Many Mababe Meetings
November 12, 2013
By Adelie Carstens (Cal Polytech Pomona)
We finally arrived at our new destination in Mababe!! After a long stay at Dibitana, everyone was excited to get out on the road again and see somewhere new. Upon our arrival we were told that the campsite we had originally planned on staying at had been closed down, and we were told we could put up camp outside of the community trust office located in the town. Not knowing what to expect we rolled onto the scene and saw a yellow building, complete with electricity and running water (toilet and shower included), as well as other buildings close by—some neighboring houses, a children’s recreational center, and a church. We quickly set up camp and discussed our Halloween plans for the evening. Eager for a creative outlet and a small taste of home it was decided that we would carve out some squash-jack-o’lanterns. As the sun set behind the tress we gathered together and took part in Mike’s Halloween tradition, listening to the original radio broadcast of Orson Well’s War of the Worlds.
The essence of Halloween was all around us; listening to the radio broadcast; watching the squash-jack o’lanterns flicker on a log, while lightning illuminated a red sky, a product of a large wildfire burning on our horizon. As if that wasn’t enough atmosphere, before we all went to bed an elephant silhouette could be seen reaching for leaves and reeds in the pond right next to our campsite. This pond brought us many visitors before the night was finished however: toads and frogs, hippos and mosquitoes. Don’t worry we all took our Malaria pills!! After some Halloween treats, a large bar of Mint Chocolate, and a quick Honey Badger sighting, we all bundled up and fell asleep to the complimentary amphibious symphony.
The next day, everyone got up bright and early and after our morning transects we headed off to school! There was a ceremony in progress, rewarding the students for their academic progress. We had arrived in the middle of the award announcements but once we had all gotten situated, the announcements continued and we got to watch the ceremony in full swing. Calls and cheers followed every student’s name, and each student received a special gift for their achievement. In special cases parents would physically push through audience members to meet their child in receiving their award. A traditional dance followed the award ceremony, performed by the schoolteachers and various men of the village, as well as a speech of thanks towards the attendants of the ceremony. In this speech a word of advice was given to the student’s parents about raising their children and supporting their efforts to receive an education.
We were then graciously invited to have lunch with the important members of the school board, such as the Education Officer, as well as the Village Chief and Pastors. Feeling a bit out of place, students asked our guide, Sixteen, if there was anything that we could do to assist the teachers in the post-ceremony proceedings’. They told us that if we really wanted we could help with dishes…Of course we would!! We ended up helping the cooks clean and dry all the dishes we had just used, and mop and sweep up the entire cafeteria kitchen. We thanked the School staff once again for allowing us to participate in the day’s festivities. We headed back to our camp for the day prepared to finish up some academic readings and get ready for a relaxing evening in Mababe. Little did we know that we would soon be operating a day care for all of the children of the town.
Around five o’clock almost all of the children we had seen earlier that day discovered our campsite and asked us questions about our hair, music tastes, and what we were doing in Mababe. We answered the best we could but with the six of us trying to entertain thirty children, we got a little bit overwhelmed. Soon little groups of us broke off and we started playing games such as Duck Duck Goose, Tag, Broken Telephone and games I couldn’t tell you the name of. Children were very eager to learn or look at anything us Round River students could produce, such as cameras, notebooks or personal sketches, and young girls took particular interest in braiding hair. We played with the kids until we had to start cooking our dinner, but even then the children stayed close and enjoyed simply watching us go about our daily business. This became a common theme throughout the week having kids all around our campsite, watching us go about our daily business. Kids would sneak up on us as we would be reading and entering data, would participate in our yoga routines, and would giggle whenever we asked if they wanted to draw in our notebooks, or pick up a game of soccer.
These kids were a big part of our experience in Mababe, and will always bring back fond memories of their crazy personalities and curious questions. We were able to visit the kids at school one day, and teach them a short lesson on what exactly we were doing here in Botswana. We showed kids the equipment and books we use while out in the field, giving every student a chance to use our range finders and Garmin Etrex GPS units. Every child was eager to look through the books and use the equipment, fascinated by our strange new toys. We saw the children again when some of the students attended a church service at the Winner’s Chapel close to the campsite. The intensity and passion behind the service was unlike anything I had ever experienced. All members would simultaneously raise their arms and pray towards the heavens during individual prayer, almost as if they were fighting to get their prayers heard. Songs sung throughout the service by the choir constantly gave me chills, and had audience members singing and moving as one being. After this cultural and spiritual awakening, students got brought back down to Earth with a plate of freshly cooked fish and pap. Later that day, some of us went out to the river and tried to complete a bird survey. But with the accompaniment of all the children, and the complete absence of any birds what so ever, our bird survey turned into a mini field trip.
This week also gave us the experience of our first mid-day rain. We celebrated by catching as many raisin sized frogs as we could and using our small patio as a slip and slide. Once we had our fun, we started up a new batch of hot water in the kettle for some satisfying hot chocolate. From then that week was filled with sunny days, and drizzly nights with short intermissions of hippopotamus ‘showers.’
One afternoon, we all went out into the heart of the Mababe Depression. On this particular outing we drove right past a male lion, because we were looking at three other lions out in the open pan. We made Mike drive back towards the lion, and got some really great pictures! The sky in particular that evening was quite breathtaking — with the sun setting behind the threatening thunderstorm, the river reflecting the rare pinks and purples, and a flock of egrets flying across the sky completing the scene.
Another afternoon we ventured out into the town and tried our best to find a rock python that was a known resident in a near by photographic camp. During this expedition, one of the best guides of this entire trip, Just, was leading us through the riverside on a short walk. Just is one of the most motivated and progressive guides we’ve met. He told us how he wants to build up a snake education center, and showed us how elephant tusks must be taken to the Moremi gate security to prevent local poaching. Just was a guide that truly lived up to his name: teaching us a dialect of the bushmen language (Ts’exa), sharing with us his past encounters with wildlife and his thoughts on the political parties and demographics in Botswana. Needless to stay our week in Mababe was full of crazy memories, and crazy pictures, and crazy children. Pictures posted don’t do the moments we had justice, but they are something!!