Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Botswana at last

Hurry up and wait...that's exactly what happened. We made it to Botswana, ran around (thanks to Tony lending us his car and a place to stay) and we commenced to do nothing. OK, so we had meetings. We talked to Local Enterprise Authority several times, the Competitiveness HUB, USAID, Botswana Tourism, and many friends about our idea to market Botswana. We were so gung ho! It all seemed so promising from the States, but reality is a bummer and we didn't get anything more concrete than a handshake and business card.

Marketing Marula Oil was one of our main objectives. We have set the foundation for branding here in the States through sales, advertising and articles. Word of mouth had grown not only through my online business with plastic surgeons discovering that I carry the pure oil and recommending the "miracle" oil to their patients. Masseuses had found out about the oil and were buying wholesale amounts for use on their clients. And several boutique bath and body products used marula oil bought from me. I wanted to spend a lot of time with the women in Lerala, but it just didn't work out. There's something holding this product from expanding - production, funding, community infighting, personality conflicts, the list goes on and on and I'm stuck on the receiving end, not able to receive any oil! From my website a cosmetics company found the oil. They hadn't heard of it before and wanted to test its properties. Wouldn't you know it, the oil sample I sent them was old. The product tested poorly and they decided not to use it...if the community trust in Botswana could only bring their production up to par, they could do well for that entire community. I've got some on the way, but I was really hoping to rest my business on the oil and now I'm having to re-evaluating our relationship.

We were able to place an order with the famed Gabane Pottery. Martin and his wife Katherine have been steadily growing that business so that they have a nice group of women to help them produce the ceramics. Again, I was looking forward to getting these mugs to the US. There is a great need for fair trade mugs to go with the fair trade coffees/teas, and they certainly are beautiful. We have great footage of Martin taking us through the process. Can't wait to incorporate it into the TV shows we're working on. I ordered so much from them and all in the midst of the new President issuing a statement to all of Botswana Government Departments mandating that local producers be utilized for office supplies/needs. And so, Gabane Pottery was supplying many of the big departments with tea sets (Botswana's English rule until the 60's left behind rituals like high tea that is embedded in much of Bots' culture even today). From the look on Martin's face, I had very little confidence that my order would be done in the 6 weeks I had left in the country - but he provided me wrong. In the end due to many banking problems, I couldn't pay for the full amount and also couldn't carry the heavy ceramic mugs, platters, coffee pots and jars back to the States. It is the end of October and I still haven't been able to make full payment, resorting to Western Union since our bank in Botswana won't allow us to transfer money from the US. I still have no idea how I'm going to get 100lbs of pottery to Cold Spring, NY or if they'll make it.

I brought some in my luggage and have sold all of the mugs (at a loss since it cost so much to ship). A few pieces shattered - could it be from the air pressure or the valet who dropped my bag helping us to our car at JFK? Who knows? All I know is that I'm chomping at the bit to get the products I ordered and anticipated having in the store during this holiday season. After all, this was the reason for the trip, no?

Or was it? We wanted to have wholesale products to market, to do shows with/for and that just wasn't panning out. Knowing full well that if it wasn't coming to us easily, then it probably wasn't meant to be, we kept an open mind and tried not to stress over plans unfulfilled...what then? What were we doing in Botswana...we couldn't wait to find out.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I can't believe it's been nearly two months since we were in Botswana. Our summer in Southern Africa seems like years ago. I started this blog to catch everyone up on our return to Botswana, but with all that happened and is happening now, I just can't get it all down, and as a result, the blog goes without. . .I will try to write more often, particularly since I live, breath, and do things only in the name of Women's Work.

Let me start off from the beginning.

June 29, 2008 - South Africa

We wanted to save some money, so instead of paying the $300 more person to fly into Botswana, we landed in Johannesburg, South Africa. Our friend Tony was taking care of (trying to sell) our Land Rover, with no luck. Peter thought this was a blessing since we would need it...first of many things that didn't go our way.

So, we're at the airport trying to find out where our ride is and having a tough time getting any answers since our cell phones don't work in South Africa. There are actually telephone shops in the airport, not shops that sell phones, but telecoms where you can make phone calls but not on a payphone...something we don't have here. Anyway, unable to get a call out, Peter spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do. The woman working in the shop felt badly for Peter. She even let him use her personal cell phone since we couldn't get through to Botswana on the regular phone. When we did finally get a hold of our friend, she even gave him her personal cell phone number and took messages for us. . . ah, the kindness of strangers.

Turns out, the Land Rover had broken down two hours away. Tony's girlfriend and a driver were worried that a car with Botswana plates broken down on the side of the road would be a target for car jackers. They couldn't get cellphone coverage to call for help or to call Tony and waited by the car afraid for their lives...how horrible for them!

We would not know any of this for hours. But when word finally got to us, we had to spend what we thought would only be one night in Jo'berg. Our new friend, the telephone salesperson finally called someone she knew who had a Bed and Breakfast.

