Monday, July 22, 2013

A Slice of Family

I've always considered how, over time, we tend to become more like the people we spend time with, and so as time winds down on my service, I find myself wanting to put my energies into the things that have meant most to me in Botswana, one of which is spending time with my host family. I remember how hard it was to leave my life behind me to join the Peace Corps, uncertainty was everywhere, until the moment my host mom's eyes peered deeply into mine, immediately naming me Tshepo, and telling me just to “trust” my service and my two years here. It was a comforting and defining moment in my life.

Yet, I was also keenly aware that every family has it's own lexicon, it's customized style of verbalization, it's secret codes that are not known to the outside world. Even in Botswana, where communication isn't exactly their fortay, there is still a language of families that is bound up in shared experiences—it's the inside joke that lets you know you belong—that this is your tribe. Quickly, I  thought being with this family was gonna make for an interesting ride, and that proved to be so true in many ways! 

So for the second Sunday in a row, I awoke, taking in a sharp inhale of the icy cold air, being brave enough to slip out of my warm bed, and waiting over an hour in the cold morning for a ride to Kanye. As soon as I felt the hill on which they live, and seeing my mom, and my sister Joy who is home from England for the month, all the icy cold Botswana air disappeared. We spent the days cooking, eating, cutting back her roses, laughing, taking in my mom's words of wisdom, and talking about our old times, however new they really are.  My mom had been sick for several weeks with god knows what, and I enjoyed hearing that she took the “Tshepo route,” making alternative concoctions to heal herself. She's learning, and I was pleased. Joy and I then went visiting the Aunts who live in Mmathethe, before ending another wonderful family day.

Over the years many people have influenced me, some subtly and some powerfully, and this is nothing revolutionary. But I am in Africa, not with my natural family and friends, but with a family whom I've shared a cross pollination of ideas, a discovery of each of our cultures, and what lights our fires. The indefinable richness that has come from this unexpected connection, the sudden recognition of the pattern which connects, has left me with an indescribable feeling.

 I've looked at the people around me, friends, neighbors, fellow PCV's, and while things can be challenging at times, exploring the connections that rise from our different perspectives, insights, and shared experiences is what this service has been all about for me.  And mostly, it is this amazing host family that taught me things about life that I soon won't forget!

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Hills Have Eyes

Four Sacred Hills rise majestically out of the barren Kalahari sweeping plains displaying Africa's greatest rock art collection. While some may say it's a hindrance to get there, it only accentuates the sense of adventure for me.  The hills being a sacred place for the San people with rock paintings aged between 3 and 10 thousand years old.  The rock paintings themselves blew my mind away.  There was more detail than I expected, and the variety of figures was simply astounding.  There are lots of eland, giraffe, several rhino, pair of lions, a monkey standing on it's hind legs, humans, and even a penguin and a pair of whales complete with water spouts.  Apparently the bushmen used a mixture of blood and oils from the animals, and the holy Shaman would depict both animals and human as they entered into spiritual trances. Our San guide was born and raised on the hill and showed us his land, and of course with everything we saw he said, "there's a story."  It would have been easy to be with him for weeks to write a book on his stories of the art and the land.  We did 2 long hikes on separate trails of the female mountain, and with each turn there produced new surprises.  
The Bushmen believe that the gods made humankind at Tsodilo, and that the hills are a resting place for the spirits of the deceased and that their gods live in grottos within the Female Hill, from where they rule the world.  The most sacred place is near the top of the Male Hill.  Legend has it that the first spirit prayed after creating the world.  The San believe you can still see the impression of his knees in the rock.  It is also believed that these gods will cause misfortune and bad luck if anyone hunts or causes death near the hills. They point to the knee-like impressions on The Male – the most sacred of all places - where the First Spirit knelt and prayed after creating men and women. They believe that their ancestors and gods live in the caves and overhangs of The Female. Similarly, the Hambukushu believe that their tribe and its livestock were put on earth at Tsodilo by their god, Nwambe. They point to the hoof prints in rock on The Female in support of their belief.  The Tsodilo Hills have a special significance to the San people or Bushmen who have been living here for thousands of years. The Tsodilo Hills consist of four large pieces of rock, rising unexpectedly from the dry expanse of desert. The Bushmen referred to the bigger rock as the 'male', the smaller one was known as the 'female', and the smallest one was the 'child'. According to legends the fourth hill was the male hill's first wife, whom he left for a younger woman, and who now prowls in the background.

