Thursday, May 6, 2010

Completion of the ISP and the Big 5


Sorry for the long span of time with no update, but I have been more busy these past 3 weeks than the rest of the program combined (I’m guessing to make up for all the hours I would have spent on homework had I been at UPS). Things have been absolutely amazing, I am dreading leaving this amazing country so soon (a week!!!). Instead of telling one or two long stories, I’ll give the highlights, and unfortunately, lowlights, of the past 3 weeks:


-Seeing elephants, monkeys, baboons, warthogs, eagles, hippos, and crocodiles on a nearly daily basis
-Getting to continue interacting and learning about my mongoose
-Making many new friends in Kasane, both those that I saw on the street every day as I walked to work and those who I developed a more personal relationship with
-Getting to know the expatriot community in Kasane and having them take us under their wings. Activities they ran for us included a bird walk, taking us out on the river for a day and touring us all around, and having a braii (bbq) for us in a valley that borders Zimbabwe and a national park in Zim, so it was chock full of wildlife.
-The aforementioned river trip, which included going to the most geographically unique place on Earth, where four countries share a border (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia), seeing more hippos than I could count, and watching a Fish Eagle swoop down and pick up a baby otter off the river (sad but at the same time amazing).
-Watching some of the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises I have ever seen.
-Seeing a hyena for the first time along with 5 lionesses hunting a giraffe
-Learning how to make a fire and cook over it
-Getting to know the lodge staff and because of it receiving a free boat cruise
-Having the opportunity to learn about practical applications of all the biology classes I have taken so far

-Having a baboon “use my tent like a trampoline” (as stated by the man who scared them all off) and subsequently having one of my tent poles bent and the other one snapped in half. Two other tents were caught in the destruction too
-Helping with the putting down of a injured mongoose, which was both awesome and hard to watch
-Having to spend the last week inside writing my paper and doing data analysis when the weather is in the low 80’s everyday and the sun is shining
-Getting charged at by a hippo. We ran from it and it stopped about 15 feet away from us, still in the water. Scary but exhilirating

Tomorrow we give our presentations on the research we’ve been doing, which will be attended by member of the community, the Botswana Tourism Board, and representatives from other NGO’s in the area, so just a little pressure. On Friday, the group of us in Kasane will take a 12 hour bus ride to Gaborone, where we will reunite with the rest of our group. We give presentations, have reentry orientation, and then next Wednesday morning I fly to Mozambique to begin my summer vacation.

It’s a melancholy feeling, both sadness to be leaving the country that I’ve gotten to know so well and have come to love, while also being excited to return to the US. My time here has made me so much more of a world citizen and has taught me so much, not only about myself, but about my worldview. To say the most cliché, yet summative statement I can think of, we have it so easy in the US. And so many people in the US think they understand “Africa” and have knowledge of it, when in reality they know a stereotype of a few countries. As Westerners, most people view Africa as one giant country, which is a huge misnomer. I am so lucky to have gotten the chance to glimpse a small sliver of Africa, and even more lucky to be able to experience all these things, then return to my cushy life in the states. There is no one solution for Africa, every country has its own ailments and needs, and no blanket policy can ever work effectively.

But I’m off my soap box now. I hope everyone has a great last few weeks of school and that finals go well. I can’t wait to see you all in just a few short weeks!

Go siame!

EDIT: This morning the group of us decided to go on a final game drive before we leave Botswana, and we went with a small, locally owned group who we’ve gotten to know while we’ve been staying here. As we learned today, going with a locally owned business has the major perk that we told our guide we really wanted to see a leopard, and so he devoted our drive to tracking and asking about leopard sightings. Not only did we see a lion, not only did we see a Serval (a rare smaller kind of wild cat), but we saw the most beautiful leopard from about 10 feet away. It sent chills down my spine. The one animal we hadn’t seen and that I had been absolutely dying to see, and we got the chance to see it up close on our last day here in Kasane. It was quite the moment.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

