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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Johanesburg, South Africa: Eventful day getting to and in

What a night last night was!!! We were all prepared to go to Jo’burg when we got a text message from Courtleigh informing us that Kathy’s passport, cell phone and ID were stolen and the trip to Jo’burg was off. Kathy would not be able to get to South Africa without a passport and to say we were disappointed would have been an understatement. I emptied the suitcase I started packing and sulked around the house for an hour or so.
Then Kathy called and said that even though we couldn’t go, we could still do things around Gaborone for the weekend – perhaps go to Mokolodi Park. She was off to the police station to make a report after they said they would come to the office and did not show up. I suppose having a passport stolen does not pose any urgency to them.
I felt somewhat better after talking to Kathy because it seemed that everyone had plans for the long weekend and we’d have to stay home. A few minutes after her call, I phoned my family in Canada to say that I wouldn’t be going to South Africa after all. Within a few minutes of the phone call, Courtleigh called again and said that, unbelievably Kathy’s passport was turned into the police. A thief with a conscience. Sounds like an oxymoron but it’s true, she got her passport back and the trip was on again. So I called my family in Canada again and told them that the passport was returned and the trip was on again.
We hadn’t even left home for the weekend and the level of excitement was already high!!
This morning we left at 6:30am and drove to the Botswana border without incident. There were a total of seven in the WUSC van. There was Emily my house mate, Lisa who I was meeting for the first time, Kareem and Shoal who are located at Ghanzi with the San people, and Reynold. This part is unbelievable. Three of us were from Winnipeg. What are the chances that I would be travelling from Gaborone to Johannesburg with two other Winnipeggers who were total strangers to me. Reynold is Mennonite and looks exactly like Trent (my son-in-law) and his mom manages the resource centre at Ten Thousand Villages in Winnipeg where I go to buy special presents. He actually lived In Botswana when he was younger. We had some discussions about living in Winnipeg.
When we got to the South African border, we watched the long, long, long line in horror and debated whether fate was conspiring to keep us in Gaborone for the weekend. Or maybe fate was just testing us to see how badly we wanted to go and how much we’d appreciate what we were going to see. I am not kidding, there was a total of two immigration officers, one for South African nationals and one for visitors. Kathy wanted to turn around and go to another border but we decided to stay at the one we were. Kathy said that sometimes it used to take them 3 to 4 hours at the Zimabawe and Kenyan border and we all had a good haha about that. Welll, it took us a little over 3 hours to get to the front of the line and clear immigration and just as we were almost finished, the officers changed and Kareem and Shoal had to wait longer. We laughed and talked and ran out of things to say and had backaches and most likely sunburns by the time we were done. And we hadn’t even done anything yet.
We piled back into the van and off we went. On the way, we saw a cheetah and I don’t know which of us was moe surprised. I’ve never seen a cheetah in its natural habitat. I supposed we are the ones looking like we’re in the zoo. Nothing else eventful except for stopping by the roadside to buy fresh tangerines and avocados.
We saw several mining towns on the way into Jo’burg and Kathy explained how during apartheid, the people were so segregated that at the end of the work day, everyone would have to go back to their own communities. If they did not have the appropriate pass, they could be thrown in jail. The present day shantytowns are a testament to the segregation and the resulting poverty for over three quarter of the SA population of 40 million people.
Later that evening we arrived in Jo’burg and went to Kathy’s apartment to unload our suitcases. I should remember to pack more lightly. With all the travelling I’ve done, I should be skilled at it but whatever the baggage allowance, I always manage to pack two pounds lighter. We went out for dinner and Kathy called one of her friends Mohamed Bhayat who was an exiled South African and returned to SA in the mid 1990’s when apartheid was over to start rebuilding the country.
Mohamed was a fascinating man to listen to. He talked about the time of apartheid and how his family was exiled and lived in several countries including Zimbabwe, Holland and Canada. He told us about his wife and how she continued to work for the African National Congress and was jailed in Canada for protesting apartheid in South Africa. He talked about how the RCMP came to his house to ask questions during the period of the arrest. We didn’t want the evening to be over but we were tired from the long day’s travelling and activities. Mohamed promised that tomorrow we would visit another of his friends Issy and Ramni who were also anti-apartheid activists and were also jailed for doing so. What a day. I could hardly believe what I was hearing let alone meet one of the people who lived through such a time. How much time has to pass before something is considered history? That was not so long ago but it seemed like a lifetime. I went to bed with more questions than answers. In many ways, the apartheid of SA reminded me of my growing up years in Guyana.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Pictures, pictures, pictures….

