All opinions are my own. This review is based on two separate stays at the hotel for Peace Corps Conferences. My thoughts and opinions are not reflective of the US government, the Peace Corps, or the Government of Botswana. Thanks to Sheev Dave for providing me with pictures.
I had the lovely opportunity to stay at Phakalane Hotel on two occasions while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Photo Credit: Sheev Dave
The hotel is located just outside of the Gaborone City Center in Phakalane. Minutes from the airport, and in a gated community, driving up to the hotel was like transitioning universes. It’s lush green landscaping was stunning against the dry desert background of Botswana. While serving as a volunteer, it was hard to not resent how much resources went into keeping the property green. While many parts of town, and the country were suffering water shortages, the hotels (especially the fancy hotels) rarely experienced the same water shortages.
Just outside one of the conference rooms was a lovely pavilion that overlooked a pond. While standing in the relieving shade and looking out over the water, it was hard to believe I was still in Botswana. I could have been anywhere in the United States. The green golf fields spilled out behind us, bespeckled by white gold carts.
Checking into my room was easy breezy. The front desk agents were very friendly and spoke english very well. Standing near the front desk was some inviting iced water and iced guava juice. After two hours of travel in 100 degree heat, it was a lovely offer and I definitely had my fill of the iced water.
The Rooms at Phakalane Golf Estates Hotel
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, my experience at the hotel was probably a little different than most. Most people on vacation are relaxed, and excited to experience what’s around them.
I was more interested in running water.
The water pressure in the stunning recently remodeled rooms was perfect. Getting over my guilt of using the water was a struggle but it had been months since my last real shower. I hadn’t feel clean in too long.
The room came with a decent sized flat screen, lots of places to charge my various electronics, and different charger styles. That was a particular bonus because I forgot my converter on one trip.
I remember walking into the room, unsure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. The beds were backed up against a wall with a wallpaper tapestry of a forest scene. It was like peaceful and beautiful and I was completely enchanted by it.
The oversized tub in the bathroom begged for a long soak, and there were these… cupboard doors that you could move aside for a nice view of the television… or the rest of the room. From the bathroom, if that wasn’t clear.
My first stay there, my room was located on the bottom floor and had the loveliest porch to walk out to and watch the sun rise over the course.
Food at Phakalane Golf Estates Hotel
They have two restaurants for visitors to choose from, but as we were part of a large conference, our meals were all catered.
The food was buffet style since they were feeding so many of us. The first time I stayed here I indulged on large salads, curries, and traditional Tswana foods like morogo (spinach/rape that’s been sauteed), beef, chicken, and paletche (which is kind of like thickened corn meal).
Photo Credit: Sheev Dave
There were always cakes and special little tarts for dessert and a full tray of fruit at every meal. They also served a lovely tea with biscuits, fruit, coffee and juice.
During my second visit I had developed a host of food issues (couldn’t eat gluten) and the staff tried their best to accommodate us. When you have food sensitivities, your anxiety about food is incredibly high. I was still early in my experience and wasn’t really sure what I should be doing to protect myself and took my cues from other volunteers who came into their service with their food sensitivities. If they couldn’t eat, or didn’t trust, then I also couldn’t eat or couldn’t trust.
Lunch usually went fine, but when we ate inside for dinner at night, each meal was themed for our conference and sometimes they didn’t have a alternative to the main course. For instance, one night the meal was the traditional American meal of hamburgers and fries, and when the gluten free people were served, we received fries.
And that was it.
No vegetables, no paletche, no, fruit or meat without a bun. Just the fries. And when we asked for an alternative they told us there was nothing they could do.
During the four dinners we had during that second experience, this happened three times.
At breakfast and lunch they accommodated us perfectly though. It was interested to experience this once as someone who didn’t have a food sensitivity, and once as someone who did. I really believe that if we weren’t not part of a group of 50+ volunteers and staff, they would have accommodated us just fine. Most Tswana food is naturally gluten free, as long it doesn’t use the pre-made spice mixes.
