Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday, March 27, 2009, departure from WAR

Yesterday my second to last day here, I really got another lesson in culture differences and in the lessons I have yet to learn in patience.

There was a scheduled staff potluck, which was brought forward a day for me. It is a monthly event to celebrate birthdays, note departures and other significant event.. It was to start at 1 pm and I was hungry. There were several people there on time. Then some people wandered in and out again. This went on for an hour and a quarter. People were still preparing food, going to the stores to buy the gifts and then to wrap them.

It all seemed crazy to me. After all the talk about team, I thought that nothing had penetrated. And I was hungry. Eventually, everyone did arrive and we all sat down, with a plate and / or cutlery, depending on its availability. I had no cutlery but thought I would just follow along. I thought; “Great now we will eat”. Whoa! The protocol dictated otherwise. First there had to be the appreciation of the birthday person and the two people leaving, of which I was one. I was amazed at my impatience – there is still more to learn, I realized!. Later I found out that social events like a dinner party can be called for 7 pm and the cooking will start at 9:30. The potluck apparently was done in pretty good time and other times the actual meal does not start until after 4 pm. Patience, going with the flow and eating ahead of time seem to b e necessary preparations!

There were lovely, laudatory speeches from many of the people present each taking about 5 minutes. Most people in turn acknowledged the three celebrants and it finished with the final words by the coordinator. In the middle of that I got a call and had to leave the party for a while. When I returned they were all waiting for me to say my piece – which of course I did. It was very moving and I really appreciated it. A lovely custom, which we would do well to learn from; a built in form of collective appreciation.

Then a bit after 3 pm, we got to eat. I had no cutlery but neither did some others, so I followed suit and used my fingers and a roll to eat my salad, spicy beans and other gooey stuff.

Last night, I finally remembered to go out after 9 pm and look at the desert, southern sky. Without all the ambiance of city lights and clear dryness of a desert atmosphere, the sky was utterly fabulous. Crystal clear and glittering like thousands of Botswana diamonds strewn across pitch black velvet catching an individual light ray that culminated in a majestic sparkle. Breath taking.

This will be my last post for a while – for at least four days and maybe until I get back to Canada. I know there is no Internet availability in the Delta and will see what is available elsewhere after that. I will write them as I find time and catch up later, hopefully augmented by good photos of my adventures.

In several hours I will be in a small propeller airplane heading north to the Moremi Reserve in the middle of the Delta, one of the last great wild places, I am told.

Until next time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thursday, March 26, 2009; last day at WAR

Fall is approaching here and the nights have become much cooler than when I arrived. In the middle of the night, I was awakened by the cold as nothing is insulated here. In a sleep fog, I crawled out from under the mosquito netting and found a tee shirt. I abruptly woke from the stupor when I walked smack into the side of the bathroom door. Rubbing my head and feeling a bump swelling, I crawled back into bed and tried to resume the work at hand.

Later this morning my head is fine, and I woke up to the usual orchestra that I have been experiencing here in Maun. It is a cacophony of 5 or 6 roosters crowing from all directions, joined by as many dogs barking to wake each other up. Donkeys were braying. All this was softened somewhat by the songbirds’ chorus of harmonious and not-so-harmonious songs. Add to that the increasing buzz of traffic in the distance as Maun shakes off its torpor. Then at 6:45 am, one of the fellow guests decided to have a conversation from outside his chalet with his buddy a few chalets over. At 7:15, perhaps in retaliation, another neighbour turns his radio on to loud morning news in Tsetswana.

I was more aware of it because the time to move on is approaching. Tomorrow I go to the Delta and the last leg of my adventure. Today at WAR, we will have the monthly potluck lunch to celebrate birthdays and other events. It has been moved up a day to acknowledge my stay and my departure

I continue to find fascinating observations. I can find no reason why most of the men are skinny as a rail and the women are buxom with ample booty. My cab driver tells me, laughingly, that it is because the men do all the hard work. I just laugh with him and say that I doubt it. It certainly is not my observation. The heavier men seem to be the better off and able to afford more leisure and more food. Food consumes a great deal of most people’s income as much as 50% or more I’m told – another impact of poverty. The high school students I see, are all slender and tall as are a few adults. Maybe with the women it is the post birth syndrome. A fat boy, I saw yesterday, stood out by his uniqueness. Even the cabbie commented on him.

Most yards around the dwellings are totally denuded of all vegetation even though grass will grow. I have seen people with spades and shovels working hard to remove it, roots and all. Then they nicely rake it so that all footprints and tracks are visible. I know it is not a beautification project because there are many other areas that left to their own fate and detritus. I ask. I am told that Batswana fear snakes and by removing the grass there is nowhere to hide; the nicely raked area shows there tracks and they can tell if any are nearby. In the heat of summer, there are also lots of ticks and bugs that live in the grass and are a very annoying and potentially painful pest. There is an explanation to most everything.

The second picture in this post is of the second WAR building containing 3 offices and a conference / education room. There have often been the eager voices of high school students coming from that room while I have been here - possibly getting a first exposure to gender based violence and how they play a role in perpetuating it or stopping it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009. more realizations

As I approach the end of my time at WAR, I am contemplating the experience and especially my experience in the country of Botswana. I am meeting with individual staff and they come to fine out more of what I have to offer. Some are looking for professional ideas, but most are seeking to learn in the professional and the private arenas.

One came to me to talk about public speaking because of how I facilitated the team building the day before. That is all very flattering and I love it, of course. I had heard him leading the morning meeting and thought that he was very effective as a speaker. I was surprised that he asked. We talked for a while and it came out that he had not preached for a whole and that is his passion. He does not have a church now, has not spoken publicly for over three years and fears he is losing his edge. We explored what he might do and how he might get into the game again. As is so often the case, he just wanted to be reassured and to talk to someone who is not his office colleague and understands what he wants and is moved by. It’s interesting how people are essentially the same no matter what the culture. We all want to be loved, recognized and valued for who we really are and not some image that we might project as the “acceptable” version of ourselves.

Some interesting discussion around the need for an organization like WAR [WoMen Against Rape] in a country like Botswana where the people in public are gentle and essentially non-violent.
The culture essentially prohibits the display of public aggression and violence, but has no healthy way of dealing with emotions of anger and frustration. They have traditional councils at the family, neighbourhood, community and regional levels where people can be heard and solutions to issues sought. But in the fast pace of modernization some of that is not used as much as before.

Gender based violence and rape are problems to which the longevity of WAR attests[since 1992]. Along with the repression of emotions, there is the traditional marriage based on dowry or bride price. At least two of the women at WAR are engaged and waiting for their fiancés to accumulate enough wealth to pay the bride price. Traditionally that was in cows. Along with that comes the idea that the wife is a purchased possession, belonging to the husband – he paid for her after all. The anger and frustration is then taken out on the wife behind closed doors, usually for minor things. Hence the problem with gender based violence. It’s not that we don’t have that in our world, it’s based on different factors and has to be dealt with differently.

I amazed at how similar WAR is to my workplace, the BC Persons With AIDS Society. The mission of both is to empower and the modalities are support, advocacy and education both with their members and the community. The problems are even similar: funding, commitment, dealing with the right issues at the right time, reaching the community for education and awareness, dealing with stigma and discrimination and finding those in need.

In the long run, the solutions are similar. Education and ongoing education, not a short term project,is the only thing that can impact a culture to recognize all of its members as equal and equally worthy. Until that time we have to continue supporting, advocating and educating. May all our jobs be unnecessary soon!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuesday, March 24, 2009; teambuilding

There, it’s done. The big job of a day of team building in another culture where there were a lot of unknown factors and issues, is I believe successfully completed.

