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Karen's master's degree trip - busy yes, but still fun!

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May 19th, 2005, 01:59 PM
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Karen's master's degree trip - busy yes, but still fun!

I'm just back and a bit jet-lagged, but and excited and wanted to tell you a little about my trip. In case you've forgotten (or didn't see the original [controversial!] thread), I'm part of a government-sponsored master's degree program and have been studying national security strategy for the past year. My field studies portion of the curriculum was sub-Saharan Africa and the culmination was a trip (with 8 other students and 2 faculty members) to South Africa, Botswana (and a brief stop in Zambia) - all in 10 days.
Yes, it was rushed. And in Pretoria we spent far too much time listening to briefings in conference rooms (I caused a major ruckus and embarrassed the rest of the group by complaining about it to the U.S. Embassy personnel who hosted us. I was frustrated because they did exactly what we DIDN'T want - a bunch of PowerPoint briefings - and we didn't get to see my number one priority for Jo-burg, the Apartheid Museum.) But overall, the trip was fabulous - I learned a lot and had a lot of fun.
A few highlights...
In inner-city Johannesburg, we were given a tour of a walk-in AIDS clinic (and a package of condoms - condoms, by the way, are widely available for free in both South Africa and Botswana). At the clinic, we saw lots of people waiting to be tested and waiting for treatment - both with ARVs for AIDS and also for TB, which in southern Africa is often a precursor disease to full-blown AIDS. We heard about the clinic's education and counseling program and about the frightening AIDS statistics and the reluctance of people to be tested. It was a fascinating up-close look at an issue that until then had seemed a distant and academic problem. The 3-year-old boy who wandered into one of the rooms where we being briefed made it poignantly real.
We stayed in Pretoria rather than Jo-burg. (I would NOT recommend it - seemed to me there was more to do in Jo-burg, although we didn't get to do any of it!) Our hotel was Villa Via, across the street from the U.S. Embassy - a convenient location for our conference room briefings (sigh), but otherwise not worth a stay.
After two days there, we headed via bus to Gabarone. Enroute we stopped at a very touristy place, Lesido Village (I may have the spelling wrong). It was like a folk park with people dressed in native costumes. We saw dances and typical village huts. I tasted a dried worm that looked kind of like a caterpillar. (I was one of only three in our group to do so and the only woman.) I chewed it up (tasted kind of like jerky), but ended up spitting it out (the texture screamed INSECT and it was more than I could...um... swallow). Anyway, we had fun, but this was a VERY touristy spot and a bit disappointing. I think we were expecting a more realistic village.
More later... next stop: Gabarone.
Karen
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May 19th, 2005, 02:23 PM
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Sorry that some aspects still weren't what they could have been but so pleased to hear that you got so much out of the trip nonetheless and that you enjoyed it too!
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May 19th, 2005, 02:43 PM
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Thanks, Kavey!

Gabarone was fabulous. We stayed at the Grand Palm resort/casino and were given a warm welcome by U.S. Embassy personnel who were on hand to greet us with bottles of water and copies of the itinerary they had mapped out for us. That evening they took us to a traditional brai (cookout) at a small nearby game park. We got a brief ride and spotted a couple of impalas and a wildebeast before dinner - which was wonderful. The next day was jam-packed and totally fascinating.
We started with a country briefing from the U.S. Ambassador and other embassy personnel giving us a rundown on various issues in Botswana - the political situation, the economy, and of course, the dire HIV/AIDS problem. We visited the African Trade Hub, the law enforcement training center (sponsored by the U.S., it serves as a training facility for policemen from throughout southern Africa, not just Botswana), an AIDS orphanage (most of the kids were in school, but we did meet a few and got to talk to the director and assistant director and received a tour of the facilities - very rudimentary - an amazing stop), and an AIDS testing center. That evening, we were guests of honor at a reception hosted by the embassy's Deputy Chief of Mission. The Ambassador was there, as were a number of Embassy personnel and several Batswana - a terrific evening.
The next morning, we visited the Botswana Defense Forces Headquarters for a briefing on (and by) the Botswana military. They have live snakes (they gave a handling demonstration, but you may remember I have a major snake phobia, so I waited in the bus during that part!). They use the snakes in their training for the troops who participate in anti-poaching efforts since they spend much time in the bush on foot.
The Grand Palm is quite nice - would highly recommend it if you're in Gabarone. Unfortunately, we didn't get to do any shopping (although I did manage to pick up a t-shirt in the hotel gift shop!), but Gabarone was a trip highlight in terms of educational value. We saw a lot in a day a half!

