Kgale Hill Climb

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While Gaborone is mostly flat, there is a rather large hill near the Game City mall that is a popular hike for locals and tourists alike. It’s called Kgale Hill and I climbed it with some friends¬†last¬†Sunday morning!

On the way up

On the way up

We woke up shockingly early for the weekend – around 5:30AM. You’ve got to get there early so that you are scorched by the sun as you climb up the rocks and through the bramble to get to the top. The heat wasn’t a problem for us, though. In fact, it was the coldest morning I’d experienced here so far.¬†I couldn’t wait to get hiking to warm myself up!

Halfway there

Halfway there

The hike is beautiful because of the terrain.¬†It’s all dusty soil and dried bushes and, as you climb higher, incredible views of the city and beyond. I was surprised to see others on the hill that early, mostly coming down from¬†worshipping up high¬†with the sunrise.

The view from the top

The view from the top

I led my¬†group of friends for a while, which meant it was my task to decipher between the paths¬†for people and the trails used by the goats and tiny antelopes roaming about in the area. Thankfully, thousands of people have climbed the hill before me so just when I thought I’d managed to get us all lost, I’d spot a new trail or even a painted arrow showing me one of the many ways I could take to get to the top.

Another angle from the top

Another angle at the top

We arrived to the top just an hour and a half after starting out. I was exhilarated. The view from up there is incredible because this area is so flat so you can see so far. My muscles ached from lifting my body up rock staircases and from crouching under trees with dangerous looking spikes but this view was worth it.

I made it!

I made it!

It was getting cool up there with all the clouds and the wind so, after a while at the top, we decided to head back down. We didn’t need to linger because we are all lucky enough to be living in the area for the next little while, which means that we’ll surely make it to the top again sometime soon!

2014 Reading Challenge Complete!

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At the beginning of the year, I made a commitment to read 52 books by the end of 2014. Well, I did it! In fact, I finished way ahead of schedule, completing¬†my¬†52nd book of the year early last week. So here are the last of my¬†reviews from this year’s¬†reading challenge! (There are so many!) You can find reviews of the other books I’ve read in 2014 by exploring the ‘Book Snippets‘ category.

52 books in 52 weeks challenge: 34/52
Night Train by Pascal Mercier

‘Night Train to Lisbon’ opens with the lead character, Raimund Gregorius encountering a strange, young Portuguese woman. Their brief interaction stirred something in Gregorius, leading him to a bookstore to discover a book written in Portuguese by Amadeu de Prado. Gregorius, a language professor teaching in Bern, decides in the span of a few hours to leave his life in Switzerland to move to Portugal, where he will study the language and uncover de Prado’s life story. The book includes pieces of de Prado’s book alongside Gregorius’ journey to Lisbon so it is filled with philosophical questions and thought, unsurprising as the author is a philosopher and professor himself. While it is dense at times, it is never boring. Instead, it offers the reader a chance to explore ideas that they might have previously left unexplored, perhaps out of fear about where those ideas will lead. Questions of God, the purpose of life, the soul, and the existence of love are themes threaded throughout the book. The impact of de Prado’s life on all those who knew him shows us the weight of our own lives, reminding us of our own possible impact. Though it often felt more like a thought experiment than a novel,¬†I really enjoyed following Gregorius’ adventure while reading this book.¬†(4 stars out of 5)