Attendance was good, only one person did not show and that was expected. The coordinator stayed the whole day and that was unexpected. The WAR grants writer came for the morning and she really helped to get things rolling by immediately identifying several serious problems in communications with the Board of Directors and their parochial attitudes. Having a common whipping boy is good to get even the most tight lipped people involved. Conversation was hard to get started as everyone was waiting for someone else to take the first step. The Batswana are generally quite reserved and polite about not putting themselves into the limelight, but the Board was ”Le Choix du Jour!”

I measured success by the level of involvement during the day and the level of discussion. My greatest fear was that I would end up having to do all the talking which is exhausting and not at all helpful to the group no matter how brilliant I assuredly will be!! The exercises and role plays that I had designed were well received and contributed to. My main exercise, right after lunch. was hailed on a number of evaluations as the best and most meaningful part of the day for them. The peace3 corps volunteer gave good feedback at lunch and I was able to make some adjustment to some cultural subtleties that I had been unaware of previously and that did help.

Towards the end of the day we were on to a lot of previously taboo topics, such as leave policy, poor and inequitable wages, lack of transparency, hiring practices and policies, personalizing WAR assets [keeping separate for personal use], personal and corporate accountability and commitment to the mission of WAR, preferential treatment and more. I had emphasized in the morning that the coordinator was there as a participant and she played that well. She seemed open to ideas and reactions and acted on several things in this morning‘s staff meeting.

There was even some agreement on follow-up work in which every staff member will contribute in writing to a committee followed by a full staff meeting discussion on several large issues like transparency.

The weather even cooperated as it was cooler than it has been and the meeting room where we worked did not turn into an oven; it was warm, but tolerable.

I went home tired but more relaxed and content.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009; Pondering poverty again

Having more consciously looked at poverty here, I am seeing more related to it. On the weekend when out hiking, I said dumela [hello] to several kids, as I do to everyone I pass. Kids in groups usually respond with an English hello, smile and move on. Several younger children [one about 5/6 years old and one about 9] caught me off guard as they responded with; “Got money?” I have experienced no begging anywhere or North American style panhandling; nothing at all from everyone over ten and very little in the way of street peddling. What there has been has been very low key.
Today however, I ran in to the best one so far and he got me. A boy of about ten, dressed in soccer shorts and shirt, ran across the road waving paper at me. "Sir, I need your help. I need a signature for my petition. My father is blind and my mother is...[ I forgot what was the matter with her]... I am trying to raise P5000 for an operation on my hand." I listened for a moment and saw that his hand, indeed, was mis-shappen and several fingers were fused togther. That spoke loud enough.

There are definitely lots of signs of poverty all around. Buildings that are not completed, or are left as bare concrete blocks when the norm is to plaster them and paint with some pastel colour. I notice that a lot of the tire tracks on the sandy roads near my chalet are completely smooth or very bald. I have seen boys out collecting stacks of twigs and branches as fuel for the outdoor cooking fires that are contained in stacked concrete block and scrap corrugated metal fire pits. Yesterday I saw an adult bathing in the river and saw washed clothes hung on barbed wire fencing to dry.

I have seen many of the whites around smoking, many more than at home, but I have seen only two young non whites smoking the while time I have been here. That just means they make better decisions, you say. Maybe, but I am aware of plenty of drinking and apparently addiction – the bane of free market competition is on the rise – enough to raise government concern.

I had a very interesting conversation with Alex, the cab driver who takes me to and from work every day. I asked him about his work as I am now aware of the amount of money made by the staff at WAR and it is not much. He likes his cab work because he is his own boss and because he makes much more than if he had a job. “How much more?” I asked. He can make P1500 [~$C250] per month at a job and he figures that he makes P6000 [~$C1000] per month as a cabbie.

Upon further consideration he said it is quite a bit more since every day he eats from his take and buys some groceries for the family, at least P50 per day. He works most days and is on call all the time. Conservatively, if he works 25 days per month, so that is an additional P1250, now totalling P7250 [~$C1280] per month. What’s more he says, with all the sandy roads he works, he has to wash his car at least everyday including the engine just to keep the parts from seizing up and literally grinding to a halt. While he does it himself at home a lot, he needs a vacuum for the inside so has it done for another P40 per day. I consider it a work expense and do not factor it in.
The difference here with a salaried job is amazing even if you do factor in that this man is on the go for about 10 – 12 hours every day. This way he is making 5 times more than a possible salaried job.

No wonder the town is crawling with cabs. The wonder is that they all make money! The saving factor is that cab fares are literally only pennies more than the crowded public mini-buses and that so many people do not have a car of their own combined with the fact that this town sprawls for miles along both sides of the Thamakalane River which they can cross only by two bridges. But they do hustle. Even when I was on the man road at 7:00 am on Sunday cabs would slow down to check if I wanted their service.

And, O yeah. The 10 vehicle car dealership across from Kwene Road is now a 9 vehicle car dealership. The beautiful green Mercedes sedan that I saw there last week, is gone.

Sunday, March 22, 2009; Maun Educational Park 2

I get up early and am out the day and on the road at daybreak, about forty minutes before sunrise. It is cool about 19 or 20C and a great breeze. Perfect for me, although the first people I see are in sweaters. I stride along at a comfortable pace. The sun is starting to come up and paints the mundane, the shabby and the poor houses with a golden-rose hue that renders everything beautiful.

I reach the park at 7:15 am and although it is not officially open until 7:30, the gate is open and I enter and hit the trails. I am soon rewarded for my efforts to be there so early and properly camouflaged. Or is it the fact that I am now an experienced game hunter and see with radar eyes through all the vegetation and low Savannah type acacia trees? Somehow, I doubt that. I do see lots of impala, however. Or have they seen me first and raised their snorting like alarm which is what got my attention? Who cares? They are there and quite a few of them. I see them from time to time though out my 3 hours in the park.

With my trusty Pentax loaded and cocked, seeking big game, I become the stealthy Safari Sam, surreptitiously stalking the sleek impala, the kudus and other game, but mostly startling them as they see or me first! After many impala, later I do see several kudus and some monkeys. All are wary and do not hang around long.

In my travels, I see geckos and small lizards darting out of the trail at lightning speed. An amazing 5 centimetre long bug [and about 3 cm wide] crosses my path. I almost walk right into a huge cobweb, strategically constructed across the open area of the trail, catching the sunlight and a few other things. The fibres are strong and in the center sits a beautiful spider with a leg span of about 10 cm. It has interesting orange colouration but it is gone before I get my camera out and ready.

The vegetation in the park bordering on the Thamalakane River is thicker and taller, mostly broad leafed plants and trees. About a kilometre from the river it changes to a veldt like appearance, with lots of grasses open areas and more drought resistant trees like the low and defended acacia trees with their very small leaves that giraffes daintily browse on from above.

After three hours I leave the park and head back home along the river. The weekend gathering of young men in their cars and pickups with their Rasta-rap music filling the air for their Sunday morning soccer match, is underway. I don’t see much soccer happening, just lots of calling back and forth; but they are in their soccer shirts, shorts and socks, so all is as it should be.

As the time inches towards noon and the sun blazes higher, I head on to the home stretch, down the last two, sandy kilometres with the temperature rising and the heat reflected off the hot, light sand into my face, I am taken back to my high-school summers. I am conveyed to the Powerline Road in Copetown, Ontario about 25 kilometres west of Hamilton. It is a dusty, rural gravel road that I live on. I am walking home from having worked at some neighbours’ farm bringing in the second cut hay. I walk in shimmering heat, during the dog days of late August with the crickets barely chirping, the golden rod in complete bloom and not a breath of air stirring. Dusty, parched and tired, I am home.

