|Family photo, May 2019
It has been so long since I have blogged. Since I last wrote, I have lived in Botswana for five more years (almost 6 total), had three little girls, and experienced a life very different from the one I had before. I have learned what it is like to not have the expectations and benefits we first-world people rarely even realize, deeper than “first world problems.” I’ve lived abroad before, but never married to a local, living on a local salary, figuring out how to provide for a family.
And I only know what that’s like when your husband is a highly educated professional who also happens to be an extremely hard worker, and especially gifted in business. I’m still white, and often treated with a special level of respect because of that (a topic for another time). I still have a family who would have helped us if we ever couldn’t have figured things out on our own. I still have a US passport and credit card. And we live in one of the most stable countries in Africa, and most peaceful in the world.
It’s different than I imagined. I was pretty naive to many of the struggles people from other places face. I was pretty naive about many luxuries I take for granted. In some ways, I have come to treasure, and in other ways despise, the first-world assumptions I grew up with.
A moment that stands out most to me was when we had been here for about six months. KG was still doing his pharmacy internship and was working at the main government hospital as a pharmacist. He had a terrible, debilitating toothache, and decided to see one of the hospital dentists.
The dentist explained that all of the dental imaging equipment had been sent away for maintenance, and they didn’t expect it back for months. ALL of the equipment. At one time. Based on the pain of his tooth, she decided she should remove it, and he agreed. He would do anything to get rid of that pain.
He was not given pain killers and they pulled that tooth out of his head. He says it was excruciating. When the tooth finally was out, she looked at it and said, “Oh, that’s a shame, this tooth is healthy. It probably just had a minor cavity.”
Guys, when he got home and told me that story, I seriously wept. I know it’s just a tooth, but it was the principle of the matter. This would never, ever happen in my world. If it did, heads would roll. But it wouldn’t happen. It was over five years ago, and it still bothers me.
KG, on the other hand, was never very bothered about it. He could not understand the grief it inspired in me. His expectations are just different.
Living abroad is such a rich experience, but it can also be disorienting and confusing. I’ve experienced so much change these last five years it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. In some ways, I am really different. In others, I am very much the same. Similarly, when I look at the States, I see lots of differences and similarities from the country I grew up in.
And all of this feels really important, because we are moving to the States in less than a month. I’m now a wife of an immigrant and mother to three Batswana-American children. I am learning a whole new role in life, and I’m aware of how much I don’t even know I don’t know.
I hope there is some of the “me” that I left behind still there, and that I can rediscover parts of myself. I hope that I will be quicker at understanding jokes and have to think a little less about day-to-day interactions — I’ll be back with people who grew up like I did. I hope I will feel more free to step out on a limb, inspire change, and lead, than I have here.
I hope I’ll also be more mature, that the lessons I have learned in the nine years since I was primarily living in the States will have given me wisdom and grace. I hope I’ll be humble, and remember that the experiences I have had are not shared with most of my peers. They have answers and experiences I don’t have, and I hope I can reenter my culture as a learner.
Even with all of these hopes it is probably obvious that I am scared. I realized a few weeks ago that I feel a little like someone who wakes up from a coma, only to realize that it has been ten years since they interacted with society. Now, suddenly, there are self-driving cars, different political and social perspectives, new products and new norms that may have been heard about through the fog of the coma, but not with much actual understanding.
At the same time, I’ve had a very full, busy, different, interesting life during these nine years. Now I’m mommy. Now I’m a website designer and marketing professional. Now I’m a permanent resident of Botswana, with a whole family who I love very much here. The transition feels big.
Ah culture differences. Gotta love them:-)!
I wrote most of this post the week we arrived in Botswana but never finished it. I finally decided to finish and post it now. Note: this was before I was showing my pregnancy at all.
It was great to arrive in Botswana on Tuesday. Kagi’s mom and brothers and uncle were all waiting for us at the airport, along with another lady (we’ll call her Auntie) who I met on my last trip here. We were greeted with hugs and smiles, and ushered out to the waiting cars.
Arriving at the car, Auntie grabbed my hand and said with enthusiasm, “You’re too fat!” Not knowing what she meant, I smiled — it must be an English mis-speak. I don’t think I’m too fat, and certainly am much trimmer than she is. Sensing my confusion, she repeated her statement enthusiastically, “You’re too fat!”
Kagi saw the exchange and laughed. “She’s complimenting you, Laura!”
“I… I know, thank you,” I stammered.
Apparently I gained a few pounds during my first year of marriage, and this lady was genuinely happy for me. Honestly, it was sweet and funny, and I wasn’t offended. Maybe at another point in my life I would have been, but not this time.
The other factor is that the word too is used differently. It’s used instead of very or more. People often talk about your house being “too big,” meaning it’s nice and spacious. They don’t mean it’s ostentatious.
I love the way this points out cultural differences. My Canadian friend has shared similar stories. It’s funny to compare our often less than gracious reactions. Genuinely, comments like this are meant as compliments. I plan to take them as such.
