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Car Culture

Botswana has recieved press and academic attention from is success of moving from a low income country to a medium income country, espeically considering its geographical position in Southern central Africa.  While the offical poverty rate is still between 30-40% there are thousands of people each year coming into wealth (the new money) or people relocating here from elsewhere (the old money).  Due to the immigration/emmigration to the capital of Gaborone it is difficult to find anyone who was born and raised here.  The population of the city grows from 250,000 to 280,000 during the day according to K.C. Jain, the city engineer. 

So with all this new and old money coming in to the capital every day cars have become quite the what-to-do.  People are doing their best to keep up with the Joneses and their new car purchases.  The popular cars with the professional crowd are Mercedes, BMW, and Audi.  For college kids or my peers VW is more affordable, but most still want to get into an upper end German machine.  So infrastructure has had a difficult time keeping up with the increasing road use, and morning commutes are gettling measurably longer every few months. 

In addition to a straining, but not yet broken, infrastructure is the need to educate drivers.  Enter the impromptu outdoor driving school:

The cones mark the path for the students to drive.  The "office" is those chairs under the tree in the shade.

The cones mark the path for the students to drive. The office is the chairs under the tree in the shade.

These can be found within walking distance of most locations in Gaborone.  They are set up next to a soccar field, an empty lot, or just in the bush.  The cars are provided by the teachers, who wait around for clients to seek them out in their office.  Here is another example:This is across the street from the University of Botswana, and a 10 minute walk from the other driving school pictured above.

 

Those billboards are advertising Coke and Mascom, a cell phone provider here.  I saw a Clear Channel billboard the other day.

Those billboards are advertising Coke and Mascom, a cell phone provider here. I saw a Clear Channel billboard the other day.

Rotary In Action: Wheelchair Foundation

So I arrived at Botswana at 9pm and was asleep by around 9:30.  This was good because I had to wake up at 5:30am to go with the Rotary Club of Gaborone to deliver wheelchairs for the Wheelchair Foundation Project.   

The Gaborone Rotary Club Wheelchair Distribution

The Gaborone Rotary Club Wheelchair Distribution

Rafa Veraza, the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar from New Braunfels, also arrived the night before, but he flew a direct flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg to Gaborone and did not have to take a bus or eat a mouse.  Both Rafa and I are staying with Rotarian Barabra and Ulrich (from Austrailia and Germany) until the dorms open next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Rafa and I at the ASETS convention in January

So a very punctual Englishman, William, and his wife, Christiane were there at 5:29am to pick us up.  We then rendezvoused with about 10 other Rotary members at a crossroads north of Gaborone.  Rafa and I ended up riding with an Argentinian surgeon, Ernesto, and his wife, Sabrina.  We talked the entire 2.5 hours it took to reach the town of Mahalapye.  There we met up with the public-health coordinator, Elijah.  Elijah works for the Ministry of Health as a disabilities specialist and is charged with developing programs for helping disabled Motswana (the nationality of people living in Botswana).

We then went on to visit Palapye.  The wheelchairs were given out at the district government offices.  Compared to my experiences in Haiti this was quite thrilling.  You see, in Haiti the federal government has little presence in the rural provincial areas.  But in Botswana there were government offices for all levels of infrastructure development, health, and education in this area quite removed from the capitol.  A Zimbabwean doctor, Simon, is in the newly appointed public health director for the zone. 

Across the street in Palapye from the wheelchair distribution

Across the street in Palapye from the wheelchair distribution

 

Simon filled me in with some useful information about the district we were delivering wheelchairs in.  There are 16 clinics with two hospitals.  There are six doctors who rotate among the clinics and work in the hospitals.  While they have infrastructure they are still lacking doctors and medicines to fully treat all the patients.  And just how needed were the wheelchairs?  Well, the district government budget only allows for up to 10 new wheelchairs a year (last year they only got 4).  So take a look at the wheelchairs some people brought and traded in for the new Rotary wheelchairs. 

Check out the home repairs...now they have new wheelchairs

Check out the home repairs...now they have new wheelchairs

 

 

This is a Foundation Wheelchair given out in 2004.  Its wear and repair are evidence of its value to the recipient

This is a Foundation Wheelchair given out in 2004. Its wear and repair are evidence of its value to the recipient

 

Most of the patients were brought in on ambulances.  All of this was coordinated by social workers, the clinics, Elijah, the disabilities coordinator.  Some of the wheelchair recipients were old, others were amputees,   but many were disabled children.  Some had club feet, most were mentally underdeveloped.  There is a need for “special needs” wheelchairs and the club also wants to start rebuilding the old wheelchairs. 

Here are the Wheelchairs lined up to be distributed.  Quite a bit of pomp surrounding the ceremony.

Here are the Wheelchairs lined up to be distributed. Quite a bit of pomp surrounding the ceremony.

 

In Palaye and Mahalapye the Rotary Club of Gaborone gave out 62 wheelchairs.  Every recipient was given a certificate and their picture was taken in the wheelchair with their certificate number as proof of receipt.  At each of the distributions there was a short ceremony in Tswana and English that was attended by the area Counselor or Chief.  All of them mentioned the Botswana Vision 2016 and how the Rotary Club was helping create a “compassionate and caring” nation.

First Impressions of Botswana

I arrived at the Shell station (it looks just like the Shell station in the U.S. but cleaner) around 9pm.  The night was chilly and people were being picked up by friends, families, and taxis.  I was waiting under the light in the parking lot with three women who I was evesdropping on.  I interjected and asked where they were coming from (one from South Africa, two from Mali).  Somehow the conversation switched to the South African Indepedence Day, which was celebrated last week.  One of the women, I never got their names, said she ate mice for the first time.  The other two giggled and I thought she might be having some fun with the newly arrived American.  She asked if I thought I could eat mice, and I said sure, I probably could, I’ve eaten lots of stuff.  “Well don’t you want to try some?   They are in my purse.”  I was REALLY hoping she was joking.  She was not. 

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