In November 2009, I traveled to Africa to visit my sister Laura who was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana. Over the course of 10 days, Laura and I traveled to South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. The following is an account of each of those days. 

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Thursday, 19 November 2009

After months of planning and excitement, and a slew of vaccines for fun stuff like typhoid and malaria, the day had come. I was armed with my passport, boarding pass, and a copy of Twilight I bought in the Atlanta airport.

The trip was off to a bit of a rocky start when my flight from Tulsa to Atlanta left 30 minutes late. I already had a tight connection in Atlanta — and that didn’t help. I frantically searched the monitors for my flight number only to realize I was two terminals away — of course. As I stepped off the tram, I heard ‘Final Boarding Call for Delta Flight 200, service to Johannesburg. The door will be closing in 3 minutes.’ Ahh! I took off running. I don’t run. It was awful. I showed up at the gate huffing and puffing and completely panicked, running through scenarios in my head of how I could possibly salvage our week of plans if I had to wait until the next day to fly out, and how would I let Laura know where I was — she’d probably already left for Jo’burg, and ahh!!

I stepped onto the plane. And was immediately confused. People were milling around the plane as if it were a bar, drinks in hand, no one in their seat, NO ONE in the least bit of a hurry to leave. Baffled, I found my seat and tried to regulate my breathing. As I sat there, I heard one of the flight attendants announce that we were waiting on a group of 24 passengers — a school group — and wouldn’t be leaving for several more minutes. Excuse me? We are waiting on 24 people? What happened to we’re closing the door in T-minus 3 minutes ?? I just RAN, you guys.

We didn’t take off for a FULL HOUR. I found out later that there was some sort of computer glitch in several major airports that day. No time to watch the news because I spent my morning doing 100% of my packing — hello, procrastination, nice to meet you.

Anyway. We finally left Atlanta. And I could settle in for 14 hours of people-watching, movie watching, and Twilight reading. International people-watching is fabulous. Flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Johannesburg, South Africa. Where are these people from? Where are they going? And why? I love it. I tried to break it up by watching movies — The Time Traveler’s Wife (which should have been titled, Eric Bana Changes Clothes), Revolutionary Road (better than I had anticipated), Rachel Getting Married (awkward and unsatisfying), and Confessions of a Shopaholic (a fairly ridiculous combination of Legally Blonde and The Devil Wears Prada). I even slept a few winks. And in between I obsessively watched the moving map on the screen as the tiny little plane inched across the ocean toward Africa!

Friday, 20 November 2009

I didn’t get much of a Friday since I was flying so far east and skipped several time zones. But I arrived in Jo’burg around 5:30p.m. local time. In customs, there were three lines — South African Passports, African Passports, and Other Passports. I couldn’t help but giggle as I stood in the line marked ‘other’. How often does that happen? I made it through quickly and then my pack was the third piece of luggage off the carousel — perfect!

As I walked through the Arrivals area it occurred to me that Laura and I had made no specific plans to meet, but as soon as I started to worry that it may be awhile before we found each other I scanned the sizable mob of people crowding the Arrivals lobby and my fears dissolved. I spotted Laura immediately — jumping up and down in the crowd, waving like a maniac. Yah! Sister!

Sarah at the Johannesburg Airport.

We had some dinner at the airport before catching a ride to our hostel — Diamond Diggers. We had reserved a couple bunks in the dormitory, but they were overbooked so we were upgraded to our own room with a private bathroom. We were headed back to the main area to take advantage of the free internet and we couldn’t get our door to lock. I’m still not quite sure what we were doing wrong, but we had to ask locksmith Poughkeepsie NY to help us lock our bedroom. We headed over to check email/Facebook and chat with some of the other backpackers staying there for the night. We sat and talked with a group of girls from a small private college in Nebraska and even one girl with ties to Bentonville, Arkansas! Small world.