As I think about the time I will spend at immigration tomorrow, checking to see if my residency permit has gone through, I am reminded of the frustrating aspects of living in Botswana. I have spent six days at immigration so far — arriving before 6am to make sure I am early enough in the queue to be served before lunchtime. The immigration computer system is appalling — on a good day, they usually can input one person’s paperwork every 30 minutes. This is just one example of a bureaucratic battle we have been fighting since coming here.
I just read the 2014 Gates Annual Letter, which is Bill and Melinda Gates’ update on the state of international development. It reminded me of what an incredible country I live in, in spite of these frustrations. 50 years ago, Botswana was one of the poorest countries in the world. Now, things have changed dramatically. Here are quotes from the annual letter which directly address Botswana:
“Here is a quick list of former major recipients that have grown so much that they receive hardly any aid today: Botswana, Morocco, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, Thailand, Mauritius, Singapore, and Malaysia.”
“In 1960, almost all of the global economy was in the West. Per capita income in the United States was about $15,000 a year. (That’s income per person, so $60,000 a year for a family of four.) Across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, incomes per person were far lower. Brazil: $1,982. China: $928. Botswana: $383. And so on.”
“Since 1960, China’s real income per person has gone up eightfold. India’s has quadrupled, Brazil’s has almost quintupled, and the small country of Botswana, with shrewd management of its mineral resources, has seen a thirty-fold increase. There is a class of nations in the middle that barely existed 50 years ago, and it includes more than half of the world’s population.”
“Of course, these regional averages obscure big differences among countries. In Ethiopia, income is only $800 a year per person. In Botswana it’s nearly $12,000.“
Kagi’s grandmother, who is about the same age as my grandmother, didn’t finish primary education. She was never taught to read (I’ll have to tell you her amazing story of how she can read now someday). She gave birth to six children, and only three of them are still living. She is lovely — quick-witted, very intelligent, and a strong leader in her community. Even though she doesn’t speak English and I still don’t speak Setswana she is one of my favorite people to be around here in Bots. The Botswana she was born in, with its expectations and opportunities, was nothing like the one we live in today.
In contrast, Kagi’s mom is a qualified nurse and midwife, and he is a pharmacist. The same government with which I have so often been frustrated was organized and disciplined enough to pay to make that a possibility. Healthcare is freely available to all citizens. Public education is free, and most (if not all) children go to school. Those with the ability and drive go to university, and the most apt among them are sent abroad for professional degrees (usually medical or engineering-related).
As a result of this and other factors, there are stories like this:
In contrast to the previously abysmal child mortality rate, my mother-in-law told me about a baby born in her hospital at around 24 weeks gestation who is now healthy and home with her family. This outcome may not be as common as it would be in the States, but that is pretty great any time it happens, and I doubt it is very possible without the services and equipment found in a hospital.
Botswana still has one of the highest AIDS rates in the world (according to Wikipedia it’s about 23.4%). Kagi has been working in the dedicated HIV/AIDS units of the hospital for the last two months. In Botswana, because antiretroviral drugs are free, there is no reason someone with HIV can’t live a virtually normal life — including average life expectancy, the ability to have HIV negative children, and pretty much normal health. The goal is for the next generation to be HIV-free, and they are serious and making progress toward that goal.
Thinking back to the completely undeveloped Botswana of 1960, this is really amazing.
I am very proud of Botswana. In my frustration about bad systems and inefficiencies, I forget that these are growing pains. What an amazing opportunity and privilege it will be if God allows us to be a part of the continued growth and development of this beautiful country.
|Kagi with two of his best friends from childhood. Victor is on his way to the UK for his medical residency, and Lesh is a police officer.
My Grammy requested that I blog about life in Botswana. That question is a difficult one to answer by itself so it was helpful that more questions followed. I figured it was a good opportunity to answer her questions and see if anyone has more questions. So, post in the comments or shoot me an email if you have any other questions or suggestions for blog topics.
When are you going to do a blog about what your life is like there? We are all so curious.
Do you have a church?
Although we have yet to officially join a church, we have been regularly attending one in Gaborone called His People. It is affiliated with the Every Nation family of churches and is led by a South African pastor and his team. Many people from Kagi’s former church also attend His People following its closure last year.
Do you have friends to hang out with?
We are so blessed to have several friends we regularly hang out with and more friends we are getting to know. Having friends around makes a world of difference and it is as we’ve gotten to know people that Botswana has begun to feel more and more like home.
How is KG’s work going?
I believe KG is going to blog about his work on his new blog soon, so I won’t say too much (and when his blog is live I will post a link here). He is doing well and learning a lot. It is a different kind of training than he would have received in the UK had he done his pre-registration year there. Here, he is learning from practice. He is also doing quite a bit of learning about HIV-AIDS medicines as that is still a huge focus of the medical profession in Botswana. He continually has stories of both tragedy and triumph of people with the disease. We both marvel and thank God that these days HIV does not have to shorten someone’s life, they can have children without passing the disease to them, and so on. Botswana provides free medication to those who have the disease and it is really a wonderful thing for those who take advantage of it.
