Monday, September 30, 2013

Off to the Maasai Mara

My conference is over.  I had a great time, but I am ready to go home to Gaborone.  Overall I think Kenya was a good host country for the conference.  The event had a very African feel to it in terms of the topics discussed, the food served, the hospitality and the entertainment.  Here is a video of local dancers from the Kenyan Night event.  Be sure to take notice of the Maasai Warrior sitting at the front table on the lower left side:


Though the conference is over I’m not leaving Kenya quite yet. Tomorrow I am headed to Maasai Mara.  The Mara is adjacent to the Serengeti in Tanzania.  Right now the Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra is taking place, so I’m told we may see thousands of animals on their way south.  The Mara is also well known for its lions, leopards and cheetahs, so I’m really looking forward to seeing some big cats.  No doubt I will have some more pictures to share soon.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Tranquil Oasis in the Middle of Nairobi

Yesterday I posted a number of pictures of Nairobi which show a pretty accurate representation of the city.  I only wish I could share with you the toxic air to give you the real feel.  That is the one thing I have a problem with here.  Each time I leave my hotel I return almost unable to breathe because the air is so polluted.  The traffic here is very congested and there are no emissions laws like we have back in the U.S., so there is a constant strong smell of gasoline and exhaust fumes always hanging in the air.  I’m not sure whether it is worse here or in China, but either way it is unpleasant.

However, the hotel where I am staying is a far cry from the polluted, crowded streets of Nairobi.  The Safari Park Hotel is gorgeous, but it is a complete contradiction to the rest of the city.  You see lots of green grass and flowers, and at night you can hear the sounds of crickets and frogs.  Though apparently there is a slight snake problem here as there are several small ponds on property.  I was walking across a bridge over one of the ponds last night and was soaked as one of the hotel workers was standing in the pond smacking the water with large stick.  It turns out there was a black mamba in the water!  Of course, I would rather get bathed in pond water than bitten by a black mamba, so I’m not complaining.
Here are a few pictures of my hotel.  Here is the room in which I am staying:
 
This is a view of one of the other buildings from my guest room balcony:

It is rainy season here in Kenya which is wonderful.  After being in Botswana where it is so dry and brown, I have enjoyed the wet mornings and the greenery:

And here is the lobby and reception area, along with a life size elephant:

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Out and About in Nairobi

The past week in Nairobi has been quite hectic.  Security here is generally very tight, with security guards checking bags and using metal detecting wands throughout the city, but you notice them more at malls, restaurants and hotels now that everyone is on heightened alert after the terror attack.  My hotel is only a few miles from Westgate, thus we’ve seen many low flying helicopters and the smoke coming from the fire at the property.  Despite this chaos my time here has been good.  Since my blog posts are frequently very long-winded I thought I would just share some photos from Nairobi today.

Here is an outdoor market I visited last Saturday.  I was actually there when the Westgate attack took place. You can see the traditional Kenyan dresses, beaded sandals and jewelry which were being sold.  I was very popular as I was one of only a few foreigners; mostly locals visit this market:

Here is the University of Nairobi where I visited a tourism professor and was a guest speaker in a class:

Corruption and bribery is a serious problem throughout most of Africa, and Kenya is no different.  You see signs throughout the city which refer to “Don’t give bribes” and “Corruption is illegal.”  Even University of Nairobi has had some problems with this, as advertised on this sign:

As I mentioned in a previous posting, everyone in Kenya loves Obama.  Everyone in Africa loves Obama, but the Kenyans are particularly proud of him because they are convinced he was born here.  Thus, he is often used in advertisements, such as for this kiosk printing passport photos:

Here are some small shacks in a neighborhood which I visited.  As you can see here, there are shops selling groceries, there is a makeshift automotive repair shop, and there was even a doctor’s office:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Preaching to the Converted

As I mentioned in some of my past postings, I am here in Nairobi to attend a conference, the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference.  (Yes, I agree, the Department of Redundancy Department must have been responsible for the naming.) For the last several days I’ve been attending workshops, presentations and other networking events with both industry practitioners and academics.  Today as I was sitting in one of the sessions I began reflecting on the conference and feeling very Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

On the one hand I am definitely enjoying the conference.  I’ve certainly learned a lot, particularly about ecotourism efforts here in Africa.  If nothing else I have plenty of examples now which I can use in my teaching.  I always feel as if I don’t know enough about tourism here in Africa, and since I teach here I consider that a bit of a personal weakness.  But being here has exposed me to a lot of different industry approaches and ideas I haven’t seen before in the U.S. 
However, on the other end of the spectrum I have been looking at the research discussed here and think it leaves a lot to be desired.  If all the academic researchers were from Africa I would be a little more understanding, but most of them are from the U.S. Now, I should note there is only one conference attendee from the Hospitality and Tourism Management field. But he’s not presenting.  All the academic presenters are from Parks and Recreation departments.  Apparently the expectations are quite different between HTM and PR research, because nothing that I’ve seen thus far would ever get published in an HTM journal.  The research I’ve seen here has been a lot of participant observations and interviews, which is practically impossible to get published in top tier tourism journals. And many of these presentations don’t even address data collection or methodology, they are conceptual, or opinion pieces.  So, from where I stand the rigor seems to really be missing.

