Friday, January 31, 2014

Louis Vuitton in Africa

There are certain things you just don’t expect to see in Africa… snow, sushi, polar bears.  Another thing you don’t really expect to see are high end luxury brands.

Until recently Africa operated on a 100% cash system.  Many places still do.  When I travelled to Uganda I had to pay cash for everything, even my hotel rooms.  Sierra Leone was even more of a challenge because there wasn’t a single ATM in the country.  I was never entirely comfortable when I arrived at the airport (at night, with no electricity) with five thousand dollars stuffed in my pants.
But some of the more prosperous countries have finally begun to adopt credit.  I think I’ve only used an ATM to retrieve cash here in Botswana about half a dozen times because I charge everything.  You can see the repercussions, for better or for worse, in the new homes that people are building and the clothes they wear.

My first week here I attended a conference.  The Post Master was talking about Louis Vuitton.  I was shocked he was familiar with such an expensive brand.  There are no luxury retailers here in Botswana, but people are familiar with certain names from television, celebrities, and availability in South Africa.  The Post Master went on to explain, “I have no idea why they call it Italian leather.  That is a lie.  There is no such thing as Italian leather.  It is Setswana leather.  They don’t raise cows in Italy!  They buy OUR cows and make them into handbags and call them ITALIAN!”
I can’t claim to know the truth about the Italian leather/ Setswana leather debate.  But one thing is for sure, the Batswana like more than Louis Vuitton handbags.  Today I was leaving my office on campus and here was a car sitting in the parking lot:
As you can see it is a Volkswagen (“It is a German car! And they are claiming it is Italian?!”) with Louis Vuitton embellishments.  Make sure you look closely, because even the rims have the LV signature design.  That is definitely one thing I could have never guessed I would see here.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Not Cereal Mom, SERIAL Mom

In the early 1990s the movie Serial Mom was released in theaters.  The movie depicted Kathleen Turner as a suburban housewife and mother who protected her family without fail, going so far as to murder anyone who wronged her children.  I don’t believe my mother has ever broken the law for her kids- though I wouldn’t totally put it past her- but she is about as close to Kathleen Turner’s character as one can get.  Of course, I also think that is an innate maternal trait.

Another thing I find particularly funny about moms is their competitive streak.  And I don’t mean about themselves, I mean that in regard to their kids.  I remember when I told my mom I was moving to Africa.  She was happy about it because I was happy, but in reality her response was kind of a mopey, “I know, I’ll just really miss you.”  My brother and I sort of laughed about it and said, “Are you kidding me? This gives you bragging rights amongst all the other moms for the next year.  When all you moms get together and compare who has the cooler kids you will always win, hands down.  And you know you moms do it, don’t even try and deny it.”
This is how I imagine water cooler talk at my mother’s office:

Mom #1: My daughter just bought her first house, at the age of only 23.
Mom #2: I will see your new home-owning daughter and raise you my son, a Navy Seal who swam across the Mediterranean without equipment and then single-handedly rescued five civilians from almost certain death.
KVP’s Mom: I recommend you all fold now.  My daughter is currently in Africa where she is overseeing the Botswana Defense Force and the police.  On the weekends she is training monkeys how to build power plants in order to supply electricity and water to locals.  In her free time she is either in Zimbabwe teaching President Mugabe how to balance the budget and mint a new stabilized currency or instructing Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airlines how to provide customer service and deliver passengers’ luggage within a reasonable (i.e. less than 24 hour) timeframe. BOOM! That’s right! My* daughter is awesome!

