Posted by: kcullen75 | September 13, 2012

a growing stream of kids and dogs ………… pt 2

It was my fifth day at Botshabelo that I received my induction by Leigh and Nicole. This was primarily a list of do’s and don’ts for my three months there. Perhaps stupidly I found that I had already crossed the line of many of the don’ts. With a few of the people and children in the community affected by the HIV or Aids virus, and other blood born ailments there were precautions that needed to be taken, and I hadn’t considered that the main concern was not for something being possibly transferred from someone to me, but vice versa. This made perfect sense once I heard it as especially with something such as the HIV virus where a person’s immune system is greatly compromised, there is a much greater risk of me making them sick than the other way around. On my first day alone I had two children come to me with bleeding wounds and I had taken them straight to wash the blood off before finding someone who could dress them. I hadn’t even thought at the time that I may have been putting them in danger.

The other, and more difficult to accept precaution, was allowing the kids to be too intimate in their play with me. Not difficult to accept in the sense that I didn’t agree with it, but in the way it changed my interaction with the children (though after some time I’ll be honest I kinda forgot about it again). But this precaution was due to the past of many of the children which involved sexual abuse. Often form a very, very young age. So the simple act of having a young child climb on your lap, or some such, became tainted by the knowledge that children of all ages there were much more sexually aware than any child ever should be. Out of the corner of your mind you were suddenly aware of where a child’s hand might be and the like, and with often four or five –or more – children vying for your attention, you can see how this became difficult. And if a preschool girl was to absent-mindedly lift her skirt up higher than it should be, it wasn’t necessarily because of an innocent naivety of her own body – but perhaps the opposite. It is very difficult to view children in this way and still view them as children, but in time I think I was able to once again view them for what they are: children. Children who have had a very different, sad and painful awakening to the world, but still at the end of the day, almost in defiance of it all, children. This is something, again, that children share with animals. And a reason that we are so often drawn to both, especially when we grow weary of the world, because underneath it all, at the core I think we are all still children, and we are all at the end of the day animals. What better company could we keep?

What else came out of the induction was my main role for the next three months, which was the animals. I was to oversee the care of the many animas kept by the Botshabelo community. This covered the cows (eight when I started), the sheep (twenty three when I started), the two ponies, the pigs (I shamefully can’t remember the number when I started) and a core group of dogs. The other dogs and all of the cats were fed at the houses where they stayed. It was still a few days before I got the instructions and began the role (I was constantly reminded that everything ran on African time, but my assurance that I had plenty of experience with Thai time didn’t seem to hold much weight. It seems to me that it is really only a small, but influential section of the world that runs, likely to our detriment, by what we call “on time”). Basically my role was to make sure that all the things that had to happen with the animals on a daily basis happened – and on time. Other things discussed were possibly taking art classes and music classes with the children, but unfortunately this didn’t eventuate, but there was much more to be done outside of looking after the animals – too much to mention everything here, as like at ENP, everything was subject to change at a moment’s notice, and you always had to be prepared for anything.

Such as when in my second week there and electrical failure saw the water supply dwindle and in many cases disappear from the pump fed tanks that supplied most of the complex. The only still viable water supply was in the village, where a giant wheel turned manually fed a raised tank and water could then be extracted from a tap. As this was the water source for the entire village already, using it to supply the well over 200 children and workers at Botshabelo for drinking, cooking and bathing, the almost three days that the water was off became mostly concerned with ferrying water constantly in buckets and any other available container. So every spare moment I headed out there, turning that wheel for hours each day. Certainly kept us all busy, and for many of the children it became a good excuse for skipping their baths – which was tempting at times given how cool the evenings were. Something that took me a little by surprise. I had been warned it would be cool, but hadn’t expected to find myself by the end of the three months sleeping fully clothed and under two blankets. Most upsetting about this was having to wear shoes all day and night. Having grown used to traipsing around barefoot in Thailand, confining my feet to shoes and socks for such an extended time was akin to being imprisoned; and I can tell you my feet really screamed. There is really nothing like walking barefoot over natural ground, even though it may take a little time to build up the ugly big calluses that allow you to do it with full confidence, it is worth it. Day by day though I watched those calluses soften with sadness.

