Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Visit to an Orphanage

I realized it's been a little while since my last update... probably because now that we are settled in, life in Botswana has been pretty normal and uneventful. Honestly, there isn't a whole lot to blog about. Things at work have slowed down a lot - we got through a month or so of non-stop visitors to our section and so now I can finally take time to introduce myself to contacts in town, and begin getting more familiar with the issues I'll be covering in the next two years.... rather than running around like a crazy person setting up meetings and events for various visitors! I am planning another work consultations trip to Ghanzi, a small town in the western region of Botswana near the border with Namibia. Scott and I will drive the 8 hours to Ghanzi, spend two nights there, then drive 6 more hours to Windhoek, Namibia to check it out over Veteran's Day weekend.... then it's 14 hours back to Gaborone! We are looking forward to getting to see a different part of Botswana, and excited to soon be adding another country to our list of places we've been!

On a different note, this afternoon I visited an orphanage here in Gaborone, and wow, what a touching experience! The visit was most definitely one of my favorite things I've done since arriving here. There were about 30 kids under the age of 6 staying at the facility awaiting adoption or foster care. The kids are so lonely with only a few caretakers who don't have time to give them the individual attention they really need, and the minute my colleague and I walked into the room, we were instantly swarmed by the little guy. They jumped on the opportunity to have fresh, new people there and demanded to be picked up and cuddled! One poor little girl burst into tears when I wouldn't pick her up - but a that moment I already had a child on each hip. The instant I sat down on the couch, I had three toddlers all trying to sit on my lap at once. The kids were dying to be hugged, tickled, or given any kind of physical contact really. It was very touching to be able to make them so happy simply be being a body for them to hug - especially given that I knew many of them had come to the shelter from abusive or dangerous family situations. They are extremely sweet little people, and it sure was a fun and rewarding way to spend the afternoon. I am definitely going back to play with the kids some more!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Liam Neeson + Animal Facts

The TV station on which we watched Taken tonight substituted commercials for informative wildlife factoids. Fun and educational!

Finally Getting Settled

This shows only about a quarter of the food we had shipped over!
Our own little Target right at home.

We were thrilled to finally receive our shipments over the past couple of days. The process was - as we expected - frustrating... the movers didn't show up when they were supposed to, of course. But it all worked out in the end and we got last of our "stuff" on Saturday morning.

The house is feeling more and more like home and even though we have a ton of space here, the place is filling up quickly with all of the rations we bought in DC this summer. Over the four weeks I was at FSI, we spent every weekend stocking up at Costco, Target and the outlets. It sure paid off - now we have a massive stockpile of everything from canned salmon to my favorite Redken styling gel. We could survive for months off all the spaghetti noodles, granola bars and Cheez-Its piled up in our kitchen cabinets. Maybe buying all that was a little bit excessive, given that in Botswana many Western food and cosmetics brands are available... and some of those credit card swipes back in DC were very, very painful! 

All the same, I like to think we saved money and certainly avoided the hassle of ordering everything online  - no Amazon shipping costs and three week wait for a shipment of Wheat Thins for us! No substituting for greasy off-brand shampoo when the pouch is held up in South Africa! Just a two second walk down the hall to our handy supply closet which has a lovely sampling of everything we need.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Our Stuff is Here!

Yesterday our UAB (air shipment) and HHE (sea shipment) from Shanghai finally arrived! We are still waiting this morning to receive the last of our HHE, but it has already made all the difference to actually have our things in the house. Books, shampoo, pictures, wall hangings, souvenirs - it's all familiar and it's all ours. The house is looking really good with just a few decorations. Now to finish unpacking... (yes, I'm procrastinating)!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Superhuman Patience Required

I will be the first one to admit that I am probably not the most patient person in the world. I am the one who will send a million follow-up e-mails or phone calls if my original request isn't responded to in a couple of hours. I'm that annoying person who will find countless ways to bring something up again and again until you confirm that what I want is okay. I am slightly obsessive about "getting things done" and I hate leaving unresolved matters sitting on my desk when I leave work at the end of the day.

However, having lived in China, up until August 31 (when we arrived in Botswana) I felt that as a world traveler and general citizen of the planet I had made respectable concessions to the very different attitudes about deadlines and productivity in general taken by non-American cultures. I saw myself as a relatively relaxed, take-things-as-they- come type person. With a couple of years of expat experience under my belt, I wasn't going to let a little bit of inconvenience get me down! No, I was way too well adapted for all that!