I can’t believe how quickly the days seem to go by. It’s two days since my last entry. I had a very busy day yesterday. I went into the centre and worked for most of the day except for a brief period of lunch around 2:30pm. I did some more interviews for the website and will try to do the write up for them this weekend which is rather ambitious.

I took a lot of pictures of the students and some of them love having their pictures taken – multiple pictures all around the centre. Good thing (or bad thing) that I have a digital camera where they can see the results immediately. Each of them picked out the ones they liked of themselves and I saved them on to my trusty memory stick and they promptly went over to the photo store to get them developed. The only thing I asked was that they return my memory stick which cost me a lot of money or no more pictures.

I left the centre about 5:10pm and walked over to the WUSC office. It’s about 7-8 minutes and I even used the short cut that Emily showed me last week (I remembered it!). I met Kathy Stiles for the first time and offered to take me out to dinner. We went over to her house, had a cup of tea and a visit and went off to an Indian restaurant for dinner. It’s called 25° East. She asked me to order whatever I wanted and as it turns out, from a menu of over 100 items, I ordered the one dish that was her favourite – paneer and spinach with naan bread. The food was a welcome treat from the bread I was eating for the last few days of not feeling well.

We had a long talk about my studies and my areas of interest and I discovered that we have a lot in common – education, family and interests. She is such an interesting person and so well travelled. Her frequent flier miles must be adding up each year. She is going to Johannesburg on Saturday and has invited anyone who wants to come along to do so, including me. I said that I would happy to go. We’ll be visiting the Apartheid museum, the cradle of Humankind and a few other places where some families were displaced during the end of apartheid. She was living in Jo’burg in the late 80’s and saw first hand just how familiar apartheid was compared to growing up in the Southern US in the 60’s. It had an air of familiarity to me too because I grew up in Guyana during the time of the racial violence in the early 60’s when Guyana was fighting for it’s independence and one way to make sure that people did not form working alliances was to instigate racial tensions. It was a difficult time for some people. In fact it was a difficult time for all of us because ultimately, we all lost something – maybe it was the innocence of not seeing the difference in race or colour.
I was one of the privileged and as such I don’t think I spent much time worrying about those who didn’t have the same. It was only when I arrived in Canada and found myself a minority that I could start thinking about it. Till that time, it was a non-issue. I learned a lot over those years – good and bad – but the awareness was ever growing that we are not all created equal and it’s not so simple to say that in Canada, given the opportunity, everyone can be anything they want to be. From what I’ve seen, that’s not true. I see the same here. Some of the students are trying so hard but they just don’t have the resources to do what they want to do.

This morning I got up early – about 5am – to let out the guard (yes we have an electric fence, a automatic remote controlled gate, and a guard who comes from dusk to dawn). It’s my turn this week to open the gate so he can leave and each day I get up a bit earlier to let him out. I’m not sure if this will be popular with my house mates but I’m doing it anyway. I can justify it by saying that dawn is arriving a bit earlier each day. He spends the night out in the cold sitting on a chair with a cushion and two or three blankets. But it’s cold here and I just don’t think that’s sufficient for him!! I don’t know who I need to talk to about even building him a little enclosed shelter where he can stay. It seems harsh to say this but it’s almost inhumane. I purchased a little heater for my room on Tuesday and it’s barely big enough to keep the chill off my bedroom when I get out from my two blankets, much less being outside exposed to the elements. I don’t like to see stuff like that and I’m often told that I can’t save the whole world. I’m not even trying to but this just doesn’t seem right somehow. I was talking to the weekend guard a few days ago and he said he’s been guarding this house for over one year.

