John Kyle showed up at the Gaborone Airport on Monday, March 4th, 2013. It was his first visit to southern Africa and our first visitor from the states. He was staying with us for a week and we were going to show him a bit of our daily lives and how we are living over here in Africa.
One of the nice things about him coming was that while a PCV is on official leave, we are allowed to drive. Our American friends Ben and Rita were in Malta for a few weeks and we agreed to watch their really nice house with the swimming pool and their 4 dogs, kind of in exchange for using their car for a week. So I got to drive all over town and use the car to run errands and other fun things that we could never do otherwise.
We picked JK up at the airport and took him around town showing him our offices, schools, bus routes, shopping areas and all the other stuff that we thought would give him a little taste of our local lives here.
Our house and our village and our lives in general are significantly easier and more pleasant that the vast majority of our PCV counterparts. Our village has 5 grocery stores, 8 hardware stores and is generally considered quite advanced for Africa. We have consistent running water and electricity, whereas most of the other PCVs do not.
So, to be quite sure that he did not leave here thinking that the Peace Corps was all more like a 2 ½ year summer camp in Michigan, we arranged for him to spend a couple days with one of our good friends, Supriya. She lives in a very small remote village about 45 minutes away with no running water and electricity that is off more than it is on.
My mom had sent me a few hundred US dollars a while back and asked that it be used to buy clothing and shoes for the endless number of children in need. This was a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, so we met Supriya in our village and took my mom’s money and went shopping. We bought a car full of all kinds of clothing and shoes for kids and drove it up to her village, where we were greeted by the 580 kids at her school, all anxiously awaiting our special arrival. We had decided to take our two little dogs with us too, and when the kids saw the dogs it was pandemonium. They were captivated and drawn to the dogs with excitement while at the same time afraid of getting too close.
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We dropped off all the clothing and John Kyle and made sure he had some money, a cell phone and some emergency numbers and bid him fare well for the next 24 hours. The next day, after helping to hand out the clothing and shoes to many overly excited children, he managed to make his way back to our house via several hitches, Khombis and taxis. I was impressed with his lack of fear of this foreign travel and his resourcefulness.
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We spent the next few days mostly driving around our area visiting some of the more interesting sights. We visited some friends in Thamaga, another village that had some really cool boulder hills and tried to have lunch at a scenic Resturant in Gabane, but they did not have any food on a Saturday at 1:00 pm. After stopping at several other places we finally found some lunch at 5:00 pm. Welcome to Africa.
Next we went to the Mokolodi Game Reserve. This is a small Game Reserve that is located just outside the city of Gaborone. It is not a real “African Safari”, however for those on a budget of either time or money, it is quite nice and they do their best to make you feel like you are really out in the bush. As it turned out, it was quite fine with a verycool “zoo” that included some cool snakes and other animals, followed by a Guided Safari. We saw quite a good variety of African animals!
On the side of the roads there were many Dung Beetles. These are rather large beetles that gather chunks of animal dung and roll them around. Not really sure where they take them, but the result is an almost perfectly round ball of dung being pushed by these curious beetles. Sometimes the balls are the sizes of melons and its pretty amazing! They push the balls with their front feet (?) and then switch to turning upside down and pushing with their back feet. Its quite fascinating!
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We had a nice pair of Binoculars with us and John Kyle came up with the clever idea of using his camera up against the Binoculars to take closer up pictures. He also captures a cool lightening shot from our car:
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While we saw lots of cool animals there, we did not see any Rhinos, so the next day we drove 4 hours to Serowe were the Khama Rhino Reserve is and stayed overnight there in a little A-frame chalet. Our friend Nate went with us and we met our other friends Brandon and Cassie. Nate and John Kyle had a little competition to see who could make a fire with no matches! After more than an hours effort they ended up collaborating and they eventually did produce a lot of smoke and some very hot wood.
We went on a guided game drive there and saw all kinds of fun animals but no Rhinos. Quite disappointing. However, as we were leaving we decided to take a quick drive around the sandy roads in our own car and see what we could see. We saw 15 rhinos! It was very exciting and satisfying and a great end to that little part of our vacation.