*MY daughter is used to convey pride and claim credit.  This is in juxtaposition with YOUR (i.e. my father’s) daughter when I demonstrate some sort of shortcoming.
Today when I was on the UB campus I realized mothers are the same everywhere.  They may speak different languages, or interact with their children differently, but they protect and promote their kids to the end.  As I entered the corridor where my office is located I saw three female staff members speaking in a very animated manner about their offspring.  By the way, animated is a relative term.  Think of me being animated.  Now imagine me sick, with a couple of broken ribs and strep throat.  THAT is animated in Botswana.  Nevertheless, you could still recognize that there was a distinct sense of pride and one-upsmanship in their conversation.  Made me a little bit homesick for a minute.  All I could think was that my mom would fit right in.  She would also take gold and make sure those other moms KNEW whose kid was #1.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Riding in Cars with Strangers

Right now we are in the midst of summer here in Botswana.  However, this is also rainy season.  But when you hear the term, rainy season, it’s not really what you expect.  Basically it means that it seldom rains, but when it does it is a major downpour resulting in flooding.  The good thing about the rain is that it drops the temperature about 20 degrees for a day or two, making the weather much more bearable.

For the past two days we’ve been enjoying a lot of rain here in Gaborone.  Yesterday I taught for three hours.  It would rain for about 20 minutes and then stop briefly, and then start again.  And each time it rains it is a downpour, to the point where my students had to ask me to speak up so they could hear me over the rain.  Yes, the rain really is that loud.
The rain tends to add a little extra chaos to life here.  The streets flood, making it challenging to walk.  The robots (traffic lights) stop working, causing drivers to act even more erratic than usual.  And as I learned last night, the rain also results in miscommunication.

On Monday and Wednesday evenings I take Setswana classes.  I normally walk about 15 minutes each way to and from class.  Last night I made it about halfway to class before the rain began again.  Fortunately I was wearing flip flops so the ankle deep water didn’t cause too much of a problem for me.  By the time my class ended the sky was pitch black and the standing water was up to my calves.  As I exited the building a man said to me, “You live in the Village, right? I’ll give you a ride.”
I got in the car and asked him what language class he was taking.  He looked at me and goes, “Oh! I thought you were the German lady in my French class!”  I looked at him and said, “Oh! I thought you were my neighbor!”  Needless to say, Jun and I had a good laugh and are now friends.  At least I didn’t have to swim home in all that rain.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Best Signs in Africa

Shortly before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Chinese Olympic Committee launched a major initiative to “eradicate all poor English signs” in the capital city.  For instance, Racist Park was renamed the Park of Ethnic Minorities.  There were a host of other less offensive signs such as “The Slippery are Very Crafty” (slippery when wet), “No entry during peacetime” (emergency exit) and my favorite, “Please don’t touch yourself, let us” (i.e. please don’t touch, ask an employee for assistance).

In Africa I’ve seen my fair share of funny signs.  Some of them tend to have a hidden meaning, while others are straightforward.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The funny thing about this sign was that there was a crosswalk adjacent to the sign.  I’m not sure if the warthogs had been trained to stop, wait for traffic to pause, and then cross in the crosswalk.  Or maybe the warthogs knew to wait for the children to hold their hooves while they crossed together:
I’ve seen giraffes cross this stretch of road frequently.  However, I’ve NEVER seen them cross the road anywhere within a one mile radius of this sign.  Really, by the time someone sees this sign they have probably had to stop for giraffes at least half a dozen times:
This is probably one of my favorites.  This refers to orphan elephants, not humans.  Hence, why sticking your hands in their mouths could be so detrimental.  This was a sign at the elephant orphanage I visited in Kenya:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wear Sunscreen

Half a lifetime ago I graduated from high school.  I was reminded of this today when I was speaking to a few study abroad students.  The U.S. sends over 100 students to the University of Botswana on exchange each semester.  I’m not sure I had ever heard of Botswana when I was in college.  But I can understand why American universities encourage students to come here; it is the safest place in Africa and the students can have the real African, safari experience.

As the new study abroad students were asking questions about what to expect regarding classes, professors, course requirements, etc. one of them asked me if I had any advice.  I recommended they wear sunscreen, at all times.  One of the little blonde girls sort of laughed it off and said she was looking forward to working on her tan.  I looked her square in the eyes and said, “wear sunscreen.  You will still get a tan, even with the sunscreen.  I promise.”  She turned away and rolled her eyes.

