Daily life in Zimbabwe

Impressions of a Country, Things I have learned

Patiently I waited for a friend to arrive, an American middle aged mom like me who was to arrive sometime in the next few afternoon hours. I was uncertain what time she would actually arrive because this was Zimbabwe (Africa), and anything could happen. A bus from the airport to the Victoria Falls tourist district of  thirteen miles might normally take 25 minutes with no traffic; traffic meaning an elephant on the roadway or other rambling wildlife like giraffes, lions or other carnivores .

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And if an elephant were to lay down in the middle of the road and give itself a dust bath, the passengers would enjoy the sight and wait. It is interesting to note that when in a jeep or on horseback, we are not recognized as human beings. We are recognized as a moving rock (jeep), or a strange looking horse with an extra tall hump.

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As I waited anxiously and excitedly – I still couldn’t believe that she was traveling alone halfway across the planet to join me in Africa. We had been Girl Scout leaders together when our children were young, so I knew she would be a good travel buddy. This was waaaaaaay out of her comfort zone (and mine too). I sat outside at a picnic table under a shady tree, eating lunch and talking to a local woman named Reumbi, who owned and worked inside the gift shop. Reumbi was a sweet girl and she and her husband had 2 children ages 11 and 2 years old.

Reumbi, a sweet girl that took us on a tour of how she and her family lived.

Reumbi, a sweet girl that took us on a tour of how she and her family lived.

She was currently separated from her husband because “he had too many girlfriends.” English is a second language and with life being so different, that could mean anything from the literal “he had too many girlfriends” or might mean he is dying from AIDS. 25% of the population in Zimbabwe is HIV positive. Instead of betrayals and a broken heart, she may have been thinking about staying alive to raise her son and daughter. She had recently moved back into her mother’s home, joining two sisters,their kids and her mother.

We talked about family planning and how women can buy 30 days worth of birth control pills for $1 in Zimbabwe. In the USA it costs $70 for a 30 day package of the same drug. Many of the people I spoke to discussed family planning. Children cost money to raise and educate, and each of the people I spoke to took this very seriously. They want their children to have a better life.

Monkey near a chalet in Zimbabwe

Monkey near a chalet in Zimbabwe

Reumbi warned me to watch out for the monkeys. If they spotted me eating, they may try to snatch my food. She advised me that the monkeys only attack women, not men. They know that the men fight back and that women scream and jump away. I hunched my shoulders and wrapped my arms around my plate in a protective stance to fend off any monkeys who wanted to snatch my food. I felt like a dog guarding its’ food, using my peripheral vision to stay on guard. I had walked to the local grocery store and purchased a few pieces of fried chicken and a biscuit and was enjoying the few things that were familiar to me. We discussed a variety of topics while we sat at the picnic table, me waiting for my friend, Reumbi waiting for customers. Periodically, she would leave the picnic table and go into the boutique, a small office that served as her shop in a room attached to the lobby, to help a potential customer.

After asking about childcare, family life and miscellaneous other details of life in Zimbabwe, she asked if I would like to come to her house and “watch them eat.”

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At the local market where Reumbi shopped. There was no electricity, so it had to be completed before dark.

I couldn’t believe it. I asked if I could also bring a lovely Australian couple I had recently befriended and voila – a small, personal, authentic group tour to better understand daily life.

To me, this is what made solo travel so worthwhile, the interaction with locals and learning by experience. In the USA there is information overload and it is difficult to know who to believe. This experience was one the highlights of my trip. It changed the way I think about the world. Before I left on this trip, I did not spend much time thinking about domestic politics in my country. I feel safe and my land has been peaceful all of my life. My country is in war, but it does not effect my daily life, because none of it happens in my land.

Now that I have seen the results of a variety of governments, I realize how important that I be involved. Bad leaders get elected because good people don’t vote. Life is hard enough with a good leader, the amount of massive destruction one bad person in power can do in a short period of time is nearly unfathomable. I still think about Reumbi and her daily life every day.

We met Reumbi at 5:00 p.m. after she closed the boutique. She invited her friend Lisa to join us. I think Lisa agreed to help keep track of us so we didn’t get lost or wander off. We walked with them to the intersection and turned left down the 2 lane paved road which was the main street of Victoria Falls. After walking a couple blocks, we stopped on an dirt area on the side of the road with about 20 other black workers who were headed home, waiting to catch a taxi. We were the only white people in sight. A taxi van pulled up and we climbed aboard.

In Zimbabwe, the white people are rich and the blacks are poor. It is a fact of life, everyone knows it and they openly talk about it. We were the only whites in the van, and we raised a lot of excitement when we 4 rich white people climbed into the van, resulting in a total of 11 paying passengers in a vehicle that is the size of a minivan. We sat on each other’s laps. 11 people was not an unusual number to ride in this vehicle, but being white was. I sat in the very back seat next to a thin fellow who had a jug of petrol(fuel) in a glass container between his feet, and he carried in his lap a large gourd of homemade local beer. It was Friday night and people were ready to celebrate the weekend.

11 people in a minivan type taxi

11 people in a minivan type taxi

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

In a public taxi- there were 11 of us squeezed in and cost us 50 cents

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Reumbi asked if we would like to see some other things in her village and of course we said yes. Sometimes we walked and sometimes we rode in vehicles. We visited her church, her pastor’s home (we interrupted his dinner), the local hospital, and a small community for the elderly who had no family nearby. We continued, sometimes walking and sometimes in vehicles. One time the six of us rode in a four person taxi – seven of us with the driver, and the car would scrape bottom occasionally.
The township population is about 50,000 people. We exited the cab in an area that I will call a beer hall and paid the driver .50 per person. It was an pavilion type area with a roof and cement floor, but no walls, and it was very busy; mostly men but a handful of women. There were tables of checkerboards; someone had poked holes in a checkerboard pattern in a tin type of tray, and players used metal bottle caps face up for one team, and bottle caps facing down for the opponent. The game is called Draughts.

