Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Never-Ending Turf War

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my mother is quite the homemaker. In addition to her cleaning skills, she loves to garden. She will often come into the house covered in dirt and tell me to come witness her newest creation. Sadly, my lack of a green thumb means I seldom if ever identify what she’s talking about. I am an expert though on how to smile, nod, and compliment: “Mom, those are beautiful!” In addition to her flower beds, she has the nicest lawn in the neighborhood. Part of the reason for the gorgeous lawn is the diligent seeding, watering and mowing, but part of that is due to the fact she chases the neighborhood kids off as soon as they step foot onto her lawn. My father, brother and I take great pleasure in laughing about the ‘Mom vs. neighborhood kids’ battle. However, I am taking this opportunity to publicly apologize as I know understand her agony.

I am officially AT WAR with the kids in my neighborhood. This has been going on for a few weeks now and I’m not getting any closer to victory. In fact I think they are gaining on me. If nothing else they certainly outnumber me.

I do not have a lawn or a garden, but I have a small yard with a wall around it at the front of my house. Inside the yard is a metal pole with a three cornered clothes line. Until recently there was a second pole with the television antenna also in the front yard.

A few weeks ago I decided to work from home. I kept hearing a lot of banging out front but didn’t think much of it until I realized whatever was going on was hitting the windows at the front of my house. I went to see what it was and found several neighborhood kids climbing along the 12 foot tall walls around the yard, then jumping from the walls to swing on the clothes line pole, they would then propel themselves against the side of the house until they came to rest on the ground. I went out there, told them this was very dangerous, I didn’t want them to get hurt, and they couldn’t play in my yard anymore.

One evening during a blackout I found the kids had detached the television antenna pole from the bindings on the side of the house. They had somehow managed to get the pole up on top of the walls and reaching across the wide open space of the yard. One kid was sitting on each end of the pole, while the other kids were moving across the bar, some like monkeys using their arms and legs, others as if it was a balance beam! I nearly had a heart attack. Once again I opened the door, and like rats on a sinking ship they scattered. I didn’t even have the chance to say anything they got away so quickly.

Last night was the final straw. A few days ago I had caught the kids with the antenna pole again, so I gave it to the garbage men. They told me they couldn’t fit it in their truck, so they left it and said they would return before the end of the week to collect it. We didn’t make it that long. The kids must have caught on to my plan because I could hear them outside with the pole. I looked out to see them throwing it across the parking lot at one another as if it was a spear.

I burst through the front door with such force they didn’t have the chance to escape. There must have been five or six of them, but they were all the same size and looked almost identical, and they kept moving around, so I had a hard time keeping track of them. I opened my mouth ready to attack and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM says, “It wasn’t me! It was that guy!” and instantaneously pointed at a different little kid.

I feel like the guy from Caddyshack with the gophers. Here’s hoping this story will NOT be continued….

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Avoided deportation for now, but that doesn't mean it won't happen later

For anyone considering a move to Botswana, let me share a few important details that may help with your move.  Americans, and citizens of most Western countries, are granted entry into Botswana without a visa for 90 days within a 12 month period. However, do NOT overstay those 90 days.

Each time you enter Botswana the customs officials examine your passport like a hawk.  This is when it pays to have a brand spanking new passport.  Those of you with well worn passports are doomed, that’s the truth of the matter.  And heaven forbid if you’ve had extra pages added (as I have) because then you might as well bring a good book to read while they go through your passport.

The last time I entered Botswana I got off a plane carrying about 50 people.  Since I know the drill, and I like to be prepared (like a Boy Scout) I carry a handful of entry/exit forms and have them already filled out before I even enter the terminal.  I was the very first person to enter the terminal from the plane- meaning I was the first person in line at passport control.  This is NOT an exaggeration: every single other person on that plane went through passport control and were already standing at the baggage carousel by the time they finally decided to stamp my passport and let me in.  I don’t really know what the alternative would have been; the plane had already taken off and returned to Kenya by the time they let me through.

Part of the challenge with passport control here is that the Batswana, and Africans in general, love rules and protocol.  And if you try to bend those rules the result is not pretty.  I have never heard, nor do I ever anticipate hearing the phrase, “Think outside the box” here.  It’s just not part of the culture. A rule is a rule is a rule.  No wiggle room.

So when they say you are permitted to be in Botswana for 90 days within a 12 month period they take that very seriously.  So serious in fact, that the customs officer took out a pad of paper, flipped through my passport and started writing down my entry and exit dates.  She wanted to make sure she gave me the exact amount of days I was permitted and not one extra.  All was going well until all hell broke loose.  She realized I had entered in July and then exited in August.  A debate ensued regarding the number of days in July.  I even sang her the song, “Thirty days hath September, April, June…”  She wasn’t convinced.  Someone was called to bring a calendar from a back office.  Then there was some confusion because I entered Botswana on August 24 and exited later that afternoon.  That means I lost one more day.

After listing all my entry and exit dates and consulting a calendar, the friendly passport control officer whipped out a calculator and began adding.  But, this wasn’t enough.  She called over another official for a second opinion.  From where I stood at Passport Control I saw the passenger who had been in the seat next to me collect his bags and exit the customs area!  I began silently repeating over and over again, “I love living in Africa. I love living in Africa.”

Since my contract with Fulbright is for a year I am required to obtain a Botswana Residence Permit to get around the 90 day entry.  I’m actually happy about this because it should make my travels in and out of the country significantly easier (i.e. no legal pads, calculators or calendars to consult).  However, I was starting to become worried about this because I applied for the Residence Permit back in August and as of last week I still hadn’t received it.  The Permit is nothing more than a sticker they put in your passport.  But I knew my entry stamp expired on October 25th and on the 23rd I still hadn’t received it.  I had no desire to be deported.  After asking around I was informed I could not be given a permit because the Immigration office had “run out of stickers.”

I began my PR campaign which may or may not have included a statement such as, “It would be hugely embarrassing for The New York Times to run an article about the Fulbright Scholar who was deported from Botswana after being INVITED to come here because the Immigration office ran out of stickers.  When exactly did the sticker supply start running low?  I applied for this permit 88 days ago, so does that mean no one has received a residence permit sticker in the last 88 days.  Did you deport all of those people too?”

Miraculously, my PR campaign worked and the very next day, with one day to spare on my entry stamp, I received the Residence Permit sticker.  Hooray!  Queue the music: “Celebrate good times, come on...”

Wait a second! Stop the presses!  Upon closer examination my permit expires on…. May 31st.  That could be a bit of a challenge considering my contract doesn’t end until June 30th.  I’ve already contacted Immigration about the oversight.  Now all I have to sit back, relax and wait until May 30th when I should be granted my extension. “I love living in Africa. I love living in Africa.”

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

“Are you shopping for real estate? Or a girlfriend?”

