Thursday, 30 June 2011

Ideas of Living

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

I feel like Botswana has already changed something within me; I have begun looking at the world in a new light. I take things slower, taking everything in, savouring ever moment that I have in this beautiful place. Sitting in the office after finishing our workshop, I looked over at Thomas and we shared a smile. "I am just so happy, all the time".  

Monday, 27 June 2011

Camping in Khama

This weekend turned out to be a little bit different than we had originally planned! We were hoping to be able to get to the Tuli Game Reserve by the Limpopo River, camp nearby in a place called Molema, and go on a night safari! But we couldn’t find an automatic car to rent or borrow ANYWHERE (at one point Chloe, Fais, Lyndsay and I were sitting around a table calling car for sale ads in a local advertiser to see if anyone would be willing to rent to us for the weekend!)   so at the last minute we had to scrap that plan and come up with a new one!

Fais and I were left planning on Friday morning. Thomas was sick and Chloe and Lyndsay would be arriving at the bus rank at 12. We decided to try calling the Khama Rhino Sanctuary (about 200km south-west of Francistown) to book a campsite and a game drive. We had no luck with the campsite as they said they were completely booked but we decided to book a game drive anyways, and test our public transportation savvy to the max trying to get there and back in one day. Turns out that we didn’t need to worry about it, since after the girls arrived and we were having lunch Booking Master Chloe wrangled us a campsite! Even though she was turned down at first, her repetition of “Five people, one tent” and her reassurance that all we wanted to do was put our tent somewhere within the fenced in property managed to get us campsite A2!

After spending Friday night in Francistown (Chloe joined me at the Othusitses and Lyndsay was next door with Fais and the Tsabos) we left for the bus rank early on Saturday morning. Our original plan was to catch a bus from Francistown to Serowe, then from Serowe to Orapa and get off and hike the last little bit to the Sanctuary. What we actually did was get on a bus to Gabarone, get off at Palapye, catch a bus to Serowe, catch a short ride in the back of a truck from a guy who actually worked at the Sanctuary, then get on a bus heading to Orapa and get off basically right in front of the Sanctuary gates. All in all a pretty easy travel day, although we did have a good amount of stuff to carry with all our packs, sleeping backs and the tent.

A Zazu-bird (Hornbill) in flight 

After doing a South African safari coordinator a favour and switching campsites, we set up our tent and started collecting firewood. Everything was so, so dry! We collected a lot but it turned out not to be even close to enough, and we had to ask our South African safari friend for  some bags of logs that he had bought earlier at check-in. He was really nice about it and didn’t charge us for them, and later in the evening he proved to be even more awesome than we had thought!

At 4 it was time for our game drive. Check out to learn more about what the Sanctuary is and what it does! The drive was great, and we saw a bunch of animals that we hadn’t seen yet. Rhinos were at the top of the new list. They were really funky looking creatures. So unbelievably big, it was hard to believe that they could get up to speeds of 40km/h! Their skin really did look like plates of armour, and the combination of that with their horns made them look like some kind of dinosaurs. Being so close to them was really cool, and they are beautiful animals, but they are definitely not very photogenic! Aside from the rhinos we also saw zebras, wildebeest, springbok, and a jackal for the first time. We are crossing off animals from our Lion King animal checklist like it is nobody’s business! The only disappointing thing was that we didn’t see a black rhino, only whites, so couldn’t really check rhino off our Big Five list. And it was sooooo cold. As in, shivering in our sweaters and jackets cold.

Dinosaur look-a-like White Rhinos. A mother with her 7 month old calf.
Real Springboks- even cooler than the South African Rugby Team

Zebra in the fading light

Getting back to camp we changed, Fais made the fire and we tried to warm up as quickly as possible. Dinner was sausages roasted on sticks, beer, and banana boats for dessert. At least, that was the plan. As we were finishing up our second round of sausages or South African safari friend came over and said, “Hi guys. This dinner looks a little lacking. We have a lot of dinner left over, lamb stew and salad, would you mind having some?” He then proceeded to give us bowls of lamb stew with carrots, parsnips, asparagus, zucchini, and potato over rice, with a Greek salad complete with feta cheese and black AND green olives on the side!!!! By far the best meal, with the most veggies and the least salt that I have had since coming here. Absolutely amazing. We followed that up with our improvised banana boats; a banana in its skin, sliced along the middle, with nutella and marshmallows in the gap, baked in the fire! Omnomnom. The people camping beside us must have been pretty confused/entertained by the sounds of pure ecstasy coming from our fire as we exclaimed every time we bit into a new vegetable; or in my case, every time I had a bite of cucumber.           

