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.


  1. I'm all caught up on your blogs. I love the fact that you didn't have time to snap a picture of the monkey you saw so you included a picture that you probably just googled. I am going to take a picture of myself in front of a few jars of water and say that I came to visit you! LOL! I love reading your posts, I hear your voice and expressions when I am reading them. Please keep this current- it makes my day! (And you will enjoy going back and reading this for many years to come) Lubbock misses you- Go make us proud! -Bryce

  2. HAHAHAHA! Thanks Bryce. I'm so glad you are enjoying it. I miss you and Lubbock too.