Saturday, August 31, 2013

Less talk and more pictures from the UNWTO

I realize my blog posting from yesterday was longer than usual and didn’t even contain any pictures.  So I will take this opportunity to show you a few pictures from the UNWTO conference.

In my previous post about the Opening Ceremony I mentioned that President Mugabe of Zimbabwe was staying at my hotel.  And one of the comments I made was that each time he entered or exited the hotel the staff “rolled out the red carpet.”  Well, in case you thought I was exaggerating, here is his red carpet waiting for him to exit the hotel again:
In the same post I stated that his car was parked right out front and babysat, while the rest of us had to go through security.  As you can see here is his car with the Zimbabwean flag on the front, along with the security person responsible for the car in the white shirt on the right side, and if you look at the top of the stairs there was the metal detector and security personnel checking all guests entering the property:

Since it wasn’t clear in the previous picture, here you can see the license plate on President Mugabe’s car reads “Zim 1,” kind of like Air Force One, but a vehicle:

In yesterday’s post I mentioned the brand new BMW motorcycles for the police as seen here:

 And then you have to look closely inside the police car, but you can sort of see through the open window the plastic coverings still on the seats:

Here is a shot of the actual building where all the general session meetings were held.  It was easier to take this picture when no one was in the building because when it was full of several hundred people it was just incredibly hectic and difficult to get a good shot:

Finally, here are the dignitaries who attended and spoke during the Closing Ceremony.  The Minister of Tourism and the Arts from Zambia, Secretary General of the UNWTO Taleb Rafai, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Sata of Zambia and Vice President Guy Scott.  By the way, Vice President Scott  is white.  As he said in his speech, “You are probably surprised to see I’m white. In fact, I am the only white vice president to serve under a black president with the exception of Vice President Biden and President Obama.”  In this photo President Sata was giving his address:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Reflecting on the 20th UNWTO General Assembly

Today was the final day of the 20th UNWTO General Assembly.  After six days of meetings, resolutions, voting and social events the delegates seemed quite pleased with themselves regarding their accomplishments.  Throughout the week frequent reference was made to the UNWTO’s priorities: air connectivity, travel facilitation and youth tourism.  Boiled down this means that member states have agreed to make airline services and airports more widely available in order to allow tourists easier transport into and around their countries.  There is also a big push to capitalize on the youth market.  According to UNWTO statistics, youth travelers comprise 300 million of the worldwide 1 billion international tourists annually.

“Travel facilitation” was the phrase used in reference to visas.  This discussion seemed the most unrealistic to accomplish as so many visa regulations are based on reciprocity, meaning it becomes a “we won’t let you play with our toys unless we can play with yours” argument.  For instance, only 14 African countries allow Chinese citizens to enter their borders without a visa.  Those 14 countries are actually quite generous. The remaining countries in Africa require Chinese citizens to have visas to enter simply because China requires visas from nationals of ALL African nations.  In order for the UNWTO to truly accomplish their goal of easier travel facilitation someone, or more accurately, some country, will need to blink and open it’s borders first.  Perhaps when that happens things will become a bit easier.
Speaking of cross-border travel, this week was a first for Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Since both countries were hosting the UNWTO conference they suspended visa regulations this week for conference attendees only.  Typically the border between the two countries is closed, thus anyone entering either country must carry a passport and possess a valid visa.  That may actually change soon.  The Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) is an organization sponsored by the World Bank and incorporating Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  In addition to the environmental and wildlife initiatives, KAZA is attempting to make travel between the five countries easier.  In an effort to do so the Victoria Falls border is scheduled to be “opened” in January 2014 to encourage travel to national parks in both countries.  If that pilot test is successful KAZA anticipates within the next year one visa will be issued and encompass all five countries.

Overall the UNWTO conference as an event was quite successful, by African standards.  I say that because as a person who lives here my standards are a little different from those of outsiders.  I don’t believe I attended a single session or event which actually began, or ran, on time; but that’s normal here.
The same can be said for some of the organization.  Exiting the closing ceremony I had to leave the hotel in Zambia where it was being held and get transportation back to my hotel in Zimbabwe.  I was instructed to take a shuttle to a neighboring hotel where a bus was allegedly waiting.  After arriving at the second hotel the staff put me back on the shuttle and sent me to the entrance gate of the property where I was told I could catch a ride.  When I arrived at the gate there was a group of about 8 press correspondents who had been walked to four different buses and still couldn’t get anyone to help them. I joined them as we were taken to yet another bus.  The bus driver refused to take us anywhere.  As we walked back to the main gate all 8 press correspondents (none of which were from Africa) voiced their frustration and exasperation at the lack of organization.  When one of them asked what I thought all I could respond was, “TIA. This is Africa.”