The girls eating sausages before our gourmet meal
We followed up the most satisfying meal in the world with some stargazing. I have never in my life seen the stars as beautiful as I did on Saturday night. There was zero light pollution so everything was so clear. And they came down so low on the horizon they formed a dome around us. You could literally turn 360 degrees looking straight ahead and always be looking at stars. We saw shooting stars (Fais was this winner with 3 or 4), and we could see Milky Way stretching across the sky. I wish that I knew the constellations down here; and I have accepted the challenge of learning about them so that I’ll be prepared for our next stargazing experience. Unfortunately I didn’t see any stars go out, but I’m still crossing my fingers and waiting for that ;)

The four of us fit easily into our tent, but it was very, very cold. I am sooooo glad that I decided to buy a sleeping bag in Francistown before I left. It’ll be perfect for the rest of our trips and will be a great summer bag for Canada. I would have frozen without it, like poor Lyndsay who just had a blanket!  I think for the next trip I might get a sleeping mat, just to add that extra insulation layer. Whoever thinks that African winter is a joke, I can assure you it’s not!!! Other things I learned after our first Bots camping adventure: Faisal snores like some kind of wild animal. Snorting and huffing and sniffing. At one point I thought there was a warthog right outside our tent. I apparently have the power to warm someone up with my deep sleep breathing. Faisal said that my breath on the back of his neck warmed him up so much he needed to take off his soft-shell top layer. Lyndsay can curl up into a tiny ball when she is sleeping and freezing cold. And Chloe runs so cold that even when she is literally centimetres from the fire she still isn’t warm enough.

All in all a great weekend, even though we all missed Thomas! We’ve already started planning our next weekend: camping on Kudu Island in the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans! I wonder if this time everything will actually go according to plan...  

More Adventures in Bobonong

Just some more pictures from our adventures in Bobonong and Lepokole.

After the Council's Reception in Bobonong. The Councillor in between Fais and I. 

After our hike in the Lepokole Hills

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Journey to the Lepokole Hills

Those who managed to make it to the end of my post "Challenge Accepted. Challenge Annihilated!" will have already heard about the trip that Thomas, Faisal and I took last weekend to Bobonong and the Lepokole Hills. But the trip was such an (mis)adventure that I thought it deserved a post of its own. 

I'm not going to go into too much detail about the various challenges that we faced and overcame; for that you can read my earlier post (scroll allllllll the way to the bottom!) or check out Faisal's telling of the story at his blog But I did think that the pictures are worth posting. Wow. Understatement of the year.

The dry, red, unforgiving Lepokole Hills
The Hills were a stark contrast to the landscape that I have gotten used to seeing around Bots. Most of what we have seen so far is flat land, covered with scraggly bush and small trees. Occasionally there is a cropfield--usually filled with sunflowers. But the Lepokole Hills were different.They seemed an almost alien landscape; a sharp red against the cloudless blue sky, cliffs and boulders pilled on top of each other to form random lumps in the otherwise flat landscape.  

Cliffs of the Lepokole Hills
The White Tree of Gondor?

Our first glimpse of the cave paintings. How many animals can you spot?
After about thirty or forty-five minutes of easy hiking, we reached our destination: a tall but shallow cave carved out of the base of a hill. Walking through a thin passage between the rock face and thorn trees, the anticipation grew. I was not disappointed. All the trials and tribulations that we had faced in our Journey to find the Chief of Bobonong and the Lepokole Hills faded away as we caught our first site of the San cave paintings we had come to see. 

