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3 posts from May 2014


Spring 2014 Issue IV: The Beauty of Thamaga Pottery



After a great morning at the Jwaneng Diamond Mine, we stopped by Thamaga Pottery on our way back to Gaborone. Here is a glimpse into this cultural treasure in the village of Thamaga.

Here's what's in this issue:

History of Thamaga Pottery
The Show Room
Pottery in the Making




The official name of the Thamaga Pottery co-operative is Botswelelo Centre. It was opened in the early 1970s with the help of the Roman Catholic Missionary, specifically with a priest named Father Julian Black. It is a community-based project and began as free pottery training to help the unemployed youth gain the skills to run their own businesses in the future.


IMG_2476Waking up, getting off the bus and into the Botswelelo Centre

Thamaga Pottery is currently a non-profit making organization that employs fifteen employees, ten of which are elderly women who are the primary makers of the pottery.




Botatlo Keipeile (right) is the manager of Botswelelo Centre Thamaga Pottery. She is pictured here with another staff member, Hilda.

Most of the revenue for Thamaga Pottery comes from tourists who buy the finished products. Although the organization is well known, they have some challenges. At times they are unable to meet their production targets. Their salaries are also not high enough to attract younger workers, which is vital to continuing the business. And they have not had enough revenue to do as many community projects as they had wanted to. But they are continuing to grow and hope that these issues will be resolved in the future.



Before actually watching the process by which the pottery is made, the students couldn't help but stick their heads into the pottery show room and store.


Mackenzie, Lexy and Kelly seeing what Thamaga Pottery has to offer

They sell everything from pitchers, cups, saucers, vases, salt and pepper shakers, mugs, goblets, and candle holders. The products are even oven, microwave and dishwasher safe!








In an interview for the Daily News Newspaper, May 14, 2014, Botatlo said, "these products, cups, dishes and pots are handcrafted and decorated with traditional Setswana designs inherited from Batswana ancestors and are decorations that they used to decorate the outside and their mud floor." It makes them unique to Botswana.





With that, we begun our tour of the pottery making process.


Looking around and taking photos of the women who are employed at Botswelelo Centre



We begun in the clay preparation room.

Theko Dikobe, the production room visitor attendant, gave us our tour. Here she is demonstrating how to cut the clay using the wires shown in the photo.

IMG_2494She then weighs the clay to make sure that it is the right amount for whichever particular object she is making.







She then brought us into the throwing room which we passed on our way in. The women normally use pottery wheels to make the pieces, but they can also work free-hand if they so choose.











Excited onlookers Kenny, Tarikwa, Dana, Keely, Adam and Lily watch intently and take photos as Mma Dikobe demonstrates her prodigious skill at making a bowl.








Below is a video of her beautiful process.


Next Mma Dikobe showed us the process of decorating the pieces after the first firing. Looking on are Alec, Krista, Nahara, Mackenzie and Lusuire.
















  IMG_2513Cooling rack after the first firing

Mma Dikobe then moved into the room with the kiln. After the pieces are glassed (put into chemicals to strengthen them), they then are put into the kiln shown below for a second firing. In this firing, the kiln gets up to 1120 degrees Celsius!!  IMG_2515

The whole process from start to finish takes a couple of weeks.

IMG_2519Final cooling rack

The trip to Botswelelo Centre Thamaga Pottery was fun and educational. And most students walked away with some amazing hand-made pottery!  It was a great end to the day.

IMG_2522Dana, Anandi, Tarikwa, Adam, Kirsten, Lusuire, Mariana and Kuda

Until next time, sala sentle (stay well)!


Dos and Don'ts in Joburg

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Post by Cameron Thieme from the University of Southern California

For the mid-semester break, some friends and I decided to head to Cape Town.  Our travel plans also included a few hours laid over at the bus station in Johannesburg before we could catch another bus to Cape Town.  

Driven forward by the excitement of break, the last thing I wanted to do was sit in that bus station and twiddle my thumbs.  I grabbed a map from a nearby tour bus and brought it to my friends to choose a nearby tourist destination to visit.  We settled on Constitution Hill.

