Friday, November 30, 2012

Working Out in Botswana

Every move comes with its own workout challenges! In Shanghai I got spoiled by the free daily yoga and Pilates classes courtesy of the Ritz Carlton gym. And while on home leave, I continued my group workout addiction at my parents' YMCA, but as you can imagine, there isn't much of a yoga/Pilates scene in Botswana. I did find a Pilates class here and tried it a few times, but dropped it because the instructor was so unreliable that he sometimes wouldn't even remember the days and times of our scheduled classes. Also, work makes it difficult for me to commit to a certain time in the evenings, because sometimes I have to stay late and don't find out about it until the last minute.

The best video in the series, in my opinion.
I always felt so great after yoga/Pilates class in Shanghai and at home that it was tough to think about going two years without that amazing relaxed and "all stretched out" feeling!

So, take a yoga/Pilates addiction and move it to southern Africa and what do you get? A whole lot of exercise videos ordered online! I am really enjoying working out in the comfort of my home, and am finding that I prefer it to the gym. With the convenience of workout videos, I can set my own schedule, take a break when I need it without missing a part of the exercises, and also choose my own music to play over the video. I felt a little bit like a Desperate Housewife at first, dancing around in my living room, but quickly got over that!

My favorite videos so far are Ellen Barrett's The Studio series. These videos are a great combination of yoga, Pilates, and ballet moves that leave you feeling stretched out and sore in all the right places - waist, back, and upper thighs & arms. I would definitely recommend them for those of you living overseas and looking to diversify your workout routine.

Trip to Rustenburg and Pilanesburg Game Park

One advantage of living in Gaborone is our proximity to the border with South Africa - the closest border crossing is only about 30 minutes' drive from our house. We drove about three hours down to Rustenburg, South Africa over Thanksgiving weekend, and had a great time! We basically had three goals in visiting Rustenburg:

1. To eat at McDonald's, the nearest of which is located in Rustenburg. Believe it or not, there are no McDonald's in Botswana! I eat McDonald's probably about twice a year when living in the U.S., but it's funny how just knowing that McDonald's isn't available here has made me crave a nice fake-meat burger and some greasy French fries.

Mission: accomplished! And my McDonald's craving has been satisfied for another six months or so.

2. To visit Pilanesburg Game Park. South Africa is chock full of lovely game parks where you can easily spend days driving around spotting giraffe, zebra, lions, hippos, and elephants. Pilanesburg is just about 30 minutes outside Rustenburg so we did a self-drive through on Saturday. The park is really beautiful and the mountain scenery gives a different experience from Botswana's safari locations. We didn't see any of the "big cats" but found plenty of giraffe and zebra - including my favorite find of the day: an absolutely adorable little baby zebra whose stripes hadn't fully come in yet! As an added bonus, our hotel was located on a private game reserve so we got to do another game drive through our hotel grounds on Sunday. Awesome!

3. To stock up our liquor cabinet and avoid the 45% tax on alcohol in Botswana. This was the only one of our goals that we did not accomplish... we didn't realize that all liquor stores in South Africa are closed on Sundays! Oh well, still an amazing weekend!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving From Scratch

Not only was this our first Thanksgiving in Africa, but it was also our first Thanksgiving making the entire meal ourselves! We decided to take on the challenge of making a full-fledged Thanksgiving feast all on our own, and were pretty proud of the results. I can honestly say that spending an entire day in the kitchen was something I had never done before, but with plenty of wine and the good company of my husband it was really a lot of fun. The only problem was that there was way too much food for just the two of us... I write this blog entry just after finishing my third Thanksgiving-esque meal in three days, and there are still several giant Ziploc bags of leftovers from our 11 pound turkey waiting in the refrigerator!

The interesting part about making Thanksgiving dinner in Botswana was that we had to improvise on certain ingredients that can't be found in stores here - dishes like green bean casserole and pecan pie aren't exactly staples in the local diet. Here are some items found in any Publix that we made from scratch, and had fun doing it:

Rolling out the pie crust.
Pie crust: No frozen pie crusts at our grocery store, Pick N' Pay. Miraculously, Scott made the crust of our pecan pie entirely from scratch, and given that it was his first time ever doing so, the pie turned out great.

 Gravy: My mom wouldn't be caught dead using ready- made gravy for Thanksgiving, but I am not an experienced cook and so probably would have if it were available here just to save some time and trouble... key words being "if it were available!" Scott gets all the credit for this one - he whipped up a delicious homemade gravy using the simple ingredients of turkey giblets and drippings, carrots, celery, butter and water.
Gravy boiling on the stove top.

