Saturday, January 31, 2009

Take note

I would like to clarify that even though there are demonstrations and a strike going on here, I am safe.
I know that the exciting things written can give the idea that things are not safe, but they are. I wouldn't be here if things weren't safe.
That is all. Here's a nice sunset seen from my window.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Student strike

So today we had the second student strike since I have been here. I was getting ready to go to my 10am History of Southern Africa class, when my friend Rebecca, who is in class with me, gave me a call. She told me that the student protesters had just come to her last class and made everyone leave.
**********
Now, before I continue with the story, I'll give you some background on why there are students striking in the first place.
In Botswana, education is free from the time the students start grade school until they complete college. Now, for a University student, each month they get an allowance. This is in the range of 1500 pula ($200ish) a month, and even more for students living off campus.
Botswana is quite rich in natural resources, particularly diamonds. They have been able to finance a number of public development projects with the wealth generated from the sale of diamonds, including funding for the education system.
Due to our current economic downturn, no one is spending money on diamonds, so Botswana has not exported any diamonds in a month or two. Now this hasn't hurt the economy here that much, from what I can see, as there is not a huge problem of job loss, but it has affected the amount of money the government can give to students.
Today was supposed to be the day when the monthly allowances were to be distributed, but since the government is short on money, a number of students didn't get their money. This includes those students who failed a class, and have to take classes for a fifth year. These students are seen as less productive and not worth the governments money anymore.
Obviously upset, there was a student meeting last night, and apparently they decided to go on strike and march on the Ministry of Education to present the government with a petition.

I think that's the background, so back to the story.
*******************

SO, since there was no classes today, I was inclined to check out what the protesters were up to. My roommate Max was doing some work in the library for the work he does at the AIDS lab, and the students showed up and made everyone leave, as apparently doing work is against the ideals of the strike.
After hearing this I decided to check out the protesters, who I could hear chanting from afar. I stayed fairly far away from them not wanting to be caught in the middle of something. While wandering, I found a number of students who were standing around watching the scene unfold. Talking to them, I found that most don't agree with what the protest is trying to accomplish. They see the students as spoiled, as they get free money every month to spend on whatever they wish. They understand that the government is short on money and know that there is no reason to get upset over it. However, as in all public demonstrations, even if you don't agree with the principles, you are still curious enough to go and take in the scene. Eventually, while talking to these students, the protesters, who now made up a mob, marched past us.
Here is the scene.
(this video took FOREVER to upload, like 2 hours, and it came out SIDEWAY! Sorry, I hope it doesn't hurt your neck. Its worth watching though.)


video

I had to keep my camera in my pocket the whole time just in case someone wasn't too keen on my filming.
I think it is safe to say that this group of people could be considered a mob.
A little while later, there was a meeting called for all international students to debrief us on the situation. We were told that the strike would probably continue on Monday, and perhaps the rest of the week. We should not join the protesters, as it could be dangerous. We just have to sit tight, go on with our lives, and wait until everything blows over.
From all the students here that I have talked to, it seems like it is only a small portion of the population who believe in what they are striking for, so it is not like the entire campus is up in arms.
However, it is interesting that I am constantly asked if things like this happen in the United States, to which I always respond "no". This is usually met with some surprise, though I tell them that we pay a whole lot of money to go to school, so it is not usually cost effective to strike.
So for now I'm just hanging around, writing an 8 page paper on non-verbal cues used in Botswana, as well as trying to plan our spring break trip through South Africa.
I suppose this could actually count as something exciting which is happening in the life of Jeremy.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mexican food at an Asian resturant in Africa