Saturday, March 21, 2009, Maun Educational Park

It was a perfect day for hiking. The morning was cool, about 25 / 26C and a nice breeze that really kept me dry. I walked to the Maun educational Park about an hour from Jump Street and was there by 9am.

It is really a small reserve that promises a dozen or so interesting species including impala, kudus, zebra birds, a local squirrel and more. I don’t think it is that small as I hiked on its trails for two hours steady and did not repeat any of them. I will try to find out its size later.

Outside the gate there are concrete statues of Africa’s big game: lion, elephant, rhino, cheetah and hippo; a gift from the employees at the Barclay’s Bank, Maun Branch. There was no one at the gate as is usual in Botswana and so I just found my way around. I even found a place to get water and the water supply in Maun, as in all main Botswana towns and cities is treated and safe. And the Maun water is good , in contrast to that in Gaborone, where it smelled muddy – as its source that I saw from the air was and muddy looking reservoir – although that may have been due to the recent heavy rains.

As I was walking around the reserve, I remembered what the driver in the Mokolodi Reserve near Gaborone, had said two weeks ago; “try to look between the trees and not at the trees. The animals are well camouflaged, and you need special eyes.” I did not see anything until someone else did first.

At the beginning of the hike I came on a picnic area that had been occupied by four people. The table was covered with Bibles, personal stuff and religious literature. I walked through quietly as I wanted to look at the river which the area bordered on. They paid no attention to me as they were in two pairs quite far apart from each other with one person on their knees, bent over and the other was on their knees, erect in front of the original holding their hands and involved in intense prayer, or so it appeared tome. I am not sure they were even aware of me and I quietly left.

I had a pleasant time hiking around but saw nothing except a large [3 feet long] lizard climbing on the side of a small building near the entrance, some squirrels as promised and many birds present more through their songs and squawking that visible.. I kept scanning the areas I was in, but nothing. I was sure there were some around as I saw tracks for a heavy, large animal and small cloven, ungulate tracks that I figured must be impala. I was getting a bit discouraged although the hike in itself was very pleasant until finally I came up on a giraffe. I snapped some pictures and watched this magnificent animal until it walked off because like a pushy tourist, I had to try getting closer for the ‘best possible photo’.

I was happy because I had seen at least one ‘exotic’ animal. I continued hiking and after about another half hour I came on a troop of baboons. They were moving across the trail area on a feeding trek led by a large male. I watched for about 15 minutes and took pictures. There must have been at least 30 of them, all ages and sizes, strung along a column that extends for a half a kilometre or more. The leader kept making a bass sound deep in his throat that carried well of a considerable distance. I assume it is to let those behind him where he was heading at all times. Very interesting: the communication and how all seemed to always be aware and responding. As I left the park at noon, I resolved to come again tomorrow for opening at 7:30 am and see if I can spot more animals earlier in the day when the animals tend to be actively feeding.

AS I was leaving the park I stopped to talk to a father and son, I assumed, a teacher and a cost accountant from a town called Nata. They immediately wanted to know about jobs in Canada and what the possibilities were. They freely offered their cell phone numbers and asked for mine. People are very interested in going to North America. Several of the staff at WAR, have questioned me at length as well and one of them said that if I knew of anyone who needed a good wife, she at age 24 was available for a serious person of over 35 years old and to give them her contact information. I just don’t say much in those conversations because what can I do. I do suggest they research on the Internet. I also make them aware Canada is dealing with a recession with lots of job loss recently just like Botswana, where the diamond mines closed a couple of months ago due to the sharp drop in international demand!

I make my way back to the chalet along the river that I hiked last week. I see a man up to his waist in the water in a swampy area and he seems to be involved in some effort to lure fish into a net. A white haired grandparent is sitting near him on the edge of the water. Flocks of egrets are up and down into the reeds like bobbing marshmallows. I make my way through the Maun Senior Secondary School grounds again, to avoid the roads and to make a short cut as it is getting hot now, the breeze has died and I want to get home.

I will return early tomorrow morning and I will wear a more camouflaged tee shirt than the white one I wore today. Maybe they won’t see me coming –ha!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009; the vacation plans

Finally, today, I got it all together and the other part of my trip has come together. All my flights have been booked and rebooked where they needed to be, the credit card is potentially maxed out and I am happy. In a week from today, I will be in the middle of the Delta in the central reserve called Moremi. Then I will go to the northern part of the delta near the Namibian border to another reserve called Linyanti. In each area there are different concentrations of different animals, reflecting different water levels, different topography and different progressions in the rainy season and of the water flow. Then I will also go to Zambia on the Zimbabwe border to Victoria Falls.

Staff keeps coming to me with more issues to raise and the pot gets fuller and fuller. Now thrown out into the mix is the issue of some staff hijacking WAR property for themselves and leaving their colleagues, who may need to use it, scrambling for the one remaining piece of equipment while another is locked away idle, but unavailable. It all seems to be about trust and transparency. When I asked why no one raised this the reply again was fear of creating trouble for themselves.

I am feeling relatively more useful than before because people seem to be calling on me more and seeking out my experience and perspective. I spent a lot of time today with an education officer discussing different ways to reach different target groups whether it be by age, socio- economic status or type of alienation. This was good for both of us as it is something that we have been discussing and struggling with at BCPWA. In fact, there is an online research project originating in my department, going on right now. Many options were discussed and I was able to show the work on the BCPWA and YouthCo websites. The education staff focus here is youth outreach programs and so we discussed programs in Canada and lessons we have learned in trying to reach out to different demographic, age and cultural groups with HIV / AIDS information and education. Performance arts, art works and peer involvement were discussed and seen as some of the more successful approaches to reaching youth.

Later yet when I came back from booking the trips, I was requested to spend time with another staff member seeking personal financial problem counseling, i.e. “I cannot seem to save any money”. The philosophy of saving was discussed and the reasons why we might save. He wants to start a community focused business in the future which seemed like a good reason for saving to me.

Expenditures are tallied and put alongside aside the income column. There is a big difference giving a hint of potential savings. The next assignment is to track every outlay of pula, record that in a book and note if it was a basic need or not. The tough part will be to create the self discipline to carry on with this. With not a very big salary, he has two young children and a girlfriend to support as well as supplementing the parents who live 400+ kilometers away on a cattle station where they have some land and grow much of their own food. Here is another instance of an individual living in two very different eras simultaneously. I promise to help with this from Vancouver over the next three months.

Writing a business plan is the next project and one I worked on with a client yesterday.

But that is for later. Now it’s time to get some food and cool down.

Thursday, March 19, 2009; Pondering poverty

I was asked by a reader why there has been no discussion of poverty in Botswana on my blog. Poverty has been missing because in some strange way on the surface, from a guest worker perspective, poverty is not as visible as I expected and does not look like what I assumed it would. What I am going to be saying reveals many of my naïve assumptions, of course.

There are many cars and taxis around, some people at the office come to work in 4 wheel drives and comfortable sedans along with the other 50% who come in taxis which cost only a little more than the crowded public mini-buses. Everyone has cell phones as they work the best in this country that is moving from an agrarian economy to 21st century high tech in one generation. Most people seem reasonably well dressed in collared shirts and skirts and slacks with nicely braided or straightened hair. All giving the semblance of a middle class aura.

