This is a "guest blog" post written by my mama, Tina. She shares all of the things that she loved about Botswana and her time here. And, I have to admit, it warmed my heart to share it with her. Mama, we are ready and waiting for you to come back! Can't wait!
"I wasn’t sure what to expect on my trip to Botswana to see Tija. All I knew is that I was so happy and so excited to finally see her after 16 months. And knowing that I was headed there with Jena by my side made it perfect. Of course, sharing this experience with my sister Patti and dear friend Benida was incredible beyond words (obviously), but knowing that Tija, Jena, and I would be together again was so overwhelming to me.
The trip there was LONG, uncomfortable, and felt never-ending. When we finally arrived in Botswana and were standing in the passport line, I could see Tija up ahead whenever someone opened the exit door. My heart was pounding - I could hardly stand it. When my passport was stamped, Jena looked at me and said “Mom, just go to Tija, I’ll get the luggage!”. I ran, opened the door, and finally felt Tija’s amazing hug. I was “home” in some sense of the word. It felt so good and I was so happy.
I won’t bore you with information about flights, luggage, car rentals etc., except to say, if you want something done now or right away (in Botswana), Tija quickly taught us that we have to say “now-now” (and not just “now”). This was a lesson we continued to learn throughout our amazing adventure.
Tija’s house is beautiful and big and comfortable. I loved being there. I loved being in her village and meeting all of the people she calls both “friend” and “family”. I honestly felt that I needed more time there and at her NGO. I really did. But I am grateful for the time I had because it showed me this beautiful world she is living in.
I know Jena has covered a lot about the kids and women of Tija’s NGO, but this blog wouldn’t be complete without me echoing what Jena said. The women are amazing, loving, beautiful, caring etc. etc. And the children are so unreal, especially when you consider their circumstances. Handing out stickers and animal cookies was so much fun and they had such wonderful and happy looks on their faces. They were so cute and so grateful for everything we shared with them.
On a quick side-note, before I get too involved in the details of the trip, I want to say that the handshakes in Botswana are amazing… These greetings are different from area-to-area and all just unique and wonderful.
Early in the trip, we got to meet Bokena and Bofelo, two very special orphans from Tija’s first NGO in “Kums”. I love these children and they love Tija. Tija has talked about them in previous blog posts, but seeing them for myself, hugging them, and spending time with them was certainly one of the highlights of my trip.
I think one of the things that touched my heart so much was that the people seem to come from a place of grace and gratitude for who they are and what they have. It is so different than in America, where too many people focus on what they don’t have and what they’re unhappy about. After losing my husband, I had a shift in how I see the world and my personal gratefulness. After being in Botswana, I know I had another shift in how I perceive the/my world. I am different now. I can’t stand pettiness even more than before. I see that it’s a waste of time and energy and that it drains our souls.
This blog post would not be complete with my sharing about the safari. I hadn’t wanted to do such a long one, I did complain about it before we went, but, in the end, I don’t think I would have traded even one minute of it. It was perfect. Our guide, Anthony, was the perfect guide for us. “My” lions (as they came to be called) were incredible. They were so beautiful and more than I could have hoped to see. Watching them sleep only five feet away from us was more than a dream come true. My only regret was that I didn’t sprinkle any of Max’s ashes with those two lions because he would have loved them and would have loved being there in the open grasslands. I swear, he even looked like them. To this day, I feel a little sad about that.
By the end of our safari, we saw the “Big 5”, plus so many more amazing animals and birds. It was unreal and unbelievable and, when I run it all back through my mind, I still can’t believe it all. Who sees three leopards? And multiple prides of lions? And baby elephants, hippos, zebras and the birds…. Amazing. Oh yes, and a herd of elephants walking through your campsite?! That was a funny story that I’ll let Patti talk about!!!
One of the other notable facts about Botswana is that there are no guns. And there is no poaching. The animals feel safe, which is why we were able to get so close to them. You still need to honor them but they don’t run from you. For example, Anthony would point out things like, “don’t cross in front of the female lions”. Anthony told us that we were 75% safe throughout the safari, but that, if we listened to him and if we comply with what he told us, the safety percentage went up. For the most part, we listened. Although, I have to say that it’s really hard not to squeal when you see all the amazing wildlife that we saw!
And, finally, I was thrilled to have met Tija’s boyfriend Tuan. I know, I’m not allowed to fall in love with a boyfriend but this one is special and you can truly feel how much they love each other. One of my favorite moments was when we were coming back from our safari and Tuan met us at the airport. When he saw Tija walking on the tarmac from the plane, his face lit up and he started taking pictures of her. It was so sweet.
On the subject of meeting people, it was wonderful to meet Tija’s friends - PCVs and others. Some came long distances just to meet us and I will always be grateful. She has amazing friends and a strong support group around her, which makes me so happy. I know that she is in a safe place and that I don’t have to continually worry about her. She is well taken care of.
My Africa fund is still open and I am saving my pennies to head back there if Tija decides to extend her service for a third year. In the meanwhile, thank goodness for Internet so we can keep in touch.
Tija, thank you for showing us the most amazing time and for arranging all that we did. I love you so much.
Love, hugs and kisses,