I had slept late last night after having long skype conversations with my parents in Bangladesh and Bhaiya (brother) in Australia. Isn’t the world getting too small? When Wame knocked my window to call me for breakfast in the morning, I was still asleep. As I rubbed my eyes and told that I’d be ready in half an hour, he informed that my luggage has arrived. I was ecstatic; last night I had thought that my luggage was lost and was looking into procedures of claiming luggage. My brother sent me a very useful link about the baggage rules for delayed, damaged and lost luggage. Check it out here . Although, I thankfully don’t need to use it, very useful information: I think not a lot of people know that you can get compensated up to $3,300 for lost luggage and get reimbursed for reasonable purchases needed because of delayed luggage! I certainly did not know my rights when it comes to baggage rules!
I finally got to meet the other exchange students from other universities and countries who were also in the University of Botswana(UB) at present. It’s interesting how study abroad industry has flourished over the years at an astounding rate of 12% a year. As the world is becoming more globalized, there is more demand for graduates who have wider worldviews and diverse perspectives. Also, as the internet has facilitated communication system through skype, facebook etc. and information availability through blogs, tripadvisor and so on, the uncertainty of going to a different country has greatly decreased. If it was 15 years ago, I think my mother would never have been supportive to such experience because of all the uncertainties that the internet has diminished. Whereas it’s common sense that traveling and new experiences enrich individual’s insights, it was interesting to find that research has actually found that study abroad experiences boost creativity or cognitive processes involved in developing innovative solutions.
It was a great experience meeting exchange students not only from other universities in USA, but also from countries like Switzerland, Trinidad etc. Case Western University seems to have an interesting program for engineers who usually have fewer study abroad programs geared towards them when compared to students in social sciences and arts. They had a mandatory course offered that students could take as a study abroad class or a regular class. The students I talked to appreciated the course being offered through this system that enables them to fulfill required course credits while being at a different country providing enriching experiences.
After I retrieved my luggage, the day was relaxing. In the afternoon, I walked to the Riverwalk Mall with some other students. The mall is Western-styled with fast food chain, brand chains and superstores. If I was taken their blindfolded, I would not know which country the mall was in. This could easily be any other mall in any country. It was interesting to see the familiar Bata and Wimpy in the mall, that we have in Bangladesh. I was told that Gaborone doesn’t have McDonald’s, but has KFC. Fast food is increasingly becoming popular among the youth. This seems to be the identical story in every country in the world. Whereas this convergence of culture makes the world coming together and interaction easier, I have my doubts about the impacts of it. However, that is a long discussion for another day.
To sum it up, today was a much-needed relaxing day. Whenever, anyone asks our Resident Assistant Wame about what he did or what he plans to do, the kid always replies: “Just chilling”. As I sign off, that’s the best way I could think of describing my day: “Just chilling”!:)
I haven’t solved my visa issues so far, my luggage is still missing, the research permit isn’t approved and the meeting with the local partner of our research project got postponed. Seems like the country has not liked me too much and is giving me a lot of misery. If anyone is going to Botswana, it is a MUST that s/he reads the book Botswana – Culture Smart!: a quick guide to customs & etiquette by Mike Main. In just a day, I am experiencing a lot of the things the book mentioned. Re-lesson no.1: “Appointments are routinely cancelled, forgotten completely or changed at the last minute…it is advisable to confirm every appointment in advance– not only the day before, but also a few hours before'(Main,2007, P. 138). This seems applicable not only to Batswana but also for people who have lived here long enough to immerse in the culture. Re-lesson no. 2: People are always in “meetings”(Main, 2007, P.136). Since, I am from Bangladesh, I am used to lack of punctuality, bureaucracy and inefficiency, but somehow I felt this was at a different level here(or maybe I am the unfortunate one to experience the extremes of the country). Interestingly, Main(2007) mentioned the use of the phrase “Botswana time” to express the lack of punctuality; we have something similar in Bangladesh we call “BST: Bangladeshi Standard time”. Perhaps, two years of life in USA has taken away my resilience to enduring delays.
Despite all misery, one thing I cannot complain about is the fact of how nice the people are.
Ms. Beatrice has been continuously assuring me all the way from USA and trying to do everything she could to work with the embassy on my visa issues. Dr. Marape is the Messiah who saved me from my miseries of feeling disconnected without proper adapter(well, yeah I am addicted to laptop and internet). He got me the adapter and padlock within a few hours after I called him and explained my misery. Today, he took me to all the places I needed to go to fix all my problems starting from visa to luggage to electronics. I am sure how busy he must be; but he spent the whole day to help me out. Base, the sister of Bose who works in my college in Ohio University, called to check on me. Wame has been kindly making sure that I am well-fed. My dorm-mates, some staff members from the University of Botswana has been extremely nice to me throughout.
I had been told that it’s winter in Botswana; but I felt like summer here and had to take off the sweater that I wore in the morning when I got out. What I found interesting is how people wore heavy jackets and boots in what I felt was too warm for a light sweater. I am from a hot country Bangladesh; and I couldn’t help imagining whether my skin has become Americanized too! I also wondered, if it is this hot in winter, what happens when it is summer?
