Friday, November 4, 2011

Transportation in Botswana

I have been asked to share a bit more about the intricacies of my every day life. I must oblige. Some things, I'm sure, will seem strange and different (as they did to me too when I first arrived), while others will seem so mundane and normal that you might be surprised I'm living in Africa. I think it will be a pretty interesting cultural exchange with people from home so that you can learn a bit more about life here! So I am going to start to post information about the simple things that make up my life. First up: transportation!

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you are not allowed to drive during service (or ride a bicycle without a helmet). Doing so is grounds for administrative separation. Yikes! As such, PCVs have to utilize public transportation to get around the country. Here are some of the many ways we get around:

Walking! We walk everywhere! It is the easiest and cheapest mode of transportation available. Plus, many of us live in rural villages where no form of motorized transportation exists. For example, my village is tiny. It takes about twenty minutes to walk from end-to-end and very few roads exist. (It's kind of like a nature walk every time I go anywhere! Que fun!) And, in truth, this is one way we stay somewhat active. Host country nationals, however, do not prefer this mode of transportation. (Although, as you can see, walking inside the village can be quite the chore for host country nationals!)

Hitchhiking! This is not officially condoned by Peace Corps but it is often the only way to get into or out of certain places around the country. It's also proven to be a really great way to get to know people. In the times that I have had to "hike" (as it's called in Botswana), I have met some of the most interesting people. I have met kgosis (chiefs) and people that used to work for Peace Corps and government officials and more! I've also found it to be a cheap alternative for getting around. Although you're supposed to pay the same fee as for the buses, if you chat up the driver and/or ask "Do I owe you anything for this ride?" instead of "How much do I owe you?" then you usually get the ride for free! Woot woot! On a Peace Corps budget that is a serious win!

Buses! This is the main way that Peace Corps Volunteers get between villages and across the country. There are bus stops along the three main roads in the country. (These three roads are the only way to get from point-to-point. Smaller sub-roads connect to these main roads at certain places but are often going only to a specific village or taper off into an earthen road. This means that you often have to travel well out of the way to get to a connection point or to reach your destination.) The buses are usually very very packed. People stand in the center aisle and, on more than one occasion, I've had people or their things sitting on me during the ride. In the summertime, the buses may reach excrutiating temperatures, as Batswana don't like to travel with windows open for fear of catching "flu" (yes, "flu", not "the flu" or "a cold"). I no longer think anything of traveling for 6 or more hours each way to go someplace for the weekend. Having a sweaty butt is kind of normal and no one even notices if your dress is stuck to you when you get off. It's just the way it goes now. For me, specifically, getting back to my village from the capital city (where I do my grocery shopping, banking, etc. since my village is too small to have these conveniences) can often be a chore. My village is a speck on the map (actually, it's not even on the map since it's so tiny) so buses don't always like to stop there. I have to bat my lekgoa eyelashes if the Kumakwane bus isn't at the bus rank! But, have no fear, I have yet to not make it home! :)

Combis! Combis essentially are what would happen if a mini-bus and a van had a baby. They are how you get across larger villages and towns or, if you're lucky, to a neighboring village. They are cheap (equivalent to about US 50 cents), convenient, and super fast! I kid you not, the drivers are crazy! They drive very fast and often weave in and out of cars. The reason the drivers go so fast is because they get to keep everything they make during the day above and beyond the fee they have to pay the owner of the combi. This is usually about BWP 200. That means that if they make BWP 500 during the day that they pay the owner the BWP 200 fee and they get to keep 300. It's a pretty good deal for them, a great deal for us, and it ensures we get where we need to go with expediency!

Taxis! I only take taxis when I am in Gaborone, the capital city, and I only take them if I need to get to the bus rank before the combis start running (for instance when I went to Namibia) or if I'm out with other PCVs and the combis have stopped running for the evening (which is around dark). Taxis, in general, are much more expensive and therefore a less desirable option for the Peace Corps Volunteer. But we do have a taxi driver that we call specifically when we need a ride. His name is Tendai. He's from Zimbabwe and one of the nicest people I have met since coming to Botswana. If you're ever in the area and need someone to fetch you from the airport or grab you from Linga Langa after pizza and a beer, let me know and I'll send you his number!

And my favorite... Donkey carts! After the initial shock of seeing this mode of transport when I first arrived in country, the trusty donkey cart has earned its way into my heart! The donkey cart is common among people in small villages or people who travel to "the lands". The lands are basically farming plots where people raise cattle and grow crops. The donkey cart is a cheap and convenient way for villagers to get around and to carry their harvest (or wood for the fire to warm water and cook) from the lands to their homes. It is my goal to take a ride on a donkey cart (and then feed the donkeys apples) at some point during my service!

And that concludes today's lesson on life in Botswana. I hope you've learned a thing or two about what transportation is like for Peace Corps Volunteers!

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