One of the earlier projects I took on was cleaning out the paddock where the cows, sheep and ponies lived. The cows would spend the days on the large, basically empty land out the back, while the sheep and ponies were kept in the large paddock. Daniel, one of the older boys who was n o longer in school, was charged with taking the cows back and forth, and on many occasions I joined him on the walk out, often jealous of his days which more or less consisted of sitting under a tree keeping an eye that the cows didn’t stray too far, and making sure they made it back for afternoon watering. He always looked very serene and content under that tree – but perhaps he was also a little bored. When I left I gave him a bag full of books which he seemed quite pleased with, so I have fond images of him now sitting under the same tree, flicking through a tattered copy of a book on African magic and superstition written by a Nobel Laureate, glancing up occasionally t see that his cows are still there.

But an immediate part of sorting out the animal paddock was getting fresh installed. It became clear quickly that the only water source at that dry time of year, when the runoff fed dam was bone dry, was the black water that ran out of one of the nearby houses. Daniel told me that was where they had been drinking since the Dam had dried up, so we carried in some old bath tubs which had to be filled by hose twice a day, which had to be taken from one of the houses and returned each time immediately so it wouldn’t ‘disappear’, and the hose fitting had to be gotten from a house where it was kept under lock and key as they were one of the first things that would disappear; and later, when the closest tap at the school broke, two hoses had to be joined together to stretch about 60-70 metres, through two fences and past all the crèche children who tended to find a hose in their territory irresistible – and well, you can see how a simple thing like getting fresh water to the animals daily could become quite complex.

After that it was a clean up, and given the daily traffic of so many children along with the villagers who seemed to see the paddock as a safer dumping ground to the paths they used (sometimes, not always), especially after payday on the weekends. Saturday morning always brought a fresh supply of broken glass along the fence line. Added to that was enough wire, barbed and otherwise, strewn around to have surrounded the paddock with another makeshift fence, and various other bits and pieces that the kids seemed to have dragged in their to play with, but forgotten to take out again. I’m not sure how long it had been since Thabiso, the guy who had my role prior, had left , but it seemed a long time as I took wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of material out of there for days on end, eventually resorting to the large trailer take all the larger stuff. But when it was finished it was well worth it. It looked like any animal paddock you might see on a farm, and walking around no longer found my foot snagged on yet another piece of half buried wire, which for galloping ponies, or scattering sheep, is a real menace. Added to that was the extensive build up of waste in the pens where the cows and sheep were confined in the evening. I don’t know how many wheelbarrows I used before I got down to dirt, but the pile of manure that built up outside by the end of it caught the eye of more than one villager or teacher who came to me to ask if they could take some for their garden.

I really enjoyed this work. The physicality of it, the autonomy, and the pleasure of seeing the results in the end. A small difference to the lives of the animals perhaps, albeit a satisfying one. But except for the interchanging pair of children who were assigned each day to animal duties, it didn’t give me much interaction with the kids. That changed soon however, with the assigning of duty manager.

There seemed to be a lot of changes in the structure of management in the time I was there, particularly early on. One of those changes was in the role of duty manager. The basic idea was each day two senior people there would take the role, which put them as the person who oversaw all of the duties of that day. Meaning that once said duties were performed, it would be reported to the duty managers and they would check it off their checklist. It more often meant that the person on duty had to chase around the people who were supposed to be doing said duties and trying to get them to do it. I was, to my surprise, put on duty each Thursday. I had said I was willing to do whatever they asked me to do, as I was just there to help in whatever way I could, so I didn’t object, but I did wonder how someone who really had no idea how things were done there, was to make sure that they got done. When I mentioned to the workers in the kitchen while peeling potatoes, that I had been put on duty, the amount of laughter that ensued was unnerving. The person who was on duty with me know exactly what to do though, right? When I informed them that Joseph was to be my duty partner, the hysterics reached another level. Joseph is the husband of Leigh, and his job there is as driver. I was assured he probably had less idea what the duties involved than I did, and would likely be about as interested in finding out as the potato I was peeling would be! Hmmm ……….



  1. Karl, this is great, thank you so much for sharing. Are you still in Botswana? We are on the same continent so if you need some R&R by the beach come to Ghana, you are always welcome, there is plenty of room here (although sorry-oh it’s still cold at night!!). Not quite as rural as you are but the people are just as beautiful and welcoming. It is a beautiful place. Take care and keep the updates coming. Cindy

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