Dumela. My name is Faisal Bakhteyar and for summer 2011, I will be interning at True Men Trust, an organization targeting HIV/AIDS issues in Francistown, Botswana. Through this travel blog, I hope to share with you my thoughts, experiences, and adventures in the most unadulterated manner.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Khama Rhino Sanctuary

For the weekend (June 25th-26th) that just passed, the QPID Bots team had planned on going to Tuli Block. The Tuli Game Reserve (makes up Tuli Block) is a collection of private reserves located in the far Eastern corner of Botswana and it was our preferred destination because of its proximity to the Limpopo River (which Iz is desperately trying to visit), black-mane lions (Scar from the Lion King), and night drives (which aren’t conducted in the national parks). We started planning the trip the weekend before when we were in Bobonong and so had a pretty good idea of how things were to play out. As has been the trend, whenever we plan something, nothing goes as it is supposed to… and come Thursday evening, Tuli Block was a no go. Iz and I quickly whipped together a plan for a trip to Khama Rhino Sanctuary and because there was no accommodation (campsite) available, we had to figure out how to effectively get there and back using public transport in one day. Looking back on it, if we had stuck to that plan, we would have flopped hard…

When Chloe and Lyndsay arrived on Friday, we went for some delicious pretty authentic Indian dining and desperately tried to get our hands on a car to make travelling easier. Things got so desperate that we resorted to calling FOR SALE advertisements and begging the owners to allow us to take their car for the weekend. Im sad to say that though our phone calls were entertaining, no one wanted to give their cars to a bunch of foreign students….I wonder why…

Then, the Legend of Chloe turned up and decided that there was no way in hell she wasn’t spending the night in Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Where Iz and I had failed at securing accommodation the day before, Chloe squeezed out a campsite at KRS through pure persistence that we just needed a piece of land where we could pitch our tent. After arriving at Khama, we realized how legendary Chloe actually was because for a camp with 18 campsites, the place was bumping (in a camping sense)! We were actually squeezed into the sanctuary, but that turned out to be a pretty big blessing….

You can sort of refer to the map of Eastern Botswana posted earlier for this next paragraph or skip it entirely because it’s about getting to KRS. FUN! The Khama Rhino Sanctuary is located in the bottom center of the map but the actual route we took is cutoff.
7:30- we took our first ever combi ride to the bus rank.
8:00-Got on the bus to Gabarone again and got off at Palapye 165 km away from the Ghetto
I lost track of time after that but in Palapye we tried to get our hands on a map because up until then we were travelling blind. We got on a bus to Serowe from Palapye with an idea of which direction we were to take but none on what mode of transport would get us there. At the Serowe bus rank, while in search for a taxi to get a quote, I spotted a man wearing some KRS clothing. He couldn’t take us to the sanctuary because he had to run some errands but ended up letting us ride in the back of his truck (best mode of transport EVER!) all the way to a bus stop where he handed us off to a lady that worked at the sanctuary. We hopped on the bus headed to Orapa through Paje and got off at the gates of the Khama Rhino Sanctuary at around 1:30PM.

If you’d like to know more about the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, please visit www.khamarhinosanctuary.com but just for an overview, it was established to rescue the rhino population in Botswana that was hunted to the brink of extinction. The sanctuary is a fenced in area covering 4300 hectares and maintained by the 4 surrounding villages and the only place in Botswana to find the black rhino. It houses between 30 and 40 white rhino and 4 black rhinos and it’s because of KRS efforts that a handful of white rhinos have been reintroduced into other parks.

