December 06, 2012

So you're thinking Botswana...

So you’re considering Botswana! Good choice!

Another Amazing Sunset
Work Life- For my placement I am working at TOCaDI, also known as the Trust for Okavango Cultural and Development Initiatives. Within TOCaDI I am working with the Shakawe Crafts Centre project.  Basically how the Centre operates is we travel to surrounding settlements and purchase baskets from the registered groups there, and then bring them back to the Crafts Centre in Shakawe to sell them. The idea of this project is to give the producers, mostly women, the opportunity and the skills in order for them to improve their livelihoods.
The project has not been up and running for too long so there is a lot of basic marketing and promotion activities we have done so far.  We (Heather and I) have created basic press kit materials since arriving; posters, business cards, pamphlets etc…

I am working on a marketing plan that can be used for the rest of my placement and for use in the future as well.  In the New Year, I am going to be conducting a survey that I created to collect baseline data on the producers. This is important so that the progress and impacts of the project can be tracked when carried out next year.
One of my Favourite Baskets

Possible future tasks:
-          Stock diversification: right now the Centre mainly focuses on baskets, but there is a lot of room to grow. We are currently looking into traditional jewellery, pottery and wood work as other craft options.
-          Training and workshops for the producers: it is important not only to give the producers the money for their baskets as means of improving their livelihoods but it is also important that we also offer them other skills and knowledge.  Workshops on topics such as gender equality or health related topics could be very beneficial for the producers.

-          Continuing to create relationships with wholesalers across the county. This will allow us to sell more baskets and therefore allow us to buy more from the producers ( yay more trips to the field). Ideally the Crafts Centre would operate as a self-sustaining social enterprise, which is something future interns could work to as well.  If the Centre was able to become a social enterprise than it would not be reliant solely on donor funds, which can be frustrating as many of my classmates would agree.

Since this is a relatively new project, TOCaDI is open for suggestions and there are a lot of different ways to make this placement work for you. Although this is not what I was expecting to be doing on my placement, I am using it as a learning experience and have adapted to the situation.  No matter you where you end up on  your placement, if you go into it thinking you are going  to have a bad time, the you probably are. If you go in with a positive attitude, you will have a much better experience.

Traditional Dancing in the Okavango Region
Shakawe- Shakawe is so far one of my favourite parts of my whole Botswana experience. I love the location: situated right on the Okavango River you could not get a more beautiful place. We often hear hippos grunting, and so far I have seen more bird species than I have in my entire life. The people here are also very friendly. Although I still get the occasional marriage proposal, the small village (about 6,500 people) has a very strong sense of community; people are always saying hi and are very welcoming.  We are not Setswana experts by any means but every time we attempt to talk Setswana, people are very appreciative of us trying to learn. We are surrounded by many remote settlements, many of which I have had the opportunity to visit and those trips are one of my favourite parts.

Shakawe is rural, it’s no Hanoi or Kathmandu that’s for sure: Choppies is the only grocery store, there are no stop lights or street lights for that matter and the most traffic you will ever run into is when there is a herd of cows or donkeys on the road, but I have grown to love the town over the last 3 months.


November 12, 2012

The Hottest Week Yet

This past week was easily the hottest and most uncomfortable so far. The average temperature was probably 39 with a few days easily hitting 42. I knew it was going to be hot when I signed up for to come to Botswana, but little did I know it would be this hot. It makes every task you do take longer and requires to much more effort.  
Heather and I took part in a GIS workshop Thursday, Friday and Saturday to learn the basics of GIS. It was very interesting because I never ued GIS before. The only downside was that it was in a small trailer, there were 8 of us all together, 4 computers, no air conditioning and it was at least 42 outside and so much hotter in the trailer.  On Friday I drank 2 litres of water and had 2 glasses of juice and 2 cans of juice and had to go to the washroom only once because that is how much I was sweating. Sorry if that was too much information for anyone, just trying to illustrate a point.

On Saturday it rained and so it was much cooler (probably around 25) and it felt like heaven! I know November is the hottest month and I keep telling myself it will soon be the rainy season and a bit cooler but sometimes it is hard.  
I used to think that I was a person who preferred to be too hot as opposed to too cold, but I have changed my mind on that front. To hear that there is frost and snow at home, makes me so jealous and that is definitely not something I thought I would miss. It is funny how perspectives change; in Canada I would say a nice day is when there are a few clouds in the sky and the sun is shining but in Botswana, I classify a nice day as a cooler overcast one and its even nicer if you through some rain in there too.  

Our First Trip Out of Shakawe

How is everyone one on this Monday morning/very early morning, depening on where you are when you are reading this.

Walking across the 'Old Bridge'
It has been a little while since I have blogged so I will start with updates from last weekend ( Nov 2-4).  Heather and I travelled to Maun as our first real trip out of Shakawe. It was a nice change of scenery and it was nice to be able to go to a restaurant and have a sit down meal. We stayed at Old Bridge Backpackers; it was a very nice place to stay. I bought a tent before I came to Botswana so we camped while we were there. Although the ground was a little hard, it saved us a lot of money which is always good.  I am going to look into a foam pad when we are in Maun next because that would make the sleep much better.

