Friday, May 6, 2011


Hey, so there is a new post below that you should check out, but I wanted to quickly mention that we have a bunch of extra t-shirts from the tournament and we are selling them and giving the proceeds to Stepping Stones (an NGO described in previous posts). If you would like a shirt, I could just buy one for you and then give it to you whenever I see you or send it to you once I'm home (depending on where you are). The shirts are only $5 USD. I need to know if you want one by Tuesday, because that's when I'm leaving Gabs. If you want one, leave a comment on this post with the size you want (sorry, only M or L). Or email me at Thank you! Here are some handsome models wearing the shirts and a more detailed view of the logo:

lesotho, part 1

In between the end of classes and the beginning of finals we had a nice big window with no commitments, so a group of five of us decided to go on an excursion down to South Africa and Lesotho and then up to Victoria Falls. The story really can't be told without the pictures from the trip, but while I'm waiting on the photos, I thought I'd throw my journal entries from the trip up on here as a teaser. enjoy

After a marathon drive yesterday during which our friend Bryce was an extremely impressive driver and leader (a theme that continued for the next 11 days) we got into Sani Lodge Backpackers in the Drakensburg Mountain National Park of South Africa, just southeast of Lesotho. We arrived at 8:50 pm, leaving us just enough time to check-in before reception closed at 9:00 pm.

We set up our tent in the dark, which was quite the feat, and loaded it up with blankets and sheets. We moved to the kitchen/common room and heated and stirred together our preemptively cooked pasta. We sat around a table in the common room with a fire glowing and fellow backpackers resting and relaxing. It was Good Friday and as such, a group was reading bible verses out loud to one another. We stayed up telling stories and playing cards. Bryce fell asleep on the couch and eventually the rest of us started to fade and so the boys and I retired to the tent and the girls headed for the car.

The night air certainly had a bite to it – we could see our breath and my three layers of clothes still left me shivering.

The next night Derek, Audrey, Katie and I started a game of Spaids that, little did we know, would last for the entire 11 day trip.

Fried bratwurst and beetroot and macaroni for dinner…

Sunday, April 17, 2011


The national paper here in Botswana ran an article about our tournament today. If you shoot me an email
I can send you a scanned image of the article, but it should also end up online, and I'll try to post the link
when it does.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Lose the Shoes, reprise

Group shot with the top four teams. A couple kids
from Stepping Stones woven in.
In a word, it was amazing. In true Botswana style, many things happened at the very last minute, and I was very nervous that everything was going to fall apart but somehow it worked out. The morning of, when we first got to field at 7 in the morning the gate was already open (which hadn't been a guarantee) and a crew from Standard Chartered was already setting up gazebos and flags and banners and tables and chairs. So it was off to a good start.

Advertising banner on campus
I ended up having to run around with one of our directors all morning buying meat for the braai, buns for the meat, ice for the coolers, charcoal for the braai and water for the players. The cool thing was that we got the meat and the water at half price thanks to the generous support of the The Butcher Shop (subsidized sausages) in G-West Industrial and Moghul Catering (subsidized water), which is the company that runs one of the refectories on campus.

I got back just in time for the games to start. The other student volunteers were doing a great job registering teams and distributing t-shirts and fresh watermelon that fellow exchange students had selflessly sliced and pack for us the night before. We had 17 total teams register! Although we were ready to handle 32, 17 was more than we could have hoped for, after we only had 7 or 8 that had pre-registered.

Organizing committee joined by a German
participant (in white) and a rep from Standard
Chartered (in the glasses)
A student DJ was playing the whole time and he had two cordless mics that were incredibly handy. Kids from Stepping Stones (the NGO receiving the proceeds) were there and we introduced them to everyone. Once the players realized who the kids were they started mingling and kicking balls around in the free space. We had raffle drawings in between every round of games and we let the kids pick out the winning names. We took a break halfway through the day and six of the kids got to play a 3-a-side game on the main field while all of the players and volunteers cheered them on.

The champions! The blue shirts are the prizes they won
The sun started to come out part way through the day, which brought on the sweat, but also the smiles from the players. Everyone kept saying they were having such a good time and everyone was obsessed with the raffles - Standard Chartered Bank supplied nice Liverpool polo shirts and t-shirts and mini soccer balls and caps. It was really cool.

We sold sausages at P7 (to undercut the vendors’ price of P10 at the North Gate) and they were a hit. We sold over 100 of them.

Eventually we got down the championship game and it was pretty exciting. The eventual runner-up scored first, but the other team came back with 3 unanswered goals. They were great sports throughout.

