Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

The Hemingway Safari: Entering Botswana (Part Three)

Leaving the Victoria Falls Hotel, we did an official tour of the Falls, with an Afro Ventures guide, Aaron. We got him to tell stories about nightmare trips he had been on, with nightmare tourists. The worst, funniest, was a man who was truly not fit to be on safari, had some serious health challenges, and made the group stop all the time to accomodate his needs. Then, after searching and searching for leopard, the group found one and sat enthralled, watching. At which point the very difficult man said loudly “aach, it’s just a leopard, you can see them in the zoo” and slammed a door and the leopard ran away

After the tour of the Falls, Aaron drives us in a van toward Kasane, where we will pick up our official vehicle – we are leaving Zimbabwe and going into Botswana. The highway is two lane, and paved, and we asked Godfrey if we would ever see a road like this again, and he laughed and said yes, that we would have a few miles of good road at one point in Botswana, but only maybe ten miles in the next 14 days.

Not an hour out of Victoria Falls, the van slows and we take we sight a small aircraft crashed by the side of the road. Godfrey tells us it happens all the time, the private plane operators don’t allow themselves enough fuel and then have to try to land on the highways. This one had two survivors, but there are armed guards on the plane to protect it from human scavengers.

The border crossing is a piece of cake. We walk in, Godfrey takes us to a lady he knows who stamps our passports and wishes us a great trip. Meanwhile, we recognize another group from Vic Falls, still in line. Travelling with Godfrey is a lot like travelling in the Arab world, he stops and visits with people, brings them little things, gives them a coca cola, etc. It seems to take a little more time. . . until we zip right through customs while others stand and wait.

The first thing I notice in Botswana is the womens’ hair. From the woman at the custom’s office straight through Botswana, and later South Africa, you see the most beautiful, elaborate tiny braids. These rows aren’t like the ones that were the rage in the U.S., these are tiny, tiny, and close to the head, and in lovely patterns. And people are so friendly, so polite. People are genuinely cordial.

Just across the border, near Kazungula, we have to stop and go through a shoe bath to prevent the spread of hoof and mouth disease. As we talk with Godfrey, we discover he was in the US in the snow storm, and when he saw a woman in trouble, he told her to get out of the car that he would help her, and she thought at first he was trying to carjack her car. As he got the car out of the drift, she said “where are you from???” and he told her. Well, how many people know where Botswana is? She thanked him, and then told him he had to be careful about being helpful in the United States.

Godfrey is exotic. Different. It takes a while for our ears to adjust to his speech, because while he is speaking English, some of it is British English and some of it just lilts differently than our ears are used to. Godfrey is very very tall and thin, and has eyelashes that you might think were artificial, they are so long and curly. He points out a bird, one we have noticed many times, and he calls it the Lilac buubuu rolla. Later we find it in a guide book, and it is the Lilac Breasted Roller.

We stop in Kasane, where Godfrey tells us we can exchange money, and we decide to just change $100, and change more when we need it. Big mistake, or potentially so . . . we never had another opportunity to change money! Fortunately, all currencies are acceptable as tips, so we ended up just tipping in dollars. Kasane is a one main street town, but full of activity, little shacks as markets, some stores. Even an internet cafe, but it was the only time I saw one. We didn’t know that Kasane was the last “major” town we would see.

We drive on to Mowana, the lodge where former President and Hilary Clinton stayed when they were in Botswana, where we say goodbye to Aaron, who is heading back to Vic Falls, and we pick up our own vehicle. AfroVentures designed this themselves; it is on the bed of a large Toyota 4-wheel drive truck, they rebuilt and redesigned it so it has good, comfy seats with good springs (this becomes very important once we hit the single lane roads of clay, dirt and/or sand) and a frame around it so that you can leave it open totally, or put on a canvas fitted top and canvas sides. It also had a good sized drinks refrigerator that worked so well that sometimes our water froze.

Attached in the back was a luggage carrier trailer, but since it was just the three of us there were times we said “forget the carrier” and we just took our luggage in the truck with us. At Mowana we had lunch sitting on the deck around the pool, and listned to the Simpson Brothers play on wooden xylophones, a very Caribbean sound. Lunch at this very elegant lodge was again a buffet, and again, the buffet included fish curry! All food and drinks on this tour are covered, so we know we could look like elephants by the end of the trip if we gorge.

Godfrey tells us how when the Clintons were there, in 1998, the whole lodge was empty except for them and their security people. They even used their own guides. What astonishes us, as we are eating and looking around the lodge, is the huge number of Americans we are seeing. Normally when we travel, we see a lot of Europeans, but in Victoria Falls and in Botswana, we are seeing almost exclusively Americans.

