What a difference a day makes

Yesterday afternoon it poured rain, and I can officially say that because Tabuche agreed this morning. Apparently what I would determine to be pouring rain is more often than not described by locals as a shower. Yesterday afternoon it “poured” several times. Sorry Dad, you weren’t predicting rain until mid-week. In fact the thunder showers kept me from lounging by the pool with the pile of work I had taken home with me this weekend.

As we were driving to work this morning you could actually see the difference in the trees and the landscape. The trees are starting to fill up with leaves and things are definitely looking greener. Even the livestock that wanders the neighbourhoods are actually not so visible as they don’t have to search so far for something to eat, they are getting fatter and are actually lying down in open spaces as their bellies are full. So I am getting to experience a whole different Gaborone now that the rainy season has come.

I guess it will also bring more power outages. We experienced one last week here at Peter’s Place. It lasted for about 2 1/2 hours and each apartment is stocked with a kerosene lamp, battery light and other implements to help you cope. In fact as a Maritimer I am so used to power outages that this one did not faze me in the least. It was lovely to just curl up on my bed and read quietly for two hours with just my iPod for company. Actually, I had the best night’s sleep that night because I was so thoroughly relaxed….perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from that.

Oh, and the other thing that I wanted to mention is that even though I am hearing from all kinds of people how much that they are enjoying the blog, you guys are not keeping up your end of the bargain. I am posting religiously but I also really want to hear from people, what is happening in their lives, what the weather is like, Mike Wedge sent me a great cruise ship at dusk photo & Barb Lacey sent me a phenomenal Halloween photo – others could do the same since it is my only favourite holiday of the year! While I might be having the time of my life, I still need/want to feel connected to people back home. So please email me or comment on the blog telling me stories, or send pictures or even just let me know that you are sending me a hug because there are certainly days that I could use one!

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On a lighter note

Yesterday was quite the day including being my Mom’s birthday! Happy Birthday Mom!

Early in the morning I got up and puttered around and then set off to Cafe Dijo for breakfast before I tackled the errands on my list. Cafe Dijo is a well know place here in Gabs and is only the death walk away from me. It is located within the Game City Mall complex and is one of the best places to sit relax and grab something delicious to eat. All I can say is that I was not disappointed in the breakfast that I had. Following breakfast I set off on my errands because I needed to back at home by 11 am so I could get ready for my afternoon pick up.

I was invited to attend the ordination of a female pastor to an “apostle” which is apparently quite the honour. Religion is very significant here and is very important cultural context to have. So I showered and got dressed in my sunday best- literally! Even Tabuche had to smile when he saw me looking like such a lady in a prim and proper fifties style dress, pearls and ladylike shoes. He completely approved of the look – do I look that bad on a weekday?

The ordination was not entirely what I thought it would be but I am very glad that I attended it. It absolutely helps me to understand the complexity of the culture here and how my work fits into it. I actually had to leave before the entire event was finished. While I had spent three hours at the ordination, it appeared to be going to last for at least another two to three hours. I had asked Tabuche to pick me up in time for me to come home and get to my next social engagement.

Last night was spent poolside with Jetske and the two other female occupants of Peter’s Place, Peter was banned from the event but came into the pool area once to adjust the lights for us. This social time was planned by Jetske to give us women an opportunity to meet and have a drink. Well what can I say, things got a little out of hand and far more alcohol was imbibed than initially intended. Peter informed me this morning that he was going to place a curfew on us girls so we wouldn’t be getting so rowdy on a Saturday night. He is just upset because he is now forced to live in a compound with five females and a not a male in sight. I on the other hand am ecstatic as I need some estrogen around me to balance all of the Oscar/Lawrence testosterone that I experience every day. We have already made a date for drinks by the pool again next Saturday! Peter beware!

Implications

For the past two weeks I have been learning a lot about the HIV/AIDS epidemic here in Botswana. The first thing that I have learned is that this work utilizes just as many, if not more, acronyms than the Canadian public service. In fact, I am finding learning Setswana easier than the multitudes of acronyms.  The acronyms mostly related to the government ministries, sectors, councils, funding agencies, non-profit organizations. The list is endless. I carry a two page cheat sheet with me at all times so that I can check it from time to time to make sure that I am understanding who the stakeholders are and how the conversation reflected them.

