Since last Thursday a strike has been brewing among undergraduate students at the University of Botswana. The students are upset about the following issues (there may be more but this is what I am aware of):
- Students who failed courses last year are not getting their government allowances for retaking those courses
- Students are being forced to live on campus even though some of them want to live off campus
- No students have received their monthly allowance for February yet (this is what really set off the strike on Monday)
So the past few days a group of 500-1000 students have been holding rallies and marching around campus with sticks forcing others out of class, closing down the cafeteria and the library. Many students tried to go to class, but we were chased and told to go back to our rooms or join the strike. I tried to take pictures of the strikers one time. Big mistake. They chased me but luckily I was on my bike, and I don’t think they meant any harm, they just wanted to cheer when I left.
So today, I was at the Baylor Children’s Clinical Center of Excellence (they specialize in pediatric HIV/AIDS) volunteering and someone told me the university is being closed by the government. I rushed back to the graduate dorms to find a few ground level windows busted out and riot police.
So no class for the indefinite future. Here are some pictures I could sneak from the window.
broken windows at the University of Botswana graduate dorms
riot police on campus
students evacuating campus
At the Dar es Salaam railway station the boarding platform was a sultry with wet air and bad attitudes. Pushing, juggling infants, sneaking past the gate guards, and knocking down police barricades was fair game for 3rd class passengers of the Tanzanian Railways Corporation’sservice from Dar to Kigoma. The trip is just over 1200km. The cost is 40,000 Tanzanian Shillings (about 36 USD). And took 45 hours (that was with no mechanical problems. Average speed: School Zone (20mi/hr).
Scarlett and I were not traveling 3rd class though, which is bench seating. Unless you don’t get a seat, in which case there is the floor. But then that filled up, so naturally there are some people standing. But that is tiring, so by the end of the trip we were finding passengers in interesting locations. One guy was sleeping in the luggage closet, on top of all of the luggage. One person was sleeping in the toilet (just a hole in the floor of the train) which was also being used as sugar cane storage.
This women pulled up a chair to find a breeze next to the window.
We were in 2nd class. Which means we were in gender segregated rooms with sleeping cots of 6 people. (See previous post for pictures). However more people always ended up in our rooms as 3rd class cars could be seen physically bulging with so many passengers and cargo.
I felt uncomfortable with privilage when I realized that by the 6th day of the new year I already had entry and exit stamps on my passport from four countries. Firstly, just to have a passport is a privilage (even though it is property of the federal government at all times and must be surrendered on demand). But to be able to use it so often within the first week of 2009 reminded me that traveling should not be in vein, but in order to seek out and accept moments of obligation. This is like when you witness something that sets off a series of thoughts which allow you to feel as if you can and should do something to help out.
To have such a series of thoughts comes more clearly if I’ve got some knowledge about the place I am traveling in. I so some of my best thinking when I am visiting new places and people, so it helps to have something to think about.
That is why I believe that most everyone privilaged enough to travel should read about where they are going, and who they might encounter. Maybe start with a map. I’ve got a buddy named Jack who taught me appreciate the knowledge that maps can tell us about a locations orientation and neighbors. I think so many trips are pre-planned and inclusive that many people no longer have to both with maps. I’ve had plenty of friends go to Cancun without needing to consult a map. Perhaps the travel company will give a map of the destination. This map is sure to be specific to the resort, tourist part of town ect. and probably won’t include the part of town where the hotel workers and day laborers live.
Besides, it is fun to know what else is around where I am visiting. If the original destination sucks then I’m not stuck there unknowing of other things to see and do. This helped out when Scarlett and I were in East Africa recently, because things are rarely described as they actually are. Here are a few pictures from that travel (you can see more by clicking on the pictures display in the right margin of the screen).
Kigali Mini-Bus Station on New Year's eve
Meat Cooked to Order in Kininya, Burundi
Scarlett's room on the train from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma Tanzania (she slept where the box is)
I needed to have read more about Tanzania, especially the different tribes there. Also I had no idea there were so many pre-European settlements along the East Africa coast. That is something else I would have liked to know before I got there. I also would have liked to know that the train ride from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma would last 45 hours.
This year I will read more more about where I am traveling to, should I have the privilage again, and encourage others to do the same.
The Pan-African Universities Debating Champtionship began yesterday (Monday the 8th). One of my tasks on Sunday was to take the care the debate organizing commitee is renting to the airport. I was to collect 8 people, 4 from Zimbabwe and 4 from Uganda. Luckily another guy drove his car so we could take them all in one trip. Double luckily the airlines lost all of their luggage so we could fit everyone in our very small vehicles
VW Chico circa 1991. You can still buy these new in Southern Africa.
As it ended up (and appropriatly enough following up on my last blog post from over a month ago) I ended up with the Zims in my car. We had the following conversation.
Me: “So where do you go to school?”
Lucy: “University of Zimbabwe”
Taylor: “It is the only university in Zim that isn’t closed”
Me: “Oh, I see”
Lucy: “But we don’t have any lecturers”
Me: “Because they havn’t been paid?”