The only way to reach the campsites is by car and so we were a pretty hopeless bunch. Everyone else we saw seemed to be the frikkin rich khaki donning camper types as they had pimped out safari trucks that had off-the-ground tents with ladders and whatnot. We waited for a KRS truck and hitched a ride to our campsite. After admiring the setting, and other people’s “tents”, we set up our ghetto Canadian Tire type tent and proceeded to devour rye bread and Pralinutta ( A copy of nutella) sandwiches. A man in a supercool 4X4 expedition truck pulled into our campsite and asked us if we would be willing to move to a different campsite. He was a South African safari tour operator and wanted us to move close to his campsite because the other group there was too big and would have cramped up his group of people. We willfully agreed and so we moved. But it wasn’t the usual get-in-the-back-of-the-truck moving: The guy’s car only had storage space and no passenger seats and so he suggested that we ride ON TOP of his truck. And that is exactly what we did. It was like riding an overgrown male elephant. That’s the furthest Id been off the ground since flying into Francistown and so I was prettyyy scared.

We setup our tent for the second time and set out collecting firewood before our 4PM game drive. After about an hour of foraging in extremely dry bush, we were picked up by our guide OJ and headed out for some game viewing. There were sightings of impala, eland, gemsbok, springbok, Burchell’s zebra, blue wildebeest, ostriches, and a number of other bird species. 
A cohort of Burchell's zebra at a watering hole
A female ostrich closely guarding her foraging offspring

Burchell's zebra at sunset

But the rhinos easily stole the show. Iz spotted the first way in the distance and it was a HUGE male white rhino trudging along. We then drove to a bird hide where birds were to be anticipated. What turned up was a crash of white rhinos probably 10 meters distance from us. It was incredibly humbling being the presence of such massive and strange looking creatures. 
A nervy white rhino
The rhino is one of those animals we learn to recognize in early development because of its distinctive horns and so seeing a group of them that close up was just so……cool. Unlike the elephants of Chobe, the rhinos were really nervy and fidgety because of our presence. They have good ears and a strong sense of smell and so as soon as our cameras started clicking, they peaced. My memory card decided to fail me and so I lost all my pictures of the game drive up until after the bird hide and so variety in rhino pictures is lacking. We luckily stumbled upon the same group further into our drive and so I got a couple more pics.

A crash of 5 white rhinos watching our every move.
Unfortunately we didn’t spot one of the 4 black rhinos but that was always going to be difficult seeing as they prefer to live in the bush. A girl also notified us that earlier in the morning, by campsite 13 (which is right behind ours), she had seen a mother leopard with 2 cubs……We have now missed the lions of Savuti feasting on an elephant and a mother leopard with her two cubs…bummer.

The last half hour of the game drive was painfully cold and so the first thing we did back at our campsite was start a fire. The twigs were so dry that all it took was one matchstick and we had a fully-fledged fire. We set about eating “dinner” and this consisted of sitting on our bums around the fire and roasting hotdogs on twigs we had picked earlier. This was when our tour operator friend showed his appreciation for us moving for him earlier on. He walked over to us and said “ Your dinner looks very lacking. Would you mind doing us a favor and having some of our food?” This was after the guy had provided us with 2 bags of firewood free of cost. His people came about 2 minutes later with a gourmet meal and it rivaled any top notch cooking I’ve had. There was a greek salad with feta cheese, black and green olives, and realll cucumbers, a stew made with delicious potatoes, zucchinis, parsnips, and carrots, and rice that was soft as anything. We followed our gourmet meal with a pretty epic dessert of split banana stuffed with pralinutta (nutella) and marshmallows heated in the fire (this was made by us, not provided by the tour operator).

The fire was put out at around 9:45 and the next half hour was spent admiring the beauty of the night sky. The number of stars rivaled the one I had seen while camping at Lake Manyara in Tanzania though the Milky Way was even more prominent this time round. The sky was so clear that the stars formed a dome that disappeared over the horizon. It was a pleasure seeing this as there are very few places left where urban sprawl hasn’t polluted the sky with its lights.