Since I couldn’t go back to sleep, I came into work early and decided to make banana loaves for the students. I went to the supermarket and bought the necessary ingredients and we made 5 loaves. Well that was a complete hit with everyone. They were laughing and dancing and happy that they got cake. At the end of the day, one student even said that she was going to go home and make it for her family. One loaf was given to Mme Gilika for her family’s weekend trip. She will be going to Palape for an unveiling of a tombstone of a family member. Another loaf will be saved for our Johannesburg trip tomorrow and the other three were scarffed (is that a word?) down by everyone.

Everyone left early today but I am here waiting for Winnie to return to lock up the building. I’m taking advantage of the time to do my journaling and blog while I still have internet access. This journaling is a lot of work. I’m actually combining my journaling and blog as a Word document and I cut and paste the parts of the journal on to the blog. There are some more personal things that I write in my journal that I am not posting on the blog but I just colour code that in yellow so I don’t mistake one for the other. Seems to be working so far and saves me saying the same thing in two documents. Joe (my advisor at York) will have a lot to read because he gets the whole thing and I am sometimes known to be wordy. My family and friends can attest to that and so can some of my profs.

Tomorrow we are off to Jo’burg very early. I think Kathy plans to leave at 6am but is there a Botswana time like there is a Caribbean time? Most West Indians are famous for being late – at least for parties. I must be the one of the exceptions that prove the rule. I’ll be ready for 6 but prepared to wait if I have to. I think it’s “Hurry Up and Wait”. You’d think I would be used to that being West Indian but I’m still trying with that one. I should mention to any f my family and friends reading this blog, YOU CAN POST A COMMENT OR TWO so I know you’re reading it!! It would be a shame if I wrote all this about my experience here and all I got from it was a semester’s worth of credits and no comments from you. So please, please, please….

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana: Sick as a dog far from home

