Sunday, August 13, 2006

Kalahari Desert, Botswana: Weekend in Ghanzi at the 6th annual Kuru Dance Festival with the San people

I have not blogged for a few days and I’ve been getting some concerned and cryptic emails from family and friends. Pat I’m okay. Paul – no I did not hurt my hands gardening and can’t write L. I was away in Ghanzi if that’s an excuse!!
We left for Ghanzi on Friday morning. The scheduled time was 7am but we left closer to 8am. There were 9 of us – Kathy and her husband Geoff, me, Enthia and Melanie in one 4x4 and Lisa, Ona, Michael and Bridget in another 4x4. I could not imagine my little Acura RSX ever making it there and back. The highways were good but to get into the Tautona Lodge and the Kuru Game Farm was rough.
We stayed that the Tautona Lodge and as Kathy was explaining the accommodations – a big two bedroom guest house with a small kitchen, two hotel rooms in the main building and two tents about a km away in the bush – I was already mentally calculating how I was going to manoeuvre a room in the guest house or one of the hotel rooms. I think by now the group had already decided that I was not the tenting type – whatever that means. Roughing it for me is sleeping on a twin bed with insufficient covers and tenting? Whatever!!!
Motswana child
Ghanzi birdnest

Ghanzi birdnes close-up
The lodge was beautiful with a huge restaurant, two pools and several individual guest houses along with the main hotel building. I Enthia and Melanie decided that they would take one of the tents and I said that I would look at the other one before deciding if I wanted to consider sleeping there. We went down the dusty path in the 4x4 and arrived at the tents. Immediately as I saw it I decided to stay there. Imagine everyone’s surprise when I said that!!
In fact, when I came home tonight and called home, Subhadra’s comment was “What? Mom in a tent?” As unbelievable as that sounds, I did sleep in a tent. I felt like I was in the MASH 4077 – well a sort of reasonable simulation. Not quite. This was tenting African Style. The tent is an army tent set up on a wooden and concrete platform so that you have to walk up 4 steps to get to it. The platform is quite large – enough for the tent which is set back a bit so that there is a kind of veranda with 3 chairs and a table for sitting and looking at the wildlife at night and early mornings as they come to the watering hole to drink. There was even a shower with hot and cold water although there was no hot water so it was showering with cold water for me. No mirror to comb my hair or put on make-up. That’s roughing it!!
Roughing it!  This is the life

My tent-such as it is on a teak platform
Can I just describe how peaceful it was? The others went back to the main lodge and we stayed back and unpacked. I sat on the veranda and watched a kudu (an animal like a deer with very long curly horns) walking by – just enjoying the company. There were the sound of birds some of which I could identify as a laughing dove and some others which I didn’t know. The dove actually sounds like it’s laughing. In fact one morning I thought someone was outside laughing. I wanted to spend the rest of the night there but I’d miss the first night of the Kuru Dance Festival so I went up to the main lodge for dinner at the restaurant. There were lots of people at the lodge that night because they were attending the festival too. Otably absent from the tenting experience was the sound of anything motorized. What a great experience.
We got to the festival about 7:45pm. There was a huge sign at the gate advertising the festival and right beside it was an equally huge sign saying NO ALCOHOL. No one is allowed to take alcohol on the property. The culture of the San people is slowly being destroyed because of development. Their land has been taken from them and they are facing many of the challenges that our Aboriginal people are facing in Canada. I found a good article that explains some of the history. It’s titled SITUATION REPORT: THE SAN: SOUTHERN AFRICA'S FORGOTTEN PEOPLE at .
Freezing in the Kalahari


A nice fire to warm us up

There is a tendency to blame the colonial effects but some of the people of Botswana feel the same way – that the San people should move with progress - and if that means giving up some of their culture for survival, then that needs to be done. They are now working on game farms on land that used to belong to them and the problems with alcohol abuse, HIV and poverty are real for many of them. Hence the sign outside the gate.

