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Shawnda: First three days in Botswana

June 8, 2011

So, three nights in Gaborone and it still hasn’t fully hit me that I’m in Africa.  It is unusually surprising how similar it is to being back at home.  Riverwalk, the mall near UB (University of Botswana) is like any other mall you would find in the US.  There are plenty of grocery stores, clothing stores, banks, phone stores, etc.  It is a little hard getting used to paying in Pulas instead of US dollars, but it is fun.  We have eaten at Italian, Indian, and steak/rib restaurants, all of which were amazing.  The Indian restaurant, Embassy, has the best garlic naan.  Squash and beef are staples here, and pap, which is similar to mushy rice, is also very popular.  They eat a lot of fruit and vegetables as well, and everything is good.

The transportation is a little difficult to get used to, especially when I’m so used to Minneapolis transit systems which are on a set schedule.  Here, there ‘buses’ are called combi’s, which are vans that fit about 15 people.  They pick you up on the side of the road and you jump in as fast as you can and pack as tightly as you can.  It was somewhat terrifying our first time riding one on our own because we had no idea what we were doing and the locals were laughing at us, but so were we.  It is normally 3 pulas to ride, and you just yell at them when you need to stop.  Hopefully I’ll get used to it; it’s a great way to meet people.

The locals are incredibly nice too.  It is still odd getting used to being a ‘minority’, especially when you are walking around with 21 other white people who are confused and overwhelmed.

The weather is extremely similar to Minnesota’s spring.  The mornings are crisp and cold, probably about 40 F.  It gets warm and sunny pretty quick, around 8 am, and the days are in the 70’s.  It gets dark and cold very quick, however, because it is winter, so it is about pitch black at 6pm and a comfortable 40-50 (note: this could all be off by 10 degrees because I’m terrible at judging temperature).  No sunburns yet!  Hopefully I’ll come home with a little sun, it’s odd being probably one of the palest people in Africa!

We just got to the dorms a little bit ago and they seem very nice.  They are suite-style/dorm-style apartments.  Each apartment building has about three floors with two suites on each.  Each suite has 6 single rooms which are typical dorm rooms, there are 3 of us in my suite, with two other grad students I have yet to meet, and the 5 others are in the suite next door.  We also have a kitchen/living area with a fridge, stove, sink, and table.  There is also a shower room and small bathroom.  Everything seems very comfortable. They also have maids that come in once a week to clean.  My room has a lot of windows which is nice, so I think I’ll get a lot of sunlight.
It is a little odd having to go get our own food, especially when we are still a little unsure where to get it, but I’m sure in one or two days we will be pros.  We went to Riverwalk to get groceries and have a ladies night at Linga Longa.  Grocery shopping was not what we had hoped and ended up being much more confusing than we had thought.  We attempted to share everything and divide the cost, which turned out to be a very long process.  The store didn’t have sandwich meat which was a little odd.
Taxis were a disaster.  After I attempted to call for two taxis twice, and was hung up on twice, we finally were able to get through and have two meet us outside of Linga Longa in what we thought would be 20-40 minutes.  We got a call 20 minutes later saying to go outside, no taxis in sight.  A group of men asked us if we were getting a taxi, so thinking that was ours we said yes and went towards them.  They tried to help us with all of our bags and seemed a bit off.  Finally we realized that they were scamming us, so we asked them to drive their cars up so we didn’t have to walk.  Turns out they were pirating and didn’t have real licenses, which is illegal.  Finally our cabs showed up and for some reason they were in a huge hurry so we just had to jump in. We were told it would be 20 Pula…it was 40 and 30.
So, now we know to look out for scams and to not trust people so readily.  And to probably not get groceries at 9pm.  Nothing like feeling like a true tourist.Other than that, I am excited to cook big dinners together and have roommates, I think it will go well.
A full 6 hour day of class starts tomorrow, so we will see how it goes.
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