Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Memories: Year 1, Photos, Part 1

I've already given you a recap of my first year in Botswana in words, but I thought I should also give everyone a photo recap. Here is a collabe of my first three months of work in Botswana. I know, Prince William, children and wild animals are considered work. Tough life I lead, eh?

I spent my first three months working at the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust, primarily with its social development program, Coaching for Conservation, which teaches children about the wildlife and wild animals using football skills and drills. Last year was particularly exciting as we hosted an exhibition of our program for Prince William! After a month of tireless preparation, I fell deathly ill with a stomach parasite and missed the whole event!!! I was devastated. Fortunately, coworkers and friends provided me with photos. It doesn't ease the pain but it's nice to know my hard work paid off. The day was a fantastic success and maybe, just maybe, William will come back with his new bride.

*Side note: Prince Harry is constantly in Maun. Seriously, I'm always hearing, "oh, Harry's back in town." I've only ever seen him once but it's still pretty cool. He's treated like a local here and he's not considered a celebrity sighting. Anyhow, we also organize a weeklong Coaching for Conservation camp where over four days, we host 700 primary school children at the Maun Sports Stadium. It was a lot of work and a logistical nightmare but we pulled it off!

Working for a conservation organization has its perks, especially when your bosses own a research camp on the outskirts of the Okavango Delta. I was lucky enough to visit Wild Dog Research Camp more than once and witness the beauty and sheer size of open pans and floodplains of the Botswana bush. While I accompanied some of the researchers in the field, I was lucky enough to see up close and personal a leopard (pictured above. His name is Charles), lions, elephants, a wild dog den full of newborn pups and loads of other amazing animals. The great thing about going on a game drive with researchers is that they are tracking collared animals so unlike a regular safari, we could pinpoint the exact location of the animals we wanted to see and find them. It is truly amazing.

I hope you enjoyed my little recap. More photos of the following three months are coming up soon!


Friday, June 3, 2011

Hockey Night in Maun and New Hockey Vocabulary

I'm back in Maun after spending the last few months in D'Kar and going home to Canada for my brother's wedding. (An update on life, work, home, Botswana will soon follow but today's topic is of utmost importance!).

My return to Maun has been a homecoming of sorts. I've been reunited with my friends, Blair, Jude and Willis (my Botswana family) and my first job. Also back in Maun is my Canadian friend Kyle. Last year, Kyle and I worked together at the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust and helped plan a major event attended by Prince William! Well, he's back again and I couldn't be happier.

Kyle and I are house sitting a cavernous house on the river in the Tsanakona Ward of Maun which is a bit out of town. Although the house is big and beautiful, it is definitely lacking in character, charm...and warmth. Most of the light bulbs are burnt out and those that work seem to be permanently dimmed. The kitchen is huge with a big island in the middle of it but it lacks pots, pans and most basic cooking necessities and worst of all the house is FREEZING! Kyle and I bundle up in socks, sweaters, even tuques to try to stay warm. It's usually a losing battle.

On the upside, the house has a big screen tv and DSTV (the Botswana equivalent of a satellite tv). Since I moved to Botswana, I've yet to have a tv. I tend to read a lot or watch downloaded movies on my laptop. But the beauty of DSTV in June is STANLEY CUP FINALS LIVE ON ESPN!!!! That's right folks, in the middle of the desert, in sub-Saharan Africa, I, Emilie Tobin, am watching the Stanley Cup Finals. Live.

It doesn't matter to me that I must get up (or stay up) until 2 a.m. to begin watching the game and suffer through little sleep. It even doesn't matter that I'm watching the game on an American network, although it has taught me some new hockey terms. Listening to NBC play-by-play commentator, Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick and hockey analyst Eddie Olczyk comment on the game and offer their analysis is like listening to a really aggravating comedy show. Some of their one-liners are classics, while other times, they display a complete lack of insight into the game of hockey, that it's hard to believe one of them actually played in the NHL.

Here are some of my favourite lines of the night:

  • By far the best new hockey term is "knifing the puck." Doc uses this expression often (actually he uses it constantly) throughout the game so it's difficult to pinpoint what exactly he's talking about, but from what I've deciphered, "knifing" is when players are battling for the puck on boards and a player pokes the puck out to his teammate. 
  • Doc's second favourite line is "punching the puck." To be honest, he tends to use this line for a variety of plays so I'm not quite sure what the heck he's trying to explain. 
  • Timmy Thomas. His name is Tim Thomas so why do all NBC announcers call him Timmy? It's kind of effeminate don't you think? 
  • The Alex Burrows biting incident. Yes, he bit Patrice Bergeron AFTER Bergeron shoved his glove in Burrows mouth. I understand that it is a suspendable offense, but what I don't understand is why Doc kept talking about it instead of doing the play-by-play? TimMY Thomas stops Jannick Hansen on a breakaway halfway through the third and Doc and Eddie still bring up the biting incident. Get over it and let Brendan Shannahan deal with it. 
Despite these little annoyances, I am so happy to be watching live Stanley Cup Finals all the way from Botswana.