I know I’ve mentioned a few times before that I belong to a gym, but I didn’t realize until recently that it is atypical of women to work out here.  Back in the U.S. I’ve been in Zumba classes with 50 or even 100 other women.  But here I seldom see women at the gym.  I didn’t actually take notice of this fact until I needed to buy a pair of shorts.  Last week I went to countless stores in three different malls trying to find women’s gym shorts.  Each time I asked someone about them they looked at me as if I was crazy.  I finally asked why it was impossible to find them and was told, “Women here just don’t work out.  There is no need for us to carry gym shorts for women.”

After receiving this explanation, being a researcher by trade, I decided to launch my own investigation.  Over the past week I’ve spent about 12 hours in the gym.  During that time I have seen a total of 14 women and approximately 600 men.  Thus, the retailers are correct, it’s more to their benefit to sell men’s gym clothes as opposed to women’s apparel.

Over the last three months I do not recall ever once being in the weight room and seeing another female there, which probably explains why I tend to get an unusually high amount of attention when I enter that space.  Thankfully after my first venture into the weight room back in August I silenced all whisperings about my presence.  I guess deadlifting 120% of your body weight will do that.  Now when I arrive everyone just says “Hi” and then seems to forget I’m there.  This means I am often privy to overhearing some unique male Batswana conversations. I am receiving quite an education.

A recent conversation centered around someone’s “big house” and “little house.” I was impressed this bodybuilder (yes, bodybuilder; he is competing in this month’s Mr. Botswana competition) had two houses.  But the more I “inadvertently overheard” this conversation the more confused I became. Apparently “little house” had become too demanding, which was causing “big house” to become suspicious.  Hmmmmm……

I was beginning to think I was going to have to approach the professor with whom I co-teach to clear up the “little house/ big house” confusion.  Thankfully, another solution revealed itself.  One day the bodybuilder approached me, informed me he was looking for a new “little house,” and was I interested in the position?  Or, if I wasn’t interested in being the “little house” would I like to “kick it” sometime? (“Kick it” was actually completely new terminology, so that was even more exciting!) Ah-ha!  This was my opportunity.  “I’m sorry, I’m confused.  What’s the question? Are you shopping for real estate? Or a girlfriend?”

Fortunately my charming personality overshadowed my naivety and he enlightened me as to Botswana’s dating/cheating/“let me sex you up” vocabulary:

“Big house” is your main, public relationship.  This is the husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend that everyone knows you have.

The “little house” is your “someone on the side.” This person is a secret from “big house” and everyone else.  The “little house” is aware there is a “big house” and that “big house” better NEVER find out about the existence of the “little house.”

For those individuals who prefer to forego the commitment level of being a “big house” or a “little house” there is always the option of “kicking it” which is different from “hanging.” “Hanging” is platonic, while “kicking it” is no strings attached sex.

At the conclusion of his “sexual healing” lecture in the middle of the weight room, my aspiring Mr. Botswana friend asked what I thought, “So, would you like to be my little house?” I have no doubt I had a huge smile on my face as I was desperately trying not to laugh.  “YES! I would LOVE to be your little house! How could a girl turn down an offer like that? I’ve dreamed of this opportunity my WHOLE LIFE!”  (Just kidding, I did NOT say that.)  “No thank you, I don’t think I can be your little house.  I am currently in a negotiation with a potential big house and don’t want to risk messing it up this early. But! Can I have your phone number? I have a friend who would love to meet you.” “Really? Sure!” “Oh no! Please don’t get excited, she’s not going to be your little house either.  She is a researcher of sexual behavior in communities with high incidence of HIV/AIDs infection.  She would LOVE to hear about this.”

Without answering me he turned and walked away. I think I may have crushed his hopes.  Too bad, because he and I used to “hang.”  I may have to find myself a new spotter now.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Who Needs Zumba when there is Laundry to do?

If my mother were to visit the White House or Buckingham Palace I guarantee within the first 30 seconds of her stay she would identify no less than half a dozen ways in which the staff could improve their housekeeping efforts.

However, my mother’s true talent lies in doing laundry.  And not only is she good at it, she LOVES IT. Really, it is almost a hobby for her. When I go back to visit my mom takes great joy in asking daily, “Do you have any laundry? I’m going to do some laundry today, so give me what you have.  What about what you are wearing right now? Maybe I should wash it.” “I’m still wearing it.” “Well, take it off and I’ll wash it.  You know no one does laundry as well as I do.  My children are always the cleanest kids around.”

If my mother were to see me now she would disown me.  Here in Botswana laundry is not so simple.  The first challenge is the fact we have no grass, and lots of dirt.  And we walk everywhere. So, by default our clothes get dirty very quickly.  There is a reason everyone in Africa wears khaki.  A friend of mine wore a pair of navy trousers to work one day and by the time he arrived it looked like he had spent the morning rolling around in the dirt. No doubt any local who saw him that day took one look and thought to themselves, "Tsk, tsk, rookie mistake."

In college all the laundry rooms on campus were full on Sunday nights because everyone would wait until the last minute and then realize they had no clean clothes to wear to class the following morning.  Here procrastination isn’t an option.  You have to plan ahead for two reasons: washing and drying.  Once the wash is done you have to hang it outside to dry.  And if you’ve never done this before, the television commercials that say, “Your clothes will be so soft and fresh it’s as if they were dried in the sun” are lies.  Clothes which hang dry are stiff and scratchy, not soft.

But before you can enjoy your scratchy, dry clothes, they must be washed. This is not as easy as you might expect because they must be washed by hand.  And not only are they washed by hand, but you have to ensure you plan ahead which day you will wash them because of water restrictions.  We only have water four days a week here, so washing clothes, dishes, taking showers, or doing anything else involving water on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays is nearly impossible.

I’m not sure how many of you have actually done your laundry by hand before, but there is a certain amount of art involved in the process.  Here is a video of me explaining and demonstrating how I do my laundry.  Enjoy:


Friday, October 25, 2013

Every High School Principal’s Worst Nightmare

My paternal grandfather was a high school principal in inner-city Baltimore for four decades.  He was retired by the time I came along, and as one of the oldest grandkids I was one of the few who was fortunate enough to spend any real time with him and remember it.  But I’ve heard a lot about him as a teacher and a principal from my father.  From what I understand he was a serious hard-ass; very tough, but fair.  Sounds like the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

I was reminded of my grandfather recently after a conversation with my departmental secretary.  I needed some tape:

Kelly: Dumela Mma. O tsogile jang? (Good morning ma’am.  How are you?)
Tebo (my secretary): Re tang. (I’m fine).
Kelly: I need some tape to hang something.  Can I borrow yours?
Tebo: Sure.  (She reaches in her desk.) Here you go.
Kelly: (I look down at what she’s handed me and it doesn’t register at first what I’m holding.) What is this?
Tebo: Gum.
Kelly: Gum? No, I don’t need gum.  I need tape.
Tebo: I don’t have any tape, use the gum.
Kelly: What? (Honestly, I was still completely confused as to how the gum would solve my tape problem.)
Tebo: Put the gum in your mouth, chew it, take it out, put it on the wall, and then hang your poster.
Kelly: Oh, ok, thank you. (I was in such shock I just left.)

