I have more virtue than the Saint!

Yes, contrary to very popular opinion today, I am still:

a) alive!

b) not taken up residence in the bush!

c) incredibly busy doing organizational development work (which is why I came to Africa, remember people – and yes, okay I socialized a lot on the weekend)

Thank you to all of you who have been emailing today to check on me…sorry I have been incredibly busy. Including going to work early this morning for a meeting. This earlier trip to the office seemed to tax the Saint, Tabuche more than it did me.

You see, my normal working hours are 8 to 5 whereas the government and many businesses operate 7 -3 or 7:30 – 3:30. Normally when Tabuche is taking me to work we are hitting the tail end of the traffic but not always. This is also month end…I made the mistake of going to Game City Mall Saturday morning for groceries and to withdraw money forgetting that it was month end. It turned out that I didn’t get any money (either the line up for the ATM was at least 30 people or the machines were completely out of cash). The joys of living in a country where everyone is paid only once a month and all at the same time!

This also means that those people who now have cash are using it for petrol for their cars. For about a week after month end pay the traffic on Gaborone streets increases exponentially by about 100%. By altering my time of travelling to work it seems we landed smack dab in the middle of the worst traffic  this morning and Mr. Conscientious was intent on getting me to the office on time. He knew that I have a very important meeting – I was even dressed like a lady so it must have been big!

It became very obvious this morning that patience is a virtue that Tabuche needs to work on!

It seems that I have way more of an abundance of it then the Sainted Tabuche. In fact the last ten minutes of our drive this morning was spent with me teaching him deep breathing techniques which was rather difficult as we were both laughing too hard to be serious.

Thinking that the drive home would be smoother was a wrong assumption. It appears that the deep breathing techniques were too no avail. We were stuck at a robot (traffic light) for an inordinately long period of time while the traffic cop talked to someone in a car paying no attention to the traffic building up in our direction. Before long horns were honking and grumbling in Setswana was ensuing. Tabuche didn’t honk but he certainly was grumbling. When I calmly pointed out that he was lacking in patience again tonight he was quick (like a typical man) to say that he was just supporting his fellow drivers!

Once we were under way again we encountered another traffic jam at a traffic circle that is also controlled by a traffic cop during rush hour. Every day when we go through this circle it is always a joke with Tabuche and I as he will watch the cop to see if he is allowing traffic to move in our direction or not. If it appears that the traffic will be stopped, Tabuche will circumvent being halted by taking another route. Tonight he couldn’t even do that! The traffic was backed up so far that he couldn’t even get close enough to make the left turn that would take us on our alternative route.

Of course, I had a very good laugh about it! and had fun rubbing in the fact that it was actually very scary if I possessed far more patience than the Sainted Tabuche. I certainly gave him something to think about tonight. Let’s see if the Saint is able to demonstrate patience in the morning!

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Facilitating in the Bush

I am currently trying to figure out how to add my experience from last weekend in the bush to my resume. How does one actually capture the unique challenges and skills adaptation that one has to make when you are literally facilitating in the bush????

Perhaps after reading this entry you will have some suggestions for my resume update!

Saturday morning started early for me after the late night. But it started in an amazing way that can only be experienced in the bush. I got up and opened my bedroom door at shortly after 5 am so I could watch the animals come to the watering hole to begin their day. And come they did.

Following a very cold shower, no shampoo and an attempt to wash my very fine hair with a bar of soap, it was time to head to the dining room/workshop facility.

Outside view of the meeting room
Outside view of the meeting room

As you can see, not a wall in sight! A facilitator’s nightmare for sure. Plus, there was only one electrical outlet and the only power you could access was if you actually requested them to turn on the generator. The next hour was spent figuring out how to actually proceed for the day based on the resources (or lack there of) available.

As I usually one capable of thinking quickly on my feet, I came up with a Plan B that I thought would work. I also had the wonderful assistance of Lawrence and the Kuru ladies to assist with set up. The next hurdle was that the meeting was scheduled to begin at 8:00 am. Remember that this building was also the dining area for the lodge and campers. Breakfast was served at 8:00 am…you get the picture. I was caught between trying to grab some breakfast and greeting those arriving for the strategic planning session. So it was a slightly stressful start to the day for me to say the least.