My sleeping bag had a comfort rating of 2 degrees and an extreme rating of 0 but I was still freeeeezing the whole night. I can’t even imagine what Lyndsay went through with only a blanket to keep her warm. I apparently also sound like a wild animal when I sleep. :/

In the morning, OJ came to pick us up at 7AM. We talked for 20 minutes about the importance of his work and the KRS and reviewed the differences between the black and white rhino. He dropped us off in Paje where he had to run some errands and we were left to hitchhike to Serowe. Vehicles on the road were scarce but the 2nd car that rolled by stopped for us and the elderly man driving took us all the way to Palapye. We got off at the Palapye bus rank and just as we walked in, the bus to Ftown pulled in and we were on our way. At 10:15, after what was probably the most efficient use of transport yet, we reached back in Ftown and our adventure came to an end. Success.

Please don’t hesitate to comment. Seriously. Don’t be scared. No one but me cares what you have to say. Don’t be shy. You can even hide your comment from the public. Id just like to know what you think of these posts. More pictures, less writing? SUGGESTIONS PLEASE.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Wise Elephant

Nature's great masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing.- John Donne
An old mama elephant's expression when her calf was nursing.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

In Search of the Chief of Bobonong

For this post, Im going to recap this past weekend because it basically played out like a tale of adventure (at least to us it did) where luck and the unexpected combined for a dramatic trip:
For our time in Botswana, we’ve set ourselves the target of seeing or doing something new every weekend. Since this was our first weekend at our homestays and in Francistown, we only wanted to take a daytrip and not wander too far from the Ghetto. Failed plan.
There was a tiny little paragraph in Thomas’ Lonely Planet Guide about the Lepokole Hills in Eastern Botswana and based on the map provided in the book, they only seemed to be 200km away. It was decided that the Lepokole Hills were going to be our destination for Saturday but we had no real way of getting to the actual Lepokole village because we didn’t have a 4X4 at our disposal. The closest we could get using public transport was Bobonong (25 km from Lepokole village) and even that seemed like a grueling journey. Our options were to either hop on the 9AM bus to Selebi-Phikwe and then catch another bus to Bobonong or to catch the 8AM bus to Gabarone, get off at Serule, find a bus to Selebi-Phikwe, and then catch a bus to Bobonong. (See the map of Eastern Botswana). We wanted to leave as early as possible and decided to get on the 8AM bus to Gabarone. No further thought was put into how to get to Lepokole from Bobonong and we parted ways on Friday after work with the idea that it would be a relaxing weekend and easy travelling. Helll no.
When notifying our homestays and co-workers of our plans to go to Lepokole, we were strongly advised to ask the permission of the Chief before heading to Lepokole. Mrs. O, Isabelle’s host, told us of people disappearing and strange things happening in the hills and said it was VERY important that we got the chief’s permission. At the time, we didn’t think much of it but wherever we went, people greeted our idea with surprise and shock. To us, meeting the Chief would just add more adventure. Would it ever…..
On Saturday, I woke up at 6:30 AM, stomach still full (see My Pregnancy), met up with Iz at 7:15 and headed out to the bus rank in the taxi.
Just for a little explanation on buses and taxis here: There are buses that travel from city to city, there are combis which are vans that travel within the city, and then there are taxis. In taxis you can have either a “special” taxi in which the driver takes you and only you to your destination or you can have the normal taxi where 3 other people who are headed in the same direction accompany you in your taxi. A “special” costs about 20Pula or $3 and the normal taxi costs 3.50P or $00.50. From now on, if I refer to a taxi, I mean the normal taxi because there is no way Im paying $3 to get from A to B when I can pay $.50 to do the same with more company in the car. Its not sketchy like you might think. Trust me.
So back to the real story: We took a taxi to the bus rank which is basically a bus station and waited for Thomas who had a rough morning (His homestay has a motion-sensor triggered alarm which he set off which set the 8 month old baby off). We got on the bus headed for Gabarone with the intention of getting off at Serule and we succeeded. This is where things got real….
Up until Saturday, the sky had been deep blue and there had been no strong winds. At Serule, it was windy, cloudy and FRIKKIN FREEZING. Like actually: it was like a late Ontario fall day. It was so cold that there was talk of turning around and heading back but we persevered. We don’t even know if we were really in Serule either. All it was was a vetinary checkpoint with a gas station and a bus stop. We stood by the Selebi Phikwe turning but the traffic was thin and there were absolutely no buses going in that direction. Hitchhiking was the only option and after about 30 minutes of holding our thumbs out, at 10PM, we got a ride from a VIP type lady who worked in the world’s largest diamond mine in Jwaneng. About 5 minutes into the ride, I noticed that the surroundings were starting to get really blurry. I took a peek at the speedometer and cried a little (truth)…Iz said that’s the most scared she has been in her life... Thankfully we were in some nice VIP type car and the single lane highway was empty and about 30 mins later we arrived at the Selebi-Phikwe bus rank. We got on the bus to Bobonong and were on our way for what seemed like eternity.
