This blog represents my personal reactions to my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer. It is not an official communication from the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Goat meat

The other day the District Health Management Team (the equivalent of a state health department) had a large all day training meeting. As I arrived that morning, there was a goat tied up to an old dead tree in the parking lot. He definitely had a resigned look on his face. I went inside and inquired for the reason our parking lot now had livestock in it. I was told that the goat was to be dinner for the meeting participants. The plan was to slaughter him (or her) in the field beside the building, skin him and then roast him for the dinner. By lunch time he was still alive, though looking more depressed than ever. I chose to leave before the preparations begin, because the slaughtering method is not exactly humane, and I have watched enough living creatures die to last me a lifetime.

Goat meat is eaten quite frequently here. It has a distinctive taste which some people love. It looks a lot like beef, with small bones in it. It may be an acquired taste, which I have not yet acquired. Plus I can't forget the look in their eyes. I am a city child.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Donkeys and poo

Botswana has donkeys. Lots and lots of donkeys. There are grey donkeys, brown donkeys, black donkeys and a few mottled ones. I am sure there are other colors as well. They wander freely about, munching on vegetation. The idea of a fenced yard is not to fence anything IN, but to fence things OUT. So good stout fences surround every house, with gates wide enough for vehicles. But the gates remain closed until specifically opened for a purpose. You can hear the donkeys early in the morning, and in the evening. During the day they mostly sleep, unless they are harnessed to a donkey cart. One of my pictures has to be the quintessential donkey cart. It may be a trailer like structure, it may be a wooden box on some sort of tires, but my favorite looks like the back portion of a pick-up truck.

Because they are not fenced, donkeys wander about on roads and highways. Motswana drivers automatically slow down when donkeys are sighted beside the road, because it is typical that they will wait until a large and noisy truck or bus appears and then decide to join their bretheren on the other side of the road. I have been a passenger on a major Sceini-cruiser type of bus, and seen donkeys lying in the middle of a busy highway, and they don’t move as the bus screams past. Why there are not legions of dead donkeys on the roads I do not know, but they are rare.

I am captivated by the baby donkeys - their hide is a long, baby fuzz. There is one in my neighborhood that is coal black - not a speck of white, and I want to take him home with me. Except by then he will be a grown up donkey, probably cranky, and transport will be an issue.

Needless to say, donkeys leave brown evidence of their presence. So do the cows and the goats. I shudder to say I can now identify which brown piles are from what sort of animal - ain’t the Peace Corps educational?

What I find interesting is the walking habits of Batswana in this environment. I am used to giving such piles a wide berth, wrinkling my nose as I go. But natives here stride straight ahead, and miraculously, they don’t walk in it. They may miss it by only millimeters, but miss it they do.

The Joys of Public Transportation

Peace Corps volunteers are forbidden to drive while ‘on duty,’ so we take public transportation. In my village, there are two basic shops (fodder for another blog entry), so I must take a bus for an hour to Jwaneng if I want to find a supermarket. Yes, Jwaneng is where one of the major diamond mines is, but I haven’t yet figured out how to get a tour.

Anyway, on my original subject, public transportation in Botswana has some differences to that in the USA (fancy that). First, buses are about the same size as American buses. However, they have five seats across instead of four. The aisle is for sideways sidling only, and if you are carrying your groceries (a backpack stuffed and probably a tote bag in the other hand), you invariably thump people as you go by. But no one seems to take offense. Body contact is common and unremarkable on public transportation. You will share your narrow seat (think of airplanes as spacious) with people ‘of traditional build’ as they say. People will stand in the aisles, and to pass in the narrow space it takes, well, body contact. Full body contact, from shoulders to knees. Just part of the experience. If you have an aisle seat, it is not uncommon for someone with an ample posterior to have that posterior inches from your face, as they try to let someone past.

Buses are also a sales ground. At each major bus station, there are vendors selling cold water bottles, chips, food of various types, huge bags of oranges, and they will come onto the bus during the stop to sell their wares - yes, and go up and down the aisles as noted above.

On my trip to Maun for shadowing, we were on a bus when an older woman made her way to the front of the bus leaned down and said something to the driver. The driver slowed the bus, then turned onto the shoulder of the road. This is a highway where the common speed is 120 km per hour. The lady got off the bus, squatted down with her skirts modestly spread, and after a moment stood, rearranged her clothing, and then got back on the bus. About an hour later, another passenger came forward, and this time about 12 men got off, faced away from the bus, took their potty break, got back on, and off we went again. I had carefully rationed by water intake in preparation for this trip, but it seems others had not.

Another form of public transportation is the oft mentioned ‘combi’, a minibus used in the larger metro areas. For three pula, you can catch one on any number of routes and get about quite handily. Of course, body space is at a premium. I have ridden in them with a total of 14 people plus driver - two in the front with the driver (in the bucket seat), and four across in another three rows. Add in groceries, luggage, children, and body contact is again the order of the day. On a hot day, breathing is your task until you get to your destination. But everyone is cordial and cheerful, and will help you with packages, and pass your money to the driver and the change back. If space is really short, someone will take a child, not necessarily their own, onto their lap to make room.

Many people here use the public transport system. Cars and expensive, and most are owned by agencies or businesses. Getting a driver’s license, I am told, is a long process, so you meet just about everyone on the bus or the combi at some time or another.