Fast forward seven weeks.

Things we have accomplished since we moved here are: We moved into our house, and we also finally have internet access and TV at home.

These are both monumental accomplishments, when you consider they were accomplished at all. For example, just gettin the internet set up was a feat of superhuman prowess. It required a handwritten memo from both me our house's previous occupant, as well as weeks of many, many phonecalls from the Embassy and Scott and me to our (not so) friendly neighborhood internet provider BotsNet. The culmination came last week when the BotsNet technician suddenly stopped taking the Embassy's phone call pleas to set us up over here, so we tried calling him on a different number in case he was screening. It worked! He apparently didn't recognize Scott's number and picked up on Friday afternoon; only to quickly hang up the phone once he realized who was calling. He hung up on us!! We were then unable to get in touch with him until today (Monday) when he at long last, finally agreed to come over and set up our internet. Not the landline though; we are still waiting for that one. Sigh.

Things we still need to get done: Receive our air & sea shipments; get our car title processing finished so that we can drive our car; have our landline set up; fix about a million and one little things that are broken in our new house. Each one of these chores has a long, sad story to go with it about delays from lost paperwork, irresponsible staff, and other little irritations that I will not bore you with because I have done enough complaining for one evening.

This whole post has been a roundabout way of saying that life in Africa so far is testing my patience in ways I never thought possible until I moved here. Yes, Botswana is a pleasant place to live, there are great travel opportunities, the people are nice, etc. But if you need to get anything done, just sit back and relax! It will not happen fast and it will not happen on your timetable. It'll get done when it's done, and there won't be a darn thing you can do about it in the meantime. I am trying my best to adapt but the efficient American in me is just too strong, and every once in a while - like on Friday afternoon when the tech hung up on us - my inner American girl wakes up and starts kicking! Maybe after two years I can train her to settle down, get a glass of wine and just stare into space for a while because you know what? There's no hurry at all.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dancing Under the Stars

One of my favorite things about living in Botswana is all the time we can spend outdoors here, especially during these cooler winter and spring months. The skies are blue every day, there is usually a light breeze, and although it's hot there is also no humidity. So as long as I'm sitting in the shade it is quite pleasant to be outside even in the hottest part of the day. This is in stark contrast to life in Shanghai, where we were lucky to have a blue sky day once a month and the city was without fail smoggy, dirted, and crowded.

In Shanghai, we hung out on our apartment complex's rooftop quite often, but it was a rare occasion that we were able to spot even one star through all the pollution and glare of the city lights. Other than the nights we sat out on the roof and the occasional meal if the weather was bearable and noise not too distracting, we spent most of our time indoors to avoid the hassle of crowds and bad air.

In Botswana, I eat lunch outside almost every day, sit on our patio by the pool after work, and all the parties we've been to here have held outdoors to take advantage of the cool, pleasant night air -  like last night when we attended a surprise birthday party for my supervisor at her house. It was quite fun to spend the evening dancing on her patio under a sky full of stars with not a sound to be heard in the neighborhood except our music and chatting.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

All Moved In (Kinda)

We moved into our new place this week, finally! We're really enjoying it so far - the yard is gorgeous with plenty of trees and flowers, the layout is much cozier, and the pool was just redone. All I need now is a comfortable raft and I will be set for weekends spent floating in the backyard! We are still waiting for several key elements that will make us feel officially settled - i.e. our shipments, ability to drive our car, and Scott's security clearance. I just have to remember that I am in Africa and American time standards do not apply here, but sometimes it is tough!

This week was extremely busy at work for me. When visitors come, the Embassy assigns them something called a "control officer" - a position in which lowly beings such as myself are tasked with planning meetings, organizing logistics, and generally being a go-to person for U.S. government visitors in our host country. This week, I had the good fortune to be simultaneously working as control officer for a large group of VIP's and another (slightly lower ranking but equally important) visitor! I should mention that this was also my first time as a control officer! Fortunately, everything went smoothly and both groups were very happy with their visits. And now that I've done two at once, I am well prepared to handle any future visitors who may come to Gaborone.

