This morning we take a village tour in Gweta before leaving for Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. The town is very small, with one main block containing a small market and a few government buildings. In the midst of traditional houses made of mud and grass stands a new and modern library, which opened last year. The library has a few desktops with internet access for villagers, as well as laptops available to check out and a small collection of books, reference materials, and magazines. It stands in stark contrast to the rest of the town, many of the buildings which lack running water, electricity, and toilets.
We visit the local primary school, which has around 600 students from preschool to grade 7. Each classroom is housed in its own small building, with class sizes ranging from 25-38. We start in a preschool room, and the students are learning English words for opposites, domestic animals, and practicing their vowels. Outside their classroom, in the principal’s office, are handmade posters with motivational statements tracking the number of students passing in each grade. We are surprised to see condoms available in her office, and posters advertising the importance of using condoms, considering the age of the students. They tell us that since AIDS and the practice of safe sex has become such a concern in their country, they emphasize the importance of using condoms from a very young age. The teacher stresses that we cannot expect the students to make good decisions when they move on to secondary school if we have not taught them the importance of using protection to prevent the spread of disease.
We also visit a seventh grade math class, and their teacher tells us more about the academic program at the school. Students here take classes in English, Setswana (their local language), Math, History, Science, and Agriculture. On the wall are posters made by students showing problems chicken farmers have in Botswana, and giving solutions to these problems. For example, students suggest that a loan from the national bank could solve the problem of not having access to pesticides or antibiotics. There are also posters showing signs of disease in chickens and cattle, and suggesting ways to prevent the disease from spreading to other animals on the farm. Their curriculum is a mix of very practical knowledge they will need to make a living, as well as the same types of math and language skills we teach our students in the states to prepare them for college.
On our way out of the school, we pass buildings used by the village to house a traditional court system headed by the local chief. When a crime is committed here, the defendant has the option of being tried locally by his chief and fellow villagers, or in the official court system for all of Botswana. The chief tries small crimes, such as stealing goats or fighting, and more serious crimes, like murder, would be tried at the national level. As Botswana is now a democracy, village chiefs are actually elected, and no longer selected based on family relations. When conducting a trial locally, we are told everyone stands on level ground, as they are all equals in the village (unlike our court system where the judge looks down from their podium). Jail time is not the only punishment available when crimes are committed, sometimes corporal punishment or hard labor are assigned instead.
We pass a post office on the way back to our lodge, and there is still a metal sign with a picture of the British royal crown on its outer wall, a remnant from the days when Botswana was a protectorate of England. We pack our things and begin the two-hour drive to Maun.
In Maun, we have arranged to do a flight over the Okavango Delta in a small plane. We take off about 40 minutes before the sun is scheduled to set, and almost immediately can see how the flood plains from the river snake through traditional villages and more modern structures surrounding the town. From the air, a herd of buffalo crossing the river look like ants, and elephants are dwarfed as they bathe and feed. The water in the delta is so still that the clouds and setting sun are perfectly reflected on its surface. After sunset, we land, and the cloud cover continues to increase and we hear thunder rumble in the distance. It starts to storm, and well all hope the rain is exhausted by morning, as we will be camping in tents the following day.