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Sunday, 13 March 2011

Our first adventure over the border

Just over a month into our African adventure and Mr B and I were keen to get out of town and see some more sights. My good friend Lisa was living temporarily in South Africa while she did research for her PhD and some work for an NGO. What a great opportunity to catch up with a lovely friend and to venture over the border at the same time.

Giraffe on the road through Tuli Game Reserve
We decided to meet up in Musina, where Lisa was doing some work. Musina is the northernmost town in South Africa, and is near the Limpopo River which borders Zimbabwe. After a long and interesting drive (we saw giraffe and zebra on the way as we crossed through the Northern Tuli Game Reserve) through south-eastern Bots we met Lisa at the local Spur Restaurant (a steakhouse chain). Once our appetites had been satisfied Lisa took us for a quick drive around the town, showing us primarily the local showgrounds where all the refugees that were flooding in to South Africa from Zimbabwe were setting up camp. It was really awful. Hundreds, possibly thousands of homeless people with nowhere to go, no money, no possessions with them, basically just the clothes on their back sitting out in 40 degree heat in the dirt. Some had set up make shift tents out of plastic or bits of blankets that they found. Others sheltered under cardboard boxes. It was not nice to witness and I felt pretty helpless. Sights like that make you realise how lucky you are.

About 70km out of Musina was South Africa's newest national park - Mapungubwe National Park. For more info on the park check out this website. This is where we decided to spend the weekend together. It was fantastic! The National Park itself is actually really close to both Bots and Zim - they are separated by the Limpopo River.

I had booked accommodation for the 3 of us at Leokwe Camp - a family cottage that had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen, dining room and braii area. It was perfect.

Our family cottage for the weekend

We arrived quite late in the afternoon so we decided to just relax, have some dinner and catch up.

Wildebeest and impala
Warthog family
The next morning we were up early to get to one of the waterholes to see what animals would be around. A hide was set up so we sat in there for a while and waited, and waited, and waited.... Eventually a family of warthog came in for a drink, as well as some springbok, impala, wildebeest, and of course various birds.

Huge baobab tree
The confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo Rivers
We then spent the rest of the day driving ourselves around and checking out the rest of the park. The scenery was stunning, particularly the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers where the 3 countries meet - Bots, Zim and SA.

We came across various animals. As strange as this sounds, it is hard to get your head around the fact that some of these animals are dangerous and could kill you. Lisa and I got out of the car at one stage to take some photos of these amazing baobab trees (really huge, really fantastic looking trees), and it was only after that I thought, you know maybe I shouldn't have done that as there are wild animals roaming around.


A lone bull elephant
The excitement for the day came when we almost drove into a young bull elephant. We had been driving along for a while, seeing nothing but trees and bushes, when out of nowhere we spotted an elephant standing under a tree right next to our car. We managed to take a few photos before he told us to move on - he started to mock charge and flap his ears - Brent was pretty quick to reverse and drive on.

The Lioness
That night we did a game drive with a park guide. It was our first night time drive and it was a fantastic experience. The highlight was the lioness we found. The guide believed she was in labour. She hardly moved while we sat and watched her in the dark, heavily panting and almost oblivious to us being there. We also came across a large herd of elephant moving through the park. Elephant herds are primarily females and babies so the guide was very careful not to get too close or in the middle of the herd. The elephant though seemed too busy eating and moving on their journey to be too worried about us.

The next morning it was an early farewell as we went our separate ways - Lisa back to Musina and Mr B and I back to F'town. What a great weekend - we were looking forward to many more!!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

What do you get when you put a banana out in your backyard??

Monkeys of course!!!


Mr B and I had been hearing the little critters scurry back and forward over our roof many times but had never seen them. So we decided to chuck a banana out in our backyard and see what happens. Within minutes a couple had rocked up and were chowing down :)

When the pawpaw tree in our front courtyard became ripe, the whole monkey family virtually moved in to our backyard.

