While in Pretoria, South Africa, we went with our friends to a gift shop that had all kinds of items, big and small.
I was nervous to turn my back on this trio. My rational mind assured me they were stuffed. But I think some animal instinct inside me said "DANGER!" It was unnerving.
Did you notice this guy in the corner of the pic above? I don't know what to say about him, either.
But his friend looked quite ferocious.
The store had all kinds of stuff, but I was most tempted by the zebra-skin rugs. I hope to get one as a souvenir of living in Africa!
The next day I met a friend for brunch at an adorable little place called Isabella's.
I miss having a proper bakery to go to!
I did get some cookies to share. The food was outstanding, I had the toasted smoked salmon, egg & cream cheese bagel:
"Smeared with cream cheese, topped with smoked salmon, spring onion, sliced avocado, capers, gherkins, pickled onion, parsley, creamy goats cheese & fresh sauce made with mayonnaise."
It was DELICIOUS! Made me miss "real" food all the more.
We had a great time just hanging out. Neil enjoyed imitating their mini-bulldog, Rugby.
Katie and I are both due with our second babies about a week apart! Hopefully we get posted together one day so the kids can be friends.
When it finally came time for us to head home, we felt like we had enjoyed a mini vacation in the city. On the drive home, I saw the countryside with a little clearer perspective: Desolate, but beautiful in its starkness.
It was a lot of fun getting together. They are pre-FS friends who have now joined and are in their first tour. That brings the count to 3 of families that we were friends with before this overseas journey began who have now joined too! I'd like to take credit ;)
The drive to Pretoria from Gaborone, including the border crossing (getting out of the car and going through customs and immigration) takes about 5 1/2 hours. Some people I work with say it takes them 3 hours. They are lying.
I am not a fan of long road trips, and I consider 5 1/2 hrs. quite long. Of course, other people I know go on multi-day road trips throughout the region. Road conditions in this part of the world are not great and much of the roads are through desolate areas, which scare me, so it's not particularly my cup of tea.
But anyway we made the trip last weekend and here is some photo documentation of the drive down:
A lot of the way looks like this.
Yes, we drive on the "wrong" side of the road here. And yes, it's mostly 2-lane roads, so passing can be difficult. It is also dangerous to drive too fast, especially at night, because donkeys, goats, cattle, not to mention wildlife, or even people, can come out in the road at any time and cause an accident.
Most of the drive, Nile looked like this.
And I tried to look like this.
Zeerust is the first town after the border, about 30 mi. (no, I don't do kilometers) into South Africa, and it looks like this.
People sell crafts outside the shopping center
Rustenburg is the next notable town, about an hour and a half outside of Pretoria, and a good place to stop and eat because .... do you see what I see??
THE GOLDEN ARCHES!!!!!
Yes, Rustenberg is best known by folks here in Botswana because it has a McDonald's!!!! Don't judge, you'd be amazed how much you miss and crave it when you live in a country that does not have McDonald's, or any other type of American fast food (OK, there is KFC, with the only drive-through of any kind in Botswana) and the local fare is otherwise unremarkable.
They had just reopened this location after extensive renovations, there was a radio station broadcasting from the restaurant and a whole van of school kids with their teachers.
Cute little South African schoolboys.
There was an atmosphere of excitement, balloons, and an appearance by Ronald McDonald himself!
I seriously love this picture. I don't know what Neil was
doing behind the camera. Or why he chanced it with only one shot, that turned out like this.
Really, this one is so universally bad, it needs to be framed.
A big part of the BDF's job is anti-poaching efforts in remote areas of the country. Soldiers are trained in how to deal with the wild animals they will encounter in the bush. This means they have a collection of wild snakes, hyenas, big cats, and other wildlife for training purposes!
They brought some of them to display for the day. Including a giant constrictor.
They were using this apparently "tame" snake to drape over anyone's shoulders who wanted a picture with it! No way was I going to do that!!
Later, when they were packing up, they put the snake in a big dog kennel -- with the door open -- and just left it there to chillax. I panicked when I realized that's where it was and Nile was hopping around toward it! If anything would trigger an animal like that, I would think the easy prey of a child would!
