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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: First day here

It’s now Thursday and I’ve been here for more than 24 hours already. It was a long two days of travel but I did stop off in London and visited with my uncle for a few hours.

Seated on the plane next to me going to Johannesburg (it’s referred to as Jo’burg) was a interesting woman from Capetown, South Africa who was returning from her vacation in the Caribbean. We got to talking about her work and she is a medical supplies salesperson who visits Botswana often so she was able to give me some insight to Gaborone. I learned that the pronunciation is Hab-or-o-nay and affectionately called Gabs.

The plane was late arriving in Jo’burg, and when I went to check in at South African Airways, they needed my baggage claim tag which was not returned to me by the Virgin Atlantic agent in London. I was told that I would have to call Virgin Atlantic to get the tag number or my luggage would not go on the plane. I finally tracked it down and was on my way to Gaborone. After the hassle at Jo’burg, guess what? I arrived safely MINUS my luggage!! I had no luggage, no definite idea where I would be staying and worried that I had taken so long filling in the paperwork for the lost luggage, that whoever went to the airport to receive me would have left. I had visions of me walking into town on some strange road. That didn’t happen.

I was picked up by Lemogang and he called Katherine (everyone here has a cell phone) who agreed to wait at the corner of the road at a round-about where I would be taken to my place of residence for the next month.

Katherine besides being nice and friendly, was so helpful. She took me to get my keys from one of my house mates Justin and then to Sedibeng to meet the staff, then to the grocery store later in the evening, then to Kathy’s place where Katherine is house sitting (and where I’ll be house sitting next month). I have three housemates – Emily and Sarah who live in the house with me, and Justin who lives in one the guest rooms at the back of the house. We all share the kitchen. This is a new thing for me – to share my kitchen.

I got my luggage later in the evening and unpacked, had a shower and bed by 11:45pm (I slept for approximately 4 hours in my two 2 days of travel). Mitho at Sedibeng said not to come in for a few days if I was tired but I went in today for a few hours.

I set up two databases – one for volunteers and interns and the other for students. Mitho was ill today so I did as much as I could with it. Jayanthi and her daughter Priya are two volunteers at the centre. Priya is visiting from the USA and she’ll be returning there at the end of the month. Jayanthi is living here with her husband who is a pastor. As soon as I’m done setting up the fields for the database, I’ll show her how to do the data entry. Right now she is doing it on paper and it’s hard to keep track of the numbers of students who are coming in for training or information or even those who have graduated. The database is a simple one but it’ll serve the purpose for the centre’s short and long term needs.
I also found out that Priya did a lot of work on a website design. She showed me some of it today and I’ll see the rest of it tomorrow. She leaves at the end of July so if I can get the content completed, we can actually have it up and running by the end of this month. That would be great because a lot of people have made valuable contributions and the site could serve as a place to acknowledge those contributions. In terms of publicity, this is another positive giant step for the centre.

I hope to meet with Mitho tomorrow if she is feeling better and talk about some short and long term goals for the centre and where I would fit in best. Emily (my housemate) has been at Sedibeng for a few weeks and she’s been very helpful with information regarding the centre as well as information about cell phones, grocery, shopping, safety and just about anything else that I need. I was in the grocery store today and was wandering around various isles when I felt someone jostling me from the back while a man at the front of me was smiling. I immediately sensed that something was wrong so backed up against the cooler and smiled back and gave them the right-of-way. When they moved, I walked away. Two or three minutes later, the grocery clerk who was observing all this told me to be careful that the two men were trying to get into my backpack for my wallet. Fortunately he saw them and asked them to leave the store. Needless to say, I was being extra careful after I left the store because it would be easy for them to follow me.

I suppose this is the kind of life experience that is not part of the internship and although we are told to be careful, we don’t always have ways of measuring safety so we tend to think that safety means whatever we are used to.
For the new and future interns, what’s the lesson? Pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t walk and act too much like a tourist. Listen to the people who have walked the route you are now taking. They have valuable advice and they know what they’re talking about. I’ve travelled many places in the world but still I think sometimes I’m not as careful as I should be. Perhaps my intuitive self said that something wasn’t right today so that’s why I backed up against the cooler and smiled. It could just be that the two men accidentally jostled me and I could somewhat have overreacted (since the store wasn’t crowded, it felt intentional and that’s what made me feel uncomfortable).

It’s late now and I don’t have internet at my house or for that matter a telephone (another thing that I have to get used to) so I’m typing and will have to save this to a disk and cut and paste into my blog when I go to the centre in the morning. The other BIG thing for those of you who know me and know how much I dislike owning a cell phone is that I am now compelled to buy a cell phone.

I may use this weekend to do some sightseeing. Lots of places to go but not much time. Tomorrow night there is a welcome party at Kathy’s house for some Uniterra volunteers and Inuit students who are here for a period of time to work with the San people. I don’t know all the details as yet but I’ll find out tomorrow night when I meet them. Katherine as me to go early to cook some peas and rice like the kind I cooked last night at her place. Yes, I’m having withdrawal symptoms if I can’t cook so the minute I see a stove in sight, I want to make something. So I made peas and rice and Katherine made a veggie curry and we had a lovely dinner.

I know now that my decision to do this internship here was the right one. I’ve met so many interesting people – people who genuinely care and who truly make a difference in the lives of a whole lot of people. If you haven’t considered volunteering, give it some serious thought. From what I’ve personally observed, the commitment by WUSC and other GNO’s is making a tremendous difference. It’s now 10:30pm and I have to get some sleep. I’m still trying to get adjusted to the time difference.

The house that I am sharing with three other people is filthy and that’s putting it mildly. I spent a good deal of time washing the floor and the bathroom and washed the bedding before I could sleep. Whoever was there before me was pretty dirty. I’m going to get a cleaning person to come in and clean the place. It’s so dirty that I’m scornful to eat anything. I asked Mitho today if she knows anyone and she said that she can ask the woman that cleans her house but the woman may not be able to do it till Friday. In the meantime, I’ll manage but it surprises me how people can live in such dirty conditions when there is no need for that. This is a pic. of the very dirty floor.