I returned to my office and silently had a minor breakdown, “What is the world coming to? What kind of insanity is this? Encouraging people in an educational environment to willingly chew gum? And stick it to the wall?!?!”  All I could think was that my grandfather and school principals around the world were rolling over in their graves in horror at the thought.

Rather than jump to any rash conclusions I spent the following days slyly surveying other faculty in my college.  I would walk into someone’s office and nonchalantly ask, “That’s such a nice calendar. How did you hang it? Gum? Really? What a great idea. I should try that.”  After a short while it seemed there was a general consensus that gum was an acceptable and approved adhesive.  No matter how much I tried to wrap my brain around it, there was simply no way I could bring myself to do it.  I still have that piece of gum sitting in my desk, in case of emergency I suppose, but I will not be using it as an adhesive or a breath freshener anytime within the next year.  I should really just throw it away, but for now I will just leave it there as a reminder of the fact “there’s no place like home.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A “short” “200 meters” is “no problem” because “Who knows? This is Greece.”

In many places I have lived and travelled, I find there to be certain phrases unique to a geographic location which I dread hearing.

When I was in Sierra Leone I remember the phrase, “No problem.”  That is probably my all-time least favorite phrase.  Even today, no matter where I am in the world, if someone says, “No problem” I immediately cringe and wonder whether they are giving me lip service. The culture in Sierra Leone is such that people don’t like to say “No.” So rather than say no to a request they avoid saying yes.  “No problem” doesn’t exactly guarantee the affirmative; it simply implies there is a possibility.  Here’s an example: “Can I get a side of fries with my burger?” “No problem.” The waiter didn’t say fries were impossible, but he also didn’t say fries were available.  If this same question was asked in the U.S. using the resources of the Sierra Leonean waiter the answer would have been, “Fries? HA! We don’t have fries!  We don’t have burgers either.  Really, nothing that is on the menu is here.  I’ll tell you what, here’s some cassava, enjoy it while you can because there is no guarantee we will have that or anything else tomorrow.”  In case you were wondering, yes, I did order a burger with fries.  The waiter told me it was “No problem” and then came back with boiled cassava.  When I asked he said that was the only ingredient they had in the kitchen that day.

I admire the Greeks; they have a very laid back attitude about everything.  Of course, of late all that has gotten them is a $300 billion debt and a lot of resentment from Germany. But the Greeks’ laissez-faire attitude prompted one of my other least favorite expressions, “Who knows? This is Greece.” The “This is Greece” part of the equation is meant as a stand-alone explanation to justify the lack of a real answer (i.e. “Who knows?”).  I remember entering a train station to purchase a ticket, having been told there was a 3 o’clock train.  When I approached the ticket booth I asked when the next train would arrive.  The clerk told me, “Well, one came through yesterday.  And I know there should be another train on Sunday.” Confused I said, “Well, it’s Friday.  Is there a 3 o’clock train today?  Or is there any train scheduled today? Going anywhere?” His response: “Who knows? This is Greece.” The next day I caught a bus.

During the year I lived in London I learned that the British have no concept of distance.  To them everything is 200 meters away, whether it is within arm’s length or on the other side of the globe.  Seriously, ask a Brit, “How far away is the U.S.?” and he would probably tell you, “Jump in the water and start swimming.  You should run right into the Statue of Liberty in about 200 meters.” I remember going to Scotland with a friend, in the middle of a blizzard no less, and wanting to visit Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, where the monster lives.  We took a bus to the village of Drumnadrochit and then asked directions to the castle.  We were told to follow the road about 200 meters and we couldn’t miss it.  Remember, this was in the middle of a blizzard, so there was snow EVERYWHERE! We walked for what seemed like days and when we got to the castle we saw a sign reading, “The Castle is closed for construction.” Having walked 1.2 miles uphill we were now forced to turn around and head back down to the village, having not seen anything except endless snow and sheep.

Today I identified my least favorite phrase here in Botswana: “short.” Sadly, I am not as smart as I thought I was because it took me a full three months to realize “short” translates into at least five times as long as I would anticipate.  It finally hit me today as I was sitting in a meeting.  I was asked to attend a “short" meeting about hiring an adjunct lecturer.  The meeting was scheduled at 9am and I told my boss that I could attend the meeting since it was supposed to be “short” because I had an appointment with a student at 10.  The student did not show at 10am so I remained in the meeting.  At 11:37 the meeting concluded.  The “short” meeting lasted a full two hours and 37 minutes!
 
Tomorrow I have another faculty meeting to attend in which I am supposed to introduce myself to the rest of the faculty in my college.  I was told to prepare a “short” statement about myself.  I am debating whether I should abide by the Kelly-approved definition of short and give a two minute overview.  Or should I adhere to Botswana’s “short” introduction?  I will have to give this some serious thought.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like ChristmaWHAT?!?!

When I teach back in the States I prefer the fall semester to the spring. My reasoning is that fall is all about holidays, so the students (and I to a certain extent) always have something to look forward to, lots of little milestones and goals to reach. Labor Day doesn’t really count because that is only the second week of school. But then, the beginning of October marks the start of fall and everyone looks forward to Halloween. Even if they aren’t dressing up the students can enjoy the candy and the parties.

Once Halloween is over everyone can see the end in sight. Less than a month until Thanksgiving when they go home for a long weekend, watch football and eat turkey. In reality, if I haven’t covered the material I want the students to know before Thanksgiving break I might as well forget about it because once they return all they are thinking about is final exams and getting off campus as quickly as possible.

Here in Botswana we don’t have the “pre-game” holidays as I like to call them. There is no Halloween or Thanksgiving. Instead we jump from the start of the semester August 1st and then straight through to Christmas. As such, we have to prepare for Christmas early in order to have something to anticipate with excitement. Believe it or not, now is the appropriate time to start prepping for Christmas. Keep in mind; it is 65 days until Christmas. But, everyone is really getting into the holiday spirit. You see trees, lights, music. Even some of the neighborhoods are decorated. This is my street in fact:

Do you believe me? I hope not. If you haven't seen it before that is 34th Street in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. I did my undergrad at Johns Hopkins which is about two blocks from 34th Street, so it was always a favorite sight of mine and all my classmates around final exam time. If you are EVER in the Baltimore area between Thanksgiving and New Year's you absolutely MUST make a trip to 34th Street.

