Friday, June 15, 2012

Six months of Hope

After some discouraging weeks, I arrived at school on Tuesday to find a slip telling me there was a package for me at the Post Office. Nothing makes a Peace Corps Volunteer happier than a package from home. Mine contained my favorite junk food (red licorice) some essential anti-age, anti-African sun cream, paintings from my incredibly talented granddaughters, books just published by my incredibly talented friends, and inside two Fairway plastic grocery bags:  TWO BRAILLE BOOKS for Hope. Added to the package were clothes my daughter-in-law had culled from the closets of four daughters under the age of six.

I met Hope six months ago during my first weeks in Kopong when I was 'integrating' into the community. She's a strong young woman who went blind 10 years ago at the age of 15. "I went blind slowly," she told me, from Glaucoma. She learned Braille and is determined to get an 'accommodation' which I am not clear about, but believe is a government funded internship of some sort. I don't know if she learned determination and patience or came by those qualities naturally, but every time I meet her I am struck by how much she lives her name.

Her family is 'living on the edge' as my neighbor at home would say--the household includes Hope and her sister Joy, another sister, her mother, her two brothers, the children of a sister who is "late" (deceased) and a young cousin who is living with them in order to go to school. Only one adult in the household is employed. When I arrived with the bag of books and clothes, everyone was sitting outside in the sun. I handed Joy the Braille editions of The Pearl and Of Mice and Men and watched as her slim fingers moved across the raised bumps of the square pages. Everyone watched her silently, her brother Daniel smiling and nodding. She smoothed her hand across the front page, then smiled and said "I am not lonely when I have books."

I told her when she finishes the books we can talk about them. I also told her I was trying to start a book club at the library and if we read the same books she can join us. She smiled again. "I will teach you to write in Braille," she said.

Hope does not have a Perkins Brailler, the machine that types in Braille, but I have no doubt she will have one at some point and she will teach me to write in Braille.

Friday, June 8, 2012

My Life in Orange

Orange is not just a color. Nor is it just a fruit. It is also the name of one of the major internet providers in Botswana. When we moved to our sites last November I went to the Orange store and bought a flybox (for wireless internet) before I bought pots and pans. Being connected to friends and family is what has sustained me here. It has also helped me integrate into my community, as I can offer students and teachers information from the internet and can work with other volunteers to create our monthly Peace Corps newsletter.

In the past couple of months my internet connection has been failing me. Sometimes I cannot get on the internet, other times it is so slow I could take a shower while I wait for a page to be uploaded. Our Peace Corps tech person checked out my computer and pronounced it fine, saying the fault lies with my internet provider. Thus began my odyssey through customer ‘service’ at Orange.

I returned to the place where I bought the flybox—the Orange store at Game City Mall. I brought all my paperwork, my computer, and my flybox and arrived to find a sign saying “we will open at 9:30 today as we have a staff meeting.” Since the store is all windows, I sat and watched them have their staff meeting and was the first one in the door. Isho, a lovely young man, looked up all my paperwork, then proceeded to plug in my flybox and confirmed that yes, it was slow. “You have to take this to the bus rank office to have them test it,” he said. HUH? I pointed out that he had just tested it. Yes, he said, but I had to take it over there for them to test it to find out what was wrong. My inner ugly American began to surface. “This is not the way to do business,” I said. This is not my problem—I paid for a working flybox, it’s not my job to figure out why it doesn’t work.

Isho began to tell me how much he wanted to make me happy, which, if I were younger and prettier could have sounded like a pickup line, but since I’m not, it was clearly what they were told to say to unhappy customers. A few more go-arounds with Isho and he decided to call someone to see if he could give me, as I requested, a new flybox. I stood patiently while he made phone calls and finally returned to tell me that could not be. Isho is a nice young man, and actually seemed to understand my dilemma. “I will take it to the bus rank for you,” he said. I said I needed it, I could not afford to have it gone for days (which happens quite often here). No he said, he would give me his phone number, he would take it to the bus rank and bring it back in the afternoon—I could pick it up there. I decided to trust him, handed over the flybox, took his phone number and began walking down the mall to the Mug & Bean where I could sit with a cup of coffee and get free wireless.  Two stores down I heard him calling Miss Jeff-er-eees. Turns out he had to take my laptop to the bus rank too. NO, I said, I am not giving you my computer. “They have to test it on your computer,” he said sheepishly. NO, I said, that is not going to happen. We can go together, he said. No, I said, I have work to do. Back into the shop, I picked up my flybox, and told him I would go to the bus rank store myself next week….

The next week I loaded up my paperwork, my flybox, my computer, and headed to the bus rank. It took three requests to find the entrance, which was ‘down there’ ‘that side’ ‘go (direction of pointed finger).’ In other words, very well hidden from the main road despite the fact that the building takes up a whole block with ORANGE all over it…

Once I found the entrance and explained my problem I was directed to the ‘service area’ ‘that side.’ Inside the door I had to give them my passport number and sign in before I was allowed to sit on a bench inside the office and watch men eating at their desks and texting on their phones. Finally I was called to sit in a chair next to one of the men who proceeded, after I explained my problem, to ‘test’ my flybox. He plugged it into one of their computers, then sat texting for 5 minutes. Once again, my inner ugly American began to surface. “Is there a problem?” I asked. “I need to test the speed,” he said, and began telling me I should take the box home and run the test, call him and tell him what the speed was. I tried to quietly explain to him that this was not my job. “But I need to tell the engineers what is wrong,” he said. I may not have been as quiet when I told him I was not asking him to come home and do my job.

“Where do you stay?” he asked. (stay=live in Botswana) I told him I ‘stay’ in Kopong.  “You are the only one in Kopong to complain,” he said. It took me a minute to recover from that. How could he know I was the only one? And so what? I explained that I use the flybox in a number of different places, that I travel with it. “I need this for my work,” I said, “I am a writer and I need to send my stories in.” This is sort of true. I am a writer, but I’m not sending all that many stories anywhere… “What do you write about?” he said. “I write about companies and how bad their service is.” It just came out. I couldn’t stop myself.

The power of the press—he then began calling people and setting up for me to get a new flybox. First he wanted to know if I had kept the box it had come in—eight months ago. Why? I asked. “We need to see the serial number on the box to be sure you have the right one.” I pointed out the serial number on the contract I had in hand. That seemed to confuse him, but a couple of phone calls later he smiled and said I could get a flybox if I gave him mine and waited a couple of days for one to come from the warehouse. I began to laugh. As I often say about life here, It’s a Monty Python sketch that isn’t working. I told him once again that NO, I was not handing over my flybox until someone handed me a new one. Well, then, it seemed the only thing I could do was go to the Main Mall (the other side of the city) to their main store and start there.

I have work to do I said. I have a job. I can’t run all over your country. I paid for internet connection, it is your job to provide internet connection. He really wanted to make me happy, he said. I could see where this was going…

Okay, I said, packing up my flybox, my computer, my paperwork, and my exhausted self. Go Siame. I will go to Main Mall.

That was a week ago. I did indeed have work to do. I do indeed have a job. Right now I’m resting up and doing my meditation in preparation for my next visit to customer ‘service.’