Photo Credit: Sheev Dave
Things to do at Phakalane Golf Estates Hotel
My stays at the Phakalane Hotel were both times as a volunteer so my activities were limited to what was on our daily agenda. They have beautiful conferences spaces that are well air conditioned, and with beautiful views of the golf courses, and surrounding areas.
I told my friends almost every day how much I wish I golfed. It was a beautiful course and has been played by some of the biggest names in the game. There is lots of memorabilia of tournaments and celebrity golfers who have played a round on the walls of the main conference lobby.
There were several pools on the property and unfortunately during both of my stays I was unprepared to swim in them. Plus, one time it was winter and the pool was much too cold to experience.
How to book a stay at Phakalane Golf Estates Hotel
If you’re visiting Gaborone, Botswana I would totally recommend this hotel. It’s beautiful, the staff is incredibly well trained in customer service (which is not something you can say about many other places in Botswana), and is a great place to just relax.
Visit the website directly to book your stay at http://www.phakalanehotel.com/home/
PIN FOR LATER
How Following My Dreams Set Back My Life
My life goal was to join the Peace Corps. I spent ten years working to get enough experience. I served as an AmeriCorps volunteer, and gathered real work experience, in addition to college classes. Every major choice I made, was in service of getting enough experience for the Peace Corps.
One day, I realized I was in a good place financially, and could probably qualify for a mortgage loan. I wanted to settle in and be a real adult. Babies didn’t seem so… off-putting anymore. They were cute, even when they were crying. My ovaries did things when I saw them.
I also realized I had enough experience to finally meet the high standards of a Peace Corps volunteer, so I applied.
And I got in.
It was a magical two years and four months. Completely life changing. I left the United States scared and shy. I came back home feeling confident, and capable of finally advocating for myself.
My good credit that once could have gotten me a house, was destroyed.
I couldn’t find a job. Unemployed, I lived with my mother for a year.
Plus, I was sick. So, so, so sick.
A solid year passed by before I was able to get a handle on my health.
I had to move back to my former residence in order to find a job. Something I swore I wouldn’t do. It was literally like going back to square one. As grateful that I am for the opportunity to return, it just wasn’t what I wanted.
It took a while to figure it all out. To get my life back in order and to be the financially self-sufficient adult I was before I left for the Peace Corps. Even though I’m doing better now, 18 months after my return, my credit is still shot, and getting caught up is a struggle.
There are definitely some things I wish I would have done differently during my Peace Corps service. I hope, dear reader, if you take anything away from my experience let it be the following lessons.
Make sure you sign a power of attorney if you’ve left the country for more than 6 months. My mom could have handled so much of this random credit stuff for me. Almost everything listed below is something my mom could have helped me with, if she had power of attorney.
Get your bills in order before you leave. One of the things that destroyed my credit was my phone bill. I tried to cancel it and waive the ETF, but because of their hard sell, and my really high stress levels, I let them put it on hold for 3 months. Once those three months ended, I meant to cancel it then, but of course, I was in the middle of the desert in Africa by then. They charged me for an additional 3 months before canceling the account and sending it to collections.
What you can do: If someone had power of attorney, they could have continued this fight for me after I left. Many companies have (or had) a clause that states if you are breaking your contract early because you are leaving the country, they will waive the fee.
Lock your credit down. While I was away, a credit card was opened in my name. I didn’t find out about it until I got home. It is a difficult process to dispute claims with credit bureaus.
What you can do: You can apply to the major credit bureaus to put a lock on your SSN, which keeps companies from pulling your credit. There is a fee for this service, but it’s nominal to finding out you owe $1500 on a card you’ve never seen.
Have a rainy day fund. I didn’t have much in my personal savings when I left for the Peace Corps, assured that my stipend would be enough to live on. It mostly was, but I enjoyed having extra money for trips with my friends. But it would have been really nice to have an extra $5000 or so upon my return. Yes, the Peace Corps give you a readjustment allowance, but if you’ve been supporting yourself for 10 years before your service started (like I had), feeling forced to move back in with your parents is a hard blow to your ego.
