Thursday, 11 August 2011

A Journey of Giraffes

"We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey." 
-Stephen Covey

It was a challenging week, one of those that you really “Thank God its Friday.” Filled with excitement and awaiting the much anticipated and needed arrival of team Francistown, I headed to the gym for the usual erg and aerobics class. Two hours of jumping around, awkward movements, drained sweat and filled energy. I met another friend there that night, her name is too difficult to pronounce let alone spell. She drove me home into the carefree darkness. A cold shower of bliss and Lyndsay and I were off to Pizza Pizza, Kasanes one stop restruant, a menu of curry, chinese, pizza, and coffee, a unique variety for a whatever your feeling vibe. Rajh, the owner brought us complimentary Castles, mine collecting sweat on the glass as I had yet to finish my cold and round of horse pill antibiotics.

In a flood of positivity, Thomas, Isabelle and Faisal appeared under the streetlight. A run skip embrace around sleeping bag packed arms and troubles were pushed into the past. We huddled around the patio table for a picnic of catching up, hand signals of enthusiasm, vibrations of laughter and pizza fullness. That night the five of us stayed in our room and in failure to push the two double beds together, Lyndsay, Is and I snuggled into one. Sleeping without protection… of the mosquito net. Heavy heat of off key notes sailing in from the open window with the unmistakable buzz of bites to be.

While writing this, now more then ever I realize the truth in one comment Isabelle made about us “coming full circle”. This further confirming Lyndsays “days till the end count”, that I have previously been trying to block out. “No, it can’t be, to come full circle is accepting that our time here is almost up.” Faisal answering me with, “No, a circle never ends.” With this mentality I can accept that we have come full circle, looking at the weekends events it is hard to deny. Three months ago we had all arrived in Kasane. We sat on the patio of Pizza Pizza and planed thirteen amazing weekends; now behind us. Lyndsay, Is and I squeezed into bed for a hot squishy night as we had on the first night at Mamas. We were preparing for our last game drive in Chobe National Park. Where we once sat, our past selves, first spotting a herd of elephants. As Faisal pointed out, and in the wise words of my elementary school Brownies leader, “A circles round, it has no end.” The experiences I have had here I will take them with me and Botswana, one day I will be coming home. The circle is not yet done turning.

From the early morning chocolate dark the British ladies voice of our alarm clock rang out, “It’s time to get up. The time is, five o’clock. Its time to get up.” With the off button reflex we pushed ourselves up and out the door.

My overly attractive snowflake fleece, $4.99 limited time offer exclusively from the Chinese corner store, defending the morning nip, I sat on the curb of Spar parking lot, enjoying our customary meal of bread and peanut butter. Swallowing to the stopping tires of an SUV and exchanging looks of open air let down, we climbed inside, our guide, Godfrey introducing himself. Driving the twenty or so kilometers out of town and into the park, all previous apprehension evaporated into the heat of the day. The top of the car came off and we spent most of our time perched on top. Monkeys holding the bars and swinging to the music of off road terrain.

Godfrey, or “The Bush Master” as he has come to be known in my mind, is both an incredible and inspirational person. He reminds me of the importance of intertwining passion and work. A guide in the greater sense, and a contributor to opening up the raw appreciation for nature, which the weekend has gift-wrapped inside of me.

Bush Family

En route to our campsite (a random place in the wild of the park where we were to be pitching tents) we sank into sand. Stuck like gum. Godfrey explained how he needed to deflate his tires a little. He preceded to jump out, grab a thorn from a nearby tree, let a wheeze of air out of each tire, hop back in and accelerate out of the hole. Through an exchange of raised eyebrow glances we were in undisputed agreement that we were indeed in the presence of a bushmaster. Isabelle turned to me, “wait till he sees our little tent from Game.. where you can go like this, *pokes my arm, and it falls over.”

At camp, aka the middle of nowhere, we set up the little tent who thought he could, a few yards from the shadow of Godfrey’s canvas fortress. Is and I prepared a lunch of tuna sandwiches and avocado slices while the boys constructed the toilet hole.

As we have all been keeping blogs and while I thoroughly enjoy reading through the others perspectives of events, I made the mistake of skimming Isabelle’s post before writing this. I share in the way she described that no matter how I write this next part it will come across as just a list of wildlife sightings to which you will think “Oh wow, how cool”, and quickly read on. This is so far from what was actually experienced in the deep moving and primal emotions. When life and death are before your eyes. Blood and flesh. Beauty and grace. To what Isabelle coined “the circle of life.” The Animal Kingdom to which we named ourselves conqueors and yet fail so desperately to see the interconnectedness of it all.

Genetics interlude… Coming soon with internet access.


Three wild dogs ripping apart an impala. They like fresh meat, by the time it drops the intestine is already out. There are less then 550 wild dogs left in the world and over the course of the trip we have now seen four! “They have the most stamina, can chase an antelope for one or two miles.” It is the deciding factor to when the antelope trips or tires. The dogs work as a team, they do it in a relay. If one tires the other will take over. A unified family. “For members that are very old they will eat extra and then go and throw up the meat so that the elder one can still eat.” Gathered around the impala, fervent jaws licking meat from bones. They feast. Bushed tails vehemently waving from the bush. The scientific name, Lycaon pictus is derived from the Greek “wolf” and Latin “painted”, translating to paint wolf. Their tails are white tipped paintbrushes. It is a signal that the kill has been made. “That’s why they wag their tails. To signal others.”

The dog’s ears perk with attentiveness. They lift their heads from the platter and scamper away, leaving dinner on the table.

The vultures turn. Five white back vultures sweep in to tidy up. Joined by another ten… twenty.. a lost count. They take to the sky and the cloud of wings dissipates just as suddenly as it arrival.


My eyes struggle to make out the figure moving with the breath of the grass. The illusive leopard. He appears a golden ghost against the landscape of his hiding. Jaws forming a vice around the impala, he drags it back into the mystery of his world. “They are very strong, can pull an entire impala up a tree.” Two jackals trail him in whining cries.

