In 1968 my parents decided that working in Botswana would be a good idea. In many ways it changed their lives. It was so very different from Denmark. Africa entered their hearts: the amazing sunsets and sun rises, the music, the laughter, the warmth, the wild animals, community building and deep friendships.
My father taught at Swaneng Hill Secondary School which was part of ‘The Brigades’ a larger educational initiative by Patrick Van Rensburg involving practical skills as part of education. My mother was part of the ‘Farmer’s Brigade’, trying desperately to deliver milk without flies – a challenge she never overcame
She was also part of ‘Basadi baba i tusang’ and I have no idea what I have just written here, it is just as I heard it as a child. It was a project empowering women through getting together making baskets, fabrics, and ceramics, and then selling them.
I was six and so started school at Swaneng Hill School – in Serowe Seretze Kharma’s home town, if you happen to have watched ‘United Kingdom.’
We were a handful of white kids among blacks and Botswana was a country of black and white integration in the midst of other countries living the apartheid system.
Today I am sitting in my bed at Victoria Falls, on the last day of a trip, fifty years later. My father at 85, my sister suffering with epilepsy that keeps her in a drug-induced haze much of the time, my youngest son and I. We travelled 1500km from the bottom of the country and the capital Gabarone, up to Serowe, Francistown, Elephant Sands, Kasane and now we are here in Zimbabwe. We have battled a tough flu the whole time, but Panadol has kept us going.
So how was the trip?
Everything is a bunch of moments – moments of tiredness and irritation, moments of surrendering to the most beautiful music and sunsets, moments of enjoying good food, of laughing, moments of just pushing through, moments of surprise, moments of encountering unexpected helpfulness. There have been moments of reconnecting with old memories, of uncovering memories thought forgotten, smells, houses, trees, places.
One surprise has been the number of elephants on the road – we have seen so many! Another surprising moment came when I was doing a mindfulness and self-compassion workshop for healthcare workers (mainly doctors) and found that the issues are the same as in Australia, US and Europe – stress due to not enough staff, too many things to do, compassion fatigue, feeling not good enough etc.
Also, I have felt a familiarity being here. Old, stored body memories have made me feel safe, calm and at home in an odd way.
How has mindfulness been part of the trip for me? No stress at all, not comparing actuality with expectations, so not grieving and not getting frustrated over our ‘unwellness’. It just was. Not worrying ahead, just being present every day and being open to experiences that arose.
So thank you, Botswana, once again. You have an important election coming up, and big decisions need to be made. Your past has shown that you can do it.
Wishing you all the very best for the next fifty years.