Despite these challenges, I would have to say Zambia and Zimbabwe certainly made a valiant effort.  Back in April Zimbabwe was facing serious financial trouble and there were talks that it was soliciting other African countries for a bailout.  I asked several representatives from neighboring countries whether any of them had provided the money Zimbabwe needed and they all said, “No.” But you know who did? Who else? China. China gave Zimbabwe a $150 million loan.
And I can tell you exactly where that $150 million went. When I arrived at the Zimbabwe airport last week there was a full sized bus specifically for UNWTO delegates to transport us to our hotels.  It looked brand new.  I mention full sized and brand new because the few buses you see in southern Africa are often old, without air conditioning, smaller than what we are accustomed to in the West and generally filthy.  As I entered the bus I noticed indeed it was brand new, as evidenced by the fact the plastic seat coverings from the factory had not yet been removed. A few days later I saw a police convoy.  The motorcycle officers were on BMW motorcycles, while again, I saw 6 police cars, all with the plastic seat coverings still intact.  If Zimbabwe has nothing else to show from the conference, they now have a fleet of vehicles other African countries will no doubt be jealous of.

Despite Zimbabwe’s recent money troubles, accusations of human rights violations and alleged election rigging, I think they did the best job they could with the resources they had.  The one aspect I think they did excel at was human resources.  Both countries brought in hundreds of temporary workers for the two weeks surrounding the conference.  All these temporary workers were Zambian and Zimbabwean citizens who came to Livingstone City and Victoria Falls, respectively, and were responsible for assisting the conference attendees.  Some were elementary school teachers from Harare who were earning a little extra money before starting the new school year next Tuesday.  A few were business owners who took time off to “see all the excitement” and one I spoke to was a mother.  I just hope once the last UNWTO delegate leaves they use those shiny new buses to take them all home.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Who wants to be a millionaire? No one here.

In college I was a huge fan of the television show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? I used to call in and attempt to get selected as a contestant frequently. I was never on the show, but I was more interested in the competition aspect and bragging rights more so than the money. Though I still can’t say I won, I can now say I am a millionaire. In fact, I'm not just a millionaire; I'm a BILLIONAIRE!!!

Have you ever seen a 100 billion dollar bill? No? Ok, well here you go:

This was GIVEN to me by a friend I made here in Zimbabwe. It wasn't a loan and I didn't pay him for it, he just gave it to me.  Now I can officially say I am a billionaire. Unfortunately that does not have a very positive connotation here.

Prior to my trip to Zimbabwe I investigated what type of currency I needed to obtain and the exchange rate. I was surprised to find out I didn't have to worry about changing money because there is no national currency here anymore. Instead US dollars are primarily used, though many outlets are also willing to accept South African Rand, Euros, and in some cases, Botswana Pula. But change is only given in US dollars.
In 2009 Zimbabwe stopped issuing the Zimbabwean dollar due to the fact inflation had become so extreme. In July 2008 a single US dollar was equivalent to 758,530,000,000 Zimbabwean dollars. Around the same time the cost of an egg was about 50 billion dollars. I suppose you would have to take a briefcase full of money to the store when you did your grocery shopping.

After continual hyperinflation over years and three attempts at redenomination, Zimbabwe eventually gave up and decided to retire their currency altogether. It is practically impossible to get hold of these old bills anymore unless you find a local who has one.  The government took them out of circulation and they have all been archived, though it is unlikely they will ever be used again.
So, I guess the moral of the story is to be careful what you wish for. Here in Zimbabwe when they used to have their own currency it became useless almost as soon as it was issued. Can you imagine getting a paycheck and then realizing it wasn't even enough to do your weekly shopping because the value of money had dropped so dramatically?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A quick shower and a free drink

Right now I am in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe for the UNWTO General Assembly.  While I do have a pretty packed schedule of meetings, all work and no fun makes for a dull time.  Fortunately, the conference program includes several side trips and extracurricular activities for attendees when meetings are not in session.

On Sunday afternoon before the Opening Ceremony I went to Victoria Falls along with a number of other UNWTO delegates.  It is currently winter, which means it is dry season here in Southern Africa.  As a result Victoria Falls is quite low.  There is still plenty of water flowing over the Falls, but to put in perspective the difference in seasons, during the rainy season about 500 million liters of water fall each minute.  In the dry season the water level drops to 10 million liters per minute.  As an amateur Vic Falls tourist this means absolutely nothing to me, but since I can do math a 50-fold increase between seasons sounds like a lot.  I was very impressed.  I even got a little wet from the spray off the Falls.  But, I may have to schedule another trip back here in high season to see the difference for myself.  Here are a couple of pictures for your viewing enjoyment:


