22 5 / 2013
So despite the MCAT fiasco, Cape Town has actually been really cool so far. As soon as I got off the plane I was struck with the beautiful image of Table Mountain, which towers over Cape Town. The whole city is so green and beautiful, and you have mountains right next to the beaches and ocean. It’s a city with everything. Good food, wine, and music. Hot showers and skype! What a dream.
But as in any other city, it has poverty as well. Immediately after being awed by table mountain after boarding the airport us, I was struck with the image of shanty towns which border the city. Large families living in these crowded slums, with houses made with little more than corrigated tin roofing, was quite a sight. So were the street people that harrass me as I walk around the city. I know any city will have homeless people, but after living in the bush for so long, this really affected me. In the village, everyone is poor, but everyone has a home and everyone takes care of each other. Not so in the city.
So I’ve just spent a few days walking around, hiking, eating a ton, and getting to know people at the youth hostel. I’ve also had 2 showers, and sushi everyday since I got here. I’ve been Skyping and watching Youtube videos: enjoying fast Internet. My Aunt and Uncle get here tomorrow, so the adventure continues! Wee!
21 5 / 2013
So apparently Holland was on a national holiday yesterday so I couldn’t get a hold of anyone to reschedule the mcat. I am waiting until 9 to call their offices today.
I have a head cold and a cough and I feel like I’m riding the struggle bus. Gahhhh. This trip is the worst.
18 5 / 2013
So I made it to Cape Town. I got here yesterday, and was supposed to take the MCAT test today. However, there were a few hiccups.
1. The testing center put the wrong address on the form. They just put “1st floor convention center” and a street corner. There was a convention center, but it was hosting a camera expo. I wandered around the large and colorful camera expo for 2 1/2 hours trying to find the testing center. I finally broke down in tears after asking 10 people, and going to every corner on the corner of H and SG. Then a nice convention center hostess took me to the convention center towers, where the testing invigilator showed up. When asked why he didn’t show up earlier, or put “towers” on the address form, or put up a sign, or tell any of the convention center security or staff to expect examinees he just said “Sorry”, and walked on. So I was basically hysterical trying to find this place, then finally found the test coordinator 20 minutes before the test was supposed to begin. Great. But I washed my face and got ready for the test.
2. Once I started the test, it took me through the tutorial and then straight to the end of test survey. It did this for all the other examinees too.
3. Prometric test staff were unable to fix the problem, told us we couldn’t take the test, and told us to call a number based in Holland at 8am on Monday morning. Then they left.
I am so upset. I planned this trip, bought plane tickets, and reserved hotel rooms all based on this test. It was one of two test dates that I could have registered for in the whole of Africa. I don’t know what the MCAT people will say when I call them on Monday. I’m going to try and have them reschedule for this week, but I have a feeling that they’re just going to say “Sorry, not our problem”. They might refund me, or give me a free test, but they only way I can probably take the test this application cycle is to fly back to America, which realistically I won’t be able to do.
I AM PISSED. But what did I expect? This is Africa. Nothing goes as planned, no matter how simple you think it’s going to be. Eff this noise. Time to go buy a burrito and some South African wine and make some new plans.
15 5 / 2013
So tomorrow I’m leaving my village to go take the MCAT. Tomorrow night I’ll stay in Gabs, then Friday fly into Cape Town, then Saturday is test day.
I have been a bundle of raw nerves this week over this coming test. I told my nursing friend I thought I was having a panic attack and she told me that it was just “exam fever”. I really like that phrase; it perfectly describes my mental state. I feel sick over this test, and I can’t get it over with soon enough.
Taking the MCAT during my Peace Corps service might not have been the best idea I ever had. Neither was planning to go to South Africa by myself. Regardless, I’m doing both of those things. Then my Aunt Chris and Uncle Randy are going to meet me in Cape Town a few days after the test and we’re going to drink wine and see penguins! So it’s not all bad.
13 5 / 2013
In Botswana, there’s this cultural practice called “Go Betcha”. It roughly translates into the cultural practice whereby a man has to show his affection for his girl by doing nice things for her, giving her gifts, and treating her right; but mostly it has to do with money. A guy should support his girl by giving her money for airtime, to get her hair done, and buy herself clothes. Basically, if he wants to be seen with this girl, he has to give her the means so that she looks nice. This holds true even if the girl is working and has money to support herself. This was how it was originally explained to me, and I thought, okay this is a little problematic having relationships built on such a transactional basis, but whatever, it’s not my culture.