The other thing about the research is that many of these “studies” fail to provide managerial implications.  That is something we always emphasize with empirical research.  I guess after ten years of doing research if I don’t hear, “I found ABC which means hotel managers/ tour operators/ restaurants/ etc. should do XYZ” then I can’t quite comprehend the point of the study.  Yesterday I listened to an Associate Professor give a presentation on how nature is amazing and the chameleon’s ability to adapt and hide from predators is a miracle.  The entire time I was sitting there thinking, “So what? How does this help my bottom line if I am the Director of Tourism for a destination?”  Then again, maybe I have tunnel-vision.  But I frequently find myself listening to these presentations, and thinking that the speaker is preaching to the converted.  If the speaker really wanted to be helpful he would give people suggestions on how to help other properties become more ecofriendly and sustainable.  Sadly this topic has never been broached.
As I mentioned, there is one other HTM professor and he is from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  I visited HKPU when I was in China in April.  That is the most amazing program I have ever seen.  The resources and faculty they have are top notch and the research they do can’t be duplicated.  I would consider them the absolute benchmark in Hospitality and Tourism programs worldwide.  The reason I mention this is because the HKPU professor is here as an observer, not a presenter.  This leads me to believe that perhaps HKPU is going to add an Ecotourism track, or at the very least, some Ecotourism classes to their curriculum.  I know for a fact this professor doesn’t do Ecotourism research and he is an administrator, which is why I suspect this.  HKPU tends to come up with good ideas and then other programs follow its lead, so I wonder if other hospitality programs may start offering Ecotourism courses soon.  I think doing so would certainly be beneficial, but at the same time more HTM academics will need to start doing rigorous Ecotourism research.  Perhaps the tides will start turning in that direction.  But either way, it will need to be approached from a different direction instead of attempting to preach to the converted.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Visit to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage

Yesterday I went on a tour in and around Nairobi with eight other people who were attending the Ecotourism Conference with me.  Despite starting late we were fortunate enough to see a number of really great places here.  We did a game drive in Nairobi National Park which was fun, but after having gone on safari in Botswana it really is true we have the best (and most) animals.  There were several Europeans in the group who wanted to see the Karen Blixen Museum, which for those who may not be familiar is the home and estate of the woman who wrote the novel Out of Africa.  Here is a picture, which you may recognize from the movie:

And we also went to the Africa Fund for Endangered Wildlife- Giraffe Center where we were able to feed the giraffes:
However, the highlight of the tour for me was definitely seeing the baby elephants:
I mentioned in a past blog post that Kenya has a serious problem with illegal poaching. In fact, the terrorist attack that took place here only a few days ago was partially funded by elephant poaching.  In the first six months of this year nearly 200 elephants were illegally killed for their ivory here in Kenya.  Despite significant attempts to halt poaching, including a national anti-poaching campaign called, “Hands Off Out Elephants,” it continues and experts predict all wild elephants in Kenya will be extinct within the next decade.
In many cases, poachers are looking for mature elephants with large tusks when they select their prey.  Since male elephants often exist in solitary, female elephants are targeted because several females are present in a herd, making it easy for poachers to obtain multiple sets of tusks at a time.  Baby elephants don’t have tusks until they are 1-2 years old, and even at that point; their tusks are so small the poachers don’t waste their time collecting them.  This means a lot of little elephants are left orphaned.  This is a big problem because without milk for the first few years of life the baby elephants won’t survive.

This is where the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust comes in.  The DSWT sponsors an elephant orphanage adjacent to Nairobi National Park.  Whenever a baby elephant is found without a mother, the DSWT flies to whatever park of the country the baby is located, brings it to the orphanage and raises it until about age 3.  Currently the Elephant Orphanage is home to 31 elephants between 3 weeks and 2½ years old.  Once the elephants reach about 3 years old they are reintroduced to the wild, which takes approximately five years.  Though this seems very costly and time intensive, the orphanage has a 98% success rate in rearing and reintroducing the elephants back into the wild.  And since elephants live to be about 70 years old, that is almost a tenfold return on investment in terms of time.
Here is a short video I shot of some of the baby elephants being fed at the orphanage. Enjoy:

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Newest Million Dollar Idea/ I’m Going to be in Charge Now

I’ve had more than one million dollar idea over the years.  When I lived in Vegas I realized there were a lot of people who brought their kids on vacation without considering there was nothing to really do with their offspring once there.  I remember telling a girl in one of my graduate classes at UNLV, “You know what someone should do?  Open a babysitting service.  The babysitter goes to the hotel, hangs out with the kid while Mom and Dad go see Cirque du Soliel, charge $50 an hour, BAM! The person that starts that business could become a millionaire.”  She started that business and yes, she is a millionaire.