But I definitely need the weekend to recover! Pool + raft, here I come.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Trip to Maun, Kasane, and Chobe National Park


We just got back from a wonderful, weeklong trip up to the northern part of Botswana. The first part of the trip was a series of work consultations for me, the purpose of which was to introduce myself to some of our contacts outside the capital and become more familiar with the issues that concern them.
Our first destination, Maun, is a launch-off point for tourists visiting the Okavango Delta, which is accessible via chartered flights of about one to two hours from Maun. The Delta is probably one of the most famous safari destinations in Botswana, and is known for its swanky, elegant camps located right there in the park amongst all of the wildlife you would ever want to see. We didn’t make it to the Delta this time, but I did spend two very interesting days in consultations in Maun. The town is very small and dusty, with a couple of surprisingly good restaurants and not a whole lot else other than many tourist shops and travel agencies. The highlight of my stay there was meeting the several Peace Corps volunteers posted in Maun and visiting each of their projects, including a rehabilitation center for the disabled and an AIDS counseling center focused on youth. It was very inspiring to see this group of intelligent and motivated Americans working on such meaningful projects and making a difference in the community. I also visited a non-profit counseling and safe haven center called Women Against Rape, learned about water conservation efforts in the Delta area, and paid a courtesy call on the local government officials.

After two days in Maun, we flew one hour to the northwest to Kasane, another tourist spot because of its proximity of Chobe National Park, a second extremely popular tourist destination. Again, the first two days we spent in Kasane were for work consultations. Along with several colleagues who joined us in Kasane, we learned about conservation and resource management, as well as environmental challenges in the region through meetings with a variety of organizations, including the Botswana Defense Force anti-poaching unit; a Peace Corps volunteer; a non-profit called Elephants Without Borders; and the community based natural resource management organizer Chobe Enclave. The meetings were very informative, and I especially enjoyed learning about the wildlife populations surveys and elephant-focused studies conducted by Elephants Without Borders.
Finally, we’re getting to the fun part! Conveniently I managed to work in this business trip the week before Botswana National Day, a four-day weekend holiday. When my meetings in Kasane were finished on Friday, we transferred to the Chobe Safari Lodge and enjoyed three lovely days there. The hotel was gorgeous with a nice pool, fun African-style rooms to get you in the safari spirit, and warthogs and monekys roaming the grounds. One mischievous little monkey stole my pina colada from right next to my lounge chair and ate the pineapple garnish!

On Saturday we took a trip across the border to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.  We spent some time hiking around the falls and then had a beautiful lunch at the Victoria Falls Hotel, a colonially elegant place where Queen Elizabeth once stayed. Sunday morning we had our first safari game drive through Chobe National Park, followed by an amazing river cruise that afternoon and one more game drive the following morning before heading back to Gaborone.
The safari activities – boat cruise and game drives- were absolutely spectacular! There is so much to see in the park, and it seemed that around every corner there was more wildlife to be admired. We saw elephants, hippos, crocodiles, lions, giraffes, water buffalo, warthogs, impala, kudu and tons of lovely birds. My favorites were the elephants! I thought it very sweet how protective the adult elephants were of their children. Each time our driver pulled up alongside a pack (pod? herd? ) of elephants, the adults immediately formed a barrier between us and the young elephants in the group, waving their trunks and flapping their ears at us. The babies of course were curious and wanted to come closer to take a look, but the parents weren’t having any of that! At one point on our boat cruise, we saw a group of 15 or so elephants come jauntily running down to the water and start playing in the river. The only thing that stood in the way of their fun was a crocodile lurking just off the shore, but the large male elephants quickly chased him away by stamping their feet threateningly in his direction. Even a croc would’ve been no match for those strong men.

Other highlights were the lions – we saw five of them on our second game drive! We even had what might be called a close encounter with one lioness. During a stretch break, another guide came running up and told us all to quickly get back into the van because a lion had been spotted in the area and was coming towards us. To help us get a closer look, our guide drove us around back of the rest stop area behind the bathrooms (where Scott and I had just been not five minutes before) and there was the lioness, in the bushes right behind the bathroom! As if that weren’t scary enough, the lioness locked eyes with me when our (open-sided!) van pulled up next to her, and charged directly towards me at full speed while glaring at me with those fierce lion eyes! Fortunately for me she veered off at the last minute and retreated back into the bushes… or I would not be here writing this blog entry!
Actually, I’m exaggerating a bit – it wasn’t quite as dire as all that. Apparently the lions cannot distinguish between individual people when they are all one unit piled into a vehicle; all they see is the size and shape of the vehicle itself and therefore, unless provoked, would not attempt to attack a creature so much larger than themselves. At least that’s what the guide told us to make us feel better, who knows?!

Photos from the trip are here: http://www​.facebook.​com/media/​set/?set=a​.101023268​03713553.3​400535.524​3964&type=​1&l=694f57​ed60

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Welcome to A World Safari!