This was a "baby" lion. I didn't like the way it was looking at Nile.
But she couldn't have been more excited.
These guys are apparently highly trained in snake handling. I still didn't want to get too close, this snake was PISSED.
We got to tour a temporary camp that was set up during a joint exercise between the Botswana Defence Force and the U.S. Armed Forces.
It was HUGE and really cool to see everything and all the people that went into the exercise.
First stop: U.S. Army Chinook helicopters, courtesy of the Hawaii National Guard, stationed in Wahiawa, Oahu.
Roger Pukahi (to my right) was my neighbor in Laie, he lives right in front of the
Quiet House! It truly is a SMALL WORLD! And here is Nile's first shaka!
Roger told us all about the helicopter. They flew it from Hawaii in pieces on a cargo jet like this one and assembled it here in Botswana.
It only took them 2 days to assemble. I couldn't assemble a model helicopter in that amount of time!
We got to go inside. (Yes, it was quite cold but Nile refused to wear a jacket.)
More helicopters. These belong to the Botswana Defence Force.
This is one of the few moments where Nile wasn't jumping up and down with excitement.
We also got to go inside a Botswana Defence Force cargo plane. This one was a gift from the North Carolina National Guard.
We got a tour of the "command centers" for the exercises. They were set up in a big gymnasium. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. Very cool to see everyone working together; everyone had a specific job function that fit together in a bigger picture to make the operation work.
The most fascinating part was the medical tents. They were set up to treat any major trauma, as there was live ammunition used in parts of the training.
The resources were incredible. The tents were HUGE. One area was for immediate treatment and stabilization, then they would send them to the next tent where they had a fully equipped operating room.
They had surgeons and every type of equipment at the ready -- they could
intubate, insert a central line, do imaging (X-rays), provide ventilator machines, perform surgeries of course, and stabilize a patient for
immediate medevac in the case of something major they weren't equipped to do.
I was not at all kidding when I said to Neil that if I suddenly went into labor in Botswana, there is no question that I would go to this place hands down over the private hospitals in Gaborone! More equipment, more medical expertise, more resources, much more peace of mind!
One of my colleagues who works in the health field said that this series of tents definitely had more resources than the public hospitals here.
Of course, I could always go to a traditional doctor.
This was set up as part of the cross-cultural event they were having on the day we visited. Quite a popular attraction!
Well, I don't usually participate in the FS Blog Roundup, but I thought with it being bidding season and all, I will do my duty and provide my personal top 10 (5 pros + 5 cons) about my current post, Gaborone, Botswana.
Remember, these are MY OPINIONS: Your results may vary.
I've made sure to only work on this blog posting when I'm in a particularly optimistic mood. So, here goes:
5 Pros about Gaborone, Botswana
1) Topping the list of good things about Gaborone Botswana, is the weather! It's a dry climate which means EVERY DAY is a good hair day, and my skin has never looked better! Contrary to my initial imaginings about Africa being hot all the time, here in Botswana we actually have seasons, which I prefer to the nearly imperceptible "change" of seasons I experienced living 2 years in Hawaii. It is winter now and we have nightly lows in the 30s/40s and daytime highs in the 70s/80s, again, "dry heat". Glorious. We have heat and A/C, and a fireplace.
1.5) Cheap domestic help. I know, you can get that a lot of places. But it's still nice!
2) Laid-back pace of life. This is a safe, peaceful place. No one is in a hurry here. At work, we are very busy working 7:30-5:00 M-Th. (very early start!) but we close at 1:30 p.m. every Friday. You will have ample time to take up hobbies, such as horseback riding, swimming, gardening, reading, catching up on movie-watching, etc. ... unless you work long hours and have a two-year-old and one on the way ...
3) Modern conveniences. A responsible, democratic government has used diamond revenue (Botswana is a top world supplier of diamonds) to make this country prosper. There are many upscale grocery stores, with all kinds of imported foods from all over the world. I've said this before and I'll say it again: There are actually WAY MORE things and way more variety (imports) available in the stores here than there were in Buenos Aires. All kinds of American products, I've even bought A&W root beer! There is fresh, reasonably priced produce in abundance. You can drink the water straight from the tap. The housing is generally very good, I am very happy with my place (pictures are scattered in posts on this blog). I live close enough to work that I can drive home every day to have lunch with Nile. It's pretty easy and comfortable to live here.