We were on our way to a quiet charming bungalow. Macallan and I went first - Nepal, the B&B owner (from Nepal, thus the nickname) could only fit the two of us and some of our oversized luggage in his station wagon. Reassuring Peter that we'd be safe with him (afterall it was Jo'berg), we were welcomed to the B&B by the other guests, who helped us carry our bags. We were so tired, we actually slept in. It's cold because it's winter in Africa, so we bundled up in the blankets and fell right to sleep.

When I awoke, I found an amazing sight. With Macallan and Markham reluctant to leave their friends for the summer, this trip started off on a sour note. It didn't help that we were stranded...but this would make up for it all. There, propped up against the sliding glass doors to our room were two small dogs lying in the sun.

I had to wake Macallan, I just couldn't wait for her to see. We returned to Africa and were welcomed back by the very reason we left. The straw that broke the camel's back for us was our neighbor shooting our dogs. Feeling unsafe, we packed up and headed to the States, none of us saying proper good byes to the country we had called home. Now, returning for the first time, a dog that looked just like Macallan's dog Otse waited for us to awake. I cried watching Macallan being greeted by this dog, licking, whining, tag-a-wagging. The Land Rover broken down, us having to "make a plan" as they say in Africa, strangers to our rescue, and animals, animals, animals, all par for the course for Durkins' course in Africa.

We were home.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

As I watched and took pictures of the crowd before me, a child shroud in brown, layered and hooded in mismatched hand-me-downs caught my eye. She was shy and reserved, not making eye contact with me or anyone else there. I wiped the tears from my eye. I wiped some more. What I thought was from the wind, dust and bright sun, turned out to be tears of realization, sadness and joy. I was sobbing and it would take me years to find out why.
Those tears were for the women I saw, the women I'd met along the way, the woman I would become. That child was the spitting image of my nephew, whom I had barely known before leaving him and all of my friends and family behind for a life, up until that moment was undefined. Now, I knew why I had come and what I had to do. My mission is to bring the sadness and the joy I felt on that day and for many days to come to anyone who would listen.
After many spiritual starts and stops, I have found my ignition. I have seen my life's worth and am grateful. That work is to be instrumental in making people aware of the kind of person they can become. That the world can be opened up for inspiration and know that many of you will unfold and follow. That there is a way each of us can make the world a better place, a place that we would love to be a part of and a place safe and nurturing that we can raise our children in. And that world doesn't exist inside or outside the United States, but inside us-each of us. A safe haven, harbor, home exists within us all.
Over the years, I've made many of you aware of the San Bushman's plight, introduced the idea that women around the world are struggling for/with the same things we struggle for/with each day--the wish to bring up our children ourselves, our way, with our values and concerns. The hope to provide nutrition, neutral ground free of bias, hurt and pain, along with enough resources to nurture them so that each child can grow up to reach their full potential. And because I firmly believe that this is a message I've gotten across to all of you, I know you will not let my dream of awareness and awakening and activism die.
If you wear a piece of jewelry, display a basket, recommend some marula oil or tell others about the work of women's groups around Botswana and beyond, if you never let a day go by without being grateful for what you have, knowing there are many without, if you see for a moment that you matter and we all matter and together we can make a world of great matter. And if for each day you are on this earth you believe that each breath taken, each word spoken, each deed done brings a benefit to us all, than my efforts will not have been in vane.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Women's Work Fulfilled

The journey had started years before, after we had moved out of New York City and up the Hudson River to the small village of Cold Spring. It was there that I decided that I was missing something. I looked for it in my involvement in various school groups, non-profits, Zen Buddism practices, in Reiki, and in Astrology and found some semblances of reason and hope. But it took me until I set off for a weekend out in the middle of nowhere with a woman I had just met to experience a culture so foreign to me that up until living in Botswana I had not known existed. But once there, the setting, the people, the cause, the very idea of being able to bring income to people who wanted only to continue with their way of life, finally rang true.
After that day in the desert, I found what I had been looking for.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Story of Women's Work

In 2003, my husband Peter found a job posting on Findajobinafrica.com (Really, there is a site!) The job called for a manager of a game reserve. We applied as a management couple, and much to our surprise, we were accepted. So we sold the house we were never going to leave and everything in it and flew to Botswana with our 3-year-old, our 8-year-old, 13 boxes and our dog. Our time at the game reserve was wonderful, but unfortunately we came to realize that the reserve was not what we thought it was. Making the decision to leave our thatched roofed cottage with rhinos grazing on the lawn, warthog rooting in the garden, and spitting cobras raiding the hen house, was a difficult one, but one we still believe was the right one to make.
We moved into a nice neighborhood in Gaborone and started our own business. I returned to journalism and wrote magazine articles on travel, as we marketed and advised on eco-tourism ventures. While working on a story about Gantsi Craft, I got the opportunity to go on a craft buying trip to a remote Bushman settlement and had a life changing experience.