Actually it was at the end of Week 1 that I literally fell into a hole. Yielding to pedestrians is not really a concept in Gaborone, so while attempting to cross a busy street downtown and looking both ways (the opposite ways that my mind has been socialized to look, as they drive on the left side of the road here), my right foot and leg up to my knee literally fell into a drainage hole and my left knee slammed into the ground. After climbing out, limping home, applying an ice pack and downing some Advil, what emerged was the largest bruise I've ever had, radiating yellow and blue over my entire calf and reminding me that life can change in an instant.
Figuratively, I fell into a hole this week due to the challenges of cross cultural communication. It became clear that my Advisor misunderstood the difference between the Fulbright DAT program that I am a part of and the Fulbright Scholar program in terms of the formal vs. informal research called for in my Inquiry Project. It became clear that my Advisor expected me to know what I didn't know yet, which was that if someone doesn't respond to your e-mail, doesn't answer your phone call, you should go to their campus office (if you can find it), knock once, enter and insist that they help you on the spot. I scrambled out of this hole by holding my ground on my Inquiry Project, pestering the ICT office until I gained access to Blackboard for the class I am auditing, marching behind my Advisor to another professor's office to firm up a time to solicit project advice from the Population Studies Department and navigating the informal economy to print a stack of forms in triplicate for UB Ethics Committee approval so that I am able to survey students when I visit schools. It's hard to be reprimanded ("yelled at" my own children would call it, but I always questioned whether anyone had actually yelled at them) by an Advisor who is at least twenty years my junior. Thanks to my Fulbright colleague Tess for letting me vent and empathizing. Maybe it's because she has a 7 month old and 3 year old at home, child care complications and the Department Chair just informed her that she is to teach an additional class this semester.
Thursday I attended a seminar hosted by the UB Economics Department entitled Determinants of Youth Unemployment and Localising SDGs: Case Study of Gabone in Kweneng District. Contrary to stereotypical beliefs about technology integration in the developing world, the community census that formed the foundation of the study was carried out on handheld tablet computers that geolocated respondents and fed data into GIS maps. Yay geography! It is clear that the most daunting challenge related to Botswana's "youth bulge" is high youth unemployment. In the community this study focused on, youth unemployment is 26%. This is commonly attributed to a mismatch in Botswana's labor market. Current employers demand low-level skills, while educational and training institutions are producing people with high-level skills. Despite the struggle of finding work equivalent to their skills, young Batswana are reluctant to emigrate. My conversation with a Population Studies professor whose article Patterns and Differentials of Migration in Botswana we read and discussed in class (he himself migrated here from India), meshed with anecdotal evidence suggests that young people just really like it here in Botswana, so they try to manage.
Managing means "the hustle". Civil engineers drive taxis, idealists trying to get NGOs off the ground sell sweets, fat cakes and mobile phone airtime on the street and the young man who greets me each morning at the gates of UB bought a generator and a couple of old desktop computers and printers. For 50 thebe a page (a little less than 50 cents) he prints, collates and staples anything you need (ah yes, those Ethics Committee forms in triplicate). He's there at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays and usually has a line of people waiting.
Last week I mentioned I would be attending a SDGs seminar for youth at the Gaborone Public Library. That session ended up being cancelled, but yesterday's session was a go. Together with like-minded friends Tebatso Jokonya founded Banabakgwale Association in 2016. Their mission is to help youth gain skills so as to to be able to create sustainable businesses, particularly in the agriculture and tourism sectors. They raise awareness of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and reach out to primary and secondary schools to offer computer training to both students and staff. Inspired by Botswana's Vision 2036 and the African Union's Agenda 2063 and affiliated with the U.N. Global Compact and U.N. Youth Envoy, Banabakgwale ("birds of a feather flock together" in Setswana) connects students and teachers to things like Microsoft Digital Literacy Courses, Africa Code Week and World ICT Day.
