Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Two weeks in the Delta.

For the past two weeks I was camping in the Okavango Delta, the main hub of all things safari in Africa-google it, with 35 orphans from my village. There were also about eight social workers and maybe seven other helpers, so in all roughly 50 Motswana.....and me....for two weeks. Ok fine, Mike was there too. He was nice enough to talk all the social workers into letting me come, we badgered them to the point of annoyance, they even told me so. The camp was a wilderness therapy camp aimed at counseling the orphans on dealing with their rough home lives and encouraging them to talk about their feelings with orphans like them. Mike and I went along to lead a Grassroot Soccer (GRS) camp simultaneously, we were supposed to be given an hour each day to do our lesson. GRS is an interactive program for HIV prevention and education that involves different football-esque games that can be related to HIV, it is really a pretty cool program. Unfortunately, the facilitators did not exactly seem like it was crucial so they did not have enough time for us for about three days straight in the beginning. Granted, it is only an hour, but we still felt like we were doing something, when we weren't given any time we awkwardly hung around the camp, chopping vegetables and being told how we were doing everything wrong. They have one way of doing things here, and any other way is wrong. Normally I can deal with the occasional comment like that because I can just go home and eat whatever I want and do whatever I want, but two weeks of constantly being told I was doing it wrong became slightly frustrating. There were some communication issues and cultural differences that made this experience not the most enjoyable at times. There are certain things I will never be ok with here, like not using the word 'please', or whipping children. And now I know to never agree to an outing longer than a few days in total isolation with 50 people from a completely different culture. I would have regretted not going, though, because the children were great and I had fun whooping someone's ass in chess everyday. I used to say how non-competitive I was and how much I did not care about winning, well, after getting obnoxiously angry multiple times and acting like a six year old, I have concluded that I was wrong, when it comes to chess I am very competitive. I have to have rules about when I can play or it will just ruin my whole day. Exhausting. It also gave me vivid flashbacks of eight-year-old me sitting behind the big chair in our living room, crying because I did not win at the board game Sorry. I guess I have not really changed much.
If you are wondering how you take a butt load of kids on a really cheap safari, let me tell you! First, you get a huge truck-like the ones you would carry half of a house in or a wind turbine propellor (oh Iowa, I miss you). Next, you throw 35 kids in it and drive around a game reserve for 13 hours until the kids are freezing, dehydrated, exhausted, and covered with dirt from dodging branches all day. It was like a really sketchy roller coaster with absolutely no safety guaranteed. I am honestly surprised no one got hurt or fell out of the truck. We were passing white people in safari trucks all day, I tried to take pictures of them in their cars because they were taking pictures of us in ours, it seemed fair. We came across a part of the dirt road where the trees had grown together at the top and created a sort of archway that a normal safari vehicle could maneuver under but our truck was way too big. Well at this point, our driver decided to just take down the archway; branches, dirt, and spiders pelted all the lucky people in the back, who were all crouched and covering their heads, much like we had to do during tornado drills in elementary/middle school (again, heavy sigh, the Midwest). It was hilarious only because of how absolutely ridiculous everything was. As far as the safari is concerned, we got to see a surprising amount, considering how loud our truck was; you can tell the animals are used to the constant traffic. We saw elephants, hippos, monkeys, baboons, a leopard, giraffes, lions, antelope type things that I can't remember the name of, warthogs, and wild dogs. We also saw ostriches on our way home, and two hyenas on our last night at camp. Lion King nailed it when they depicted the hyena. They are very creepy and big enough to take down a cow. It had jerky head movements and I initially thought it was a wounded leopard because it's movements were so odd. He was probably only twenty feet away and didn't run away when we shown the light on it, two of them sat there watching us, waiting for us to go to sleep so they could search the camp. Hippos were constant visitors at night, we were camping down by the riverside, so we got to listen to them talk all day, too.
The monkeys and baboons were all over our camp. They knew our feeding times and came daily to ransack the grounds for our leftover food, or steal food on the table if they were fast enough, and they were a couple times. One managed to get into our store room, I could hear the screaming of the kitchen ladies to get him out. He flung poop everywhere; it was all very sanitary. I kept referring to them as racist monkeys because every time I tried to shoo one away from our food, it would come after me! Naturally, I would scream and run away. If a Motswana shoo'd one, it would leave. Damn tourists, ruining my street cred with the monkeys. They expect white people to feed them, not chase them away. Quite a few of the baboons would come with their babies which was pretty damn cute, I could watch them all day. They looked like little aliens.
Other than the camp, I have just been hanging out in my village, dreaming up some nutrition projects to start implementing. I also helped a group of women submit a grant for a machine for their water purifying business. It was a very short, simple grant, but this is Botswana, so it took about four months to complete. I understand now how some volunteers spend two years completing a grant. It took four months to ask for one machine, I cannot fathom the pain and stress of a whole building. Just the thought makes me sick.