Tuesday, November 4, 2014

First Days in Botswana

view from Kgale Hill toward Gaborone Dam

I arrived in Botswana a few days ago. I was supremely jetlagged, but am at last feeling re-energized. I flew from Dominica to Paris, and spent a delightful but brief stay at Arty Paris hostel with my friend and hausmate Emma. Sometime when you and I are together in person, I'll tell you a story about the time Emma and I sang for a crowd of at least 100 outside Sacre Coeur cathedral. Mm, what. a. Time.

Departing Paris, I flew via Doha, Qatar and Johannesburg, South Africa to arrive in Gaborone, Botswana. Thursday evening, I went right to the Maru-a-Pula school where I'll be based the next few weeks. "Maru-a-Pula" means "clouds of rain" or "promises of blessings." At MaP, I'll be helping out in the library and learning from the campus horticulturalist about local ecology. I want to get involved with some of the extracurricular groups, particularly those about permaculture, wildlife, and poetry. I hope my stay here will also be a good jumping point for me to learn about writing and nature conservation in and around Gabs.

I was lucky my first night here to find out about a poetry slam happening right on campus by the Gaborone based group Poet's Passport. The theme of the night was Heat, which was appropriate in many ways. That day it had gotten up to 38 degrees Celcius! The country is dry dry dry, with months of no rain and years of drought conditions. But the poetry performed Friday night was saturated with passionate rhymes and rhythms. The second half was an open-mic, and I thought this would be a good way to put my foot in the door. Although I'd come unprepared, I copied down one of my poems from memory and asked the MC if I could read it.

Midway through the open mic session, he goes on stage, and kindly explains that there's a first timer coming up. As if I'm suddenly transported to a Rocky Horror show, the crowd starts clapping and shouting Virgin!, but they were supremely kind to me during my reading. I got many of their contacts afterwards, and one even asked if we could trade commentary on each other's future pieces. It was a blessed night, and a great start to being in Botswana.

granite hills surrounding Gaborone
The folks here at MaP have been very welcoming as well, and some of the teachers I'm living with on campus invited me to join them for rock climbing today. We went up to Kgale Hill, which means in Setswana: "the place that dried up." We could look across to the Gaborone Dam, where the water levels are only at 10% capacity. The red rocks of the hills are ancient, some of the oldest rock on the continent, according to local and lead-climber, Guy.

As I understand it (and I want to learn more on this) these are the remains of the super-continent that preceded Pangaea, a land mass called Gondwanaland. These rocks have been eroding and shifting for billions of years. It is hard to imagine a landscape more different than the fresh volcanic rocks and rich rainforests of Dominica. Long ago, it would have been more similar, when Botswana was the base of an inland superlake. Eventually, over millions of years, the lake dried as the land tilted and shifted the drainage systems of the land. Since, the land has been arid and water scarce.

It seems that change comes at its own pace, when we are ready and when we are not. And this afternoon, on my third day in the desert, it rained.

Many blessings,

me while exploring the rocks of Kgale Hill

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