“Now you can see how nature works. It is.. what is the word… symbiotic. The dogs will kill, eat half. The vultures come. And now the leopard carries it away.” Later tonight the hyena will come chew the soft bones, leaving the hard ones to the Earth. Bones to soil.

We continued the drive, a dialogue of smiles. Wide-eyed raining enthusiasm. I think it is important to explain that the reason we had decided to go on one last game drive is to fulfill Faisal’s desperate desire to see lions. Talking to Godfrey, he was telling us how he dreamt of lions last night. We came to a stop, heads turning, scanning eyes. Godfrey pointed to the ground. ”See, there tracks. Lions…. You have to follow the tracks, you have to work hard.” Through what is know as a “bush telegraph” or communication between passing guides, we were directed to the spot.


My journal reads: LIONS Alas

Two cubs gorging on a dead baby elephant. The mother watches from the shadows of the bushes. Different prides of lions have developed prey specialization. In most areas elephants will chase the lions. Here the playing field is turned, lions leading in offence. This pride in Northern Botswana is unique in that their forte is elephants. “They will feed on an elephant carcass for up to seven days.”

The cubs are four, maybe five months. Mortality rate is very high among the young. The mother will sometimes abandon the cubs if they are suckling too much- depleting her calcium stores. They often die from snakebites, the mamba poison. At night there is danger of hyenas (a bit of truth in The Lion King) the hyenas will kill the cubs in the absence of their mother.

They look up at us inquisitively; blood dyed faces and then return to the feast, bellies hanging in fullness.

Each of us speaking our own commentary of astonishment, I over hear Thomas, “There’s flesh EVERYWHERE” and “I feel so blessed right now.” And Faisal, “Ah so cute, look at him try to rip the trunk off.”

Moving on in voiceless looks of wonder, Godfrey proclaims, “I told you I dreamt of lions.”

Driving into the day… I saw animals, I saw life. I have learned so much. Godfrey is an encyclopedia of passion. “I always wanted to be a guide. And so even in primary school I would study the biology. And you see I followed my dream. I would memorize the book. Read it every night, so I could be like: water lily page 132. Great white egret page 79…” I have gathered knowledge and gained appreciation. With pictures and journals of memories. With more then moments, I left.


A journey of giraffes; the name given when they are walking. Elegant undisturbed movements. They walk for no destination but the present. Ballet slipper feet waltz through the grass. The upper body of a statue. “You cannot hunt a giraffe. Its like you shoot a baby. You can see the tears. The lips moving saying ‘You have done something bad.’”

A tower of giraffes; the name given when they are eating from the trees. They graze down wind as to avoid the gossip of trees. The trees release hormones in a complex network of communication as a defense mechanism. The giraffes stand, watching us through spidery eyelashes. “They have long eyelashes to see further.” They chew, sideways teeth and kissing lips, velvet black tongues.


Two males begin crossing necks. “Giraffes have only 7 vertebrae in their neck, the same number as humans!” At first mistaken for the romance of two lovers and then quickly contouring with violence. Loud thumps and flexible twists. “God created them with fur on their horns so they don’t puncture the stomach when fighting for dominance. The horns anchor on to the skull at age four or five. Boys fight over the girls… natures interesting.”


Crocodile Comments: “If you fight with a crocodile before killing it, you can be killed by its blood. It will release acid making it blood toxic…this is why you can only eat the tail. The system is so strong, with a very acidic stomach… They have evolved over thousands of years. Their red blood cells have interesting immunity properties, killing bacteria.” There have been studies on crocodile blood as it has been shown to kill the HIV virus.


“The hippo is going to prey. It is a Muslim hippo, it dips its head.” Fun fact from Lyndsays gum wrapper: Hippos are susceptible to sunburn.


NINE Lions and a MALE sleeping in the shade of a thorny tree! Mufasa Mufasa Mufasa!


A family of elephants play in the mud and water. “Elephants just like humans… the males mature at age twenty-five, the females thirteen years.”

They splash themselves in the mud to cool off. “Later, they will go up against a tree and press it into their skin to absorb the nutrients.” They are very smart. If you listen you can hear the different sounds of communication. Not heard at first but there are unique notes. “They look at us with the truck and camera clicks and say, ‘wow look at them, the Homo sapiens are very stupid.’”


“Zebra stripes work as an air conditioner. White to dissipate heat and black to absorb.”


We stop, the engine is turned off. Breath held in silence. A herd of elephants is surrounding us. “When elephants kill an animal, they will always cover it with leaves or sand. To respect the dead.” If they come across the bones of another elephant, they will carefully place the bones somewhere in mourning.

Whispering foot prints as their feet press down, the Earth sinking beneath the weight. The remote is on slow motion as their reality moves in front of us. Immersed in a spirituality, you could almost reach out and touch. Texture of age, soft wrinkles. Our eyes meet and I say “may you be happy, may you be peaceful.” There is nothing quite like love from an elephant.


Kudu have big ears. Satellite dishes for good hearing while they are feeding. White stripes under their eyes help to reflect light in the dark.


Termite Thoughts:

Monitor lizards will lay their eggs in termite mounds. The Queen termite can be up to six inches long and live up to thirty years. She lays 35,000 eggs per day! They cultivate mushrooms. The hot air goes up to the top of the mound, where there is lots of carbon dioxide. The fungus, mushroom and termite are symbiotic, working side by side, each dependant on the other. Rock, paper, scissors. Termite, fungus, mushroom?

The termite mounds go so deep into the ground that they are studied for mining. “You can sample the soil to determine its composition and see if diamonds are there.”

“You wear the wedding ring on the left side because this is the side of your heart.” We got speaking of diamonds and conflicts… Thomas made an interesting point about “how we have created its value.” The dollar gives power to the diamond.

