Editor’s note: Amy McBride has been in Botswana for more than a year, where she is serving as an HIV and health-capacity building specialist with the U.S. Peace Corps. She lives in a village near Gaborone (which she can’t name for security reasons) and works with two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help them better serve a country where one of five people are HIV-positive. She writes a monthly column for the Montrose Daily Press and also maintains a blog, www.amyinbotswana.com. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or comments (or to get her address).
I am composing this column from the middle seat of a Toyota Prado that is cruising along a pothole-pocked highway in northern Botswana at 130 kilometers per hour. It is driven by my coworker, pastor and friend, Thabo. My brother-in-law, Andreas, is sitting to his left. Thabo’s wife, Sylvia, is beside me; and my sister, Suzy, and nephew, Felix, are in the back seat. We left at 6 a.m. to drive the 900 kilometers back to my village. At 6:15, a lion and lioness crossed the highway. By 8 a.m. we’d seen herds of impala, kudu and zebra — and a lone giraffe and elephant.
It has been a joy to share Botswana (and my friends) with my sister and her family. In addition to the vehicle and driving, Thabo and Sylvia have provided cultural insights, Setswana lessons, translation and lots of laughs. And it’s their first vacation in years, so it’s fun to see them having a good time.
And a good time we’ve had. This was my third trip to Kasane/Chobe National Park and Livingstone, Zambia/Victoria Falls. It was the best yet. Highlights include: 1) a game drive with TK (who has guided the other two I’ve done), that included an impala-stalking leopard, eight lions, elephants, hippos, giraffes, marabou storks, Cape buffalo, kudu, and much more; 2) a boat cruise with more hippos and buffalo, crocodiles, waterbuck, and lots of birds, including African fish eagles and African darters; 3) a visit to Caracal, a sanctuary for injured animals, where my nephew got to play with a chameleon and snakes. Botswana is home to 72 species of snakes, but only 20 percent are poisonous…and Caraval has most of them.
We left the Prado in Botswana and took the Kazungula Ferry across the Zambezi River to Zambia, where we caught a taxi to Livingstone. The next morning, we traveled by motorboat to Livingstone Island in the middle of the Zambezi. Then, along with five other folks from China, Australia and South Africa, we swam to Devil’s Pool, which sits on the lip of Victoria Falls. Each of us got to take our turn hanging over the edge (while a guide held our ankles). Perched atop and gazing down that 100-meter wall of water is something I never will forget. Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world at 100 meters high and 1,700 meters across. It isn’t that wide now since it’s low season, which allows us to swim to Devil’s Pool. In May, the entire 1,700 meters will be covered with the cascading Zambezi.
We also went on a game drive in Zambia and stood fewer than 10 meters from five white rhinoceroses. Several months ago, poachers killed two members of this crash (the word for a group of rhinos) for their horns. Authorities suspect it was an inside job because the rhinos are guarded 24 hours a day (and we had to follow one of the armed rangers into the bush to see the rhinos). One horn can fetch $2 million. My sister and I also engaged in some “recreational immigration” and briefly hopped over the border into Zimbabwe (to watch the bungee jumpers from the Victoria Falls Bridge and get stamps in our passports).
Now Thabo is sitting next to me, and Sylvia is driving. We’re back in southern Botswana, where the only animals crossing the road are donkeys, cows and goats. Thabo says I should tell you more about Setswana culture, so I’ll tell you about names. Thabo means happiness. He also has a Christian name, Isaiah, as do many Batswana. Some Christian names are English, and some are Setswana. Gift (from God) is a common name, as is Mpho or Neo (Setswana for gift). Some names reflect what’s happening in the village at the time of birth, such as Mmatlala (born during famine) or Mmapula (born during rain). Babies born around Independence Day may be named Boipuso (Setswana for independence). If the father has left, the mother could name her child Ketlogetswe (I’ve been dumped). Some people are named Motsesanagape (another girl) or Mosimanegape (another boy) or Bofelo (the last one).
Botswana’s current president is named Mokgweetsi, which is appropriate since it implies leadership. I like to think my Setswana name is appropriate, too. It’s Tsala, and it means friend. It was given to me by Mma Leburu, my host mother in Molepolole, and Thabo says I am the only Tsala in Botswana. I asked my host mother why she gave me that name (which she decided before she had even met me), and she said she knew I would be a friend. I have tried hard to live up to her expectation. I think it’s interesting that Amy also means friend (amie in French), which Mma Leburu didn’t know. When I meet people and tell them my name is Tsala, they don’t understand and think I’m saying Sara, and then I repeat it several times, and add, “Tsala ya gago,” which means “your friend,” and then they understand. And that’s my new email address (since I got tired of spelling email@example.com when giving it out to people), so if you want to send me an email, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s Friday, Jan. 4, and I’m back at my village. Thabo drove me and the gang to Gaborone this morning for the 6 a.m. bus to Johannesburg. My sister and her family will fly from there to London and then home to San Francisco. If anyone wants to come to Botswana, I’m getting to be a pretty good tour guide…
Festive season is ending (that’s what Batswana call the time around Christmas). This weekend, people will return from their home villages, and I’m happy we got a jumpstart on the traffic. There’s one main highway that traverses Botswana (the A1), and most of it is two-lane (it reminds me of old Highway 50 between Montrose and Grand Junction). I’m hoping to make it to one of the last dikhwaere (traditional choir) performances this weekend. My district is famous for its dikhwaere. The choirs compete against each other, and the events are held in the bush and last for days. The songs often address current issues, and my boss tells me that a popular song this year calls on the former president to let the current president do his job.
It’s my 18th month here, and I’m more in love with Botswana than ever, as a result of sharing it with my family. I’m eager to return to work on Monday and continue to help my civil society organizations build capacity to end AIDS. A big thanks to Lanie for sending me the insulated bag that will help me to transport meat on the combi and avoid dozens of requests for invitations to my next braai. And many thanks to you, my western Colorado friends, for joining me on this journey. May 2019 bring you much love and laughter.