BOTSWANA: Expectations vs. Reality

I’ve been told before that I “get it,” meaning that I’m on the same page as others — they see that I understand. In Botswana, I don’t get anything, and it is hilarious and humbling and frightening all at once. 

When I got off the plane, I was so jet lagged. I felt like the insomniac in “Fight Club.” He says that nothing feels real  like everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. I hadn’t really eaten or slept in almost two days. I was told that I would be picked up at the Gaborone airport by a local who worked with ISEP, my study abroad program. Nobody ever came, so I got a taxi to the university.

The taxi driver was incredibly helpful and selfless, characteristics I’d later realize belong to so many Batswana. He could have just dropped me off in the front of the huge university that enrolls about 17,000 students. Instead, he drove around the entire campus looking for the International Education Office. He had to ask about 17 different people for directions. It was a flat rate of 100 pula, or about 10 U.S. dollars to the school, so he didn’t do this to lengthen the time to get paid more.

When we found the office, he lugged my 45-pound suitcase up two flights of stairs and then left promptly so I couldn’t tip him (I don’t think tips for taxi-drivers are too common here.)

A group of international students and our local student “buddies,” who are helping us adjust, greeted me with smiles and handshakes. All of the internationals had arrived a day earlier, and I immediately felt worlds behind them in adjusting.

The first day, I freaked out, realizing that I’d set expectations that weren’t going to be met, even though I tried really hard not to. I wanted the dorms to feel safe and clean; they felt more like hostels, which is actually what they are called. I wanted English to be the primarily spoken language; most people speak Setswana to each other. I wanted the food to be more American; we eat gizzard, impala, and “pap.” The onset of my freak out came when I spotted a huge cockroach (my worst fear) in the bathroom at night. I immediately burst into tears in despair. 

I’ve been here only three days though, and I’m over myself now. Everything is normalizing. I am beginning to appreciate the beauty of the land and the people. I am standing at the dawn of friendships that I feel will last for ages.