ISP Period


I've successfully completed 3 out of 4 credits for the semester, meaning all I have left is my Independent Research Project to complete by mid-May. On Sunday I flew back to Kasane, where I saw all of the elephants before. There are 6 of the 11 people from my program here, so we are all camping together at a great campsite. Our site in the corner of the grounds, and the fence next to us actually serves as the border between the national park and the town, which leads to us hearing elephants, hippos, and baboons all night long, and even seeing hippos and baboons in the campgrounds. It's great to be able to hear all of the animals at night and not have to worry about lions, although I do miss getting to hear them roar throughout the night.

I started my research project yesterday, and it's looking like it's going to be both interesting and a great learning experience. My day goes like this: 8am I arrive and am briefed on where the mongoose I'm studying slept overnight. I'm following three different troupes, so it is then my job to go to each troupe's den site from the previous night and collect feces for sampling. I then use a radio collar tracking device(basically a big antenna I hold up attached to a radio that I listen to) to find the troupe and make behavioral observations. The final step is to place the food plots out. I then repeat for each troupe. It take about 5 hours in total, and can get quite hot by the end, but it's really fun, especially since one of the troupes has about 15 baby mongoose.

One of the best parts though is that the NGO I'm researching with has 5 mongoose in captivity, so in the mornings I go and collect feces from them and they come right up and play with me, just like a puppy, except they're 10x cuter. They make the funniest noises too.

I'm on the home stretch, exactly 1 month from today I will be headed to Mozambique. Hope everyone is doing well! Good luck with the last month of school!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Expedition to Nxai Pans and CKGR


The past 5 days have by far been my favorite time I've spent here in Botswana so far.

Nxai Pans was absolutely gorgeous. A pan is essentially a shallow depression in the ground that gathers water, and b/c of this has lots of nice grasses around it which leads to lots of animals coming to it to eat and drink. It is the wet season currently, so a lot of these pans are full, meaning that the animals are more spread out now than in the dry season, when only a few pans retain the water, which makes wildlife viewing a bit harder. It also means that some roads that go through these pans and are traversible in the dry season are covered with water and would result in the huge safari vehicle we were in getting stuck. SO...we want to see a grove of baobab trees made famous by Thomas Baines when he painted them, but the road is covered by calf-deep water. So we drove til we could see the baobabs in the distance, and to the edge of the pan and parked. We then took off our shoes and walked 2 km through the pan/water to get to the grove. It was amazing. The feeling of squishy mud between my toes, the feeling of being the only people on Earth in that moment, the image of the HUGE baobabs across the water, and on top of that, there were lightning storms happening off in the distance all around us, and the lightning here is 10x more intense than anywhere in the US, so it created a gorgeous backdrop. I have never been so close to nature in my life. It's a eerie but all consuming feeling to be so isolated from the rest of the world.

While in Nxai Pans we also saw tons of wildlife, hundreds of zebra and springbok, huge secretarybirds and Kori Bustards, and lots of other great birdlife, along with a few elephants and steenbok.

The next day we drove 6 hours to the northern part of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, to a area called Deception Valley, known for it's huge herds of gemsbok and springbok, along with the rare Red Hartebeest. Not only were we lucky enough to see all those animals, but we saw a wild cheetah (!!!!) AND a pride of 9 lions, 5 of which were cubs! It was great to see them play and wrestle, even though they were a bit far away. It was so cute and beautiful. Last night, we were on our final game drive, searching for lions, when we got the call from the other car, LIONS! So we turned our car around and went full speed back to where the rest of our group was. We pulled up, wondering where the lion was, when we looked down and saw a MASSIVE male lion sitting in the bushes. He immediately stood up and began walking down the road from the direction we came from. A female lion came out of the bushes behind him and stood staring at us. We turned the car around and followed the male down the road. When we got close, he ran into some bushes, so we went to the other side of them, stopped, and waited for him to emerge. I was up again the side where the bushes were, when he emerged, stopped, and amazingly, made eye contact with me. He held eye contact, walked forward 5 steps (within 10 ft of us!!!), stopped, turned, and walked away. It gave me the shivers like no other. I have never had the feeling before of being so connected to nature, except for 3 days before at the pans. We followed him a bit farther, when out of the blue he began roaring, roaring, roaring. For a solid 5 minutes he stood there turning in a circle roaring, calling out to his mate. Yet again I was overwhelmed with the tingling of excitement and disbelief.

