Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thinking like a bird


I have no desire to move mountains, construct monuments, or leave behind in my wake material evidence of my existence. But in the final recollection, if the essence of my being has caused a smile to have appeared upon your face or a touch of joy within your heart…then in living–I have made my mark. ~ Thomas L. Odem, Jr.

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I know it has been a while since my last post, but I have so much to tell you!

First of all, let me explain that I’ve been trying to save my pula and pennies to buy a ticket home for Tasha’s wedding in September.  For this reason, I’ve tried more than anything to stay in my village as much as possible. Though there isn’t too much to do in Gobojango during the lazy afternoons, I’ve been spending my time taking evening walks around the village.  To my surprise, I’ve discovered a whole new appreciation for the people in Botswana. 

One afternoon, as I meandered through a dry riverbed, a woman called to me from her hut.  As I approached her, she took me by the hand and brought me inside her mud, thatched-roof home.  Though I couldn’t understand exactly what she was talking about she kept motioning down to a mangled mass on a mat on the floor.  I just assumed it was dried bean leaves until she reached down and picked up a tiny, shriveled bird.  My mouth flew open in astonishment, which only made her giggle more.  It turns out; at her cattle post there is a colony of birds that lays an abundance of eggs once a year. In the Bobirwa tribe, it is a norm to eat these baby birds just after they hatch. Not wanting to be disrespectful, I followed her lead and began plucking the tiny black feathers off the bird and ate the entire thing whole: feathers, beak, head, and all.  I’m not sure if you’ll believe me…but it tastes just like dark meat chicken. 


The woman was tickled with excitement at my daringness and threw a cupful of these tiny birds into a plastic bag for me to take home and bid me farewell.  Later that night I explained to my Botswana family what I had eaten and they all were beside themselves with pleasure.  When I told them I ate the head and everything, Fred (the 10 year old) shook his head and, with a look of dismay exclaimed, “Kitso, now you’re going to start thinking like a bird”.

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I was completely out of contact for the entire week last week.  I went to stay with a group of volunteers at a nature preservation lodge in the Tuli Block.  Out of all of the amazing things I have done since I’ve arrived to Botswana, I must admit that this week was definitely top three. 

Though ten peace corps volunteers were invited, we packed enough food for an army.  We had organized ourselves into cooking teams and each team was responsible for cooking two meals; one lunch and one dinner.  It was such a great way to have a variety of foods for 14 people.  We ate everything from jambalaya and cheesy mashed potatoes to veggie curry to quesadillas.  It was scrumptious!!!!

-it’s so funny; since I’ve moved to Botswana all of my conversations begin with what I ate…

Now let me tell you about the rest of the week!  I’ll preface this part of the post by telling you how breathtaking the scenery is.  We were literally in the nearly uncharted African bush.  There were no telephone poles, no paved roads, no streetlights, and wildlife surrounded us from all sides.  The night sky was only dimmed by the crackling of our fire, and you could hear hippos and baboons in the distance at night.  After darkness hit, we weren’t allowed to stray too far from camp for fear of encountering a wandering herd of elephants, stray leopards, or a pride of lions. 

Now, the reason we were allowed to go on this phenomenal trip was because Hollis and Leia got to be good friends with this lady named Meike (pronounced Me-kuh).  Originally from South Africa, her and her husband live on this land, and periodically buy more and more hectares for conservation purposes.  In the past, they have hosted paying volunteers, and were therefore used to catering to large groups; but nowadays have turned their aim primarily in the direction for environmental protection only. 

Throughout the week, we did a number of activities including alien plant removal (digging up prickly pear cactus with machetes and spades), tree rehabilitation (planting baobab and fever trees), wildlife discussions (learning about what to do when bitten by different types of snakes), learned to mosaic, and social deliberations (discussing mental health of volunteers).  One night, as Meike and her husband Garrit grilled impala meat for us, we had an African drum circle by the fire and got lost in the rhythms.  We hiked to the top of a mountain and looked across the entire Tuli block.  I was dumbfounded by the astonishing vista, alluded to the Lion King’s Pride Rock, and burned the image into my mind. 

As I joined one or two of my peers in the mornings over a bowl of oatmeal and raisins and watched the wildlife near the Limpopo River from the veranda, my soul and mind relaxed. It was a much-needed escape, whether I realized it was necessary or not. Though the week seemed to pass extremely quickly, I feel as if I have learned more in those 6 days than I have in a very long time. 