The week I graduated from high school the Number 1 song on the radio wasn’t really a song.  It was a graduation speech set to music entitled, Everyone’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen).   Since that was 17 years ago I reckon most of my younger blog readers have never heard it.  The song recites all the best advice a young person should hear, though seldom listens to or appreciates until they are older, until they hit about their mid-30s or so.  I fondly recalled the song when I saw the blonde girl’s reaction to my “wear sunscreen” comment.  I silently shook my head and thought, “wait until you’re my age.”

Since we can never hear good advice too often I hope you enjoy Everyone’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen):

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Dark Continent

Most people believe the term, “The Dark Continent” is a racial reference to Africa.  That is actually a falsity. The first time Africa was called the Dark Continent was not when Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness.

In the 15th and 16th centuries when the world was still up for grabs and England, France, Portugal, Spain and a few other minor players were sailing the seven seas in efforts to increase their colonial holdings, cartographers were responsible for documenting new territorial finds.  Since most of this exploration began on the shore and worked inland, maps frequently had detailed coastlines.  However, the regions further away from the coast often remained unexplored until later.  The unexplored areas would be left dark on maps because no one actually knew what was in those locations.  Thus, the map of Africa was largely a blackened in outline of the continent as we know it today until my namesake, Dr. Livingstone, began his twenty-plus years of expeditions in 1851.

Though the 1899 novel Heart of Darkness did solidify the term Dark Continent as a reference to the black peoples living in Africa, there is now a slightly different meaning associated with the phrase.  Today Dark Continent indicates Africa’s lack of electricity compared to the rest of the world.  This map was a composite of multiple photos taken by NASA showing the world at night:
As you can see, the U.S., Europe, India and East Asia are using the most light and electricity.  Considering its landmass compared to the few spots of light, I would say Africa is using the least.

I know I’ve mentioned rolling blackouts here in Botswana before, but at this time of year they seem a little more unbearable than usual.  It is 100 degrees every day and well into the night.  I don’t have air-conditioning, in fact, I know very few people who do, but not having a fan because the electricity is out again can make falling asleep a chore.  Each afternoon when I walk home from work and see everyone driving past me with their windows rolled up I silently wish they were my friends and daydream someone will pull over and offer me a ride in their air-conditioned vehicle.  But I am told winter is coming in a few months, so I think I can make due until then.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Compliments? I LOVE compliments!

Everywhere I go nowadays I am greeted by someone telling me, “Compliments.”

This may sound confusing, so let me give you a scenario:

Student: Dumela Mma. (Hello Ma’am).
Kelly: Dumela. O tsogile jang? (Hello. How are you?)
Student: Tsogile sentle. (I am well.) Compliments.

I know, it sounds like something is missing.  Compliments on what? Compliments on your new hairstyle?  Compliments on publishing another article? Compliments on making it to school on time for class?  Nope, none of these.

“Compliments” is the standard saying after the New Year.  It is essentially equivalent to saying, “Happy New Year.”  Occasionally someone will go above and beyond and say, “Compliments for the festive season.”  But for the most part the one word “Compliments” is sufficient.

I actually really like this habit.  I think we should wish each other “Compliments” all year round.  It is just a nice word that makes you feel good, so we should use it more often.

To all of my loyal blog readers, “Compliments!”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Cockroaches and Robots

In Botswana we have lots of bugs and animals.  For the most part it’s not too big of a deal, but from time to time I meet newcomers who have serious issues with the bugs.  A few months back I met a German woman at a party who was excited to be moving back home the following week, “I just can’t handle the cockroaches,” she explained.

The cockroaches aren’t so bad, but they do occasionally get into your house.  That’s why we have DOOM!  The other night I woke up because I thought someone was trying to break into my house.  I heard a noise at the window.  I went down to the kitchen, switched on the lights and realized I had forgotten to close the windows before I went to bed.  It wasn’t a robber that was trying to get in; there were half a dozen cockroaches climbing on the outside of the screens.  One of them made it through a large whole in the screen.  I didn’t have DOOM! handy, so I grabbed a frying pan and smacked it.  You know how they say if the world comes to an end the only thing that will survive will be the cockroaches?  They are correct! I succeeded in decapitating the cockroach, but not killing it.  And it turns out, when you decapitate it, it continues to live.  The head and the body continued to move independently, quite quickly I might add, as if on the run from the frying pan.  I couldn’t believe it.