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The local outdoor beer hall. These kinds were playing draughts and using bottle caps as the pieces. One side had them facing up, the other facing down.

Beer in gourds was passed around a group of about 20 people, each person taking some swallows and passing it to the person next to them. I suppose they weren’t worried about catching a cold, but that is the first thing I thought.What does that say about me? The luxuries I take for granted (owning glasses) or the fact that I don’t like beer? Perhaps both. Anyway, nobody  minded sharing.

We left the beer hall and walked to the nearby local market which had a tin roof but no electricity and lighting. People had to shop before dark.

Local women carrying things on their heads

Reumbi asked my thoughts about Westerners donating free clothing, and vendors selling the jeans for $1.00. My only comment was that someone had to pay for the shipping. I thought $1 was a good price for jeans. Since it was July (winter on this side of the equator), it got dark at 6:00-6:30 p.m. We walked through the market looking at the many different items for sale, so different from the items I saw in other countries.

 

It was nearly dark when we arrived at the cinderblock home. As we approached the entrance, Reumbi called out to her family announcing she brought four guests with her, and to hide the dog. What a delightful translation of “put the dog away” so we could enter. Most families have a dog to protect their property from thieves and/or animals like elephants. We carefully climbed down a steep dirt ditch, balancing on stones, and walked over a narrow cement bridge, then up the other side stepping on chunks of concrete to arrive at the doorway.

The youngest children had never seen a white person before.

The youngest children had never seen a white person before.

We took off our shoes when we entered a large living area with 2 couches and a couple of chairs. The children stared at us, no one was expecting company, and the two youngest had never before seen a white person. Reumbi informed everyone that we were tourists she met and were interested in what life was like for them on a daily basis. She had invited us over to meet the family and to watch them eat.

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Reumbi’s mother was thrilled and welcomed us. Reumbi lived with her mom, three sisters, her two children and several nieces and nephews in the 2 bedroom house. Everyone shared beds except for the matriarch. Reumbi, her 11 year old son, and 2 year old daughter shared a twin bed. There were no indoor toilet facilities but they did have a flat screen TV. Each room had one dim light bulb dangling from wires attached to the ceiling, and the floor was concrete. 2 adult sisters, ages 17 and 22 slept head to toe in another twin bed. I asked if she was irritated at her sister, would she put her toes in her sister’s face, and she said, “yes, sometimes”.

Some things are the same all over the world!

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Typical bedroom, 4 people slept here, the grandmother on the left bed, and Reumbi and her son and daughter on the twin bed on the right. These are all of the family’s possessions.

When I commented about how well behaved the children were, Reumbi talked about our visit being a novelty and the children were using their best manners. They were not normally so quiet and often were rambunctious. This was a unique event and they were absorbing everything. Meanwhile, the children shyly watched us.
One of the sisters cooked dinner on a narrow 4 burner stove. Each family member went into the kitchen and served themselves a plate of food from the pots on the stove, then took their plate back into the common living room. The adults sat on the 2 sofas in the room, and the kids sat on the floor. The focus of dinner was to eat, not converse. Eating consisted of taking a pinch of pap (like mashed potatoes) between their fingers and mopping up the stew-like meal of traditional meat and vegetables. Pap is maize (like fine cornmeal). They ate in silence while we westerners watched.
After the adults ate, the youngest sister, about 17 years old, approached each person sitting on the couch. She carried a bowl of water and a small dishtowel. Each person dipped their soiled fingers into the water and swished them around, washing their fingers, then wiping their hands on the towel that the sister carried. This was like a chore we would have in the USA. In Zimbabwe, one person is responsible for carrying the bowl of water and towel for washing after dinner.

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A Typical meal, “Pac” is the staple (made from maize). No utensils are used to eat the food.

Reumbi’s mother demonstrated how African mothers tie their baby to their backs with a blanket or towel. We were later taught that an easy way to identify a black rhino vs. a white rhino is to remember that black people carry their child on their back, and black baby rhinos follow behind their mothers. White people / Westerners push their babies in a stroller in front of the mother. White rhinos walk in front of their mothers.

Each of us thought we should bring some sort of small gift, I took my paints and paintbrushes and two apples. I was afraid the apples were not enough of a “gift” but the family was grateful, and the grandmother cut them into slices, giving the pieces to the children. It was a treat. Near the end of the visit, we offered our “gifts”. The 13 yr son was incredulous that I was giving him paints and paintbrushes and Reumbi said that he would share them with his classmates. I quietly told her that the paints were for the family, not necessarily for his classmates. She reminded me it is always better to share. If he were to keep them for himself, the classmates would steal them. Better to share. The person who shares feels good, and the people who are receiving feel good. It was a reminder that has stuck with me- it really is better to share. Later, I realized I had not seen any cupboards or storage areas. They had very little in the way of “stuff”. They probably had no paper.

My Australian friend says:

“when you first asked us to join you on this ‘adventure’ I felt the need to take some form of gift with us. But with little time and little knowledge of who and what we were visiting, I improvised by gathering some things from around our room. I collected together some pieces of fruit, some tea, coffee and sugar sachets from the tray in Mike’s room, an old T-shirt that Nikkiema threw out, and some fashion magazines left behind by Lindsay – basically things that “westerners” would usually discard.
We gave the fruit and tea & coffee sachets to the folks at the Old People’s Home. I think I had some Aussie balloons that I gave to the Pastor’s children [remember, we stopped at Rumi’s Pastor’s house, and they were in the middle of their dinner, but still welcomed us into their home]
Rumi’s two younger sisters almost fought over the old T-shirt, it was decorated with some sequins. And they were delighted with the second-hand magazines. Part of me felt that the gifts I was handing them were so insignificant, and yet they seemed truly happy and grateful to receive them. Again, what does that say about us – that they are happy to receive things that we would consider garbage.

