Living in Gaborone, Botswana as a young American woman is amazing, overwhelming, and absolutely exhausting. I’ve taken so long to write my first blog post here (sorry OGE!) because I simply cannot fit my experience thus far into an easily digestible 500 or so words. I’ve decided to compile everything I want my family and friends to know, in hopes that some of them actually read this post and that you find something useful amongst my ramblings.
- Monkeys aren’t cute; they’re terrifying
If I send you a Snapchat with a video of monkeys running around outside, it’s not because I think that they’re adorable. It’s because they are likely about to climb into my window, take my Cornflakes, and kill me. Don’t get it twisted, this Snapchat is a cry for help and possibly the last message you will ever receive from me.
- Don’t ask me “how is Africa?”
I have no freaking idea how Africa is. Do you have any idea how big this continent is? I have barely seen this country, let alone the entire continent. You wouldn’t ask your friend in Copenhagen how Europe is, now would you? Please look at a map and learn where Botswana is located. If I’m living here for four months, you can take a minute to figure it out.
- I’m not brave
Firefighters are brave. Mothers are brave. Americans who choose to study abroad in an African country are not, especially when that country has a stable democracy and is doing well economically. Maybe I’d be brave if I had to live in a hut, but surprise! I don’t!
- Fan issues are no joke
If I text you saying my fan is broken, the proper response is not “Oh well, I guess you will buy another one soon.” Rather, you should be ordering a SWAT team to rescue me from the incubator that is my AC-less room. That’s how hot it is here. I’m no wimp, but I did cry hysterically when I accidentally blew a fuse that in turn prevented me from using my fan for several days. But like I said, I’m no wimp.
- “Everything is ridiculous”
This is our motto. At least once a day, something absolutely absurd happens to the girls on my program to the point where we have a Google Doc to keep track of it all. My friend and I walked into a political science class on the first day and found it filled with 50 members of the Botswana Defense Force. University of Botswana considered changing the dates of our spring break two weeks before break (they didn’t, thank goodness). AirBotswana canceled my flight to Cape Town and didn’t tell me. I saw several elderly men’s buttockses one day in clinic and didn’t understand why because the conversation was in Setswana (later I learned that they were getting injections for STI treatment). Even though we only eat rice and beans, we get stomachaches everyday (and I look back on my first blog post and scoff at my concern regarding *if* I’d get traveler’s diarrhea. So young, so naive…). Just last week, we went to a nearby town to do a short homestay and found out upon arrival that there was no running water. And to top it off, I’m continuously plagued by the fact that friend’s roommate is 8 months pregnant, and despite my time observing in clinics here, I do not feel prepared to assist with a delivery on a dorm room bed.
I think it’s hard for anyone outside our bubble to understand the true meaning of “everything is ridiculous.” When I text updates to my family and friends, it just seems like a string of isolated events. In reality, we are hit with absurdities nonstop. You’ll think you finally made it through a day with no ridiculousness only to learn that the cleaning ladies are coming into your room at 7am sharp to wax the floors the morning you have a midterm and could really use an extra hour of sleep. But that’s just a hypothetical example and definitely not something that happened to me that I’m still bitter about.
- Living here can be extremely frustrating. This doesn’t mean that I regret coming here or that I’m not thankful to be here, but it’s the truth.
I’ve realized that when friends and family ask me how I’m doing, they want me to say that I’m doing great, that I love being here, that my life has taken on new meaning because of this experience (that last part is a lot to expect, but somehow many people expect it anyway). When I respond truthfully with something like “It can be tough sometimes but I’m really happy I chose to come here!” they respond “that’s amazing! I’m so glad you’re having such a great experience.” Um…did you actually read my message? Or did it get lost somewhere across the Atlantic? I understand that it’s uncomfortable to discuss the negative aspects of my day-to-day life in Gaborone. No one is ever in the mood to chat about Botswana’s deeply patriarchal society that empowers men to the point that they can stare at me, make inappropriate comments toward me, and cut me in the cafeteria line (this actually bothers me more than anything else because no one gets between me and my dinner) without anyone so much as batting an eye. It’s not fun to hear how often I get asked for money because many Batswana assume that Americans are rich (based on reality TV shows ─ thanks for nothing Kim K!).
I genuinely have not regretted coming here for a second. As someone studying public health in Africa, this program is absolutely perfect for me. I learn so much everyday. But sometimes I feel like my friends and family are checking a box by messaging me about my semester. They do care, but they don’t have the time or energy to deal with the realities of life here. It’s okay to not want to talk about them in detail, but I hope people can understand that it’s hard at times and not everything can be easily brushed off.
As I’m sure you can tell, this was much longer than 500 words, but I promise you I did my best. There’s a chance this will be my last blog post as I made eye contact with a monkey earlier and he is probably preparing to storm my room as I type this, but hopefully you will hear from me again soon!
(Photo is the view from Kgale Hill in Gaborone. Not a hill. Definitely a mountain. Everything is ridiculous).