But the story gets even crazier ... One day our domestic worker (more on this later) Brenda was cleaning the kitchen and left the door open when she went outside to the laundry. Later I went to the fruit bowl to grab a banana only to discover none left. What I did find though was a banana skin left on the bench. That's strange, I thought, surely Brenda wouldn't have helped herself and left the skin on the bench? I went outside to ask her and what did I see??? .... A monkey munching down my banana minding his own business. The little rascal had ransacked my fruit bowl when no one was looking. Brenda freaked out when I laughingly told her, and she never left that door open again!

Only in Africa!! 

New Housemate ...

After a month in our new home we got a new housemate ....


We named him/her Torty - highly original of us!!

A few months later we got another one and named that one Torty 2 - again could we get any more creative??!!

Sadly when we moved house a year after we arrived, one Tortoise mysteriously disappeared from our garden, and the other one that made the move with us, got out of our new yard and did a runner :( 

Thankfully though we inherited 3 new tortoises when our friends moved back to Australia. They are such great pets - roam around the yard all day, munch on the lawn, and if you put some lettuce out or cucumber they are so happy and it is devoured in seconds.

Our First African Safari

Mr B and I had been in Botswana for less than a week and we were already heading off on our first African Safari adventure. Were we excited?? Excited was pretty much an understatement - we could not wait!!! Saturday morning arrived and 19 of us (kids included) headed out of F'town and over the border to Zimbabwe and the Matopos National Park.

If you have checked out this post you would have seen on the map of Bots that F'town is really close to the Zim border. Motopos National Park is about 35km south of Bulawayo and less than 200km away from F'town. (More info on the park can be found here) So what probably should have only taken a few hours to travel, took about five as we had to cross the border and go through customs and immigration to get in to Zim. Oh My God it was slow!!!! I thought things in Botswana were slow but Zimbabwean Officials take the cake. We went from one counter, back to another counter, only to go back to the other one again! It was crazy to say the least but we got there and it definitely helped having local Zimbabweans as part of our group and holding our hands. 

We then got caught up in a police road block but thankfully again our Zimbabwean friend helped us out of it. Mr B and I were very nervous traveling in Zimbabwe. We had been told so many horror stories of people getting arrested and ending up in prison for absolutely nothing. Thankfully that didn't happen to us on this trip.

We did come across some crazy sites like this though:
Will it tip over ....??
 

We eventually arrived at our accommodation for the weekend - "Camp Amalinda - Wilderness of Granite" - and were completely blown away by what we found. The place was nothing like we had ever experienced before to say the least. (You can check out their website here). Wilderness of Granite was an apt description. The Matopos Hills area, where we were, is like a sea of granite "kopjes" or hills. It comprises a collection of huge bare granite hills with gravity-defying boulders scattered all over the countryside.   
Granite kopjes


The pool and bar area
The driveway leading up to the place involved us driving up a STEEP!!! granite hill – lucky we all had 4WDs! And then when we pulled up I remember thinking “are we there already? Where is the place?” It was completely tucked away in a hill of massive granite rocks and trees. 

Mr B and I lucked out and managed to snag the honeymoon suite which was incredible. 

The Honeymoon suite outdoor bath
The Honeymoon suite bedroom



Honeymoon suite


Our group had the entire place to ourselves for the weekend which was great as the kids could then roam free without disturbing anyone else. The manager of the camp also organised all our activities for the weekend, including an on-hand archaeologist to take us into the National Park and explain some of Zimbabwe’s history. So after our bags were taken to our rooms (believe me it was a sight to see this tiny little African woman with our huge blue suitcase on top of her head as she carried it to our room, negotiating the granite boulders as she went!) and we enjoyed a light lunch, it was off into the National Park to see some cave paintings. According to Paul, the archaeologist, they were done by the San people (bushmen) and it was their way of communicating with the gods. The majority of the paintings are of animals – zebra, giraffe, kudo etc. 

