Saturday, June 11, 2011

All Good Things Come to an End

So I don’t know how many times I can say this, but clearly I’m not made out for blogging. I just don’t do it. And it’s not like I don’t enjoy it or anything—I’ve always got stuff to say, and the words start flowing as soon as I start writing. But maybe it’s the deadlines, or the pressure of knowing people are waiting to hear about my “exciting and fabulous African life”? Or maybe I’m just plain lazy... yeah, I think it’s the last one.

Anywho, I returned to a sunny and humid-as-heck Toronto on May 31st. In weeks leading up to the big day, I kind of had mixed feelings about coming home: I was resigned to the fact that it was coming, but I didn’t necessarily want to leave my friends and my home in Bots. Cut to the weekend before and the days leading up to my departure, and I REALLY didn’t want to go. And I was a hot mess at the Gaborone airport. Somehow between there and Pearson airport in Toronto, the excitement started to build. I was nervous—I felt like vomiting, and I wasn’t sure what emotions would come out at seeing my family for the first time in a year. But I made it through customs (with multiple quizzical looks at my passport after telling them I’d be in Africa for a year) and when I walked through that door and saw them, I turned into a 12-year old, just beaming and running over to them. It was literally a scene out of “Love Actually” (one of my favourite movies) and just good times overall. The first few days were pretty busy, what with my bazillion family members coming over to visit and me trying to unpack my stuff... which took about 6 days before I was actually done. I’ve also gotten a chance to talk to and see a lot of my lovely friends here, some of which have graduated and are starting a new chapter... that’s so weird to me! I guess we’re grownups now. I still have some wrap-up stuff to do, friends to see and jobs to apply for (if anyone knows a good job opportunity in Toronto for July and August, hook a sista up!), but other than that, it almost feels like I never left. The novelty hasn’t completely worn off yet, but I know I’m getting there. Turns out what I missed the most (which I’ve told a couple of people already) about Canada is not what I was expecting—first and foremost, I’m LOVING the 9pm sunsets. Gosh, I missed being able to do stuff after work! I also really love how there are trees everywhere, and my suburb in particular is looking pretty good right now. I’m super stoked about missing ANOTHER winter: I feel like I am the evader of all things cold, and it’s awesome. And of course, TV to watch the NBA finals and fast internet isn’t too shabby, either.

All that is not the point of this post though; after a year of seeing and doing some incredible things, I’ve hit the point where I’m starting to reflect on my experiences. I’ve come back a changed woman—I can feel it. This was really the first time I’ve been away from my family and left alone to figure out my place in the world. But what I’ve found is that I’ve got a whole other (albeit, GINORMOUS) family made up of the good lads and lasses in Botswana who helped me get through it all. It was so hard to leave you guys, but I hope to God that one day I will see you all again. Bear with me peeps, but there are a crapload of people I have to publicly thank for being so spectacular:

- First, I have to start with my lovely family and friends here in Canada-- it was so nice to hear your words of encouragement, and sorry I sucked at keeping in touch. I will make up for it when I see you, I promise! Special shoutouts to the IDS Program and all of the 4th years on placement, especially my BFF Jonathan: I hope it's kicking ass and I can't wait to share our awesome experiences when I see you all!
- Big ups (haha, I haven't used that phrasing since high school) to my family in Aussieland, and especially the Terrible Two... you know who you are. Thanks for vouching to my parents that I was alive and making me fatter than I already was.
- WUSC Botswana staff (Philip, Chillie, One, Mmapaseka, Veronica, Theresa and Ona)-- you guys were always there for me... I mean, you gave me a place to live and all. More than that though, I knew I could always call on you if I had any trouble, and it was nice to know someone was looking out for me. I appreciate it :)
- The Uniterra family, some of the nicest people I've ever come across: Melissa (hot mama), Anouk, Nadia, Lila, the lovely Kenny and Gayle, Emilie, Blair... you guys were welcoming from the moment I met you, and it was great to have people to laugh and complain with. Best of luck with everything!
- All of the SWB and Coady volunteers that I was lucky enough to cross paths with. There are way too many of you to name individually, but y'all were my home away from home. So many moments of laughter and Life is Good lists. I have to give a special, SPECIAL shoutout to those who were lucky enough to get to live with me...I love you to bits! Thanks for putting up with me. It's nice to know I've got friends as great you guys all over Canada, and I'll be making a trip to Ottawa at some point this summer! And of course, I'll keep in touch with you guys. You da bomb.
- The lovely (I need to thesaurus new words... eish!) folks at Baylah. Everyone at management, thanks for taking a chance on me and letting me get involved with such important work. Teen Club volunteers (Mdu, Wetsho etc.), you guys were great to work with. I really really have to thank the Psych and Social Work teams for their collaboration with the Teen Mothers Support Group, you know who you are. And of course, the Teen Club staff. B2, Lorena, Tilly (I'm totally coming back for your wedding to Lemma :D), Saila, Kitty Kat, Mgbechi (the only girl who comes close to out-dancing me), Agatha, Natefo, Chris (my BFF, obviously), and Karen... you made coming into work so much fun, and I learned a hell of a lot from you guys. Don't miss me too much. :)
- Basadi, Esohe (you left way too soon, girl!), Knight, Pearl and of course SeƱor Scheffers... you guys mean the absolute world to me. Thanks for being my friends when I had none haha. But seriously, I hold you very near and dear to my heart and when I think of Bots, you'll be the first ones to come to mind. A thousand million hugs and kisses to you.
- "The Crew"... my goodness, endless fun you guys are. Jamilio, Leo, Femster, Moabi, Legsie, Lizzie, Sophie, Eddie, Nlume, Tapiwa/Pamela & Jess: you guys made my last few months there soooooo worth it. Thanks for taking the "Maple Leaves" into your circle... oh yeah, I went there. Best of luck to those off doing amazing things in September, and I totally wanna see where you guys are at in like, 5 years. Pretty sure you won't get any hotter than you are already. Seriously though, you are a sexy bunch. And tell TC I said holla ;)
- Random assortment of people: Stuart, Mpheezy, Skills, Thobo... :D :D :D
- PB, you get a special mention. Good luck finding someone to incessantly annoy as much as you did me. I'd never say this to your face, but you're probably the best person I know. Unless you're smacking me in the face with that god-awful Grimace Glove.
- And last but not least, the teens of Teen Club. I was supposed to go in and "help" you, but I ended up taking back so much more. You are the bravest, smartest and funniest people I know when you're not annoying the heck out of me. And to the Teen Leaders in particular: your futures are so, so bright. I can't wait to see which one of you finally overthrows Ian Khama (oops).

