Identity crisis

Recently I have had experiences that have made me not only laugh, but to seriously consider who “Cheryl” really is.

When you take a journey like mine, you do so because you not only love the sense of adventure that moving to a new country and cultures brings; but also how you will grow and evolve in response to it.

August marks my 11th month of my  migration from Canada to living in Botswana and the Southern Africa region. It is amazing how time has flown by. I like to think that it has because I have adapted to my new life rather easily yet every day brings some new adventure, either large or small. And I rush head long into each and every one of them with far more enthusiasm than most people who I know. While I am always a willing participant in my adventures, I sometimes feel very sorry for those who have chosen to befriend me or sometimes are just unfortunate enough to be within my vicinity.

I am truly blessed because I have made such amazing friends here. In fact, not to gloat but I seem to have as my best friend Noelle puts it ” a horseshoe up my arse” at times. Throughout my life and nomadic tendencies to move frequently, I have always been able to establish wonderful friendships and support systems no matter where I end up. Here in Botswana has been no different. I have the most amazing network of friends that a person could possible want. What I give them in return seems to be a constant source of amusement. 

Sheila & I
Sheila & I during a dance date

A couple of weeks ago one of my dearest friends here, Sheila actually had the misfortune of riding in a combi with me. It might seem funny that we haven’t crossed this friendship mile stone before but with the amazing services of Buche and Tshepo who fearlessly deliver us to almost all of our social engagements we have never traveled any where together via combi. While a combi is ideal mode of transportation during the day time and when you are taking a fairly direct route, it is far safer and easier for us to travel by taxi when going out in the evenings.

Yet a couple of weeks ago we were unexpectedly together late afternoon and needing to get the bus rank…my favorite insane place in Gabs. So into a combi we got. Luckily it wasn’t jammed packed as yet and we were able to sit together on the very rear seat. For me it was nice for a change to have the company of someone I like sitting next to so I was happy to sit and chat during the journey. Not experiencing anything unusual I proceeded as normal…..forgetting that what is my normal is not necessarily Sheila’s.

As a bubbly friendly white woman living in a country where she is definitely a minority, I simply am so use to being stared at, laughed at or with & occasionally (okay not so occasionally) harassed that I no longer notice. While Sheila has experienced some of the unsolicited attention that I receive it has usually been in an evening setting where male attention to females is expected. What she had never really experienced is how I interact with the populous of Botswana on a daily level. It seems that it was an eye opening experience for her. Having people stare and listen to every word you speak was a new experience for her.

Upon exiting the combi at the bus rank we moved through the swirling throng of movement that is the bus rank in pursuit of our destination. While we were walking side by side, I was the continual object of considerable attention…some pleasant, some not. I simply did what I always do, take it in stride literally with mostly a smile on my face. But a defining moment came when a guy kept calling out “English” to me and once he had my attention asked me where I was going? I just smiled and kept walking.

Sheila, on the other hand, put her hand on my arm, stopped me and said (I quote) “I forget that you are white!” However the experience of riding in a combi with me and then walking through the crowd finally brought home the fact that yes, we are very different. I am happy to say that this experience didn’t jeopardize our friendship but in fact made it stronger. She now understands that being in my shoes takes lots of patience and good humor at times to navigate in the real life world of Gabs and Africa in general. A fact that I rarely think about.

To be honest with you, I am surprised that she is willing to continue to accompany me places! That is true friendship. But it was a good reminder for me that although I feel like I fit in very well here, I am truly different from just about everyone that I encounter. While you can learn new cultures and perspectives, race you can never change and because of that you will always be perceived by most according to your visible race which you wear on your skin. Only when you are truly lucky will you find people who see not your skin color but who you truly are.

As I explained to Sheila during our discussion later on that day about our experience, I came to Africa partly so that I was in the social position of being a minority in a race and culture completely different from my own. Living in Canada where multiculturalism is synonymous with saying you are a Canadian, it is important for me to never forget that there are many people throughout the world who have limited access to resources, livelihood and many other things based simply on their race. I never want to take that for granted, nor practice a prejudicial attitude that inflicts it on anyone else.


11 months into my experience I can happily say that I truly have experienced acceptance for who I am almost everywhere that I have ventured. Yet, I have learned incredibly valuable lessons about social, cultural and race issues that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Oddly enough my worst experiences here in Gabs have been with fellow Canadians.

And oh, by the way, my friend Sheila can’t wait to travel an even greater distance on public transportation with me….it seems she enjoys the challenges and hilarity that travelling with me always seems to bring.