It was rainy and cold that night. Very cold. We turned the room upside down looking for extra blankets as we only had one thin sheet on the bed and neither of us had really dressed for the cold. In the end we had to make do and we layered on all the clothes we had, reminded ourselves that we would sorely miss the cold temperatures as our week unfolded, and tried to get some sleep.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

We were up at the ice cold crack of dawn on Saturday. We convinced Barkeep Willy to drag his hung over, red-eyed self out of bed and drive us to the airport in time for our flight. Security at the Jo’burg airport was a little strange — you don’t have to take off your shoes like in the US, but they don’t hesitate to pat you down! But we finally made it on to the plane. Next stop — Zambia!

We had our doubts that all of our previously-arranged transfers would come through, but sure enough there was a little guy waiting for us at the airport with a sign reading “Hood x2”. We loaded up our bags and headed to the Zambezi Waterfront Lodge in Livingstone, Zambia. After checking in and heeding the ‘Do not feed the monkeys’ warnings posted all over the camp, we were escorted to our accommodations — the Adventure Tent. Our tent was called ‘Bushbuck’ and we crashed for a quick nap.


That evening we took what the backpackers like to call a ‘Booze Cruise’. I prefer to call it a Sunset Cruise. We had dinner and drinks while watching the sunset on the Zambezi River. It was gorgeous. And seemed to last forever. Every time we looked up, we would comment on how beautiful it was. And it looked different every couple minutes — reds, pinks, blues, golds. I think I could have taken a hundred pictures of it. Ahh…


We met a guy named Conrad who never told us just how old he was but at two different times told us he was “104” and “frightfully old”. Originally from South Africa, he is now an English teacher (and Squash coach) in Namibia. He sat and chatted with us for most of the cruise.

Laura finally got to see hippos! She had waited 18 long months to see hippos in Africa and we saw some on our cruise! We also saw a cute little crocodile and several beautiful birds.

There was a group of guys at the other end of the boat that seemed to be having a little TOO much fun with the all-you-can-drink rules of the ‘booze cruise’. It was a bachelor party. And the bachelor was not tough to spot. Our first clue was the large metal brick chained to his ankle… This poor guy’s buddies had chained him to a brick and formed a plaster cast around his arm and hand so that he couldn’t put his drink down — and I assure you they kept that cup full! He made the rounds and visited each group of people on the boat — asking everyone to provide “marriage advice” and write it on his cast.  By the time he made it to us he was no longer wearing a shirt. My advice to him was “she’s always right”. I’m certain his new wife will appreciate it.




Sunday, 22 November 2009

Sunday morning was another early one — 5:30a.m. I slept ok in the tent, but had a nightmare about bungee jumping. In my dream the bridge was one of those rickety, swinging, wooden-slat bridges like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean and there were people falling off left and right.  Needless to say, the bungee was making me a little nervous.

Anyway. 5:30a.m. Lions! We spent the morning walking with 17 month old lion cubs (the same age as MY little cub). The program is called ALERT — African Lion & Environmental Research Trust — and it works with groups across Africa to promote productive and healthy environments for the African Lion. It’s a rehab and repopulation program. The African Lion population has seen a decrease of roughly 90% in the last 30 years — such a tragedy. But this program is helping repopulate the continent. And I got to walk with lions!



Our guide’s name was Lacken, and he took us through a class on how to behave around the lions, how to approach them, etc. They even gave us a little stick to “distract” the lions if necessary. Honestly, the little stick didn’t make me feel any safer, but I carried it anyway. We walked through the bush with the lions for an hour or so, interacting with the cubs and learning about them. Lions spend approximately 20 hours a day resting so we were totally wearing them out walking around — after an hour, they were spent. It was such a good time and the guides and handlers were very knowledgeable.


Our transfer dropped us back at the lodge after the lion encounter and we went up to visit the Activities Office to confirm our activities for the next day. We were planning to spend the next day in Zimbabwe, but come back to Zambia for the night. And apparently — unbeknownst to us — that was causing all kinds of issues.  We asked a few questions of the guy at the desk before he stopped, wrote “HOOD” on a piece of paper and pointed to it. “Is this you?” Uhh. It’s not a good sign when, out of hundreds of people in the camp, the guy can tell exactly who you are by the complicated nature of your questions… He helped us out and we felt set for the next day. Crossing the borders multiple times in one day WAS going to be complicated, but we were determined to see both sides of the falls. No worries.