Truthfully though, Botswana is preparing for Christmas. I was shocked when I went to the mall today and saw this:

And this:

I appreciate the effort, though these decorations pale in comparison to what most of us have seen in other countries. But here is what I find funny: Not long ago I wrote a blog post about the strange things my students ask me. In one class I was discussing North Pole, Alaska and the year-round Christmas theme. The students were familiar with Christmas; however, many did not know about Santa Claus and were shocked when I told them there were presents involved. Thus, why the decorations? And more importantly, why install the decorations more than two months early? NOTHING runs on time here, and certainly not early, so why would the decorations be up so early? Yet another question no one can answer for me…TIA.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Extreme Couponing: Botswana

Have you ever watched the television show Extreme Couponing? If you haven’t, the premise of the show is that families clip coupons and then go shopping. By using the coupons at checkout they end up saving upwards for 90% of their total bill. In other words, a shopping trip which would typically cost $1,000 only costs $100 or less. In many cases they get items for free or even cash back with double coupon deals.

Here in Botswana we do not have anything even close to Extreme Couponing. In fact, the Sunday paper here doesn’t have coupons at all. But we do have a special publication which comes out each week called The Botswana Advertiser. The Advertiser is available virtually everywhere nationwide; I pick mine up each week at the gym. I’m never really looking for anything, but it is interesting to see what is available for sale. However, I did purchase a microwave from an ad in The Advertiser and I LOVE MY MICROWAVE!

The Advertiser:

Last week’s issue of The Advertiser included the following items for sale/rent: houses, cheap strong bricks, best clowns, brazillian hair, jumping castles (there were 9 ads for those, I guess they must be in high demand), donkey meat and VIP toilets. But here is what really blew my mind:

Who just has a bus lying around that they need to sell?!?!

Remember when I went to the UNWTO conference back in August? If not you can read about it here, here, here and here. But, one of my observations was the fact that the host nations, Zambia and Zimbabwe, had both bought a fleet of new police cars, staff vehicles and busses in which to transport attendees. I couldn’t fathom what they would do with a couple hundred brand new busses at the conclusion of the conference. But when I saw the ad in The Advertiser I thought they may have found a solution. Perhaps I should call and inquire for myself.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nothing Like a Little African Efficiency

This evening I was trying to make a flight reservation. It was the easiest flight route as well: Gaborone to Johannesburg. The flight takes 45 minutes and South African Airlines offers about half a dozen roundtrips on this route daily. I was attempting to make the reservation online through the SAA website which was going well, until I had to enter a phone number. That’s when things started to go south. I tried easily 30 or 40 variations of phone numbers; both U.S. and Botswana numbers and the system simply would NOT process my request. Each time I was given an error message and told I had an invalid phone number.

Tried to look up a Botswana SAA office number… no luck.

Attempted to call the Botswana airport directly in hopes of being transferred to the SSA office.

Four calls to the Botswana airport got me nowhere.

Skyped a friend in the U.S. and asked him to find a phone number. Three phone numbers later and we still hadn’t accomplished anything.

Eventually Brian (in Lubbock, TX) called the SAA office in Plantation, Florida. When he told them he wanted to make a reservation they transferred him to the Reservations Office in…. care to take a guess? Johannesburg, South Africa.

After 23 minutes of me sending messages via Skype to Brian in the U.S. who was on the phone with SAA customer service in Africa I now have a ticket.

Talk about efficiency. There is no other way to explain it: TIA.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen, the NEWEST Seventh Wonder of the World- The Leaning Tower of Pizza!

The more I travel around the globe and spend time with students, the more I realize despite their differences, they are very much the same. When I go and visit a university as a guest speaker for a day, or serve as a visiting lecturer for a short term (maybe a week), it is hard to really get to know the students because they “belong” to someone else. But when the class is your own, as the professor for a semester, you get to know the students. And often, this relationship really shapes the way the students act and interact with each other and you.

I’ve sat in on a number of classes taught by other faculty members in my department over the last three months. And I’ve come to realize that my style of teaching is completely contrary to what is typical here. The professors here are all very formal in their interactions. The students don’t speak unless spoken to, and even when the professor throws out a question the students seem almost intimidated to answer because they don’t want to be wrong.

Yesterday I accidentally hijacked another professor’s class. He asked me to comment on something he said and I did. But then I took it one step further and threw a question out to the class. Everyone stared at me. Then I said, “Come on people, show me some love, let’s hear what you’ve got to say!” The students laughed, and then all of a sudden there was a conversation going on between me and the class which lasted about 20 minutes. Afterward the professor said that was the best class he’d had all semester.

I’m really pleased with my students. I’ve developed a rapport with them which is similar to my students back in the U.S. In Texas I tend to have a constant revolving door, with students in and out of my office all the time. Sometimes they are there to talk about something class related, but often they come in just to visit. Or, “I have a break until my next class, so I thought I’d come hang out til then.” Recently I’ve seen the same trend with my students here, which is also atypical.

But the thing I find most interesting about my students is that this familiarity carries over into their assignments and tests. I don’t teach my students here how to make babies like I do back at TTU- sadly, only the Tech kids who are reading this will really get to appreciate the baby reference- but I have plenty of other ways of getting through to them, which has made a mark. I think one of the things my students, all of them, regardless of geographic location has taken away, is that I appreciate humor. I gave an exam last week and as I was going through grading them I realized all my students use the same principle: if they don’t know the answer, they make up something funny.

One of the questions on the exam was to name the New Seven Wonders of the World. Some of the answers included: my dog; the man walking on the moon; why do people listen to country music? (apparently they wonder about that); and one that was at least somewhat tourism-related, the Leaning Tower of Pizza. I sasked a student who gave me one of these answers about it and he told me, “I knew it would make you laugh. I knew you wouldn’t give me any points, but I figured at least you would think it was funny. I couldn’t get away with that in any of my classes, so I thought I would take advantage of it. So, would you like to meet my dog? He’s really cool.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

There’s no place like home, or is there?

Here in Botswana I have a number of friends. A few expats, but mostly Batswana friends. When the other expats and I get together we occasionally exchange stories about things we just don’t understand here. A recent conversation with another American professor centered around meetings. Why do the meetings always start an hour late? Why is there so much formality involved in meetings? If you’ve already stated your opinion, why waste time in the meeting by reiterating your view, again, and again, and AGAIN!? Often these expat venting sessions end with a shrug of the shoulders, because we know we can’t change an entire culture, and a common exclamation, “There’s no place like home” or “Makes me appreciate home.”

This evening I was on my regularly scheduled, daily Skype chat with my BFF. As we were talking I was skinning a sweet potato. Lo and behold I had the surprise of my life. The sweet potato wasn’t orange inside, it was white.

