Birthday-splosion

Saturday I went to my first African theme park. It was a small 50 pula place that had maybe five rides
(mostly the twirly spinny kind) and a wave pool. It’s the first time I’ve been invited to do something that lasted longer then a meal and with people I had befriended on my own. I had a marvelous time and hope I can do more with those lovely ladies before I leave!

Early August I was informed, by some of M&P’s friends, that they were planning a birthday bash for three people who’s birthdays all fell around the same time mine did. When I informed them that my golden birthday was fast approaching, they quickly invited me to throw my special day in with theirs’. I was a little awkward at first since I felt as though I were intruding, but soon realized that this was not the case. They were more then happy to add my name to the celebration list.

There was barbeque, karaoke, booze, and dancing. I think one of the best moments of the evening was when the whole room was singing “We are the World.” Understand that we had Kenyans, Ugandans, Americans (white and black), Ethiopians, Gay Republicans, US Marines, Asians, Indians, folk from Botswana, and Filipinos. There were folk from a number of different educational, traditional, cultural, and economic backgrounds. It was fantastic.

I

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More new experiences and a pub

I went to karaoke on Thursday with a few of the people I met through Matt and Premal as well as a few marines that I met recently. (Seriously…marines stationed in a landlocked country? Where’s the sense in that?) I got to make a fool out of myself singing Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen with both of the marines. I also got to be a back up singer when we sang “It’s Raining Men.” It was a lot of fun!

Friday was full of birthday celebrations, food, more hanging out at the marines’ party, and attempting to go dancing. These marine guys get massive shipments of books…which makes them my new best friends over here. Books in Gabs tend to be rather expensive and I am not a citizen or a student, which means no library books for me either. The dancing was a failure unfortunately. It wasn’t until later that we understood why people were blowing piercing plastic whistles to the boring thump thump thump house beat. It was whistle night. Go figure.

I took a combi for the first time on Saturday. A combi is like the dirty love child of a bus and a carpooling system. They look like one of those “free candy” vans, but with semi-tinted windows. The drivers try to get as many passengers as their vans can hold, which means there’s a higher likelihood that you are going to be seriously squashed up between some strangers who smell distinctly unpleasant. There was a near constant game of musical chairs as we stopped every twenty feet to let someone else on and another person off. Still, I was able to go over ten kilometers for about 3.50 pula.

Monday I went with Mathew to George’s pub where George was having his birthday. I ended up sitting with Shanti-Lo and friends while Matt played his sax. She is incredibly friendly, though I think that might have been because Matt told her I was a little star-struck. Not a whole lie…but I do wish he hadn’t told her! There was only one bit of unpleasantness that night. While we were driving home, we noticed a huge line up of stopped cars and what looked like an accident. Matt pulled over to see if they needed a doctor while I waited in the car, intending to stay out of the way. I kept seeing people pull over and literally run over to the accident. I started to feel rather awestruck at how much people around here wanted to help. I later learned of my naivete. They were doing the American form of rubber necking. Whereas Americans keep driving and just slow down a bit to stare, these folk will actually pull over and run over to watch the spectacle in person.

Switching to a selfish, personal topic: I was recently very excited to find an apartment that fit my parameters and price range. I never for a second believed I wouldn’t get it. Yesterday I received an e-mail informing me that I had been rejected due to the fact that I was not currently employed. Bullshit. I have enough money to pay for three months worth of rent, not to mention that my family has agreed to sign paperwork saying that they will back me since the complex required that I earned at least double the rent. I was…really excited. I thought I would finally be able to live alone for the first time in a wonderful, safe neighborhood only 15 miles from downtown Atlanta. I even started planning furniture and dreaming about how I would decorate the place. I know I shouldn’t have my heart set on just one place….but this one looked really amazing. I’ve already informed my mother of the situation. My family has been amazingly helpful throughout all of my job and apartment searches. They had even offered to mail the paperwork in for me so that I could move right in when I flew back to the states. I can’t begin to elaborate on how much I hope that we figure some way to work all of this out. Knowing that I had a place to live when I returned, a place that was mine, had steadied me. Now even that has been taken from me. If this does not work out, then I guess all I can do is keep searching.

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Camp Hope

I spent Sunday – Thursday working every day at Camp Hope. Camp Hope is a camp for HIV+ kids with adherence as well as other social problems. It hurt, at first, seeing all those kids and how horribly malnourished they looked. It’s not just the fact that their families have difficulty affording the food, but also the ARVs (anti-retrovirals) often make the kids nauseous  and diminishes their already small appetites. Other times kids will get sores in their mouths and be in too much pain to eat. There was one kid with that situation. He hardly ate all weekend even though the doctor got him some teething cream to rub on it with hopes of numbing the spot.