The bus was so old that the entire thing shook whenever the driver shifted gears. The number of little children and fried chicken on the bus was frightening too; every lady seemed to be accompanied by her own child and a plate of friend chicken (Its very popular here). I somehow fell asleep and the rest is whatevs.
At an attempt at being a leader in place of Tom (who was feeling under the weather), I shepherded us off the bus when it stopped by a sign of Bobonong. I now know that executive decisions should be left to Thomas as we ended up getting off 5km too early in an area of Bobonong that was sparsely inhabited. We proceeded to walk along the road where we saw donkey carts and beaten up trucks. People looked at us confused as to why we were there and we looked confused back at them because we really had no idea where we were.
Eventually, we hitchhiked with an old man in an old truck whose English was surprisingly good. The lady from the Jwaneng diamond mine had advised us to go to the police station and her reasoning was that since it was the weekend, the Chief would be at home and the police could take us to him. We were dropped off at the police station and wished luck on our quest to meet the Chief. At the police station, we were told that the Chief was at the RAC or Rural Administration Center and were given directions as to how to get there. His name was Chief Malema, the Chief of Bobonong. As we walked through the town we ran into the old man who had given us a ride to the police station and he was confused as to why we would be interested in Lepokole. “Are you anthropologists, or historians? Why do you want to see the Lepokole hills?” We were just very curious students who wanted to see some anthropological treasures.
When we reached the RAC, we initially thought that there was a funeral or something because there were a number of men wearing black suits standing the parking lot. As we walked through the gate, a truck with a district council logo that was leaving stopped and the driver got out. He rushed over and greeted us with a hugee smile like he knew exactly who were and told us that “they” were waiting inside. He knew us so well that we even got shoulder checks that are often shared amongst gangsta buddies as a form of greeting. That’s how tight we were. My first thought was that the RAC was expecting some foreigners and that it was just a case of mistaken identity. Another was that the police station had called ahead and notified the people here. Nonetheless, we walked in and when we inquired about Chief Malema we were told to wait while his location was determined.
Eventually a woman guided us through the RAC building into a large yard and this is where our jaws dropped! There were people in suits and traditional formal dresses EVERYWHERE. In the distance, we could see the green berets of a group of boy scouts marching to the sound of drums surrounded by a large crowd. There were a number of classy cars with red number plates pulling into the yard and the lady pointed in their direction. “There is the Chief Malema getting into the car.” My heart sank a little at the thought of not being able to get the permission we were so desperately searching for. The only thing the Chief was giving us at that moment was the site of his back getting into a luxury car. We were assured that he would be back soon and that we could just hang around for the mean time. The next 30 minutes were possibly the most awkward and embarrassing in my life. Here we were three students wearing hiking gear surrounded by dignified men and women in suits wearing tags that said “VIP”.
We met a Peace Corps person there who had just recently moved to Bobonong for her two year stay and she really seemed excited at the sight of my two Caucasian buddies. Then, the lady who had guided us to the site of the Chief’s back introduced us to Ernest and a lady whose name I cannot recall. Ernest was a resident of Lepokole and the official guide to the Lepokole Hills and the lady (lets just call her Susan for simplicity), also a resident of Lepokole, was some sort of assistant to a councilor of Bobonong. While we were busy talking to Ernest about going to Lepokole, Susan decided to call over the councilor and soon enough a very cheerful lady introduced herself as ____ and I will now refer to her as the Councilor. She said that it was not necessary to meet with the Chief and that she could help us out. We told her that we had no way of getting there and so she set out about arranging transport for us before asking us to join her for lunch.
When we inquired about this gathering of very important people, the Councilor told us that we had stumbled upon the launch of the Bobirwa Sub-District Council as well as a ceremony celebrating the handing over of houses to the destitute. It was truly incredible how she treated us as her guests and set about introducing us to other council members and other people of authority. Ironically enough, when we were standing in line to get food, the man right in front of us was the transport minister. Because of the incredibly large meal I had suffered with the night before (see My Pregnancy), I ate very little and when compared to the servings everyone else took, I ate nothing at all. The general behavior here is that one meal in the day is always of epic proportion whereas the other two are kept very light and everyone but us was making this meal that daily meal. 
The dining area at the RAC after most people had left
Us and the Councilor Woman's (next to me) team