One of Tebatso's ideas was to capture the attention of Gaborone kids who spend their after school hours at the public library. Kids walk there when school lets out, do homework and read books until it is time to walk home or their parents pick them up. So, most Friday afternoons, he gathers the kids that happen to be there and shares information about the SDGs. Sometimes he uses resources from the World's Largest Lesson. Yesterday, each child received a color copy of one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or Global Goals. They practiced reading the goals in order, out loud. The older ones helped the younger ones and Tebatso explained the meaning of each goal in Setswana and English. During a second round, as each child read their goal, Tebatso distributed small sweets, instructing the children not to eat them. The number of sweets that each child received varied, with some receiving up to four and some receiving none. This segued to a more in-depth discussion of different types of societal inequalities. By the end of the session, every child had at least one sweet (I kept thinking of the Stanford psychological experiment on delayed gratification where they see how long kids can wait to eat a marshmallow) and Tebatso finally gave permission to eat. I don't want to make too many assumptions based on one meeting at which the kids were all aware a U.S. teacher was joining them, but I was a bit amazed that kids were so cooperative and engaged. This is not an after school activity that they signed up for in advance or that their parents paid for them to participate in. It's just a young guy introducing kids to something he is passionate about and hoping that when they go home they continue the conversation with their parents and friends.
This week I'll be meeting with more NGOs including Green Habitat Botswana and YALDA Botswana, possibly connecting via Skype with Bernard Onyango of the AIFEP (African Institute for Development Policy) in Kenya, trying to arrange appointments to visit private schools while waiting for permission to visit public schools and cracking open reading material given to me by Population Studies professor Rebecca Jumanji, who serves on a committee charged with disseminating information to the public about the demographic dividend and SDGs. Rebecca also offered to help arrange meetings with representatives of the Botswana Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the United Nations Population Fund, major players on the issues I am studying in Botswana.
From its independence in 1964 until 1982, Botswana was part of a larger university system with its neighbors Lesotho and eSwatini. Motho Le Motho Kgomo in Setswana (One Man, One Beast), was the slogan for a six year campaign led by former President Seretse Khama to raise money to construct the University of Botswana campus in Gaborone. All Batswana were asked to contribute what they were able, be it in the form of cash, cattle or agricultural products. This statue near the library honors the contributions by Batswana that made the campus possible.
This week has been spent settling in at UB. I am now officially auditing a course on the Demography of Botswana, taught by my Advisor Dr. Ntshebe, and have an office on campus. My 50 or so classmates (who look about as old as my own Stillwater students) don't seem to be fazed by the gray haired white woman in class. Surprise, surprise, they like to sneak their mobile phones underneath their desks just like U.S. students do.
Dr. Ntshebe and I meet Tuesday mornings to discuss my Inquiry Project. She is helping me narrow the scope, clarify goals and methods and identify relevant literature. She has suggested I present to the Population Studies Department for feedback and advice, so that may happen soon. We are working with U.S. Embassy staff to request formal permission to visit public schools to observe and talk with teachers and learners.
In Botswana, an arid country experiencing the impacts of climate change, rain is so precious that the currency is named Pula, meaning rain or blessing. Saturday was rainy. According to guide Andy, our city tour was therefore blessed. We explored cultural sites including the Three Dikgosi Monument, Parliament Building, Tlokweng and Old Naledi. Old Naledi began as a squatter settlement for laborers who built Gaborone and remains one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.
The Three Dikgosi, or Three Chiefs Monument, honors the three Batswana tribal chiefs who travelled to the UK in 1895 to petition Queen Victoria to maintain its Bechuanaland Protectorate (essentially a colony), so as not to allow Botswana to fall under the control of apartheid South Africa. A situation where neither option would be freely chosen, but which ultimately paved the path for independence.
Intrigued by the announcement above on the Gaborone Public Library Facebook page, today I spent an hour with Tebatso, learning about the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) he founded, the Banabakgwale Association. One component of my Inquiry Project is to identify ways that Botswana’s government, educational system and NGOs are “harnessing the demographic dividend”, specifically as it relates to initiatives to empower youth to contribute to sustainable development. I'll share more about Banabakgwale next week after joining in on Friday's seminar at the library.