We almost lost one child on the first day. I mean that in the literal sense not in the “he almost died” sense. His mother had instructed his sister to take him to camp. She had apparently decided not to and this poor ten year old decided he’d get to camp by himself. He got lost without a phone. I have no idea how the mother found out he was lost, but she called us. Some of the counselors had to take a car down to the area where the kid might have been and go searching. Now understand that no one knew what he looked like and all we knew about him was his name. I can only imagine that they were driving down yelling out the kid’s name and hoping someone would respond. Luckily they did manage to find him. When he got to camp, he was immediately taken to the cafeteria for food before the cafeteria ladies finished cleaning up. While he was gone, the doctor and I looked through his bag for his meds. She made a comment that struck me….that this little bag (a child’s rollaway bag) probably held all the clothing he owned. There was no soap, no toiletries, and one toothbrush buried at the very bottom of the bag. Luckily we did have extra soap and whatnot in case something like this happened.

I worked with an older woman named Marietta as an Arts and Crafts instructor. It was simple work really. The kids were given blank dolls to decorate in whatever way they wished. I spent most of my time cutting out dresses and other garments for the dolls. I’ve gotta say, some of the decorations were pretty creative! ::grins sheepishly:: I couldn’t resist the urge and made one myself with the help of several of the campers. I also taught them how to make bracelets out of string and would often sit and draw pictures with them.

My birthday was on Tuesday. I had planned all sorts of things (cheetah petting, oodi weavers, etc.) but when the day came, things that had happened in South Carolina weighed a bit too heavily and I didn’t feel much like celebrating anymore. Friends and murder suicides will do that to you.

I ended up getting called in to do work on a paper for UNICEF/UB before heading over to Camp Hope to teach a class. I had teased one of my co-workers, Chris, about not wishing me a happy birthday. What I didn’t expect was that when I arrived at Camp Hope, he had gathered all the kids there to sing happy birthday to me. Someone (one of the teen leaders I think) yelled that they should all give me a hug. I suddenly had 50 kids surrounding me in a giant group hug, all still singing happy birthday. I almost cried. It was probably the sweetest birthday present I have ever received.

It was amazing to see the kids go from shy and hesitant the first day to loud and exuberant the last. I do wish now that I had taken a bigger role in what was going on, but I’m happy to have done what little I did.

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San Bushmen

Life has been falling into a bit of a routine lately so there’s been not much to report. I wake up, go to work, play with the kids during my lunch hour, and then go home and, more often then not, work on knitting.

Working at the Baylor Clinic is an interesting experience. I spent the first two weeks doing data entry so that we could have the right statistics for various abstracts we were writing. (I admit that I did get a bit of a thrill seeing my name on such a professional paper.) Now I’ve gone a step past that. Collaborating with one of my co-workers, we’ve written an actual article that will soon be published in the UB/UNICEF book. The article revolves around a volunteer program here called “The Morning Play Group.”

“The Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence has identified a need among its patients for physical, emotional, and educational stimulation during extended waiting times at the clinic. In 2008, it established the Morning Play Group to promote healthy child development for HIV-positive children by creating opportunities for them to interact with their peers and improve their social skills through recreational and educational interventions, ultimately leading to improved clinical and mental health outcomes as well as a healthy transition into adolescence. Volunteers facilitate activities including structured play, reading, arts and crafts, and hygiene promotion.”

I’m slowly getting used to the culture here. Everyone is so laid back and relaxed! There is no rush to get work done or get anything done for that matter. I walk down the street and have people calling out greetings to me everywhere. (That might simply be because white + foreigner = money bags.) Still, at work there always seem to be only about three or four people who are working while everyone else is checking facebook or something along those lines. I also learned that promotion here isn’t based on achievements but more regarding how long you’ve managed to stay with the place so there’s not necessarily any incentive to do well.

Gaborone is a relationship based culture, so you have to be careful about how you talk to everyone. I’m very blunt and tend to get right to the point when I need to talk to someone about a certain matter. Here, I’m slowly learning how to talk the person up first before I get to the heart of the matter. While I can understand how it’s a more pleasant way to go about doing things, it’s a bit of a nuisance at times when I just need someone to contribute their part of the work. I’ve been informed by a local that Gabs is a very passive aggressive culture and honestly, I’m starting to think it might be true. There is an upside to it though. People always want to sit around and chat even if you’re a complete stranger.

Last Wednesday I joined Matt for a work-related dinner to welcome the provost of University of Pennsylvania (which has a program in Botswana, hence Matt having work here.) It took place on a hill top in the middle of the Mokolodi Game Reserve. The food was excellent and conversation was lovely. ::laughs:: We debated the pros and cons of natural birth over dinner. I also met some fiber artists and might have even gotten a new customer!

They also had traditional dance performers from the San Bushman. I really enjoyed watching their performances and wish I could make it to the huge dance festival taking place this weekend.