If you ever visit Johannesburg, the Hill is probably worth a quick stop.  It has some nice old buildings, and the view from the top is the best view of the city that I have been able to find.  There isn’t a ton to do there, though, so we after we left we still had more time to kill before our bus.  We checked the map and picked another random location to visit.  This time it was a local park directly East of the bus station.  

When we got there, my friend Kirsten was the first to realize that we had made a mistake.  Everyone in the park had their gaze fixed dead on us with stoney and serious faces.  At first, I didn’t notice anything unusual about that; after a few months of being a white man in Botswana, stares no longer seemed out of the ordinary.  But these stares were quite different from the stares of Batswana.  In Botswana, people stare out of curiosity; particularly in the villages, white people are a sort of novelty.  These new stares were different, and they had a clear message: you do not belong here.

A homeless man wearing a construction vest and lacking several teeth came up to us and offered to show us around or help us out.  We blew him off, and headed towards the bus depot as quickly as we could. 

Our route to the bus station went through a wide open, crowded, daylight flooded street.  We still had stares following us wherever we went, but I wasn’t very worried about it.  I figured it was probably a good idea to head to a different area, but I was actually quite comfortable in the situation.  

But comfort leads to complacency, and complacency makes me stupid.  Stupid enough, even, to walk around carrying bags and wearing clothes that screamed “Tourist!” louder than if we had brought a megaphone and announced ourselves to the world.  

Without any warning, the man in the construction vest from the park was in front of me, holding a switchblade to my chest.

My first reaction was to scream out a note so loud and so high-pitched that any soprano would have been envious.  The man was yelling something at me, but I have no idea what.  All I could hear was chaos, and my mind was focused on the image in front of me.  

I put my hands into my pocket to give him my wallet, and he did not like that at all.  He screamed louder, perhaps thinking that I had a knife or something in my pocket and would try and fight him off.  So I threw my hands up in surrender, screaming “Take it! Just take anything!”

Three men pushed up against the wall.  I moved in response to the force, but I honestly did not even feel their hands against me.  All of my brain was preoccupied with that knife. Then, as swiftly as they had come, they were off.  The entire event probably took less than twenty seconds.  I didn’t even turn around to watch them as they ran away.  I just sprinted down the street in the opposite direction.

I caught up with my friends about twenty meters down the street.  I guess that the men had decided that it was quicker, or easier, or safer, for them all to gang up on one of us, so the girls had the chance to run away.  Neither of them had pockets, either, which is probably the reason I was the chosen target.  We regrouped, uttered more than a few profanities, and walked as quickly as possible towards the safety of the bus station.  

The strangest thing about the situation is that it wasn’t until I had rejoined the group that I felt anything that I would call fear.  In the moment, all I had was instinct.  I responded to everything that happened like a machine.  Too much adrenaline was coursing through my brain to allow any space for thought or emotion.  When I stared at the knife, I simply saw it as an object of disease that I needed to focus on and avoid.  It wasn’t until the blade was out of sight that I actually started to fear it.  

But once I started to feel fear it hung around me like a fog.  In the coming days, every dark street brought me to a complete and paranoid arousal.  The homeless beggars terrified me whenever they approached.  I assumed that anyone with a hand in their pocket was only a moment away from pulling a switchblade on me.  

After putting almost two weeks between that event and now the fear has subsided a bit.  Hopefully, I will be able to banish any of that irrational fear while still keeping some of the alertness it gives.  I hope I can learn to be aware, but not scared.  

The biggest lesson I learned from the whole event, though, was that keeping credit/debit cards in two different locations is a very good idea, especially as you travel.  I kept both of mine in my wallet like an idiot.  Now I’m paying the price; although CIEE offered to loan me money, it is difficult not to have direct access to my own.

And one last warning before I sign off: if ever you find yourself cornered and mugged, just surrender your possessions.  Anyone desperate enough to mug you on the street has far less to lose in a fight than you do.  I probably had 8 inches and 60 pounds on any of my attackers, but it still would have been incredibly dumb to resist them.  Just don’t carry more in your pockets than you would be willing to lose on any given day.  I had my camera in there, and I really regret that.  But I would rather lose a camera and negligible amounts of cash than get stabbed.  I imagine you all know that already, but I wanted to reiterate it just in case.  Even though I got mugged, there weren’t really any major consequences for me.  Losing the cards was a hassle, but CIEE did a great job of helping me along and figuring out how to get money transferred to Botswana (which is especially nice because this trip was planned completely separate from the program).  And my friends even spotted me some cash so we still got to have a great midsemester break!

