Sorry for the absence but for the past couple of weeks there have been major internet issues in Gaborone thanks to a faulty telecommunications line which made posting as well as emailing impossible.
Then last week I had an opportunity to take a very last minute trip to an amazing part of Botswana, the Okavanga Delta or also referred to as the “Swamps”.
The Okavanaga Delta is one of the world’s largest inland deltas and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful places to visit in Botswana. It is a delta formed by the inflow of the Okavango River, (or the Kavango River as it is known in Namibia), into the arid sands of the Kalahari Desert. The Okavango River originates on the Benguela Plateua in the highlands of Angola, and the river flows through Namibia entering Botswana at the village of Mohembo. Within Botswana, the river follows a well-defined channel formed by two parallel faults ‘the Panhandle’ for a distance of ninety-five kilometres before fanning out to create a vast network of perennial swamps and floodplains.
The final decision to make a five day visit to the Delta took place Tuesday afternoon and we left bright and early Friday morning for fives days and four nights in the Swamps.
It was a trip, experience and adventures of a life time so hang on because I have a ton of pictures and stories to post now that I am back. I hope that you enjoy them!
I know it is a continuing theme of my posts but it is a reality here in Gaborone these days.
Once again for the past two days the power has gone off in the afternoon not to be switched back on until 10:00 pm. This is a switch on time that seems to be getting gradually later and later. Previous Monday & Tuesday outages at least allowed for me prepare and eat my dinner by 9:15 or so. This 10 pm is really a pain especially when the power goes out well before it is time to prepare a meal.
As much as I am complaining about these outages, I have to admit that I am coping with them much better than some Batswana that I know. My coping skills no doubt were honed by living on Prince Edward Island, a tiny island off of the east coast of Canada. Growing up on this island in a very rural community situated directly on the north shore (we have amazing water views and shore front for sale!) you became very accustomed to winter, spring and fall storms knocking power out for days sometimes weeks at a time.
In the winter there are often blizzards and snow storms that make venturing out impossible…in fact I was just talking to my parents and my mom was saying how they are getting snow storm after storm right now and it is almost the end of March. During my childhood sometimes the snow would pile up so high that it was virtually impossible for the very large snow plows to cut even a path through them. If you lost power it often took days for the electricity crews to make their way through the snow to fix the problem.
Spring time in on PEI can bring similar power challenges only this time it is the result of ice storms. I can remember that the spring five years ago brought a major ice storm that knocked out our power for more than a week. Luckily I was able to shower at work everyday!
And fall can bring hurricanes or major wind storms that also bring down the power lines. So as you can see the Gaborone power outages really are old hat to me! It is very nice to know that some of my adaptive skills learned in Canada come in handy here in Africa.
Well it is time to go and finish preparing my dinner….it is so nice to actually eat hot food at a reasonable time.
I am currently trying to figure out how to add my experience from last weekend in the bush to my resume. How does one actually capture the unique challenges and skills adaptation that one has to make when you are literally facilitating in the bush????
Perhaps after reading this entry you will have some suggestions for my resume update!
Saturday morning started early for me after the late night. But it started in an amazing way that can only be experienced in the bush. I got up and opened my bedroom door at shortly after 5 am so I could watch the animals come to the watering hole to begin their day. And come they did.
Following a very cold shower, no shampoo and an attempt to wash my very fine hair with a bar of soap, it was time to head to the dining room/workshop facility.
As you can see, not a wall in sight! A facilitator’s nightmare for sure. Plus, there was only one electrical outlet and the only power you could access was if you actually requested them to turn on the generator. The next hour was spent figuring out how to actually proceed for the day based on the resources (or lack there of) available.
As I usually one capable of thinking quickly on my feet, I came up with a Plan B that I thought would work. I also had the wonderful assistance of Lawrence and the Kuru ladies to assist with set up. The next hurdle was that the meeting was scheduled to begin at 8:00 am. Remember that this building was also the dining area for the lodge and campers. Breakfast was served at 8:00 am…you get the picture. I was caught between trying to grab some breakfast and greeting those arriving for the strategic planning session. So it was a slightly stressful start to the day for me to say the least.
