Friday night in the Bush

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.

Fat Cakes!

Yippee!!!

I finally got to taste a well known Botswana delicacy called a fat cake.

My first taste of Fat Cake!
My first taste of Fat Cake!

A Fat Cake or as it is referred to in local languages , Magwinya, is a dough fried in oil. It is considered a fast food here in Sub Sahara Africa and I have been hearing for months how yummy they are.

So having spent almost five months here without tasting it, I took matters into my own hands as you can see above. Our office staff has an amazing cook and baker in it’s midst. Masego is our operational support assistant who recently won a South Africa magazine’s recipe contest. There was no one better to go to with my quest to taste the best fat cake.

Masego - the best cook in Gaborone!
Masego – the best cook in Gaborone!

Hoping that she would simply tell me where to go to buy the best, she instead generously offered to make some for me. Due to the power outages all week – the power went off again mid-afternoon yesterday and did not come back on until after 9 pm last night – she couldn’t bake. So this morning she got up at 5 am to make them for me!

All I can say is that it was delicious and I will probably never taste another while I am here as I am positive that they will not live up to the yummy batch she made for the office. Once you have tasted the best, why eat ones that aren’t!

So Masego, Thank you so very much for graciously preparing fat cakes for me. The wait was truly worth it!

Post Script:  AND here is Masego’s recipe for Fat Cakes

250g flour
1 sachet of yeast
100g sugar
5g salt
oil for frying
luke warm water
mix  all the ingredients with luke warm water, mix till the dough is very soft
Bring oil to stove, when its really hot, cutyour dough in to ring, size doesnt matter, put the dough in hot oil, keeping turning when it turns light brown, remove when its brownish.
enjoy, nice with soup*:) happy

Driving to the Kalahari

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.

A not so bad donkey!
A not so evil donkey!

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.

A desert road
A desert road

 

Road harzards
Road 

hazards 

Even the desert provides food
Even the desert provides food

 

The varying landscape along the way
The varying landscape along the way

 

Driving hundreds of kms with nothing in sight but landscape and wildlife
Driving hundreds of kms with nothing in sight but landscape and wildlife

 

And of course, donkeys
And of course, donkeys

 

I love the Kalahari!

Well, I have returned home yet again! You know when I said that I was in the bush a couple weeks ago in Zanzibar, Botswana…well, that wasn’t really the bush at all.

This time I was truly in the bush! Staying at the only Bushman Lodge in Botswana run by the oldest race of people on this earth. It was truly a wonderful experience and I have lots of stories to tell  but right now I am simply exhausted from a very long 9 days straight of working and being on the go. So I will reserve my stories until tomorrow except that I will leave you with these two pictures to wet your appetite.

Who says girls pack more than guys?????
Who says girls pack more than guys?????

Check out the size of the two suitcases that were taken to the Dkar Lodge…mine is on the left and Lawrence’s was the BIGGER one on the right. He begged and pleaded with me not to post the picture but guess what, it didn’t work. I just want it to be noted that as a female accused of becoming a princess since arriving in Botswana, I still do not pack more than some guys that I know.

And, this picture just about says it all…Facilitating in the bush comes with a whole new set of skills to add to my resume including allowing the participation of Ostrich in the proceedings…Man, I love Africa!

Guess who came for Strategic Planning?
Guess who came for Strategic Planning?

On a lighter note

Mine and Tabuche’s honeymoon has come to a crashing halt! Oh, don’t worry I am still his favourite passenger so he tells me! But like any relationship he has finally seen the real me.

You see, yesterday I found myself in the grip of a cold….Yes, a cold! It amazing me that in 40 degree weather I could have a cold. However, it was a gift from the gathering in Zanzibar last week. Two of the guys, one of whom was sitting next to me all day every day for five days had colds. So now Cheryl has a cold!

Fortunately I don’t get colds very often at all…. but unfortunately, when I do get one, particularly the first 24 hours I am truly a miserable human being. For someone who could walk on a broken leg, TWICE, for at least 24 hours before going to a hospital or doctor you would think that a cold would be a piece of cake. No, in fact it turns me into a miserable whining horrible person!  Just ask my mother. When I can’t breath through my nose you don’t even want to talk to me let alone be stuck in a car in traffic with me.

