Archive for the ‘Shawnda in Botswana’ Category


Shawnda: Final thoughts

August 5, 2011

So…by the end of this trip I expected to be certain of which career path I was choosing and to be a different person.  I’m not sure if either worked out according to plan.

I think if anything, I have been assured that I am equally, and increasingly, passionate about medicine and public health.  I can see myself playing critical roles in both disciplines.  So, in the last month I have left of summer, I need to decide which death test I am going further in to debt for. 

I think I have yet to change many of my beautiful qualities:

  • I still manage to crave and drink massive amounts of coffee
  • I still have a ridiculous amount of dirty laundry; this time I’m still wearing it
  • I still hate spiders and feet
  • I am still obsessed with searching iTunes, and will go to drastic measures to do it
  • I’m still pale.

What has changed?

  • I like baths; preferably with 2 inches of hot water
  • I can fall asleep before 1 am

Some of the luxuries I missed from home:

  • Non-bran cereal
  • Not-rooibos tea
  • Pilot G-2 pens
  • A ridiculously large selection of notebooks
  • Blending in
  • Not being proposed to or told if my skin were darker, I would look like a Motswana with a “nice African figure”

What will I miss?

  • Street food
  • The exchange rate
  • Cheap groceries
  • Combis
  • Safaris
  • Being greeted by everyone
  • Speaking Setswana
  • Walking everywhere
  • Fatcakes, samp, pap, man sized lunch bars, and Toppers
  • Bull & Bush nights
  • Monkeys eating our food

Shawnda: A transition into reality…

August 3, 2011

I’m back to the real world…as if being in Africa was surreal or fake.  It felt like such an adventure that it couldn’t be real.  

Even after being back, my time there is such a blur yet set so vividly in my mind.  I was welcomed by what seemed to be the most comfortable temperature Minnesota has reached within the past few weeks; weather seems to make dramatic changes in my presence.  My jet lag is just beginning to hit me.  I woke up at 3am; it took me a minute to figure out where I was.

Mochudi? no

UB? no

Airplane? too comfortable for that.

U of M? possibly…

Home? oh yeah, right.

I was finally able to make pancakes; my deprivation was silenced.

The familiarities of home are hitting hard; it’s slightly too overwhelming.  Just as I began to feel at home in Gabarone, I’m thrown back in Minnesota.  My apprehensions of school, work, and my future are hitting even harder.  Deadlines are already coming up at the end of this week, emails are filling my inbox, and loans are still ever present in my life.  Adventures come at a price.

I wouldn’t trade in a single second spent in Africa, but my mind can’t possibly silence itself with all of these pressing thoughts.

And how do I even begin to explain how it was in Africa? What do I say to “How was it?”? I could spend hours detailing each and every day there; “amazing” suffices.

I think I can use a few days of relaxation.  Let’s just see if life allows it.

Back Home. Hello Lake Minnetonka. 

Shawnda: Where stoplights and lanes are optional

August 2, 2011

My first experiences in Botswana were those dealing with transportation.  It was our first ride out of the airport and we were on the left side of the road, going what seemed to be 80mph, and in a combi.  I was already anxious of finally arriving in Africa, and the lack of a speed limit or traffic regulations didn’t ease my worries.  A Zebras game had just ended at the stadium, and the streets were congested with blue and white fans, combis, taxis, and what seemed to be an unusual amount of Audi’s.  While trying to enjoy the scenery, all I could think about was how I wanted to slam on the breaks or steer the combi to safety.  Only 20 minutes through and I am about 98% sure we got in an accident.  We either hit the car in front of us or a traffic cone, but the driver seemed completely unfazed by it; TIA. 

After a less than positive start to driving in BW, we were then thrown on the combis to fend for ourselves at about 10 at night our second day.  Cramped into the back of the van, fumbling for pula, and unable to distinguish anything familiar in the dark, we were all terrified.  Luckily we made it to the Oasis Motel unharmed, but I think each of us were somewhat traumatized by the experience.

I can describe my many terrible taxi experiences, but they all boil down to about the same blueprint:

Taxi is not licensed. Taxi overcharges us. Taxi bottoms out on every speed bump (and if you were not already aware, there are probably 10 times as many speed bumps as people). Taxi man hits on us. Taxi almost hits pedestrians, animals, or other cars. Taxi follows up to two traffic laws out of about 50. 