After downing a yoghurt and a bit of granola, it was time for the facilitator to do her job! Due to the language issue, I had planned on a large part of the strategic planning work to be done in groups so there would be less need to translate back and forth between the languages. However, I had counted on the use of laptops to record the group decisions so that report back could be faster and require less translation….but all of that had to be re-thought based on the facility and lack of power.

Oh well, when facilitating in the bush one works with what one has. After a quick welcome and brief explanation of the process for the day, we were off and running with strategic planning!

Strategic Planning under way
Strategic Planning under way
Group work under way!
Group work under way!
Proving that break out groups can work anywhere!
Proving that break out groups can work anywhere!
Giving new meaning to working in the bush!
Giving new meaning to working in the bush!

Thankfully, Bush people are happy to work under any conditions so all were happy to spread out far and wide to find spaces to tackle their assignments, coming back under the main roof for report backs and instructions for the next task. All in all, the progress was remarkable and far exceeded my expectations. In fact, I don’t think that I have ever worked with a more diligent group who whole-heartedly embraced their assignments once explained to them through a translator. Even without the access to resources, we were progressing right on schedule. Recognizing the need to keep momentum going, I constantly adapted each of the assignments and kept the agenda moving.

Obviously, our team work and good spirits attracted attention. About mid-morning our strategic planning group received three additional participants who stuck around for at least an hour and distracted not only me but just about everyone else with their antics!

This could only happen in the bush!
This could only happen in the bush!

I have now been facilitating or participating in workshops and had warthogs, baboons and ostriches drop by for a visit. Please tell me how I could ever reflect this on my resume????

These ostriches actually stuck around for a long time, entertaining us with their dances and even settling in for a bit of a nap in the fire pit approximately two feet from the building. Perhaps they would be interested me in coming out to facilitate for them 🙂

IMG_0828

Proof of a good day's work
Proof of a good day’s work

Friday night in the Bush

After eating dinner in the open dining room which would be utilized the next morning for our workshop, Lawrence and I headed for the truck to go meet some friends. On the way to the truck I was fully distracted by a very large animal sound coming from the bush less than 10 feet from me. While Lawrence headed straight for the safety of the truck, I headed for the sound.

Typical me, here I was wandering into the bush in the pitch black of the night towards some kind of large animal trying to make a noise similar to it. Well, guess what? My efforts were not wasted. By attempting to replica the snorting/expelling of air sound I was hearing, I was rewarded with another version coming from the bush. The pattern became, take a couple of steps, make the sound, listen for the answer which always came and then do it all again. Eventually I was about two feet from the actual bush where my conversationalist was. By now I was convinced that it was a Wildebeest with whom I was conversing.  Not exactly sure what I was saying to him but it obviously was appealing to him.

Finally, my friend Lawrence who had been blithely hanging out in the truck made it obvious that it was time to stop talking wildebeest and get in. So much for my romantic interlude in the bush…or so I thought 🙂

After a late night on Friday hanging out with Lawrence’s friends in the tiny village of D’kar, we made our way back to the Lodge. Making the long journey down the 10 km track after midnight was a bit of a challenge I have to admit. And Lawrence and I had  our familiar fight. A couple of kms into the sand track was a large gate separating the top farm land from the game preserve. To put it more succiently, separating the large cats (cheetahs & leopards) from the cows.

Lawrence, who was doing all of the driving wanted to be the one to get out and open and close this gate. This made no sense to me as I was more than capable to do it. Somehow he thought it would be better if the big cats ate him instead of me. When in fact I was the one who wanted to meet face to face with them and wasn’t the least bit fearful…in fact, my mother keeps cautioning me not to bring one home with me when I return to Canada in December.

All this to say, I gladly walked around the bush at night, opening & closing gates as we drove through them. Watching the amazing sky filled with more twinkling stars than I have ever seen in my entire life. You could stand mesmerized for hours just looking up at the indigo night sky filled with sparkling diamonds. All the while listening to the sounds of the bush alive at night with those animals out seeking their nourishment. All in all it was a specular end to a long day.

Fat Cakes!

Yippee!!!

I finally got to taste a well known Botswana delicacy called a fat cake.

My first taste of Fat Cake!
My first taste of Fat Cake!

