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December 4, 2013
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Vail Daily column: ‘Dumela rra’ from Botswana

We were running a bit late for our afternoon/evening game drive at the Selinda water camp in the Okavango Delta. I was unpacking camera gear while Bobbi was doing a quick change after our hot and dusty morning outing.

Bobbi was putting on a clean pair of safari pants when I heard her shriek, “Something’s biting me, something’s biting my leg!” I knew something was wrong by the tone of her voice, and I watched her struggle to unfasten her belted double-hooked pants.

After unhooking the pants, she threw them onto the floor and began rubbing her upper leg. I then grabbed the pants, looked down the leg and found a scorpion affixed to the inner mesh lining.

I quickly turned the pants inside out and swiped at the arachnid, but it escaped between the floorboards. Bobbi wasn’t panicked, but both of us were concerned because some scorpion species are venomous and their stings can cause neuromuscular, heart or respiratory failure.

I waited for a moment to see if there was immediate swelling and then ran the 30 yards to the camp’s central area to see if someone was familiar with the scorpions. Jared, the camp manger, asked a number of questions in an attempt to determine the species, but the best I could offer was a very general description. He gave me an ointment and said he could call a medevac helicopter, but I knew it would be at least six hours before Bobbi could be treated in Johannesburg should our worst fears be realized.

At about the same time, a Matswana woman whose duties included the daily cleaning of our tent (the country is Botswana, the people are Batswana, an individual is a Matswana and the language Setswana) had entered the tent. I handed Bobbi the ointment and began paging through a book on insects, arachnids and snakes in an effort to determine if the specific species presented a danger.

After being relatively certain the culprit was a Botswana “box scorpion,” I looked up and watched this “cleaning woman” gently massaging and rubbing the ointment onto Bobbi’s leg all while holding Bobbi’s foot in one hand, gently flexing the leg at the knee joint.

The stings (there were three) turned out to be excruciating for Bobbi, but harmless save a bit of swelling and some “pins and needles” for about a week. But the tenderness and genuine caring this Matswana epitomized what we have experienced from Batswana on every trip to that country. This was truly the warmest, most caring culture Bobbi and I have ever experienced.

In another incident that occurred several years ago, at the Kwara Camp (also in the Okavango Delta,) we had returned from a night game drive that ended at about 2 a.m. After searching for a pair of huge male lions under a full moon, in what could be described as an almost mystical experience, what I experienced the next morning was even more magical.

Since we had been out so late, we slept in and it was already about 9 a.m. when I awoke and walked to the campfire for my morning coffee and a roll. As I approached the campfire, a beautiful young Matswana greeted me with, “Dumela Rra” to which I responded “Dumela Mma.”

She asked if I had enjoyed the previous night’s singing before dinner and said she had wished the staff had sung a particular traditional tribal song. Before I could respond, she said, “I will sing it for you now.”

Here we were in the middle of the African bush with only the sounds of the cicadas and the call of the hornbills, and this beautiful young woman was singing to me, a cappella. I could not contain myself and the tears welled in my eyes. This was the Botswana Bobbi and I have come to know and love.

On another occasion in another camp, our guide was taking us through the Selinda Spillway in a small flatboat. As he pointed out the many forms of vegetation and their native uses he casually asked if we had met his wife who also worked at the camp.

When we told him we weren’t aware his wife worked there, Oba beamingly responded, “Oh, yes, she’s the big beautiful one you watched weaving baskets this morning.” Later that evening just before dinner Oba made it a point to introduce Nyaga to us, and with the proudest of smiles said, “See, I told you she was big and beautiful.” He was so delighted that he was able to introduce us to his “traditionally built” wife it appeared he was about to burst.

Bobbi and I have traveled to Africa each of the past six years and realize how blessed we have been. Yes, we love the sights and sounds of trumpeting elephants, roaring lions and giggling hyenas, but what brings us back time and time again is the warm, gentle and loving Batswana culture — a culture that literally embraces and washes over the visitor. Perhaps that’s why with each trip, Bobbi and I fall in love all over again.

With the holiday season upon us it’s easy to get caught up in the maelstrom of events and obligations. And when Bobbi and I sense that beginning to happen, we don’t stop to smell the roses, we recall the fragrance of the wild sage of Botswana.

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@comcast.net.

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The VailDaily Updated Dec 4, 2013 09:27PM Published Dec 4, 2013 07:09PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.