 French's French Fried Onions: We assumed from the start that this particular item wouldn't be available in Botswana, but as a key item in a key Thanksgiving dish - green bean casserole - there was no way we'd let that get in our way! My first time deep frying anything, I sliced up all the onions and fried them in oil to use as the delicious topping for our green bean casserole. Yum! I've already bought some chicken breasts and some more oil at the store so I can try my hand at frying up something else this time, as it was quite fun to do.
Coating the onions for frying.
Stove Top Stuffing Mix: Again, something my family does not typically use on Thanksgiving - but definitely something I'd have been more than glad to throw in the mix to make things easier had it been available here. Not to fear, though, because Scott had it all under control! He found a recipe for stuffing and made his own with just some bread and seasonings... it turned out great too!

Bread + seasoning = stuffing.

And... the result of five hours in the kitchen? A full Thanksgiving spread of turkey, gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed butternut squash (easiest thing to make by far), and pecan pie! And, of course, more wine as a reward for all that hard work.

Happy Thanksgiving from Botswana!
Time to eat!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Wishes from China

I just received this e-card from my favorite student from Zhanjiang, Nancy. So sweet that she still thinks of us four and a half years after I was her English teacher! Thanks Nancy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Things I'm Thankful For

In keeping with the theme of yesterday's post, and given that Thanksgiving is tomorrow, I thought I would put up a list of things I'm thankful for.

Here goes, in no particular order:

My job: Even though I've been gainfully employed for over three years now, I still get a little thrill of excitement every other week when my paycheck is direct deposited into my bank account. Being paid is a wonderful thing, and something that I fully appreciate from my days of being "on the edge" - i.e.  being unemployed for a year from 2008-2009. And not only do I just get paid to do a job, I also get paid to do a job that is interesting, fulfilling and challenging!

My family: We do live far away from our families back home but I know how fortunate I am to have such wonderful parents and brother, and great in-laws! My parents, Scott and I have started a weekly tradition of "Skype linner" - where we Skype together while eating the same thing together in front of the camera - at lunchtime for them and dinnertime for us. It's a great way to spend some time together even while we are all the way in Africa.

My husband: I love being married! And that is all I'll say about that. :)

Our house: We do have fairly regular maintenance issues, electrical fence false alarms, bug invasions, etc.... all the same I really enjoy our house and even more enjoy the fact that we get to live here for free. And even MORE I enjoy the fact that we have a gardener and a housekeeper who does all of our laundry and irons every single piece of our clothing that goes through the washing machine. Wonderful.

Traveling: I am basically addicted to traveling as much as possible, and fortunately our lifestyle and location allows us to do that about once a month, if not more. One of the best perks of this job is getting to explore new places so frequently, because there are few things I enjoy more than the feeling of setting foot somewhere new for the first time.

Lots to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Need... Water....

Here in Gaborone we're experiencing something most Americans never even have to think about: water shortages!

I honestly have never given much thought at all to what life would be like without a constant and steady supply of water - water to flush the toilet, water to take a shower, water to brush my teeth, and of course water to drink. Back in our Zhanjiang days of teaching English, you couldn't drink the water or really even let it touch your skin (unless you wanted to break out violently within about two minutes of said water making contact with your unsuspecting skin). And there were some days where our apartments didn't have running water for a couple of hours at a time.... but this was mostly due to faulty plumbing and not a shortage of water. Although the water was dirty, it was there more or less consistently, unless there was a temporary problem with our pipes.

Therefore it was quite a shock today at work when I went to get a drink of water and nothing came out of the fountain. Ever adaptable (I do live in Africa, after all) I didn't let it phase me and went downstairs to try that fountain, which wasn't working either!


A little later, an all-office email went out notifying everyone that water levels were low at the Gaborone tank and therefore our building was temporarily without water.

Huh?! What do you mean there's no water? I've never heard of such a thing! In America... oh wait. This isn't America.

Botswana is experiencing a drought that's getting worse by the day. This has been an unusually dry year in a place that's already parched most of the year anyway. Although we did have some rain over the past couple of months, it hasn't been enough to replenish the low water supply which has been depleted during the year. Drought warnings have been gradually intensifying through increasingly dire media reports and a recent government restriction on home water use (no lawn watering, no swimming pool filling, etc). But naively, I didn't think that things were really "that serious" until today when I was personally affected! Apparently the government had to tap into a northern water tank to replenish the flow into Gaborone, and the water was running again after a couple of hours.