Phew. That's a lot of people. But I was and am lucky enough to have you all in my life. Please, please forgive me if I forgot to put you in. This is technically supposed to be my last post, but I have a bunch more written about my adventures of the past few months which will go up after this one. If I can actually muster up the strength to finish them...

Go siame, it's been a hell of a ride!

- Yaz

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Spirit of Asking

While I know I’m not the quietest of individuals, I would say that I’m a pretty big people-observer. I LOVE people-watching... what people are wearing, how they talk, their mannerisms and whatever else is observation-worthy. It’s been really interesting being here in Bots, because now I’m not only looking at people as individuals, but I’m immersed in a completely different society where everything is foreign to me. I’d like to think that I’ve integrated fairly well, but there are definitely things that I’m still getting used to—primarily, as it is called by my lovely friend Melissa, “The Spirit of Asking”. Batswana will ask for anything and everything. For example, I can’t tell you how many people have started to lay claim to stuff I’m going to leave behind. People will have no problem asking for me for items of clothing that I am wearing or (rarely) for money/gifts, and they especially have no problem asking for help on something. While I may be asked for certain things as a foreigner, I think it goes much deeper than that. As a people (of course this is a generalization, but forgive me), Batswana receive a lot from the government, from ARVs to money to fund a university education—and when there is something they want, they will simply ask for it. Now at first, I found this mildly irritating; but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was actually quite an ingenious concept. As Canadians, I think we are often afraid to ask someone to do something, for fear of inconveniencing them in any way possible (what can I say? We’re polite people). As a result though dear readers, how many times have you found yourself screwed because you were too afraid to speak up? You are at an event and need to get home, and even if you know someone is going in the same direction as you, you don’t ask for a ride and end up paying out of your butt in cab fare. Or you have to go out and buy a certain product because you didn’t want to ask someone to lend you theirs. Or you find that you’re left with a big project to do yourself because you didn’t ask anyone else for assistance. I think it happens all the time in Canada, but really we’re going off the assumption that other people are going to be offended at our request for something. Ultimately though, how offended are we when someone asks for help? I know it’s very rarely a big deal for me, and I’m usually willing to do whatever is asked of me-- I’d like to think that all people are generally kind and want to help others. In short, I think Batswana have got it right. Mind you, you’re probably more likely to get what you ask for in Botswana than you are in Canada—for example, I could never charm my way into speeding up the application process for a country visa early in Canada, the way I have here. And it doesn’t mean I have to ask for anything or everything, like a certain individual did while we were camping in Khutse (EXPOSED! Just kidding, love you Taps!)... but it’s worth a shot, right? Ask, and more often than not, you shall receive.

In other news, there’s no way I can update you all on everything that’s been happening since I’ve been busy as hell. But the big news is I’ve finally confirmed my flight home: May 31st is the big day when I’ll be returning to my beloved homeland. Can’t wait to see you then!

- Yaz

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epic Adventures Part I — Australia


So it’s been a wicked crazy 3 weeks, probably my busiest ever. Luckily, it was all in the name of fun in the sun! There’s lots I want to write about, so I’m dividing it into 2 postings (part 2, Namibia, is below).

Now, it’s normal for people on their placements to have family/friends visit them, and some others travel back to Canada for the holidays. But Part 1 of my adventure began with me jetting off to Melbourne, Australia. Why Australia, you ask? It actually wasn’t my original plan by any means; I actually had my heart set on going to my real motherland of the motherland, Eritrea. However, when I found out that flights to Eritrea have to go through GERMANY and cost 4 THOUSAND FREAKING DOLLARS, that plan was quickly shot down. And since my (African) parents didn’t seem to keen on coming to Bots, but were convinced I needed a “break from Africa” via either Canada or Australia (and they secretly wanted some family to see that I was alive and well), the choice to me was pretty clear. I’ve got tons of family in Australia that I haven’t seen in years, and I loved it the first time I went. So after a long-ass flight from Johannesburg to Melbourne (kudos to Virgin Australia for being super awesome), I finally made it Down Under.