Yesterday I had some free time before our meetings began in the afternoon, so I booked a tour with one of the many tour companies here in town.  It was a game drive through Zambezi National Park followed by a canoe trip down the Zambezi River.  The Zambezi River is the fourth-longest river in Africa behind the Nile, Congo and Niger Rivers.  It flows from eastern Angola into Namibia, through Botswana, along the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, flows over Victoria Falls, then into Mozambique and finally empties into the Indian Ocean.  Here is the Zambezi River with Zimbabwe on the left bank and Zambia on the right bank:

As for the game drive through Zambezi National Park it was great.  I finally saw an elephant, lots of them actually, so I now feel like I’m in Africa.  There were also plenty of giraffes, warthogs, water buffalo, kudu, hyenas and vultures.  The vultures and hyenas were actually feeding on the carcass of a dead buffalo and they made a quick meal of him.  According to our guides the buffalo was killed by a lion and the hyenas and vultures were just finishing him off.  Sadly though we did not see any lions.  Maybe next time.

After the game drive and canoe trip we were departing the park and right as we reached the gate we saw an elephant was blocking the entrance.  We sat there waiting for him to move, which he didn’t for nearly 10 minutes.  The reason he was so hesitant to surrender his real estate was because the park rangers were watering the lawn directly out front.  One of them abandoned the hose and walked away, during which time an elephant wandered up and took advantage of a free drink:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

UNWTO Opening Ceremony

Last night was the Opening Ceremony for the UNWTO General Assembly.  To sum up my experience in just a few words: “fun, chaos, long speeches, hungry attendees.”

Since the UNWTO is being co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia that means there is twice the protocol, twice as many VIPs,  and twice the opportunity for confusion to occur.  As many of those of you reading this blog know, I formerly worked in the events industry and I often teach courses in event management to my students back in Texas.  Last night’s event highlighted practically everything I tell my students about in that class.
The Opening Ceremony was held at the historic Victoria Falls Hotel which is about 5 miles from where I’m staying.  Buses were transporting attendees from the official delegate hotels, including mine.  However, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been staying here at the Elephant Hills Hotel, which makes things infinitely more challenging.  We have to go through metal detectors and have belongings x-rayed each time we enter the hotel.  His car is parked right out front with a team of security surrounding it at all times, along with about 100 police scattered around the property, and each time he arrives and departs they roll out the red carpet.  Literately!  There is a red carpet which he walks on from the entrance of the hotel out to his car.

Due to the President being here all the buses from my hotel were forced to wait until he left, thus we all arrived a bit late for the event.  Not that it mattered, because there were about 5,000 people at the Opening Ceremony which meant arrivals took a considerable amount of time.  However, since we arrived later than most empty seats were difficult to locate.  Fortunately I was with a friend who convinced a server to bring us two chairs and then we found some other people we knew and joined their table.
But, before we could eat we had to witness the official arrivals and welcomes.  First the Zimbabwean VP arrived, then the Zambia VP, then the UNWTO Secretary General, then President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, then President Sata of Zambia, and finally the other Heads of State.  Once they were all present and introduced we listed to the Zambian national anthem, and then the Zimbabwe national anthem.  See how this was a little long?  At this point no one had even made a speech yet.

To expedite this description I will just list in order what happened next: prayer for dinner, safe travels and a productive conference; welcome remarks by Zimbabwean Minister of Tourism and Hospitality; remarks from the Zambian Minister of Tourism and Arts; remarks from the UNWTO Secretary General; address from President Sata; address from President Mugabe; lighting of the Victoria Falls Bridge and fireworks; address from VP of Zimbabwe.  Then we were told we could eat.  According to our program dinner was supposed to begin at 8:00pm.  Dinner was finally served at 9:42pm.  Better late than never?  I guess.
Overall, I would say it was very interesting.  Some of the comments made by the politicians were quite comical.  For instance, President Mugabe referred to President Sata as his “Siamese president.”  I suppose that is because the two of them have relatively good relations now and are “joined at the hip,” at least for the conference.

The Opening Ceremony took place outside, thus my pictures aren’t particularly good since it was nighttime.  But here are a few I thought you might enjoy.  Here is the caravan of vehicles which comprised President Mugabe’s motorcade:

This is the backside of the Victoria Falls Hotel with the Presidents and other Heads of State arriving through the arch and lots of tables in the forefront of hungry delegates:
Apparently most conferences here in Africa involve a ribbon cutting.  Instead of doing this, the Victoria Falls Bridge was illuminating in the distance and fireworks were set off to announce the official opening of the conference:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The animals are WILD. They might EAT YOU.