It’s been two days since the last entry. Monday we worked on the website contents. I managed to interview some of the staff, take their pictures and write their bios. Everyone was quite excited to have pictures taken. It was a bit chaotic today because one of the students was absent from school for several days was located about 600kms from home. Likeleli’s (fashion design teacher) dad passed away in Lesotho and there was a small prayer service for her. She’ll be leaving tomorrow to go back for the funeral. I left the centre about 4:30 feeling like someone gave me a sound whipping. I went to bed really early and spent the night with what felt like a high grade fever.
Yesterday I woke up and felt like I was hit by a large truck so I decided that I should see a doctor in case it was something serious. I called the WUCS office and they directed me to the Capitol Medical Centre. Dr Shams-Razaghi was very professional and polite. He said that I might have caught a virus or a bacteria from travelling or maybe when I arrived here. One of my house mates was sick last weekend and it sounds like the same thing. He gave me some antibiotics and a pain relief meds. I had the prescription filled and walked home from the pharmacy which was only about 5 or 7 minutes from my house but it was one of the longest walks I think I ever made and I’ve done half marathons. Buying a heater yesterday also helped because it’s no fun to have a fever when the temperature in the house is only about 5C at nights. Hard to keep warm.
Tuesday night was spent mostly with bouts of chills and fever with showers in between. The last of the fever was about 5am today. It’s now about 6:30pm and the fever is back but not as bad as yesterday. I was a bit worried about the medical over here so I was glad I invested in extra health coverage for the trip. I’d hate to be sick here without benefit of a health plan. Fortunately Botswana has a good health care system and the Dr could see me within an hour of calling. Kathrine and Jayanthi called to make sure I was doing okay and to ask if I needed anything. When I’m feeling crummy, I like to be alone.
I went in to work a bit later than usual today although no one was expecting me. Magalika said she was going to surprise me with a visit but I beat her to it. They are all so very thoughtful.
I spent part of the day working on the website content and taking more pictures of student groups. I also took some pictures of various flower arrangements done be students so we can also put those on the website. We are hoping to market them to the general public. Maggie (the floral design teacher) had an order for three large arrangements for a funeral. She had to spend part of the day running around to various florist shops to find fresh flowers. They were expensive because they were retail. The centre usually buys the flowers directly from South Africa but because this is a long weekend, they decided not to place a big order because Monday and Tuesday are holidays and the flowers may not keep that long.
Part of what we hope to do with the website is to let people know that the centre does catering, has a student run restaurant and anyone can custom order flower arrangements. I’ve been taking pictures of the arrangements and I have to say they’re comparable to the best I’ve seen anywhere. Priya is sizing them to put on the website. I showed Jayanthi how to do the data entry in the in the database that I created and she was working on that today. Things are coming together.
Kathy retuned to WUSC today but I haven’t had a chance to meet her yet. She is planning a trip to Johannesburg from Saturday to Tuesday and I said I would go if I’m feeling up to it. I’ve heard various estimates from 3-6 hours. Does Mapquest work here too? If anyone knows the exact distance, email me and let me know before Friday evening – my time which is GMT+2. I have no computer access on the weekends. Sunset happens so quickly here. It seems that it’s light and then suddenly it’s dark. There doesn’t seem to be any twilight. I lived about 5° N of the Equator where day turns into night pretty quickly and I’ve lived in Winnipeg where the sun sets at 10pm in the summer. The difference is remarkable. I wonder if it’s the same in the summer? I’m going to have to check when I go home.
Tomorrow I’ll take some Maple Leaf pins I brought from Canada. I got them from the Department of Culture and Heritage. Well I didn’t get them myself. That was one of the tasks that my husband Robin did for me while I was frantically trying to pack and get ready.
Today I talked to my parents on Skype for FREE. Yes it’s actually FREE. For those of you who are paying astronomical cell phone rates or for family who are getting ripped off from phone cards back home, you should try this. Skype to skype is totally free anywhere in the world. There is a bit of a delay sometimes but you can work that out during the conversation. It’s easy enough to download and use. My parents who have never used a computer are now using it and they were pretty excited when they could actually talk to me. Sharm (my daughter) set it up for them. They even have a hotmail address. That’s a total endorsement of lifelong learning. I also talked to Sharm but didn’t get to talk to Sahana (my younger granddaughter) because she was watching the cartoon “Dora”. Now I just have to convince Sunita and Subhadra (my other daughters) to download the program so I can talk to Izabel (my older granddaughter) who misses me and won’t be satisfied to talk to her Auntie Sharm. This blog may seem a bit unorthodox with me writing about my family but that’s part of the experience – missing them and trying to find creative ways to keep in touch so the stay doesn’t seem so lonely. That’s the difficult part of being so far away. You can’t just jump on a plane and be there in two or three hours. I’m going to have some supper and do some light reading. All together a full day for someone not feeling well.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Gaborone, Botswana

It’s been a few days and I’ve been discovering the area.

Friday evening we went over to Kathy’s house for a welcome reception for the new arrivals including me. There were about 15 students from Nunavut who arrived on Friday evening from Canada and they looked pretty tired.

We had a braai (Barbeque). Katherine asked me to cook large pot of peas and rice and we had salad, french bread, a veggie dish and some pap (cereal made with cornmeal much like I used to drink in Guyana). There isn’t much missing from the supermarkets here. Apparently the meat is the best here because it’s free range so the quality is exceptional. I saw impala meat in the supermarket and I’ll try it some time.

When I was at the mall on Friday I saw a man selling earrings and other jewellery. He said it was ivory and when I asked what kind of ivory, he looked at me indignantly. I said that I thought it was illegal to have ivory but he said that it was real elephant ivory from Zimbabwe and it’s legal. I didn’t get the earrings because I read some information on Botswana and they are very strict about possession of animal parts or products – even a hair or a feather – without a special permit.

I spent yesterday doing some reading. My house mates went out with their friends so the house was pretty quiet. I went over to the mall and checked out some of the stores – the ones that were opened. Most of them close about 1pm on Saturdays. I was looking for an internet café but could not find any opened.

