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!

1 comment:

  1. I am loving this way too much. It sounds like a fantastic new time and an enormous new experience, but the good kind. Homesick yet? Or are you just loving life the most right now?! I bet you're just loving it, even the scary parts (LIKE THE SPIDERS! PROUD OF YOU for that!!)
    can't wait to keep hearing about all the new adventures and challenges. (challenge for you? take a rebel-point-at-the-crow picture in a really cool setting). this sounds just fantastic so far.

    LOVE YOU and wish I had your life right now!!
    -rebel #1