2007.10.02: October 2, 2007: Headlines: COS - Botswana: The Pueblo Chieftain: April Lipinski served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana working with Bushmen

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Botswana: Peace Corps Botswana : Peace Corps Botswana: Newest Stories: 2007.10.02: October 2, 2007: Headlines: COS - Botswana: The Pueblo Chieftain: April Lipinski served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana working with Bushmen

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April Lipinski served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana working with Bushmen

April Lipinski served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana working with Bushmen

"Have you ever had an experience that you knew people would pay a million dollars for? Well, while in D’Kar, my organization received a grant to take the local bushman artists and dancers to the Moremi Game Reserve in northern Botswana. After a couple days of somewhat embarrassing begging, I was allowed to escort the Bushmen to the reserve. My counterparts and I, along with 20 artists and dancers, packed into three Land Rovers and drove the four hours to the Moremi Game Reserve, situated along the Okavango Delta, the largest delta in the world. In four days and three astonishing nights, our group witnessed a cheetah kill, saw hundreds of elephants play in blue waters of the delta alongside hippos. We saw lazy lions lounging in the shade of huge mapane trees and ran screaming from a large male elephant that had been lurking around our camp."

April Lipinski served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana working with Bushmen


Peace Corps volunteer spends memorable year with Bushmen


swore in as a Peace Corps volunteer on June 20, 2006. My assignment was on a privately owned farm called D’Kar, the only San-owned land in Botswana. The San, or Bushmen, is a generic term used for the fewer than 100,000 surviving descendants of an ancient indigenous culture that has lived in southern Africa for more than 20,000 years.

The Bushmen are most famously known for their endangered language group, Khoisan, which is made up of numerous clicking sounds. In Botswana, there are more than 50,000 San, the largest concentration in the world, and I had the grand opportunity to live with this group of people in the deep sands of the Kalahari Desert.

Initially, it was the cold, not the heat, that shocked me about the Kalahari Desert. Temperatures can dip below freezing during the winter months, making one appreciate the amenities of the Western world. However, the San Bushmen of eastern Botswana have never been fortunate enough to experience the luxury of heating units in their homes. In fact, many residents of this tiny village slept directly on the cold sands under a shelter of sticks and mud.

It was understandable that with the first sign of daylight, children, men and women awoke with the crowing of roosters to sit by the morning fire and warm themselves in the rising sun. Often they would sit for hours - and if the weather did not cooperate with them, they would refuse to venture out of their compounds to work. This soon became a frustrating obstacle for me. I was working with D’Kar Trust, a non-governmental organization, and was in charge of establishing a team of people to mobilize community members to create income-generating programs, youth centers, HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs, and a general improvement in people’s livelihoods. It was no easy task, especially when your team refused to come to work because it was too cold or too hot.

The majority of D’Kar residents are unemployed and the community has a high percentage of destitutes who rely on government subsidies to survive month to month. Due to the complex history of the region, this minority group in Botswana has very little land or resources to use - in contrast to what they had merely 50 years ago. In short, the San were pushed off their land by the government, led by the majority ruling group, the Tswana.

There are many theories as to why the Bushmen were displaced. The government says it was to protect the wild animals of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve from being over-hunted; however, the Bushmen feel it was due to the discovery of diamonds in the reserve, which is Botswana's most lucrative business. Since the 1970s, there has been heated debate over the rights of this land and the profits of the diamonds found here. Whatever the conclusion - if ever there is one - the Bushmen of D’Kar are attempting to sustain themselves with hardly any livestock and minimal grazing land.

The people are disempowered and threatened by outsiders (like me) who attempt to improve their livelihoods but often fail to achieve sustainable results. As a result of poverty and issues of disempowerment, health tends to be poor in D’Kar and the spread of HIV/AIDS in the community has not been fully researched or recorded, although it is an apparent problem.

Bushman life

Even though there are obviously many issues in D’Kar, the Naro Bushmen are friendly and playful - although, it took me a great deal of time to establish trust and friendships. In order to make myself seen, I would often spend days wandering the winding desert paths and then sitting with a family outside of their hut, drawing pictures in the sand to communicate.

People spend a lot of their free time idling, especially the youths. Children travel in packs and often hassle you for food, money or simply attention. Many people spend hours of their days cracking, shaping and smoothing ostrich eggshells for the jewelry they sell to tourists. This is, for the most part, the only income for many large families.

In the evenings, one can hear the chanting and clapping of a healing dance being performed at a nearby compound. D’Kar is safe and I often found myself walking with friends and chatting under the bright stars of the night sky.

Undoubtedly, the most incredible people were the old Bushmen ladies who worked for hours on necklaces and bracelets, smoking leaf tobacco wrapped in a small sliver of newspaper. The lines and creases on their faces told the story of a history I can never fully understand but somehow appreciated.

