Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Oh the places you’ll go! (Part III)

August 17, 2010 4:30 PM

Whew...journal club presentation FINISHED. Later a celebratory trip to the Sun Hotel. But for now, step into this DeLorean with me if you would. Ready for a trip? 10, 15, 30, 50, 60, 75, 85, 86, 87, 88....(multiply by 1.6 if you're reading this from Botswana)


Sunday, August 15

Feast of the Assumption of Mary...Whoop!

So Saturday night I fell asleep even though I was afraid of a certain Kenyan somehow breaking into my house (out of anger for my cancelling on lunch) and beating me with a ceaselessly vibrating cell phone. But I woke up in one piece... 7:37 AM. Seriously?! The alarm was set for 7 AM, and somehow I slept as it went off for 37 MINUTES. Babe, I know you aren't surprised, but still, for me that's impressive. You see, if I had been at home, either my loving wife would have just turned the alarm off, sleepily asked me to get up to turn it off, or made me wake up.

However, my loving secondary alarm was not there to wake me. Consequently, I pondered whether or not to even try to make it to 8 AM Mass. Needing to get a start on the day, I decided I could do it. about 10 minutes later I was dressed, deodorant-ized, teeth-brushed, and out the door. I booked it through the alleyway and the street behind Princess Marina Hospital...and of course as I walked to Church on Sunday morning along the side of this backroad I saw...

...two cars parked facing each other on the shoulder, with about 4 Batswana (this is the way to say what I think should be "Botswanian") dudes hanging out, sitting around, and of course drinking beer. 7:45 AM...Sunday morning...seriously? Maybe there was a reason, but I very readily decided that they just must have decided they wanted to drink ALL WEEKEND LONG. Literally. This, coupled with the comment Tendai the Taxi Driver made at Liquorama two nights prior ("People come here and buy to drink for the entire weekend!"), made me conclude that this must have been their goal. Seriously

Anyway, I finally made it to Christ the King Cathedral, where I walked in to see the back of a certain Kenyan man's head in one of the pews as I found a place to sit. I enjoyed the Feast of the Assumption in my own language, with music that was not quite as lively as that of the Setswana Mass. As Mass ended, I said some prayers and then looked up to see Vincent waiting to talk to me...oh boy...

So we walked outside and Vincent proceeded to ask me about my work that I had to do. As we discussed my two projects, he asked if maybe we could switch and do dinner instead. I initially protested, saying that after I sent my project in to my supervisor here in Botswana I had an essay I had to write as well at night. He persisted, however, telling me how the problem was that he had gone to the store specifically for the food, was up until 1 AM the night before cooking, and made far too much food for just one person to eat.

At this point in time, I caved. I truly didn't think this guy had any ill intent. He had just told me how he comes to the English Mass at 8 because he doesn't speak Sestwana as well and wants to hear the Gospel in English. He then stays for the 10 AM Sestwana Mass because he prefers the singing. Plus I think he generally just likes going to Mass. Regardless, he had given me his CV and was hoping that I could help him find a job in the U.S. (reason for him not to kill me). So, with hesitation, I proceeded to agree that we would meet at 3:30, because there was no way in Botswana that I was going to go there after dark.

So, after going home and scarfing some cereal I concluded that I needed to get to a place with internet access to send revised slides for the presentation, check my email, and get to really scheduling a trip to northern Botswana. Not having much time, I settled for the Gaborone Sun Hotel just across the street, where internet is expensive but convenient and faster than Riverwalk.

Not having been inside this apparently five star hotel before, I walked in, purchased a one our internet voucher, and proceeded to the pool area bar where I was told the internet worked best. Truly, it was a beautiful spot to work, with a view of the clear pool as the sun moved into the western sky. The bar area was open air but covered, so the temperature was just right. The bar had granite counter and the tables around the bar area had plush chairs and polished wood. It was nice. In any case, I took in the scenery for a bit before setting to getting the most out of my hour on the internet. It was literally my oasis in the desert. Though I didn't know it yet, it would stand in stark contrast to the setting in which I'd find myself later in the day.

However, then it was time for frustration to begin. As I sat there sipping a drink and surfing the web, I found a flight to Kasane and a place to stay potentially, both of which could be booked online. I tried and tried and tried for the majority of the hour to get all my info put in and reserve my ticket and room. However, my credit card somehow decided that, even though I had called to tell them I was in Botswana for a month, they would put a hold on the card when I tried to buy a plane ticket. Subsequently, I spent the last 20 minutes on the phone with not just that card but my secondary card, and used up all the airtime on my phone in the process. To make a long and simply frustrating story short, it took an additional 30 minutes of internet time (twice!), two phone calls to card companies (one successful and one not), and about eight thousand attempts before I got things squared away, just before my last 30 minutes of internet ran out. Though frustrated, I was incredibly happy to have finally made a decision on where to go and when. As Ali knows, these kinda things are hard for me. I overanalyze way too much. Though I know it is a longstanding problem, I'm gonna blame med school for it anyway.

