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6 posts from March 2013

03/26/2013

Spring Break - Cape Town Edition

Image001Post by Elizabeth Litke from The University of Evansville

We were all ready for a break from Gaborone! So a group of students headed to Cape Town to spend a marvelous week under the sun. Out of all the things we could do there, a group of eight of us girls decided we had to experience shark cage diving with Great Whites. Image007

On Monday morning we piled into a van and headed to Gansbaii, a smaller fishing town about two hours outside of Cape Town. After eating a little breakfast, it was time to sign our lives away and head to the boat. It was a short ride out to Shark Alley before the crew starting throwing chum into the water. Within minutes the first Great White arrived and people starting putting on wetsuits. The water was about 59 degrees, so without the wetsuits we would have been freezing. Our group of eight was the second group to jump into the cage and be amazed by the sharks swimming around us. In order to see the sharks under water they gave us goggles but no air tanks or anything else. Image005

Using dead fish heads and a fake seal named Gloria, the Captain would bring the sharks around the cage. Whenever one was close enough to see under, someone would shout at us to go under and what direction to look at when we got under. At first I didn’t think holding my breath for a long was going to happen, but once I got under and saw the sharks I never wanted to come up. Every time we went under it was a thrill. No matter how many times the sharks passed us by it never got old. Even when we got out of the water my adrenaline was still pumping. Image003

After our time was up we had to attempt to warm up and eat a little food. It was even crazier seeing other people in the cage after we had gone and thinking “Wow, we just jumped in the ocean with great white sharks!”

The experience in Cape Town is one that will never be beaten. When coming to Africa I never would have thought that I would be one of the people to go shark cage diving, but with an amazing group of girls by my side I did it! It was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my lifetime. Image009

03/21/2013

Teaching at Happy Home

DSC00183Post by Rachel Spera from Clark University

Hi, my name is Rachel Spera and I am from Los Angeles, California.

During my time here, not only am I going to school, travelling to as many countries I can, and interning, but I am also teaching English! I am teaching 8-12 year olds in Old Naledi (one of the poorest areas in Gaborone) at an afterschool program called Happy Home.  IMG_1192

Before I began working at Happy Home, I decided to go and visit with the aim of determining if I would be a good fit to the program. The moment I stepped out of the car, a little boy came sprinting towards me with a giant smile on his face and hugged my legs. When I looked down at his face; he was smiling back up at me.  I decided then and there that this is definitely where I would be volunteering. IMG_1194

The program director explained that they needed an English teacher.  Here in Botswana, Setswana is spoken at home and English is the language used in schools.  If these kids are to have a chance of getting out of poverty, they need to know English.  During my conversation with the director, she said, “I have been praying for you. We need you here!” I was in the right place, at the right time!

Having taught there for about 4 weeks, I have really grown to love these kids. Interestingly enough, while I am teaching them English, they are teaching me Setswana.  Sometimes I throw in “Go siame!” meaning “Good.”  They laugh every time I try to speak their language. IMG_1193

Every now and then, odd things happen during class, well, odd to me! A chicken once walked through my class.  Yes, a chicken.  The children did not even flinch at the sight of it, but that is definitely not common where I come from.

One of the kids, Kgomotso (kgomo means cow) came to class today without shoes and with a hole in his shirt.  This little boy is the most adorable child I have ever seen.  He is 10 years old and only comes up to my hip.  He always comes into class with a smile and is very eager to come up to the white board and answers questions.  Sometimes I don’t see him because he is so small and he will tug on my shorts with his left hand, right hand still in the air while leaning forward in his plastic chair, “Rachel! Pick me.”  So sweet! I want to keep this little boy! IMG_1195

Teaching at Happy Home is one of the many things I have been doing while in Botswana.  I have been given so many unbelievable opportunities in just the short two months that I have been here. 

Like I said earlier, I am definitely in the right place at the right time! IMG_1196

The Little Things

HeadshotPost by Meredith Henning from The University of Southern California  -  CLAS 

With spring break being only a week away, it is no surprise this week will have been one of the longest yet. On top of the agonizing anticipation of jetting off to Cape Town, midterms are in full swing. The thought of getting through a few midterms and a Setswana final is enough to make anyone want to crawl into bed and not come out of Vegas until Friday.

