After six weeks in Gaborone, we’re finally settled.
We’re in a university-owned complex right across the street from UB on Jawara Road. This means that I can easily walk to and from work, which is lovely (and will stay lovely until the heat hits). I love to picture people “in place” so, if you’re wondering where Steve and I spend our time, here it is.
The complex itself is made up of two facing brick buildings with a total of about 23 or 24 flats. We’re in the larger building and are on the third floor, which is actually only the “second” floor because the flats below us have two storys each. We face north, which is the sun-side of the globe in this hemisphere, so that has taken some getting used to (actually, it has completely thrown off my entire sense of direction).
The complex itself is pretty average, which we both like a lot. There is no guard house, no gate – just an ordinary place full of ordinary people. We can see UB and the surrounding neighborhood from the front and back windows. It’s interesting to watch people come and go and get little glimpses into their lives. I’m fascinated by peoples’ laundry drying on the line. I love looking at it, and will go out of my way to peek. But (really) I’m not a creeper – I’ve loved watching laundry line-dry since I was a kid hanging clothes on my grandmother’s line.
It’s huge by our standards – two bedrooms!! When we came in, the International Office told us that people from the US get really hung up on pools and security. We were thrilled with the extra room. We’ve got a tiny kitchen (with a brand new fridge and a perfect European sized stove – both worlds better than what we have in Missoula) that Steve has made excellent use of.
The main room is large and contains the sitting area and the kitchen table. The walls are painted a sad light blue color that I hate, but it is fresh paint, and clean. We’ve added a few plants to make it look not so bare and hope to slowly accumulate some wall hangings. The floor is tiled, which makes it super easy to clean and very cool to the touch, which will come in handy as the days get hotter. The living room furniture is a 1970’s dream – black with gold swoops and wooden armrests. It serves the purpose though, and I try not to think too hard about it. We’ve got a bookcase (because of course we loaded the luggage with books) and two bureaus that are strangely Ikea-ish and clash horribly with the rest of the room.
Our bathroom needed some work. Steve recaulked the tub and replaced the shower head. But it does have a bathtub, which was very unexpected and has come in handy because we don’t have a washing machine. All of our clothes are washed the old-fashioned way, by hand, in the tub. Then we bring them to the roof – where our clothesline is – to dry them (no one can peek at our undies up there).
We’ve got two bedrooms and have gotten used to the smaller bed, which is tough for me since I tend to colonize the bed and Steve usually ends up curled in a ball somewhere close to the edge on his side. It’s comfy though, and we brought our blanket from the bed at home so that adds an extra layer of physical and emotional comfort. We’re sleeping Scandinavian-style, a fitted sheet and a duvet cover on the blanket, no top sheet.
The second bedroom (which Steve lovingly calls the “guest suite”) has two twin beds and a desk. The previous tenant left a bunch of maps and Steve’s got them up on the walls. I wish I had brought a map of the US, just for fun and scale!
We have huge closets, by which I mean very average-sized closets. By our standards they’re huge – we’ve managed to fit everything in them, including the third seat of the Pajero, and still have more room than we know what to do with!
At the front door we have a little deck where we can watch the sun set over UB and in back we have a private patio (sort of; more on that later). We set up a little bistro table and are looking forward to eating outside when it gets warmer.
The building is old and, though the apartment is clean, we’ve had some unwanted visitors in the form of cockroaches. Steve caught one in the kitchen last week and found a dead one the next day. He sprayed all the baseboards, filled every hole he could find in the kitchen, and still couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. Because he’s Steve, his mind worked on it around the clock and he finally figured out that they’ve been coming up through the sink in the kitchen. A few drain stoppers in all the sinks and tub seems to have solved that problem.
We’re in The Village, which is one of the older neighborhoods in Gabs. We’re between two schools, so we see the kids playing outside at recess. Behind us are stand-alone houses with dirt yards, and beyond those we can see the hills in the distance. We’re five minutes from the local grocery store, where the ladies laugh at Steve because he does all our shopping and tries to speak Setswana with them. The Village is quiet, although Jawara Road is busy. It is a very nice, average neighborhood, and is close to the Riverwalk Mall. I’m really happy to be close to UB because traffic in Gabs is wicked by Missoula standards. We toyed with looking for someplace out by Mokolodi and I’m glad we didn’t.