The cockroach incident reminded me of the movie Wall-E.  If you haven’t seen it my father and I consider it a Pixar classic.  It features a robot, left on earth after everyone moves away due to excessive pollution, and his sole remaining friend is a cockroach.  Here is Wall-E, the robot, along with his friend the cockroach:
Here’s some of our robots.  This is Africa.  So often times the robots aren’t working, either due to power outages, or because they were never hooked up the first place:
And here are some robots in the grocery store.  Get it?:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Best Things I Learned Living in Africa

This afternoon I was speaking to a woman who was a new arrival to Africa.  She asked me what kind of advice I had as she began her new life here.  I took the opportunity to reflect on what I’ve learned over the past few months.  After giving it some thought, I can say with some amount of certainty that I have learned quite a few things.  Here is a list of my top epiphanies (so far) about Africa:
  1. If there is hot water and water pressure take a shower and wash your hair regardless of whether you are dirty.  There is no guarantee you will have water pressure, hot water, or any water at all come tomorrow, so you need to take advantage of every bathing opportunity you can get.  The same premise goes for doing your laundry. 
  2. If you act like a tourist, people will treat you like one.  For anyone who’s been following my blog for a while you have heard a lot of funny accounts of bizarre things which have happened to me.  If nothing else, the police seem drawn to me, whether my driving instructor is being pulled over for texting or whether I am causing accidents due to my crazy desire to walk to the store.  But I often have people ask why I don’t take pictures of some of these unusual instances.  For one, I don’t like to draw any extra attention to myself, such as when I was standing in court arguing my way out of a “walking with intent to cause a car accident” fine. In other cases I don’t take pictures because I don’t want to be perceived as a tourist.  I’ve watched this happen to other people: A foreigner and a local “become friends.”  The foreigner reverts back to his role as a tourist by asking to take a picture of the local.  The local responds by saying, “Sure, give me five dollars.” I don’t want those kinds of memories. 
  3. It’s perfectly acceptable to play the “adorable white girl card.”  Speaking of being a foreigner, sometimes this helps.  The great thing about being a redheaded white girl is that I’m the only one.  I don’t blend in very well.  I try to, but thus far have been horribly unsuccessful.  But in some cases the inability to be mistaken for a local works to my benefit.  Every once in a while when I am desperate for help, such as when I need to get a beef permit so I can receive my package from home, being a “helpless, confused and scared white girl in need of rescue” can work to my advantage.  Somehow, that formula is irresistible to African men. 
  4. On the flip side, if you are confident enough in your abilities to convince people you are a local who does belong then you earn yourself bragging rights and respect.  I particularly enjoy demanding an African rate.  Most African countries operate on a three tier pricing system: citizens, African residents and foreigners.  In Botswana, and when I travel to other African countries, I love saying things like, “This price isn’t fair.  Who do you think I am?  One of those rich muzungus (white people)?  No! I am an African! You give me an African rate!”  I certainly don’t get the absolute lowest price that the locals enjoy, but I don’t pay anything near what the foreigners do, plus, I end up making friends. 
  5. If you are going to play a game of chicken, or start a fight, you had BETTER win; otherwise you may be taking your life in your hands.  Case in point: my recent visit to the Johannesburg airport.
In all reality I can think of at least another 10 best things to know about living in Africa, but I didn’t want to overwhelm the rookie.  She seemed a little deer in the headlights anyway, so I thought I would just let her ease into it for the time being.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

An UnHappy Meal

I’ve mentioned before that Botswana doesn’t have much of a restaurant culture.  The few restaurants here are limited to fast food type places like Chicken Licken and a diner called Wimpy’s.  Really, the lack of variety here is not much of a problem for me since I prefer to cook at home.  After all, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to try a new recipe each week.  However, when I travel I am often relegated to eating out.

When I was in South Africa last week I not only ate out, I ate at a fast food outlet.  You may have heard of it.  It was called McDonald’s.  McDonald’s and I have a bit of a history. A kind of love-hate relationship.

