Okay, I’m going to attempt to go on a blog blitz to try to catch you up by Christmas. Most of you are probably on break or looking for ways to procrastinate instead of studying for finals anyway. So where was I? Right- upon our arrival from Kasane, we spent two nights camping at a hotel in Maun with a free day to take advantage of the largest swimming pool we had or would see. Then on Sunday, October 5, we packed up again and were off to Shorobe for our third and final homestay in the village of about 700, which is around half an hour north of Maun on the well-traveled road to the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta. My family consisted of my mom, Gotswamang, her two early-teenage daughters, Oratile and Katlego, and her young (about 3 or 4, I guessed) son, Warona.
Their house was about a ten or 15 minute walk from the main road, at the edge of the village and the bush, and consisted of a large fenced yard, and a smaller courtyard walled off with reeds in front of the one-room concrete thatched-roof house. Since we weren’t able to store any of our things in Maun, I had two months worth of stuff with me, which made me feel completely ridiculous since it was about twice as much as my family’s personal possessions combined. I was glad to have my camp chair along, though, since until I got it out I was always given the one folding chair in the courtyard, where most of my time at home was spent. When I got home in the afternoon I would usually read or do work in the courtyard until it got too dark, at about 6:30 or 7. Dinner, of the traditional formula of a huge helping of carbs accompanied by some meat and cooked vegetables, was made over the fire in the courtyard, and then I was sent to bath (not bathe, bath) in the tin washtub in the house. Bedtime was usually around nine, although precise times are largely irrelevant here. For the first few nights I had the double bed to myself while my family slept on blankets on the floor until I told my mom I really didn’t need the whole bed, so from then on one of my sisters shared with me. In the morning my mom was usually up about 5:30 to make breakfast over the fire, typically some combination of scrambled eggs, chips (homemade french fries) or Weetabix (dried cereal bars, I guess you could call them) with hot tea. One of the first mornings, a guy about my age joined us for breakfast and was introduced as my brother. He visited occasionally and was part of the crew who would sometimes appear to work on the construction of my aunt’s new house behind ours, but I never determined where he lived.
On one evening, my aunt had dinner with us and quizzed me on my Setswana vocabulary; I didn’t do very well, but she taught me some practical new words like kasetoron (a coking pot with legs) and segogwane (frog, not to be confused with sefofane, airplane). Another night when she was over, I was preparing to bath; as you can imagine, in such a dry country (it can rain as few as ten days in a year) water is a serious commodity, and we had been repeatedly instructed to be very careful not to be wasteful, especially in our homestays. Since my sisters and I had just filled all our water buckets at the communal standpipe nearest our house earlier that day, the bucket I was instructed to use was full, so I poured most of the water out into a neighboring bucket, knowing I only needed about a quarter-bucket to bath, and brought it over to the fire to add some hot water. As I did so, I heard my sisters giggling, but since this was such a common response to everything I said or did, I paid it no mind. My aunt, however, said to me, “Neo, that is the water for your bath,” which I affirmed. She continued to state a number of facts obvious to me, until she finally explained I had poured water from the bathing bucket into the drinking water bucket, a faux pas which seemed ridiculous to me at the time in my humiliation, but which now seems perfectly obvious. As far as I can remember, I was never afterward allowed to prepare my own bathwater.
In the mornings we would all be picked up by a khombi on the main road and taken to Maun, where we had our second series of guest lectures in the conference room of a local lodge. Most of the lectures were given by ecologists at the Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Center (HOORC), a branch of UB housed about 10 minutes outside Maun. Most of their research focused on the nearby Okavango Delta where the Okavango River deposits floodwaters from the highlands of Angola into a maze of islands, floating papyrus, and ever-changing channels covering 68,640 km2, the world’s largest inland delta. Lecture topics ranged from FIV (the feline HIV) in lions, the elimination of tsetse flies in Botswana, and zebra and buffalo ecology, to the fisheries of the Delta, human-elephant conflict, and the history of the San people. Openings in the schedule were filled with Setswana lessons, and lunch breaks often used to catch a khombi to the internet café in town.
The weekend was spent with our families; my siblings spent most of their time circling around the village with a pack of friends and relatives who delighted in spectating the makgoa. My mom spent the morning doing household chores like sweeping and laundry, but by 10 or 11 it was too hot to do anything but nap inside or sit in the shade of the house and chat with friends. On Saturday afternoon I went to visit my closest neighbors, Sam and Arielle. We wandered toward Jessica’s and Emmett’s, the next-nearest, and found almost everyone else already there, rejoicing in the just-starting rain, while Jessica’s family huddled under the eaves, watching us skeptically. We all walked around the east side of Shorobe for a while, enjoying the cool brought by the rain until dispersing for dinner.
On Sunday afternoon we took off on a fieldtrip to the Sankuyo Tshwaragano Community Trust (STCT), about an hour up the road toward Moremi. After setting up our tents at the Trust’s Kazikiini campsite, we headed out on a game drive. We saw a tiny springbok, small enough to avoid predators by hiding in the sparse bush, and our first zebras, barely visible through the trees, as well as a brown hyena, who wasn’t the least perturbed by our gawking. As night began to fall, we drove up to check out the Trust’s Santawani Lodge. Suddenly, we spotted a huge lion just off the road. As we approached, he ambled off into the bush, incredibly retaining his cool demeanor even as we pursued him for at least 5 minutes. After a quick stop at the lodge, we headed back to Kazikiini for dinner and a campfire. During the night, Lauren and Zach spotted a hyena in our campsite, and I was woken by an aardvark who was trying in vain to get into Zach’s jug of palm wine.
On Monday, we toured the Shandereka Cultural Village next door and witnessed the traditional life of the BaYei, one of Botswana’s minority tribes to which many of the Delta area’s residents, including Shorobe, belong. Then we headed to Sankuyo village to learn about the community trust that runs Kazikiini, Santawani, and Shandereka. Considered one of the country’s most successful Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) organizations, STCT provides employment and income for about 50 community members through sustainable use of their area’s natural resources (mainly wildlife, for tourism) as well as ‘blanket’ benefits for the entire village, such as funeral benefits, a fund for the destitute, and a senior pension.
During the rest of the week we had a few more lectures and also went on a short hike in the Maun Educational Park, created by the donation of his cattle grazing lands by a former kgosi, where we spotted more zebra as well as kudu and warthogs. On Saturday, Sam, Arielle, and I went in search of the rumored donkey races in Shorobe, but only found a football game and a small bandstand. I took over half my house to pack up all my things and then dragged my bags over to Sam’s for a small goodbye party for our families, featuring “Lean On Me” performed by the 11 of us, and traditional songs by all our host moms. We loaded back on the bus, waved goodbye, and headed back to Maun again after our last and probably most unique homestay.