Today was the first day of meetings here at the UNWTO General Assembly.  The first event of the day was a lunch hosted by the Zambian Minister of Tourism and the Arts.  Naturally, this meant the lunch was held in Zambia, at the Zambezi Sun Hotel just over the border.  When we arrived we were greeted by a traffic jam caused by about two dozen zebras which had wandered into the parking lot of the hotel and weren’t particularly interested in moving.  Animals always have the right of way here no matter how inconvenient they may be, so we just waited until they moved off to the side of the parking lot where there was lunch waiting for them- grass:
 As you can see, they also aren’t particularly phased by humans:
 I wouldn’t go so far as to try to pet the zebras, but I figured standing a couple feet away and snapping a picture wasn’t a big deal.  However, at the lunch the very first thing the introductory speaker told the group was, “Please, do NOT get out of your vehicles to take pictures of animals.  They are wild.  They will chase you and may hurt you or try to eat you. It is better to remain in your vehicle and take the picture through the window.  It would be very bad if anything happened to someone here at this conference, so please stay away from the animals.”
Just for the record, this announcement was not a result of my zebra paparazzi tendencies.  Rumor has it some snappy happy delegates from a country that LOVES to take pictures of EVERYTHING (yeah, that country that just popped into your mind, you are correct) had a close encounter with an elephant yesterday.  So, to cover their bases they decided to give all of us a talking to.

As for the Minister’s lunch, it was great.  I met the Ministers of Tourism from Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and Colombia, as well as the Ambassador to the UN from South Africa and a number of other supporting staff members from these countries. 
After lunch the Commission for Africa had it’s meeting which I attended.  Most of it was rather general, relating to committee membership and priorities the countries want to focus on over the next few days.

Following that meeting I had the brilliant idea to walk back to my hotel.  Not my best decision ever. Keep in mind, I was in Zambia for the lunch and meeting.  I am staying in Zimbabwe.  There is a giant bridge in between the two countries.  But the gym at my hotel is closed for renovations, so I thought I would see some sights, take a few pictures and get in my exercise for the day.
As a side note, I normally don’t wear a pedometer.  But, I have one and for some reason I decided to pack it when I moved to Africa.  Since I don’t have a vehicle here I’ve been wearing it daily to record how far school is from home, or the distance to the mall.  Well, I wore it today and when I checked my distance it turns out I walked 9 miles through the African heat.  Fortunately I came prepared with a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses.  But what did I forget? Water! Oh well, lesson learned. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Elephant Hills Hotel

As should be expected with travel in Africa, my trip from Gaborone to Victoria Falls was a little more exciting than I would have preferred. First the computer system at the Gaborone Airport was down, so our tickets had to be written by hand.  This wouldn’t have been such a problem except for the fact I did not have a direct flight to Zimbabwe.  I had to connect in Johannesburg, South Africa which meant when I got there I had to go through customs, exit the airport, pick up my checked bag, reenter the airport and check in separately for my connecting flight, and then go through customs and security again.

Fortunately when I arrived in Zim passport control was expecting us, so those of us here for the UNWTO conference were expedited through customs.  I think it was barely five minutes from the time I exited the plane until I was on the shuttle to my hotel. Now that is service!

I’m staying at the host hotel on the Zimbabwe side which is convenient.  Not that it makes a huge difference because about half the events are on the Zambia side, plus most of the social events are at other venues.  But being at the host hotel is nice because I don’t have to travel off-site for the first three days and I was able to register here.

Unfortunately when I tried to register for the conference there was some confusion over who I am and why I am here.  Apparently they forgot they gave me a special permit to attend, and the person who granted me that permission was not here to verify it.  Lucky for me, my charming personality went a long way and they quickly gave me credentials.  So I am in business.

Meetings start tomorrow which I’m looking forward to, but since I had some free time late this afternoon I wandered around my hotel for a bit.  My room overlooks the golf course and I saw there was a walking path, so I figured I would head in that direction.  One of the caddies approached me and asked if I wanted him to show me the animals on the course.  I figured, why not? 

On the course I saw impala and monkeys:



Guinea fowl:


And Waterpaks?  At least this is what my friend Vincent called them. I’m still not sure this is the correct name of this animal, but it appears to be a cross between a moose and a deer:
It certainly wasn’t the prettiest golf course I’ve ever seen, but it was reasonable given the environment.  Of course, there were additional obstacles here you probably wouldn’t see elsewhere.  For instance, the warthogs really like to dig up the grass, so you see these large areas of mud provide golfers with the same challenges as a sand trap, only messier.

And then of course there are the monkeys.  I watched this poor guy hit a ball, it landed, and then a monkey ran off with it.  Then the guy throws his club on the ground and shouts, “Not again!”
I suppose it could have been worse.  There could have been elephants on the course here at the Elephant Hills Hotel.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I’m going to Victoria Falls!

