April 18, 2017

Round 2: Slones Moving to Gaborone & The Top 10 Reasons We Love Living There

Here it is!!! The big news!  You may have gathered by the title that we are moving back to Botswana.  We plan to depart for Botswana at the end of July.  If you're shocked by this news, then you know exactly how we felt when this decision came our way.  We were not expecting to move back to Botswana.  In fact, people know how excited I was to leave in 2015.  I was excited to leave our city of Gaborone for a variety of reasons (adoption, break from water/electric outages), but I think our friends and acquaintances must have felt like I couldn't stand living there.  That is not the case at all!  In fact, there are some rather redeeming things about living in Gaborone, so I will share with you my top 10 things I love about living in Gaborone (pronounced ha-buh-ROE-nay). While I'm sharing pronunciation tips, it is Boat-swana for the westerners (not 'bot' as in robot).

(In no particular order)

1.  Child-friendly Restaurants
In Gaborone, there are several places where you can enjoy your meal while your children play.  The best part, unlike the USA, none of the restaurants involve you stopping in a McDonald's or Chick-fil-a, though I would not complain one bit if Chick-fil-a would like to bring their business to Botswana.  :D  My favorite place is Sanitas Tea Garden.  It is a plant nursery with a lovely shaded tea garden with an outdoor playground for the children to run around and burn off some energy. It is great for preschool age and above, as I find toddlers and babies tend to just stuff fistfuls of sand into their mouths rather than enjoy the slides and climbing structure. Be sure to order the homemade lemonade or grapefruit-ade, the Moroccan Chicken sandwich, and one of their fabulous pizzas.  They also serve red espresso here (rooibos powder used to make espresso, lattes, and cappuccinos).  Before you go, be sure to grab some of the homemade ice cream!

Sanitas Tea Garden
Slide & Play Structure at Sanitas
The Moroccan Chicken Sandwich
The play tractor/quintessential photo spot where every parent takes a picture of their child at Sanitas

I also really enjoy Ladies No. 1 at Thapong in the Village for the same reason (outdoor play area) and delicious food.  There's Cappuccino's at Airport Junction that has child-minders who will watch your children while you dine, Spur Steakhouse who has the same arrangement, and the Wheelbarrow out near Notwane that has lovely garden paths and the kids are free to roam and play.


Wheelbarrow - manicured paths & gardens

We also love that there are playgrounds at Blue Tree World of Golf, the Grand Palm Hotel, Mokolodi Game Reserve, and probably a few more I've forgotten!   I can't wait to see what new places may have popped up since we last lived there!

2. Woolworths
No, this is not your grandmother's US chain Woolworths.  This one is a South African chain and the store is a favorite among the expat community.  They have so many lovely items from clothing and home furnishings, to the wonderful array of foods in the grocery section.  Looking for organic? Woolie's.  Looking for minimal preservatives and processed foods? Woolie's.  Samosas? Woolie's.  Items no other grocery store carries? Woolie's.  I love this store with all of my foodie heart (ahem.... when it is stocked fully, that is!  Not when the shipment from South Africa was stuck at the border or when the South African truckers go on strike and thus our chain of supply crashes...).  Also, my favorite coffee is sold here.  It is a Colombian roast decaf.  I know, I know (decaf!?)...but when I want coffee in the cold winter months before bedtime, this decaf is the best!!!!

3. Food - Passion fruit, Rooibos, Rusks, Eastern Crescent, & Nando's
While Botswana is not known for its cuisine, there are some things I miss in the USA about the food there.  I actually do really enjoy the traditional Tswana food.  The food will stick to your ribs and you'll not need to eat 3 square meals on the day you enjoy a platter of food, but I haven't had food like it anywhere else.  I enjoy Pap, Samp & Beans, Koko (chicken) with gravy, the salads (beet root, butternut, chakalaka, and so on).  However, I can't eat like that all the time :)  I do love the fact that passion fruits are dirt cheap (I say dirt cheap because I once saw a single passion fruit in a Texas grocery store and they were asking $3.49 for a single fruit!!!).  The passion fruit from Pick-n-Pay or Woolies comes in a bag or plastic container and you'll get several for the equivalent of what one single fruit costs us here in Texas.