A Fat Cake or as it is referred to in local languages , Magwinya, is a dough fried in oil. It is considered a fast food here in Sub Sahara Africa and I have been hearing for months how yummy they are.

So having spent almost five months here without tasting it, I took matters into my own hands as you can see above. Our office staff has an amazing cook and baker in it’s midst. Masego is our operational support assistant who recently won a South Africa magazine’s recipe contest. There was no one better to go to with my quest to taste the best fat cake.

Masego - the best cook in Gaborone!
Masego – the best cook in Gaborone!

Hoping that she would simply tell me where to go to buy the best, she instead generously offered to make some for me. Due to the power outages all week – the power went off again mid-afternoon yesterday and did not come back on until after 9 pm last night – she couldn’t bake. So this morning she got up at 5 am to make them for me!

All I can say is that it was delicious and I will probably never taste another while I am here as I am positive that they will not live up to the yummy batch she made for the office. Once you have tasted the best, why eat ones that aren’t!

So Masego, Thank you so very much for graciously preparing fat cakes for me. The wait was truly worth it!

Post Script:  AND here is Masego’s recipe for Fat Cakes

250g flour
1 sachet of yeast
100g sugar
5g salt
oil for frying
luke warm water
mix  all the ingredients with luke warm water, mix till the dough is very soft
Bring oil to stove, when its really hot, cutyour dough in to ring, size doesnt matter, put the dough in hot oil, keeping turning when it turns light brown, remove when its brownish.
enjoy, nice with soup*:) happy

Dqae Qare San Lodge

So my weekend in the Bush was spent at Dqae Qare San Lodge ( http://www.dqae.org/).

It is a beautiful lodge which is actually owned and run by the San people (or as they prefer to be called, Bush men). It was located down a 10 km long sand track and the lodge actually sits on a 7500 hectares (18,500 acres) protected game reserve and includes a wide variety of game including giraffe, eland, zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest, kudu, impala, warthog and other small game.  It also has a number of cheetah plus leopard and brown hyena.

 

The road to the Lodge
The road to the Lodge

The lodge has no electricity but does have a solar powered generator that they turn on for a couple hours most days. The rooms we were in were spacious and lots of candles to light at night as the generator always went off at 10 pm!

The Lodge
The Lodge

And I just have to post it again! I need to build Lawrence’s capacity to pack lighter for the bush 🙂 I could pack lighter too, if I didn’t need sun protection lotion & insect repellent. But at least I can still squeeze everything into a small suitcase…shoes and all…I still don’t know what all he had in his LARGE suitcase.

Who says girls pack more than guys?????
Who says girls pack more than guys?????

 

From my room, I could lie in my bed with the large wooden door (top half ) open and watch the watering hole which was about 50 metres from my room. In fact, I left the top half of my door open a lot and I was informed that at night I really needed to keep it closed as any kind of game could actually wander into my room including the cheetahs, which I heard from my room one night but didn’t see.

The watering hole from my room!
The watering hole from my room!

While the campers had hot water, for some reasons the hot water in the rooms was not functioning so I got to have cold showers every day which do cool you down in the extreme heat. My only problem was that I forgot to bring shampoo and had to go three days without washing my fine hair! But no one seemed to notice but me.

However, the space that I was facilitating was what presented the biggest challenge. It was a beautiful open space that was used as a lounge/dining area. It was basically wide open to the perusal and just dropping by of the wild game!

The Conference Centre
The Conference Centre
Strategic Planning in full swing
Strategic Planning in full swing

 

A Facilitator in action!
A Facilitator in action!

So you can see – no walls! I actually sent the flip chart behind flying over the wall at least three times. Saying that working in the room was challenge was an understatement. My next posting will be all about that! Facilitating in the Bush.

We also had a swimming pool which I of course headed for when I could. I even taught Mr Zimbabwe how to actually swim. And no, he didn’t have a swimsuit in that HUGE suitcase but he bought some in Ghantzi.

To learn to swim he needed the motivation in the cooler!
To learn to swim he needed the motivation in the cooler!
Proof that my capacity building skills include swim instructor
Proof that my capacity building skills include swim instructor

 

Okay, unfortunately that is all I have time to write today…the social butterfly is off for a posh dinner at the Grand Palm!