What you can do: Start saving now. You’ll hear it a million times, but let me tell once more: start saving now. Take 10% and stash it the F away. (You can use an app like Digit.co, Acorns, or Stash to make it painless.)
Get your health care in order. While I was gone, the Affordable Care Act was fully integrated and I did not take full advantage of its services. Mostly, I was too sick to think straight, and even though I qualified for medicare upon my return, I didn’t sign up until I desperately needed a week long dose of antibiotics. I paid for that again in 2017 when filing my taxes and I received a penalty for the months I wasn’t covered by medicaid. But the most important part of that for me was, I have an undiagnosed health issue that based on my current lifestyle, I cannot get diagnosed without causing severe illness. If I had gotten my healthcare in order before I left, or upon my return, I could be saving myself thousands of dollars every year.
What you can do: Find out what you’re eligible for. And then sign up for it immediately. Don’t delay. There are volunteers who can help you guide through the process through 211.org.
It’s going to take me at least another year or two to repair my credit, and who knows if I’ll ever get my health issues diagnosed. But when I think back to those hot days in Botswana, I know I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Sure, starting over is hard. Picking up the pieces of your destroyed credit is hard. Even learning to take care of health in this new way is hard. But I have this experience of a lifetime in my memories.
I followed my dreams, and joined an elite group of Americans who sacrificed two years of their lives to spread peace and love across the world. Like, reality can always wait.
This is part three of a three part series on Kayaking in Maun, while I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana. Part one is here. Part two is here. My experiences and thoughts are my own and do not represent the governments of The United States or Botswana.
I felt like I was finally getting the hang of things. I could set up and break down my own tent. Again, we took another trek into the wilds of Botswana. Right out of the thicket of our campsite we saw a herd of wildebeest. There must have been over one hundred of them! They stared at us suspiciously, questioning why we were there. We watched from afar for several minutes before Cedric decided to move us closer. Several of the smaller ones started moving around like they were spooked, but the rest held their ground, watching us with great interest.
Now is probably a good time to mention that I had gotten wildebeest and water buffalo mixed up in my head and thought for sure these guys were all about two minutes away from stampeding us to death. Though, along the lines of the Lion King, this would have still been relatively accurate.
Instead, as we circled to the other side of the herd, they decided to run off in the opposite direction. My friends who were there walking along, taking their own pictures I’m sure became tired of my constant muttering to myself. “I hate this. I hate this. This is scary. I want to go home.” It’s a very vulnerable feeling, walking out into the high grass, never sure what is hiding in the thickets. I don’t like feeling vulnerable. As soon as we made it back to camp, I was fine.
Well, until we went out on the water again.
We kayaked 30km for this last bit of the trek, and about 67km all together, if you’re counting. Our tour guide thought he would save us some extra time by going through some smaller channels, thicker reeds, and shallower water.
It was like playing bumper cars, only knowing at any point it could be game busters because of a crocodile. A couple of us got lost from the rest of the group, hoping we were going along the right way, and having to figure out a way through the reeds. The reeds closeted in all sides until they started scratching me with their sharp stems. The water splashing from the oars provided sweet relief from the heat, but burned the open wounds on my forearms.
We stopped for lunch and my poor sore body ached with every step, every movement. I just wanted to get back and shower. The day before many of the girls hopped into the river to cool off and clean up a bit. I did not join them. Washing in dirty water is dirty.
Lunch was closer to settlements. We were just a few hours now from where we started just a few days before. Hiding in the trees, a few bana came to join us at the end of our meal. Our tour guide gave them a few leftover sandwiches. They were very shy but thankful and giggled as they took their food and headed back to into the thicket.
The last half of heading back to Maun was definitely the hardest.
There was more boat traffic that we had to be aware of. Avoiding the wake of these boats is impossible, and I felt every time it happened, I was being rushed back several feet that I would then have to re-paddle. Of course, there were less hippos now, and more cows and donkeys that wouldn’t be giving us any sort of trouble. You know that feeling of going home? How the trip to your original destination always feels longer than it does returning from it? That was the opposite of how this trip felt. Each stretch of water became more and more familiar, and I knew we must be getting close, but my arms were tired and I just wanted it to end. Floating along just ended me in the bush. The breeze was not taking me down stream. Each stroke became a battle of wills with the muscles seizing in my weak and over worked arms. There was no strength left in my arms, but I had to keep pushing on.