Dada, an 85-year-old woman, became a grandmother to me during my short time in the village. Although we could hardly communicate verbally with each other, our bond grew quickly and held strong until the day I left. The sun was just below the horizon the evening I went to Dada’s small concrete shanty to tell her and her 100-year-old mother that I would be returning to America. I was sitting on a blanket on the cool sand as I spoke English to Dada’s daughter, who translated my words of goodbye to Dada in Naro. Dada’s heart instantly dropped and her soft eyes moistened. I went to hug her and she told me in Setswana, Botswana’s national language, “Ke a rata wena” (“I love you”). I will never forget the sincerity and true love that I felt for my bushman grandmother at that moment. It is incredible the connections we make with people throughout our lives and how that can forever alter our perceptions of what is truly important. Dada will always be a part of my life and her wisdom and free spirit will inspire me along the way.

A wild tale

Have you ever had an experience that you knew people would pay a million dollars for? Well, while in D’Kar, my organization received a grant to take the local bushman artists and dancers to the Moremi Game Reserve in northern Botswana. After a couple days of somewhat embarrassing begging, I was allowed to escort the Bushmen to the reserve. My counterparts and I, along with 20 artists and dancers, packed into three Land Rovers and drove the four hours to the Moremi Game Reserve, situated along the Okavango Delta, the largest delta in the world. In four days and three astonishing nights, our group witnessed a cheetah kill, saw hundreds of elephants play in blue waters of the delta alongside hippos. We saw lazy lions lounging in the shade of huge mapane trees and ran screaming from a large male elephant that had been lurking around our camp.

During the days, the baboons would keep us busy chasing them away from our food and material possessions, while the evenings brought particularly menacing spotted hyenas. These creatures would scour the camp as we were sleeping in our tents, dragging away heavy pots to lick the last remnants of that night’s supper. As I was sleeping by myself in a small lightweight, nylon tent, the experience of hearing hyenas outside was a bit frightening. But nothing could compare to the fear and anxiety that I felt on our last night in Moremi.

As we were eating our evening meal that night, we could see the large purple storm clouds move swiftly toward us. By the time we were finished, it started to pour. The rain was cold and the sunlight disappeared. The only thing that was left to do was retire to our tents. In my tent, I got ready for bed and slipped into my sleeping bag. I laid there fully awake listening to the pounding of rain on my tent when I heard something frightening - the sound of snapping bones.

At first, I refused to believe that there was something directly outside my tent. But as the snapping and ripping of flesh continued, I realized that I was in a very real situation and that only a thin layer of nylon separated me from some carnivorous animal. At this point, I wondered what type of animal it could be. The previous nights had brought hyenas, which eat the flesh and bones of animals. It most likely was a hyena. If this was so, I could simply yell or kick the tent to scare the creature away. However, I couldn’t be sure what was out there and if I would do such a thing to a lion I would surely be attacked. So I lay there, frozen and scared for my life.

I wondered if the other people could hear it too. But the rain was so loud and my tent was at least 25 feet from the closest group of people, who I was sure were sleeping. Soon I heard growling and realized there was another large creature at the head of my tent, also eating. Now I was completely engulfed by fear. I didn’t know what to do.

It was then I heard some chatting and laughing from a tent where my friends Maude and Pieter were. They obviously were not hearing what I was. I made the decision to call out Pieter’s name, in hope that he would come to my rescue. But my voice was a mere squeak in the pouring rain and Pieter never heard me. Whatever was outside did.

The chewing and snapping of bones ceased and suddenly I heard loud breathing and snarling next to my head. I can tell you with great certainty that I have never been so scared in my life. Luckily, the creatures went back to their meals. Soon I heard nothing more and was relieved to move again. However, the entire night was full of strange noises that made me wonder if the creatures had come back for me.
The Pueblo Chieftain Online
Hands: D'Kar, Botswana, 2006

In the morning, the rain had washed everything away and there were no tracks in the sand. There was no evidence of my terrifying experience. Then I found the Bushmen ladies speaking quickly to each other in Naro. As someone translated to me, I discovered that they had also heard the creatures in the night and one of them was actually licking their canvas tent to drink the rainwater. The ladies swore to me these two creatures were lions and that we were all very lucky to have escaped unharmed.

There are uncountable stories of my experiences in Botswana. Of course, what I went there expecting to do didn’t quite turn out the way I thought it would. But I believe that anything we do in life should have a vision. To find purpose in our actions gives our lives meaning and significance.

Africa has always been a piece of my personal vision for many years. I wanted to be a part of the struggle against injustice, poverty and disease. It is a struggle that mankind has endured since its emergence. My vision was and still is to change the world, one moment at a time. If I am a part of the struggle, then I will be a part of the solution.

April Lipinski now lives in New Orleans and works for a nonprofit organization called the Neighborhood Development Foundation.

Editor's note: April Lipinski, 25, is a Pueblo native who worked as an intern for The Pueblo Chieftain in 2001. A graduate of South High School and the University of Colorado (anthropology), Lipinski spent a year in the Peace Corps, working as a volunteer in Botswana. Here, she shares some of her experiences and observations from her time in Africa.

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Story Source: The Pueblo Chieftain

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