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!

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