We had some lunch and began the mental preparation for our next activity. The bungee jump.

In the meantime, there was a fairly substantial miscommunication regarding our transfer to the bridge for our bungee jump and we were late. There was much fussing and chatter and we finally got someone to take us. We were reminded several times that afternoon that we were running late. And, as Laura informed me, if you’re late in Africa — you’re REALLY late. They operate on what is lovingly referred to as “Africa Time”. (At our house we just call it Sarah Time.)

So we were late. And the camp must have instructed our driver that we needed extra attention because he helped us get a bridge pass from Zambia customs, walked us across the border and into No Man’s Land between Zambia and Zimbabwe, stayed with us during the entire thing (and even took some pictures for us!), and took us to our next activity. He was like our little chaperone. Dang it, Hoodx2! Troublemakers!

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 The whole thing happened really quickly. One minute I was getting hitched into a body harness by a guy who kept asking me to marry him. (Laura came to my rescue and insisted that I would require “100 cows!” — she said the average is 2 or 3. He scoffed and shook his head, but continued to call me “My Wife” until we left.) The next minute I was standing on a little platform 111 meters (364 feet or about 35 stories) in the air, ankles bound together, toes hanging over the edge, looking out onto the gorge. Zambezi River roaring beneath me, Zambia on my left, Zimbabwe on my right. About to throw all rational, responsible thought out the window and jump into oblivion. Why not, right?

I had stressed about this moment for months. First, I had convinced myself I wasn’t going to do it. Then convinced myself it would be fun. Then played the ‘what if’ game for several weeks. Then booked the trip and included the bungee jump as one of our activities — thinking, “what the hell?”. And now — the time had come.

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Ironically, after all the stressing I’d done since July, I was pretty calm when it came right down to business. I got all strapped in, watched a few people jump so I knew the drill, then it was my turn.!!

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I don’t really know if “fun” is the right word. But it was a pretty incredible experience. I jumped from the second highest bungee jump in the WORLD. Victoria Falls — one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Pretty cool.

You have to bounce up and down several times before you lose all the momentum in the cord and you’re left to dangle there, upside down by your ankles until someone comes to rescue you. That’s honestly worse than the jump itself. And BY FAR the worst part is the climb back up to the top.  I’m not a big fan of bridges — and an even smaller fan of metal grates. Once I was rescued and towed back up to the bridge, I had to walk on a metal grate bridge about 3 feet wide and 350 feet above the raging river for about 50 yards back to the side of the gorge so I could climb a ladder with rungs the size of toothpicks back up to the road bridge where I could kiss the ground and receive high-fives from Laura, the bungee guys, and complete strangers. It’s a peculiar feeling to hear people congratulate you for surviving something.

And exhale.

Our driver/chaperone reminded us that we were LATE so we rushed from the bridge back to Zambian customs and then on to our third life-threatening activity of the day. How much adrenaline can one person take?

Next up — swimming in the waterfall! We took a boat out to Livingstone Island. David Livingstone is said to have been the first European to lay eyes on the falls in 1855 and named them for Queen Victoria.  He wrote of the falls, “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”  During certain times of the year, when the water levels are right, people can swim in a naturally formed pool known as the Devil’s Pool — right at the edge of the falls. There is a natural rock wall just below the water and at the very edge of the falls that keeps you from going over the falls and into the gorge. This was possibly the one thing I was most excited about doing while we were in the Vic Falls area that week.

Sarah and Laura at the edge of Victoria Falls – Zambia side.

I finally convinced Laura to get in the water and we followed our guide across the top of the waterfall and jumped down into the Devil’s Pool. So cool! We were swimming around in the top of the waterfall while little fish nipped at our legs and there was a double rainbow in the spray of the falls — gorgeous.

Sarah and Laura (and guide) swimming in the Devil’s Pool at the top of Victoria Falls. 