 

 

Post Script – Driving to the Kalahari

Due to internet connectivity, I didn’t get to finish my early posting about the drive through the Kalahari. Along with the domestic animals such as cows, donkeys, goats (lots and lots of goats), sheep and wild horses, we also experience some great wild life.

Two foxes and a springbok ran in front of our truck as we were driving. We also saw a very large group of ostrich running through the plains.

Ostrich were to become a theme for the weekend. Stay tuned if you want to read that story!

Driving to the Kalahari

Now to the fun stuff…although I am struggling with the internet. The connection is intermittent and I want to be sure to get something fun up on my blog before I hit the swimming pool for the second time today.

Let me start with the journey to the Kalahari desert. We left while it was still very dark out and our main concerns were being extremely careful to not hit livestock, wild animals or people on the road. With only the light from our vehicle and a quarter moon it was difficult to see any distance ahead. And as I noted before, livestock hangs out on the side of or right in the middle of the road at an alarming frequency.

My job as navigator was to spot possible harzards, warn Lawrence and when we got abreast of them…he also expected me (as he knows that I grew up on a farm like he did) to soundly lecture the creature to get off the road. In some cases, this approach worked in others not so well. You see, the most dangerous animal when you are driving here in Botswana is the donkey. Yes, I said the donkey!

These animals have breed prolifically and now roaming at will every where you go in Botswana. Unlike some of the other creatures who have no shame in sauntering out slowly in front of your vehicle or taking their time crossing, donkeys seem to love to stand for hours on the road! Nothing seems to disturb them or chase them off. There is a reason why they are know for being stubborn.

A not so bad donkey!
A not so evil donkey!

The drive up the highway, other than avoiding hitting something, was wonderful. The landscape is beautiful. The nicest that I have seen in Botswana. We first climbed through the hills just on the outskirts of Gaborone which are beautiful any time of day or night. Then we passed a major town, Jwaneng before getting into the Kalahari.

Ah, the Kalahari. It is said to be the birthplace of man and it truly feels like the Garden of Eden to me. Somehow the land, people and wildlife spoke to a visceral life force in me. Touching me in a way that Africa had not yet touched me. The Kalahari felt like home to me.

To steal a description for you from a guidebook:

“The Tswana call it the Kgalagadi: Land of Thirst. And this is dry, parched country. If not a land of sand dunes, then it’s certainly a land painted by a sand palette: blood and mud reds and bleached bone yellow; dust that bites you back as you taste it in the morning. But come the nights this hard end of the colour wheel shifts into its cooler, sometimes white-cold shades: indigo nights that fade to deepest black, and blue stars ice-speckling the impossibly long horizon. Indeed the local San (Bushmen) insist that here you can hear ‘the stars in song’ behind the dark.”

I really could not have described it better myself. I know what many of you are thinking…how can you love some place with unrelenting heat, blowing sand , electricity only in the major settlement areas , little water, dust and several hundred kms between towns? I do and will probably never be able to explain it to anyone else.

But it is what has drawn me to live and work in Africa since the tender age of 14. It is what calls me back every time I visit an  African country. It is the proud, strong, resilient Africa where the land and people blend so seamlessly. It is a land of strength and survival. It is land of utter beauty found in some many ways. It is Africa. It is home.

My only regret is that I do not have a descent camera that allows me to capture the true magic of the Kalahari but here are some of the pictures that I took with my meagre Canon powershot.

A desert road
A desert road

 

Road harzards
Road 

hazards 

Even the desert provides food
Even the desert provides food

 

The varying landscape along the way
The varying landscape along the way

 

Driving hundreds of kms with nothing in sight but landscape and wildlife
Driving hundreds of kms with nothing in sight but landscape and wildlife

 

And of course, donkeys
And of course, donkeys

 

Power issues in Botswana

It seems that no electricity in the Kalahari is also a situation becoming more and more common in other areas of Botswana, including Gaborone. Here in the capital the power outages are becoming more and more frequent. We experienced one last night for several hours.

Here is an article on the issue that Jetske forwarded me. It is interesting reading that gives a great perspective on Botswana’s relationship with South Africa and it’s struggle as a developing country.

BPC – Buy Paraffin and Candles?

