WE ARE THE WOMEN WHO TRAVEL TO AFRICA (7) / by Mariam Harraz

Suncream stopped doing its job at this point, my face was turning purple from how dark I was becoming. I could see my tan lines from my scarf and the colour change was as if it was black and white.

Talking about black and white, Botswana’s national animal is a Zebra and on their national flag they have a stripe of black and white. The story behind it is beautiful and I can’t promise I can tell you it just as I heard it but I will try anyway.

Seretse Khama was born into one of the powerful families when Botwana was Bechuanaland Protectorate. He studied abroad in United Kingdom and when he returned he was married to a British white women which at the time there was a ban against interracial marriage under the apartheid system. Khama was forced to leave back to United Kingdom with his wife and exiled from Bechuanaland in 1951. After many protests and evidence of racism they were allowed to return in 1956 as private citizens. A few years later Botswana gained its independence in 1966 and Khama was elected as first president. The reason the Zebra is the national animal is the very same reason the flag has black and white, to signify the unity of colour, black and white and interracial marriages, at that point colour was no longer an issue and the country was proud of being the first country in Africa to not be divided based on colour. 

Twenty kilometres after the border we noticed signs telling us to be careful of Elephants in the area, and it soon became the norm to see herds crossing over causing traffic or grazing on the side of the road.

You could tell we were heading East because of the greenery in sight. Botswana is capped in savanna, amber and olive grassland dispersed with shrubs and oddly spaced trees as well as wildlife everywhere grazing wherever they can. I couldn’t make much out of it yet.

Botswana was small, yet, it took us it took us a day and a half before we reached Muan, our campsite right by the Delta. Time passed by quick, we spent the last two days playing games (our favourite game was Monopoly, it caused so much competition that at times we had to stop playing), napping when the heat wasn’t extreme, catching up on laundry and just relaxing. I panicked over leaving my clothes out to dry as there were so many monkeys at our campsite, they would grab anything they can and god knows what they do with it all I knew is I wasn’t going to get it back.

The morning we were heading into the Delta came and I was certainly not looking forward to it. We were told the night before that any movement on the Mokoro (a type of canoe which was our mode of transport) would land us in the water, and to avoid moving suddenly considering that we would be surrounded by flying insects, water snakes, fish and animals.

We packed a small bag with only the basics: pyjama’s, swimming suit, a 5 litre water bottle, a shirt, suncream and of course for me a packet of wet wipes and all my camera equipment. 

Layers of suncream slathered on us we drove through a deserted place which in winter the river flows through. It was extremely dry and you couldn’t hear a sound not even the 4x4 behind us.

When we arrived at our departure point, Jasmine and I went with Mama Julia (Mama is used a sign of respect in Africa) who projected her confidence in silence. 

Jasmine and I had our differences in the beginning, but we came to understand each other, I understood her anxiety of being in groups, I was once like that, and it was just a matter of time before she opened up. Something she caught on was my fear of the wildlife, and as much as she laughed about it, she in a way also tried to protect me, and I admired her for that. Just like when going on the Mokoro she sat in front because I panicked about being attacked by the insects whilst going through the bushes. She showed me it was fine, I had nothing to worry about.

The delta was unbelievable, our Mokoro was shaped in a way that when we were sitting in it we were levelled with the water, the reeds were raised over us. The water was somewhat clear covered by the plants and leaves growing from beneath. The pearly water Lily’s that rose just above the water surface stood out amongst the cobalt delta and the olive savannah. We glided through the water and reeds in absolute tranquility, experiencing every sound any species makes, seeing frogs, snakes, fish and even insects swimming right next to us. Two hours of canoeing in the delta was amicable. 

There was a moment when an elephant was grazing on the edge of the delta and as we passed right by it so low in the water it towered over us. Leaving us all in such awe. I realised how much I loved it, even though I was extremely afraid being here, I loved every moment of it, the nature bewildered me it gave me a sort of peace I have never had before. 

When we finally arrived at the island we got off the Mokoro’s and it was as if we went swimming in the water. Sweat dripped down our faces and our shirts and trousers stuck to our bodies. We moved everything off the Mokoro’s onto our camp area, hardest bit accomplished. The Polars dug a whole to act as a toilet and told us how it is to be used. We camped in an area filled with trees and bushes our tents were slightly slanted because of the ground. 

Within a few minutes after lunch, Colleen could no longer stand the heat and jumped in the delta with her clothes on to cool down, we all ran in after - I was finally not afraid anymore of what was in there, it didn’t matter in the heat.

The Polers (the locals who were operating the Mokoro) were a mix of men and women of different ages, apart from canoeing through the delta they were taking us on a walking safari and helping us with camping. They were such great company. The delta was so refreshing, we swam for ages and played a few games of tag. After we got out (it only took Colleen about an hour before she was fully dry again) and changed we headed to do a safari walk in the island. 

We were briefed to be extremely quiet to not disturb the animals and to walk in a straight line so they don’t see us as a threat, so the only thing we could do is giggle. The island was sensational, we walked for two hours and managed to see Elephants, Zebra’s, Baboons and a Hippo. Walking amongst them was different to sitting in a truck besides them, nowhere to escape and seeing them from a lower level.

When we got back dinner was served and this time the women had to serve the men getting down on one knee to present it just the way they do it in Botswana. I of course refused to do it. 

After dinner the Polers lit up a fire and started singing their beautiful national song. I don’t know what it is about African music but it brings out an emotion in me I can’t describe, all I know that it makes me feel very content. Maybe it’s the authenticity in their songs, their voices well composed together and their tenderness when singing. It shows you how they don’t need the music industry we have right now to be satisfied and enjoy what they do. We sang and danced around the fire until we no longer could, going to bed feeling the harmony that surrounded us brought to us by the beautiful Polers.

The day after we were going for a cruise in Chobe river to end our incredible 5 days in Bostwana and face what I didn’t know yet - the four worst days of our trip in Zambia.

By Mariam Harraz

For the Arabic version: 

http://www.huffpostarabi.com/mariam-harraz/-7_4_b_9689920.html