At 7:30 p.m., the taxi that had originally dropped us off at the home, came back to pick us up. We then headed off to our next adventure- which was actually eating dinner with another local we met; Clive, a white Rhodesian who owns a farm that is “currently occupied by the military.”

But that my friends, is an adventure that is still to be written.

*Special thanks to Julie and Laura for your memories and help with this essay. This was an experience that changed my life.

 

 

Botswana and the Okavango Delta

Impressions of a Country

Botswana is a dry country even though the Zambezi River, pours over Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

and drains  into the Okavango Delta  in Botswana. It becomes a vast swamp (like the Everglades in the USA) and surprisingly, does not drain into an ocean. The Delta stretches for miles and miles in the cool rainy season, farther than the horizon. Summer is so hot and dry that the water evaporates and the swamp shrinks to only one-tenth of its size. As the wet lands dry up, the former lakes become large puddles, resulting in a population of thirsty animals in a smaller area.

The water was about waist deep, shallower in some places, and deep enough for hippos to submerged themselves in others.

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We were told that there were crocodiles in the water. They didn’t usually bother people, there are plenty of fish for them to eat, but they are opportunistic feeders– so don’t drag your hand in the water while in the canoe.

Okavango Delta

Okavango Delta

Each canoe held 2 passengers and one “poler”. Our guide told us the reason we only had 2 passengers was because, of course we could squeeze in more, but but by having only 2 passengers in the canoe, we provided more jobs for the villagers. The village was divided into 3 groups, A,B,C. Whoever wanted to work was able to.   Each time a tourist group arrived, the groups would rotate as to which group would “pole” us to an island and stay with us for 2 days.   It was interesting to meet the workers and to understand their lives a bit. Most of the women were shy- English is not their primary language and they were embarrassed that they were not fluent.

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Lady who “poles”, pushing our Mokoro (hand dug canoe) through the Okovango Delta

I was surprised at how many people apologized for their limited grasp of English. After all, I was visiting their countries and certainly did not expect people to know my language.

Okovango Delta

Okavenga Delta

 

Okovango Delta

Okavenga Delta

Once we arrived at the island, we set up camp.

Our toilet for 2 days

Our toilet for 2 days. The seat and frame were used for “guidance” so no one fell in the hole. It was not something I wanted to sit on. After all, about 20 people were using this hole.

 

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My spacious accommodations for the next 9 days.

The women were in charge of cooking, and believed that men should not help . Men who wanted to cook were considered greedy, because they wanted to do their own work as well as the woman’s work. We Westerners were shocked, and our perspective was one of let whoever wants to help, help.

I was told that the men like women who are fat. It means they are prosperous. Most men were very thin, but I don’t know the signs to know if they were malnourished.

Each day we took several guided walks, and canoe rides. We even got to try poling ourselves.

None of the polers need to worry about us taking their jobs. It was not hard to push forward, but it was difficult to steer. The front of my canoe was stuck in a thorny bush and I spent a  about 15 minutes trying to maneuver out of it.

Traveling With Language Barriers

Life Sure is Funny, Round The World Trip

People sometimes ask me how I communicate when I travel and don’t speak the language. Since I am not strong in planning and organization, I use creativity and a big smile. Here is an example of a conversation in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

I said, “I would like to reserve a dormitory bed please.”

They said, “Do you have a reservation?” I said “no.”

Silence.

I said, “I would like to pay for a dorm bed for 2 nights, then I will join a tour company in my prepaid room/bed.”

They said, “Do you have a reservation?”

I said “No.”

Silence.

I said, “Do you have a dormitory bed for $15 per night?”

They said Yes.”

I said “Do you have a bed available?”

They said “Yes.”

I said, “I would like to pay for that bed.”

They said “Ok.”

The campsite I stayed at in Victoria Falls

The campsite I stayed at in Victoria Falls

Viola, I had a place to stay. Whew. After this incident, I (usually) got better at planning a few days in advance.

Armadillos vs. Rhinos and Elephants

Impressions of a Country, Life Sure is Funny

Funny that we have the same problems all over the world – unwanted animals getting into our gardens, but depending on where a person lives, there are difference consequences.

In Florida,USA it means my yard is dug up by an armadillo, or for my parents who live in the north of our country, the deer eating plants in the garden.

In Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe I was told that a problem animal is the elephant. Each home has a (barking) dog to help keep the elephants away.

Making friends with an African elephant in Zimbabwe.

Making friends with an African elephant in Zimbabwe.

The gardens are fenced, but the elephants lean on the fences, knocking them over. The elephants are so big that if they lean into a house or chicken coop, they knock them over too. Not only do the residents have to rebuild the chicken coops and fences to keep the chickens in, but the chickens won’t lay eggs for a week.

Someone spotted a one-horned rhino and the mahouts passed the word to everyone. So elephants with people came out of the forest. I coulnd't believe how many of us there were. It did not bother the rhino and her baby one bit, since we were on elephants.

A mahout spotted a one-horned rhino and  passed the word to everyone. Within 10 minutes about 30 elephants each carrying 4 tourists materialized out of the forest. I couldn’t believe how many of us there were. It did not bother the rhino and her baby one bit, since we were on elephants.

In Nepal, I met a farmer who had a similar problem with a rhino. The rhino knocked over his fence and ate the garden. The next morning the farmer was fixing the fence and figuring out a way to keep the rhinos out.

(And to think that I paid good money, and spent hours on a jeep ride, and jungle walk, looking for a rhino. If I had known, I could have walked the 100 feet from my cabin to get a good look at a rhino in the middle of the night).