Our trip to Serowe was not exactly a luxury tour either.  Our bus there was so full there were people standing in the aisles and sitting two to a seat.  You can imagine how hot it got.  Roughly 5 hours with no opened windows and only short blasts of “air” that lasted for literally 1 second every 7 minutes; we counted. The bus driver was a tease in every sense of the word.  To make it even better, I had two kids behind me hitting my head and pulling my hair for at least half of the trip; I don’t think I’ve ever so strongly considered pushing a kid off a bus.  The way back may sound like an interesting ride…but it was miserable at best.  5:30am, we were picked up outside of our cabins in safari trucks.  Most of us were underdressed, assuming we would make the 20km trip to the bus station in combis.  Nope.  We drove in the back of the safari trucks on the highway, about 20 minutes in below freezing weather and harsh wind.  By the end we were either in tears or complete shock. Safari trucks have slightly lost their appeal. 

My experience in an ambulance wasn’t much better, and was illegal in every sense of the word.  On one of the clinic days, Lizzy and I decided to observe home based care in Gaborone.  One of the male nurses arranged for us to be driven to the facility and told us to call when we needed a ride back.  Now, you would assume that if we drove a regular car there, we would drive the same back.  False.  We were picked up in an ambulance at peak traffic time.  With the three of us in the front seat, the driver attempted to dodge traffic by driving on the median to get into the left turn lane.  Well, sticking out in clear sight was a traffic sign…we assumed that he would have seen it like any other person on that road.  Yet another falsity.  He blew straight through the sign, taking off one of his side mirrors, scraping the passenger door, and taking out a side window…not to mention completely destroying the sign.  How can we not help but think it was our fault?  Clearly ambulances aren’t supposed to chauffer lekoa around Gabarone…but either way, we were indirectly blamed for the incident.   By the end of our time in the clinics, said ambulance was still MIA. 

But, my friends, the crème de la crème of transportation woes is our trip to and from Victoria Falls; never again.  The way there was sleepless, cramped, cold, and just odd.  We took an 11 hour bus ride to Kasane, Botswana which was both cramped and uncomfortably cold.  It began with a prayer for our safety…somehow not as comforting as it sounds.  We made several pee stops, but in the most remote areas with about 3 small bushes to do your business behind.  Our privacy was soon thrown out the window and traded for bathroom breaks.  2am and maybe 20 minutes of sleep, and we were stopped in the middle of nowhere to get off the bus.  Considering everyone was half awake, there was little explanation in what we were doing.  We had to walk through a puddle of chemicals, which we now know is for treating foot in mouth disease, thinking it was some spiritual adventure.  When we got off the bus we realized we weren’t even in Kasane, where our hotel was arranged to pick us up.  Luckily we got everything sorted out, and our trip across the Zimbabwe border was quick and simple.

The way back, however, is one that I hope no one will have to go through.  We went to the Falls with several alternatives to get back, but unsure of which to take.  We decided to take a train from Vic Falls to Bolowayo, Zimbabwe which is near the Botswana border.  Apparently we were the talk of the town, and everyone was gossiping about the crazy white girls taking a local train.  If only we knew this ahead of time.  The train first lost its appeal at first glance; but I kept “don’t judge a book by its cover” in mind.  That was thrown out as soon as we boarded.  The bathroom was a bowl with a hole in the bottom that emptied onto the tracks.  The emergency doors, despite their warnings to remain locked at all times, did not close, and freely swung open when the train was moving.  Let’s say going to the bathroom was a danger in itself.  The bedroom was not necessarily in sync with my expectations. 

About a 10ft x 10ft square, it had two ‘couches’ that each folded out into three layered beds with maybe 2 feet in between.  Confined doesn’t even begin to explain it.  Within our first minutes in the car, we managed to find several bugs…which soon led to plenty more; I was on bug patrol for the remainder of the ride. The train stopped at least 20 times, and went maybe 30 mph maximum.  The windows were frosted before the end of the night, and even if I were comfortable, the freezing cold kept me from getting anywhere near sleep.  I spent the night at the farthest edge of the bed, trying to avoid touching the wall where any potential bugs could be.  I managed to wrap myself in every layer of clothing I brought, yet still that was not anywhere near the amount I needed.  Getting off that train was the second biggest relief of the trip.  However, we soon realized we were stranded in Zimbabwe with no sense of direction.  Luckily, a local man opted to help us find a bus ride back, which turned out to be one of our most difficult tasks of the trip.

