Hopefully by this time tomorrow, I’ll be on my way to the CKGR again, this time to collect the kids. I have my reservations about this trip—I mean reservations in addition to the normal concerns about getting into a truck and entering a roadless, waterless, network-less land with nothing but open skies and lions to keep you company. At least this time I know what practical challenges I have in front of me. I have reservations because this is a “Pick-Up” trip, not a “Drop-Off” trip. As my friend Cherry explained to me today, Drop-Offs are drastically different from Pick-Ups. In Drop-Offs, the kids are excited to go home. They sing, they scream, they dance, and they yell the driver’s name whenever we get within 30km of a settlement. In Pick-Ups, the kids are terrified of going back. They scream, they scream, they scream, and, I’m told, if they have the guts, they scream while they run away. My counterpart says she doesn’t have time for that—it’s either get on or get left behind. If someone runs away, she’s not going after them. There’s some wisdom to that attitude, there’s also some callousness. If I absolutely had to choose one camp or the other, I think I’d say it was wisdom, I’d choose to leave them behind. To be honest, there are too many kids to pick up and the CKGR is too big to go looking for just one. If I had to leave my comfortable home and my warm, happy family for a cold, unfamiliar, and anonymous hostel, I’d scream and run away too. But don’t tell Cherry I said that. Who knows, my opinion may change.
Cherry says that some people here just don’t care about the San children. I can see that. On my trips to Ghanzi, I see the kids picking through their garbage in their tattered, dirty clothes, asking for money, licking old Styrofoam lunch trays like dogs. People ignore them, myself included. It’s just what we do. The other day, I saw a safari bus in front of the white-person grocery store. The kids swarmed it like a pack of vultures on a corpse, next thing I know, the kids are inside the bus exploring the seats, the windows, the engine. The amused and/or terrified Lekhoa (White people or, literally translated, Ocean Vomit) are lounging with them, talking to them, hoping, I’m guessing, to inspire them to pursue another life.
School is not compulsory here. These kids have chosen a life of freedom on the street, away from the barbed wire of the hostels, away from the freedom of education. I don’t know if anyone ever sat them down and convinced them that education is important. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had. Cherry’s organization is dedicated to the education of San Children. They used to drive around the streets in their trucks and pick up kids to bring them to “drop out camp” and convince them to go back to school. Of course, now, they register the kids and ask permission from their parents, but the concept is the same: Take a kid off the street, show him a good time, stimulate his mind, and convince him that education is worth pursuing. To be honest, I don’t know if I totally believe it myself-- I know too many people here who have education and nothing else. I also know plenty of people who have lots of things and no education. There’s a lady that’s infamous around New Xade for being drunk. Ironically, she is one of a handful of New Xade adults who has her Form 5 certificate (high school diploma). When she gets drunk, she yells and curses in fairly fluent English. It always surprises me.
The New Xade Coolway Bar burned down yesterday afternoon. My friend Kago, the policeman, told me this when we ran into each other at the white-person supermarket in Ghanzi. At first I was shocked, was anyone hurt? Is everyone ok? Yes he said, then with a smile, maybe now the old men won’t drink so much. Kago is a stand-up guy, he’s never once hit on me and I’ve never seen him bring one drink to his lips. He checks on me when I’m sick and called me when he found out my mother was in the hospital. His livingroom has got 2 pieces of furniture: a TV stand and a neon pink beanbag chair. He’s going on vacation today until Mid-May. He’s taking a certificate course, I think in computers. He says he wants to get another job. He says New Xade is getting too difficult for a policeman. I’m going to miss him, though since I’m being honest in this entry, I’m going to admit that I’m skeptical that he’s going to get another job. Jobs are difficult to come by here, and I see too many people who do nothing in good jobs and too many people who do too much who have nothing.
My friend Bicky is one of the latter. He’s the coordinator of the Orphan Support Group and has been for the past 3+ years. He’s a hardworking father of 5. The problem is, he’s self-employed and highly idealistic. In 2009, he was the preacher at the church. He left that job in 2010 to become a safari guide. In 2011, he returned to New Xade because his family needed him. Now he’s starting 3 different enterprises: running a tuckshop, raising goats, and campaigning for political office. At public events, if he’s not involved in the planning, he’s walking around with a baseball cap, a large plastic bag full of Cheese Curls, and a fisherman’s vest. The fisherman’s vest has airtime cards and candies strategically hanging out of its pockets. “Ey-time, ey-time, ey-time!” he calls, like a hotdog vendor at a baseball game, “Suh-weeeeets!” I bought a “Love Lollipop” from him for 1 pula at the TB event. “It’s very nice!” he said.
Bicky is building an outdoor kitchen, a veranda, and a chicken coup simultaneously in his crowded front yard. When I last spoke to him in person, he basically told me he was done with the support group, “This village doesn’t care,” he said, wiping concrete dust from his forehead and keeping one eye on his fat 2-year-old son wearing pink hand-me-downs. “If I hadn’t given so much of my time to this group,” his voice trailed off, “I could be a rich man.” He reminds me of my father who used to walk around the house in his underwear, singing his favorite song from Fiddler on the Roof, “If I were a rich man, didee didee didee didee didee dum.” Now my father’s rich, but he’s too busy to call.
Ketelelo says he wants to be a doctor because he doesn’t want to be poor like this, he motions to his grandmother’s straw hut in New Xade. His grandmother looks at me from behind a stick fence and smiles shyly as she prepares dinner. Take a picture of the people in CKGR, he tells me. Take a picture and show it to them, that way they can see how remote they are.
A married San couple living in the CKGR won a court case a few weeks ago, giving them rights to re-open a borehole in Mothomelo, a settlement in the southern half of CKGR. I can say with some pride that I’ve been there and I’ve seen the borehole. It’s nothing more than a pipe coming from the ground, but it signifies decades of defiance and the end of centuries of pure hunting-gathering living. It signifies a new kind of development, one not dictated by the rules and whims of the developer. It signifies an unknown future, full of hope and potential, or disappointment and frustration. To read more about the court case, click here. I'm just kidding, click here.