2 Month Report

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.

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.

                My flight arrived in South Africa and from there to Botswana I was taking a bus.  I had just planned on taking a taxi from the airport to the Park City Bus Station, but was told it was too far.  So as I was outside the airport slowly realizing that Johannesburg was a city much larger than I was prepared to deal with I overheard someone saying “maybe he is not coming.”  Out of curiosity I looked at the sign the guy was holding and it had my name on it.  We had been standing next to each other for 10 minutes.  So while I was somewhere in the air between the U.S. and Africa my temporary councilor had sent a couple of people out to collect me and give me a ride to the bus.  It might have not been planned to my knowledge, but it all worked out in the end.

To prepare for my arrival in Botswana I notified the University of Botswana that I would be arriving by bus and they said they would pick me up.  It was only on the same day I left the U.S. that I got confirmation there would be somewhere for me to sleep at the University and my host councilor was too busy to entertain me until well after my arrival.  So even though things were somewhat ambiguous at least I had a ride from the bus station to the University of Botswana, except the UB representative was not there (turns out they had gone to the airport).  With the generosity of a stranger I was able to call a Rotarian, Uli Schmitt, who collected me at the gas station.  Because my councilor was busy getting ready for University to commence (she is the University  Botswana Library Director) Uli and his wife Barbara were kind enough to let me spend the first week with them running errands, introducing me to other Rotarians and ex-pats living in Botswana, and showing me where to shop, eat, and visit.  Even though I am used to planning my travel on a whim and being fiercely independent of those who share my culture when I explore new areas Uli and Barabara’s help was very appreciated as I settled in for the long stay in Gaborone.

                Graduate classes at the University of Botswana (UB) are structured around the working persons schedule, they meet 5pm-8pm and each class meets once a week.  I was fortunate enough to take a couple of graduate level classes at the University of North Texas where the classes were discussion based with weakly reading assignments of at least two or three journal articles or book chapters.  At UB I found a largish class size (between 40 and 50 students) which was lecture oriented.  Reading assignments were relegated to the syllabus with no specific instructions of how to proceed.  This was fine with me, as I believe that education is what I choose to make of it, however I was not so keen on the lecture only style.  To make things more challenging many of my professors spend most of the lecture giving definitions of concepts rather than tying in examples of public policy to theory. 

I have been focusing on two lines of study concerning public administration:  1) the use of public-private partnerships (PPPs) in Botswana for health care initiatives and 2) A review of the non-motorized transportation policy of the Gaborone City Council.  In my studies with PPPs I am focusing on how the private development sectors (NGOs and FBOs) can help support public sector policy and increase public sector resources.  My policy study is part of a class assignment, but it has also led me to meetings with the city-engineer, the Deputy Mayor, as well as the representative of the United National Development Program in Botswana.  I plan to extend my studies to see how local government encourages human development next semester, so these contacts and insights will be utilized again.

Back in the classroom the analytical style of learning has challenged my creative streak in education.  I have found myself spending much less time on school work here than in the U.S.  It is difficult for me to be passionate about a subject when it seems that the process is passively engaging at best.  I have told myself that I should be more engaging with other students and the professor in class, but when I get in there and most people are copying down the lecture word for word I feel social pressure just to let things progress without interrupting.  However, my school schedule allows me most of the day to be engaged in activities other than school work I have found other outlets for critical thinking and creativity.

Within a month of arriving, and submitting some applications for volunteering and internships, I had two part-time projects underway.  On Tuesday-Thursday mornings I volunteer at the forensic pathology laboratory of the Botswana National Police doing autopsies and forensic anthropology.  I have became good friends with two of the doctors that work there, both not more than 10 years older than myself, and they are constantly going out of their way to challenge and teach me as I should expect in medical school.  Not only is the content of the work (anatomy) beneficial, but they are also exposing me to the culture I will face within one years time as I continue my education toward medicine.

More recently I have joined a Peace Corps worker at the Baylor Pediatric Clinic of Excellence in doing research is teen support groups for adolescent HIV/AIDS patients increase their adherence to antiretroviral medicines.  As the research progresses I plan to propose a qualitative study to examine if/how the doctor/patient relationship is affected when some kids go to the teen support groups and others do not.  I’m looking forward to getting to know the patients better, as they are some of the best informants I have met into how the culture of HIV/AIDS is changing in the newer generation of Batswana. 

While my first venture outside of Botswana was to attend the South Africa Anthropology Conference I also was fortunate enough to experience a little bit of Rotary history along the way.  After being invited by a faculty member to meet her and another student in Cape Town for the anthropology conference I decided I wanted to see everything along the road in between Gabs (Gaborone) and Cape Town.  A thirty two hour bus ride later I was only partially regretful I did not fly part of the way.  The Cape Town Rotary Club was founded in 1925 and was the first Rotary Club in Southern Africa.  This makes sense, as it is located in the heart of old Cape Town, the Yacht Club.  My host for the evening, Rotarian Trevor, invited me back down in February to meet some other Ambassadorial Scholars and I was so encouraged by his hospitality I almost didn’t mind the thought that I was taking the bus back to Gabs.

