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9 posts from June 2014

06/23/2014

Hiking Kgale

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Post by Allie McConville from Doane College

One big hill, a group of Americans, and no water. This was the situation that was upon us when we decided to embark on the ambitious adventure of climbing Kgale hill.

After going out and having a good time on Saturday night we came to the conclusion that Sunday morning would be the “puuurrfeecctt” time to go on a little hike. As we arrived Sunday morning (looking a little rough) everyone was ready to go. We started out the hike going at a steady pace and going strong. As we continued we slowly started to realize that we somehow had gotten off the path. No one seemed too concerned and we continued thinking that we would eventually find our way back to the trail. As time passed the “path” we were taking started to turn into a rock climbing, thorn dodging, “not for the faint hearted or overweight” kind of trail. Needless to say I was dying. Without water and slowly losing our ability to breathe, I, along with some of my fellow hikers, began to question the decision we had made.

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Suddenly after taking a much needed and lengthy break at the bottom of a huge boulder, we heard one of the more ambitious hikers yell, “We found the top!” I have never heard sweeter words in my entire life. As we climbed the boulder and reached the top my breath was taken away. I don’t know how much of that was due to the fact I was out of shape or the beautiful view I had just encountered, but it was definitely a breath taking experience. As I looked out on the whole city of Gaborone I realized the immense beauty that the city, as well as the country of Botswana held. 

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I was very happy with my decision to wake up on a Sunday morning and climb one of the biggest hills in Botswana. I would however, give anyone else embarking on this adventure a couple of tips: Bring water, be in somewhat of a physical shape, and stay on the trail. Other than that you should be set. Happy hiking!

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African Reflections

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Post by Maria Harlan from Indiana University Bloomington

When I first came to Gaborone, Botswana I did not know really what to expect. Whenever I travel I try to come with a blank slate in order to learn and absorb as much as possible. With this goal I knew I had to open myself up to all of the possibilities for growth and experience, and to be aware of my surroundings as I began to learn. This far into the trip I would have never expected to learn as much as I already have. During the past three weeks I have learned more about public health, Setswana, my travel companions, and to my surprise, myself.

Health care and the developing world has always been a passion of mine, and that is why I pursued a study abroad program in public health. Through my clinic rotations and public health lectures I have began to form my own understanding of health care in a middle-income country as well as the struggles and benefits of government health care. I often find myself comparing the treatment one receives in America to here in Botswana and I not only see how much more advancement is needed in this country, but I also feel very grateful for the care that I receive back in the states.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is immersing yourself into the culture of your surroundings. In Botswana, the Setswana culture is something that permeates all aspects of society and this fascinates me.  Through our classwork and excursions we have already had many opportunities to discover the Setswana culture. My favorite experience so far was this past weekend when we went to Bahurutshe. While there, we went hiking, learned about village life, and watched traditional dancers. I really appreciated this opportunity because it allowed me to organically learn about the country through first hand experience.

Image1The group after a hike to see the caves in Bahurutshe.

Image1Some local women sharing their lives with us so that we could understand more about village life and practices

Image1Before dinner at Bahurutshe we enjoyed a group performance from the traditional dancers.

The one thing I really was looking forward to the most before my travels was getting to know the others I would be traveling with. Often times the group you are with can make or break your experience. On my trip I have been extremely lucky to be surrounded with such amazing people from all over America, as well as local volunteers who have been traveling with us. I know that by the end of our travels we will all share something with each other that no one else does, and this will bond us for life.

Lastly, this experience has taught me much about myself. I have had so many chances to further understand my values, my personality, and what I want to do with my life. Botswana is challenging me to push myself academically through the coursework and clinic rotations. I am becoming close friends to people I would have never met or had the opportunity to other wise. As well I have had many opportunities to reflect on my life, college experiences, and choices, which I would not had if I was doing anything else. I am so grateful for this experience and I cannot wait for everything that the next 5 weeks offers. I know I will be a different, and better woman when I return to the states and I have Africa to thank for that.


Image1The group after another hike in Bahurutshe

06/20/2014

My Day at Batlang!

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Post by Alexandra Vasquez from Ramapo College of New Jersey

On Thursday the 12 of June I had the opportunity to learn about a great organization with my fellow CIEE students. As a group we traveled to Batlang Support Group. This is a NGO that was started in 2003 and is a community – based organization. It was formed in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic taking over Botswana at the time. Their main focus is to help families that are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Upon our arrival the ladies from the community greeted and welcomed us to their humble facilities. They then went on to explain to us how the organization came about and its objective. Batlang’s mission is to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS by educating their community in Mogoditshane about abstinence and proper use of protection. In addition to spreading awareness about the disease, Batlang Support Group serves as a daycare center for orphaned and vulnerable children. They have kids that range in age from 0 to 6.