Go Canucks Go!!!!!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy Anniversary

One year. It's been one year since I first landed in Botswana, grumpy and jet-lagged after a 48 hour journey of flight delays and cancellations. One year since I left my much loved apartment and traded up to a riverside mansion. One year...

I would've blogged about my one year anniversary sooner but D'Kar hasn't had internet for a good three weeks, and when it did return, there were more pressing things to do, such as find out the Stanley Cup playoff match-ups and figure out the candidates in my riding in the upcoming Canadian Federal Election.

But I think it's important to take some time to reflect on the last year. It hasn't been easy. As I've indicated in this blog a few times and in numerous emails home, I've struggled adapting to Botswana culture and to the impact of the immense expat community. I've also questioned my career choice more than once and wondered whether communications is truly what I want to be doing with my life. I've been angered by the seemingly nonchalant attitude of many people toward the HIV and AIDS crisis in this country and frightened by the statistics that show new infections are on the rise. It is hard to work day in and day out in the HIV sector when it seems like all our efforts lead to nothing.

Despite all these challenges, I still managed to have a wonderful year. I met amazing people and have made some great friends (special shout-out to Sharon!). I've discovered that I really enjoy working with kids and teens despite my lifelong disgust with children. I've enjoyed wonderful trips to Victoria Falls, Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta, Tsodilo Hills, Namibia and Dog Camp with some great people. I fell in love. I ran 10 km for the second time in my life...and kept doing it almost daily. I've learned that I do not pick up new languages easily especially when "clicks" are involved.

I took part in the world's biggest sporting event and watched eventual World Cup champs, Spain, beat Paraguay in the quarter-finals. I lived with pets for the first time in my life. I survived without water. Not happily, but I survived.

Botswana has challenged, frustrated and angered me, but it's also inspired and amused me. I can't wait to find out what year two has in store for me.

I'm off to Canada in a few days for my little brother's wedding but come May, I'll be back in Bots, hopefully blogging a bit more than year one.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Weekend in the Desert

I spent spent my first weekend in D'kar last weekend. I know I've lived here almost a month, but I hadn't yet been able to spend an entire seven days in a row here because of work and personal commitments in Maun and Gaborone.

I don't know what I expected. My initial thought was that I would be bored stiff. What was I possibly going to do in the middle of the desert for an entire weekend? But upon further reflection, I thought that I would take advantage of being alone and clean, do laundry, maybe bake, go for a long run, etc. I told myself, it won't be so bad. And you know what? It wasn't even though I didn't do anything of things I mentioned above.

Friday evening came along and wouldn't you know it, there was a house warming party at a coworkers place. I went over around 7 p.m. to see if I could help with any preparations. I was put in charge of meat marinade, which I never do in Maun because Blair, Sharon or anyone one of my friends have such excellent recipes. So I did what any good chef does: I tried to replicate their recipes. It turns out I never got to taste my meat as we ran out, but from what I've heard, it was a hit. Not sure how much it had to do with my marinade or if it had more to do with the free meat!

I met a lot of great people, danced up a storm in the rain and helped Laura chase away children who were trying to crash the party. It's a sad sight to see kids no older than 10 crashing a party in the middle of the night. We tried to chase them away but they kept coming back. Eventually, they started throwing rocks at us. The thing that bothered me was that Laura, myself and Peace Corps volunteer Molly were the only ones who seemed bothered that children were crashing our adult party. I'm sure this happens all the time, but it doesn't make it right. By the end of the night people were quite drunk, a few fights broke out and eventually people were asked to leave. This is not the type of behaviour children should be witnessing. Children replicate what they see and what they see in D'kar is adults drinking, fighting and partying, exactly the type of behaviour they tell kids not to engage in. So, kids are supposed to follow the mantra "Do as I say, not as I do?"

The following day, I had grand plans of working, cleaning and laundry. I wound up sleeping and reading all day. I woke up early, made some coffee and started reading The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo. I'm officially hooked. By noon, I was almost done the book. I passed out from noon to about 3 p.m. and continued reading, not even taking time to shower. By 7 p.m., I had made a Greek salad and was off to Laura and Anna's for a yummy dinner of spinach-stuffed pastry, gemsquash and my salad.

