The Art of Socializing

Working at WAR has been one of the most fun jobs I’ve had.  Learning about the work culture here is learning the art of socializing.  This posting is to show you a typical day I would have in the office.

Alex, my driver, picks me up from Jump Street at 7:40 am and drops me off at WAR around 7:55 am.  I ask Alex all sorts of questions such as Maun real estate or cattle investment.

The work day starts at 8 am with a staff meeting, mixing in singing songs, reading from the Bible, and announcements of various office matters.  This staff meeting can take anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes, and it takes place in the front reception area.

After the staff meeting, I go to my office and plug in my laptop.  Within two minutes, Lesiela will come in apologizing for interrupting me so she can sweep my office floor.  Five minutes later, she will bring me cup of hot tea.  She will always ask me if I want sugar, and smile and shake her head in disbelief that I don’t take sugar in my tea.

From my office, I can hear the chatters in the reception area.  The receptionist lady has a desk in the reception area.  There’s a 3-seat couch in the same area, and someone is always on the couch.  A few people seem to have no office space of their own, and they wander from office to office, or sit on the couch.  The chattering almost never stops in that area.

I get about 30 minutes to work.  Then the visitors come.  If a counselor does not have any clients to assist that week, she will not have any work to do.  One of the counselors will come and insist to teach me Setswana, or talk about how they want to go work in North America, or about their business plans, or ask to use my laptop to check their e-mails.  Then another person will come in, join in the conversation, or start a new topic about what type of Botswana food they think I should try.

At 9 am, the receptionist lady would ask me if I wanted any “fat cake”.  Fat cake is a large flour dumpling deep fried in oil.  It’s much like a homemade donut without the hole.  Fat cake is eaten as a snack during the day with tea.  One fat cake is 1 Pula (about 15 cents C$).  I’ve gotten into the habit of eating fat cakes with everyone else.  Oh it’s so bad for me!

The stream of visitors continues, and I may get about 2 to 3 hours worth of work in the morning.  Lunch hour starts at 1 pm, and is regarded as a sacred hour of personal time.  You cannot expect anyone to do anything between 1 and 2 pm. 

Sometimes I bring my own lunch, and sometimes I go out for lunch at a nearby local restaurant.  If I sit in my office with my laptop and sandwich, it’s like an open invitation for visitors.  They would buy their take-out food, and sit in my office to eat with me.  They find my spicy roasted almonds fascinating.  They ask me all sorts of questions about my trail mixes.  

Work time official begins again at 2 pm.  If a board member comes by, she would pop in and tell me what I should work on.  Otherwise, I have about 1 hour of quiet time to work while people digested their lunch.  By 3 pm, the lead counselor’s 9-year-old daughter is off school and comes to the office.  She likes to sit in my office to draw, read, look at my pictures on my laptop, or fold paper origami.

Inevitably I will get another visitor around the same time.  It could be all personal chit-chat, or a lot of discussions about what I should do while I’m with WAR that leads into personal chit-chat.  They would ask me about Vancouver, and I would ask them all sorts of questions about how cattle posts worked or what the donkeys are used for or marriage customs.

Then someone would oblige me to take pictures of her with my camera.  The ladies love having their pictures taken.  I would download their pictures and put them on their personal USB sticks for them.  They would giggle over their pictures for quite a while, and discuss what they will wear tomorrow for a different set of pictures.

Sometimes another WUSC Canadian volunteer traveling through Botswana may come by to check out the office, and we would exchange experience of different NPO’s.  Sometimes the local WUSC officer would bring by new Canadian volunteers on route to another town.

In the Botswana culture, relationship building is highly valued, sometimes more so than the work product itself.  So I have come to accept that.  I really had to put aside my habit of recording my time in 6-minute intervals.

Then at 4:20 pm, the receptionist lady would pop her head in to tell me the office will be closed soon.  I have to be all packed up and ready to go at 4:25 pm, otherwise more people will pop their heads in and remind me to pack up.  By 4:30 pm, the office empties promptly.

From there, Alex either picks me up at WAR, or I would walk over to the New Mall for groceries and then phone Alex to pick me up from there.  I’ve also started walking home (1 1/2 hour) a few times a week to get some exercise in.

I love the socializing aspect of the culture here.  It has allowed me to learn so much more about Botswana than I ever could from a travel book.



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