I went over to Jayanthi’s home for dinner and met her husband Jim. He just came back from the Kalahari and he said there were endless miles of sand. I guess that’s expected since it is a huge desert. They have travelled and lived in many places as missionaries and they are so interesting to talk to. Jayanthi is originally from India and Jim is from the US and they’ve lived in Canada, (Yukon Territories and Kingston, Ontario), the US, India, Lesotho and now Botswana.

We had a lovely dinner and Priya and I talked about some ideas for the Sedibeng website. I got my computer networked to access the internet when I’m at the centre so that’ll help tremendously when we are doing the website. I’m certain we’ll be able to build most of it before Priya leaves at the end of the month and with some luck, we may have it up and running.

They brought me home about 10:15pm and it was COLD!! You’d think for a Winnipegger who is used to -40C that this bit of cold would be nothing but our houses are heated as soon as the temperature starts to drop so we don’t feel the cold as much. It got me to wondering how people who live here all year without benefit of a heating system mange to keep warm when the temperature drops to freezing. They must be cold and what if they can’t afford warm clothes? I know when I was a teenager in Guyana and it rained, it was often damp and when the Atlantic winds blew in, we would shiver. I was fortunate to wear sweaters (we called them cardigans) but now I think back of the other students who didn’t have any. It was most especially cold if you got wet in the rain and had to stay at school all day in damp clothes.

I’m sitting outside in the yard right now and it’s actually warmer in the yard than it is in the house. I’m coming outside to warm up!! By this afternoon, the temperature will likely rise to mid 20’s and it feels good.

I went to a little café today and had coffee and a bun. Then I walked for about an hour just looking at the vegetation and comparing it to Canada and Guyana. It’s tropical here but the vegetation is different from that of Guyana.

Yesterday I spent part of the day cleaning the kitchen. The place has an awful smell but none of the others seem to mind. I think I will talk to the people at WUSC about screening the homes before placing us in them. I am paying rent for this place so it’s not free. I should expect a minimum level of cleanliness. Mitho came over on Friday to see the condition of the house and she was astounded at the condition. She said that she would not find this acceptable at all.

I found someone to clean the house and would have paid for the cleaning but Justin said that he is not comfortable with someone coming into the house to clean for security reasons. I offered to stay in the house with the woman while she was cleaning but he was not happy about that either. I even told him that she worked for the director of the centre but still he was not happy. I gave the woman the money anyway because she took the time to come to the centre to meet me. I’m having a hard time understanding issues about security. The house mates bring their friends over to visit and he doesn’t have a problem with that. My bedroom has a lock on the door but he can’t find the key for it so all my personal belongings are there for anyone of the room mates or their friends to go into the room. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with that but I’ll live with it. It’s interesting that all the visitors to the house so far are foreigners and the woman who was going to do the cleaning is Motswana. What does that say? That people from Botswana are less trustworthy but foreigners are more so?

Katherine took me to Otse this afternoon and I got a first hand look at village life. It’s certainly very different from Gaborone and it’s only about 40 minutes drive from the city. While going out of town, she pointed out a slum area of Gaborone called Naledi. The houses were shacks really and Katherine explained that many refugees settle there because the housing is all they could afford. Many people were left landless and settled in areas where the population density is extremely high. It was an eye opener for me. We picked up a Corinne and her friend and brought them back to Gaborone. She was in a car accident last week and when we saw the remains of the car, we thought how lucky she was to be alive. We went over to Kathy’s house and cooked dinner for about 9 people. The hospitality from the WUSC people is incredible.

The house where I am staying has a guard from dusk to dawn. When I came home tonight, he was standing in the yard and looking like he was shivering. I asked if he wanted a cup of tea with milk and sugar and he seemed surprised that I spoke to him. I asked him again and he said yes. He then asked if I had a slice of bread I could give to him. I felt terrible. He was cold and hungry!! I went inside and got him a hamburger left over from the evening’s soccer party and made him a big cup of tea. People are people everywhere. Even guards get cold and hungry and tired but sometimes we treat them as if they’re invisible – a part of the landscape really. It’s not something we like to admit but it happens. I must pay more attention.