We eventually had to swim back so we could join the others for high tea on the island. There is a small gazebo set up on the island with a full bar and we had snacks and drinks while we chatted with the group about our week so far. We took a boat back to shore and rode, mostly wet, back to our tent where we utterly collapsed for the night.

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Left: Sarah and Laura having tea on Livingstone Island. Right: Laura and Sarah on the boat back to shore after swimming in the Devil’s Pool.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The day of ‘complication’. We caught an early transfer from our lodge to Zambian border customs, another transfer from the Zambian border to the Zimbabwean border (across the bridge), another transfer from Zimbabwean border customs to a backpacker lodge on the Zim side, and then another transfer from the lodge to the Chamabondo Game Drive where we would spend the first half of the day driving and walking in the bush with our guide, Charles.



Charles drove us through the bush a bit pointing out various birds and game before we pulled over to have “tea”. As we stepped down from the truck, Charles heard something, shushed us, grabbed his rifle off the front seat, and told us to leave our stuff and follow him. He had heard some buffalo in the bush. As I followed this gun-carrying stranger further away from the vehicle and further and further into the depths of Zimbabwe in pursuit of an animal he had just explained to us was one of the most aggressive in the bush — I remember thinking, “this is quite possibly the worst idea I’ve ever had.” I found myself looking for a tree I might be able to climb.

We tiptoed through the bush about 50 yards until I couldn’t see the Land Rover anymore. And we saw them! 5 buffalo! And — they immediately ran away. Charles chuckled, looked back to where we were hiding behind him, patted his rifle and said, “I’m glad they ran THAT way, I only have four bullets.” Fantastic!

We headed back to the truck to have some tea and sandwiches, and then set out for a walk. Over the next several hours Charles took us through the bush, pointing out various sets of animal tracks, different trees and plants, birds and several different species of game. We saw warthogs, hippos, crocodiles, mongoose, impala, and lots of guinea fowl. We found things like dropped African Porcupine quills, various dung (and dung beetles! The underdog of the bush!), and he taught us a few ways to navigate direction in the bush — should we ever get lost. It was such a cool experience and I liked being on foot much better than I thought I might.


At one point we took a water break and we were able to chat with Charles a bit. He is originally from Zimbabwe and didn’t have many nice things to say about “Bob”. In fact, his exact words were “he must die now.” Yeah. He talked about how “lean” tourism has been in Zimbabwe lately and about his hopes that it will eventually be restored. He runs an anti-poaching unit in the area and he talked a lot about the various animals and hardwoods that are commonly poached — even more so now that the economy in Zimbabwe is in such bad shape. You could really hear the sadness in his voice when he talked about the state of the country right now. It reinforced the decision we’d made to spend a day patronizing Zimbabwe. Had it not been for us, Charles may not have had any clients that morning.


Charles finally brought us back to civilization, safe and sound — and not trampled by buffalo. It had started to rain, but we were assured it would pass quickly so we made plans to wait out the rain, then walk down and see the Zimbabwe side of the falls. Everyone everywhere swears that “if you haven’t seen Victoria Falls from Zimbabwe, you haven’t really seen the falls” so we were determined to get down there.  But as our afternoon unfolded, it started to look like it wasn’t going to happen.

It started to really rain. Hard. And it didn’t stop. One of our guides that afternoon told us that “in America it rains cats and dogs. And in Africa it rains buffalos and elephants.” And the rain lasted longer than our break between activities so we were bummed that we hadn’t just  braved the rain and walked down to the falls anyway — now we were beginning to think we wouldn’t get there at all.

In the meantime, we had an afternoon activity in Zimbabwe that day — elephants! We caught a transfer back out of town and spent the afternoon on an elephant back safari through the bush. It started out pretty soggy, but the rain stopped after 30 minutes or so and the sky started to clear. My elephant’s name was Mbanje (muh-bon-jay), which the guides told me means “marijuana”, and my guide’s name was Zulu. Zulu was very knowledgeable about the elephants — which he referred to as “nature’s 4-wheelers” and we had a good time trudging through the bush. He taught me about Mbanje’s trunk and let me feed him, he told me that elephants can drink up to 50 gallons of water a day and that they eat ALL DAY. Their digestive systems are very inefficient and they eat a highly fibrous diet — not a good combination — and they can expel some 2000 liters of methane gas every day! During our trek, Zulu referred to this as “blasting”. Nice, huh?