Above are three men dancing after their day of hunting.  The erect penis' displays the men's strength and courage.  Interestingly, before each hunt, they go to a sacred water hole that of course God made, and they pray to their ancestors and to God for a good hunt.  Some people think that these figure paintings represent a trance dance, which results in an altered state of consciousness in which, the Bushmen believe, the dancer can heal the sick and control the natural and supernatural.  The dancer can also communicate with ancestors.

Baobab against the hills

our San guide

The rich stunning colors on the rocks which they call copper bracelets

A perfectly formed rock shaped of the African continent that God put there.

Camping out under the stars with the hills looming in front of us was one of the most special experiences in my life.  It seems like every one of your senses can come alive in a place like this, but it saddened me that the government built a small museum and with that, the San are not allowed to live on the mountains anymore.  Why people want to remove the sacred is beyond me, but our guide told us a story, and his stories are passed down to his children, and they will pass it along to their children.

Unraveling Beauty

"I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy."  Ernest Hemingway

Just imagine being snuggled up in layers while in your sleeping bag, under a huge vast sky, stepping out to a safari truck, heading for some of the most enthralling places of the world that will take your breath away.  This has been what it's like these past two years, and with my insatiable curiosity for the world, the intrigue just beckons for more.  Each day is different and no day in the bush comes with any guarantees, but there are promises of being exposed to a constant stream of creative stimulus, a feast for the senses stimulates in one single moment when even the warmth of the sun hits your skin, or how the sun descends in the never ending horizon, and the nervous excitement when departing on a game drive. I'm almost in a quagmire of where to begin: but as they say, start in the beginning.

The first days were spent with friends from home, which was great, yet a little strange for me, but I felt proud to be able to give them a small taste of Botswana.  We cruised along the Chobe River with it's mighty trumpeting elephants, lurking hippos, fish eagles and other fascinating birds, and stunning sunsets.  I'm not sure if it was having my friends here, or knowing it was towards the end of my service, but as the sun set over the Chobe while we were on the river, I burst into tears for the shear beauty that was before me, and the realization that I may never see this again.  

I thought I was putting sentiment aside when we went to Victoria Falls for the day on the Zimbabwe side, but that was not to be either.  It was exhilarating getting so wet, seeing the enormity of the falls, the strength of the water, the rainbows around each corner, and listening to only the sounds of the crashing below, and yes, the tears welted up at seeing this world wonder.

Ok, now the fun begins---my friends go home and I meet up with a fellow PCV to go through Savuti, down through Moremi, and a mokoro trip on the Okavanga before heading to Tsodilo which warranted it's own blog post.  We also met up with other PCV's along the way which is always fun.  The road to Savuti was dotted with ancient Baobabs which have their own folklore and individual upside down character, but it was the anticipation of the predators that had me sitting on the edge of my seat.  The Savuti channel is all but dried up for now, though they pump water into areas for the animals.  It has a beauty reminiscent, but not quite, of the Serengetti with it's vast open plains and dense population of predators.  Somehow driving around, you just had a sneaking suspicion that these leopard spotted you before you spotted them.  The highlight was spending much of the morning and afternoon with a brand new family of lion cubs.  It was magical the way they frolicked around, nursed, and acted like kids.  We also spotted several leopard--though they are shy and elusive.

The Kwai River in Northern Moremi offered us the chance to sit near even more beauty because of the water, but we got up close to several wild dogs which is hard to come by.  They were beautiful and I was almost shocked at the site of them.

Then onto Maun, how can anyone not fall in love with Maun with the way it spreads itself along the banks of the timeless Thamalakane river, and our Mokoro trip where we weaved in and out of the grasses and reeds, spotting hippo and beautiful birds along the way. Sitting a water level, wriggling your toes on the banks, serene waters flowing, and a profusion of plant and birdlife was remarkable. What I liked most was sitting down low and listening to the vegetations slapping against the mokoro.  The Okavanga Delta, a mosaic of land and water, is truly a precious gem cradling this pristine extraordinary place on earth.  But at least I didn't cry today!

Every trip, landscape, every safari may be different, but no matter where you are in Africa, just take a look up because the 4 bright stars in kite formation which make up the Southern Cross will surely make you feel lost in time, and that's exactly what I felt!

Can I say more!

Baby and Mama out of the water

Beauty Fish Eagle in Chobe

Male Lion in Savuti