The Perfect Winter Afternoon

The conclusion to a wonderful weekend and a perfect winter afternoon for me today was a poolside brunch with my girlfriends Erin and Sheila. As the temperature rose to 30 degrees, we enjoyed a wonderful brunch of homemade waffles, maple syrup, fruit salad, omelettes and banana chocolate chip muffins. As you can see from the pictures below not a lot was left over! And following stuffing ourselves we lounged poolside reading the newspaper, magazines and talking until the sun went down shortly after 5 pm. Truly a wonderful way to spend a winter afternoon 🙂  and not at all like you would do in Canada in the wintertime.

Sheila and Erin
Sheila and Erin in very serious discussion


Keeping hydrated

Meanwhile it is actually winter in other parts of Southern Africa. This morning there was snow at Sutherland Observatory in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Glad I am in Botswana
Glad I am in Botswana

Power outages, clothing malfunctions and food preparation

What do these things have in common you might ask?

Well, I will happily explain. Gaborone continues to be plagued by power outages. In fact, my area went with out power both Sunday and Monday evenings. Dealing with these power outages has now become just a matter of fact for me and I am sure many other residents of Gaborone. You either prepare your food in advance so that you can eat when you are hungry or wait until the power comes back on close to 9:00 pm. As for grocery shopping and keeping meat and other perishables in the fridge/freezer you don’t even bother. There is absolutely no point wasting your money on a week’s worth of food that is dependent on a fridge/freezer. This does however make for an interesting diet which could be a blog post in and of itself!

Fortunately our access to water has not been cut again in the evenings for the past week….knock on wood! Hope that I haven’t jinxed that 🙂

Although we are technically into the autumn season here in Southern Africa the temperatures still climb to the mid 30’s or higher almost every day. For a few nights during the last week or so it was cooler in the evenings and earlier mornings. However, the day time highs and lack of rain continue to make it feel like we are still in the midst of summer. Other than a slightly cooler breeze there is no noticeable sign that fall and winter are on its way to Botswana. Except Jetske threatening to close down my pool….mean woman!

With these high temperatures, I continue to dress as simply as possible, especially when I am at home in Peter’s Place. This usually means wearing as little as possible, meaning a tank top and a kanga or piece of cloth wrapped around my waist. I know, I said that I am now living in a diplomatic enclave and it has become even more so as our newest resident is here from Britain on a diplomatic mission working with the President’s Office on Poverty Reduction. So I should be more civilized in my dress code. Ha! Fat Chance! If African women can dress like that than I can too!

However, I have to admit that wearing a piece of cloth wrapped around your waist with NO fasteners can have challenges. Even with an ample waist and hips for the material to cling to, if you are at all active while wearing this ensemble then you can guarantee slippage. Fortunately I have gotten adapt at catching it before disaster occurs and rapidly resettling the material so there are no outright clothing malfunctions. EXCEPT…….

This is where the three merge……

Lately, I have been doing a lot of baking and cooking that requires the regular size oven in the main house. Thankfully, Peter and Jetske are so wonderfully accommodating of allowing me to wander in and out of their kitchen as if I actually live there 🙂  While there is not much distance between my apartment and the back door of their house when you are attired in only a piece of cloth around your hips and carrying baking dishes or a chicken to be roasted there can be a slight problem with walking too briskly or not briskly enough if you know what I mean!

A perfect example of this happened Sunday evening. Jetske was in South Africa visiting her dad so I was being a good tenant and cooked a lovely roast chicken dinner for Peter and I. Everything was proceeding as planned when I was hit with a double whammy….first the power decided that it was time for a break – fortunately my chicken, potatoes and veggies were close enough to being cooked that the remaining heat would finish the meal off. But I hadn’t made my gravy for the mashed potatoes yet and as my family members will tell you….I will not eat boiled potatoes without gravy….I pride myself on my gravy making abilities….which are so much better than my mother’s! Right Mom!

Never one to accept simple defeat I quickly swung into action…in more ways than one. The burners in my apartment were still hot from cooking the veggies so I knew that if I could get the chicken fat into a pan along with flour that I could at least some kind of gravy made. Hell bent on getting to the main house and draining the fat out of the chicken so I could get back to my kitchen while the heat of the burner was still lingering I strode just a little too briskly….and down came my piece of cloth covering my bottom half.

Now this is not the first time that this has happened to me. I had a similar incident the late afternoon that I baked the blueberry muffins. I found that I have a whole new dexterity of being able to carry a large heavy bowl and baking implements while still utilizing my elbows to prevent a total clothing malfunction.

However on Sunday night thanks to the power outage and Peter not having had a chance to turn the generator on as yet, I opted for the complete clothing malfunction in the semi dark so that I could make my gravy….how is that for priorities?

In the end, all was well! The gravy turned fabulous even if I do say so myself. No one witnessed my semi-nude streak between houses and Peter & I enjoyed a lovely roast chicken dinner by lamp light! Just proving that almost any odds can be conquered if you are determined enough.