The other thing that I am currently grappling with is a much bigger issue. From the materials that I read prior to coming here it was clear that there was significant gender work involved with my duties. It is not my main focus but it is definitely a focus. For those that know me, they can vouch for the fact that I bring the gender perspective (female and male) to almost everything that I do. Since my arrival I have had a couple of conversations about gender work with Oscar. He is concerned that perhaps I am intent on radically changing the paternalistic African culture. I have reassured him every time that I am not – I have someone who is constantly reminding me of the term “futility” and I have no god complex to think that I can undo thousands of years of culture. And frankly why would I want to?

No, what disturbs me and no doubt will be my futile exercise, but I pray not, is the repercussions of the work we (meaning funders and volunteers) are doing which are having negative ramifications on women across this beautiful country. It became crystal clear to me in Kasane and during this past week that as the efforts are made to educate and empower women to say no to sex or the use of a condom with their partner if they believe that there is a possibility of the partner being HIV positive the women are suffering because of it. While tremendous strides have been made to reach the female population and in some circumstances they are empowered enough to speak up. This empowerment in term is making them a victim of gender-based violence. They are being raped and beaten by their partners for standing their ground. Ironically by being raped the women have an even stronger probability of being infected as well as being traumatized. This deeply disturbs me that as a volunteer and part of the bigger National Strategy on the prevention of HIV/AIDS that we are advocating for and creating capacity to implement a prevention program that it in turns causes further suffering to those already victimized.

No matter what else I accomplish while I am here, I refuse to accept this impact and will do whatever I can to lessen the impacts of gender based violence. No doubt this will mean taking politically uncorrect stances in meetings and planning sessions as I apply gender based analysis to whatever is being advocated for or developed. I have no desire to change the patriarchal society of Africa but I deeply desire the prevention of gender based violence. Yes, the prevention and elimination of HIV/AIDS is a noble cause and one that I will work very hard at. But I will never sacrifice the safety of a woman in order to implement a national strategy.  How I will deal with this in the coming days and months I don’t know. All that I can tell you is that no matter what, the issue and implications will never be out of my thoughts.

TGIF!

All I can say is thank heavens it is Friday! It was a bit of a difficult start to the morning and it seems that somewhere along the way I have lost my cell phone which in one way is no big deal, I hate it and rarely use it. Tabuche is the one who calls it most to lure me out of the office at the end of the day but I also need it because Visa calls me regularly to see if it is really me spending! Ha! They are not use to me whipping out the Visa as it rarely gets used back in Canada. Here it is my life line as withdrawing money from my Canadian bank accounts is a pure pain in the ***.

Speaking of which, I spent the more capaciting Oscar and Lawrence with lovely Canadian phrase that contain my favorite word “arse”. And thanks to my father, I have a whole bevy of phrases to teach them. Thanks Dad! They loved “you wouldn’t know your arse from a hole in the ground”. I think it might become Oscar’s favorite.

Knocked off work at 4 today so I could go get groceries and buy a new swimsuit. Doing the death trip across the four lanes of highway at rush hour was a real rush. One has to constantly remember to look the opposite way that you would in Canada. And for a gimpy person I have to admit that I do okay getting across. The swimsuit shopping was just a whole other ordeal and not one to share here. All I can say is that what is painful in Canada is equally painful here. I have one and let’s just say that I can probably expect really good poolside service at the next hotel I go to.

Well, it is time to pop into my pool and cool off from the day. Happy Friday everyone!

I am truly spoiled!

First I want to preface what I am about to write with I am working incredibly hard. Although part of the reason that I came Africa was to get away from my bad habits of working too hard and long and simplifying my life, it seems that bad habits are very hard to break. Already I am in the habit when I am actually in my office not running around to meetings of working straight through lunch – sound familiar?

So with that in mind here is today’s post: Not only to I have the most incredibly personal driver, I need to add landlady and landlord to that list as well. Jetske,my landlady is always doing lovely things for me. Whenever I am late coming home, she has come and turned on my outside light for me. She leaves me things that I need like an umbrella, dishes, step stool, and various and sundry other items before I can even ask.

