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4 posts from October 2013


Fall Break Adventures

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Post by Alex Wilensky from the University of Southern California

These last few weeks have been a whirlwind of adventure—I just came back from Fall Break! Mid-semester break is an awesome opportunity to explore Africa; I spent my time travelling throughout Mozambique and Cape Town with friends Katt and Corinne.

Our first stop was the capital of Mozambique: Maputo. Mozambique, on the Southeast edge of Africa, has only recently come out of civil war after its independence from Portugal and it was fascinating to see how that had influenced the city. While walking through Maputo and looking at different buildings, I felt as though I was in South America, yet the fashion was quite similar to Botswana. My favorite experience in Maputo was visiting one of the marketplaces. Immediately after entering we acquired an unofficial tour guide who helped us navigate the maze that was craft stands, tables upon tables of fresh fruits, nuts and chillis, and various tuckshops. 

ThumbnailAt the marketplace I bought some earrings for my sister, homemade peri-peri sauce, and ate some “monkey fruit”—a large hard-shelled fruit with a brain-like, juicy sweet center.

We then drove up to Tofo, a small town on the coast of Mozambique. After pitching our tent, only a one-minute walk from the beach, I went straight to the water! As a native Californian living in a land-locked country for the past two months, I have definitely missed the ocean. In the mornings we would wake up early to do meditation on the beach and watch whales breaching and lob tailing. I spent virtually all of my time in the water—whether I was swimming, collecting shells, visiting tidal pools or going on a boat ride along the coast.  

ThumbnailMyself, Corinne and Katt in a typical day’s attire at our campsite.

We then travelled into South Africa to Cape Town. Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa and is reminiscent of San Francisco with its long hilly streets, eclectic architecture and hip cafes and bars. Cape Town is known as a multicultural city and my favorite part of exploring that was through food! During our stay we ate Chinese, Japanese, French, Thai, English, Ethiopian and Turkish food—alongside plenty of cappuccinos from various coffee shops. The city is also known for its breathtaking view of the bay. This view was made even more impressive by a trip, via cable car, up Table Mountain. Table Mountain overlooks the city of Cape Town, and we had a blast traipsing around the mountaintop and we accidentally got stuck in a cloud!

ThumbnailA view from the top—on the other side you could see Robben Island!

We also travelled, via train, down the Peninsula towards the southern tip of Africa. We stopped off at Simon’s Town, a quaint beach town, and wandered towards Boulder’s Beach. Boulder’s Beach is famous for a penguin colony that has made its home there, and we spent the afternoon eating ice-cream and hanging out with penguins! 

ThumbnailA view of the ocean from outside our train.

Fall Break was an unreal experience, and while I was sad to be leaving the ocean and incredible food, I feel blessed to have been able to explore some of the immensely diverse regions and cultures within Southern Africa. 


Reflections from a Mexican-American in Botswana








Post by Stephanie Vargas-Caudillo from Beloit College

One of the benefits of studying abroad is getting to learn more about yourself as you live in a new place with a different culture and customs than the ones you are accustomed to. For me, ­­­­­­one of the things I anticipated having trouble with was my identity as a minority in the U.S. Before I came to Botswana, I thought that I might get puzzled looks from people upon finding out that I am American, given that I do not fit the typical profile that is so often portrayed in the media. In fact, one of the more common responses I get is, “But you look more like an Indian.”

Image1This is a Hindu temple in Gaborone. There is a large Indian presence in the city.

At first, this comment would take me by surprise. “But I look nothing like an Indian! Where are they getting this from?!” were my first thoughts. But as I continued to ponder this, I realized that, of course, there was no way for them to guess that I was of Mexican descent. Most people here have never seen a Hispanic in real life.

Image1This year's CIEE group is rather diverse.

My first encounter with anyone from southern Africa was in South Africa, with an immigration official. He took my passport, eyed it, and stamped it. As he handed it back to me, he said, “Where are you really from?”

“California,” I told him.

“No, where are you from? Where are your parents from?”

“Well, they grew up in Mexico. Why?”

“Oh, because you don’t look American.”

In that moment, I was more amused than anything. I knew that it was useless to get upset at him for not knowing that the U.S. is a melting pot of people from all over the world. But it was the beginning of a new time for me; I seriously began to question the way that I defined myself and my own identity. What did it mean for me to be a Mexican-American female in the U.S? My bi-cultural identity within the U.S is one that I have often questioned, but never did I think of it outside of the context of the U.S.  So what did it mean to people who don’t know what it is like in the U.S? I was forced to think about this through different lenses. And while that was hard for me at first, it really helped me to know myself better. For example, before coming here, I always just said I was Hispanic. But now, I would rather identify as Mexican-American, which to me seems more representative of the cultures I grew up with.

Image1The apartheid museum in Johannesburg pays homage to the struggle for racial equality.

However, one of the most difficult challenges I have faced during my time here is not explaining my ethnic composition to someone, but rather whether I should be the one educating them on the different cultures and people that reside within in the U.S. Is it really my job to dispel the notion that my country is entirely homogenous? Am I truly able to get across to everyone that I try to talk to about this?  I have come to realize that although everyone may not entirely comprehend what being “Mexican-American” is, that the best thing I can do is try and educate. All in all, I have been glad I have started these conversations; I have learned more about concepts of race and ethnicity in Botswana, and have helped shed some light onto the cultural medley that is the U.S. 

