Last day in the office (brief co-op update!)

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My time in Botswana is quickly coming to an end. The past week has been both the longest and shortest of my life! I’ve been slowly saying goodbye to friends and colleagues, wrapping up the data collection for my undergrad research, and finishing my reporting for work. I am looking forward to spending my last weekend relaxing with my friend Carragh who is making the journey south to Gabs to keep me company while I pack.

As my list of ‘To Dos’ before I leave gets shorter and shorter, I’m realizing just how much I’ve accomplished over the past five months in Botswana. It’s been a wild ride and, I won’t lie, there have been plenty of pretty big challenges, but I’m proud I’ve made it through relatively unscathed. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel in Southern Africa during my time here as well. This is certainly a region of the world that has captured both my heart and imagination.

I’m struggling with the realization that I’m leaving the continent of Africa after an incredible eight months of travel and co-op experiences! I’ve visited seven countries over the course of my co-op placements in Ghana and Botswana. There is no greater learning experience than this, I think! I’ve been even more bitten by the travel bug and I can’t wait to explore other parts of the continent. I already have plans for an epic East African trip… But that will have to wait until I’ve graduated from university at least!

In the meantime, I’m planning on heading home, starting my data analysis for my research, hanging out with my family and friends, and taking a couple of courses online. It might sound a little anti-climactic after all I’ve been through this past year. But I’m thinking a little downtime won’t be a problem at all. At least until I get itchy feet again!

I fly out on Monday and arrive home on Tuesday afternoon so the next time you hear from me this Canadian will be back on home soil. Until then, go siame, as they say in Botswana!

Roadblocks & perseverance… Research is hard!

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I’ve been working on my undergraduate research since September 2014 when I started writing my research proposal. After months of revisions, ethics approval, and bureaucracy battles with the government of Botswana, I finally began my data collection a couple of weeks ago. What have I learned since then? Research is hard!

I’ll admit I knew it was going to be hard from the start. I knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. I knew things wouldn’t always go my way. … But I’ll also admit I thought things would go a little more smoothly than they have so far. Frustratingly, there have been so many bumps along the way.

Most recently, I’ve had issues accessing my research sample, secondary students between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. I specifically designed my research so I’d be interacting with students during ‘down-time’ in their scholarly schedule. Since January is the beginning of a new term, the students aren’t as busy with exams and projects as they were in November and December.

But while they aren’t busy with school, I’ve still had trouble getting enough time with them to complete surveys let alone get some interviews in! There’s always something else going on that mucks up my research schedule. I’ve had situations where schools have double-booked their students, situations where the teacher I’m working with isn’t around on our agreed meeting day, and even sticky situations with disorganized administration, when schools I’ve been working with for the past three weeks to set up a meeting with their students forgot to tell the right people I’d be coming, resulting in chaos or rescheduling.

Since I am now into my last week of placement in Botswana, data collection is now in full crunchtime mode. I have some data now and I should be collecting more over the next few days. The truth is, though, that it just might not be enough. It’s hard to admit that all this work has culminated into such a whirlwind but I’m working on focusing on this experience as a time of growth instead of a time of disappointment. I might as well find the silver lining because I can’t change anything now.

All I can do is my best. I can work as hard as I can to get as much done as I can. And then I can take what I’ve learned from this experience to become better for the future. For example, I’ve learned how best to liaise with government institutions and educators. And I’ve learned to become even more of a self-starter, to advocate for my needs when no one else will. I’ve also learned that I need to let things go when they don’t go my way, especially since the roadblocks I’ve run into along the way are out of my control.

There are only five more working days left of my placement, which means there are only five more research days as well. Fingers crossed the worst of the challenges are behind me but, realistically, I’m sure I’ll be flexing my problem solving muscles this week too to get things done. Wish me luck!

Odd consequences of my time abroad (plus, co-op updates!)