Our next adventure was a late afternoon climb of Kgale hill. This is one of several large hills made up of huge boulders, all in a neat pile as if some humongous bulldozer had pushed them from the surrounding miles into neat piles. Carol was going to go, but it turns out their was some movie at a local theatre not far from the mountain that she wanted to see more than she wanted to climb the mountain. I think that worked out very well for her.
Our buddy Nathan had climbed this hill a few times before and so he was elected our guide. Nate is 26 and JK is 23 and I am 51. Although I walk probably 2 or 3 miles each day, I really don’t get any exercise and I was a bit intimidated about climbing the one hour hike to the top. It started off fairly easy but less than half way up I was using my arms and hands to push my legs up each of the next steps and stopping every 10 minutes for a break. After an hour or so of climbing, we arrived at the top and it was quite a beautiful site. Of course JK and Nathan felt no pain, but I was panting and very worried about the next 3 or 4 days of severe hurt that that my whole body was about to go through. At the top we took some pictures and videos and watched the sun set. As it went below the horizon we became a little concerned about getting back down so we started down hurriedly. As it became darker and darker we became more and more concerned and as it turned out we missed the main turn off of the narrow path we were following and ended up at the bottom of a different hill, in the pitch black. At the bottom was an abandoned mine which thankfully had many large lights still lighting up the whole area. We walked around most of it expecting to find a clear exit, but no no avail. We found an old road that led into the darkness and did not look very hopeful. Our choices were two: To follow that road in hopes that in less than several miles we might find a gate that was not locked with razor wire and be able to get to a traveled road and hopefully get a ride back to civilization, or to backtrack 45 minutes in the dark up the path we came down and try to find the turnoff. neither choice was good. I think we made the correct choice and started back into the dark path we came from. Luckily we all had our phones which had small (but life saving!) flashlights built into them, so we were able to find the path and negotiate the ankle breaking paths back up the wrong mountain and then down the correct one. Several hours later we arrived safely, exhausted, back at our starting point.
Carol was happy she decided to forgo the climbing and saw a movie instead.
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[ddownload id=”2543″ text=”Kgale Hill (2 of 2)” style=”button” color=”blue”] [ddownload_size id=”2543″]
So, at the end of a great week we sadly took JK back to the airport for his long trip back home. Its always hard to go back to real life after a great vacation break, but this was especially hard due having to give up the car, and the nice house with Air Conditioning and a swimming pool, but mostly to saying good bye to my fantastic son.
A note from Carol: It was great seeing John Kyle! I loved hearing first hand how his life is going and getting some nice updates about the family too. Emails and Skype are nice – but nothing is like looking someone in the eyes and talking directly to them.
I must admit I was a little dismayed to hear him say that life here was much easier than he was thinking it would be. He said our house really wasn’t worse than a crappy dorm room – which is true. But I feel like life is always hard here, and I wondered how it seemed “easier” than he was thinking.
As John said, our living conditions are not near as hard as most Peace Corps Volunteers (sometimes it pays to be old). However, after a few days I think John Kyle started to see what we meant by “hard”. It really isn’t the electricity or the building you live in. (Water is different – not having water truly gives life an entirely different value). It is the different culture that does not value business, efficiency or material goods . He started to see what a huge pain it is to have to go to three stores (and we had a car) and talk to 5 people to find few commodities and most discussions about customer service or achieving a goal completely lack any understanding.
While he didn’t get to really see how we work, he certain heard us talk about how different and how hard it is to accomplish things. He didn’t just hear it from us, he heard it from every single PCV we talked too. I felt like he did learn a little about the life style and culture of Botswana before he left and he had a better idea of what we mean when we say our life is “hard” here.
One of the things I was also glad to see John Kyle learn about, is the type of people that are in the Peace Corps. I have commented many times, on this blog, about how special the American’s I work with are here. John Kyle also noted that. He said he had an entirely different idea of who and what Peace Corps people are about. However, the more time he spent with them the more he liked them.
Peace Corps people, and my group we call Bots 11 totally rock! They are kind, hard working, smart, committed, industrious, fun, and all around decent human beings. One of the important things John and I wanted to do with John Kyle is introduce him to our friends so he would know who we are talking about the rest of our lives when we bring up everything and everyone we learned about and loved in the Peace Corps.
It was truly special to have him here and to share this time with him. I believe a good time was had by all.