The obvious signs like the goats and donkeys everywhere are easy to dismiss as local colour rather than evidence of poverty. Many people are walking everywhere, but there is also a mini rush hour in the morning from 7:30 until 8:30 am in the center of Maun and in the afternoon from 4:30 to 6 pm – all symbols of western go-get-it attitude

Today I was having lunch with a Peace Corps volunteer who wanted to pick my brain about my prison work and I got some better insight from him on the extent of the poverty. Maun has few jobs for the local unskilled people and as an example, the office fulltime support staff gets just better than $C100 per month [P700] in an economy where the cost of food that I experience as a vegetarian, is just about what it is in Vancouver. The lower rank professionals allegedly make about $C550 [P3300] per month and their supervisor about $C700 [P4200]. These are considered prime jobs. A number of the staff that I have talked to are here because they want to live and work in Maun, their original home, and have no other options as a result of that. I expect that the increasing and wealthy tourist trade might be driving prices up as well and exposing the population to many consumer goods that are desirable although not needed as they are not needed by us either.

There are many one room 15’ X 15’ cinder block homes along the roads often with 3 or 4 of them on a 'plot', or designated government lot, for the other members of the extended family. Many families live together in multi generational configurations like in another North American forgotten age, with grannies, or siblings or orphaned nieces/nephews looking after the kids of those who work while they work. Several people at WAR are single mothers supporting their mother, and / or father, a sister and perhaps an orphaned niece or nephew who may or may not work!

Along the roads there are many corrugated metal lean-to's where people sit to sell some fruit, or crafts or other goods. Some just seem to be places out of the sun where young guys hang out and play their boom boxes. As I have noted before there are goats and donkeys everywhere. They belong to someone but just roam around feeding along the roadways and wherever they can. I guess that the skinniness of the dogs that hang around everywhere and in the few plots that are home to some are an indicator of the poverty in that they are totally left to scrounge for themselves. I have only seen one person so far, walking a dog. No pampered pooches, ponies or goats here!

I have been eating lunch at a local Botswana restaurant / take out place that the office staff go to and appears to cater to local workers – mostly blue collar it seems, but I might be misreading that.. Lunch at a western food restaurant is at least three times the cost although comparison is difficult because there is not one item on one menu that appears on the other, except water. The food there is also an indication of the tastes as well as what people are used to. Mainstays of the meals are large portions of rice, flour dumplings without stuffing of any kind, a corn meal doughy mashed potato appearing mix in addition to semp, a bean and sorghum combination. The accompanying dishes in small servings are coleslaw, a spicy vegetable mix, a spinach-like vegetable and then well cooked beef and chicken dishes.

What else can I say? It is poor, - very poor. Yet by African standards, they are doing well. I had a woman come in to see me today for help with the constitution for a cooperative she wants to set up with four others. She looked good and told me she had been HIV + for a number of years. She had become very ill and forced to leave her government job of 22 years. It took a number of years, but it was finally decided that she should retire for medical reasons and receive the pension she has earned. She also has been on ARV [anti retro viral] therapies for a number of years at no cost to her. She considers herself well off and is, relatively speaking, and so is Botswana on the world economic scale. She is creating the cooperative, not because she desperately needs but to create jobs and raise HIV+ women’s profile!

What is poverty? To us, this is very poor. Many here see themselves as poor and many see themselves as fortunate to live a happy life in a country they are very proud of. And so we go about our business, each in our relatively insular lives. This is such a difficult area to talk about without sounding patronizing or just palin stupid. I just hope that I leave something behind that lasts a little longer than the clothes and school supplies that I brought with me from Canada, much of it donated by people living on the edge in Vancouver.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009: It seems to be working

Yesterday at 3 pm, things started to change a bit. I finally got into the meeting to discuss counselling supervision and areas of professional concern. Three of the counsellors have been doing it for less than a year and the head counsellor for three or four, not very much experience to supervise people counselling women caught up in rape and other gender based violence. The War coordinator joined in as well and we had a very lively discussion with lots of bobbing heads and ‘eryr’ [a form of agreement] from the novices. They had definitely run into many of the issues that I was raising and seemed happy to have them talked about while they seemed to hope to learn by osmosis. The supervisor was surprisingly frank and open about her experiences, which I had not had with her before. That helped the session a lot. The coordinator told rather lengthy matriarch stories: “I’ve been there, kids. Just listen to the horrors I have experienced and learn from me”. Everyone seems to have gotten a lot from it as I did and quickly the time for the session was up.

This morning the mini-church service was given by the counsellor who has trained to be a pastor at a South African Lutheran seminary. He’s a very quiet, unassuming young man of about 27/8, who you would not even notice in most circumstances except for a flashing smile. Then when he starts to read the Bible and deliver his very brief homily, his voice booms and he takes on almost heroic proportions. Very interesting transformation and back to unassuming in ten minutes.

After that I am able to do something that I hoped I might and that is to do some direct work with the head counsellor in the HIV /AIDS arena. I use some of the power points I brought with me and we have some very interesting discussions on recent developments in North America where we have moved treatment to a CD4 [immune cell] count of 350 while in Africa they are still operating on the previous standard of 200. We discussed why that might be and wondered if resources for treatment might have something to do to with that – but ultimately we had a good discussion and we were guessing. I explained why that change was made and that was helpful.

We also had a long discussion and about the viral content in saliva. I explained that we did not consider saliva much of a risk because of its acidity, especially if the mouth has no sores or bleeding gums. She told me of an African study where 50 people’s saliva was tested for the virus and 3 were found to have it. She is going to continue viewing Saliva as a body fluid to be wary of. In her early 30’s with a 9 year old daughter, she wants to get a PhD in a non-African university by age 45, and then work as an HIV / AIDS researcher. She’ll probably do it.

I also finally had my meeting with the coordinator together OK for my draft of the plan and script that I put together for the teambuilding day. She is going to review it further this evening, but she agreed to all I proposed and I don’t expect any resistance. While in that session there was a call from a client who had attended my workshop a week ago and would like to see me again. OK by me if it is OK by you – that is the reason I came here.

But it kept on. A staff member, who has been ill, asked to see me as she heard from the others that I had been interviewing them. She wanted to say her piece. After some time going over safe, although troublesome issues that I was already aware of, she dropped a real clanger on me. It is one that gets into cultural stuff and the integrity of my role here as well as a big systemic issue that is certainly way beyond what I can do anything with in a teambuilding. But it totally erodes trust and with that the potential impact of anything positive that the work we do together might have had. I really have to wrestle with this one, my integrity in the situation and who do I fight for, even what is possible.

Something for me to ponder as I drift off to sleep this evening. Maybe the morning will bring a new perspective for me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009; St. Patrick’s Day.

Oh, the irrepressible Irish! I just came back from lunch and walked by the Buck and Hunter Pub up the street, Doesn't that just take you into the rolling valleys of southern Ireland? Outside was a sign offering green beer and Irish stew. I get the beer; but Irish stew in 37C seems almost intolerable. But then, I never had those kind of loyalties and attachments to tradition! Yet by some fluke, I am wearing green khaki pants and a green polo shirt today!

My patience issue is getting another work out today. I was to meet with the coordinator and the support counsellors [cancelled from yesterday] at about 10 am after the ‘short’ management meeting was to be finished. It is now almost 2 pm and they have gone for lunch after having come out of their meeting at 1:30 pm. I was just told by Mr. Peace Corps that he gave up keeping any time expectations around meetings etc. about a month after he got here. That gives me another three weeks, although I think that I am almost there now. Patience is a virtue, it is said and maybe I am gaining some!

I checked on a local ‘boat cruise’ that was recommended to me for a weekend activity. It goes up to the ‘Buffalo Gate’ and it turns out not to be a cruise at all but a shuttle run bringing people back and forth to their trek into and out of the Moremi Reserve in the Delta. It is about a four hour trip and I am welcome to go along if I wish. So there is an interesting idea. I'll check on Saturday.

