Ke Rata Botswana Thata
It was the beginning of my sixth week here in Gaborone, Botswana and I found myself out in the middle of the African bush with the sun on my back and sweat running down my neck while hacking away at a nasty little shrub commonly know as Devil’s Thorn (its name couldn’t be more appropriate.) It has curved fish hook-like thorns that burry themselves into your skin, making it nearly impossible to get out. Your only option is to take a deep breath and rip; blood and loss of skin is inevitable. So there I was, hot, tired, thirsty, scratched up, bloody, and wouldn’t you know, it was the happiest I had been since I arrived in Botswana.
I will admit, even with a fair bit of traveling and living abroad, the last five weeks in Gaborone had been difficult and frustrating: the slow pace of life, the inconsistency of things, the power outages, and the heat. For example, with no schedule or timetable for the local transportation here, you may find yourself waiting for a combi anywhere from five minutes to two hours. As a homestayer, I live far from campus, so I have to wake up at 5 a.m. each morning to wait for a combi by 5:30. Sometimes I arrive to school by 6:00 while other times I am late to my 8 a.m. class. Needless to say, the adjustment had been arduous and more than a little bit discouraging.
However, I am lucky to have the opportunity to intern on a wild game reserve while I am here, it has become the highlight of my weeks. Having grown up in the mountains of Colorado, I am a nature girl at heart, so working on the reserve has become my chance to escape the traffic jams, city air, and the nonstop beeping of combi horns. I enjoy it so much that I find myself going there to work even on my days off. And this day happened to be one of those days. Our task: clear about 5K of park fence from any unwanted overgrown trees and foliage.
The park staff and I hiked uphill along the fence line slashing away with machetes (locally known as pangas) sending thorns and branches flying everywhere. At this point, my legs and arms resembled something of an etch-a-sketch creation that a four-year-old might come up with. But I can’t forget reaching the top of that last hill, looking down at the rolling hills, and realizing how worthwhile all the blood, sweat, and tears had been. The freshly cleared fence line rose and fell with the undulating hills below us and I couldn’t help but feel proud of the work we had done.
As though it had been planned, right when we turned around to start heading back a white and brown head, level with the trees, bobbed about 30 feet away from us. A giraffe! It stood there casually munching on tree leaves with its tail swishing lazily back and forth. We watched it for about a minute without saying a word. Slowly it came through the trees, revealing its speckled body and the full extent of its elegant neck before it continued past us disappearing in the trees from whence it came.
It was that moment that the realization hit me. I was in Africa. How many people can say they have worked in a place where they take a break from where they are working only to look up and see a giraffe casually walking by? And since then, I have had similar moments with zebra, wildebeest, ostrich, baboons and rhinos (to name a few.) It blows my mind every time. And even though I still get frustrated with certain aspects of my time studying abroad, I will always think back to that day to remind myself how lucky I am to be here in Botswana. It’s been an experience of a lifetime. And I’m only six weeks in!