Sunday, September 9, 2012

And the Blowfish

Just in case you think I spend all my time on photo safari or kicking back sundowners with wealthy tourists, I saw a different side of Africa yesterday. We have a government contract to deliver bahuti (every citizen of Bots over sixty gets a monthly pension) to six villages scattered about the Delta.

These villages live the same way they have since time began. The northern enclaves subsistence fish and have water for gardens. In the dry season (which curiously is when the Delta has the most water) they catch extra fish that they take to market along with reeds cut for thatched roofs or weaving of baskets and hats. Looking at the twisted mess of oxbows and marsh from the air, one wonders how in the wide world of sports they ever find their way.

The southern and easterly villages have a harder go of it. Some of the year they have enough fish to eat and if they’re lucky, extra to cure for when the water dries up. Farmers suffer all manner of trials. The plants that can get enough water are either eaten or trampled by elephants. So they concentrate on beef cattle.

Farmers get 8x8 kilometer concessions but that isn’t enough to raise many cows in this environment. They stay out with their herds for weeks at a time, always pushing the cattle to fresh pasture. Neither fresh nor pasture should be used to describe the grazing land. It’s usually a step or two between clumps of dead grass. Lions and leopards kill cattle and cattlemen on a regular basis. I picked up a copy of the Ngami Times (Maun’s weekly newspaper) the day I arrived. There was a blurb about a farmer being killed by a lion on the front page, below the fold.

That farmer lived in Ditsipi, the last stop on our pension delivery. The government official (Agnes, a six-footer who’s knees were constantly pushing into my seatback as I flew) and the state policeman (who dozed with the barrel of his AK-47 on his foot and his head on the butt while Agnes passed out a 250 pula reward to the folks that survived six decades here) walked to the village center while I put the cover on the helicopter (ever wonder why Bruce’s Custom Covers don’t fit on the R-44? It would’ve earned a C- in 8th grade Home-Ec but nobody’s built a better mousetrap yet.)

The whole village turns up to watch the action, try to get money from their newly rich relatives or scam rides to town. Last week I had to drive out to meet a helicopter. I gave him fuel, he gave me an engineer. We drove through a little village and a man flagged me down to ask if I could give his wife a ride to town. I said sure, hop in the back. Before I knew it, I had fifteen people in the bed of the truck with more chasing us as I drove away. Imagine giving one a ride and seven people trying to hang off the skids as we took off.

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