Into the early evening we returned to the spot we saw the lions sleeping under the tree. Godfrey said that we would wait here for them to return. “They would come from the bush to drink… let’s think like them. Lets be lions.” We proceed to “be lions”. Fully trusting his bush master instincts and bloated with happiness, we sat on the top of the car, sun tanning in laughter. A safari car drove by and the guide asked Godfrey “what’s wrong with your guests? They look so happy and they are not even watching the animals.”

"What I know for sure is that your life is a multipart series of all your experiences- and each experience is created by your thoughts, intentions, and actions to teach you what you need to know. Your life is a journey of learning to love yourself first and then extending that love to others in every encounter." - 
Oprah Winfrey

In the distance there was a massive herd of impala, “the McDonalds of Chobe”. The black stripes on the bums of impala are for species identification… license plates. They have black hair on their feet that covers glands. These glands release hormones when the back legs kick up, running from predators or when in the dark to communicate with the rest of the herd. Impala can jump an incredible twelve feet high and 32 feet in distance. Thomas and I joined in mutual jaw dropped expressions as one soared through the air, legs of a birds wings. The female impala will give birth as soon as the rains hit her back.


The prophecy of lions emerge. Seven lions and sunset. Right where Godfrey said they would be. He says he knew this because they follow ancient trails. More cars began to pull up, but the lions did not break the stare down of supper. “Lions don’t move their eyes much. They must lock on one animal that is not in a group to more easily distinguish.” Locked and loaded the pride split, taking up different stations in the brush. Right before our cameraed eyes the head impala, a one horned buck pranced right into the trap. “What the hell is he doing?... was he insane?” A cloud of growls as dust rose around the dead. The lions feasted in a circle of a vicious manners.

Behind us the sun was setting on their dinner party and we headed back to camp to start ours. For Top Chef: Chobe, it was arranged that both the boys and girls would cook a small meal and Godfrey would be the impartial judge. Thomas and Faisal cooked a traditional dish of pap and chakalaka with cabbage. Isabelle and I made a papya avacado chutney over mandrine orange chicken with a side of garlic bread. When asked what the dish was called we named it “The Best Day Ever.” Godfrey was too polite to decide a winner and although out of character, we were able to put a pause on the competition and sit around the fire talking and enjoying The Best Day Ever.

The pep rally sounds of our excitement had not yet faded. In fact I was able to ride the weekend high through most of the following week. We simply could not believe it. The amount of incredible things we were blessed to see. Godfrey spoke a lot of how we were such a lucky group and that it had not been a long time since he has experienced such an eventful trip. Some people will go on a 21 day safari and not see a single big predator. We talked about “the energy and balance of the universe”, a power too great to comprehend. The subtle magnetism of nature. I have been fortunate to feel its pull.

With the tiredness of an overwhelming day we headed for the tent. The instructions of Godfrey fresh in our minds: “If you hear noises close by, don’t worry. That is the honey badger… if you hear big noises that is the elephants. They know you are here. Be quiet and stay inside the tent. Do not wander past the toilet. This is the wild. Good night.” Despite the warnings, I slept calmly, cozzied up with the others. Waking to Thomas’s occasional nudges and whispers “Chloe.. Chloe..” yeah “Do you hear that?” … no. “There is rustling outside.” I did hear it. I just didn’t know how to comfort him. We laid there and listened to the untamed night.

Approximately 5:20am

A thunder storm of elephants. You could feel the tremble of the ground, although there is a possibility it came from within our tent. “Its time to get up. There are elephants outside. Its time to get up.” The cracking of branches and rustling of leaves. They actually we not dangerously close to us but in the silence or dark every sound was amplified, you could hear even a fly on an elephant, and most certainly the elephants meandering through the bush.

Rolled sleeping bags, stuffed tent, piled packs, shoveled sand and we were on our way out of the park. Carried by the depth of sand tracks we rode, wind on cheeks, the smell of freedom. Lyrics of The Lion King to the rising sun.


A pack of cars surrounding a tree. Godfrey parked on the other side of the commotion and we waited. Russling leaves in the upper flank of the tree and a piece of meat dangling from its limbs. Out of the shadows a leopard and her cub leaped down. Surveying the swarm and moving towards us to model, gracefully stance and curled tail. They disappeared into the grass and the park boundries disappeared behind us.

The trip back to Kasane takes about fifteen minutes. It boggles my mind that just fifteen minutes from where I sit at my desk, walk the streets and lay down to sleep, this just took place and continues to on a daily basis. When describing this weekend to my brother on the phone he said “wow sounds just like the discovery channel!” And it was, it was just like the discovery channel, except with wind in your hair. This is the circle of life. And it moves us all.

I am extremely moved by my overall Botswana experience and this weekend. I am going to further research from a genetic and nerological prospective the interconnectivness between humans and animals.

Walking forward as if on on the journey of a giraffe.

"Trust in what you love, continue to do it, and it will take you where you need to go." 
-Natalie Goldberg

*Photos by my wonderfully talented friend Isabelle Jones

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Polished Penny

Photo: Thomas Parente

A glimpse of Kasane through my eyes. Caught in a snap shot somewhere between the film of a fleeting traveler and manteled memory of a resident.

A tarnished penny just outside the Chobe National Park in northern Botswana, Kasane sits heads up nestled in the tall grasses of the sub-Saharan African bush. Picked up and polished by tourism operators, advertisements transform the wild into a contradiction of six star suites, satin sheets, chlorinated pools and fine dining served with an optional side of adventure and a refreshing beer to go with the cheque of 250$ per night.

The main road draws a line. Clothes hanging out to dry. Fantasy filled days of tourists and everyday reality of locals. Where sand between toes turns to pavement clicking heels.

One side lodges embroider the river, one after another after another. Beaded along from West to East, strung in a design of decreasing bank accounts, increasing stars. A craft of glitter glue pasted to the sky. The immensity of the universe presents itself, a hanging chandelier over the scattered industry of opportunity.

A place, where beauty meets the definition, where tamed nature is unpredictably wild. The heartbeat of Kasane, it keeps rhythm to its own.