Image1After learning about how the support group came in existence and its mission, we went on to get a tour of the area. They started by showing us their garden where they get their vegetables. Unfortunately, their garden was not in good condition. This is because the city of Gaborone has a very low supply of water at the moment. The water dam for the city is only at 15% of its capacity. Due to the shortage of water, the garden is not getting all the water it needs to grow successfully. From the garden we went on to the see the traditional oven that was under construction. Then we went inside and met some of the children. They sang songs for us such as you are my sunshine, the ABC’s, and recited all the months and numbers. They went on to show us the other rooms that were used for napping by the younger children.

Image1Shortly after we concluded our tour the children were brought outside so we could play with them. Abbey and I were in charge of leading all the activities. We started with a simple icebreaker, Animal Scramble. At this point the kids were still shy and a bit hesitant to talk to us. Each kid got an animal and they had to make the noise of the animal given to them and find the others that had the same animal. With the help of other CIEE students we were able to get the kids to engage. We then moved on to the balloon game, which did not work as smoothly because the balloons kept popping.

Image1They really seemed to enjoy playing with the balloons; thank goodness we brought plenty of them. We ended the session with the sponge race game where we divided them in to two groups and each team had 1 bucket full of water and one empty bucket. Taking turns, fill your sponge with water, run to the empty bucket and squeeze it out, and run back and pass your sponge to the next person in line. From the looks of it that was their favorite game! We then ended everything by handing out candy and taking a ton of pictures with the kids. We all had such a great time and we were able to bring smiles to all their faces. Abby and I loved it so much that we are going back again the upcoming Friday. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my Thursday afternoon.
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06/16/2014

An Introduction to Botswana Wildlife: Mokolodi Nature Reserve

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Post by Michaela Riley from Indiana University Bloomington

When many people picture Africa, they imagine the 4x4 safari vehicles chasing after herds of zebra or wildebeest to capture the best angle for the tourists to take photographs because for once, the tourists are not seeing these animals in zoos. Botswana is one of the countries in Africa rich with wildlife. This past weekend I was that tourist keeping my eyes peeled for anything that moved. We spent a day and night at Mokolodi Nature Reserve just outside of Gaborone. It is home to giraffes, rhinos, hippos, crocodiles, zebras, impalas, and warthogs, just to name a few. Our day on the reserve began in a beautiful shaded area next to the lake that is filled with hippos and crocodiles where we had lunch and an introduction about wildlife conservation. We were reminded that even though the park rangers help the animals from time to time (pumping water into waterholes, providing food for the hyenas, and sometimes having to remove animals when the reserve is over carrying capacity), the animals are still wild and precautions should be taken.

After lunch, we drove deeper into the reserve for volunteer work. Some people built dams and placed rocks in strategic areas to prevent soil erosion. Others dug holes to catch rainwater and cut down trees because their roots prevented other vegetation from growing. A friend and myself successfully chopped down two trees with the help of a machete and an ax. Once we were sweaty and caked in dirt, we began our game drive. IMG_5997Driving to our campsite and lunch, we had already seen zebras and warthogs. On our game drive, we saw about ten giraffes, a wildebeest, and an impala. The giraffes were a sight to behold. Their heads towered over the trees and faced us as if they were posing for their photo opp. Giraffes are truly regal creatures with no predators and unique, patterned coats.

IMG_6038Older impala and wildebeest, especially males, tend to adventure off from the herds. This is why we believe we only saw one of each.

IMG_6056Riding from our excitement of seeing the giraffes, we went to dinner, which included a buffet, ciders, and a campfire. Once again as I looked up at the stars, I was reminded of how beautiful this country is with its constant cloudless days and nights. Later on, we cuddled up and heard animal noises steps away from our tents. We were never in any real danger, but the ease of which an animal could have entered our tent was a little unsettling at times, especially when I was awoken by the howling and calling.

In the morning, we could see baboons running around near the campsite as we sipped mimosas and ate a delicious buffet breakfast. Sadly, we had to drive back to our dorms and homestays, but I could have easily enjoyed another game drive. The reserve also allows mountain biking for those who want to be a bit more adventurous. I highly recommend visiting the reserve and cannot wait for the next opportunity to get up close with Botswana’s wildlife.