This is probably my favorite part of expat life. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, actually, because two weeks ago I read an article about women in the alt-right. The article quoted someone as saying that the surest way to get people to buy into ideas (particularly white nationalism) of the alt-right is to have them live in a “diverse” neighborhood. I’m fairly certain that most alt-righters have never lived in “diverse” neighborhoods and I chafe at this description because I know that, historically, it is the same slur that was used against my Irish family when they were applying for jobs and my Italian family when they showed up en masse at New England beaches with their “ethnic” homemade food. It is a white idea of the other, fabricated from lack of understanding and experience, and it makes me feel the divide between the actual world in all its messy, beautiful complexity and what we think of that messy, beautiful world.
Our neighbors here are from Zimbabwe, India, Ireland, Ethopia, and of course Botswana. We introduce ourselves to each other and chat pleasantly when we meet. Two of them offered me a ride to work the other day. We watch their kids playing soccer, we watch them washing their cars, we watch mothers trailing their young ones up and down the parking lot on tiny bikes, we can hear their music and smell their cooking. I peek at their laundry. And we love it.
Water and electricity are all prepaid here. We basically hop online and pay for how much we want and it sort of magically appears. We can watch in real time as the electricity is used up, which I think has made Steve more aware of his habit of opening every light in the house and leaving them on!
So the water is technically drinkable, but most people go to the Oasis store at the mall and fill up jugs to use in cooking. That’s what we do as well, and it’s worked out so far. I was really worried that we would have to buy bottled water and create mounds and mounds of plastic trash, but luckily that isn’t the case. Chris (the previous Fulbrighter here) and his family generously left us their huge water jugs and Steve takes them down every 10 days or so and fills them up.
The water that comes out of the tap in the shower reminds me a bit of the water that my grandparents used to get in their house in Worcester. It smells faintly of metal and is a bit yellowish in color, but it is perfectly fine for washing, bathing, and brushing teeth.
We did have one adventure in water right after we moved in. We’ve got passive solar heated water tanks on the roof. There’s a switch in the house that will turn on the heater to make the water heat hotter and faster, and which quit working right after we moved in. For a few days I would sit in the bathtub while Steve used every pan in the house, and the electric kettle, to pour boiling water in with the barely lukewarm water we had from the faucet. The university sent a crew over to fix it. They worked all day and eventually just MacGyvered a solution by disconnecting the thermostat and wiring the switch in the house directly to the tank on the roof. The result is that 10 minutes after turning the switch on we have water so hot that it could pull the skin straight off you. I actually burned my hand shutting of the shower faucet the other day. We’re still experimenting with it.
When we first moved in a neighbor asked us if we were looking for help in cleaning. We politely declined since it is just the two of us. But now we understand why people clean (or have someone clean) every day. The dust is everywhere. I mean every. where. It is so fine you don’t notice it at first, but if you sweep your hand over any surface of the house it comes away dusty. I was in the bathroom at work the other day and noticed dust all over my blouse. It coats everything. We wash the clothes to get them free of dust, hang them outside, and bring them back in covered with dust. If we (ok, if I) walk around in slightly damp bare feet, straight out of the shower, we leave dirty footprints all over the house. The table outside is absolutely coated in dust every day. I sweep up piles of the stuff every weekend. If we don’t put things in the closet they’re covered. It is a Sisyphean task to get it all. Things are never, ever, not dusty. We’ve just decided to live with it. I like to imagine that the dust coating everything in the house (including us) blew in from the Kalahari, past the bodies of giraffes, to settle in here.
About a week after we moved in we had a trio of Vervet monkeys visit us on the patio. There was a medium sized female who sat on the railing calmly, and two youngsters who were much more curious. The littlest one is especially bold and fresh. They come by about 10 in the morning and just chill out on the patio. I named the bigger one Warren, and we like to watch her sit on the patio and look in at us, or out at the horizon. In the mornings we can hear them running all over the metal roof, having turf wars with the birds that nest in a tree in front of the next flat.
In the past week they’ve gotten more bold. The littlest one climbs on the patio chairs and chews on the table. They’ve also taken to peeing on the deck, and on the furniture, which we do not appreciate.
They watch us far more than we think, and they’ve apparently come to the conclusion that we’re a couple of suckers. Yesterday Steve caught them testing the screen door on the patio. Earlier in the week he was bringing home groceries, trekking up the four flights of stairs to the flat, hauling bags and water. He brought the last load of water up, placed the jugs on the floor by the table, turned around, and caught Warren about eight feet into the house, making her way into the kitchen. He jumped about a mile, screamed, and chased her out. It was only later that we lamented not getting a photo of her. She seemed fairly nonplussed. He had to chase her flight by flight down the stairs and out into the parking lot. I expect that they’re plotting their next opportunity.
So that’s home for the next year. Monkeys, dust, scalding water, nice neighbors. I miss our Missoula house – especially sitting on the deck and staring at the mountain – but I’m pretty ok with this bare lifestyle right now.