The 7 of us piled into his small car and drove around the town to each separate bus station hoping to find one going into Botswana.  No such luck.  Not only did most people not understand us, most places were not even fully running.  After an hour of driving around, we finally decided to take a combi to the border, walk across, and get a combi from there to Francistown.  The combi to the Botswana border was sketchy to say the least.  As we were driving away, our chauffer was trying to grab and stop the driver…we still don’t know why. You can imagine the kind of picture that burnt in our minds.  Luckily we made it to the Botswana border unharmed; the biggest relief of the trip. Touching Botswana soil, then having it cleaned off of our shoes three more times on the way back, was a luxury.  We arrived at the Francistown bus rink just minutes before the last bus to Gaborone was leaving.  The ride back was spent sleeping from exhaustion or trying to silence our minds from thinking about how badly we had to use the restroom.  Either way, we were on our way to Gabs finally.  We took the first taxi we could find at 10:30pm when we arrived to the station, and ended up piling into a minivan for only P30.  Peace.

The rest of my time in Botswana was relatively silent regarding transportation.  I always expect some kind of complication in the process, but that’s Africa for you.  


Shawnda: And life goes on…

July 24, 2011

“We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us” [John Steinbeck]

In less than 12 hours I will begin my long journey back to the tropical rain forest that is now Minnesota.

Saying goodbyes have never been easy, but even more so now.  I am leaving new friends and a new home.  I think no matter where I go in life, a part of me is permanently attached to Botswana.  My goodbyes are only simple “until next time”s or “I’ll see you again”s.  It’s so difficult to accept the fact that I may not see these people ever again.  We were brought together across the world, we have grown together, and have experienced the many trivialities of this country; it’s hard not feeling some kind of bond. 

Still, life goes on.  One day I will return, even if it’s in one year or twenty.  I’ve realized that it normally takes a great deal of difficulty getting to the places you want to go, whether it’s smelly flights or bug infested train rides.  But once you are there, your true journey begins. 

I have fears of leaving, fears of coming back to the US, and fears for my future.  I don’t as if my time is finished in Botswana, I’m afraid of how overwhelming the states will be, and I’m still unsure of what I will do with the rest of my life.  Maybe two days worth of travel will solve that…maybe not.

Expect some travel updates in the near future along with my last odds and ends from my time in BW.

Ke a leboga Botswana.  The lekoa will be back someday.


Shawnda: Victoria Falls

July 21, 2011

“But we have lived enough to know, that what we never have, remains; It is the things we have that go.”

[“Wisdom”- Sara Teasdale]

The holiday weekend served to be the perfect end to an unforgettable experience.  Seeing the largest waterfall in the world was a life changing moment in itself.  My journey to and from was a growing and learning experience to say the least.  If I wasn’t convinced before that I would come back to Africa, I surely am now.

We began our trip to the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls with a 12 hour bus ride to Kasane, Botswana.  With below freezing temperatures, bad headphones, and rock hard seats, there was little room for sleep let alone my legs.  It seemed as if we took the most inconvenient route to get to Kasane, while making multiple pit stops in the bush, with surprisingly the smallest amount of bushes to pee behind.  To make the trip even better, we were stopped at 2 in the morning to walk in a chemically treated puddle to treat for foot in mouth disease; the first of many instances. 

We arrived an hour and a half late and just outside of Kasane with no sense of direction.  We picked up a combi to the bus rink, where a bus from our hotel picked us up to go to Vic Falls.  A 35$ visa and 60 minutes later we arrived to the center of Vic Falls, where we could see the spray from the water in the distance.  We were dropped off at Shoestrings Lodge, which is the night club/backpacking centre/hostel/rosta joint of the town.  I finally felt like I was on vacation. 

Our rooms were camp styled hostels, with two bunk beds and leg room.  The lodge had an outdoor restaurant and bar, spa, and pool.  Most of the people staying there were backpackers and saunterers (reference from “Walking” by Henry David Thoreau, which I began reading on the bus ride).  We took a sunset cruise that night, which had unlimited drinks that we took full advantage of.  We were able to see hippos, crocodiles, and an elephant.  The ride reminded me of home on Lake Minnetonka; all it needed was 100 more boats and an Al & Alma’s charter. 