Poor, poor Tabuche! He had the misfortune of having to take me home yesterday afternoon when I was at my absolute worse. I whined, I moaned, I tried to breath and then I repeated it all over again. He was appropriately sympathetic. He offered me all kinds of home remedies. In fact he was his perfect saintly self. And you could absolutely tell that he was counting every second until he could get me out of his car. I don’t think that the poor man has ever wanted to be rid of me so quickly. Upon leaving his car I graciously assured him that I would be a much nicer person in the morning when he picked me up. That the whining would have ceased and that I would be feeling at least some what better.

This morning he cautiously greeted me and was truly ecstatic when he could sense that the whining monster of the afternoon before wasn’t making a reappearance. In fact, he couldn’t believe that I actually was much more like myself even though he had a very hard time to understand me with my nasally accent.

When he picked me up tonight he proudly noted that I had actually improved during the day and that I sounded so much more like myself. Which was a good thing as we were stuck in traffic for a long time. The relief that I wasn’t going to whine and moan was visibly apparent. So, yes the honeymoon is over. But we have survived our first rough patch and he proudly calls me one tough lady….I will explain that one in another blog posting. So now I need to go to bed early again tonight and get over this miserable cold. Tabuche has literally seen the worse of me, cold sore and all. I need to become a lady again so my halo is permanently tarnished 🙂

 

 

The Pillow Thief

Well, I have done it! I have tarnished the reputations of Canadians in the bush. Don’t worry, as a typical Canadian I have fessed up and all is well! The crime I committed – lugging my bright red pillow around!

Let me first start with the fact that the chairs in the conference centre are extremely uncomfortable for sitting in for 8 to 9 hours every day. Add in the fact that my king size bed is liberally littered with pillows of varying sizes and shapes. There is only one conclusion that a sensible person can come up with….take a pillow with you to the conference room.

The accessories to my crime
The accessories to my crime

Thus, I could be seen coming and going from my room every morning and evening with lovely red pillow. I do love red! The pillow was the perfect size and shape to give me some relief of sitting on the chair. However, I do have to admit that I felt very much like Linus carrying my blanket around. Regardless of my ego it did the job when it wasn’t unexpectantly popping out from behind me and shooting off to either my left or right side. Fortunately no one was harmed by my flying projectile.

The problem came the first day that I absconded with the pillow. When I returned to my room after the day’s work was done, I walked into a room with a bed and NO pillows except the two sleeping pillows. One could only deduce that my room had be stripped of all decorative pillows in response to the missing one!

Mourning the loss of my pillows and feeling as if my reputation was suffering a terrible blow, along with concern that Ministries of Health and Local Government would be notified of the pillow thief within their midst, made a hasty trip to the reception desk. There was no way that was willing to risk an international incident involving at least two governments, if not three as we are exactly on the border of South Africa.

Arriving at the reception desk I quickly explained that I had returned to my room and found my pillows gone. The lovely receptionist immediately assumed that I was reporting a pillow theft. It took me a couple of minutes to explain to her that no, in fact I was the pillow thief not someone else. Due to me absconding with the pretty red pillow, I had no doubt that the housekeeping staff were inflicting preventive theft measures to keep me from walking off with the remaining decorative pillows. The receptionist was soon reassuring me that she would speak with the housekeeping staff and assure them that in fact I was not stealing the pillows but utilizing them for my comfort during the day.

By the time that I returned to my room after eating dinner every single one of my pretty pillows were back in their place on the bed! Fortunately, an international pillow incident was avoided and all were happy!

The Beat Goes On!

Well, I may have been in the middle of the bush but I proved yet again that I can’t stop myself from dancing. The Oasis Lodge is a lovely spot smack dab in the middle of bush and nothing else! No doubt you noticed my lack of posting due to incredibly limited access to an internet connections. The closest town is a 100 kms away. The closest village is 100 kms away. In fact, the only thing located close to the lodge is the infamous “Zanzibar” border post. Yes, indeed I am in the bush where not even people’s cell phones work. It gives the term isolated a whole new meaning.

The main section of the lodge that I was staying in was not on the river front (that is where the chalets are located about 2kms away) but on a small lake/dam which is exactly next to the border post. The conference centre is also located within this complex and all of our meals were served buffet style outdoors under thatched roofs. By day 2 of our 7 days on site I had developed a pattern which others noted.