Finally, we turned a corner, and the surroundings looked less like The Lion King and more like rural sprawl. Houses and hotels littered the banks of the river. The new bridge stood out, like a beacon. All we had to do was pass under it, pass under the old bridge, and the Old Bridge Backpackers Inn would be majestically laid out before us. I felt a new wind, inside and finally started pushing.
But it was not to last. Moments into my deep push, a boat pulled up and the wake knocked me off course. I waited for the waves to ebb, before starting again, but it was no use. John, our tour guide pulled over to the boat, shaking hands, being friendly and taking up a good bit of my extra-summoned energy. But since we were having a break imposed on us, I thought, why not enjoy it?
Looking over at the boat, I noticed a few things.
One, it was chock-a-block full of dudes (and even though I’m not given to any sort of vanities, I did wish I had at least dipped my hair in the water the night before. I had been wearing the same clothes for three days. Even though I couldn’t smell my own stink, I knew it was there. Between the copious layers of bug spray and sunscreen, and the dust and dead skin cells clumping together in random places, you could have run your fingers down my cheeks and left near white streaks of fresh skin beneath. Needless to say, there hasn’t been a time that I’ve been possibly more disgusting.)
Another thing I noticed was that one of the guys had the sweetest dreadlocks I’d ever seen. They were tight and looked as though they’d been shaved on the side or something. It was hard to describe, but I was enchanted. Knowing they had probably just come back from a trip that had to be at least half as dirty as ours, considering they were in a boat and not in kayaks, and all I could think was, “How did he do it? Why do his dreads look so nice and mine look like shit?”
There was another guy, standing near the front of the boat with sunglasses and a hat on. He smiled kind of flirty-like and nodded at us women folk, floating along, as we were trying to understand what was happening. To be fair, as John is kind of a fixture on the Okavango these last five years, he kind of knows everyone. We stopped a lot during this trip so he could say hello to his friends as we passed by.
As I floated along behind one of the non PCV’s, she looked back at me as asked, “Do you recognize him? Do you recognize him?”
“Which one?” I asked in return, glancing back at the boat and trying to be discreet (which is nearly in possible when you’re in a kayak and well, me).
She didn’t point, just kind of gestured with her head. I looked back at the guy with the dreadlocks. To myself I thought, “I guess he kind of looks like the guy from The Counting Crows. Hm. Fancy.”
We continued to float as John said his farewells, and then finally the boat pulled off. As he paddled back over to us someone asked, “So who was that?”
“Oh, that was Prince Harry. He’s in town for a wedding. They’ve just come back from the stag.”
Lynne yelped in surprise. “Which one was he?” she asked. We all asked. Upon further discussion, only the one girl asking if “I recognized him” did actually recognize Prince Harry. She tried her best at hinting while trying to be subtle. I know I must have looked right at him, but dammit if I could tell you. The rest of us didn’t see anything past the guy with the dreadlocks.
The dreadlocks were that mesmerizing.
As we paddled past the hotel the boat pulled up to, we tried to get another glimpse. But as John is a boy he couldn’t rightly point out what the Prince was wearing. Something about sunglasses and a hat, sitting behind the guy with the dreadlocks. Maybe. We didn’t get a concise answer after that, and before we knew it we were back at the hostel in Maun, laying down on the outside couches and feeling elated and embarrassed by the whole last hour.
I could have at least washed my hair. But no matter. Off to the shower I went, and it was the most glorious 20 minutes of hot water I’d ever experienced.
Honestly, after months of cold showers it was like a miracle.
This is part two of a three part series on Kayaking in Maun, while I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana. My experiences and thoughts are my own and do not represent the governments of The United States or Botswana.
