Sunday, April 29, 2012

Life in Botswana: Time to Leave

The final installment of my parent's memoirs: Life in Botswana

As we prepare to leave Botswana we thought it fitting to sum up our experiences. Ed's work has continued well, and he is pleased that the advice and assistance he has provided has contributed to the development of TIPA's staff, which now is clearly stronger and more capable than before.

Other work high points have been:
  • The creation and production by Bob Pearlman of Darien, a consultant, with Ed’s assistance, of a promotional brochure which won an award from the Advertising Council of New York.  This effort took almost two years from writing terms of reference for the consultancy to clearing customs at the Gaborone Airport for the 20,000 copies (of 70,000) which were air freighted from Mt. Vernon, NY. 
  • Participation on the committee which drafted a new Tourism Policy Act and an Industrial Policy Act.
  • Contributing to Botswana's seventh National Development Plan, which has just begun.
  • Coordinating the approval, selection and funding process for a new publicity and investment promotion program for Botswana in the U.S.  

Both our social life and our activities have been limited by our trips and our preparations for them. Having all three children here this year was a tremendous treat and made up a bit for not getting home this year. We really feel we got to know our grandchildren even in such a short time because we were together constantly. The drawback is that we now know what we've been missing!

The amount of time and effort required of the position of commodore of the yacht club surprised Ed. Meetings, problems and activities took much time. A major happening was that because of no rain the water level of the dam dropped so low that our ferryboat was stuck in the mud. For a period of six weeks no one could get to our island. Then, as the water level kept dropping, the old road slowly reappeared and intrepid sailors first waded, then managed to get to their boats with 4-wheel vehicles (with many getting stuck). Eventually the road was high and dry, and we were able to drive to the club at all times, evenings too. This carried on for six months, then the floods came and in one 36-hour period the water rose two meters! Some boats floated away and had to be rescued. We were an island once again.

Ed organized the Guy Fawkes party and the Rugby Club/Yacht Club Raft Race. Both were well attended and lots of fun. Father Santa showed up by boat at our Christmas party at the clubhouse on the island and delivered gifts to all the kids. Santa gave Ed a small compass and a chart to help us find our way home the next time our car breaks down.

Nancy's time is still spent much the same way as before: shopping, paying bills, banking (mostly un-banking), reading, gardening and painting. More goods are now imported into Botswana so our food situation has improved. The down side is that we have to spend more time searching and standing in line to get them. The population of Gaborone is mushrooming, lines are longer everywhere. Automobile traffic has to be seen to be believed; most roads are one lane, even in the center of town, and though improvements are being made they can't keep up with the growth. Gaborone looks like one huge construction site.

Gardening continues to take much of Nancy's time and for most of the past year the yard has looked full of bloom. Unable to discard any living thing, Nancy planted outside our fence and the blossoms in spring and early summer this year brought many compliments from friends and passersby. We were surprised at the number of Batswana who stopped to admire.

In April of 1991 we lost our 24-hour guard service for a less expensive electronic alarm system. We appreciate the increased privacy (we never completely adjusted to having someone circle the house every half hour) but Nancy lost her gardening assistant. Ernest, the day guard, was paid extra to keep the garden watered and to rake and burn (yes!) the brush and clippings. He never assisted in the garden itself; in fact, Nancy often was mourning over his inadvertent destruction of a loved plant since Ernest was not what you would call light on his feet. The loss of Ernest plus our frequent travels have wreaked havoc on the yard.

Watering is essential here, almost every day, because of the sandy soil, heat, and lack of rain. To top it all the drought appears to have returned. A full year has passed with virtually no rain. Crops and animals have died (prices are going higher daily) and no one can predict an end to it. From mid-December until the first of March the temperature on our shady porch was over 95º and many days were hotter than that. We are still allowed to water because water evaporates so fast from the dam that it is better used to keep vegetation alive. Sadly, many of our plants died while we were away but the trees and bushes that Nancy planted will remain when we leave so all is not lost. 

Nancy is still taking painting lessons at least once a week and has recently completed a three day painting workshop. In addition she took a six session course in drawing. She still finds painting fun but challenging. The companionship of her fellow students and teacher plays a large part in the enjoyment and forms a solid support group. These new friends are very dissimilar, varying widely in nationality, age and background as well as talent and previous painting experience. The group has produced two exhibitions in the past year, elegant afternoon affairs complete with wine, fruit, cheese and a chamber music group and held at one of the American Embassy residences. Nancy sold several paintings at each of these which has helped defray a small portion of her investment.

The Gulf War ironically brought an improvement in our lives - CNN. We now are able to see the news twice each day for varying amounts of time. We find the views of the U.S., and the news, give us a feeling of keeping in touch with home. We can't imagine what the Batswana and, we suppose, peoples of many other foreign countries, find of interest in 90% of what is shown but we are grateful for it. Another welcome source of information is the International Herald Tribune which Ed brings home from the office each day.

Much of our past two years has been spent saying goodbye to the people we had gotten to know well. Most contracts are for two years and when you extend you don't realize how different your lives will all be when old friends leave and you must begin making new friends. The expatriate group has shrunk, partly because Botswana is in good financial shape (at least for Africa) and partly because aid from international donors is now being directed to new areas such as eastern Europe and the former USSR. We have hosted and attended a great many farewell parties.