We had to travel down a dirt road for about 7kms but it sure felt at times like it was 70 kms. If you’ve ever gone on a roller coaster ride and just about popped out of your seat, then you’ll be able to imagine how the ride felt. When we got there it was very dark but there were millions of stars in the sky and it was a full moon so by 8:30pm the moon was slowly rising in the night sky. Some of the dancers were beckoning to the moon and I wish I could understand what the dance was about.
There were groups from Namibia, South Africa and our group of Inuit students from Nunavut. The Nunavut students did an introduction and I think the crowd was pleased. It was so cold that night and the dancers were dressed only in their leather skins (just like we see in the movies only better – much better). I don’t think they typically dress like that but they do for special occasions like the festival.
Fire at the Kuru festival
I used to hear that a desert gets extremely hot during the day and very cold at nights; who ever said that certainly knew what they were talking about. I was shivering and I was at least dressed warm. Some of the others in my group were only dressed in rubber slippers and light coats so they were very cold. After about 2 hours the MC asked us to come close to the fire (we were fenced off before) and man, was I ever relieved. The fire was looking so inviting from where I was sitting that he must have heard my telepathic message. I think we were all sending him the same message. When I’m that cold, it’s hard to concentrate and find any pleasure in anything the dancers were doing. I was in the Kalahari Desert and all I could think about at that moment was “if only I had an extra sweater or my winter coat”. It did not feel exotic or romantic or anything else but cold, very cold.
After I moved closer to the fire and warmed up sufficiently, I could actually pay attention and enjoy the dance. There were several healing dances and some of the dancers went into trances and fell on the ground writhing until another dancer would come along and help them. It was so amazing to watch the dancers wriggling on the ground, the body stiffening and another dancer stroking the tranced body as if to rid it of whatever is wrong. One of the healers was holding a woman by the shoulder and stroking her arms, shoulders and back – again to rid her of whatever ailed her. It’s hard to explain unless you are there and I am not doing the ceremony justice by my description. The healing dances reminded me of a “sweat” I attended about two summers ago just outside of Anola, Manitoba. That was my first experience at a sweat lodge and it was a very spiritual experience for me. If you’re claustrophobic, you may have some difficulty with it but I was fine even though I think I’m slightly claustrophobic. Guests are not allowed to join the healing dances unless invited to do so and if you need healing, there is an elder who will do the healing ritual.
We left the ceremony about 11:00pm and it was back to the tent for a night’s sleep. Lisa and I shared the tent but we were smart and raided Kathy’s second bedroom of all the blankets and duvets or for sure we would freeze to death and I wouldn’t be blogging tonight.
Ghanzi is remote with no/limited cell phone service and certainly no internet. So I went to bed after I made notes in my notebook for blogging. ON the way back to the hotel, we saw two lions. They are on the game farm which is part of the Tautona Lodge but they are in a caged area.
I forgot to mention that on the way to Ghanzi we saw a large number of vultures in a tree. There were so many in one tree that they looked like giant gourds on the tree. Kathy said that there must be some road-kill somewhere around. I wanted to stop to take a picture of the vultures so Geoff stopped the car for me to do so. We drove off and then we saw the road-kill – a small donkey (they wander on the highways and get killed) which was fodder for the vultures. Kathy explained how the vultures get to the gut through the anus of the animal. The look on Enthia’s face when she saw the partly eaten donkey was too much. I don’t need to get more graphic. I’m sure that description presents sufficient of a mental picture.
On to an entirely different topic. There were a zillion stars in the sky that night and it’s a long time since I’ve seen such a night sky. Reminded me of when I was a child in Guyana and my sister and brother and I used to lie on the front steps at night (the step was built on the outside of the house). We’d have our pillows and a blanket big enough to cover all three of us and keep us warm from the Atlantic breeze and we would try to count the stars in the sky. Some were very bright and some used to twinkle but we never managed to count all of them. The moon was very bright by the time we got back to the tent and the sounds of the night were priceless. I wanted to stay out on the veranda but I was extremely tired and wanted to get up early to go down to the watering hole.
On Saturday morning I got up later than I wanted to – about 7am but by that time most of the animals had visited the watering hole and gone on their day’s activities. I did manage to see an impala as I was walking up to the main lodge at about 7:30am. I went to Kathy’s cottage but the door was still locked so I went to the restaurant and had a cup of coffee which I drank by the pool. I wanted to take it back to my tent but by the time I walked one km with a cup of coffee in a teacup, I wouldn’t have any left. So I suffered through by the pool.
Rare wild dogs - but we got to see them!

