On returning to Maun from the bush, the educators had two days off in the town. This was wonderful. Our schedule only allows for one day weekends, and in Botswana many of these single-day weekends were still “on”. At any rate, this was really my only real opportunity to see the small, rapidly-growing tourist town. Dusty, flat, low-rise, highly commercial, yet slow-paced. I walked the length of the main town area from airport to main road to the bus station and over to the main (closed) park. Taxis everywhere, and quite affordable, with a set rate for combis. Never truly off, I spent that pseudo-weekend making connections in town. I’d met the founder of an NGO earlier, Oaitse Nawa of the Elephant Protection Society, and engaged him to speak with our students about conservation, his work with the Buffalo Fence, and his extraordinary personal efforts to feed the hippos during the previous years of extreme drought. I toured the Museum on the opening of an exhibit of local artists and arranged for my students to learn woodcarving there and photography nearby. I was in my element, meeting people and arranging experiences.
We embarked upon excursions for our storytelling module. We visited the Bokgotla (customary chief courts), where I was floored by the students’ excellent questions (probing and incisive without offense) and high degree of cultural respect. We balanced these experiences in town and with guest speakers with the mechanics of the TGS academic structure – inquiry tables, excellency tables, reflections, learning targets – a whole new world of terms and pedagogy for me. I was also elated to begin recording lectures for AP Art History, as a group of students wished to take the course with me.
We visited the district commissioner for a wonderfully open discussion about the inner workings of the government and the unique interplay between the traditional/customary court and the national court, the kgotla and the government. The students asked about the economy. They fixated somewhat on corruption, but also asked about mining, the current president, hunting policies, tourism policies, food security, and sustainability. This last was a bit hilarious to me, as the official stated a wish to turn Maun green and completely self-sufficient agriculturally. In the middle of the Kalahari desert, I find that hope rather … aspirational (though noble, I’m sure).
On an afternoon, I took students to “Kalahari Stuart’s” studio and home, where he showed them in pairs the dark room procedure and spoke about framing and composition. The students were amazed by the slides. Just as at Oak Hall, my students here are wowed by the older magic of analog technology while taking the wizardry of their handheld devices for granted.
One guest speaker was awful, reading off a script. One (Oaitse) was extraordinary, with videos, and interaction, and passion aplenty, arriving late due to caring for a woman and child who’d been attacked by a crocodile. We visited a “traditional” subsistence farm and started to think critically about the term “traditional”, bandied about as it is to suggest a monolithic past when in the case of Maun it seemed to mostly refer to a specific time about sixty years ago, with the “traditional” dress derived from Christian missionary impositions, and the crops and agricultural technology prominently featuring maize. The farmer had the students catch goats and treat them with an antibiotic ointment and showed us the total devastation wrought by elephants on his farmland. For contrast, we visited a commercial farm immediately afterwards, strikingly green in comparison, with kale and spinach, and even papaya being grown in abundance.
This set off some discussion about food security, as Botswana imports the vast majority of its food from South Africa, rendering it completely dependent, which was apparent during our stay as the pandemic supply disruption inhibited our acquisition of certain foods for the students.
Our final portion centered on cultural aspects. It seems every country has an initiative to employ disadvantaged women/youth/homeless to make crafts. A fascinating decision to join such an endeavour in Maun, as the very modern, unnecessarily handmade crafts made we made with the unemployed women could have been made anywhere, yet function as a pillar of the “authentic” tourist economy. I continue to question the unquestioned given that employment is necessary. Why?
Chelle and I were were blessed with easily the most musical module group. I was able to divide them SATB (with some weak tenors, of course), helping our amazingly energetic program provider Bonty (the storytelling specialist) to find harmonies. The simple song we learned, Kgosi Seretse, is one I can’t find online. I’m not sure if Bonty wrote it. A wonderful canon, catchy, with meaningful lyrics celebrating the founder of the country, it still resonates in my head as I type this.
O re thabolotse
Ka pula le thebe
We split by sex to learn dances. The men’s dance was extremely energetic, with lots of rhythmic foot stomping/shuffling. We danced for each other, then the leaders of the session, the “unemployed youth”, demonstrated some more, all from their minority tribes.
Our final cultural activity was cooking. The previous two module groups cooked with Bonty, but our group had the wonderful fortune of cooking with KT (also known as Mr. Hippo), after my conversations with him during our long night of Rite of Passage revealed that he was the mastermind behind our excellent food at the bush camp. As ever, his teaching style was wonderfully laid back and barely intrusive. He never told the students exactly what to do, yet we ended up with some phenomenal food. I’d never considered the cuisine of this part of the world anything special, due to ignorance, but the melon porridge, collards, braai steak, seswa, pear in syrup, and especially the bread were all excellent. It was a cathartic evening after an intense set of circumstances with the student body, and my module group introduced the meal and the desert with a song each – Kgosi Seretse and Beautiful Africa.
Our final “day off” before heading back into the bush was a visit to Sexaxa Village that I’d arranged. (The “x”s are clicked, as the word is of Khoi or San origin.) As the organizer of THINK Local, I endeavoured to bring our students to meet the chief of the ward that we were living in. We walked from our lodge to see their fields, their houses, their dock, their kgotla, the local artisan for wooden objects, and the hope of starting a cultural village experience for tourists. A suddenly very windy day, much of what was said was lost behind the masks and into the wind, so the students, exhausted after a long week, lost energy towards the end. Quite a shame, as we saw them expertly make fire with friction and only myself and one student volunteered to try (and failed).