My very own tent! : )

By coincidence we met up with three other Canadian volunteers who came through WUSC and who did the orientation at the same time as us in Gabs.  It was a nice surprise and it was nice to catch up with them and to see how their first two months of placement has gone.

On Friday we walked around Maun and looked in some Craft Shops and looked at some local vendors along the road. There were a lot of nice things, and if I didn’t have to think about how I would get it home in 6 months I might have purchased a few more items. I got a really cool painted fabric that I now have hanging on my wall at home; it gives my room a little colour.
Notice the Giraffe in the Background

Saturday was nice, we read by the river, walked around Maun a little more and then we went on a horseback ride. It was a really awesome experience! We got within 3 metres of lots of different animals, the most exciting being the family of giraffes. Because we were on horseback, the giraffes weren’t as scared of us. We also saw springboks, gemsboks, kudu, ostriches and a few others. It was a really nice activity and we did it just before sunset so it was a nice setting too.
Enjoying a Local Botswana Beer - 'St. Louis Export'

Sunday we hung out and had breakfast and then Heather and I went to this little market called Mosana. Although it was clearly targeted to the ex-pat and the tourist community, it was very nice. There was a little farmers market outside and an assortment of stores inside.  I had breakfast and a chocolate milkshake: both were delicious.
From there we went back to the hostel, packed up our stuff and headed to the bus station. We did not know when the bus was leaving, but we got there and a bus left ten or so minutes later so it was perfect timing.  The bus ride from Maun to Shakawe was about 6 and a half hours so needless to say we were very hot and tired by the time we arrived home.

It was a nice weekend out of Shakawe but it also felt nice when we got back to our houses, showered and got into bed. Guess this place is starting to feel like home after all.





October 26, 2012

End of another Month

Hello faithful readers (if I still have faithful readers and you haven’t decided to stop reading my blog because I haven’t made an entry in a very long time).  We have been in Botswana for nearly two months now, it is kind of crazy to think about.

Last week we had an entire week of rolling power, meaning parts of the town had power for parts of the day and other parts of the town had it for other parts of the day.  In Shakawe, we get our power from Namibia but apparently there was a big storm there and the power lines were knocked out. We survived the week, we were pretty bored at work for a few days because we could not charge our computers but it gave us a good chance to catch up on our reading. As for cooking that was also a little bit of a challenge.  Up until the end of last week, we only had an electric hotplate/mini oven combo to cook on, which obviously did not work when the power was out.  We survived and now we have cooking gas, so that next time the power goes out we can use our gas stove.  

This we have had power for most of the week and we are very thankful for that. This week has been a busy week by Botswana standards. I have been working on an inventory list of all the baskets and that includes pictures, price, pattern and producers. I will see if I can put it on my blog for everyone to see the lovely baskets that we have in the Shop.

On Wednesday, I also got to take a trip with the pottery makers out onto the river to collect clay for their next pottery session. It was a great day.  We took a ride down the river and pulled over and got out to collect the clay. I walked around with the boat driver, who takes people out onto the river for his living, and we saw lots of evidence of animals all around. We saw hippo and elephant footprints and poop.  We also saw the paths that the hippos take through the reeds to the water. I am not going to lie, I was nervous the whole time that a hippos was going to charge out at us but luckily that did not happen. As for actual animals, we saw two crocodile (one regular size and one baby), a couple fishing eagles, a water monitor and many other small creatures.  This was a great day spent outside and I love being near the water.  Unfortunately I did not know I would be spending the whole day outside so I got a little sunburnt but I am okay now.

As for this weekend there is a children‘s play festival on Saturday, a little Halloween party Saturday night and Biodanza and laundry on Sunday. Needless to say it should be a very busy weekend by Shakawe standards.

September 27, 2012

T is for Terrible

Hello again from the land where sweating buckets and dirty feet are contrasted with the beauty of the Okavango river. We have almost completed our second week at work and we are excited for the long weekend ahead but I will get to that later.
As for work, this week we relocated to the craft shop and got straight down to work. Monday, I worked on their new price list. There has been some price changes since a similar project was ran a few years back. So I typed that out into excel and changed the prices. Tuesday I started working on a letter we are going to send out re-introducing our project. Yesterday Heather and I made a One-pager, new labels for the baskets and we are just putting the finishing touches on a mini brochure we are making. It is looking pretty good.

Heather and I learned to weave baskets this week, and let’s just say it is a very difficult task and the women who make them for our shop must have a lot of patience. Next week the lady who is teaching us said that we could start our very own baskets, so that is exciting, although I will probably have a very small messy basket by the end of 8 months but it is always fun to learn new things J
The grading system for the baskets based on the ’10 commandments of basket making’. In the Ten Commandments we look at things like symmetry, neatness, colour etc. The grading scale goes T, P, P+, IM and SP.