Forgot to mention that in Pretoria, we tried ostrich at a local restaurant. It's delicious - I was expecting it to be like chicken, but it's a red meat and tastes similar to beef.

That's probably all for today. I'm extremely tired. Next installment - CHOBE!

Karen
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May 19th, 2005, 02:54 PM
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I'm tired and am somewhat forgetful - two other visits in Gabarone:
- the Bank of Botswana where we received a briefing on the nation's fiscal policies (which have been extremely prudent and have enabled the nation to have a budget SURPLUS most years)
- and Debswana, the joint partnership between the Debeers Diamond company and the Botswana government. A tour of a diamond mine would have been better - but at least we got to visit the corporate headquarters and hear about the diamond industry - what it has meant to Botswana and future prospects (Botswana has been trying to diversify its economy - it is heavily dependent on its diamond wealth - but with somewhat limited success).
Both were fascinating visits...
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May 19th, 2005, 04:22 PM
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Thanks for the report--very different from the typical safari report. From banking to snakes and the poaching patrol, to dining with ambassadors, you had a variety of experiences. Glad it was fun in additional to educational!
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May 19th, 2005, 04:46 PM
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Probably the highlight of the trip (for me at least) was Chobe National Park. We stayed at Mowana Safari Lodge and was it ever nice. My room was right next to the Clinton Suite (where then-President Clinton stayed several years ago). We got to peek inside when the maid was cleaning it - much nicer than my room!
We went on a game ride in the morning and saw lots of birds, a few hippos, numerous impalas, a couple of wildebeasts, and one lion. Mid-day we went into town for some shopping (at last!) and I snagged a few marvelous baskets and a set of metal elephant wall hangings. Later that day the Botswana Defense Force that was deployed to Kasane for anti-poaching picked us up and took us to their camp for a briefing on their activities in the area, followed by a late afternoon/sunset boat ride. It was absolutely fantastic. We saw baboons, a few crocodiles, lots of birds, some wildebeasts, and warthogs. But best of all, we saw at least a couple hundred elephants all along the shore. It was amazing. I'd never been to Africa before and this what I'd been hoping to see.
For dinner that night, we invited some of the Batswana military members to join us at the lodge and it was really enjoyable talking to them. With the high unemployment rate in Botswana, getting into the military is highly competitive and it's a good job with a high retention rate.
Miscellany:
Food at the Mowana was quite good.
There were a few mosquitoes, but it wasn't unbearable by any means. We did use our Deet.
Weather-wise was great - very warm during the day, but cool at night (not freezing on the morning safari, but the wool blankets were nice!).
Still no zebras, giraffes, or rhinos... but next up... Zambia.
I'm going to bed now (even though it's not yet 9 - I can't hold out any longer - it was a long flight home!). Will finish tomorrow!
Karen
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May 20th, 2005, 06:18 AM
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From Chobe we went by bus to Livingstone, Zambia - crossing the Zambezi River by ferry. At the ferry, a guy was selling copper bracelets and the master bargainer in our group managed to get the price down to $1 a bracelet. I bought 4 of them; I think almost all of us bought at least 1. It's only about an hour and a half to Livingstone, so we were there in time for lunch. We stayed at the Zambezi Sun, which which had a great pool and decent rooms (very cheerful) - not as luxurious as the Mowana Lodge, but quite nice nonetheless. That evening several of us went on a game ride and we saw the park's only two white rhinos (yay!), as well as zebras, giraffes, wildebeasts, impalas, and, as usual, lots of birds. It was great. In the morning, we walked down to the falls (amazing - got totally soaked!) and some of the guys in our group went on ultra-lights over the falls, while others of us visited a nearby village. It was fascinating but made me kind of sad. Someone in a recent post mentioned a "human zoo" and that's kind of what it felt like. It seemed authentic, but seemed exploitive to me. I was very glad to have gone and took lots of pictures, but I didn't feel good about it, if you know what I mean. Afterwards it was time to leave Zambia (too short a visit!) for Cape Town. I'd love to go back to Vic Falls - there was a lot to do there. I'd like to have done the ultra-lights or a helicopter ride, plus there was an elephant-back safari, bungee jumping (not for me!) and several other activities. Plus I'd have liked to spend some time in town (shopping!) but we didn't have the opportunity. The U.S. Defense Attache from Lusaka drove to Livingstone to meet us, so we had an evening with her to hear about her experiences and a little about Zambia. Again, not enough time, but a nice introduction to the country. Next, and final stop, Capetown.
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May 20th, 2005, 07:42 AM
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Thanks for posting. Great to hear what you did. If you're up to it, I hope later you can tell us more detail on what you learned. How did things match up to what you expected and already knew about the region - that sort of thing.
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May 20th, 2005, 10:51 AM
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Our final two days were spent in Cape Town. We got a tour of the Parliament building, which was fantastic. I found it fascinating that certain parliamentary seats are reserved for women, and that the Speaker of the House is always a woman. The ANC dominates Party politics, and interestingly, votes of individual members are not made public - so the constituency doesn't know how their representative actually voted on specific issues. For the most part, though, members vote along Party lines - and in fact, people don't vote directly for individual candidates but rather for a particular party (Sewlyn, if I've misunderstood, please jump in!).
Next we visited a winery about an hour outside Cape Town. We had lunch, heard about the wine-making process, tasted four different kinds... and had the opportunity to buy some(which I did - two bottles).
That evening we squeezed in some souvenir shopping and enjoyed dinner on the waterfront before going to bed. We stayed at the Victoria and Albert. It's beautiful and is right on the waterfront.
The next morning (our last), we did the Robben Island tour. For me it was a trip highlight. Seeing the limestone quarry where Mandela worked day-in, day-out for years carrying limestone from one side of the quarry to the other and the next day carrying it back and the cell where he slept was fascinating and moving. Hearing the first-hand account from the tour guide who had also been a prisoner really brought it to life. A most worthwhile visit.
That afternoon we headed to the airport and our long flight home. Still don't have my luggage - presumably it didn't make the connection at Jo-burg - am hoping to get it later today.
I may post some additional comments (as requested by Favor) tomorrow after I've had a little more time to gather my thoughts. For school I have to put together a 3-page paper giving trip highlights on what I learned - so I need to do some additional thinking anyway.
Hope at least some of you have found this useful. It was a wonderful trip. As you all predicted, it was very rushed, but I learned a lot and enjoyed it immensely. I'd like to go back and take my daughter and/or sister.
If anyone has any specific questions, let me know!
Karen
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May 20th, 2005, 12:01 PM
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Karen -