Lucy: “For over a year.”
Me: “So do ya’ll stay on campus?”
Taylor: “Campus has not had water or electricity all year”
Lucy: “So it is not sanitary or safe to stay there”
Me: “Oh, so do you commute?”
Lucy: “Most students can’t afford to commute, so they don’t come”
Taylor: “Those that can aford to commute come once or twice a week”
Even though I gathered they probably had not been to class all semester they were still keen on finishing school and their declared majors. Taylor is studying journalism. We both laughed when he said his major. I asked if the atmosphere was still oppressive and he said that even the Intelligence Officers complain openly. The last person left pretended everything is salvageable will be Robert Mugabe. It will be a case of one person believeing a lie at the expense of a nation..
While I have not yet been to Zimbabwe, I have met refugees from there and talked to enough people who have visited there to collect some first hand accounts. I am not going to delve into the history of the situation, but if you truly want to gain an understanding of what is going on there you must read the history.
While I have not yet had taken the opportunity to go to Zimbabwe (or as many call it in casual conversation “Zim”) but I have been close enough to get a taste of what is going on there. While we were going to the Sowa Pans we had a 5 hour layover in Francistown Botswana. Francistown is less than 100 Km from the border with Zimbabwe. And because Zimbabwe usually doesn’t have things like, oh, food and gasoline many Zimbabweans come to Francistown to shop and then take back with them much more than they can carry. Not everyone in Zimbabwe can do this of course, because the Zimbabwe Dollar is at around 1,000,000,000% inflation, so they have to have foreign currency (the Pula, Rand, or U.S. Dollar) to make purchases in Botswana. These monied shoppers come to Francistown and buy in bulk. Food, gasoline, electronics, mechanic parts. As a result every store supplying these items has come to look like a Sam’s Club with discounts offered for bulk quantities. This is good for Francistown, but bad for Zimbabwe as capital flight has become to standard method of spending liquidated money.
Yes, that is a refrigerator on top, and then other stuff is stacked even higher than that. The colorful bags are made of woven plastic (I
So while we were passing time in the direct sunlight to wait for our bus to Sowa Town I decided to go find out what was going on next to the Zim bus. First thing I noticed when I got into the crowd of people waiting in “line” to get on the bus or to get their goods loaded on the bus was that the smells reminded me of Haiti. The smell of human beings, charcoal fires, diesel fumes, and whole leaf tobacco rolled in butcher paper being shared among groups of men. If I shut my eyes and thought about the grime on the bus and everything being loaded on it I could be in Haiti. The major difference is that people ride on top of all that stuff on the roof in Haiti, and the buses are older.
OK, so it has been more than two months, but it certainly does not feel like it. Bellow is a report I submitted to the Rotary Foundation to prove a) I have been fulfilling my Ambassadorial duties b) Have not ran off with their money to Morocco.
Some of the stories will be familiar from this blog, but I tried to offer some insight and ideas I know I have not posted here yet. It is a long read for a blog post, but if you have some time try to scan it and see if anything catches your attention. Also, I am going to update my Flickr photos in the next couple of days, so check back there to see some visual representation of everything I talk about in this post.
This is the table where where William Wilberforce sat with fellow British Abolitionists to draft legislation to end the slave trade and later emancipate all bonded human beings held in the British Empire. This surprise find in a Cape Town museum is not something I will easily forget.
Rotary 2 Month Report
If a picture is worth a thousand words then an experience is worth at least a few typed single spaced pages. My experience in Botswana began before I arrived as I read Botswana newspapers and histories in an attempt to make myself somewhat versed in Batswana cultue. My perceptions of what I would find in southern Africa have been challenged, affirmed, and blown out of the water on a daily basis. This report should serve as a window not only into what I have been involved in, but also how my thought process has been shaped by experiences in university, Rotary, volunteering, and travel.
On Monday Rafael (another Rotary Scholar) and I went to early mass to meet up with Sister Abba. I rode my bike to the Cathedral and stopped off on the way there when I smelled a wood fire. See, I don’t smell wood fires here like I remember from Haiti. Botswana street vendors are almost all on propane, natural gas, or paraffin. So with this smell in my nose I rode my bike up to the “tack shop” (just four wood poles, 3 sides, and a tin roof, to see what was cookin’. I was determined to buy whatever it was just to support the traditional (if forest ruining) way of cooking. To my suspicions they were making up some fat cakes, basically big wads of oily dough deep fried in more oil until they fluff up. There are similar things in Haiti (and I imagine all over the world for that matter) but they are smaller and called “marinade.”
Anyway, after the stop over at the imagination and memory inspiring tack shop I continued on to the Cathedral. Rafa and I were meeting Sr. Abba to spend the day with her as she tended to a couple of groups of HIV/AIDS. Sr. Abba is one of those people who can do more than almost anyone else I know could with a shoestring budget and 16 hours of working in a day.