Close to Penguins!

1920114_10203688579279138_97593897_n[1]Closer to Penguins!

1959329_10203203547031268_306566217_n[1]On a Boat!

On a Mountain!


The CIEE Gaborone program supports all students in the unfortunate case of a mugging or theft of items. In the aftermath of incidents such as the one described above, we firstly assist students in accessing police services, if they so wish. If items have been stolen, we help them submit a claim to the property insurance provider. Before they go on any trips, we collect serial numbers of all electronics in case a claim must be made. We also loan them money if they need it and refer them to Western Union and other money transfer companies. If they need to call their banks to cancel their credit cards, they do so on our phones. We are also here to provide emotional support.

In addition, we provide extensive training on how to mitigate the risks of mugging and theft. The above-mentioned excursion was not a CIEE-planned trip, and thereby the students are able to travel as they wish. However, CIEE provides information of safe bus routes, drivers, and other information to make sure that students have the smallest risk of harm as possible. We advise them not to leave the bus station if transferring within Johannesburg. For students that opt to visit Johannesburg, we tell them that they should use specific taxis from the bus station.

During orientation we have a session on safety and we re-iterate that information throughout the semester. We tell students to be especially aware in bus stations and large busy public places, and not to carry too much money at one time. We urge them to wear their backpack to the front and bury things in the large pocket so people do not have easy access to their backpack.

Crime does happen, albeit rarely. In the event that it does, we do everything that we can to mitigate the damage.


Take A Seat

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Post by Alec N. Vicari-Epstein from the University of Southern California

A rusty metal frame with bolts long gone supports six loose planks on the first or second floor of a stairwell open to the elements.  Its back is pressed to the white bars that form our boundary, a balcony with a seemingly ever-changing view.  At its feet, the concrete floor is littered with browned cigarette filters and blackened match sticks that are far fewer in number than conversations held.  Wires weave sloppily through abandoned bolt holes and around the white bars, locking the frame in place.  This is how it has been since it was triumphantly retrieved from captors who held it hostage two floors above; thieves jealous of the richness it brought us.

Pic 1The bench, its wire fastening, and construction project in the background.

It is so profoundly conducive to social interaction that there is no denying its value.  On any given day, not one of us could say we hadn’t spent time there.  Without measuring, it claims 12 hours out of our individual weeks on average; some of my most prized moments.  None of us could say we hadn’t made a friend there, set upon or standing near it.  Nor could a guest ever truly appreciate the place without taking a seat and speaking, so we never forget to show them.

Pic 2Dana and Lexy came to visit. (Left to right - Tato, Dana, Zoe, Lexy, and Nash)

It is more than common for cultural exchanges to occur constantly.  Guests aside, we represent Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, the United States and more.  Our exchanges are deep and descriptive, filled with anecdotes, proverbs, personal accounts and word of mouth.  Questions are answered so thoroughly that curiosity is not just quenched, but flooded.  Discussion of controversial issues brings passionate perspectives, but always concludes with a beautiful mutual appreciation.  Campus security forces our dispersal when they deem our conversation too animated for the time of night, but from time to time you can find them here partaking during the day, entranced by good vibes. 

Pic 3These guys met here.

Friendships have been forged and strengthened here; some likely never to fade regardless of circumstance or fate.  At times I doubt my memory and believe the bench was here before I was.  I question whether the friendships came before the bench, or visa versa, knowing that it is irrelevant, but curious as to how different my short time here would have been.  I am glad to have been here for this part of the bench’s life, and in just over a month when my friends and I bid it and each other farewell, I hope that it brings others at least half of the good fortune it brought us.   

Pic 4This bench vacant = a rare sight

I have often set upon public benches in the past, most far more attractive and comfortable than this one. But never have I had such an impacting and meaningful experience as a result.  Why is this so?

Come to the bench and speak with me, I have an open mind.
Come to the bench and think with me, please ask and answer mine.
Come to the bench and live with me, what’s mine is ours to share.
Come to the bench and sit with me, I’m sure you’ll find me there.