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Living and working abroad comes with a lot of change, of course. Some of this – like being away from family – is fully anticipated but some of it isn’t… In fact, there are some strange, funny, and even useful consequences that I’ve experienced while on my co-op placement that I had no idea would happen. Here’s a list of some of them I’ve noticed in myself.

1. I’ve become exceptionally good at jaywalking. The driving in Ghana was hectic due to mass volume of people, especially in the cities, so walking across the road was always a struggle outside of the village and the drivers in Botswana just don’t care about pedestrians at all. On the roads, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, especially when the traffic lights (called ‘robots’ here in Southern Africa) aren’t working. Remember that it’s all about timing and, if you’re worried, just sneak across behind a more experienced jay-walker because they know what they’re doing.

2. I’ve become slightly addicted to Masterchef. In Ghana, of course, I didn’t have a television (I sometimes didn’t even have electricity) but in Botswana, I rent a room in a house and my housemum happens to love television so we have a rather fancy flatscreen plus the best access to all the good channels with DSTV Premium. One day when it was so, so hot and I didn’t want to do anything more than lie in front of the fan and not move a muscle, I searched through the channels and found Masterchef… And I’ve been addicted ever since.

3. I text message far less than I do at home. The main system here in Botswana and in most of the developing world is prepaid. You can buy credit (or ”airtime”) whenever you need it at gas stations or from street kiosks. You buy a code then punch in the code on your phone to load the credit. Because of this system, you pay for every text message. Back home, I had an unlimited texting plan so I never worried about sending a friend a ”What’s up with you?” message but nowadays a conversation over text would burn through my credit fast. So, like most people here, I buy small data bundles to have text conversations via Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp instead.

4. I always have about five pounds of change on me. In Ghana, this wasn’t a problem since there are far fewer coins than there are in the currency in Botswana. Since moving to Gaborone, though, I’ve noticed that my wallet is always heavy with coins because there are coins up to five pula here! I use public transit as my way of getting around so it’s useful to carry all this coinage but sometimes even I’ll admit it gets a little ridiculous… Like the day I counted it out and realized I had over fifty pula in my change purse. Oops!

5. Even though I told myself I would stick with it, I haven’t had a proper workout in over four months. I stretch and do some little moves in my room everyday before my shower (… my bath, actually because we don’t have a showerhead!) but I haven’t put on my runners to go for a jog in far, far too long. In Ghana, I got a lot of attention anytime I left the house, which made it embarrassing to workout outside, especially if the neighbour kids decided to chase after me as they liked to. And here in Botswana, it’s summer so it’s just far too hot during the day to even consider going outside. With these excuses, I’m just waiting until I go home to get back to it. These are just a few of the unexpected consequences – good, bad, funny, and odd – that I’ve experienced as a result of living and working abroad over the past eight or so months. Maybe if I find more, I’ll draw up another list. In the meantime, I’ll give you a quick update on my co-op placement in Botswana. I’ve only got about a week and a half left of my placement. Time sure flies and I’ve got so much to do before I leave! Continue reading

My Thesis Research (DUN DUN DUNNNN)

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As an international development studies (IDS) co-op student, I am required to do two things in my fourth year abroad. First, I’m supposed to live and work in a developing country for eight to twelve months. And second, I’m tasked with choosing a research topic for my undergraduate thesis and collecting data for this research while on placement. During our first three years university, the IDS-ers tend to become very excited about the work part of placement and very scared about the thesis side of things (hence the dramatics in this post’s title!). But we need to do both to graduate so thesis research always manages to get done.

For those who regularly read my blog, you know I’ve had a turbulent past eight months on placement. My first three months were spent in Bibiani, Ghana, a country I grew to love but left early due to concerns about the Ebola outbreak in neighbouring countries (to date, thankfully, there have been no confirmed cases of Ebola in Ghana). Then, after just about three weeks back home in Canada after Ghana, I jetted off to Botswana to finish my placement here, where I’ve been for almost five months.