Another party was underway that evening at the primary school, more specifically at a teacher's residence. It was labeled a back-to-school party and people were supposed to wear their school uniforms. I went to a public school in Canada so I never had to wear a uniform, but low and behold, I showed up at that party looking like my teenage self. The temperature has been dropping steadily in D'kar the past few days. The rain has brought cold winds and for the first time since I got here, long pants and a sweater are a must. On Saturday evening, the rain came and with it more cold, damp weather. I put on my jeans, pumas and a hoodie. When I looked in the mirror, I realized that I looked a lot like my teenage self, except my jeans were a lot tighter than in grade 9.

Quick side bar: In Canada and I think in North America, if people were asked to dress up in school uniforms for a party, I am willing to wager that 95 percent of the girls would show up in a "naughty" catholic school girl outfit, complete with skirt hiked up to leave nothing to the imagination, bare midriff and intense cleavage. The sexualisation of young women in North America is overwhelming and everywhere. In D'kar, I was shocked that no one played the "half naked" card. Girls wore gym uniforms, long pants and button-down shirts (that were actually buttoned!) and ties. There wasn't much flesh and I was pleasantly surprised.

The party was a lot like the one the previous night, except this time, no one was kicking out the kids. I wonder what they thought watching their teachers get hammered? D'kar is a tiny community and many of the people holding down jobs are not from here. Take my office for example: there's one American, a Canadian, a Dutch woman and two locals. Kids see that most jobs are given to outsiders so what hope do they have for their future?

I went home after little less than an hour at the party. A terribly drunk man spilled about three drinks on me while telling me he loved me. It really was like high school!!!!

I was ready to be productive on Sunday. I really was. But mother nature had other plans. A big storm hit D'kar Saturday night cutting off the power from about 4 a.m. I could not work as all my files were on my dead laptop, I could not wash because there was no water and I could not cook because I don't have a gas stove. So I went to Anna's and read. I finished my book and started the second in the trilogy. I made some food since she thankfully has gas and read some more. It was so relaxing. The power came back around 8 p.m. But the weekend was already over. I survived. Not only did I survive but I managed to enjoy myself.

Don't know when I'll spend another weekend here. I'll be in Maun for a funeral next weekend and Gaborone for doctor's appointment the following but I now know that I am perfectly equipped to stay in little D'kar all by myself.

Friday, March 4, 2011

An Unexpected Loss

It's been a rough 24 hours. One of my parents nearest and dearest friends, the woman who introduced them, passed away from cancer. It was quick and sudden, but thankfully she was surrounded by the love and support of her family. Jill was a funny, caring, quirky and lovely person who like me, had one of the worst laughs in the world. When I was young, she used to tell me to listen to her because she was the reason I was around since she helped hook up my parents. A mother of two boys older than me, she also told me that I was the daughter she never had.

I haven't seen Jill in quite a few years. She lives in Victoria and me in Ottawa, but I have never stopped talking about her. People in Botswana know who Jill and her husband Jack are. I'm not kidding. People who know me, know I'm a talker so when I get going on something that I'm passionate about, it's hard to shut me up. Usually, I'm babbling about hockey, but sometimes, a select few loved ones are mentioned and Jill was one of those people.

A few hours after receiving news of Jill's passing, I received word that two people I knew drowned after their mokoro was overturned by a hippo in Maun. Apparently, three people made it to shore but the fourth person did not know how to swim and struggled to stay afloat. His friend returned to the water to save him but in a tragic twist of fate, they both drowned.

I am a strong swimmer. I always have been. Swimming has always been a part of my life. I don't even remember learning how to swim. I simply remember that swimming has always been a part of my life. It is not the case for most people in Botswana, or in Africa for that matter. In Botswana, which is landlocked, most people never have an opportunity to learn. There are rivers but they are riddled with crocodiles and hippos. And as such, there are many drownings in and around the Okavango district.

At my old house, a few friends and I began giving swimming lessons to local kids and teens from an orphanage. Many were scared to even touch the water with their toes during the first lesson, but eventually, most of them overcame their fear and began to enjoy the water. They jumped and splashed and it was hard to get them to listen to our lessons as all they wanted to do was play. The purpose of the lessons was twofold. We wanted to give these underprivileged kids the chance to cool off during the blistering summer days, but we also wanted to teach them about water safety and hopefully avoid more tragedies like the recent drownings.

We continually remind the kids that water is dangerous and that they have to be careful. We taught them to float and hold their breath. None of these kids can be called swimmers today, but hopefully with a bit of practice, they will have enough skills to make it to shore.

In memory of Jill, Omgee and Buddha. Live life to the fullest. Don't be afraid to take risks. And make the most of it.


