Archive | October, 2012

The High Incidence Rate of HIV in Botswana

31 Oct

Botswana is an upper-middle income country with a strong push for education from the government. All students can attend a public, or government sponsored, school until Form 3 (equivalent of Grade 10) and then they write examinations. Students with passing grades are then sponsored by the government to go to Senior Secondary School for Form 4 and Form 5. Students may then apply to attend the University of Botswana, and successful applicants are sponsored by the government. The Government of Botswana spends 8.9% of its GDP on education (compared to 4.9% in Canada).

So why does this educated country with a strong economy have the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world? Even after both private and public sector attempts to educate the population and mitigate the spread of the disease, why is the incidence rate of new infections a staggering 2.9%? I asked “In your opinion, why does Botswana still have such a high HIV infection rate?” to coworkers, friends, and acquaintances. I tried to ask a mixture of both men and women, but I only felt comfortable asking a select few men, so only 3 of the 11 responses are from men. These are the answers I received:

  • “Our culture promotes cheating.”
  • “People, men especially, don’t feel guilty about cheating.”
  • “It’s almost like people have gotten so used to it that they’re proud of it.”
  • “Men rely on women to get tested – if their partner is negative, they assume that they are also negative. If their partner is positive, they just assume that they are positive as well.”
  • “The free condoms that the government gives out are crappy condoms.”
  • “Men don’t like wearing condoms.”
  • “Men take off the condom in the middle of sex.”
  • “Men are smooth-talkers and try to convince you to have sex with them because they don’t have HIV. If you ask them to go to the clinic, then they will just stop talking to you.”
  • “People will use a condom when they are having affairs, but they think that they don’t have to use one when they have sex with their main partner.”
  • “If a woman asks her boyfriend or husband to use a condom, then he will assume that it is because she is cheating on him. So she doesn’t ask because she is afraid she will be beaten.”
  • “Even if you go to the clinic with your partner, the test is 3 months old, so one of you might be positive and you wouldn’t know. Then you have sex with your partner and get infected,” (in Botswana, the HIV test given at clinics tests for the antibodies not the actual virus, which generally take about 3 months to become present in the blood stream).

The two trends I noticed in the answers were: people have multiple sexual partners, and women do not feel safe to negotiate safe sex. I have been told that both of these are “cultural”. Are they cultural, or is that just an excuse to continue the behaviour? How can this mindset (or culture, if you buy that) be changed?

I don’t have any of the answers, but I look forward to discussing this issue, among others, next week. I have the opportunity to represent Gantsi Craft at the forum for Reinvigorating the Gender Movement in Botswana. This national forum is a chance for organizations across the country to discuss and collaborate gender issues within the country. I am hoping to come away with a greater understanding of the issues facing Botswana and ideas on how to facilitate gender and HIV workshops within the producer settlements.

*Statistics on Education Expenditures from the CIA World Factbook

31 Oct

finding development

Alright, by this point you should all know my stance on gender equality, women’s rights, human rights, etc. I’d say I’ve been pretty vocal. I have also been fairly polite about it (according to others).

This is going to change. I’m livid.

Women’s rights are human rights. Women do not spontaneously become pregnant, it’s really not a solo act. A man’s presence is involved in some way or another.

Do you believe in human rights? Do you believe that women are capable? Do you respect your mother, sisters, female friends? Do you enjoy making decisions about your life (i.e. what will I have for breakfast, do I want to read a book, should I wear a red shirt today, etc.)? Do you doubt the intelligence of the women you know?

If you say you respect women and if you understand what respect actually means, how can you promote actions…

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Pick-up Lines: The (Not so) Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

30 Oct

Since moving to Botswana, I have met some really great people. I have also met a lot really seedy men with even seedier lines. Here are some of the lines I have gotten so far:
“I want to be your special friend… do you know what I mean, special friend?”
“Hey white girl! I want to come visit you at your house.”
“Come to my home in Harare and I will teach you how to swim.” (this one is particularly great when you know that I have competed both provincially and nationally at lifeguarding)
This one from a middle-aged woman: “You are how old? 21? My youngest son is 24 and he still needs a wife. How many cows do your parents want?”
This one from a drunken man, who is mumbling in broken English and can barely stand straight: “I sit beside you? I just want to know you.”
“I have (insert number here) cows. How many cows do your parents want?”
“Buy me a drink?”
“The best way to learn Setswana is from the pillow.”
“If you kiss a Motswana, then you will know how to speak Setswana.”
“I am looking for a mother to my son – maybe it will be you.” (My response to this: “How old is your son?” “14” “And you are how old?” “35” “Your son is closer to my age than you are.” “Oh…”)
“Actions speak louder than words and I have tried to show you that I want to be your friend. And your lover.”
I had became really close friends to a Motswana boy in Kang, and when he left early, other men took it as an opportunity to hit on me. These are some lines I got: “Can I take care you the way he did?” “He blew his chance to date a white girl! If it was me, I would marry you,” “He’s not coming back. But I can make you come. Do you know what I mean, come?” (Yeah, class act that last one. I played dumb.)
Well there you have it! My fellow indevours and expat friends – what lines have you all gotten so far?