People left after having lunch and so we sat around waiting for our transport to arrive. In the end, there was not enough light left in the day to visit the hills and so in the best interest of the team, we ultimately decided to spend the night at a guesthouse in Bobonong. Drained by the events of the day, we were deep asleep by 7:30PM.
Susan had said she would meet us at the bus rank at 7 AM to try and arrange transport to Lepokole and so we were up and running at 6:30AM. We didn’t want to be late and so we took our “breakfast” of fruit and headed to the bus rank. I used my pocketknife to butcher a pineapple and so we all had a sticky breakfast consisting of pineapple, a banana, and a bun. At 8:30AM, Susan greeted us and we started walking in the direction of Lepokole only to walk into the yard of a house. There were 2 elderly ladies doing laundry out in the yard (laundry here is done old school) and we were introduced using our Setswana names (Faisal aka Kabo, Thomas aka Thuso, Isabelle aka Naledi). One of the ladies was the mother of the councilor and the other was the sister in law.
After about 3 hours, at 11:15AM, the councilor showed up like a boss driving a truck. There was another man, Simone, with her and he would be driving us around for the day. We jumped in the back of the pickup truck, were handed fatcakes (fried dough), and headed out. I sat in the front and at the speed Simone was driving at on the bumpy gravel/dirt road, Im glad I did. We were in a 4X4 and the 25 km journey to the village took about 45 minutes.
The village itself had no concrete houses and every structure was made of clay or wood. Our guide, Liquid (Ernest wasn’t there I guess), took my place and I jumped in the back of the truck for our journey to the hills which we could see in the distance. After about 20 minutes on the bumpiest road yet we reached the foot of the hill and started climbing. The Lepokole Hills basically consist of thorny shrub, granite outcrops, boulders, cattle and are unknown to the tourism industry; Ernest said that he used to get around 10 tourists a MONTH coming to the hills. We did some very chilled out hiking to get to a cave and inside we found 2 cattle workers just escaping the sun. And behind them were the rock paintings we had set out to see.
The history behind the area is that the last of the San people had come to the Lepokole Hills to preserve their heritage and maintain their ways of life. Apparently there was a lot of activity back in the Stone Age area too and so there is a wealth of archeological stuff in the area. We didn’t really have trained eye and so didn’t spot any spearheads or anything but in that cave, we saw the rock paintings of the San people. From the entrance, there was only clearly visible painting of a male Kudu but when we were within touching distance, we discovered that there were many many more. There was a rhino outline, people holding bow and arrows, giraffes, and impala and if you look carefully at the picture, you can see them. We were completely mesmerized by the presence of something so historic, and cultural and just couldn’t believe how close we were. Had we not gone in search of the Chief of Bobonong, we would have never seen these paintings in all their immenseness. 
The Kudu is clear, but can you see the rhino and the people?
Iz, Thomas, and I at the Lepokole Hills
Having accomplished our mission of getting to Lepokole Hills, our immediate target became to get back to Francistown before dinner and so we could get a good rest before another week of work. We jumped in the back of our truck at 2:15 PM and left Lepokole Hills with no idea when the last bus from Bobonong to Selebi Phikwe was. Simone told us that the last bus from Phikwe to Francistown was at 5:00PM and so really needed to bust it to get to Phikwe in 3 hours. The thing with buses here is that they usually leave in the mornings and never in the late evenings probably due to the lack of lighting on highways and so it as was imperative that we got to Phikwe or we would have been spending another night not in Francistown. Simone realized the urgency and drove 90 kmph on a rocky dirt road. That is the most scared I have been on this trip thus far. One jutting rock could have sent the hitchhikers, Iz, and I flying out of the truck.
As we pulled into the bus rank at 3:19, my initial thought was that we had missed the 3:00PM bus and that meant we would miss our 5PM bus to Francistown. It was just our luck that the next bus to Phikwe was at 3:30 and so we got on the bus and found the last three seats available in back row wedged between an old lady and 4 children and 2 ladies occupying two seats. We reached Bobonong at 4:45 and, much to our dismay, discovered that there was no bus to Francistown. There was a bus to Gabarone at 5 and so we got on that with the plan to get off at Serule and try and hitchhike to Francistown.
By the time we reached Serule, the sun had already set and tension was rising because we actually had no way of getting home. There was also a large crowd of hitchikers waving people down and so we had to wait for another 30 mins before the crowd thinned. Then, from the South came a bus headed for Francistown originating in Gabarone. It was the last bus of the day and we HADDD to get on the bus. We waved it down and quickly got to the front of the line that was forming. Thank god we did that because the bus was fully packed and only let 4 hitchhikers on. The word overloaded doesn’t even begin to explain what this bus was. It was the standard Marcopolo bus that would hold 44 passengers in Canada. This one had 65 seats and ALSO had 20 people standing the aisle. In total, a bus that would hold 44 was holding 85 and it wasss smelly. We met some interesting people in the form of Ishmael, a medical student studying in Cape Town, and an old man travelling to Zimbabwe. The great thing about Botswana is that elders get the utmost respect. Our very rowdy conductor came to collect receipts to give change and immediately became decent and spoke in a respectful manner to this old man sitting next to me. He was a boss.
We reached Francistown with sore legs and parted ways, excited to tell our hosts of our incredible weekend adventure. And so the story of our weekend comes to an end. We didn’t end up meeting the Chief of Bobonong, but the search for his permission is what essentially got us to Lepokole. We persevered and, like true travelers, we went forth with no definitive path to follow. And that’s what wandering is all about.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sunset over Namibia