Classes began in earnest this week, which turned out to be hell. Monday, once again, no professor showed up for politics of poverty, as well as intro to the african novel. I went to Batsi's, the program director, office and he made some calls and found out that in fact those classes had been canceled. Thus the task of switching classes began, which involved wandering around campus, which is quite large, trying to find buildings, which are all numbered in no particular order. For every class added and dropped, a signature from the department head is needed. Eventually I got all the necessary signatures and added Radio and current affairs, and politcs of southern africa.
Also on monday, I went to the main mall with a few friends, via the combis. Now for those not familiar with transportation in Botswana (in other words you who are reading this, most likely) Botswana uses a system of combis. Combis are small vans which carry up to 16 people, and normally have all 16 seats filled up. There is a very complex and confusing system of combis, with different route names and numbers, so you have to hope and pray you're in the right one or you may end up somewhere strange. On the upside, they only cost 2.70 pula per ride, or about 35 cents. Main mall is slightly shady, but there are a number of cool craft shops set up with people who actually made what they are selling.
Monday night is rib night at Bull and Bush, the wonderful resturant across town, thus a number of us decided to check it out. The ribs are on special for 49.99 pula, or $6.50, in other words a wonderful meal.
For our CIEE class, which is the course run by the study abroad program, we have to choose an aspect of Botswana which we intend on researching through interviews. Working in parters, we must travel around Botswana, gathering information from various types of Batswana, from professors to poor farmers. My friend Rebecca and I were discussing the project, and we both thought that researching myths in Botswana culture would be interesting. So we shall be conducting interviews to see how myths and folklore are present in the modern society, the reasoning behind beliefs, how they contradict and interact with the new religions (Christianity and Islam), and how they differ in seperate villages. I'm pretty excited, as hopefully we should be able to get some very interesting interviews.
In continuing with the hellish classes, I went to my Radio and Current Affairs class on Thursday, to which I was the only one to show up. It turns out it got moved to 10am on Wednesday, a time which I already have a class. I had to thus trek around to get signatures to add and drop once again, though since add drop ended on Friday, I was under a good deal more pressure. I eventually got radio dropped, and picked up a history course. The professor of this class is crazy. He spent most of the class bashing the Batswana students and praising the American students, calling the Batswana students lazy and useless, telling the class he had already decided he wanted to be a professor at UB his sophomore year of college there. He was quite interesting and I talked to him for a while after class about various political issues in the country.
On Saturday morning we went to volunteer at a SOS Childrens Village, which is a village entirely for orphans. SOS is the largest orphan charity, operating in 123 countries. The kids here are adorable. We got there and they just all ran over and wanted us to play with them and carry them around and show us different things. I played with them for about 2 hours, then helped the women who work there cut up potatoes. I then sat down at a table and for about an hour just sat around with about 6 kids and drummed on the table and sang songs. It was so much fun. These children are mostly orphans because of AIDS, and many of them also have the AIDS virus. However, while they have already gone through so much at such a young age, they all just keep smiling. They are exactly like any child in the US. One of the most ironic things I saw happened while they got lunch. Each child had a bowl of oatmeal with sugar and milk, which looked quite good. Most of the kids at the table ate all of it up, except for two. I couldn't help thinking of how many times I was told to finish my food because, "there's starving children in Africa who don't even have food." Sometimes you just don't want it I guess.
Last night we went out to dinner before going off to a international student party. We chose an Asian resturant for some reason, which worked out well, as the owner gave us free Mexican food because we were the only customers.
Anyways, I hope this was mildly amusing. And now..........PICTURES!!!

Goats crossing the road
I live here!!!! This is outside the graduate dorm I live in.

From Top, clockwise: Strange green vegetables, goat intestines, maize, chicken, pop (bland white stuff), goat meat, tree worms. mmmmmm
Right outside one of my classes. The university is quite open to the air, as all my classes are open to the outside
The University of Botswana!!!
Kgali Hill. We climbed it. It was glorious.
Trekking up.
The view was beautiful.
One of our many water breaks.
You could see for miles and miles.




video

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration

I know I was planning on having weekly updates, but I figured I have to write about inauguration, especially since my experience was quite cool.
Last week we went to the US embassy in Gaborone and we talked to the staff a bit about how we were excited for Obama getting inaugurated. So, while we were there, we were invited to one of the houses of a embassy employee. We figured that this would be fun to take advantage of, so five of us decided to go yesterday. The house we went to is that of the deputy ambassador, so the second in command in Botswana, and since the actual ambassador is out of the country, she is technically the acting ambassador. Now, we drove to her house and as our combi (small bus used here as public and private transportation), we saw a number of men in uniforms with large machine guns. It turns out that we were going to the house directly across from the vice president of Botswana's private residence, which has military guards at all times. So at least we knew we were safe, though the men with machine guns were slightly daunting.
Anyways, we got into the house/compound, and were greeted by a number of the embassy staff, as well as a few members of the Marine corp who are stationed in Botswana right now. One of the men was quite interesting, as he just got into the country after being transferred from Budapest. He works in the embassy as the liaison to the Air Force. There was also amazing food at the house, as well as cool items the couple whose house it was, including a Bedouin matrimonial mask, which was quite heavy and has burning incense hanging from the bottom.
Obama's, or as we should say, President Obama's speech was most amazing. The entire room was captivated through it's entire span and I was getting chills just listening to parts. No one can deny that he is an amazing orator. His message of hope, unity, and courage was amazing.
I hope everyone else had the opportunity to watch the inauguration and that you who are reading this are doing well.
Stay tuned for more pictures too. Perhaps a video?????

