Sunday, July 29, 2007

Orientation Week

The hospitality that has been shown us by the Flying Mission staff here so far has been amazing. Since arriving on Monday, we (Nicole, Erin, and I) have only really eaten two evening meals on our own and have spent the other three evenings in various Flying Mission houses eating wonderful meals and enjoying the company. We just returned from an evening at Mark and Debbie Spicer’s house, which we enjoyed immensely. Mark is the Aviation Manager, so he will be one of the guys that I will answer to at the hangar. It has been a lot of fun to get to know the people that I will be working with, and I think they will really make my time here a good one. On Thursday of this week, we spent some time doing orientation with Tina Cort and in the evening went with her to the Gaborone Game Park, which was a lot of fun. We didn’t see any animals that we hadn’t seen before, but we were able to see them at a bit closer range. Sometimes a little bit too close. One zebra, who apparently is used to being fed by park visitors, came up to our car and let us pet him while he nibbled at our hands looking for sugar cubes or something of the like. As he was leaving, he decided to scratch his rear on the side of the car, pushing in the side mirror in the process and sticking his tail in the open window and into Nicole’s face. For a few seconds, it looked like he was going to let loose some fragrant zebra dung on Nicole, and we all busted up laughing as she tried to get as far from the offending zebra rump as possible. It was pretty strange to see a zebra that tame, as most of the zebra in the wild seemed to be pretty skittish and shy. Anyway, today was spent running some errands and then going with Tina to a preschool in the nearby village of Kumekwane, where we spent an hour or so playing football and jumping rope with the children there, who were excited to interact with us. It was a lot of fun to talk to the children and try to understand some of the Setswana words that I asked them to teach me. A few of them got a kick out of telling us the word for “buttocks” when we asked what “hands” were in Setswana, and they of course thought it was hilarious when we innocently repeated the word everytime they asked us what “hands” were. But despite that and the fact that every setting on my watch got changed by one curious little boy, we had a blast with the kids. Then we came back and headed to dinner with the Spicers. And now it’s my bedtime. More later.

Home at last

Well, I’ve finally arrived in Gaborone for good and am slowly starting to get settled in here. I’m staying in the “guest flat” for now, which is a small one-bed apartment with a tiny kitchen and living room. I’m enjoying having my own place for now, but I think when the next short-termers arrive I will be happy to have them move in with me and give me some company. There are three students from Germany who will be arriving at the beginning of September to stay for a year, and we will move into the short-termer house that is right next to my current flat. I’ve been here for two full days now, and it’s been pretty laid-back so far. The first day was a free day so that we could get unpacked and settle in a little, and Erin and Nicole and I spent some time in town shopping for some essentials. Yesterday, then, we had our first day of “orientation,” during which we were just sent out together with the assignment of traveling the town on the combis and doing a few other random things like sending a postcard and eating a traditional meal from a stand in the mall. Since we’ve been in Botswana for 4 weeks or so already, the only really new thing of the day for us was the combi system, the use of which is quite an experience. The combis are a bunch of old, dilapidated vans that circulate through the city on certain routes and try to pick up any pedestrian they pass by honking the horn and yelling at them. Since the system seems to be a conglomeration of random people who own vans, there is no central organization and therefore no published map of routes or anything convenient like that. The only way to get somewhere if you don’t know the system (that would be us) is to go to a place where combis stop (which is sometimes only apparent from the crowds of people standing by the road) and ask someone which combi to take to get to a particular place. To complicate matters more, most Batswana (people from Botswana) seem to have an intense aversion to maps, probably because they never use them, so showing someone where you want to go on a map will get you nowhere. Needless to say, we felt pretty silly standing at the combi stops pulling out our map of Gaborone and looking generally confused and clueless. Of course, it doesn’t help that the already-small population of whites in Gaborone pretty much all have cars, so a white person riding a combi is a very rare sight indeed. But we had a lot of fun figuring out which combi to get on, how to tell the driver we wanted to get off, what to do with rowdy drunks who tried to talk to us, etc. Perhaps the highlight of the day was getting picked up by a policeman. At the end of our combi-riding, we decided to walk the few kilometers back to where we had started the day. As we were ambling along the side of the large 4-lane highway, a big police truck pulled over into one of the pull-offs and called us over to him. After asking where we were going, he invited us to pile into the cab and he took us just down the road to where we wanted to go. He was a really nice guy, and it was fun to have somebody help us out without expecting anything in return. So with that, the first day of orientation came to a close.