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Hooping and Concerts

I went to Matt’s lecture last Thursday. It was all kinds of interesting and compared biomedicine (aka western medicine) to traditional medicine (homeopathy and herbalists.) Apparently there are a sizable number of individuals who will attempt traditional medicine before going for biomeds. Now mind you, I am not opposed to traditional meds. Far from it in fact. However, when you are dealing with something serious like HIV or cancer, I would definitely say go for the biomeds and use traditional medicine as a last resort. A lot of traditional meds involve sucking, herbal remedies, and magical spells. Matt even mentioned one “doctor” who cured illnesses by having sex with his patients while they were in trances or anesthetized. Most did not know how HIV/AIDS was transferred. I’m going to see if Matt will let me post his lecture on this blog.

Matt and Premal had purchased an extra ticket so that I could go with them to Shanti Lo’s concert. Shanti Lo is a popular local transgender afropop singer. This is very unusual seeing as homosexuality is illegal in Botswana. She was fantastic. A true performer. Not only was she rocking out on stage, but she wandered around controlling the rest of the band and keeping an ear on everything. It was an intimate audience and I actually got to introduce myself and shake her hand after the show.

Saturday we went to the Mokolodi Game Preserve. i. Unfortunately there weren’t too many animals out, but I did get to see a giraffe and an eagle from a distance. We had dinner at the restaurant they had on site. A 50 pula burger that was so good I’m still nomming on it. Botswana beef is amazing! What made the evening more spectacular was the random wild animals that would wander close to the restaurant to feed. We got to see warthogs, rhinos, and impala standing not five feet away.  I had one of those “gods this is a special moment” when I was eating chocolate mousse, discussing women’s rights in sub-saharan Africa with interesting people, and watching the rhinos eat dinner in front of me.

I even finished a new knitting project! My first African critter – an octopus. Pictures will be posted soon.

Today was incredibly epic as well. I went to Matt’s jazz gig again at the golf club intending to seek out the ladies from the previous week who had wanted to learn hooping. Instead I was pulled aside by a gentleman named Barry who organizes the gigs. He told me that they were having bikers come in and wanted me to be their special feature presentation! The bikers were complete sweethearts who actually did a great deal of charity work. We sat around chatting while the music played. Then Barry instructed me to get my hoop. I had my very first performance in front of a large group of people! Now I know that I’m only intermediate at best, but I can still do a lot of tricks that most of these folk apparently haven’t seen before. I even got a number of folks in the audience to try their hand with my hoop. I really need to get to making more of those! (Especially since I now have the materials.) My evening was made epic when Shanti Lo showed up and was even willing to sing a few songs to the crowd. I hooped to her singing and didn’t think she’d even notice me sequestered in my corner. Apparently she did because when I passed her, she hugged me and complimented me on my dancing. I was beyond thrilled!

It has been a wonderful weekend and I can only hope this work week will involve some kind of thinking. If it did I could not be more happy and satisfied.

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Jazz music

I went to Matthew’s gig last Sunday. Let’s just say because of it, I now have a hooping class to teach on Sunday. ::sigh:: I have a feeling it’s going to be more of a hooping demonstration then anything else. I’m still looking for materials, but have trouble creating them do to severe lack of funds and lack of mobility. Luckily for me, Matt has agreed to take me to the hardware store to see if they have the right tubing. Electrical tape should be fairly easy to find. I hope these ladies won’t mind reimbursing me for the materials!

So if you ever wondered what the gent who’s crazy enough to let me stay in his home for two months looks like…

Playing his saxaphone, of course.

My job is interesting. They mostly just hand me a task and say “do this.” Right now I’m working on categorizing a list of kids who come to a morning play group. Not really the most sophisticated of tasks, I’ll admit. This morning play group is designed to provide something for the kids to do while they wait for their doctor’s appointments. One of the people who runs this saw me hooping today and actually invited me down tomorrow to teach the kids a thing or two.

There’s a camp that people have been planning for quite some time now. It’s for kids with HIV and kids who are just sick and haven’t been tested yet. (getting tested is a choice after all.) They learn about nutrition, play games, and take their meds together. It’s one of those “sure you’re sick…but life doesn’t have to suck all the time!” kind of camps. I’ve been talking to my supervisor about maybe including a knitting or a hooping class for the kids. He seems fairly interested. I’ve already located a yarn store in town and will be going there tomorrow to request sponsorship. I’m seriously considering volunteering for this camp. What could possibly be a better way to spend my birthday while in town? I don’t really know enough people to invite other then the few I’ve met at work (most of whom are leaving before my birthday) and Matt and Premal’s friends. I don’t really have any of my own friends around here yet. I know it’s really early…but ::shrug:: we’ll see.