Tomorrow at 6am I board a flight to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  While this technically is not a pleasure trip, I definitely plan to enjoy myself when I’m not working.  I am going to Victoria Falls for the United Nations World Tourism Organization General Assembly.  The General Assembly is the annual meeting where all the Ministers of Tourism from the member countries come to discuss tourism policy.

In honor of my upcoming trip I recently read “Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone” and “The Life & African Explorations of David Livingstone.” For those of you who may not be familiar with Dr. Livingstone, he was the inspiration behind the name of my blog, Dr. Phelan, I Presume?  If you haven’t read the details behind my blog title you can read about it in this post.

I’ve also been busy reading the several hundred pages of documents related to policy discussions which will take place during the UNWTO.  When I heard the UNWTO was being held in the countries right next door I contacted the UN and asked if I could attend.  Fortunately I did this way back in March because it took them several weeks of deliberation to determine whether or not I could participate.  I was eventually told, “This is an unusual request.  We have never had a professor ask to attend the UNWTO.  But given your appeal we would be happy to invite you to attend as a special guest.  Please find your invitation and credentials enclosed.”

Check this out- I am a Special Guest:

I always love attending conferences because I inevitably learn things and meet people I would never have expected.  Hopefully this one will as interesting and as much fun as I expect.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Malaria medication & HIV/AIDs testing with a side of perspective

Each semester at Texas Tech the Student Recreation Center holds Health & Wellness Screenings.  During these events students, faculty and staff can get their cholesterol checked, see if their thyroid is functioning properly, and get a number of other blood tests to see if anything is amiss.  If any of the tests come back with less than desirable results participants can make appointments with their personal physicians in hopes of designing a course of treatment.

This week here on campus we are having our own screenings, for HIV/AIDs.  The theme for the event is “I took the first step… I know my HIV status.”  All week long students can visit one of the five locations on campus and get tested.  Here is one of the mobile testing locations:
And here students are waiting to be tested:
Since nearly 1/4 of the population (1 in 3 adults) here has HIV/AIDs you frequently hear reference to this illness.  The “know your status” saying is a common topic of conversation and widely promoted.  Yesterday I was teaching a research methods class full of physical education students.  While discussing different types of questions to ask on a survey a student raised his hand and suggested asking participants about their HIV/AIDs status.  Before coming here that was something which would have never occurred to me.

While the HIV/AIDs testing is not a personal concern to me, I am involved in my own health issues here.  Today marks the beginning of 17 days of malaria medication for me. Friday morning I leave Botswana to attend the United Nations World Tourism Organization General Assembly which is being co-hosted by Livingstone City, Zambia and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.  Due to the prevalence of malaria in both these destinations I am taking medication as a precaution.  According to the World Health Organization there were 219 million malaria cases and 660,000 malaria deaths in 2010, most of which are in Africa.  However, malaria mortality has dropped almost 25% in the last decade due to awareness, treatment and prevention.

Having both of these health concerns at the forefront of my mind this week certainly puts things into perspective.   Back home neither of these illnesses would typically cross my mind.  But here they are quite normal, not much different from having a cold or the flu.  I remember when I was in Sierra Leone one of my friends there contracted malaria.  He and his family took a very nonchalant attitude when telling me about it, “It’s no big deal.  We all get it once or twice a year.  He will be ok in a few days.” This is just another one of those almost daily reminders of why I am so appreciative for what I have.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

No heat, no air conditioning, no walls, no problem

About a week ago I wrote a blog post about a most unwelcome visitor which I killed.  If you missed that narrative feel free to read it here. In that entry I spoke about how very few buildings here have heat or air conditioning.  Shortly after posting that comment my brother-in-law sent me a message asking whether we “sweat all the time.”  At this point it’s really not a problem because it is winter.  During the day temperatures reach 80F(30C), but in the evening it drops down to about 40F(4C).  However, I will gladly provide you with a follow up report regarding the heat and the sweating in a few months.

The reason for lack of heat and air conditioning is quite simple.  Botswana, as with most of Africa, has rather inconsistent electricity.  Last night I had an important Skype appointment and in the hours leading up to that and during I just kept my fingers crossed and was using all my positive thinking to “will” the power to remain on.  Fortunately it did.  Now, I will say that we haven’t had a blackout in a while and Botswana is definitely much more consistent with power compared to some other countries I’ve visited, such as Sierra Leone.  But if you have difficulty providing electricity to the masses then central cooling and heating systems simply are not feasible.
Due to the lack of heat and air conditioning, buildings are designed in such a way to be relatively cool.  This is a great concept during the summertime, but as we are still in winter this can make for a frigid night’s sleep.  Similar to the lanai in Hawaii, construction here tends to encourage indoor/outdoor living.  This is also true in our classrooms.