A couple of years ago I dated this guy who travelled overseas a lot.  I frequently went with him.  On our third date we went to Paris.  When we arrived he was particularly pleased to find a McDonald’s right across the street from our hotel.  I couldn’t believe it.  This highly cultured man liked McDonald’s!?!  He told me whenever he travelled abroad he would always visit a McDonald’s at least once.  I made fun of him so badly during that trip he did not visit McDonald’s.  At least, to the best of my knowledge he didn’t.  He may have snuck in there for some fries one morning when he went on a hunt for coffee, but if he did he never fessed up to it.

On another trip overseas we went to India.  This was where my anti-McDonald’s theory was put to the test.  I got sick about a week before our trip, but I didn’t want to cancel or postpone it.  The illness I had continued to linger throughout the three week trip, some days being significantly worse than others.  About a week and a half in I was in pretty bad shape.  I hadn’t been feeling well and was unable to stomach the food at our hotel, so I had barely eaten in two days.  This started to take a toll when we were on a tour one afternoon because I was just so weak.  My boyfriend was noticeably stressed about this situation and after consulting with the tour guide, who was unable to suggest an easy non-Indian restaurant option, my boyfriend suggested we go to McDonald’s.  “I know you don’t like McDonald’s, especially when we are overseas, but at least we know what they have and you should be able to get something that you can actually eat.”  I agreed.  We went to McDonald’s and ordered one of every item on the menu, complete with the Chicken Maharaja Mac, a McVeggie and a LambBurger.  It ended up being one of the most memorable meals of my life:
Now when I travel overseas, if the opportunity presents itself I visit a McDonald’s.  I consider it a kind of tribute.  So, when I was in South Africa last week I visited McDonald’s. Twice actually.  The first time I visited I thought I was going to die.  I had early morning meetings at Vaal University and didn’t have any time to eat breakfast beforehand.  By the time I finally left campus it was 2pm and I was ready to start chewing my fingers I was so hungry.  The first sign I saw driving out of campus was for a McDonald’s.  I figured this was my opportunity. I got a burger and fries kid’s meal.  I ate about four bites of the burger and half the fries before I threw it all in the trash.  About 30 minutes into my one hour drive back to my hotel I had to pull into a gas station I was so sick.

I spoke to a friend that evening and decided I could get a bad McDonald’s meal anywhere.  Perhaps this was just a fluke.  So the next day I went to the McDonald’s two blocks from my hotel.  There was actually a distinct reason for doing this: I wanted to test out the drive-thru.  Since the steering wheel is on the right and we drive on the left here I wanted to see if this impacted drive-thrus.  Answer: No significant difference (I hope all you professors and grad students out there laughed at my academic humor just now).

The drive-thru McDonald’s meal was as underwhelming as the previous one.  But at least I didn’t feel sick afterward which was particularly good as I stopped at the drive-thru on the way to the airport.  And we all know what happened at the airport.

But, at least now I have experienced McDonald’s in Africa.  One of my neighbors here went to McDonald’s in South Africa several months ago.  He highly recommended the ice cream.  Perhaps if I am feeling adventurous on my next trip to SA I will shoot for “third time’s the charm.”

Friday, January 17, 2014

My 2014 New Year’s Resolutions

I know, it is the 16th of January and I am just now posting my New Year’s Resolutions.  As a person who is chronically prompt, this probably sounds as if I am a little late to the party.  Oh contraire my friends.  I am actually right on time.

Today is my birthday.  (By the way, thank you to everyone who sent me messages today.  It is nice to hear from friends when I’m so far away from home.) I am really not one to celebrate much, particularly something where I am the center of attention, such as my birthday.  But my birthday directly relates to my New Year’s Resolutions.  I have a lot of close friends who are January babies.  Many of them, and I, have a unique approach to New Year’s Resolutions.  Rather than beginning our resolutions on January 1st we begin on our birthdays.  I suppose in reality you could do this with any birthdate or month, but for some reason this seems to be prevalent among my fellow January birthday buddies.  I like this approach because it gives me a little extra time to determine my resolutions.

