Wednesday, August 25, 2010

‘Dohn’t let dem see, or dey will KEEL us’

August 24, 2010 3:41 PM

We'll it's back in the saddle again time for me, but as for the blog, it's still barely…


Sunday August 22, 2010

The morning started just about as early as I had stayed up late the night before. As I woke up, I called myself stupid for only getting about 5 hours of sleep. Regardless, as I opened my eyes I got the impression that I was floating on a cloud in the middle of the night surrounded by more misty clouds…just my mosquito net and comfy bed though. I shook off the sleepiness and threw on some shorts, a shirt, and headed out the door, camera in hand. As the cool-ish air greeted me outside my door, I hesitated, then thought I'd better bring my fleece along, just in case.

In the lobby of the lodge waited about ten people, a few I recognized from the previous days boat ride at sunset. One a group of three adults from North Carolina, and a mom, dad, and son from New York. We all crowded around the table that had been set up with coffee, cream, sugar, and just barely sweet cornbread (I'm assuming) muffins. As I was a little bit later arriving than anyone else, I quickly made my coffee and used it to inhale two of the muffins as my breakfast, forgetting the fact that an actual breakfast (which I had paid for without a choice in my room rate) would be waiting at the restaurant upon our return. It was better that I ate anyway, since for some reason my intestinal ulcer (which I have not been diagnosed with but assume that I have as I wake up some mornings with a slight burning sensation in my abdomen that resolves with food…and no I have not had it checked out…I'm a medical student, and going to the doctor is something doctors don't do, in case you didn't know) was bothering me a bit more than normal. As I swished down the last bite, I headed just outside the entrance to the vehicle to which I had been assigned.

I took my seat in the second row behind the family from New York and in front of a family from somewhere in Asia, pointing out to myself yet again that I was the only one in the group traveling alone. Stanley, our driver, handed out blankets (at this cue I put on my fleece), started up the open air vehicle, and headed out onto the main road with a flash.

And it was FREEZING. The air was cool, to be sure, but when you added the artificial wind from driving in an open air vehicle, it was ridiculous. I would not have been happy without something warm to wear.

We arrived at the entrance to the park, where everyone had to get out of their vehicles and walk over this wet doormat-looking thing. Apparently, it is some sort of measure meant to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease. Decontaminated from the sole of the shoe down, we were allowed to continue the drive-in. As we drove on the paths through the hilly landscape while the sun was slowly bringing light into the sky, our driver told us about how all the dead trees we saw were thanks to the 60,000-70,000 elephants that occupied the national park. Apparently they eat the bark of the tree, then leave it to die, a fully formed skeleton of the green plant that had once been. Silly elephants…

A few moments after this we spotted a few destroying some trees on the hillside to our right, but in the early light they really were almost just shadows moving along the ground. We continued on the trail, turning west further into the park and along the edge of the Chobe River. In the river valley just below we were able to see some impala, some waterbulls, and far far off among scant trees here and there more elephants, just spots of grey from where we were. To our left (the south) were the hills of the park where we would spend the majority of the time searching for animals. Just before we turned again to the south to head into this hilly area, Stanley stopped. We looked around for an animal that he must have spotted, and he said simply "The sun rises."

Sure enough, over our right shoulders and at an angle behind us the sun was JUST peaking over the hills and trees. "Well played, Stanley," I thought. It was perfect timing and certainly the rising was pretty. More beautiful, though, was the landscape that surrounded us as it was cast in shades of gold, with red, orange, and purple reflecting in the Chobe, mimicking the sky above. We sat and watched for a few minutes, waiting until the most brilliant colors of the sunrise had passed and a golden hue dominated both the sun and the sky around it. There were many things to see, and so we were off again.

As we drove, Stanley pointed out first giraffe tracks, and then waterbull tracks, and finally lion tracks. WHAT?! Lion tracks! I tried not to get too excited, as of course tracks are stationary and therefore much easier to find than the kitty himself. Further, we drove and stopped and drove and stopped for a good chunk of time, viewing different animals along the way, none of which were lions. I was beginning to think tracks were all that we would see of this guy.

Fortunately, though, we were able to see just a bit more. After turning away from the river and driving for about ten minutes, we came to a stop and looked to the left. About 50 yards away, just barely visible through the trees and bushes, lay a golden mound with a slightly red-tinged, bushy end. Stanley moved back and forth trying to get a better view. Within a minute or two, though, we were surrounded by the wildest animals in Chobe that day: humans on safari. Seriously, there were six vehicles around us before you could say "Simba the Lion King." We were in a spot where you could just barely see the guy, and the presence of others around us made it most difficult to reposition in for a better view. Eventually Stanley just decided we'd stay put. A couple minutes after finding him, the Lion stood up, took a few steps to the west, turned around (giving a good view of his whole body), and then walked off away from us further into the bushes and disappeared. I heard murmurings of two lionesses being close by, but I saw nothing indicating their presence, unfortunately.