52 books in 52 weeks challenge: 35/52
The Circus Fire¬†by¬†Stewart O’Nan

This book recounts the events leading up to, during, and after the horrible fire at the Ringling Brothers Barnun and Bailey Circus on July 6th, 1944 in Hartford, Conneticut. Honestly, I struggled to get through this. In the forward, the author, Stewart O’Nan, tells us that he decided to tell this true story in an unconventional way, in a novel. But this did not fee like a novel at all! It was dense, filled with too many characters to keep track of. It was dull, despite the dramatic event it was describing. It was gruesome, too, with lengthy passages describing the sights bodies and smell of burnt skin. I often found the writing choppy, switching between characters and settings too quickly and without proper transitions to give the reader context. That said, it was clearly incredibly well researched, with lots of detail from police reports, newspapers, and also interviews O’Nan completed while preparing to write the book. The work put into writing the book is admirable but its end product is not even close to “exceptionally moving”, as the back cover promises. Instead, despite the deep emotions behind the tragedy, the book feel like a compilation of research. The vignettes we get of characters isn’t enough for us to connect with their emotional pain. It was just the facts; there was no story and the attempted mystery at the end fell flat. While it’s definitely documenting an important piece of history, it’s not a book I would ever encourage others to read unless they had a specific interest in the precise events of this particular fire.¬†(2 stars out of 5)

52 books in 52 weeks challenge: 36/52
The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year by Sue Townsend

Eva Beavers, a former librarian, is the mother of genius twins who just moved out of the house for their first year of university. Disenchanted with her duties as ‘wife’ and ‘mother’, Eva decides to get into bed and not leave for a while – a whole year, in fact. The novel follows the consequences of this decision. It’s a story about a woman who is sick and tired of all the tasks that she does that everyone else takes for granted. While I didn’t find the novel nearly as funny as everyone else seems to think it is, I sped through it in an afternoon so I clearly enjoyed it. I love that it’s a book that is light yet still has important social commentary, most notably about the division of household labour between men and women. The first half of the novel was much more engaging to me, though. I found the second half less interesting because I didn’t get to look into Eva’s thoughts as much as I wanted to. I was curious about what she was contemplating, spending all this time in her bed, but little was actually revealed so I just got frustrated with her (as did the people around her) because I never got to explore the reasoning behind her staying in bed. Furthermore, I found the ending quite unsatisfactory – in fact, it was more of a ‘non-ending’ than anything else. I think it could have used a couple of extra chapters to properly wrap things up. I was taken with author Sue Townsend’s writing style so I’ll definitely read more by her in the future. Her style seems suited to a lazy afternoon by the woodstove in the winter or poolside in the summer and I know I have a couple of her other books on a shelf somewhere at home.¬†(3 stars out of 5) Continue reading

Springtime in Gabs

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While everyone back home in Canada is¬†preparing for the coming winter, here in Gaborone, we are readying ourselves for summer. I’ve been in Botswana for over two weeks and the things I hear most, other than “dumela” (“hello” in Setswana), are warnings about the coming heat. For some perspective, I’ll remind you that Botswana is mostly desert, the Kalahari desert to be exact. Gaborone, where I’m staying, is just south of this desert and so it is defined as a semi-arid climate.

This is all to say that it’s going to get hot. Really, really hot. For example, when the radio was announcing the weather yesterday and they said, “It’s 35 degrees Celsius in Gaborone” and then went on to say we should enjoy the ‘springtime temperatures’ while we can. When I heard this, all I could think was, “If this is springtime, I might not survive the summer…” Thank goodness for sunscreen and umbrellas to shield myself from the blazing sun!

But as we wait for the sun to become stronger and stronger and for the temperatures to go up and up, we are lucky enough to be surrounded by the beautiful evidence of spring: flowers are blooming everywhere! My friend Luke, who has stayed in Gabs for the past four months (he has a blog you can find here), told me I arrived in Botswana at the most lovely time of year and I couldn’t agree more!

Those of you who follow me on Instagram know that I enjoy taking photos of flowers (especially pink flowers, apparently) so here are a few more to show off the beauty of springtime in Gaborone.

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Almost Famous

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Yesterday I was on national television. Yep, that’s right – I’ve only been in Botswana for just over a week and I’m already famous! Well, not quite famous but my face will most definitely be seen across the country on BTV¬†(Botswana Television)¬†because yesterday I was filmed as part of an in-studio audience (so I was not at all the star of the show). The program was promoting adherence to treatment regimes for HIV/ AIDS (ARVs are free here but many people do not properly take their medications, which is hazardous to their health if they are HIV positive).

