Just four weeks left. I cannot believe that my program and time abroad is coming to an end. I am not entirely sure how I feel about it. In these past two months, I have definitely “settled-in”. We have had less and less program commitments on the weekends. I have had the chance to spend more time with local and program friends. The most frustrating part of the situation is that I wish that this “settling in” sensation occurred mid-way through the semester, as opposed to happening right before I left. The benefit of having this feeling now it that it helps with the pain of leaving Botswana.
In terms of preparing for re-entry into the US, I am just trying to make the most of the connections I have in Botswana. Spending more time with my local and program friends helps to manage any sadness I feel about leaving soon. What really helps is the fact that my local friends no longer treat me as a “tourist”. They no longer take me to the super touristy or “must-see” places in town. We have reached a level where being bored but in each other’s company, is enough. For friends back in the states, I have to somehow find a way to recount my entire experience abroad. Do I just word vomit everything that has occurred over the last 120 days? Do I have them read my journal? Do I make a presentation for them? We have talked throughout the semester, mainly about my experience and the challenges I have faced. Talking in person would be a whole different story. You are going to be more vulnerable and expressions will be easily understood in a face to face conversation. Not that I could ever butcher the retelling of my semester, I just really want to portray Botswana is the accurate way.
What I’m really scared about the most is possibly seeing a change in my life once reoriented in the states. I mean, I know I have further developed my ability to adapt. But, what if I cannot cope with the reverse culture shock and immediately become disgusted by American values and stereotypes that I tried so hard to dismantle while abroad. The worst part is, I probably will not be the first to the notice the little changes in my life. It will probably be my friends and family who will see the changes first. I am saying that the changes will be bad. They may even enhance my personality. I think the key to coping with changes and reverse culture shock is to remain open-minded and give yourself time to process reorientation into the states. There is no perfect timeline for how the whole situation is supposed to unfold.
In my original post I stressed the importance of identity, and that for me, identity was something that I would be grappling with for the rest of my life. While my time abroad has not necessarily changed this sentiment, I think that it has given me a new confidence and maturity that can only come from time away from one’s support network and everyday familiarity. I am less reliant on the opinion of others, and I have learned that in defining identity, while your audience will always change, your definition won’t. I have introduced myself many times over the past few months, and in doing so I have gained a sort of self assurance that I didn’t know possible. I have become more confident in the impact that my words can have on others, and I am less afraid or self conscious to speak up. This does not mean that I have something to say about everything, because something that is very frustrating to me is people who don’t know when to stop talking. However, I think that the past few months have taught me about expression, and that if you have something productive to say then you should say it without extensive self doubt. Accordingly, my time has also reinforced the importance of thinking before speaking, especially when speaking about another country or culture that you are still learning about.
Upon reflection, I still am a black woman (obviously that did not change), but I think that my time in Dakar has given me a new appreciation of my mixed background. I have seen many mixed families here that have made me reminiscent of traveling with my parents and brother while growing up, and I have thought a lot about the privileges and experiences I was awarded because I have parents from two different places. I am prouder than ever to represent the histories of both sides of my family, and everyone who made it possible for me to be living, as my time in Senegal has given me a deeper reverence for family and those who came before me.
I think that the hardest part about leaving Dakar will be saying goodbye to the pace of life that I have grown accustomed to, and how welcoming the overarching community has been. I am notoriously impatient, and that has been tested greatly since my arrival in January just because of how time works here. It is very normal for things to start much later than they are supposed to, and to do a lot of waiting. This gave me a lot of anxiety (it still does sometimes), but it was also a wake up call/reminder that not everything functions according to my clock, and that sometimes it is necessary to step outside of yourself and simply appreciate that given moment. As for the welcoming nature of this community, I don’t think there has been a single day in Dakar where I’ve walked outside and haven’t greeted/been greeted by everyone I pass. It will be hard to adjust back to the impersonal society that makes up so much of the U.S, but I am grateful to know that humanity exists like this, and to have lived in a city as unique and special as Dakar.
By Teniola Balogun
A couple weeks ago, I took a weekend trip with my friends to Cape Town. It was such an amazing experience that I am very grateful for. After a 5-hour car ride to Johannesburg, we finally boarded our flight from Joburg to CPT (it was way cheaper this way). We had just endured a long week of midterms, so no plans were made for this excursion. Which was okay, because CPT has so much to offer. The city is very westernized which really caused me to experience reverse culture shock. At times, I felt like I driving around the Bay Area of California.
