Staring out the window of the plane as we approached the runway at Gaberone (Botswana’s capital) I knew I was in for an adventure. The African earth looked bright red under the heat of the sun.

Travelling in Marpole, Africa

I travelled to what would be my adopted hometown for two years: Molepolole (nicknamed Moleps), Botswana. I had just graduated with a teaching degree and was looking for an adventure that would allow me to give back. I volunteered with a Canadian organization that sends teachers to developing countries.

travel tips molepole africa
Children playing at the water pump

During the first night in the dorm, I had to find the communal toilet outside. It was pitch-black out, but I made my way across the yard, following the light from a solitary bulb above the sink. I wasn’t alone. The interior of the cement-block structure was covered with every  insect imaginable, including a giant yellow and black moth larger than my outstretched fingers!

Meeting the People

“Dumela rra” (hello father) and “dumela mma “ (hello mother) were the greetings I  repeated as I walked through the rambling unplanned village of rondavels (small round thatched-roof huts) and small rectangular cement block huts with corrugated roofs.

Everyone smiled and greeted one another, usually pausing to chat. My Setswana was not great, so the conversations were short. The heat was oppressive and made everyone sluggish.

travel tips molepole africa
Molepole girls carrying water to their homes

Women carried large bundles of firewood for heating and cooking from far out in the  wilderness. Children darted all around, unaffected by the heat or by the very sharp 4-pronged thorns all over the sandy ground, always with one thorn pointing up. I later bought a used Rocky Mountain bike from a returning volunteer. But even with double tube protectors inside the tires, I still repaired flats daily.

travel tips molepole africa
A high school track meet I attended at the school

The kids were amazing – always happy. They kicked balls, ran after rolling wheel rims they hit with sticks, and sometimes steered around these amazing trucks and cars made out of sculpted wire with long steering wheels extending up to their hand-level.  However, it was the women who carried the heaviest load – literally and metaphorically. They raised the children, cleaned, harvested crops, fetched water and wood, ran the businesses – very inspiring – all with limited formal education.

travel tips molepole africa
Taking a break from the heat in the cool waters of the Okavango Delta

Adventures in Africa

We teachers all looked anxiously forward to school vacations when we went on adventures to the Okavango Delta, Chobe Game Park, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls and Hwange Game Park, and many more. Getting there was usually half the adventure.

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Beautiful Victoria Falls, Africa

On one trip to the Okavango Delta, our pick-up truck got stuck in the sand in the middle of the night, with lions roaring nearby. Once there, we paddled through narrow channels – channels we would swim in due to the humid heat but needed a look-out for crocodiles. We surprised three majestic giraffes who galloped away gracefully in slow-motion. A sight forever etched in my mind.

travel tips molepole africa
Some graceful giraffes taking a water break

On another trip, we ran out of gas on the way back to our campground about five kilometers short of our destination. We had spent the day on a boat watching hippos and herds of elephants. We started walking along the road, but a park ranger laughed and offered us a lift. Within five minutes we were nudging a large herd of temperamental water buffalo out of the way. We wouldn’t have wanted to try that on foot. Nor would we have enjoyed an encounter with what appeared to be a speed bump across the width of the dirt road – until it slithered off the road and disappeared.

travel tips molepole africa
A herd of water buffalo

The experience was all I had hoped for and more; because as much as it was a journey of discovery of Africa and her people, it was the self-discovery that significantly shaped who I am today.

Ian MaCaulay Iain lives in Vancouver, Canada, where he chases after his kids and loves to talk travel with everyone he bumps into. He leads the Human Resources and Customer Service teams at TuGo – a company he has proudly been part of for the past 12 years.  Iain hopes to share an African adventure with his family in the next few years.
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