We publicly thanked Standard Chartered for making it all possible and one of their representatives got to award the winning team their UB soccer jerseys (retail value of P200) which were donated free of charge from the UB souvenir shop.

Overall it was a real success and not a day soon to be forgotten.

More pictures to come! And let me know if you have any questions about the tournament - I'm sure there's things I forgot and I would love to talk more about it.

Don't even remember what I had for dinner - I couldn't stop thinking about how much fun the day had been...

Sunday, April 3, 2011


So far I’ve focused all of my posts on trips that I’ve taken and other things that I thought would be the best reads, but perhaps its time that I talk a little bit about what I do while I’m at school.

I’m taking four courses this semester – two of them are courses at the University of Botswana (UB), and two are run by our study abroad program director, Phoebe.

One of the courses that I’m taking at UB is the local language, Setswana, which I’ve mentioned before (and there isn’t much to update). The other is a course in human physiology, which I’m taking with my good friend Derek, who also goes to Macalester. The physiology course has been a growing experience not so much in the curriculum we cover but in learning to cope with a fundamental difference in grading rubrics and student-teacher dynamics between UB and Macalester.

I perhaps take it for granted that at Macalester professors are always willing to talk and answer questions and develop relationships with students. Moving to UB where there are 15,000 students (compared to Macalester’s 2,000) and being in a class of 150, the professors (one lecturer and multiple lab instructors) are swamped and on multiple occasions when Derek and I have tracked them down outside of class they have explicitly said, “don’t talk to me right now; maybe come back tomorrow.” That was a new one for me.

So as Derek and I try to adjust to a new system, the lack of communication with the professors has made it especially difficult. But we saw it as a challenge and continued to do our best work and attempt to connect with the professors. And we’ve had some success; at least one of the professors knows our names (doesn’t hurt that we’re the only two white kids in the class) and our grades have vastly improved as we have been molded into the UB grading system. We now know to never indent the beginning of paragraphs (“no scientists in Botswana indent their paragraphs”) and that if a question is worth 10 marks then the answer is expected to contain 10 separate statements of fact.

The two classes independent of UB are: The Biology and Public Health (BPH) of Tuberculosis (TB), Malaria, and HIV and the other is a guided Independent Research Project (ISP). Both are taught by Phoebe and have proven to be major highlights of the semester.

The BPH course is refreshingly rigorous. We get healthy loads of reading to prepare us for a three-hour class every Friday morning where we get into deep, scholarly discussions about pressing public health issues. Phoebe is a microbiologist by training, so often there are technical biology lectures and as a Bio major, I revel in them. A friend of mine put it well, when Phoebe gets into the Bio and starts talking really fast and covering a ton of interesting material, it makes you feel at home.

The course is broken down into three parts: for the first month or so we covered just about every possible aspect of malaria, then moved onto TB, and we are currently in the final unit on HIV/AIDS. The HIV unit has been made especially riveting, as there are a handful of local people in the class that have indispensable firsthand knowledge about behavior and trends in Botswana.

The course was brought to another level last Friday, as we had a guest speaker who was HIV+ and spoke openly about her status and how it has affected her life. She was inspirational, to say the least. She has taken an alternative approach to dealing with HIV, as she doesn’t take ARVs, but chooses to eat healthy and employ positive thinking to deal with the infection. She wryly said that HIV is the best thing that ever happened to her, and went on to explain that it has made her step back and think about what life is really all about. She volunteers with home-based HIV care services and spreads her message of positive thinking and healthy eating to all she meets. We all appreciated her talk, and I’m sure everyone learned a thing or two from her passionate words.

The ISP course has also been a facet of the program that I have been happy to pour energy into, as it one of the few avenues where I feel I can be really productive, and it’s one of the main things I’ll have to show for all of my time spent here. My research question is whether or not urbanization correlates with increased risk in sexual behavior among students at UB. I’m interested in this question because Botswana has an anomalously high HIV prevalence rate (it has the strongest economy and the broadest intervention programs in the region, yet has the second highest prevalence rate). So I want to see if a unique aspect of Botswana, its high level of urbanization, has helped create the anomaly.

My research is quantitative in nature and is based on a survey. So far 375 students have responded to the survey, out of a goal of 373, so I’m feeling pretty good about it. The next step is analyzing the data; I’ll let you know what I find. (There is a lot more about the study that I’d love to talk about – if you’re interested you should leave a comment or email me)

Saving the best (but most stressful) for last, I’d also like to give an update on the soccer tournament that Derek and I have been planning. After two frustrating months of trying to secure of venue and being maddeningly rejected and redirected by various places on and off-campus, we got the Botswana Football Association to let us use their national training field (which is right across the street) free of charge! I guess hard work really does pay off.