This was my reaction:
I told him about it and he was equally stunned. Then he started telling me about cotton candy grapes. Apparently regular grapes are selling for $2.99 a pound in the U.S., while these new cotton candy grapes are $7.99/lb. The idea of fruit that tastes like candy is criminal to me. After our Skype session I decided to check out the cotton candy grapes for myself. According to the sources I found online, it took eight years to develop this “hybrid” fruit which has 12% more sugar than normal grapes.

My dinner this evening consisted of my white sweet potato, asparagus and a burger made from 100% Batswana beef. It was delicious. I’ve made this exact meal before, many times, in the U.S. But tonight as I sat there eating it I began to think about how much better it tasted then all the times I’ve made it back home. I’m guessing it’s because the cows here roam around all day and eat grass, instead of eating corn while standing still. And the sweet potato and asparagus likely did not have nearly as many pesticides and chemicals as American sources do.

In many instances I would agree that “There is no place like home.” But if there is one thing I like better here it is definitely the food.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

University of Botswana 2013 graduation

This weekend was graduation here at the University of Botswana. Yes, it is the middle of the semester, but UB always does its graduation ceremony in early October. The graduates completed their classes and exams back in June, but had to wait until now to receive their diplomas.

Graduation was interesting, to say the least. First off, it was scheduled to begin at 6am. No one could explain to me exactly why it was so early in the day, but I was told, “That’s the way it’s always been.” But after arriving there I think part of the reason may have been the heat. And I was lucky because I got to sit under the tent with the faculty, so while I felt the heat I wasn’t subject to having the sun beating down on me which was a relief.

There was a lot of pomp and circumstance, as is typical with any official event here. And plenty of speeches. Though graduation began late, also very typical here in Africa, sometime after 8am, they surprisingly got through it rather quickly. It took only three hours for 3,076 graduates. Yes, that figure is correct. Here are some pictures with commentary.

The ceremony took place in the UB stadium, so here are graduates waiting in the stands for the ceremony to begin:

I took this picture at about 6:45am. As you can see the stands filled with families included lots of umbrellas to shield them from the sun:
After each and every speech, and there were easily close to a dozen of them, the Botswana Defense Force (BDF) band played “fanfare:”

Here were the faculty dressed up in their robes, which were much more fancy than what we have in the U.S.:
This was something I didn’t understand very well. Nothing says, “I love University of Botswana” like sitting on the school seal:

And then here is a video so you can get an idea as to what the graduation was actually like. As you can see here there was lots of shouting and yelling and cheering, which is to be expected. What you don’t hear is anyone calling the names of the students. As you can see, the graduates walk up in pairs, bow in front of the Deans, and then keep walking. At the end of this video you can also see the stage where the Deans were sitting, they all look like they are having an awesome time:


Monday, October 14, 2013

“The Place that Dried Up”

Botswana doesn’t really have hills. In fact, Gaborone reminds me a lot of Lubbock. It is flat, hot, there is lots of dirt all over the place, very few trees, and you see nothing but sky for miles. But, we do have one hill, which is more than I can say for Lubbock.

Our one hill is called Kgale Hill and is on the southern edge of town. The name in Setswana means, “The Place that Dried Up” which is quite fitting, given the lack of vegetation and abundance of giant rocks. The television series, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” was filmed on a set built at the bottom of the hill. Since the series is no longer it has fallen into disrepair, but tourists who’ve read the books and/or watched the show often visit the film set. The other thing Kgale is known for is all the baboons in the area. We saw lots of them during our hike.

Fortunately we did the hike last Sunday, and then I broke my toe on Monday. So I won’t be hiking it again for a while, but at least I looked impressive doing it, right?

And here is a picture of Kgale itself. Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of town from the top of Kgale. Oh well, I guess that means I will have to do the climb again:

It takes about an hour to get up to the top, and then an hour to get back down. That is, if you don’t wander off the trail and get lost in the process. I was not the navigator; I was bringing up the rear. And since my hiking companions seemed sure of themselves I blindly followed them. That was until I said, “We definitely have NOT been before. We aren’t even on a trail! Where are we?” After about 20 minutes of wandering around, we found the trail and our fearless leader said, “Huh, wonder how I missed that?” Oh well, it was fun and at least I got to do the hike before the weather got too hot, and before I broke my toe.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Navigating Gaborone Without a Map or Street Signs

 About five years ago my sister got married in Hawaii.  She and her fiancĂ© were living in Honolulu at the time, and rather than return to Baltimore (her hometown) for the wedding, they decided the guests should come to them.  The wedding took place between Christmas and New Year’s so my parents, brother and I made the trip out for both the holidays and the wedding.

One night we were in downtown Honolulu window shopping.  I specify window shopping because the stores there are equivalent to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills: Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s, Gucci, Chanel, etc. All of a sudden there was an electrical storm and the entire island went dark.  Now, if this were to happen in say, Philadelphia, this would be a minor inconvenience because the city could essentially tap into power grids from surrounding areas, like Baltimore or New York. But when the power on an island goes out there is nowhere from which to “borrow” power.

December is high season in Hawaii, and everyone was enjoying the holiday shopping frenzy, so the mass of people frantically trying to exit this crowded area with no streetlights, traffic lights, store lights, etc. was chaotic, to say the least.  The four of us returned to our car where I took the driver’s seat.  My dad pulled out a paper map and began giving me directions back to our hotel with the use of a pocket-sized flashlight.  (He’s an engineer, and a former Boy Scout, so he is always prepared withtools you would never expect to need.)  It took about an hour, but I would suspect that had we not had a hard-copy map it would have taken considerably longer.  (For the curious out there, when we arrived back at our hotel we were given glow sticks to illuminate the path back to our rooms and then slept with the doors open because it was so hot.  It took almost 48 hours to get the majority of the island back on line.)

I was reminded of this story the other day when I was trying to give someone directions to my house.  Very few streets here have names.  And even if they do, chances are people don’t know them.  There are almost no posted street signs and maps are hard to come by.  Given this, you may be curious as to how the Post Office delivers our mail.  Simple answer: they don’t.  In the U.S. the Post Office has been raising prices, eliminating services, and cutting their hours/days of operations each year.  Here in Botswana, we seem to be going on the opposite direction.  I went to a speech by the Post Master General recently who said within the next two years everyone in Botswana will have a physical street address and will have their mail delivered directly to their door.  I wonder if that means Botswana will start publishing maps with accurate street names listed as well?

The good news is, I finally received my first piece of mail yesterday.  So, if you would like, you are welcome to send me stuff.  In reality I don’t expect anyone to send me anything, except maybe my parents, but just in case, here is my address:

Kelly Phelan
Faculty of Business
Private Bag UB00701
Gaborone, Botswana

Also, I will be sending out my Christmas cards shortly as it takes about one month to get anything here/there, so if you would like an African Xmas card leave your address in the comments below or send me an email: kelly.phelan@ttu.edu. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

“Dr. Kelly, what do you think about Service Quality in Botswana?”