Figure: My first meal in Botswana
Since yesterday, all I have been eating is fast food: my first meal was pasta, vegetable and chicken fries and today I had burger and fries for lunch. Seems like my dorm-mates secretly learned my wish to taste local food of Botswana. We had agreed yesterday that they would teach me to cook Papa. They also promised me to teach Setswana in a month. So, naturally, I had taken none of the promises seriously. But, today, when they again mentioned whether I am joining them for cooking Papa; I became excited. So, the cooking spree began. The water was boiling for Papa, Boerewors was in the pot and Naama inside the oven.
Figure: Papa or mealy meal is a stiff white porridge made from maize meal. They told me that it’s usually without salt, but the one I had contained added salt.
Figure: Boerewors is a beef sausage popular in southern Africa. It has the spices added; and all they did was boiled the meat properly.
Figure: Naama is grilled beef
My chef teacher taught me to how to pour maize flour in boiling water. Then, after a while the mixture is stirred. Then more stirring until the right consistency is reached. This reminded me of Shujir Halua(Semolina flour Halwa); only that it was salty instead of sweet and was cooked in boiling water.
It was 9PM by the time the meal was cooked. I was very hungry and had eaten the fish, chips and patties that Wame had supplied me for dinner. However, the food looked yummy and I couldn’t help trying it. I remember the cultural tips in the document Dr. Ice had provided us: ” When served a meal it is important to try most if not all foods and to finish your plate”. I requested for small portions so that I could finish it all.
Figure: The delicious food of Botswana: Papa with Naama and Boerewors
When I had finished all the food in my plate, everyone seemed very happy. “So, you like it!! You have eaten it all!” they exclaimed.
I smiled. Despite all the hardship, Botswana is giving me, I am holding on! It’s the people that matters, the beautiful people…not the paperwork or the bureaucracy.
Did I say how the people of Botswana are called? It’s not Botswanian or Botswanish. The people of Botswana are called Batswana and one single person is called “Motswana”
Signing off today with heartfelt gratitude for beautiful Batswana I have met…
The flight from Gaborone to Botswana was nice. I loved looking at the different terrain of African land through the aircraft window.
Figure: Aerial view before landing in Gabarone
Once I reach the Gaborone Airport, the huge Dumela sign “welcome”ed me.
Figure:Airport in Gaborone
A nice lady at the immigration looked into my on-arrival documents papers and frowned. Again, the same questions: “Where is the seal?” I was tired after this 30-something hours and almost wanted to say ‘Ask your embassy where the seal is; they sent me the document’. But, I used my better judgement not to speak my mind; this lady was just doing her job. I gave the smile I always give and said, ‘This is what they sent me’. ‘Do you know that you have to pay now for the visa fee?’ she asked. “I already paid the visa fee to the Washington DC embassy, ” I paused and then added, ” but I am fine paying again!” At this point, I guess I could trade one of my kidney to get the visa– double payment was nothing!
She asked me to wait. After a while, she came back and asked, ‘Do you remember how much you paid?’ Oh my god! I don’t remember; the visa application I sent seem so long time back! So many things have happened after that: Canadian visa process, my graduation, visit to Eastern Coast and Canada with parents, South African visa process… how can they expect me to remember how much I paid after all this? I opened my laptop to search for the document where I compiled the Botswana visa documents; after a long search, I found that I paid $107. I was so happy that I wanted to say “Eureka!”But the immigration officer wasn’t too excited; “Do you have a receipt?” she asked. “No, they never sent me one!” I said sheepishly. I had posted the embassy my documents; I presume they would have sent a receipt when they would have returned my passport. But, since I never got the chance to send my passport after visa approval, the question of receipt never came.
“I can pay it now!” I insisted; I just wanted this to be over!
“No, you cannot pay twice. Go to immigration head office tomorrow with this document and they will stamp the visa. I can’t verify the payment information since it’s a holiday today,” the officer handed me a document.
Okay, I have entry to the country! When I went to the luggage carousal, my luggage wasn’t there. The immigration process has taken around an hour; so I was not surprised. I asked one of the person, where I could look for my luggage. He said I’d have to talk to the South African Airlines office outside.
As I crossed the green channel, I saw a young boy waiting with the University of Botswana(UB). I was glad to see him; at least one thing happened properly: my pick-up was here! He was a student assistant from University of Botswana named Wame.
After looking through luggage room and searching for another half an hour, my luggage was still not there. I felt bad for making Wame wait; but of only the wait was worthwhile. But, nope…no luggage was there– I gave the airways offices Wame’s contact no. and they promised to contact that number once my luggage arrives.
The Botswana city looked very less crowded from me: I guess I had imagined to experience crowd and traffics. Instead, the streets were populated with sparse traffic and the landscape contained thorn trees and few buildings. I was too tired and frustrated to take any pictures.
