If you are a future volunteer coming to Botswana, I have listed some things you may wish to consider. These are the things I learned or found useful for my assignment here.
1. US$ and Euro are the easiest to exchange. Don’t bring Canadian dollars. You can also draw Pula directly from the bank machines here from your Canadian bank account. I didn’t try that myself, but I know many other volunteers do this.
2. Most lodges and safari companies will accept VISA cards without additional charges. I believe many restaurants in Gaborone accept credit cards. But in Maun, I mostly bought my own groceries and ate at cheap local restaurants, so I can’t comment on the use of credit cards in restaurants here.
3. If you are working in an office, bring pieces you can mix and match to get through the week. Don’t bring your fancy LV purse or Manolo shoes. I brought my work clothes and shoes that I don’t wear anymore that are still in good shape (we all have those), wore them through the assignment, cleaned them, and gave them to ladies in the office. They loved it.
4. I brought stationary items as gifts for the office. Those were much appreciated. It’s amazing how people love receiving pens. One lady proudly showed me a pen someone gave her over a year ago.
5. I felt very safe in Maun. People will stare at you if you are not black, but that’s only because they are curious about you.
6. It’s very convenient to have a cell phone and buy pre-paid airtime. When you receive calls, it is free. So don’t go crazy with buying too much airtime. For the 3 weeks I’m here, I only used about 10 Pula worth of outgoing calls. SMS’ are cheap, so many people prefer to send you a message rather than calling you.
7. There are taxis everywhere in Maun. A standard trip is P3.20. If you go far, or go off tarred roads, it’s called a “special” and you should negotiate your rate first.
8. Grocery shopping is very easy. You can get almost everything you normally eat back home in North America. I did not find any tofu or organic oatmeal, but I looked for those things on purpose to get a feel of selection. Oh, diet soft drinks are not widely carried. I found one store that sold diet coke in Maun, so I stick to that store. The vegetable selection is decent, and whatever they do have is very fresh.
9. There is a brand new hospital in Maun (just opened in 2009). The facility is apparently very advanced.
10. I was in Maun for most of June, which is winter here. I brought malaria pills with me, but eventually stopped taking them because I did not get even one mosquito bite.
11. The water here is safe to drink out of the tap. However, I don’t like the taste of it. So I boil it first just to be safe, then squeeze fresh lemon juice into it. That took care of the taste. Also, my stomach grumbled for the first 2 days for unknown reasons, but settled down once the effect of the Dukoral set in.
12. If you come in the winter, it does get cold (5 or 6 Celsius at night). Bring warm clothing. Bring a hat and good sunglasses. The sun is so bright here. I wear my glacier glasses and they are perfect. It does get warm during the day, so dress in layers.
13. The power outlets are quite different. You may not be able to buy the correct adaptor in Canada or the US. But go ahead and buy the 3 flat prong ones from MEC or REI while you’re at home. When you get to Botswana, stop at an electronics store and you can pick up the special adaptor for less than C$4. You put the 3 flat prong ones onto these special adaptors, then plug it into the outlet and you’re in business.
14. There are a number of internet cafes in Maun, but their high speed connection is not very fast at all. I did bring my MacBook, which requires yet another adaptor because of the three-prong plug.
15. Botswana makes the St. Louis beer. I didn’t care for it. There’s also beer from Namibia and South Africa here. There is a small selection of imported beer. I was happy to find Stella in that selection.
16. I brought some snacks to share. People here loved the spicy roasted almonds and my trail mix (almonds, candied ginger, peanuts, chocolate chips, dried mango, cashews).
17. Bring a small digital camera, and you will make a lot of friends. People, especially kids, love having their pictures taken and seeing them on your LCD viewer. Don’t take unsolicited pictures without asking first.