Directly behind my building on campus is a large outdoor amphitheater.  The amphitheater does have a kind of tarp roof to protect students and the professor from the elements, but there is no heat, no air conditioning, no walls, no blackboard, and no technology available.  I teach in this “classroom” once a week.  And I love it.
Here are a few pictures of a class being held in the amphitheater:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


This morning I walked into my office and look what was waiting to greet me:

I realize you may have just asked yourself, “What am I supposed to be looking at?” In case you missed it, let me give you the narrative.  On the right side you see my broken chair which I illegally obtained from the surplus pile last week.  If you didn’t read about it you can here.
On the left is my new and improved chair (i.e. it’s not broken!).  I do not know where this came from, or who brought it, but it is a welcome addition to my office.  I can now sit at my desk without succumbing to poor posture or bending backward and subsequently falling onto the floor.  Things are looking up.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

No regrets, returns, refunds or exchanges

I would not classify myself as a frequent or expert shopper.  (My mother is currently sighing heavily, shaking her head in disgust and beating herself up asking, “How could my daughter have become such a disappointment? How embarrassing!”) My mother, on the other hand, would win the Olympic gold in shopping if there was such a thing.  Despite her attempts to train me well, I have resisted, and today that has come back to bite me.

About a week ago I bought a small grill.  It is similar to a George Foreman in that it is plugged into the wall and used inside.  But it is definitely not a brand I’ve seen before. You seldom see well known international brands here in terms of small appliances.  To put this in slightly better perspective the writing on the box was in Arabic ONLY.  No English, no Spanish, no German, only Arabic.

I brought the grill home, assembled it, and then tried to use it.  Despite numerous attempts, it would not work.  So I took it, along with the receipt, back to the store and told them I didn’t want it because it didn’t work and I wanted my money back.  That request was not well received.  I was told the following: 
  1. “We do not take returns."
  2. “You should have brought it back sooner.”  I had bought it 10 days prior.  I asked if I bought something and wanted to return it how long did I have.  They said, “Seven days.  But it is up to the manager’s discretion if he wants to accept the return.”  I responded, “But, you just said you don’t take returns.” “No, we don’t take returns.” (Now I was just confused.) 
  3.  After they attempted to see if it worked and it didn’t they told me, “You obviously broke it, so we won’t take it back.”  I asked if they would exchange it for one that worked properly and was answered with, “No, we don’t do exchanges.” 
In the U.S. stores readily accept returned purchases within reason.  Some retailers have branded themselves as providing excellent customer service and favorable return policies.  Nordstrom’s is one example.  Nordstrom’s is a department store which allowed a customer to return several car tires, a product it doesn’t sell, in an effort to forge good customer relations. Here is a story about the Nordstrom's tires if you are curious. However here in Botswana, there is no culture of returning purchases, thus when attempted, it is generally rebuffed.

Disappointed, I returned home with the broken grill.  Fortunately, I am my father’s daughter.  He is an engineer and instilled in me from an early age the need to fix STUFF.  (Thanks Dad. Sorry Mom about failing you on the shopping.) Any stuff.  Not just your stuff, but other people’s stuff too.  Whether they want their stuff fixed or not!

When I was a teenager I sprained my ankle late at night and my Dad took me to the Emergency Room.  As we were sitting there my father noticed the automatic door was malfunctioning, opening and closing continuously despite not being activated by someone actually trying to use the door.  He walked over, took his pocket knife out of his shirt pocket and used the mini-screwdriver to fix the door.  I still laugh today while writing this and remembering that scene.  Yep, that’s my Dad.

Harnessing my inner Tom Sr. I looked around all the various tools, supplies and other belongings in my house.  Eventually I came up with several paperclips, duct tape, a thumbdrive, and a teenty tiny little box.  It’s not so pretty, but I my grill now works:

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Dumelang Borra Le Bomma

Every day that I teach I always start my class off the same way, “Dumelang borra le bomma.”  This means “Good day gentlemen and ladies.” And every day after I say this the entire class claps and cheers. :)  I’m beginning to wonder when it will get old to them and they will stop doing that.  But I’m certainly not complaining.  I think I’ve decided that when I return to the U.S. I will require all of my classes to clap and cheer for me after I say “Good morning.”

I have to say I am definitely enjoying teaching here.  The students are very attentive and ask a lot of questions.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  They humor my attempts to speak Setswana and say their names.  And from time to time they teach me short, useful phrases. This afternoon I learned, “Ke a lwala” which means “I am not well.” I have a cold, thus this was quite appropriate today.

