Peace Corps Botswana Amenities Survey

Peace Corps just asked us to complete a survey about the types of amenities we have at site. It dawned on me that this information might not be known to my family, friends, and other interested people back in the states, so I’ve presented the survey to you as I sent it to them (sans the remarks in italics or links).

I live in a city, not a village, so my survey answers might not sound like the typical “Peace Corps” living situation most back home might expect. Before you read on though, I’d like to note that in my opinion a Peace Corps service is not justified by harsh living conditions as much as it is by the cultural exchanges and adaptations that occur. It’s about the process of figuring out how best to live, work productively, and adapt to an unfamiliar culture.

In other words, this survey might make it seem like I have it easy, but believe me, living in a city in Africa brings on a whole slew of new and interesting challenges that might not surface in a smaller village community. Perhaps I’ll elaborate on that in a future post.

All this being said, I realize I got pretty lucky with the housing placement, and I relish every warm shower!

 

Program HIV/AIDS Capacity Building Project Component: District Community Liaison (my program name)

1. Do you have electricity in your house? In your village? Is it reliable?
Yes. Yes. Yes, though we’ll have power outages during the rainy season and occasionally during planned energy saving periods.

2. Where do you get your water? Is it reliable?
I get my water from the tap. I’ve never been without water.

3. Do you have a refrigerator? Gas powered?
I have an electrical powered refrigerator.

4. Do you have a stove and oven? Gas or electric?
I have a both a stove and an oven. They are both electric.

5. Do you have cell phone coverage?  What networks are available at your site?
Yes. All of them.

6. Do you have internet access at your site?  How do you access it?
Yes. In many locations we have wireless, but I only access internet through work and home land lines.

7. Do you pay for a dongle (a USB internet provider through a cell phone carrier) or any other type of internet connection?  If yes, which provider do you use?
I split the payment for DSL in my house. I pay for half and my parents pay for the other half. I use Botswana Telecom Corporation (BTC). (This way I can video skype with my parents back home, and it actually cuts the cost for them on phonecards. Also, DSL is 512 kb/s). 

The Simple, Durable, Functional Nokia 1280

8. Does your workplace have internet? If yes, is it a school, NGO, clinic, dist. Office, etc,?
Yes, though we do have occasional outages. It’s in the District AIDS  Office.

9. Do you have a computer?
Yes, both at work and at home (computer at home is an EEE PC netbook)

10. Do you have a smart phone?
I consider my phone smart because it has a flashlight. Other than that, no.

11. Are there stores in your village? Are they chain stores and do you do the majority of your shopping there?  How far do you travel to get to major grocery stores and how often do you make the trip?
There are many stores in Francistown. Many are chain stores but we also have several locally owned businesses. I do the majority of my shopping in the central Francistown shops, like on Blue Jacket Square and in Galo Mall. I can walk 10 minutes to get to a large grocery store.

Shppers at Galo Mall

12. Is your village accessible by public transportation? If not, how far are you from the nearest public transport?
Yes. We have a large bus rank, and there are taxis all over town. The bus rank is about 15 minutes walking from my house.

Francistown Bus and Taxi Rank

13. How far are you from the nearest PCV?  How often do you see other PCVs?

I am about 10 minutes walking from the nearest PCV. I see PCVs about once a week.

14. Have you or do you plan to make a trip home to the US?
No.

15. How many visitors have you had or will you have (best estimate) from the US, family, friends, or otherwise?
None so far, but I am planning to have between 1-3 in early 2012.

16. Is there anything that I’ve left off that you want to add or any additional comments about your site? 
Francistown is pretty awesome.

Crazy Storm this Side

If there had been any question as to whether or not the rainy season had begun in Francistown, last Friday certainly gave us a definite answer.

Lately we’d been receiving brief but still unusual rain showers, lasting around 10-15 minutes at the most, sometimes with substantial thunder and lightning but doing little else other than giving us a break from the hot and dry Botswana climate.

