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Into the African bush: reflections on a term spent in Botswana

Have you ever heard of Botswana before? If you asked that question to me a few months ago, I would not be able to give any good answer but “no.” I didn’t even know about the existence of this country until I heard about this school. And now, I am in that country, with that school.

Even before I actually arrived in Botswana, I had a lot of first time experiences. It was my first time to do the visa application myself. It was my first time to make international calls to people outside my country -for three consecutive days, nonetheless- and I was truly stressed that I would not receive my visa in time. I sent my application a month and a half prior to my departure date, and I got my visa the last working day before then. I cannot say that it is entirely their fault as my payment was a little bit short, but they took a full month to realize that and there was no prior announcement about the fee change, but at least I am happy that I got the visa on time and it is not too bad.

At the airport, it was my first time flying as an “ordinary” passenger. It was my first time flying alone and it was my first time that I needed to change planes. The transit part was the part I struggled with a bit, as I had never been to that specific airport before. It was very confusing and in the early morning, so I was a bit sleepy but I could not fall asleep. It was also raining, there was no jetway and it was terribly cold. But the worst thing is, I forgot one small thing that I use all the time before I go to bed: chapstick. The air on the plane is bone dry, and my lips almost started to bleed. The worst thing to do when your lips are dry is to try to moisturize them by licking, as the chemical in your saliva will suck up even more moisture and will make your lips even drier. I ended up dipping my lip in a glass of water the whole time. This must have looked hilarious to others, but at this point it did not matter anymore. And still, after all of that, the water did not do much. So, people, don’t forget your chapstick!

It was not until a few days had passed that I get to see the real Botswana. My first few days were not different from staying anywhere else at all. We did get to learn some Setswana phrases, which gave us and the locals some nice giggles and fun. But apart from that, it was quite normal and dull. The new people was a little bit overwhelming but the real term -in the bush- had not started yet.

The absence of light pollution results in stunning nighttime views

The whole bush thing is a different world. For the first time, while being a complete change of my lifestyle, that change was a positive one and I cannot say I disliked it. Normally, before TGS, I would spend most of my time in a room or in the house. As the “room” (or a tent, or just an open-air skyroof!)  was basically nothing but a place to sleep, I was kind of forced to be out of the room all the time. That made the trip actually meaningful and I cannot imagine how it would have turned out if I had my phone and internet connection with me. It helped me to be “in-the-moment,” to appreciate the panoramic beauty in front of me instead of the 1080p beauty in my 5.5 inch screen. Also, thanks to “being in the moment,” , I came up with a few Thai poems while I was there. I can and have written long poems before, but just for work or competition, and I couldn’t really think of myself writing poetry in my free time and for fun until I arrived in Botswana. And now I see how fun and relaxing poetry is. I would say I didn’t see myself enjoying it that much!

How can you say you have arrived in Botswana if you haven’t seen any wildlife?  If that’s the case, I would proudly say that I have been to Botswana just from our first ten-nish days. We didn’t only see the wildlife, we literally lived with them! I have seen elephant footprints, fresh and crisp, in one of our camps  in the early morning. That might not mean anything, but we had our  elephant friend with us last night. We also learned that Mother Nature rules all, and there was not much we could do but be patient. We needed to make a long stop just to wait for the elephants to cross the road. Another thing I have learned about elephant crossings  is that the patience of humans is limited, especially ones on the road  in front of a steering wheel. It isn’t a problem if it’s just an elephant or even a few. But if there is a huge herd of elephants progressing across the road slowly. I, and I think we, didn’t mind if we took some time to watch the elephants. But the driver didn’t think the same and the timetable didn’t really agree, either. Guess what, though: who cares about the road? If the road is blocked by the elephants, don’t use the road! We (more like he) decided to ditch the road and just go with off-roading. We drove through the trees and established a new road at full-speed! That was very fun but I don’t think my parents will be very happy to know that.

Photo by Angie Tenebrini

One more thing I really liked is when we were conducting the study about wildlife conservation, believe it or not, we had  professional researchers with us all the time! I can’t imagine this happening if I was not a student of this school. Our questions and confusion could be addressed accurately because the ones addressing the questions were the one who are very used to the topic. That helped me a lot. I have also talked to one of the the researchers himself about “his own” research paper, which I found to be really amazing and rather unbelievable. I mean, this is the first time I have read any research paper at all, and I think if I were anywhere else, this would not happen, We would just learn about research conducted by some random person we didn’t even know or care to know. Talking to the researcher about his research would previously not have been something  I would even  think about.

Mike Reed speaks about his life’s work

If there is a reason I didn’t want to come back home, it would be the people of Botswana (Batswana or plural Motswana). Who would expect to see a smile every single time when you smile to someone? Certainly not me at least, and seeing all of those unexpected things made me feel really happy. People here are very kind and friendly. I keep making Motswana friends here and there, even on the last day we stayed in Botswana! I was chilling at the pool and there was a little kid playing. Because I had nothing to do and I know that kids are fun to be with, I went and played with her. Then, her mom came and we had a really good conversation. She was really fun to talk with and I even got her number! I would really like to call her if I have a chance.

But all of those things wouldn’t happen if all we did is just stop by here and there at the tourist attractions, like what most of the tourists do. All of this happened because we have a lot of time in country and have the time to be with the locals. I would never know that Motswana are so good of a people, very friendly and lovely. I would never know that, besides jewelry,  the people are Botswana’s precious resource. This may sound a little bit exaggerated, but if you come, you will know exactly what I am saying! See you in Botswana!

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Ready to embark on the educational journey of a lifetime?

A passion for travel. A strong academic record. And the desire to improve the world as you experience it. If this sounds like you, you just might be our ideal candidate! Start your application with a five-minute inquiry form - you never know where you might end up.

It all starts here.

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