SP- super premium IM- intermediateP+ - premium plus P- premium T- Terrible – this is not a joke, but they are thinking about changing it to stand for Trying. As a basket weaver of this caliber I would appreciate the change.
This weekend is Independence Day in Botswana which is very exciting because it is a very big deal here. We get Monday and Tuesday off of work, which also is very exciting. Supposedly there is a talent show going on at the Junior Secondary School next to our house, dancing and traditional food at the kgotla (community meeting place) and I am sure there is a lot going on around Shakawe, a lot more than normal anyways.

I am about to melt so I have to stop typing now, I think it is sitting around 40C right now. One would think that it is just because we are coming from Canadian climate that we are not used to the heat and that is why we are feeling the heat this much, but unfortunately that is not the case. Even the people who live here, the Batswana, are all complaining about how hot it is as well, so that gives us no hope of getting acclimatized to the weather, guess we better just get used to be sweaty all the time.

September 26, 2012

Settling into Shakawe - Sept 18th

This was last week's blog, sorry for the delay. Another blog coming tomorrow!

September 18th
Since the last time I wrote, Heather and I have gotten somewhat settled into out houses where we will live for the next 7 and a half months. We actually have two little houses, mine has my bedroom which is spacious ( but I am still waiting on a shelf or something to put my clothes on). I also have a washroom, with a toilet and a shower, so no need to worry I am not using a hole in the ground. Then there is a room that is supposed to be a kitchen, but it just has a sink in it. Needless to say, we do all the cooking at Heathers. Heather's house is only a few steps away and is one round room with a bedroom kitchen combo and then an attached washroom. 
My co-ordinator told me to make sure I leave the outside light on at night when I am walking between my house and Heathers house. He then proceeded to tell me it was important ecause they have been known to get pythons there and you wouldn't want to walk into one of those...
Our houses are located on the same property and both of the cordinators for our two organizations. It is about a 40 minute walk to work, which wasnt too bad this morning because we left at 7 but I think the walk home will be toasty because it will be around 5 and by then it is hot!
The offices are located right on the banks of the Okavango River. There is a fence to keep the hippos and crocs and other wild animals out but when you walk towards the fence you can see local people fishing, collecting the reeds and many other activities. It is sign of how important the river and the Delta are to the people around here. 
As for my mandate (what I will be doing while I am here) we started to talk about that yesterday. I am helping to revive a local craft and basketry project that TOCaDI owns and operates. The craft shop buys baskets from women in rural surrounding communities and then sells them in the shop. They buy the baskets directly from the women and the aim is to help these women escape poverty and improve their livelihoods.
I will be helping to create a marketing plan to allow the craft shop to sell more baskets and then be able to support more women. The idea situation is that the craft shop can continue to buy baskets and supporting the local people while being financially stable and not reliant on outside funding and funding from TOCaDI.
I am excited to get into the shop next week, but until then I will be doing lots of research and reading about baskets and past projects. 

September 14, 2012

Headed North

Me of my first (but definitely not my last) Safari
No Grand Bend sunset, but it will have to do :)
September 14th

Hello again :)

We just finished our orientation yesterday and we had a very busy week but we learned a lot of important information that will come in handy over the next 8 months and probably long after that. We learned how to take the combis( which are mini buses that are used to get around Botswana), we learned a little Setswana, we learned more about the situation in the country surrounding HIV/AIDS and many more interesting topics.

One of the 5 giraffes we saw


On Thursday we went to Mokolodi Game Reserve, it is only a short distance from Gaberone and it was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of orientation. We saw many different animals including giraffes, warthogs, kudu, hippos and many more. It was neat and it made me even more excited to check out Chobe and other national parks and game reserves throughout the country.

Can be dangerous?



This morning we left Gaborone at 6am Botswana time ( midnight at home) and we started the drive to Ghanzi, where Kyla will be doing her placement. It was about a 6 hour drive and we saw a lot of desert with small vegetation and a lot of wildlife. Mostly we saw cattle and donkeys grazing at the side of the road but we also saw a lot of ostriches which was pretty neat. Drivers have to be extra careful when driving on roads like these because the animals are often on the roads.

After we made it to Ghanzi, Heather and I and our country coordinator Chillie checked into the hotel in Ghanzi for the night. There is a shower with hot running water so that was a treat.

The Hotel we stayed at in Ghanzi - very nice pool but very cold!
Tomorrow morning we get to sleep-in till 830 which we are so excited for and around 10am we will be leaving for Shakawe, where Heather and I will be staying. We are both very excited to finally get to Shakawe but I am also very nervous as well but I am sure that will go away once we figure out where we will be living and meet our co-workers.

That is all for not but I am going to make the most of my sleep in an go to bed at a more reasonable hour.