From the second I entered my great-aunt’s house (where I spent most of my time), the Eritrean spirit hit me full force. Now I absolutely love my family, both in Canada and Australia (so don’t take offense), but I need to expose the East African way of life. When a guest comes over, you’re supposed to treat them with hospitality; offering food and drink when they come in, making sure they’re comfortable etc. But when said guest is a 21-year old girl whose been living in Africa on her own for 6 months and whose mother is worried sick about her, it goes into overdrive. There were zillions of questions, lots of fussing over me and LOTS of making me eat, even though I wasn’t very hungry. Most of the fussing stopped once I was able to articulate that I was doing just fine, but the food thing kept going for quite a few days. I later found out that my great-aunt back in Canada told her sister (my great-aunt in Australia) that they needed to feed me well, because I probably wasn’t eating well in Africa and would come to them skinny and starving. Needless to say, it’s quite the opposite; still, it was pretty funny. I got that glass of milk I was craving: it was delicious, but I realized that after about the fourth glass, I was probably overdoing it... plus, I don’t think my body is as tolerant of milk as it used to be. But better than that, I ate Eritrean food again! I know how to make some of the simple breakfast dishes, but you can’t find the ingredients you need in Bots. I think I completely underestimated how much I missed it; it’s sooooo freaking good. So it was nice to have a little bit of home again. And throughout my stay in Aussie, I had some of the best food I’ve had in ages.

My first few days in Melbourne were spent making the rounds to visit extended family I haven’t seen in a while (another Eritrean custom, plus I really wanted to see them again). It was so trippy to see people that I remembered as kids become these grown men and women. Mind you, I was 12 the last time around, so I’m sure I look different too. It was funny though—everywhere house I went, I would get these shrieks and be told I was told that I’ve become the spitting image of my mom; in fact, one of my great aunts called me “little Medina” (my mom’s name). I also met new members of the family; wives/husbands and kids who weren’t in the picture (or who I didn’t meet) 9 years ago. To be honest, my favourite part of my entire trip was being around family, which I think I completely undervalue at times. The one downside—everyone on this side of the world speaks Arabic, whereas in Canada we speak Tigre, one of the native Eritrean languages. They’re sort of similar and I can understand basic Arabic, but I was out of the loop a bit. Especially when people would speak to me directly in Arabic. My cousins would translate at times (and really, all of my aunts know English but don’t speak it to their kids), but I definitely picked up quite a bit in my short stay. It wasn’t too bad until I had this exchange with my 3-year old cousin:

Her: *Starts speaking in rapid Arabic*
Me: Oh, I don’t speak Arabic.
Her: *In an almost accusing tone* Why?
Me: Because my mommy didn’t teach me.
Her: Why?
Me: I don’t know! I’m sorry, okay?


Once I had seen pretty much everyone, I was free to explore Melbourne for a few days. Luckily, I had my favourite and wonderful cousins Mary-Kate and Ashley (okay, they’re actually named Sara and Sally), who so graciously took so much of their own time to act as my tour guides/publicists. The first place they took me was Footscray, which is pretty much Africa-town in Melbourne—tons of African shops, it’s where all the Africans go to get their hair and eyebrows done etc. Later, everyone was like “you took her to Footscray? Seriously??”. But still, it was a neat place and I got some cheap clothes. Then we went downtown (which they call “the city”) which I vaguely remembered, but I downplayed its awesomeness in my mind. I could definitely see myself living there. Melbourne is quite the city—it’s not really talked about as a place to visit, but it’s got a really cool vibe. It’s considered the fashion capital of Australia, which could not be more true. There are shopping centres EVERYWHERE, and everyone looks really funky and put together. Another thing Melbourne is known for is its food. Remember how I said there were shopping centres everywhere? Yeah, scratch that and replace it with restaurants. There are streets upon streets of just restaurants, and their patios are always completely full. My cousins told me that part of the culture in Melbourne is that people like to go out and eat every kind of good-quality food imaginable, and it isn’t that expensive either. And their city actually seems to be full and happening! I think Melbourne and Toronto have similar populations, but our downtown always looks empty, which isn’t the case in Melbourne. I saw all of the touristy sites—Melbourne Central Station, Federation Square (where Oprah visited on her Australian tour the week before I got there—my cousins went and saw her!), Southbank (on the river), the botanical gardens, all of the major shopping streets (let’s see if I remember... Bourke St, Elizabeth St, Swanston St, Flinders St Chapel St) etc. I also ate ridiculously well; Malaysian food, Afghani food, lots of chocolate and the list goes on. Sara and Sally also introduced me to their friends, who were all awesome. Eating out, Karaoke, birthday parties, 90s block parties, it was all super fun. I wasn’t in Melbourne long though—after a week, it was off to Sydney!

My cousins and I have a thing where we have to do a getaway every time we get together. Summer ’09 it was NYC (Brooklyn holla!) and this year it was between Sydney and the Gold Coast (where the Great Barrier Reef is) in Queensland. I would have loved either, but since my stupid cousins can’t swim, the Gold Coast was kind of pointless. Sydney was awesome, and I’d always wanted to go there. The weather was beautiful the entire time we were there, and we hit up all the touristy spots. The first day we went to Darling Harbour, which was gorgeous (all my pics are on facebook, I am computer illiterate and don’t know how to put them on here without it screwing up the format). Even though Sydney is a large metropolitan city, the water in the harbour is super blue and clean, which is pretty rare. There was lots of walking around the city, shopping (of course) and just soaking in the sights. The next day, we had the best pancakes EVER and went to the infamous Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. The Opera house wasn’t as big as I thought it was, but it turns out it’s actually functional which I didn’t know (they have ballets there). And we wanted to climb the Harbour Bridge, but turns out it’s over 200 bucks. No thank you. Lots more walking around, chilling in Hyde Park (which became our afternoon tradition), and more shopping. Sydney was an odd place though. First of all, all we saw were Caucasians, Caucasian tourists, and Asian people. No black people, and no Muslims. I was like “in a city of almost 5 million, there must be more colour!”. Apparently the suburbs are like their own little communities, with their own stores and everything—so people don’t really venture out into the city much. I know there’s a large Lebanese community in Sydney, but I could probably count on one hand the number of Arabs I saw. It was weird. Second, the Sydney-ites (Sydney-ans? Whatever they’re called) definitely don’t hide their sexuality, because there are sex shops EVERYWHERE. Literally. In the posh areas, in the sketchy areas, in Chinatown, in the shopping district. You name it, there would probably be 5 shops on 1 street. You know when the liquor shop is called the “Lick Her Shop”, there is something a little off. A couple of fun nights out, and our short stay was over. Then it was back to Melbourne for a few days with the fam, Boxing Day shopping (Boxing Day in Canada is much better), a nice barbeque, and off to return to Africa.