I talked to several more people about their ideas for contributing to the team building next week and several patterns come clearer and clearer. I find I have many ideas of what I would like to do here. But I realize they come from my western perspective and that they might not be welcome or feasible. So I will wrestle with that until the last couple of days that I am here and decide what to do.

When I went out for lunch there was a herd of about 10 – 12 goats milling and lying down across one of the lanes of the paved road running by the airport. I wish I had my camera as somehow it seemed characteristic.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday March 16, 2009, another week

My support counselling debriefing that was supposed to occur today has been cancelled. The head counsellor is not feeling well and will get back to me. I had been looking forward to it as I think that it would have been helpful for a young and inexperienced counselling staff to look at issues of working with clients dealing with rape and gender violence, trauma and denigration, to look at issues of transference and counter transference, dependence and termination. Two of the counsellors have been counselling for less than 6 months and the supervisor, while having a psychology degree from a largely white [her words] university in Capetown, South Africa, has not got a lot of supervisory experience. I am also told that what was going to be three sessions is now down to one.

I went to the tour operators today and I have an agent working out deals to go to the Moremi Reserve in the central Okavango Delta, the Linyanti Reserve in the northern delta and Victoria Falls on the Zambia side. I also visited a travel agent to see if my return flights can be changed to accommodate those dates. Tomorrow, I will go to find out the results and the financial damage. As I said last Friday, I have to keep in mind that this is a rare opportunity and that I will take advantage of it.

I checked with the woman who came to me for help with her family regarding being expected to cook the evening meal after working all day while the niece and nephews have been at home all day. She beamed and said that they had cooked! I congratulated her and urged her to keep on standing up for herself.

I continue to interview staff members re their issues about working at WAR and the team and themes are emerging. Like all NGO's [ non government, non profit organizations usually involved in development and assistance work like WAR], money is tight and there are many limitations. The answer to most requests for projects and other expenses is that there is no money for that. It appears to me that the 'white' female Board of Directors is somewhat paternalistic and expects people to be grateful for whatever they get and not to ask for anything more or different. The Board have been invited several times to meet with the staff team to discuss the staff ideas for new programs and outreach and the Board have refused the invitations. It also seems that the policies in terms of education on gender violence and outreach are a bit dated and that frustrates some of the more progressive staff.

One of the progressive staff commented to me today that he would like to come and volunteer at the "NGO" that I work at in Canada - as a journalist, he is frustrated by the limited outreach that occurs and wants to establish a communications department here.

No one is eager to push the envelope, however. The last coordinator [= Executive Director] was fired for advocating for too much and pushing for "too much" change. Challenge, apparently, does not go down all that smoothly! Change and growth is difficult everywhere, whether it be organizational, professional or personal. However, as we all know the lesson will continue to appear in some form or another until it is learned.

Sunday, March 15, 2009; a day of rest?

At 6 am, I am pulled into consciousness out of that languid, delicious cocoon between deep sleep and wakefulness, by the throbbing bass of some hip hop music. It does not last more than 15 minutes but it has done the trick. I slowly get up and get ready to go out. It is sunny although it seemed to have rained much of the night. I decide to start as early as I can because after the rain, the humidity will be high.

I am out at 7:45 and it is beautiful. The rain drops on the leaves and grasses glisten like tiny jewels in the early sun. The sandy strip that passes for road is freshly pockmarked with the rain filled holes, stating clearly to the drivers, “Today, you can see me”. They are made tolerable by the occasional ‘lake’ in the road and challenging ‘oceans’ that dominate the whole road and need to be carefully circumnavigated or forded. The non-paved roads appear to be organic. They widen as the trail gets too rough with potholes and the width of the seemingly designated strip will allow. In some wide areas, a whole new lane grows like a new dendrite connector offering a shortcut along the neural highway when a particular stretch of sand road becomes too much with its potholes, lakes and washboard.

As I come to a very messy part a combination of potholes and lakes, I stand aside to let a car through and do not move. The driver is concerned and asks if I am all right, ready to offer assistance. I smile, thank him and say I am out walking. Later, another offers me a ride.

I wander towards a main intersection and a busload of high school students goes by with all of them siing harmaoniously in celebration of their outing. Later in the day when returning, a pick up goes by with a 5 - 6 year old boy in the back singing "Hallelujah".

I wander through the Maun Senior Secondary School Campus. It must be 50 acres, has residences, science lab buildings, classrooms, many well used playing fields and more. Notably, I see several signs that direct attention to the unspoken – HIV/AIDS. One says ‘Stay Alive “ flanked by 2 red AIDS ribbons and the second is explicit in listing modes of transmission i.e. unprotected intercourse [sic], mother to child and contaminated blood.

I make my way down the road to the ‘old bridge’, one lane across the Thamalakane River and start to walk along the river plain toward the new two lane bridge where I was yesterday. I marvel at the ubiquitous goats getting up on hindquarters to eat the delicate leaves of the acacia tree in spite of its armor of 4 – 5 centimeter inflexible, very sharp thorns. Near the water to my left are the tall river grasses, some papyrus like; birds are feeding in the seedy grasses and singing everywhere; mourning doves rise up in small flocks as I approach. As I move along, I hear a woman’s voice wafting sweetly out of the grass but I can see no one. I see beetles that are about 3-4 centimeters wide and 5-6 cm. long. Their pincers and mandibles are the fodder of fright when blown up a million times for the B grade horror movies of yesterday.

Here and there are Termite Towers, standing high above their surroundings up to 10 feet high, very noticeable, not unlike the Trump variety we are more familiar with. These I have seen them all around Maun, but these by the river are the tallest. I cross an ant freeway and follow it along to see where they are all going with such purpose, not distractible in their vigor. I trace it to a small opening in the ground where they appear to hand over whatever they are carrying and then turn around heading back down their freeway in the opposite direction.

A bright, lime green chameleon crosses my path heading for the bright grass and does its two legged back and forth shuffle, all the while keeping its pivoting eye socket and ball trained on me. Ahead, sitting in the reeds over the water is an egret flock, looking like a garden of white blooms gently moving with the breeze. I am taking some photos and a man passing by tells me there is a much better view two hundred yards ahead. I thank him and move on to the better perspective.

It is getting hot. The humidity is high and fortunately there is a steady breeze to keep it tolerable. I pass a couple of cars of young men parked in the shade of several trees next to a soccer pitch, listening to music and a raucous football game announcer. I head towards my cooler shelter, getting there at 11:30 for a shower and blogging. As I type this, thunder is rolling ominously in the distance, and slowly coming closer. The wind is stirring the trees. As the heat builds, relief is in the making. With great, furious drum rolls, the rain pours.

Saturday, March 14, 2009 in Maun.

I did not book my Okavango adventures yesterday as planned, because during some discussion with WAR staff, someone suggested getting some information from the Department of Tourism staff who work at a Maun park that I planned to visit today. That way I can get some information from a source that is not pushing a particular product.

I set out at 9 am and expect to beat the heat. I take a back pack for my camera, water and some fruit to snack on. I review my directions as the only map I have been able to find of Maun is put out by a consortium of businesses and it does not give detail that I want and need – surprise.

I hike steadily, taking pictures of interesting contrasts and sights, contrast of the modern with the traditional, the Mercedes for sale along with the donkeys and goats everywhere, the satellite TV dishes on the sides of one room homes, the one room homes next to monster houses that would look good in West Vancouver or Forest Hills in Toronto. It is hot but I remind myself that I have done plenty of hot hikes climbing in the mountains in the summer in BC and this is flat. Everywhere in Maun, it seems you are walking out onto a beach. The soil is really desert sand. We are literally on the edge of the Kalahari Desert.

