Sunday, February 24, 2013

Melville, Johannesburg

Once again, time has gotten away from me! I kept meaning to post something about our trip to Johannesburg last weekend but I'm just now getting around to it. We carpooled down with two other couples to spend two nights in the Melville neighborhood of Johannesburg over President' Day weekend, and everyone had a great time getting ourselves reacquainted with the big city life for the weekend - restaurant choices! people! traffic jams! bars open past 11 pm! Wonderful.
Looking out from our balcony

Any given Joburg experience is dependent on which neighborhood you stay in - for this trip we decided on Melville because we all wanted to check out a B&B called A Room With a View that we'd heard great things about, and we were not disappointed! This was a very unique hotel, constructed to look like a castle in the Tuscan countryside and beautifully positioned up on a hill with great views of the city. The owners hand-crafted many of the furnishings and decorations in the rooms and around the hotel grounds. Each room was unique, with thoughtful touches like impressionist oil paintings, Tuscan tiles, large balconies with gorgeous wrought-iron railings, etc. The breakfast each morning was served family-style and really made us all feel like we were living in some 19th century Italian country manor!
Adult World = beginning of skid row
BUT there really was a great view!

All in all the hotel was a fabulous experience. However, without the hotel I don't know that I would go out of my way to return to the Melville neighborhood again. There was a cute little street with restaurants and bars about a 15 minute walk from the hotel, but this was a walk past an Adult World porn shop, liquor stores, dilapidated houses, and late at night a sort of "skid row" of sleeping and/or drugged out homeless people. Looking back, I realized we probably shouldn't have been walking through this area, especially given that when we told the hotel manager we were going to dinner on foot, he said "Well, you're all young so you can probably run faster than I can!" Yikes.

While I enjoyed Joburg because of the big city feel and the food that we can't get in Gaborone, I wouldn't want to serve a tour there because of all the crime and the general sketchiness that you just don't experience in Botswana. But, fortunately our rewards for surviving the skid row gauntlet were some really delicious food and cocktails - highlights of the weekend were ostrich spring rolls I tried at one restaurant, and the margaritas and fajitas we had at a real Mexican restaurant, where the cook was actually from Mexico City! Nice to know that we can get to Joburg every once in a while when we feel the urge to get out of Gaborone.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Africa & Me

So, I think I'm slowly becoming more African. Symptoms? Read below:

A lessening dependence on time. Time has become a much more fluid concept to me since moving to Africa. In part, lessening my attachment to time - deadlines, being on time, keeping a schedule, planning ahead- is a survival mechanism. Let's just say if I had a few pula for every minute since moving to Botswana I've spent waiting for a meeting, for an appointment, for a friend, for information, for a customer service rep (and the list goes on), I'd be all set for an early retirement! I'm exaggerating a little, but you get my point. In keeping with African culture, I've toned down my level of punctuality and respect for deadlines quite a bit considering I have only lived in Botswana for six months, and this has been key to not going insane. Because, let's face it, what does it really matter if a meeting starts a few minutes late? There's nothing going on the rest of the afternoon anyway. Why does it matter if my flight is delayed? I'm just going on vacation, and don't have plans other than to lie by the hotel pool anyway. So just chill and deal with it.

I still have some learning to do, and I need to work on staying consistently resistant to time constraints, because sometimes I forget all that I have learned in my six months in Africa and regress back to my American standards of time. For example, last night I was VERY STRESSED because I was running late to a film festival I was invited to attend through work. We're talking pounding heart, flushed cheeks, shaking hands, erratic crazy driving through the congested streets to get there on time, get there on time! no matter what the cost. I was mortified to be forty minutes late. As I burst through the doors into the film festival, frantic apology for being late on the tip of my tongue, I realized that the event hadn't even started yet! Everyone else was just sitting back chatting and relaxing, waiting for the festival to begin on its own time. They probably wondered why the tall white person was so sweaty and red-faced, with her nostrils flaring and eyes darting erratically from side to side (are they like that all the time?).

A miraculously even temper (particularly when faced with African attitude about scheduling). There was a time, not so long ago, when said film festival starting late would have irked me to no end. We Americans like to stick to our schedules, and so when I first came to Botswana, the whole "we'll get to it when we get to it" mentality would drive me nuts several times a day! Although I still experience minor tremors of irritation when things are unduly delayed, I feel that I have become much more tolerant during my months here.

Another timely example to demonstrate my point came today at work. I was supposed to attend a very important, much discussed conference this morning. The venue, a 45 minute drive outside Gaborone, was set months ago and I double-confirmed with the organizers recently to make sure I was going to the right place. So, this morning, I set out to begin the long drive bright and early to make sure I got there in plenty of time for the start of the conference.... only to arrive a respectable ten minutes early and discover that, actually, the venue had been moved to the Gaborone city center, practically around the corner from my office! The conference organizers did not notify any attendees, and most people (except those who had been smart enough to confirm the venue the day before) just showed up at the original location! We all then had to truck ourselves 45 minutes back to town and the conference finally got started once we all arrived at the correct venue.