Sometimes the cheapest short term commercial answer proves very economically expensive in the long term and delaying the building of important infrastructure just retards the country in the longer term. How did a nation like Botswana, which has 2/3 of Africa’s coal, with an enormous inferred resource of some 212 billion tonnes end up sitting in the dark? The simple answer is that Gaborone is no different from Lagos or Baghdad which both sit on a sea of oil and like Gaborone, also sit in the dark. Depending on what one believes, it is either God or nature that makes coal and oil, but it is men that generate electricity and it is the decisions of men that explain our darkness observes *PROFESSOR ROMAN GRYNBERG

 

It must be extraordinarily difficult to be in the shoes of Jacob Raleru, the CEO of the Botswana Power Corporation or BPC (not so affectionately dubbed ‘ Buy Paraffin and Candles’ by the nation’s long suffering and intermittent electricity users).  As I sat in my hot box sweating without electricity, I like so many people in Gaborone, had unkind thoughts about those who were stopping me from working. But the important question is not whose fault this is but what economic lessons there are for Botswana from its dependence on South African imports.

It is perhaps worth framing the issue a little differently. How did a nation like Botswana, which has 2/3 of Africa’s coal, with an enormous inferred resource of some 212 billion tonnes end up sitting in the dark? The simple answer is that Gaborone is no different from Lagos or Baghdad which both sit on a sea of oil and like Gaborone, also sit in the dark. Depending on what one believes, it is either God or nature that makes coal and oil, but it is men that generate electricity and it is the decisions of men that explain our darkness. To understand Botswana’s situation one needs to go back to decisions about electricity supply that were made by presidents Sir Seretse Khama and Ketumile Masire. At the time of the apartheid regime, the South African government pursued a ‘two-legged’ policy of economic development. One leg was cheap electricity and the other was cheap labour which itself was a result of apartheid. It was a very successful formula, which assured the prosperity of the white minority in South Africa for many decades. In order to assure both adequate and cheap electricity the apartheid government ran Eskom as a utility with the clear instruction from government to provide electricity cheaply at no profit. Eskom’s managers behaved like all managers with such a commercial mandate and proceeded to use whatever surpluses that they generated not to make profits but to expand their generating capacity to assure a huge excess supply for the government, business and the country as a whole. In the process the South Africans created one of the world’s biggest utilities and by the end of apartheid had far more capacity than it could possibly use.

In the 1980’s this huge excess supply of electricity in the hands of Eskom also became a weapon in the hands of the apartheid regime. If the apartheid regime could offer some of its excess supply of electricity to its neighbors including all the SACU countries and Zimbabwe at really cheap prices then if any of these countries really annoyed Pretoria they could simply turn off the lights. They offered electricity to all of the neighboring SACU states at prices that were so low that there was no way that none could possibly justify an investment in domestic electricity generation. President Masire, in his autobiography wrote about the Selebi-Pikwe project:’We were being pressed by the World Bank and the project’s partners to purchase power from the South African governments’ utility Eskom … we saw the Sashe project as an opportunity both to mine our coal resources at Morupule and to develop BPC [Botswana Power Corporation] …. What was more important, we did not want to put ourselves further at risk with the apartheid government in South Africa. They withheld rail cars for our beef when we did something that displeased them, such as receiving high profile political refugees. What would happen if they decided to shut off the electricity to the mine and smelter at Selebi-Phikwe, or to the capital Gaborone?’

For many years until Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 the Botswana government attempted to cap the country’s dependence on South African electricity imports. But as the political risk of becoming dependent on South African supply receded, as the democratic elections approached in 1994 the Botswana government lifted the cap on the amount that BPC could import. We became very quickly 80% dependent on electricity imports from South Africa. For BPC this was a financial dream – it allowed the company to import cheap electricity and distribute it with a mark-up to Botswana customers. It is hard to imagine today but BPC was until just a few years ago ‘the jewel in the crown’ of the government’s public assets. It accumulated considerable financial surpluses based on an easy and simple business model of largely distributing South African electricity.