After about an hour and a half I wonder if I have gone wrong in my directions. I come on the BWTI [Botswana Wildlife Training Institute]

[There are schools and institutes everywhere and usually they are proud buildings, notable in their setting as are all the city council buildings, court administration, government offices and even the prison. The focus in Botswana is to give everyone an education and government, with its diamond income, has made every effort to share that will the people. I am informed that there is universal health care that is better, more inclusive than Canada’s – that’s my judgement, based on what I was told. A great effort has been made to have everyone able to speak English and for the most part, most of those under 45 seem to do so. Some Batswana have observed to me that that largesse has made some of the Batswana complacent, not as competitive as their neighbours in Zambia and South Africa. People selling things do not do “sales”; they mildly ask and let it go if there is no interest. I have experienced that with the couple of street vendors that have approached me, which is in sharp contrast to my experience of beach vendors in Mexico the past few Christmases.]

At the BWTI, I ask for directions and am told how to go. Immediately a man generously offers to drive me as he is going there anyway. This is very consistent with the pleasant, helpful attitudes that I have experienced so far. As I get in the car, I smell a hint of beer and wonder if I am making a mistake. As we drive away, I do see a can of beer in his hand. However, his behaviour is polite and gentle and I thank him. He takes me to the park, drives me to information office and introduces me to the staff. I talk to them for about 10 – 15 minutes and leave. He has left – no expectation of anything – just helping.

I go back to my hike along the Thamalakane River, part of the great Okavango waterways. Here in Maun, it is much swamp area along the slow flowing river as it goes it final leg before dissipating into the Kalahari Desert to the south. It is wide and languorous, full of tall grasses and greenery, where you occasionally see an umbrella bobbing along as someone is making their way along a path in the blazing sun. I am told that in some years, it dries up after July, when the water from the rainy season to the north which ended in March, finally makes it way to Maun and runs out into nothing, with 90 – 95% of the water evaporating.

I go off the beaten, sandy path for a bit and immediately learn why no one does that. The plants I brush, quickly spread a lot of their seed into my shoes and socks in fertility rites [it is approaching the fall here, after all]. I stop to try and get some out and I am quickly covered with tiny ants, which don’t like me removing them and have a sharp little bite. I retreat and clean up.

I wander around a bit more, but it is getting after 11:30 am and very hot. I decide to head back to my retreat and get there, with no missteps by 1 pm. I am grateful for the apples and the water that I brought with me. My tee shirt has been completely wet for several hours and that is good. I sweat profusely for the last hour, literally battling to keep the perspiration from running into my eyes.

I get home and shower, spending siesta time in my ‘African chalet’ writing my blog to be posted when I get to the office on Monday as there is no wireless or hook-up where I am. I give in to my Northern Hemisphere climatic adaptation and allow myself the air conditioning to about 24C. I have no urge to be a philistine in this heat! It must be 37C and little is moving, including me. At 6 pm, we have a wonderful heat thunderstorm and downpour.

Factoid: Botswana means “All the People”. The people are the majority tribe: the Tswana and Bo [boh] = all, hence bo tswana or Botswana.

Friday, March 13, 20009; the first workshop and shopping

Friday, the end of my first work week at WAR. After the morning devotion, away from the others, one of the staff asks to speak to me after the workshop and I assume that it is about the team building as I had requested. I approach her later.

I get ready for the 9 am workshop with the clients and at 8:55 the first one arrives. Good, I think. However, by 9:20, there is no one else. We have 5 by 9:30 plus 4 staff and Navoo announces that we will start. A few more wander in, including one with a beautiful 6 month old daughter who is very quiet, causing no fuss and breast feeding from time to time throughout the workshop. It is all accepted as wonderfully normal. I talk to Navoo later about the breast feeding brouhaha that happened in Vancouver last summer because a woman discreetly fed her child in a woman’s shop and about the support she got a few days later when others had a breast feeding “sit in”. Navoo loved that and said that happens here to from time to time. There will be some ‘silly person’ who raises it as an issue, but most ignore them.

I cannot tell from the clients’ reactions whether anything is sinking in or is relevant to them, so I just keep on trying to engage them all as much as possible. There are several sophisticated women, well dressed and polished looking, several others seem much poorer, but all do want financial independence. When I ask how long they think they need that one of them says ‘forever’, others agree and I then know I am getting through.

A new experience for me is that what I am saying is being translated into Tsetswana as we go and I find I have to pay a different kind of attention. By the end of the workshop, I have them working on their first budget, needed to apply for financial support if that is what they will attempt to get– and several have indicated they will go for it. The 2 hour workshop goes for three and a half hours, partially because of the translation and partially due to need.

We have a break and some catered refreshments are served. The caterers set up a table on the porch and set up a lovely display of china for coffee and tea, glasses for juice, and napkins for sweet and savoury buns. They stay to serve them and the buns are a treat that is highly praised on the evaluation forms that 9 of the 11 people fill out.

The request from the staff person to see me turns out to be a request to talk about a family problem, for counselling. She is supporting her mother, son and her orphaned niece and 2 nephews who are about 19 - 20. They refuse to cook the meal for the end of the day and expect her to do it when she gets home from work. She says she is “merciful”, and so she gives in. We discuss it for a while and I suggest some possible solutions. I give her some homework and suggest we follow up next week. I am surprised at how quickly people trust me. I have emphasized confidentiality, but they have not yet got a track record with me. I move from the counselling and explore how she views the team. Interestingly, the ‘all is fine’ initial response shifts a lot as I ask some specific questions.

On the way home, I walk for 20 minutes into the main shopping area known as the ‘old mall’. Alex will pick me up there at 5:30 pm as agreed. I go for some produce in the “Shoprite”. I could have been in the Safeway on Davie Street. Bright, large and well organized and laid out with any product you could ask for, except for water based lubricants. I have been asked by a BONELA ( Botswana Network for Ethics Law and HIV / AIDS) contact in Gaborone to check out the availability of lubes that would be helpful to MSM ( Men who have Sex with Men) with condom use during sex. This is for a study they are doing with LeGaBiBo ( Lesbians, Gays. & Bisexuals of Botswana) a fledgling gays rights organization whowhich is doing an initial study on health services and utilization for their constituency. The only things, I find is half a dozen types of petroleum jelly for babies - not the right thing for sex and latex condoms. Otherwise, the shopping is great and for P136.70 [$C22.80], I am able to get a couple of bags of produce and rolls including some of the tastiest and sweetest mangoes [P2.95 or $C.50 each] that I have had.

I am exhausted from the workshop and go to my lovely home away from home for a great meal and some reading in air conditioned splendour away from the hottest day I have experienced thus far.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 20009; Progress

This morning the cab did not show at the agreed on time. I had been told that Alex had been recommended because he is reliable. I thought, “O boy, what am I going to do now? Wander around town for an hour and try to find my way through a maze of unmarked paths and poor streets? Or just stay here and forget about it – do some work from home?” I started walking figuring the best way to get my bearings was to get them. Then about 7 minutes later Alex shows up and we move on. I am paying more attention now as I want to figure out how to get there on my own if needs be. Like with the names, I am slowly getting it.

As happened yesterday, soon the cab pulls over and three women get into the back seat. They chatter away in Tswana and I just smile and say, “Dumale bomma”. (Hello women). Eventually Alex pulls over; they all pay him 3 pula (about $.50) and get out. Alex carries on and drops me at the WAR office. All along the way there are streams of people walking along the side of the road going to their jobs, reminding me of scenes in some movies I have seen.