Close-up of the wild dog
We got to the game farm about 9:30am. There were speeches and they were sooooo long and dare I say it on the blog? - booooorrrriiiing, that by the time the dancing started, we were more than relieved. The first set of dancers were preschoolers and they were the cutest group. They were very good and not at all shy about dancing. It was good to see them learning their traditional dances and I do hope that they’ll continue to learn and practice their culture. I took some beautiful pictures but that required a video camera to capture the essence of the dancing. One of the little ones looked like Izabel.
The dances on Saturday were more interpretive dances, many of them featuring hunters hunting for wild animals in the forest/jungle. They were quite similar even though the dancers came from different parts of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The Canadians showed how to do a kind of Inuit game where two people imitate the sound of the wind or the sound of a dog sled and which ever one laughs first, loses. I had to come all the way to Botswana to learn about Inuit culture. That’s pretty telling – how little we know about the place we live in. Now that will make me want to learn about them although I’m not promising to do any volunteer work in the Artic. The Kalahari desert is about all I can manage and that’s from someone coming from Winnipeg.


Little dancer

More little dancers

Women in ceremonial costumes

Cactus, cactus everywhere

Grass hut

Rooster dancer

Beautiful dancer
Well let me just say if you’ve never experienced a desert at high noon, don’t wish for it. This was not even the heart of the desert and it was blistering hot. The heat from the sun added to the refection from the sand was stifling hot and definitely no good for someone like me who has an allergy to sunlight. When I was diagnosed with that over 20 years ago, I thought it was a joke. How can anyone be allergic to sunlight? It’s possible and I am living testament to that. If I am careful, I would turn into a giant rash or hive. Careful means that I have to use sunblock and stay out of the sun. Reflected sunlight is as bad as direct sunlight and not only did I not have sunblock but the sun was blistering from above and reflecting from ground level. I managed to find a bit of shade for about an hour then it was trying to play hide and seek from the sun for the next few hours.
I did not turn into a giant rash but I can feel the itchy patches on my fingers, arms and neck. My eyelids are slightly swollen and my lips can give Mick Jagger a run for his money. I won’t need any collagen injections for a while. It’s hard to believe that the desert was so cold the night before and so hot on Saturday. The dancers were sitting in the hot sun and I don’t know how they could handle the heat. I was dying and went through what seemed like a gallon of water and a stick of chapstick and by the time I got back to the hotel, my skin looked like a crocodile’s. It was so dry that I was itching just from the dryness. Impossible to imagine anyone living in that heat but when the Inuit students explained that it was very cold in Canada, I’m sure the San people couldn’t imagine anyone living in that kind of cold. If you want to read further about the festival go to
This is not necessarily the best site but does explain some of the festival activities.
Kathy missed some of the morning’s activities because when we got to the farm, there was a sick baby who was throwing up for quite some time and she offered to take the baby and mother to the hospital. The baby was named after Karim who is the WUSC intern doing his internship at the game farm. Anyway the doctor said the baby was okay. There is a high infant mortality rate among the San people so when a baby gets sick it could be fatal. The San people are also facing high incidences of HIV/AIDS and they are not always willing to get tested.
On the way back to the hotel on Saturday afternoon, I saw some trees with yellow blossoms and asked what they were. It was unusual because almost everything looks dry and parched. They were acacia trees with the lovely yellow blossoms. I also forgot to mention the painted wild dogs that we saw Saturday morning. They are the mot endangered species in Africa. Geoff explained that there are only about 1500 left in the wild because they were hunted and killed because they were mistaken for ordinary wild dogs. They are considered the most efficient predators and can make a lion look like a simpleton when it comes to killing and gutting a prey. I took a picture of a few of them at the lodge’s game reserve. I’m seriously going to have to upload some of my pictures so everyone can see them. I have so many that I’m going to have to decide which ones to keep and which ones to discard.
Finger piano