I went looking for an African proverb that might serve as a theme for Week 1. This one comes from the Fula people of West and Central Africa. My Fulbright colleague Tess and I spent an afternoon at Mokolodi Game Reserve. We arrived, planning to do a Game Drive, only to discover that all reservations were full. Nope, we hadn't called ahead. Hoping for a fortuitous opening later in the day, we walked the not-so-well marked trails in the hot Botswana sun, spotting colorful birds, impala, kudu and trying not to get lost. After lunch, hope became reality. A group had cancelled and we were in for a two hour Game Drive with a private guide, Odi. We saw many animals: more impala and kudu, zebra, warthog, giraffe, crocodile and penned in cheetahs. The highlight was seeing four of the six white rhinos in the reserve at a watering hole. A rare sighting even for Odi. You know the guide is excited when he makes the sign of the cross and brings out his camera. As the three of us rumbled back to the parking lot in the huge all terrain vehicle, Tess said, "Maybe this is a metaphor for our Fulbright." I was thinking the same thing.
A second payoff for patience was meeting my Fulbright advisor, Dr. Ntshebe. She has been working in Rwanda for the past two weeks, so it was our first meeting. She has welcomed me warmly and is helping me navigate registering for a class (Demography of Botswana), getting an office on campus and accessing the UB library and Internet. I think she is more impatient than I am for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn. She is so sharp and is challenging me to flesh out my Inquiry Project as a more detailed research proposal. I'm reading and making notes on the UNFPA Botswana's Opportunities and Policy Actions to Maximise the Demographic Dividend in Botswana report and exploring off shoots. I feel I am in good hands with Dr. Ntshebe and the Population Studies Department chair, Dr. Rakgoasi.
Sanita's Tea Garden is a lush oasis that helps restore any frayed patience. Botswana has a middle and upper class that landscapes and gardens (but the second highest rate of income inequality on the African continent, second to South Africa). Sanita's is a nursery, garden center and restaurant attracting birds and butterflies and has a truly restorative ambience.
Taxi driver Kuda, a Zimbabwean civil engineer by training, makes more money driving a taxi than working as an engineer. He's a joy to chat with. His Batswana wife's desire to have a baby girl after two sons had unexpected consequences: twin baby boys, bringing the household count to 5 males and one female. She will need a lot of patience.
Thapong Visual Arts Center reminds me of Franconia Sculpture Park near Stillwater at a smaller scale. I talked with woodworkers, tailors, painters, musical instrument makers and jewelers, so willing to share a bit about themselves and their work. Daniel loved geography and studied it in secondary school with the thought of joining the army and reading maps. His desire to paint everyday was ultimately stronger than his desire to join the army, but his geographic heart shines through ... he paints Botswana landscapes and wildlife. Today he was patiently painting gemsbok.
Mma Ramotswe always drank rooibos tea when she needed a little patience and thinking time. Some pap, seswaa and iced rooibos tea at the #1 Ladies Coffee House was a perfect way to cap a patient week.
Mental maps are the maps in our heads that help us navigate our daily life without a lot of conscious thought. My first few days in Gaborone have been spent constructing some new mental maps. I now know how to get from my apartment to the bank, the grocery store, the University of Botswana campus and Tess' apartment (my Fulbright colleague). Unmarked streets are a challenge and when asked, ever helpful Batswana give directions with landmarks that are at this point terra incognita to me.
My studies will begin formally next week. A new semester starts at UB and my academic advisor will be back from her trip to Rwanda. Yesterday I was welcomed by her colleague, the UB Population Studies Department Chair, and completed my U.S. Embassy security briefing. Security Officer message in a nutshell: "use common sense". Middle-aged, mom, teacher. Got that one covered.
From northern hemisphere to southern, from winter to summer, from English units to metric, from U.S. Dollars to Botswana Pula, from teacher to learner, somehow, in 24 hours I'll be on my way to Gaborone, Botswana via Atlanta and Johannesburg. What's been running through my head are the words of Nelson Mandela ...
A 9th grade AP Human Geography and Global Studies teacher at Stillwater Area High School in Stillwater, Minnesota, USA, living and learning in Gaborone, Botswana from January to June 2019 as a Fulbright Teacher.