When I got to Texas Tech I couldn’t believe there was only Chick-fil-A in town and it was at the farthest point possible from campus.  For two years I told my classes, “I will GIVE YOU the money to start a Chick-fil-A within walking distance of campus.  It is a gift, not a loan.  Then we split the profits 50/50. After a year, if you want out, you can leave.  I just want you to commit to running it for a year.  If you decide after a year you don’t want to do it anymore, I will find another manager.”  Guess how many students took me up on that offer? NONE. Now, there is a Chick-fil-A across from campus.  I don’t know who owns it, but I bet that guy is a millionaire.
My latest million dollar idea revealed itself to me today.  We need an EFFICIENT tour operator here in Africa.  This million dollar idea brings me to the second half of my blog title… I’m going to be in charge now.

Years ago, before Southwest Airlines began issuing numerical boarding passes people would fight their way into gates hours prior to a flight to get the best possible spot in line.  This led to mass chaos, and frequently the line would get out of control, taking over walkways, neighboring gates and other public areas.  I remember once walking through an airport and seeing a mass of people in a “line” which went from boarding gate, cut directly across the terminal corridor and into the area of the gate directly opposite.  This meant anyone trying to walk through the corridor was prevented from doing so because no one wanted to risk someone else line-jumping them.  I did not work for Southwest, but apparently I should have.  I noticed the inconvenience this was causing, walked up to the people in line and kindly directed them to adjust themselves so the line was perpendicular to the corridor as opposed to dissecting it. Problem solved.
Today was a replay of my pro-bono Southwest customer service.  The conference which I am attending here in Kenya has a local tour operator with which it has contracted to offer tours of surrounding attractions to attendees.  The customer service which is being offered by this tour company leaves a lot to be desired.  I was the first in line today to speak the tour manager, Paula, told her which tour I wanted to take and was told, “Well, I right now the tour can’t happen because there needs to be a minimum of five people.” I had to explain to her that if she started a list of interested parties perhaps the five person minimum could be reached.  But, if she didn’t start a list none of the tours would occur. Despite her disgust at my suggestion she finally succumbed to my pressure and began a list.

Since I really wanted to take a tour, each time I met someone throughout the day I told them about the tour options.  “It’s your first time in Africa, you should take advantage of this opportunity, and you will get to feed the elephants at the elephant orphanage!” Later in the afternoon I stopped by to see Paula.  Amazingly the list idea worked.  Four out of five of her tours were fully booked.
As I was sitting there waiting to speak to Paula who was on the phone I began talking to other conference attendees and tried to get them to come on another tour, this time over the weekend camping in the Masai Mara National Park. (Paula was booking one-day excursions for tomorrow and then weekend trips after the conference concludes Friday.)  Since Paula was stationed next to the conference registration desk when attendees would arrive the staff would point them in our direction if they were interested in a tour.  I suppose I looked somewhat official explaining the tour details because new people would surface, ignore Paula entirely and ask me if they could book a tour.  By the time Paula had gotten off the phone I had made five new friends, briefed them all about the details of the weekend camping trip, filled out the paperwork with all their details and collected their money. 

I was careful to tell everyone that I was technically not in charge, even though my demeanor and actions suggested otherwise, thus if they didn’t like the tours they shouldn’t blame me.  Several people asked how I had fallen into the role of pseudo-tour director.  They are now all familiar with the concept of TIA.  Now, for anyone who might be interested please feel free to take this million dollar idea, as I will not be pursuing it myself.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Nairobi Mall Attack

Thank you to everyone who has sent emails today asking about my safety.  Fortunately I was nowhere near the mall attack in Nairobi and I am perfectly fine.  Again, thank you all for your concern.

For those of you who aren’t aware, there was a mass shooting and hostage situation at a mall here in Nairobi this afternoon.  There is a lot of speculation about who the gunmen were, some reports have stated they were allegedly Somali, and why this area was targeted.  Many here have suggested the mall was targeted because it was an upscale shopping area which is typically frequented by expats, westerners, diplomats and upper class Kenyans.
I have no desire to conjecture about the reason behind the target selected.  But in the past two days that I’ve spent here I can imagine there could be a significant class issue at work.  Kenya does not have a middle class.  If you are Kenyan you are either rich or poor, there is no in between.  And I’ve seen this paradox first hand.

