Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Ambassador Comes to Town

Although it is only 5 miles (as the crow flies) from the airport and only 20 km from the capital of Botswana, my village is [literally] not on the map. So it was a grand event yesterday when Michelle Gavin, the American Ambassador, came to Kopong. 

Ambassador Gavin made the trek out to our village because the embassy was donating health books to all the libraries in Botswana that were built by Robert and Susan Rothschild, a couple from New Hampshire who I met last October at the celebration party for the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps. When I arrived in Kopong last November I made a bee-line for the library and offered my services. I have spent my life in libraries, they are my second home and I have always considered my library card the most valuable card in my wallet. The ambassador seems to feel the same way. She brought her three-year-old daughter and her husband with her, and in her talk she said coming to the library felt like 'coming home'. When she spoke to me at the end of her visit she laughed, saying what a pleasure it was to spend time reading to children rather than sitting in a board room.

People were truly 'honored' that the American Ambassador came to Kopong. We may not have an ATM, or a grocery store or reliable transportation, but we do have a library worth visiting.

My friend Thabo with my her son Bradley and Susan Rothschild. Thabo is wearing her nurses' uniform and Susan is wearing a traditional Botswana skirt, made by a resident of Kopong.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Capacity building with labyrinth

The most important part of Peace Corps work is 'capacity building.' We are here to teach people how to do certain tasks, not to do the work for them. It's not as easy as it sounds. When someone who can't type asks you to type up the minutes to a meeting, it's much easier to just do so than to procure a typing program for the computer (which is often stored in a closet 'on that side'...) and try to teach them to type...

Last week I spent Easter weekend with a fellow volunteer in Kalamare, a remote village 2 hours north of the capital Gaborone. We went for a hike along the dried out river and on the way back to the village we sat under a tree watching the children run relay races. I have often thought that the red dust of Africa is the perfect place for the labyrinths that my Boston friend Mary McCusker creates. She built one in my backyard at home, and as I watched the children, I tried to remember Mary's basic design. I kept working at in the red dirt, not realizing that a crowd of children had gathered.

Susan, the Peace Corps volunteer in Kalamare, gave me a piece of paper and I drew the basic design. One of the children reached out for it, and when I looked up, they were working on recreating it in the red dust.

We stood back and watched as they worked...then stepped in to show them how to use it...

Thank you Mary--many more labyrinths to come...

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Lion Sleeps Tonight...

Last week I headed north with a few friends to visit Moremi, one of Botswana's game reserves. We stood in the rain at 5:30 am to get an early bus for the 10-hour trip to Maun. Every bus has a sign saying the number of seated passengers it will hold and the number of standing (zero) passengers allowed. Needless to say, there were no seats for the first couple of hours of the trip, and the aisles were packed with people standing. It is amazing to me how the conductor is able to squeeze through the standing people to collect the fares, but somehow the bodies part for a moment or two and money is collected. When we arrived at the Old Bridge Backpackers hostel at the end of the day, the sight of water, greenery and space had us celebrating:

Mia, Me and Dominique

The view from our tent

The next morning we were up at 5:30 again to begin the journey into the game reserve. We bumped along in an open truck for an hour before we reached the border of the park, which is 3 separate fences. This is the boundary between domestic animals and wild animals, and Botswana is very strict about maintaining its integrity.

Although we still had to drive another 45 minutes to the main park entrance, our first 'wild' animal appeared less than 10 minutes from the boundary--giraffes having breakfast:

The giraffes were elegant and curious, eyeing us as much as we eyed them...

We consider ourselves blessed because Dominique, who is now known as Hawkeye, was able to sight a leopard, a true rarity. We met people who have been on 25 safaris and have never seen one. The cats--leopard, cheeta, lion--are nocturnal and very 'shy.'

During the rest of the day we saw elephants, impalas, hippos, impalas, a water monitor, impalas, many 'random birds' of extraordinary color, impalas, red bucks, impalas...

As we were leaving the park 12 hours later, Ice heard from another guide that lions had been spotted close by the night before. Since we had such luck seeing a Cheeta and a leopard, Ice decided to go 'off road' into the bush to see if we could track the herd. The other guide stayed on the road with his group of Belgians and said "ladies first" as we crashed through branches and drove through the brush. No more than a few meters in we saw the remains of the lion's meal--the carcass of a water buffalo. Sorry, no photos available as we were all holding our breath in hopes of spying the king of the jungle. Ice spotted the lion tracks but it was getting late and going deeper into the bush did not seem wise, so we returned to the road where the Belgians were waiting to hear the outcome of our exploration. We made the water buffalo carcass sound like more than it was...

The next day we took a sunset boat ride from Old Bridge Backpackers up into the Okavanga Delta where we were able to see zebras in the distance and enjoyed more bird sightings. On the return, as we approached the bridge next to our campsite, people on the bridge motioned to us: a hippo was in the water, blocking our way under the bridge. Again, sorry, no photos. We sat immobile, me with my heart in my mouth, as the hippo eyed us and slowly, much too slowly, moved away. Hippos are responsible for more human deaths in Africa than any other animals. Before I left the states a friend who had lived in Africa for 10 years told me 'the only thing you have to fear is mosquitoes and hippos.' We managed to slip under the bridge and have a strong drink at the lodge before going to bed to the sound of buzzing mosquitoes...another night in Africa.