Once the plan was made, the agenda for the week included hiking, Robben Island, museums, markets, food, and music. CPT is a very big city so it’s really impossible to see absolutely everything. Which was a really hard conclusion to come to. Luckily, our accommodation was located right outside the city center. We stayed in Bo-Kaap, which is a touristy area of CPT. It is a religious neighborhood that is filled with streets of colorful houses. At times, we would see tourists stopping to take pictures outside of our place. The strip of colorful houses made it a picturesque spot to watch the sun rise and set. Another benefit of our location in CPT was Table Mountain lurking in the back. It was literally right outside of our place. After endless trips to food and art markets, museums, hiking Table Mountain and live music, we were differently ready to head back home.
CPT was such a weird change from Gabs. The entire time I felt like a tourist who thought I had turned up in California and not Cape Town. Little to my knowledge, Cape Town has a pretty dark history involving Apartheid (something they do not teach you in history class). It felt weird for it to be that westernized. It made me very appreciative of my choice to study abroad in Gabs. The culture that I have experienced in Gabs, I could not experience in CPT. I felt like I was still in America doing the exact same things (going to artsy coffee shops and visiting fancy modern art galleries). For me the whole purpose of study abroad, it to experience a culture different from your own or at least a culture that you would probably never get the chance to experience. I loved my time in Cape Town. It is definitely a place I hope to visit again though.
By Teniola Balogun
My type B personality matches the relaxed lifestyle found in Botswana. Everyone here is moving at their own (slow) pace. Everything often starts about 2 hours late. And everyone is used to it. When you go to a restaurant, expect to be sitting for a minimum of 2 hours. It is just how it works here. Batswana are always willing to have a conversation and go out of their way to help people. I definitely think that is related to the slow pace of how things move here.
At first, I thought I would get overwhelmed by it and throw a fit. It is just something you get used it. Whenever I go to a restaurant now, within 5 minutes of sitting down, I know to always place your food order. If you don’t, you could be sitting there until the sun sets. There is absolutely no rush in this country. Apart from having a type B personality helping me to navigate the Botswana lifestyle, a person also needs to have an open-mind that goes into every situation without expectations. If you walk into a situation expected something to happen a certain, you will be disappointed. Being open to change is an important quality to have in Botswana. For example, I had a presentation scheduled for 4-6pm on a Wednesday evening. At about 7 pm on Tuesday evening, my professor emails the class to say that she wants to change the time to Wednesday 6 am. No worries came from me because, you gotta constantly be on your toes here to make the most of your experience. Nothing is set in stone. Your professor might even throw in an extra group project that was not mentioned in the syllabus just for fun. The combi you need to take to school to arrive on time for an exam may take an hour to fill up instead of taking five minutes to fill up. All of these situations become 200% more manageable if you accept that they happened out of your control and the only thing you can do now is embrace the change.
I have noticed that “going with the flow” honestly does wonders for your mental health. It frees up your mind to focus on other things that are in your control. You now have the time to fully embrace culture and experience what Botswana has to offer you if you don’t constantly focus on the situations that were frustrating.
By Teniola Balogun
As a part of my Community Public Health program, we get to observe in the clinics in the Greater Gaborone Area. Wake up call is at 5:30 a.m. every Tuesday. Once we enter the clinics, lab coats are on and pen and pad are in hand. During our four hour stay in the clinics, we are able to wander in and out of the different sections of the clinic gathering information for our end-of-semester “health intervention” project. We are to observe each clinic’s use of resources, proper health waste management techniques, and overall patient care.
This past week, I was able to shadow the nursing staff at the Gaborone West clinic. This clinic is a public clinic with a maternity ward, a pharmacy, an infectious disease care clinic, and an emergency medical services unit. After attending the G-West clinic, I was able to observe the stellar clinical work that they provide for Batswana. I was impressed by how quickly prescription for medication was filled. Prior to the start of my first clinic day, a lesson on financial management was presented to the nursing staff. This concept of teaching important life skills to healthcare employers was so foreign to me, but I see the value of the action. While the clinic excelled in certain areas, issues of hygiene, crowded waiting rooms and provider-patient communication was also present. After having conversations with the health workers, I am optimistic that these issues will not persist. The health workers are aware of the problems and would like to see that they are fixed in the near future.