The timing of Botswana’s decision to become fully dependent on South Africa could not have been much worse because the new democratic government in South Africa wanted to provide electricity to the many millions of its black citizens who had been denied access under apartheid. Moreover, the government of South Africa, pressed for funding for its massive expansion in housing and education, provided no funding for Eskom to expand its capacity. It also wanted to keep that electricity cheap to further stimulate industry and to assure that its citizens could afford power. For years real electricity prices fell in South Africa. Only in the last five years has the South African regulator NERSA allowed them to soar.

In 1998 the South African government issued a White Paper in which it said quite clearly that by 2007-8 it would no longer have excess electricity capacity. They were spot on and even with all the warnings Thabo Mbeki, did nothing to avert the power shortages which started to hamstring South Africa’s economy and its neighbours including Botswana in 2007/8 and have continued since. Eskom told BPC quite clearly at the beginning of the century that the gig was up, and that the five years supply deal from 2008-2012 would be the end of Eskom supply. This final five-year deal ended five weeks ago and while Eskom will continue to supply until Morupule B is finished it is largely non-contractual which means they can pull plug on Botswana whenever they need it. The decision to build Morupule B should have been taken in 1998 but it was not. The country, its citizens and business including BPC, were in a comfortable arrangement for all concerned with relatively cheap electricity for Botswana, high profits for BPC and no need for government to invest P10 billion in a power plant when people needed education and health expenditure. Moreover, as long as SA was supplying us with very cheap subsidised electricity which international banker would fund a new power station even if Botswana wanted it? Power shortages were something for the future, like the problem of what Botswana will do when the diamonds run out. Someone else can worry about the future, but the future very quickly becomes the present and reliable electricity, like good health, only really matters when it fails.

What are the consequences of the delay in BPC moving from its old business model of being a distributor of South African power to being a local power generator? According to the World Bank the financing subsidy to BPC was worth approximately P650-P800 million a year in 2008/9 and 2009/10 (and compares to actual revenues over just over P1 billion a year). BPC has not yet raised its tariffs fully to cover the massive increases in the ever-increasing cost of imported South African and locally generated diesel power. But the subsidies that government is providing are not a reflection of what the consumer will have to pay. These subsidies are so high only because we are generating a substantial portion of our electricity from the most expensive source, diesel. Once the Morupule B facility is finished, hopefully in June 2013, then the subsidy will be much less because coal is much cheaper than diesel. But unless BPC fixes the old Morupule A facility and starts construction of yet another 300MW power plant quickly then our problems will only return in a few years.

So as Botswana sits in the dark we can be comforted by the fact that we are in the process of finally dismantling an old apartheid era commercial arrangement. It is of course cold comfort  and only a pity that Botswana did not dismantle this system  15 years ago. The main economic lesson is that there is reason enough to be dependent upon South Africa for products we cannot possibly produce here competitively but where we actually had an abundance of coal as well as potentially cheap capital as was the case in the 1990’s Botswana should have ended its dependence then rather than face the economic chaos caused by South Africa terminating supply. Sometimes the cheapest short term commercial answer proves very economically expensive in the long term and delaying the building of important infrastructure just retards the country in the longer term.

*These are the views of Professor Grynberg and not necessarily those of the Botswana Institute for Development Policy Analysis.

I love the Kalahari!

Well, I have returned home yet again! You know when I said that I was in the bush a couple weeks ago in Zanzibar, Botswana…well, that wasn’t really the bush at all.

This time I was truly in the bush! Staying at the only Bushman Lodge in Botswana run by the oldest race of people on this earth. It was truly a wonderful experience and I have lots of stories to tell  but right now I am simply exhausted from a very long 9 days straight of working and being on the go. So I will reserve my stories until tomorrow except that I will leave you with these two pictures to wet your appetite.

Who says girls pack more than guys?????
Who says girls pack more than guys?????

Check out the size of the two suitcases that were taken to the Dkar Lodge…mine is on the left and Lawrence’s was the BIGGER one on the right. He begged and pleaded with me not to post the picture but guess what, it didn’t work. I just want it to be noted that as a female accused of becoming a princess since arriving in Botswana, I still do not pack more than some guys that I know.

And, this picture just about says it all…Facilitating in the bush comes with a whole new set of skills to add to my resume including allowing the participation of Ostrich in the proceedings…Man, I love Africa!

Guess who came for Strategic Planning?
Guess who came for Strategic Planning?