Just a few random thoughts about Aussie:
1)It is SO WEIRD seeing Christmas being celebrated when the weather is so warm. The streets were all decorated, houses were tricked out... and yet people were wearing shorts.
2)There were some habits I’ve picked up in Africa that don’t really translate well to developed countries. Apparently, I now cross the street like a total incompetent. Here in Bots there are very few crosswalks, so you just cross whenever there are no cars around, even if the light is green. I was continuously doing that in Aussie, and getting yanked back and scolded. I’ve also become impatient about how long the FREAKING LIGHT TAKES TO CHANGE SOMETIMES. At least traffic in Australia and Bots goes in the same direction; I probably would have been killed otherwise. It was also weird to not have to watch for my belongings every second. My cousins called me paranoid, but I was always like “Where’s my bag? Where’s my money?” and kept looking over or feeling around until I could locate them. I could also carry a purse and put money all in one place without thinking about getting mugged! It took a while to register that my stuff would be just fine.
3)One of the funniest things to happen was right at the end when I was packing. My family said I should bring some food from Australia to Africa. I thought it would be a waste of space since I bought a lot of clothes. After a struggle, I ended up with 2 big jugs of pancake mix and maple syrup. And I’m talking like, milk jug size. 2 of them. And at first they wanted me to bring 6. My bag ended up being slightly overweight at the end.
4)As my cousin so eloquently put it, apparently I’ve become “less dopey” since I’ve gone to Africa. Score!

Just a couple of shoutouts and words of thanks to people in Aussie. Sara, Sally and the whole Saadeldin family; I know family’s supposed to take care of each other, but you guys went above and beyond to make sure I was well-fed and had a good time. I’ll never think of “What’s My Name” (or Rihanna in general), “Teach Me How to Dougie”, “All of the Lights” or any Salsa music without thinking of you Doublemint twins. Musa Musa, Abdulahi, Najat (I’m sure none of you are actually reading this), your hospitality was much appreciated. Big ups to Namarek, Reem, Amran, Qamar, Muki and a special SPECIAL thanks to Nawal, my new BFF ;) Forgive me if I didn’t put you down, but you guys are the best!

Aussie = almost success. The only downside was that I didn’t meet Oprah.

Namibian adventures down below!

Epic Adventures Part II—Namibia

I hadn’t anticipated on going on two trips, since I thought I was already taking a lot of days off as it was. But the week before I left, we were told that Baylor would be closed for the whole last week of December, and we wouldn’t actually have to be back at work until the 5th of January. Now, I’m not one to waste an opportunity to travel for a whole week, so together with some of my friends from work, we decided to head to Victoria Falls (again) and this time venture into Zambia, and Chobe National Park. Turns out everyone in Southern Africa had the same idea, since it was impossible to find accommodation for the New Year period. I was already in Australia by this point, but knew I wanted to go somewhere, so the wheels were put in motion to plan a trip to Namibia instead. After countless e-mails back and forth (and lots of awesome people at Baylor who planned this trip for us while I was on another continent), we had a game plan. We would leave the day after I came back (the 29th of December); spend 1 night in the capital Windhoek, 3 nights in the seaside town of Swakopmund, and one night in a town called Ghanzi in Botswana to break up our trip back. I knew I was cutting it close with my flight and would probably be jet lagged (plus the 9 hour time difference between Botswana and Australia), but I didn’t mind. Little did I know, we were supposed to be on the bus to 12-hour bus to Windhoek at 5:30 am on the 29th. And my flight landed at 8 pm on the 28th. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much, but off we went.

I won’t get into too much detail about our transport: I’ll just say for next time, it’s probably a good idea to confirm how you’re getting there and back BEFORE deciding to leave on a trip. It was definitely an adventure in itself, though. We finally made it to Windhoek, and crashed for the night. I can’t say Windhoek is the most exciting of cities—but then again, we didn’t see very much of it. What struck me right off the bat though was how friendly the people of Namibia are; they were so kind to us when we needed help (which was a lot) and were just cool people in general. There was also a lot of buzz because Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had just been in Namibia a few days prior (first I just miss Oprah, then the Jolie-Pitts? Gosh, I should have booked my trips a few days earlier!), so everyone was excited about that. After a quick tour of Windhoek, it was off to Swakopmund. We had to take a combi (that minibus-type thing that many African countries use as transport) for 4 hours to reach our final destination. Turns out, the Windhoek-Swakopmund ride ended up being one of my favourite parts of the whole trip; the landscape was just stunning. I’ve posted a few pictures on facebook, but they don’t do it justice. For the first part of the ride, we were surrounded by these beautiful mountains on both sides of us; a few hours in, this was replaced by the vast nothingness that is the Kalahari Desert—just a few bushes here and there. Finally, the area around Swakopmund was filled with these huge sand dunes, one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

