Directly after returning from the bush, we were all quarantined as some of the camp chefs notified us that they caught COVID-19. Luckily, none of the students or educators tested positive after the short quarantine.
My last two weeks in Botswana were marred by sickness. I’d been diagnosed with an ear infection before going to the bush and had taken antibiotics for them. Shortly after returning, the symptoms recurred. They would continue to plague me with increasing severity for the next four months. These final weeks were filled with preparation for Showcase, for our next term in Mexico, meetings with students, and final evaluations. I tried my best to work through the illness with the writing of reports and other online tasks, but some necessitated my supervision.
In particular, the sculptor I’d met at the museum and I worked together with the COVID-19 altered schedule to provide enough sessions for the three students to finish their wooden sculptures. With a process focused on conceptualizing and revealing, most of the carving was done in the first session (removing larger bits of mopane wood), while the next sessions focused on polishing with ever finer grit tools and sand paper, culminating in coating with linseed oil or beeswax. The sculptures turned out beautifully, though much of the work, in the end, was actually done by Emafa William and myself.
One student had me finish her work (top left). Another was sick the first session and picked up from the wave I’d begun (bottom). The final student (right) wrote a poem to accompany her sculpture at showcase. Emafa attended to their delight, and was extremely moved by her poem, mentioning that he used to do collaborations with poets in the past, before the pandemic, and how he’d missed it.
Much of the educator’s time was wrapped up in a frenetic planning session for Mexico. As the pandemic prevented us from going to India as scheduled, we were kept in suspense by the world situation as to which country we could actually enter. I hoped to lead a module on indigenous language access and work with the team of interpreters and intercultural promoters I’d met through my work with WeaveTales earlier in the year, but the idea was not popular. Instead, Vega, Sam, and I developed a set of experiences and resources to explore art and economy in Oaxaca – an absolutely exhilarating creative process.
On a few evenings, we saw a herd of elephants crossing the river by our lodge. The community disappointed me once again, as they’d become so accustomed to the wildlife that most ignored them or took a single photograph. Shasta and I stood and watched them from the compound fence for over an hour, and I texted my contact from the village. The elephants, majestic and serene, caused total destruction of some farms, uprooted the water lilies (a favorite staple food of the village) and destroyed their fences. Not long afterwards, Oaitse would text to tell me of another human wildlife conflict in town, where an elephant killed a man and was then killed by the townspeople, sharing a video of the elephant being chopped up for meat. These conflicts remind me of our discussions about hunting and conservation, but also the inane dating profile question asking whether human or animal lives are more valuable.
In the background of all this, many members of the community mobilized to help our Afghan student. Her hometown of Kabul fell to the Taliban and she worried incessantly about her family there. Embassies the world over ignored our entreaties – she would not be allowed to overstay her visa in Botswana, nor return to Afghanistan, nor be allowed entry anywhere. I messaged many of my contacts to no avail, but in the end she was able to travel with a staff member to the Bahamas on a fabulously convoluted journey due to the entry restrictions suddenly placed on Afghans – ostensibly due to the pandemic.