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pictures, At last!

Elephants are the greatest animal EVER!



Super cute kids at the museum.



Zebras. They're cool.














These are the footprints at Matsieng.
I guess they really do look like footprints.

















Hello from Botswana!!!!




Elephants!

So I finally got to see elephants today. About time. Two weeks in Africa and not a single elephant? Madness. Anyways, we went on a "cultural excursion" this weekend with all the other international students. We left Saturday morning and drove to the Phuthadikabo Museum, in Mochundi. It was in the building of a old school and had some cool documents and history of the tribes in the area. One interesting note: Cecil Rhodes, the man the Rhodes Scholarship was named after, tried to get the British to give him control of Botswana so could have a nice route between South Africa and Zimbabwe. As the founder of De Beers, he was not quite into the rights of the Batswana people, so all the tribes banded together and pleaded with the queen to stop him, which included a trip by three kings to England to petition the people. It eventually worked and Rhodes didn't get control. One of the letters which was written to the queen was in this museum. Also there was some interesting pictures of the initiation ceremonies for the young men and women of the tribes. These practices have since been made illegal by the government, due to the practices of female circumcision which were included. However, the pictures and first hand accounts by missionaries were interesting. There were also the cutest kids from the village that walked up and just wanted to take pictures with our cameras and have their pictures taken. A few great ones came from them.
After that we went to the Matsieng foot prints, which are impressions in the ground, shaped like feet of course, which the tribal people of Botswana believe were created by the first humans that climbed out of the pools of water next to the foot prints. These were cool, though not amazing. Next we went to the Manyana rock paintings, which are around 2000 years old. These were paintings located at the bottom of cliffs. Apparently, the men who made them were first put under some sort of trance by crazy drugs that gave them visions. They painted the visions on the rocks and the tribal elders interpreted them. There were paintings of rino, antelope, giraffes, and a few humans. The male paintings have three legs. I won't say more about that one.
Down the road from the rock paintings is a Livingston tree. Here, David Livingston would sit during the day and take care of patients and hold religious services. The tree, a fig, is massive and provides an amazing amount of shade under it's canopy.
Last night we stayed at a cultural village called Bahurutshe. It was nice, with friendly women who taught us dances, showed us how to grind maize, and cooked some nice food. We were pretty exhaused by the end of the day, as the temperatures hovered around 90-95 all day, with beating sun. They did give us traditional beer, which was warm and had pieces of sorgom (wheat) in it. After a while it was good. We slept in nice tents and woke up to a breakfast of eggs, beans, fat cakes (kinda like donuts), and beef.
Then came the animals. This morning we got to the Mokolodi Game Reserve, which is a private game reserve not far from Gaborone. We drove around in a large vehicle and right off the bat we saw a bunch of impala. Only male impala have the large horns. Then we ran into two elephants. I was sitting on the outside of the vehicle and was literally about 5 feet away from these massive animals. They were just tearing away at some trees, satisfying their enormous appetites. I could have sat looking at them for hours. But we kept going and on the way saw: a giraffe, a few zebra, kudu, warthogs, and some gemsbok. After seeing all these animals I have finally started to belive I am actually in Africa right now.
Some other highlights of the week:
-Skype has been activated and I've used it to talk to Anne a couple of times, which is wonderful.
-I played soccer with the University team on Tuesday. One of the players is on the U-20 team for Botswana and they all are insanely good. It was much fun, though I think I'm just going to play in less competitive games here.
-I talked to a girl while doing laundry and had an interesting converstation about religion. She told me that many people here put people into a heirarchy in regards to how devote they are, in Christianity at least, which she said is turing many off to the religion. Apparently Islam is growing amazingly fast here.
-My classes are going. Two haven't actually met yet (Politics of Natural Resources and Intro to the African Novel), but Politics of Poverty, African Traditional Religions, and Intro Setswana are all interesting.
-We went to the US Embassy to get debriefed by staff. It was boring, but we did get invided to the assistant directors house to watch the inauguration, which was kind of her.
-There was a brief student strike at the university. Apparently every student gets money at the start of every month for whatever they want, but since the government is short on cash due to poor economy and lack of diamond sales, the students only got a portion of this money. So, some decided that striking would do some good, which it did not, as most students know that the government can't do anything. It was entertaining for a bit at least.