This man is fixing the fence, a rhino came into his garden during the night

This man is fixing the fence, a rhino came into his garden during the night

This man is fixing the fence, a rhino came into his garden during the night

This man is fixing the fence, a rhino came into his garden during the night

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Yes, indeed. We may have the same kinds of problems, but in an industrialized country, life sure is easier. I can fill in the hole dug by an armadillo, but this farmer is going to have to spend a lot more time keeping the rhinos out of his garden.

Making the Most of a Challenging Situation in Africa

Impressions of a Country

Sometimes people ask me about the negatives of my trip. Of course, there were frustrations, delays, and all the other negative things that make up daily life. I normally try to the see the bright side, and do not like to spread negativity so did not post many of these experiences. That being said, looking back, I can now laugh and share some of the difficult things.

I signedd up for a tour in Southern Africa through Intrepid Tours, an adventure tour company, and who I highly recommend and will use again.

Our truck for the next 9 days of camping, a place for everything

Our truck for the next 9 days of camping, a place for everything

We tourists helped with the packing up of tents, the setting up of tents, washing dishes and helping the tour leaders as much as we wanted.

My spacious accomodations for the next 9 days.

My spacious accomodations for the next 9 days.

Admire helps with breakfast.

Admire helps with breakfast.

Since this 9 day trip was in Zimbabwe (former Rhodesia), Botswana and South Africa, the tour brochure reminded us that roads and other infrastructure were not made with the same standards that we have in the USA. Think 3rd world vs. 1st world problems. The truck even carried a giant container of water attached to the underside. The water lasted an entire week for 15 people.

I had built much of my travel plans around this particular tour and was very excited to get underway. Africa has been on my bucket list for decades.

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Photo credit: https://seattlethru.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/zimbabwe-1.gif

Airport

Airport

Intrepid and other tour companies have trucks that are designed for traveling in Africa. They are huge trucks and there is a storage area or cubbyhole for everything; tents, mattresses, pots and pans, tables, chairs etc. The guys in charge knew where everything went, and were excellent at packing.

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Our truck for the next 9 days of camping

Our truck for the next 9 days of camping

Our truck for the next 9 days of camping

Our truck for the next 9 days of camping

Inside the truck for camping, and driving through Africa

Inside the truck for camping, and driving through Africa

Typically, each tour group is given a truck that has a couple more seats than the number of people in the tour. This was great, because it gave us room to stretch out and move around. There were 12 of us on this 9 day camping tour.

The first morning, bright and early- as soon as it was daylight, we all climbed into the truck, and off we went. Within the first 30 minutes I realized why it was so important to have a professional driver. A semi-truck was broken down and blocking the road. We had to drive off the pavement, into the sand, pass the truck, then drive back onto the pavement. The sand was soft and deep enough to get stuck in. The other trucks that could not drive off pavement, were destined to sit in line on the pavement behind the broken down truck for the next few hours or the rest of the day, until someone could fix or move the truck.

Southern Africa is a dusty, sandy place.

Southern Africa is a dusty, sandy place.

As a matter of fact, the drivers for Intrepid were not allowed to drive at night.

Not a cloud in the sky the entire time I spent in Zimbabwe

Not a cloud in the sky the entire time I spent in Zimbabwe

I didn’t understand the reasoning behind this rule, until the first day when we were driving down the highway and had to stop suddenly because a group of ostrich’s were rushing across the road, only to stop once their feet hit the grass on the other side. Ostrich’s are really big. They also do not seem very bright.

And there are lots of other animals to worry about in the dark. We could not see the giraffes, water buffalo, elephants, donkeys, cows, lions etc., and would definitely not want to meet one at night, with the additional possibility of being eaten. It is a very different feeling not being at the top of the food chain. Imagine any of these creatures crossing the road in the dark.

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One of our guides had the unfortunate tragedy of losing his wife and 2 brothers, when the car they were driving at night hit a donkey. We saw lots of donkeys with their legs hobbled together, this prevented them from going very far, and the owner could find them easily. There were no fences and the animals were left to graze wherever they could find grass.

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He had earned enough money to buy a car, and his family was driving it home for him. His father was in the car too. The father existed for 6 months after the accident before succumbing to his injuries. There are lots of stories like this. Life in a developing country is a much harder life in every way than in industrialized countries.

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About 30 minutes after going around the roadblock, our truck started slowing down and the driver was talking urgently to our guide who was sitting amongst us. I could not hear what they were saying, but there was trouble in their voices.

Our driver pulled to the side of the road, and our group leader “Admire” informed us that there was a mechanical problem with the truck. The shift stick which rises from the floor, was no longer standing upright. It just wobbled and fell over. Our driver could not fix it, so a mechanic was called. Admire informed us how fortunate we were that a mechanic was only about 1 hour away and was on his way. We all climbed off of the bus, into the sunshine, onto the side of the road where there were a few trees nearby and lots of litter. A couple people wandered off to the bushes to answer the call of nature.

The leaders immediately started making coffee and tea, pulled out a table, and some chairs so we would be comfortable. Someone had brought the game of “Uno” and “banagrams”- a fast spelling game. Our group started playing games and getting to know each other. It was actually a good time. We wondered about the vehicle but since there was nothing we could do about it, we enjoyed what we could, and made the best of the situation.

Our Chariot Awaits!

Our Chariot Awaits!

Only 1.5 hours into our 2nd day and the truck broke down. A mechanic arrived after about 45 minutes and fixed the problem. (A nut had fallen off something involving the shifter. The nut had probably come loose with all the bouncing the trucks do.

Only 1.5 hours into our 2nd day and the truck broke down. A mechanic arrived after about 45 minutes and fixed the problem. (A nut had fallen off something involving the shifter. The nut had probably come loose with all the bouncing the trucks do.