Very interesting to read about travel to Southern Africa with a different view - business/professional/educational versus pleasure. And even though you were often rushed, I believe you go as much as possible for the amount of time you had. At least you got in the game viewing at Chobe and had some time in Capetown.

As soon as your degree program is complete, you'll definitely have to find the time and return for a less hectic holiday. Thanks so much for sharing.
 
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May 20th, 2005, 01:00 PM
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YAY! The airport just called and my luggage will be here in 3 hours or so. I'll be able to take my malaria pills and also make sure my baskets are still in one piece!
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May 20th, 2005, 06:07 PM
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I just discovered that one of my favorite souvenirs - a small carved head - was stolen from my checked luggage. I brought several of my souvenirs in a carry-on but had stuck that little wooden statue in the corner of my checked bag. That's the last time I'll do that... Not terribly expensive (about $20) but gorgeous and quite unusual. I'm really disappointed to lose it.
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May 20th, 2005, 06:16 PM
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Presumably there's no hope of getting it back? Anyone ever have experience with this kind of thing? Is it worth it to report it?
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May 21st, 2005, 12:28 PM
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I've had some experience with theft from luggage. My experience is that everyone (airline, airport authority in the US, airport authority in SA) told me that somebody else was responsible. I was sent from pillar to post, filled out 80 jillion forms, and everyone I talked to lectured me on how I SHOULD have kept the stuff with me instead of putting it in checked luggage. Finally I wanted to shout "But the THIEF SHOULDN'T HAVE STOLEN IT". The upshot of several weeks of phone calls and filling out forms and talking to police and on and on, was that nobody did anything. My insurance did pay, but only after I gave the agent copies of all the 80 jillion forms.

So I'd say no, don't bother reporting it.
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