we obtained in the process.  In honor of the game (and the title of my first blog post), and the many emails, texts, phone calls and Facebook messages I’ve received asking where I’m moving, I wanted to take this opportunity to give everyone the chance to find out a little bit about my new home for the next year.

I am moving to Botswana, which is in Southern Africa.  Botswana is the country bordering South Africa immediately to the north.  Here it is:

Botswana is a former British colony, so they do speak English.  Their national language is Setswana, which I am desperately trying to learn. Leina la me ke Kelly.  Are you impressed yet?  Setswana is everyone’s first language, but they begin learning English in fifth grade, so English is spoken widely.

While I am in Botswana I will be living in Gaborone (pronounced Hhha-bo-ro-nay), which is the capital city.  However, in terms of capital cities, it is on the small side.  Only about 230,000 people live in the capital, and there are only about 2 million people in the entire country, which is the size of Texas when measured according to land mass.  Of course, about 70% of that land is nothing but dessert.
During my year in Botswana I will be teaching at the University of Botswana in the Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management as a Fulbright Scholar.  Botswana has a strong tourism industry, due mainly to the fact the country is home to the “Big Five.” The “Big Five” is used to describe the big five animals of Africa: the elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros.  The term used to be “Big Five Game” because it describes the five animals most difficult to hunt on foot, but now that hunting is widely outlawed in favor of animal conservation and protection, the safari operators use “Big Five” for marketing purposes.
I don’t know if Carmen Sandiego has ever been to Gaborone, stolen some elephants, and been pursued by the Botswana Defense Force, but if she stops by sometime in the next 12 months I will definitely let you know.