Halloween Post Script

Okay everybody, no one has to feel sorry for me any more. Thanks to Jetske, my incredible landlady I just celebrated Halloween in a whole new way – and one that I very much liked.

I just came from having mojitos in the swimming pool!

Me in a swimsuit is scary enough to qualify as a costume and a mojito is as yummy as a treat so I think I am good.

But I will still welcome pictures from back home!

Happy Trick or Treating!

And here is another picture: My friend Sharon at VAC, who never disappoints with her costume. Incredible as usual

My Halloween Friends!

Chantal and Noella – Don’t VAC employees look overworked?
My multi-talented friend Anita – she is an excellent actress

Thank you to everyone who sent me pictures today! I may not have been there to have the fun but I certainly enjoyed the show.

And I can happily report that my office is no longer possessed!

Atlantic Veterinary College Staff get in the spirit
These Gals are from the Education Dept at UPEI (University of Prince Edward Island)

Happy Halloween!

Jack O’Lanterns

It is now time for my favourite holiday of the year! Happy Halloween everyone!

Thanks to Barb Lacey, I have had this wonderful picture on my home and work laptops for a couple of weeks. She knows how much I love this holiday. She even decorated at the office in my honour but I don’t think that was as elaborate as I am use to doing. But knowing the policy crew there are likely lots of treats around. By the way Andrew, I exhausted my survival kit, thanks!

But the one thing that I am missing most this year is not the dressing up or the treats but I am sadly missing Herman (my blow-up skeleton) who I decided needed to stay in Canada. After all he is an aging male and is now prone to slow leaks so I thought it best to leave him in comfort in PEI. This is the first Halloween in almost twenty years that he has not been with me. In fact he is my longest relationship ever! He has lived in almost as many cities as I have. But he is now too old to be a World traveller.

The poor man has ridden the buses, subways and cars with me for almost twenty years and I do miss him by my side this year. I am sure that Tabuche would have made room for him in our car for a couple of days and besides maybe a blow up skeleton would seem normal compared to some of the other behaviour I display while in his front seat…..

This year the only Halloween decorations that I have are the pictures that people send me…hint,hint….keep them coming.

Kathy’s contribution to the Halloween photo gallery

I was at the WUSC office today and received a Halloween treat bag from Melissa, YIPPEE!! It at least makes me feel like I am celebrating it. It won’t be the same as being at home (either PEI or Toronto) and dressing up. I was going to get Noelle to forward on a Miss Piggy wig for me this year but with the really slow mail system I chose not to frustrate myself unnecessarily.  Maybe I should order one now so it will be here for next year…and if anyone can find a new Herman and send him, I might love you forever! Not that the old one could ever be replaced, but perhaps it is time for a new man in my life that doesn’t leak 😉

So what I want as a Halloween treat is this request : Please celebrate Halloween for me, dress up, laugh, scare people and carve a pumpkin and think of me and then send me the pictures.


Down the Lobaste Road

On the Lobaste Road
View from the Lobaste Road

Today was a road trip to Lobaste for a District Coalition meeting. BONASO  is setting up district coalition across the country and that is the reason why I am getting to travel around so much. Today, Oscar is in Francistown so it was Lawrence, Masego and myself who drove to Lobaste, which is about 5 km from the South Africa border.

After a stressful start to the day at 6:30 am when Lawrence couldn’t find where I lived, I did the death walk across the highway…got to love doing it during morning rush hour…and uniting with my colleagues at the gas station we were off.

I had been part way down this road three weeks ago and it is indescribable how different the landscape now looks with green everywhere. As we were heading out of the city we were meeting a ton of traffic of which not everyone was staying  on their side of the road. In fact, we often found ourselves heading for the shoulder as we were meeting two lanes of oncoming traffic on a two lane road. Fun times! Then if you factor in the need to slow down or stop all together as animals (cows, baboons, donkeys, goats) decided to saunter out in front of you as evidenced below.

As she slowly saunters

After a successful meeting where excellent BONASO team work was demonstrated, we were invited to visit some service providers and their clients. This was an incredible experience. The first woman we visited was a widow with nine children (the youngest was just six weeks old). She was living in one tiny room in a house with no electricity, water or anything! All she had was one single blanket on the floor on which she was lying nursing her child with four of her other children around her. This room was being provided to her out of generosity by a neighbour. However, there is no telling how long that she will be able to stay there. Should things change for the other residents of the house who are really no better off than her, she and her children will be without anything or anywhere to go. Unlike Canada, there is no social housing here in Botswana so there is really no where for her and her family to go.