Rooibos - it is a way of life.  I loved it before I moved to Botswana the first time in 2012, but it is pervasive in Botswana. Most Batswana (pronounced like Bots-wana the way most westerners think the country is pronounced) prefer rooibos as their beverage of choice.  Rooibos (pronounced ROY-bos) is an herbal tea and it is actually a red bush from the Western Cape province of South Africa. If you don't drink Rooibos, you drink Five Roses.  I was perplexed when asked at a cafe whether I wanted rooibos or Five Roses.  I'm not sure how it came to be, but the average Motswana (a singular person of Botswana) calls black tea by the brand name, "Five Roses".  What gets even more confusing:  there is a Five Roses brand of rooibos.  doh!  Anyway, I love the tea culture in Botswana. Thank you British colonials for introducing tea time!  :)  Don't mess with Botswana's tea time.  If I remember correctly, everyone in the government employment sector is entitled to both morning and afternoon tea time :)  Jeremy and I also learned to love rusks. They are a South African type of snack - similar to biscotti, but thicker.  We love all the different kinds and we enjoy dunking them in a glass of milk, a cup of tea or coffee.  I'm not really sure if that is how they were intended to be eaten, but we embrace the rusk! 

Red Cappuccino - Rooibos powder (no caffeine!)

Eastern Crescent is our favorite Chinese restaurant.  Jeremy orders his favorite dish every.single.time. He gets the Chicken, Chili &Wild Pepper dish.  We also enjoy their Ants on a Tree (chicken lettuce wraps), and CK favors the chicken lo mein.  I love their spicy beef strips and green beans (can't remember the dish's name).    
Chicken Chili & Wild Pepper @ Eastern Crescent
Last, but not least in the food category. Nando's.  Life in Botswana is just made better with this delicious spicy grilled chicken.  The sauce is a peri-peri sauce.  The peri-peri is a pepper similar in flavor to cayenne, but it is an African Bird's Eye Chili grown originally in Mozambique and loved by the Portuguese explorers.  Our favorite dish at Nando's: half of a chicken with wedges (not chips!) and the Medium Peri-Peri sauce.  The photo below shows a major mistake on our part - we used to get the chips.  However, we soon discovered the potato wedges come with a chip salt that is spicy and delicious.  For those of you who live near Chicago or DC you can visit a Nando's to put my statements to the taste test.  I've also recently seen the Peri-Peri sauces from Nando's sold in World Market stores, but it just won't do the trick, but it will get you close.  You should probably add butter to the Nando's bottle of sauce and you'll get a peri-peri style buffalo sauce that will get you closer to what you see in the photo below. 

Nando's half chicken with chips - get the wedges.  You won't regret it.  The chips are bland!
4. Petrol Station Attendants
 The local gas station (or rather a 'petrol station' there) does not have self-serve pumps.  You grow accustomed to the help.  At first, you are alarmed to what is happening when you pull up and start to pump your own petrol and realize you don't have the 'key' to the pump to operate it.  Some people are annoyed by the attendants fighting over who gets to pump your petrol, but I appreciate their exuberance and don't mind them pumping my petrol.  They will wash your windows, put air in your tyres (not tires), top off your fluids, plus more should you need further assistance.  Be sure to give them a nice little tip for their efforts, but not too large or they will fight extra hard for you if you are a regular at their petrol station!

5. 'Safari' - Game Reserves
Most of of my close friends know of my aversion to zoos.  I never really liked them before we lived in Botswana, and now that I have seen the animals roam freely in Game Reserves, I can't take the sadness of the animals in pens at the zoo.  In Botswana, seeing wild game is a completely different experience.  There are no zoos in Gaborone, so my western friends would call seeing wild game in Botswana, 'going on safari', but I don't think of it in such exotic terms.

