July 28, 2010


My favorite thing about the Delta is the way it suddenly emerges, almost as though it is a mirage; one must almost blink to be sure that it is in fact a real oasis sprung out of nowhere. 

The landscape of the Kgalagadi desert is far different from what I envisioned before arriving in Botswana.  When I heard “desert,” I visualized vast, rolling sand dunes with tiny wind-induced waves—the stuff of camels and cacti.  But, as with nearly all of my pre-departure notions about Botswana, my expectations were once again proven wrong. 

The Kgalagadi is vast and uniform—not so much monotonous as predictable and continuous: thornbush after thornbush, stark jagged tree after stark jagged tree (with the inevitable herds of cattle, goats, or donkeys huddled beneath their precious shade), termite mound after termite mound, all strewn scantily atop the flat, seemingly endless stretch of pale white sand.  It is easy to fall into the rhythm of the land after a few hours surveying it from a tired combi. 

That is what makes the Delta feel like such a secret.  To an untrained eye, there are few clues that the Delta is approaching.  The trees thicken slightly, and a few different varieties begin to appear.  Tall grasses begin to creep between the thornbushes, and clutter the view of the expansive sand.  The sun catches the sheen of bright colors of birds swooping through the sky, and suddenly palm trees emerge, their leafy green tops acting as giant umbrellas for more leafy green plants beneath.  These changes occur slowly and subtly, until out of nowhere, through the now thick vegetation, your eye is caught for a split-second by a flash of something shiny.  But you haven’t seen water for hundreds of miles—surely you are mistaken.  Because the reeds and plants are dense, the land is flat, and the water moves at a creeping slow, silent pace, it is nearly impossible to detect the Delta until you are practically in it.  In a way, it reminds me of hiking through the lush evergreen forest in Olympic National Park, only to have it suddenly open up and spit you out, into an entirely different world, the open, vast shores of the Pacific Ocean.  (Now, I must say that I am quite partial to my home, so for me, nothing quite compares to the ONP; I hold it in special esteem.  But the beauty of the Delta is quite extraordinary.)  Once you embark upon the Delta, it is as though the rest of the world goes quiet; you can only hear the chirping of the hundreds of varieties of birds and occasional trumpeting of the hippos.  The meandering sparkling river shimmers as it reflects the sunlight and cuts through sections of reeds and waterlilies as far as the eye can see, feeling almost like a visual deep breath.  And of course the knowledge that a crocodile could be leering at you from just beneath the surface adds a bit of an ominous touch.  The experience of the Delta is consuming, and feels somehow sacred or magical, and as you leave, it vanishes just as quickly as it materialized, smacking with the return to the desert or the commotion of village life.

I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have been placed in Shakawe, in that it is one of the few villages which posses the dual qualities of lying directly on the Delta, and not being entirely overrun by tourists—although we do have a great deal that pass through, and it is my hope that the village will be able to capitalize on that—for the time being, we have our piece of the Delta all to ourselves.  Among the other locational perks of Shakawe is its proximity to Tsodillo Hills—which is only about thirty or so minutes away, and contains some of the oldest cave paintings in the world, as well as the highest point in Botswana—and the Caprivi Strip of Namibia—which is only about 12k away, and is a large game reserve that connects to Kasane (home of Chobe National Park; which is almost universally regarded to be the most scenic part of Botswana) and Victoria Falls.  Although I haven’t had the opportunity to visit these places yet, as I am still in lockdown, they are among the many reasons that I am so incredibly grateful to have been placed here—well worth the 6 hour bus-ride to the nearest large village (this IS the Peace Corps after all!).

Anyway, I know I’ve been promising the full 4-1-1 on my site, but, as I’ve said, there’s just too much to say to fit it all into one blog, so bits and pieces at a time it is…good thing I’ve got twenty-two and a half months to get it all out (well, sometimes that feels like a good thing, sometimes it makes me want to cry [at the moment, it’s a bit more of the latter] but that’s neither here nor there…)…and as always, I am overwhelmed by your love and support—I’m sure you’re tired of hearing it, but you all really are what keep me going.  Love you all so so so much!!