Sarah, Zulu and Mbanje (the elephant).

After our walk we got to interact with the elephants — feeding them, petting them, touching their ears, trunk and TONGUE! They are really beautiful — even when they’re covered in mud.

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On our way back to town, we chatted with the guides — locals — about Zimbabwe. One of them made such a good point about the area, and Africa in general, and its level of development. He pointed out that Africa gets such a bad reputation for being under-developed and primitive — everyone thinks that the entire continent is either jungle or desert. But it’s important to remember that the more “developed” it gets, the less natural and genuine and AFRICA it becomes. There is a fine line between being “developed” enough for tourism and industry and commerce, and being true, unadulterated wild Africa. I’ll gladly sleep in a tent and ride countless hours on a sweltering, bumpy bus so that I can walk with lions and see hippos and elephants and buffaloes in the wild.

By this time it had long since stopped raining, so we decided to take a quick trip to the falls before we crossed back to Zambia for the night. Pictures don’t do it justice, but they do accurately portray the massive spray that comes up from the water. You see the spray long before you actually see the falls.  We got into the park — which was more like a rainforest — and moved toward the sound of the water. The locals call it Mosi-oa-Tunya, or The Smoke that Thunders. And it does. We were there at the very beginning of rainy season — I can’t imagine what it’s like during high water levels. They say you can’t even see the falls themselves for the spray.



Sarah in front of Victoria Falls – Zimbabwe side.

While Victoria Falls is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is said to be the largest. It is 5600 feet wide (over a mile) and 360 feet tall and forms the largest sheet of falling water in the world — up to 142 million gallons per minute!

Needless to say, we were thrilled we had spent the day in Zimbabwe and experienced both sides of the falls.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Tuesday, we got up early, packed to leave Zambia, and caught a transfer to the Botswana border. Where we crossed is the only place in the world where four countries meet — Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia.

Sarah at the point where Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia meet.

We caught the same bus as a pair of tourists from a nearby resort and we were thoroughly entertained by them during our ride to the ferry. Our first clue that they were a little out of their element was his pressed, creased Armani blue jeans. They were dressed to the nines, and headed to the same safari park we were! They complained that the AC was too cold on the bus and demanded bottled water before we left their resort. Nice.

Sarah and Laura on the ferry from Zambia to Botswana.

As we approached the Botswana side of the river we could hear “Hood by 2” on the radio and knew we must be causing problems again. The rest of the group on the ferry was traveling back and forth into Botswana on a day trip while we would keep traveling — not coming back to Zambia that night. Apparently we were being difficult. Again. We finally got it figured out and made it through customs at the Botswana border.

Laura had arranged a guy, Lucky, to meet us and set us up with a tour of Chobe National Park there in the town of Kasane. Chobe has the highest concentration of elephants in all of Africa so we were hoping to see a few — there are over 50,000 that live in the park area!

Lucky met us at one of the lodges and we set out for a full day in the park. The first half of the day we spent in a truck much like the safari vehicle we were in during our game walk in Zimbabwe. Lucky took us through the park and along the Chobe River — talking us through all the game we were seeing. We saw tons of impala and some warthogs. And then — the elephants. We turned a corner and could see out onto a large clearing. And there were at least a hundred of them. It was amazing. I think Laura and I took about 60 pictures of elephants between the two of us. Not nearly enough.



 We stopped at the river for lunch, during which I tried the national beer of Botswana — St. Louis. It mostly tasted like water — I think it only had 3.5% alcohol by volume — but it was worth a try. While we ate lunch we watched hippos play in the water about 100 yards away. It was really cool to be that close.

After lunch we continued through the park, saw elephants, elephants, and more elephants, more hippos and warthogs, some zebra mongoose and a leopard tortoise.  It was incredible to see the sky in a place like that. It seemed enormous — like it just went on forever. I felt like I could see for miles.