Gaborone Game Reserve
 You see, the game viewing in Gaborone is done either at Gaborone Game Reserve or at Mokolodi Game Reserve.  Both of these places are fenced and there aren't any elephants, lions, cape buffalo, leopards, hyenas, etc.  The only Big 5 animal you can see in Gaborone is the rhinoceros at Mokolodi.  Mokolodi also has hippos and giraffes in addition to the smaller game.  Gaborone Game Reserve is for only smaller game:  ostriches, wart hogs, zebras, impala, red hartebeest, gemsbok, kudu, and eland.  We love to picnic in the game reserves, but you have to be leery of the Vervet Monkeys.  Claudia still remembers the monkey stealing her crackers and handy wipes. 

Naughty Vervet Monkey with Claudia's wipes
Warthogs - aka Pumba from the Lion King Movie :)

Writing the small game list reminds me that we've eaten meat from nearly every animal on the list.  We love kudu and eland, and one year we had a warthog that Jeremy shot for Thanksgiving.  Ostrich meat is very lean, but not my favorite.  Zebra wasn't bad either!  Impala is a bit tough for my liking, and gemsbok isn't bad either.  Eating wild game is sort of one of Jeremy's favorite activities while traveling.  We usually get such exotic fare at restaurants at game reserves or when visiting game lodges across the border in South Africa.  Just a 20-30 minute drive across the border from Gaborone is Madikwe Game Reserve which is much larger than Mokolodi & Gabrone Game Reserves, combined!  It is much more expensive to travel there, but we do it every now and then for a great relaxing trip and to make memories.

Young Male Impala

Zebra at Gaborone Game Reserve
 Several hours drive north (a drive similar to driving the length of Texas), Botswana boasts of the Okavango Delta with Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park.  We have not visited either of those places as a family as the animals to roam freely there and many lodges are not child-friendly.  We do hope to go while we are living there this time, since our children may be old enough to really enjoy it now.   

6.  Domestic Help
Having domestic help, also known as a maid, is an absolute must.  Many expats are not accustomed to having help when they arrive, so they think they can survive without one.  That thought usually only lasts a little while before they come to realize that domestic workers are part of the culture and as an expat you are expected to help the economy by hiring someone.  In reality, your helper may be supporting a large family (7-8 + people), so her job income is very valuable.  Nearly every young woman looking for work will stop you to ask if you need a maid.  I find the best way to find a good domestic helper is by word of mouth and strong references.

You'll soon come to cherish your domestic helper after a few dusty feet have been in your house (whether your own or your children), you come to realize that keeping up on the red dirt by yourself is an overwhelming battle.  Many homes don't have electric clothes dryers so expats often fall behind in the laundry department, especially if they are working full-time.  Hanging clothes out to dry and then ironing them is a big job, and life is made much easier when you work if you have a helper!  After you hire your first domestic helper, you may wonder how you ever managed without one!!  They will work circles around you and it is okay!  It is a neat experience to learn about your helper's culture and way of life, so embrace it, as we did!  

7. African Skies
I've seen some beautiful skies, but I tell you, something about an African sunset just takes my breath away.  I also love the clouds and how they build and reflect the sunset.  The skies on a game drive are so peaceful and usually ablaze with brilliant oranges, reds, pinks and purples.  I also appreciate the fact that Gaborone lights are not so bright that you can't see the stars.  Certainly as you leave town and drive further into the darkness, the stars become even more vibrant, but I could always see the stars at night in my backyard and I just love being able to gaze at God's creation in the universe.  The sunset reminds me of a painting and God is the artist, so I love reflecting on nature that way!

Clouds at sunset in our old backyard.  The tall pole on the roof is how we got internet :)
Seriously - how can you not appreciate the sunset?
The blue sky in the background, and the elephant make the sky just seem so much more alive!

8.  The lingo - Shame, Eish, Mma, Rra, Dumela, Now, Just Now, Now-Now, This side, That side, Howzit?, Is it?, Sorry, yo yo yo 
It won't take you long to pick up some of the local lingo and slang.  At first, these terms are really confusing for the newbie expat, but after a month or so you'll find you love your new slang.