It was maybe the worst night of sleep I’d ever experienced in my life. Hearing the laughs of the hyenas through my earbuds, nearly getting ripped to pieces just because I needed to empty my bladder, and at some point during the night (after the suicidal trip to the portable) I could have sworn something lifted up the edge of my tent. When I told everyone of my excursion into the dark, they all stared at me as if I was the dumbest person alive. I probably am. I took this time to remind them that this was my first time camping and no one told me to pee outside my tent if I really needed to. (Not that I would have; my thing about toilets, you know.)
Cedric took us across the river to explore again.
Though the morning was glorious, we didn’t see much. A couple of heads of Giraffe, hiding in the Acacia trees ran off as soon as they spotted us. A warthog bounded through the plains. Saw some more of those cranes everyone keeps insisting are so rare. Maybe another elephant or two. We trudged through calf deep waters instead of walking around. Made it through without a single leech, I’m proud to say.
This morning, even though we were all exhausted from the night before, felt easier. We got dressed, ate breakfast, loaded our things back onto the boat and then hopped back in our kayaks. I had a little visitor, that I called Baby River Frog, because it was just an ickle little baby frog, no bigger than my pinkie nail, and it sat in my kayak as though it was about to paddle down the river. When I tried to scoop Baby River Frog out, it hopped under my seat. It was time to go and I didn’t know what else I could do. So I sat on it. RIP Baby River Frog; we hardly knew thee.
Day Two’s paddle time was twice as long as day one. While there were still no crocodile sightings, there were several more hippo stops. For most of our paddling, I was pulling up the rear but I occasionally put some real effort in, and was right behind our guide when he heard the warning snort.
“Everyone to the right! Quickly!” he shouted and pointed.
He steered away from the hippo. I started paddling with fear and adrenaline rushing through me, but something weird happened. Instead of going right, the way I was paddling, I headed left, straight into the path of the hippo. I couldn’t seem to help the way my float drifted. John looked at me incredulously. “To the right, damn it!” he shouted again. I looked up at him in plain terror. Was this how I was going to die?
With his thumb and pointer finger, he whistled to the boat that came up behind us, and started to rev the engine. I found enough pull and got myself out of the way of the boat, if not out of the way of the hippo. Everything was okay again.
After that particular experience, I decided it wasn’t so bad if I stayed in the back. I would be closer to the boat, which felt relatively safer than being surrounded on all sides by kayakers and reeds that I inevitably would run into.
We stopped for lunch in a pull out that hippos mostly used to climb out of the water. It being the middle of the day, and hippos having dry skin issues, we didn’t have to worry about one crashing through the reeds. We didn’t have to, but I did anyway.
While I had no problem getting into the water, getting out of it was quite the issue.
When we made it to our camp, I fell over into the river. My feet got tangled and I lost my balance. Luckily, Only my legs got wet, and after walking through the thickets of the tall grass before dinner, I was dry again.
We had steak and potatoes for dinner. My arms and upper body cried from the over work, but it felt great, my muscles getting used again.
We camped under a grove of trees near the river. It was lovely and felt more like a campground than the spot before. We shared stories and had great conversations about Peace Corps and biking across continents. Even though I eventually put my headphones on for bed, the night was quieter this time around. And yes, I used the bathroom before it got dark this time. Lesson, learned.
This is a three part series on Kayaking in Maun, while I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana. My experiences and thoughts are my own and do not represent the governments of The United States or Botswana.
At the end of April in 2014, a few of my friends and I headed up north for a bit of kayaking. As with any Peace Corps trip, sometimes you just have to go with the flow in regards to even the most perfect of plans falling through. At the Old Backpackers Inn (maybe the coolest hostel ever), they accidentally booked us for the night after we came back from our trip, not the night before it.
Luckily, that solved itself pretty easily. The hostel room we stayed in had ten beds, with thin foam for mattresses, and mosquito netting for windows. It was very clean, and I hope to stay there again.