I could see the question coming from a mile away, and despite all efforts was unable to manage an escape prior to it actually being asked.

I sort of co-teach a class with another Lecturer here at UB.  The course is called Tourism in Botswana.  Since I am grossly under qualified to teach a tourism course focused entirely on Botswana, he teaches the class and I supplement the material by providing outside examples and relating it to the worldwide tourism industry.  There is a published course syllabus but that has little to do with what is actually covered in any given class session.  My colleague often shows up and teaches whatever strikes his fancy.  Thus, I often feel unprepared for what to expect and have to be ready to provide input on the fly.

Yesterday’s class focused on Service Quality.  As soon as I saw the topic I wish I had called in sick.  I had little good to say about anything service-related here in Botswana, or Africa for that matter, but knew I would inevitably be asked to provide an outside opinion.  As the instructor was highlighting the importance of various customer service principles I began jotting down notes I could refer to later when it came time for me to speak.  While listening to the lecture and the students’ questions I began thinking about the frustration involved when I attempted to get my university ID.

Then one of my students, Martin, said something very profound.  He said, “I was at dinner with my parents in a restaurant here in Gaborone.  The waiter hadn’t been back to my table since he gave us our food.  I tried to get his attention so I could get more water.  My parents yelled at me and said, ‘You are a child.  You have two legs.  Get up and fetch your own water.’”

This story reminded me of an incident from when I was in Kenya for my conference.  At one of the dinner events my entire table had been seated for easily 20 minutes and no server had ever been around to take drink orders.  Several of us tried to get someone’s attention until I finally got up, went to the bar, took 8 glasses, filled them with water, put them on a tray, and carried them back to my table myself.

Martin’s story was met by a round of commentary from the rest of the class, some taking Martin’s side, and some agreeing with his parents.  Finally a girl said, “You know, most foreigners focus on really minute details, like the water thing.  I just don’t think those kinds of things are important.”  This comment prompted my colleague to ask, “Dr. Kelly, what do you think about service quality in Botswana?”

I answered initially by giving a lot of examples of “foreigners” and service quality elsewhere.  I told them being a server in a cafĂ© in Paris is considered a respectable job, which is why they take pride in their work and make sure their customers are well cared for.  I told them in China a position in a hotel or restaurant was considered an embarrassment because you are admitting someone else is your superior.

I was beginning to think I was losing them so I decided to boil it down, “Here’s the thing that matters.  Botswana has the highest price point for tourism products in Sub-Saharan Africa.  If I’m spending $1,000 a night in Botswana I expect to get water.  If I’m not going to get water I might as well go to Zim where I only have to spend $100 night to be thirsty.”  Ultimately, I got through to them.  There is one thing the Batswana do NOT want, and that is to be compared to Zimbabwe. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

One Stop Shopping: Buy Your Onions, Give a Geography Lesson, Visit the Doctor

According to the movies, which are always truthful and accurate, in the 1950s a trip to your neighbor supermarket was like visiting a friend. The grocer knew your name, you would stop and chat with the other shoppers because your kids went to school together, and people enjoyed the social, community-type experience. Nowadays it’s not really like that. It’s more of a get in, get what you need as quickly as possible, and get out, preferably without having to engage anyone in conversation. Botswana isn’t pure 1950s, but it certainly has a less stressed out and more laid-back approach than most people in the western world take when shopping.

Today I went to the grocery store just down the street from my house. I go there at least once a week, sometimes two or three times. It is midway between my house and the gym, so it’s easy to stop on my way back and forth. Also, the selection is rather limited, so often I will stop three days in a row and purchase nothing each time, until the onions I was hoping to buy finally arrive on day four. This afternoon, that was what I was shopping for, onions.

As I handed the cashier my credit card to pay for my onions she asked to see my ID, which is standard here. I gave it to her and then realized she was scrutinizing it in great detail. She then handed the ID to another cashier who looked at it and the two of them exchanged several comments in Setswana. As my friends here remind me frequently, “You don’t really blend in,” so I was curious what they were examining, but I didn’t ask. Finally my cashier pointed to my driver’s license and said, “Is this from the UK?” I told her no, it was from the U.S. Then about four other store employees got involved in a very animated conversation in Setswana. They were nodding their heads and sort of laughing and smiling. Eventually they came to a consensus and one of the men told me, “We always wondered where you are from. But it makes sense. You smile and talk a lot [in Setswana. Of course] you are from the U.S. English people don’t smile and they aren’t very friendly.” “Well, thank you very much.”

I packed up my bag and proceeded toward the exit when the male employee asked me why I was hobbling. I explained to him that I had fallen yesterday and my toe was in a lot of pain. It was right about lunch time and several Botswana Police Officers had entered the store from their offices across the street. The employee told me to wait a minute. A few seconds later he arrived with a police officer who told me to remove my shoe and let him see my foot. I hesitated and then he looked at me and said, “Hey I know you. You’re the girl that always bikes around the prison. Where have you been? We’ve missed you.” I was so shocked I didn’t respond. He continued, “It’s ok, I’m the prison doctor. I heard you hurt your foot. Let me see it.” So, the store employee brought me a chair, and the doc proceeded to examine my foot in the grocery store. “Looks like you broke your toe. That’s gonna hurt for a while, you should probably be careful.”

So, that was my trip to the grocery store. It wasn’t a true 1950s grocery store experience, but it was unique, kind of like everything else about my life here in Africa. :)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Extreme Home Makeover: Botswana Edition

I lived in Alaska not long after 9/11. Shortly after I arrived my mother sent me a newspaper article from the Baltimore Sun. If I remember correctly the title, or at the very least subtitle was something along the lines of: “Everyone is now realizing what Alaska already knows, the power of duct tape.” The article was written during the time period when there was a lot of speculation about weapons of mass destruction. According to the author people were stockpiling duct tape and plastic sheeting in anticipation of a possible terrorist attack. However, while these supplies were running low in the Lower 48 states everyone in Alaska was using it with reckless abandon. More than once I boarded a plane only to realize the window was broken and “fixed” with duct tape. Here is the Baltimore Sun article if you are interested.

Remember the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding? And regardless of ailment the father would always prescribe Windex? Have a zit? Spray it with Windex! Sore throat? Windex! Broken toe? Yup, Windex should definitely do it. I think after two years in Alaska I adopted a similar approach to duct tape. If duct tape won’t fix it, then you might as well throw it out. Today, once again, duct tape served me well.