Shame - "I got a new baby doll.  Shame.  I found out I have cancer. Shame.  I won a million dollars. Shame."

Eish! - an exclamation.  "That combi (mini-bus) just about ran me off the road!  Eish!"  (Pronounced: Ay-sh)

Mma, Rra - the equivalent of sir/ma'am.  Used formally to greet someone.

Dumela - (doo-mel-uh)  Literally means believe, but used to say 'hello'.  "Dumela, mma". = Hello ma'am.  "Dumela, rra". = Hello, sir.  You must greet everyone all the time.  This one takes some getting used to, as westerns rarely greet passersby, but in Gaborone you greet everyone you make eye contact with.

Now - "I'm going home now."  In Gaborone, this literally has no meaning whatsoever.  Now is ambiguous.

Just now - "I'm coming over just now."  This is more like 'soon'.  Maybe in like 15-20 minutes.

Now-Now - "I am leaving now-now".  This is more like right now.

This side - as in right where you are. "Oh, so you are living this side now." (as in Gaborone)

That side - as in far from where you are.  "Oh, so your family stays that side." (as in America).

Howzit? - How are you?  What's up?

Is it? - be sure you really draw out the  iiittttt.  "I got a new car."  Response:  Is iiitttt????

Sorry. - Use it like excuse me and really draw it out.... "Sorrryyyyyy.  I need to get by you."   Also use it if you are sorry.   "I lost my money."  Response:  probably a combo of Shame.  Sorrryyyy.

Yo, yo, yo - Used as an exclamation when something is disappointing/frustrating.  "Eish!  Yo, yo, yo"

9.  Slower Pace of Life
On one hand, the slower pace of life in Gaborone can be hard for folks who are used to the big city hustle and bustle.  The work productivity is much lower than many of us are used to.  There's a saying that what could take 1-2 months in the US may take 6 months-1 year in Gaborone.  Sometimes, who am I kidding? Often times, that is the case.

The work aspect is frustrating and if you are accustomed to meetings starting promptly, then you'll have to adjust your expectations.  Folks run on 'African time'.  Remember, they may tell you that they are coming to the meeting 'just now', but really that means they'll be 15 minutes late.  My solution?  Always say the meeting starts 30 minutes before it actually does ;)  Or... just get used to African time and embrace it.  We embraced the lifestyle of African Time outside of work.

So, what do you do with this slower pace of life?  Stop and smell the roses - literally!  You won't see many around town!  Or, you meet people for coffee/tea and linger over your conversation and your cup of joe.  The coffee isn't readily available in take-away/disposable cups at many cafes, but that is fine with me because I like the decorations in my foam on top of my cappuccino.  Starbucks is overrated. (gasp!)  Some of the best coffee I've had is in the cafes in Gaborone.  You can get a delicious cup of espresso imported from Italy or Ethiopia, for example.  Starbucks just tastes burnt and bitter to me, so when I came back to the USA, I really missed the mugs of coffee and little cookies.

There isn't much in the way of arts, museums, or entertainment (not in comparison to what you may experience in the United States).  For that, you may have to make the 4.5 hour drive to Johannesburg. So weekends are spent by the pool, inviting friends over, or making up your own kind of fun.  One year, I missed the cool weather I had grown up with around the festive holidays, so I convinced my good friend to co-host a Christmas in July with me (because it is winter in July in Botswana and summer in December).  We had all the festive trimmings: a tree, the holiday meal, the music, the Christmas tree, a white elephant exchange, and an evergreen oil burning to make the atmosphere feel authentic.   Sometimes the fun isn't as elaborate.  We would have group dinners and divide and conquer the tasks of making Mexican food from scratch or we would have a game night with a BBQ (also called a braai).