What has this got to do with research? Well, in Ghana I planned to do research on one topic. I even wrote a pretty good draft of a research proposal for my supervisor. But as soon as I left, I was forced to throw that away and start fresh in Botswana. This was nerve-wracking because I have a lot less time to complete my research in Botswana, with a placement of only five or so months in comparison to the eight months I was going to have in Ghana.

When I arrived in Botswana, I was a little disoriented. I had experienced a lot of change in a month (from West Africa to North America to Southern Africa) so it took me a while to settle in and finally start thinking about potential research topics here. After about two months in Gaborone, Botswana, I finally chose my topic. With all the media about street harassment around the world, I was interested in looking at this phenomenon here, too.

Street harassment is sexual harassment that happens in public places between strangers. Traditionally men are the harassers and women are the targets of street harassment, as it is widely considered a symptom of gender inequality. Even though street harassment is a global issue, there is little research done on it in general and even less done on it in the developing world, especially in Africa. Moreover, the youth voice is often left out of what research there is.

My research is focusing on speaking with youth – secondary school students here in Gaborone. I am looking for their stories, experiences, and conceptions of street harassment as a way of gaining insight into the gender inequality that exists here as well. I hope that my research will show that street harassment is an issue that we should be exploring as development researchers and practitioners. I also hope to add voices from the developing world to a topic that tends to be very North America focused.

I’ve already started setting up meetings with schools in the area to begin my data collection. It’s been a long time coming, since I started writing my research proposal for this topic almost three months ago. Preparing for research is almost as taxing as actually doing the research because there are numerous bureaucratic processes that need to be fulfilled with my university and also with federal and regional government here in Botswana.

I’m excited to get started with the data collection but also quite nervous, which I think is to be expected. I’ve only done much smaller research projects in the past – nothing on this scale before and nothing outside of a university context. But that’s why we go to school, right? To be challenged because that’s when we learn the most. I’ve already learned so much preparing for this research so I know I’ll learn even more over the next few weeks during the data collection process. Hopefully everything goes smoothly. Wish me luck!

Return to Swaziland (My Christmas Trip Part 3)

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After flying back from Cape Town into Johannesburg, Carragh and I took a (sadly very expensive) taxi into town to Park Station where we took a combi all the way to another country… Swaziland! We were visiting to finish off our Christmas trip. And, basically, we were couchsurfing at our friend Heather’s apartment (where I stayed the last time I visited Swaziland, too). Many thanks to you Heather for your generosity!

Swaziland, as always, is ridiculously beautiful!

Swaziland, as always, is ridiculously beautiful!

On our first day in Swaziland – the day after all the taxi-ing and flying and combi-ing to get there – we all did absolutely nothing. We spent the day drifting in and out of sleep and reading. After spending so many busy days in Cape Town, it was nice to get a chance to relax and hang out in Manzini. Grocery shopping for the next couple of days was our biggest excitement that day, which was perfect!

Lunch at House on Fire in Malkerns

Lunch at House on Fire in Malkerns

The next day Carragh and I went into Malkerns to visit House on Fire and the Swazi Candles craft centre. It was the best weather we could have hoped for – sunny and warm, which can be unusual in Swaziland at this time of year. We spent the morning reading and hanging out at House on Fire, where we also had lunch. Then we started walking to Swazi Candles… Only to realize it was much further away than we had anticipated. Eventually, after walking in the heat for quite some time, a combi came by. We flagged it down and hopped on then got off and walked for a bit more to finally arrive at the craft centre. It felt like we were walking in the middle of nowhere but then suddenly there were so many tourists about. Everyone else seemed to have the luxury of a tour bus, which surely made things easier.

We originally wanted to visit the craft centre to see Swazi Candles, a famous company that hand-crafts beautiful candles in all sorts of amazing shapes and colours. The craft centre, though, was so much more than that! There were several buildings all full of different goods like sculptures and jewellery and scarves and all sorts of household goods like baskets. It was a very colourful and vibrant place, surrounded of course by beautiful Swazi mountains.