After downing a yoghurt and a bit of granola, it was time for the facilitator to do her job! Due to the language issue, I had planned on a large part of the strategic planning work to be done in groups so there would be less need to translate back and forth between the languages. However, I had counted on the use of laptops to record the group decisions so that report back could be faster and require less translation….but all of that had to be re-thought based on the facility and lack of power.
Oh well, when facilitating in the bush one works with what one has. After a quick welcome and brief explanation of the process for the day, we were off and running with strategic planning!
Thankfully, Bush people are happy to work under any conditions so all were happy to spread out far and wide to find spaces to tackle their assignments, coming back under the main roof for report backs and instructions for the next task. All in all, the progress was remarkable and far exceeded my expectations. In fact, I don’t think that I have ever worked with a more diligent group who whole-heartedly embraced their assignments once explained to them through a translator. Even without the access to resources, we were progressing right on schedule. Recognizing the need to keep momentum going, I constantly adapted each of the assignments and kept the agenda moving.
Obviously, our team work and good spirits attracted attention. About mid-morning our strategic planning group received three additional participants who stuck around for at least an hour and distracted not only me but just about everyone else with their antics!
I have now been facilitating or participating in workshops and had warthogs, baboons and ostriches drop by for a visit. Please tell me how I could ever reflect this on my resume????
These ostriches actually stuck around for a long time, entertaining us with their dances and even settling in for a bit of a nap in the fire pit approximately two feet from the building. Perhaps they would be interested me in coming out to facilitate for them 🙂
After eating dinner in the open dining room which would be utilized the next morning for our workshop, Lawrence and I headed for the truck to go meet some friends. On the way to the truck I was fully distracted by a very large animal sound coming from the bush less than 10 feet from me. While Lawrence headed straight for the safety of the truck, I headed for the sound.
Typical me, here I was wandering into the bush in the pitch black of the night towards some kind of large animal trying to make a noise similar to it. Well, guess what? My efforts were not wasted. By attempting to replica the snorting/expelling of air sound I was hearing, I was rewarded with another version coming from the bush. The pattern became, take a couple of steps, make the sound, listen for the answer which always came and then do it all again. Eventually I was about two feet from the actual bush where my conversationalist was. By now I was convinced that it was a Wildebeest with whom I was conversing. Not exactly sure what I was saying to him but it obviously was appealing to him.
Finally, my friend Lawrence who had been blithely hanging out in the truck made it obvious that it was time to stop talking wildebeest and get in. So much for my romantic interlude in the bush…or so I thought 🙂
After a late night on Friday hanging out with Lawrence’s friends in the tiny village of D’kar, we made our way back to the Lodge. Making the long journey down the 10 km track after midnight was a bit of a challenge I have to admit. And Lawrence and I had our familiar fight. A couple of kms into the sand track was a large gate separating the top farm land from the game preserve. To put it more succiently, separating the large cats (cheetahs & leopards) from the cows.
Lawrence, who was doing all of the driving wanted to be the one to get out and open and close this gate. This made no sense to me as I was more than capable to do it. Somehow he thought it would be better if the big cats ate him instead of me. When in fact I was the one who wanted to meet face to face with them and wasn’t the least bit fearful…in fact, my mother keeps cautioning me not to bring one home with me when I return to Canada in December.
All this to say, I gladly walked around the bush at night, opening & closing gates as we drove through them. Watching the amazing sky filled with more twinkling stars than I have ever seen in my entire life. You could stand mesmerized for hours just looking up at the indigo night sky filled with sparkling diamonds. All the while listening to the sounds of the bush alive at night with those animals out seeking their nourishment. All in all it was a specular end to a long day.
It is a beautiful lodge which is actually owned and run by the San people (or as they prefer to be called, Bush men). It was located down a 10 km long sand track and the lodge actually sits on a 7500 hectares (18,500 acres) protected game reserve and includes a wide variety of game including giraffe, eland, zebra, wildebeest, hartebeest, kudu, impala, warthog and other small game. It also has a number of cheetah plus leopard and brown hyena.
The lodge has no electricity but does have a solar powered generator that they turn on for a couple hours most days. The rooms we were in were spacious and lots of candles to light at night as the generator always went off at 10 pm!