Christmas in July Party

All the makings of a backyard braai

Slower pace means that there isn't every single children's activity under the sun, so I don't have to be the super mom taking my children in 15 different directions every week.  We really tried to adopt this philosophy when we came to Texas. We chose two activities to let Claudia do and one of them had to be on a weekend so it didn't take time away from homework after school or make us eat dinner late at night.  Currently, she does swimming and ballet/tap, but we'll drop the dance and see if art lessons or musical instrument lessons are more her speed.  Wei doesn't do any lessons currently, but will still have speech therapy and probably do swim lessons, so that is plenty for us! 

10.  Access to Travel 
Probably one of our favorite aspects of living in Gaborone is that we have access to amazing travel spots that we wouldn't if we lived in the USA.  Want to vacation on the island of Mauritius located off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean?  No problem.  A quick flight from Joburg (4 hours) and you are on an island that only a fraction of US citizens will ever visit.  Mauritius is to Southern Africa as Aruba is to the Southern United States. :)

Sugar Beach Resort on the island of Mauritius

A view on the island of Mauritius

We also have traveled to spots in South Africa that have truly become some of our favorite spots in the world.  We love Magaliesburg, Umhlanga, Cape Town, the Midlands Meander and Clarens.  We can't wait to explore other cities and provinces of South Africa, make a trip to Victoria Falls (finally), see northern Botswana, and hopefully make it to Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zanzibar, Madagascar, Reunion Island, and the Seychelles.  Our list is not ambitious at all ;)
Golden Gate National Park near Clarens in Free State Nov 2013

For us, travel allows us to experience other cultures, foods, languages, customs, and see more of God's amazing creation.  We spend more money on food and travel than any other categories in life, so we do a lot of food tourism.  We will eat our way across Southern Africa, yet!

There you have it!  We are moving back, and we can get excited about it.  Number 11, would be the friends we still have there who walked our journey from being novice expats, to walking alongside us during the ups/downs of our adoption process.  We also have a church to return to, so I think this time we will go back with a different perspective and it will be a lot easier to hit the ground running.  Will life be perfect?  No.  But with God all things are possible and we know He has his hand in our move there.

Jeremy's colleague said it best when he said that he thought looking back that this was God's plan all along for our family.  We were preparing to buy a house and settle in to life here in Sugar Land, Texas but little did we know God intended for us to be in Sugar Land only for a season.  A season to get medical needs addressed and diagnosed, fill our spiritual tanks back up, rest/relax/have a peaceful home so we could be the very best light for Jesus and the kingdom that we can be going back!  We love Botswana and we love the people.  God has uniquely equipped our family for expat life, and equipped us to walk through deep waters and the storms of life.  They keep coming, but our eyes remain steadfast on Him.  Pray for our little family as we go through major MAJOR life changes yet again.  We will have only lived in the US for 21 months from the time we arrived with Jillian after her adoption to the time we leave for Gaborone again.

I will try to update soon about the WHY behind our move back, so subscribe to my blog or like my Facebook page to keep updated! 

April 15, 2017

18 Months of Jillian Wei

Until a couple of days ago, my blogging had been non-existent.  I started to blog the other day about our latest adventure we are embarking on, and realized I had unfinished business.  I hadn't posted the blog of our last days in Botswana!  Oops! I hadn't even introduced the 4th member of our family once she had been placed in our arms.  So, I feel like I need to go back and recap in order to move forward.

As I reflect back, I realize the reason for my lack of blogging about our life was because I was just existing, surviving, and making it through each day.  As you may be aware, we left our residence in Botswana in October of 2015 and flew to Guangdong province in China to adopt our little girl. She was 15 and a half months old at the time she was placed in our arms on October 19, 2015.  After the 24 hour waiting period, we officially adopted her on October 20, 2015 and her name officially became Jillian Wei (JW).

The moment we met our daughter

The day we met Jillian Wei at the Civil Affairs office

We were required to stay in China for nearly two weeks to complete the adoption process, medical exam, and get to get her visa to enter the United States.  All adoptions from Guangdong are processed in the city of Guangzhou so we spent our two weeks in that city.  My sister, Heather, and her husband, Greg, joined us for our trip to China to help out with our oldest daughter, Claudia (CK).  It was a huge blessing to have them entertain our oldest so we could focus on all of the appointments and bonding with Jillian Wei.