This adorable little owl is a candle! Isn't that amazing?

This adorable little owl is a candle! Isn’t that amazing?

Swazi Candles was still the main attraction. It was so amazing to watch the crafters sculpt different animals from the warm wax in such a short time! They said it only takes about two weeks to learn how to do the sculpting properly but I’m quite convinced that even after two weeks of training, I still wouldn’t be able to mold a giraffe from wax tiles!

After looking through each booth and store at the craft centre, Carragh and I decided it was about time to head back to Manzini. Hoping for a ride back to the combi station, we asked a tour bus which direction they were headed. They said they were going back to the South African border through Manzini but that, unfortunately, due to insurance reasons, they couldn’t give us a lift. We were disappointed but not too bothered and started walking towards the combi stop, only about a kilometre down the road.

The driver and tour guide must have felt sorry for us because just before they drove past us, they stopped and opened their doors, offering us a ride despite their earlier reservations. We climbed in happily and starting chatting with the guide. She told us they were a tour group from Poland and translated our stories to her clients as we traveled along the road. Once back in Manzini, we waved goodbye to our new tour friends and hopped out at a red traffic light – but not before the tour group waved back at us and clapped for us as a farewell! Such a funny hitch-hiking experience!

Hanging out on the sliding course

Hanging out on the sliding course – check out that view!

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Christmas In Cape Town (My Christmas Trip Part 2)

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Even though we’d had a big day touring around Joburg, when we landed in Cape Town, Carragh and I were giddy with excitement. I felt like one of those country girls from the movies as she heads into the city for the very first time. My head was stuck out the cab window and staring at the Cape Town lights from the moment we left the airport. There was a festive feeling in the air since the city centre was decorated with flashing Christmas lights. Despite our burst of energy on our way over, though, once we arrived at our hostel (The Backpack) we were completely zapped and headed to bed early like the party animals we are.

The view of Table Mountain from the pool at The Backpack

The view of Table Mountain from the pool at The Backpack

The next day we woke up early and headed to the waterfront to hop on the ferry over to Robben Island for a tour. The island is about eleven and a half kilometres off the coast so the ferry ride is about a half hour long and can be pretty bumpy since you head out to open sea. The weather that day was perfect so we had an incredible view of the mountain from the water. (We also had some live entertainment as a large family decided that this ferry ride was the perfect time to sing some hymns.)

A view of Robben Island from the ferry

A view of Robben Island from the ferry

Nelson Mandela's garden inside Robben Island prison

Nelson Mandela’s garden inside Robben Island prison

Once on the island, we got on a bus (thankfully a different one than the loud, singing family) and headed over to the entrance to the prison to start our tour. Robben Island is home to the most famous prison in South Africa. During apartheid, it held many activists including Nelson Mandela for eighteen years. The tour guides are all former inmates at the prison, which gives tourists a unique opportunity to ask questions and get very personal answers.

Gorgeous Table Mountain from Robben Island

Gorgeous Table Mountain from Robben Island

We had beautiful weather for our first day in Cape Town

We had beautiful weather for our first day in Cape Town while visiting Robben Island

During the tour, we visited the various cell blocks and areas for recreation. We learned how inmates hid documents (including manuscripts of Mandela’s memoir, Long Walk To Freedom) and we learned how the apartheid system of racial classification structurally disadvantaged black South Africans in comparison to other inmates. After touring the prison, we took a trip around the island to see the beaches where numerous birds mate throughout the year (even the ibis comes all the way from Egypt to nest there).

The Market on the Wharf

The Market on the Wharf

After our tours on the island, Carragh and I hopped back on the ferry for a bumpy and windy trip back to the mainland. We spent the rest of our day hanging around the waterfront area. First we explored the entire huge food market called Market on the Wharf. Over the course of two visits in two days, I had gourmet samosas, bubble tea, watermelon juice, blood orange rooibos tea, raw vegan pasta, a huge plate of indian food, and some chocolate. Then we visited almost every booth in the huge craft market next door. (Carragh had to pry my away from so many beautiful things at the market… I could have spent a million dollars there in a heartbeat! So many talented artists!).