Now, in my first couple of months in Botswana this would have ruined my day; this morning, I just laughed, rolled my eyes, and hopped into the car to head back to Gaborone. My local staff colleague who was attending the conference with me asked if this sort of thing happened as much in the United States as it does in Botswana. I told him NO! - that if something like this happened in the U.S. there would probably be an outrage, probably some type of violent riot or something. He said that poor organization does bother people in Botswana probably as much as it bothers people in the U.S.; the difference is that people in Botswana have the attitude that "this is just the way it is here" and therefore they just grin and bear it, rather than protesting and insisting that things be done better.

I enjoy just doing nothing. My last post, A Lazy Weekend in Gaborone, touches on this subject as well. I don't know if it's the oppressive heat, the slow pace of life here, the above-mentioned local attitude that time is not of the essence, or a combination of all of these, but lately what I want to do most of the time is a whole lot of nothing! Previously, in my pre-Africa life, I was one of those people who always had to be doing some sort of productive activity during my free time - studying Chinese, tidying up the apartment, catching up with a friend. Well, no more! That silly idea has gone right out the window. Sometimes I feel like those Batswana village residents who just want to sit under a tree in the shade and ruminate with a cup of tea. Except for a few small details: I like to lie in my pool with a Diet Coke and read my book!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Lazy Weekend in Gaborone

One of the nice things about living in Gaborone is that you never feel guilty about "not doing anything" on the weekends. When in a more lively or vibrant city, I always feel like I need to be doing something all the time, for fear of missing out on something interesting that could be happening outside the walls of my apartment. Sometimes you just want to sit around the house on the weekends but in other cities this can come with a price: sleeping in too late in Shanghai = missing a fun brunch out at our favorite restaurant, the Boxing Cat; staying in on a Saturday afternoon in DC = foregoing a pleasant time shopping in Georgetown. That sort of thing.

But, in Gaborone, I don't have to worry about missing something exciting if I opt for a weekend hanging around the house, because chances are, nothing is happening anyway! And if something is happening I can always just do it another time, because there will be plenty of time to be more motivated later. It may sound like I'm being sarcastic here, but really I'm not! I honestly really enjoy lazy weekends around our lovely house in Gaborone. Take this weekend for example: I didn't really do anything (no wild Saturday night, no big plans) but it was still a very pleasant weekend.

Where I spent most of the weekend.
Friday we stayed for an hour or so after work to attend a cook-out/ happy hour at the Embassy. This was no hardship, because on Fridays we get out of work at 1:30. I then came home to lie in the pool on a fabulously comfortable raft I got online from Target. I do not know what it is about this raft, but it is addictingly relaxing to float around on it and listen to the birds chirping in our backyard. The pool is conveniently half in shade and half in the sun most of the day, so it's very nice to alternate between floating in the shade- floating in the sun- dipping in the water. Friday night, Scott made a delicious vegetable lasagna for dinner and then we went to see Les Miserables at a posh new theater downtown. The movie was just OK for me - 2.5 hour of singing was a bit much - but it was something to do and I did enjoy checking out the theater, which was nice enough to rival any standard Regal Cinemas at home and will offer a pleasant change from the two other older, run-down theaters with poor sound quality that we normally go to.

Saturday morning was my favorite part of the weekend, because I had my first horseback riding lesson, and it was so much fun! I haven't been up on a horse more than a few times (other than a few riding lessons I took in elementary school and a couple of times on family vacations) but I loved every minute of it! This was just a preliminary placement lesson, where we practiced guiding the horse around a practice ring and then making smaller circles inside the ring. Saturday the teacher had me start with a pony, which seemed quite large enough already, but next time I'll be on a regular horse. The stables where I'll take lessons are really cool, with ten or so horses and a bunch of dogs and cats running around the place. Looking forward to my next lesson already!

After the lesson, I treated myself to an omelet and coffee (After years of getting my caffeine fix from Diet Coke, I started drinking coffee in Italy and have been hooked ever since) on the way home. Then it was back in the pool again for some more floating and reading! Lately I've been into Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell thrillers, but this weekend I started branching out to some Vladimir Nabokov- I've read Lolita but no others by him yet.  I am about halfway through The Secret Life of Sebastian Knight and have found it quite interesting so far.

Anyway, Saturday night we tried an Indian restaurant called Chutney's we hadn't been to yet, and really enjoyed it. Garlic nan, butter chicken Marsala, yellow daal, yum! After dinner, I watched the Alfred Hitchcock classic Shadow of a Doubt. I watched all the Hitchcocks in middle school and figured now that I have time on my hands, and I can download them on iTunes, may as well re-watch some of my favorites!

Today, Sunday, I slept in until 11:30 (I needed sleep after such a rigorous weekend!) and then hopped back in the pool for a while. We're going to play tennis this afternoon and then will make some of the truffle pasta we bought in Rome for dinner.

And that is the glamorous life of a young diplomat living in Gaborone, Botswana! A nice weekend for sure but that's not to say that from time to time we don't crave some big city excitement, which is why Friday we're driving the five hours or so down to Johannesburg to spend President's Day weekend enjoying some good food, cocktails, and shopping... a little small town peace and quiet here, a little big city fun there!