The week could not have been better. It was also a perfect way to relax before coming back to the 5 papers I have due on Saturday and my final on the same day. Starting Sunday I will begin my research back in the North at Kasane. It's amazing that my time here in Bots is drawing to a close in a month, which is both daunting and exciting. I hope everyone is doing well and I hope to post some pics soon from my last bit of time here!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I got the chance to upload a bunch of pictures, and it worked fastest through facebook, so here is the link at which you should be able to view all the photos!

Things are great here! I'm off to the desert in 2 days so I'll write again after!

Monday, March 29, 2010

End of Classes

Two big milestones have happened in the past 3 days. Not only are we officially done with classes, but we also finished our last homestay of the program. We have our Setswana final today (oral exam) and then our comprehensive written final next week. This week begins prep for our Independent Research, which lucky for me, I have all figured out. I’m going back to Kasane to research Banded Mongoose and their foraging habits, which should be very fun and interesting.
It’s bitter sweet to be done with our last homestay. This last one was both the most challenging and the most rewarding. I def feel like I got the closest with my last family, especially my mom who I spent countless hours with. Some of the highlights of the homestay for me were: learning to milk a cow, including the process of getting it ready to be milked, like beating the calf off the udders, being asked to help castrate a donkey, to which I kindly declined, scaring a hippo away, trying the homemade traditional alcohol made by my homestay grandma, although it was not delicious, and having an adorable 2 year old sister who, although scared to death of me at first, loved me by the end.
On Friday we go on our last excursion to Nxai Pans (pronounced with a clicking noise instead of the x) and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, the largest wilderness protection area in Africa. We will be bush camping, which means we will be sleeping in heavy duty tents to protect against any predators who might be hungry. It will be great to see a new part of the country, and sunsets in the Kalahari are said to be fantastic, along with there being good wildlife viewing.
I hope all is well back in the states! Today being the 29th, means in exactly two months I’ll be landing in Seattle. It’s hard to believe I’ve already been here 60 days, crazy! Let me know how everyone is doing!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I’m currently writing from the Gateway to the Okavango, Maun, Botswana. Over the course of the past week and a half, we’ve been very busy, with all of last week being spent in Kasane, Botswana, a town located only 8km from the border to Chobe National Park. Chobe is known for containing the largest concentration of African Elephants in the world, around 150,000. We camped for the week outside of town and got the chance to get to know both Chobe and Kasane.

We went on two game drives and a river cruise over the week, and sightings included tons of Buffalo (the second most deadly animal in Africa next to the hippo), impala, lots of giraffe (7 in a herd at some points), a lion, a few different kinds of eagles, baboons, ground hornbills, and most of all, hundreds of elephants. One of the coolest moments: We were in our truck, which is an open air safari vehicle, when we saw a few elephants crossing the road in front of us. We drove closer only to be surrounded by elephants crossing the road. There were elephants of all ages, from a few huge bulls to tiny baby elephants pushing through the trees towards the riverbank. There were several moments where the elephants were close enough to touch from the truck, but they just casually strolled by, occasionally stopping to stare. We drove to the edge of the trees and turned towards the river, only to see all the elephants emerging and now running to the water. Lots of them splashed in and began swimming, playing, and spraying mud and water all over. As we sat there, more and more elephants came running out of the forest to join the party on the river, until over 60 elephants were playing together, with lots of babies trumpeting and romping around. It was an amazing thing to see!