Hello! Thanks for stopping by A World Safari. This blog will be a chronicle of the adventures my husband and I have in our new home, Gaborone, Botswana. We've been without Internet for the first month of our time here, so I am just now posting the below entries written since we arrived. Next up - an entry about our recent safari in Chobe National Park!


Why Driving in Botswana Keeps Life Interesting

(Written 9/21/2012)

I thought the end of my last blog entry would be a good segue to this topic: Why Driving in Botswana Keeps Life Interesting.

1.       Giant White Kia Van = Combi in the Eyes of the Locals I should explain this portion by first reminding you that we are currently not able to drive our own car – which is an extremely cool, sporty looking SUV that is just itching to bear us forth on many adventurous safaris out in the bush. Instead, we are temporarily leasing a Giant White Kia Van from the embassy until our diplomatic certifications are processed. Now, this Giant White Kia Van bears a striking resemblance to the “combi” buses which are the closest thing Gaborone has to public transportation. The combis will stop helter-skelter (I have always wanted to use that word in writing) for all kinds of people, anytime, anyplace, who signal the vans by flapping their hand up and down violently. Pedestrians often mistake our Giant White Kia Van for a combi, and attempt to frantically hail us when they see the van approaching; only to jump back in trepidation when they see that the van is driven by Giant White People who bear no resemblance to their friendly neighborhood combi chauffeur.

2.       Friday Night is Party Time Never in my life have I had the experience of peering into neighboring vehicles as I pass by and catching a glimpse of an entire carload of people drinking beers as they cruise along. Yes, that is Friday night in Gaborone. There isn’t a whole lot going on in town nightlife-wise, so people seem to enjoy piling all their friends into a van for a mobile drunk driving party. Or I shoud say “drink driving” as they call it here. I have noticed signs for a car service called “Home Rra” which strives to solve this very problem by making it convenient for the intoxicated to get home safely. However, the service appears to be missing the major problem – it’s not just people driving home after an evening out; rather, the evening out is spent in the car with drinks. Why not just have drinks at home in the living room? Beats me.

3.       Pedestrians Do Not Fear Death The streets are dimly lit at night, the lane markers are almost indistinguishable, drivers do not stop at stop signs or fully obey traffic rules. Yet this does not dissuade pedestrians – from the well-dressed businessmen on the way to work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the shanty dweller on the way out for a beer – from wandering helter-skelter (yes! Used it again!) out in front of oncoming traffic. This is no tentative dodging of traffic or quick dash through a gap in traffic. It is people unconcernedly, lackadaisically stepping out into the street just a few feet in front of, say for the sake of context, a Giant White Kia Van barreling towards them. This seems to happen especially at night, when the risk of death by car is amplified 1,000 times by the prevalence of drunk drivers and lack of good lighting. I will be using my brights as much as possible in order to avoid hitting some poor unfortunate soul who didn’t bother to look before moseying out into the highway. I’d never be able to forgive myself!

4.       Stay Out of the Right Lane if Driving a Large, Clunky Van As mentioned in previous entries, the pace of life in Botswana is extremely slow and relaxed. The Ambassador needs a meeting with a high-level official yesterday? Yawn. It can wait until Monday. Our burglar alarm is going off at all hours of the night and we need someone to come over and fix it ASAP? Got a lot going on now, can’t get to it. The one and only time that I have experienced so far when speed does matter is when driving in the right lane. Let me remind you that here in a former British protectorate, we drive on the left and therefore the right lane is the “fast lane.” Woe to the new girl in town (who may be driving a large, clunky, Kia van) who forgets this difference between the United States and most other former British possessions… and decides to switch to the right line to take it nice and slow. That person, whoever she may be, will be honked at, flipped off, and generally scorned by all other drivers in the vicinity. Because let’s face it, we’re in the bustling hub of Gaborone and people have places to go! People to see! Business to sort out! Stat! So get outta the right lane!

Our First Week in Africa: We Made It Through!