Workshop in Kang

30 Oct

I spent the majority of the month in October working at a skills workshop in Kang. The block training workshop was part of a government initiative to give marketable skills to students with physical and mental disabilities. I went with my supervisor and one of Gantsi Craft’s producers (and her adorable child) to teach a group of 12 students how to make ostrich eggshell jewelry. Other skills that were being taught at the workshop included recycled crafts, pottery, horticulture, hospitality and flower arrangement.

Here is the production process that we taught the students (please visit my Tumblr for pictures of each step!):

Step 1: Break the ostrich eggshell into shards.

Step 2: Break the shards into small squares and triangles. These new pieces (the beads) should each be approximately 0.5cm x 0.5cm. The shards are broken by pressing the outside edges of two shells against each other.

Step 3: Drill holes into the bead. This is one using a long stick with a nail on the end of it (called a drilling stick). The stick is rubbed very quickly between both hands (as if you are rubbing your hands together to keep them warm) while gently putting pressure downward.

Step 4: Widen the hole. This is done with a smaller version of the drilling stick.

Step 5: String the beads onto a plastic string.

Step 6: Cut the beads into equal-sized circles. Traditionally, this was done using a springbok (animal similar to an antelope) horn, but now producers use nail clippers to be more efficient.

Step 7: Smoothen the beads. This is done by laying the string of beads on a plank of wood, then rubbing the beads with a filing stone. Traditionally, producers used stones, but now they use the filing stones to be more efficient.

Step 8: Dyeing the beads. This step is optional, and producers only dye the beads they want coloured. Beads can be dyed tan, brown, or black, by frying them.

Step 9: Make jewelry! I didn’t post any pictures of this since I have used my beads to make some gifts and don’t want to spoil the surprise. However, producers have creative freedom over what pieces to create and many pieces are inspired by animals and nature. I highly recommend that you all check out Gantsi Craft’s website and take a look at all the wonderful jewelry!


Since I had never been taught how to make our ostrich eggshell products and none of the students spoke English, I was pretty much useless in helping to facilitate. It was pretty frustrating knowing that I wasn’t contributing anything, but I still really enjoyed learning the process. I think that it was valuable for me to attend, since by learning the production process, I now have a greater understanding of our producers and of our products, which will help me with all my other work this year. In all, I am very happy that I had the opportunity to go, as I learned a lot and made many new friends, but I am excited to finally be back in Ghanzi, and I am settling into my new house.

3 Oct

finding development

Being a woman means having immeasurable strength to deal with the many twists and turns of life. It means knowing when to continue and when to turn away and choosing to continue with the hardest but most necessary decisions. It means that you are the sounding board of life’s problems, the person who is able to see, hear, and experience everything that can go wrong but still be strong enough to remain unbroken. Despite all this, you must be strong enough to remember to put yourself first.

Being a woman means educating the world to share their voices and respect each person. It means being responsible for the first lessons in life that new generations learn. It means that through patience and time you will touch the hearts of those you meet and enable them to grow and learn. You have the power to teach others to love instead of…

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Shakawe Adventure and Cultural Illiteracy

3 Oct

Botswana celebrated its independence this weekend, and so I had a 4-day weekend. After looking into a few options for things to do, another Canadian volunteer, Julia, and I decided to go visit Heather and Kelsey in Shakawe. We would take the 5:30am bus from Ghanzi Saturday morning, and hopefully get to Shakawe around lunch time. 

Friday afternoon Julia texted me saying that she was sick with a fever and wouldn’t be able to travel with me. So, I was on my own to navigate getting halfway across Botswana (sorry Mom, didn’t tell you this so that you wouldn’t worry!) For an extra little celebration, I was taken out to the bar and the club in Ghanzi – quite an experience! I will have to publish a list of the 10 best (or worst) pick-up lines I got, because boy were they interesting. But, as the rest of my weekend will show, for every man with a creepy pick-up line, there are 10 genuinely nice people that just want to help out. 