Today I went to one of the outdoor markets in the center of Nairobi.  I told the concierge at my hotel I wanted to visit a place where the locals shop.  She gave me directions and some pointers on how to negotiate, avoid too much harassment and stay safe.  The first thing I noticed around the market was the sheer number of kids and adults with polio.  According to the CDC, the U.S. has been polio-free since 1979. However, the Horn of Africa (Kenya and Somalia) have recorded 200 cases since the beginning of this year.
Being out on the town among the “regular folk” reminds me a little bit of my time in China.  There are tons of people, lots of chaos, more traffic than you can imagine, and the pollution from the traffic is tear-inducing.  This picture doesn’t really do it justice, but here is an idea of the traffic and the lack of attention paid to the lights:
Again, I don’t think this properly conveys the feeling, but here you can see the throng of people crossing the busy streets with traffic behind them as far as the eye can see:
This is my favorite picture I took today of capitalism at its best.  My former and current grad students who teach Marketing could use this as a case study of how to overwhelm and confuse your customer to the point where she decides not to buy anything:

These images I took today show how the majority of Kenyans, i.e. the lower class, exists on a day to day basis.  The opposite end of the spectrum is represented by the Kenyan men and women I see at my hotel gym.  My hotel has a nice gym, along with a sauna, steam room, spa, salon and three swimming pools.  In addition to being open to hotel guests, locals can purchase a membership for about $2183 per year.  I have never paid that much for a gym membership in the U.S. and I never would!  This price is more than the average annual income in Kenya which is a staggering $1,700.  Thus, those individuals who belong to the gym are definitely categorized as upper class.
The upper class clientele at the gym was pretty evident to me from the start as the women arrived wearing tailored suits, carrying Louis Vuitton (the real deal) bags, with diamonds adorning their hands, necks and ears. I should also mention the gym has its own valet parking so that no one has to walk any further than necessary from the door of their Lexus or Jaguar before traipsing to the treadmill.

While I certainly do not claim to be an expert on Kenya after only 48 hours here, I will say that it appears the distance between the haves and the have-nots is extraordinary.  Regardless of whether this was the motivation behind today’s attack, I hope this is not one of several upcoming bouts of violence while I am here and that this will be over swiftly.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Happy to be on the Ground in Kenya

I made it to Kenya in one piece… barely.  Here is a picture of me getting ready for my trip last night:

As you can see, I was happy, smiling and overall just projecting an expression of excitement as I was looking forward to my trip.  Here is a picture of me when I arrived in Kenya this morning:
I’m not sure if that picture needs a caption, as I think my expression and purple hue says it all.
Needless to say it was a rough trip.  I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of a 1am flight in the first place, but since that was my only option I took it.  The nice thing was that when I arrived at the Botswana airport I realized one of my neighbors was on the same flight.  We sat and talked until the flight boarded, so it was nice to have someone to visit with and since he’s from Ethiopia he gave me a lot of suggestions about where I can visit there.

After boarding the plane I looked in the seat pocket in front of me and saw this on the air sickness bags:

I thought it was a nice attempt to be funny.  Little did I know that those bags would be used so frequently on that flight by those around me.  The turbulence was terrible for the majority of the flight.  I don’t generally have problems flying but my stomach was pretty uneasy.  Since I couldn’t sleep and I felt like I was on a never-ending roller coaster ride, I was thankful that Kenya Airways had individual tvs at each seat.  That was a very pleasant surprise.  I ended up watching Gatsby (the new one with Leonardo DiCaprio) until I finally fell asleep.  In the end I think I only got about an hour of sleep on the plane, but fortunately, when I arrived at my hotel around 8am I was able to check in right away. 
I have to say, that is one thing I really appreciate here in Africa.  In the US it is practically impossible to check in to a hotel before the posted time, even if they have a room open. If check-in is at 3pm you are lucky if you can get a room by 1 or 2.  But here, if there is a room available you can have it, no matter how early you arrive.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Go siame Botswana, Jambo Kenya (Goodbye Botswana, Hello Kenya)

In a few short hours I will be leaving to catch my 1am flight to Kenya.  If it had been up to me I would not be taking a night flight.  Actually, I originally booked a flight for noon, but Kenya Airways decided to cancel all noon direct flights from Gaborone to Nairobi “until further notice.” Thus, this is my only option.

I am going to Kenya for another conference.  This one is about Tourism Development and Ecotourism which is right in line with what I am teaching here in Botswana.  And I already know of at least one friend who will be attending, so it will be nice to see a friendly face from back home.
Kenya has been in the news quite a bit recently.  First there was a fire at the Nairobi airport about a month ago.  More recently there has been a lot of attention on the illegal poaching of elephants for their ivory in Tsavo East national park. Oh! And the Maasai warriors have formed their own cricket team.  In case you were curious, yes, they wear their traditional attire when they compete.  Apparently the team has been quite successful because they have an ingrained skill set which makes them well-suited to cricket.  As one team member told a CNN correspondent in a recent interview, “It is just like throwing a spear.”