   We spent the rest of the night waiting for dinner and then catching up on sleep.  We began the next day with shopping in town and in the open craft market, beginning my home sickness for Gabs.  Zimbabweans are relentless sellers.  They will accost you on the street, and will not leave you alone until you are either outrunning them or deemed ignorant and unable to speak English; we settled for the latter.  After 20 minutes we were all irritable and uncomfortable, but we still trekked on to the holy land of craft markets. Imagine the State Fair grounds flooded with wooden carvings, small kiosks, and sellers screaming at you to come and see their work.  Multiply that by annoying, and you have the open craft market.  To make matters worse, I felt like my stomach was at war with my intestines and was on the verge of throwing up the whole time.  Maybe throwing up on a vendor would give them a hint that I didn’t want to buy their unoriginal wooden carvings. By the end of the trip we high tailed it out of the market yelling “no hablo ingles” and never looked back.

The afternoon was unforgettable in so many ways.  We took an elephant back safari, which was the most amazing thing I have ever done so far.  I got to ride Tatu, who I originally named Thor, with Steven the driver.  It was surprising how rough her skin was and how coarse her hairs were.  She was the oldest of the women and was a mother to the other elephants. Still, she had little manners and had no trouble ripping down branches and veering off track whenever she pleased.  We were able to see two lions, buffalo, kudu, and wild elephants throughout the trip.  At the end we got to feed the elephants and take pictures.  I don’t think I stopped smiling once, I felt like a kid at Disney World.  I was able to buy Tatu’s footprint, the proceeds of which go to the anti-poaching organization.

The rest of the night was spent at Shoestrings dancing and people watching, and moved to the Hunters bar until 2 in the morning.  I met some interesting people throughout the night, but can honestly say that I can do without a repeat.  When given the choice between clubbing in Zimbabwe and sleeping, I’d much rather sleep. 

We went to the falls the next day, an experience pictures and words cannot possibly do justice.  Standing at the edge of a cliff looking at the falls was breathtaking and overpowering; I have never seen something so unbelievably beautiful.  We were soaked from the spray, but that only made our time there more enjoyable.  I was able to stand just inches away from the falls, and with rapids and a double rainbow behind me, I felt invincible.  I’ll leave my descriptions at this, because you just have to go there to see it yourself.


Shawnda: Time is a luxury

July 12, 2011

“Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in ever way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever…” [Isak Dinesen]

“You can’t change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying about the future”

For some reason I am in a quote-y mood.  I just realized that the University’s wireless will let me search the iTunes store.  How have I missed this for so long?!  I have been so musically deprived; all the while I could have walked across the street and solved the problem.

My time here is certainly and quickly coming to an end, and I am not sure how to feel about it.  I can’t help but thinking about the luxuries I’ll be welcomed with upon my return to the beautiful state of Minnesota.  But I catch myself thinking, “How can I be so preoccupied with these thoughts when I am already in such a beautiful place?”  I do miss home, but I am sure as soon as I step onto the airplane I’ll be missing a second home. 

I can keep thinking about how unfair it is that I only have 7 weeks total, and only two more left.  But why bother, when I can think about all of the opportunity left within those two weeks?  I still have two more days in the clinic, a four day holiday weekend that will be spent in Victoria Falls, and plenty of nights to spend around Gaborone, not to mention 21 other people to spend this time with. 

I’m nervous for leaving a place I love so much; I know 7 weeks will never be enough, but I will make it into as much of an experience as I can.  Maybe this feeling of not being ready to leave will motivate me even more to come back.   I am trying to make every moment as enriching as possible, and to truly appreciate every second.  I know that there are things I miss at home, and there are things I will be happy to leave here, but it’s the same the other way around. 

Knock on Wood: But I am lucky enough to have evaded the flu that is circling around our group, traveler’s diarrhea, and chicken liver.  I have seen plenty of animals, none of which attacked me.  I’ve yet to have been stung by a mosquito.  I have only seen 3 spiders.  I have spent under 1,000 USD (let’s pray it stays that way). I haven’t gotten sun burnt and I don’t think it has gotten anywhere near 100F; I can’t say I’ve avoided attractive farmers tans, however.  And, luckily, the exchange rate is still in my favor.