In reality I don’t tend to make New Year’s Resolutions, I make goals.  Looking back on 2013 I feel as if I accomplished a fair amount.  But I have a few more goals for the coming year. In reality my list is always evolving, but this is the final draft as of today:

1. Record at least 15 hours of academic writing per week.  For the last several years I’ve aimed for two hours of academic writing (Research only. Blogs, emails, Facebook posts, Tweeting and anything written for a class or my Associate Chair position doesn’t count) per weekday.  Since two hours a day has worked successfully and I have some lofty writing goals I want to accomplish this year I’ve decided it’s time to shoot for more.

2. Read 40 books.  Last year I read 36 books.  I think I can do better.

3. Get at least three journal articles accepted.  I actually had six accepted last year, but that was because I had a lot of graduate students helping me.  Since I’m on my own here in Botswana I am hoping to get three accepted and then finish an additional two.

4. Try one new recipe each week.  I really enjoy cooking, but it is more of a challenge here than you might think.  A few days ago I went to the store and my protein options were limited to ox tongue, chicken feet, and gizzards.  Needless to say, the best recipe is often abandoned or drastically altered due to lack of inventory.  But, I am determined to be creative in the kitchen.

5. Train like crazy to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I was supposed to climb Kili in December, but due to illness I had to postpone it.  This time around I am determined to avoid any colds, flus or other ailments by being as healthy as possible.

6. Never travel with luggage again.  After my recent lost luggage incidents in South Africa and Ethiopia I would like to aim to travel with only my passport, credit card and toothbrush. 

I’m not so sure how realistic that last goal is, but at least it will be an interesting challenge!  Happy 2014 Everyone!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Las Vegas Could Learn a Thing or Two

Last week, when I was in Johannesburg (before the unfortunate airport incident), I had a free afternoon and decided to take advantage of the time by visiting one of the main attractions in the area, the Apartheid Museum.  I figured with Nelson Mandela’s recent death that there may be some interesting exhibits about him.  I was correct.

The Apartheid Museum itself was good.  Actually, I should revise that statement.  By African standards the museum was exceptional.  However, having visited at least half of the 17 Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. and countless other museums around the world, the Apartheid Museum was adequate.

I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a museum connoisseur, but I can appreciate a good museum.  My mother thinks I am the most annoying person, second only to my father, when it comes to museums.  “Seriously, do you have to read EVERYTHING on EVERY SIGN EVERYWHERE? Where’s the gift shop?  Find me when you’re finished.”  I blame my father for this character flaw.  Of course, I don’t highjack road trips to take unwilling passengers to battlefields and proceed to reenact Picket’s charge.  So, I suppose I could be worse.

I will hand it to the Apartheid Museum though; there were lots of exhibits, plenty of photographs, videos and documentation.  The information about the arbitrary reclassification of people into different races during Apartheid was something I was unfamiliar with and really enjoyed learning about.  However, I felt the museum was arranged in a confusing manner. There was no real flow and you often had to backtrack from one area to the next.  A little more attention to direction and organization would have made a world of difference.

Here’s the interesting thing about the Apartheid Museum:
No, I didn’t mix up my pictures, that above is deliberate.  The Apartheid Museum is actually located on the property of the Gold Reef Theme Park.  You enter the gate and drive to the left for the museum.  To the right is the casino and theme park.  Here is the real Apartheid Museum:
After my visit to the museum I figured I should visit the casino and theme park, since it is related to my job and reason for being in Africa in the first place.  First of all, I thought it was kind of brilliant to have a theme park AND a casino on the same property.  You could bring your kid and let them roam free and enjoy the rides (if they are old enough) or let your spouse or a babysitter stay with the younger ones while you go to the casino and gamble.  I didn’t want to pay for entrance to the theme park, but I looked at the map and talked to a few workers and it appeared to be quite sufficient by most theme park standards.