There is a good looking big boat down at the pier and we head for that, but then Godfrey takes us to a side pier and our boat, a boat just for us! There is a guide on board, and Godfrey will go ahead and drive to our camp site, while we go by boat. This boat is like the jet boat of the other night, except that instead of seats in the boat, it has a flat deck with a table and four chairs at the table. And that is how we travel on the Chobe river, my friends, floating down the river.

We came to see the animals, but we had no idea how thrilling the birds would be. As we depart Mowana, we are accompanied by two swallows who fly around us, dipping and circling, and they stay with us a few kilomenters before turning back. Our guide is pointing out Malachite kingfishers, and Carmine Bee Eaters, and oh my, thousands of the Malachite kingfishers nesting along the shore.

We are shooting film like crazy, even knowing that the magic of this boat ride can’t be captured. Best of all, for me, is the look on my husband’s face. He is SOOO into this, he is having a great time. Truly, this is a dream come true.

The Chobe river is very wide and very flat. It is winter in the southern hemisphere, and just past the rainy season, so the waters are still high. We see lots of elephants wading, feasting on the green grasses, herds of water buffalo, and then, near to the end of our river tour, we are able to sit and watch a herd of elephants crossing from one side to a grassy patch. The elephants go in groups of 10 – 15, while others are waiting on the other side, encouraging, and others are left behind, gathering their courage.

Once they get to where they have to swim, their trunks go up in the air to breathe. Watching elephants swim is a thrill. But there is a baby elephant, struggling hard to keep up, and about half way across, he panics and swims back to shore. On shore, another small elephant is the first to greet him, stroking him with his trunk and standing close. Other elephants gather around, stroking the little one and very visibly comforting him. Shortly thereafter, the last group starts across, including the baby. The matriarch, the oldest (or toughest) female elephant is the last to go, and she gently nudges a few of the more reluctant ones into the water.

We all love being able to stay still, and watch these things happening. Godfrey is waiting on the beach where our boat pulls up, and we tell him about what we have just seen. He tells us that baby elephants are the most vulnerable, and that the elephants treasure them and take good care of them. He said that often the baby elephants don’t make it across, and their carcasses end up providing food for crocodiles, that the lions also prey on the baby elephants, and that recently lions actually brought down a big elephant near Vic Falls. Several lions grabbed the trunk, another chomped the trunk shut and suffocated the elephant. It took about 20 lions to bring the elephant down; something most people hadn’t seen before.

Godfrey takes us on an evening game drive, and as the sun is setting, it sets behind giraffes, looking at us curiously. We love giraffes. They are so graceful, and so elegant, and the look in their eyes is so gentle and curious. We watch them drink. They are wary of us, but not particularly concerned. Once they determine we are not a threat, they mostly ignore us. The young ones are more comical; they show the most interest and curiousity as to who we are and why we are there.

We watch elephants feed, we visit herds of impala, kudu, and see families of baboons. We see lions feasting on a dead water buffalo, and jackals, hyenas and vultures waiting for their turn. Godfrey knows so much. He really loves his job, being able to spend so much time observing the animals, and he loves the beauty of the natural world. He tells us about seeds that need to go THROUGH birds or animals in order for the tough outer seed to be taken off so that the seed can implant in the ground, surrounded by appropriate fertilizer. Some need to go through fires. Lions have very acid digestive systems and can eat bacteria without harm. And this is just the first day.

Finally, we drive back to camp. As we drive in, it is deep dusk, and we can see the tents, with kerosene lanterns in front. It is a beautiful sight. We can see the dining tent, all set up with a book case full of books, with several different games and cards available, and a table set for four. The entire camping staff is there to greet us – seven people to support the needs of three. It’s humbling.

Dorcas, the only woman on the team, holds a basket full of hot washclothes, so we can wash the grit of the game drive off our faces and hands. She also keeps our tents clean and does our laundry. Simaseku is very tall; he is the assistant cook, right now the only cook as the head cook, Sky, is sick in Kasane. Paul is the assistant guide, and our other host in camp. John and John Jr. and Richard keep the fires going, help with meal preparation, tent set up, gather firewood, haul water, etc.

Godfrey gives us a brief introduction to our tents. My friends, there is a LOT of zipping. there are windows, and flaps that attach over the windows inside with velcro, and flaps that cover outside, too, if you wish. There is an entry net and an entry canvas, and when you go to bed at night, it is best if both are securely fastened. At all times, the net entry must be securely zipped to prevent insects and worse – snakes – from entering. As you enter the tent, you see a room about 14′ x 14′; two single beds together, nightstands, lamps all lit, a large chest for luggage, a thermos of ice water, glasses, and our own little flashlights to use to walk around camp after dark.