We made the best of the situation and set up a table to play cards and Banagrams. Soon the cook set up a tea kettle and chairs as well.

We made the best of the situation and set up a table to play cards and Banagrams. Soon the cook set up a tea kettle and chairs as well.

Playing Uno on the side of the road when the truck broke down.

Playing Uno on the side of the road when the truck broke down.

The mechanic arrived and within 30 minutes found the problem – a nut had come loose that holds the pin that keeps the shift stick in place – probably because of all the bumps over time. He replaced the nut, we packed up the tables, chairs, coffee and tea, and off we went.

I have to say, I enjoyed the event. Attitude is everything, and we had a good time playing games and getting to know one another. It makes a good story too, because it is so typical of daily life in Africa.

Approaching the end?

Impressions of a Country, Round The World Trip

Quick Summary

Less than 8 weeks left on this leg of the trip- or is it the end of my journey? The answer is unclear today. Some of my goals were to meet interesting people, and see how life is lived by other people in the world. Along the way, I wanted to volunteer, learn and experience lots of life. Most of these goals have been accomplished, although the volunteering did not turn out as expected. I found that volunteering for only one or 2 weeks was not what the organizations I contacted needed. Some had a minimum of a six month commitment, another was not set up for an individual volunteer but wanted a group. Probably with better planning or a longer commitment, and I would have enjoyed those experiences as well. Even speaking English and exposing kids at a refugee camp did not work out, since my timing happened to be when they were studying for the most important exams of the year.

Let’s face it, a year is not long enough. The world is an amazing place, and so much bigger than I thought. Our planet is huge and there is so much more I want to see, but am out of time. My incredibly talented daughter is graduating law school, and I am going to be there.

Most frequently asked question of me: Do I like Obama?

Second most frequently asked question: What is my favorite place? (While traveling)

Third most frequently asked question: Do I have a gun? (In the USA)

Favorite places: I cannot say I have a favorite because I liked so many places, but for different reasons.

Most beautiful- Switzerland, but really expensive.

Montenegro is a close second- the Natural beauty is spectacular. Lots of greenery and mountains, and very inexpensive, but harder to get to.

Best Food – Italy. Everything people say about the good food is true. The whole culture is built around enjoying food, and family.

Amsterdam, Netherlands – I enjoyed the “live and let live” attitude. Surprisingly, the city shuts down around 6:00 pm except for Fridays and Saturdays, and even then it shuts down around 11:00 pm. I would definitely go back to see the tulips in spring again, the photos do not do them justice. They are magnificent.

Germany– It is similar to the USA with the modern conveniences and easy to get around with public transportation. The variety of delicious sausages were enjoyable. Wonderful parks- especially the English Garden in Munich.

Scotland- if a person likes to hike and doesn’t mind rain, come here.

Ireland – lots of rain and lots of pubs.

Iceland- Windy. Lots of fish to eat. The Blue Lagoon will bring me back again- but this time in summer. The best organized tourism industry that I experienced.

Serbia – Someone told me to tell everyone to bring your tourist dollars here. The people are so helpful, several walked with me to my destination to be sure I got to where I was going. The public transportation is easy to get around. There is beautiful architecture, and it is a very inexpensive country.

Croatia– Another beautiful country. I didn’t get to spend much time here, but would go back to visit the National Park, and to island hop along the coast. The Aegean Sea is a turquoise blue.

Israel– I don’t think they will ever have peace. I think many people do not want peace. They would rather be right. Really hot and dry. This is where I got over my vanity of being overweight , middle-age woman in a bathing suit. I figured that more people cared about what it was like to float in the Dead Sea, rather than what I looked like.

Czech Republic – I only spent time in Prague, but it is a city with so much historical architecture. This is still an inexpensive area. Great public transportation.

Hungary– I only got to spend a day in Budapest, and would like to go back. It is inexpensive, has good public transportation. The caving experience here was the best caving I have ever done.

Turkey– I went here 3 different times over a 6 month period and explored different areas. The people are very friendly, and the country has everything from sea resorts, to recently discovered cities over 3,000 years ago. The Grand Bazaar is a really interesting place, and for the prettiest jewelry I have ever seen in my travels is located here. It is intricate and stunning. If I am walking down the red carpet in Hollywood, chances are that I will be wearing jewelry from here. Inexpensive.

Zimbabwe– This is where I learned to understand how important it is to have a good leader, and what corruption does to the general population. This is a fascinating country with many, many problems. The local, wonderful people I met here probably had the biggest impact on me through all of my travels. I only spent about a week here, but have a lifetime of memories. Also, a very dear friend joined me here and we shared the experiences. I am so happy to have shared these experiences with her.

Botswana– This is the representation of what I expected of Africa- endless scenery, lots of big animals.

South Africa – I only spent time driving through and then staying a couple days in Johannesburg. The city is growing so quickly they don’t know what the population is, and they have 12 official languages. I now question why some people in the USA think we need one official language. I was very uncomfortable here, partly because of the reputation of the city and people who have not traveled here telling me how dangerous it was. It was a growing experience for me to be the minority everywhere I went.

Thailand – A wonderful country that I will visit again. The people are very friendly and helpful, it is inexpensive, and easy to get around in English. The north has mountains and several Hill Tribes (ethnic groups that do not speak Thai, and dress in their traditional costumes). The south has fantastic beach after beach after beach.

Singapore – Lots of rules. Very clean. Excellent public transportation. Modern architecture. Expensive. A melting pot of Asian people.

Nepal – my least favorite country. The people were very nice, but it is a difficult life for many people. Again, government leadership is so important. When different factions cannot agree on anything, except “leave the tourists alone”, life is hard for its citizens. The capital city, Kathmandu is the most polluted city I have ever seen – air, noise, trash, water, everything. On the other hand, the citizens have bigger problems to worry about.