We transferred to a boat for the afternoon so we could see the park from the angle of the river, get closer to the hippos and see some crocodiles.  It started to rain as we cruised down the Chobe River separating Botswana from Namibia. Fortunately, hippos love rainy, overcast weather. Soon after we left shore we started spotting hippo ears in the water — we easily saw 200 hippos that afternoon. They are the most awkward looking animals and, while they look pretty dumb and slow, they are actually responsible for more human deaths than any other animal in the wild. Crazy.



Our guides took us across the river so we could walk on Namibia. There’s a small bar, or ‘beer garden’, right on the banks of the river and our guides needed to buy cigarettes so we went in. Don’t tell Namibia customs, but it counts.

Sarah in Namibia.

We made our way back to shore, passing more elephants and hippos and crocodiles than we could count, and said farewell to Lucky and his friends. Laura’s friend Tom was meeting us at the lodge.  He and his wife Jana are both Peace Corps Volunteers in Botswana through the same program as Laura and had offered us both dinner and a spare room for the night. We found Tom, enjoying the sunset on the river on the deck of the lodge, so we sat and enjoyed it with him. We stopped by the market to get lettuce on the way to Tom and Jana’s house where we had salad, spaghetti and garlic bread for dinner — yum!

I really enjoyed visiting with Tom and Jana that night. Tom is a retired attorney and Jana a retired nurse — from New York City. They were gracious hosts and welcome conversation, but I could barely keep my eyes open after all the activity the last few days. We made plans to leave the house at 5:15 the next morning — Tom would walk us to the bus as we would be leaving Kasane for Lobatse by bus. I remember staying awake long enough to take out my contacts, then I crashed in my clothes.     

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

In an attempt to give me “the experience”, Laura had us take a bus from Kasane to Gaborone (capital of Botswana). Which took TWELVE. HOURS. We were up at 4:30a.m. to pack our stuff and be ready to leave the house by 5:15 to walk across town to the bus rank and catch a bus at 6:00.

Sarah and Laura on the bus at 5:45. Bus scheduled to leave at 6:00. Bus doesn’t leave until 7:00. Africa Time…

I hope Africa doesn’t mind that I popped in my iPod and relied on Darius Rucker and the Dixie Chicks to help me forget that I was on a school bus in the middle of raging hot Africa, shoulder to shoulder with 65 strangers, windows up (so as not to get “the flu”), no AC, no schedule. No offense.

By this point during the week we were pretty sore. We had been on our feet quite a bit for our bush walks and traveling to and from, we’d been sleeping in the Adventure Tent, my abs (and most other muscles — even ones of which I was previously unaware) had been on fire ever since the bungee jump, and my eyes HATED Africa. I think I used nearly an entire bottle of eye drops during the week. Wretched.

So to break up the pity party I was having for myself, the bus stopped periodically for passport checkpoints (I assumed this was to find unauthorized Zimbabweans and such) and “disease control” checkpoints (which consisted of walking across a muddy cloth soaked in “disinfectant” in order to protect the country from foot-and-mouth disease). We also stopped about halfway through the first leg of our trip in a town called Nata. Everyone got off the bus and went into a nearby convenience store so we followed and got a little something to eat. We weren’t in any hurry to get back on the bus when we saw several passengers we recognized hanging out under a tree, taking their time re-boarding the bus. Eventually, we gave up and got back on the bus only to discover the bus had been waiting on us! Those people we saw from our bus were waiting on the next bus and going a different direction! The bus driver gave us grief and told us he thought we might like “to stay in Nata and find husbands”.  Yikes! We tried our best to behave the rest of the trip.

Halfway to Gaborone — in Francistown — we switched buses. The new bus was a little bigger and a little more comfortable — and several people opened their windows which made a world of difference. Still no AC — not that I expected it. I had finished Twilight the second day in Zambia, but tried to reread it since I hadn’t been smart enough to anticipate the need to buy the second book. There were several children on the bus from Francistown to Gabs and while the little boy in front of us flirted and played peekaboo,  another little girl apparently thought I was some sort of zoo animal. She petted my arm and smiled at me as if I were some exotic creature.