And I just have to post it again! I need to build Lawrence’s capacity to pack lighter for the bush 🙂 I could pack lighter too, if I didn’t need sun protection lotion & insect repellent. But at least I can still squeeze everything into a small suitcase…shoes and all…I still don’t know what all he had in his LARGE suitcase.
From my room, I could lie in my bed with the large wooden door (top half ) open and watch the watering hole which was about 50 metres from my room. In fact, I left the top half of my door open a lot and I was informed that at night I really needed to keep it closed as any kind of game could actually wander into my room including the cheetahs, which I heard from my room one night but didn’t see.
While the campers had hot water, for some reasons the hot water in the rooms was not functioning so I got to have cold showers every day which do cool you down in the extreme heat. My only problem was that I forgot to bring shampoo and had to go three days without washing my fine hair! But no one seemed to notice but me.
However, the space that I was facilitating was what presented the biggest challenge. It was a beautiful open space that was used as a lounge/dining area. It was basically wide open to the perusal and just dropping by of the wild game!
So you can see – no walls! I actually sent the flip chart behind flying over the wall at least three times. Saying that working in the room was challenge was an understatement. My next posting will be all about that! Facilitating in the Bush.
We also had a swimming pool which I of course headed for when I could. I even taught Mr Zimbabwe how to actually swim. And no, he didn’t have a swimsuit in that HUGE suitcase but he bought some in Ghantzi.
Okay, unfortunately that is all I have time to write today…the social butterfly is off for a posh dinner at the Grand Palm!
Now to the fun stuff…although I am struggling with the internet. The connection is intermittent and I want to be sure to get something fun up on my blog before I hit the swimming pool for the second time today.
Let me start with the journey to the Kalahari desert. We left while it was still very dark out and our main concerns were being extremely careful to not hit livestock, wild animals or people on the road. With only the light from our vehicle and a quarter moon it was difficult to see any distance ahead. And as I noted before, livestock hangs out on the side of or right in the middle of the road at an alarming frequency.
My job as navigator was to spot possible harzards, warn Lawrence and when we got abreast of them…he also expected me (as he knows that I grew up on a farm like he did) to soundly lecture the creature to get off the road. In some cases, this approach worked in others not so well. You see, the most dangerous animal when you are driving here in Botswana is the donkey. Yes, I said the donkey!
These animals have breed prolifically and now roaming at will every where you go in Botswana. Unlike some of the other creatures who have no shame in sauntering out slowly in front of your vehicle or taking their time crossing, donkeys seem to love to stand for hours on the road! Nothing seems to disturb them or chase them off. There is a reason why they are know for being stubborn.
The drive up the highway, other than avoiding hitting something, was wonderful. The landscape is beautiful. The nicest that I have seen in Botswana. We first climbed through the hills just on the outskirts of Gaborone which are beautiful any time of day or night. Then we passed a major town, Jwaneng before getting into the Kalahari.
Ah, the Kalahari. It is said to be the birthplace of man and it truly feels like the Garden of Eden to me. Somehow the land, people and wildlife spoke to a visceral life force in me. Touching me in a way that Africa had not yet touched me. The Kalahari felt like home to me.
To steal a description for you from a guidebook:
“The Tswana call it the Kgalagadi: Land of Thirst. And this is dry, parched country. If not a land of sand dunes, then it’s certainly a land painted by a sand palette: blood and mud reds and bleached bone yellow; dust that bites you back as you taste it in the morning. But come the nights this hard end of the colour wheel shifts into its cooler, sometimes white-cold shades: indigo nights that fade to deepest black, and blue stars ice-speckling the impossibly long horizon. Indeed the local San (Bushmen) insist that here you can hear ‘the stars in song’ behind the dark.”
I really could not have described it better myself. I know what many of you are thinking…how can you love some place with unrelenting heat, blowing sand , electricity only in the major settlement areas , little water, dust and several hundred kms between towns? I do and will probably never be able to explain it to anyone else.
But it is what has drawn me to live and work in Africa since the tender age of 14. It is what calls me back every time I visit an African country. It is the proud, strong, resilient Africa where the land and people blend so seamlessly. It is a land of strength and survival. It is land of utter beauty found in some many ways. It is Africa. It is home.
