Things are finally starting to settle down here in Botswana, and the initial culture shock has already began to subside. The first week has been very chaotic. For now, I will summarize the events that have unfolded since arriving in Gaborone.
We arrived in Botswana at 9:30am local time, flying from Johannesburg on a small propeller plane. The first thing I noticed about Botswana from the plane is that it is, in fact, not flat at all. I had read and heard that Botswana was basically a flat desert. From what I have seen thus far, granted that I have not seen much yet, it is a green and hilly country. I would suggest that anyone who calls Botswana flat should take a drive across the plains of Nebraska or Iowa to find out what flat country looks like. After landing, the plane left us about a 100m walk to actually get into the airport, where we were able to claim our bags and go through customs. Luckily for myself, both of my bags arrived safely in Gaborone, a few others in the group were not so lucky however, and they had to go several days before their bags arrived. Going through customs in Botswana was exceptionally easy. I was asked “Do you have anything to claim?” I answered “No,” and I was through. Being my first international experience, I can only hope I find it this easy in the future! Next, we met Batsirai Chidzozo or ‘Batsi’ as we call him. He is our program coordinator and runs the CIEE branch of study abroad students in Botswana. He has been extremely helpful in taking care of our affairs at the University of Botswana (UB), and preparing us for living in Botswana (we would be lost without him). After the group had all been gathered, we were driven to the Oasis Motel, where we would stay for the first 2 nights. We were greeted here by Tanya and Nontombi, who are UB students who will be helping us throughout the semester. While the first day was simply spent relaxing at the motel, it was brutal nonetheless. After 32 hours with very minimal sleep, others and I simply wanted to crash. However, Tanya and Nontombi did their best to prevent us from sleeping at least until sundown.
The next day we all attended a CIEE orientation at UB, which was directed by Batsi. Batsi talked to us about many issues of living in Gaborone. We then heard from several guest lecturers about the history of Botswana, and about the educational system in Botswana.
One thing that has been grilled into us from the start of orientation is the ‘petty crime’ in Gaborone. While violent crime seems to be exceedingly rare, theft is still common. We have been warned to keep doors locked at all times, be aware of bags and possessions when walking around the city, and to simply be aware of your surroundings at all times. While this seems like common sense, after repeated warnings it has become clear that this is no small issue, and an increased awareness is necessary to stay safe.
The next day, we attended a UB orientation for international students. Much of the information gathered here was repeated from the previous day, but there were some additional useful insights. Many of the administrative issues discussed here, that other international students have to deal with have already been taken care of for the CIEE students by Batsi.
In addition to the orientation sessions, we also began registration for classes at UB, which is simply not as efficient as U.S. systems. I began this process on the 5th, and was finally entered into the system on the 9th. For international students to register, we basically fill out a registration form that indicates the classes we wish to take. This is then turned in for advisors to actually enter the information into the system. The first week of class is also used for adding and dropping classes, so registration really will not be finalized until this Friday. Because of this, many students do not even attend class in the first week. The CIEE public health courses also will not begin until next week, so it will still be some time before I am able to write about my healthcare experiences here.
UB took all of the international students on a trip to the outskirts of Gaborone, where we were introduced to traditional Botswana food. This took place at the No. 1 Ladies’ Opera House (named after the novel series by Alexander Smith). A picture of the food was seen below. A couple of the more interesting dishes included: goat intestines, fried worms, and ginger beer. Apparently many of the locals eat the fried worms as a regular snack (one bite was enough for me). After the dinner, the cooks and other Batswana demonstrated several traditional dances. Then the international students attempted to show off our own cultures. Out of about 30 Americans, the Pledge of Allegiance was about the best thing we could come up with (plus the Dougy dance).
The CIEE students also took one of our first excursions yesterday, which included hiking the Kgale hill (pictures below). Because the greater part of this hike was during the hottest part of the day, many of the students were not altogether happy with the decision to hike at the time we did. Still, the views of the city, the surrounding area, and the hill itself were beautiful.
While the first week in Gaborone has been somewhat chaotic, all the preparation has gotten me excited for everything that will be happening over the course of the next several months. I am beginning to grow more comfortable with the city and culture here, and I am sure as classes begin and my tasks begin to materialize, time will begin to pass only too fast. I have been in Botswana for 1 week, stay with me for 17 more!
(Pictures will be coming, they take a really long time to upload here)