The hygiene issue seems to be the biggest at the G-West clinic. There is hand soap present in every consultation room, but not present in the bathrooms. The liquid soap is placed usually in “Energade” sports drink bottle. The windows were kept open due to the fact that there was no air conditioning. Despite the capacity of soap in the consultation rooms, I was grateful there is some available for the nurses. Another problem is that the nurses have to constantly re- contaminant themselves because paper towels and/or reusable towels are not available to dry off their hands. Between patients, the nurse that I was observing wiped her hands off on her skirt. She was fully aware that this was a practice that should not continue. It would have to continue because of the shortage of resources. Being the germaphobe that I am, I immediately started to analyze the number of germs that lived on the nurse’s outfit. ...continue reading "The Clinic Life"
Growing up the suburbs of Atlanta, I was not a stranger to being the only one that looked like me in my classes. When I got to college, the narrative was the same. Before picking a studying abroad program, I had to research the cultural acceptance of people of color for each country I was interested in. Issues of cultural acceptance or other financial issues cause African-Americans to be among the most under-represented groups to study abroad. Because of this, it was always better to err on the side of caution when it came to picking which country I wanted to study in. This just comes with the territory of being a person of color. In spite of this, being a minority student abroad has not only enhanced my experience but it has also help me with my own personal identity issues.
I knew that once I got to Botswana I would be “invisible”. When Batswana see my skin complexion, they would immediately think of me as their kin-folk. Unfortunately for my CIEE program friends who aren’t invisible, unwanted attention follows them wherever they go. My colleagues are constantly getting marriage proposals, being stared for unnecessarily long amounts of time, and/or getting other forms of verbal harassment. This has made their transition and acceptance of life in Botswana much more difficult. And I empathize. Every girl in Botswana faces some sort of harassment on the daily, so my friends and I could relate to that aspect.
Once people assess me as Motswana, no one really wants to get to know me or hear my story. Constantly being spoken to in Setswana is the biggest disadvantage of being “invisible”. This mostly affects me because of the connotation associated with a Motswana not speaking Setswana. To Batswana, a Motswana not speaking their language comes across as elitist. That was certainly not the impression that I wanted to give off. Once I open my mouth and start speaking English in my American accent, the jig is up. They know I am American. There is a Black American female stereotype that is displayed on reality TV, which is watched by Batswana, so that was another stigma I had to work past. What’s worse is when I tell them that I am actually 100% Nigerian but born in the States. Minds = blown!
...continue reading ""You’re not a Motswana?": Studying Abroad as a Minority"
My different communities abroad have made me think critically about my identity in many ways. Per my first post, where I elaborated on the complexities of blackness around the world, it has been interesting having now been in Dakar for over two months and seeing where I fit in. I am one of the few students of color in my program that is composed of university students from around the US. This has been an interesting adjustment to make because my social circle back at GW is mainly black students and other people of color. On top of that, this is my first time traveling and living anywhere in Africa with a group of other Americans. At my study center, one of my greatest sources of community here, there is also a law school that is composed solely of Senegalese students. There is no forced separation between the two schools, and we are encouraged to talk to the law students and make friendships, etc. However, there is a natural separation that comes with taking different classes on different floors of the building, and the language barrier that still persists with French and Wolof. This dynamic - especially compared to my friend groups at GW - has caused me to reflect on what it means for me to be an American abroad because at least in this instance I am definitely seen as a part of a larger group, and that is something that I have never had to do so vividly. Furthermore, what it means to be one of a few students of color in a large group of Americans.
The running route that I have in Dakar was another community that I referenced in my last post. I think that more than anything, this has supported and strengthened my notion that I am independent, but it has also reassured me that there are parallels between people when we least expect them. Running has solidified my sense of independence because I made myself familiar with my running paths without any guide. That is not to say that the paths are challenging, and that people have not run them before, but in a new city with a completely different climate I was proud to do this alone. The feeling of independence is also matched with a feeling of comfort because of all the other people that I pass whenever I am on a run. A simple head nod, smile, or thumbs up from a fellow runner is enough to remind me that being in charge/control of what I am doing does not mean that I have to be completely isolated. I am running alongside people from completely different backgrounds, and with a wide range (young to old men and women, some running in flip flops and some in tracksuits), and this has reminded me that even in the midst of minor identity confusion I can still feel a part of something.