After leaving the royalty of the Sun, I headed home so that I'd make it back to the Cathedral on time. I took everything valuable out of my backpack save my camera and headed back to the Church. At exactly 3:30 PM, Vincent pulls up in a taxi and is ready to go. With what I realize could be the last time I boarded a moving vehicle, I stepped into the cab and we were off.

So Vincent insisted that we would drive to where he was staying, and then head back by foot. I may have argued the "walkability" of this distance, as we proceeded past Main mall, over a bridge, and through a neighborhood. Finally after navigating a few neighborhood streets we pulled up to Vincent's place. After getting out and paying the 20 pula for the taxi (Vincent had paid for all the food, after all), we went through a gate that entered into what Vincent told me were the servant's quarters of a man's house. Once we walked into the room, I knew that I didn't need to be afraid anymore.

Vincent lives in a tiny area of this man's house, where he has a room which is about 10 by 12 feet, a bathroom with shower, and the tiniest kitchen I have ever seen (no fridge, no cupboards, no oven...literally a sink, a counter top with one shelf underneath), and some hot plates on top on which to cook) all entered through separate doors that are entered from outside.

As we walked in, Vincent told me to have a seat on the one plastic and steel chair in the room, turned a bucket over to use as a "table," and welcomed me. I was then staring across the room at a few thick blankets stacked to make a bed, a pile of clothes in the corner of the room, an ironing board in the other corner, and about 15 pictures of Jesus and Mary all around the room leaned against the red-orange walls or the single window. In the final corner stood a few statues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, a crucifix with a green-stoned Rosary on it, and more pictures. next to my chair were two more statues of Jesus and Mary. As I sat there, Vincent pulled out a plate, then proceeded to pull his non-perishable groceries out of another bucket (again, no furniture in this room, no closets, dresser). He opened a package peanuts and raisins, poured them out on the plate, then spread out a package of sandwich cookies on top: our appetizer. He then pulled out two mugs and offered me the choice between two cans of orange Fanta or some juice from a carton. Choosing the juice, he poured it and said "If we do not finish, you will take this with you."

It was at this time that I began to realize how important this meal was to him. We proceeded to go to walk across through the door to the outside and then the door to the kitchen, where he showed me the pot of fish he had cooked, the spinach and grape leaves, and the pot in which we would make "Pap" or "Woogali." As he plugged in the hot plates, he put water into a pot and we snacked as we waited for it to boil. Then, as the water boiled abotu 15 minutes later, I watched, flies buzzing around the both of us, as he poured maize into the water and proceeded to stir it vigorously. Then, after about 4 minutes, he stopped, poured in more maize (to make it firmer), and stirred again. Finally, he gave it a few minutes ("To make it very hot...see that fire [referring to the steam coming off the food]"). Next, he proceeded to warm up the greens, and began to plate.

Out of the other pot, full of orange liquid boiling up, he scooped out pieces of whole fish, gutted and scaled. Of course, he gave me a head as well, but when he finished I had about the equivalent of 1and a half full tilapia on my plate. He then proceeded to put the Pap onto another plate on which to serve it. At this point, he was just about using every dish he owned. He then scooped some greens into two bowls, scooped himself a much smaller portion of fish (even still there was a bunch left in the pot), and it was time to eat.

As I sat on the chair, he sat on the "bed" to eat. Pulling up a plastic crate on which to place some of the food, we were set to go. We blessed the food and thanked God for our safety and our meal. We began to eat. A pot was placed in between us "For the bones". Of course, these whole fish had bones till in the meat, which meant you pulled a piece off, ate it, but carefully to make sure you hadn't missed a bone...some of which were tiny. Though an adventure, the fish was very tasty and good. (No utensils were used to eat this mean, by the way.) Vincent also showed me how to eat the Pap. After he literally sliced this mass of boiled maize with a knife, I picked up a piece and he showed me how to knead it in one hand to make it softer, then dip it in the liquid in which the fish had been boiled. It was also very good, of course tastier with the liquid than plain.

As we ate he proceeded to tell me about how he went to the store, started cooking, scaled the fish, and got my message about when he was really getting into the cooking. Hearing this, I felt that first I didn't deserve to be welcomed so graciously by someone who had so little and second that I would have greatly disappointed and saddened him if I had not attended this literal feast. Then, the topic turned to how he had worked for the man who owned the house for 12 years. Then, as the government stopped giving projects to the company Vincent's boss worked for, he was forced to lay off many of his workers. However, as his boss knew him to be a good man and worker, he offered for him to move to Gaborone from Serowe (the town Vincent had been working in) to stay for free in his servant quarters to look for work. He agreed, left his house and all his furniture in Serowe, and came to look for work.

