Betsy and Mike – Welcome home – Welcome to Africa

Since Marion wrote about David and Maria’s visit, he asked me to write the blog post about our travels with Betsy and Mike.  So here goes.  I won’t just be writing about the places we went and the things we experienced, because for me it was all about being with my daughter, who I hadn’t seen in a year and a half.  It was about getting to know Mike, the man she has chosen as her partner in life.  And it was about sharing a once-in-a-lifetime trip together and creating an amazing memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Marion planned most of the trip with David and Maria, and it fell on me to plan Betsy and Mike’s.  Being the Botswana travel agent is a challenge.  Making reservations is a challenge.  You are affected by power outages, slow internet connections, or the internet just plain not working at times.  That goes not only for me, but for the people on the receiving end as well.  So the turnaround time on an inquiry can take days.  Completing a reservation can take a week or more.  Then you have to figure out how to send a deposit.  Not every place takes VISA, and if they do, there may be a hefty surcharge.  Sometimes you have to transfer money into their bank account, all the while calculating exchange rates.  Some just ask you to pay cash in the local currency when you arrive.  I spent a lot of time praying that things turned out the way we had planned, and in the end, just had to trust that my choices didn’t end up being a major disappointment.

I decided that I would have fun showing Betsy and Mike a variety of ways to travel.  I planned some cheapo travel, the Peace Corps Volunteer way, and planned some the luxurious American tourist way. Luxurious is a relative term mind you, when you live in rural Botswana. They said they were game for this, bought or borrowed backpacks, and came ready to embrace the journey.

They landed in Johannesburg, but went south and visited Cape Town for a few days before coming to Botswana.  They will have to tell you about that part of the trip.  Marion and I chose not to go with them to Cape Town, as we had traveled to Cape Town  in March, and wanted to save some pula for the rest of the trip.

Betsy and Mike arrived on a Tuesday.  We had arranged for an acquaintance in Mochudi to drive us to the airport to pick them up and bring them back home.  This is a splurge for us, as we normally take the bus or hitchhike to Gabs. The plane was late.  My mom’s heart was racing in anticipation of seeing my girl. Finally a South African Airlines jet taxied in.  Marion and I stood by the window to watch as passengers came down the airplane steps onto the concrete walkway.  Through the window, we spotted

Betsy and Mike and gave a wave as they walked past, headed to the immigration area of the airport.  A short eternity later, they emerged from immigration.  My sweet Betsy P. was finally here, coming home to me.

First stop, Mochudi

Mochudi is home to us and we see it as “normal”.  I wondered what Betsy and Mike would see with their “fresh eyes”.  Would they see our cute little Mochudi house with the same affection I have, or would they focus on the dirt yard, the cracks in the walls, the unfinished bathroom with no tile around the tub, and the tired, worn out government furniture that fills our sitting room.

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Break-in Attempt

Lately there has been a rash of scary incidents… including one of our own.

A German volunteer who works with Tish at Stepping Stones was mugged in Johannesburg. He was approached from behind by someone who threw their arm around his neck.  He was threatened and then robbed.  Fortunately, he was unhurt but they got his money and cell phone.

In Gaborone, a female Peace Corps volunteer was attacked only blocks from the Game City Mall by several muggers.  The Volunteer fought back, screaming and struggling, and attempting to scratch out the eyes of the muggers.  The victim must have been too much for them to handle as they dropped her and ran.  (Knowing Shannon, this does not surprise me in the least.)

In Kanye a few months ago two volunteers were mugged.  The attack was more violent than usual for Botswana.  One of the volunteers, a small young lady had her front teeth knocked out by the mugger.

These things happen from time to time (even in America), but they always happen to someone else, and we have started feeling complacent.

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Vacation with David and Maria – Vic Falls and Namibia

Continuing from the last blog entry, “Vacation with David and Maria – On Safari“, we pick up where we left off…

Leaving the animals of our safari behind, we drove to Kasane where we dropped off Bonne and Dandy.  Then it was on to the Zimbabwe border.  Lucky continued in the role of guide and escorted us to the correct lines at the Botswana and Zimbabwe border checkpoints where we each got our Zimbabwe visas ($30 each).  Lucky left his vehicle behind and arranged for us to be transported on the Zimbabwe side by a friend of his named Innocent.  Once past the border, Lucky introduced us to Innocent and his very comfortable SUV.  We were out of the open air truck for the first time in a week and the air conditioning felt nice.

Innocent drove us the 80 Kilometers to the city of Victoria Falls.  He is from Zimbabwe and answered all of our questions about Zimbabwe, their political situation (grim), and their economic situation (grim but improving).  I was aware that a few years ago they experienced a hyperinflation not seen since Germany in the early 20’s.  Per Wikipedia, at it’s peak, Zimbabwe’s inflation was estimated at 6.5 sextillion percent in mid-November 2008.  They abandoned their own currency altogether in 2009, and use other currencies.  Innocent told us that at the peak of the inflation one loaf of bread cost 50 billion dollars.  I bought some of these old Zimbabwean bank notes.  The largest denomination I found was 100 trillion dollars.

I didn’t have far to go to find the bank notes.  Zimbabwe has fallen on hard economic times and the Zimbabwean people in Vic Falls try to survive by selling to tourists.  Quite a few are selling the bank notes.  Even though it is against the law, wherever you are someone is coming up to you trying to sell something.  It is interesting at first but feels obnoxious after awhile.  Our instinct is to answer politely when someone talks to us, but the only way to get from place to place was to pointedly ignore these people and it didn’t make me feel very nice.

