The journey to Maun was rather fraught with delays and frustrations. Unfortunately (or fortunately), my wealth of travel experience kept me from worrying, and I was able to enjoy my five day adventure. My first flight from GNV -> CLT was delayed after we boarded. We had to deplane and wait, and thereby I missed my connection in CLT, needing to book a hotel there for the night. I decided to fetch some Mexican food from a food truck by the highway. I waited a very long time for my food as the mostly Mexican clientele came to pickup orders, only to discover upon walking back to the hotel that I’d received a rather boring chicken burrito instead of the plato fuerte I’d ordered.
The next day, I arrived in EWR with little incident and acquired a new PCR test easily. My flight out of EWR was also delayed, so I met up with my coworker Amethyst outside the gate. We chatted easily as the flight was pushed back hour by hour until it was canceled altogether due to mandates on crew duty time. We were rescheduled for a completely new flight the next day at noon, booked a hotel for the night, and then spent a long time trying to find a taxi (there was no walking option) as the line for the yellow taxis was hideously long from all the canceled flights, arriving in our pungent marijuana and tobacco drenched hotel at around 2am. Our flight the next day was delayed half hour by half hour as a pilot called in sick a mere hour before the scheduled takeoff, and the replacement pilot needed to pass a COVID PCR test before joining us.
A quick aside about the clientele. Most of those flying to Johannesburg with us resolutely refused to wear masks, dressed in rather stereotypical good old boy clothing, and spoke loudly and gregariously about hunting. I was seated behind a couple who spoke much of the flight with their seatmate about where and what to hunt, showing off the kills their friend had made the previous season – a massive civet, a large kudu, an elephant, etc.. Their excitement was unsettling to me.
Only a few hours off from landing, I felt extremely nauseous and ended up vomiting in the airplane bathroom. This episode would later be a key moment to reflect upon, the first sign that something was wrong health-wise. We landed in Johannesburg but were sent straight to the airport hotel and into a quarantine due to a surge in COVID cases in the city. Unfortunately, I never got to see any of the city at all. Our next flight was not delayed, but a comedy of errors in our tickets (United not communicating with Swiss not communicating with Airlink) made the lead-up to our flight extremely stressful, running back and forth between various check-in, customer service, and ticketing counters before just making the bus to the flight as our coworkers at the gate had kept the gate agents from closing just yet. Another extremely nauseous flight, another vicious PCR test, and a bumpy ride to the residence, and we finally arrived to begin my first term at TGS.
Everything about TGS in these first weeks has been utterly overwhelming. Tons of meetings, an entirely new system for everything (almost nothing in common with a standard K-12 curriculum), and a slew of tasks to accomplish with little time to do them. We’ve done so many things (introductions, orientations, overviews). TGS was also extremely short-staffed, missing three out of eleven due to various fluke reasons. Another singular event with pervasive effects, of course, is the global pandemic. This manifested in a distinct feeling of non-immersion in Botswana. With no freedom of movement, limiting people we interacted with, and quarantining protocols, my experience was rather foreign to my own idea of travel. Rather than immersion into the place, I immersed myself, submerged myself in the school. As such, I’ve learned almost no Setswana. I always despise those kinds of tourists and expats, and now I am one. I suppose I am learning some empathy with their possible situations.
Last Friday we went to town for our COVID-19 PCR tests and ate at the Indian Restaurant in the same complex. I noticed a airport clearance tag in Chinese on our country liaison (a bush pilot) and inquired about it. This lead to a continuation of conversations about China, this time moving from the Uyghur question to the Africa one. I felt like I was channeling Mom’s voice and politics a bit, countering their anger, disgust, and judgement. It seems impossibly unpopular at the moment to be anything but overwhelmingly (and uncritically) critical of China. In the context of Africa, this means pointing disapproving fingers at neo-colonialism. This rings hypocritical to me.
Some of the exploited resources are truly phenomenal. I’m not speaking of the diamonds that pushed Botswana’s economy to among the top of the continent, nor the other mining endeavours. The main draw for me, as it is for most tourists, is the wildlife. Last Saturday we had the opportunity to see many animals up close on a boat ride deep into the Okavango Delta. Elephants stood mere meters away, unnervingly silent aside from the sounds of their ponderous chewing. Water birds scattered ahead of us. They were familiar to me, as was the terrain. Cranes, herons, doves, and storks in a wetland of long grasses and lurking crocodiles. The hippopotamuses, however, were certainly unfamiliar. A rather terrifying counterpart to the manatee from home, disappearing suddenly for minutes at a time before resurfacing far away.
We saw a journey of giraffes at a distance, some red lechwe bounding with their uneven legs, and even a herd of the national animal, the zebra (chosen due to the union of black and white). I kept an accurate count of the animals, drew feverishly, and took many photographs. As always, I noticed my colleagues losing interest throughout the journey. It’s a fascinating effect of the instagram generation that has bled upwards to older generations: shorter attention spans, disconnection from reality outside of a screen, and an obsession with recording and documenting experiences rather than living them. As for myself, I am quite infected with the last of these completely, but I chalk that up to being an occupational (artist’s) hazard. By the time we took our return journey, the same three elephants we’d gawked at during the outset of our journey were casually glanced at.
I’ve established a nice personal schedule despite (or perhaps because of) the intensity of work. I practice guitar outside for an hour or so every night, then call QQ for an hour right as she gets off from work. I’ve been exercising every day, consistently, with one day of aerobics followed by one day on the rock rings (which I’ve slung up on a nicely horizontal branch by the pool). Every day I watch an extraordinary sunset, though every morning I shiver through a less enjoyable sunrise. Tomorrow the students arrive. Well, two have already been here to quarantine ahead of term. Everything, I’m sure, will change.