Monday, August 20, 2012


Well it is hard to believe but my time in Botswana is rapidly coming to an end.  Less than 24 hours from now I will be on the long journey back, flying from Gaborone to Johannesburg to London and finally to Boston.  There are many things I wanted to write about on this blog that I didn't get to, including the second half of my trip to Chobe and my week in South Africa.  Additionally, I went to the Sir Seretse Khama Rhino Sanctuary this weekend with three new American friends I met about two weeks ago.  Aside from my travels, I could have written volumes about my time here in Gaborone - the day-to-day experiences, the incredible stories of the people I interviewed, and the ever-present spirit of faith and optimism in the face of hardship that seems to permeate every aspect of African life.

This morning I went to Holy Cross Hospice for the last time, and it was a bittersweet goodbye.  I have built relationships with the staff over the last two and a half months, and they have been so wonderful and welcoming since day one.  It has been an honor and a pleasure getting to know them during my time here, and I greatly admire the work they do despite the many obstacles that the organization faces (not to mention the personal obstacles many of them have to contend with).  I managed to get a group photo with the staff and volunteers in front of the hospice sign:

Holy Cross Hospice Staff & Volunteers (and me!)
I was able to achieve my goal of 30 interviews with family members of people who have passed away, thanks in no small part to the staff you see in the picture above.  Many of them have stuck with the hospice over the years despite fluctuations in funding which have caused them to miss occasional paychecks or take pay cuts periodically.  They really care about their clients and the mission of the hospice, and it shows in their positive attitudes and excitement to include volunteers from all over the world.

This weekend I went northeast of Gaborone to the Sir Seretse Khama Rhino Sanctuary (known as "Khama Rhino" by the locals).  We went on a game drive on Sunday morning and saw lots of animals, including wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, warthogs, impala, kudu, springbok, squirrels, and RHINOS!  This was the first time I've seen a rhino in the wild - they are very rare to see because they have been heavily poached for their horns.  Apparently in China people will pay top dollar for a rhino horn - the powdered horn is supposed to be a powerful aphrodisiac.  Unfortunately this has led to much poaching of rhinos just for their horns - despite the fact that rhino horns will grow back if you cut them, like a fingernail, people continue to kill the animals in order to poach the horns.  In the rhino sanctuary they have about 34 white rhinos and just 4 black rhinos, the most endangered type.  I didn't manage to get any good pictures of the rhinos but our guide let us get out of the jeep and walk closer to the rhinos to get a better view, after a long discussion with another driver to make sure that was okay.  It is rare that you are allowed to get out of the vehicle on a game drive because it can be very dangerous, but our guide wanted us to get a good view so he drove the car behind some bushes and we walked slowly and carefully from bush to bush until we were about 50 meters from the rhinos.  Apparently rhinos have poor eyesight and when provoked they can run up to 40km per hour, so we were careful not to get too close or disturb them.   

Giraffes at the Rhino Sanctuary
Wildebeest (taking no notice of us despite our proximity) at the Rhino Sanctuary
On the way back to Gaborone we passed by the Matsieng footprints, which the Batswana believe were one of the places of the origin of man.  The site consists of a very small placard and a massive rock with footprints carved into it.  It was hard to tell which of the footprints were 2,000 years old (if any) and which were newer or copycat engravings.  It does make sense to me that the Batswana believed this to be the origin of creation since the rocks contain three deep holes that contain water year-round, which is a scarce resource in this part of the country.  It hasn't rained once since I arrived here on June 6th, but there remains about a meter of water in the deepest hole at Matsieng, and right now is one of the lowest points of the year according to the woman who was working there.  Although the water looked a bit like primordial soup to me (another argument for this being the origin of man?) I can imagine what an important place this is due to the constant presence of water in the middle of very dry surroundings.

Matsieng's Footprint

Me as I pretend to emerge from the primordial soup!
Also along the way back to Gaborone was the Tropic of Capricorn, so we stopped to get a quick group photo:

Tropic of Capricorn (with our tiny rental car, aka "The Little Rhino" in the background)
On my bucket list of things to do before leaving Botswana has been to taste Chibuku.  Chibuku is a  home-brew style beer made from sorghum, maize, water, and yeast.  It is very popular in the Old Naledi neighborhood where I conducted most of my interviews, and it is actually brewed there for distribution around the country.  When I first heard of Chibuku I thought it was a home brew, but it is very much a commercial enterprise complete with branded packaging and even a few billboards advertising it.  You can buy a liter of Chibuku for 5.50 pula - about 75 cents in US currency.  The alcohol content on the label is "3% plus or minus 5%" - the longer you let it sit, the more it ferments and the stronger it gets.  I can see why this is so popular in a country where the cheapest beer you can buy in a store is about 7 pula for 330ml - you can buy a liter of Chibuku for 5.50 and let it ferment up to 8% alcohol in a few short days.  Liquor stores here don't sell Chibuku (not that I have noticed at least), so you have to go to a local bar or the brewery to buy it.

On our drive back to Gaborone we saw an open bar and decided to ask if they sold Chibuku, much to the owner's amusement.  She gladly sold us a carton and showed us the proper way to shake it up before opening ("shake it harder, like you mean it!") and how to properly open the top and form the spout to drink from.  The drink looked like a watery chocolate milk and tasted a little earthy and tart and yeasty; it reminded me of the yeast and warm water mix you make before baking bread, but it was cold and had some ground up maize and sorghum grains mixed in.  It certainly wouldn't be the first thing I reach for when I'm thirsty, but I can see how it would be easy to drink once you acquire a taste for it.  As one of the others travelling with me said, "how did you feel about beer the first time you tried it?"  That's a pretty accurate description of Chibuku in my book.  An added bonus for the people who drink it is that it is nearly a meal substitute with all the sorghum and maize floating around in there, so if they are short on cash it is like killing two birds with one stone.

Demonstrating good Chibuku-drinking technique after giving it a good shake
We didn't even come close to finishing the liter despite sharing it between four people, but we certainly got our money's worth posing for pictures with the carton, much to the amusement of our gracious bar hostess/owner.

Discarded Chibuku cartons around a fire pit in the yard of the bar - clearly this is a popular drink!

Small building next to the bar where we bought the Chibuku advertising the drink (and the dog of the bar owner)
Despite having had a few sips of Chibuku we made it back to Gabs without incident :)

This past week I met a few nursing students from UPenn who are here doing a four-week clinical rotation - some of them at the hospice - and I went to a lecture their professor gave at the University of Botswana on global health for their course in community health nursing.  It made me look forward to being back in school this fall!  It seems like ages ago that I was studying disease processes and treatment protocols, but in a few short weeks I will be right back into it and seeing patients in a clinical setting again.

In closing, I leave you with this fantastic photo (that I didn't even get the chance to write about!) of my husband and I in South Africa.  We had the opportunity to walk a cheetah at a wildlife rescue organization (Tenikwa) near Plettenberg Bay.  The experience of walking the cheetah basically sums up how I feel about my time here in southern Africa - it has been exciting, educational, at times a bit scary . . . and now I am sad that it is coming to an end but also ready for the next chapter to begin.  After all, you can't walk a cheetah forever!


I hope that some day I will be able to come back to Botswana, but until then I will be diligently writing up my research findings and working on finishing school to become a nurse practitioner.  Until next time!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Chobe in Pictures

I'm finally getting another update up!  I want so share some photos from my trip up to Chobe National Park, which is in the northeastern corner of Botswana.  The trip was a quick weekend turnaround with 11 hours of driving each way, but well worth the travel time.  On our drive up we saw an elephant and two or three giraffes on the side of the highway!

Wouldn't want to hit one of these guys on the road!
The Chobe river runs along a portion of the northern edge of Botswana where it creates part of the border between Botswana and Namibia.  It flows east and merges with the Zambezi river at a point where the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe all touch.  Just a few miles down the river from there, the Zambezi river cascades at Victoria Falls, which we visited on Sunday.

We arrived at our lodge on Friday afternoon and were welcomed by two warthogs chowing down on the lawn near the parking lot.

Welcoming Warthogs
The lodge was fantastic - it was a bit of a splurge for us but we managed to get the "local discount" since one of the people traveling with us has applied for residency in Botswana (they didn't seem to check on our claim that we were residents anyway).  After freshening up, we headed out for a sunset boat cruise into the park, during which we saw hippos, elephants, crocodiles, mongoose, warthogs, baboons, monkeys, kudu, impala, and about a million beautiful birds. I'm sure we saw other things as well I just can't remember at the moment - it was overwhelming and beautiful.

Thankfully we had borrowed a camera with fantastic zoom capability so we were able to capture some photos that did the experience justice.

A banded mongoose crosses the path of a young antelope

Water Buffalo - these things have massive horns!
Reportedly the most dangerous creature to encounter on safari if you are on foot.
Hippo having an afternoon snack
Hippo close-up

Elephants on the island in the middle of the river

Myself and my travel companions on the roof deck of the boat

Hippo naptime





HUGE crocs - the big one was at least 8 or 10 feet long!

Elephant family walking down to the water

The elephants began drinking in unison, using their trunks like straws

Then they poured the water out of their trunks and down the hatch!

Baby elephant! It looked over at us mid-gulp.

Chobe River

The island in the middle of the river, with hippos, water buffalo, and elephants visible

More sunbathing hippos

This croc jumped out of the water just as our boat approached

Croc close-up! Scary!

Camouflaged Croc - the hill behind is the Botswana side of the river

Elephants and water buffalo on the Namibia side of the river

There were so many beautiful birds

This was amazing - towards the end of the boat ride, we stopped in an area where there were tons of different types of animals heading for the water.  These are impala and elephants.

It almost looked like a stampede just before sunset - from our vantage point we could see impala, water buffalo, hippos, elephants, and warthogs

Here you can see some warthogs in front of the impala, which are in front of the elephants

And there is a bird!  Does this remind anyone else of the opening scene in the Lion King? I couldn't help but hear Elton John singing "Circle of Life" when this was happening.  It was surreal.

And then some GIRAFFES emerged from the trees!

Giraffe joining the party

It was really an indescribable experience to see so many animals in one place, and it made me incredibly happy that Botswana has done such a great job of preserving the natural habitat for these animals.  What a fantastic way to start a weekend!

On the boat's journey back to the lodge we circled around the other side of the island and saw this guy:

Water Monitor lizard - this one was definitely more than 2 feet long, and he slid into the hole behind him in the cliff as we sailed off
We caught a beautiful sunset with a classic African red sun on our way back.  It was a magical day, and our trip had just begun!

Chobe Sunset

I will put the rest of our trip, which included a game drive and a visit to Victoria Falls, in a separate post since this one has so many photos in it.  Stay tuned!