After settling in, we did a quick tour of the town and saw the beach. Before I get into too much detail about that though, let me take a few seconds to describe the weirdness that is Swakopmund. Namibia is a former German colony, so you can definitely see the German influences—Swakopmund takes this to the extreme, though. Most of the signs and street names are German, and the white people there almost outnumber the native Namibians. Plus, there has been interracial mixing for generations, so a big chunk of the people are this beautiful Afro-German mix, with caramel skin and awesome afro hair. There were also lots of Afrikaners (white South Africans) and Germans there on holiday, so it didn’t really feel like I was in Africa at all. But Swakopmund is gorgeous, with lots of palm trees, endless desert and beaches along the Atlantic Ocean.

We were exhausted from our travels so after calling it an early night, we woke bright and early for a jam-packed day. Our first stop was Desert Explorers for quad biking and sandboarding! It’s a popular activity in Swakopmund, and Brangelina even did it the last time they were in Namibia. We started with one hour of high-adrenaline quad biking, which I can honestly say is the single-coolest thing I’ve done in Africa thus far. It felt such a rush to be racing these bikes through the desert that looked like it stretched on forever. I can’t even begin to describe the view—I was pretty much like “holy crap, am I really here right now?!?!?”. It was like those deserts you see on TV or magazines, but so much better in real life. The sand was the softest thing I’ve ever felt and just slipped through your fingers. And the dunes are huge! They were easily the size of tall buildings, and the ones in Walvis Bay (about 30 km away) are as big as 300 metres high! We got to ride up some of the smaller ones which was sooooo cool.

We eventually reached the place where we would be doing our sandboarding. Sandboarding is exactly like snowboarding, except you go down a huge desert dune instead of a snowy hill. However, I don’t actually know how to snowboard (and snowboarding experience is pretty much an asset), so I opted for lying-down sandboarding, which is pretty much tobogganing headfirst at 80 km an hour down a 50 metre dune. These hills looked scary, but going down was actually super fun. Thing is though, we’re in the middle of the desert, so there aren’t exactly ski lifts to bring us back up the hill. So we had to walk back up, uphill (with our boards) in the soft sand. It was exhausting and your thighs are burning afterward... after the second time doing it, we sweet-talked one of the guides into bringing us back up the hill on his bike. The thing about sandboarding though; you get sand EVERYWHERE. All of the usual places of course—in your shoes, hair etc. But I didn’t expect to get sand up my nose or in between my teeth haha. After sandboarding, it was one hour of quad biking back to the starting place. This time we went a lot faster and a lot higher up the dunes. All of a sudden, our guide stops at the top of this huge dune, and when I look out, I was literally taken aback; right at the end of the dune was the ocean. It was definitely a sight that I won’t forget anytime soon. We stayed up there for a little bit, and then it was back to the main starting place. I would recommend it x 100000000000000 for anyone who’s going to Swakopmund. I had also considered skydiving which looked really fun, but a) I wanted to spare my mother the heart attack, at least for now; and b) I didn’t have 300 bucks to cough up . Oh well, maybe next time.

From Desert Explorers, it was straight off to a fun-filled day at the beach. To be honest, I preferred the beach in Mozambique, where the water was warm and calm; but obviously, I’m in no position to complain. The tides were really strong, so we were more dragged by the waves than actual swimming, but it was still fun. After a quick shower and some dinner, we headed over to a local spot called Tiger Reef to spend New Years on the beach. There were fire-breathing ladies, music, a huge bonfire, and fireworks at midnight. Not a bad way to spent New Years, I think. Resolution-wise, I think I’m going to try and be a better cook this year and try to make new things (which I’m passing thus far, but it’s only day 6), as well as keep in better touch with family/friends back home, hence why I wasted no time in writing these entries. Let’s see how long I’ll keep that up for. New Years day was a more relaxed affair, with sleeping in and more time at the beach. Before we knew it, our short trip was over and it was time to go home.

A month to remember, that’s for sure. Now I’m back in Gabs, taking myself out of vacation-mode and settling in to everyday life again. But it’s good to be home.


- Yaz

Sunday, December 12, 2010

World Tour

Hey hey hey!
I’m sitting at a nice restaurant eating a delicious “Dukka” (aka chicken) burger at the Johannesburg airport, awaiting my flight to Melbourne (this was obviously posted much later). Turns out I’ve got 2 hours to kill, and I was smart enough to bring my South African plug adapter (for once), and they’ve got plugs. So I figured, why not provide a little update on my happenings? It’s only been 2 weeks since my last update, but I feel like so much has gone on since then!

Well first, the Baylor Annual Christmas Party went great! We’d been planning it for almost 3 months, and our hard work really paid off. The kids at the clinic look forward to it every year, and I’d like to think that we didn’t disappoint them. There were jumping castles, football matches, a traditional dance troupe (who were AWESOME), lots of food, presents and games galore. I wish I’d taken a bit more time to enjoy it rather than running around like a chicken with my head cut off, but the feedback was great. I’m super glad the hours upon hours of shopping and assembling gifts for 200 kids of different was worth it. I have to say though, seeing Christmas festivities when it’s 30+ degrees outside is very odd. Even in Southern Africa in general, seeing the Christmas decorations being put up, hearing carols (case in point: “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is currently playing) all seems a bit strange. But I’m not complaining if it means that I can avoid the snowy cold weather. I think I maybe be destined to live out my days in a hot country.

