After an intense scrabble smackdown last night, and with no assembly this morning, Heba and I had the luxury of waking up at 7:05AM! If numbers could be capitalized, those would be—I never thought I'd be so excited to wake up at 7am. Though to be honest, while I complain, things are so exciting here that I really don't mind the early mornings. I hit sleepy patches throughout the day, but normally I wake up so close to when I have to be somewhere I jump right out of bed and have no time to waste in getting ready.
Today was the actually best of all days ever. It all began when I went with Heba to meet a TA named Phenyo who asked if we could help him out with a song he was composing. Do either of us know anything about music? No. But we thought we could at least give a thumbs up and try to be encouraging!
Long story short, on our way to meet Phenyo, we ran into THREE MONKEYS that were eating food out of a trash can! We had heard that there were monkeys on campus but hadn't actually seen any until now, and they were SO CUTE. Even while eating trash. So naturally we had to stop and take photos, and then showed up twenty minutes late to the music wing only to discover that it was LOCKED! So with no way of listening to Phenyo's composition today...what were we to do?
WELL, recently we had been hearing a LOT about how the Form 1-3 students are learning ballroom dance in PE, which Jack and Austin help TA. Apparently the boys all have to wear suits and the girls bring dresses and heels; and there are all these cute stories of the kids asking each other to dance, e.g. one boy who has a crush on this one girl started walking over to her to ask her to dance, and last minute chickened out and asked the girl next to her. Or another boy who—when it was his turn to ask a girl to dance—told Jack and Austin that he was going to throw up. It sounded ADORABLE; and so naturally, that's where Phenyo, Heba, and I ended up.
I think this has been my favorite memory at MaP so far. I cannot begin to describe the experience of watching Form 1 students in dresses and tuxes dance to High School Musical songs. While I do have qualms about heteronormativity, girls or boys being leftover, etc., it was like 90% the cutest thing I've ever seen. The boys all cross the room, bow to their lady, and extend a hand, which the girl takes; they waltz to whatever crazy music Jack and Austin play (ft. most notably "Love in This Club" by Usher, but mostly contemporary acoustic-y songs); and then the boy leads his lady back to a seat and they each bow or curtsy to each other before parting ways.
I could go on for a long time about this, but I'll stop (in a minute). After the first class of Form 2 students filed out, the PE instructor asked Heba and I, who had been sitting in the back swooning over the cuteness and trying to guess which students had crushes on whom, if we wanted to learn how to dance. It turns out that Phenyo is a RIDICULOUS dancer (a lot of people here are incredible dancers), and he showed both of us the basic steps! For the girls it's: right foot step back, left foot left, right foot close, rise up on toes and lower; left foot forward, right foot right, left foot close, pause. A music instructor who I really like and a Princeton in Africa Fellow also joined in, and it was SO MUCH FUN to chat casually while experimenting with fancy spins we definitely could not pull off.
The highlight occurred at the end of the Form 3 class, when two boys, having noticed Heba and me observing, bravely straightened their bowties and approached us together. They bowed, offered their hand—which Heba and I accepted—and led us in a dance. Had I just been asking the Princeton Fellow whether it would inappropriate for us to dance with students? Yes. BUT, as we learned from the quiz the students took that day, it is rude for a lady to refuse if someone politely asks her to dance. And we especially had to accept because it was SO incredibly brave of the two boys to invite two visiting Harvard students (whom they had never met before) to waltz. This also encouraged Phenyo and the Princeton Fellow and music teacher to get back up and dance, and it was a lovely way to end the class.
Heba and I left this in such high spirits, and headed to a Cultural Literacy class with the MaP Top Achievers that turns out wasn't being held that day, so it was the chillest morning we've had so far. (I also just realized I've never described the daily schedule in a blog post, so I'll try to make that the focus of tomorrow!) I met a few new students in the cafeteria at lunch, which was really nice, sorted out a few room key issues with the head of the girls' boarding house, and then headed with a few of the other interns to a Bundles of Brightness meeting.
This ended up being the most educationally interesting part of my day. Bundles of Brightness is a service SPE that is focused on addressing poverty in a few local villages, including Malwelwe and one other M village. While I believe tutoring was once involved, I gathered from this meeting that the group had also organized the distribution of solar panels funded by a group in New York and is now especially working on getting water to the village. Attendance rates in school are dropping because the kids are fainting on the walk there; and with no surface water ANYWHERE in the area, villagers have to walk many kilometers to use the boreholes of larger settlements. A few interesting facts that came up are:
- A North-South Carrier pipeline, designed to transport water from the rivers of the North to the desert areas in the South—including Gaborone, the capital—has been under construction for a long time with completion nowhere in sight.
- The authority of a chief keeps the distribution of water and supplies under control in villages. I think we interns were picturing a bit of a free-for-all when the students described the borehole they hoped to finance in Malwelwe, but it seems as though the chief has the power to do pretty much anything, including ration out water.
- A government-owned company referred to as "Utilities" controls the water supply in much of Botswana. When the expensive privatization of water makes it unfeasible for many poor people to buy the water they need to survive, these boreholes seem like a necessary alternative.
While hearing all of this, my mind kept replaying a moment from yesterday, when the young kids at the primary school kept asking me for water. I let a few boys sky from my water bottle, but when everyone else swarmed I put it away in an effort to maintain order—but now I wonder just how thirsty the students really were. Learning all this gives me really productive perspective, and reminds me that we're living in SUCH a privileged bubble at Maru-a-Pula compared to the experiences of most Batswana.
Harsh, who works for a NGO and Harvard organization regarding access to water, and I chatted with the woman leading the program after the meeting; and I think we're both super interested in going on the group's next trip to Malwelwe. He also took the time to sketch for me the design of the bathrooms he built in Bolivia. I found it really interesting that both Botswana and Bolivia face the same issue of water shortages, but here the group's approach is to construct boreholes, and Harsh's organization's approach is to build bathrooms to people don't relieve themselves in the few rivers that they drink from.
And that brings us to...our first evening out in Gabs! A group of about fifteen of us left school to catch a 5pm movie ("Now You See Me 2"), grab dinner, and then go out for the night. The movie was meh, but it was super nice to get to know some of the TAs and their MaP-graduate-friends better in a casual restaurant/club/non-school setting.
The most-ordered item for dinner was a burger with fries, which says a lot about our Americanism/what we're missing here; and after dinner, people drifted on over to an outdoor club-ish (kind of?) place next door. All in all, a really fun night. I really enjoy the slow, laid back vibe here, though I repeat that it seems like EVERYONE knows how to dance so so so intimidatingly well. Looking forward to more nights like this!
We took a cab back to school on the earlier side, which was an adventure as always, since we have our game drive tomorrow morning. Cheers to the weekend!