Then I went to the casino.  The casino was an excellent experience.  I was slightly surprised that you had to go through full airport-style security (x-ray machine for all bags, metal detector, wanding by guards) right at the entrance to the property.  I did a few laps around the casino floor and realized I could breathe!  This is why:
I love this idea.  The first three letters on the sign were burnt out, so it looks like King Casino.  In fact, I thought that was the real name until I entered the sliding glass doors and then realized it was actually the SMOKING casino.  What a brilliant idea.  I asked one of the casino managers and she said the main casino floor which includes about 75% of the games is non-smoking.  The remaining 25% is the smoking casino.  I love it.  Everyone is happy, you can play wherever you like, and if you don’t like the smoke, or are allergic, you can protect your health.

Another great idea which I think Las Vegas might consider adopting is that there was a Kid Zone. Part of the kid zone had boardwalk type games the kids could play themselves.  There were attendants there to supervise them.  Or you could put your younger kids in daycare:
Regardless of what you do with your kids, the casino checks in the kid and the parent.  The child may only be left alone for 2 hours.  After the time limit expires the parent must claim the child and depart.  The parent cannot immediately check the kid back in.  The casino gives both the child and the parent matching arm bands with GPS capabilities.  It locks on the arm so if the parent attempts to leave the casino security will see them at the door and refuse exit.  The GPS means that the parent can be located anywhere on property so if the two hour time limit expires without them returning to claim their child the casino can see exactly where they are and hunt them down.

All in all, I ended up being very happy the museum was on the casino/theme park property.  If it hadn’t been I would have never visited the casino and realized how Las Vegas could really learn a few things from what is going on here.  Here is one thing I did find a little funny:
Any of my Hospitality and Tourism students out there reading this BETTER pick up on what I am referring to in that sign.  As for everyone else, the casino industry does not use the term gambling.  Instead, they opt for gaming.  Gambling insinuates a vice, something dangerous or bad.  Gaming connotes recreation and fun.  So you will never see or hear anyone use the term gambling in Las Vegas.  If you work in Vegas and say the word “gambling” to a customer you will almost certainly be reprimanded if someone hears you.

According to the casino manager I met there are only a handful of casinos in South Africa, but their popularity is growing.  And the casino is the main attraction.  It is mostly locals who come to the casinos; there are practically no tourists there at all.  In fact, that casino had only 34 hotel rooms for exclusive use by high rollers.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Breakfast of Champions

Today I went to the grocery store and there was only one option in the fresh meats section:

In case you are second-guessing what you read, that picture above is of Ox TONGUE.  Not ox tail.  Not ox liver.  Not ox heart. Ox Tongue.  By the way, I do eat ox tail, ox liver and ox heart with some amount of frequency.  But ox tongue is a bit outside my comfort zone.  I understand you have to boil it and then peel the skin off the tongue before you eat the meat inside.  I decided to pass.  Perhaps it will be a vegetarian kind of week.

In all fairness, there were several options in the frozen section.  Chicken feet, chicken necks and gizzards tend to dominate the coolers.  Most of us would not typically consider many of these as viable options.  The sad thing is the fact that they aren’t even locally grown.  About half the chicken farmers in Africa have gone out of business in the last decade.  The reason for this is because chicken farms in the EU are heavily subsidized and send the “parts not suitable for consumption” to Africa.

On a high note though, there were two bunches of asparagus and three one-ounce containers of blueberries at the grocery store.  I bought them all.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Back to Square One

Remember last week when I was so excited to have received some gifts from the U.S. and my luggage that was lost back in November in Ethiopia?  Well, now everything is gone.

On Saturday morning I went to the Johannesburg airport for my flight back to Gaborone.  I was so excited to go home.  I had finally received my luggage that had been missing for over a month, and on top of that I had seen a friend from the U.S. who had brought me a few goodies I had been unable to purchase here.  All I needed to do was fly 40 minutes back to Botswana and then I could enjoy some peace and quiet, and my STUFF!
But an easy 40 minute trip is never easy in Africa. The first problem came when I arrived at the airport.  I’ve seen this phenomenon in China and I hate it: You arrive at the airport and someone approaches you and asks where you are going.  This is typically a well-dressed person who appears to be someone official, as if they work in the airport.  Well, they don’t.  They “help” you and then either demand a very large tip, or they just flat out rob you.  The problem is, the airlines know about it, security knows about it, and nothing is done to save unsuspecting tourists from a dire fate.

