Gaborone Dispatch

Botswana is a country in Southern Africa. It borders South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe and is home to just over 2 million people. The Tswana make up the majority ethnic group in the country, with 79% of the population. A citizen of Botswana is a “Matswana”. Two or more citizens are referred to as “Batswana”. The language spoken by the majority is “Setswana”. Botswana gained independence from Britain in 1966 (it was formerly known as the British protectorate of Bechuanaland). Gaborone is the capital of Botswana and is the largest city with a population about 250,000.  

Louise’s sister, Lotte, lives in Gaborone with her husband John and their four kids between 2 years and 11 years of age. John has a four-year posting at the EU Delegation in Botswana. The family has been in-country for a year and a half.  

When we set out on our trip we knew that we wanted to start it in Cambodia. We flew to Asia on a one-way ticket to Cambodia and made up the rest of the trip and its itinerary as we went along. But we also knew we wanted to visit John, Lotte and family at the end of our travels. On Friday we flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg and from there took a bus to Gaborone.  It was an easy trip and in addition to seeing the South African rural landscape we also spotted elephants, zebras and ostriches.

Visiting family is great. And staying with Lotte and John, in Southern Africa, as we’re winding up an eight-month trip through Asia and Africa, is perfect. They are wonderful hosts. We even arrived to “Where’s Waldo” welcome cards for us that were signed by their kids.

Saga and Ida are in heaven. They haven’t had as much contact as they’re used to with kids their own age during our trip. Here, not only do they have kids their own age around all the time, those kids also happen to be their cousins. There’s a lot of space to play; a pool, trampoline, games. The cousins’ school is a block away and it also looms large here. On Saturday the school hosted a big Earth Hour event. Sunday afternoon the school hosted a “Dads and Lads (and Lasses)” football game. We were back on Monday when the girls joined their cousins for a French class. 
 

Small to tall: Zoe, Rasmus, Ida, Saga, Viggo and Ellen.
 

And it even gets better. This afternoon, the girls’ grandparents arrive from Denmark. Jens and Perle will stay in Gaborone for about a month. On Saturday we’ll all go on a safari in Tuli Block.

We’re shocked and saddened by the explosions in Brussels today. Our hearts ache for Brussels’ families. We watch and listen with horror as the details trickle in. The explosions took place within sight of Lotte’s old office window. The senselessness of the loss is breathtaking, again, just as it was after the Paris attacks in November. It’s a dark day and we’ll hold each other more closely this afternoon and tonight, thankful to be with family.

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Peppercorn Particulars

We’ve learned a lot about peppercorns during our travels. We went to see peppercorn plantations in Kampot and Kerala. We visited the International Peppercorn Exchange in Kochi. We attended the International Spice Conference in Goa. We’ve blogged about peppercorns regularly, including this dispatch.

We know that we’re not the only ones interested in learning more about delicious peppercorns. After all, who isn’t interested in improving the taste of our food if we can do it with the right peppercorns and a simple twist of the pepper grinder?

Recently we learned that the Kampot Peppercorns further cemented its status among the best peppercorns in the world when it won the coveted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status in the EU. For reference, PGI distinguishes French Champage, Italian Parma Ham, French Gruyere Cheese. Read more about it here, in the Vancouver Sun.

Truth.

We like drinking good coffee and there are exceptional coffee joints in Cape Town. In fact, the best coffee shop in the world (and the coolest) is located around the corner from our apartment. It’s called Truth

We’re starting to think about our eventual integration back into Toronto, reflecting on our trip and planning our future. There’s no better place to do this than at Truth. The cafe’s unique decor is steampunk. The coffee is superior. The staff is super friendly.

  
  

REFLECTIONS

Our trip has been about realizing dreams. We dreamed about exploring the world as a family and we dreamed about reclaiming our time so that we could use it to learn and grow together. Our blog has documented a lot of the day to day, the ups and downs, the places we’ve seen, the people we’ve been lucky enough to meet. The biggest highlight has been seeing the girls’ growth and development over the last six months. We’ve also learned a lot along the way about how to structure the trip and that structuring has been very important.  We have a lot of time. How we allocate and use that time hugely influences how much we enjoy the trip. This is how we allocate our time – in a day we typically do three things: we read, we play, we explore. 