Time will fly, but that is inevitable.  As long as I’m flying with it, I think I’ll be fine.    


Shawnda: A cold sanctuary: A rhino’s tale

July 10, 2011

“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded” [Ralph Waldo Emerson]

So, a bit of an update on the past few days:

We spent two nights at the Khama Rhino Sanctuary in Serowe, Botswana.  Although I enjoyed Mokolodi, this was a vast improvement.  We saw a wide range of animals including white rhinos, impala, springbok, birds, zebras, giraffes, wildebeest, warthogs, and jackals.  My pictures could not possibly do the Sanctuary justice; it was absolutely beautiful.  We did both a morning and evening game drive. 

To begin however, I think I should mention the trip to Serowe. Little needs to be said about our miserable experience.  A crowded bus, two kids punching me in the head, air conditioning that went on once every 10 minutes for literally 1 second, sweaty people, 4 hours. Unbearable.  But we made it.

We woke up bright and early to leave our dorms at 6am for our first game drive, spending the beginning hour driving in the biting cold and waiting for the sun to come up.  As soon as my camera had enough light to focus, we come across two giraffes on our right; I was sitting on the left side again of course.  My focus was terrible, but just sitting and watching such still and aloof animals sufficed; I made a mental image.  The drive alone was enough to satisfy me, our driver was wild and reckless, but it made for an interesting two hours speeding and weaving through the sandy paths.  Much of the land was cleared with scarce amounts of trees and bush throughout.  The land was brown and mainly leafless, with trees and hills bordering the outskirts.  Sprinbok were a hot commodity there; we saw multiple packs roaming and eating the elephant grass.  They almost appeared to be glowing against the grass with their white bellies and clean, brown fur.  Towards the end of our drive, we were finally able to see three rhinos displaying their rear ends for the majority of the time.  It was surprising to see how well they blended in considering their size.  They gave us a quick pose, all aligned perfectly in a row, then passed ahead of the first truck into the bush. 

We spent the afternoon eating brunch and then doing various activities.  Sarah and I spent some time taking pictures, during which I was able to use her 300mm super lens.  I honestly cannot believe I didn’t consider buying a better lens before I came here.  I had to stand back in most cases just to focus on something 10ft away.  We found a random playground in the middle of the bush, oddly placed if you ask me.  At 4 we were off again for our second game drive, which proved to be more exciting than the first.  We saw plenty more rhinos, a watering hole, of course more springbok, and little Pumbas running through the brush.  We were able to get out of the trucks and walk around enjoying the sunset and taking pictures.  Just standing on the ground and looking out at the sun was such an overwhelming feeling; I’m in Africa.

We ended the trip with an experience as unbearable as the arrival.  5:30 am and we were on the safari trucks, anticipating a combi ride to the bus station.  Instead, we hitched a ride in the back of the pickups 20 km and what seemed like 20 minutes on the highway in below freezing temperatures and feral winds.  Still, our first minutes in the trucks were somewhat memorable considering the breathtaking stars in the sky and cityscape ahead of us; but that was soon forgotten when the wind was cutting into our faces.  The stuffy bus never seemed so desirable.  Finally, we arrived at the bus station with runny noses, bad hair, and compromised immune systems.  The bus ride back was calm and cramped, but the warmth was more than welcome.

In the calmness of the loud bus, I began to think about the initial reasons of why I wanted to come here, and how I’ve been applying those to my experiences.  I still find myself at a junction, deciding between public health and medicine.  I am so passionate about both, and am still unable to choose between the two.  I know I want to spend my time helping and educating people on health. With medicine, I’m mainly terrified of the process and time commitment, but I just have an assured feeling that I would be happy in the end.  With public health, I know I would enjoy learning about disease, doing research, and educating the public, but honestly don’t see much promise in the job market.  Doing an MD/PhD is a possibility, but seems like too much time spent on my indecisiveness.  So, either way I am helping people, but whether I will be happier with one over the other, I am still unsure.

I ended the trip with a full appetite of African wildlife, broken headphones, a sufficient lack of sleep, and uncertain mind. 



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