I just couldn’t resist. Especially after today. The last couple of days have been particularly difficult. A couple tough events occurred and I’m feeling a bit dejected. I decided I would just write down some of the stories , if for no other reason then just to remember them all someday, and to be reminded that our 2 year stay in Africa had many uncomfortable sides.
I will start with the most significant event, that of someone close dying. When we prepared for leaving for Africa a couple of years ago, one of the things we considered was the possibility of something bad happening back home while we were away. Marriages and babies might bring us back early, but at least happily. But family or friends befalling misfortune was going to be a tough issue. A few days ago I got the news that one of my very best friends’ dad had passed on. His dad was also a good friend of mine. Of course he and his family are devastated and fully unprepared as it was a sudden event. It’s hard to be prepared for something like this and its next to impossible to imagine all the emotional, financial and logistical issues that must be faced as a result. No matter who you are or how tough you are, when someone close unexpectedly passes, it hurts. A lot. Needless to say, I am sorry and in mourning. I am sorry to mourn alone, and I am suffering the loss without being able to console and consort with all the others that loved Jim. Carol is also mourning. I feel bad knowing how much that family is hurting and I can not do anything from here.
While trying to get a handle on the grief and helplessness of Jim’s death, I had another event that felt like a kick in the gut while down. Yesterday marked the saddest and most disturbing day of our experience here in Africa so far. We have had the wonderful blessing of our little Maltese puppy about 2 months ago. We both fell completely in love with Rati, and we love taking good care of her. Because there are many large, nasty mongol dogs around here, we made the somewhat difficult decision to have her spayed. Much research on the internet agreed with this. Checking with several vets we decided on a local one as it would be very hard to get her to and from Gaborone, and the procedure costs twice as much there. The local vet also volunteered to come get our puppy and take us to his clinic and back, which was a huge benefit.
However, that morning, he couldn’t organize transportation and said he would take a cab to our home and do the surgery here. We were hesitant but somewhat in a jam. He came to our house with his assistant and a patio box of tools and medications. He is the local vet for the Department of Agriculture and licensed as a Veterinary Surgeon. His primary job is taking care of the many cattle and goats and horses in this area and he sees to many dogs and cats on the side from his home. He was nice enough, and we (us and our two PCV friend who had stayed the night with us) were eager to see how this was going to go.
It was a two hour surgery and the whole time we 4 were giving each other looks of questionable remorse.
The surgery took place on our dining room table, with some newspaper to cover it and the IV bottle hung from an old rusty nail in the cement wall that currently holds up the mosquito trap. The surgeon had all his equipment and a sterilization liquid but my living/dinning room is not really a sterile environment and I was concerned about the “operating room” environment. It was 90 degrees in our house and I had the job of wiping the surgeons’ brow every time he said “brow”. None of us had ever witnessed this kind of operation before nor did we know much about it. The doctor talked as though it was a very routine procedure, and many of the cats and dogs we had as children in my family had been spayed or neutered, so we were not prepared for this major operation. He gave Rati a shot that knocker her out in my arms and then prepped her for surgery. Next was a large needle of anesthesia and then he made a 3 inch cut (on her 5 inch stomach. That is when the looks began.
We had assumed that a small incision would be required and adequate. We were wrong. He then pulled out most of her guts and set them aside while trying eternally to find her little ovaries. Once located they were tediously tied and then cut out. I was quite disappointed in the way this “surgeon’s” hand was not nearly as steady as the ones you see in the movies and also concerned about his lack of organization of his tools. The whole time I was wiping the brow of the surgeon and holding a flashlight, along with Adam holding a second one so he could see better. After 40 minutes or so, Rati made a small noise and we all just about collapsed. They rushed to give her a second shot of anesthesia through her IV but there was an air bubble in the line that had to be sucked out backwards with the needle before the anesthesia could be injected. This took an additional 10 minutes during which we were all praying the dog would not wake up with her insides on the outside. Once the two ovaries were removed, all the insides were stuffed back in and again we were all thinking the same thing; hoping they were put back in the same functioning order. Two inside layers of stitches were applied over the next hour, using absorb-able line that was as thick as 100 lbs. fishing line. The final outside stitching was done with line that will have to be removed in 2 weeks and the whole sewing project seemed very much like it must have been done in the 1800’s Wild West.
We spent the rest of the day nursing our poor Rati while she was in terrible pain and shock after the anesthesia wore off. We both feel terribly guilty as she is laying there weak and wounded and we couldn’t help but wonder if we should have spent the day of travel and double the money to take her to a different vet. Or maybe we should have built an impenetrable fortress around our house so the mongrel dogs couldn’t get to her and let her keep her tiny, hard to find ovaries and avoid the entire ghastly traumatizing event.
The four of us sat in stunned silence for a while not knowing how to digest what we saw or how to comfort each other. Carol was/is especially scared the dog will get an infection. We all wanted to ease her mind but could not not come up with any words of conviction. I can only hope that everything was put back inside adequately. We questioned the vet afterwards about all this drama and about how it’s not like this in America, and his sensible reply was simply that in America we just drop the dogs off at a vet and come back the next day and they are done. No one ever sees the effects that we witnessed today. I sure hope this is true.
One tragedy and one slasher movie starring our little puppy in the same week puts me in a bad place. These events, coupled with our day to day challenges and discomforts, makes me want to record some things for future reference. Please indulge my complaining for a short while.