For those of you who may be geographically challenged, Kenya is in east Africa, bordering Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania.  In this map Kenya is green:

I was telling one of my colleagues about my upcoming trip to Kenya.  He is Kenyan and has been a professor here for several years.  But I figured I would ask him for pointers.  He told me, “Everyone will ask you about Obama.  They are very proud to have a Kenyan as President of the United States.  Maybe I can be the next U.S. president!” This could be interesting.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Welcome to prison! We are always watching you.

Several weeks ago I bought a bicycle.  I enjoy biking and figured this would give me the opportunity to get some exercise and provide me with a slight semblance of independence as I don’t have a vehicle.  I walk plenty, am confident taking the combis (minibus) and have a taxi driver who I use when necessary, but thought a bike might allow me the opportunity to explore more on my own.  I quickly realized Batswana drivers do NOT like bicycles.  As a result I have been less inclined to venture too far on my bike.
However, after some exploring I found a community in my part of town which is well suited to my almost daily ride.  There is a road about a mile from my house and if I follow that road I come to a small neighborhood that has essentially no cars, no traffic lights, few people and a nice quiet area for riding.  I’ve been riding there for several weeks and some of the kids who live in the area now recognize me and we chat.  Our conversations go something like this:

Kelly: Dumela (Hello)
Kid: Yes.
Kelly: Sharpo. (Good)
Kid: Sharpo.
Kelly: Leina lameke Kelly. (My name is Kelly).
Kid: Yes.

Today as I was riding I was approached by two men in uniforms carrying guns.  I don’t particularly like guns, so this was a bit unsettling.  They told me they had been watching me for weeks and wanted to know why I was there.  After a short round of questioning I was told why they approached me.  Apparently I was riding in a community that was part of the prison.  There were prisoners who lived in small houses with their families inside the prison community and then reported for check in each day and their work assignments.  The “really bad guys” were behind the BIG walls locked in cells.  I had seen the big walls and recognized that as the prison, but didn’t realize that I had been riding around where the “not so bad guys” apparently lived as part of the extended prison.

Now, I had noticed the signs that said, “Photography not allowed” but I thought nothing of it as many foreign countries I’ve visited have those signs randomly scattered around from time to time.  The barbed wire didn’t tip me off either.  But, in my defense, barbed wire is EVERYWHERE here.  This is the barbed wire along the 12 foot tall wall behind my house:

After my conversation with the two prison guards I asked them if I had to leave.  They told me I didn’t have to.  They said they just wanted to make sure I understood where I was and that just to be safe I shouldn’t become too friendly with anyone and enter anyone’s house or offer to bring someone over to mine.  Aside from that I was welcome to ride there as much as I liked.  As the one guard said, “It’s no problem. We always know when you are here and we are always watching you.”  Because of that comment I assume this is probably the safest place anywhere in Gaborone for me to ride.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What does genuine excitement sound like?

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about the top ten things I miss most about the US. As I was writing out that list there were several things I considered including, but ultimately decided I didn’t REALLY miss them.  For instance, I considered mentioning that I missed having consistent electricity.  I thought about it a bit and realized I actually don’t miss having electricity whenever I want it.  Yes, it is a convenience, but not exactly a necessity.  Now, if I was in a hospital in the middle of having a medical procedure I would probably have a different opinion.  But at this point I have become accustomed to the blackouts and don’t find them overly problematic.

When I went to Victoria Falls for my UNWTO conference (read about that here, here, here, here and here) a few weeks ago I arrived at the Gaborone airport to find there was no electricity, so they were checking everyone in by hand with torches (flashlights).  We’ve lost power in my building on campus twice while I’ve been in my office, but as it was in the middle of the day I simply opened my door and window and kept on working.

When we lose electricity at home that is a little different.  We almost always lose electricity in the evening, typically right around the time you are making dinner.  So whenever I have guests over I always remind them that in the event of a power outage we will have to either move our party to someone else’s house or go to a restaurant.

We have lost electricity in our neighborhood every night this week.  We generally only lose it for a few hours, and it normally comes back on just in time to take a shower and get ready for bed.  But that’s why I’ve learned the importance of keeping my computer and ipad batteries fully charged so I have something to do until the lights are restored.