I have been lucky enough to see some pretty neat things on my travels so far. The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and Hadrian's Wall while driving from Liverpool back to Herstmonceux were at the top of my list of cool old things. These paintings have jumped right up there with them. It was incredible to be standing in a spot with so much history and culture. The longer we looked the more we were able to see; the outline of a rhino here, stick figure humans hunting with bows and arrows there, kudu, impala, and even what I thought was a giraffe.
Comment on which animals you can see!
A male kudu and some hunters.

But the most amazing thing was how close we were to them. We were asked not to touch the wall, which we of course respectfully agreed to, but the reality is that if we had wanted to, we could have. Its really an amazing experience to be so close to something with so much cultural significance. I was shocked to find out that on average only about ten tourists a month come to visit the caves and Hills.

Thomas and Fais. Touching distance!
This was definitely an experience that was worth everything we went through. The only question I'm left with now is how amazing the Tsodilo Hills, which we hope to visit later in the summer, will be. The Tsodilo Hills are also home to numerous cave painting sites, and are even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If Lepokole was this stunning, and only gets ten tourists a month, then Tsodilo must be out of this world. I can't wait to see for myself!


Thursday, 23 June 2011

Little Moments

Not All That Glitters is Gold

The Dusty Foot Philosopher

Some more pictures from our beautiful trip to the Chobe National Park in Kasane.

Sunset over Namibia
A giraffe taking the well travelled road

Monday, 20 June 2011

Challenge Accepted. Challenge Annihilated!

Dumela everyone!

So here I am posting my second blog post almost a full two weeks after my first one! I feel ashamed. Keeping up a regular blog is way harder than I thought it would be, especially since things have just kept happening and I have kept getting further and further behind. Heads up, this post will most likely be very,very long. I'll try to keep more regular updates coming now that we are all set up at work. But for now, here is a recap of my first 11 days in Botswana!

Days 1&2
The first couple of days we were here in Francistown we were just trying to get lots of errands done. Luckily, our friend Kenosi who just graduated from Queens set us up with his friend Gee (who isn't working right now because of the strike), who borrowed his uncles pick-up and drove us around town. Riding in the back of the truck was definitely much easier than it would have been walking around trying to get our bearings. After picking up cellphones and finding internet (my first Facebook update from Botswana!), we met our boss! Right away I felt comfortable. Kabo made it clear that we would have lots to do, which is great because it would have sucked if we had just been stuck with grunt work or had a boss who was more focused on us just having a good time while we're here. Obviously I want to have a good time, but I the reason that I came here was to work, so I'm glad we're all on the same page!
Day 3 
On Saturday morning (June 11) we left extremely early for Kasane, where Chloe and Lyndsay will be working for the summer. We were up at 5:15 and at the bus stop at 6:15. To bad that the bus wasn't schedueled to leave until 7, and didn't actually leave until 7:45!!! That's something that we have all noticed about Botswana, there is a totally different concept of time here; just a slow paced way of life in general. Mom--the slow walking would kill you! The bus we took was small--in Canada it probably would have seated 12 people tops-- but there were 27 people shoved into it!!! The 6 1/2 hour trip actually took a physical toll on me; it was very cramped and hot.

Once we arrived in Kasane we waited around the bus rank for a women named Mama to pick us up. When she turned up we found out that she was actually Kenosi's older sister! She is quite the character. The best way I can describe her is like a really overgrown kid, always trying to hide her laughing and smiling by ducking her chin or pulling up her shirt. It was so generous of her to open her home to us, free of charge. Well, kind of. I guess the best way to describe it is doing favours for favours. Mama let us stay with her and we helped her move houses while we were there. Mama's first house gave us a taste of the Botswana that most tourists don't see. It was a two room tin shed with no electricity or running water; where the heat pressed down on you and there was a bed in the kitchen. It was there that I had my first home cooked traditional Batswana meal! Mama cooked palage (which is ground corn boiled into a paste which thickens to look like mashed potatoes) and moroge (which is a leaf like really big spinach which is boiled with water and lots of salt, then dried in a clay oven, and then re-boiled when you want to eat it); and we ate it with our hands, sitting on our packs outside under the stars. 