Map of Eastern Botswana

citation: africandestiny.com

My Pregnancy

Friday night (June 17th): Isabelle and I are neighbors in an area called Monarch BZ and so we usually take a taxi together from work. I hadn’t met her hosts/neighbors yet and so after work, I went over to their house for introductions. Isabelle’s host Mrs. Otusitse is quite the women. She studied psychology (BA and MA) in Missouri and is a lecturer at the same institute as my host Mrs. Tshabo. She also has very good command over anyone that enters her home. When introductions were good and dusted, she commanded Isabelle to fetch me an orange and when I hesitated to take it, I got a cultural lesson. Iz, Tom and I had gone for milkshakes earlier in the evening and so I was already quite satisfied and in no mood to eat. Yet after the orange, traditional nuts along with the Morojwa fruit (hard shell, gooey insides) were served. Then out of nowhere came the main course dinner meal. Again I hesitated and again I got a cultural lesson. The meal consisted of cabbage coleslaw, 2 chicken pieces and 2 dumplings (Batswana style) the size of my fist. I finished the entire meal (surprisingly), said goodbyes, walked home and into the kitchen for a drink of water only to find Mrs. Tshabo cooking MORE DINNER. The thing with Mrs. Tshabo is that she is so soft spoken and nice that there is no way I could have just rejected her offer of dinner.

