Category Archives: What Foreigners Do in Africa

Train Across Tanzania

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.

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. 

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Botswana’s Neighbor To the East

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'm guessing in an East Asian country) and are packed to over 100 pounds each.

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.

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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.

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Sowa Town

In a previous blog entry I mentioned about my namesake town here in Botswana, Sowa.  Well we had our spring break, or ‘short vacation’ as the emic term goes, and I convinced a friend to visit the salt pans in Sowa town.  He brought along three other people as well and we all set off Thursday night on the train from Gaborone to Francistown.  Boarding the train was an event.  The line was hundreds of people long and everyone rushed foward to get on the train (and get a seat to avoid standing for the 8 hour ride).  Well, the train had not even stopped moving as people came to blows while holding on to the side of the train car.  I saw lugage knocked under the cars, but thankfully no people.  We were riding first class, which ment we got a sleeper car.  These expensive (20 USD) tickets were not in such demand, as we were two people to each four person room.  The train is popular because it is about 7 USD cheaper than the bus.
Daily train from Botswana to Francistown

Daily train from Gaborone to Francistown

After arriving in Francistown we had to pass a few hours waiting for the bus to Sowa Town. The landscape changed as the minibus made its way to Sowa.  I noticed that trees were becoming more sparse and the heat was more intense.  Upon arrival in Sowa Town we got a ride to the Country Club (yes I am serious) where we were generously greeted with free water and bags of chips and then got a free ride out to a lodge near the salt mine and the salt pans.  We then walked out to the salt pans (Sua Pan) to set up camp. 

Did I mention I had a 70 pound backpack? And it was pushing 110 degrees F?

Did I mention I had a 70 pound backpack? And it was pushing 110 degrees F?

So we would sit out on the salt pan during the day and watch the horizon melt, then reform, distant rocks looked as though they were floating, and at high noon heat the heat waves off of the salt in the distance made it look as though we could tell the earth was spinning as fast as it is. 

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Travel Update

Check out the tab to the page “Travel” I have added about my excursion to Cape Town a couple of weeks ago.  Also, check back tomorrow evening for an update about the Sowa Pans.  I paid a visit to this place last week.  Then a few days after that I will be commenting on my impressions thus far of education at the University of Botswana.

What Foreigners Do in Africa

Coming to Africa to look at flora and fauna is a must do for any tourist on the continent.  Botswana has accomodated this need by setting up reserves, parks, and protected areas within a stones throw of anywhere a tourist might go.

So on the second weekend I was here that is exactly what we did.  Barb, a Rotarian with the Gaborone Club and Rafa’s sponsor, took us to the Mokolodi nature reserve to do a rhino tracking.  We did track the rhino and I learned a great deal about how to tell how old rhino feces is, how fresh urine is, and what kind of marks their feet make in sand.  I also learned that the difference between Black and White Rhino’s has nothing to do with their color, but the shape of their mouth

Probably on of the better pictures I have ever taken.  It is better than seeing them in a zoo because they run, forage and do all those things they cannot do in an enclosure

Probably on of the better pictures I have ever taken. It is better than seeing them in a zoo because they run, forage and do all those things they cannot do in an enclosure