Oasis Chalet on the river bank
Oasis Chalet on the river bank

 

View from the chalet
View from the chalet

 

After sitting all morning in the conference room reading, reviewing and amending District Health plans, by lunch time (1:00 pm Africa time) I was eager to be active. What I didn’t realize, until everyone started commenting on it, was happening every time that I got into the buffet line…..I started to dance! Surprise! Surprise! Actually Tabuche won’t be the least bit surprised by this piece of information.

You see, they had speakers set up on one of the serving tables and out it was coming some great African music. What can I say, give me a good beat and I simply can’t stand or sit still.

It appears that I am fitting in far more than I thought that I would as my penchant to moving to the rhythms that I hear is making me an honorary African. When I asked some of the ladies that I am in meetings with to teach me traditional movements they claim that I already have them down. I don’t believe them but it is flattering. And tonight, I caught two of the servers dancing along to the music too! Proving that being happy is contagious and much better than catching malaria (if you keep moving the mosquitoes have a harder time to bite you)!

So let the beat on go because I have proven that I really can dance anywhere! Too bad that I couldn’t get the coordination thing down…but really who cares….I know that I don’t, it is just fun to dance and enjoy the music no matter where I am.

 

Wildlife Survival Tips

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:

  1. Never walk alone because if you get eaten no one will realize it for a couple of days.
  2. Don’t talk to the crocodiles.
  3. If you encounter an elephant don’t run and never climb a tree.
  4. (My Favourite) Tips for outrunning a water buffalo:
    1. If you have a purse throw it at them and then run as fast as you can
    2. When running away from it get on to a tarmac surface
    3. And run in a zig zagging motion. Apparently, because of their soft hooves they will lose their footing and fall down….who knew it????
    4. You can’t out run a hippo, so find a tree to climb and hope that there is no elephant coming behind the hippo 😉
    5. 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.

A very cheeky monkey
A very cheeky monkey

Miss Cheryl

Day 1 of the road trip to Zanzibar, I was given the name on the bus of Miss Cheryl and it has stuck throughout the trip. There have been moments when I have felt like I was part of a Sesame Street scene…..”one of these things is not like the others”. Whenever we stopped on route to our destination the one white chick along with twenty Africans sort of stood out.

Since arriving at the Oasis it wasn’t so apparent until other white guests showed up mid-week. It seems that they are more curious as to why there is one white person amidst the Batswana. I have no desire to appease their curiosity. I am simply happy to hang out with my group and participate in conversations to the extent possible. During the district plan review process the group is very good at speaking English the majority of the time. However during meal time conversations more often take place is Setswana with English words liberally thrown in.

Four months in Botswana and still no language lessons under my belt, except for some during the orientation process, I continue to be baffled by this language. Especially since I went to Tanzania and ending up being able to understand conversations there and learned to speak a smattering of Swahili within a week. My spirits were lifted when mid-week during dinner conversation it was remarked on that Miss Cheryl was able to follow along with conversations in Setswana and comment in English. Personally, I think that they are giving me way too much credit but maybe I am not as hopeless with the language as I think. We will find out once I truly start language classes.

In the mean time, Miss Cheryl has become the group mascot and although visibly I may look very different, my colleagues back in Gaborone were absolutely correct, I have not only been accepted but everyone is watching out for me. When I had breakfast in my room one morning, they were ready to send out a search party to find me; the hotel staff were given instructions to use “doom” in the rooms to protect Miss Cheryl from malaria carrying mosquitoes and no one wants me to be out walking by myself.

So it seems that yet again here in Botswana I have been welcomed with open arms by strangers and made to feel at home. Instead of feeling like a minority in a foreign land, I feel accepted and capable of integrating into environments that are so far from what I am use to. In fact, Mr.  Busang, my Ministry contact remarked half way through the week that I gave the appearance that I felt completely at home both within the conference room and outside. I have to admit that I feel lucky that I am working with the group that I am. IMG_0726The review of the plans could be incredibly gruelling work but instead we tackle it as a team, each taking a turn leading the discussions, providing input, feedback and always achieving a consensus. The team work is fantastic and it is liberally sprinkled with laughter and storytelling that provides me with a wealth of education on HIV/AIDS, Botswana culture, life styles and sense of humour. All in all, I think that Miss Cheryl lucked out again!

Home from the Bush!

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.

Oasis Lodge
Oasis Lodge

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!