Since April, Vincent has been doing this. He goes to 6AM Mass, searches for work all day, and then heads to Mass again at 5PM. Arriving at home later in the evening, he goes to sleep about 10-11PM. Then, he told me, he wakes up every morning at 3AM to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and is then up for the day, ready to do it all over again. Strengthened by this grace, and the motivation to help pay for schooling for his son and nieces and nephews back in Kenya, he searches and prays each day, thanking God at the very least for his health and hoping to be grateful for more each day. So far, the Lord has seen fit to allow him to continue offering up this trial...

As we continued to talk, we continued to eat. As I was beginning to feel full from fish and Pap, Vincent decided that I needed another piece. And he also decided that I needed the LARGEST piece. Literally, this thing was the size of a human stomach...and I had already been eating! So as we ate, I stuff my face, waiting to tell Vincent there is no way I can finish it all. Eventually, as I feel there is no room left, I tell him I am feeling very full. "Just finish the Pap, and that will be okay," he says. I looked down at the 80% of the second piece that was left: No WAY. I tried for a few more minutes and repeated myself, but Vincent was insistent that I finish the Pap (in a nice way, but still insistent) and that he would then pack up my fish. Still not thinking it was possible, I continued to try...but it was just so much. Somehow the conversation turned to Barak Obama, how people in the US felt about him, how I felt about him, how I first and foremost think he's detestable for supporting abortion, and how Vincent agreed that that was against the Church's teaching and was wrong and therefore was bad. Conversation aside, seriously, after a couple more pauses, a couple of belches that somehow made room, and a couple big bites later, I had FINALLY finished the massive mound of boiled corn meal on my plate. After this, I slowly exhaled, indicating to Vincent that I had fulfilled his gracious request (though somehow I felt almost gluttonous finishing all of that). He consoled my aching stomach by saying that after we walked to get back to the area where the Church was that I would feel much better. Further, he told me that the meal was special for him because, aside from a white priest he once met, I was the only other white person with whom he had shared a meal. I was suprised, humbled, and honored, to say the least.

Next Vincent proceeded to pack up my leftovers. No tupperware, of course. My leftover fish was carefully placed in a plastic grocery bag, with the leftover pap in it as well, and a bit of the extr juice, which I was sure would leak through. The leftover juice in its carton, cookies, nuts, and a couple of bananas (I don't think we were actually supposed to eat these during the meal?) placed in another plastic bag. After we moved all of the dishes from his room to the kitchen, he carefully put everything else away back in the storage bucket in the corner, put on his worn shoes, and we were off. I walked away from the meal and from the house knowing that I wasn't worthy of such a giving spirit and such an experience.

After we left the house, as the sun was starting to set, Vincent showed me a shortcut through his neighborhood, on which we somehow ran into a friend of his and a visitor who happened to be a Catholic priest (weird right?). He then showed me another shortcut through an apartment complex, where each balcony had bars guarding it (high crime rate here, ya think?), and eventually we were back on a main road I recognized near the bridge we had crossed over. We skipped the bridge and cut through an area nearby, an area that I soon recognized as the same area I had been lost among the combis in the night before! This time we crossed through another portion of that zoo for vehicles in which numerous busses waited to be filled to capacity before departing for their destination outside of Gaborone. After passing through this bustling area, I was again in the same spot where a stranger had helped me find my way to Broadhurst Combi #2 the night before. This time, though, I didn't as much mind the dark, since I had someone who knew what he was doing close by. We walked, cut across streets, and eventually passed by the American Embassy. I was so close to the U.S. (technically) and definitely closer to homeland than I had been in the previous two weeks. We continued to walk, passing Main Mall, the Cathedral, and eventually the Baylor Clinic. At this point, I thanked Vincent for everything, wished him well on his trip back home (yes he walked all the way back), and walked the last five minutes alone.

Truly, all I can say is that I NEVER would have expected to experience anything like what I described above. Me two weeks ago would have told me today that I was crazy to even consider going to have lunch at the home of a Nigerian man he randomly met in Gaborone....

Finally I arrived home about seven. I put my leftovers, which Vincent insisted on carrying till we parted ways, in the fridge. This was not the end of the night, however, as the presentation for journal club still needed to be emailed to my supervisor. As I had no internet, I hopped on a combi and headed to Riverwalk to use the free internet at Linga Longa (grill and bar). My partner for the presentation and I emailed each other slides, and eventually got them sent in. Content with the days' work, I called Tendai to pick me up at 10:30 when Linga Longa closed. About 11, he showed up (gotta love Gaborone time). As I got in he introduced me to his wife, Monica, who I assumed he had just picked up and therefore had a good excuse for being late. They were both very kind and pleasant on the trip back. They dropped me off, I took a shower, and bedtime concluded the weekend.

Seriously...Dr. Suess is a freakin' prophet. Oh the places you'll go!