Like the great cycle ride through the country of France, I, too, experienced a great trek last week. Only, it wasn’t in France and I certainly didn’t bike. Thanks to the Fulbright Professional Development Grant and the MOE, both Maya and I (along with Ednah and Jobe, the Social Studies Advisor) were able to travel the country participating in various historical and cultural activities. I owe so much to Jobe and Ednah who not only drove hours and hours (and hours), but planned out every detail, even squeezing in a trip to Tsodilo Hills! They truly hooked it up and I feel very fortunate to have learned about the many different peoples of Botswana and the land they so love.
Sunday: Gaborone to Ghanzi
We packed up and headed out around 8am. As we headed west, cars became fewer and the bush became thicker. Contrary to (my) belief, the Kalahari is actually a green desert. The only part of it that looks like a typical desert complete with sand dunes, is the most southwestern part of the country. As we drove, Jobe narrated.
We went past the Kolobeng River, where Livingstone last settled, past Kanye (I’m not sure if even Kanye loves Kanye), and learned that most major villages were built along hills for defense. It didn’t take long to get out of hill country and into country that started looking more and more like Minnesota (you know, aside from the whole desert/bush part). As we were getting closer to Ghanzi, Jobe told us more about the San people. The San, or also referred to throughout history as the Bushmen (which is a very derogatory word) are an indigenous group that is spread across various countries in Southern Africa. Their history has often been a tragic one. As stated in Written in the Sand, “There are about 100 000 San people [today], speaking 35 Khoe-San languages across southern Africa including the non-San Hadzabe hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. Very few San people are able to live by hunting and gathering these days. Most work as farm labourers, live unemployed in marginal settlements, work in their own income generation projects, several groups run nature conservancies, some still hunt and gatherers, others have no income source other than small pensions from the state.” As I listened, I reflected on all the overlapping connections to the history of indigenous people in the United States. The San were forced from their original home near the Cape (South Africa) by Dutch Boers in the late 1600s. Then, the British allowed the Boers to settle in the Ghanzi district (where the San had been living for hundreds of years) and establish large farms. Many San settled in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) but have been removed to resettlement communities in the last 10 years. This has been very controversial in Botswana. The government has enforced the removal largely due to diamond mining. Many San live in these resettlement communities, some have resisted and stayed in the CKGR and some live in the bush along the highway.
This is in fact where we met a group of San people on our way to Ghanzi. We pulled over, said hello and listened as men tried to sell us traditional herbs and drinks as medicine. Some women were laying near the bush. Most of the men and women were either drunk or high. This is also a very common and sad reality when driving in the Ghanzi district. Alcohol, drugs, rape, severe poverty and little education are prevalent. Jobe also told us that the hugggggge, vast properties we saw were all owned by a few white cattle farmers. These white farmers hire many San for low wages. They also endure harsh treatment. To be honest, it sounds like modern day slavery with little respect to the San. Strong themes of race and socioeconomic status were consistently interwoven throughout this trip.
After nearly 8 hours on the road, we arrived in the small village of Ghanzi. We checked into a lodge just outside of town. Throughout the trip, I scored my own thatched lodge or room every night–it was awesome! We stayed at really grand places and it made me really appreciate what I have, especially with what I had seen earlier in the day.
Monday: Ghanzi to Shakawe, via D’kar
Upon waking up in Ghanzi, we set out for a small San resettlement community, called D’kar. There, we visited the Kuru Art Center. I had learned of the Kuru artists during my time in Gaborone. San artists create the most beautiful works of contemporary art using bright and vibrant colors. It has been very successful and as their website does a better job of describing the women and men of the Kuru Art Center, I’m going to let them. They write that, “They are skilled traditional dancers, storytellers, musicians and craft producers, and the transition to express themselves in contemporary art materials has come naturally to them. They work in different media and techniques, including oil on canvas, lino cuts, dry point engravings and lithography.” While there, we shopped (EVERYONE MUST BUY A PRINT, THEY ARE UNBELIEVABLE) and watched the artists as they worked. Two men were working on printmaking and three elderly women were painting. The creativity and brilliance was undeniable and it’s definitely a special place to visit. After leaving the Kuru Art Center, we visited the small San History Museum and saw two traditional dances. One, by preschoolers, was the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen and the other was by adults. As a way of making a living and preserving their culture, many San participate in these cultural activities–especially for tourists.