One of the offices where I’m working in Botswana is CEYOHO, which¬†works in the field of HIV/ AIDS, supporting young people and women who are living with the disease. CEYOHO¬†was invited to be a part of this program and so I was also invited to participate (only as an audience member, thank goodness!) since I am a brand new CEYOHO volunteer.

I have to say that¬†I felt very out of place the entire time since I don’t speak Setswana and the entire program was presented and filmed in Setswana, the most common language in Botswana. Moreover, I was seated directly in the centre of the audience so there was no place to hide, especially under the big studio lights. So instead of hiding (my¬†Plan A), I tried my best to look interested, nod when everyone else was nodding, and clap as if I understood precisely everything that was happening (even when, in reality, I had no idea!).

Once I stopped panicking about feeling so out of place and awkward, I actually had a great time. It was such an interesting experience to see from behind the scenes how a television show is produced. More importantly, I felt grateful to be a part (albeit a very small part) of sending out a very important message to people living with HIV/ AIDS in Botswana.

First Day Blunders & Smiles

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Today was the very first day of my co-op placement in Botswana (or, as I like to call it due to my stint in Ghana, “Placement 2.0″). I was so excited for the first day of work after a week of orientation that I could barely sleep last night… Well, I’m sure the heat – a side effect of the impeding very, very hot summer season heading my way – had something to do with it, too. So when I woke up this morning, I was both jittery and exhausted, with huge bags under my eyes and a groan of ”I don’t wanna” in my throat. What a perfect attitude¬†to start an internship!

Thankfully, I felt like a whole new, happier person after a steaming cup of green tea and a delicious breakfast sandwich courtesy of the amazing kitchen at my homestay and the abundant Choppies supermarkets in Gaborone. A new¬†skip in my step, I head off to¬†work… Except I couldn’t get out of the house. You see, my housemate and I¬†share the spare set of keys to the numerous padlocks, doors, and gates keeping us safe in our new house. Of course, last night she kept¬†the keys in her bedroom, which meant I had to knock on her door and wake her up at seven in the morning – far before she needed to be awake. I felt so guilty but she insisted it was alright as she waved me out the door and wished me luck on my first day.

That little skip back in my step as I realized I was still ahead of schedule, I walked down our road, out of our gated neighbourhood, and down the long, straight, flat street leading to the main road, where I stopped to wait to catch a combi (that’s what minibuses are called here, remember?). So I waited. I waited some more. And then I waited even longer. But each combi driving past me was filled to wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with people, all heading to work like me but all smart enough to give themselves extra time so they wouldn’t be late. After awkwardly attempting to hail down a couple of combis that were full (the drivers didn’t honk at me; I should’ve known!), I finally was able to get a spot on one. (Come to think of it, perhaps the driver was just feeling sorry for the pale girl burning to a crisp under the fiery Botswana sun because there was barely enough room for me to squeeze in between in a couple of businessmen who looked both amused and annoyed by my presence.)

Finally on the combi on my way down the street, I¬†felt peaceful again. That is, until we hit traffic. I have to admit, after surviving¬†the torture that is traffic in Accra, I was skeptical that Gabs had any congestion at all. (I hadn’t seen any in my week here so far and it’s such a small city…) Turns out, I was wrong. People were strolling¬†faster than we were moving and I was estimating that I would probably already be at the office if I had just walked instead of waiting for the combi and then dealing with bumper-to-bumper for several kilometers. Eventually¬†it was my stop and I got off and ran like the bad jay-walker I am across the street (people drive on the left side of the road here – it’s scary!). Of course, once I got across the road, I completely blanked on the next step. Which road do I¬†take? Was I ever going to get to this office? What a commute!

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First Impressions: Gaborone

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As the saying goes, time flies! I can hardly believe I’ve been in Botswana for just over a week.¬†After a pretty gruelling thirty hours of travel, including about twenty hours on the same plane, I arrived in Gaborone last¬†Saturday night. At the airport, I met up with my fellow new WUSC Botswana volunteers and then traveled to the homestay where I’ll be living for the next six months.

