So we did it! We walked the 150km (in reality only 120 km) across the Makgadikgadi Pans! The trip started off a little annoying, with some transportation mix ups, delays and dealing with freezing temperatures. We arrived the first night to our campsite in the dark and couldn’t see our hand in front of our face, let alone the scenery. I woke up the first morning extremely tired and grumpy from only getting a few hours of sleep – I was up most of the night shivering in my Zehrs sleeping bag thinking about my bed in Mochudi (which is comparably warmer than the sleeping bag) wondering why I was doing this... BUT, once the sun was rising and we opened the door to the tent, the view of the pans made it all too obvious why we were there! It was b-e-a-utiful.
Still, the morning started a little rough... There was nothing but a shovel to dig yourself a hole with to do your business, so after I attempted to dig through the rock hard sand, I gave up and decided I might be able to hold it for three days. After a quick breakfast, we all bundled up into our layers of pants, socks, shirts, sweaters, toques and winter gloves and began our walk, excited for what lay ahead. After 15 minutes, we exhausted the change in scenery for the next 72 hours and became focused on reaching the finish line. The first 2 days were fairly easy-going for me. I had friends to keep me company, and thanks to my hiking shoes and socks, I remained blister-free! But on the last day, I had some glands popping out of my groin, my right hip was popping out of place, Maryam had the flu, Spojmai was bleeding with blisters and Ruby and Amy were walking slowly behind. Everyone was too tired/annoyed to do any talking, and so, it gave me a lot of time to reflect, thinking about Botswana, dreaming of home, thinking about the travel plans, and trying to answer “Why care?”... after all, the walk was being run by an organization called YCARE.
Maybe I was tired (and still am) from the walk, but I couldn’t come up with any sort of good reason. Even after spending 3 months in Botswana, I still don’t know what I would say to someone if they challenged me and said “Why care?”. It reminds me of the pharmacist I went to fill my Malaria pill prescription. After being told I was going to Botswana, he replied by twisting his face and asking “WHY BOTSWANA?”. I didn’t have a good answer for him then, and after 3 months, I still don’t. I could talk about the youth in Botswana who need to be given the skills, the support, the friendship, the CHANCE to make it... I could talk about the AIDS patients who are left abandoned by friends and family who need a companion to talk to in their dying days... I could talk about the environmental destruction that is happening every day to one of the most beautiful countries on the planet because of a lack of awareness and education... but would that change your mind? I mean, aren’t these already things we all know? Aren’t these issues being thrown at us daily by the media? Isn’t caring something we all should know from the way we were raised, and not something that makes us scrunch our face in confusion?
So I’ve come to the conclusion, with the help of my good friend Jason Mraz, that “Justifying reasons why is an absolutely insane resolution to live by”. When I get home, I’m not going to exhaust myself by trying to get people to care. I am excited, however, to talk about my experience and perhaps bridge a more personal relationship between my friends in Botswana and my friends in Canada. I hope to be an example that anyone can be a source of hope and change and that “caring” isn’t always as hard as it sounds. I also hope that those who have been following my blog realize that “caring” doesn’t mean travelling across the globe and living in a village to start projects. Instead in simply means acting with your heart to help out others around you. I was telling my friend Maryam that in Mochudi, I was able to do some pretty cool things... I got a recycling and composting program developed, I helped build a house, I developed some life skills and study skills curriculums, etc... but at the end of the day, the people that I’ve come across aren’t going to remember me as “Mateo, who organized that cleaning campaign” or “Kagiso, who helped us learn how to use flash cards” or “Matt, who taught us how to make smores at camp” (I have a few different names here...) Instead, they are going to remember me for the relationship that I formed with them, the tie that they now have in Canada, the trust that was built and the friend that they made. I had been away from SSI for almost a week with the YCARE walk and meetings. When I was “reunited” with the kids on Thursday, they were at a camp at Mokolodi. When I came into their view, one of the boys, Knox, came running at me with a huge smiles, his arms wide open and jumped at me with a big hug. The rest followed, giving me props and doing the “snapping handshake”. Knowing that I have been there for them as a friend is more satisfying that anything else I could have done.
And I think this wraps up my time in Moch. I’m posting this on Monday and my last night in Mochudi is tomorrow (making Wednesday my last day at SSI). My stomach is in a knot as I am ready to leave the country, but not yet ready to leave the kids. I’ve planned to spend my last day with them just taking it easy – I’ve prepared a slideshow with pictures of them from the last 3 months, I made red and white bracelets for all the kids (something they love to wear) and have prepared a few short activities to do that will help me say goodbye. Tinny and Lisa, my co-worker and boss, have said they want to take me to the airport on the 14th of August, after travelling, as one last chance to say goodbye, so that will be nice. And then, I’ll be home-sweet-home on the 15th. My sister’s birthday is on the 16th... I can’t help but feel like I’m the best brother in the world – what could be a better birthday present? Haha. And in case I am not able to get internet on the 6th, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD!! I’ll be sure to have a beer in your name.
Thanks everyone for watching and see you all on the other side!
Cheers and Go Siame,