This morning I woke up and decided I had had enough. I simply couldn’t take the mosquitoes anymore. The problem is that it has gotten to the point that I can’t sleep through the night because I can hear them buzzing around my head, and will slap myself across the face in an effort to kill the mosquitoes. But last night was more than I could bear. I woke up constantly scratching uncontrollably. And the worst part was that I have about a dozen bites on the bottoms of my feet and the palms of my hands. I had already decided by the time I got to work that I needed to find mosquito netting for my bed. But when a student asked me this morning after observing my pasty white legs with giant red blotches all over them from broken skin, “Does that hurt?” I knew there was no other option.

After work I went to the mall and after visiting about six stores was finally able to purchase mosquito netting. This just might be the best $28 I’ve ever spent. The challenge was finding a way to hang it up in my bedroom. Here is my bedroom pre-mosquito netting:

I attempted several times to affix the mosquito net using duct tape and shower curtain hooks, but I wasn’t tall enough to stand on the bed and affix it to the ceiling. I tried to jump and use broom handles, but neither worked. Fortunately, I have two additional beds in my house, so I piled them all on top of one another, climbed up, and was able to affix it myself. I suppose in the end I could have slept on all three mattresses a la The Princess and the Pea:

Here we have the final product:

And with a model (moi) for full effect:

I’m so excited I may just have to go to bed early tonight.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Nice Day for a White Wedding

Yesterday I talked about how a friend here in Gaborone was getting married and had her bogadi (bride price) negotiation. Well, today was the wedding. It wasn’t a traditional African wedding since the bride was an American, but there were several elements which did reflect the local culture. For instance, the parents and extended family of the couple had significant roles in the wedding ceremony. And all the elders were invited to bless the couple.

Unfortunately all the guests were asked not to take any pictures of the wedding, so I can’t really convey the general atmosphere. But, here is a picture I took of the crowd as people were greeting everyone after the ceremony. I figure if nothing else it is an interesting glimpse of all the different types of attire you tend to see here, especially at churches and weddings:

And here I am wearing a traditional Southern African summer dress I bought when I was in Zimbabwe last month. I should also mention there is a lot of greenery behind me which is very atypical here. We tend to take a lot of pictures of flowers and trees since we have so few and springtime is so short.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

First comes Love, then comes the Bride Price Negotiations

Back in the U.S. I teach a Wedding Planning class each year. In my career as an event planner I would estimate I was involved in planning about 200 weddings. As a result I can say without a doubt planning a wedding is my least favorite activity in the world. But I always have a lot of female students who are pursuing their Mrs. degree and want to plan their own weddings, which is why I continue to teach the class.

One of the topics I address in the class is the historical evolution of marriage and weddings, as well as traditional customs. The dowry and bride price are always addressed, though I tell my students, “This isn’t something we really deal with in the U.S. nowadays, so I wouldn’t worry about it.” I think I may have to alter my lecture slightly in the future.

An American female friend of mine here in Botswana is getting married. She is a medical doctor and has been living her for five years. She is marrying a man from here and recently had to go through her lobola or bogadi negotiation. The lobola/bogadi/bride price is a payment by the groom’s family to the bride’s family as compensation for the loss of their daughter. The payment is viewed as a token of gratitude to the bride’s parents for providing her with an upbringing which makes her suitable to marry the groom.

Botswana is becoming more modern and cosmopolitan all the time. Until recently most adult children would live in their parents’ homes until they were married. However, many unmarried young adults are now moving out on their own. But the family negotiations surrounding marriage remain intact, for tradition’s sake if nothing else.

The way the bogadi negotiation works is that the couple and their extended families meet. The couple is not permitted to speak as all negotiations are handled by their uncles. The designated uncle from the groom’s side makes a speech and offers a price. The bride’s uncle then rebuts the offer. Typically the offer is refused along with an explanation. “My niece is well educated, she is a doctor, your nephew should be honored we would even acknowledge him when he asked for permission to marry her. As far as we are concerned this offer is insulting, we don’t consider him worthy of her hand, and we have no intention of allowing this wedding to occur.” To a certain extend this may be done for show. However, I have heard of many negotiations being drawn out affairs lasting weeks, even up until the day of the wedding.

With regard to the payment, that varies considerably. Cattle are a sign of wealth in Africa. Thus, the bogadi is generally made in live cattle. The minimum is four cattle. If a family is disinterested in receiving actual cattle, then a cash price is agreed upon. Normally the equivalent of one cow would be between $3,000 and $6,000. So the minimum bogadi would be between $12,000 and $24,000. I met one couple who told me their bogadi was 53 cattle, 2 horses and a saddle. Using the $3,000 minimum, that would be about $160,000.

Once the bogadi agreement is made the couple is considered married, even if the actual ceremony doesn’t take place until a few weeks later. In theory the bogadi should be paid before the actual ceremony, but for more costly agreements, the families may determine a reasonable timeframe in which the transaction may take place.

As for my American friend, her parents couldn’t take cattle with them back to the U.S., so the groom’s family gave them several gifts. Since I was not considered family I was not invited to attend the negotiation meeting, but I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The best pedicure in the world

Not long ago someone asked me how many countries I had visited, so I made a list. Turns out I have been to over 40 countries. I haven’t had pedicures in all of them, but in many of them. I would have to say in at least half of them I’ve had a pedicure. And in each country a pedicure is a little different.

In Hungary I had a pedicure at the famous Gellert Spa and Bath. I had to get a pedicure that time in an effort to recover from my rather horrifying first experience in a Turkish bath. After waiting in a line (I just followed what everyone else did) in nothing but a towel, my towel was violently ripped from my body and I was subsequently beaten with lots of reeds and then my entire body was scrubbed with some sort of brillo-pad type of thing. I was amazed I had any skin left on my body after that event. But, silver lining, the pedicure was quite nice.

The pedicure I got in China was not so nice. I went to Queen Spa in Shenzhen, directly over the border from Hong Kong on the suggestion of my friend Sonya who has lived in HK for several years. If you are ever in Shenzhen I highly recommend Queen Spa. It is a 24 hour spa, which was great, because I had jet lag and couldn’t sleep, so at 3am one night I hoped the train to Shenzhen and arrived at Queen Spa before the sun was up. You could spend an entire day there, and get half a dozen different treatments, but your bill won’t go over $100. However, the foot massage which was part of my pedicure was agonizing. Afterward it was all I could do to put my shoes back on and hobble back to the train station. I think my feet hurt for about three days.

