August 4, 2011

We drove from Nata to Moun today, our gateway to the Okavango Delta. We watched the sun rise over the veld this morning, red and blazing, and I quietly sang the opening of The Lion King to myself. It wasn’t too long before we saw a whole herd of gemsbok, which have really long and straight horns. (The first one we spotted actually only had one horn, and for a moment I was really excited to have seen the rare African Unicorn). Later, we saw a family of warthogs (a mama and four babies). Warthogs are really funny animals – it’s a wonder they don’t fall face-first because of the size of their heads and the weight of their tusks. As we rolled slowly by, I heard David say the word “pumba,” which I learned is the Swahili word for warthog. I found this very exciting, as Pumba is a pumba in The Lion King. I asked David if “Timon” means “meerkat,” but David told me that, no, that’s just his name. Well, of course. Duh.

(It’s a little sad that, to date, much of my knowledge about Africa comes from The Lion King.)

I’ve actually enjoyed the long drive from Johannesburg up to the Delta. I often fly places, missing all of the in-between. This trip, however, has really allowed me to see the country in a pretty low-profile way. Our vehicle is a small van, and looks exactly like the numerous baakis (taxis), so I feel relatively inconspicuous as I gaze out of the open window, speeding past the occasional village. I watch as people go to school and to work, hang their laundry, do their shopping, fix their cars, tend to their animals, and gather to talk.

In Cape Town, I asked Leah is she ever felt like she blended in, after living and working in Botswana for two years. She said that, on the whole, she was always the white person in the room, and that her presence inevitably changed the dynamic. The only time she felt like she was just another person was when she attended the funeral of one of her young patients. She knew the immediate family, and everyone else was so caught up in their grief that they didn’t really pay her any mind. I keep thinking about the authenticity of my experiences when I look so different than those who are native to this area.

One similarity I’ve noticed between Botswanans and Portlanders is that people here seem to pay special attention to their clothing. In other third-world countries I’ve visited, much of the clothing I’ve seen has been in various states of disrepair. The people I’ve seen here, however, would not really look out of place in any American city. There is the occasional woman in traditional dress, but much of the style is more western – jeans, button-up shirts, leather jackets, skirts, heels, blazers, hoodies, trousers, shiny black shoes.

We are camping tonight in a small campground outside of Maun. There is an open-air bar very close by, and so I decided to sit at the bar and read, while drinking a non-fire-inducing Fanta. Josh and Naila once told me that the best way to pick up a guy at a bar was by opening a book. I guess they’re right, because I had only been reading for about ten minutes when a beautiful black man sat next to me and started talking to me with a rich African accent. He told me his name was Doctor. We had a perfectly pleasant conversation, but I eventually made my exit with the excuse of an early wake-up.

“Kerry,” Doctor said. “Can I come with you?”

“Come with me where?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Just with you.”

Finally catching on, I said, “No, I’m sorry, you can’t no.”

“No? That is sad,” Doctor said. “Kerry, you have stolen my heart. You have to know this. It is beating so fast.”

Not bad after a fifteen minute conversation…

Tomorrow: the Okavango Delta