One of the most amazing things about Kasane is how natural it is to see wildlife running through town, with the people not giving them a second glance, from warthogs to elephants, just walking through the town, minding their own business. Much of the town’s economy revolves around the tourist industry, so almost everyone speaks English. It’s funny to see their reactions when a makoa knows Setswana, and it often times leads to a much friendlier reaction from the people.

On Sunday we came to Maun, which contains the second busiest airport in Africa, behind Jo’burg, SA. This fact is mainly due to the large amount of charter planes flying into and out of the Okavango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world. Maun is very very very hot, to the point that I am missing the Tacoma gray skies and rain a little bit. Think temperatures right around 100 degrees and humid humid humid. We’re staying in a rural village located only 15 minutes outside the city limits, which makes it amazing when you see the stark contrast.

My host family works as farmers, although my dad just got certified as a Professional Safari and Hunting guide, but for now they spend most of their time in the fields or at the cattle post. The village has really encompassed a lot of the lectures we’ve had about human wildlife conflict. Just two days ago, a herd of buffalo went through the town, and 3 days ago, a woman was nearly killed on the riverbank by an angry hippo, so my parents are very concerned about my safety. My dad also told me last night that he used to keep horses outside our compound until lions ate them, so in case I needed one more reason not to go outside by myself, I’ve got one now. Our compound has two one-room buildings, one being made of reeds with a tin roof, and the other being made of a dirt and dung type plaster with a thatch roof. I sleep in the only bed in the reed hut while my parents, 2 yr old host sister, Julie, and my grandmother sleep outside in tents. I have a big mosquito net over my bed that looks like something you’d find over a princess’ bed in a fairytale, but it’s necessary since my room is open to the elements. For example, when it rained the other night, I got a bit wet, but it was great since the alternative would be being stifled in a cement and tin roofed room.
I am really loving the village life, it’s different from anything I’ve ever experienced, and has brought on a few different emotions, but I really love just sitting outside by the fire at night and singing, talking, and telling stories. My family is wonderful, although my sister was scared of me for the first two days, screaming and running and crying every time I came near her, but as of yesterday, she let me pick her up for the first time, and called me by my Setswana name, Thabang, for the first time, so we’re making progress!

I can definitely tell my worldview is changing, especially when it comes to US relations with Africa. It’s also amazing the skewed version of Africa that so many Westerners have, even those who live here. We’ve learned a lot about the influence the Western world has over Africa, from economics, to the tourist industry, to the way people dress and act. I could go on for hours with all the observations we’ve made and all the lectures we’ve had about it, but I think the best and funniest example of globalization I’ve seen so far was on our first day at the village. One of the host moms came to the first meeting in a shirt that said “Only a Vampire Can Love you Forever.” We asked her if she likes Twilight, to which she of course said yes. So, in case you were wondering, Twilight really is a global phenom and has made it all the way to the farthest reaches of the world, including rural Botswana.

We have another two weeks in Maun, so I’ll post more later, with maybe a pic or two. Internet is much slower here in the north, so we’ll see. With that, I hope everyone is well!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Off to the North


So a quick update before I go offline for the next 2 weeks:

I ate Pani worms, and although they look hideous, they had a similar taste to chicken, with a slight crunch, and a bit of stringiness. I would probs never want to eat a lot of them at a time but they were def interesting, and my mom was glad that I liked them because she used her special recipe.

Tomorrow we are going to the largest diamond mine in the world, by value, which is going to be great. The rule are pretty strict: no skirts, shorts, or dresses, we will be provided with a special pair of shoes that will then be taken back at the end of the tour, if we drop anything on the ground, we must ask a guard to pick it up for us, and we will be patted down as a security measure.

Sunday we leave Gabs and fly to Kasane in the far north, which is the gateway to Chobe national park, supposedly one of the most beautiful places in Bots. It should be great!

I'm doing very well and I hope everyone else it too!

Go siame!