The next visit was to another house where again the community generosity shone. A gentleman also took in vulnerable people to live with him. We met a disable HIV positive man whose only request is that someone help him start his own tuck shop so he could support himself! This man volunteers his time to educate others about HIV testing, prevention and whatever. He is very disabled but he is determined to find a way to support himself. Although everything in the system appears to be against him, I somehow feel he will find a way to succeed somehow. It is for these people that I am here working and it is them I have to think of in those moments when I am feeling most overwhelmed. I know that I can at least contribute in some way to help improve their lives.

Our final stop was at a pre-school and after school program. Both Masego and I could have stayed for hours with the children. We were shown the kitchen where a combination of volunteers and employees prepare an after school meal for the children. In many cases these is the only meal that they get. Yet look at these faces!

My new friends!

I am going to finish today’s post with two final pictures of houses that Nelson Mandela stayed in to escape persecution. Today I was humbled by who and what I saw this afternoon. I hope that you are too –

Soon to be a Nelson Mandela memorial site
You aren’t suppose to photograph this site but I did! Nelson Mandela also stayed here in Lobaste.

Real Estate – Here and There

Last week along with managing my very busy day job, I was also communicating back and forth with PEI to ensure that my house sale is not hindered by me being half way around the world. Thankfully with the ease of emails, skype and other means of communication and some stress on my part, I now have my copy of the paperwork to sign and return to Canada. If you were paying attention to my post yesterday you will see that I also secured a lawyer here to witness my documents.

BONASO is currently in the process of selling a piece of land in order to pay off debt and Oscar had assured me that I could use this lawyer to complete my documents. Being the independent woman that I am, securing a lawyer on my own, even if it was at a social engagement makes me happy. And apparently here you don’t need a lawyer to perform certain functions. When I first arrived, before going to the Immigration Office we went to the Police Station and had copies of our passports certified. This is apparently how you get any document legally certified by going to the Police Station. You show up with the original document and how ever many copies you want. You take a seat in the rows of chairs and wait your turn, moving to the next chair as everyone moves over as the first chair keeps becoming vacated. It feels very much like a game of musical chairs without the music! Finally you reach the huge table presided over by two or three bureaucrats, who it seems barely even look at your documents, stamp them with a seal and sign. Trust me, my confidence is better placed in having an actual lawyer with a seal witness my documents! I am leaving nothing to chance.

While dealing with my own real estate issues, I have also been learning about real estate here. Real estate in Botswana is very complicated. Just because you own a piece of land, it doesn’t mean that you actually get to keep it. If a plot sits vacant because you can’t afford to build any kind of structure on it, someone else can move in, build on it and claim the land. So those who are incredibly poor, disadvantaged or orphaned (see below) may have land but lose it through no fault of their own.

Also, apparently people here often sell plots of land that are not their’s to sell. The land could either be sitting empty or have a building that no one is occupying. People eager to buy the plot (often those with limited funds or very naive) respond to advertised sale notices, apply for the appropriate permits and pay for land and then eventually find out after that they have paid for a plot that can’t be theirs as it wasn’t sold by the owner. So they are without the money and left with no land or occupying property that isn’t theirs to own.  In Canada all real estate sales go through legal formalities, here in Botswana land and money changes hands without the onerous legal technicalities and those who can least afford it suffer because of it.

In particular, orphans and vulnerable people are victimized over and over again by the system. Due to the AIDS epidemic there are a disproportional number of orphan headed households. This means that an older sibling is caring for one or more their younger brothers and sisters. The inheritance laws of this country are not all like Canada’s. Here if you own land or a house it does not automatically goes to your children if you pass away. In fact, it is often an Uncle or Aunt who will claim it and the orphans are than left with no where to live.

Recently there was a landmark real estate decision here in Botswana. There was a High Court decision in the case of Mmusi and Others v Ramantele and Another.  Judge Key Dingake ruled that the Ngwaketse customary law inheritance rule, which hitherto has provided for male-only inheritance of the family home, is discriminatory. This is a landmark decision because in 2008, the Human Rights Council (through Canada) had recommended that ‘Botswana increase efforts to raise awareness of the precedence of constitutional law over customary laws and practices to promote gender equality’. Botswana’s response was that ‘Botswana does not accept the recommendation. Customary law is not in conflict with constitutional law’.