However,  in Gabs all you need are a few pick me ups to make a world of difference.  Here, each week sometimes the little things are the only way to make it through a particularly frustrating week.  In the beginning of the week, we went out to dinner to celebrate a fellow CIEE member, Rachel's birthday. Despite the place not having chicken... or beef, it didn't seem to matter in the end. All that mattered was being with the awesome people I feel so fortunate to have met, as well as meeting new friends and celebrating a birthday in a way you only can in Bots.

Picture 1Rachel blowing out her makeshift candle

The rest of the week carried on the same, my mood perking up when meeting the group for a CIEE meeting and being surprised with pizza (yay free food and good company!).

Picture 2Our group during the meeting mid bite of pizza

Or just hanging out with the girls and going to get dinner.  

Picture 3Shannon enjoying news café

No matter how unbearable a week may seem the little things truly make the experience worth having. And here now at the end I can take a sigh of relief knowing tests are done (for now), and that in a few hours I will be unwinding in a gorgeous city right by the beach.

Picture 4

03/10/2013

Making new memories in Joburg

IMG_0340Post by Beata Fogarasi from Georgetown University

Studying abroad is all about new experiences, and travelling is, I think, the best way to make new memories.

Leaving Gabs isn’t that hard, and going on a quick weekend trip to Johannesburg was just a question of making reservations. We left at dawn on Friday, arriving in Joburg in the early afternoon. Seeing the “real” city after a few weeks of Gabs was surprising and so exciting- Joburg has a little New York-y vibe, with tall buildings and busy streets, but it’s thoroughly its own city. The history of the country and the city itself seeps into everything you see and do- even the hills are man made remnants of the mining industry that put Joburg on the map.

IMG_0373 IMG_0367We stayed in a wonderful, homey hostel almost too good to leave, but we took advantage of their touring service and spent Saturday in Soweto, a giant section of Joburg. I’ve never done sightseeing with a private guide before, but it was a great arrangement, we asked Chris all the questions we wanted and he took us to the tallest building in Africa as well as sights around Soweto.

IMG_0408We even visited an informal settlement named Motsoaledi, where a guide took us around to see a really poor neighborhood. It felt pretty awkward, a group of tourists gawking at poverty, but I think it was an important balance to all the amazing things we saw that day. I think problems in the US are often hidden away- looking at my neighborhood in DC, you’d never dream of the ‘worse’ areas of the city, just a few miles away. You don’t go there: it’s dangerous, it’s not good. That separation exists here too, but in Soweto, for example, rich and poor neighborhoods are just a fence apart.

IMG_0395Case in point: five minutes down the road we drove by Desmond Tutu’s house and visited Nelson Mandela’s former home, currently a museum. As if that wasn’t interesting enough, we happened to be there just as George Bizos, Mandela’s attorney during the Rivonia trial that began his long imprisonment, was there filming an interview. We tried to stay out of the shot (lies), but it was really cool to see a man of historical significance in person. IMG_0432It really hit home just how recently apartheid and the struggle against it took place. It’s hard to imagine Botswana has been independent for less than fifty years too! Traveling here is really just moving through living history. Our weekend in Joburg was terrific, and a beautiful sunset escorted us home- home!- to Gabs at the end of our adventure.

Ke Rata Botswana Thata

Brooke Pics (2)Post by Brooke Segerberg from University of Colorado Boulder

It was the beginning of my sixth week here in Gaborone, Botswana and I found myself out in the middle of the African bush with the sun on my back and sweat running down my neck while hacking away at a nasty little shrub commonly know as Devil’s Thorn (its name couldn’t be more appropriate.)  It has curved fish hook-like thorns that burry themselves into your skin, making it nearly impossible to get out.  Your only option is to take a deep breath and rip; blood and loss of skin is inevitable.  So there I was, hot, tired, thirsty, scratched up, bloody, and wouldn’t you know, it was the happiest I had been since I arrived in Botswana.

I will admit, even with a fair bit of traveling and living abroad, the last five weeks in Gaborone had been difficult and frustrating: the slow pace of life, the inconsistency of things, the power outages, and the heat.  For example, with no schedule or timetable for the local transportation here, you may find yourself waiting for a combi anywhere from five minutes to two hours.  As a homestayer, I live far from campus, so I have to wake up at 5 a.m. each morning to wait for a combi by 5:30.  Sometimes I arrive to school by 6:00 while other times I am late to my 8 a.m. class.  Needless to say, the adjustment had been arduous and more than a little bit discouraging.

