Saturday, December 8, 2012

No honey, Evian is for millionaires

I ferried a woman from Boston to and from a little village west of Vumbara to start the day. Since I’d never been there, I had the guide sit in the front seat to point me out the usual LZ. I did half an orbit before deciding that I wouldn’t land there. Power lines (that supplies only the tower for the cell phones each of the poor villagers seems to have) on one side, cattle fence on the other, and all ringed by 15 meter Mopane trees with a volleyball net smack dab in the center for good measure. Turns out the volleyball net was a recent addition.

We set down in the soccer pitch on the other side of the road. It made the heli a little dirty but dust is a statistic I feel comfortable dealing with. Rather than sit with the heli, I elected to join the village tour.

Ms. Boston runs a travel company that caters to those that want to volunteer a bit of time or money to the area they visit so they feel better about how much more than most of the world they have.

The man that greeted us in tan polyester slacks and the shoes Chevy Chase wore in ‘Vacation,’ sent a boy ahead to ring the gong. They wack the piece of metal with a stout stick and it makes a helluva noise to announce something special but I doubt anyone missed the arrival of a helicopter.

Ms. Boston and the villagers exchanged gifts, then they had a big meeting about what could be done to help the village. Sam Kennison’s routine about “moving where the food is” looped through my mind. White Loafers suggested we take a look at his campsites.

We bounced along in the back of a truck to a beautiful hill, which here is a meter higher than the surrounding area, with a fresh breeze blowing. Shiny Tan Slacks prattled on through an interpreter with his plans for 14 tent sites, mokoro (dug out canoes) tours, and game drives (game? what game? those are cattle).

Everyone agreed it was a wonderful plan bound to bring wealth to the village. What idealists from the East Coast and uneducated villagers don’t understand is that folks don’t come to Africa to see bloated kids with flies on their noses laying in dusty garbage strewn streets, not the people with money, anyway. They come to drink gin and tonics, talk about the shopping in Dubai and to see the lions and zebras and everything else that’s on the other side of that 700-mile long fence I pointed out when we flew over it less than an hour ago.

So someone’s gonna go back to America and add a page to a website offering a unique opportunity to give something back to a village in Botswana. Well-meaning tourists will give a week of their holiday to help build a bunch of cottages that will never be slept in and the village women will weave a pile of reed baskets that will never be bought.

I returned from that mission to learn that Mitch had been called to a med-evac so I had double the workload. It would be a busy day full of short hops because an airstrip was closed for maintenance.

I packed the helicopter full of an assortment of bags, boxes, hard-sided suitcases and a butler. We ran into one of the thunderstorms that pop up in a moment’s notice this time of year. I tried to go around it but when visibility went from not able to see very far to a white room with beige trim, I set down next to a very surprised giraffe.

After tying down the blades so they wouldn’t cause any damage (the airspeed indicator read 40knots while we were parked on the ground), I hopped back in, thoroughly soaked, to learn what I could about being at the beck and call of a man that had cracked the Forbes Top 300. Turns out most of what I carried in the back was bottled water brought on their 737 from Norway. “Drink as much as you like, I can’t be bothered to tote it back.”

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