Once the lion disappeared from our view, Stanley decided that we'd be off, and if we happened to run into Mr. Lion again we'd just count ourselves lucky. However, every other vehicle around us was not finished, and stayed put hoping to get a better glance. About a 12-point turn later, Stanley maneuvered us out of the herd of safari vehicles and back onto a less crowded path.

As our drive proceeded, it became very clear that the family in front of me was very into spotting birds. They seemed to get almost as excited about the Kingfisher and the Lilac-crested something bird as the elephants and the lion. Surely they were pretty, and I'm sure rare, but I wasn't quite as into it as they were. Regardless, we continued driving, seeing numerous birds, impala, etc along the way. Unfortunately we had seen the last of the lion. About halfway into our drive we spotted a group of baboons traveling in a group, but for some reason Stanley stopped only for a brief moment and didn't get very close. I would understand why in a few moments.

We pulled up a few moments later to a picnic area just off of the river. It was not more than a couple bathrooms and three spread out cement tables and benches. After being in the park for so long without seeing anything that wasn't completely natural, it looked very much out of place, kind of like a Texas boy in the middle of a Botswana supermarket. Regardless, it was perfectly situated for a stretch and coffee break, which gave me the opportunity to consume cups 3 and 4 of the wonderful stuff.

As I strolled around the area, I noticed off beyond the last safari vehicle two baboons just kind of watching and walking around. Interesting. As I made my way along the river's edge, where trees grew up from below to far above the level of the raised edge upon which we were standing, I noticed something moving and eeking in said trees. Indeed, we had come to a stop right where we were able to watch the baboons climbing, swinging, and jumping through the trees. They were not very shy either. In fact, as I tried to position myself to see those climbing in one of the trees, I stepped toward an area of tall grass, only to stop suddenly as I realized I was about ten feet from one of the fully-grown primates and getting closer. He was perfectly fine just staring at me until I came to the sudden jerky stop. Sensing my surprise, he stiffened up too and decided to slowly walk a bit farther away.

After taking a few pictures, some video, and spotting a mother and baby baboon sitting together on a branch far above facing the growing sunlight, I decided it must be time for us to be getting on. In fact, my vehicle's passengers were all inside by the time I got back, and Stanley and I completed the group.

The rest of the drive was relatively tame, with sightings of a few more birds (gosh New Yorkers, move to Texas where we learn to be excited about big animals like cows and horses!), a herd of impala (two of which were fighting, antlers drawn), and a couple of warthogs (I asked but they didn't seem to have heard the name Pumba before). I kept waiting to see giraffes up close, but at best we thought we saw some very far off among the taller trees. As we neared what we all recognized as the beginning of the path, we drove past a few more elephants among the trees, the closest of which somehow had lost his left tusk. As we drove back down the highway headed toward the lodge, my safari adventure had pretty much drawn to a close. I was rather pleased with the number and variety of animals we saw.

Back at the lodge, it was time for me to enjoy my second and full breakfast. I sat at one of the tables on the deck overlooking the river and the greenery that encompassed the lodge. The breakfast was pretty much anything you wanted: eggs, potatoes, sausage, omelets, fruit, numerous types of bread (with jam and homemade fig sauce, which was yummy), etc etc etc. Let's just say that the environment strongly contrasted with the buffet meal that I had previously enjoyed at the Grand Palm in Gaborone: here it was tranquil, quiet, and natural. However the end result was the same: me = stuffed.

Though the breakfast was included, I felt I should leave a tip for the waiter at breakfast. However I had nothing smaller than a 100 Pula bill (about $15). Therefore, I asked the waiter if I could sign a gratuity to my room. He looked at me for a second and told me the breakfast was included in the room cost. I said I knew, but that I wanted to leave him a tip, but did not have any change, so could I sign to leave him one and have it added to my room? He looked confused, went and got another waiter, and came back. I explained again that I wanted to sign a gratuity/tip to my room. They looked at me and said "The breakfast is included in the room sir, there is nothing to sign." I was done…I tried, but there was no getting through. I still felt really bad as they watched me get up and leave the table with nothing on it but my empty plate…I tried!