Back in Gaborone my involvement in Rotary has gone a bit beyond presentations and meetings.  Fellow Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, Rafael Veraza, has taken the lead in reestablishing and rebuilding the fledgling Gaborone Rotaract Club.  By merging a UB group and the Gaborone club the Rotaract Club now has 25 active members and they have already completed a book sale fundraiser to benefit the Gaborone-Tirelo Rotary Club.  Active Rotaract Clubs are sorely needed in Botswana, as this is one of the fastest growing African economies, and only one of three countries to move from low-income undeveloped status to medium-income developing status.  Of course there is still poverty (around 30%) but a growing young professional upper-middle class is the perfect recipe for Rotaract expansion, service to those who remain poor, and eventual Rotary growth in Botswana.

One of the challenges the Rotaract club has faced is a lack of leadership and common goals.  This is somewhat reflexive of the culture here, as it is not out of turn for any one person to challenge and question even the president in a public forum.  The best solution for Rotaract is to attract those few leaders who also know how to placate an organization and defend their actions.

While we continue to organize Rotaract I have also been involved in Rotary projects.  When I first arrived to Botswana I wanted to begin working on a project proposal for non-motorized transportation.  Specifically for bicycle racks to be installed in high density bicycle use areas.  However I put this project on hold because I want to include the other Botswana Rotary Clubs so we can write a brand new matching grant that provides each club with project funding and involves all the Rotary members in Botswana.  Also, the Rotary Clubs outside Gaborone are closer to some of the neediest areas in the country.  So with that on hold until after December I have taken up a couple of other projects the Gaborone Rotary Club has put into motion.  The Sisters of Calvary, Olcan Watt Orchard & Garden Project will install 1.4 hectares of irrigation for fruit trees and a vegetable garden in the Forest Hill area of Gaborone.  I was attracted to this project because in the midst of the global food crisis we need to begin seeing success in urban agriculture and also because agriculture promotion is an ongoing campaign by the local and national government of Botswana. 

In addition to these two projects I have been directly involved in the Rotary Club Wheelchair Foundation project when we distributed wheelchairs in Mhalapye and Phalape.  I had only heard of this project amongst Rotary friends but to experience the business side of it was a joyful experience.  People brought in their old wheelchairs, some from the Wheelchair Foundation, which they had repaired time and time again.  Many were ecstatic to be getting a new chair that had straight rims, a padded seat, and neither of the foot rests missing.  Even more encouraging was seeing how the local health clinics had coordinated with the Rotary Club so the disabled patients were identified and given transportation to the distribution site.  This kind of partnership produced results where over 60 wheelchairs were distributed in one day. 

I also had the opportunity to work with the Gaborone Rotary Club when we volunteered to help with the registration tables at the 2nd HIV Clinicians Conference held at the Gaborone International Convention Center.  This coming winter I am looking forward to further volunteer experiences when we distribute 5,000 blankets to the poor in preparation for cold desert nights.

The fluidity of culture is on full display in Botswana, especially where I make my home, at the University of Botswana in Gaborone.  Because Botswana is sort of an overnight success in terms of development it has barrowed its service industry and material culture heavily from South Africa and the United States.  American R&P and Rap music can be heard while strolling down the sidewalk, there is a growing car culture with love for German imports, and people present themselves with makeup, hair styles, and clothes inspired by American design.  American slang is woven into Setswana, the major language of Botswana. 

I have had to adjust my goals on how fast I thought I would pick up Setswana and Tswana culture in Botswana.  My roommates are from Tanzania, Germany, France, Malawi, and Botswana.  Our only common language is English, and for every question I ask about their home country or lifestyle they have at least three for me.  On top of that, their answers are almost what I would expect out of someone who grew up in urban American as far as what they like to do, buy, and see.  If anything I have learned that the world is an interconnected place, that no matter how many poor people there are in any one area there are affluent well learned people at the same time, and that American culture is diffusing faster than we might realize. 

The cultural homogenization aside I have had opportunities to experience “traditional” Tswana culture.  Traditional dinners, braiis, and sitting around the fire telling stories are some of my best memories here.  I enjoy hitchhiking when I travel, and this is always a good way to make a friend or two in a day.  For the short vacation from school at the end of September I got the chance to go to the Sowa Salt Pans.  Besides being a coincidental namesake these pans are the lowest, most barren, and hottest place in Botswana.  The camping was excellent and I met people from Botswana and Afrikaners from South Africa.  While sitting around the fire at night one of the Afrikaners opened up to me about why he didn’t share anything with black people and was upset that his son was being raised in a black government.  This was a trying moment.  I wanted to challenge him sternly on his racism, but on the other hand I knew that this was a situation where I did not have a strong historical background of the social situation.  So after a few moments of thinking I said I completely disagreed with him, but at the same time was glad he shared the way he felt with me because I knew some other people who I felt shared his sentiments but were not open about it.  We left on very good terms and it was an experience I’ll carry with me when I give presentations at Rotary clubs back home. 

While there are some exchange students here from Europe and America that I have befriended I associate mainly with Batswana.  All of my classes are mostly Batswana, and so are my study groups.  I have invitations to go to numerous cattle posts and farms in late November and early December when the summer vacation starts.  I have slaughtered a goat with one of my good friends in the small village of Kopong and I have eaten mice, mopane worms, and grasshoppers.  I figure if Botswana is going to go all out to embrace U.S. culture I should do the same while I am here. 

2 responses to “2 Month Report

  1. very good post graham, keep breathing it all in.

  2. Graham..
    What a whirlwind culture digestion…I believe that you are using your ambasadorial license to its fullest and the people of Botswana are indeed seeing the heart and drive that makes the USA a true knowledge-base and example for the world.
    The hitch-hiking comment definately elevated our “adventure spirit”

    The Parentals

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