This week was also the week that my beloved roommates/SWB friends DITCHED me to go road-tripping in South Africa. Okay not really, it’s just that they were short-term volunteers and they fulfilled their 3-month contracts. I’m not taking it as bad as I thought I was, maybe because I knew I’d be doing my own traveling instead of pining at home for them. But still, I was pretty sour the week before, I think as my way of trying to deal with the inevitable. I’m starting to realize though, being here (or for life in general), you come across incredible people that you wish could be around forever—but life goes on, you cherish the memories you make, and you meet other people who you build new memories with. Yes, I feel very mature about that statement, but really it prevents me from losing my mind with the ever-revolving roommate situation I’m in. Still, I’ll miss all of the September (BOCFAA) crew very much—and especially S, M, A and K (SMAK, get it?), the coolest roomies ever. You da bomb!

I’ve been trying to immerse myself for the past week in my (way overdue) research proposal, which has been good. I was toying with many ideas back and forth, and was really struggling in seeing the feasibility of my topics. I’ve known since the beginning that I want to study stigma, since it’s such a crippling factor in the HIV pandemic here. It’s crazy, 1/5th of the population is HIV-positive, yet people can’t reveal their status to even their own family members. I’ve seen it first hand, and the self-stigmatization in particular is heartbreaking. At first, I wanted to study the idea of a “double life” – AKA how HIV-positive teenagers (since that’s my focus group) interact differently when interacting with other HIV-positive individuals vs. the general population. But since I’m not a Psych major, that proved to be pretty difficult. I’ve finally decided to study what’s being done to fix this major issue. So I’ll be researching the effectiveness of Stigma Reduction Policies (mostly at the national level, if they exist) for teens. I’m focusing on perinatally infected teens (that means those who were infected at birth by their mothers) in particular because I find that they face the same stigma even though the negative connotations regarding transmission don’t apply to them. But we’ll see how it goes. I was also lucky enough to attend Pediatric Kitso (the Tswana word for “knowledge”) training at the clinic all this week. Part of why Baylor is so awesome (and important) in Botswana is because as leaders in pediatric care, they facilitate trainings for medical professionals. So I got to learn about the medical side of HIV—the virus replication process, ARVs, the link between HIV and TB, nutritional considerations etc. It was the closest I’ve felt to being in school in a long time, and it was definitely the most Bio/Chem-related stuff I’ve dealt with since high school. It was super interesting though, and it’s nice to finally be able to have a more in-depth understanding of the virus (even though my post-test score would say otherwise).

I’m putting that stuff aside for now though, and getting my holiday on! Like I said in my last entry, I’m on my way to Australia for some R&R with the Mussa extended fam. At first I was indifferent about the whole thing, but I’m beginning to get really excited! And not even for normal things... I can’t wait to have a glass of milk (something I haven’t done for the past 6 months). And use a WASHING MACHINE with FABRIC SOFTENER. And dare I say it... I think I’m actually starting to miss Eritrean food. But in a few days, hopefully I’ll have been able to accomplish all that and more. Oprah’s also in Australia right now taping a show, and apparently it’s a big deal there. So if I catch an Oprah sighting I’ll let you know, although by the time I get to Sydney she’ll probably be gone. And there won’t be any rest for me when I get back, because then I’m off on another trip to Zambia! I’m hitting up Lusaka for a few days (where hopefully I’ll see Alicia!), then going down back to Victoria Falls, and finally Chobe Nature Reserve, one of the best places for safari in the world. I won’t be back to work till the 5th of January, and will probably have sporadic internet access until then. So to all friends/family/lovers/foes who are reading this, I wish you all the best for the holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and catch you in 2011!


P.S. I can now say I saw a world leader... while at that Kitso training, who's walking out of the conference centre while I'm going in, than the freaking president! That was pretty exciting. I've heard he's low key and stuff, but it was still awesome to see. I gasped like an idiot, but luckily I don't think he heard me. Score!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Very Overdue Update.

I’m guilty. I’m one of those people you hate. The people who live off of reading other people’s blogs but never updates her own. Yeah, those suckers. And considering it’s been a month and a half since I last wrote, I have no business making checking the IDS 2012 site for new blog entries part of my daily routine. But today, I saw lovely updates by both Becky AND Conor (both of whom I love and miss very much) and became inspired to put fingers to keyboard. The truth is, my days and weeks are becoming a big blur, and I don’t even know what’s been happening when anymore. And like Becky, I’m just immersing myself in everyday life. The way I see it, I wouldn’t be keeping a blog back in Canada about seemingly mundane things. However, I realize that I’m not actually in Canada right now, so pretty much anything I write here will seem cool to someone. So enough with the excuses—with “MMMBop” as my current soundtrack (we’re having a 90s themed shindig on Friday and I’m in charge of getting awesome songs), here we go:

Work is going really well. The Teen Mothers Support Group I wrote about a few posts ago is full steam ahead for the New Year (I should note that the song has now switched to “Getting Jiggy With It”). So far there’s been creating a curriculum; getting approval from our Executive Director; holding a focus group with some of the teen mothers to get input on our curriculum; and just Saturday, the focus group for the caregivers of the teens to obtain consent and get final input before we start in January. Now this doesn’t sound like too much, but its taken 3 months so far (“All I Wanna Do”—Sheryl Crow now). Lots of meetings with the Psychologist and Social worker, plus planning each activity as a separate event (including food and supplies budget). But we’re set to go now! This is one project I’m super excited about, because it’s one that I’ve been involved in start to finish, and my hope is it continues long after I leave.

We’re also in the midst of planning the Annual Christmas Party for 200 of the clinic’s 6-12 year patients and their caregivers. You’d think “planning a party” would be easy, but you would be dead wrong. Especially in Bots, where things get promised and cancelled on you all the time, it’s proven to be quite a challenge. It’s required lots of interacting (and schmoozing) with potential donors, and it’ll probably one of those things that come together the day before (“All For You”—Janet Jackson. Not technically 90s, but whatever. Close enough). We were super short on funds but we just got a big (promised) donation the other day, so we’ll see. This party is one of the big yearly events Baylor does and involves jumping castles, entertainment, face-painting, football playing, food, and of course, present-giving. It’s like planning a freaking wedding in 2 months. Next week will no doubt be insane, but fingers crossed that all goes well. It usually does.

Teen Club-wise, it’s been awesome. In September (which was my first one as a lead facilitator, eek!), I planned activities around the theme of Communication. It involved a lot of teamwork activities, including a blindfolded obstacle course which was hilarious! That was definitely a fun moment for me. October’s Teen Club was about Environmental Awareness, so I recruited a speaker from Somarelang Tikologo, one of the only environmental NGOs in Botswana (and where we take our recycling). He gave a speech to the kids about waste reduction and where food comes from, which they were very receptive to. Then it was off to refurbish our dying garden (“Good Vibrations—Marky Mark). Now it’s looking good, with healthy crops and even a proper garden cover. For November, we’re getting Gabs involved in an essay-writing competition that we’ve been rolling out at many of the satellite sites for one of our other projects. I also took a weekend a couple of weeks ago to attend Francistown’s Teen Club, where Jonathan and I were reunited! Yippee! I can’t wait till you guys see him in September, he is already turned into a white African and his Setswana puts mine to shame. In 2 months. Darn you Jonathan.

On the non-work related front, things have been going well. I’m really settled into a pretty good routine of work and home life (“All That She Wants”—Ace of Base). I’m also cooking a lot more variety than I used to. I used to be the queen of pasta, but my thighs didn’t appreciate it as much as my stomach did. So now it’s a lot more veggies and chicken. We also made a delicious Shepherd’s Pie the other night. It probably lost points on presentation, but it tasted pretty damn good. I’ve also acquired a taste for a) spicy food, especially Indian; and b) spinach. Turns out it’s pretty damn good (“Blue”—Eiffel 65). Though the sucky thing is that my beautiful and awesome roommates are finished their work terms at the end of next week. Not only are those bastards traveling around South Africa without me, but I’ll be left alone for an entire week to mope. All joking aside, I consider my 4 roommates more like family at this point, and I’ll be really really sad when they go. They’re the first group that I got to spend the entire 3 months with (which reminds me how fast time is really flying), but I guess that’s the nature of being here so long. A new group comes in January, so here’s to hoping that they’ll be just as awesome (“You Can’t Touch This”—MC Hammer). I’ll only be moping for a little while after they leave because I’ll be spending the Christmas holidays in Australia! Yup, that’s right. I know it seems like a kind of random place to be going, but I have tons of family in Melbourne (including my stupid cousins Sara and Sally... holla!). Apparently we’ll also be going to Sydney! That should be fun, I’ve never been there before. I know it makes sense to travel in Africa while in Africa, but Aussie will be a nice vacay I think. I’ll be there from mid-end of December, and I can always travel Southern Africa the rest of my stay here. Plus, I need to stock up on much-needed items I can’t find in Bots. First item on the list is mascara.

So that’s pretty much it from me. This one was actually fun to write (“Baby Got Back”—Sir Mix-A-Lot)! In Bots news, I went to the national football game between the Botswana Zebras and Tunisia, to determine their place in the African Cup of Nations in 2012. It was awesome, everyone was there. I even got to see the president (albeit from very far away)! I posted pics on facebook, but there were over 15,000 people cheering them on. And they won! Their victory celebrations were beyond awesome! They all started singing and dancing in the streets, and there was even a “RIP Tunisia” Coffin that someone made (apparently it’s part of Botswana tradition). Anyways, I have awesome video of it that I’ll try to post eventually. Also, Ms. Botswana Emma Wareus was runner-up in the Miss World Pageant, which makes her the pride of Botswana now. And because Bots is so small, I saw her in the grocery store like, the week later. TIA

This is Big Daddy Yazzy/Mama Africa (my new pet names) signing off to the tune of “I’m Every Woman” by Whitney Houston.

I’m every woman, it’s all in meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In the Land of Moz

Hey y’all! It’s only been two weeks since I last wrote my blog... see? I’m getting better! It’s also Thanksgiving Monday in Canada (obviously there’s a few days between when I wrote this and when it was posted), which has got me thinking about what I’m thankful for. This year I’m especially thankful for many things, including my amazing supportive family and friends back in Canada, and my built-in family of WUSC volunteers and friends here in Bots. And of course, we had to have a super-Canadian Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday to commemorate the occasion. There were about 8 people in the kitchen from 3 pm onwards, and dinner preparations included a pretty epic food fight (luckily, I was spared). We made roasted chicken (since you can’t buy turkey here), mashed potatoes, stuffing, multiple pies and tarts and lots of other delicious goodness. I even busted out my polar bear sweater, even though it was like, 30 degrees outside :). It was actually the first time I’ve had a real Thanksgiving dinner, but I could definitely see myself doing it more often!

About 2 weeks back, I went on my second big trip since I got here, this time to Mozambique. Like I said in my last post, we had a long weekend for the Independence holiday, and figured I’d need to make the most of it. While everyone else went to Victoria Falls (which I’ve already been to—see my July entry), one of my housemates and I began the 16-hour bus ride to the capital, Maputo. Even though it was divided into a 6-hour ride to Johannesburg another 10-hour bus to Maputo, it was a hell of a long time. We JUST made our connecting bus, since the South African border was super busy because of the holiday. I can’t complain too much though, because living in Bots gives me the opportunity to travel to faraway places pretty cheaply. So anyways, we arrived at our hostel in Maputo early on a Thursday, giving us 4 whole days of sun, sand and whatever else we wanted to do. Living in Gabs, with a population of 200,000 for (at the time) 3 ½ months made me forget about certain big-city things. The big buildings, the paved sidewalks even on small roads, the perpendicular streets with street signs, the people everywhere… things that I was used to in Toronto. So although Maputo is far from the level of development of Canada, it was interesting to see.

What can I say about Maputo? It’s a neat city. A lot of the streets are named after either Communist leaders/thinkers or important days in Mozambican history. Our hostel was on Mao Tse Tong Avenue, and we frequented streets like Vladimir Lenin Street and Karl Marx Avenue. That was pretty funny. Another thing is that, as Portuguese is the dominant language in Moz, our English didn’t help a whole lot. I eventually picked up a few Portuguese words like “hello”, “thank you”, “water” and “eggs” (all of which were really useful). We hadn’t really made a game plan before going, except for hitting the beach. So literally half an hour after we arrived, we were on our way there. From the Maputo port, there is a 5-10 minute ferry that takes you to this island. It wasn’t the beach ever (better than Toronto’s beaches, worse than a white sand beach), but it was cool because you could see the Maputo skyline just across the way. Pretty much what I imagine Miami to be. Did a little bit of swimming, and a lot of tanning on my roommate’s part while I heavily applied SPF 50 sunscreen to prevent getting dark. Good times. Then we walked quite a bit around the city, had dinner, and called it an early night. The next day, we tried to hit up the Revolution Museum and walked over half an hour in the sweltering heat to get there, but it’s been closed and under construction for quite some time. Boo. Instead, we ventured out to the market. Luckily, souvenirs (and just the cost of living in general) are a lot cheaper in Mozambique than they are in Botswana. Even Botswana baskets are cheaper. Needless to say, we bought lots of paintings, jewellery, and little trinkets. We also hit up the train station and some other Maputo landmarks. And THEN (one of my favourite parts), we went to the massage parlour across from our hostel and got a full hour Chinese body massage. It was fantastic, and only cost about 20 bucks Canadian. I just chilled at our hostel after that, reading in a hammock and meeting the people we were sharing our big dorm room with. It’s always interesting to me to find out what brings foreigners to Africa. There were people from Israel, Germany, Holland and even Canada (represent!), all ages and colours of the rainbow.

Now our third day there was freaking awesome. We decided to hit up a real beach (Mozambique is famous for them) with some of the people from hostel on the Inhaca island, a 2 ½ hour ferry ride from Maputo and in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Now, I’d say I have a pretty strong stomach, but that ride wasn’t very pleasant. People were hurling left and right, and I was fortunate enough to have a girl vomit on my leg. Just great. Plus, I had forgotten to bring Immodium. But worry not, my friends— the ferry had Telenovelas to entertain me! Once we made it to Inhaca, I was blown away. I wouldn’t really consider myself a big beach person (haven’t even been to many), but there’s nothing like seeing white sand and palm trees everywhere. After a quick brunch (and me buying more souvenirs), we set off to go snorkelling! We rented a boat and went out into the middle of the ocean. Now, I haven’t had a good swim in years, and have never snorkelled but never really “got” the idea of breathing underwater. Needless to say, I spent the first little while holding on to the boat. Once I gathered enough courage to actually snorkel, I would come up for air after a couple of seconds… which defeats the whole purpose of snorkelling, since breathing underwater is the point. But eventually I relaxed and got into it, and it was spectacular! There was lot of coral and HUNDREDS of fish to see. Definitely an experience that was well worth it. Then more lying on the beach, and a less-treacherous ferry ride back. A delicious Indian dinner and night out later, our last day was upon us. And take a wild guess at what we did? Hit up the market and the beach. Again. Although we did also take in a football match, taking this awesome big scooter-looking thing called a tuk tuk. Then alas, the time to go was upon us, but it was a memorable trip. Definitely of a different calibre than Victoria Falls, but we actually took time to relax. I would definitely recommend Mozambique to anyone who wants to travel.

Well this is winding down but I’ll leave you with some final Yasmin-worthy moments:

1) As we were approaching the Mozambique border at 5-something in the morning, I woke up and could see a tiny sliver of the sun and the sky beginning to turn a brilliant pink. I thought “this is awesome, I’m totally going to watch an African sunrise!”. So I watched it for a good 20 minutes, but it wasn’t really moving, even though the sky was getting lighter. Turns out the sun was on the other side of the bus, and I had been looking at a lit streetlamp the whole time. Fail.

2) I’m apparently allergic to sandfly bites. Which I learned after being bitten about 30 times. They suck.

- Your homegirl Yaz