Having taken note that checkout was at 10, I rushed back to my room after eating, stuffed my things into my bag as the cleaning lady was remaking the bed (they meant 10!), and headed out the door hoping that I hadn't forgotten anything (though I had already checked twice). I did manage to nab some instant coffee packets and sugar, too. J

After this, I checked out, asked if the receptionist could call me a taxi for 1:30 (since my phone had not been working too well), and decided to kill some time by heading into town to see if any souvenir type stores would be open. I walked down the road to the same mall area I had been in the day before, but pretty much the only things open were a couple of clothing stores and the Spar grocery store. That being the case, the only thing I ended up buying was a large bottle of water, as I needed to take my malaria prophylaxis and had nothing with which to wash it down. I then walked down the road a little further trying to see if I could find anything worth exploring. I did come upon one of the inns I had wanted to stay that was full, and passed an internet café that otherwise I would have described as an 8 by 15 foot shack. I took some pictures of the locals selling goods, kids playing on the street, and buildings along the way as I headed back to the lodge, where I had been told it would be acceptable for me to wait around outside until my cab came. I think they thought I might spend some money while doing so…

…which I had no intention of doing. I made my way past the front desk and out to the pool area, where I intended to catch up on blogging while sitting poolside. Before I could set myself down, though, I noticed about four baboons just hanging around the pool area acting as if the humans there were of no concern. Heck, two of them even kinda played around while I filmed them on camera, almost as if they knew I wanted them to. The larger and older baboon sitting on a pot about 10 feet from my chair let me get as close as I liked, and just sat.

Content after filming and taking pictures of these entertaining fellows, I sat down and essentially blogged for a couple hours, which by the length of my recent posts you can tell didn't quite catch me up. The only thing of note during this time was that I really kinda started to feel depressed about my trip being over. I mean, not clinically depressed of course, but I think we Neumann's get very excited about going on vacation/a trip and then get uber-bummed about it when it's almost over. This, which I think was worsened by the fact that I had had about five or six cups of coffee that were probably wearing off about this time, made me reminiscent of the past 24 hours and sad for them to be over. Instead of enjoying the beautiful scenery, I really couldn't help but wish that I weren't leaving it soon.

Regardless, as happens with all vacations, this one had to end. However, it did not have to end without a trip to the souvenir shop, where my tendency to overthink things allowed me to spend the remainder of my time deciding what to buy. Purchases made, I walked to the front desk, waited a few minutes, and jumped in my taxi.

The flight at the Kasane Airport was of course delayed. That I expected. What I did not expect was the hassle I'd get at the security checkpoint just before boarding the plane….

So the day before, I had gone through security with my little half-liter Nalgene bottle, which I had forgotten was full of water. The lady there pointed this out to me, and I apologized and said I'd drink the water right there in front of her. Problem solved. So I am going through the checkpoint in this rinky-dink airport, with my backpack stuffed full of clothes and two overflow plastic bags (one ripped and almost spilling its contents, by the way) hanging from the shoulder straps. I take my laptop out, my metal off, etc, and everything goes through. However, as I go to pick up my numerous and awkward things, the woman at the scanner tells me I have some sort of bottle on the side of my bag. Okay, no biggie, I tell her I'm sorry and that I'll drink the water right away.

"No, you can't have it at all," she says.

"Wait, not even if it's empty."

"You cannot have it at all."


"You cannot have it at all. You will have to check it or leave it."

Ladies and gentlemen, I had no checked bags, and specifically stuffed my backpack to the breaking point in order to avoid having to check a bag. Frustrated, and with everything out on the table at security and the check-in desk literally around a corner and 40 feet away, I ask if I can just run over there, leave my things on the table, and check MY NALGENE BOTTLE. She says no I cannot leave my things there. Apparently while they sat there for 30 seconds under her watch there was a chance a terrorist might come and place freakin' bomb in my things. I could NOT believe it.

So I took my things, put them all back together, picked up my bag, with two plastic bags attached (one of which was now actually spilling its contents out), and went backwards through security to the check-in counter. I walk up to the guy…

"Excuse me sir, they told me I couldn't carry this onto the plane, so I need to check it."


"This Nalgene bottle. I need to check it please."

At this point, it was really more about winning and making the lady realize the absurdity of her enforcer attitude more than it was keeping the bottle. I mean, imagine a tiny little half-liter plastic bottle with a checked baggage tag that they put on luggage around the little loop that attaches the lid to the bottle. Hilarious! And to imagine that sucker rolling down the chute and onto the baggage claim belt at the other end of the trip…I almost wished it would have happened.

So the guy kinda has the same attitude as I did, and after initially saying that he didn't know if he could still check it, he takes it from me and says okay, stuffing it into the side compartment of another person's bag. As I make my trek through security, pulling out my laptop again, etc., he shoves the cart out the back door of the airport to load everything on the plane.

I literally went through security awkwardly and with difficulty (again), put everything back together, rounded one corner, went through the gate to the outside, and as I am walking toward the plane the same guy from the counter calls out.


"Yes?" I look over, and he is motioning me to come over to where he is with the luggage cart.