Today she went above and beyond. Every morning on my way out of the compound I always stop and say good morning with Tanyla and Jetske if I have not already seen them. This morning when I was talking to Jetske I mentioned that I might need to start having one or two meals prepared for me during the week. I am finding it a challenge due to my long days to get home in time to 1) make the trip to the grocery store to buy groceries before it becomes dark – it is not safe to be walking home once dusk hits which it does at about 6:15; and 2) I am so tired once I do get home that the thought of preparing a meal every night is daunting. Since there is no fridge at the office yet, I am not able to take any lunch that requires refrigeration so it is a little hard to be eating a healthy and balanced diet. So I figured that if I could get one or two healthy meals that I didn’t have to make during the week it would be great.

So in talking to Jetske, she first offered to pick up fresh veggies, fruits and other grocery items that I might need when she does her grocery shopping on Thursdays. All I need to do is email her my list. How sweet is that! Than when I came home tonight there was  not only food in my fridge but she had even prepared a lovely cold tuna and veggie pasta salad.  But it didn’t end there, she met me at the pool for my ritual after work swim with a glass of wine. So as we did our exercises in the pool we also got to sip a wine cooler and have a great visit. Now you understand why I say that I am spoiled.

Somehow I am truly blessed as every where I go I seem to find the most amazing and giving people. For that I am truly thankful and only hope that someday I can return even a portion of the kindness that others have shown to me.

 

The roadshow becomes Three

The Oscar- Cheryl roadshow has now become the Oscar-Cheryl-Lawrence roadshow. Although it is lovely to have Lawrence’s sharp mind and financial know how in the meetings with us, I am not sure that I can handle all of the testosterone. Just another challenge to overcome obviously. Happily we are making progress in our meetings and moving our agenda forward and doing so with humor and more than a little brow raising. Now we are three, we will be unstoppable if I don’t kill them first!

Cultural exchanges

I am sitting here listening to the rain absolutely pour down as I type. When I arrived home from Kasane on Sunday evening we were met at the airport by Oscar’s wife who told us that the rains were finally starting to come. Since my arrival  every day invariably one or more conversations focus on how dry it is and how much the rain is needed.

There was one initial downpour since my arrival but I was quickly assured the next day that is wasn’t really rain, it was just a shower. Yesterday morning the sky was filled with clouds which feels rare there as mostly there is never a cloud to be seen. By lunchtime they had disappeared without producing anything and the sun was hot and strong.

During my drive home, Tabuche and I had our regular cultural exchange – more on this topic shortly – where he proceeded to explain why it was really time for the rains to begin. Botswana has been experiencing drought like conditions for the past year and this rainy season is needed to make up for the extremely dry past year. Although it is spring here, farmers can not plant any crops or even work  the fields until some rain comes. I have noticed that the cows, donkeys and goats are even now sauntering down my quiet street in search of food. So before leaving the car last night I told Tabuche that I would perform a rain dance in order to do my part for Botswana.

Last night at about 1 pm the thunder and lightning began and soon the rain was pouring down. This continued off and on all night with the thunder and lightning waking me on a regular basis. When I opened my door this morning there lying on my patio table was an umbrella curtsey of my thoughtful landlady, Jetske. As I got into Tabuche’s car for the drive to work he was grinning like crazy. We have a morning and evening ritual of greeting each other first in Setswana and then in english. Once that ritual and the responses to how our evenings were was completed he broke out into laughter and said that must have been some rain dance! Of course being honest as I am, I had to confess that I didn’t really do one other than when I was getting out of the pool after my after work swim I stubbed my toes and that made me hop a little. Being the gentleman that he is, he stilled tried to give me credit!

I have certainly developed a special relationship with Tabuche and feel honoured to have his friendship. No Mary, he is not moving to Canada! He is one of the best drivers that I have ever driven with and once I am seated in his front passenger seat I never have to worry about anything. We both still break out in laughter every time we drive up beside a cow or a donkey – see earlier posts to understand why.