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The Summer Dorm Experience

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Post by Brett Solfermoser from Truman State University

Hey, everyone! I have a research paper due tomorrow, so naturally I’m procrastinating by writing this blog post. A lot of you have been asking about my living conditions here in Botswana, and I can happily confirm that they’re not too different from what can be found in the States. (Yes – I have access to a real shower!) When applying to the CIEE Community Public Health Program, I was presented with two choices: homestay or dorm. With the homestays, you live in a house that is about 30 minutes away from the University of Botswana campus. With the dorms, you live in a flat for graduate students with five other people. This was a pretty big decision, as it affected the entire two months spent here, so naturally I made a pros and cons list. (Shout-out to my Dad for teaching me his ways!)

 

        Pros

        Cons

Homestay

  • Meals are prepared for you by your host mother. #score
  • You are immersed in the culture of Botswana and get the full experience.
  • You get a brand new family! (Added bonus if you don’t like your real family!) [Don’t worry, Mom and Dad – I don’t fall in that category.]
  • If you’re a picky eater (which is a massive understatement for me), traditional meals could potentially be incredibly awkward situations.
  • 30+ minutes away from campus is kind of a hassle. (“Kind of” being another understatement.)
  • You could potentially miss out on bonding with other CIEE students who hang out together on campus.

Dorm

  • You get to live right next to campus, and can get to class in less than 10 minutes.
  • You get to meet graduate students from the University of Botswana, as well as international students.
  • Other students in the program often hang out in the dorm rooms after class.
  • You have to cook for yourself. (Lotttttts of peanut butter & jelly, folks.)
  • You miss out on the warmth of having a family to keep you company and make sure you’re safe.

In the end, I decided to stay in the dorm, because I wanted to have ease of access to shops, classes, and Mass at the nearby cathedral. Now, without further ado, it’s time for a brief photo tour of my flat/room!

In the graduate residential area, colloquially called GradVille or 417, there are seven apartment buildings (A-G), which each contain a number of flats. Outside each complex there are drying poles where you can hang wet clothes up to dry.

Image8417E: my humble abode!

Inside each complex, there are two flats per floor (of which I believe there are three). Each flat is fully equipped with a bathroom, shower, refrigerator, kitchen, table/chairs, and a couch. 

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Bathroom, with sink and toilet. 

(Pro-tip: bring your own toilet paper.)

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Shower, with extra sink not shown.

(Shower shoes recommended!)

Image8Fully-stocked kitchen is always a plus!

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Shared area between the six flatmates
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As I mentioned earlier, there are six people per flat, each with their own, individual room. The door handles of each room allow for a lock to be placed, which is strongly recommended. Generally, the other members of each flat are trustworthy, but sometimes the door to the flat is left open and other people may wander inside. Inside each room there is a bed, closet, and desk.

Image8Desk, with Ethernet and AC sockets. Above shelf provides
organizational means to serve all your obsessive-compulsive needs.

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Spacious closet, with shelves and a rod to hang clothes.
(You know, because you couldn't just see that in the picture.)

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The bed at first looks a little ... cot-like, but it really is actually comfortable!

There is also a service that washes your sheets biweekly, so that's a perk.

So far, my experience in the dorm has been great, despite a few inconveniences along the way (e.g. no hot water for a few days). It's really not too much different from the houses and apartments back in K-Vegas (a.k.a. Kirksville; a.k.a. my college town). All in all, I'm pleased with my decision to stay in the dorms. They're cozy, convenient, close to classes (#accidentalalliteration), and I'm looking forward to the many weeks to come in 417E2!

06/12/2014

Using the Transportation System in Gaborone

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Post by Alexandra Gary from the University of Texas at Austin

When I first arrived in Gaborone, I was overwhelmed by the complex array of combis (white vans) and taxis that shared various routes around the city. The station was the worst. It consists of hundreds of white vans that gather by route in different lots around Rail Park Mall. The route is indicated on the right hand corner of each combi. Taxis are located in one lot in front of the entrance to the mall, and you must ask the person in charge to direct you to the taxi that you should take.Image4The Station is filled with people walking in every direction. Seeing that there is no map that shows all of the combi and taxi routes around Gaborone, it seemed hopeless to try to navigate the system. However, this was not an option since I am staying with a host family and needed to find my way to the University of Botswana. My host sister took me the first day. We walked to the taxi stop by my house and waited for a shared taxi to pick us up.