Some interesting traditional costumes are in the parade today. I have to try and get some photos of them. Very full long skirtsof ten layers I am told and big tops in the same patterns with puffy sleeves. And the head dress is the most interesting, a scarf tied around the head in a regular way and then a different, contrasting colour tied in a unique way to look like bull horns, in Alex’s description. They belong to the Herero tribe which lives predominately to the west on the Namibian border

The morning opening meeting was a repeat of yesterday, like a mini-church service. At the announcement period, I say that I will come around to people to ask them confidentially what they would like to see to improve their team and workplace. I emphasize the confidentiality as I sense some misgiving about speaking one’s mind.

I talked to several people throughout the day and find they are founded - the misgivings that is. There is limited trust and one reason is fear of losing their work contract if they speak out, another is inconsistent interpretation of employment policies. Like any office that has grown too fast, there are growing pains and some issues may need to be put on the table, difficult in an environment where there is insecurity.

And I discover there is some resentment of the morning mini-church service. It is customary in many workplaces in Botswana to start the day with a little prayer and possibly a little song, but apparently here it can stretch out for quite a while, generally inspired by several individuals. I am also told that sometimes personal beliefs are given to clients as advice to influence their important decisions regarding future actions, rather than staying objective. Yet WAR is not a faith based operation.

It's all grist for the mill. I am seeing more challenge and interest in the reason I have come here as I get more into it.

I have created outlines for all the workshops and sessions I hope to facilitate here. The first one will be tomorrow morning at 9 am and I will find out how perceptive I have really been!

Tomorrow, I will make a decision about my travel adventures that will start when I finish here on the 26th or 27th. They will be expensive as you have to fly everywhere. Without the flights, most trips into the Okavango Delta and elsewhere are about $US300 per day, and that is the last minute discount. But as I will not be coming back next month, and am near the place I have thought about visiting for 50 years, I will just have to bite the bullet. In the opposite direction - south, I think I want to go into the Kalahari Desert too.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Wednesday, March 11, 2009; Learning

Mpho, the Coordinator and Alice ( Ah-leess), the financial officer have gone to Gabs, as Gaborone is called here and the atmosphere is different, a bit more relaxed. We begin with a few songs that everyone quite gets into and enjoys, although some are definitely more on the evangelical path than others. One person apparently is assigned to lead in opening the day with a reading and so Kabo ( Tswana for ‘gift’ and named Jonathon in the USA), a Peace Corps volunteer, does so this week reading an Old Testament Parable, following it with his interpretation of a fairly direct lesson. Everyone is polite and murmurs gratitude for the homily. And the day begins.

Kabo gives me some interesting insights into the office politics and posturing that confirm what I have already caught glimpses of. This helps me to plan more effectively for the team building I have been commissioned to facilitate in 2 weeks time. There has been very fast growth at WAR and about 18 months ago there were only about 4 staff members compared to today’s 16. His observations alert me to the fact that I have to get in there as quickly as I can to discover for myself what some possible areas of useful focus might be. Anyhow, general teambuilding issues like trust, interdependence, clarity and openness of communication, supportiveness and dealing with the hidden issues will be vehicles to somehow address most eventualities if handled with some insight and skill. I think that I might rise to the occasion.

I draft a plan for a session designed to empower clients to seek financial independence. The reason most clients give for going back to their violent partners is that they have no other way to survive financially. The session will be a “believe you have the potential and how to create your own employment all in 3 short hours”. Or, without being derogatory, It might be called, “exploring employment for the opportunity challenged”. I run it by Navoo, the head counsellor as it is her program and she gives me the nod. I am so glad I brought some things/supplies with me to give as gifts. Several women at my office sent a lot of school supplies along with me and I bought about 15 dollar store calculators. This workshop will be the perfect place to hand out some of that. It should be fun and challenging at the same time as some of the clients will need to have the material translated as we proceed. Dialogue, my favourite way of facilitating, will be interesting to say the least.

It rained off and on throughout the day with heavy rolling heat thunder that reminds me of the violent thunder storms on hot, sultry August days in rural Ontario when I was a kid. Then, as it cleared it got very humid and hot and I almost wished for the rain to come back!

I continue to learn. The level of patience I am able to muster surprises even me. No one hurries, although that does not mean nothing gets done. Talk and greetings are important. People are polite, and do not tear away from a conversation the way we do when we hear the next appointment, or TV show, or better thing to do ticking in our brain. Being late by some minutes is okay, and waiting for another to show up is not a thing that is noticed, or at least not fussed about as I tend to do. Yet airplanes seem to get caught. It is a good lesson and one I sure benefit from in my usual fast lane existence.

I am starting to remember many of the staff names. Some are Lesiela, Chawada, Bonolo, Novoo, Ibo, Petrus, Mathlhogonolo, Annehara, Boi, Bainei to name a few; and most of these have been shortened to make life a bit easier for the others.

As always, I have written way more than intended. Today, I even thought to skip the blog as “I had nothing to write”. .....ha ha!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 The office

I am picked up by the cab at 7:20 and whisked to the office beside the airport by 7:45. It had rained considerably during the night and the secondary roads are little more that muddy trails, deeply rutted and a challenge to navigate. It is all done with a great calmness and acceptance. The driving I have observed so far is all moderate, cautious and careful of the condition of the vehicle. Although that is not the only driving because yesterday I saw the clean up of a fairly good crunch up of two cars in front of the World University Service of Canada Offices in Gaborone.

One of the staff is busy doing the cleaning sweeping the sea shore like sand that is everywhere. This is followed by a thorough mopping of all the ceramic tile floors - the only kind of flooring I have seen anywhere whether it is the mall, office or my room. Cool, attractive and easy to clean.

The staff slowly wander in and although not all are present yet, the morning ritual starts pretty much at 8 sharp, OK, it was 8;05! Someone begins singing a hymn and eventually most join in. This is followed by several more hymns, a brief reading from Hebrews and an eloquent prayer that included the welfare and well being of the clients. I had been told this would happen or I would have been caught off guard.

The day begins. I have further meetings to confirm dates and times I will do trainings and meetings with clients. I meet for a final time with Fortune, the L4C officer. He is a brilliant man who has done leading edge work in the field of HIV/AIDS in Botswana and his own country of Zambia. He did the very first research linking the spread of HIV to some old customs associated with polygamy and particularly ritual cleansing of a widow soon after her husband passed. She is taken into her brother-in-law's home and has ritual intercourse with him to tie her to the his family so she does not return to her own parents with the bridal and family possessions, traditionally measured in cows. The husband had died of AIDS and then the wife - also infected, spread it to her brother-in-law and he to his other wives. With the customs of looking after family members [read: having intercourse with] when the husband is at the country home or at the grazing pasture home, the virus is spread geometrically. Fortune was able to convince six chiefs in his own family of this with much difficulty and some awareness of how to stop the spread started to build. Botswana, very progressive in theory just launched a One Partner campaign a few days ago.

The rain stopped a few hours ago and the temperature has gone up steadily. I am sure that is preferable to the -5C and snow that some friends have told me has hit Vancouver of late!

At 1 pm, I feel the need to eat as I have had nothing yet today. I ask about places near by and make my way to Hilary's down a muddy road, past several lake sized pools across from the airport. There are three people there. I have a good salad and a sandwich as it fills up. It has only whites in it besides some of the service and kitchen staff although the white owner [I assume she is Hilary] is working the tables.

I wander up the road a bit to get some information on Delta trips and other possibilities for after my volunteer work. It seems a pricey business, but I am considering 2 nights in the Delta, 2 nights in the Linyati - a more northern area where there are more animals at this time of the year and , for something totally different, 2 nights in the Kalahari.

I wander back to the office. It is totally hot and so I try to do some work.