We ordered a bit of dinner, and dessert because VACATION, and hung out around the campfire. When I first came to Botswana, I experienced a slightly embarrassing phenomenon; when the sun set, so did I. I absolutely could not keep myself up after the sun went down. My host family thought I was incomparably lazy, and it was hard to assure them that it was only an Alaskan habit that wouldn’t go away. Back home, during the summer I’d stay up until 2 am, idling on the computer, or watching TV, unaware that I should have been asleep hours before. During the winter, I could barely make it out the door from work before crashing at home for the night.
What I discovered on this trip is what I thought only affected me, in reality affected all of us. By 8:30 we were ready to call it a night.
The next morning, we grabbed our bags and headed down to the water where a boat and two super awesome (as we came to find out) women were waiting for us. Our tour guide, John was busy loading up the boat with a couple of helpers so we sat around and had breakfast before taking off.
One of the girls, works for a bike tour company and led bike enthusiasts from Sudan all the way to Cape Town, South Africa. The three days she spent with us were her days off, before meeting up with her people and finishing the route. (Can I just gush and say that she has basically the coolest job ever, and if I could ever imagine a world where riding my bike through 10 or so African countries seemed like a reasonable goal, I’d want to be her!)
The first couple of hours the first day were spent on the boat, rushing up through the narrow channels created by the reeds. On our way we saw an elephant, and a couple of those super rare cranes that I can’t remember the name of. Finally, we reached our starting point and hopped out of the boat. Waiting for us were 6 kayaks. We had some snacks, and then hopped into our yellow floaty things and started paddling.
I immediately paddled myself into the reeds and got stuck. For most of our first day, I spent a lot of time in the reeds. It occurred to me that while this wasn’t my first time with an oar, it was surely my first time kayaking. And of course it was in hippo, elephant, and crocodile infested waters.
Somewhere between that thought, and crashing into the reeds again, John signaled to our boat who was trailing behind to come quick. There was a hippo nearby grunting in warning that we were getting too close. The boat sped up and started to churn the water, scaring the hippo away.
When you’re sitting in the kayak, and the thicket of reeds create little roads and pathways in the water, eventually your mind starts to wonder what it can’t see. The water below was dark but clear, lots of plant life and fish swimming about beneath you. Some of the water looked clearly deep enough for a hippo to chill in.
After paddling 12.5km, we finally pulled over to our camp spot. After camp was set up and John started to cook dinner, Cedric (our boat guy and Motswana tour guide assistant) took us on a hike through the open fields of the Moremi Game Reserve.
It was magical. It felt like walking into the real life world of The Lion King, and after 9 months in Botswana, it finally felt as though we were in Africa.
Walking around in grass that comes up to your waist leaves one in a kind of vulnerable state. I will again refer to The Lion King when Nala hides in the grass, about to pounce on Pumba. Even with superpower animal eyes you would probably miss seeing the lioness getting ready to tackle you to the ground as she rips your throat out.
Luckily, nothing like that happened to us. Though Cedric did share a story of a couple he had taken on a walk similar to the one we were on, and he missed that a lioness had just taken out an antelope and the lioness fake charged at the group, stopping just a couple of inches from where he stood. As we walked back to camp, we watched in amazement the sun setting at the same time the full moon rose into the sky.
That night we had delicious chicken and pumpkin for dinner. It was truly excellent, most likely because of braii. Barbeque makes everything taste better. It was a long day, and it didn’t take long for most of us to call it a night.
My First Night Camping…. Ever
Just when we thought we could relax though, there was splashing in the water. Upon closer inspection, a hippo could be seen playing in the water. A couple of hours went by and the humans started into a restless night.
So here’s another embarrassing thing I’ve got going for me; I have a thing about toilets. I do not use pit latrines here, unless it is my only option. (deep dark secret right here, and here is how you know I’m a PCV cause I’m totally going to talk about this on my blog… sorry for the TMI: I didn’t poop for 4 days during PST once, even though I had diarrhea because the water was out. I did eventually go use a pit latrine because the water still hadn’t come back on and holding your poo for 4 days is pretty painful and not recommended. I couldn’t do it again after I let it out. My body refused to suffer that kind of torture.) Camping on the edge of the river, there was no regular western toilet. Just a hold dug into the ground. I mean, John was very considerate and brought a portable toilet seat so it kind of felt like a regular toilet, but when your ass is exposed to the elements, even a portable toilet seat isn’t going to settle you down right on the inside (if you’re me, I mean. Most people probably don’t have this same issue).