What is your home like?
I guess pictures are in order here! We live in a two bedroom house which is in a compound of three houses and we share part of one wall with our neighbors. It is a simple layout but very nice, and we really like it. So far, we don’t have much furniture, but are thankful to be borrowing some camping equipment from friends and family to fill the gaps. I really look forward to getting couches, and hope that we might find some within the next month or so.
Yes, what do you eat?
Let’s see… we eat many of the same meals I would make at home. I find food to be very expensive, probably because I like buying things that are normal or cheap in the States but are more expensive here. Most of my thinking about food has to do with thinking through what I can make that we like and can also afford. I also have decided to make lots of things and use replacements for others. For example, I regularly bake bread (even though you can find nice bread cheap), make homemade salsa as much as possible, made my own applesauce, and use yoghurt to replace many things in recipes (it is my sour cream, cream, mayonnaise, and etc).
What do you do with your days?
This has changed throughout my time in Botswana. Now that we have internet access, I have been spending time on a web design job I am doing for a local company. I hope this might grow into something I can do as a business and am VERY thankful for a fantastic first customer and fun first project. I also spend substantial time cooking and cleaning, as it seems everything takes a little more effort than it would at home. The other thing I have been doing over the last several weeks has been spending a total of six days at immigration trying to get my residency application through. I am now waiting for the result, and we pray it will go through on the first try. The computer system the immigration officers are using is horrendous and broke down for a month or so, so everyone who needed to apply was pushed back. My days at immigration began by arriving between 5:30 and 6 at the office to put my name on a list, and then trying to make sure that I was helped in the proper order. Needless to say, not my favorite way to spend my time. Otherwise, I spend time with our puppy Bella who I hope will be well behaved before she is enormous, which will happen soon.
Are there malls, where do you shop?
Yes, there are several nice malls in Gaborone. One of them is close to our house, but as Gabs isn’t huge, we have pretty easy access to 3 we particularly like. I have been learning which stores are best to buy which things. Generally, you can find most things here, it is more a matter of being able to pay the price for them. I really miss the easy access we have in America to nice things for low prices. Here the quality isn’t quite as good and prices are relatively high, especially in proportion to the income people have. I am learning a lot about how to shop wisely. The nice thing is that South Africa, which has a much bigger economy, is very close. I haven’t been yet, but would like to take a trip there soon to buy some necessities. Many people do this and for things like maternity clothes, which I still haven’t found here, it is necessary. It is also nice that the Botswanan pula is 25% stronger than the South African rand, so hopefully I’ll have a little advantage with that as well.
What was your Christmas like?
Our Christmas was nice, but certainly different than at home! For starters, we are at the height of summer here, so the morning was pretty warm. KG and I spent time at home and exchanged gifts. We then took our remaining cinnamon rolls and went to see his family in Thamaga, the village where they live about 30 minutes from our house. Then we came home and I grabbed the apple pie and corn custard, taking them with us to our friends’ house. Once there the rain came and we had a feast which reminded me of home. We had a very nice afternoon and evening with the Jones family and their relatives. The evening ended with a board game which KG played while I called and watched my family open presents in Spokane.
Do they celebrate New Year’s?
Yes, kind of, as far as I know! I think people set of fire works and have parties, much like home. We didn’t really have anything going on so we ended up going to bed early. I think the combination of the early morning lifestyle of Botswana and pregnancy had me ready for bed around 10, so I didn’t mind. Next year, though, I think we will have a party. Hopefully by then we’ll have furniture! 🙂
How is your pregnancy going?
I am so thankful that it is going well. The first trimester was not much fun for me, but since I hit the 13 week mark things have been fine. I am 20 weeks today, which is very exciting! Half-way there. I have been feeling good and have for the last week or so been feeling the baby move quite a bit. It is very exciting, and I think both KG and I are getting more and more excited about meeting this little one soon.
There are many stories to tell from our first month and a half in Botswana. An overall brief update follows:
After a summer in England waiting on the government of Botswana to let us know if it was OK to stay in the UK they let us know that they were not going to grant the approval near the end of August. Thankfully, KG had planned for that contingency, and we quickly moved forward with plans to ship all of our belongings (including our car which we bought early in the summer) with a group of others.
We arrived in Gaborone at the end of September hoping to ease our way into the hot summer, but had no such luck. The first few days were 35 degrees C (95 degrees F), which was a pretty rough shock to our systems (especially without AC).
Since then, we have been working hard to get settled. Finally, last week, we were able to move into the house we are renting (which is air conditioned!!) nearer to Gaborone and received our shipment. Today, KG started work.
I’ll start sharing some of the stories from the last several weeks and new ones that come up as I have internet access. We still have a way to go for our house to be totally settled, and one of my top priorities is a great internet connection, but that will happen in Botswana time – meaning most likely not be fast.