Speaking of names, I learned very quickly that my last name is particularly difficult for the Batswana to pronounce.  Most people won’t even make an attempt.  When they do it goes something along the lines of, “Paaa-ha-la-n.” And the “n” is said like the letter N, not the sound.

My Associate Dean actually told me when we first met, “Your surname is particularly difficult to pronounce. Your first name is also strange, but easier.”  Anyone want to take a venture at his name?  Tlongogokli Ketshabilego.  Yes, compared to the 23 letters in his name, the six letters in mine can be tricky.  Here a G sounds like a Ha, when you pronounce a K you must “click” and Rs must be rolled.

Suffice to say, my attempts at Setswana have made me realize how much easier French, Spanish, and even Russian were for me to learn.  And in an effort to accommodate my colleagues’ and students’ needs we have found a much easier form of address.  I am known on campus as Dr. Kelly.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The ID Saga Continues

This morning a friend sent me a message and asked whether I had managed to finally get an ID yet.  “If not, let me know.  I can send you a care package full of colored chalk and hand puppets.”  If you don’t understand this reference you might want to check out this blog post about my first day teaching and this one.

I went to the ID Office ELEVEN days in a row attempting to get an ID.  I had paid for it already and was given an employment number.  Actually, they gave me one employment number my first day on campus.  I tried to get the ID that day but was told I was in the system incorrectly.  Then I suggested to HR, “Why don’t you just delete me from the system and then add me back in with a new number?”  “No, no, no, that is impossible.”  A week later, after visiting (aka harassing) them each day they finally decided to do what?  Delete my original employment number and give me a new one.

Once I had the second new number I paid for the ID and then went to the ID office to get the card. The ID Office said I had a bad number and needed a new one.  Went back to HR, they said it was fine, but hadn’t been entered into the system.  Then I went to the ID Office 11 days in a row.  Each day I heard the same thing, “This is a bad number and you aren’t in the system, come back tomorrow.”  On day 11 they told me to stop coming back until HR fixed the problem.

HR allegedly fixed the problem yesterday so this morning I went to the ID Office.  This was the conversation:

Kelly: “Dumela Rra (Hello Sir).  HR told me the problem was finally fixed and I could get the ID.

ID guy: “No, this is a bad number.  You aren’t in the system.”

We went back and forth about 20 times when I finally pleaded, “Could you PLEASE just check the system?”

ID guy looks that the computer and says: “You are here but your title is wrong.  I can’t give you an ID.”

Kelly: “I don’t care what the title says, I just want an ID.”

ID guy: “What should your title be?”

Kelly: “Fulbright Scholar, or Assistant Professor, or Lecturer.  It really doesn’t matter.”

ID guy: “It says Sabbatical Leave.  That is not the correct title.  I can’t give you the ID.”

Kelly: “Rra, I promise.  I don’t care about the title.  I just need an ID.  I don’t care if my title says, ‘Alien, visiting from another planet.’ Please just give me an ID!”

ID guy: “Ok, this is the wrong title and I shouldn’t give this to you.  But here you go.”

Kelly: “Excellent, thank you so much.”

ID guy: “Now you have to go get it activated.”

Kelly: “What?”

ID guy: “It won’t give you access to anything right now.  It won’t do you any good until you get it activated.”


I couldn’t believe after all the time, frustration and 19 visits to four different offices there was still another step.  I hovered outside the office of the ID card activator and what do you think happened?  She NEVER showed up.  I perched outside her office for six hours and still, my ID is not active.

As Scarlett O’Hara says, “Tomorrow is another day.” Yes, indeed it is.  And hopefully it will be my lucky day to get a working ID.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

WANTED: Woman suspected of stealing chairs in Block 245

I recently became a thief. And I managed to get away with it three days in a row.  Until this morning, when I was caught.  Let me back up and start from the beginning.

The first week I arrived here I met my HOD (Head of Department) as well as other key individuals in the Faculty (i.e. College). My HOD had recently been promoted to his position and was getting ready to move from his old office into his new HOD office.  During our first meeting he showed me his old/my new office.  It was a disaster.  There is a professor back in Texas who has been there longer than I have been alive (true story).  And I am quite confident he has never thrown anything away during that time.  When you enter his office you have to stand because every chair has a mountain of papers on it and you don’t want to risk throwing a wrench into his finely tuned filing system.  This is what my HOD’s old/my new office looked like.  But he told me not to worry because he would have someone clean it out for me.  “It should be ready by Monday.” I felt sorry for “someone.”
The following week I arrived on campus, picked up my office key and amazingly it was spotless.  There wasn’t a single thing in the room except for a desk.  No stray pencil or paperclip.  And no chair for me, or anyone else for that matter, to sit in.  I figured it must have been an oversight, so I asked the HOD about the chair.  He said he didn’t know what happened to it.  Keep in mind there are six chairs in his new office.  And he didn’t give me a suggestion as to how to commandeer my own.  The HR manager seemed to be an immediate fan of mine as he had spent some time in Texas.  He told me when we met that if there was anything I needed, anything at all, to come to him and he would take care of it.  So I went to him asking for a chair.  He had five chairs in his office and a couch!  But he could not direct me where to find a chair for my office either.  After playing this charade with the department secretary, the Associate Dean and the security officer in the building (Block 245) I gave up.