I thought I could just refuse to use it like before or only use it in the morning. If nothing else, as the darkness set in, and I was afraid to venture very far from camp, I figured I could just hold it until morning.
I was wrong. The birds did not sleep through the night, nor did the hippos, hyenas, or wild dogs. According to my ipod (which I pulled out of my bag and slammed my earbuds in as tightly as I could) around 12:25am, my bladder was cramping so badly, I couldn’t take it anymore. More than a few times I cursed myself for not being dehydrated. Listening carefully, I quickly unzipped my tent and poked my head out. With my headlamp (Thank you ever so much Rachel, it sure comes in handy now!)
I swung around once, twice, checking the corners, hoping and not hoping to see the refracted light of animal eyes wandering around our camp. I crawled out of my tent, and then walked as quickly as the dark, my shoes and my bladder would allow me to the portable toilet seat, just outside of the main camp where my face stared at the thicket of trees and reeds next to the river and my back faced an open plain with tall grass and trees in the horizon. It felt like I was out there forever. Any moment, something could have padded up behind me and ripped my throat out before I could build up a good scream. Constantly on the lookout for the refracted light, I rushed back to my tent, unzipped, then zipped myself back in and nearly cried with relief. I made it back safe.
This is a short essay originally written for and published in the Peace Corps Botswana Newsletter. My experiences are my own and do not represent the governments of The United States or Botswana. If you want to learn more about the Peace Corps, visit http://www.peacecorps.gov
Lost in Translation: How to Cook Eggs in Setswana
Four days a week, I would meet at the clinic with a couple of women in my village of Molapowabojang to workout to Zumba videos. We did these videos so often, I was positive I could have followed along on with out any video at all. Before I got sick, this was more or less how to conversation went. After I got sick, I had to stop working out because I lacked the energy to complete a 20 minute Zumba dance my body and mind knew inside out.
One day, just like so many days, I was walking home with the group of women I workout with in the evenings. Just like any other day, the conversation swam around me in Setswana, and I tried to grasp onto any word I could translate into English. But as the short walk continued on, I found my attention wandering to the dog with a wounded foot whom then proceeded to do his business on the side of the road. The talk continued on around, until finally I said, “Ee, I agree.”
Mma K stopped and looked at me queerly. “What are you saying?”
“No, what are you saying? I replied.
“Neo! You must learn Setswana!” Anna cried. “We will speak Setswana around you and you will eventually learn.”
“How am I supposed to learn what you are saying, when I don’t know what you are saying!” I insisted.
“Well what did you think we are saying?” asked Basi.
“As far as I’m concerned, you all are talking about twelve different ways to make eggs.” I replied, not at all regretting my haughty tone.
“There is boiled and fried. There are two.” said Mma K. “What are the other ways?”
I laughed to myself. Instead of including me in their conversation which was all I wanted, we now found ourselves talking about eggs.
“Well, there is scrambled and frittatas, and quiche.” Talking about frittatas made me hungry for more than the rice with tomato sauce I had waiting at home for me.
“Okay, that is four.” Said Anna.
“And there are poached eggs.” I added.
“Ah! Neo! What is poached! How do you make?” Basi asked, her face contorted as though I said I eat eggs raw with a spoon.
While I tried to explain a way to make eggs in a way I had never actually tried myself, I considered Peace Corps Goal 2, and wondered if this is what they meant.
We were closing in on my house and somehow the conversation switched back into Setswana. Nobody was listening to me anymore. I could hardly blame them for drowning out the very poor directions for making eggs I didn’t know how to make. I saw a gesture, which implied putting something into an oven and knew my gymming friends were still talking about how to cook eggs in Setswana. And somehow, right up until we said our goodbye’s just moments later, I still did not understand what they were saying.