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Since Caesar passed away, I have been battling with a lot of internal demons about my purpose in Botswana and the Peace Corps, as well as my intrapersonal relationships with friends and family back home.  It’s funny that something so seemingly small can kick off a chain reaction of reflection. More and more I’m becoming more self-aware, self-realized, and in tune to what I am capable of.  Though I’ve discovered that an individual within my community actually maliciously poisoned Caesar, I’ve found room within myself to forgive, and pity them. 

I’m a big believer that whatever energy you put out into the universe will come back to you in some way in the future.  I’m not hoping that the woman who poisoned my dog receives any malevolent revenge, but I do believe that one day she will reflect upon what she did and feel some remorse.

For now, all I can do is work on making myself happy.  Breathing and approaching each day with a smile. Recognizing and getting through the bad days to become a more whole, beneficial part of this community.  I’m not going to let one woman filled with hate and anger destroy my service, and I hope one day she may find peace.

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A few weeks ago, Gobojango was blessed to have five beautiful American women stay at my house.  We had a small “ladies’ weekend retreat”.  Daniella (from Maun), Claire (from Ramokgonami), Hollis (Mathathane), Jessica (Tsetsebjwe), and Leia (Bobonong) all graced my home with their presence.  We cooked, laughed, and shared stories of our service.  It was such a therapeutic and inspiring time!

After Hollis, Jess, and Leia left the following day, Claire, Daniella and I baked rustic Italian bread, made sangria, and enjoyed a picnic near the Thuni dam. As the other two ladies drifted off to sleep in the shade of the afternoon sun, I decided that I wanted to climb a mountain.  I looked off into the distance and assured myself I would ascend the rocks that climaxed the horizon.  Lo and behold, an hour later and clothing filled with thorns, I yelled across the valley to Claire and Daniella.  Their heads appeared from the bush in the next hill over, and I turned my head towards the sun.  It was a great accomplishment…especially in flip flops (I might add).

Quickly we travelled into the Tuli block with high hopes of seeing some wild animals.  We made it to the junction with no luck, and, a little saddened; decided we had to turn around for fear of running out of petrol.  Right as we turned the car around, we were all surprised to find a hefty brown elephant munching on a branch and staring right at us.

The next morning we all went to Phikwe and shared a delicious breakfast in a bakery: freshly baked donuts, biscuits, scones, and coffee.  We watched Daniella mount the bus, and Claire and I decided that we might as well take advantage of the day in the large town.  I bought myself a floor-length mirror and we meandered into the tourism office.  With newly-inspired information, we agreed that it would be a great day to go and see the rock paintings at Lepokole Hills.

So that’s exactly what we did.

We came back to Gobojango, changed, met up with Lorato and her daughter Charity, and piled into the car to head to Lepokole.  All guide books that I’ve read state that Lepokole is about 25 kilometers from Bobonong (my shopping village).  Let me tell you: they are all lying.

We drove for about two hours on an unpaved, poorly maintained road before finally arriving at a snug, hushed village. We approached the village chief and requested his permission to go see the paintings.  He sprung at the idea and assigned us our own guide to take us deep into the hills.  As I collected this man from the local bar, he instructed us to follow the two-tire path into the wilderness. We drove for another 30 minutes until we approached a riverbed that was impassable with a vehicle.  The five of us climbed out of the car and began hiking.

As we walked deeper and deeper into the hills, leaving all paths behind, Claire and I began questioning whether or not it was a legitimate trail.  I was so thankful to have Lorato with us; otherwise I would have been extremely cautious and questionable of this chief-elected guide taking us into the backwoods. 

Finally, after climbing rocks and hills, and being stabbed by countless thorns, we arrived at a huge cave inlet. Before we entered, the guide asked us all to be quiet so that he may pray to the ancestors and ask permission for us to proceed. Respectfully, we advanced in silence and I was taken aback at how many drawings stared back at us from the face of the cave wall.

It was stunning, and very special.  Not many people have had the opportunity to be graced with the opportunity to visit the Lepokole Rock Paintings, and I am so grateful to have had the chance. We drove back in the dark, blasting American music and smiling to the night sky.

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Although my family means more to me than anything in the whole world, I have an adopted family here in Botswana that I spend the majority of my time with.  When I say “adopted” family, I mean they have really adopted me, rather than me adopting them.  Lorato, the elder of the two sisters, has become my best friend and confidante.  I feel no reservations when I’m with her, and I feel a mutual respect that is hard to come by in my community.