During our time together, we have now developed the ritual of doing at least one cultural exchange a day. These exchanges include anything from teaching me a new word or phrase in Setswana, a history, political, geography lesson or any other topic that appears relevant at the time. In return I do the same for him on a Canadian or Western World topic. The topic of conversation on the drive home this morning was on how Kudos leap onto the road in Botswana the same as we encounter moose in Canada. Tonight after Tabuche saw a B-train tractor trailer and telling me how he wanted to learn to drive one, I gave him a lesson on how to drive on icy roads.

I am so thankful everyday that I get to not only be driven to and from work but a professional driver but he is also someone I can now call my friend and teacher. Everyday I learn at least a couple of new things because of him and I think that he could say the same about me. He has even said that he will let me take his picture to post on the blog – he is not shy so I will take my camera with me someday this week and then be able to share Tabuche with you all.

Sunday Morning in Kasane

Sunday in Kasane started with a cooler start to the day as the sky was overcast. I was up bright and early and after breakfast where I always sit strategically so I can watch the birds in the trees surrounding the restaurant, I went off for a walk along the Chobe River. The river is teeming with activity early in the morning before the heat of the sun drives the wildlife to seek cool spots. It is also the best time of day for humans as well. It is better to walk any distance before the sun beats down on you as well. I spotted so many different kinds of birds this morning and can not positively id any of them.

After finishing my walk I returned to my room, packed my suitcase to be ready for check out and made a huge mug of David’s Tea – I never leave home with out some tea bags made up in my bag – and settle down on my balcony to continue to watch the wildlife. I could get use to Sunday mornings like this.

Sitting there with my  feet up and a mug of my favorite tea in hand I realized that I really didn’t stop like this at home. That was the one thing I don’t miss about my beautiful house – the non-stop cleaning that it took to maintain it. With three floors there was always something to be done so when I wasn’t rushing out the door to do something, having someone over for a visit or tea, or spending time making the kitties feel special I was cleaning. The rare moments when I did sit out on my deck or up in the sun room really were rare as there was always something competing for my time and attention.

I have certainly found a simpler way of life here in Botswana although I am still greeted every morning and evening by a Greek chorus of cats and a dog. I only have to clean up my kitchen after I have cooked and keep the surfaces de cluttered so Tanyla can do her job. So this morning I was actually able to stop moving for longer than 10 minutes and sit and watch the beauty and wildlife flit around me. I actually think that I am becoming serene! I can hear you all now – yelling in disbelief but trust me the metamorphosis of Cheryl continues.

I am sitting in the lobby of the Mowana Safari Resort typing this as I wait to leave for the airport and the return flight to Gabs. Our flight has been delayed so I have time to relax – I actually availed myself of the world class spa services here and couldn’t be any more relaxed if I tried. I will be sorry to leave the Mowana. I have been treated like a princess here including my own personal driver, Moses who has graciously shuttled me around town yesterday and today as I went exploring and on the hunt for gifts to send home.  My only complaint is that I was never truly alone in my beautiful hotel room as there was always sometime of wildlife joining me particularly in the bathroom. This included huge spiders (which is the only creature that gives me the creeps) and a multitude of lizards and geckos. Those can happily stay in Kasane.  I will be back, we didn’t get to Vic Falls after all and I need to do that before I return to Canada. In fact, I am thinking that I need to celebrate my birthday here at the Mowana Resort because than I will know that I will be treated like a princess.

Shower buddy

My Work

My official title is Organisational Development Advisor with BONASO (Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organisations). What you might ask does it really mean? Hopefully this post will answer some of those questions but you must understand that I am still learning as well.

Botswana currently has the highest rate of HIV and Aids of any where in the World and due to that there is a government program to attempt to stop the epidemic. There are also a number of very large development programs/funders pouring money into the country to assist the effort.

I have been hired to help tackle the capacity building of civil society organisations (basically what we can non-profit organisations back home in Canada). What is capacity building? It is identifying, teaching and creating tools/learning within organisations and service providers to address the following:

  • policy planning and strategy development
  • good governance
  • project formulation and management
  • networking capacity
  • financial sustainability strategies
  • resource mobilisation
  • knowledge management
  • advocacy
  • gender equality

To do this I will be meeting  and developing relationships with the relevant government ministries, major funders such as the World Bank, FHI (Family Health International), USAIDS, NASTAD (National Alliance of State and Territorial Aids Directors) among others.