It sure made me think, though, what would I do if the water were to be cut off for a longer period of time?  Fortunately, our house is located in the upscale, central areas of town, so we would probably be the last district to go without water if it came to that. All the same, Scott and I went out today after work and stocked up on a bunch of giant water bottles just in case. Interestingly, other patrons in the grocery store looked at us like we were crazy, like they didn't have a clue on earth as to why two people would want to buy that much water. But we'll be ready! Just look in the closet in our study if you're not sure, because there is a TON of water in there just waiting to come to the rescue in the event that the water shortages affect us at home.

An hour or two without the drinking fountain is not the message I ultimately wanted to get across by posting this blog entry. What I wanted to say in writing all this about the drought is that living overseas really makes you think about what you take for granted. Water supply is one of those things - something very simple to us in the United States, something that we rarely even think twice about. When I'm overseas, I really feel that I don't need Thanksgiving as much as I do when at home to remind me of the things I'm grateful for. When I'm at home, everything comes so naturally and so easily, and it is not difficult to fall into the trap of taking so many conveniences for granted. But it is doing without (well, doing without temporarily in my case) that makes me truly and deeply appreciate where I come from.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Roadtrip to Ghanzi and Windhoek

Time's gotten away from me - I didn't realize it had been almost three weeks since my last blog entry! We have been keeping busy here in Gaborone, and took another trip into the depths of Botswana and across the border to Namibia over Veteran's Day weekend.

Town Center, Ghanzi
The trip started in Ghanzi, a small town located in the western corner of Botswana. I went there for a work consultations visit, similar to the trip we took to Maun and Kasane at the end of September. Traveling the country outside of Gaborone is an excellent way to get a broader perspective on what is going on in Botswana, and obviously the only way to really understand how people live outside of the city. Scott and I (well, mostly Scott) drove all the way from Gaborone to Ghanzi, an eight hour journey down mostly a mostly empty two lane road where the biggest hazards were farm animals like goats, cow and sheep that would occasionally meander out into the road as our car approached at 90 miles an hour! We also saw several warthogs and ostriches poking around in the grass on the side of the road, but these more exotic animals seemed to be more aware of their surroundings than the farm animals and for the most part stayed out of our way.

Front Entrance to Kuru Art at D'Kar
During my last work consultations trip, I found that visiting the area Peace Corps volunteers is an excellent means to obtain a snapshot of what daily life is like in any location. PCV's are extremely intelligent, hardworking and dedicated and they spend two years living in remote villages as well as larger towns and cities all throughout Botswana. There are three stationed in the Ghanzi area, and I visited each of their projects which included a primary school, a secondary school and an arts and crafts center at a settlement outside of Ghanzi. The arts and craft center was really lovely, it's located at the D'Kar settlement, where people from the native San community moved and many of them now work producing paintings, drawings, and other hand-made products for sale. You can find out more at their website here:

I also had a very interesting and productive meeting with Ghanzi local government officials about issues facing the area, including a rising number of destitution cases and an influx of  child beggars in the region, and one of the the highest tuberculosis infection rates in the country. You would not think that TB would be a problem in such a sparsely populated area but unfortunately it spreads quickly because people oftentimes cram 15-20 family members into one small home... so once one person gets it, everyone else is quickly infected as well because they are all living in such close quarters.

After my one day of meetings in Ghanzi, Scott and I were ready to head across the border to Namibia's capital city of Windhoek! We had heard great things about the Windhoek and wanted to check it out for ourselves, especially since we had already driven so far along the way; Windhoek is about a 6 hours drive from Ghanzi.  Namibian roads were fairly similar to those in Botswana, with not much to see along the way and a whole lot of animals wandering out in front of our car. However, once we crossed the border we did notice a difference in the architecture - Namibia is a former German colony and so you see much more of a European influence there. We really enjoyed our time in Windhoek. After Gaborone, it felt like being in the big city for a while! Unlike Gaborone, there is a downtown with cute restaurants, bars and shops to walk around. Also, there's much more of a culinary scene in Windhoek, and we had several delicious meals that would qualify as fine dining even in a big city in the United States. We stayed in an adorable boutique hotel that I would highly recommend to anyone taking a trip to Namibia - check out the Belvedere Boutique hotel and you will not be disappointed! Our plan is to return to Namibia again at some point during our two years in Botswana, but next time we will fly into Windhoek and explore more of the areas outside the city like the beaches and game parks in the western and northern parts of Namibia.

Our next big road trip is to Durban, South Africa over Christmas (12 hours from Gaborone), hopefully we'll have recovered enough by then from the loooong haul from Gabs to Windhoek and back again!