A week after the Lepokole Hills trip, I found myself home on a Friday afternoon in the middle of a wonderful rainstorm.  I had all of my windows and doors open and the scent of freshly moistened earth seeped into my nostrils.  I was so happy that the smile was cavernous on my lips.

The day was perfect until Kesa, Lorato’s 13 year old niece, came splashing up to my doorstep with tears streaming from her cheeks.  She asked me to accompany Lorato to the hospital.  Apparently Charity, Lorato’s daughter, had been bleeding throughout the night.

It turns out Charity had a miscarriage.  Nobody even knew she was pregnant, and she was three months along. We spent that night and the following day at the hospital until they released her.

Lorato asked me to help her speak with Charity about safe sex methods and her available options.  I’m wondering if it was a lack of information that caused Charity to keep her pregnancy a secret, or if it was merely fear.  I’ve never had to do something like this before, so I’m definitely treading on new waters.

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 I HAVE A NEW PUPPY!!!

It has been wonderful!  Though you could imagine the treacherous mishaps one must encounter when taking on the responsibilities of a new puppy.  I’ve relinquished my joy in having clean floors while potty training, and, most importantly, have sacrificed a few hours each night of sleep during the time she cries.

Her name is Cleo, she’s going to be a small breed like Caesar, and, comically, she is almost his identical twin!  She is too small now to take the long walks with me to the secondary school so I just carry for the majority of the time.  The people I encounter along the way say things like, “Kitso, you have a Caesar two!”, “I thought your little black and white dog had died” and, my all time favorite: “your dog is getting smaller!”

I now just need to re-learn patience and understanding while raising her…I was so content with the age that Caesar was that I have to get past the annoying parts of puppyhood to be there again.

Right before Caesar passed away, Lorato’s dog had a litter of puppies.  One of them clung onto Caesar as his best friend and began following us around everywhere we went.  When Caesar was gone, Spike would come to my house searching for his best buddy.  After he realized that Caesar wasn’t coming back, he continued to follow me around the village and come into my house eagerly expecting to be loved.  He is a floppy, yellow lab-like puppy who is hard not to love, so of course, I treated him as my own.

Now that I have Cleo, Spike has begun to express feelings of jealousy.  Yesterday, as I began walking the 4 kilometers to the secondary school in the summer heat, Spike followed closely on my heels. I tried everything to keep him back at the house, but he was determined not to leave my side.  When we finally arrived to the secondary school, Spike’s tongue hung so low out of his mouth that it nearly touched the floor.  I went to the teacher(who had given me Cleo)’s house to request water for the dogs when Cleo’s mother began barking and chased Spike away. 

I called for him for hours after that and was extremely stressed and worried when he didn’t return.  I walked home after the meeting with my head hung low, imagining all of the terrible things that could have happened to him. All night I was anxious and terrified of having to tell Lorato’s son that one of his puppies had gone missing.

A few minutes ago, I heard a soft bark and scratching at my door (like Caesar used to do for me to let him inside the house).  When I opened the door, I was overjoyed to see a droopy yellow lab puppy plunk his way into my house.  I sat on the floor, and he fell backwards onto my lap (also just like Caesar used to), legs spread wide, with not a care in the world.

He and Cleo are already best friends, and even though he can put her entire body in his mouth, they are such a delight to be around! 

Time to get training…

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So my 24th birthday is tomorrow. For the first time since I can remember, I have absolutely no plans for the big day. Apparently it’s customary here for the birthday person to plan their own party.  Because I didn’t know, I’m shrugging my shoulders and saving money for a big trip next week to northern part of Botswana.

I’m hoping to hitch a ride with the ambulance early in the morning on Thursday to Francistown, then head to Maun from there.  I have to be in Shakawe by Friday night, so I’m still attempting to plan the trip.  That Saturday morning, there will be a huge half-marathon that has been planned by a Peace Corps volunteer in the area.  Leia and I will have a booth devoted to the prevention of gender-based violence. 

After the marathon, we are hoping to meander our way down the Okavango Delta.  Perhaps one of the days I’ll be able to celebrate my birthday.  I’ll keep you posted.

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I think that’s everything for now…sorry I had word vomit, I told you there was a lot to say! If I get strong internet connection, I’ll try my best to upload some pictures. 

Feel a hug from Africa!

~Kitso

 

 

1 comment:

  1. This is so beautiful, Nina. I have tears in my eyes. <3

    ReplyDelete