Image4This is the taxi stop by my house

My main issue with the taxis in my neighborhood is that they seem to fill up quickly. You never know if it is a busy morning, so I try to leave my house by at least 6:30 am to make sure I am not waiting for an hour. The shared taxi then takes us to the Station where I switch to either another taxi or a combi. My host sister showed me the routes I could take to campus. For instance, I take the combi, Tlokweng 4, to get to campus and then I walk from the stop to my classroom.

Image4One of my many combi rides

After the first day, I was on my own. At first, I was anxious about my commute, but I have become accustomed to it. I give myself about an hour to get to campus, so I am not rushed. Since I have to commute to and from school every day, I feel so much better about using the system. I have become much more confident and even proud to show off my ability to navigate the city. I still have days where I get lost or get off at the wrong stop, but those are just minor setbacks now. CIEE also put on a combi safari last weekend to show us how to get to various places around Gaborone such as the different malls. This helped me tremendously in finding the confidence to go to places other than the university.


Image4This was from our combi safari

I have since been using the transportation system to find the clinics and other places that I need to go to. I feel like mastering the transportation system is part of the experience here. While I am not there yet, I feel much better about finding my way around the city, and I am starting to feel more and more like a local every day.

06/09/2014

More Mopane Please

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Post by Asia Moore from Temple University

Mopane Worm: an edible caterpillar that feeds on the leaves of Mopane trees; a South African delicacy.

My first encounter with mopane worms was quite peculiar. On the second night of my homestay, my host mom and I sat in the kitchen speaking about all the possible food options I could partake in over the course of my stay with her. We went through the usual “do you eat chicken, beef, fish etc. and then worked our way through fruits and veggies. Once we got through all the foods I ate back at home, she began to go through some of the staple foods in Botswana. She described meals of smashed beans (dikobe), pap (a mix of maize thickened with water), spinach and mopane which she said was “very nice”. I pretty sure I had given her a confused stare because in no time she was digging around in the freezer to show me exactly what mopane was. She presented me with a small blue plastic bag and opened it to show me its contents. At first I couldn’t quite make out what I was looking at. I asked “Are these some kind of nuts?”  Before she could answer I realized I was looking into a bag of caterpillars; literally a bag of worms. I gave her a slight smile and told her that I had never had mopane worms but may try them if she prepared them.DSCN0452Fast forwarding a few days, myself and a group of classmates went on a combi safari. We ventured to a few museums, mall and street vendors. On our journey through the city we came across a vendor who sold dried maize, dried beans, a mix of candies and dried mopane worms. Unfortunately, we had to pose with the worms for a picture as a part of the safari. I couldn’t even bring myself to pick one up let alone taste it. Once we had posed and snapped pictures, I was eager to leave the stand and all memory of the worms behind.DSCN0435

I think I may have been too eager because once I got home I was in for a big surprise. I came in to find my host mom watching t.v. She explained that she had already prepared dinner and that I was welcome to make a plate whenever I was ready. Tired and hungry, I went to the kitchen, washed my hands and began to share a plate for myself. Taking the lids off of the pots I swore I was being punk’d. She had prepared some spinach, pap and mopane worms. My host mom then proceeded to come into the kitchen to watch as I made a plate. I cautioned her that I would only take a little bit of food (a.k.a mopane worms) so that I wouldn’t waste. She nodded her head in agreement and we went to sit in front of the tv as I ate my plate of food.ImagesCAIA2QV5As I ate the worms, she watched for a smile or a physical sign of enjoyment. Usually I would crack a smile, but I think I was trying to focus on swallowing the worms at that moment. They were a strange crunchy leathery texture and I felt like I was chewing for forever. After I awkwardly explained that I really didn’t enjoy the worms we went on with the evening watching tv and conversing. I don’t remember the worms having any distinct taste but I know that I have no interest in experiencing mopane worms in the future. In retrospect, though I didn’t enjoy this southern African delicacy, I can always brag about eating a mopane worms with dignity.DSCN0438

06/06/2014

Dumelang borra le bomma, ke rata Botswana!

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Post by Abbey Kennedy from the University of Scranton

That basically means “Hey guys and girls, I love Botswana!” which is a really great sentence to sum up my first week here in Gaborone. It is completely insane how much you can learn and fall in love with a country in such a short amount of time, but Botswana just seems to have that effect on people.

When I landed in Gaborone, I met a few other people from the program as we waited to pick up our luggage….mine never came through. But everyone was super nice and loaned the 2 other kids who lost their luggage and I stuff to wear while the airline found ours. We got it back really quickly, but the whole "I survived 3 days in Africa with only my backpack" thing really made me realize I am way more tough and calm than I ever thought I could be, so part of me is almost glad that it happened.