We also got the t-shirt completed last week, and will be filled in time for the tournament. The souvenir shop on campus has given us discounted soccer jerseys to serve as prizes for the winning team, and we’re hoping that the catering service that runs the cafeteria will donate refreshments.

The tournament is on Saturday, April 9th and is called “Lose the Shoes”, as the kids will play barefoot. It’s a 3-on-3 format and is a fundraiser for a local NGO called Stepping Stones International, that works to empower orphaned and otherwise at-risk youth. Kids from Stepping Stones are going to come to the event to help out and get to play exhibition matches with some of the UB students, as to create a tangible connection between the participants and the kids they are supporting. We’ve booked a student DJ and HIV counseling and testing services are going to be provided. As one of our committee members said last week, “I think it’s going to be a day to remember.”

I should have a bunch of pictures and news on the tournament by next weekend.

A side note: My flatmate taught me how to make phaletshe (pah-LAY-chay), which is a traditional food made of maize meal. It’s a bit of an acquired taste, but I’ve had it a bunch now and I’m hooked.

Chili beef and vegetable stew with phaletshe for dinner…

Saturday, March 26, 2011

spring break, part 2

The next morning we loaded up the trucks for our excursion into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. We kept asking the drivers how long the drive would be, and we couldn’t get a straight answer. Our driver said nine hours but then all the other guides laughed, and then another said two hours and there was more laughter. So we decided it best to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

With a stop for lunch, the trek ended up taking about seven hours. Geographically it might not have been that far, but half of the trip was over dirt roads pocked with unexpected ruts and bumps, keeping our speed in check.

We finally arrived at our “campsite” – there are no designated camping areas; our guides just picked a spot with some open space and decent tree cover. We set up camp while the guides rustled up another too-good-to-be-camping type of meal over an open fire.


That night we got a briefing on a few safety things: wear long pants and closed-toed shoes on account of the scorpions and snakes, don’t make the walk to the pit-latrine at night, and so on. Little did we know just how pressing those words would become.

The next morning we went on a game drive at the crack of dawn. Just as in the Okavango Delta, the experience in the Kalahari was completely different from other game drives on which we had been. The reserve is hundreds of kilometers across, and so it was basically open wilderness. We saw herd after herd of springbok and gemsbok, as well as wildebeest and suricats.

That afternoon we heard lions roaring in the distance, and so on our evening game drive that night, our guides went in search of the pride. And we had success. Just as the sun was beginning to set we came upon one male, two females and two lion cubs. They were relaxing in the shade before their nighttime activity.
Suricat family

We headed back to camp before the sun was down and apparently the lions followed us back. That night the pride of lions came into our campsite! One of the cubs dragged away one of our tarps as a new toy, and a student stepped out of her tent to use the bathroom, scanned the bushes with her flashlight, and saw the reflection of two lion eyes not twenty feet away. We could hear their calls, too. One would call from one side of the camp, and then one would respond from the other so we knew we were encircled.

It was nerve-racking, but our guides handled it like veterans. They never showed a hint of fear, and reassured us that the lions weren’t interested in hurting us. We were told to remain in our tents for the rest of the night, though, which was advice obligingly followed. In the morning the guides used the trucks to subtly usher the lions away from camp.

The next day on the evening game drive we tracked down the lions once more, and got an even closer view of the pride. The cubs were adorable – pawing at each other and rolling around as the mom watched their antics from beneath a tree. The father stayed covertly behind some bushes, but every once in a while would raise his head to yawn or survey his surroundings, and he was majestic, indeed. With a full mane and a filled-out, muscular frame, he was a dominating presence. We heard the lions again that night, but they weren’t inside of our camp, so everyone slept a bit easier.
Me and the lion

The trip was very relaxing. Everyday consisted of a morning game drive, followed by a schmorgasboard of delicious lunch options, then a four hour break to socialize, read, nap, play cards and just beat the heat in general. Then came a shorter evening game drive where we tried to work up our appetites for the dinners of consistently delectable and monstrous helpings of food.
Lion cub

After four days of that, I was accustomed to the laidback lifestyle, and definitely wasn’t ready to get back to the grind of school and everything that came with it, but we had to go back eventually. The drive back to Audi Camp was much quicker on the way back (or maybe it was all in my head) and one thing I didn’t mind about getting back was taking a proper shower.

We spent one last night at Audi Camp and headed back to Gabz in the morning.

One more three-course meal at Audi Camp for dinner…