Ma Tshabo: “Oh Hi Fai, I cooked you dinner :)” (Fai is my nickname)

Me: “Hiiii…..I just ate at Ma Otusitse’s house….Buttt don’t worry, I didn’t eat too much….Lets eat.”

That was the biggest mistake I have made on this trip. The food was served with a liberal hand and I got the biggest portion…..It was “paleje” which is mealy meal, “morokh” which is like spinach but not, and moar chicken. The thing with paleje is that its literally a compressed sponge when you eat it and then it expands. I got about half way through when my body decided that it wasn’t going to let my brain do this for the sake of being nice to my host. I started feeling so nauseous that I had to get up and go sit in my room while everyone watched tv. The only problem was that my stomach was so bloated that I couldn’t sit down (not exaggerating). My situation was so bad that I could see a visual bulge in my stomach and had to switch into clothing that would let my stomach expand freely. After about 30 minutes of seriously labored breathing while standing up, I decided it was time to sleep. You know when you have a really big meal and get really sleepy and lethargic afterwards? Well I basically got knocked out cold. Though I had to sleep on my back because sleeping on my side was too uncomfortable. And that’s the closest Ill ever get to being pregnant.

The only silver lining to this dark and very dense cloud of a night was that my body had enough food and nutrition for the journey to see the Chief of Bobonong…

Stay tuned


A giraffe standing in Botswana looking at Namibia

Monday, 20 June 2011

Whaattssap! I’ve been in Botswana for 11 days now and just wanted to share my experiences in the rawest form where spelling and grammar are non-issues. This is a “thought to words” type blog and so my apologies if my writing isn’t lyrical and eloquent (Head over to the QPID Botswana blog for that. Lots of food for thought there).

The epic journey to Botswana was as smooth as it could possibly be. I left Kingston on June 7th at about 12:30 PM, reached Francistown Botswana at around 3:30PM on Thursday June 9th and everything went exactly as planned. There was no lost luggage, no flight delays, and no real turbulence. The Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to Johannesburg was probably the emptiest long haul flight I have ever been on and so I ended up having the entire middle row to myself. Best sleep on a plane EVER. The overall journey would have been pretty boring if it weren’t for the excitement that accompanies travelling to new places.

Francistown Airport reminded me a lot of Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania though this one was even smaller; the immigration office and baggage claim were merged into a bedroom size area.

For the first few days in Francistown aka “the Ghetto”, a friend of a friend took it upon himself to show us around the city and teach us survival techniques and without him, we would have seriously flopped. We spent one full day in Francistown (June 10th) and then the QPID team left for Kasane to get Chloe and Lyndsay settled in. The bus trip there on the CHOBE EXPRESS was possibly one of the most uncomfortable because the van that would hold 12 mayybee 15 people in Canada was holding 27+conductor who was one fattass rude guy. Along the way, we ended up seeing our first elephants chillin in some bush along the highway as well as a group of female ostriches, a young giraffe, and kudu.

In Kasane, we were greeted by Ludo aka Mama who is the elder sister of our friend Kenosi. Just for a little background, Kenosi is a Batswana friend of ours from Queen’s who helped us with language and cultural training and travelled with us to Francistown before heading to his own town. Mama turned out to be one hell of a character. She’s 25, works as an automechanic, and acts like a total child (in the best of ways). But she was incredibly generous to allow us to stay at her home which was a tale in itself consisting of freezing cold showers, massive spiders, and leopard attack scares. Mama’s place was actually in Kazungula which is roughly 6km from Kasane and while most people would just think of jogging that distance every morning, the threat of animal attacks from leopards, elephants, cape buffalo, and hippos was so great that hitchhiking became our preferred mode of transport. That may seem sketchy but that is part of the norm here and it is the recommended way of getting around.

