Environment


Every year, the Okavango River floods a massive area in north-western Botswana, called the Okavango Delta. Trees are submerged in water, roads don’t exist. The only way to travel is by airplane, motor boat or mokoro, a dug-out wooden canoe. The maze of water passageways is impossible for an outsider to navigate.

I spent all of yesterday on a boat that went deep into the Delta and back. Here’s some of my shots from the day:

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It doesn’t matter how robust your transport technology or mobility aid is. During the rainy season in Zambia, it will be useless.

Last week some friends and I went to Mount Mulanje, Malawi’s highest mountain. Walking up to the plateau, we passed over a dozen men carrying large wooden planks down the mountain on their heads.

When we reached the plateau, we found where all the planks were coming from.

A sign up on the plateau states that this deforestation is to reduce the number of invasive pine trees in the area. Note that the planks are exported to Tanzania and Mozambique.

The sign also claims that these forests will be replanted.

There’s plenty of evidence of deforestation at the highest point in Malawi. But there’s no evidence of reforestation.

Do you see any snow in the picture above? In the sky? On the building tops?

No? Because neither do I.

And yet, due to overwhelming snow and cold, all of the channels between the UK and the rest of mainland Europe have been closed.

I had a ticket on the Eurostar train from London to Brussels, but the track apparently cannot handle the ice. On Friday night, five trains were stuck in the tunnel for over 12 hours. And so all the trains have been cancelled for an unknown length of time.

I tried the buses, but the ferries aren’t running either due to adverse weather conditions.

I talked to people that said they had been bumped from their flights.

So, I’m stuck. As a side note, I also don’t have the proper stamp to be here. The immigration officer who stamped my passport upon arrival did not believe me that I would be exiting the UK in the next month (who carries print outs of their travel itinerary anymore? I certainly don’t. Not when functional printers are hard to find in Africa and I can get all of my tickets with my passport and confirmation codes). So, she refused to give me a 6-month entry stamp and instead gave me a 24-hour transit visa, accompanied by the warning that if I don’t get myself out of the UK in 24 hours I’ll be in trouble. Perfect.

Tomorrow, I try to get out of here again. I’ll try the trains, which are mostly likely to be swamped by people like myself who had their trains cancelled yesterday and today. I booked myself a flight to Belgium, but apparently the Belgian airport has been closed today due to snow. So who knows. I’m doing my best to make this travel hiccup an adventure, but after the past week on the road, all I want to do is arrive in my final destination for the holidays and relax.

Who knew that the UK and Belgium – two countries located in northern Europe – would erupt into mayhem when the cold and snow arrived.

Is there such a thing as too much rain in a land where there’s been droughts for so long? Well, when there’s too much, too fast, then yes… there is such a thing.

Warning: This post contains pictures of dead animals. It is disturbing and tragic, but it is reality. If you do not wish to view the pictures, I advise you to stop reading now and don’t scroll down.

I went to visit a Maasai boma, or collection of Maasai huts, on Saturday. It was not a touristy trip. Instead, I went with a friend who is Maasai and has connections to the village. He runs a safari company here, and is setting up a campsite near the boma. They’re not building your typical fancy resort, equipped with hot water and beds. They have gone just past the village and made some flat platforms of packed dirt. No other alterations to the environment will be made. It’s simply a place to sleep in a more off-the-beaten-track setting.

Because of these connections, and because of the remoteness, I was not hassled by women trying to sell me beaded necklace or shouted at. It was a chance to see Maasai life as it really is, without the facade that they put up for tourists.

Reality is not pretty. The drought has not treated the Maasai kindly. The Maasai do not measure wealth by money, but by cattle. And with no rain comes no drinking water and no grass. As a result, their cattle started starving. And then they started dying.

When a cow dies, it is dragged outside, not too far from the huts themselves, and left there to rot.

They tried burning the dead cattle at one point – I found a small pile of ashes. But they gave up, losing either the resources or the will. The total death count exceeded 2,000. An older Maasai man traveling with us said it was the worst he had ever seen.

Let’s look at that photo again. The cows died because there was nothing to eat or drink. But now the rains have come and the landscape has taken a turn for the better. While the grass comes back to life, the cattle do not.

Some Maasai wonder what will happen now. They are concerned about their livelihoods. They are concerned about the health repercussions that come with leaving numerous dead animals lying around their homes. They are trying to clean up and move on, but the evidence of tragedy is unavoidable

Pictures cannot capture the smell, or the sound of the flies, or the look of helplessness in the eyes of the people. They can be disturbing, yes. But sometimes disturbing is also reality. My goal with posting these is simply to show reality. Not the reality featured on the cover of a magazine or on a charitable website, but the reality of a silent people from a bomba who have no one to depend on for survival but themselves.

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Once there was water. Now there is none.

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