Naked mornings, of neighbors bathing. Bathing to drowsiness of work. There is a softness, fathered and purple down. There are trees filled of whispers, leafs blowing the commotion of life singing. Saying join me in song. Join me in song. This is the dawn of routine. Chickens imprint scurries in the sand, voices ringing out in natures alarm. Their are strangers, no longer strangers. Greetings and passings moving all along. There are dogs, chasing gold tails. Rustling leaves, a crunch that once was named fall.

Sweating noons, of heat humming. Humming to its only tune. There is food, flying off shelves, as dump trucks turn black faces white. There is a flow, in and out with careless and fascination of the sea. The tide is turning. It keeps on turning. Fried meat and ice cream fill the air. Lines are growing, ever longer, as money moves hand to hand. This is the flavor of lunch. An old women, she was sitting, bouncing baby hanging from her arms. There are greasy fingers, blooming bushes. Red flowers and talking too loud. There are brothers, waving laughter. Water glistening, painted patterns, animals carved into wood.

Dancing evenings, of kids playing. Playing to ingenuity their own. There is garbage lining gutters, sidewalk risen from the ground. There are prayers, running reeds, along a color buttered sky. And it came like a call. A call from the Lord. A tv in a window. Empty bottles, sleeping in the street. This is the sight of dark. An elephant inquiry, he wanders the road, dust imprinted soles. There was judgment, and a bit of it was mine. Voices calling, drums beats and another track to drink. There is kindness, hearty hugs. An angle filling my dreams of that sound.

Lyndsay reading outside our home

Kasane, a glimpse not only through my eyes but glance of my heart. A penny in my pocket, a piece of my home.

And so the countdown goes eight more days and apprehension.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Katima Karma

Girls Weekend: Namibia – hot showers hippos hitching ect.

While the boys went shopping in Gaborone. Isabelle joined Lyndsay and I for a girl’s weekend of camping in Namibia and most importantly another passport stamp.

In vacillation over not knowing what to write about this weekend Isabelle consoled me with “Some things are better plain. Writing a poem about hanging off the back of a truck somehow takes away from the daringness of it.” And I guess she is right. So plainly speaking here is our Namibian excursion:

Our boss Mr. Kashweeka had invited us to a festival for Namibia’s national culture celebration in honor of the union of five major tribes in 1652. With daypacks hugging us against the morning chill, tent in hand, we met him outside the office for an early start. I took the front seat of the donkey (one of his seven or so cars) and way ho away we went. Traveling through Chobe National park en route to the Namibian border. Along the highway we had our own personal game drive. From Isabelle’s estatic reaction to a darting Sable (an extended relative of the antelope) I was disappointed to discover that the Christmas morning excitement was no longer there for me. Lyndsay and I have had the opportunity to travel this road through the park multiple times in the past couple weeks for work and meetings in the surrounding communities. Whether or not this is a sign of my adaptation or mimicked reaction of the locals it was disheartening that the sound of the bells has faded.

We arrove at the border after an hour characterized by Christian jazz, zebras, elephants and legroom. Continuing across the bridge, the bush opens to an expansive ballroom of flood plain filled of wind courting reeds, still water introducing itself to blue sky and charming company of the horizon. Two stamps on now filled page 12 and a short thirty minutes later we arrived in Bukalo.

Ah I am completely distracted right now because there are these tinsy tiny ants crawling on my calves. I don’t know where they came from but I’ve removed forty or so from my bed. My skin is literally crawling!

… I digress.

Out of remoteness and off the side of a dust brushed road, a crowd emerged. Police officers smoking under a tree directing traffic along the edges. A breeze of bright patterned dresses moving fluidly along side us, rippling towards the concentrated explosion of culture. For only being in Namibia for two days this celebration really introduced us to the savory flavor of Namibian culture. We were ushered behind Mr. Kashweeka into a VIP tent (for lack of better description of the structure) where he was given a cushioned chair and we were shown to the other side outfitted in wooden, but still respected chairs. Everywhere we go Mr. Kashweeka seems to know everybody and is greeted with great honor as a man of authority. I suppose I should not be surprised that his reputation extends international boarders.

In the shade of the tent and comfort of chairs we watched the performances of traditional tribal dances, music and dress, each representing a different region. It was really interesting to see the diversity between not only Namibia and Botswana but also the various beats within the country each pattern moving to a different rhythm. In admiring the ladies dresses, Isabelle pointed out how you could really notice the Dutch influence of colonialism on the country, hidden in the hooped skirts, petty coats and headscarves. The program continued throughout the day filled with speeches of important leaders, the national anthem, choir groups, dance, gifts presented to the chief and a prayer of thanks to conclude in song. Leaving and unsure of what to do we bowed to the chief or to who we thought was the chief (major fail). We got embarrassingly corrected and turned to bow again in the opposite direction.

Mr. Kashweeka’s car was blocked in, as he set out in the commotion to find the owner of the car behind, Isabelle and I went to urgently find a washroom. We found one. Overall the bathrooms so far have been fine, nothing special to mention. That’s more then I can say for this one. I was very happy to be wearing hiking boots, wading through the waste to get to the toilet where two rocks were propped to stand on.

Within about one minute, no more like 15 seconds of Mr. Kashweeka dropping us off along the main road, we caught a hitch. Before even getting our packs from the trunk another truck had pulled over. Hopping in the back and waving a quick goodbye I felt really proud of our traveling efficiency and hope we were able to prove our capability as he was previously skeptical of how we would travel the 40 km to Katima Mullio. As if the boys think they have a chance in the Amazing Race.

One of the great things about Namibia is that in comparison to Botswana it is cheep cheep. If previous travel has been on a shoestring I guess you could say that this weekend was on the first loop of a bow. For transport, accommodation, food, everything I spend 87 pula (the equivalent of 13.40 US dollars). For the broke student in me this alone makes the trip a success.