Its 90 degrees in our house all day long. It does finally cool down to 80 in the evening, so sleeping with two heavy fans on us is bearable for the moment. An even hotter summer is still around the corner as December through February will be the very hot months. There are many moments when I seriously question my devotion to what I am doing here, due to the miserable discomfort. I cannot even imagine our fellow PCVs who deal with even more heat in the northern part of the country along with swarms of mosquitoes and the constant real threat of Malaria, and some of whom do not have the running water and electricity that we have. I am fortunate enough to have AC in my office and have often thought of sleeping there, but that would be absolutely culturally unacceptable. I would spend the $800 in a heartbeat to install an AC unit in our little house, despite only being here for maybe one more year, but there is no way we could get away with that kind of luxury item sticking out the side of our house while the other 35 identical houses go without. Both the Peace Corps Admins and the school staff would have something serious to say about us putting ourselves so far “outside” the community standard of living. I am seriously terrified about the coming summer months. I can barely remember, but I’m pretty sure that last summer should have been the same, and although we somehow made it through, on a day to day basis, it is getting harder and harder to accept the cumulative discomforts we are living with.
The dust continues to plague me as there is just no escape. Even on the tar roads, when the wind blows strong, there is no avoiding the grit in your teeth and the instant filthy hair.
The electrical power in this country is a huge issue. It goes off for just a moment several times a day, every day. Sometimes its only off for 5 seconds, which is just enough to ax another notch in the health of our computers, and destroy the current unsaved documents we are working on. Sometimes it’s off for an hour, and sometimes for longer. It’s constantly annoying and difficult to deal with. I am worried about our computers and records, and our work disappearing and corrupting all the time. I have pulled my hair out on several occasions trying to copy very large computer files, only to be interrupted 4-5 times in a row during the last couple minutes of a 3 hour copy job and having to start over, again and again. Uuugh!
Want to go somewhere on a bus or train? Want to see a Botswana Zebra’s soccer game at the stadium? Or a movie at the theater which is ½ a days’ travel away? Be prepared to be turned away no matter the tremendous effort to get there. Nothing is planned properly, and communication about dates and start times are never available. Don’t count on their web pages. Although there are webpages, and although there are schedules posted, they are NEVER correct. Not even close. The only way to do it is just go to the station or the theater and wait for the next event to happen. There is absolutely no reliability in what ANYONE says. 5 people will tell you they are sure, but you will find they are very wrong. If you are lucky enough to find a phone number for some place and then to have someone answer it, they will just tell you their website is wrong, but they are not sure what is right. It is so difficult to travel here and scheduling anything just bring frustrated waiting and wasted time, over and over.
We have internet at our house. We pay roughly $90 US per month for .5 Meg speed. By comparison, in the US most business have 10 or 20 Meg service. That speed we have is adequate for the most part to do basic emails and browsing. It is very slow for remotely accessing another computer, or streaming video. We could purchase faster speeds, but it takes months to get it done along with dozens of very angry calls to people who couldn’t care less when it happens, and it is quite expensive. We have to worry every time there is a weather event that the internet will be out for hours or days. We recently had a problem with our Capital One Credit Card. It took a full month of unimaginable frustration with emails and shouting matches on expensive paid Skype audio calls to get it resolved. Every conversation starts with, “I am calling from Africa; this is costing $2.00 a minute. Can you hear me?” They often say they can – but the conversation continually gets bogged down with “you are breaking up – I can’t hear you” or “Can you please say that again” – and my favorite – “can you please enter your number into the keypad” – which is maddening because there is NO KEYPAD! The agitation is beyond words.
Being in a foreign country with people whose official primary language is English takes some serious caution. It’s a daunting task to continually step back during conversations and appreciate that English may be their official language, but that doesn’t mean they use words the same way we do – and many many people still struggle to communicate at in English at all. Many things have no direct translation and so the closest way to it is used, often times coming out significantly different than meant. The native Setswana language is what is called a “command based” language. There is no concept of please or thank you or other gratuities in the written language. So every time someone would like to borrow a pen or ask if you want to go somewhere or would like to know if you have seen Carol recently, you have to put up with “GIVE me that pen!” and “LETS GO!”, or “WHERE is Carol?”. This wears on us daily and accounts for a tremendous amount of bitterness and frustration.
Meetings here are the most frustrating and maddening part of all of our work experiences. The Botswana people are infatuated with protocol and so afraid of change, that there appears to be no common sense whatsoever. During a typical meeting of 20 to 70 people, you will see people reading and writing text messages, sleeping, and slouching in their chairs to the point of amazement. Everyone keeps their phones on during meetings and when a call comes ringing in at full volume they immediately stand up and exit the room while taking the call. It is more disruptive than you can possibly imagine and the reason they do it is because all incoming calls are free and they are all too cheap or poor to turn off their phones during a meeting and then call someone back later. It is truly amazing that the chairpersons of these official meetings tolerate this on one side of their mouths while talking out the other side about how poor it seems to come to a meeting late. There are no consequences in this country for anything. Drunk driving, theft, rude behavior not coming to school, fighting, anything! It all gets dealt with a small and courteous verbal reprimand. People are so afraid of confrontation that they cannot even consider raising their voice or demanding explanation or accountability. It is more than maddening to work so hard here to be efficient and productive and continually be beaten down watching others behave this way.
I could go on and on about the things we very much dislike in this country and about the many frustrating and angering issues we all deal with every day. But I have gotten enough out of my system to spare you that, at least for now). Please understand this post is a bit of a vent for the first two bad experiences that I am currently lamenting. I hope you will all take it for just that.
Also, if you know Tom Boyd or his family please reach out to him now.
Tommy – I am praying for you and your family. I am so so sorry I can’t be there in person. I am doing everything in my power to be there in spirit.