EXPLORE

We’ve been to some unbelievable places:  Halong Bay, Angkor Wat, Luang Prabang, Central Hanoi, Old Fort Kochi. Many of these are beautiful UNESCO Heritage sites. We’ve also spent extended periods of time staying in apartments in big cities: Da Nang, Ernakulam, Kampot, Jaipur, Cape Town. The latter experiences have afforded us a glimpse into what living is like in communities very different from our own. We’ve gotten to know vendors at the market. We’ve befriended local families. We became friends with the creative class of Ernakulum. We feel greatly enriched by this experience. 

PLAY

As we’re traveling with kids, we quickly learned that regular playtime is very important. Kids notice everything around them. For example, we passed some elephants on the street in Kerala that Louise and I barely noticed (we had gotten so used to seeing them around). The girls, however, not only saw the elephants, they also saw the texture of the animals’ skin, the seats that the elephant handlers used, the painting on the pachyderms. The girls took in everything about the animals, just as they take in everything about everything else they see. All of their observations can lead to a sensory saturation; the girls reach a point where they simply don’t want to look anymore at temples, animals, other beautiful sights. That’s when regular play comes in: we visit a park, throw a frisbee, read a book or colour. Regular, fun downtime (a lot of it) is necessary for traveling with kids. It sounds like a truism (and it is), but it’s a truism that is easy to lose sight of when everything around us is different and exciting and worth visiting. Often it’s been better to visit a playground or stay in and colour, rather than go out and visit more new sights.

Da Nang

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Ernakulam  
 Jaipur 
 Cape Town 

READ

If we accomplish anything from this trip, we’d like our family to have an awareness of how big and varied and diverse the world is. Over the last six months the girls have seen and thought about issues like poverty, pollution, inequality and politics. We’ve had many conversations based on their real time observations; conversations that we’ve only been able to have because we’ve had the luxury of being able to make time for them. The girls understand these issues and have formed their own opinions about them. 

We also have a commitment to teach the Toronto District School Board’s grade three curriculum. We brought workbooks with us that cover the Ontario grade three math curriculum. We’ve had terrific support from the girls’ teachers to support the girls’ participation in class projects. The teachers have made some great online learning resources available to us. We’ve had French conversationalists support the girls in Da Nang and Cape Town. In Jaipur, the girls had a math tutor. The girls read voraciously and for that, the Toronto Public Library has been indispensable. All of these pieces, taken together, have taken care of grade three. This reading, or learning component of our travels has enhanced our overall experience by balancing out the exploration and play components.

CHALLENGES

Our travels haven’t been without their difficulties. We talked about the obvious ones in an earlier post: Shigella, drunk taxi drivers, Shingles. A more interesting challenge of this trip, however, has been learning how to manage all the time that we reclaimed. Now that we have all this time, how do we use it? To be sure, we read, play and explore, but we also have “open time” and there are moments when boredom sets in. To manage boredom, we made it clear that each of us is responsible for her or his own contentedness. We each need to find the things that engross us. The girls latched onto this and have really creative ideas for how to spend their time – of course they do, they’re 8 year-old kids. Saga and Ida’s creative ideas for how to spend their open time have been exciting to witness.

YES

We wanted, from the very beginning, for this journey to be an adventure. That’s why we bought one-way tickets to Cambodia with nothing planned beyond a two month reservation of a house along the Kampot River. After all, if we had planned everything before we left, we wouldn’t be on an adventure. We adopted a practice of, as much as possible, just saying “yes” to new opportunities as they presented themselves. In Jaipur, a friend invited us to feed a sacred cow. Of course we said yes! The practice of saying yes as much as possible has enriched the spontaneous, unplanned aspect of our travels.  

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

When we return to Toronto, we want to retain some of the time and flexibility that we’ve reclaimed on this journey. Entrepreneurship is one great way of doing this. We’ll set up an importing enterprise when we get back. We decided to do this early on in our travels and have devoted part of the trip to developing different aspects of the business. This has been fun, exciting and engrossing. It will be the subject of another blog post. Stay tuned.

