December 3, Day 490
No snakes or scorpions snuck into my tent last night, so I guess this broken zipper situation on my tent will be okay after all!
I wake up at 6 am. Get dressed, walk out of the tent to the bathroom and brush my teeth and greet everyone.
Back to my tent and I notice that there are ants all over the ground by the door to the tent. That’s a matata (problem). Suddenly I hear Mabe’s voice calling my name. He tells me to go to the campfire area because everyone is having a meeting.
Sit down with the group, and the entire meeting is in Setswana, so I don’t know what’s going on. Baitshepi sees that I can’t understand and comes to sit next to me to translate for me. I’m so grateful, but can’t hear much because she’s whispering.
I see everyone turn their head and stare at me and one of the guys asks me something in Setswana, but I don’t know what he said.
“Mpho, are you going to the farms today?” Masala asks.
Oh?! We are going to farms?! I thought we were planning a football tournament. This is the first I’m hearing about farms. But hey, it could be fun, right?
The only thing I know is that I’m here in the capacity as DAC. I am not sure if I should be going to the farms to do whatever it is they’re going to do, or if I should oversee activities in the village.
“Um, I guess?” I ask, in a questioning tone, hoping someone could give me guidance on what is going on.
“Is that a yes or a no?” she responds.
“Yes, I will go to the farms,” I say.
“Well then you need to speak with more confidence and be clear in your communication,” she says.
Soon, everyone gets up and is rushing around. Baitshepi tells me that we are all going to the Kgotla to meet with the village Chief. If we go to the Kgotla, all women are required to wear a long dress/skirt and cover their hair. I am skeptical that we are going to the Kgotla because I don’t see any women in skirts. This indicates to me that maybe we’re just meeting with the Chief in his office and I don’t need to wear a skirt.
“Baitshepi, are we really going to the Kgotla, or just the chief’s office?” I ask.
“We are going to the Kgotla. I will stay behind afterwards and do HIV testing at the clinic today,” she says.
“If we are going to the Kgotla, why are no women in skirts?” I ask.
“Oh, I’m about to put one on now!” she replies.
Okay, so then I need to go change my clothes. I rush to my tent and put on a skirt and shirt and a bandana to cover my hair. I also quickly eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast and have some coffee from my french press (yes, I travel with a french press. It’s a godsend).
Walk out of the tent and I see that everyone has already left. I find Baitshepi waiting for me at the gate entrance. She waves and tells me to hurry.
We walk over to the Chief’s office, and sure enough, this isn’t a Kgotla meeting. It’s just a meeting at the Chief’s office. They all pile into his office and there is no room for me, so I stand in the hallway. Someone comes out of the office to give me their spot so I can be a part of the meeting.
The meeting is in Setswana, so I don’t know fully what is happening. Mabe speaks with the chief and from what I gather, he is telling the chief that we are here to mobilize for World AIDS Day on December 13th and we need to form committees in the village and have a football tournament.
We finish the meeting and walk back to the school. Everyone is getting in trucks to leave for the farms and they tell me to hurry.
I make a run for it back to my tent and change into comfortable pants and pack sunscreen, toilet paper and a bottle of water (never leave home without those items!). I don’t have time to clean up the coffee sitting out, but I’ll do it when I get back.
We are going out to the farms in Toyota Landcruisers, which can pretty much drive through anything. I’m with three other men in the truck.
We drive deep, deep, deep into the bush. We see a gate to the farm, and drive down what seems like it’s not a road. It’s just old tire tracks in the bush over the sand. This is the bumpiest ride I have ever been on in my life. South Africa is on our right, Botswana farm is on our left.
After about an hour, we arrive at the first farm. We tell them we are mobilizing for World AIDS Day and want to speak with the farm owner. The employees say the farm owner hasn’t paid them in a while and we should help him. He also says to come back tomorrow for the farm owner. We give them 500 condoms and say thank you.
