If you have never been to Africa, what you think Africa is – it isn’t. Erase all pre conceptions because all of mine proved to be misconceptions.
I have just arrived but already my western education of African life has been challenged. I am living in a two bedroom flat in a six-unit complex which is a five minute walk from a large shopping centre. (Nowhere near a mud house without running water). The shopping is more fruitful and more diverse than what is available to us at the Exploits Valley Mall. There are several sports fashion stores, women’s fashion, shoe stores, grocery stores, even a Woolworths for those who remember Grand Falls-Windsor pre-Wal-Mart. Tuck stores are very popular in the streets, where locals purchase candy, bubble gum or maybe an orange or banana. All the merchandise comes to Botswana from South Africa – home of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The transportation infrastructure can barely keep up with the numbers of cars and combies (13 seater taxi vans). People drive fast here, main roads see 80, 90, 100km/hour no problem and highways see +200km/h. They would drive faster if they could, but there are so many cars that the road that size forces them to driver slower. You can imagine trying to cross the road, the cars do no stop for people. Adults and children alike, weave their way across the street.
The language of the people is Setswana, a tonal language that I’m having a difficult time picking up. Locals also know English, but English is the business language and chatter is mostly in Setswana. People have interesting names, many when translated to English represent emotions or feelings such as love or grace. Just yesterday I was given my very own Setswanan name – Masego (mah-say-ho) which translates to ‘blessings’ in English. I was named by, Bagenne (bah-ha-nay), a gentleman who explained his own name to me. He said that his family had been hoping for a girl but because he is a boy, his given name means ‘they have refused.’ We often joke with Bayanne in the office. He has been gracious and kind to me and he is always speaking to me in Setswana. He says I will understand 70 per cent before I leave – I hope to prove him right!
I guess the most astounding realization here is local perception (or lack of acceptance) of HIV/AIDS. Botswana has the highest rate of infection (25 per cent) in the world, second only to Swaziland. Yet, one sees no signs of HIV/AIDS. Speaking of the infection seems a taboo. There are occasional advertisements, bill boards, TV ads or newspaper clips promoting safe sex. But other than that, it’s pretty much not talked about. A friend of mine mentioned that he was at a funeral for someone who was HIV positive and had recently passed away. The local people told my friend that she died of “low blood pressure.” Even though her illness and death was AIDS related, it’s not talked about. I’m hoping to learn a little more about the sexual health culture during my time in the centre of southern Africa and will report back to the centre of the Newfoundland.
Kagiso le lerato!
Grand Falls Windsor native, Sarah Furey, is volunteering on a HIV/AIDS communication project with Botswana Family Welfare Association in Gaborone, Botswana, Africa, for six months. She received her Bachelor's of Information Systems from St. Francis Xavier University and is exercising her skills as a technical assistant. Her internship is funded by CIDA (Canadian Intercultural Development Agency) in conjunction with The Coady International Institute. Questions or comments are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.