Egos and Icons

Trip Start Apr 26, 2005
Trip End Nov 17, 2005

Loading Map
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of Botswana  ,
Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The heat in Shakawe is overwhelming, and though dry it floats around like a liquid. It's somewhat better in the shade, where people and livestock congregate as if by force. The wind helps, though strong gusts blow sand into the air and the dust clouds the view of surrounding houses and bush.

Maybe it's the heat that's getting to me. Maybe it's the lack of time--and patience--I have here, and the fact that the guy who was supposed to lead me around to different projects today and tomorrow is sick.

So the morning is spent in the office of my host NGO, the Trust for Okavango Cultural and Development Initiatives, tinkering with the stories I've written and waiting for alternate plans to come through. How I hate offices. I want to be out in the field, and when my host senses my mood she tells me to settle down and be patient.

But there's so much to see, my work is going well, I only have 24 hours left here, and the project I most want to experience--a cultural hiking tour through Bushmen settlements--will have to be taken off the itinerary because that one guy is sick. Yes, I should settle down and be patient. It's not all about me, after all, but I am frustrated.

Not any closer to cooling down or getting out into the field, I trudge off through the sand looking for lunch and looking forward to a long, cold shower.

Perhaps patience is a virtue lost on the young, but I'm about to get a decent lesson in humility. And how sometimes things can fall into place better than can be planned. While my trip into the field the next day was cancelled, an opportunity arose for me to catch a lift to D'Kar, my next destination, with Braam LeRoux, a well-known San advocate and one of the founders of the movement for Bushman self-determination.

Braam and his wife, Willemien, came to Botswana as missionaries from South Africa in the early eighties, and settled in the Bushman village that had sprung up around D'Kar. Other Afrikaners thought the Le Rouxs were crazy moving their small family--two young children and another on the way--into a mud and grass hut with no electricity or running water. For the first two years they spent much of their time learning the language and customs and trying to survive themselves.

Of all the people I've met in Botswana, Braam's story is the most unique, fascinating, and difficult to penetrate. Who in their right mind moves their infant children into a hut in the bush? But listening to him talk about his experience, it's clear that the LeRoux's efforts were not simply voyeuristic. Braam has an obvious passion, not to be an empire builder, but to see the Bushman themselves fight to preserve their heritage and rights as indigenous people.

Willemien wrote a novel inspired by their years in the Bushman settlement, full of strong characters, struggles and determination, which gives some insight into the world in which they were immersed. On the road to D'Kar now, Braam says little about the troubles he and his wife encountered in those years. But I don't need the dirty laundry from him. Catching a lift and a few hours of his down time is enough, and as we pass out of Shakawe I put away my notebook and settle in to listen.

Braam looks younger than 54, despite a greying beard and close cropped hair to match. His voice is mellow, and one notices his accent more for it's fluidity than for the roughness associated with Afrikaans. He drives his hatch-back at the speed limit, keeping a careful eye out for the donkeys, cattle, goats and other animals that populate the highways of Botswana. "The road belongs to the animals, not us," he says, slowing down a hundred metres or more from the beasts that roam across the tarmac ahead.

Later he spots a herd of elephant making a hesitant crossing, and stops the car by the roadside and turns off the engine. He's probably seen thousands of elephants in his lifetime, but still he wears a child-like fascination on his face. From behind us a car roars by regardless of the deadly traffic.

At a filling station Braam takes obvious pleasure in speaking his flawless Setswana and Naro, the local Bushman language. Some people with great fluency have an inherent showiness when they speak in other language. Not Braam, who seems to revel in the locals shy grins and giggles as they respond to his greetings, enquiries and banter. Instead of envying his fluency I'm impressed by his openness, with the ease with which he relates to people others mildly grimace at.

The three hour drive is all too short, and at the guesthouse in D'Kar I find dinner ready, while Braam drives off to meet with Kuru organizers. In the dining room a middle-aged couple from Britain sit waiting for supper. The two had worked as volunteers in the area years ago, and have returned for a short vacation and, as it turned out, a scouting mission for possible ways to come back to Botswana. The discussion is pleasant and engaging, and I feel informed and able--privileged even--to speak knowledgeably about the projects, successes and challenges I've seen and heard about.

After the meal we linger under the starry night and chat before heading in for the evening. "By the way," says the husband to me. "The man you came in with? Was that the famous Braam LeRoux?" I answer, barely able to contain the broad grin on my face.
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • You must enter a comment
  • You must enter your name
  • You must enter a valid name (" & < > \ / are not accepted).
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: