Saturday, June 25, 2011

Michelle Obama's Visit: Saturday

The First Lady came to meet us at the Ambassador's residence on Saturday.

Ambassador Michelle Gavin introduced the First Lady, who shared some very nice words.

(Sorry for the poor cinematography, I was holding Nile in one arm and holding the camera up with the other tired arm.)
Yes, space heaters -- did I mention it was FREEZING! June = winter here, remember.

Nile and Michelle!

More Michelle.



The First Lady signed this book for the Peace Corps director's daughter. She even asked her exactly how to spell her name. Inside, she signed it the way the President does, with the message: "Dream big!"

And then she took a picture with all of the Peace Corps volunteers who were in town. Beautiful faces!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Michelle Obama's Visit: Friday

The First Lady of the United States of America arrived in Gaborone, Botswana, on Friday morning. I didn't see her until Friday afternoon.

One of my other tasks during this visit: Local point of contact for the First Lady's meeting with the President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama Ian Khama, or, as Nanny exclaimed when I showed her the pics I'd taken: "Ian!"

I stood outside looking quite official waiting for the First Lady's motorcade to arrive at the President's Office. I was given a little lapel pin by the Secret Service to wear as I stood outside so that I wouldn't be identified as a threat. Sincere thanks, guys!

People lined the streets down the road, and I was told that she was on her way. It was bright and sunny but windy out. A helicopter went by overhead, signaling she was near. A few motorcycle cops went by. Then the motorcade came around the corner, a line of black, shiny SUVs. I looked at the windows of the cars as they passed me and all of a sudden I was looking in the face of the First Lady, who was looking back with a closed-mouth smile. For some reason I averted my eyes and looked down. I don't know why; I guess I wanted to seem professional and not stare, or I felt like it was rude to look at her. Then I thought, "wait a minute, why are you looking away?!" I looked back up to catch her looking at and waving to the Government of Botswana Protocol Officer beside me.

In her motorcade were some vans of press personnel that I was responsible for wrangling. They all came running out in a windblown herd to catch up to the First Lady whose car was right in front of the office building.

I moved toward the building to intersect with them; I could see her getting out of the vehicle on the side away from me. Correction: I could see her legs and head. She was wearing bright red pants and red shoes from what I could make out.

I escorted the press to their holding room, which involved more running and breathless traipsing up flights of stairs. The photographer from the Associated Press asked "How many more flights?" When I answered, he joked, "A day wouldn't be complete without flights of stairs!" Once all the reporters were safely inside the Cabinet Room, I stood outside and waited. My White House point of contact then came out and invited me in!

I stood behind the group and waited some more. The First Lady was meeting with the President inside his office.

The meeting and short press appearance was scheduled to last 30 min. total. At about 35 min. they were still in the President's office. The mood had gone from all reporters with cameras at the ready, occasionally testing with a click and a FLASH; to cameras sagging and BlackBerries out. I chatted with the reporter from Reuters. Then one of the Protocol officers indicated that they were coming out. Everyone perked up.

I snapped some pics, but my camera focused on the reporters' heads in front of me instead of the main event. Ah, well. Because they had run over time, they didn't take any questions from the press. Instead they came out, shook hands, and retreated back into the office for her departure. Literally 15 seconds.




Here's a professional photo by the stair-conscious AP photog, Charles Dharapak:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Michelle Obama's Visit: Thursday

Thursday was actually pre-Michelle's visit, the FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States) visit.

One good thing about a small mission like ours is that when something big like this happens, you are likely to be called on to handle more than one task associated with the visit.

Among my tasks: Gifts.

I was the local point of contact for the White House gift officers. Yes, they have people whose job it is to bring (and wrap!) trunks of gifts for giving and fill those trunks with gifts received.

I made lists of who should receive gifts from the First Lady, and who had given gifts to her. I logged gifts for the First Lady and First Family on special forms, and made sure gifts were distributed to those the First Lady was gifting.

I was also in charge of the Big Gift Exchange: the gifts between the First Lady and the President of Botswana.


I had to get some pics!

For security and logistical purposes, their gifts were exchanged on Thursday, the day before they were scheduled to meet.

I would love to have my own professional gift wrapper! Look how lovely this is! The wrapping is gold foil embossed with the Great Seal of the United States of America. There is a white ribbon overlayed with a gold tulle ribbon, secured with a gold sticker of the Great Seal. The pen is for perspective.


My FAVORITE part was the card, hand-written by the White House calligrapher!


p.s. shhh, since the President of Botswana is a nature lover and conservationist; the gift was an Ansel Adams photography book, signed by Ansel Adams!

Here is the gift from President Khama to the First Lady:


I know what's inside ... it's a beautiful baked clay tea set, handmade in Gabane, Botswana. It's nestled in rich dark green velvet inside a big wooden box affixed with a brass plate with a description of the contents and the President's name.

I love the wrapping paper! The colors and stripes mimic the Botswana flag, and the design is highlighted by the coat of arms of Botswana, which features a pair of zebras. Beautiful.


Hi there, sorry to have left you hanging on the story of Bolu's return home.

Things have been a bit busy around here.  Have you heard the news?

Wait, what's the First Lady's itinerary? Oh yeah:

Friday, June 24, 2011
Gaborone, Botswana

Saturday, June 25, 2011
Gaborone, Botswana

Sunday, June 26, 2011
Gaborone, Botswana

More info, photos and details to follow, dear reader!

Friday, June 17, 2011

WE FOUND BOLU!!!!!!!!!!!!

Can you believe it?!?! It hasn't quite sunk it yet for me, either!!!!! We got home an hour and a half ago with Bolu! He was 21 kilometers outside of town, in a little village called Kumakwane. Insane. The most crazy story ever. I will fill you in next time. Just loving having Bolu HOME now!

Sunday, June 12, 2011


{Video of a truck exploding at the end of this post!}

I went with some guys on Thursday to blow up a Chevy Suburban.

It was awesome!

We drove an hour outside of town to a beautiful rural area where it was sunny but windy and cold, but overall it was QUIET.

Until we blew up the truck.

Me, Mr. Wonderful, and a random hook and rope that fell off the car en route to its destruction.
Me and Mr. Wonderful on the drive out there. We stopped to pick up a hook and rope that fell off the car.

Using a shovel handle to break up explosives ... safe?
The Botswana Defence Force team used plastic explosives, which are malleable explosives that look like sugar cookie dough. Not sure how technical the use of a shovel handle is for breaking it up ...

I think if I had asked, they would have let me make a plastic explosive dough ball of my very own.
They kneaded the plastic explosive dough into balls, which they then distributed all over the car and molded along tubes of explosive powder.

I am pretty certain that if I had asked nicely, they would have let me make my own plastic explosive dough ball.

Lovely place to blow up a car.
Beautiful landscape. This was the farthest outside Gaborone that I've been in my 3 mos. here in Botswana.

"Oh crap," I thought. "I come to watch a car get blown up and I die from being stampeded and gored by cattle."
Luckily Mr. Wonderful, aka The Cow Whisperer, herded these cattle down the hill and away from the truck. Although when I turned around and saw this stampede headed toward me, especially those horns, I thought "great, I come to see a truck get blown up and instead I get trampled and gored by cattle."

If it goes, at least if I'm this close I won't feel a thing.
I decided this was a better place to risk it: They told me that if it accidentally blew right now, I wouldn't feel a thing ...

You missed a spot.
This is some serious explosive power.

These guys are pros.
Almost ready ...

I'm laughing stupidly here because one of the soldiers said "DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!" after I totally leaned back on the car for the photo. Darwin Award, anyone?!
I'm laughing stupidly here because one of the soldiers said "DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!" after I totally leaned back on the car for the photo. Darwin Award, anyone?!

