This blog is intended to be an international conversation about our neighborhoods. What makes a neighborhood? How are we defined by the places where we once lived, where we live now? What would others see if they had a glimpse of our neighborhoods? At the State University of New York at Fredonia, we started to ask ourselves these questions, and we wanted to post our descriptions and invite others to do the same. We are hoping for an album of neighborhood images and descriptions--and plenty of opportunities for questions, dialogues, and musing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Our Neighborhood in Gaborone, Botswana

The Village: Plot 4715
We live on an un-named street in a neighborhood in Gaborone called "The Village."  Gaborone is a Capital City of about 350,000 people and is the largest City in Botswana.  Because the Country and Capital City are very young, this City has expanded rapidly and chaotically from the Center, and different portions of the City are known as "Extensions", "Blocks", or "Phases."  The Village is located near the University of Botswana in the southeastern portion of the City, and is heavily influenced by the University.  We live in University Housing in a row of adjoining apartments. Our nearest neighbors are from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Bulgaria.  We think this is one of the best parts of Gaborone to live in: other neighborhoods are composed of huge mansions surrounded by electric fencing and still others are comprised of very small cinder block homes with outhouses.

Cow Passing Through the Village
The apartments are painted lime green and each has a separate front and back dirt "yard" surrounded by fences.  The front yards are mostly for parking and have padlocked gates.  Our backyard has some nice trees in it that attract a wide variety of birds, and a patio with a table and chairs where we often eat breakfast.  Once or twice a week a group of women dressed in green jumpsuits sweep the street of all vegetative debris.  Further down the road, there have recently been crews of older women and young men and children clearing vegetation with machetes, handsaws and pickaxes. They are also clearing the deep drainage ditches that carry water, sediment and debris during torrential rainstorms.  Herds of goats and cattle move through the village from time to time, leaving their organic land mines for pedestrians and weaving through traffic at their will.

Although there is very little public transportation, there are few sidewalks or pedestrian facilities anywhere in Botswana, and for this reason, many people walk down our somewhat quiet and less perilous street, as opposed to choosing one of the busy arterials that parallel our street.  When most folks pass each other, they will smile and say "Dumela Rrra or Dumela Mmma" for "Hello Sir or Madam."  There are scattered dusty or muddy empty lots in our neighborhood that become the sites of seemingly impromtu driving schools and car washes, and people often have truckloads of produce for sale here and there.  There are large pullout areas for the "combis" (minivans) that transport people throughout the City or to the main bus station downtown.  A ride on a combi is inexpensive but sometimes terrifying because the combi drivers weave crazily through traffic.  Traffic here travels on the opposite side of the road from that in the US, so being in traffic is always a hair-raising experience for us.

Thapong Visual Arts Center
Across the street from our row of apartments is the Thapong Visual Art Center and Gallery, and an adjoining small park which includes the foundations of the first colonial fort.  The Art Center grounds and the park are full of beautiful sculptures including huge metal animals that are quite striking.  Often, the artists are working just on the other side of the fence.  Scattered benches offer a nice spot for birdwatching.  Trees in the neighborhood offer a rotating palette of color: purple jacarandas, orange Brazilian flametrees, and yellow trumpets, to name just a few. Although they are beautiful, many of the trees in the City are not native to this continent, and are, thus, of less value to native fauna.

Just two blocks away is a Choppies, a Batswana supermarket chain.  This Choppies is usually extremely busy and the tiny parking lot is often a huge traffic jam.  Inside the store, pop music is blasting and the shelves are perpetually being stocked so getting around in there is always confusing and chaotic.  All along the edges of the parking lot, card tables are set up with people selling candy, single cigarettes, gum  and phone cards. Near Choppies there is also a pharmacy, a hair salon, a bakery, an internet cafe, a take-way restaurant, a bar, and a bottle store (liquour store).  The National Botanical Gardens is within walking distance, and this is a wonderful place to take a walk, get some fresh air, and watch the dassies scrambling among the rocks, and perhaps the local troop of vervet monkeys will be there too, if they are not raiding our garbage can at the time.  There is also a gym within walking distance with a refreshingly cool swimming pool surrounded by palm trees with dangling southern masked weaver nests.

The Ngotwane River "runs" (it is usually dry) along the edge of this neighborhood separating it from the neighboring Tlokweng, which was once a separate village but is now a quickly expanding suburb of Gaborone. All this growth means that roads are being constantly widened, and no provisions are made for business or pedestrian access, so pedestrians must pick their own way through active construction zones in and amongst backhoes and steamrollers and often across ditches or huge mounds of dirt.  Considering that most folks wear fancy clothes and shoes all of the time, we don't know how they arrive at their destination looking so dapper!

Our neighborhood is full of all sorts of sounds. At dawn, we hear a variety of birds and the sounds of marching and singing from the nearby Police Academy.  When there is a soccer match at the University Stadium, we can hear cheering and vuvuzuelas.  The sound of traffic is nearly constant. The sounds of cow- and goat-bells tinkle by from time to time.  This time of year (late spring), the afternoon often yields booming thunder and torrential rain. We hope you have enjoyed this brief glimpse of our neighborhood; if you have a question about it, please post it in the comments below!


  1. You write in the beginning of your blog, you live on an un-named street. If you had the opportunity to name it, what you would you name it? Here in NYC, if the streets were not named we would be driving in circles lost! : )

  2. Hi Jahlessa,
    Believe me, we drive in circles lost quite a bit here! But you are quite right that having street names helps a lot. So perhaps we would name our street Thapong Boulevard since it leads to the Thapong Arts Center. But if we were feeling more inventive, perhaps we would name it Infinity Way, since it seems like that sometimes too!

  3. Hi Priscilla,
    This is such a great glimpse into your neighborhood! What kinds of food would I find at Choppies? And I'm wondering what you can hear at night as you're falling asleep.

  4. Thanks Virginia! Well, Choppie's is like a small version of a US grocery store in some ways, and very different in others. There is always produce but it varies in terms of what is available. Sometimes mangos and papayas; usually green peppers, onions, carrots, squash, bananas, and tomatoes. In the meat section, every part of the chicken is available as a separate item. For example you can buy a package of just chicken skin, or feet, etc. Of course there are canned and dried goods too, but inventory is a bit unpredictable.
    When we are falling asleep at night, there is always the sound of traffic, and often people are shouting or partying. Last night we were woken up by the noisy bells of the cowherd that wanders through the village and a huge rainstorm. There are lots of birds sounds and cicadas too. I imagine the sounds in Fredonia are very different by now, and muffled by that soft snow!

  5. Hi
    I noticed that you mentioned that you hear all sorts of sound in your neighborhood . That's exactly the same for my neighborhood :)!!! I live about 10 miles from a train station and I hear the sound every morning. I also hear birds, chickens, and crickets practically every night!!!

  6. So our neighborhoods are far apart in miles, but still have much in common! :)