After our time in D’kar, we drove a long way to Shakawe, near the northwestern border of the country. This trip was definitely not for the weak-bottomed. We spent nearly 35 hours driving around the country. It wouldn’t be called a road trip if you didn’t spend time on the road!
We really got to see the country and per usual, millions of cows, donkeys and goats were casually hanging out on the road. Ednah was constantly trying to dodge and divert them. On our way out of Ghanzi, we finally saw ostriches! Apparently, they are very common in the Kalahari but with all the rain and super thick bush, we didn’t see many animals near Ghanzi. So, adding ostriches to my list of sweet animals I’ve never seen, was awesome! When we finally arrived near Shakawe, we stayed at an amazing river lodge. A great dinner and mastery of my awesome mosquito net meant I was off to bed!
Tuesday: Etsha Villages and Tsodilo Hills!
After grabbing breakfast, we needed to refuel the truck (did I mention we took a 4×4 truck? It was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY!) Botswana requires all government vehicles to fill up at special government fuel stations. This gets complicated, especially in remote parts of the country. Luckily, we were within a 1/2 hour of Mothembo village, near the Namibian border. While Ednah fueled up, we watched the ferry shuttle people back and forth on the Okavango River. The Okavango Delta as you may know, is one of Africa’s greatest wildlife habitats and we were at the start of the river (in Botswana).
After fueling up the car and our stomachs, we headed to Etsha 6. There are 13 Etsha villages in total. The Etsha villages were largely settled by refugees from the Angolan civil war in the 1960s. Etsha 6 and 13 have become the predominant villages but each resides and depends on the river. Etsha 6 is a quiet little village and we weaved through the dirt roads until we arrived at a traditional thatched house (or rondavel). Here, we met three women who are MASTERS of basketweaving. Botswana has a beautiful tradition of woven baskets. They are absolutely exquisite. We found the women seated in the front yard and spent nearly 3 hours chatting with them. We listened intently to their life stories and struggles, including the danger in traveling to the delta to get special reeds and materials to make baskets–elephants, hippos and crocs, yikes! They even taught us how to weave the baskets and no joke, my back hurt in the first 15 minutes. It was extremely challenging and I realized I should probably just stick to teaching.
After the basket weaving, we drove to Tsodilo Hills. This was truly one of the highlights of the trip for me. Tsodilo is a place I wanted to go during my time in Botswana, but didn’t think I’d have the opportunity. It features the tallest hill in Botswana and is very remote. After turning off a gravel road, we drove another hour and a half to reach the hills (and it was only 21 miles away!) We were lucky to have the truck as the roads had taken quite a beating due to the heavy rains. As we arrived later in the day, we had to do an abbreviated appearance at the site. We quickly visited their small museum and then met a local guide who showed us rocks, rock art, and rock caves! It was rockin’. Tsodilo Hills use to be a National Museum site but has since been handed over to the local community to operate and control. They are hoping to build the site up to attract more visitors. Tsodilo is a hiker’s paradise! There are various trails to the “summits” and you have the opportunity to see thousands of rock paintings done by some of the first people in Botswana, the San. While I am happy to have gone, I would definitely love to come back some day—it’s a national treasure that deserves at least a few days of exploration!
After quite a long day, I was completely wiped and went straight to bed without supper. Kind of like tonight, but minus the no supper part (sorry if my words don’t make sense, or something is spelled wrong–I’m operating on low brain capacity). This week has been crazy with school visits and a visit to Serowe tomorrow night and Friday. I promise to catch up on all of my blogging and picture posting soon! (I mean, I know ya’ll are just dying to read about my adventures.) Stay tuned!