My housemum is so lovely and she’s been so welcoming to me and the other Canadian volunteer who’s living at her place. On our first full day in Gabs (what all the cool kids call “Gaborone”), she had us jetting around the city, visiting friends, eating pizza, and drinking smooth South African wine. We even went to a barbeque, a favourite Batswana pastime (the beef here is some of the best in the world, I’m told).

This past week, I¬†was in¬†orientation at the WUSC office with the other volunteers that arrived in Botswana at the same time as me. We had fun learning basic Setswana, exploring the city, and getting to know more about the country we’ll all be calling ‘home’ for the next little while. So far, I’m amazed by Gaborone. It’s very modern, with quite the mall culture and lots of restaurants of all kinds around the city (including an excellent Indian place, which of course makes this vegan very happy). It’s a big change from what I experienced in Ghana because it’s quite Westernized in the city.

There are people from all over the world in Gabs – including lots of ex-pats from South Africa and other neighbouring countries – but it is has a small population (only around 250 000 people) so¬†it’s almost like a small town because everyone seems to know everyone else. You’ll be driving down the road and people are calling out to friends driving in a nearby car, or walking down the street, or waving¬†out of a combi (what minibuses are called here).

I’ve only been out of the city once so far but I’m excited to explore more areas in Botswana during my six months here. I’m also, of course, very excited to start work on Monday, when I’ll be meeting with my new colleagues at CEYOHO and getting settled in the WUSC office, as well. Hopefully, I’ll have more regular access to the internet fairly soon so I can update my blog more consistently¬†and share some photos with everyone, too!

Next Stop: Bostwana

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I’ve been back from Ghana for three weeks already…¬†It’s amazing how time flies. This time back in Canada¬†has been spent hanging out with friends and family, traveling around southeastern Ontario, and generally enjoying these last few days of Canadian summer, even as autumn begins to creep up. I’ve spent many sunny afternoons lounging by the pool and far too much time¬†thrift shopping, one of my¬†favourite guilty pleasures. Reading has also been high on my priority list as I transitioned back into the Canadian rhythm. Because of this, I’m proud to say that I’m almost done my 2014 Reading Challenge even though it’s only September!

My only complaint is that, in¬†rural Ontario, we almost¬†have worse internet than I had access to when I was in Ghana so I haven’t been able to update my blog as much as I have wanted to over these past few weeks. Plus, my MacBook is currently in the care of the¬†geniuses of the Apple store for some much needed TLC after being trucked around dusty, hot, and humid Ghana for three months. Having little access to my technology and the¬†internet also means that I haven’t been able to share my amazing news: this Friday, September 5th, I’ll be heading to Southern Africa to spend six months in Botswana to finish my international development co-op placement!

I’m incredibly grateful that I’m able to head back out to ‘the field’ to learn new things, meet new people, and¬†explore a new place. I’m excited that I’ll¬†be living in the capital of Botswana, Gaborone, and I’m even more excited to be working to fulfill not just one but two mandates over the next six months in addition to doing research for my undergraduate thesis (topic TBD).

The first mandate will be working directly in the country office of WUSC, the Canadian organization that worked with my uni (the University of Toronto) to send me to both Ghana and Botswana. I’ll be working with the scholarship program that sends Botswanan youth to Canada for school and cultural exchange. The second mandate will be working with an HIV/ AIDS organization called Centre for Youth and Hope, or “CEYOHO” for short. Two mandates means I’ll be able to get to know even more about development in Botswana, a truly unique opportunity for my professional growth.

So wish me luck on this new adventure and stay tuned for news and photos of my new travels and experiences over the next six months!

**I’d like to use this opportunity send out a big hug and ‘thank you’ to all the amazing people – friends, family, and the amazing staff at U of T and WUSC¬†–¬†who have supported me over the past few weeks. Knowing you’re there is a priceless feeling and I’m so grateful to have all of you in my life!**