Paul then took us to see where Cecil Rhodes is buried in the park. Not going in to too much Zimbabwean history, Rhodes “created” Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe. My knowledge of African history is pretty scratchy, if not non-existant, so it was a great learning experience. Rhodes' grave is on top of this hill, within the park, that he named Worlds View – the view was amazing. Another famous Zim is also buried up there as well as a monument and tomb of 22 other influential white Zimbabweans.
Cave paintings


The next day Mr B and I experienced our first game drive. Since there were so many adults in our group and only one game drive vehicle and guide, we were split into two groups and one went in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Mr B and I were lucky enough to be in the first group as according to the others we were "game drive virgins". Our guide, Midzi, took us all over the National Park, this time on the lookout for white rhino. While looking for the rhino we saw baboons, rock dazzys (kind of like a Quokka for anyone from WA, or a big tail-less rat), giraffe, and a clip-springer. Finally we came across some rhino – a mother and her baby. As we were down wind we were able to get out of the landrover and walk up close for a better look. The baby was very cute! We drove on for a bit more and found another mother and baby, again getting out for a closer look. On our way out of the park we came upon a big group of giraffe which was fantastic. They are so interesting to watch as they stretch out their necks in an attempt to appear bigger. Also the males are the ones with darker spots and apparently as they get older the spots get darker – we saw one with really dark spots and Midzi said he would be the elder of the group. So it was a pretty successful first game drive. The second group in the afternoon were lucky enough to also see hippo!!


Zonkeys
In the afternoon, the manager of the camp, took those of us left at the camp, on a nature walk around the camp area. The camp has its own herd of zebra and apparently there is a resident leopard – unfortunately we didn’t come across him/her. Other people in our group also saw some zonkeys – can you believe it?? Prior to our move to Bots, I had received an email with a picture of a half donkey/half zebra and I thought it was just a simple case of photoshop editing. Turns out that they do exist. The ones we saw had a dark brown torso with stripey legs and zebra-like heads and ears. Pretty funny!!
Mr B and I are actually sitting on the top of this kopje
To top off a fabulous day we enjoyed sundowners on top of a granite kopje.

Mr B, me and some friends on top of the kopje
Wow what a weekend!! Such a great introduction to what is available to see and experience in Africa. We were ready to see more ....





Saturday, 5 March 2011

First Impressions of Africa, Bots and Our New Town

It's kind of tricky to write about your first impressions of a country, a town, and people when those impressions were experienced over 2 years ago. But I'll give it a go ...

I remember my first "African experience" was when we were still in Jo'burg en-route to Bots and F'town. We over-nighted at the airport hotel and treated ourselves to breakfast the next morning in the dining room. Wow! Until then I had never seen so many black people in one room in my life (and I mean that in a completely non-racist way). It was very confronting for someone who was already feeling very tired and nervous and out of place. But it wouldn't be the last time I would feel that way. Quite often now I'll be walking down a mall here in F'town, look around and I'm the only white person to be seen. 

Anyway I think it must have been a church group at the hotel as later we saw them all again in the reception area singing their hearts out - it sounded beautiful. The sound of Africans singing in harmony with no music is just gorgeous.
 

Yikes my second "African experience" happened not long after the first when we were on the plane to Gabs. The plane was old and rickety and as we bounced down the runway and eventually took off my tray table fell down and a couple of the overhead baggage shutters came open. Great I thought - how long is this flight again? Thankfully it was only 35 mins and we soon landed in Gabs without incident.

And whoa it was hot!!! Leaving mild ol' Perth in November to 40C straight up was a bit of a shock to the system. We had about a 3 hour wait in Gabs and I was very glad to get on the next flight as the airport had no airconditioning (imagine a big shed with a few random shops and that's about it) and Mr B and I were both dripping.
 