"Come here."

"Okay." I walk across the tarmac to where he is. In the thickest accent he says to me.

"Duhn't let theem see, or dey will keel us!"

With this he takes the Nalgene out, back turned toward and arms hardly moving other than at the wrists (so that his body blocks any chance of Overbearing Security Lady's view even though there is no way she could have seen him through two walls between her and us), and stuffs it into one of my plastic bags. I could only laugh, smile, thank him, and realize that the lady had just given me an incredible hassle but also inadvertently a really funny story to remember.

Content to perform an act of international smuggling, I boarded the plane and took a seat. After takeoff and the seatbelt sign being turned off, I proceeded to pull out my laptop, wifi disabled, to keep journaling. However, about two minutes in:

"Excuse me sir, but you cannot use that on the plane."

"Oh but I have the Wifi turned off."

"You cannot use it at all."

Where have I heard this conversation before? Seriously, I had just done the EXACT same thing the previous day and nothing at all was said. Maybe the people at Kasane have some sort of short-man syndrome because their airport is freakin' tiny. Perturbed again, but not willing to put up any fight, I closed my netbook and put it away. Instead, I decided to read for a while. A few minutes later, the flight attendant passed out packages of beef jerky, peanuts with raisins, and drinks. Having realized I hadn't eaten lunch, I downed them rather quickly. Better that way, I thought, before this lady tells me I'm not allowed to eat them on the plane. SERIOUSLY…

We landed at the airport just as the sun was starting to set at about 5:10. I ran off the plane, made a pit stop, and headed to the terminal, thinking I was going to have to find a taxi other than Tendai since we had been so late. However, not ten steps out into the terminal and there is old reliable Mr. Tendai waiting for me. I had told him we were 30 minutes late, and he automatically assumed that meant we'd be 50. He had literally just arrived. Clutch…

Fifteen minutes later I was dropped off at home, ran in, changed as fast as possible, and booked it over to the Cathedral, where I arrived in a decent sweat even though it happens to be "winter." Sure enough our favorite Kenyan electrical engineer was there, and after Mass he waited to talk to me for a while. We talked and he asked if I wouldn't mind walking across the street to the small Spar because he wanted to buy airtime so I could say hello to his family. Of course I wasn't going to say no, and a bit later we were walking back through main mall as he called his wife in Kenya. Literally, I said hello to her, talked for about 30 seconds, and then passed the phone back (the airtime to Kenya is expensive, and we had about 3 bucks worth). Next, I was on the phone with his sister who works for the UN in Kenya. Same story. "Hello, how are you? Yes this is Chris. I am a friend of Vincent and I am from the USA. Its very nice to talk to you. God bless your evening! Here is Vincent!"

Honestly, I felt a little bad. I mean, I agreed to try to pass around his CV back in the states, but this was getting to be almost like he was calling his family so they could speak to the guy who was going to save them all by somehow getting him a job in the US. I don't want to not hope for the best, I just want him to be a bit realistic.

In any case, I decided (or I guess I knew) that Vincent makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. Not in the "I don't know you and I am afraid of what you'll do to me" sense. I think what it might be, after mulling it over, is that I think his incredible generosity and unquestionable faith (I'd say extreme but that sounds wrong) make me feel that I should be but am not the same way. His wealth in poverty and my poverty in relative wealth may be at odds within my mind, if that makes sense. Really, I'm not sure what is exactly, but this may be part of it.

Sure enough, Vincent again walked me all the way back to just before the last couple of turns to get home. As we were saying goodbye, a youngster who looked "questionable" walked through the alley, and as we talked I could tell that the kid made him worried. He was talking with pauses every two or three seconds, keeping his eyes glued to the young fellow. The look on his face reminded me of a larger dog tracking a potential threat to his smaller friend (me) in order to keep him safe. I assured Vincent that I'd be fine, and after he was out of sight I ran through the alley just to be sure:-P.

Finally, I arrived home for the night. Some leftovers for dinner, a little blogging, and a shower, and I was ready for some bedtime. It had been a long blog post…I mean, long weekend, and despite my bit of sadness earlier in the day, I was ready for a return to some normalcy.



Behind the Scenes Part 2: The List that Became the Blog Entry!:

"Day 2

Staying up toooooo late

Early start

Scarfing muffins and coffee

Almost forgetting my fleece and FREEZING

Elephants first and their bark habits

Impala, etc

Sunrise and the river

The Lion!

More animals and the river

The baboons

The picnic stop

The fighting impala, warthogs, etc

The distant giraffes

The elephants at the end

Breakfast at a table looking over the river

The gratuity issue

Checking out quickly

Setting the bill straight

taxi home and phone not working

Walking to town

Baboons by the pool "



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