My first week in Gaborone

Sorry for the delay in blogging! It took awhile to figure out my Internet situation and I’ve been getting home every night super late, completely exhausted. I arrived safely in Gaborone, Botswana on Monday afternoon. My bags arrived safely and I met another CIEE student on my last flight, so I’d say it was a pretty successful arrival. We headed to the Oasis Motel, where we stayed for one night. It had a hot shower and Internet, which was all I needed. I met the other students in the program, who are all super nice. Though we’ve only known each other a week, we’re already starting to feel like a little family. Everyone is so friendly and open to meeting new people. We have 25 students in our group. About 10 are from California, which I find insane! There’s one girl from Ohio, but other than that, no one near me at all. There are 4 boys, which I find pretty funny. I’m the youngest of the group. Most of the students are seniors, graduates taking a gap year, or a few juniors. I feel really young, but everyone’s nice to me just the same. We also have local student volunteers who attend UB and they are all super cool! The program leaders are awesome and great at making us feel welcome.

We’ve been insanely busy since the minute we arrived. We’ve had a lot of lectures about every topic you can imagine- security, health, classes, culture, etc. I’ve learned so much about this city and the Batswana people in such a short period of time. We’ve slowly been learning how to get around campus and around the city. It’s more challenging than I ever could have imagined! We’ve been working on a scavenger hunt that takes us to all of the main attractions. We’ve also been hanging out and getting to know each other every day. We had dinner one night at a fancy Portuguese restaurant, where I got a delicious steak and fries and my first legal drink. We also went out to a bar one night and I have to say it was pretty to cool to be able to order drinks.

On Friday, we took a trip out to the Mokolodi Nature Reserve, about 30 minutes away. We took a game drive, where I got to see giraffes, zebras, kudus, impalas, baboons, rhinos, and warthogs, all very close up. It was simply breathtaking. We enjoyed a braai (BBQ) around the campfire and bonded as a group. The only downside was sleeping in tents in the freezing cold. It’s winter here and I definitely didn’t prepare enough for the weather. However, I also managed to get extremely sunburnt- a very unpleasant surprise. In the morning, we volunteered in the reserve. We filled in a ditch with rocks and covered it with soil, so that the workers could drive on it. It was some seriously hard labor, but I felt pretty proud when we were finished.

I met my homestay family the second day I was here. I have a single mother (KT) and a sister (Tshego) who is 18. She also goes to UB and is studying business. I also have two older brothers, but they don’t currently live here. One’s actually visiting tonight. They are all super friendly, but pretty quiet, so I sometimes get lonely. My living situation is actually better than I expected. I have my own room with a double bed (for the first time in my life). There’s no heat or air conditioning, which really makes sleeping difficult. I now realize just how spoiled I really am. I have Internet and a TV, which I found pretty surprising. We have a bath with a hose and warm water, though you have to heat it up an hour beforehand. The bath is small and it’s definitely been a challenge getting used to it, but it’s getting easier. They have a washer and dryer but they’ve been broken for months, so I have learned how to hand wash my clothes and let them dry on a line. The family has a maid on Saturdays so she may be helping too. The house is small, but plenty for us to live in happily. I’ve only eaten at home once so far, so I’m not completely sure of the food situation. The biggest challenge is the commute to school. It takes an hour because I have to ride two combis and walk, so I have to get up pretty early. Overall my homestay has been okay so far. I haven’t gotten to spend much time with them and I still feel a little weird invading their home, but I know it will get better with time. (2 pictures)

Gaborone (Gabs) is so different from what I imagined. I’m definitely experiencing culture shock, to say the least. First, there’s the traveling around the city. The cars drive on the left side of the road, so every time I get in one, I feel like we’re going to crash. The roads are really bumpy, drivers are reckless (if you’re in the middle of the road, they won’t stop), and people don’t wear seatbelts. The combis I mentioned earlier are my main method of transport. They are like minivans that follow certain routes around the city. The drivers cram about 18 people in a car that should hold 12, so it’s uncomfortable and awkward. It’s definitely not my favorite part of the day. The program leaders have scared us to death with stories of all the crime that happens here, so I’m always holding on to my purse with dear life. It’s mostly petty crime, like theft, but it still terrifies me. At my home, we have an alarm system and electric fence, but thieves could still break in, which is a scary feeling. Walking around alone is scary too. Everyone stares at me like they’ve never seen a white person before. People are pretty friendly if you start conversation first, but you can tell they are still weary of you being in their hometown. If it gets late, I call a cab because it’s unsafe to walk around alone.

Most people speak English pretty well, but communicating is still difficult. I’m already learning basic Setswana verses, so hopefully I’ll be able to communicate better soon. Most menus are in English and most of the music they listen to is in English too (just a few months behind). It’s pretty bizarre! The money situation is difficult too. Here they use pulas, which come in huge bills, so I always feel like I’m spending so much money, but I’m really not spending all that much. Most things are pretty cheap here, but it’s hard to convert the prices in my head. Combi drivers rip you off by not giving you enough change, so you just have to be careful. Another thing that’s been hard getting used to is time. Gabs runs on its own time. People show up when they want. Being two hours late is perfectly acceptable. It’s especially frustrating for such a punctual person like me, but I’m adjusting slowly.

Gabs is a mix of a thriving city and rural town. Most houses look beaten down and the ground is mostly dirt. There are very few plants and no grass anywhere. Animals roam the streets. I’ve seen goats, cows, horses, donkeys, and tons of wild dogs that yap all night. Yet some buildings are beautiful and new. There are shopping malls and restaurants everywhere. It’s so interesting to see a city so diverse in appearance. The food isn’t as different as I might have thought. The diet is very meat heavy, but I sometimes can’t tell what kind of meat it is. There’s a lot of rice and pap (a local food similar to grits). Fruits and vegetables are actually pretty hard to find here. When you go out to restaurants, you can find pizzas, steaks, fries, and most other foods similar to home. But when eating in the school café or at home, meals are very simple and different. It’s not my favorite, but I’m trying to push myself to try new things and not go hungry. I even tried ox tail the other day!

It’s been a crazy week. I’m starting to get a little homesick as the adrenaline wears off. I’ve been able to Skype my parents, sisters, and a few friends, which is always comforting. I got an international phone, but it’s very expensive to call home, so I’ll have to stick to Facebook or email. Feel free to message me or email me (j.doctrow@yahoo.com). I’d also love to receive mail. I start classes tomorrow and can’t wait to get on a more regular schedule. I’m having a lot of fun seeing so many new things, but it’s still difficult not to miss home. I know I am so fortunate to be here, so I’m trying to stay strong and keep positive.

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2 thoughts on “My first week in Gaborone

  1. I just read your post, Jamie, and loved it so! I am sure this is such an intimidating experience for a young woman, especially such a physically tiny one, but you are a star in every way, and I trust you will shine as brightly in Botswana as here at home. Keep posting; maybe it’ll make you feel less homesick knowing that many back here in Louisville are travelling vicariously with you. Be safe!

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