Roadside stalls
Make shift car wash
Our Aussie friend met us at the airport in F'town and drove us to our "new" home. The first drive through F'town from the airport was eye-opening. The town wasn't much like I had imagined but at the same time it sort of was. Everything was very dry and there was brown dirt everywhere. Lots of tiny houses with outdoor toilets, crazy random "barber shops" set up on the side of the road under some canvas, lots of make shift car washes on the side of the road ie you pull your car in between some rocks, sometimes under some shade cloth, and leave it there where someone will wash and vacuum it for you, and also lots of little roadside stalls selling bits of fruit, lollies or cool drinks. And then at the same time there's the modern conveniences like supermarkets, shops, petrol stations, a law court, and other “modern” buildings. 
Blue Jacket Street - the main drag






Our place

The house we initially moved into was fine. One hundred times better than I was expecting actually. Mr B was nervous I was going to hate it but I had no major problems with it. The house was part of a complex - 12 townhouses adjacent to a hotel and casino.
Our living room
The entrance to the Marang Complex

The courtyard entrance
The kitc
The house was very comfortable - had air conditioning in the living area and two of the three bedrooms, large kitchen, dining room, and 2 bathrooms. It also had a decent size backyard and a complex pool to share. The only thing that differentiated this house from a typical Aussie house was the electric fence that surrounded the yard, the heavy metal barred screens on the windows and doors, and the guarded gate at the front of the complex which was manned 24hours a day. This level of security took a bit to get used to and was a constant reminder that we are now living in Africa. But at the same time it definitely helped me to sleep easier at night. 



Our first night in F'town was spent with Mr B’s new work colleagues (well the Aussie contingent anyway) and some of their relatives who were visiting at the time. It was a good introduction to what our life in F'town as expats would come to be about - socialising, bbqing, and the odd glass or two of wine.


Our first week saw us mainly getting the house set up, and slowly acclimatising to Mr B's new job and the heat!!! Morning teas, going to the gym (set up in one family's garage), and running with a few of the expat women soon became my daily activities.


Breaking in to an already established community is often difficult and at times stressful. Having moved so many times before I felt I knew the drill and how to approach things. An expat community is somewhat different though. A lot of the women here don't work and so have more time to socialise and establish relationships. More often than not they have been in your shoes before and so are generally more willing to accept new people and help them feel welcome. This was pretty much my experience. Everyone was really welcoming and friendly and most were willing to share information on where things were, and where to shop, etc.

I quickly learned that most of the food comes from South Africa a few times a week so certain days of the week are better for fresh bread and milk etc. The end of the month is when wages are distributed and shopping can often be a nightmare - some shelves at the supermarkets are often empty, particularly essential products like milk, fruit and vegetables. There are a number of supermarkets in the town so if you can't get something at one you can often find it at another. It took quite a while to get used to the different brands and labels - supermarket shopping is often quite a slow process as I suss everything out - even still now. 

It took me a bit longer to discover what services and activities were available in town. I am still learning things now, 2 years later!! For a small African "city" F'town does actually have a lot to offer its community (think medium sized country town in Australia). There is a large hospital, a number of doctor surgeries and clinics, and other medical services. There are several private schools, quite a few public schools, and a number of daycare/creche/preschool facilities. Many of the activities on offer are run privately by expat women and include:
  • Pilates
  • Bowls
  • Golf - there are several golf courses in and around the town
  • Garden Club
  • Women's Institute
  • Personal Training - many people in the town offer this service
  • Gym - there are a number of these
  • Rugby
  • Tennis
  • Cricket
  • Cycling
And probably a number of other things I am still not aware of. 

And of course there's always going away on safari and seeing the country. Which is what we did our first weekend in town. At our first dinner with Mr B's new work colleagues we were told that "everyone" was going away the coming weekend to Zimbabwe and that we were included and did we mind? Did we mind??? Of course we didn't mind!!! This is exactly why we had moved to Bots - to see the sights, to have adventures, and to meet new people.  Bring it on!!!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Botswana

Just in case you are interested, 10 quick Botswana facts:

1. Botswana, or Bots as we call it, is a land-locked country in Southern Africa, bordered by South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Zambia.

