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 fiancé 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: 

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