This is my last night in Botswana. I left Maun this afternoon to fly to Gaborone, where the WUSC head office is.
Growing up in Taiwan, one of my all-time favorite things to do is going to the night market with my dad. We put on our sandals and shorts, and head out some time between dinner and bed time. My mother is not in favor of the night market, because “everything is unsanitary” there. In my little mind, dad = fun, mom = sanitation. (That is not totally true. That was just my impression when I was little. Don’t worry, Mom, I think you are fun too.)
The night market is a truly magical place. Before you even see the market, you smell the fried stinky tofu and see the smoke of roasted corn. Despite the dinner you had a few hours ago, you start salivating. Then as you walk closer to the entrance of the market, you see bright lights and colorful merchandise displayed all the way down a busy corridor. As you walk through the corridor, you also find stands where you can play a marble game. Or you can scoop small tiny fish with a flimsy net to take home.
The night market is a combination of sight, sound, smell, and taste. It makes use of all your senses and you want to stay there all night, drinking everything in.
My dad and I spend the most time in the food section of the market. The food stands sell anything from steamed pig blood rice cakes dipped in crushed peanuts and cilantro, to noodles in rich broth paired with thinly sliced shark meat drizzled with a tangy sauce. Sometimes we get fried oysters cooked in a corn starch sauce and eggs until everything turns into one flat pancake. In the summer, we get shaved ice with various toppings like sweet beans or jello drizzled with condensed milk. My favorite is deep fried stinky tofu served with Taiwanese style preserved cabbage. Oh it smells so bad but tastes so good.
Sometimes we wander around the night market and come upon things we have not seen before. My dad is never shy about asking the vendor what they are selling. His interest in food runs deep in his blood. He would strike up conversations with vendors about the food, and more often than not we end up trying whatever he asked about.
I also remember my dad peddling my aunt’s bicycle when we visit my mom’s family in Ping Dong, with me sitting on the cargo rack in the back and legs dangling on either side of the back wheel. We would ride through small roads with farmland all around us. He would always stop and ask what the farmers are harvesting, and whether we could buy whatever they are pulling out of the ground. One time we came across some farmers harvesting soy beans, and they ended up giving my dad a big bundle of the plant for free. I held onto the bundle while sitting on the cargo rack, and it made my arms and legs itch for hours afterwards.
My mom always says that every time my dad and I go out, we always come home with food (or books, but that’s a story for another day). It’s true.
All this early childhood “programming” stayed with me. I’m curious about food, and I’m willing to try anything. To me, it’s what makes life interesting. Without variety and new things, I think my taste buds would shrivel up and die. And luckily for me, Cliff has a similar philosophy about food. Our TV at home stays on the Food Network all year round, and we get excited about our collection of spices.
Friday last week was Cliff’s first full day in Maun. We got up early this morning for a stroll from Jump Street to the tarred road, and caught a taxi to Old Mall. The Old Mall has hundreds of small stands and lean-to’s that are made up of some basic posts and corrugated tin roofs. Each stand has a folding table to display the goods, and a plastic chair for the vendor to sit on. Merchandise sometimes hang from screws in the tin roof, or spills over to buckets in front of the folding table.
We got to Old Mall before 9 am, and only half the vendors have their stands set up that early. We walked around Old Mall checking out the stands at a leisurely pace. This is the official start of our vacation together.
I spotted a little stand with pots and pans lined up on a table, and reckoned it was food. My dad has trained me to look for food in a crowded place like a hawk. Cliff and I walked over to ask what the lady sold. She showed us a variety of teas and coffees, but I kept my eyes on her lidded pots and pans. Ha, jackpot! She sold my two favorite things in Botswana—seswwa and fat cake!
Seswwa is beef boiled in water and salt for a long period of time, mashed with a fork or spoon, with oil and fried onions added to it. I never knew that over cooked beef can taste this good.
Fat cake is flour, salt, sugar, oil formed into a ball of dough, deep fried in oil. It’s like a cross between a homemade donut and Chinese donut. It’s often eaten as a snack with tea. The ladies at WAR introduced me to fat cake, and I end up eating one everyday with my tea as breakfast.
We got a little Styrofoam plate of seswwa and a fat cake, and stood in front of the stand eating it with our hands. Most people eat with their hands here (unless they are in a restaurant or a more formal setting). It is quite liberating, I must say. Cliff has listened to me talk about seswwa and fat cake for a few weeks now, so he was quite excited to try them.
We had our fill and walked around some more. We went to run some errands like sending postcards and uploading pictures at an internet café. Then we check out some of fresh fruit and vegetable stands in the Old Mall. We left Old Mall loaded with some incredibly fresh produce. Tonight’s dinner will be rape leaves with onions and tomatoes, seswwa, and yellow patty pan pasta.
Cooking with a gas stove when Jump Street had no power for 3 days:
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.
Towards the end of the training session, I was getting a little antsy as Cliff was suppose to be arriving in Maun. As soon as the session is over, I bolted down the street to the airport to pick him up. It was so good to see him after being apart for 3 weeks!
We had a potluk lunch at WAR with all the staff. I made spicy Chinese noodles which they enjoyed. They gave me a very nice hand woven purse, a bracelet and earings with Botswana flag colors, and some keychains with my name stamped on them. It was a very nice gesture. I gave everyone their gifts. I just sat and enjoyed the joyful chatters in Setswana, trying to savour the last couple of hours I have with these wonderful people.
Cliff and I will be hanging out tomorrow, and going to the Delta on Sunday. I will make a few more postings later next week with the pictures from the Delta.
Annhara, the lawyer:
This posting is more of a logistical update.