This evening as I was editing a paper from one of my grad student’s by candlelight I could hear the neighborhood kids playing outside.  I don’t blame their parents.  After all, what do you do with a bunch of little ones inside their hot, dark houses, especially when they haven’t been fed yet?  So all the parents take their kids outside, shine flashlights on them and let them play football (soccer) until the electricity returns.  As I had turned off all the lights in the house the kids outside alerted me when the power returned with a joyful and exuberant shout for joy and cheering.  As I laughed hearing their happy outburst, I shook my head thinking, “Wow, THAT is the sound of genuine excitement.” 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Late Show (From Botswana) Top Ten

About a week ago, one of my diligent blog followers wrote me a note saying, “I would love [to have] all of these experiences, but I know that I would miss my creature comforts of home.  What do you miss from the US?”  I’ve been giving that question some thought and come up with my Top Ten List.  The list is almost as much about people I miss as it is about the material things or conveniences of home.  Please feel free to read this list and imagine me doing my best David Letterman impression with side commentary from the band.
10. Working bathrooms on campus.  Remember when Hurricane Katrina hit and there were all those thousands of people in the Superdome for days?  And when the people finally emerged they were complaining about the toilets overflowing?  I always felt bad for them, but now I can truly empathize because we have a similar situation, except we aren’t being held hostage inside the building 24/7. My building on campus has not had any running water for seven weeks now. Unfortunately people continue to use the toilets, so you can imagine how unpleasant that is.  Every once in a while I forget and enter one of the bathrooms.  But for the most part I have developed a daily habit of going to use the facilities in another building across campus.

9. Zumba and boxing.  This is pretty self explanatory.  But, like I said, this list is as much about missing people as it is about things.  It feels like forever since I went to Zumba with Shaun and Bryce.  I haven’t found a Zumba class here, but I’m pretty sure even if I did it just wouldn’t be the same.  Speaking of zumba…

8. Impromptu dance parties in my office. Occasionally, during downtime, for instance exam week or in the summer, when things aren’t too hectic I like to listen to music in my office while I’m working.  I almost always have one graduate student in my office at all times, if not three or four of them.  And some of my graduate students (and business managers) are big zumba lovers.  There has been more than one instance where I was working diligently, not even taking note of the song on the radio in the background when Shatina and Amanda have burst into my office performing a Lady Gaga song.

7. Being able to watch a sport I understand.  As I mentioned previously, the only time I get to watch TV is when I am travelling and staying in a hotel or at the gym.  At the gym one television shows nonstop cricket matches, while another is tuned to the Botswana/South African version of ESPN.  Sometimes I will be watching the full length cricket match, while seeing the highlights from the same exact match on the neighboring screen.  I would love to watch some lacrosse, or even American football.  If really desperate I might be able to stomach baseball, but probably only on the ESPN channel.

6. Spending hours roaming the aisles of the food store. (Not really, but I guess I miss the option of wasting a lot of time at the food store if I feel so inclined.) The average American supermarket has 60,000 different items for sale. Here in Botswana we do not have nearly that much variety.  For the most part I’ve been quite content with what I’ve been able to get here, but things have become a little monotonous as of late.  I have become very proficient at cooking impala though, and warthog and kudu.  But when I plan a dinner party I often have to visit multiple stores hoping to find the last package of mushrooms, or I ultimately end up changing my menu because I can’t obtain the ingredients I want.

5. My graduate students.  There are only a few select people in this world who have experienced the “Eyes of Shame” and the “Mighty Red Pen of Phelan.”  No, that’s no entirely accurate.  MOST of my students have experienced both of these at one point or another, but only my graduate students have enough first-hand knowledge of these two phenomena to have named them.  When I’m not ruthlessly editing my graduate students’ papers, we have a lot of fun.  (See #8) While I’ve attempted to duplicate some of those fun times here,i.e. demonstrations, they just aren’t the same. It’s true what they say; nothing is as good as the original.

4. Brian.  Speaking of graduate students, I miss Brian.  Granted, he’s not my graduate student anymore, far from it after almost five years.  But he was always my go-to in Lubbock.  He was always the last person I saw before a trip and the first person I saw when I got back.  Of course, this was because he always took me and picked me up from the airport.  If I saw something funny, chances were I took a picture and sent it to Brian.  And if I needed something heavy moved or fixed, I would call Brian.  Now when something breaks I get on Skype, show it to Brian and he tries to walk me through what to do.  This process is definitely not as seamless now that I live almost 10,000 miles away.

3. A common language.  While most here do speak English, there is definitely a language barrier at times.  Either the word isn’t the same.  (What is an ablution?  Oh, a bathroom! See #10) Or the concept doesn’t exist here. (I spent the first half of class telling my students how to organize an event using a parade as an example. I figured a parade was universal.  Apparently not because when no one said a thing after 20 minutes I asked them if they knew what a parade was and had 126 students reply in unison, “No.”) Or there is some other miscommunication going on.  The other day I tried to buy a plastic sink stopper.  Using hand gestures and multiple explanations did not help as the store clerk gave me a mop, a jar of jelly, DOOM!, and condoms. I felt so bad for the clerk I eventually bought all of items he gave me, but unlike my previous MacGyver episode I still don’t have a sink stopper.

2.  ET(KVP) Phone home.  Sometimes I do feel like an alien from another planet, especially when little kids watch me in awe as I apply sunscreen.  But in reality, the ease of “phoning home” is something I do miss.  Here I can’t text a funny picture to a friend whenever the thought occurs to me.  Skype is great, but between trying to schedule an appointment to talk and then keeping my fingers crossed that the Internet will actually be working when that time rolls around, it just isn’t as easy as whipping out my cell and chatting whenever I like.