4) It's a clean city. The streets are wide, clean, and well-kept. Not a lot of litter to speak of at all. No crazy, random congestion like I pictured in Africa. It mostly looks like Arizona, with many fancy cars (my 1999 Rav 4 is quite honestly one of the oldest cars I see on the road here) shopping centers and small malls, etc.
5) Good primary care doctors. First, you don't need any shots to come here. You can take malaria prophylaxis if you go on safari up north to the Okavango Delta. There are good dentists to choose from, one particularly great pediatrician among many good ones available, good general practice doctors, etc. The Ob/Gyn I'm seeing here is AMAZING. Please see routine 3D baby pics in a recent post. You can quickly medevac to Pretoria, South Africa (30 min or 50 min flight, depending on plane size), for anything serious.
5 Cons about Gaborone, Botswana
1) Topping the list of cons about Gaborone, Botswana, is the lack of things to do. This is still a small city of 200,00 in a small country of 2 million. Outside Gaborone is a lot of desert, but also a lot of amazing wildlife. There are safaris, camping, and birding. If you are outdoorsy, you'll like it. There are some festivals/events/farmer's markets that are organized that one should take advantage of. A few gyms and a few classes (yoga, Pilates). Sadly, no adult ballet for me. There is children's dance, karate, etc. Other than outdoorsy stuff, unless you have big bucks to go on the luxury safaris in Botswana, or visit Mauritius; or medium bucks for a holiday in Cape Town, Namibia, or Mozambique, you might get bored. I got a resident rate for my parents' safari during their visit in April (low season). The 3 day/2 night stay, including the flight up to the Okavango Delta, at a resident rate cost a "mere" $3,000 .... Of course, there are people here with larger salaries than mine who enjoy many of their holidays on safari. Just not a possibility for me financially, or with a small child -- the majority of lodges don't allow children due to the danger of wild animals and the threat of malaria where many lodges are located. If you are not the low-budget camping type or don't like long drives (4-6+ hours to many of the closest camping areas), it might be hard to find things to do.
2) Lack of good food. There are plenty of options of cooking ingredients in the stores if you want to get into cooking -- just remember, domestic help generally don't know how to cook typical Western fare. (I only know 3 people at work who have cooks, and they are part of the package deal with their house.) As I said, stores carry all the fresh fruits and veggies you can handle, often imported from faraway places in Europe, South America, and the Middle East. The prices are not insane, but they reflect that they're imports. If you don't cook, there are some restaurants that offer OK food and atmosphere. Now is a good time to come here, as several new malls and shopping centers just opened that have pretty good restaurants. Both groceries and eating out are expensive here. There is really no "fast" food -- not that you want McDonald's or Taco Bell every day, but sometimes you just want a quick, cheap meal. That is not to be found at all here. There are a few South African or British or something burger chains, but they are apparently far below the McDonald's standard. There is no cafeteria at our office. We have more of a "lunch wagon" that serves about 25 plate lunches per day (either beef or chicken with a couple sides -- same menu daily) and after that they have run out. The local staff call ahead to reserve their orders, so by 11:00 a.m. there is no chance you will get a meal at lunch time. This is the same lunch wagon that served caterpillars my first week in the office.
3) Not walkable. There are not many sidewalks, and there is nothing that is close to other things. There is no central, downtown, charming pedestrian area. There is a small central mall (you've read about it if you've read the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series, set in Gaborone) but in a departure from the quaint depiction in the mystery series, the real Main Mall is a little bit sketchy. There are a few cafes in town; one attached to a brand new hotel and a few more outside a new shopping mall are promising; the others are ...