We FINALLY got to Gabs around 6:00p.m. Laura’s boyfriend, Leo, was there to meet us with flowers for Laura and a gift for me — how sweet! He brought me a t-shirt with a map of Botswana and all the places we’d been that week. It was nice to finally meet him and he took us for dinner. I was ravenous after my day on the bus and I devoured my chicken and broccoli pasta — seriously, yum. I fell asleep on the drive home, but as we pulled into Lobatse Laura informed me that the power was out in the whole town. I took a tour of Laura’s flat by candlelight, dropped my things in the guest room, brushed my teeth, took my malaria pill, and crashed.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving! I have now spent Thanksgiving on three continents — North America, Europe, and Africa.  In 2002, my junior year in college, I spent my fall semester studying in Italy and my friends and I took a trip to Ireland for Thanksgiving. (Sadly, those were in the pre-blogging and even pre-digital photography days.) I spent Thanksgiving Day 2002 taste-testing Guinness in Dublin. And here I was, spending Thanksgiving 2009 with my sister in Lobatse, Botswana.

We slept in. Ahh. First time all week we’d slept past 6a.m. It was lovely. We took our sweet time getting up and around and spent most of the morning looking through pictures of our Victoria Falls visit. I took my first hot shower in 6 days and we got ready to leave the house to see Lobatse — Laura’s hometown.

Late morning, we set out on foot so I could get a feel for a ‘day in the life’ of my sister, the PCV. We visited the post office and the grocery store before we met Leo for lunch. Half joking, we asked Leo if there was a ‘Welcome to Lobatse’ sign we could pose with for a picture. Sure enough, he found one. In fact, we found several. And we couldn’t help ourselves. Welcome to Lobatse!

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Above: Sarah, Laura, and Leo in Lobatse.

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When we arrived back at Laura’s flat, we had enough time to walk the ten feet from the front door to the hallway when Laura glanced out the kitchen window and yelled, “you little devils!” I looked up in time to see about twelve kids scatter like criminals and hide around the side of the building. Laura marched out to her back porch and somehow convinced most of them to come back. Then I saw the mess. We found out later that Laura’s upstairs neighbors had moved out that day and had thrown out a bunch of “good trash”. The kids had found it and had concocted quite the mess — on Laura’s back porch. There was trash EVERYWHERE. They were “cooking” some sort of whitish, gritty substance in a non-functional hotplate, there were boxes, bags, clothes hangers, broken DVDs, you name it. She says they do stuff like that pretty often, but she eventually got them to clean it all up. Poor Warona. A few minutes after Laura finally chased them all off her porch, they started banging on her front screen door — Warona! Warona! We want to color! Laura (her Setswana name is Warona — pronounced Wa-ruu-nuh) had to explain to them that there would be no coloring today. Huge mess = no coloring. They sulked away. Laura assured me they’d be back.

Thanksgiving night we were invited to attend a Christmas Pageant at Leo’s school. Leo teaches French at Crescent School, a private school there in Lobatse with classes from preschool on up through middle school.

The Christmas Pageant was — in a word — adorable. It was a mixture of traditional Christian Christmas carols like O’ Come All Ye Faithful and Away in a Manger dotted with a French carol (sung by Leo’s class) and a Setswana carol. They even had some “traditional” Christmas songs like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Jingle Bell Rock! There were readings from the Bible to narrate the nativity scene which was by far my favorite part of the evening. At first glance, the nativity was very traditional, but as the story unfolded we noticed a few colorful differences. First, we were pretty sure we saw a leopard in there with the oxen and donkey. And as the story was read and we learned that Mary was with child, the little boy playing Joseph yelled at the top of his lungs, “Mary cheat-ed me!” and the whole place died laughing. Mary went on to have the baby Jesus by getting a pillow ripped out from under her dress — the whole thing was just precious. It is comforting to know that you can be across the world and still able to appreciate a live nativity performed by children excited about Christmas.