In mid-February, I left Maun and headed to the settlement of D'Kar about 300 km away. I knew this was going to happen. I knew I'd have to leave the relative comfort of Maun and head out to the bush. I won't lie. I was apprehensive. I've had it pretty easy in Maun. Sure, I didn't have any water my last two and a half weeks in town, but I had friends who thankfully let me shower at their place. I also always had access to a grocery store, ATM, restaurants and an abundance of friends; all things I would be lacking in D'Kar.

Despite my reservations, I arrived in D'Kar with a positive attitude and ready to immerse myself in work and the town. To be honest, I was a little happy to be out of Maun because I'd had the worst week ever the previous week. My first day went well. I arrived around noon after an uneventful bus ride from Maun. Laura, my new boss at Letloa Health, picked me up on the side of the road and took me to my new house. I don't know what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised. I've got a good sized kitchen, a big room and decent facilities. I even have water most of the time. And sometimes it's hot! Like boiling!!!! Its like heaven!

I'm working at Letloa Trust, one of the trusts that make up the Kuru Family of Organizations. The main goal of Kuru is to build the capacity of the San (they are also called Bushmen or Basarwa). There has been a lot of confusion and conflict about the fate of the San in Botswana. The San were traditionally hunters who switched to agriculture as the result of government mandated modernization schemes between 1950 and 1990. In the mid-90s, the San were forced off their ancestral land by the government who then utilized the land for tourism. The San were forced to give up their traditional livelihood and move to settlements. The relocation of the San has been a great debate in Botswana with support from some and disdain from others.. Kuru aims to empower the San and teach others about tolerance and acceptance of the San.

The goal of Kuru  is to develop a network of modern and professional development organizations with competent and responsible San leadership, facilitating a development process with marginalized communities to independently make informed decisions and to implement their own viable response to their situation.

I'm working with the Community Health Program which aims to prevent and treat TB. Although TB is curable, it is a lengthy treatment process and with many people living in isolated communities with no access to health care, it is a major killer in this part of the country. There is only a 59 percent cure rate in Ghanzi District where I work.

Letloa aims to raise that number to 75 percent in the next year. The first step is to bring the treatment to the affected communities. Through Community TB Care (CTBC), people in isolated settlements are gaining access to much needed health care. Not only are do they have access to health care in their communities, but they are receiving it in their local language.

There has long been a linguistic barrier between the health care workers and the communities they serve as many doctors speak English or Setswana. The San speak numerous traditional languages. The most commonly spoken language in D'kar in Naro. If, for example, a San from D'kar makes it to the hospital in Ghanzi, there is a strong possibility that they will not be able to communicate with the nurse or doctor. Since it already takes a lot of effort and time to make it to the hospital, many won't even bother since they are not receiving satisfactory treatment. Can you imagine walking into a hospital in Canada and you can't understand a single person working there? I know it happens to new immigrants and the older generation of immigrants, but in general, most us can leave the hospital with an understanding of what is wrong with us and how to deal with it. This is not the case for the San.

In partnership with local nurses and clinics, CTBC promoters ensure that TB patients receive and take their drugs daily. There are many patients who default on their treatment because they cannot make it to the nearest clinic to take their tablets. CTBC promoters bring the medicine to the patient in their homes. It is still a difficult task as many patients are not settled and move to farms or other settlements without telling the CTBC promoters. But it's a start.

The CTBC promoters do so much more than simply hand out tablets. They provide health talks to patients, family members and the community about TB symptoms and prevention, healthy living, the negative effects of alcohol while taking TB treatment and the link between HIV and TB to name a few. They test people for TB and encourage patients to test for HIV.

Community TB Care is working. Like any program, it has its challenges. We lack transportation to make it to the extremely rural settlements every month, there are still TB tablet shortages in the district as well as bottle and glove shortages to take samples. However, the program is growing and continues to improve. I am proud to be a part of its growth.

I used to fear coming to D'kar. I used to think this city girl couldn't handle herself in the bush. But I've surprised myself. Not only am I adapting, I think I'm thriving. I don't even dread the lonely nights as I've become accustomed to my nightly routine of running, showering (if there's water), cooking, working and reading. It's not even that repetitive to me. It might be a new found maturity (I recently turned 29), but I think it has more to do with accepting my situation and going for it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


A Uniterra volunteer in Nepal recently posted information about this amazing young American woman who is literally changing lives in the tiny village of Surkhet, Nepal.

I now obsessivly follow her escapades as she navigates being a principal, teacher, mother and caregiver to a growing number of children in one of the most remote places in Nepal.

She is truly awe-inspiring. I do not aspire to do what she does. I think I'm a bit too selfish, but this woman reminds me that I can do more than what I've been doing.

Oh, and she's 23!

Check our her foundation's website and read her journal entries: Blink Now Foundation