This week’s ruling clearly indicates that the customary law inheritance rule which allows for male-only inheritance of the family home by the youngest-born son, is not in conformity with either the Constitution of Botswana  or international instruments to which Botswana has committed herself. Now it will be easier for people like me to assist the change in gender inequality here in Botswana. Like any court ruling it will take time, a lot of effort and constant lobbying to ensure that the appropriate legal, constitutional and societal rule s are adapted to reflect this decision. Since the ruling was announced I have been in meetings with Batswana women who are just as passionate about ensuring that this decision is truly reflected in Botswana society and guess what, I have at least 14 more months to assist their efforts.

Life can be a cabaret

Well, no one can ever say that I don’t know how to enjoy myself. After what has been an extremely challenging week sometimes you need to just have fun! And that is one talent I will never lose.

Last night was an outdoor concert at Botswanacraft and an event I had been looking forward since arrival. Puna, who works in the WUSC office is an incredible singer and she was one of the performers. On our second day in Gabs, the WUSC staff had taken us to Botswanacraft to their outdoor cafe for lunch to sample traditional food. While there I noticed the concert posters and that is when Puna told me she was performing. So tickets were bought and plans made.

It was decided over a week ago that a pre-concert activity would enhance the experience so Erin and Stephanie graciously offered up their abode for drinks and munchies at 6 pm. Well, I had a quick trip home and ten minutes to change while the ever patience Tabuche waited to drive me back across the city to close to where we had just came from. And not once did he rub in the fact that when he had dropped me off to my party he was going on to an all night prayer event. However, he did say he would pray for me when I asked.

All I can say about the gathering at Erin’s and Stephanie’s house was it drew a very eclectic crowd and I think fun was had by all with me being at the top. I can tell you that my performance of doing the splits out on the patio by the pool netted me a Batswana lawyer who is going to assist me with my house closing documents at no charge. Who knew that a 47 year doing splits was so impressive?

I actually accomplished an even more impressive feat an hour later when we were driving to the concert in a combi type van. We had temporarily stopped to let someone go into their apartment to change and our driver who had missed my earlier performance as for a repeat. I can now add another first to my list as I successfully executed full splits in the second row of a combi! We did have to open one side door so that I could get fully extended.

Now that I was fully limbered up I was ready for some more dancing (a few of us girls had rocked out back at the house to some great music). We were a little late arriving at the concert so it was in fully swing when we walked through the doors. As soon as I heard the music I was off and dancing. What can I say, when I heard good music I just want to dance and I haven’t had a chance to really hit the dance floor for a while. Poor Tabuche the other morning experienced just how much I like to move to music. On our way to work we got stopped in traffic and a great African song came on the radio. Of course I started to move to the beat and he just grinned and turned it up. As we continue to remain stationary the song ended and another even better one came on and I was not willing to sit still. Tabuche was truly laughing at me at this point and other on-lookers were not sure what I was doing. I threatened to get out and dance in the street while we waited but fortunately for Tabuche the traffic started to move again.

So you see, I was ready to spend an evening dancing and enjoying the music. While those I was with spread out and some moved closer to the front where it was more crowded, I hung back where I had space to just move to the music. Never shy to enjoy dancing I started dancing as soon I stepped into the courtyard and didn’t stop until I left hours later. There were many others who were grooving out to the music like I was so no one thought that I was strange. While I am very content to dance by myself, I didn’t want for dance partners last night be them male or female. In fact, I had a number of beautiful African women come up and join me dancing. They tried to teach me how to shake my bum like they do and actually told me that they loved the way I move! I couldn’t believe it! I have no natural rhythm but simply let my body move to the music and they were complimenting me.

After a late and very active evening I am happy this morning. I do have a few blisters on my feet – I ditched my shoes about half way through the concert by Ringo, who is sort of like the Southern African equivalent to Usher/Bruno Mars. He didn’t make me swoon although he was yummy, but he certainly made me dance!

Ringo wowing the crowd

1 Month Anniversary

Today marks my one month anniversary of arriving in Botswana. It is hard to believe that it has been a month already, yet in other ways it feels like I have been here for longer.