My only regret is that I do not have a descent camera that allows me to capture the true magic of the Kalahari but here are some of the pictures that I took with my meagre Canon powershot.
Remember that motto of mine? “Have suitcase, will travel!” Well, here I go again…..
Where to you ask?
It is the centre of Gantsi District and it’s claim to fame is that it is the furthest town from all other Botswana urban centers The area is known for its indigenous peoples, the San. I am going to facilitate a strategic planning process for an organization that consists of a network of 8 NGOs whose goal is to empower these vulnerable people and assist them through economic development achieve permanent control over their lives, resources and destiny.
It was a very last minute thing – they required an experienced facilitator so WUSC asked me after striking out with other ODAs. I got the formal request on Friday, the sessions are this up-coming Saturday and Sunday. No pressure, huh? Oh, and by the way, Lawrence and I need to drive 900 kms to get there and another 900 kms back 🙂
So I spent yesterday working on a drafting a strategic planning exercise. I still haven’t finished it so I need to work on it tonight. I was out of the office all day today and will be out again tomorrow attending Governance training for my board. Can you say busy?????
But I am happy to be doing this as I am taking my buddy along to build his capacity in facilitating strategic planning or should I say he is taking me:) He has to drive as the vehicle is a standard and due to my wonky ankle, I can’t operate a clutch anymore.
I am also visiting a part of the country that I haven’t been to yet. We are staying a lodge that is owned and operated by the trust that I will be doing strategic planning for. The link to see it is http://www.dqae.org/ Of course it is a game area, with cheetahs and leopards. I am truly a mercenary as part of my negotiations to agree to doing this on such incredibly short notice, I asked that they arrange an evening game drive for us so that I can see the big cats at night when they are out and about.
So of course with a 1800 km road trip, indigenous people, game and who knows what else I will have plenty to blog about. My only problem is staying stationary long enough to be able to write 🙂
For regular readers of this blog, I am sure that you are now well aware that wild animals are known to roam everywhere here in Botswana, be it city, village or game reserve. So far on my stay in Botswana I have encountered an elephant in the yard of a house, warthogs and baboons who wander through meetings, and geckos in my bed to name a few.
During my trip to Zanzibar, Botswana I received the following wildlife survival tips from my colleagues even though where we were staying seemed relatively safe:
Never walk alone because if you get eaten no one will realize it for a couple of days.
Don’t talk to the crocodiles.
If you encounter an elephant don’t run and never climb a tree.
(My Favourite) Tips for outrunning a water buffalo:
If you have a purse throw it at them and then run as fast as you can
When running away from it get on to a tarmac surface
And run in a zig zagging motion. Apparently, because of their soft hooves they will lose their footing and fall down….who knew it????
You can’t out run a hippo, so find a tree to climb and hope that there is no elephant coming behind the hippo 😉
Never ever hug a lion!
Certainly interesting tips! I will need to keep them in mind for my next adventures as the closest I got to wildlife this time around was an incredibly cheeky monkey who was more interested in what I was doing than anything else. As I roamed around on my walks he followed me overhead watching everything that I was doing. It was a bit like having a shadow except I was nervous about it peeing on me! In fact, one time he almost landed on my head as he leapt from tree to tree trying to keep up to me. The joys of nature.
I am back! When they said we were going to the Bush, they certainly weren’t lying. The Oasis Lodge sat right on the border of South Africa ( I could see the border post from my room) and the closest town was more than 100 kms away. It was an ideal spot to tackle the work that was on our plate for the week. Cell phones and email did not work unless you were in the main reception area which closed at about 7:00 pm every evening.
There were no wild animals roaming where the majority of our rooms were. My closest encounters were a snake at my front step just as I was arriving and random encounters with cheeky monkeys and the occasional crocodile sighting during the remainder of the week.
So my teasing of Tabuche was for not. Sadly there were no lions to hug and snuggle. Perhaps another time. When I texted Tabuche yesterday morning to see if he would be available to meet me on my arrival at Tirelo House his instant reply was “Yes, I am happy you are alive”. The thoughtful man even had an ice cold bottle of water waiting from me when I climbed out of the mini bus after seven hours of driving. It is certainly nice to be home!