Monday, March 9, 2009; Maun

After another nondescript [read: good] flight, I arrived in Maun on the edge of the Okavango - my intended destination. The interesting thing at the end of the flight was the luggage being put into a van and then delivered to the open passenger doorway to the terminal. Everyone who had luggage, just milled around in the tight door way space and grabbed theirs when it arrived.

As much as Gaborone is a carefully planned city, Maun seems to be the opposite, with the homes and buildings flung across the landscape, like the balls on a pool table, here and there with great spaces between them and in a haphazard manner. As I am brought to my new home, I see herds of goats wandering about and 2's and 3's of small donkeys foraging along the roadside free to wander as they wish. Skinny long legged dogs complete the scene. I am assured that they all belong to someone and the owner knows where they are.

My home is at a guest house called Jump Street, where I have a round building all to myself. It is a modern version of the round mud , thatched roofed homes that are in so many pictures and films of southern Africa particularly in veldt like areas. It has a peaked roof that traditionally are thatch, although mine is not. It is in a verdant area in an enclosed compound as all homes and buildings are here. There is local art creating the desk and carved into the door and a large stump in the garden.

The WAR office is at the edge of the airport. I meet Mpho, the coordinator and we quickly get to work discussing what she needs and what I can deliver. She is a lovely woman; soft spoken, as are most Batswana, but clear about what she needs. We come to an agreement that I will prepare for and deliver a team building for 4 hours on the 23rd of March. With Navoo, the head counsellor, we further agree on 3 sessions with clients lasting for 2 -3 hours each in which we will focus on helping them to break their economic dependence on those perpetrating violence on them. We will do some work in financial planning and exploring ways to create income. This will be interesting as many of the clients are local farmers and do not speak English like everyone I have encountered so far. The other item, we agree on is 2 training sessions for the counselling staff, one of which will include representatives from other local agencies like the police and the local psychiatric unit, debriefing and sharing on confidentiality, dependence, transference and counter transference, working with trauma, dealing with clients that one finds impossible, trauma, termination and empowerment.

It is satisfying to note that their mission is client empowerment just like at my day job in Vancouver and that gives us a common language and understanding.

The last item, Mpho agrees on is working personally with her to develop a contract with her for better work limits and boundaries. She is in the office at 7 am and was still there with me at 6 pm. Like all care givers I have encountered, they are not good at looking after themselves and families and eventually the clients lose out. In the afternoon she went to pick up her grandson from kindergarten, but swhe was so late that he had been taken home by somneone else. She agrees with a somewhat sardonic laugh.

I have my work cut out for me.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

March 8, 2009: Sunday, a day of rest

Last night I decided to take a day of rest today as I was still feeling low energy and tired although I realize that maybe in some part from going from 10C and cloudy to 30C+ and sunny. However I did not get up until noon!

I went to check out the retail commerce at the Riverwalk Shopping Mall near by. Gaborone was a small village, chosen for its strategic location as the capital of Botswana at it independence in 1966. As a result it has been well planned as can be seen n the aerial picture I included in one of my earlier posts.

Shopping malls are a part of that and most retail business is conducted in malls, with a few roadside stand popping up here and there. The Riverwalk Mall seems designed to off most thins that one might need. It has banking, a post office, department type stores, electronics along the lines of Future Shop and Best Buy - very popular with the younger set, grocery, household wares and linens CD's and notions/cards etc. I was surprised to find a Woolworth's, remind me of the ones we used to have. It had a nice array of reasonable modern clothing house wares and food, including reasonable [or so it looked to me] fresh produce. There was an area of the mall devoted to restaurants ranging from fast food to sit down and elegant dining. It was in this area that there were an number of sidewalk vendors sell ling "touristy" souvenirs and Botswana crafts.

While I was typing this post, I got a notification from Messenger that a Vancouver friend was on line. While I was trying to respond [as it is all new to me set up as I was leaving], he called me on Skype, which he helped me set up too, as he saw me on line. We had a nice talk and caught up for a few minutes. If anyone is on Skype, let me know at or put a comment on my blog and we'll see what might happen.

My Vancouver friend did tell me that you just changed to Daylight Savings Time, reducing the time difference between us by one hour. I have not heard of any time change here but will check after posting this ,as I have an early flight to Maun tomorrow morning.

I do not know yet what my communication capacity will be in Maun although \i have been informed that there is no wireless there. I will have to rely on connections at the place where I am going to work but have been told their set up is not the best. So we'll see.

When I went out just now, 5 or 6 smallish grey monkeys were playing and eating in the courtyard/car park out side my door. No one could tell me what kind they were; "They're just monkeys." And the internet provided no ID either.

At the entrance gate to the apartment compound is a sign for car drivers that I thought was a hoot: "Do not hoot for entrance, flash your lights instead."

On my walk today and my travels yesterday, I noted a number of interesting things and obvious planning for a future in a prosperous country. First was the National Museum of Botswana, and then the Botswana National Academy for Administration and Commerce. I wandered by a Tree Nursery of the Department of the Environment and Tourism as well as The National Tree Seed Center of the Department of Forests and Resources which had wonderful stands of eucalyptus and banana trees, with bell ringing cattle grazing in the shade below them [28C]. On the TV earlier while I was getting ready, there was a program on HIV/AIDS prevention followed by one on the expected impacts of the western recession on the economy based on wealth sensitive items such as diamonds [80-90% of foreign trade], tourism and beef. The focus was not on the dire results but on how best to deal with it.

I guess my noting all this shows my western chauvinism to some degree. However, I find it interesting to be in a forward thinking and preparing country on a continent that is not usually associated with that in the western news. We mostly hear of wars, and government coups and resource exploitation. This is notably different from all that!

Enough for now. I am doing well and trust that you are too.

Sala sentle [goodbye as you are leaving]

Saturday, March 7, 2009

March 7, 2009: The first safari, or facsimile thereof.

Because there were three L4C volunteers in Gaborone today, the program officers arranged for us to go to the Mokolodi Nature Reserve located about 15 kilometres outside of Gaborone. The taxi driver, Thebe, picked me up at 9 am and we collected Manured another from L4C and off we were. The third person was flying to Johannesburg and could not make it.

The reception area is an interesting, I assume, traditional design and attractive with thatched roofs on the buildings and all done in traditional colours. Manpreet immediately ran into a "Student Without Borders" participant from Kingston, Ontario that she shared housing with, who worked at the Reserve. He showed us some special exhibits of enclosures as we had an hour before the actual drive around the 5000 hectares to see the animals in a relatively free state. The exhibits were of the most poisonous adder, some lizards, a Nile Crocodile and a python. He explained that the Reserve was for conservation, study, education and trying to breed some at risk Botswana animals.

Our drive about soon began and was prefaced by some information and a statement that we might not might not see any animals. They are incredibly well camouflaged and the vegetation is thick and heavy this season due to a wonderfully wet summer that has all the watering holes full and the grass tall and green. Well, we ended up seeing lots and I was reduced to the typical tourist in the pictures of the white invaders: sitting up on the open vehicle with my camera and zoom lens and snapping away every time something moved!!

The driver stopped often and in a very casual fashion offered us a wealth ofinformation about the particular animals we encountered. We saw: elephants, giraffes, impala, wart hogs, haartebest, kudos, Malibu storks, cheetahs (sleeping in the tall grass during the heat of the day and so could not get e recognizable shot of them), Brilliant yellow weaver birds, zebra and a monkey near the reception centre plus one in town when I was out for a walk before dusk, and also a baboon along the road on the way to the reserve.

As Manpreet, who is a long term and experienced volunteer with L4C, having arrived 10 whole days ago, said; " What a great way to start your Botswana adventure!"