A pile of hippos in Chobe National Park
Kasane is a very touristy town and so food was a lot more expensive but the place itself is just incredible. Its located on the banks of the Chobe River which we were told is one of the world’s only rivers that flows in 2 directions (at different times of the year). The area itself is teeming with wildlife because of its vicinity to the Chobe National Park and so we regularly saw elephants, pumbas, cape buffalo, and chacma baboons on the outskirts of the town.

Male Chacma baboon contemplating
A herd of elephants stopped to eat mineral rich dirt


We had a bit of downtime during our trip to Kasane and so on one day, we went for a boat cruise along the Chobe River and saw elephants swimming across the river into Namibian territory. A site to behold. The next day we went for a game drive and saw the most spectacular sunset I have EVER seen as well as 2 female lionesses (a rarity for a 3 hour game drive in the early evening) as well as the “usual” fauna. The day after, our game drive guide contacted us to let us know that he had witnessed 15 lions feast on an elephant. Buzz kill.
Our first lion on the prowl

A young giraffe crossing the Chobe River
Male Kudu silhouette
We left Kasane on Tuesday morning at 6AM and even that was adventurous. The day earlier, Mama had told us about a leopard attack and so we were really sketched on the Tuesday morning when we had to walk out to the main road in the dark lugging all our bags. As we were standing on the main road desperately waiting for any car to roll by, we heard a growling type noise. Thomas and I maintain that it was some sort or wild animal whereas Iz thinks it was a truck idling. It was an animal. Trust me.

Back in Francistown, we all met with our host families and parted ways. My hosts the Tshabos are quite the accomplished couple and I really look forward to the next few months. Mr Tshabo is an elderly man who, before retiring, was involved in the wildlife and game department of the government and even held the post of coordinator of Chobe National Park at one point. He currently lives by the Okavango Delta and is a cattle farmer at the tender age of 66. Mrs. Tshabo is a lecturer of English and in stark comparison to Mr. Tshabo, she is very soft spoken and a devout Christian. By devout I mean realllyyy devout. Like church 4 times a week. Im sure I will talk more of these guys as the days go by.

Now a little about the culture. For one, there is no rush to do anything. Things will get done when they get done. It’s a major change from North American living where when someone tells you to meet them at 9AM, its imperative that you meet them at 9AM or else you’re a slacker, have commitment issues or are just plain useless. Here, that pressure of having to fit perfectly into other people’s time tables is absent and so life is just 10 times easier. This is a culture that teaches you that patience is everything. People even walk slower when going from A to B. Another great thing about this chilled way of living is that as a foreigner, people don’t give a damn that you’re here. In Cambodia, Thailand, or anywhere else that I have ever been, street vendors yell from every angle to get your attention but here you can walk through a market and go completely unnoticed. The Batswana culture is also very communal as compared to North America where people are generally individualistic. There is an immense amount of trust between strangers and thus when someone helps you out, you never get the feeling that there are ulterior motives involved.

Now a little about the work. Thomas, Iz, and I are interning at a local NGO by the name of True Men Center and basically its goal is to increase the involvement of men in the fight against HIV/AIDS and ultimately stop the spread of the virus. Basically there are three main projects being run right now and they target commercial sex workers and the truck drivers they cater to, the issue of multiple concurrent partners (MCP), and prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT). We’re based in the headquarters but as we learned today, there is a large network of peer educators, about 50 in total, that are responsible for all the “field work”, who only come to the office once a week and for the rest of the time are out engaging the community. Our first main project as interns (6 of us) is to hold a workshop for new hires to the post of peer educators and give them all the information necessary to conduct their jobs. I will personally be responsible for a presentation on mental preparation as well as putting the overall presentation together. Right now we’re just trying to figure out the structure of the organization but soon enough we’ll be doing some real work and heading out with peer educators.

This message has gotten wayyyy too long but I just wanted to include as much as I could in the first post. I promise to keep them short from now on and post frequently. Pleaasseee don’t hesitate to comment on anything.

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” - James Michener

Sala Sentle