Bali, Indonesia – such a pretty country with friendly locals. Too bad the places I went in Bali were so damaged by tourism. I would like to discover more of Indonesia, but would hesitate to go back here until the infrastructure catches up, and the trash is gone.

India – I hear that the south is very different than the north. I only had a few days in the north, although I met a very nice family. Next time I will visit the south. India seems to be making progress from what I had expected. It was cleaner than Nepal and school is compulsory. I would not travel as a lone western female in the North again. I was very uncomfortable, although I stayed safe.

Malaysia- Hot and humid, great public transportation. Excellent Chinese food everywhere and inexpensive.

I have met so many kind people and everyone has a story. I have been so fortunate to stay with friends, family, acquaintances and friends of friends, and near strangers. I have found that the world is full of good-hearted people no matter what country, and most people are just like me, trying to find my way on this life’s journey. We have the same concerns, taking care of our family and providing for our children. We are more similar than different, even though we may have different names for our “God”, and wear different clothes and have different manners, but in the end, the world is a wonderful place, and not as scary as we are led to believe.

Future stops in include Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii before I make my way back home. I am looking forward to knowing how to get to the grocery store, and the proper way to purchase vegetables without holding up a line full of people. I also am really, really, looking forward to a cheeseburger!

And most importantly- I am looking forward to hugging my family and friends.

Mozambique

Impressions of a Country, Interesting People

Mozambique

I am told that Mozambique is a gorgeous country and the sea is like the Carribean. I have not been there (yet), but I met a family from this country who had an interesting and terrifying real life tale to tell.

Africa political map

I will start by saying that the father, a very large, muscular guy, is a big game hunter guide. He is licensed to lead people to hunt the “Big 5” which include Lions, Elephants, Water Buffalo. His clients come from all over the world. It is expensive to shoot these animals. For instance, to shoot a water buffalo is $40,000, an elephant is $40,000, and lions are $35,000- $45,000 The recession hit his industry hard and his work dried up. His clients were either middle class people who used to come to shoot a particular animal, or they were the super-rich tourists who never asked how much the prices were. The middle class tourists disappeared when their bank accounts disappeared and when the recession started in the USA, people like this guide in Mozambique lost work and jobs too. The super rich who never asked how much an animal cost to shoot, now ask“if I shoot that tiger, how much will it cost”? They use to never question costs.

Amazing how in this world economy we are all effected by the actions of each other.

The family consisted of a mother and father and their 2 teenage girls. The girls had been sent to live with the grandparents in South Africa because there was better education available. So, when this incident happened, only the mother and father were home.

About 2 weeks prior, the mom and dad were at home when 5 armed intruders hit a guard 3 times and broke into their home. The mother and father heard the window glass being smashed and ran into the bedroom, and when the intruders used an axe to break through the bedroom door, the mom jumped out of the 2 story window, breaking her cheekbone, and the father grabbed some kind of bow and arrow. The father shot one of the intruders and the rest ran away.

The mother and father both said they were sure that the robbers were going to kill them. Interestingly, they thought that none of the robbers were from Mozambique. They thought they were from a different country. Many people came to their area for jobs in the mines, but there were not enough jobs so desperate people had become thieves.

I was talking to the dad about big game hunting (he was a pretty tough guy, I would definitely not want to get on his bad side). One of the reasons Big Game Hunting is so expensive is because of the poachers. Even 2 pounds of ivory can bring $100,000 – enough to last a family for years.

So, when the guides caught poachers in Mozambique they were not allowed to kill them. (I didn’t ask if they ever had, some things I don’t really want to know). There are some places that shoot on sight. When they caught poachers, they would beat them. Then they would make the poachers beat each other- the poachers would end up getting mad at each other then really fight with each other.

After the beating, the hunters would hire them. After all, if the poachers knew how to track and find the animals and if they had enough money to feed their families, they don’t need to poach. Also, think about this, once the poachers are hired on, they are interested in keeping the animals alive so they keep their jobs and they don’t want poachers ruining their livelihood. This hunting preserve had a few Big Game guides and about 50 former poachers. Expensive overhead.

Reflections of the RTW Trip so far

Round The World Trip
A year is 365 days. When we get right down to it, it is quite a long time if we really take the time to live each day.  Here are some of the days that I lived while on the RTW trip that started March 18, 2014

Hiked a Glacier in Iceland

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Rode Horses

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Saw Stunning Scenery
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I learned about myself and discovered that I would only be scared of the unknown for about 3 weeks. One day  in Scotland I did not have a room reserved, or even planned on which city I was going to and everything worked out fine.

I accepted a 7 hour car ride from the person below after speaking to her for about 5 minutes the night before. It turns out that she was an expert on the environment which is an interest of mine. I was able to ask all the questions I had about plants and animals in Scotland. It was like taking a  private college course from an expert and was a wonderful experience. I was surprised at the detailed information available regarding the health records of each and every cow and its ancestors for the last 7 generations. Ordinary citizens are aware of what is in their food and where it comes from.

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In April was I met local immigrants and discussed politics, immigration, health care in The Netherlands and in Turkey.

A guy I met who got to use the health care system w/i 2 hours of arrival

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I was reminded of man’s cruelty to man

At the Medieval Torture Museum

and tried to understand how leaders could convince people to commit genocide.

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houseboat on canal

The Anna Frank House was right in the heart of Amsterdam. I still cannot imagine being locked up in a couple of rooms for years with only a sibling and 5 other much older people for company.

The food supply was unreliable. I think about being totally dependent on other people to collect and hide extra food when there was a ration across the city. I think of having to be completely quiet – at 13 years of age. I remember how emotional I was at that age, in the 8th grade and just starting to question who I was. And let’s not forget the emotional roller coaster that defined those female teen years. Add in terrified and hungry people in a very small area. And no privacy, not even when using the toilet.