(written 9/8/2012)
It is 6:30 pm and I’m in my pajamas having a glass of wine as I write this entry at the kitchen table. Typical Saturday night in Gaborone! At least so far for us, because this is only our second Saturday here. This has been a tough week for us, mainly due to a lot of issues with our security system the past several days.  With a wicked combination of jetlag and a faulty alarm that was going off at all hours of the night, it was difficult to fully concentrate during my first week at work. However, all the issues seem to have been resolved and things are definitely looking up after two consecutive nights of more than five hours of sleep!
My first week of work went well, and I feel that I got a lot accomplished. We are now connected to the outside world via cell phone, landline, and a vehicle leased from the Embassy which we can use until we can drive our own car in another couple of weeks. These are luxuries which we did not fully appreciate until last weekend, when we did not have them and were stuck at home for the entire three-day Labor Day holida! Anyway, I was pretty busy at the office meeting all my new co-workers and checking in, while Scott was here manning the house to receive all the various maintenance workers who have been coming by all week.

This weekend has been nice so far, we’re getting caught up on sleep and are becoming braver and braver about venturing out to explore Gaborone. We are feeling more comfortable here every day and are realizing that it is quite a pleasant place to live. Surprisingly, there are many more reasonably priced, Western-style amenities available here than there were in Shanghai and it appears that we will be able to find everything we need with no trouble.  This afternoon we went out to lunch, did some shopping, and saw the “new” (for here) Batman movie. I must mention that all of this was accomplished with me driving on the left and not injuring anyone in our car or any pedestrians on the side of the road… which is no small accomplishment!

And… most importantly… we met with a travel agent to plan our first safari! If all goes according to plan, in another couple of weeks we will be visiting Chobe National Game Park up in the northern part of Botswana, and also taking a day trip across the border to Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls!

Our New Home: Gaborone, Botswana (Wait, What?!?)

(written 9/2/2012)

Take a 16-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, stay over night at Johannesburg’s  O.R. Tambo International Airport, hop on a one hour flight in a propeller plane, and where do you end up? In Gaborone, Botswana, our home for the next two years!
As I’m writing this entry, I’m sitting on the front porch of our temporary home in Kgabo Close, listening to the wind in the trees and nervously checking for feet under our front gate at the end of the driveway. Every once in a while I’ll see a dark pair of shoes pause in front of the gate and someone peering through the crack in the gate. I can’t tell if these people outside are security guards, just curious, or (I hope not) thieves scoping out the new arrivals. Luckily, we are basically living inside a fortress with a pretty intense security system. However, after living in ultra-safe Shanghai, the danger of break-ins and robberies in Gaborone will still take some getting used to.

We’ve now been living in Botswana for two days and are slowing settling ourselves in, unpacking our bags, and figuring out what this place is all about. So far, we’ve been shopping for basic home essentials, walked to the gym right around the corner, joined co-workers for a few meals out (including Chinese, that was a bizarre experience!) and met a lot of the Embassy folks at a Marine party. We were able to arrange to purchase an SUV while still back in the States, but it will be sitting in our driveway for a few weeks until we can get our diplomatic resident permits and driver’s licenses sorted out. Until then, we’ll be leasing a car from the Embassy to drive after hours. Unfortunately, Scott isn’t working yet and will be stuck at home during the day until we can drive our own car.

We’ll be living in this house for about six weeks until the current occupant of our permanent home departs.  For now, our house is located on a small, quiet street just a couple of miles from the Embassy where we will soon start work.  With three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a pool, huge yard, and separate servants’ quarters, it seems absolutely enormous to us – as a couple, we’ve only ever lived in city apartments.  I am told that our next house will be even bigger… I don’t know what we’re going to do with all that space! The only solution is that we need plenty of visitors (hint, hint).  
We came with realistic expectations, and my overall impression of the city is pretty much what I anticipated. It is a small town, very quiet and peaceful (except for  a random break-in every once in a while). There are a handful of decent shopping malls with grocery stores, movie theaters and restaurants within a 20 minute drive from our house. The people are friendly but not overly so, and the service standards seem to be comparable to those in China: slow and unhurried. However, unlike China, the pace of life is also slow and unhurried. There is no nightlife and most stores shut down around five or six p.m.  Most socializing here is done in the home, and the Embassy community seems to be much more tight knit than in Shanghai given the lack of outside options for entertainment. I foresee us leaving on driving trips, especially on long weekends, because there simply is not a whole lot to do in town.

That being said, we’re looking forward to visiting the many nearby game reserves on weekends; several are within a few hours’ drive from Gaborone. We are also not far from Johannesburg and some other South African cities, where I imaging we will travel from time to time to get a taste of “big city” life every once in a while. Also on our immediate travel list are Cape Town, Durban, Egypt, Namibia, Victoria Falls, and Mozambique. I think we’ll be getting our money’s worth out of our new SUV by taking advantage of the location and exploring all that southern Africa has to offer. Africa, we have arrived!