4) Traffic and inexperienced drivers. The traffic in this city is terrible for how small it is. It's not at all like the crazy African traffic I was imagining -- filthy streets crowded by pedestrians, bicyclists, rickshaw-type vehicles, donkeys, etc. In fact, as I said above, the roadways here very much resemble those in Arizona -- mostly wide, well-kept boulevards through residential and shopping areas, a dusty landscape with little if any litter on the side of the road. The problem is an inadequate infrastructure for how much the city has grown. There is also a railroad running through the Central Business District with only 3 roads that cross it downtown. This causes insane bottlenecks and endless bumper-to-bumper traffic during "rush hour" when folks are trying to get from one side of town to the other. Couple that with mostly first-generation drivers, and you have some serious, ridiculous, and frustrating traffic: People stop where there aren't stop signs, or don't where there are; there is confusion at four-way-stops; hesitation to switch lanes; or merging right in front of you without using a turn signal. Drunk driving is also a very serious problem here. You know the driving is bad if the President has to mention it in a formal address -- point 32 in the President's State of the Nation address last year references "too many instances of bad and inconsiderate driving on the roads."
5) Cultural/language (?) barriers. Yes, I know, we encounter these everywhere in the world. And yes, they speak English here, but Setswana is often mixed in. There are also different levels of English speakers, so your average checkout clerk or waitron (as they call waitstaff), may not fully understand what you're saying and will give you a blank stare in response to your queries. Customer service is not a hallmark here, so it can be frustrating to get things done or to get straight answers on things. I know, typical in many countries, even our own. Patience is more than a virtue, it's an absolute necessity.
Again, the above are all entirely MY OPINIONS. I hope this helps some potential bidders. We would love to have you!
It seems like everyone wants to know about the pool.
Yes, it was finished. We enjoyed it all last summer, and now here we are in August, nearing the end of winter (Southern Hemisphere, remember?) and I am looking forward to swimming again!
I just fished the tennis ball out of the pool with the net, and you can see Bolu is already pushing it back into the water!
I took these pictures yesterday, Friday, August 10, 2012. We close our offices early every Friday (1:30 p.m.!) but I am rarely able to actually go home at that time. This Friday, I did, and it was so nice.
When I came home, Nile was playing in the yard with her nanny. Our gardener was still hard at work. Nile adores them both. Here she is giving the gardener a minty-scented leaf to smell.
He gave her a banana fresh from the tree in our yard.
"Do you want to sleep in your crib or in the big bed?"
Neil went to put Nile to bed two nights ago (Sunday night), and after the teary episode that happens nearly every night when it's bedtime, he gave her the option of sleeping in her crib or in her bed. She said "big bed." She has never slept in her bed before.
Well he tucked her in, pushed her crib up against the bed so she wouldn't fall out, and we didn't hear another word from her! After awhile I checked on her:
Sleeping like an angel!
This is the girl who sleeps 12+ hrs. from whatever time we put her to bed. We didn't hear from her again until 5:30 a.m., when she had crawled out the foot of the bed and was calling at the inside of her door for a bottle. Unusual for her to wake in the night, but then she went back to sleep.
The nanny said she woke up early, just after 7:00 a.m. (she usually wakes at 9 or 10 or sometimes later) but then went back down for a nap, IN THE BIG BED, at 11:00 a.m.
Last night (Monday night) she again went to bed in the big bed, and was still sleeping when we left this morning around 7:00. Who knows, this may be the start of a new phase for her!
We dropped in to London for the Olympic track and field events!!!!!!
OK, not really. The pic above was from yesterday at the University of Botswana stadium, host of the Lady Khama Charitable Trust Family Fun Day and Olympic-themed sports competition.
Several nations/groups were represented: The United Kingdom, European Union, Botswana, African Nations, China, and of course, the United States.
The Brits set up a tent, complete with banners, flags and several London 2012 Olympic posters! We (the American team) somehow didn't plan that far ahead ... so Nile and I shamelessly camped out in their shade and accepted their hospitality that extended to chocolate-chip banana bread and oranges.
It was a really fun day. In addition to the all-day sports competition
for men's, women's, and youth teams, there was an area set up with food
vendors, live musicians, a clown, face painting, and three different bouncy houses for the kids.
Nile loved it!