Rutgers - Science Summer Abroad 2010
Nine Science Undergraduate Students Around the World

Friday, July 2, 2010

Clinics, Combis, and Cup

So last week, I started working in a clinic for part of the week. I happen to be working in the Old Naledi Clinic, Old Naledi being the original neighborhood of the city of Gaborone. Because it is so old, all of the homes are falling apart and overcrowding is a problem. The clinic, while more modern than many of the homes, has its own share of problems. The most significant one is its lack of water. Lack of water? a clinic? Yes it is true. During the day, construction nearby forces the entire neighborhood's supply of water to be shut off, including the clinic's. This means no running water for washing hands or sanitation as well as no bathroom use. To compensate, the staff fills tubs full of water when there is water available. One thing I have noticed is that hand washing is not a very popular activity in Botswana, especially with soap. Sanitary practices are apparently not very prioritized here. There are also different cultural norms that affect how the clinic runs. In Botswana, there is no such thing as personal space. At home, my brother will often barge into my room to talk to me and take note of the various items I have sprawled out. Once, he spotted the cookies I left out and he insisted that we eat them immediately. The cookies, as you may have guessed, are no more. In the clinic, it is normal to see nurses take phone calls while treating patients or disrupting conversations with patients to have conversations amongst themselves, behavior we, as Americans, commonly see as unprofessional. While these cultural differences seem to affect how the clinic runs, I think that these problems can be relatively easily remedied. The major medical problem affecting Botswana is HIV/AIDS. As of now, 18% of the entire population (all ages) are HIV positive and if certain age groups are measured, the percentage can jump past 35%. But in the last decade, Botswana began offering anti-retrovirals free of charge to all affected Batswana. Even more, the government also offers TB drugs for free, as TB incidence rates are directly related to HIV incidence rates. The outlook of this medical pandemic is getting better as within the past 5 years, the percentage of HIV/AIDS patients has started to decrease.

The best part of my day, however, is lunch time when I go over to the soup kitchen next door to volunteer. The soup kitchen serves the underpriveledged children of Old Naledi, many of whom have been orphaned because of HIV or are HIV positive themselves. Volunteers help cook lunch for the children as well as play with them. Seeing so many children enjoying themselves and eating tasty, healthy food (sometimes the only meal they will eat all day) is such a heartwarming feeling. Mathata, the man who runs the soup kitchen, grew up in Old Naledi himself, one of the roughest places in Gaborone. Through his hard work as well as the many volunteers he's had over the years, he changes the lives of children by not only giving them sustenance, but also providing a role model to look up to.

On a different note, this past Monday was special in Botswana. The last Monday of the month is payday. While that means happiness, it also means danger. Many people go out and drink...and then drive home. Drunk driving is a problem in Botswana, as is driving altogether. Many of the people are aggressive drivers and it is fairly common to see combi drivers driving on the shoulder of the road or jumping the curb onto the sidewalk to move past traffic (which during rush hour is horrendous). A few days ago, the combi I was on happened to fit 19 passengers (yes I counted) on a vehicle that can safely seat 15. And when I said safely, I actually didn't mean safely as there are only 2 seatbelts on the combi. One thing I find funny is that combis, while on the verge of falling apart, will often have very nice stereo systems. Many also have names, which are represented by stickers on the back window. Some include The Big Fish, Twice as Nice, and my personal favorite, Ninjas. Ninjas has recently been put up for sale, so the back window reads "Ninjas For Sale."

I just wanted to mention one last thing before ending the post. A trip to Africa this summer would not have been complete without attending the World Cup. Luckily, I can say that I was there. Everyone in my program got tickets to the US vs. Ghana game. What's even more unbelievable is that we secured transportation and our tickets the day before the game. The experience was amazing. Words cannot describe all of the emotions that I felt. The tens of thousands of fans cheering, the pulsing of the vuvuzelas, and the sheer excitement of being at the World Cup still seem like a dream. I even met a woman who attended Rutgers but was living in Joburg. The only disappointment was that the US was knocked out. It was a country against an entire continent and, unfortunately we lost. But at least Africa's World Cup hopes are still alive. Hope everyone is enjoy's what's left of the World Cup.

Go siame.

Top picture: The combi "Big Husband" waiting at the bus station to fill up. The most crowded combi I was ever in had 22 people in it...
2: A night view of Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa
3: The US team proudly lined up in front of their flag


  1. Wonderful posts and powerful descriptions. Thank you, Tim.

  2. I can't believe you got tickets to the US/Ghana World Cup game! That is fantastic! That is one of the best "added bonuses" I have hear for a study abroad experience.

    I really enjoyed learning about the combis! Can you get a picture before you leave. I would love to see what they look like.