Last Friday, however, Francistown finally experienced the rainy season’s grand entrance. Having just returned home from a week at work, I welcomed the weekend by putting some Black Keys through my living room speakers, preparing a huge, improvised salad (a new and refined kitchen hobby that replaced the heavy-thigh producing bread-making hobby), and sipping a glass of red.  Not an hour had passed at home before I felt the thunder begin to rumble, so I put my salad in the fridge,  took my glass and my camera and sat on my porch.

During the storm the power went out all over Francistown and remained out until 2 a.m. It was the longest power outage I experienced since moving here. Once the storm ended and the sun set, the neighborhood became still and pitch-black, and though I looked I was disappointed to see the clouds still veiled the potentially amazing scene of stars. Whatever, I thought. I didn’t have plans for the evening anyway, and I desperately needed “me time” since hosting a Halloween get together the weekend before.  So I made the most of the powerless darkness by watching previously downloaded TED Talks and Californication episodes until my wine ran dry and my little laptop battery gave out.  The night turned out to be just what I needed.

The next morning I went to a work event football match, and on the way I saw several huge trees uprooted, tin roofs lying next to their houses, leaves and branches all over people’s yards (usually Batswana are very strict about keeping their yards neatly swept), and large pools of rainwater collected on the sides of most of the roads.

About a week prior I got caught in a smaller storm without protection, so as a side note, now I never leave the house without my umbrella.

Bed, Protected

The temperature’s become exceedingly hot and the mosquitoes are starting to seek me out for a tasty midnight snack. A few weeks ago I tried to jump the gun and hang my net early when I realized that, ha ha, when I stand on my bed I’m too short to reach the little loop at the top of my ceiling.  Adorable, right?! Wrong again! I’d asked a couple of taller friends to hang it for me when they were over but they forgot (nbd, guys), and so tonight I had the awesome idea that  I should place my computer chair on my bed and stand wobble on it to reach the little loop. Wise or not (probably not), I got it hung!

Also, please note the blanket at the end of the bed is strictly just for show, and if it touches me at all it will be violently kicked off in my sleep before the nights end.

Ftown Abode

I never thought Peace Corps living could feel luxurious, but the house I was assigned to live in definitely challenges that notion. Compared to other African countries, Botswana is incredibly wealthy due to the successes of its well-run diamond industry. Still, in 1997 almost half of Batswana lived below the poverty line, and only a small percentage of Batswana, mostly located in urban areas, can reap the benefits of its wealth.  Because Francistown is the second largest city in Botswana, its relatively enormous size allows for the inclusion of the full spectrum of incomes.

Urban Space of Francistown

Francistown was created to be a mining town, and began with a central, rich, largely ex-pat community responsible for running huge mining companies. Neighborhoods were created to house mine workers, and eventually its growth merged the central area with outlying villages and made them into wards. Within some of these large wards many people reside in unfurnished houses with outhouses, no electricity, and water coming from a pump in the front yard. Just a neighborhood away, others live in mansions with tall fences, sophisticated alarm systems and purebred dogs to guard them. They drive Beemers and sports cars, and unless they try hard they don’t often have to see the areas of town where people live without.  This town has it all, and is a perfect example of the country’s astonishing wealth gap.

Peace Corps prefers its volunteers to live similarly to those they are around the most. My PCV colleague in Francistown works for an NGO that put him up in an apartment complex otherwise entirely occupied with mine workers.  It’s a roughly 700 sf apartment, like any typical American style apartment, with an AC and hot shower and mostly working refrigerator.

I work in the District AIDS Office, which is a government run institution. Some of my coworkers and I, along with most Botswana PCVs in my program for that matter, live in government housing. These houses can vary in amenities depending on their location but usually are always cookie cutter houses made of concrete and have between 1 and 3 bedrooms. Most have electricity, an oven, a refrigerator, and running water. Some have hot water, and few have all that plus a shower. Because of my location in central Ftown, my house has two bedrooms and all of the above.  Knowing the house was handed to me I’m wholeheartedly grateful for it, and try to keep it as open to others as I can.

With that, here are photos of my beautiful, incredible abode.