Map from here

 2. The country is very flat and covered predominantly by the Kalahari Desert.

3. Citizens are called "Batswana"

4. Population is estimated to be just over 2 million

5. Official Languages are English and Setswana
Some everyday Setswana that I sometimes use is:
  • Dumela, rra/mma - Hello, Sir/Madam.
  • Le kae?—How are you? 
  • Re teng—I am well
6. The Capital is Gaborone - pronounced "Hub-or-own-ee" - we call it Gabs for short

7. The other major cities are Maun and Francistown

8. Bots has one of the fastest growing economies in the world thanks to it's diamond and beef markets

9. The main currency is the Pula - 1 Pula = $A0.15 or $A1 = 6.7 pula 
Pula notes and coins are similar to the Aussies ones - pretty colourful and fairly easy to decipher


10. Bots has the 2nd highest rate of HIV in the world. Approx. 1 in 6 Batswana has HIV. Having said that Bots is one of the few African countries to actually report its HIV figures and acknowledge the epidemic. The government provides free anti-retroviral drugs to its citizens as well as other treatment and prevention programs.

If you are keen for more info on Bots a good place to start would be this website

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Adventure of a Lifetime ...

We've been living in Botswana for over 2 years now but I can still remember what a dream it seemed when we first came here. I no longer drive around staring out the window at all the “locals”, or the scenes on the street (well sometimes I still do - there's some pretty crazy stuff that goes on!). Potholes, crazy driving, slow walking and all the other things that remind me I’m in Africa, no longer stand out in my mind quite as prominently as they initially did. The ex-pat lifestyle has strongly taken hold as I have settled into my role as stay-at-home-wife and mum; a role I never really imagined doing full-time but one that, in the end, I did unconsciously push for.
Mr B (the husband) and I decided to move to Botswana at a time when both of us were in need of some excitement and adventure. The wedding and honeymoon were over and the quest to get pregnant and start a family was slowly starting to take over my everyday thoughts and plans. We both needed something to excite and stimulate our lives, which as far as I could envisage were slowly but surely moving into the typical suburban married couple pattern of life; a lifestyle that I did not want to fall into if I could avoid it.
At the time I was also completely dissatisfied and unhappy in my job. That tireless 9-5 work/life was bogging me down, but with mortgage payments to meet and no clear options on the horizon that didn’t involve further education, I couldn’t see a way out. Mr B in a way was feeling the same – little job satisfaction, no clear career future with that company, and what seemed like a FIFO lifestyle for the inevitable future.
So when a random job search showed an advertisement of an interesting job in Botswana for Mr B we both jumped at it.  I saw it as a way to escape the mundane lifestyle we were slowly settling into; Mr B saw it as potentially a great boost to his career. What an exciting opportunity, a chance to experience something new – where did we sign up?
As luck would have it (and is often the case in the small world that is the mining industry) we knew another couple that had taken the plunge before us. Not having been in contact with them in a long time I sent off a brief email to touch base and see where they were.Guess what ... they were in the same town, working for the sister company. Yikes! A good word was soon put in to the boss and before we knew it Mr B was offered the job and was on a plane to Botswana to check things out (and be checked out), and set up a house for our imminent move.
Imminent move??? Well in most other countries it would have been an imminent move, but in Africa ... 2 months later the paperwork was still in progress, Mr B was back in Australia, and the two of us were getting very antsy to get things moving. In the end the company said "just come! And hopefully by the time you get here your visas and permits will be ready".
So we packed up our house, sent Mum and Dad back to SA with a trailer load of goodies, and said what came to be a sad farewell to Perth and all our friends. It seems sometimes you don’t realise how good your life really is until you decide to change it.
And so the adventure began ...

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

First Post

To start a blog, or not to start a blog ... the idea of this has been on my mind for some time now. But it wasn't until I was with a group of friends the other night (more on this group later) that I realised I really have to give this thing a go and see where it takes me. 

My good friend H was talking about how much she likes to write and that she wishes she had made a career out of it rather than choosing something more practical and financially safe, and I said to her that now is the perfect opportunity for her to do it - we're expats, stay at home mums that don't have to work, and there's this wonderful world of blogging that I have discovered - why doesn't she give it a go and see what happens?? And then the next day I was thinking about what I'd said to her and I realised I was probably talking more to my self and giving myself permission to have a crack.

I enjoy writing
I have time on my hands (sort of)
I have things I want to write about and make a record of
Why not?

I'm excited, and geared up to get started, with lots of ideas for posts buzzing around in my head. So here goes ...
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