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Saturday, 3 June 2017

Meet the people of Pitsane, Botswana

Sunset over Pitsane

I have been in nothing more fortunate than in my connections with people during my travels. There is not a single trip I can recall, which has not brought me new friendships. I am not talking about the kinds of friendships where you carelessly remember that you made an acquaintance while spending time somewhere. I am talking about the kind of friendships where you are covered by another person, and where you provide a cover for them; the kind of friendship you feel safe in.

Birds building communal nests in a large tree in Pitsane

My stay in Pitsane, the first town across the border into Botswana, when you enter through the Ramatlabama border control gate, brought me into contact with a number of people I now count among my friends. I won't reveal their identities for their own privacy sake, but I will try to introduce you to a sample of the gems that are to be found in this remote locality.

A church in Pitsane that is still in use, despite its dilapidated appearance

The first of these is a friend I already had while she was staying in South Africa. This friend and I had traveled long and empty stretches of road through the Northern Cape in silence and sporadic conversation. When you are comfortable in silence with someone else, you are truly comfortable in each others' company. When she invited me to come spend some time with her and the new man in her life, so that I could see the changes her life had taken, I jumped at the opportunity. I was excited for her in the new venture she had undertaken after her husband passed away. She was courageous enough to move to another country and to invest in a partnership where she would be co-owner of a dairy farm. There are not many women I know, who would have the guts to do what she did, and I admired her strength and resilience. Going to Botswana would not only be an opportunity to see a country I had never been to, but it would also be a chance to experience a different way of living, a whole new culture, and most importantly, to find out what it was that gave some people the strength to carry on and soar even higher than before, where others would simply crumble.

Grand new ventures on a dairy farm in Botswana

I wish I had an easy answer to the last statement, but there simply does not seem to be one. I have been able to observe the process of healing and restoration that this friend underwent after the passing of her husband, and it has allowed me the opportunity to make a couple of observations, as an outsider. Right from the outset, she was determined to overcome the tragedy of her husband's death. He had died after a three-month battle with cancer, and during that time, she had been able to adjust to the idea of his death, although holding out faith and hope for his healing until the very last minute. I do believe that, despite the hope, she had somehow already started with the phases of grieve and therefore the healing and restoration processes started much earlier than expected.

Breaking new ground in more than one way

The new friend she made and took into her life, also happened to be her new business partner. I almost instantly felt comfortable in his company. I found him to be a clever, witty and extremely knowledgeable person. His strongest attribute however, would have to be his compassion for people. I found in him a man with a vision that not only looked towards his own prosperity, but was aimed at bringing it to those around him. Whenever he shared his ideas for the future, they would inevitably include ways to uplift, educate, train, or improve the lives of the people of the community. It was apparent that this man was loved and respected by people from all walks of life. But what impressed me most, was the fact that he showed equal compassion, care and respect in return, regardless of the person.

Putting the flock out to pasture

I made an unexpected friend in the maid that worked in my friend's house. As I spent my days painting, she would pass by and started to show a keen interest. As with all things that we are passionate about, it did not take me long to start talking about art with her, once I found her an interested student. She took to the understanding and interpretation of art, like a fish to water. She understood the impact that the type of line, the choice of colour combinations, the style, etc. could have on the message the art wanted to convey. I do not know which of us were more enthralled. Once we had bridged the great social divide between us, through the medium of art, we started to talk more freely about other subjects as well. We discovered a love for the same music. But most importantly, I discovered a sister in Christ. This was a true believer who could tell stories of how God intervened in her life to save her. I read her some of my poems, and she told me some of the folk lore stories from her culture. I will always think fondly of this young woman, as a younger sister I have in another country.

Blood red sunsets in Pitsane

It is no secret that I delight in children. They instinctively seem to know this and will approach me of their own accord. As a result, I tend to make very young friends during my travels as well. My trip to Botswana was no exception to this rule. I met the sweetest little four-year old girl who was enchanted by my iPad. I have a number of games on there for my nephews and nieces, and these were the ones that drew her attention as well. She would walk away from home to come and visit with me. Inevitably we ended up painting together, and at last we also baked together. This seems to be the natural flow with me and children.

Some 'friends' I made on one of my hikes

Another child that I was thrilled to get to know, was a preteen boy with a knack to speak the truth boldly and unashamedly. What is not to like about that?! This was a true boy who would take along his wire car to push along the road when we went walking. He would tell me about school, archery, making new friends, and his dogs. Yet, this boy had a seriousness that reminded of an adult. I wondered at the fact that someone this young could be so certain of who was already. He had his value system sorted out, his priorities in place, and norms established. And woe to the child who behaved contrary to these. He would tell them quite matter-of-factly to get their act together. I am very excited to watch this boy turn into a young man. Sometimes you just get the impression that someone is going to make a huge impact on his world, and this young boy, gives you that impression in spades.

One afternoon a neighbour made an impromptu decision to pick me up in his truck and cart me off to a nearby dam I did not know about. We had a jolly time driving around the dam and I got to know more about him, about living in the area, as well as the fauna and flora.

What I loved most about the people of Pitsane, was their down-to-earth attitude to life. Nobody bothered with putting on airs. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing backward about these people. Their manners are impeccable. Only, they don't pretend or put up a false facade. You are also immediately welcomed and made to feel like a member of the family. Nothing illustrated this better than the evening when the neighbour ran barefoot across the street to make us an impromptu invitation to join the family for dinner. The daughter and her new husband had just returned from honeymoon and they had brought fresh fish and abalone from the South African West Coast. We were told not to bother with shoes and to come as we were. This is how my first introduction to abalone, happened to be in Botswana! This was also where I got to taste pumpkin jam for the first time. This you should really try to get your hands on, as it is delicious.

There was lots of time to paint, and I even got to give my friend a few lessons. This is her work.

What I liked most of all, was finding fellow believers in most of the people I crossed paths with. We did not all have the same religious backgrounds, and if any of us were so inclined, I am sure we could have ended up having frustratingly long-winded arguments about things that have no eternal value. What we did have in common prevailed, and this was a common love for God our Father, His Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. As a result, I ended up attending a church service held in someone's living room, led by a preacher from a denomination I was largely unfamiliar with, with a liturgy that was strange to me. Yet, it was fine, for at the center of this was the One I love more than anything or anyone else in the world. It also meant that I attended a number of of Bible Study meetings and made a whole range of new friends. There was the dear man who struggled to acquaint an ill-tempered man's behaviour with Christianity, the woman who kept the peace amid the struggles, the quiet giant who brimmed with self-confidence, his energetic straight-talking wife whose honesty impressed, and the woman who had gotten lost in the crowd of people she had given a say in her life, that never should have gained a foothold.

The sky, as snapped through a moving car window, on route back from Gaberone

I concluded that people all over the world are largely the same, facing the same problems, and dealing with the same issues. Yet, they are uniquely individual and each and every one of them is precious beyond words. The best advice I can give any traveler is to appreciate the people you meet on your journeys. Each of them will contribute positively to form your character and the person you become. And they will leave you with a host of fond memories to look back upon.

Some more friendly neighbourhood youths I met on one of my hikes

Marietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy the books here:
You can purchase Designs By Miekie 1 here.
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