I began brainstorming ideas for how to procure a chair, thinking perhaps I would have to purchase one myself.  But I quickly realized there were chairs (and desks) in the corridors of my building which students would use during time between classes.  After careful consideration I decided to make my move.  On Friday I took a chair, but it wasn’t an appropriate chair to use at a desk or with a computer.  Once I got it down to my office I realized it was useful for students who were visiting, but would make me a hunchback and was very uncomfortable to use for hours.  Monday morning I found another chair in need of a home (in my office).  I realize this is beginning to sound a lot like Goldilocks and the Three Bears because this chair wasn’t right either. But hey! Now I could have two students in my office at the same time and they wouldn’t have to stand, looming over me.
This morning I went on an extensive hunt and eventually found a chair that was “just right.”  I was bringing it down the three flights of stairs to my office, I could see the finish line and then… I got caught!  The faculty members in my building seldom show up in the morning.  I am often the only person there until close to 10am, so I had been making these early morning chair excursions unnoticed.  But apparently this morning my Dean and all the other administrators in the college had an early morning meeting.

There I was, red handed, holding this chair which I knew I wasn’t supposed to have and there was nowhere to hide or stash the chair.  The Dean asked what I was doing, and I explained my chair dilemma.  (One thing I should note is that all the chairs were broken.  Apparently, when I chair is damaged they move it out into the common areas and let the students use them.  Sounds like a liability issue to me, but I’m not in charge here.) I pointed out the chairs were broken, and that ultimately, they were being used by students when they were in my office.  But that it was very difficult for me to use an office with a desk but no chair.
In the end he didn’t offer to give me a working chair.  Instead he said, “Well, ok.  Just make sure you return it when you are finished.  And don’t hurt yourself.”

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


This evening I was sitting at the desk in my house, diligently writing a blog post about teaching, when I was abruptly interrupted by a giant spider.  And really, it was the largest spider I’ve ever seen.  It was about the length of my pointer finger, which I would estimate to be about two inches.  (Unfortunately, or fortunately? I come from a long line of people with small hands.  Large palms, tiny fingers.)

As I glanced up and saw the spider my immediate reaction was, “AH-HA! Get the DOOM!”  This is a phrase I’ve heard frequently since I arrived here.  The first day I spent on campus I remember seeing a can of DOOM sitting on someone’s desk.  Right next to his coffee mug and keyboard.  I thought it was unusual that it was so prominently displayed, but figured it must have been forgotten.

The next day, one of the staff members from the International Affairs Office took me shopping to get a few necessities for my house (linens, pillows, pots and pans). She wasn’t really supervising my purchases but she did insist, “Don’t forget, you must get DOOM.”  “Really?,” I asked, “Do you think it’s necessary?” “Oh yes, you will want it.”  I bought it thinking I would never use it.  That evening I used it three times!

Last week I was in the midst of a faculty meeting.  You may have read about it.  We took part in a heated debate over the difference between the terms relevant and related.  If you haven’t heard about it, feel free to check it out here.  Everything is particularly formal here in Botswana.  You address your colleagues as Dr. X or Mr. Y.  If you are speaking to a Professor he is always addressed as Professor, never Dr.  That is a major faux pas. And meetings start with an introduction along the lines of, “Esteemed colleagues, welcome.  We are gathered here today to convene on the topic of quality assurance.”  Given the formality of the situation I was shocked when mid-way through our meeting the Associate Dean exclaimed, “AH-HA! I knew it!  Get the DOOM!”  Simultaneously everyone jumped up, a junior faculty member sprinted toward a filing cabinet, emerged with the DOOM, and the Associate Dean blasted whatever it was into a chemical induced coma and eventual death.  I completely missed the boat and to this day am not sure what type of offending creature was exterminated.  I felt too foolish to ask.

Botswana has over 8,000 different species of insects and spiders.  And at the rate I’m going I may get to see all of them before I leave! I think a large part of the reason for the constant exposure to these critters is the design of buildings.  Most buildings here don’t have heat or air conditioning, so they are designed to have open doors and windows, and you seldom see screens.

Another night, another DOOM attack.  TIA- This is Africa.