With the World Cup starting up again in a week, I can’t help but find myself thinking back to the summer that I spent abroad in Botswana on a public health program. I was there in 2010 when the world spotlight was on South Africa, Botswana’s southern neighbor, and my entire experience is embedded into the memories of vuvuzela horns, Shakira’s “Waka Waka” song, watching the FIFA commercials during Generations (a South African soap opera) on SABC1 from the little TV in my home stay, and watching soccer in bars while drinking Castle beer.
I love sharing these experiences and opportunities that I’ve had while traveling, and I thought it was a great time to add some photos to my blog from some past travels. Not only does it help me remember how wonderful it is to leave my comfort zone, it’s a great reminder that every experience changes us – and this was the trip that honestly helped me discover the intersection between public health and cultural relativity, something I now think about daily in my job. I had to go back and read my old emails that I sent family and friends to remember the details (I didn’t have a blog back then!) and it was a great walk back through memory lane.
Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, yet is considered the gem of Africa thanks to its political stability and economic growth. Gaborone, the capital, was where my program focused the majority of its time. This photo is overlooking Gabs from Kgale Hill (the base of this hill is where they based the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books off of).
I stayed with a single mother, Shungie, who worked for a newspaper from 2 PM to 12 AM. Her son, Azille, was 10 years old at the time. A 22 year old nanny from Zimbabwe, “Auntie,” lived with us and would cook and clean – a very common occurrence in Botswanan homes. They lived in government subsidized housing with no hot water- and the World Cup a whole country away would cause power outages frequently. I took a combi (van-sized bus) to classes and work.
Along with public health coursework and Setswana language classes, I did a practicum in the Old Naledi neighborhood Clinic in the child welfare room. Mothers would bring their children in for checkups, shots, and were incentivized to come since they received rations of Plumpy’Nut (a ready-to-use therapeutic food for malnutrition). I also spent some time with the staff distributing anti-retroviral drugs to HIV-positive individuals and administering flu shots for their flu campaign. During our lunch breaks, we would play with the children in the orphanage next-door.
We spent a week with the program in a rural village, Mochudi, working in a separate clinic distributing food rations and learning about rural issues, while living in different home stays. It gave us a taste of village life in Botswana- after several weeks of bathing with small buckets of water heated up on the stove and washcloths, we got our hair washed in a hair salon in Mochudi.
As you probably assumed, I loved tasting traditional foods – pictured above are “fat cakes,” or “magwinya,” basically a fried unsweetened dough. I would buy these on the way to and from class at the corner stores that sold cell phone minutes and cigarettes. I also ate a lot of sorghum porridge with sour milk, thick white polenta made from white maize, and meat and vegetable stews. My home stay family in Mochudi killed one of their own chickens one evening for stew and offered me the chicken feet, a high honor.
Botswana is known for being the land of safaris, and it was an incredible experience to venture out into less-touristy reserves with local guides after the end of my program. I loved seeing the springbok antelopes, the elephants, and we even caught a mother giraffe with her baby.
I also traveled into Zambia (via overnight bus that stopped only twice for pee stops, on my birthday, thank you very much) with friends from my program to see Victoria Falls in all its glory. Some people bungee-jumped from the famous bridge, but I sufficed in hiking to the river at the bottom and staring up at the amazing falls.
And of course, I couldn’t end this post without a photo of my obnoxious American face paint, a vuvuzela, and the World Cup stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa, for the USA vs Ghana game (thankfully Africa prevailed otherwise I would have feared for my safety post-game!). To quote Shakira, “the whole world is watching, can you feel it?” It was an incredible day.
I will never forget the amazing experience that traveling in Sub-Saharan Africa was, and I hope to someday visit again since there was only so much I could see during those 10 weeks.