Where They Live: Gaborone, Botswana
Summer rains in Angola feed Botswana’s Okavango River, one of the largest inland deltas in the world, fanning like a giant hand across 17,000 kilometers of the Kalahari’s parched sands. Traveling by mokoro, local dugout canoe, along the delta’s many lagoons, lakes and inlets, Gudrun Schulz Weeks ’59 and her husband, Sheldon, will camp and continue on foot, following the tracks of the antelope, lions, elephants and buffalo that come to drink from the river and feed on the grasses that grow in the flood plains. When the river is high, the scents of animals and wildflowers mingle along the migration trails, where the couple can hear the songs of some 400 species of birds.
At other times, they head to the Tsodilo Hills, where the San people—or Bushmen— painted more than 3,500 rock paintings up to 1,200 years ago. Unlike the Okavango delta, the Tsodilo Hills are dry and desertlike, their quartzite rock faces reminiscent of the American Southwest. Tsodilo comes from the Mbukushu word sorile, meaning “sheer,” and it’s on these sheer surfaces that the San left their mark. Gudrun feels a powerful presence here in the protection of the four large, sacred rock outcroppings believed by the San to be the site of the first creation. Paintings of penguins and whales surprise, while those of humans and zebra are more predictable but no less astonishing. Climbing into and around the hills with an experienced guide, it takes several days to explore all 350-500 sites, but the most beautiful spots are a wondrous revelation, offering Gudrun and Sheldon payoff for the hard work of the climb.
As they return home along the dusty main road to Tlokweng, an offshoot of Gaborone, earth-colored cinder block houses of varying shapes and sizes nestle among the scattered thorn trees. Randomly oriented on their small lots, these homes seem to have sprung from scattered seeds. Running water and electricity are common, but not universal.
Gudrun, a string musician who was born in Germany, came to Botswana’s southeast corner in 1991, when Sheldon was appointed graduate dean of University of Botswana in Gaborone, the country’s capital and the fastest-growing city in Africa. Despite a population of 200,000, there are no chamber or orchestral groups; still, Gudrun manages to give concerts several times a year and enjoys teaching instrumental music to children from all over Africa, Asia and the West. “Living in Botswana, I keep my perspective on both my countries, but I miss having other string musicians around,” Gudrun recently told Sarah Lawrence.
Although Gaborone doesn’t offer many performance opportunities, international food choices abound, and Gudrun doesn’t pine for the tastes of home. Among local delicacies, the tsamma melon is valued for its high water content, and the mopane worm is a popular protein source— although Gudrun, a vegetarian, chooses not to indulge in the latter. Locals harvest the green-and-blue spiky caterpillar of the Emperor moth by shaking the mopane tree, where it resides on butterfly-shaped leaves. The length of an adult’s palm and the thickness of a cheese puff, the caterpillars normally are squeezed and then roasted or sun-dried. Served with peanut, chili or tomato sauce, they are said to taste woody and bland on their own. Some prefer their worms fresh, fried to a crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
In addition to making music and hiking, Gudrun finds spiritual connection in Gaborone’s more than 30-year-old Quaker meeting. The eight members recently founded Botswana’s only women’s shelter and previously ran a center for Zimbabwean refugees.
Life in Africa, says Gudrun, offers its rewards. “Here we live among simple people, and we have a good life doing work we love to do,” says Gudrun, “ I have my big class of students from all over the world, quite a rich cultural life, and various affordable outings nearby.” Indeed, whether she’s sending cornmeal to Zimbabwean refugees or tracking big game in the nearby reserves, this SLC alum is living life to the fullest.
—Gillian Gilman Culff ’88