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Nativity Scene. Complete with Christmas tree.

Another highlight of the evening was the preschool class — dressed as angels — who sang a song about Santa. They were positioned nearest to us so we had great seats for the entertainment that ensued as several of the angels in the front row got restless during the song and decided to perform acrobatics instead. I later explained to Leo that those were the “Laura Martin” kids — Laura was always that kid in recitals and school plays. Somehow, he didn’t seem that shocked.

The evening ended with a candlelit round of carols and a prayer. What a way to get into the Christmas spirit — we loved it.

Back at Laura’s flat we cooked dinner and got some sleep.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Friday morning Laura made me chocolate chip pancakes! We stopped by Laura’s office so I could meet her coworkers, and we ran some errands in town in anticipation of the Thanksgiving Feast being hosted at Laura’s friend Tatum’s house in a nearby village, Pitsane. The menu was turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce (my contribution from the states!), macaroni and cheese, biscuits and pies — apple, sweet potato, and butternut squash. It was quite the feast.


Above: Laura, Karen (Laura’s close friend and fellow PCV), and Sarah preparing apple pies and enjoying a glass of wine. Below: Sarah and Laura – Happy Thanksgiving.


We spent most of the afternoon helping prepare food, drinking wine and visiting with Laura’s friends. At dinner, we took turns sharing things we were thankful for — it was such a great day.  Another of the PCVs pointed out that this group of people, comprised of Americans from coast to coast, Leo from Rwanda, another friend from Botswana — all gathered here in a small village in Botswana to share a meal and celebrate a day of thanks. A seemingly random group of people who will likely never be gathered together again — crossed paths and shared something in common for this one day. It was pretty cool. Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Saturday morning we got up early to pack and get on the road. I donated my copy of Twilight to Laura’s PCV library and loaded a second pack with stuff Laura needed to send home with me. We set off for the bus rank to catch a bus to Gaborone and then on to Johannesburg, South Africa — left Lobatse at 7:00a.m. — arrived in Jo’burg at 3:00p.m. Plenty of time to take a taxi over to the Apartheid Museum for the afternoon before my flight.

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Sarah – crossing the border back into South Africa.

The Apartheid Museum was great — a lot to see in such a short time, but some really cool exhibits.

To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. — Nelson Mandela

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Sarah posing with Nelson for a photo.

There was one portion of the museum that asked us to choose a favorite Mandela quote, select a rod in the corresponding color, and place it in the garden to represent the colorful variety of views and opinions in our world. This is my quote.

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Taxi to the airport in time for some quick supper and then it was time to check in and head for home.

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Laura and Sarah at the Apartheid Museum before Sarah left for the airport – Johannesburg, South Africa.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

My flight was as uneventful as 17 hours in an upright chair in coach can be, though I did squeeze in some more movie watching. After selecting Changeling from the “Drama” menu, I’ve decided that there should be a movie genre called “Depressing”… I fell asleep during both Bride Wars and Yes Man before making it all the way through He’s Just Not That Into You. And before I knew it I was home.

It was so good to hear “welcome home” from the Immigration Officers in Atlanta.

10 days and something like 16,000 miles later, I was home. My boys met me at the airport in Tulsa and I’d never been so glad to meet them. I was filthy and grimy and soooo ready to sleep in my own bed — but I had just made the trip of a lifetime.  I walked with lions, I swam in the top of a waterfall, I bungeed off a bridge in No Man’s Land, and I celebrated Thanksgiving with my sister and friends. Such a great trip and I hope I make it back to Africa someday.

6 thoughts on “Africa – 2009

  1. Awesome adventure!!!

  2. What an amazing trip! And what a great photo blog about it!

  3. Wow! Thanks for sharing your trip-a-thon! You’re right — a trip of a lifetime!

  4. A great synopsis!! It was fun! :)

  5. Great reading. Sounds like an amazing adventure.

  6. Your pictures are incredible! My husband and I are headed to South Africa and we hope to experience some of these things (minus the bungee jumping!) Thanks for sharing!

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