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. 


  1. I miss our zumba sessions too!!! Come home!!!! <3 Shaun

    1. Ditto Shaun! P.S. Are we just going to let her fly with that "I bought all of the items excuse" We apparently need to read her OTHER blog! The other side of Africa! A prelude to fifty shades of gray! haha!

  2. Warthog?! I am not sure if I would even know how to prepare that yet alone pair a proper wine. I love your blogs. They are an inspiration :)

  3. Love you too Shaun. We will Zumba again together soon.

    Thanks Brit, I'm glad you are enjoying my blogs. Come visit me in Africa and I will do you up a full spread of warthog with all the trimmings and a complementary wine pairing. :)