Image1Nelson Mandela is honored all throughout South Africa for being a leader in the movement against apartheid.



The Beat of the Bus Rank

IMG_Corinne, Connie, Shiyang 







Post by Corinne Gaston from the University of Southern California

During a typical day at the Gaborone station bus rank, festive music blares from speakers and pickup trucks overflowing with oranges and clementines pull up in the parking lots to sell throughout the day.


Men and schoolboys play billiards as people cue up for combis. Buses pull in from Ramotswa and Johannesburg. Women (and a couple men) sell all sorts of produce: potatoes, heaps of leafy greens, bags of tomatoes, onions, massive heads of cabbage, peppers, corn— you name it. Loners take their chances and buy the pre-packaged chicken dinners displayed at the numerous brick food stalls. At nightfall, some of the stall workers will light tall white candles around the display of pre-packaged meals like a calm, but eerie altar.

IMG_food stall at station

During my short time in Botswana, I’ve come to think of the station as the heart of Gaborone. If you travel via combi (public van), taxi, cab, or bus, chances are you will pass through the station. I do nearly every day, usually to catch a taxi to campus and to get a combi home. On one side, you have the taxis and some combis while on the bus rank side over the bridge, you’ll find all the buses and the lion’s share of combis. And right in the middle is Rail Park Mall.

IMG_combisBut the station is more than just a transportation hub. Everywhere you’ll see women with foldout tables selling fruit, candy and mints, biscuits, chips and junk food, water bottles and Coca Cola. Some sell hot food like sausages, fish, and fat cakes after cooking them over grills, cook fires, and portable stoves. I’ve seen a couple women boil oil over said portable stoves to make fries. Nearly all of these women also sell phone airtime in addition to their food. Men set up cell phone repair stands while other sell footwear and clothing. Do you want to buy new sneakers, shirts, scarves, or jewelry? You can find them at the station. You can even find second-hand shoes, if that tickles your fancy.

IMG_miscThe taxi side is smaller and faster-paced than the bus rank. Taxi drivers will play billiards, gamble, and joke around while they wait for passengers to fill up their cars. The taxis crowd together in one parking lot and at first it looked like pure pandemonium to me, but it functions so smoothly that I knew there was a system in place I just wasn’t aware of. The taxi side of the station also boasts an outwardly modest shopping center, but inside I found a maze of cheap restaurants and stores including the most well-stocked supermarket I’ve seen since arriving in Botswana.

IMG_taxisNow onto Rail Park Mall. It’s smack dab in the middle of the station, and while you can take a narrow bridge directly from one side to the other, I prefer going through the mall. It may not be as expansive as other malls in Gaborone like Game City, but it offers clothing stores, ATMS, a post office, restaurants, beauty salons, a pharmacy, a liquor store, and two supermarkets. The Food Lovers Market is essentially the love child of Whole Foods and Costco. It also has a restaurant in the back where you can get a good cheeseburger for about 30 pula.

Plenty of people just pass through the station, but it’s so much fun to take your time, maybe buy some oranges and a drink and meander through the stands looking at the market goods. There’s a man I met who comes to the station on weekends to sell preserved fruit jewelry that he made himself. Orange slice earrings for friends back home? Only at the Gaborone station.



Spring Break 2013 Africa Style!











Post by Alex Bretthauer from Southern Methodist University

For our mid-semester break we got twelve days off to explore Africa to our hearts’ desire. A group of my friends and I decided to go to four countries in twelve days. Our journey began at Victoria Falls! When we were there we ventured to both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides of the falls. On the Zimbabwean side, we spent a half-day white water rafting down the Zambezi River. I had never done anything like this before so it was truly a magical experience.


Later that afternoon we got even more of an adrenaline rush as each of us took turns bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge. I went first and as I heard the workers yell, “5…4…3…2…1…bungee!” I saw my life flash before my eyes as the water below rushed at me during my descent. It was so worth all the money and all anxiety; it was truly an epic experience!

1269884_10151950757242292_269581550_oThe next stop on our journey was Cape Town, South Africa. On our first day in Cape Town, we did a wine tour through five different vineyards in Stellenbosch. The wine country in South Africa reminded me of back home; it is so lush, green, and truly beautiful. On our tour we got to go to both big vineyards and smaller more personal ones where we got to meet the wine makers themselves. We got to learn so much about wine and just had an extremely fun day. The next two days we spent in Cape Town we just explored the city and went sightseeing along the beautiful coast. 


The final stop in our adventure was Tofo, Mozambique. Tofo is a small beach town in the middle of Mozambique. It is a beautiful white sand beach with crystal clear and warm blue water. We stayed right on the beach in a beautiful little whicker hut facing the coast. During our time there we frolicked in the water and relaxed on the beach. I was supposed to go scuba diving with the whale sharks and manta rays but the sea was too choppy for us to go out. Even though I did not get to go scuba diving, I still had an amazing time on the beach in Mozambique.

I will never forget those twelve days traveling around southern Africa with some of my best friends. It was truly an amazing experience that I wish I could go back and do it all over again.