After dinner we helped Mama move, a slightly terrifying exercise because there were absolutely MASSIVE spiders underneath the plastic on the boxsprings, to her new house. This house is in a different area, called Kazungula, and has running water, electricity, a kitchen, a living room, bathroom, and three bedrooms. Mama seemed happy to be moved in. Going to bed was a tricky procedure; fitting three people in a double bed under a mosquito net is not the easiest thing.

Day 4
Kasane Day 2. We woke up, had fresh fruit for breakfast and then took a walk around Kazungula. Once again we seemed to be off the beaten tourist track. Even though Kasane is a big tourist destination, I doubt that many people venture out to see the Moses Mabida Stadium; the football (European, not American!) field and volleyball courts where the local kids play. These kids seemed to find us funny; and trailed behind us for quite some time, running away in fits of laughter any time one of us turned around. After a while they seemed to gain confidence, and soon two had grabbed my hands. They just walked with us laughing and chatting in Setswana, and were hard to convince to go home by the time we got back to Mama's house. 

While walking to Kasane, a man pulled onto the gravel shoulder and offered us a ride. It turned out he has lived in Maun for most of his life and his son just started work in Kasane. When we told him that we were interested in taking a river trip on the Chobe for the afternoon, he took us right to The Old House (where his son Matthew works) and got us a really good deal from Luke, the owner. Our 3 hour river trip on the Chobe cost us a mere $30 each. Unreal. We saw elephants, hippos, crocs, impalas, kudu, warthogs, cape buffalo, a monitor lizard and too many bird species to keep track of. The beauty of it is hard to describe. Everywhere you look there is something new, and the air is filled with a symphony of sounds.

Day 5
I thought that nothing would be able to compare with the beauty of the Chobe river trip, but on Monday (June 13) we managed to get a good deal on a game drive through Chobe National Park which blew the day before out of the water. It was really just a surreal experience. I had thought that the river trip had given me and insight into how dense the animal population is within the Chobe region, but the game drive really drove it home. We must have seen well over a hundred elephants. Herds of impala were found every five minutes. And we didn't go for more than ten minutes without someone pointing out some kind of animal or bird. Our guide Anthony was an extremely cool guy who has been working in the park for 13 years and knows absolutely everything about any animal or plant or anything you want to ask him about. He also gave us Setswana names, since ours were too hard to remember and pronounce. My new name is Naledi, meaning star :) 

On the drive we saw elephants, impala, hippos, kudu, baboons, crocs, mongeese...mongooses?, warthogs, giraffes, cape buffalo, LIONS a lots and lots of birds again. The scenery was spectacular and surprisingly varied. But there are two moments that stood out to me beyond compare. The first was when we chance across a herd of elephants right by the side of the track. These elephants were literally within touching distance. I haven't had many experiences in my life that have taken my breath away, but this was one. Staring into an elephant's eye is both an unsettling and peaceful experience. The have such an intelligence radiating from them, and you feel an almost spiritual connection to them where you know that they are looking at and studying you as much as you are them. Add in their dwarfing physical presence and you are left breathless by the power of these animals. The second moment was when we stopped on a ridge over looking the Chobe to watch the sunset. I have never seen a sunset so big and beautiful. Once again, I had a spiritual moment. Overlooking the landscape and the animals in the distance under the orange glow of the setting sun it hit me what a beautiful piece of art the world truly is. 

Day 6
After a much more comfortable ride back on the Chobe Express (my pack was in the back as opposed to shoved under my feet), Faisal, Thomas and I arrived back in Francistown. It was very strange at first being with just the two of them, as I had become so used to moving in a pack of five. While having lunch we all got in contact with our home-stay families. I think that before coming, this was one of the things that I was most nervous about. I've never been in any kind of home-stay situation before, and the idea of separating myself from the rest of the group was a little bit intimidating. But it turns out that I didn't really have any reason to be nervous. Faisal and I are actually very close! He is staying with the Tshabo (sp?) family, and I am staying with their next door neighbours the Othusitses. They are Mrs (Mary) Othusitse and her daughter Thando (who is my age), and a son/brother who is arriving back in Francistown today from university in the UK. Mma Othusitse is an amazing woman. She did both her BA and her MA in the US in general psychology and educational psychology respectively. Now she is a lecturer at the college in Francistown, working with exceptional learners. She also owns cattle, which is a display of wealth in Bots. She is this amazing women with such a strong personality and huge presence; basically she radiates power and intelligence. Thando is going to be in her second year of business at the University of Botswana in the fall. We are very different but we have been getting along really well so far (knock on wood!)! She has also already taught me so much about the culture and traditions here. Overall I think I have settled in pretty well. 