Drive for another long time to another farm and find a house with a man, his wife and about 5 kids. It’s clear that they don’t get visitors ever on the farm and the little kids are curious as to who we are.
The man climbs into the back of our truck to show us how to get to the farm owner’s office. He stands in the truck bed yelling directions and pointing as we drive.
We pull into “Banyana Farms”, and it seems abandoned and spooky. There are structures in place, but it is clear that this isn’t a working farm. I see a sign on the window of the barn that says “Coca Cola, 10 Pula. Water, 15 pula” but there is nothing inside. It’s empty.
There are two men in the front working on fixing a truck and tell us what door to knock on in order to find the farm manager. We walk down a series of winding hallways through different doors of a barn that has been converted to an office. I accidentally make a wrong turn and I see a rope hanging from the ceiling. It sure looks like a noose and I don’t want to know what it was used for. I turn around and go back to join everyone.
Banyana Farms is a massive government owned failed farming project. They bought a huge plot of land for farming, but then it apparently it wasn’t managed properly and failed.
“You can’t have a bunch of people sitting in a glass office in Gabs managing a farm in Bray. That just doesn’t work,” one of the guys says.
When we enter the office, we find the secretary at the front desk stapling packets of paper. She is dressed very nicely and looks metropolitan. Where in the world does she live all the way out here? She tells us that they are selling the farm and will have a tender sale in about a week for people who want to get in on ownership.
Oh, okay, so I guess there’s nothing for us to do here.
She takes us into another man’s office, and we have another meeting in Setswana. I do not know what they are talking about, but I see him show us the map of the farm and how it is broken up.
Get back in the car and we drive for another really long time. I’m still confused as to what in the world we are doing on these farms! Why am I here?
Go to another farm and speak with another farm manager. This man is friendly and everyone stands in the shade talking. It is about this time that I realize we are making appointments on the farms. We are planning to visit the farms tomorrow to meet with their employees, and we are making appointments to be able to enter the farms.
Typically, no one can enter the private farms in this area. However, one of the men on our team works for the Labor Department, which is the only entity that can enter the farms. That is why he is doing the talking with the farm owners to make the appointments.
I get it now!
We drive again and make a wrong turn and hit the border of South Africa. Honestly, it feels like we are on another planet now. This can’t be Botswana anymore, we have driven too far into places people don’t go. But it’s not South Africa either… I’m in the African Twilight Zone.
It’s late afternoon and we haven’t eaten lunch yet and we are all starving. Our guy from the Labor Department decides this is the last farm we are visiting today because we are hungry and tired.
We enter a farm that is filled with the biggest cattle I have ever seen. Beef is big business in Botswana. They are working to be a premier supplier of beef around the globe, so they take their cows seriously. These things are huge! There are large barrels of molasses everywhere. I’m told they feed the cows molasses to fatten them up.
One of the farm workers recognizes our driver and they warm up to us immediately. They go and milk one of the cows and offer everyone some fresh milk, but I politely decline.
“Sorry, Rra, ke na le allergi ya mashi,” I say (I’m sorry, I’m allergic to milk).
Everyone else chugs down the milk.
We arrive at another remote farm and this one is pretty destitute. The employees are living in crowded conditions in small homes and there are lots of children running around. The man from Labor tells me that this could possibly indicate child labor because they are not in school.
The farm owner is warm and friendly. He is a white Afrikaner with two adorable dogs. He welcomes us to have a seat and his dogs come and lick my hands. He asks me what part of the US I am from and tells me that his son lives in Texas. He agrees that we can come back tomorrow and meet with his farm workers, and recommends that we go to the farm next door to recruit their employees, too.
Now, I should mention the ridiculousness of the fuel situation here. When you are driving a government vehicle you can only go to specific designated government fueling stations.
The closest government fueling station is 140 kilometers away, and it closes at 4:30 pm. It is now 3:15 pm, so we are in a rush to leave so we can fuel the car. Otherwise we won’t be able to visit the farms tomorrow.
