It’s been a month since my last post—sorry about that! Now I am approaching the end of my time in Botswana, and after three months living and working in Gaborone I am ready to go back to Baltimore, finish my classes and graduate from my master’s program!
In the past month, I traveled to South Africa to visit Kruger National Park. You will not believe how big this park is—it is twice the size of Yellowstone National Park in the US! I spent five days exploring the park with my friend Andrew, and we only saw one-third of Kruger. This was such a great experience: we saw elephants, giraffes, zebra, warthogs, wildebeest, baboons and impala nearly every day. We were also lucky enough to see lions, leopards, hippos, hyenas and rhinos! Now I can safely say that I have seen the African big five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino). It was nice being able to cook most of our meals—all of the camps were equipped with grills, fridges, and even stores to buy groceries. However, we were doing more glamping than camping—we had proper beds, bathrooms and air conditioning. 🙂
I realize I have been writing a lot about my weekend travels, but not as much about what really brings me to Botswana. So I’d like to share some information about my work:
Cervical cancer is the most frequent cause of cancer deaths among women in Botswana. There is a misconception that cancer is a “rich country” problem: in fact, low-resource countries bear 85% of the global cervical cancer burden. This is because of low screening rates, barriers to cancer treatment, and HIV prevalence. Botswana has a very high HIV rate–different sources estimate the HIV rate in the general population between 18% and 24%. Rates are even higher among women over 30, as much as 49%. Women who are HIV positive have a two to three times greater risk of developing cervical cancer than women who are HIV negative, and women who are HIV positive are more likely to have later stage cancer.
(Cervical cancer incidence by country in 2012, from GLOBOCAN, with darker shades of blue representing higher cervical cancer incidence)
When living in southern Africa, why not take the chance to see as many different places as possible? That’s what inspired me to join an impromptu weekend trip to Namibia last weekend. With some of my travel buddies from Cape Town, I went to Windhoek and Swakopmund in Namibia, which borders Botswana, Angola and the Atlantic Ocean. During our short trip, we saw the developed capital, the Atlantic coast, and the Namib desert! The seafood was delicious, and we ate plenty of fish and chips, “catch of the day,” calamari, shrimp and salmon (that one’s probably not Namibian).
(Clockwise from top left: burrowing skink, Dollar bush and chameleon, Lithop plant, and Welwitschia)
We also went on the Living Desert tour in Swakopmund, where we learned about many species of plants and animals that have specially adapted to their environment. It’s true, there isn’t much rainfall in the desert, but the fog coming in from the Atlantic Ocean is enough for these unique plants to survive. We saw the lithop plant, which looks like a pebble, camouflaging it from predators. Apparently there is a whole group of scholars fascinated by the lithop, and their scholarly fan clubs travel to the Namibian desert to observe this rare species. There is also the “oldest living fossil,” a plant called Welwitschia, which has been alive for more than 1,000 years. It’s a very ugly plant (in my opinion)—the middle part of the plant is hard as tree bark, and the leaves grow endlessly to either side. My favorite was the “dollar bush,” named for its leaves that look like American silver dollars. If you’re dying of thirst in the desert, don’t count on a dollar bush to survive: their leaves contain pure salt water! However, you can eat as many beetles as you can find since they are up to 60% water.
It’s been four weeks since I arrived in Botswana, can you believe it? The past month has passed both very quickly and very slowly. Some days seem to take forever, and I wonder if my work will ever get done. Other days, I am lucky to go out for a delicious meal with friends and do a day of sightseeing.
Despite the seemingly luxurious lifestyle in Botswana with shopping malls, fine restaurants, movie theaters and tasty wine, I have been attempting to adopt some more modest habits. For instance, I have been eating local food from the ladies selling outside the office and riding local transport to work every day.
Rhino family at Mokolodi!
When I discovered that July 18 and July 19 are presidential holidays in Botswana and that the office would be closed, I quickly decided to plan a trip. I bought my ticket to Cape Town, South Africa, to meet up with a few other students from my program. It was such a great weekend, Cape Town is a beautiful and busy city. I liked how so many people were out biking, hiking, running and rock climbing. And of course–the food and drinks! I ate delicious steak and seafood, without spending much money at all.
As much as I could picture myself living in Cape Town, ideally in one of those million-dollar seaside villas and sipping on wine at sunset, the city has a drastic contrast between the “have’s” and the “have not’s.” Although certain neighborhoods were very wealthy and glamorous, there is a huge population of people living in the shanty towns surrounding the city.These shanty towns consist of corrugated metal homes, many people living together crowded in one room, and inadequate sanitation and safety. I also saw a sizable number of people sleeping on the streets. It is difficult to imagine myself enjoying life somewhere with such a stark contrast between the rich and the poor, and a racial divide as well.
As you may be aware, last week I arrived in Botswana! I will be spending the next few months living and working in the capital city, Gaborone, as my internship experience for my master’s degree. I am working with a non-profit organization on the national cervical cancer prevention program, helping with the national training of providers and monitoring and evaluation of the program. I’m so excited about this opportunity because it is a chance to work on international health programs from the national and Ministry of Health perspective. When I was in Togo, I was working more on the field/community health level.
While I was planning for my trip to Botswana, I couldn’t help but think of my village in Togo. However, Botswana could not be more different! Togo is a closer representation of the Africa people imagine based on movies, books and other media about villages and people living on less than a dollar a day. On the other hand, Botswana is a middle-income country, which has become quite prosperous thanks to diamond mining and a booming safari tourism industry. Actually, Lonely Planet named Botswana their number one country to visit in 2016! The ranking was awarded based on the beautiful scenery and vast diversity of wildlife.
Map of Botswana from Google Maps
Within 24 hours of landing in Peru, Jasmine, Appy, and I had flown across the country to Cusco, located in the “Sacred Valley” where Machu Picchu and many of the magnificent Incan ruins are located. Jet lagged and still adjusting to the drastic elevation change–Cusco is located 11,150 feet above sea level–we were winded by the walk up three flights of stairs to our room in our hostel. But the best way to fight jet lag is to keep to your normal sleep schedule, which means no sleeping during daylight hours. (I’m a mean travel companion).
We explored at least five Incan sites in Cusco and the surrounding small towns during our visit. With the help of our driver, Miguel, and fueled by the Peruvian diet of potatoes and fish, we were able to see the ancient Inca capital and their temples and tombs. We also tried pisco sours for the first time, the national drink made of pisco liquor, lime juice, and egg white!