City of Guangzhou from our hotel

Here is the adoption video we made on the 1 year anniversary of her adoption, Adoption Day/Family Day.

We brought her to the United States on October 30th.  It was a long flight (and I mean LONG as in "I had more gray hairs when I arrived than when we took off").  :D  We stayed in a hotel for a couple of days and then moved into our rental house.  On the night we moved in, she went to bed with a mild fever.  She woke the next morning with a high temp and we needed to have her assessed.  We had just repatriated to a town we'd never lived in, so we didn't even have a pediatrician picked out yet!  Oy!

It turns out she had a double ear infection and an infected small toe that started streaking up her vein in her leg.  She was admitted to the children's hospital for blood & urine cultures and IV antibiotics.  It was a bit of a wild experience since we had barely moved into our house and were still recovering from jet lag and now trying to figure out how to manage staying overnight in the hospital.

That first trip to the hospital was just the tip of the iceberg for what we would experience over the next several months adjusting to life in our home country.  Below is a bullet point list and some pictures so you can see what we've been up to!

  • JW didn't sleep through the night until she was home for about 5 and 1/2 months
  • We had Christmas in a half-unpacked house and bought a ton of furnishings  
  • CK began preschool nearby and found she was a little behind on hand writing
  • CK started pre-K ballet/tap class at preschool
  • JW had cleft palate repair surgery in January of 2016 
  • Several family visits from aunties, grandma, and her oldest cousin
  • First Chinese New Year as a family
  • First road trip (an hour away) as a family of 4 for my birthday
  • First family vacation - to Mexico for our 10 year anniversary
  • CK graduated preschool & had her first recital for dance at the graduation
  • JW started speech therapy once a week 
  • CK started swim lessons 
  • Traveled to Galveston Island for CK's birthday and JW's first Father's Day
  • JW turned 2 years old and had her first birthday celebration with our family
  • We took a trip to visit our Ohio family 
  • CK started kindergarten at a local public elementary school
  • CK started ballet/tap classes 
  • I joined MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) at our church and a Bible study once a week too!
  • Jeremy took a work trip to Botswana
  • The girls enjoyed their first trunk or treat at a local church & dressed up as Sully & Boo
  • JW celebrated her 1 year anniversary of adoption day
  • JW started 2 day a week mother's day out preschool at our church
  • My best friend came for a much needed moms' weekend getaway
  • We celebrated Christmas, but Jeremy worked the whole time (his holiday)
  • We went on a cruise and Heather & Greg joined us.  It was our first cruise!
  • Jeremy had a work trip to Africa:  Botswana, South Africa, Uganda & Malawi
  • We entertained family visitors throughout the last several months
  • Jeremy and I had a chance to celebrate my 35th birthday with a night away for dinner & the ballet
  • Jeremy traveled to Africa again: Morocco, South Africa, and Botswana this time
THE toe infection
first hospital admission
One of the two cars we had to buy

got a haircut
what JW's cleft palate looked like before surgery

surgery for her cleft palate



after cleft surgery

my mini-me

still wearing her "No-No's" on her arms for 3 weeks after surgery

sisterly love

Costco- their favorite warehouse store because they have samples :D

enjoying auntie's old costumes as dress up clothes

First Chinese New Year

Made a trip to a local park with grandma

CK loves a kid-size cart

her first chicken leg


On the way to Mexico for our first family vacation

Riding the carousel at the zoo

Pre-K dance recital outfit

Selfie at our resort in Mexico

Playing cashier at the children's discovery center

First father's day for JW - matching China shirts

Swim lessons

opening her birthday presents

first day of kindergarten

date night

First day of 2 year old preschool

Thanksgiving 2016

Daddy & his girls

Drinking from a coconut in Honduras

Sisterly love in the port of Cozumel

Donuts with Daddy

Amanda's 35th Birthday Date Night