“I will call the farm owner next door, thank you,” our Labor guy says.
“You should just drive over and see them on your way out. Don’t be lazy, man! If you’re here, make the stop,” the farm owner replies.
So, now we have to go to the next farm. We all climb into the car and drive there. The farm manager agrees to let us collect his employees tomorrow.
Now we have to book it to Werda to go get fuel. We likely won’t even make it!
Our driver bolts out of the farm and we drive on what I wouldn’t even consider to be a dirt road. It’s gravel and deep sand with deep potholes. He is driving so fast that even with my seatbelt on, my head is hitting the ceiling of the truck.
All of our hearts are racing. Will we make it?
Sure enough, we pull into the fueling station at 4:28 pm. We did it! I love this driver. He just worked some serious magic.
We all high five. I see a few guys run to the bathroom immediately.
We get back to the school around 7 pm, starving and tired. Everyone who stayed behind is sitting around the campfire.
I sit down, and they tell me they have made a plate for dinner for me. Oh! That’s so nice! I wasn’t expecting it. I give my meat to one of the guys and eat the rice. I see Mr. Kole staring at me. What’s up, dude?
“Abigail… the goats … they got into your tent,” he says.
My worst nightmare has come true. I had a feeling this might happen with the broken zipper.
“We tried to keep them out but they destroyed your tent. Mabe has collected your things and put them in his truck. But there is a big mess. There is coffee everywhere. You should eat your dinner first, relax and then go see the damage. We fixed the zipper for you,” he says.
“Okay, thank you Mr. Kole,” I reply. I try to remain calm and collected, but on the inside I’m feeling panic. What if they ate all my food and damaged my tent? What will I eat for the rest of the week?
I get up and walk over to the tent.
I look inside and see that all that remains is a single apple. The goats ate EVERY. SINGLE. PIECE. OF. FOOD. and had a full blown party in my tent.
There is coffee spilled all over the floor along with coffee grounds all over the place. My sleeping bag and clothing are strewn everywhere and wet.
All that remains is one apple.
Okay, I guess I’ll just go with the flow and make due. Mabe comes and brings my things and I put them all back in the tent. I reorganize my things and clean it up the best I can. I decide to move my tent to be under a tree and away from all the ants.
Suddenly, it starts pouring rain very hard. The zipper on the tent breaks AGAIN.
Get changed, walk to the bathroom in the pouring rain to take a cold shower. When I walk into the bathroom, one of the guys is in the toilet stall next to the shower.
“Mpho, we are all very sick from drinking that milk today! I’m sorry, I can’t leave,” he says.
“Yeah man, unpasteurized milk will mess up your stomach! I’m so sorry your sick. No problem, I’ll just take a shower in the stall here. You do your thing,” I say.
He does his thing. I do my thing.
Walk back to the tent with my headlamp on in the dark and I find that the water from the rain is flooding into the tent.
This is not going to work.
In the dark, I take everything out of my tent again and carry it to a nearby classroom where some of the women are sleeping. They brought air mattresses to sleep on. There are giant dung beetles crawling around on the floor everywhere.
Some people brought tents and some people are sleeping in the classroom. I am a very sensitive sleeper and all it takes is one person snoring to keep me up all night. That’s not their fault, it’s mine for being a sensitive sleeper. I know this about myself, hence I wanted to sleep in the tent.
Also because after hearing everyone around me speak Setswana 24/7, it can be socially isolating to be left out of everything that is happening and mentally exhausting trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together to figure out what’s going on all the time. I sometimes need my alone time to be in my own comfort zone to recharge my batteries.
I don’t mind the Setswana of course, I just need to be in a good headspace to take on a full day of it.
Put my things down and take a few more trips to bring everything into the classroom. The women greet me warmly and Masala offers to share her bed with me. I say thank you, but I will be okay sleeping on the floor in my sleeping bag, I don’t mind.
Crawl into the sleeping bag. Roll up my clothes to use as a pillow, and try to fall asleep.