Damian and the Validations

When you’re in the middle of a big change it’s hard to know whether it’s going as well as you hope or whether you’re just putting on a brave face. In life, there’s a lot of faking it until you make it. New jobs, new homes, new lives, they all require a period of grinning and bearing it. It’s difficult to step outside and judge where you’re at. Life feels too present, too all-consuming. Sometimes you need an outside perspective to help you judge, to help you answer some burning questions. Namely, could we show someone a good time in Botswana? Could we get them to see it how we see it? To feel how we feel about the place? Enter our first visitor from America: Damian.


Our journey started simply, in Kanye. Walking our village paths, greeting the people, pointing out the shops, passing along a few words of Setswana, posing at the grand vistas.


Giving temporary dinosaur tattoos to the neighbor kids.


It’s hard to describe how it feels to show someone your village. Having them bear witness to the strange sights that have become normal to you. Seeing the huts and evening fires and roving livestock through their eyes. Hoping they won’t be disappointed or stricken with culture shock. Waiting for their opinion. Waiting for validation. Hoping they’ll get a good feeling from the people and find beauty in the landscape. And when they do, it’s both a relief and a glorious affirmation. Joy and gratitude in waves.

But Kanye was just the beginning. We planned a route. A big circle around the country. Going north through the capital to Francistown then a hard left through the salt pans and on to Maun and the Okavango Delta then south through the frontier towns in the western Kalahari and back home. All new to us. And all to be seen in less than a week!

The north of Botswana boasts several national parks and rumors of hoards of wild animals. Here was our fist clue.


And it proved deeply true. A campsite with a roadside watering hole drew at least 15 elephants while we watched and waited.


Their interactions were amazing. Poor broken tusk Bill couldn’t drink with the others. And look at King Kenny laughing at him as he walks away. So cruel.


Along the side of the road, we saw giraffes, ostriches, baboons, and a pack of warthogs. Are you kidding me? They were just standing there like mile markers and gas stations billboards. And there was no traffic. You could pull over at your leisure and take pictures for as long as you liked. It’s hard to imagine but it’s true. We’re not lying to you.


Not that driving was without its foibles. We had a tire (tyre) slip off the rim that eventually exploded. But it wasn’t a problem. Some mechanics at our lodge helped us free of charge. What’s often lost in the elephant spotting and giraffe gawking is the decency and kindness of the Batswana people. So welcoming and willing to help whenever you need it.


The centerpiece of our trip was a stop in Maun and a two day one night trip on the Okavango Delta. The delta is an inland waterway and world heritage site, teeming with wildlife and small channels of placid water surrounding chains of islands and savannah grassland. Coming upon this mass of water after months in the desert where every turn of the tap comes with crossed fingers is a powerful thing. Like an oasis. A mirage. An unbelievable miracle of water.


To pass the days in skinny canoes, poled like gondolas through reeds and water lilies was deeply meditative. Maybe this video will help.

To camp on an island and walk among herds of zebras and wildebeest and antelope and giraffes was almost impossible. To see the skulls of animals killed by lions. To pass through pods of ominously snorting hippos. To hear the fish eagles cry overhead. To sit by the fire in the evenings, telling riddles with the boatmen. It was pristine. A completely real place. It was almost as if no human being had ever laid eyes on it. Yet there we were. At one point, Damian said, “Of all the people we know, we are having the best day of anyone. No one is doing anything better than this.”


As hard as it was to leave, we had one more stop to make. Months ago during our training, Peggy, a volunteer in Ghanzi, came and spoke to us about a heavy metal festival she helped plan the year before. We had seen pictures of Botswana rockers online. We decided right then and there we would go. It did not disappoint. Picture of a rocker here.


Picture of a rocker doing a split here.


Video here.

We’re not really metal fans but we love music and we love to see people loving music. And the metal fans in Ghanzi LOVE metal. The venue stunk of spilled beer and sweat and cigarettes and it was perfect. Like the first punk shows we remember from high school. Where the scene was small and the fans were the bands and vice versa and it was family and it was a sort of perfect. Thanks for reminding us of that feeling, rockers.

Another day’s drive home. A quick morning breakfast and coffee, one last walk around Kanye to introduce Damian to our co-workers and students and it was over. But the feeling hasn’t left us. We have the sneaking suspicion that Botswana is really as great as we think it is. And that we can show anyone who comes here an amazing time. And that we should treasure every moment. And that it will all end too quickly. Thank you endlessly for coming, Damian. You have our undying gratitude. With love, from us.

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