I’m certainly learning a lot about AIDS and the pandemic going on right now. A lot of what I’ve been reading discusses the falsities that are perpetuated in modern society. For example, you can’t get the HIV from sharing a glass of water with someone who is infected. Also the medications (ARVs) drop the virus so low that the CD4 count remains high and strong. A person could live a normal, healthy life even if they have HIV. They just need to remember to take their medication every day at the exact same time. Now it’s not all flowers and cotton candy. There’s a lot of shit these folk have to deal with regarding what’s going on in their own bodies, but it’s certainly not like they’re going to keel over and die within a month of contracting the virus. In fact, someone who is taking their meds regularly and properly has a less then 10% chance of infecting someone else, especially if they’re cautious.

One of the things Botswana is dealing with regarding the regular usage of these medications is that traditional medicine is still very popular here. I asked one of my co-workers what she meant exactly by “traditional medicine.” She explained that it was tinctures, herbs, and things of that nature. Sometimes these traditional medicines will work poorly with the ARVs (antiretrovirals) causing the individual to have a greater number of side effects such as vomiting, rash, fever, and other such nasties.

One thing that especially shocked me was to learn, from my supervisor, that the International AIDS Conference (http://www.aids2010.org/) had very few people from Africa present. Most of the folk there were from Europe or the states. The Africans apparently had had difficulty obtaining visas. This, in my opinion, is total bullshit. The population with the greatest number of individuals with AIDS and HIV live in Africa. There had also been a distinct lack of representation of children born with HIV. I’m not saying that other folk don’t have a valid point, but seriously….these kids didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter. They were born sick.

My supervisor pointed out something to me when I made a comment about something I’d learned in college regarding the spread of HIV in the US. He said that it was rather sad and interesting that even though the US only has pockets of serious infection, it is providing the greatest amount of research. He made it sound as if people were ignoring Africa’s pandemic. I want to do more research on this matter to see if this is really what’s going on. It sounds too ridiculous to be true.

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At which point, monkeys attack

Apparently my siblings are trying to show me as much of Africa as possible in my first few days while I’m still recovering from jet lag. (Jet lag = a much sillier and fuzzier world.)

We first journeyed to the Bokaa Dam, which was located within 100 feet of a very small village named (wait for it…) Bokaa! I wish I had gotten pictures, but, well, there were enough people outside that I felt obligated to ask permission first, which was impossible at the time. The houses consisted primarily of one or two open air rooms painted a lime green color with flat roofs. Occasionally they would have rondables constructed of mud, cow dung, heat, and water.

(thank you googles)

We actually gave a small family a ride back to their house while questing to find the entrance to the dam. The woman and her three children looked as if they’d walked quite some distance already in an effort to see the woman’s sick sister. Apparently on Saturdays it is also a common practice for families to gather outside under the shade of a tree and just spend time together. The men are often in clusters drinking a kind of beer called Chibuku. It tastes, according to my siblings, as if you had swallowed some beer, burped it up, and found what came up had some chunks in it. That chunky regurgitated beer in your mouth would be very similar to Chibuku. Enjoy!

This is the Bokaa Dam. It was an incredibly lovely day as well.

There were donkeys

This picture is to make up for the fact I couldn’t get a picture of the donkey cart that we passed on the way to the dam. I’m positive I’ll get to see more in the future.

After spending about an hour wandering around the dam where I saw my first termite nest. Seriously, these things are huge!

About ten minutes before the sun started to set, we headed toward Gabarone Game Preserve.

Ostriches! Matthew (my brother) pointed out that these ones in particular were males since they had the yellow plumage. Females have gray feathers instead.

Impalas....also known as African deer

These are Kudu. I was lucky enough to catch one looking right at me!

This is a Kudu.

Warthogs, in South Africa, are called "Pumbas"

::Grins:: I was so pleased to catch a shot of warthogs. They’re really skittish and actually got scared off at one point by some aggressive monkeys. Apparently, in South Africa, they’re called Pumbas.

This is the national bird of Botswana. It's the Lilacbreasted Roller.

This is the national bird of Botswana. It’s called a Lilacbreasted Roller.

Now we come to the funny story of the day. You see this dude?

Little guy sitting on the side view mirror. Him. The owners of that car decided that they wanted to get out for some odd reason, so he decided to climb onto their car while they were out. Little dude was aggressive! We were still in our car and nothing scared him off. One of the ladies even tried to bum rush him when he was on the roof. He took several steps toward her, bared his teeth, and swiped at her! He finally left on his own accord even after we got our car really close to theirs and honked at him. At one point, in desperation, Premal (my sister-in-law) pulls out a little flashlight to try and scare him off with it.

These monkeys were so aggressive that we had to roll our windows up anytime we saw them. They have been known to jump into car windows in search of food.

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