However, I am lucky to have the opportunity to intern on a wild game reserve while I am here, it has become the highlight of my weeks.  Having grown up in the mountains of Colorado, I am a nature girl at heart, so working on the reserve has become my chance to escape the traffic jams, city air, and the nonstop beeping of combi horns.  I enjoy it so much that I find myself going there to work even on my days off.  And this day happened to be one of those days.  Our task: clear about 5K of park fence from any unwanted overgrown trees and foliage.

Brooke Pics (4)The park staff and I hiked uphill along the fence line slashing away with machetes (locally known as pangas) sending thorns and branches flying everywhere.  At this point, my legs and arms resembled something of an etch-a-sketch creation that a four-year-old might come up with.  But I can’t forget reaching the top of that last hill, looking down at the rolling hills, and realizing how worthwhile all the blood, sweat, and tears had been.  The freshly cleared fence line rose and fell with the undulating hills below us and I couldn’t help but feel proud of the work we had done. 

Brooke Pics (1)As though it had been planned, right when we turned around to start heading back a white and brown head, level with the trees, bobbed about 30 feet away from us.  A giraffe!  It stood there casually munching on tree leaves with its tail swishing lazily back and forth.  We watched it for about a minute without saying a word.  Slowly it came through the trees, revealing its speckled body and the full extent of its elegant neck before it continued past us disappearing in the trees from whence it came.

It was that moment that the realization hit me.  I was in Africa.  How many people can say they have worked in a place where they take a break from where they are working only to look up and see a giraffe casually walking by?  And since then, I have had similar moments with zebra, wildebeest, ostrich, baboons and rhinos (to name a few.)  It blows my mind every time.   And even though I still get frustrated with certain aspects of my time studying abroad, I will always think back to that day to remind myself how lucky I am to be here in Botswana.  It’s been an experience of a lifetime.  And I’m only six weeks in!

Brooke Pics (3)I stood there at the top of the hill, a panga in my hand and a saw thrown over my shoulder like a bow, droplets of sweat dripped into my eyes.  I smiled.  This, I thought, is why I came to Africa!

03/07/2013

Coping

Image001Post by Daniel Furente from University of Pittsburgh

Coming to Botswana can bring along with it many stresses: How do I sign up for classes? How do I catch a taxi or combi? Will people in my program like me? When I first arrived, I realized that I needed a way to cope with these stresses or else I would probably implode. Thankfully, I found some really good outlets. There are always the basic methods such as listening to music or going for walks but I found that the University of Botswana (UB) as well as Gaborone has some very useful facilities for stress relief.

For starters, I found that learning a new sport was not only fun but a wonderful coping mechanism. I started learning tennis the other day and found that I really enjoyed it. What’s even better is the courts are really nice. There are 5 tennis courts, 2 handball courts, 2 volleyball courts and a basketball court. There is also a tennis club where students, ranging from novice to experienced, can partake in competitive fun. Furthermore, UB has a large assortment of clubs that any student can join, as well as a gym and an Olympic sized pool complete with an Olympic diving structure.

Image004Another way I have learned to reduce stress is to hike through nature. Hills that possess numerous hiking trails surround Gaborone.

Image005So far, my favorite hiking trail has been Kgale Hill. Hiking this trail was amazing for multiple reasons. For starters, the views were breath taking. From one side of the hill, I was able to see an impeccable overlook of Gaborone. From the other side of the hill, I could see the rolling landscape as well as a quarry. Complementing these views was the diverse wildlife, ranging from butterflies to baboons, all along the trail to contribute to the relaxing atmosphere.

DanFoodPictureMy final stress relief came in the form of food. I have found trying a new restaurant each week with my girlfriend and friends has really helped ease the aches of life. There is something relaxing in trying different types of food from different places with people who just want to unwind as well and enjoy a good meal. Image008

Before, the daily stresses that I had would block me from my ultimate goal of learning something about myself as well as enjoying Botswana with my girlfriend, but by using these stress reducers and coping techniques, I found that I can feel at home here, and I can really focus on learning something new each day be it about Africa, Botswana, or myself.
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