1.  My family.  I have a sort of adopted family here in Botswana.  The wife of another Fulbrighter, Brenda, tends to mother me pretty often, which I think is as much for her benefit as it is mine, since I know she misses her five kids and grandchildren.  And as I said in a previous post, the neighborhood kids call me Auntie and recognize me as a pushover.  But NO ONE can replace The Phelans. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

It’s raining men!


There are two pieces of news I would like to share today, and since I couldn’t pick which one I liked more, I figured I would just combine them together, hence the blog title.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, springtime has arrived, and with it has come the heat.  Though it is only the second week of spring, today the temperature reached 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37C).  Did I mention I don’t have air conditioning?  I was told recently that we needed to pray for rain. “If it rains in October it will be ok.  If it doesn’t rain until December we are in big trouble because the heat will be unbearable.” Apparently everyone got on their daily prayers early because last night we enjoyed some magnificent rain.  It poured and the lightning and thunder was amazing.  Hopefully this will continue and maybe they will ease the restrictions on water.  Currently we only get water 5 days a week, so it will be nice not to have to worry about storing water ahead of time.

My second piece of news: MEN. For more than a century we have been celebrating women.  The earliest women’s day observance on record was in Chicago in 1908, but it did not become a global event until a few years later.  In 1910 an International Women’s Conference was held in Copenhagen with 100 participants from 17 countries.  In an effort to promote a common platform in which to unite females across borders to promote equal rights and suffrage, and to protest employment based upon gender discrimination, the idea of an International Women’s Day was proposed.  A year later the first International Women’s Day was held on March 19, 1911.

Apparently the men are now getting their turn.  In an effort to be equitable the Women’s Affairs Department here in Botswana was recently renamed the Gender Affairs Department.  And in the spirit of fairness, Botswana has announced it will host the first International Men’s Day on November 19th. Thus far, not much has been advertised about the event, but I will definitely keep my eyes open and report back soon because I am very interested to see this myself.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

It’s that time, spring time!

When I lived in Alaska, I lived pretty far north.  I make this statement because most people don’t realize that Alaska is a big state.  Remember that blog post about the maps and how they are presented inaccurately?  If not, check it out here.  Alaska is almost as long as the entire east coast if we were to ignore Florida.  Thus, the climate differences from north to south can be considerable.

Now, to avoid a common misconception, Alaska does NOT get 6 months of darkness and then 6 months of light!  We don’t flip a switch from dark to light; though it would be much easier if we could.
Here’s what really happens: If you live far enough north to get days with 24 hours of darkness/sunlight at a time, you get 82 days of darkness, and then as the earth begins to tilt the northern hemisphere towards the sun you gain about 11 minutes of daylight each day until after a couple of months you are at 24 hours of light.  Then you have 82 days with 24 hours of sunlight, and then the opposite happens.

When the transition from summer to fall to winter occurs and you lose those 11 minutes of light each day that is one hour in a week.  So on Sunday let’s say the sun rises at 7am and sets at 7pm.  By the following Sunday the sun is rising at 7:38am and setting at 6:21pm.  This may not sound dramatic, but it occurs quickly.
Due to the change in sunlight, the seasons change.  Now, this IS very dramatic.  And I’m not exaggerating when I say that on Sunday all the trees are green and full of leaves, by Wednesday the leaves have turned red and brown, and then by the following Sunday there are NO leaves on the trees at all.  There you go, summer to fall and straight on to winter in a week’s time.

September 1st was the official start of springtime here in Botswana.  And in the last two weeks I definitely feel that we have entered spring and headed toward summer in full force.  It is getting warm quickly.  And even better, we are starting to get flowers.  I was surprised this morning as I was looking out into my backyard to realize my tree had bloomed.  I don’t know what kind of tree it is, or if it is considered a bush, but you can examine it for yourself:

And here is a close up of one of the flowers:
Only a few days ago there were no blooms at all, but apparently the seasons are beginning to change quickly here as well. 

And even more surprising, it appears I am growing seashells as well:
For my friends back in the northern hemisphere I know fall is approaching, so stay warm.

PS- In Alaska we used to have to go Trick or Treating in boots because most years there were already several feet of snow on the ground by October 31st.  Keep that in mind my friends from Texas! ;)

Friday, September 13, 2013

No electricity at home

I am sitting here in my office because there’s no electricity in my house.  Yes, I did pay the power bill, but as I’ve mentioned before, we have rolling blackouts, water rationing, and a host of other “Third World” problems you don’t typically think about.  Since all the blog posts I would normally write now have pictures associated with them and I didn’t bring my camera with me to download those pictures, I am forced to consider another alternative for today’s post.