One of the main projects that I will be reporting on and building capacity for is call Maatla (meaning strength in Setswana).

“The goal of the Maatla Civil Society Strengthening Program is to significantly and sustainably strengthen the capacity of the civil society sector in Botswana to support HIV/AIDS and related health service delivery.   The program ensures that local non-governmental organizations have the skills and resources to implement high-quality programs for the delivery of a wide range of HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care services for the long term. It also seeks to develop and implement a model to strengthen district level systems of CSOs and local government to provide and coordinate HIV/AIDS services in the hard-to-reach areas.”

The reason Oscar and I came to Kasane was three fold – and you thought that I was just being a tourist!

  1. To help build a District Coalition of HIV/AIDS service providers for the Chobe District
  2. To build relationships with and better understand the local District level and their programs
  3. To visit with local service providers and encourage them to join BONASO as members.

So while you all thought that I was running around having a really good time (which is definitely true) I really was working very hard. There were long meetings, constantly meeting new people with which BONASO wants a good relationship, representing the brand as Oscar calls it and doing site visits to learn about and connect with the actual service providers. This included visiting a preteen and family clinic that is doing incredible work; a clinic for truckdrivers and sex workers just at the border to Nambia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, a Human Rights clinic along with other sites. At each site they clearly explained who they provided services to and what the gaps/issues were.I have discussed male circumcision,  methods of foreskin removal for adult males and the needs of sex workers all at breakfast before the day has truly begun. I nearly exploded at a the District Council meeting yesterday when the local nurse reported on the abortion statistics and the doctor chairing the meeting completely missed the point of the information being delivered. Instead of focussing on the fact that because there were 24 abortions it meant that these young women were having unprotected sex, they focussed instead on whether the abortions were medically necessary or criminal. I just wanted to yell that these numbers show that the prevention methods are ineffective – thankfully Oscar addressed the issue so I wouldn’t explode. The District Council agreed to continue to track the numbers and see if the trend is increasing. If it is it means that the prevention messages aren’t hitting home and need to be revised.  It is my job to now problem solve how we can build capacity to provide services, create better connections and communications between them and the associated government programs along with a multitude of other capacity building initiatives.

While both Oscar and I feel that our efforts have been successful here when we return to Gabs it will be my job to develop a work plan by Wednesday to outline the follow up work that needs to be done. Plus, we are preparing for a Board Retreat, Nov 8 to 11, AGM on Nov 14 as well as other projects.  I am sure that 15 months will not even begin to cut it but Oscar assures me that it is plenty of time of make a concrete difference. I will hold him to that, plus with him as a partner I know we can succeed in achieving a change for the better.

So hopefully that gives you an idea of what else I have been doing other than just being a tourist in the Chobe District of Botswana.

Lessons learned in Kasane

As this adventure is meant to be a learning opportunity for me, I will be posting from time to time my lessons learned. Here is my list for Kasane:

  1. Wear breathable fabrics only when getting dressed in the morning.
  2. Don’t wear pants if you are a woman – the less fabric you have on the better as it allows for air flow especially if you are in four hour meetings.
  3. Baboons playing outside the window are totally distracting which makes it hard to concentrate on what is actually be said during the meeting.
  4. Don’t even bother putting any make-up on as it will just come right back off – lip balm is only thing you need.
  5. If you have hair that is long enough to touch your neck always keep a hair clip or hair band in your bag.
  6. Multiple ceiling fans operating at once can make anyone woman look like Beyonce – that one was for you Neil;)
  7. Warthogs really are adorable up close and if I lived here I would constantly have them in my front yard – yesterday we came out from visiting a neighbourhood clinic and the house that our truck was parked in front of had two sleeping up by their front door.
  8. That sleeping in a poster bed with mosquito netting surrounding it was on my bucket list – it really makes you feel like you have captured that Out of Africa experience.
  9. Men from Southern Africa are gentlemen and like to hold doors open, pull out chairs, carry luggage and do other things for women. They get very offended when you don’t let them or automatically do it for yourself – Big lesson learned!
  10. I really do love being in Botswana.