I’ve seen these people before and since I already known the scam they intend to pull I avoid it.  Normally threatening to scream helps, “Get away from me! I know you are here illegally! If you don’t leave me alone I will scream! Go find someone else to rob!” If you are nice they will rob you anyway, so you have to be overly aggressive and downright mean to get them to back off. This time I misjudged the situation.  The scam artist cornered me as I was getting off the escalator with my trolley full of luggage.  I gave my well-rehearsed and frequently used line and he said, “Ok.”  Then he proceeded to wrestle the trolley away from me and push it back down the escalator.  Despite my backpack (which contained my laptop) falling a good 50 feet or more, the only thing that happened was that the battery popped out, which I was able to jimmy back into place.  Crisis averted. However, it still made me mad.  Here’s why it really made me mad:  I went back down the escalator, retrieved my things, but my bags back on the trolley and returned upstairs.  When I got there two security guards were talking to Chris (the scam artist).  Point being, THEY KNEW HIS NAME! This guy was a regular!  Couldn’t they arrest him for something? Anything? Destruction of property? Trespassing?  In India you cannot enter the airport without a ticket.  I would love for them to implement that rule here.
Despite the security guards hanging out with an obvious criminal, likely talking about last night’s cricket match, I continued to the check-in counter, got my ticket, handed over my bags, proceeded to security.  As I was standing in line at the passport counter I turned my ticket over and realized my claim ticket had the surname Mwai listed, along with Walvis Bay (which is in Namibia) as the destination.  Once through passport control I looked closer and realized I had two different baggage claim tickets, one had my name and destination, the other was for Mwai.  I went to the South African Express information desk, explained the situation with the wrong bag tags and was told to go to my gate.  Went to my gate, explained the situation and was told to return to the SA Express transit desk (on the opposite side of passport control).  At the transit desk was told to return to the main check-in counter.  At the main check-in counter I talked to another person (the man who checked me in was gone when I got there).  She made four phone calls and was told they could not issue a new bag tag, so they would just move the bag to the correct pile of luggage for Gaborone.  Yes, I agree, this sounded very official (insert eye roll here).  Turned around to head back to security so I could go back through passport control again, and who did I see?  That’s right, Chris!

Fast forward to boarding the plane.  The plane was packed.  The planes between a lot of the shorter African destinations are smaller prop planes, but they can still hold a fair amount of people.  My plane was sold out; every seat was full.  This meant there had to be at least 60 people on the flight.  After we boarded we sat on the tarmac for almost an hour before we took off, which was unusual, but not exactly the end of the world.  Of course, it was 100 degrees out, and therefore uncomfortable, but sweating is my natural state of being here, so no big deal.
When we arrived in Gaborone I did what I always do and sprinted across the tarmac towards passport control in order to be first in line.  Then I went to the baggage carousel to retrieve my luggage.  Normally I get my luggage and depart before everyone gets through passport control, but this time the wait was so long everyone was milling around.  The baggage never arrived.  Finally a lone baggage handler appeared and said, “It’s ok, come over here.”  Since there is only one baggage area I literately thought maybe he was taking us back to the plane to offload the luggage ourselves.  I would have been ok with that.  But it was not to be.  Instead he took us to the check in counter and then disappeared.  Then another person arrived and said no luggage was loaded onto the plane at all.  He needed everyone to fill out paperwork regarding lost luggage.

Long story short, they never loaded any bags on the plane at all.  Not quite sure where the common sense was in that decision.  I would like to think one person who worked at the Joburg airport would have questioned the fact there were no bags to load.

In the last 48 hours six South African Express planes have arrived in Gaborone from Johannesburg.  They can tell me with great certainty that the bag tagged for Mwai never made it to Walvis Bay.  But they also can’t tell me where it is.  Maybe Chris has a deal worked out with the Johannesburg baggage handlers as well as the security guards.