Time passes, the exotic becomes conventional and familiar. However, the foreign gleam of Botswana continues to entertain me, like a bug drawn to a lantern in the middle of the night. It’s something I can’t explain, I’m just drawn to it. After 7 weeks I feel stable, I know my friends, I have a routine, I have favorite restaurants, shops, etc. Yet, every day seems to present it’s own unique obstacles that are ever so vague and contain a nearly indescribable nature but have an effervescent glow that makes them uniquely Botswana. These obstacles have not even the slightest effect on my or the group's morale. Why? Because this is what we signed up for. We knew that coming here wasn’t going to be Rome, Madrid, or any other over-romanticized European city so many American students study in. We came here searching for something different.
In Gaborone, it is impossible to tell what every new day will bring. The most common problems are administrative. Whether it be major like the Ministry of Education's failure to deliver financial aid to students on time (Causing most faculties at the university to begin 4 weeks late). Or minor like having to devote 3 days to finding where bedsheets are for you to use in the dorm. Maybe it is something to do with a lack of toilet paper in the bathroom (there is never any), or lack of warm water in the shower. Every day is sure to test your patience. On our first day, our awesome program leader announced to us, “Welcome to Botswana, this country will test your patience, but if you are calm and persistent things will always get taken care of.” This is true, if you are calm and persistent things will be taken care of. However, sometimes in life, it is impossible to be Cool Hand Luke, and you become irritated and ask yourself why you are here, why you didn’t choose a different country, “Why, why, why”. The question repeats on my frontal lobe. There are no easy days here. Even when the culture isn’t giving you a run for your money, the hot sun is sure to test your patience, as AC is a hard luxury to come by. There is no relief.
Coming to Botswana also restricts your personal freedoms to a degree unknown to lots of Americans. It is not safe to walk at night, it is dangerous to have your cell phone or wallet visible in many public places. They will be stripped from your hands quickly. Leaving your laptop unattended for a second in the library while you run to the bathroom? Forget it! What would you like for dinner? Pizza? A burrito? Chinese? FORGET IT! You get pap, chicken, and a small ration of vegetables.
The fact that you don’t look like you are local is yet another cause of irritation. As you walk past groups of students you hear “Lekgowa” followed by laughing. Lekgowa is the word for white person. Or at the mall, it is assumed as a foreigner you have money and strangers approach you as friends only to ask you to buy them a beer. The women in our group have it even harder. They are proposed to and harassed daily. A cultural patriarchy pins them as lesser and even views them as commodities that can be bought with cattle. There is no doubt that all the women in our CIEE group have thick skin and are totally badass for putting up with it every day. I have nothing but respect for them.
So why do we do it? What is the purpose of coming to a place so sure to test all your convictions? Why wouldn’t you rather go to a place where you can relax and enjoy all the aesthetics and comforts of western life? It’s because the beauty of life is not in its comforts. The beauty of life is found in its most abstract experiences. It is in the people you meet, the foods you try, and the questionable late night cab rides back to the dorms. The beauty begins where your comfort zone ends. When all's said and done there is nowhere I could be happier to spend a semester of my college career. The experiences are all too surreal, and the obstacles just add an extra dimension of spunk to what would be a boring day. The group of CIEE students I get to spend my time with are all amazing people, and I’m grateful to have their friendships. The local friendships I create are equally beautiful. Every day here is an adventure or exploration into modes of life most people in the US will never experience. The luxuries here are not what many people back home may call luxuries. However, I can testify that jumping into a packed combi (van/bus) full of locals contains much more luxuries than any Ferrari ever could. And the taste of a juicy orange from a street vendor is 10x more savory than the best chocolate cake served at the Ritz Carlton. Life here is authentic, it is wild, it is pure. Every night I go to bed feeling like I have really lived, and what more could I ask for. A semester here is difficult. Yet, for those who do go, the rewards are far deeper than any meaning words could deliver.