So, Saturday morning I arrived at the bus station and see a huge crowd on the platform for the bus to Maun. When the bus came, all hell broke loose. It was very difficult but I somehow ended up on the bus, and someone was nice enough to give me a seat next to them. After an uneventful bus ride, I got off at Sehitwa shortly after 8 – we had missed the connecting bus to Shakawe. 

So I waited. The 9 o’clock bus was completely full and drove by. Then the 10 o’clock. I was told that since it was the long weekend, this is how it would be all day. Great. So I was foreign, confused, and stranded in a random town in the middle of the desert in Botswana. Oh, and my phone was dead. So I did what anyone would do in my situation – I stuck my hand out and tried to hitch a lift. 

A woman saw me trying to hitch, and asked me where I was going. She was also from Ghanzi and going to Shakawe, and she told me that she would be my friend and she would get me there with her. A couple of men saw this and clearly took pity on me, because they also started helping me by talking to drivers that stopped and yelling at the ones that didn’t (I asked them what they were yelling, and it was something along the lines of “You won’t even stop for the white girl?!”) After about 45 minutes, my new friend Brenda and I got lucky. Two men were driving with 2 kids all the way to Shakawe and had room for us. Oh, and the car was air conditioned. 

I used Brenda’s phone to text the girls, and I successfully arrived in Shakawe around 1:30. We just relaxed during the afternoon, and planned on going to the Miss Independence Beauty Pageant at night. The event was advertised as starting at 7, so we arrived at 9:30. And were way too early. They were still setting up. We did luck out though, because there were some children’s dance groups practicing and they were AMAZING! I am going to try and upload some video later, but there was one group of 4 boys (probably around the ages of 9 or 10) who had so much swag, and were of course hamming it up for us. The event finally got started around 11:30, and was still going strong around 2am when we decided to leave. 

Sunday morning we were told that there was going to be a big Independence Day celebration with traditional song and dance at the kgotla. When we arrived, the host noticed us immediately and told us that we were welcome and to come in closer. We were on the outside of one of 3 tents. We moved towards the middle tent, and saw 3 empty seats. We asked if we could sit there, and no one objected so we sat down. About 15 minutes later, the host came over and asked us our names. Then, they said they were going to introduce the community’s elders and VIP guests. Heather, Kelsey and I looked at each other like “Ohhhhh no, what have we done?!” We were introduced to everyone that was there (around 200 people!). And had to stand up. Twice. Then at the very end, the councillor (I think kind of the same as an MP in Canada) thanked us for being there and asked us if we were coming for lunch. We all must have looked very clueless because he was like “Great, you get to come in my car!”

So we drove with the councillor and the host to the VIP lunch. After lunch they asked us if we were going to the football(soccer) game since it was the final game of the tournament, and we said sure. So we piled into the councillor’s car and went to the football field. When we got there, they got special chairs for us to sit in – we were the only ones in chairs other than the beauty pageant winners, the councillor, and the chief! We were beyond embarrassed. But it only got worse. The councillor and the others got up and we were told to follow them. Then we were introduced to both soccer teams. And we had to shake their hands. Every. Single. Player. Plus the coaches. Plus the managers. Then it gets worse. We were brought into the middle of the field for the first kick. Heather, Kelsey and I just kept looking at each other and awkwardly giggling because we did not even know how we had gotten into this position. All because we are culturally illiterate (as Heather put it) and sat in the wrong seats in the morning. 

Thankfully our awkward day was over when the game was and we just relaxed for the night. Sunday, we had a nice relaxing day and went to a braai, hosted by an expat couple. Monday morning I caught a bus to Sehitwa and hitched a lift safely back to Ghanzi. Now I am headed off to Kang (halfway between Ghanzi and Gaborone) for 3 weeks, and I am hoping for some relaxation!

3 Oct

Excellent post from Steph at Finding Development.

finding development

Being a woman can often seem like every action and expectation is contradictory, regardless of where you live. You’re expected to be street smart, but vulnerable. You will be stereotyped as either helpless or stubborn. People will ask you questions, then smile, and look to whatever man you’re with for validation that your response was correct. Yet at the same time, women are supposed to be strong and independent. But not so independent that you don’t want to get married and settle down – preferably while you’re still young enough to have children.

Being a woman means that because of these stereotypes and expectations, simple actions can be shocking, surprising, and have unintended effects. It means that despite ‘equality’ you will still have to work harder to prove yourself as capable. Once you’re seen as capable, you may lose any association as a woman or feminine, because apparently capability and…

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