Grabbing some groceries in town, we hailed a cab to take us to Nambwe Island where we were camping that night. Is and I were arguing over 5 Namibian dollars with the taxi driver. Him not budging from 50 to 45, it took Lyndsay to sojourn us from walking away, being like “guys come on lets go, its less then 50 cents.” Voice of reason.

Nambwe Island, also known as Hippo Campsite, rests on the banks of the lower Zambezi River. A lawn of well manicured grass, filed by stone paths to the multiple sites, French tipped with picnic tables and fire pits. Not quite the rustic getaway we were hoping for but after pitching our tent to the reflection of the sun in the stillness of the river decided it would do just fine. They have a resident hippo, Stompy. He often comes up from the river to chill with the campers. The main office even had photos of him a few feet from some people around the fire pit! The owner informed us that “he is used to people around but is still a wild animal and thus regular hippo running courses still apply.” To our disappointment we did not see Stompy that night, although two people from Germany we were visiting with saw him the previous night.

We woke up before the sun to pack up and shower, yes a real shower. In HOT water to boot! Such a gift. It was everything I had been dreaming of and so much more. Steamy wonderful. So much appreciation and cleanliness.

Walking out to the main road (the cab we had called failed to come), two Namibian guides we had met the previous night drove by in their SUV which was packed FULL of gear for their trip to Tanzania. They looked at the three of us. Looked back at their over stuffed truck. Looked at us again. Back at the truck. Then offered that we could stand on the back of the bumper for a lift into town.

Most suspect form of transportation yet. Not only in the bed of a truck. But on the back, toes of boots balanced on the bumper, holding onto the roof rack. Any further back and we would be on the pavement. 4 km like this along a sand road, a turn onto the highway, another 10km, hazard lights on and an increase in speed feathered with fear. Wind turning my wet hair cold, metal sticking to death griped hands, laughter over the situation, cramping legs. A highlight in the “this is so crazy I can’t believe that just happened” kind of way.

We efficiently made our way home in the game of hitching, moving back across the boarder and in another few turns through the park. Weekend success.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Donkey Riding

One of the perplexing figures of speech that left me confused not only the first but also the second and even third time hearing it, is that our head boss Mr. Kashweeka refers to the company car as “the donkey”. For example:

“We are going to ride the donkey to Kazungula (the next village over).

We are going to see the chief. Maybe he will give us an ox. You see chiefs can do anything. Even an elephant roast.”

With all of these things being quite possible, I have found it difficult to pick up on what is meant literally vs. figuratively. As for now donkey = car.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Into Our Own

There are no events of solitude as thoughts will carve an influence, even in the most unsuspect places of emotion.

Page 177 of Into the Wild, almost at the end of the book. Sitting outside on the strangely smooth concrete step of our back porch and enjoying the fresh air of the last few hours of daylight and faint sounds of neighbors daily lives, rooster calls and chicken rustles. A day of staying home trying all remedies to cure my sore throat and slightly lethargic attitude.

After the nauseating fullness of consuming a peanut butter sandwich, I have come to this conclusion: You do not necessarily need to venture into the wilderness to find the sense of peace, exploration and wholeness. The isolated inspiration found in the pages of this book and more easily trotted on the trail. No. It is within my power, our power, to create this within our own daily life. It is within our personal control to look at the day with as many possibilities and live the lust of adventure to the fullest of each experience. To take on mundane challenges of live with as much vigor as the mountainside. With this, purpose and sanity are found in the civilization of reality to which the mind has the power to introduce the unknown. We are free. It is time we start living in the breeze of our movements. Abandon the self-imprisoned bars of norm, shackles of structure. To travel down the path. To make our own path even if it is not always over uncharted territory, into the so-called wild, through mud, ice or snow. It is within us to find wonders even in the regular. The most of each step in concrete or earth.

To banish the word struggle from our vocabulary and forge forth our own relationship with the nature of our surroundings and inner knowing of the self.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Unfettered Freedom

Photo Credit: Thomas Parente

“The environment of revelation, genetically and physiologically alien, sensory austere, esthetically abstract, historically inimical…Its forms are bold and suggestive. The mind is beset by light and space, the kinesthetic novelty… To the desert go prophets and hermits; through deserts go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality.”

-Paul Shepard, Into the Wild

Ke Bokae "How Much"

Photo: Faisal B.

Ntema often talks about how life is a debt and everything you do to pay for it. I would argue the more idealistic view that lift is a celebration. Perhaps because of the many privileges I have been given. Conceivably because this is what I have to believe while still in the search. The hope that you can find a way to live for happiness. With no strong evidence I lost the case. Perhaps he is right. Life is not always cakes and streamers, balloons and butterflies. You still have to pay for the party.

Life is a debt. You either confirm to its premiums a means and installments; anyhow so ever you makth or wisheth, the best remedy to channel all your energies to the best ability and conform to your preferences and needs thereabout.

And so I challenge you to ask. Not what can you purchase, not how much can you get, not what can you attain. But, how much are you willing to give? Are you willing to live your life as a debt?

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe

“Welcome to Maun. Where people are people and people love people.” –lady at the bar

For mid summer retreat our Bots team ventured to the Okavango Delta in Maun to reflect on our experiences thus far, prepare for the challenges ahead and enjoy the company of the amazing individuals I am proud to call my friends. If you haven’t seen it already, I would highly encourage you to watch the Great Plains episode of Planet Earth, or search “Okavango Delta” on YouTube.

We woke up to be at the rank for 5:00am to catch a bus to Nata, from there continuing our journey onwards to Maun. The bus was not the usual Chobe Express, but as Thomas (who was up visiting us in Kasane during the week) pointed out her Ugly Step Sister, another similar version with a different driver, seats arrangement slightly changed but no more comfortable. A few hours outside Kasane we pulled over on the side of the highway. Squeaking sounds, burnt rubber drifting through our noses and settling on our taste buds. Engine hood up. Murmmers in Setswana. Thomas asked the traditionally conservatively dressed elder lady next to us – wait no, more then next to us, squished against us. Shoulders sticking, laps leggoed over one another, that kind of next to us. “What was going on?” We got the best most direct translation yet, “The bus is fucked.”