SURVIVAL SETSWANA! The Motswana culture is very strong here and greeting everyone is essential to respecting that culture. We have been saying “Dumela mma/rra” (Hello madam/sir) to everyone we come in contact with, and even though people  giggle a little bit because of our strong American accents, they really appreciate that we are trying to learn their cultural language and are more than willing to help us out with anything we need. “Ke itumelela go go itse, go siame mma/rra” (It was nice to meet you, goodbye).”

FOOD!! We have eaten a lot of traditional African food, which is surprisingly very easy to live on even as a vegetarian. The meat eaters, however, cannot stop raving about how much better the meat is here versus back in the USA. I tried some Chakalaka today which is a staple canned food item here, and it was so good. Going out of my comfort zone in the food realm is proving to be such a good decision! I took a picture of one of my meals…

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It's (starting clockwise from noon) potato wedges, steamed veggies, a starch mash with some form of melon in it which was actually really good, rice with veggies and a tomato gravy which is awesome, and then some sort of steamed leaves which were not my personal favorite, but some people loved them. There was also ox tail and chicken at this meal for all the meat eaters. And it was followed by an apple pie-ish muffin with a warm cream poured over it; heavenly.

This weekend we had a lot of fun doing our “Combi Safari” where we went all around Gabs using public transportation and taking creative pictures at each stop on our scavenger hunt list. Some of the highlights were the art gallery, the station (where you go pretty much every day to get anywhere), main mall, and the pedestrian mall (a huge, super cool flea market). So that made me so much more comfortable navigating through the city on my own.

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A small group of friends and I also went to the Gaborone game reserve with one of the locals we met, and saw monkeys just hopping around and I wanted to steal one and keep it forever; they were adorable. But it was crazy because all the locals were so un-phased by them or they thought they were annoying. We also saw warthogs and kudu and antelope and ostriches and so many other cool animals. And then the sun set and we left, but you can’t hate an African sunset no matter how hard you try; they are perfect.

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Dumela Botswana!

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Post by Sara Sanders from Creighton University

We have now officially been in Gaborone, Botswana for two weeks.  I cannot believe how quickly the time has passed!  It seems like yesterday that we arrived; yet we are almost a quarter of the way through our trip.  The group is already so close; you would not be able to tell that we just met a couple of days ago.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself; let me start from the beginning of the trip.  After, a long 2.5 days of flying we finally made it to Gaborone, Botswana where we entered the customs hall after a short walk on the tarmac.  The airport had an extremely Caribbean feel, which was kind of surprising.  I proceeded to pick up my luggage (I was lucky that it showed up) and make a great first impression…walking into the glass automatic doors exiting the arrivals hall.  As embarrassing as this was, I knew I had found kindred spirits when the next girl through the door did the same thing and everyone just kept moving like it was nothing.

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From the airport we went to a motel for the evening. Once everyone arrived at the motel we were treated to a group dinner.  However, everyone was so tired that we all were in bed by nine o’clock.  The next day we moved into the dorms, went grocery shopping, and began orientation.  The next four days were filled with energy, as we excitedly heard about upcoming adventures.  The first of which was our weekend “Combi Safari,” or public transportation tour around the city.  This was when I finally realized that Gaborone had a true city center and was not just a collection of suburbs.  The most interesting was definitely the combi station as there were so many different vendors, people, stores, and much more.  For lack of a better word, the station had so much texture.

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After a busy but relaxing weekend, we started our first week of clinic visits.  Even at 6:30 in the morning, when we had to leave campus, everyone was very excited.  As soon as we arrived at the clinic, they were already running for the day.  Within fifteen minutes after arriving, the first child of the day was born.  The four of us then split into four rooms to observe and created a mini-rotation schedule.  The four rooms were the CWC, injections/wound wrapping, consultation, and maternity.  Although this was a great experience, the next day we decided to work in groups and observe just two rooms.  This time we decided that it was most beneficial to observe the CWC and the wound/injection room.  The CWC is also known as the Child Welfare Center.  This is where mothers come to weigh their children (between 0-5 years old) on a regular basis.

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After our clinic visits we head back to campus for more coursework.  I have Setswana immediately after lunch and then a short break.  Following the break we have class on Mondays.  However, on the other days we finish for the day and have the opportunity to explore the city and work on coursework.  I look forward to what the rest of the trip has to bring, especially given the great first two weeks.
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