On our way, Wame showed me the national stadium which looked all festive and colorful because of the African Youth Games that Botswana was hosting. As Wame took the room keys from Kevin(who I suppose is an RA), he asked whether I have a padlock to lock the room. Dr. Ice had asked us to get a padlock for the UB dorm room where our accommodation is arranged. I had diligently followed her instruction to buy the padlock but I realized I had put it in my main checked-in luggage which was missing. Wame was kind enough to lend me his extra padlock; later Dr. Marape bought be another padlock.
After I collected my cellphone from the supervisor of the other Ohio University group that was already in Botswana, I came back to my room to find that the travel adapter I had got (originally brought by my father from Bangladesh) was not adjusting to the electric connection in my room. It was only then that I felt completely helpless. Now that I think of it, I wonder whether it was because I am so dependent on electronics(i.e. laptop, internet, cellphone) or it was the limit of my patience of bearing all the misery that befell me in a matter of 40 hours. I somehow sent an email to my family of my safe arrival and sent a short email to Shomik before my laptop died out: “I am scared, Shomik…very scared…nothing is going right”…
I was not expecting this to be the longest flight for me since I have travelled from Dhaka-Istanbul-New York City-Columbus-Athens; but this would definitely be the most unfamiliar one for me so far. I have never set foot to the African continent; and comparatively heard lesser travel experiences to this part from people who did. My journey route was Athens-Columbus-New York City-Johannesburg-Gabarone.
The process of receiving the Botswana visa took way longer than the mentioned 21 days in the website. At one point, I felt that I would probably have to shift my flight to a later date. Thanks to the South African Embassy who gave the transit visa without the Botswana visa(which they claimed they normally don’t do) and the Botswana Embassy agreeing to give me an on-arrival visa that I prepared to embark on the flight on May 28th.
Since my flight from Columbus was in the morning, I had to take the afternoon Gobus from Athens the day before and stay overnight at the airport. These were the times when I wish I lived in a bigger city! This is my second time I had to stay overnight at the airport for a flight; thanks to Shomik whose company made this time less miserable! He came all the way to the airport and stayed overnight just to sea me off!
The trouble began when I started to check in through Delta for my domestic flight to NYC. The Delta personnel would not acknowledge my on-arrival document as a proper one since it does not have a stamp/seal. Lesson of the day: ALWAYS insist on seal on any official document. Dr. Ice had continuously advised us to check our luggage through to Gaborone. Despite my insistence, Delta refused to do so since I did not have a “proper” on-arrival visa document. They were about to check my luggage to JFK, but I managed to insist them to check it through to Johannesburg. I just had 2 hours in JFK and I didn’t want to miss my flight trying to claim my luggage; I calculated that I had more time in Johannesburg for that. I am glad that I did that– in JFK I had to change terminal from domestic to international. The shuttle took me to Terminal 4, where a lady showed me my gate when I couldn’t find it on the screen.
However, more trouble was to follow. The South African airways was also skeptical about my document without stamp. Additionally, they informed that I can’t claim my luggage in Johannesburg since I am a transit passenger who will not go to the baggage claim area. The lady dealing with the issue was nice and said she would do everything to recheck the luggage to final destination Gaborone. She warned me “I know you tried, but for future be very firm about checking your luggage to final destination; transit passengers cannot claim luggage midway!”
In the meantime, Ms. Beatrice who has been profusely kind throughout the process of working through Botswana visa, assured me that she is doing all that is possible to make sure that I’ll have no more trouble. Her support calmed me down- the last thing I wanted was to travel 32 hours to a country only to get rejected entry!
Figure: Breakfast at South African Airways; the lunch was better but I forgot to take picture of that
The in-flight South African Airways service was surprisingly good. They had the best airlines food I had eaten in years(nice, hot food with good choices) and the air host/esses were really nice too. I was sitting beside an old lady, who was travelling with her husband to Kenya, South Africa and Botswana on a camping trip. They were both Peace Corps volunteer when and were returning to Africa after years. The husband was also planning to run at Comrades Marathon which is ‘ an ultramarathon of approximately 89 km which is run annually in between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race’. I admired him–I wish I could do that when I am 70 years old! With good food, Farhan Akhtar in “Bhag Mikha Bhag”, Peace Corps and camping stories from my fellow passenger and LOTS of sleep, the 14 hours flight went well.
Figure: Johannesburg airport– I liked the quote
Johannesburg stay was comparatively uneventful. The airport was nice and user-friendly. I followed the sign of ‘International Transit’ and passed security following a line. The immigration officers here didn’t seem concerned about my stamp less on-arrival document. There were some nice shops selling traditional crafts. I restrained myself from buying anything, hoping to find similar things in Botswana or hopefully on my way back. The wait for the next flight was long 5 hours–I had purposefully booked this thinking I’d rather wait than run frantically among time shortage. In the meantime, I have received additional document from Botswana embassy which I downloaded using the Alwayson complimentary Wi-Fi and more direction from Ms. Beatrice in case I needed support. I silently thanked her efforts to help; only because of this could I open my laptop and start writing this blog post
Little did I know what havoc would follow once I reach Gaborone. More to come soon…