I always get random questions from people asking me about daily life: What do you eat?  Or what do you miss? Or, are there working toilets in the bathrooms or is it just a hole in the ground?  I think I will save all of those for another day, but today I am going to share with you some pictures I took over the last six weeks that I haven’t posted previously.
Here in Botswana we have medical services.  So don’t worry Mom!  Here is an ambulance:

We also have bouncy castles, and clowns:

We have very scary thorn bushes which are especially scary when you are riding your bike.  I’ve had a couple of close calls, but thankfully I’ve hadn’t had to test out the ambulance… yet:

We have dinner, err, I mean, pets.  This is Bob.  He is a neighbor’s pet, but chances are he will be dinner sometime in the near future.  If I have the pleasure of cooking Bob I will let you know:


And we have kids.  I actually do NOT know these children.  But I find that any time I take out my camera kids come running up to me and asking me to take their picture.  They don’t want a picture WITH me like when I was in China, they just want me to take their picture.  So, I guess in that case we have aspiring celebrities practicing for the future paparazzi that will follow them around:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Counting your blessings, for 26 years

When I worked at Walt Disney World, which is widely known as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” I was surprised at how often people’s expressions and body language conveyed a more despondent emotion.  I remember more than once walking past a family where the kids were crying and the parents arguing with one another.  Inevitably they would be in the process of taking a picture.  I distinctly recall a mother screaming at her daughter telling her to, “Look at the camera and smile! You are going to be happy whether you like it or not!”

I’m not sure how many of you reading this have seen the UN’s 2013 World Happiness Report.  The report is sponsored by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.  In theory the report is intended to give politicians insight into the well-being of its citizens when making policy decisions.  According to the report happiness was defined as both an emotion and one’s outlook regarding his or her life as a whole. Six variables in total are utilized to formulate the ranking: GDP per capita, years of healthy life expectancy, perceptions of corruption, social support, generosity and the freedom to make life choices.
In case you were curious I found it interesting that 9 out of the top 10 happiest countries were in cold climates.  Perhaps that’s because people there have to spend a lot of time indoors with others so they either grown to enjoy their companions over time or they lower their expectations.  Some may be surprised to hear the US was ranked 17th, behind Israel (11) and Mexico (16)!

Out of 156 countries included in the ranking, Botswana was #145.  Swaziland (100), Zimbabwe (103), Iraq (105), Iran (115), Congo (117) and even Afghanistan (143) are allegedly happier than we are here.  Given this list I have to be a little skeptical.  At least we can rest easy knowing we are 3 spots ahead of Syria (148).
While GDP and social support is high, and corruption is very low, life expectancy in Botswana is probably what warranted the low ranking.  In 1990 the life expectancy in Botswana was 65, but has fallen to only 53, primarily due to the HIV/AIDs rate.  In the US the life expectancy is 79 years.  A 26 year difference is a long time!

Just as a matter of full disclosure, I did not read the full 156 pages in the report.  But I skimmed the abstract and looked at most of the tables.  But for everyone out there, better get smiling.  After if someone from the UN approaches you and asks you to take a survey about your happiness take some advice from Duck Dynasty, “HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY!”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Auntie, the monkeys are biting today.

I live in a small complex about a one mile walk from campus.  There are three buildings which house about 30 flats and the buildings surround a parking lot.  Everyone is very neighborly because we are all professors at University of Botswana.  We don’t necessarily know one another’s names, especially because most all of us are expatriates and there tends to be a minor language gap at times, particularly with spouses who do not work outside the home.  But we know who lives where and wave at one another regularly.

We also know which pets and kids belong to whom.  And apparently they all live right around me and have decided I am their friend.  I am frequently in my kitchen washing dishes when all of a sudden a baby doll falls seemingly from the sky, landing in my front yard. There is a Pakistani family with little (about 2 or 3 year old) girls living above me and each day when I return from work I find tiny shoes, toys and other accoutrement lost during their afternoon playtime on their balcony.
There are also about six boys, probably between 4 years and 8 years old who live across from me.  I inevitably see them each day when they kick their soccer ball in my yard. Sometimes I think they do that on purpose when they see my door open because they will open the gate and enter the yard to claim the ball, but then hover around the door and attempting to be sly ask if I can give them some water.  After two broken glasses I decided it may be time to buy small plastic cups since this seems to be a pattern.

However, one of the benefits to living here, and being friends with the kids, is that they always provide me with an update on the state of the neighborhood.  Today as I arrived home I was told, “Auntie, the monkeys are biting today.”  I am frequently called “Auntie” by the kids because it is much easier than them attempting to learn my name.
These are actually not monkeys, but baboons.  Here is a family taking a stroll.  Make note of the little one catching a ride:

 
This was a really big and fast one.  Here he is trying to state cool by sitting in the shade:

 
And here is a little one after he stole someone’s lunch: