In the morning at home, I look at the news. Here in Africa, in the morning I look at the gnus. A herd of wildebeest gathers on the plain outside our cabin as the sun rises.
Last night, one of the guides gave us a brief five-minute tour of the African starscape. One thing I keep forgetting is that we are in the southern hemisphere now, so the stars are completely different. Until last night, I forgot to look up at the sky. I can see Alpha Centauri, Antares, the Milky Way and those other places I’ve read about in science fiction books for so many years.
The man doing the star show used a laser pointer that shot out of visible beam of light, so he could easily point out the various stars in their location, as if we were in a planetarium. I did not realize laser pointers could do that. I thought you had to point them at something to display a dot at that location.
It is now about 20 after eight on Thursday morning. In a few minutes we will be leaving for what is billed as a cultural visit to a local village. I have no idea what is in store for us there. But I am looking forward to it!
Yesterday afternoon we saw a Toyota truck go by in the evening game drive, carrying a full load of black people. It was the first time I had seen black people in the back of the Toyota, as passengers, rather than driving. Our guide told us that they were teachers from the same school that we are going to visit today. They look very young, as though they were teenagers and students themselves.
The cultural event proved to be an excursion to Khumaga (khoo mah cha), a nearby village of about 2,000 people. We drove in on an unpaved dirt road, past houses ranging from circular mud huts to plain square brick buildings to small neat houses with proper windows and fences and cars in front that would not have looked out of place in a middle class American neighborhood. We saw some people, but not a lot, men walking in pairs at the kind of deliberate pace you maintain when you’re going to be waking a long way. Children waved to us cheerfully; we grinned and waved back.
We visited a school for kindergarten through seventh grade. A teacher told us briefly about the school. She seemed citified, in a brightly colored floral skirt and blue double breasted jacket that might have been a fleece. Fleeces are ubiquitous here, the resort staff wears khaki fleeces as part of their uniforms. The teacher asked for donations and seemed shocked when we told her, truthfully, that we had not brought wallets or cash. I’ve gotten in the habit of locking my wallet, cash and passport in my room safe when arriving at a resort. We just don’t need it. We’ll arrange a donation later today.
We went into a seventh grade classroom and the children broke into three groups to crowd around the three of us who visited from the resort, me and Julie and a man in his 70s who had previously volunteered at the peace corps, so he was familiar with this kind of place and situation. His wife, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, waited in the Toyota.
My little group of children, mostly boys 11-13 years old, pushed up against me in a circle. They asked me how old I am and marveled at the number (it amazes me too, kids) and admired my hair and shirt and shoes. They asked me what kind of animal is my favorite (our dog and cats at home – but in Botswana I like elephants, giraffes, zebras, gnu and baboons). They told me what they want to be when they grew up, a doctor, scientist, dentist and soldier. They asked me what kind of work I do, and seemed satisfied with the answer. They loved elephants and told me with relish that they can kill you. They showed me a worksheet of what to do and not to do when you encounter elephants. There is an elephant overpopulation problem in Botswana; the beasts trample crops and destroy property. The government is considering reversing the ban on hunting, to reduce numbers. The boys asked me my religion; I said Jewish, non-practicing. I don’t know if that registered. Earlier, the teacher had said the children study world religions and she listed a few, of which Judaism was not one. That’s reasonable; we Jews are few in numbers, just a few million in the whole world, and maybe a child in an African village has no need to know about us.
The kids and I ran out of things to talk about but they cheerfully demanded to be photographed, so we did that. They mugged for the shot and then crowded around the iPhone to see how the photo came out.
Afterward we visited the kindergarten, about 25 children in a one room building with a concrete floor and metal roof. They sat on the floor and colored and greeted us cheerfully. Then we visited a woman who wove baskets; she wore a pink bathrobe, belted carefully to make it look more like a dress.
Tomorrow, which is Friday, will be a travel day. Saturday too. Multiple hops to get from here in Botswana to JoBurg, where we will again spend the night at an airport hotel. I must admit I’m looking forward to a dinner that is not a production number, and going shopping at the airport stores for additional camera accessories. The on a plane Saturday morning for two flights and a road transfer to our next stop, in Namibia. Namibia and Botswana are neighboring countries so hopefully there will be direct flights between them one day.