It is my second last day at WAR today. The plan is to have a meeting with the Coordinator and the Finance Officer to go over the finance policy. The meeting will serve as the training session for management to understand the policy. The policy I drafted has some things that WAR already does, and some new items that will help them segregate some financial duties and allocate responsibilities to the right task owner.
I will also be spending some time with the Finance Officer today about the errors I found in the donor report so far. This is a big job that may take another volunteer to finish reconciling.
Tomorrow (Friday), I will come to work and wrap things up. Cliff will be flying in at lunch time (yay!!). I’ll pick him up at the airport and bring him to WAR. It just happened that the last Friday of every month is a potluk lunch to celebrate birthdays and departures, so Cliff will join us for the potluk and meet everyone here. That would take up most of the afternoon.
After that, here’s a brief outline of our travel plans:
June 27: Official start of our vacation. Relax, show Cliff around Maun.
June 28-July 1: Okavango Delta boat trip.
July 2: I fly to Gaborone to meet the WUSC coordinator for my final debriefing.
July 3: Cliff flies from Maun, Botswana to Windhoek, Namibia. I fly from Gaborone, Botswana to Windhoek to meet up with Cliff. Pick up our rental truck.
July 4-13: Road trip in Namibia, visiting Sossuvlei, Seriem canyon, skeleton coast, Damaraland desert, and Etosha National Park.
July 13: Return rental car. Fly from Windhoek, Namibia to Johannesburg, South Africa. Stay in Jo’burg for the day.
July 14: From Jo’burg, Cliff flies home to Vancouver (via Amsterdam), and I fly to Taiwan (via Hong Kong).
July 15-17: I visit family in Taiwan.
July 18: I fly home to Vancouver.
For this 7-week trip, I have started in Vancouver, flew east to London, then south to Africa, then I will fly northeast to Taiwan, then east to Vancouver. That makes a complete circle around the world!
I will make a few more postings in the next week or so. But if I don’t respond to your e-mail or blog comments timely, it could be because there’s no internet connection where we are (eg. Okavango Delta).
“Nobody loves me, everybody hates me,
This is the last week of my assignment with WAR. The speed at which things move along here is…not very fast. After waiting a whole week, I finally got some feedback on my first draft of the financial policy today.
For the rest of the week, I’ll be working on a few things:
1. Work on the financial policy revision according to the feedback
2. Write a report to WUSC outlining the work I have done here
3. Continue to help with donor report reconciliation if time permits
In a way, I am looking forward to wrapping up this project. My terribly short attention span is demanding to be entertained. On the other hand, I feel that there is so much I can do here that I really want to stay longer.
“Stop and stare. I think I’m moving but I go nowhere…do you see what I see?”–OneRepublic
More than a decade ago, I started volunteering at the children’s class at church. I would teach the kids songs, do crafts with them, and tell Bible stories. They are all in the 2- and 3-year-old age group.
Vancouver being very multicultural, I always had a good racial mix of children in my class. For a while, I had a beautiful little black girl in my class. Her skin was deeply and richly dark.
One day, the little black girl came in to class and she was sobbing, because she fell and cut her arm in the parking lot. As I tended to her wound, I remember my quiet surprise of seeing her pink flesh underneath the dark skin.
When I caught myself with that thought, I was ashamed of thinking it. Of course her flesh in pink! Have I somehow thought she was different because of her skin color?
I’ve been in Maun for 2 weeks now. Every time I walk down the road, or wander the isles of a grocery store, the local people stare at me as if I have 3 eyes and 2 heads. It’s just a curious stare, so I’ve always just greeted them, and they always smile and say hello back.
As I walked along the river yesterday, everybody stared at me until I walked past him or her. I was in a foul mood, so the staring finally annoyed me yesterday. It made me want to say, “I’m the same color as you underneath too!”
We choose how to interpret what we see with our eyes. Throughout history, we have used that interpretation to impose our wills on each other, or thought of ourselves better or worse than someone else because of it. How often do we stop and question whether our interpretation reflects the truth?
“One must be poor to know the luxury of living.”–Guillaume de Salluste Du Bartas
One of the ladies in the WAR office is 5 months pregnant. I just found out this morning. I had no idea she was pregnant because her belly is barely visible. I have never seen her eat lunch. When I ask her why she doesn’t eat, she tells me she is not hungry. But if I brought snacks to work to share, she is not shy to eat.
Today I brought a small block of cheddar cheese and some crackers to work. She pointed to the cheese and said that is very expensive food. I was a little bit taken aback.
I paid about C$4 for the small block of cheese. I didn’t think twice about putting it in my shopping basket last night at the supermarket.
Here’s someone who is carrying a baby in her belly, and she won’t buy cheese or any dairy products to supplement her calcium intake because it costs too much. I wonder if she skips meals just to save money. It broke my heart.
I have noticed a few other indications of the living standard.
If a roll of toilet paper is sitting in the washroom, someone will unroll it and take it home. To prevent this, there is just no toilet paper provided in the washroom. You either bring your own, or ask the receptionist for some each time you use the washroom.
If I gave someone a piece of candy, then everyone else wants to know if I have some for all of them.
A few of the ladies live in houses that are fairly standard in this country. That means there is no hot water in the house. You have you boil hot water on the stove to take a bath. One lady lives in a house with no running water at all. She has a large plastic tub at home to store water from the public tap a mile away. The water jugs are hauled home on top of her head, or on the donkey cart. They use pit toilets about 20 or 30 feet away from the house, because there is no indoor washroom in a standard house.
I don’t know what to make of these observations. I’m still in shock that the thin-as-rail lady is pregnant.