In May – I went to Turkey with family and learned a few words of Turkish from a 2-year-old. I learned that the pronounciation of  “I-Pad” in a Turkish whiny voice sounds exactly the same as”I-Pad” in  an American 2-year-old boy whiny voice – and there is NO accent; just a simple wanting and longing of the I-Pad. Parents in this largely Muslim land are setting rules and limitations on time allotment for playing with technology, just like in our country. And just like families here, when the kids spend time with the grandparents, they get ice cream more often.

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In Turkey I tried sailing a small sailboat by myself IMG-20140425-WA0006and managed to keep from capsizing (although it was a close call more than once).

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New foods were eaten


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In June, I made friends with local Serbians thanks to an introduction from a dear friend in the USA. I had met them once, at a wedding nearly 10 years ago, and they hosted me for over a week.

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I was exploring and found a Gypsy Camp

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I practiced living in the moment – hopping off a public bus when I heard a band in the distance, and followed the music until I located them, then enjoyed the performance.

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Later I went to Jerusalem, Israel.  It was thought provoking to know that I was walking on the same streets as Jesus did

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and had the opportunity to float in The Dead Sea.

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This is also the time when I decided that even though I am an overweight middle-aged mom, I was time to accept myself as I am and show the picture of my body in a bathing suit with a dorky hat. *

Or at least to stop wishing I was slender and start doing something about it.

*Note to Hollywood or the folks at AARP – send me a message. Hello Pam, the next AARP cover model!

There was a visit from my husband, a wedding, and traveling with family and friends.

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In July a friend joined me in Africa

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Autumn came and I was homesick. I changed my plans and came home for 10 weeks.

While in the USA, I turned 50 years old and had a birthday party. I knew all the guests, and many of my favorite people were there. My “bestie” from Ohio even came to help me with the details and enjoy it with me.

*Bestie is a slang word meaning best friend.PamsBirthdayOct2014 (1)

November  was Switzerland

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and Wwoofing in Italy for 3 weeks.
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The remainder of the trip was touring Northern Italy with my visiting husband and friend and exploring Southern Italy on my own, hiking Volcanoes in the Aeotolia islands and Sicily, and making new friends along the way.

I sampled pizzas all over the country and must admit, there were very few ordinary pizzas and no bad pizzas at all. After eating my way through Italy, my humble opinion is that Naples and Sicily do have the best pizza. And sometimes what they call sausages is what we call hot dogs. Still tasty on a pizza though.

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Other miscellanous events:

An image that stays with me… An older lady lying on the concrete floor in a busy underground train station. The sight of just her ankles and shoes sticking out from between the legs of a crowd, and her purse standing upright beside her. A person was kneeling over her, giving chest compressions.

Was asked out on a date. (At least I think I was.) A handsome and personable man told me to meet him between 11:00 a.m. – noon at a particular piazza. We could go for a walk together. I told him I didn’t think my husband would like it and declined.

Now it is December. I am back home for a couple weeks, spending time with friends and family before heading off to the next leg of the journey – Thailand!

Yep, a person can do a lot of things in a pretty short period of time if she makes up her mind to do it.

Botswana and the Okavango Delta

Impressions of a Country, Round The World Trip

One of my favorite experiences in Africa was camping with a tour group called “Intrepid Travel” from Zimbabwe. One of the reasons I chose this tour was because of the educational and giving back to the community philosophy they use. (http://www.intrepidtravel.com/ ) We camped from Zimbabwe through Botswana to Johannesburg, S. Africa.

By using this Australian based company we all participate in building up a community.

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By providing good jobs,


parents are able to educate their children (school fees are $60 every 3 months).

???????????????????????????????????????People can afford to send their kids to school and the students will also learn a 2nd  language, English. The better English a local speaks, the better job he can get. It is a circle of success that continues to develop a solid community.  The villagers learn that tourism creates jobs. The tourists come to see the animals, so it is the best interest to care about the local animals and to not kill a lion because it ate a farmer’s cow.

Intrepid also gives an experience of local life rather than touristy stuff. That is me all right!

We saw wild animals in their habitats, and we also got a perspective from local residents.  Intrepid uses local guides whenever possible, and in Africa this was especially important since there are so many different languages and customs. South Africa alone has 12 official languages).

Africa 293The camping trip lasted 9 days and started in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, through Botswana and the Okavango Delta, to Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River do not flow into an ocean like most rivers. Instead, the river flows into a swamp that is thousands of square miles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okavango_Delta. The Okavango Delta is considered one of the 7 natural wonders of Africa.

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A local village provided “Polers” who pushed our canoes through the Delta to an island where we camped for 2 nights.  We were told that if we wanted to feel the water, we could dip our hands into it, but not to drag our hands along because crocodiles are opportunistic predators. There are plenty of fish for them to eat, however, a hand dragging along would be considered easy food too.

The water was pretty shallow in most places, about 1- 3 feet deep.

Africa 284 This was our poler. She was good at her job, even talking on a cell phone crooked between her neck and shoulders while poling. Both men and women were polers.

?????????????? Each canoe had 2 tourists. Our guide with Intrepid Tours told us that more than 2 people could fit into a canoe, but by only having 2 people in each, more jobs were created for the village. The village consisted of about 500 people and were divided into 3 groups, A, B, C. Each group took turns poling and staying with the tourists, cooking, guiding us on walking safaris etc. We were told that on the last nigh the villagers might show us traditional dances and songs.

?????????????????????????????????? We shared a song and dance with them too. We were from 5 countries, including England, Scotland, Australia and USA and we all knew the hokey pokey. It was fun and the locals liked watching us . It was an exchange of cultures for all of us.

The result of this kind of tour is that the village prospers and tourism makes a real difference. The villagers are able to make a better living in tourism rather than by killing animals and selling the meat and skins. Win / win for everyone.

