Home sweet Gaborone

I had planned to finish posting about my April travels before writing about life in Gaborone, but I’ve been here for almost a month now and still not caught up, so I figure it’s about time for an actual live update.

Since early May, I’ve been living in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana. Batswana (the adjective for people from Botswana; locals swear it’s pronounced differently than the country but I still haven’t been able to figure out how) pronounce it “hab-or-on-ey,” kind of similar to how it would probably be pronounced in Spanish, but usually just refer to it as “Gabs.”

First, some info about Botswana:

  • Botswana is one of the most sparsely-populated countries in the world. It has an area of about 360 square miles (roughly the size of Texas) and a population of just over two million people (compared to over 25 million for Texas).
  • The national languages are Setswana and English. In Gabs, almost everyone speaks decent to excellent English, which is convenient since in my first month here I have picked up approximately four words of Setswana.
  • When I was in eighth grade, my social studies class spent a month or so studying Africa. Each of us was assigned a specific country on which to write a report. Mine was Botswana. What are the odds?
  • About 70% of the population identifies as Christian; under 10% practices traditional religions; about 20% reports having no religion.
  • Botswana is generally a very “successful” developing country. It’s one of the most stable countries in Africa, in terms of both government and economics. It has never experienced a coup or any significant civil unrest since independence in the 60’s. It is considered a “middle-income” country, due largely to its status as one of the world’s largest producers of diamonds. The literacy rate is about 80%. Almost 95% of the population has access to clean drinking water.
  • Where it’s not doing so well: By some estimates, 40% of the population is unemployed and 20-30% is living below the poverty line (mostly in rural areas). The HIV adult prevalence rate is 25-30%, the second-highest in the world — but Botswana is considered to have pretty aggressive and innovative intervention strategies, and the prevalence rate seems to be dropping in the younger generations.
  • The currency is called Pula, which means “rain” in Setswana.
  • Gabs is a spread-out city with a population of about 200,000. My assessment, based on personal observation and opinion and no facts: It’s much more developed than most other African cities that I’ve been to (with the obvious exception of Cape Town), but it’s developed more like a small town than a big city. Compared to Nairobi, for example, Gabs is (mostly) cleaner, has (again, mostly) better roads and drinkable tap water, and has much much much less poverty. But Nairobi has good sushi restaurants. That’s the best way that I think of to explain what I mean.

    As developed as it is in many ways, I still saw this when I got off the bus coming home the other day:


    Botswana is known in Southern Africa for poor fencing that allows domestic animals to run into the roads regularly. Even on the major highways, you can expect to regularly stop or swerve to avoid cows and donkeys. And you better stop or swerve, because people seriously value their cattle here.

    Anyway, living here has generally been great so far. I’m living in a neighborhood called Block 9 that I think is technically considered part of the city but feels closer to a suburb, which I guess is typical in spread-out cities. I usually take a minibus — which they call a combi — to get to and from work. Combis are minivans that runs similarly to buses, but on a somewhat less formal system. They cost 3 Pula and 30 Thebe (the equivalent of cents), which is about 50 cents U.S, compared to 30-40 Pula for taxis. It takes time to master some of the combi conventions, but I’m proud to say that I’m slowly getting there.

    I live in the guest house of a family’s home, which is connected to the house but completely walled-off with a separate entrance. The family is a couple and two daughters — the older one is 14 and the other is an adorable baby who’s just four months old. I pay 5000 P a month (about $700), which includes electricity, cable (just four channels, but still), wi-fi, and having their maid clean three times a week and do my laundry once a week. Not a bad deal in my opinion.

    This is the door to my house, with the main house to the left and mine to the right:


    And this is the inside (I know, I should have cleaned before taking photos, but I’m rationalizing that this way I’m showing a realistic view):






    I’m volunteering for UNICEF Botswana, in the Child and Adolescent Protection and Participation program. Specifically, I am working with the Department of Social Services to develop and document a uniform protocol for child protection in Botswana. I know I promised to write more about it, but on second thought I’m not sure it’s appropriate to say much more than that on the internet without approval from those organizations. If you’re curious to hear more, please ask and I’m happy to discuss privately. For now I’ll just say that it’s very interesting.

    I’ve made three friends who I met at work, on the bus, and at the mall, respectively, so I’ve been keeping myself busy outside of work as well. My main observation so far: the social scene in Gabs revolves heavily around soccer, beer, and barbecued meat. But it’s fun, even though I don’t play soccer, drink beer, or eat meat — go figure.

    I would like to share some photos of my social life here, but you know what doesn’t help you fit in when you’re the only foreigner at a party / bar / barbecue / any other location? Taking out your camera. It’s times like this when I miss my iphone and its ability to function as a camera that doesn’t scream “tourist.


    6 thoughts on “Home sweet Gaborone

    1. Your accommodation seems much less basic than I would have expected, in fact the flat looks like you could make it really comfortable. I know you did not want to give details without permission etc. but hours of work and days you work would help us get a better picture of your life there. Of course only if you want to do so. Even Trixie has been following your travels and has posted at least one comment. Loved your African lion adventures. In India the buffaloes were used to pull heavy carts,one one each side and were usually found relaxing in muddy pools or water. Buffalo milk was stronger than cows milk and also used to make cheese. Do they do the same there?.Long post sorry xx

    2. Details really aren’t necessary to know that what you are doing now is waaay better than privilege logs. Yay! 🙂

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