Postcards From Botswana 10 - Home Sweet Home


Postcards From Botswana 10 - Home Sweet Home

By: Kayla Donnawell | International Co-op Student
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SFU Kinesiology student Kayla Donnawell is in Botswana, Africa volunteering with the Students Without Borders program (SWB).  In this article, the eighth in the series, Kayla explores Namibia and gets stuck several times in the sand dunes.

I am back in Vancouver safe and sound, with only a broken foot and a few photos to show for my time in Sub-Saharan Africa. I spent the last bit of my time in Capetown, South Africa, an amazing city which I already have plans to visit again. I had the opportunity to visit the family that adopted our crew when we were stranded in the desert in Namibia. They are the most kind and wonderful family that I have ever meet, a shining example of South African hospitality. One of the hi-lights of my stay in Capetown was cage diving with great white sharks, it was truly a bone chilling experience. Out on a boat in the middle of shark alley, I suddenly found myself in a metal cage watching these powerful animals glide through the water in front of me. They seem so harmless, that is until they smash into the cage with their razor sharp teeth mere centimeters from your body, rattling the entire cage. It was what I like to refer to as an "in your face" experience!!!

Since arriving home, I have this newfound appreciation for so many things; the taste of food, the way that an organized public transit system works, and best of all, my own personal safety. In many ways, being back, I almost feel as though I was never in Botswana, but the lessons I learned will be with me always.

As I was riding the skytrain downtown a couple of days ago, I found myself sitting there suddenly in tears - this is very strange for a girl who fancies herself so tough as I do. It was not culture shock (I think that left me somewhere on the 50 hour bus-ride from Namibia across South Africa). Rather, it was appreciation for being back in a place where I can actually get medical attention for my painful foot, and get four jobs without even batting an eyelash. It was the emotion of being welcomed back by every person I knew and being suddenly surrounded by people that I know and love, and overall, it was happiness.

Being in Botswana and seeing people living (and dying) from HIV was in many ways a mentally and emotionally exhausting journey all of its own. An experience that was heart wrenching every single day.  But sometimes, once in a blue moon, something would happen that made it all worthwhile. For me, it was my second to last day there, when we threw a dinner to celebrate the retirement of one of the founders of the hospice. One of the patients, a man so thin that when I first arrived, he barely had the strength to stand. He needed a helping hand just to walk, so instead he just lay on the couch all day in a state of semi-consciousness for most of the day. On the day of this celebration, he was nowhere to be found, that was until I realized that he was standing in front of me singing and dancing.

Many questionable things happen in NGOs all around the world - sometimes I think that corruption is a bigger part of the business than helping people.  Although, every now and then we catch a glimpse of a small success, a momentary snapshot that reminds us why we can believe that people that do this kind of work are heroes, humanitarians. If there is one thing I can take away from this whole experience, it is that the work I did in Botswana was not earth altering in any way, I am no hero. What I am is human. I may not be able to cure HIV in a tiny country in Africa, but I can make someone smile, and I have come to realize that that might be the greatest feeling there is.

Much love,

Beyond The Article

Posted on March 07, 2011