What I am still crystal clear about is that this was the best decision that I have ever made in my life. Not only am I enjoying living here in Gabs but the work suits me perfectly. When I first arrived I was nervous about coming to BONASO because I learned that a high number of other very qualified candidates for this position had been turned down over the past year. Of course I immediately thought that I could not possible live up to the expectations that were set when I was chosen for the job.

This week has proved to me that I am the perfect fit for this position. In fact, every day challenges me to bring my skills, knowledge and experience to the table in an entirely new way. The amount of work to be done is overwhelming, the challenges feel insurmountable and the time lines incredibly tight. Yet every day Oscar and I tackle and overcome at least one challenge that others said was impossible. Resurrecting a national organization that has gone bankrupt, left a trail of legal liabilities and no infrastructure back to being the lead umbrella organization representing all of the service providers who are part of a national operational strategy and plan is certainly not easy. But we are doing it and proving those with doubts or mired in the past wrong.

I feel privileged to be able to sit in meetings as I did this morning and input into how the National Strategy will be formed over the next couple of years. I am able to voice my opinions that will in fact change how government, donors and civil society respond to the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. I can advocate for better research into why prevention methods are not working or causing an increase in gender based violence. I can play a role in the creation of a new government council that should be fully representing the most vulnerable in society.

One month here I know that I do have the opportunity to make a change, I just need to be up for the challenge, the hard work and the never-ending impossible tasks and deadlines.

Post script

I can’t believe that I forgot to mention this – the other highlight of my day was when Oscar actually told me this morning as we were sitting brainstorming agendas for the Board Retreat and AGM that I wasn’t challenging him enough.

Ha! What can possible be said in response to that!

View from my Terrace

After the thunder storms

I wasn’t going to post tonight – it has been a really long day but I just took this picture from my terrace and had to share it. The rainy season has truly started now and this afternoon the thunder storms raged. It was actually very fitting for the mood that I am in today. I feel a bit like a thunder cloud.

I am now convinced that my new office space needs an exorcism. When I moved last Friday little things started to go wrong. I misplaced my cell phone which was returned to me this morning. Yesterday I dumped an entire mug of boiling hot tea in my lap at my desk. Luckily I had a navy blue linen dress on so I could just rinse out the tea and stand outside for 15 minutes to let the hot sun and wind dry me a little. Yesterday we were also without internet access all day at work and today, my laptop would function along with a multitude of other things.

But I have a plan for the morning, thanks to Tabuche – not sure what I would do without him! I am starting to think that he is the most consistent man in my life 🙂 I can always count on him, even though he owns his company and is incredibly busy he still personally does my pick up and drop off every day instead of having one of his other drivers do it. Tonight because of the rain he was late picking me up and of course he called to tell me he was stuck in traffic. When he arrived he had his previous pick up still in the car but he was so determined to pick me up as quickly as he could, the gentleman had to make the trip to get me before we dropped him. Any ways, Tabuche’s plan for exercising my office demons are for me to practice a little African religion to cleanse the space. I will let you know that it worked.

So tomorrow will be a better day, I can feel it because I have complete faith in Tabuche, he has never failed me yet. And this morning he also told me when he found out that I have a meeting with the Minister of Health – HIV and AIDS Prevention on Friday that I must be doing really important work and that Botswana will be glad that I came. So I will remember this as I and the whole BONASO team are feeling totally overwhelmed with the monumental task ahead of us including organising a board retreat and AGM for early November. But as Oscar says many times a day, we will win! So if he believes and Tabuche does as well, than I must believe too.

Good night!

Your Lives are NOT BORING!

Okay, if I was close enough to anyone of you, I would beat you! If I hear one more time that your excuse is that you think your life is too boring to share, I will scream so loud you will hear it in Canada. Ask my old work crew who can vouch for how loud I can squeal as they all heard it when I was officially accepted for this position.

Yes, I know it is a little hard to compete with baboons playing outside of your meeting room windows and elephants in your yard. But guess what? I am doing some pretty boring things myself yet you fools are all reading it 😉 I want to hear about the wheel falling off of your lawn mower; or the mundane daily stuff you do because it is YOU doing it! Can I be any clearer? So never ever use the “boring” excuse again and talk to/email me, PLEASE!!!!