Day 7-9
Starting last Wednesday (June 15) we reported for duty at work! I think now I have a much better idea of the organisation and its work, so here is an update for those of you interested in that (coughDad).As you know, the organisation that I’m working for here is called True Men Trust, and it is a local Botswana non-governmental organisation. The work that they do is in the local community and also the Chobe District which is up in the north corner of the country, where Kasane is. The main thing that they work on is educating and empowering the local male community on the realities of HIV/AIDS. There are three main projects, each sponsored by a different donor. One works with female sex workers and male truck drivers (the most at risk community members) to educate them about the issue and offer counselling services. The second one I think mainly does workshops and interviews talking about the danger of multiple concurrent partnerships, and inter-generational and transactional sex. And the third is a program working with pregnant mothers in order to prevent PMTCT (pregnant mother to child transmission) of HIV/AIDS. So overall some very heavy stuff. The biggest problem in Botswana is that since the government funds all testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS, people are able to live with it for a long time and so the chance of transmission is much higher. And since so many of the ways of thinking (like having multiple partners is ok for both men and women) are ingrained, the work that True Men is doing is really difficult because they aren't fighting the disease, they’re fighting a mindset of an entire people. 

The work that we (Thomas, Fais and I) specifically are doing is a little bit different. Instead of working on the projects themselves, what we are going to be doing is more focused on the development of the organisation itself. So we are doing a couple of different marketing projects, some internal workshops, and then just generally offering suggestions to the running of the projects as we see fit. We have some big ideas that could really impact the organisation if they work out. I’m working on developing a website for them, since they don’t already have one, so that’s fun! A little frustrating sometimes because I don’t actually have that much computer experience, but I’m learning as I go. And hopefully it won’t be too technical anyways because it needs to be sustainable after we leave. Then all the interns (they are four local ones plus Thomas, Faisal and I) are working on making a couple of brochures and pamphlets for public hand-outs as well as a newsletter. Also Thomas, Fais and I are going to try to put together a promotional video. And the last thing we want to do is put together a kind of promotional package that could be given to potential donors or any interested authority figures. That would have an organisational profile, project and donation proposals, and then the promotional material like the video and brochures and things.  I think the hardest thing is going to be making sure that we stay focused, since from what Kabo has told us, the work that we are going to be doing is very self-motivated and we won’t really be reporting to or working under anyone in particular. Everyone in the office has been very welcoming and nice, although I'm still having trouble remembering all of the complicated Setswana names!

