Another Best Day

July 20, 2015 | Tess, POL, WUSC, Botswana, Stepping Stones International

Greetings from Mochudi, Botswana!

So much has happened in the past four weeks, I cannot believe how much my life has been transformed in such a short time. When I first arrived in Gaborone, my first week was filled with what we called “best days”. We explored the city’s confusing and loud public transport system, we made amazing friends who took us out to experience the night life, we learned Setswana greetings, we ate such good food; “another best day” is what we said, falling exhausted and happy into bed. You could say we were honeymooning, falling in love with our new home country fast and hard.

Mochudi, our small but lively village outside of Gaborone, was a shock to our systems at first. I was to be hosted by a family a half hour walk away from work. It was fine at first, but it was lonely in their guest house by myself. I also learned a lesson about being a foreign woman walking alone on the streets: harassment is a guaranteed occurrence. I brushed off our program coordinator’s comment about being “promised thousands of cattle in marriage” as a joke, but I soon realised that being shouted at on the street, asked on dates, grabbed by men on public transport (and other uncomfortable experiences) was to be a reality. Mochudi was so unlike home – where I shared an apartment with roommates I love, where I could walk wherever I wanted (mostly) whenever I pleased. As soon as I learned that there was a vacancy in the house where the other interns lived, I packed my bags and got ready to move.

My current home, lovingly nicknamed the “White House”, houses three of the most amazing roommates I could ask for. We are three Canadians and one American; together we have turned into a little family: cooking over bonfires, exploring Gaborone, and bonding over work stress. My previously stressful commute to and from work has been replaced by a pleasant thirty-second walk, it is right next door! When speaking to my Motswana co-worker, he mentioned that in the presence of my roommates, all well-built men, no local would dare try anything with me. To the relief of my mother, I have been very safe and well looked after since my arrival at the White House.

———-

Mochudi can be very beautiful. I have been going for walks with my roommates at sunrise and at sunset, the sky lit up in bright oranges and pinks, and you can hear the distant sounds of the village waking up or winding down. Cow bells, roosters, the consistent honking of public transport drivers, and children (often yelling one long string of “Howareyou?I’mfine!”), make up Mochudi’s soundtrack.
The sky at night is another thing altogether. Having been a city girl all my life, I have limited experience with open skies away from light pollution. The other night, the power went out and there was no moon in the sky. I had to step outside and appreciate the spectacular show that the stars put on for me. Happily though, the electricity was up and running in no time – I can’t say the same for the past weeks, when the power had the habit of disappearing for hours at a time – and I settled back into our warm living room.

———-

Work has been very good to me! In my first two weeks, I solidified my mandate and was invited to attend some conferences with the director of my organisation. It was an amazing experience, and I met many influential people involved in the women’s rights movement in Southern Africa. A curious thing that I have found is the integration of religion in everyday life here. I had the opportunity to have lunch with a radical feminist human rights activist about how she managed to stay faithful to her Christianity and yet still participate in the women’s rights movement, the LGBTQI+ movement, the sex workers’ movement, the anti-colonial movement, etc. She explained that religion to her is really just a framework to help her better the world, she didn’t think the dogmatism and conservatism of a lot of religious people served any real purpose. This is something that I found very different from back home, where being religious and being a radical feminist is often seen as incompatible.

I have also been traveling the region to help facilitate Peer-Education training for a Child Protection Protection against Child Sexual Abuse project funded by the European Union. It has been exhausting taking public transport – it once took two and a half hours to get to a village a twenty-minute drive away – but my partner in this project has been very helpful at teaching me new things about Botswana during our long commutes. As a young person, he has a unique view on culture and gender issues, something that I appreciate greatly. Here in Botswana, a student is paid an allowance to attend a post-secondary institution, on top of being provided free tuition and accommodation. It can be a challenge to relate to his life, but I value the moments when I have re-evaluate my own privileged existence.

I had been warned about the pace of work here, which had been described to me as very laid-back. As someone who is very much Type-A, my director told me that by the time I leave Botswana, I will have relaxed into a Type-B+! As a life-long task-oriented planner of things, it will be good for me to learn how to ‘go-with-the-flow’ a little more. I’m slowly learning that deadlines are flexible, and spontaneity can be a wonderful thing!

———-

I have done some traveling with work, but I have mostly been in and around Gaborone and Mochudi. It has been extremely exciting to explore, and I have been enjoying my time so far. Our American roommate has coordinated a rhino expedition for us in South Africa sometime in July, and we are planning on heading into Victoria Falls also sometime next month. We want to explore as much as we can here, but we keep finding events keeping us in town! We have hiked so many amazing hills – we accomplished a 15K trek our first weekend! – I attended my first wedding, I went on a pub crawl, I did a game drive at the Mokolodi Nature Reserve. Botswana is an oxymoron of sorts: a friend here explained that it is a good place to live a ‘simple life’, but there is also no shortage of things to do here, it’s a matter of looking for it carefully.

Despite my full schedule, I have had lots of time for introspective thinking. I have found moments of clarity, gaining perspective on my far away and hectic day-to-day schedule in Ottawa. I am constantly inspired, and I am learning more about myself and this beautiful country every day.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.