Ready for blastoff.
Ready for blastoff. All of those tubes are filled with explosive powder.

There was a delay between seeing the blast and then hearing and feeling the BOOM!

Crap, I left my phone in the car ...
Not much left!

Me and the demo team leaders.
Me and the Botswana Defence Force demolition team leaders.

Friday, June 10, 2011

No News

We have still not found Bolu. I'll let you know as soon as (if) we do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sad Day

I know things could be worse, but our little dog, Bolu, ran away today. I'm pretty sad about it and not feeling any more cheery about being here.

Bolu a few weeks ago, on top of fill dirt with his favorite toy, "Mr. Sunshine."

Yes, this is the dog we just spent $$$$ in blood tests and shipping charges to have sent from Argentina, to the U.S., to South Africa, to here.

But apart from the expense, I really miss him a lot and I hope he is at least OK wherever he is.

I am still unclear how it happened. I was at work and Neil was getting the car's oil changed.

Nanny was at home feeding Nile and a plumber from work, along with two contract plumbers, came and buzzed the gate. Nanny let them in but she did not go outside or call the dogs in. Apparently Bolu went out of the gate, which he sometimes does, but he usually sniffs around and follows any visitors back inside. It seems the plumbers left the gate open ... I asked around the neighborhood and the gardener for our neighbor said Bolu came in their opened gate and he took Bolu back to our house, but the plumbers still left the gate open ...

Of course, when I tried to ask Nanny and the plumbers what happened, I got a patchy, sketchy story at best. The main barrier to communication is that their English is not great, so I get a lot of head nods and confused looks mixed with either no response or a couple-word response that doesn't make any sense or contradicts what they just said.

Ditto asking around to the neighborhood watch guys. We drove around, called Bolu's name, etc.

I am thinking that someone probably picked him up, as he is a nice, extremely friendly little dog that is very different looking at least from the typical dogs here.

My big boss suggested I follow the lead of his friends who recently lost a Yorkshire Terrier that was subsequently recovered -- post a sign with a reward.

As he said,

"If your dog is out there, $1,000 pula will find him."*

*($1,000 pula = U.S. $154) 

 The pic we'll use for the LOST DOG - REWARD signs.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nile With Grandpa

April 19, 2010 (4 weeks old)

Jan. 5, 2011 (10 mos. old)

No McDonald's

Believe it or not, like it or not -- there is no McDonald's in Botswana.

As in, no McDonald's in the entire country. No McDonald's here in the capital city -- thriving metropolis of 200,000 -- Gaborone.

Where am I????

You can say all kinds of noble, anti-capitalistic things about how a country is probably better off without the Golden Arch of American consumerism and SuperSized symbol of U.S. obesity.

But sometimes you find yourself hungering for a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese and those delicious, oil-soaked, salty fries.

Why no McDonald's?

The short answer is that apparently the McDonald's franchise requirements and standards are too much for this country to support. This seems like a curious answer to me.  What does that say about a place where even McDonald's won't invest?

Sunday, June 5, 2011


We were over at our neighbor's house not long after we got here for their 4-yr.-old daughter's birthday. The family is from South Africa and their two middle-school aged girls were on a break from boarding school there.

We were all sitting around the living room, and Neil asked the girls what sports they play at school. They listed them off and Neil was repeating them, until they got to one oddly named "sport" (??)


I instantly thought to myself, "wow, I'm glad I'm not the one asking the questions and having to say what she just said and/or figure out what the heck she is talking about."

Neil, hesitating: "Nih .... puhl?"

Little neighbor girl in her South African accent: "Yee, nipple."

Her father, sensing a miscommunication, said more clearly: "NEH-bohl."

Neil: "OHhhhh, NET ball! So how do you play that?"



I've been compiling a list of "Botswanisms," which as you can see may be influenced by South Africanisms, Zimbaweisms, etc. And a lot of it is probably from British English.