A wait later and we were on our way again, though Nata, road snacks, another wait, then onto Maun. At one of the health checkpoints when my bag was being searched the police officer asked me where I was from. I responded confidently “Kasane” smiling and joining the next line. Only a few minutes later did it dawn on me that was not the response he was expecting. I feel as if I have really adapted, this place is no longer new, it is my home.

Team Bots tourist shot, rocking the safari hats and sunburns

Arriving at Old Bridge Backpackers where we were to be camping for the next four nights, a place far more luxurious then a patch of ground and far less private. The riverside bar, tables and fire pit, when compared to our previous accommodations made the place look like a six star suite. It was quite the happening place. We all talked about how weird it was seeing other travelers our same age and how we didn’t know how to behave, as all social skills have been lost over the past month. At other places we were only surrounded by elder couples decked to the nines in safari gear or families with young kids from South Africa on break from school. Thomas did a hilarious impression of how awkward he would be introducing himself to an attractive girl… talking in slow broken English (as we have become accustomed to) repeating everything three or more times and running out of conversation after the typical “Dumella. Hi… I’m Thomas…Taaooommass…Thomas. Yes. I’m from Canada… Canada. Yes it is realllly cold there… yes not like here.” Hand signals included.

We did manage to meet some cool people as our social skills slowly bubbled to the surface. A group of six or so Peace Cores all stationed in various regions/small towns were together for a reunion. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to be placed here for two years in a location by yourself! We also met two attractive guys from Canada who just graduated from Concordia. They had bought a land cruiser and equipped it into a badass safari car with a few editions to which Is and I were left drooling over.

On Saturday, with the company of Koo (a friend we met from Korea) we went on a traditional canoe trip. Isabelle described it far better then I could:

“We got to Boro where there is a community trust project that runs mokoro trips. QPID actually even talked with the trust when doing Project Identification here in Botswana last summer. A mokoro (also spelled makoro or mekoro) is a dugout canoe that is flat bottomed and rides really low in the water. Traditionally they are made out of sycamore fig trees but now a lot of people use fiberglass because sycamore fig trees take a 100 years to mature so aren't really sustainable. And instead of using paddles you stand at the back and pole yourself along, with any passengers sitting spaced throughout. There are 75 guides in Boro, all of whom were born in the village and rotate through guiding trips. Mokoros are basically the main form of transport through the delta, since motorboats can only use the deep passages and a lot of the Delta is really shallow channels or just shallow water in reeds.

We were doing a whole day trip, from 8 to about 4, so we were able to spend a good amount of time in the water. I was so happy to just sit in the mokoro and relax and think. I was in the front of ours and the only thing I had to focus on was not swallowing too many bugs, since we were carving a path right through the reeds and I was practically a windshield. We saw a lot of bird life, and a herd of zebras, but no crocs. And we did have a hippo encounter…

Photo: Isabelle Jones

Staring contest with a hippo right in front of us!

We heard this HUGE snort right beside us and our guide started pulling us backwards so fast. So we waited for a bit and then slowly started moving forward again until we were at the edge of the pool. There were four hippos that we could see, but they kept submerging and then resurfacing. The tensest was when they went under water since we had no idea where they would pop up again. They just kept getting closer and closer and then all of a sudden one popped up 15 feet in front of us. That's when the hippo safety lesson started! Our guides started telling us what to do in case the hippo was to attack. First of all, if the hippo starts swimming for the boat you are supposed to stay inside of it, not jump out into the water. This is because the boat gives you a modicum of safety. If the hippo actually does attack the boat and the boat tips, you are supposed to swim away from the boat as far as you can underwater. You should not surface because then the hippo will attack you right away. He didn't give any tips on what to do if the hippo actually catches up with you. I wonder why? ”

It was odd that I was never really frightened the entire time, actually really relaxed. Which I cant determine if it’s a good thing that I’m calm under pressure or crossing the line to recklessly stupid. Thomas was defiantly freaking out more then the rest of us, grabbing the side of Lyndsay and my boat and refusing to let his guide go any closer. Out of character, as he is usually the one to coolly take control of the situation.

We had lunch on an island in the delta and then went zebra tracking on our first bush walk, and then getting the chance to pole the Mokoros ourselves. Thinking that it wouldn’t be much more difficult then balancing in a rowing shell I gave it a try. I was wrong it was extremely difficult the guides (and Faisal who is going to be the first Pakistan poler) made it look super easy. I was cherry tomato burnt by the end of the day but had a fantastic time.

Top Chef: Okavango was on. Lyndsay joined team girls and we whipped up massive slabs of steak, eggplant parmesan, grilled zucchini, red pepper, onion, portabella mushroom, baked potatoes with cheese, garlic bread, carrot cake for dessert and rum and hot chocolate to finish the meal and start the night. The theme was to be wine: we cooked almost everything in it. A marinade for the steak…flavor for the veggies…wine in place of water to steam… eggplant looking a little dry?.. add some wine.. and some more. This was easier then walking to the spout to get and then purify water.

After dinner wobbly and warm we started the midsummer retreat discussions administered by Thomas. We talked about the difficulties of being here, what we want to get out of the second half, what we can do to improve our work and overall in better the learning process. There were other discussion topics too, our group LOVES to talk. I remember just staring at their faces in the flickering candlelight feeling peaceful yet passionately engaged and overall just happiness. Sitting on a cushioned bench, coffee table with lanterns in-between us, the sound of the river moving next to us in the star light and the massive branches of the tree hanging over in a blanket of softly illuminated leafs.

Retreat discussion blended into to conversation. Joined by other groups of backpackers and their travels. One guy from Norway was crossing Africa on a shoestring via public transport. So many interesting stories from around the world. Faisal, Thomas and Lyndsay went to bed, as we had to be up at 6am for a 12 hr game drive the next day. Is and I stayed up chatting with Aiden and other Thomas. An intense argument over whether rowing or sailing was better (I think the answer is pretty obvious). More chatter.. laughing… Is and I drifting into the tent. And black. The deepest most comfortable sleep since being here.