Among the entertainment highlights in Gaborone this year were two terrific concerts, Paul Simon and Hugh Masekela. Big Doings in a small town like Gaborone! Simon's Born at the Right Time concert was the next-to-last one of his two year tour. It was held in a small exhibition hall with the same light and sound systems he used in New York. We were seated dead center in the fourth row, about 20 feet from him, and by the end of the 3+ hours we felt we were personal friends. Hugh Masekela held his concert outdoors behind our new Sheraton Hotel. The crowd was small because of a lack of publicity but we enjoyed seeing him - he is very famous here, having lived in Botswana for eight years as an exile from South Africa.

We have been fortunate to have met several times in the past years Derek and Beverly Joubert, who have made several films for National Geographic: The Stolen River, The Forgotten River, and their latest, Eternal Enemies. If you haven't seen them please watch them the next chance you get. They are beautiful and very informative, and they are filmed entirely in Botswana.

We feel very lucky to have had such wonderful experiences but look forward eagerly to coming home. We expect to be in Connecticut and Boston the last week in July.

My parents landed at Logan Airport the day my nephew, Whitney, was born, on July 17, 1992. I was lucky to be the one to tell them they had a new grandchild! It was a memorable day for all of us.

It was the end of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and the beginning of a life.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Farewell Martha's Vineyard

This weekend I said goodbye to the Vineyard home and garden. The house holds a lot of memories, but it's the garden that holds my heart. Scattered with rocks and shells my mother has collected over the years, and plants and shrubs we bought together on our many trips to the island nurseries, it's hard to survey the yard without thinking of of my mother.

Each time I would visit, my mother would be anxious to take me outside to walk the grounds and tell me what she just planted or moved to the right spot. Since it's still early spring on the Vineyard, the photos don't show the full beauty of the perennials – June is the best month for this garden!

A few years ago my mother planted a camellia plant in the backyard next to the porch/patio. Because it's sheltered from the wind, there would often be blooms nine months of the year. Though deer have stripped most of the flowers on the bottom half, this 8 ft. plant was in full bloom as early as March. I woke Sunday to find a large buck grazing outside the porch, just finishing his camellia breakfast.

I also wanted to plant something at the gravestone, but seeing as we're in a drought, and today was 90º, I was afraid to plant something without being there to water it. There's something sad about plantings that die in a cemetery. Already the soil is struggling with the bulbs I planted last year – you can see some daffodils just about to bloom.

But then, I had another idea...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Photo of the Day: DC

Classic Washington D.C. photo, my brother Bill and me, circa 1965

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Life in Botswana: Another Lion Tale...

... And We Ain't "Lyin"

Here's a story my mother wrote just for me, with the added handwritten note at the top: Finally, your very own (is it worth it?)

Six of us went north over Easter weekend to see birds and animals. On Friday morning we drove to Nata, and after lunch went out to the Sua Pan. To get there we drove 8 km south of the Nata Lodge turnoff, to a Nata Lodge sign, went through the gate there and proceeded about 3 km, through and around some small pans, before reaching Sua Pan. It had water, and we were fortunate to see several groups of lesser flamingos, totaling about 150, and over 500 white pelicans. The sunset was fantastic!

The next morning we traveled to Kudiakam Pan to see the Baines baobabs. No water, but even so the trees were splendid. Everyone took prize-winning photos. Then on to Nxai Pan National Park, seeing three giraffe en route. After setting up camp we drove to Kgama Kgama Pan and back to Nxai Pan ("the Pan"). We saw a group of six gemsbok and a group of about 300 springbok. Back at camp, a tawny eagle lazed overhead. And the Southern Cross was bright and clear until the full moon rose.

The next day we hit the Pan about 6 o'clock. Our first experience driving on the road with tall grass alongside, at 30 kph, we were astounded to see a large gemsbok dash out of the grass not ten feet from the front of our truck and dash into the grass on the other side! He couldn't see us and we couldn't see him. We thought about what might have happened and drove slower. Soon after we saw about 30 more gemsbok, in small groups.

We then found ourselves in the middle of about 1,000 springbok, on both sides and in front. After many photos, seeing how peaceful the scene was, two women from our group left our trucks and began walking on the road in front, toward the springbok. They were about 200 yards ahead, when they bolted toward the trucks at a speed of 9 seconds for 100 meters, motioning for the trucks to come to them! They made it, and said that they had seen two lion, male and female, walking about 200 yards away, between two groups of springbok. The reason for the dash was that the lions had spotted them, and stopped!

After the two sprinters had recovered, we turned around to go ahead of the lions, and then curved around so that they would pass nearby. After we rounded a clump of trees we saw the lioness, first standing, then lying down. No sign of the male. We drove to about 75 feet from the lioness, parked at an angle with the lioness to our left, and turned off engines. We adjusted our cameras and were busily taking photos when suddenly the male lion exploded out of a clump of grass to our right and in two bounds, in one-tenth of a second, covered 60 feet and rose up, flailing the air with his paws and roaring loudly. He stopped just short of our truck and dropped into a crouch. We were all so busy rolling up windows that we couldn't take a picture! After checking for local heart failure we started engines and slowly backed away. The lion watched us until he was sure we were leaving.

Moral: Don't ever leave the vehicle in the presence of wild game!!

On the way back to camp for breakfast, we saw a number of zebra, two black-backed jackal, and an enormous secretary bird. After breakfast we drove all around the Pan and saw close to 2,000 zebra grazing and strolling, with some in file formation going somewhere. They were everywhere inside the road which encircled the Pan. We saw also two kudu, another jackal, two more secretary birds, two kori bustards, and a flock of circling vultures. Many other birds, too, and small stuff – mongoose, spring hares, and one turtle.

And then back to Nata and home with our experiences and, we hope, some good photos.