More about the way people talk (very proper, very British-ish, very softly) later. I now give you:
  • Matata - yes, like on the Lion King: "Worry." The cleaning ladies at work actually tell me "no matata" when they mean "don't worry." Or when they're telling me about something worrisome, they say, "Matata" or "lots of matata."
  • Is it? - this is used the way we use the interjectory phrase "Is that right?" For example, if I said "We Americans love Girl Scout cookies" a Batswana might respond "Is it?"
  • Oh, shame! - this is used the way we say "Oh, that's a shame!" or more like "Oh, poor thing." I hear this a lot when Nile meets new people and buries her head sideways in my shoulder, looking at the newcomer with a cocked head. They will say, "Oh, shame!" ("Oh, poor thing!") Or when Nile had a cold, if I said, "Nile wasn't feeling well so she is at home" they might respond "Oh, shame!"
  • Hectic - Crazy/busy. Like "I was studying for my exams, and it was so hectic."
  • Howzit? - "How's it going" This may be a South African thing but I also heard it a lot in Hawaii
  • Mma/Rra - ma'm/sir. Sounds like "mah" or "rah" with a rolled r.
  • Colour, Favour, flavour, etc. - British spellings
  • sort out/get sorted - get something squared away/figure out. "Have you sorted out the situation with the airline tickets?"
  • Serviette - napkin, like when eating. NEVER say "napkin," it means sanitary pad.
  • Rubbish/dust bin - trash/trash can. Also something I noticed people say in Hawaii.
  • Robot - traffic light. Very confusing when I first got here. People do not know street names, so they give you lengthy directions using landmarks. And with their British-ish accent, when they said "Rowh-baaht" I thought they were saying ROBERT, so they'd say, "Go past the Roberts and continue on." And I thought Roberts was like a store or restaurant.
  • Flyover - overpass. There are too few of these in the city. The city is divided by a railroad track and there are basically only 3 flyovers to get from one side to the other. I am one of those trying to get to the other side for work daily, and the bottlenecks, as I've documented, are terrible. More fylovers, please!
  • Rocket - arugula. They called it "rucula" in Buenos Aires. It is that peppery, delicious salad leaf that seems to be really popular in cuisine right now.
  • Coriander - cilantro.
  • Biscuits - cookies 
  • Tyres - tires
  • Tomato - pronounced "toe-MAH-toe." Yes, like "you say toeMAYtoe, I say toeMAHtoe."
  • SMS - text message. This country lives and runs on SMS. Partly because SMS doesn't use minutes, and many people run out of min. so it is considered rude I think to call people (and use their minutes or not be able to get through if they're out of min.) when you can SMS.
  • Now/just now/now now - probably never/maybe in 5 min. to an hour/IMMEDIATELY. Always clarify your requests or questions, e.g. "I need you to come NOW NOW." Or "I'm coming just now ..."
I am sure I will think of and encounter more Botswanisms.  It's just funny when you think you're speaking "English" but you really have to learn vocabulary that's almost a bit of a different language. And sometimes it's the accent where misunderstandings occur. I used to think that people who put on accents were being fake and weird. Now I see (like when I have to repeat things with an accent to be understood) that it's not that much different from speaking another language -- it's just a way for people to understand you.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Nile Reading With Ellie

April 30, 2011

This is one of the most adorable videos I have, of Nile reading with Ellie the cat sitting on her bed.

If you're not a video watcher, here's a photo:


Not So Clever

I just finished telling you how clever I am and now I have to reverse my declaration and admit what we knew all along -- I'm not so clever after all.

The cold had become unbearable so I requested that the HVAC techs from the office go to the house today to either
a) show Neil how to use the heat (everyone kept telling me that our wall A/C units also produce heat, which we could not make them do)
b) clean/fix the unit so it produces heat
c) bring a space heater

Well, they chose option a). Turns out the wall A/C units DO produce heat. This is so silly and embarrassing --  everyone kept telling me that there is a little LCD symbol of a sun on the remote control to indicate the heat setting. I kept insisting that we only had a vague fan-looking icon or a distinctly frosty snowflake for A/C.