We were woken up in the morning to Faisal’s “Is..Chloe.. come on get ready we are leaving NOW!” And we moved out into the murky morning, hustling to grab our stuff, changed right there and hop into the safari truck. I sat in the row next to Thomas who was less then impressed.. with us being late. I prepared myself for a bumpy six-hour drive but surprisingly was feeling quite fresh. I love how sleeping in a tent can do that to you. The open air of the vehicle also probably helped. The morning was aggressively biting, it was FREEZING! Driving along the highway I had brought my sleeping bag and all mummied up fought the cold wind and clouds of dust. After an hour or so we stopped inside the gates of Moremi Game Reserve (a world renound national park) which is partly in the Delta, for breakfast and tea. Is pulled out an Ibuprophine from her pocket and gave it to me. Yes we are classy. Faisal looked so funny, as if he had aged 30 years. His eyebrows and eyelashes were white with dust, hair salt and peppered. A drag queen undertone of powered foundation and bright red lips. My lips were also painfully chapped. I’ve been putting Vaseline on them every ten min and they still aren’t fully healed.

Starting off the drive was rather uneventful. We really didn’t see any wildlife which after Chobe being so heavily concentrated, left the others disappointed, Faisal asking the driver if it was usually this quiet. I was actually very content, warming up now, wind blowing on my face freshness and matted hair. I stared, watching the trees wiz by, body bouncing along. Autumn colors. We shared childhood stories. More staring at the landscape. I could feel the magic. I mentioned how it was like we were traveling through enchanted lands. Something from The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. Thomas smiled and said he would have to share that with his mom, it’s her favorite book. I’m bursting with smiles. Joy. More and more often I can’t hold them back. Looking over and sharing a smile, the meaning of the moment. A secret acknowledgment that can’t be voiced. An appreciation of both wonder and discovery. Because I fail as a writer to accurately depict it, perhaps it is a secret not to be written. But I want to remember it because its one of those moments that even the thought rekindles the feeling. And everything is good. With as much beauty as the moment we were smiling for.

As we drove into the day excitement was encountered with elephant crossings, zebra spottings. But for the most part the zen state of relaxation, perhaps a potion of no sleep brewed with nature and a hint of hangover. Is and I giddily reflected on the hilarity of the previous night and just laughed as we generally do. Even at something as silly as “there’s a rock in my boot.”

We came across another car, a family that was stuck deep deep in the sand. We pulled over and for the time it took our guide Rex to help pull them out, attaching the cars by a rope, a joint shovel stick operation, we observed and walked around. Into the bush, into the sun, adding to my burn. We spotted a giraffe in the distance. Settled into a few games, or more then a few of ninja or binja as we have newly named it aka “bush ninja.” Binga: stealth as a lion, fierce as a hippo.

And all in tune we were “back on the road again.” Driving along my eyes grew tired, strained in a search of the long grasses and shadowed tree branches. We made it a competition. Because our group excels in states of competition. Everything is a competition. And basically I had to win, so I kept my eyes open, now alert pealed for movement and glued to the passing landscape. Kudu 5 points. Elephant, giraffe, zebra 15 points. Lion or leopard 100 points. Prize: winning.

We stopped for an amazingly delicious lunch of tuna sandwiches. As Is pointed out sometimes it is just the simple things that really do it. We climbed a nearby water tower for a pretty but not overly impressive view of the grasslands, a few scattered trees.

I keep forgetting to write about this but remembered when Rex pointed out the concave forehead of a female elephant. The symmetry or I’m not sure if you could call it that but the commonalities throughout nature and life amaze and inspire me. The golden ratio. The miracle that life is. For example you can tell male or female based on the head shape. Female = concave. Male = convex. Consistency animal to animal, elephants, giraffes, rhinos. Kinda cool I thought.

Photo: Isabelle Jones

We got the chance to see two waddled cranes, which bird man Faisal informed us are crazy rare. Rex was also quite impressed. “They are a special sight.” The way these birds interact what so beautiful. They are monogamous. Together for life. And mate every four years. Looking at these birds and their love as silly as that is and this sounds it is indefinelty what I want. So yes, I am jealous of a bird’s compassion and intimacy.

Photo: Isabelle Jones

Rare as the strength and courage of a crane “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage” –Lao Tzu

Another interesting sighting was a male zebra courting a few females in the herd. He was shut down, harshly rejected. And a “douche” as Thomas called him. Not really getting the message and trying again and again. His attempts ran off every time… and we drove away.

Though deep sand and rough off road terrain, our car almost got stuck twice but always managed to pull though, greeted by our laughter and cheers. We named him El Heify meaning “The Boss” in Spanish (because none of us knew the Setswana word). Heading out of the park the exit route to our way back was covered. Fully submerged in water that we couldn’t tell the depth. The boss took it on with a revving start, water splashing up into the car, nose diving into a pool about 3-4 feet deep and then somehow coming up on the other side. Even after stopping we were all bouncing in excitement. It was awesome. I will leave it at that.

Dusk settled in comfortably and then just like that a wild dog crossed the road directly in front of us. Then prancing off into the bush for its evening hunt. It was another really rare animal to see. I was excited a little and can appreciate it, but more then anything loved Faisal’s enthusiastic reaction to it. The extent to which it made his evening, easily made mine. He couldn’t keep himself inside the vehicle, climbing on top in hopes to get another glimpse or see another one in the pack. I love how much this trip has inspired Faisal and the keen interest he has taken in animal conservation. Even though he is well into his chem-eng degree, seeing the way he lights up at wildlife, I really hope he has the opportunity to explore that interest some more as well. Either way being around someone that is so passionate made me appreciate the experience so much more.