We are warned to stay inside the perimeter of lights; that mostly the animals won’t come where there are lights at night. In the next room, about 10′ x 14′, there is a toilet, a shower bottom with a gravity shower – a huge canvas bag full of HOT water, enough for AH and I both to shower, and a basin, also full of hot water, on a dressing table with big soft fluffy towels. This is my kind of camping!

There is also a laundry bag – and this is what makes it possible to travel on safari for 14 days with only 22 lbs of luggage. Anytime we are in camp for a full day, Dorcas washes our clothes, dries them on a line and irons them using a hot coal iron. They have to heat all the water for washing the clothes over fires. They bake bread and cakes for our meals in a hole in the ground with an iron box which acts as an oven. (The bread is absolutely delicious.) There is no electricity. Everything is either kerosene, fire, or run on batteries, like our bedside lights. Godfrey asks us NOT to leave the lights on all night, as it uses up the batteries too fast, and it attracts the bugs.

I will tell you, that first night, I was a little scared. We could hear . . . things. We could hear elephants trumpeting, and we could hear something crashing in the brush nearby. Best of all, we could hear birds, owls, calling birds, but also . . . other things. Godfrey had told us that if something came, just to stay in the tent. He also said it wouldn’t do any good to call for help, as the African staff was more afraid of the animals than we are!

At dinner, we learn that Godfrey for many years was a soldier in the Botswanan army, working in the anti-poaching unit, and it was at that time that he began to learn so much about nature. He was born in Namibia, before Botswana and Namibia became separate nations, and grew up in a small village not too far from where we were. In the village, people kept cattle, and lions were a constant worry. Lions love cattle, they are all in one place, not hard to catch, and you can eat them for several days. But if a cow isn’t readily available, why a stray child will do. Godfrey says that villagers grow up terrified of being taken by a lion.

Dinner is by candlelight. We have comfy African mahogony deck chairs, and china and crystal glasses – this may be camping, but it is truly elegant. There is a full bar, and all kinds of wine, most of it wasted on us. I am drinking a lot of bottled water, I feel so dry. Dinner this first night is beef stroganoff and rice, crispy green beans with garlic, cooked carrots and cheesecake for dessert. Did you know that at night lions go . . . Hummmpgh. . . huuummph . . .. .huumpf? Trust me. They do. They sound like they are right next to your tent.

Actually, because I was tired, I slept pretty well, when I wasn’t listening to all the sounds. It was cold, and while we were eating dinner, Dorcas and Paul put hot water bottles in our beds. AH is thrilled with this new technology – it is nice and warm!

September 11, 2006 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Botswana, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Uncategorized, Zimbabwe | 4 Comments

Mining the Kuwait Times: A Kuwaiti Hero

I confess. I’m a nerd, a geek, an introvert. One of my favorite activities is reading the newspaper.

Today’s Kuwait Times is a gold mine. Two separate organizations are starting up activities to protect and help expat laborers – one, KTUF or Kuwait Trade Union Federation says it will begin receiving the complaints and work with employees and laborors to solve the problems, and gives their phone number: 561-6781.

The second is a paid for add by the Embassies of India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Phillipines, Egypt and the United States, and says Familiarize Yourself with Kuwaiti Society: Useful Information for Foreign Workers and is sponsored by Project FALCon (Fostering Awareness of Labor Conditions.

All the above embassy phone numbers are given. The last line in the Useful Information for Foreign Workers is “Do not enter into an inappropriate personal relationship with your employer.”

(!) Good advice in any country, any nationality!

The Pope, in his visit to Germany, is quoted as saying Western societies had become “hard of hearing” about God, saying “There are too many other frequencies in our ears. What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited to our age.” He seems to say that instead of sending material aid to Africa and poor Asian countries, we need to be helping them spread the Gospel. Hmmmm.

In Somalia, the new “Taleban-style” regime shut down a radio station yesterday for airing “music and love songs”.

“‘The group closed Radio Jowhar because the programs were un-Islamic,’ Islamic official Mohamed Mohamoud Abdirahman said. It was the only radio station in Jowhar, some 90 kilometres from the capital, Mogadishu. “It is useless to air music and love songs for the people,” Abdirahman said.”

Last, and not least, a big WOOOO HOOOOO for al-Qattan, a real hero who conducts restaurant inspections in Kuwait. Here is what the Kuwait Times says:

Being director of this team causes many inconveniences. “I feel embarrassed, at times when I have to ignore unknown numbers appearing on my cell phone after each inspection. The owners of the violating restaurants start calling their connections ‘Wasta’ to make me cancel their fines. As I like to do my work legally, I don’t deal with them. I can’t put the lives of people at risk as, if anything happens to any consumer due to food poisoning they will definitely question the municipality” Al-Qattan explained.

He gets my vote for Kuwait Hero of the Day.

September 11, 2006 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Middle East, Social Issues, Spiritual, Uncategorized | Leave a comment