While living in the Southern Africa region, I have been able to encounter and learn about the lifestyles of people from South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. I have begun to understand the territory that comes with living in a developing country.
One recurring struggle that I have encountered is the issue of with water insecurity. Botswana is a land-locked country. Water is imported from dams in South Africa. Also, rainwater is collected in dams situated in cities all over the country. Having running water available across campus and in the dorms was expected just as you would expect the sun to be shinning every day. Then when I least expected, the spout in the 3rd-floor bathroom of UB's Main lecture hall ran dry. Just like that, you start to become more conscious about how much one relies on running water to complete tasks.
For Batswana, the inconsistencies in water is not a major issue. Most families in their homes store water in empty soda bottles or in giant storage containers. If you are able to afford it, some people will have the ever-so sustainable rainwater collection tanks on their properties. My first reaction to the lack of water shock, but then I became overwhelmed with a calming sense shortly after. I understood that the water issue was something I was eventually going to have to face (shout-out to the CIEE student blog posts for preparing me). More or less, I wished I knew to what extent would a region-wide water shortage affect me on campus. A notice was delivered by my program director. My roommate told me the day before that the water tanks on campus would be turned on for these purposes. With the help of my type-B personally and two 5 liter bottles of water purchased from the nearest Spar, I was able to make it through my first week-long water shortage. I had assumed that the Gaborone dam water levels must be low. But it turned out that a water pipe had broke, so all water was "shut off" in the Greater Gaborone area and surrounding parts. Most of the campus had running water. There were just a few campus buildings here and there that did not.
...continue reading "Metsi! Agua! Water!"
By Teniola Balogun
I love hearing about all of Batswana’s perceptions of Americans. Some are pretty accurate and while others are so far-fetched. Most of the perceptions come from television and from the media. During our program orientation, our program volunteers mostly referenced shows like the Real Housewives franchise, and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” to come up with the ideas about the American “culture”. Also, some of the Batswana perceptions of America came from interactions with previous international students.
The biggest shock I have received while in Botswana is the perceptions that Batswana thought ALL Americans embody. When , the perceptions that they had only characterized small pockets of the vast country of USA. “Do you all walk around wearing crop tops and thongs to walk your dogs?” My jaw literally dropped when my friend asked me this question. She wholeheartedly believed that this was something that all Americans did. I quickly explained to her that this is probably something you would see in an American Hip-Hop music video. While music plays a huge role in, I guess the American culture, they do not accurately depict our dressing style. My friend said she believed we all dressed like this because it is shown in music videos and at public events like Coachella.
A different friend of mine asked, “Is America really as bad as it is portrayed in the media? I want to go but it seems very scary.” She is not wrong. It is quite scary right now to live in America. Yes, the terrible events do happen. And the media does tend to fixate on them, so much to the point that it can be overwhelming to watch the news any longer. But the media should not stop her from coming to experience the country for herself. I explained to her that the media often blows things out of proportion and controls the information it feeds to the public.
...continue reading "“Americans are allowed to say, ‘Shut Up’ to Their Parents”"
March 4-11th. The week that everyone was dreading/looking forward to. March 4-11th was the week that the Community Public Health students would get the chance to observe rural medical practices in a nearby village named Kanye (which is in fact, West of Gaborone).
I spoke with some local students in my classes, and they would laugh at the fact that I called "Kanye" a village. Little did I know, there is a KFC, Nando's, Chicken Licken, and many more mainstream shops in Kanye. Even though the program had deemed Kanye as a "village", others would call it semi-urban.
I was excited about the homestay aspect of the village trip. I was on the fence about doing either a dorm or a homestay for my semester abroad. The Kanye homestay allowed me to experience the best of both worlds given that I had chosen to live in the dorms. I really enjoyed my experience and my Kanye family. They were so welcoming and ready to share their lives with me. My homestay experience and life as a Kanye local would not have been the same without them.
...continue reading "Dorm Student Takes on the Homestay Life"