However, the longer I am here, and the more I see, the more this cultural practice unnerves me. I’ve seen a situation whereby a woman cheated on her boyfriend and then demanded money “go betcha” from the guy she cheated with. At this point it transcends the notion of appearance: the girl cannot say that he should give her money so that she looks nice when they are out together, because she doesn’t want anyone to know that they are out together. She wants to keep the relationship a secret, but still accepts (really, demands) money from this guy, even though he’s not her primary relationship.
At this point I think the cultural practice of “go betcha” gets a little close to prostitution for my liking. I would never ever, in a million years, sleep with a guy and then demand that he give hand me money. Sure, I might accept gifts from a guy I was seeing, just as I would give gifts to him, but literally seeing cash money change hands is not acceptable in my book.
Women here say that it’s just the way men show their affection. It’s a show of appreciation to support your woman monetarily. However, I don’t like it. I am all for cross cultural understanding, and I understand that all of us come from different backgrounds with different moral perspectives. However, living in a society that where relationships are so transactional gives women a financial incentive to have more than one partner. Having multiple partners opens a window where HIV/AIDS can spread. So the cultural practice of “go betcha” isn’t really safe when you live in Botswana, and I wish more people would appreciate that.
08 5 / 2013
Last week I went down to the capital to get a root canal. Yuck. It went fine (though no more sodas or monster pops for me!), and let me get a night of hot showers and internet! Or so I thought. The power was out so no hot water or Internet. What a bummer. Africa wins again.
While I was there I was asked to participate in a panel of PCVs for University of Cincinnati students visiting Botswana doing a short honors study abroad course. I got to speak about my projects with 4 other PCVs for 20 or so college students. Talking about my projects really got me excited about my Peace Corps service again. This experience has really taught me a lot, and I’ve had some wonderful opportunities here. I also have some great stories. The students were receptive and many told me they were going to apply to join after they graduated.
It was nice to have a reminder about how awesome Peace Corps is, even if it doesn’t feel like it a lot of time.
06 5 / 2013
Did you know that Malaria used to be a big deal in the United States? Did you know the CDC was formed with the express purpose of eradicating malaria from US soil? That’s pretty cool. It means it’s possible to eradicate it everywhere.
02 5 / 2013
I’m taking the MCAT in two weeks! EEeee!!!
That is all for now. See you on the other side.
26 4 / 2013
In the village there are no addresses. There are no numbers, no street signs, or maps. You just have to know where you’re going, and how to get there.
What’s worse is that Batswana are awful at giving directions. I often joke with other volunteers when they ask me where something is, by stating, “it’s that side”. But more often than not, when you ask a local where something is, most will simply point, and say “that side”. It does not get more descriptive than that.
Not to say that people aren’t helpful. Once when I was in Gabs for a medical appointment, and I was lost, upset, and late, a lady named Regina going in the same direction walked me all the way to my appointment. We had a beautiful conversation and she still calls to check on me sometimes.
I just think when you haven’t traveled much, and you know the way around your area, it’s hard to explain to someone new how to navigate. But we all get to where we’re going eventually.
25 4 / 2013
One thing that still amazes me about Africa, and this is weird, is how possessive people get about pens.
In America, you can buy a pack of Bic pens for about a dollar, or you can get them free from the Bank, or grocery store etc., as long as you don’t mind a logo on the side. Here, for about a dollar you can buy a packet of two pens, and free ones are hard to come by. Pens are expensive and only really sold in town. Thus people get really possessive of them. (This also applies to pencils).
What’s more, they take such good care of their pens! In America I will lose pens left and right. Here people keep them forever. Another volunteer shared this story with me. At a Peace Corps meeting they gave us red pens to help fill out some forms. When this PCV returned to his village, he used the pen at the post office. The post office lady looked longingly at the red pen, so he gave it to her. She still has it, 6 months later, and shows him every time he visits the post office.
I like this system because it gives me something to bribe my kids into paying attention. One time I gave everyone who came to PACT club on time a pencil. They were ecstatic. Now everyone shows up on time, everytime. So no, I’m not above bribery, if you were wondering.