WALK WITH BUSH­MEN

go! Botswana - - KALAHARI PEOPLE -

A walk in the veld with a Bush­man guide at Grass­land Bush­man Lodge takes about 90 min­utes and costs R250 per per­son. If you want to visit Rooibrakke, it’s best to ar­range with Grass­land a few days in ad­vance. The trip there costs R5 000, ir­re­spec­tive of the size of your group. This rate in­cludes an an­te­lope be­ing shot for meat, which is de­liv­ered to the Rooibrakke com­mu­nity dur­ing your visit, as well as your trans­port there and back in a game-view­ing ve­hi­cle. The visit lasts a few hours and Wil­lie de Graaff sug­gests that you go in the af­ter­noon so you can see the peo­ple danc­ing around the fire at dusk.

The money that the lodge makes out of these visits is used to help the peo­ple of Rooibrakke. You can also sup­port the ini­tia­tive by pur­chas­ing some hand­made items, which are for sale at Grass­land and Rooibrakke. GPS: S21.72271 E22.35866 Con­tact: 00 267 72 104 270; 00 267 72 111 506; reser­va­tions@grass­land­lodge. com; Face­book: “Grass­land Bush­man Lodge Botswana” pel­lets? It’s a duiker’s. We use duiker pelt to make clothes; it’s nice and soft. And this spoor be­longs to a wilde­beest. It stood still. Stood look­ing that way. And then it got a fright. See here; it took off and ran this way. Yes, see, this is jackal spoor. The wilde­beest was star­tled by the jackal, be­cause the jackal was trot­ting down­wind from it. Aeyo! Here’s wa­ter! Do you see it? No, not on top of the sand, un­der­neath. Un­der these small leaves. These leaves are part of the wa­ter. Watch – we’re go­ing to dig out the wa­ter. The leaves are at­tached to this big bulb in the sand. We cut shav­ings off the bulb. Now squeeze out the liq­uid from the shav­ings and drink it. Aeyo! It is wa­ter! We put the bulb back in the sand be­cause it con­tin­ues to grow and we can drink again. And this plant is used to treat headache. This one helps for stom­ach ache. This one’s root is edi­ble; it’s also full of wa­ter. Dig un­der­neath these leaves. Aeyo! It’s a Bush­man potato. Bring it along.

Thus you walk with Qhaikhao and his com­pan­ions and the Kala­hari be­comes a pantry, stocked with food and bulbs filled with wa­ter.

Later you’ll sit and you’ll be shown how to start a fire us­ing two sticks from a cork­wood tree (kan­niedood in Afrikaans). It’s not easy and it takes a long time. The one stick is drilled into a groove in the sec­ond one. Drilled, drilled, drilled un­til an em­ber the size of an antlion lies in the groove and a thin spi­ral of smoke comes from the saw­dust. The em­ber and the saw­dust are placed in a pile of dry grass. Some gen­tle blow­ing. More smoke and then, whoosh, it catches fire.

The Bush­man potato is placed in the fire, to­gether with the seeds of a kind of creeper. And then we eat. I can’t stop my­self from grab­bing more and more braaied seeds from a tor­toise shell that serves as a dish – they’re de­li­cious, like roasted nuts. Af­ter the meal we quench our thirst with cold wa­ter from a dug-up os­trich eggshell.

Af­ter the walk, Qhaikhao and Wil­lie take me to Rooibrakke, about 20 km north-east of Grass­land. It’s a Bush­man set­tle­ment in the buf­fer zone be­tween the Cen­tral Kala­hari and the farms. There are only about 60 peo­ple in the com­mu­nity and they still hunt for their meat – on horse­back with spears.

“The life­style of the peo­ple here is the clos­est you’ll find any­where to how the Bush­men used to live,” Wil­lie says.

The Botswanan govern­ment doesn’t do much for the com­mu­nity. The peo­ple are al­most in­vis­i­ble in that sense – they don’t bother any­one and they get noth­ing in re­turn. To help out, Wil­lie and some other peo­ple from the sur­round­ing farm­ing com­mu­nity take gro­ceries to Rooibrakke ev­ery now and then, and they bring pay­ing tourists. Ev­ery lit­tle bit helps.

Two sandy tracks wind through bush to the set­tle­ment, past gems­bok and ze­bra. If you were to fall ill here, you’d have to treat your­self with medicine from the veld. And if that medicine were to fail, your soul might go off to the great god’s house in the sky.

The peo­ple of Rooibrakke are grate­ful for the wilde­beest that Qhaikhao has brought them. The men quickly cut up the meat while the women sing and play a game with a ball made out of bags – they throw it to one an­other and do some rope skip­ping, all to the beat of their clap­ping hands.

The wilde­beest liver is placed in the fire and the men also start to dance, with rat­tles tied to their legs, around the women and the fire. Round and round and round un­til the air is hazy and a deep cir­cle has been tram­pled into the sand.

The liver is raked out of the ash and ev­ery­one gets a taste. I feel like danc­ing, too. To say thank you. Thank you that the earth, the sun and the moon have aligned so I could be here to­day in this un­spoilt place, with peo­ple who, un­til now, have only ex­isted to me as im­ages on rock walls.

As I stand talk­ing to Qhaikhao and one of the Rooibrakke men, I no­tice how skinny the peo­ple of Rooibrakke are com­pared with those who live at Grass­land. I ask Qhaikhao if he feels sorry for the peo­ple who live out here – they’re so iso­lated and it looks as if they suf­fer hard­ship.

Qhaikhao smiles. “No,” he says. “They’re in the veld. The veld is lekker.”

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