Another musical instrument
 We went back to the evening’s activities and this time we all dressed much warmer than Friday night but it was still cold. That evening was the musical evening. Unbelievably some of the instruments were made from 3 litre tin cans (like the ones that olive oil come in) and some of them were made with pieces of metal like flattened nails all assembled on a piece of wood and upturned at the end so that they can be tuned and strummed. They are called finger pianos and they are about 6 inches wide and 8 inches long. The sound is amplified with a large coffee can placed under the instrument. It’s quite innovative really. I listened to some of the music and then followed the night sounds coming from the bush.
What I found was as interesting as the music I just left and equally as pleasant to listen to and see. The dancers who were performing during the day had their camp with a number of tents – real tents with beds on the floor, not the kind I had – and they were happily continuing the day’s dancing long into the night. This was their time and I’m not sure if I was supposed to intrude but I did and soon I saw a whole lot of people who had attended during the day enjoying the night’s partying. They certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves and the warm fire was a great attraction for me. I felt that the rest of us were being a bit intrusive but they didn’t complain. They just kept clapping, singing and dancing, totally oblivious to us. Karim who was living with some of them on the farm was dancing his feet off. I had to do a double take to make sure it was him. He seemed so shy when we went to Jo’burg. The evening was over by about 10:45 and we went back to the lodge. On the way back, we could see the silhouettes of the lions sitting on their house enjoying the night sky.
On Sunday morning I got up a bit earlier but no sightings of the animals at the watering hole. We left the lodge about 10:45am and arrived back in Gaborone by about 5:30pm – just slightly behind the Inuit students who left the game farm this morning on the way back to Gaborone. It was a long dusty weekend but thoroughly enlightening. I now need to go and do some learning about our Inuit community in Canada.
Getting ready to leave

Another hut for sleeping
That was my weekend and for those of you craving my blog, you now have lots to read for a day or so. Of course I could mention that if you were paying attention, you would have noticed that I said I’d be in Ghanzi this weekend. I didn’t however mention that I would have no internet and no cell phone. The cell phone is such a nuisance. The Orange network should be renamed as the Lemon Network because it’s a real lemon – says it works but doesn’t really.
Running hot water sounds like heaven and thank goodness for a washing machine. I would not relish the idea of doing any of this laundry by hand. Thapelo texted me to say that the website is up and I can test it so I’ll do that tomorrow when I get to work. The address is http:// but I have to use the DNS settings till they work out some additional things. Don’t go on the site; you won’t be able to access it yet but soon though.
1. August 14th, 2006 by Pat Mohr
So relieved to see your blog today . . . and what a long and interesting one! Your weekend seemed quite the pot pourri of events and happenings. Good for you for sleeping in a tent. The night sky sounded wonderful. That was one of the joys for me when we went camping with our young children. Virginia and I and our granddaughters are going to take in a Summer Celebration at our church on Wednesday night . . . geared specifically as a fun thing for the kids.
Love, Pat
2. August 14th, 2006 by Sharm, Trent and SahanaHave not read your blog in a while, and had quite a bit to catch up on. This was quite a long entry, but there is a lot to tell. Sounds like your trip was an adventure.We had a good time in Edmonton. Hope to see those guys again at Christmas.We are glad to be home. It had been a long month of vacation, guests and vacation. It felt strange to have dinner alone (the 3 of us) tonight.Keep writing.xoxoss
3. August 15th, 2006 by Robin SukhanHi:
This is a long entry - three days in one but it is good. The trip was quite an experience. You previously spoke of the Kalahari desert but I don’t think that you imagined it could be extremely hot and cold - I know that you dislike the cold. You spoke of HIV/AIDS - the conference in Toronto is getting good coverage. Take care.
4. August 15th, 2006 by Sabena AliI missed your entries the last few days and was disappointed when I didn’t see any new ones. Your last one certainly makes up for it. The night sky must’ve been something to see, eh? I remember those nights when we’d be star gazing and yes, shivering under the blanket. That you slept in a tent is absolutely amazing
You do know you’ll have to write a book soon, don’t you? I can’t begin to imagine the material you’ve stored for your own use later, but somewhere in there is enough of it for a least a travel log, think about it.

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