The funky steampunk coffee shop Truth

The funky steampunk coffee shop Truth where we stopped for a snack on our second day in the city

Colourful beads and bobbles at the St George's Market

Colourful beads and bobbles at the St George’s Market

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Tourist-ing in The City of Gold: Johannesburg (My Christmas Trip Part 1)

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Over the past four months, I’ve been in and out of Johannesburg in transit and with friends but before my most recent trip there, I’d never really done any of the tourist-y things there. So instead of flying straight from Gaborone to Cape Town for our Christmas trip, Carragh and I decided to bus first to Joburg and then fly out to Cape Town from there. This way, we get the benefits of a cheaper plane ticket (because we would be flying domestic) and we’d also get a chance to poke around the city.

I’ve taken combis (minibuses) to Joburg a couple of times and it’s always easy so I figured this time would be too. Of course it wasn’t! The combi we took spent almost two extra hours on the road than it should have. We went through a completely different border crossing than I’ve taken before, spending an extra hour or so in Botswana when we should have crossed into South Africa after about a half hour on the road! And this combi didn’t even take us to Joburg – only to Pretoria, which we thought wouldn’t be a problem because we were told that it’d be a short, twenty rand (two dollars Canadian) combi trip into Joburg… Of course, it was impossible to find these cheap and fast combis into Joburg so instead we ended up taking a rather pricey taxi trip into town.

Inside Bob's Bunkhouse

Inside Bob’s Bunkhouse

Frustrated and exhausted from the ridiculously long trip into the city, Carragh and I finally reached the hostel we’d booked to stay for the night, called Bob’s Bunkhouse. When the owner came out to greet us, I introduced myself and asked for his name. He laughed and asked, “Whose guesthouse are you staying at, hm?” This, of course, was Bob. After settling in, Carragh and I walked down the street to buy a couple of smoothies then went back to Bob’s to use the wifi to call our families and also have a beer from the vending machine before crashing for the night.

Carragh and I were pretty pleased with the beer vending machine at Bob's Bunkhouse

Carragh and I were pretty pleased with the beer vending machine at Bob’s Bunkhouse

The next morning we woke up early, snacked on a light breakfast, and took a taxi into town with the other two bunkhouse guests from Spain. We were all heading to the same place: Park Station to take a ride on the City Sightseeing tour bus. I’m not usually interested in tours like these but Joburg is so big that taxi’ing about can get pricey. This tour gives you some interesting info on the city and takes you to many of the choice tourist locations, including the township Soweto if you have the time (we didn’t, sadly), so it’s a great option for getting around Joburg if you are looking for an introduction to the city or if you’re only in town for the day. It was an excellent option for us to get a taste of the city before flying to Cape Town that evening.

Carragh was pretty excited about the tour bus

Carragh was quite excited about the tour bus

My tickets and guidebook for the bus tour

My tickets and guidebook for the tour

On the bus tour, we learned so much about the history of Johannesburg. It’s the biggest city in South Africa, with a fascinating political history as well as a vibrant cultural life. It’s the world’s largest city not located near a large body of water (they pump their water all the way from Lesotho!) because it grew from a mining town. It was built off the wealth of the gold mines in the area and is a relatively new city, only established in the late 1800s. It’s economy has fluctuated drastically throughout it’s history, resulting in periods of build-up and also periods of economic depression. There are many boarded up buildings in the city that are the result of these economic declines but the city is on the rise again, with an influx of developers looking to capitalize on its growth as South Africa’s economic hub.

A combi in downtown Joburg

A combi in downtown Joburg

Some graffiti in Joburg

Some graffiti in Joburg

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