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Vacation with David and Maria – On Safari

My son and his wife came to visit us.  This is the most important thing to know… just that they were here with us again.  I could hear my son’s voice, pat him on the back and look into his face.  All the other fun stuff we did together was just icing on the cake.  I shed a few tears when I met them at the airport in Gaborone and also when saying goodbye to them in Windhoek, Namibia.

We had wanted to use the first three days of their trip to teach them about our lives here in Botswana.  We introduced them to our neighbors.  David and Maria loved the baby goats that happened to be next door.  We walked with them to “downtown” Mochudi to see where we shop, where we get our mail, where I teach at the library, etc.   The Phuthadikobo Museum is located a the top of a large hill near the main kgotla in Mochudi.  we took them there to see relics, documents and photographs showing the history of Mochudi and the Bakgatla tribe.  I also took David to my office to meet some of my co-workers at the office of the District AIDS Coordinator (DAC), and see where I work.

David and Maria also visited Stepping Stones International where Tish had made arrangements for David to give a brief presentation to the kids.  The kids loved David and Maria.  The last full day in Mochudi, we hopped on a bus in the morning and went to Gaborone where we looked at the things for sale in the “Main Mall” and treated them to a typical Botswana lunch, we also went to the Botswana National Museum.  They got to travel the way we do as well, walking, using combis and navigating the hectic bus rank to catch the bus back to Mochudi.

They got more than they bargained for I think.  We had several short power outages while here, and also the water was out for their entire stay.  Fortunately we had some water in storage that we managed to get by on.  They got to see what it is like to use a pit latrine, and take a “bucket bath” with very little cold water.  They were good sports and seemed to enjoy it all.

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7,813 Visitors Can’t be Wrong

The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:

    • Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
    • Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
    • Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Writing about our experiences in this blog helps fulfill the Third Goal of the Peace Corps which is to help Americans understand the people and cultures of Botswana.

Many of you have returned to read our blog posts since our Peace Corps adventure began, and we hope you enjoyed them.  Publishing the blog has been an educational experience for us.   I found the technical aspect to be interesting and not too difficult since my career was in IT and I am comfortable in that world.  The writing is more challenging.  Tish and I have tried to keep the blog posts interesting.  As we experience life here in Africa we are always thinking, “Would anyone be interested in that, would it make a good blog post?” 

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HIV/AIDS Successes and Challenges

Recently NPR aired a few shows telling about successes Botswana has enjoyed in its fight against HIV/AIDS.  A friend recently heard one of those show titled “Stunning Achievement Against Aids”, and asked me my opinion on it, as someone “on the ground”.  Needless to say, it goes WAY beyond the scope of one little blog post to discuss the entire 25+ year history of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the successes and failures along the way.  I do have an opinion though and I will share it here.

The NPR broadcast mentioned several successes including:

  • The Government of Botswana providing free Antiretroviral Therapy (ARV) medication and the immediate drop in deaths due to AIDS
  • Practically eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV with a combination of education and free ARV medication

Credit was given to former President Festus Mogae for much of this.  President Mogae was a great president whose excellent leadership has ensured the continued stability and prosperity of Botswana in the face of the HIV/AIDS pandemic which threatened the future of his country.  In a time when African leaders were more often poor leaders, dictators and tyrants such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe — Festus Mogae stands apart.

Certainly President Mogae gets credit for making the HIV/AIDS pandemic one of the country’s highest priorities, and for using his office to advocate for testing and behavior change to stop the spread of the virus.  He also gets credit for getting Botswana to use some of the wealth from their diamond reserves to help pay for the ARV drugs; and for providing access to the ARV drugs for all the Botswana citizens who need them.  President Mogae also lobbied the US for the return of the Peace Corps to Botswana to help with the crisis — this is why I am here today.

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Thoughts on the Fourth of July

The fourth of July came and went.  For me it was just another day in Botswana.   It was on a Wednesday.  There was no Peachtree Road Race.  No red, white and blue.  No cook-outs with burgers, baked beans and deviled eggs, watermelon, ice cream and Bud Light.  There were no fireworks lighting up the sky at night.  No music blasting, “I’m proud to be an American…”, in a deep country voice.

Living in another country has caused me to reflect on what it is about America that I really value – the things you don’t even notice when you live there – the things you take for granted.  I’m not talking about the luxuries we enjoy.  I’m talking about some of the goodness of our culture.

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The day I Met President George W. Bush

I turned 60 right before we left for Botswana.  During those 60 years I had only met two very minor “celebrities”.  The two I met were Howard Cosell and  O. J. Simpson (decades before his murder trial),  whom I met when I was very young.

Over the years I have met some people who were personal heroes of mine that would not mean much to most of you.  Highest on that list is Bill Booth, who is an accomplished engineer and inventor.  He turned his considerable engineering skills to making his hobby (and mine), skydiving, much safer.  He did so by inventing, among other things, the 3-ring safety release system, the throw-out pilot chute system, and the Sky-Hook RSL.  If at some point in your life you wanted to check “go skydiving”off of your bucket list, and did a tandem skydive, you can thank Bill Booth inventor of the tandem skydiving rig for that.  He revolutionized the sport for the rest of us who skydive and we revere him.  I met him at a skydiving boogie in North Carolina where he was demonstrating his Sky-Hook system.  I met him, got to try the Sky-Hook, I talked with him and even got him to sign my logbook.  A big day for me.

A funny story about Bill.  He owns and pilots a seaplane that was rented by Tom Cruise and used in the filming of The Firm.  Bill had a small part in the film, and took Tom to a nearby dropzone one day to go skydiving.  At the dropzone a young man nervously approached Bill and Tom asking for an autograph.  Tom Cruise assumed the young man was asking for his autograph, but it was Bill Booth’s autograph he wanted, he could not have cared less about Tom Cruise.

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