Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Botswana Snow Day

I'm sitting in our house on this snowy Thursday working on our book, checking emails, posting on Facebook, enjoying being home with the kids. Thursdays are my day home from the store. Even though I don't usually go into the store on weekends, I don't consider that a free day, just the weekend.

So, here we are, all together since this is the second snow day for the kids. I like it. It reminds me of Africa.

We were together a lot. The schools go all year with four months on, one month off. I thought it was great because Peter and I were both self-employed and it allowed our family time to travel as I wrote articles I was assigned and we all enjoyed some pretty awesome adventures!

As I said, I'm writing this book about our life in Botswana. To get back into Botswana, I thought I'd Google the game reserve we managed. Didn't find much, but as is my nature, I didn't stop digging until I found something interesting.

Peace Corps blogs are the first things I find of any worth. Sweet accounts of the slow pace, the cultural differences, the major milestones occurring back in the States making the homesickness that much more palpable even for voyeurs, anonymous and undetected.

I'm crying just thinking about our time there. My memories flood my senses. Things we had gone through are as vivid as if they occurred yesterday. Why is it so tangible for me? Why are the feelings so raw even after nearly four years away? Who am I that the country, the culture, the community never really left me? Why do some people finish their "stint" and move on while people like Peter (and, inadvertently, me) never ever leave?

Oh, don't get me wrong. There were many many days and nights in Botswana that left me wondering how I got there, wondering why I stayed. A black widow resting in my son's motorcycle helmet, scorpions falling from the ceiling onto my daughter's head, snake after poisonous snake curled up on our bed, in our yard, at our window, across the road - yes, a 15 foot python trying to get warm! And then there' s the runaway crocodile that roared like a lion, the charging elephant protecting her young, the hippo munching on grass right outside our tent, and just as bush legend would have it, the hyena that circled our campsite, which our children believe was the very one that swiped a teenage girl from the campfire as her parents helplessly watched.

But the woes of Botswana weren't really the animals, although it would come down to our animals, our dogs being shot by our neighbor that would finally prove to be the last straw. It was the lack of money, ways to make money for foreigners and residents a like that didn't make our life there viable. It would be the distance from one place to the other that would make accomplishing tasks nearly impossible. It would be the cultural differences that would prove puzzling and hindersome. What was the right thing to do? Our children imitate the young boy who came up to us as we stood in line for meat pies. "I'm hungry." he said, "Buy me a pie." So, we did, whereby, the entire line of Motswana customers and the pie-clerks turned on us. "If you buy him a pie, he will pester everyone on this line every day." What to do?

Today, I remember how much I loved living there. Why are we here? I ask myself. Why couldn't we make it work? Sure there are people - Peace Corps Volunteers that leave their host country never to return. But there are oh so many that cannot let it go. Peter, having been stationed in Botswana in the early '80's couldn't shake her from his being. For nearly 20 years, he looked for a way to return until he finally found the job on that fateful game reserve in 2002.

I sit in our comfortable home as my children warm up after playing in the snow and have to smile past the tears. Two different dogs surround me as I write, much the way Oz and Otse did in Botswana. Hell, this is the very same upholstered chair and ottoman that the three of us occupied in two different houses in Africa. Only, this time, we're in a heated house with sheet rock walls and hardwood floors.

This time, I am not writing about the newest bed and breakfast opening in the South African bush. I'm not compiling pictures from the San Bushman Dance Festival I had just covered, or writing about the latest developments at the HIV AIDS conference I just attended. This time, it's personal.

And because it is personal, I have that much more to say than "just the facts, ma'am". I want to bring you to Botswana with us. I want you to see what I saw the way that I saw it. I want you to want to be there too and understand full well why we left, why we remain involved, and why our experiences are significant in today's environment, economy, with today's lifestyle here in the USA.

Here I am writing in a snow storm in Poughkeepsie, NY, about as far away as you can get from our tin roofed, cement block two bedroom double garage door home in Ghanzi and I'm immersed in Botswana...and for today, I can take the day off from my store in the Poughkeepsie Plaza, from our life back in the States, and have a snow day, where I'm in Botswana, in 2003 once again.

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