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.

Botswana Consumer Fair

Last Thursday I took a bike ride to check out the Botswana Consumer Fair.  This is an annual event where producers from all of Botswana, and some from South Africa, display their products for consumers and dealers in Botswana.  It was not difficult to find as all I had to do was walk with the rest of the masses assuming we were all going to the same place.  Combie (15 passenger vans) prices went up so more people are walking now.  I noticed plenty of parents with kids and some people even stopped me and asked I take their picture. 

...and now they are on the internet.  Who coulda guessed?

...and now they are on the internet. Who coulda guessed?

It cost around 3 USD to get into the consumer fair, but it was so big I bet someone found a way to get in for free.  The first thing that caught my eye was a carnival set up just like it would be in the U.S. Farris Wheel, mini roller coaster, spinning vomit inducing rides ect.  Then I noticed just about everyone eating ice cream.  And if they were not eating it they were holding 2-5 pints looking somewhat confused as what to do to keep it from freezing.  The ice cream companies were at the fair and had a promotion price of around 5 Pula per pint, which is less than 90 cents a pint.  So I got some ice cream too, and it was good.

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Haiti: What we need to do

This is not a call for money.  This is a call for digital advocacy like never seen before.

Haiti’s recent disaster came at the unfortunate media timing of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.  Perhaps this is why you might be caught unawares that 500,000 lives are at a unique risk of ending prematurely in the next 24-72 hours.  Only an immediate concerted force of individual digital action can hope to steer media attention, political leadership, and economic resources to save human life.  

Hurricane Gustav and Tropical Storm Hanna have flooded the city of Gonaives Haiti.  You probably have not seen pictures of the devastation because the city has been made completely inaccessible from dry land by these storm waters.  Gonaives is now an epicenter for violent deaths of dehydration, malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, and starvation.  The only reason you have not read about the certainly thousands of people who have already died is because no one is there to count the bodies except those lucky enough to escape to rooftops and treetops.  Thousands more are certain to perish if an international effort is not made to evacuate the city, feed the hungry, and give medical care to the sick.

The 2004 Tsunami and the earthquakes in Pakistan and China have taught us that if we use the already available resources to rescue those trapped and bring care to those who are unable to be rescued we can save hundreds of thousands of lives from the fatal lingering impacts of severe devastation.  There is no longer a question of “Are we able?”  The only relevant is “Are we willing?”  We have to be willing. 

Where there is a will there is a way.  Because the national political community has yet to respond to the immediacy of this human emergency we must act within the next 24-72 hours to make them do so.  Our way is the digital media.  We need the crisis in Haiti to go viral in more ways than infectious disease.  We need you to  Vlog, iReport on CNN, write front page Blog posts, email letters to your editor and, put Haiti on your twitter and as always, flood your elected representatives with demands for restoring the human right of life to our Haitian brothers and sisters. 

Points of Information

  1. -Haiti has been hit by three tropical cyclones in as many weeks
  2. -Over 500,000 people are at immediate risk of death
  3. -There must be immediate delivery of foreign aid in the form of money and food
  4. -There must be immediate transport of refugees from the floodwaters
  5. 1 minute video and article  

If there has ever been a test of the power of good in the digital age it is upon us.  If we are able to shape political agendas, to effect the distribution of resources, and to guide the eyes of the media then we are able to end human suffering, restore human dignity, and prove, with certainty, that the relevancy of digital media is paramount in shaping modern human discourse. 

As the poor remain stuck on the rooftops and in the treetops of Gonaives watching dead bodies float by, as farmers survey their stripped land and decide which members of their family will get to eat this month, as Hurricane Ike threatens to deliver a knock out blow to the population of Haiti in a matter of days let us be loud, let us be unyielding, and let us succeed in proving we are the change we have been waiting for.

We control digital content, so lets do it.

Donations to: www.haitirescuecenter.wordpress.com

Take a look, it’s in a book…

When was the last time you went to the library?  How many people were there?  Seriously, leave a comment.

I went to the library in Gaborone a week ago.  I was not expecting much.  The last library I went to outside of the United States, in St. Marc Haiti, had a worse selection than most dentist’s waiting rooms.  So to say my expectations were exceeded is an understatement. 

This is the library full to the point where people are sitting on the floor...this was at 10am on Thursday.
This is the library full to the point where people are sitting on the floor…this was at 10am on Thursday.

Sorry for the blurry picture, but I wanted to respect everyone’s privacy. 

 

The point is that the library was full beyond capacity, mostly with people aged from early teens to late 20’s.  One explanation for this is that it is very difficult to get a library card to check out books.  It requires passport photos, proof of cell phone contract (few people use contracts with their cell phone), professional references, and a deposit.  Even with these barriers to access people still flood the library on a daily basis to read what they can during opening hours since they cannot take materials home.  It made me really happy to see a library so full and a government service so valued. 

The Central Gaborone Library is not large.  It is housing in the City Council complex and was built at the end of the 1960’s.  I guess around 8,000 square feet….3 large rooms of books and reading tables.  They also have a film collection, periodicles, newspapers, reference materials…basically it was familiar to me as any small town library in the U.S.  There is going to be a project started soon by the African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnership that will add free wireless to all libraries in Botswana.  This should help close the digital divide for those with access to libraries, but more work needs to be done to help those that do not. 
OFFICAL Botswana Library Service Mission Statement:
The Mission statement for the National Library is to provide information to all, nation-wide by means of an efficient and effective library service. The National Library Service aims at developing an efficient system of information storage and retrieval and providing a nation-wide library and information service in order to support and promote formal and informal education and to facilitate recreation and cultural enrichment. It also promote the preservation, conservation and usage of the National documented cultural heritage by developing a National Bibliographic Control system and service. The national Library provides the following services, Public Library Services; Educational Library Services; Special Library Services and Services for the Disabled.

Botswana National Police Day

A couple of weekends ago I was awaken by sounds of the loud speakers from the national stadium that is just across the street.  It was Saturday, and National Police Day was starting at 7:00am.  Things usually start early here, and the 6:30am business call is not out of the question, but 7:00am on a Saturday?  When I got to the stadium 30 minutes later the best seats were all taken.  I underestimated the draw of police day.  The crowd was mostly adults with children…very few people my age.  I guess that explains why some people laughed when I asked if they were going to police day. 

Because the stadium is not closed in the roar of the crowd during penalty kicks during a soccar game to be heard for miles away.

Because the stadium is not closed in the roar of the crowd during penalty kicks during a soccer game to be heard for miles away.

The Botswana Police Service is just over 120 years old, making it one of the oldest institutions in the country.  The police serve under the Office of the President, His Excellency Khama Ian Khama, so of course the President came out to inspect his keepers of the peace.  This was a highly anticipated event, as the man on the loudspeaker kept reminding us of the President’s immanent arrival every 30 seconds for the hour before the President actually arrived. 

The President is the one not soluting and looks more pink than everyone else.

The President is the one not soluting and looks more pink than everyone else.

I was impressed with the Police Band and the officers on review.  They put on a stellar parade show with precision marching…reminded me of being in marching band at Grapevine High School.

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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.