Two years ago I took my students to Switzerland. They had a free afternoon and I took a stroll down some of the streets adjacent to our hotel in Lausanne. And then I saw it! A fish pedicure boutique! I have ALWAYS wanted one of those, and they are illegal in the U.S. so this was my chance. Essentially you put your feet in water and the little fish swim around and nibble the dead skin off the bottoms. Some people said they could feel it, but I really couldn’t. If you need a visual, here are my fishy feet:
 
But, after pedicures in easily two dozen countries, I have found my favorite, in Kenya. The day I left Kenya I had a late flight, but my hotel could only allow me to stay so long. They gave me a late checkout, but I still had several hours in which I needed to entertain myself. After wandering around town for a bit I found a nail salon. I would have to say the environment, ambiance and additional amenities were absent. They didn’t offer you water or a complementary beverage, there was no soothing music, relaxing scent of lavender in the air, or massage chair (my favorite part elsewhere), but the pedicure was great. Unfortunately I can’t quite articulate why I enjoyed it so much, but suffice to say it was wonderful. Here are my new toes, complemented by the beaded sandals I bought at the market in Nairobi:

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Thing that REALLY Scares me about Africa

Africa tends to have a bad reputation.  A lot of that comes from violence, political strife, health crises, lack of medical care, inadequate nutrition.  There are 54 countries in Africa.  All but 9 of those have had a civil war and/or war with a neighboring country within the last 50 years.  Fortunately, Botswana is the most peaceful and consistently safe country on the continent.

However, as I travel to other countries and even here in Botswana I am reminded of potential safety problems a little more readily then back home in the U.S. Last week I was in Nairobi, Kenya were there was a terrorist attack.  A friend of mine was actually at Westgate Mall and had invited me to come have lunch with him there that day.  Thankfully, I had told him, “This is Kenya. I didn’t come here to go to a mall.  There are only two places in the entire world where I travel and go to a mall: Hong Kong and Dubai.”

On my first day in Gaborone one of the faculty members in my department emphatically told me, “Never walk at night.  It is very dangerous for you.  You will get robbed.  It’s not because you are white.  It’s because they think you have money.”  I couldn’t help but ask, “Well, they think I have money because I’m white, right?” “Well, yes that is true.  That’s not the point! NEVER walk at night, even if you are with someone.  Just don’t do it.” So I don’t walk at night.

But neither of these things are what scare me about Africa.

As you all know, I teach Hospitality and Tourism Management. If I were given carte blanche to make the rules there is one thing I would do.  I would not allow students to graduate from my program unless they could explain to me the significance of the MGM Grand Fire.  It could be a one question, pass/fail, oral exit exam. For those of you who may be less familiar, the MGM Grand Fire took place in 1980.  To make a long story short, upon hearing the fire alarms hotel guests entered the stairwells and started going down in an effort to escape.  The problem was that the stairwell doors were designed to lock from the inside, so once people entered the stairwells they couldn’t get back out again.  Most of the deaths which took place were due to smoke inhalation and being trapped by the fire inside those stairwells. 

This brings me to what REALLY scares me about Africa…and that is not terrorists, war, or even contracting a deadly disease.  What REALLY scares me about Africa is the lack of fire regulations.

Last night I was sitting in the Nairobi airport waiting for my flight.  They seem to love safety to the point where it will put you in danger.  You go through a security check to enter the building, then a second security check at passport control, and then a third security check in order to enter your gate. Once you enter the gate area you are in an enclosed glass space and can’t leave.  Did I mention all the shops and bathrooms are outside the gate area?

Well, as I was sitting inside the glass enclosed gate area I watched a plane offload passengers.  The passengers walked up the gangway, entered a glass enclosed hallway between two separate gates and then stood there.  The reason they stopped in their tracks was because there was a chain with a padlock on the doors to my gate, another chain and padlock around the door handles to the adjacent gate, and then the doors which should have allowed the passengers to pass through the corridor out into the general airport were also chained and locked.  So the passengers had to stand there and wait for someone with a key to let them out.  Now, last month the Nairobi airport had a major fire.  All I could think to myself was, “A few weeks ago you saw how dangerous a fire in this facility was firsthand.  And yet, you obviously haven’t learned anything, because padlocking exits is a sure way to trap people and get them killed in the event of a fire, terrorist attack, bomb threat, etc.”

I’ve seen the padlocked doors all over the place here in Africa.  They think it is a security measure, but it just makes me nervous.  There are six doors on the first floor of my building at the University of Botswana.  Only two of those doors are left unlocked and open during the day while classes are in session.  The other four sets of doors are left padlocked, despite there being easily 1,000 people in that building at any one point in time.  I’ve questioned this and voiced my concern to countless people about the danger of locking people INSIDE any area.  Sadly my pleas have fallen on deaf ears.  I will just continue to hope I won’t be in an emergency situation where I might be trapped inside a building here because the effort to keep everyone safe may be what puts the nail in the coffin.

For anyone out there teaching HTM, please make sure your students understand the importance of the MGM Grand Fire.  Feel free to share my blog with your students and use this as an example in your classes.  For the rest of you, please make sure you take note of the emergency exits wherever you are and make sure they are in working order.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A few days with the Maasai

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the past two days in Maasai Mara National Reserve in southwestern Kenya.  The area is often referred to as The Mara by locals and is named in honor of the Maasai people.  The Maasai are semi-nomadic people who live in Kenya and northern Tanzania and are probably the most recognizable of all the African tribes due to their traditional customs and dress.  Since Kenya is the birthplace of tourism in Africa the Maasai were really the first ethnic group exposed on a large scale to the rest of the world and thus are the most recognizable to outsiders.  Here is a photo of a Maasai “spotter” I met on safari:
When you go on safari you generally have a guide, who is driving your vehicle while pointing out animals and giving you information about what you see (i.e. migration patterns; what the animals eat; why they are acting a particular way; whether a specific animal is special, such as being pregnant or injured; etc.).  While the guides always do an excellent job, some companies may also provide a tracker or a spotter.  A tracker can look at the environment and tell if an animal was there recently and if so in which direction the animal went.  A spotter is someone who, with a blind eye, can find and identify animals at a great distance.  In The Mara many of the safari companies employ local Maasais as spotters because they live amongst the animals and are trained from birth to keep an eye out for them.
In general the Maasai have maintained their traditional customs and lifestyles, however, with the increase in tourism more and more of them are finding ways to make a living, or at least supplement their incomes, with jobs in the tourism industry.  For instance, as you enter the reserve your vehicle is bombarded with Maasai women trying to sell you beaded bracelets and other handmade goods.  Most of the lodges and camps are staffed by Maasai men. Due to being frequently exposed to Westerners many Maasai have adopted some of our modern habits.  For instance, at one point I was watching a Maasai herding his cows while talking on a cell phone.  Or, as you can see here, this spotter was returning a game drive vehicle at the end of the day to storage for the evening:

In addition to seeing many Maasai, we also saw plenty of animals; about 150,000 of them I’m told.  We could see zebras and wildebeest as far as the eye could see in the midst of migration.  And several lions.  Everyone comes to Africa wanting to see big cats, but they are actually a somewhat uncommon occurrence.  But we got lucky and were able to see lions both days.  Here are three female lions sleeping.  The lion on the far left is actually pregnant according to our guide:
I absolutely loved my trip to Maasai Mara.  I could have stayed there forever.  I just hope I can go back sometime.