Beyond that, all is well. I've been here almost two weeks now, which is about 1/9 the entire stay here. So hopefully the rest of the 8/9 will be as mildly amusing.
Oh, and I can't seem to load any pictures on any website, anywhere or at anytime here. Its frustrating, but hopefully a breakthrough will be made. And soon.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Address

In case anyone feels like sending me anything, here's the address the note/package can reach me at. Apparently normal mail takes a long time, but DHL is quite fast, less than a week. Its probably expensive though.
Jeremy Shea
c/o Batsirai Chidzodzo
University of Botswana
Block 134-D
Office #039
Private Bag 0022
Gaborone, Botswana

Any little note would be amazingly appreciated.

Africa: Week 1

I'm here! This is the first time I've been able to access the internet since I've been here, but now I can get it often. It's pretty fast, which is a plus.
SO. I got into Botswana on Tuesday the 5th, flying into Gaborone on a propeller plane which reminded me of the one Indiana Jones uses. Stepping off the plane all of us were hit by the heat. We were met in the airport by Batsi, who is the program director here. We got our bags, of which only a few didn’t arrive, and then we drove to the place we were staying the next few nights. On the way there, we could see the small houses of villages that surround Gaborone. We stayed at this conference center (which had no internet) for three nights. During the days, we had orientation for the program.
These first few days I experienced pretty bad culture shock and homesickness. During the orientation I was told this was normal, but it seemed most people experienced this later on in their stay, not getting off the plane. All I wanted to do was go home. It didn’t help that the orientation people kept stressing safety, telling us of all the things which could go wrong in our stay here. However, after getting to know the other international students, as well as traveling a bit around the city and surrounding areas, I’ve been doing a whole lot better.
One of our first excursions was on the third night, when we all went to a village to dine on some fine cuisine. We feasted on pineapple and ginger juice, goat meat, goat stomachs, chicken, some green stuff, and tree worms. After eating, we participated in some traditional African dance, which was a whole lot of fun. The next day all the students moved into our dorms. We have 12 people in our program, from schools like Amherst, Harvard, College of Charleston, Oregon, Nebraska, and Johns Hopkins. We all are living in the graduate housing, which is like the apartments at Fairfield. There are 6 single rooms, with one shower, one bathroom, and a common room with a kitchen. They are very nice, as these are the only dorms which have internet access in the rooms. I’m living with two other international students, Max from Harvard and Alex from Nebraska. They are both quite interesting and fun people to live with. Max is doing AIDS research while he’s here, so he’s only taking two classses and working in the lab the rest of the time.
I am taking 5 classes, Intro to Setswana (the language), Intro to the African Novel, Politics of Natural Resources, Politics of Poverty in Southern Africa, and African Traditional Religons. I had my first day of classes yesterday, jam packed with the first four of those classes, and not one class was held. The first week of classes are not usually well attended, by either student nor professor, so while I showed up to all of them, the professors didn’t. I had my religions class this morning though, and it was packed with around 70 students. The professor is quite a character, very animated and loud, cracking jokes and urging us to participate during the semester. In the universities in Africa, this is very uncommon, as most professors simply lecture, not wanting any participation or questions from the class. This religion class should be fun though.
Two days ago we went for a hike up Kgali Hill, which is the highest hill around these parts. It took a while, as we had to stop multiple times to let people catch up and rest, but the whole way up and from the top, the view was amazing.
Now I’m sitting in my room waiting for Setswana class. Perhaps we will have it today.
Pictures will be coming soon, as it seems the internet works the fastest at night and early in the morning.