Well, it turns out there is a mysterious third option that in our near-hibernative state of cold-induced brain function, we literally did not see.

The remote control FLIPS OPEN. !!! And inside are the heat settings. Who'd a thunk?

You'd better believe I'm sleeping sans scarf tonight.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Jan. 16, 2011

Speaking of sisters in law, here is me with all of mine.

Neil's sisters (L-R) Clara, Becky and Lisa. In the middle are me and Kristin, who is married to Neil's identical twin.



I've always been fascinated by amazing stories of parallels found between the lives, and in the preferences, of identical twins. Not sure if this is one of those, but it's something to think about: Kristin and I are both obviously "non-white" and were both adopted as babies into white families.

Along those lines, I think it's interesting that two women who couldn't be more distanced from their biological identities are married to two men who couldn't be closer.

Pickled Tink

Have I ever told you how clever I am?

Well, let me say it now: I'm pretty clever.

While we were in AZ during home leave in Jan., Neil's 16-yr.-old sister Clara was stressing over asking a boy to the annual Sadie Hawkins-style dance. And I solved her conundrum.

There is a whole gimmicky culture that has evolved around girls asking boys to this dance -- the young ladies can't just ask the guys, they have to do it in a clever, highly elaborate way; worded and played out like a riddle/joke/creative turn of phrase. The guys have to figure out the identity of the girl who is asking them in order to respond.

Clara had several legendary examples from years past that are now embedded in the high school Sadies lore. Things along the lines of a bag of nuts left in someone's locker, with a note that reads "I would be nuts not to ask you to Sadie's!" Or moon pies, with the note "I'd be over the moon if you went to Sadie's with me!" Or this gruesome one: a cow's tongue left on the doorstep with "Will you go to Sadie's with me? Whats the matter, cat got your tongue?!"

Well, Clara had the boy picked out and was soliciting advice on how she should ask him. I enjoy plays on words (hey, I used to write newspaper headlines for a living), so I threw a few ideas out and then I, the sister in law, who she probably thinks is so lame and dorky, struck gold with the following:



As in, "I'd be pickled Tink ... I mean, TICKLED PINK to go to Sadie's with you!"


The question couldn't be complete without spelling her name out on pickles to randomly scatter, along with unmarked pickles, on the porch of her potential date.

Helloooo, this is this kid's front porch? (Or rather, his parents'??) Cha CHING!!!! Now I know why Clara asked him to the dance ...

We're whispering in the video because it was at night.

The finished product!!!!
Don't worry, he said yes :) Score one for the dorky sister in law (me).


Guys, I hate to admit it, but we're freezing up in here. Granted, it is winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, but


This is like a cruel joke.

"So," you're thinking, "what's the big deal? So it's in the 30s and 40s at night -- it's not like you're sleeping outside in the cold or something." No, we're not. We're trying to sleep INSIDE in the cold. This being Africa, where it does get hair-dryer hot in the summer, our house has no insulation and NO CENTRAL HEAT.

I think I can see my breath.

It's kind of pathetic that this morning I got out of bed and couldn't figure out what the length of material was that was hanging from my neck. Then I remembered that last night I'd wrapped a scarf over my head and neck to get warm enough so I could fall asleep. That, along with socks, fleece pants, multiple shirts and a long, heavy wool sweater.

How many days till summer?

Current Conditions

46°F 10:02 PM CLEAR

Three-Day Forecast

Thursday Beautiful with plenty of sun
RealFeel®: 74°F
High Temperature: 73°F
Low Temperature: 35°F

Friday Sunny and delightful
RealFeel®: 81°F
High Temperature: 79°F
Low Temperature: 38°F

Saturday Partly sunny and comfortable
RealFeel®: 81°F
High Temperature: 80°F
Low Temperature: 37°F