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It was sooo peaceful on the boat, I almost fell asleep.  The delta was mostly reeds and grasses, so it was easy for the canoe to push them aside as our boats skimmed through the water.

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???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? The Polers loaded our canoes with all the stuff we needed for the next few days, tents, mattresses, sleeping bags, food, 5 litres of water each, as well as our individual stuff.  Our driver stayed with the truck and all the rest of the stuff we didn’t need.

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We rode for about 45 minutes, then beached at an island while the Polers rested and ate a snack.

Then they poled for about another 30 minutes to the island where we were going to camp.

The canoes were pretty wobbly, so we were told to keep our bodies still while we were pushed. If we wanted to move a leg, or reposition ourselves, we were to let the Poler know first. One young man would use all of his weight, even pushing one leg off the canoe to push the canoe faster, so it was important to everyone in the canoe to know if someone was going to shift their weight.

???????????????????? Once we set up camp, we had the opportunity to try poling.

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My friend Laura from the USA joined me for this trip. It was fun to share the adventure with here. Poling does take some practice, especially when needing to steer.  I was able to get my canoe to move pretty fast, until I ran into a thorn-bush / tree. Then, I had a lot of trouble getting untangled from it.  The Polers do not have to fear for their jobs. It was harder than it looked.

In the afternoon, we got to go on a walking safari to look for animals.  The wet season was just ending, so they were not as abundant as they would be once it gets drier. When the areas of water get smaller, the animals congregate closer together. Nevertheless, we were happy that our group had a very tall guide.

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He was local to the area and spotted zebras that just looked like more of the landscape to my eyes.

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The zebras watched us approach, but didn’t let us get too close. They did not panic when we moved closer, they just walked away like we were just another animal on the plain.

Every plant seemed to have some kind of protection. This one had really long thorns.????????????????????????????? They were about the size of a long darning needle.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Although we did not see elephants while walking around, they had left their calling card.

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I was amazed that in an area where everything looked brown (winter time), that I spotted these bird eggs on the ground.

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I wonder if it is called a nest when it was just a couple of eggs in the sand?

???????????????????????????? The sunsets were beautiful ???????????????????????????? I never saw one cloud in the sky.

The guide always had us back at camp by dark. It was so dark that we could see the milky way at night.  We absolutely were not allowed to leave the camp area without a guide, but when a group wanted to walk to where the hippos could be sighted, the guides were happy to oblige.

The Polers took the rest of the group by canoe to an area where hippos hung out.

?????????????????????????????????????? ?????????????????????????????????????? Some of the people we met had names of “Holy”,”Faith”,”Admire” or “Talent”.

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I love these pictures. Our young poler wore this cowboy hat everywhere. He seemed to be very proud of this hat, and it is probably one of his most valuable possessions.??????????????

Here is the tent that Laura and I shared Africa 213

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The people in charge of the camping took care of digging the hole for a toilet. It was at the end of a trail near the camp. We communicated that the toilet was occupied by taking the shovel from the path entrance with us. It only took one reminder to take the shovel to the toilet, even when it was not needed, when one of us (not me) was surprised when a camp mate appeared from around the corner where a bush meets some weeds with the shovel and was anxious to use the throne.

Although the “restroom” was out of sight of the tents, it was close enough for us to hear the yelp of surprised voices at the unexpected meeting.

The best part about having a toilet seat, was that the legs prevented us from getting too close to the sides of the hole – the ground was very loose and sandy, and we didn’t want to fill up the hole with more dirt / sand than needed, because then we would need to dig another hole.

15 Botswana (69)Some of my campmates and new friends

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The white stuff in the pot is the staple of their diet of the villagers.

(I think you can enlarge this picture, and any others that I post. I am still learning the technology of blogging, so if it doesn’t work, please leave me a comment, and I will try to add it a different way).

The food is called PAC, pronounced pock. (More about Pac on the Zimbabwe post that I will be writing soon). It had the consistency of mashed potatoes, and is a kind of corn meal (maize). All of our food was cooked over a wood fire as we camped.

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It is amazing what a person can do with some fresh veggies and meat, some wood and a fire.

At the end of the camping in the bush, there were 2 rooms available for an extra cost if anyone wanted to upgrade from our tents and showers in chilly cement stalls to a private bathroom with dependable hot water.

The hostel rooms were quickly snapped up by those that who really missed the small luxuries, like a mattress and sheets, as well as electrical outlets to charge electronics. The rest of us hurried over to their 2 bedroom place to see all the luxury, and they showed us the showers and how soft the beds were etc. Then they pooled their snacks, someone had some cheese and crackers, another had a bottle of wine, and we all enjoyed the hospitality. It felt like we were at a cocktail party on the veranda, as we enjoyed the socializing after a warm / hot shower and clean clothes.

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In the end, it was a wonderful experience. I felt perfectly safe. The first night of camping, we were taught that if we needed to use the toilet at night, to unzip the tent and look out and around, before leaving the tent. We were to shine the flashlight and look for reflections of eyes. If we saw any, we were to put our heads back into the tent, zip it, and do not go to the toilet.

What an adventure!

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Recent Public Health Scare…. as well as…. What I am thinking / What am I Thinking

Round The World Trip, Things I have learned

After traveling to Africa, I better understand how disease is spread. While traveling through Botswana, the government was trying to prevent the spread of hoof and mouth disease. I was traveling with someone who lived on a farm when there was an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease. So, I believe she knows what she is talking about when it comes to spreading certain diseases. The roadblocks and checkpoints we traveled through, taking our shoes off and carrying an extra pair, and dipping them in the solution at the border is not an effective way to stop the disease. Now that I think about it, I don’t even know what was in the solution. Maybe the joke is on me and all of us westerners. We just dipped our shoes in some kind of elephant urine.