Dark now and out of the park we drove some more, chilly again and re-mummified in sleeping bags. Thomas and I talked, voices over the wind. Bots, home stay families, family dynamics, relationships, siblings, Queens, religion, life. Resting my head on his shoulder and drifting in and out of the darkness.

Returning to Old Bridge it was the boys turn to show us what they got. They made a jambalaya rice dish with chicken and salad (nothing we haven’t seen before) I’m kidding it was delicious and I will be fair and give them creativity points. The competition was undecided with no team willing to surrender. We need an objective judge (Davina this shall be your duty once were all back). Supper tired from the lack of sleep the previous night we did a few developmental QPID talks and enjoyed the songs of fellow backpackers around the fire then headed for the tent. Oh the tent.. the inside is sand invaded, no matter how many times we shake it out. And as for the outside… we were camped in a beautiful spot right by the river under a massive tree with fruits from Stella Luna. Now knowing why no one else had jumped on such a scenic tent site. Our shoes were filled with bat shit (literally I would empty them in the morning) and our tent was covered and I mean COVERED. We lay there inside packed tightly against one another, spooning not a matter of question but more as the only way we were going to fit. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Is and I giggling as if teens at a slumber party. Thomas reminding us that “guys its bedtime now.” We decided not to set an alarm and have a sleep in morning as nothing was set in stone for the next day. And fell asleep to the sounds of Faisal snoring and falling bat shit.

Isabelle and I with the first catch

I woke up with the sun as usual, but then chose to drift in and out of sleep, laying and thinking in the state between dreams and reality. After breakfast I sat in a hammock by the river and wrote. Is and I decided to go fishing off the bridge, which was more of a sand bank crossing the river. Digging in the mud for worms proved fruitless but after a while the owner gave us an old pack of bacon to use as bait. Thomas and Faisal decided to go to a basket-weaving workshop. We thought it pretty funny that the boys spent the day basket weaving while the girls went fishing. We enjoyed the sun and the simplicity of the day for quite a few hours, just hanging out on the bank. Various people passing, stopping for conversations or to casually ask for our hand in marriage. I had no luck with the fish, but Is caught two, both big ones! Literally after the first catch her next cast reeled in the second fish. The guy next to us informed us that they were “Large Mouth Thin Boned fish, a predator and therefore very meaty. He was right they were very delicious. We took them back to camp, gutted, de-scaled and cooked them up. When gutting them, there was even a smaller fish inside one. “Baby fish inside a bigger baby fish.” In the de-scaling process, scales flew everywhere, sticking to our clothing only adding to the discusting slops we had become. By now this was our fifth day without showering, in the same pair of clothes. A combination of mud, dust, dirt, bacon juice, peanut butter, other miscellaneous stains… fish scales added into the mix were no big deal. One of the guys working at the campsite even came up behind Isabelle and picked scales out of her hair later. Basically we are dirty people. We cooked and spiced the fish the traditional way Susan had shown me in Kavimba. A garnish of parsley with a side of peanut butter bread and we had ourselves one economically delicious meal. We cleaned the fish to its skeleton, found Lyndsay and the three of us heading back to the bridge to watch the sunset over the delta and await the return of the basket weavers. More organizational meetings around the campfire, banana burgers (a wonderful combination), beers and bed.

Fresh fish caught and cooked, self sufficiency at its best

Oh yeah.. during the weekend one of the retreat activities was the Rock game, which started off as bottle caps (rocks are extremely difficult to find here, there is mostly just sand). You give the bottle cap to someone on the team with something nice to say to them and these nice words circulate over the weekend… until someone had gotten and given one to everyone.. and they WIN! Actually Thomas had to explain that there is no end winner. But I was done first so refuse to believe this. Again, everything is better as a competition. As the bottle caps were passed around they become lost and turned into other things continuously. At one point Is and I spent ten minutes looking for a rock on the ground to replace the caps. I lost the rock we found and ended up giving Faisal a leaf…I received an eggshell from Thomas.

Heading home we boarded a large comfy bus with the group and then Lyndsay and I split off at Nata to continue our journey home. Because it was the long weekend all the busses coming from Francistown heading to Kasane were jammed full. At 2pm as the last bus passed though, we were lucky enough to snag two standing spots. I had to keep on reminding myself that we were the lucky ones. A bus that in Botswana is legally allowed to hold 27, that in Canada would hold 12, today was carrying 39. Passing the police checkpoint the conductor instructed people to duck. As uncomfortable as it was I surprised myself at my ability to stay positive. Also I want to take a moment to brag about the pro traveling skills I have developed. I can now sleep standing up on a bumpy bus. Off the highway and on to the pothole patterned dust road, rubbing against the people standing next to me. Bodies, feet, hands everywhere. I would periodically alternate feet standing on one and stretching the ankle of the other. Trying to bend my legs… making up a dance choreographed with miniscule movements. Calf raises…oops, no head hitting the ceiling. To motivate myself I made a little competition in my head of how long I could go without grabbing the seat for support. Competing with the other sardines. How long could I go without shifting positions. Games pretending I was surfing. Lots of thinking and shocking even myself, despite the discomfort was genuinely happy. The weekend was totally worth it. Lyndsay had enough room to sit in the isle and I’m sure wasn’t much more comfy. I’m actually quite proud of her for being able to do it. I’m someone who loves traveling and even so it was difficult so I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her. Anyways we got home safe and sound and that’s all you can really ask for. So many words for one weekend. So much laughter. So much love.

Photo: Thomas Parente
“What if God was one of us, just a stranger on a bus.”

Whoa that was a long one. If you got though this congratulations, you are a great family member/friend! That was 15 pages typed in word, I am blessed that my life has been interesting enough to take up that much space. And I apologize for not being more concise, believe it or not I left a lot out, but fully enjoyed reliving the memories and wish to give you as much detail, for if I can not take you with me physically, I hope that you have been able to share in the experiences though my words.

This weekend should be a quite one in Kasane, getting more integrated and involved with the community. And plenty of time to write…

Bots of Love