Day 10&11 
For our first weekend Fais, Thomas and I decided to go do a day trip to the Lepokole Hills in Eastern Botswana, where there are some examples of San cave paintings. Originally it was supposed to just be a Saturday expetetion (that's not a typo--read Winnie the Pooh!) but things kept changing and eventually the weekend turned out totally different than we had planned. I think this is a good time to explain the title of this post. While we were still in Kingston Team Bots decided that the motto for our trip should be "Challenge Accepted!". Brownie points if you get the reference! Anyways, we just thought it was fitting since we will be doing so many new, exciting and challenging things this summer. Well this weekend, Thomas Fais and I annihilated all challenges we were faced with! First we had to get from Francistown to Bobonong. Challenge accepted. A bus, a hitchhike, another bus and another hitchhike later, challenge annihilated. Then we had to find the Chief of Bobonong to ask permission to visit the Lepokole hills. Challenge accepted. After visiting the police station, asking Bobonong locals, and a lot of walking, we tracked him down. Unfortunately he was getting into the back of a car which then drove away, so we didn't get the chance to talk to him. But as for finding him? Challenge annihilated. This is when our weekend takes an unexpected turn. We found him at a reception for the Bobonong council, which was celebrating something which we never really got the name of, and it was a black tie affair with lots of important people. We were introduced to the Councillor of Lepokole, who then introduced us to a Lepokole guide, and took us under her wing. Both of them, along with the Councillor's assistant, were very gracious and tried so hard to accommodate us. They even invited us to join them for the lunch (we were so NOT dressed appropriately!) while they were trying to figure out a way to get us to Lepokole. Unfortunately we weren't able to make it to Lepokole because it was getting too late. And to top it off we were also too late to make the last bus back to Francistown. Stranded in Bobonong, challenge accepted. We found a lodge to stay at and even managed to haggle the price down. Challenge annihilated. The next day we met the councilor's assistant who then took us to the Councillor's house to wait for a ride. After four hours of waiting one turned up. Get to Lepokole to see the amazing cave paintings (pictures coming soon!)? Challenge accepted and annihilated! Finally we faced the last challenge of the day: getting home to Francistown before dinner. Challenge accepted. We booked it back to Bobonong in the back of a pick-up truck, got the last three seats on the bus from Bobonong to Serebi-Phikwe, got comfy seats on the bus from Phikwe to Serule, and then got the last standing spots on the LAST BUS TO FRANCISTOWN from Serule! We aimed to be back by 7pm, we were back at 7:15. Challenge.Annihilated.  

All in all a very exciting weekend. Hopefully next weekend turns out great too! We are hopefully heading to the Tuli Game Reserve to camp, do a night safari and check out the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees! if you don't know the reference!

Day 12
So now we are all caught up! This post has taken me forever to write, and I'm sorry for the crazy length but there is so much I want to share and I don't want any of it to be left out! From now on I will definitely keep on top of this so that I never have to recap more than two days at one time! Please leave comments, I'd love to hear what you all think about my adventures so far!

I miss everyone, you are all in my thoughts as I experience all these new things!
Lots of love and sala sentle!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles......but mostly Planes

Hi Everyone!

As many of you already know, this summer I am lucky enough to be working as a volunteer at True Men Trust, a non-governmental organisation in Francistown, Botswana, Africa! I have already have started posting to another blog, which the other members of the Queen's Project on International Development Team Botswana (Faisal, Thomas, Chloe and Lyndsay) will also be posting to all summer, but I thought it would be nice to have a more personal blog to let let everyone back home know about my travel and work adventures! For those of you who don't already have it, the address for our team blog is: Make sure to check it out!

Alright, now onto the updates! My summer wanderings officially started (after months of waiting) on Tuesday night at 10:45pm when our first flight departed from Toronto. By the time we actually get to Francistown, we will have been traveling for almost two whole days!!! Already we have spent 21 hours flying. The legs of the trip look like this:
Toronto-Abu Dhabi (13hours)
4 hour layover in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi-Johannesburg (8hours)
9 hour layover in Johannesburg (that's where I am now!!!!)
and finally Johannesburg-Francistown (1.5hours)
So.Much.Traveling. But totally worth it!!!

Basically it is still pretty surreal to me that I am actually here. We have all been waiting for so long to actually get to Botswana and start working, but now that it is actually happening it kind of seems like a dream. Haha that sounds so cliche. But its true! We all just keep saying how cool this is, and I don`t think anyone has stopped smiling for more than a minute at a time!

The next couple of days are probably going to be pretty hectic. We will arrive in Francistown this evening, and Thomas' home-stay dad has hooked us up with a hotel to stay at for the first two days while we go around town, get cellphones set up, and Thomas, Faisal and I meet our boss at True Men. Then we are all going up north to Kasane for a few days (another 8hour trip!) to get Lyndsay and Chloe set up with their home-stay and work. Then it's back to Francistown where we finally meet our home-stay families and start work!!!

I'm am so so excited to start meeting people and exploring Francistown. I'm still a little worried about starting work and how life is going to be with my home-stay family, but at this point the adrenaline is kicking in and I'm sure I will soon forget my nervousness. Keep tuned to this blog to hear more updates and check out my pictures! I'm going to try to post as often as I can.

Sala sentle (stay well),