Department of Bicycles 

BIKES

Imagine this: separated bike lanes with dedicated traffic signals; probably more espresso caf√©s than the market can bear; a city-sponsored 100km bike ride on 6 March; modern bike parking; nude cyclists. No, not Toronto. Cape Town, South Africa.  

According to its website, the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is a “peaceful, imaginative and fun protest against oil dependency and car culture. A celebration of the bicycle and also a celebration of the power and individuality of the human body. A symbol of the vulnerability of the cyclist in traffic. The world’s biggest naked protest: 50+ cities and thousands of riders participate worldwide.” 

Public nudity is illegal in South Africa and the the Cape Town leg of the WNBR took place today with a full police escort. The riders set out from the waterfront, rolled through the city and returned safely to the waterfront. As advertised, it was peaceful, imaginative, fun and safe. Although the ride is more about cyclists’ vulnerability than it is about nudity, the nudity was probably good for capturing the public’s imagination.

Here they come:

 

There they go:

  

Bikes are an important feature of our day to day. Louise and the girls are Danes, which might help explain the affinity. Bikes are important aspects of Asian and, as we’ve seen, African culture.

We had our own bike fleet in Kampot that got us to and from town as well through flooded areas.

Our bike fleet.

  

 

At first the girls rode on their own bikes. Here they are in Kampot, just after the flood.

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Eventually they started sitting on the back of my and Louise’s bike. This was our ride in Luang Prabang. Note the padded passenger seat.

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Coffee and bicycles go well together. This was in Siem Reap.

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While technically not bike riding, it’s still relevant: In India, the girls took up unicycle riding. Here’s Saga on the balcony and then on the roof.
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The girls are growing. I look at the picture we took before heading to the airport to leave Toronto and I hardly recognize them. They’ll need new wheels when we get home. To stay within our space constraints, we settled on redeemable bike vouchers as Christmas gifts: 

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TRANSITIONS

We have five weeks left in our journey. It’s good that we’re here because Cape Town living, more than anywhere else we’ve been on this trip, most closely resembles Toronto living. In addition to the cycling infrastructure we find potable tapwater; wide sidewalks; drivers that (mostly) obey traffic signals; fruit and veg that we can eat without peeling. Culturally, Cape Town is closer too. We went to a farmers’ market yesterday evening (the City Bowl Market on Hope Street). It could have been a smaller version of the Brickworks, just with more meat, wine and beer.We’re starting to talk as a family about our return to Toronto: Our neighbours, the girls’ friends, school, evening walks together on the sidewalks with our dog. As part of the transition, the girls picked up a new wardrobe yesterday at H&M (they’ve outgrown the clothes they brought with them). This is an important conversation to have; we know there will be an adjustment to make as we reintegrate to home life. 

Another thing we know is that one/two/three-wheelers will continue to play a big role in our lives.  

Robben Island Dispatch

Robben Island is located about seven km off the coast of Cape Town. It is flat and only a few metres above sea level. The island served as a leper colony in the 19th century and was later used as a maximum security prison for political prisoners and convicted criminals from 1961 until 1991. Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars. To date, three of the former inmates of Robben Island have gone on to become President of South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma.

We’re now in Cape Town. We arrived two days ago after a 28-hour journey from Bombay. We’re in a two bedroom flat in the city centre, about two blocks away from Parliament. Our visit coincides with that of a friend, Anton Simanowitz, who’s here with his wife, kids, brother and parents. We spent a memorable day together yesterday and visited Robben Island. 

 

The view of Cape Town from the direction of the island is breathtaking.  

   

We took a bus from the ferry docks to the prison, stopping along the way to learn about the history of the island and its residents. 

This was on the side of our bus:

  
We were then given a tour of the maximum security wing where Mandela was imprisoned. Derek Basson (below), a former political prisoner in the 1980s, explained how the prison worked.

  

 

The courtyard outside Mandela’s cell:

  

Mandela’s cell:

  

It was a really powerful experience for all of us. The prison, the racist policies, the leper colony’s graveyard, the quarry where political prisoners laboured.

We caught the last return ferry to the city and on the way whales swam alongside our boat, as if escorting us part of the way back.

We’re starting to settle in here and are finding our way around. We’ll be in Cape Town for almost three weeks and look forward to learning more about the city and writing about our experiences.