And Now for Something Completely Different

Oy. Where to start.

As a writer, I plunge into a beginning knowing full well that I can’t really write it until after the end. The first beginning is a temporary beginning, and who cares about that? That’s easy.

I think I need to take that approach for my Africa Journal beginning, or I may never get started.

We left Maryland on Wednesday, November 26th. After 15+ hours in the plane, we arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, on November 27, and Maun, Botswana, on November 28. This is Day 6 in Maun. Compared to Alaska, day is night and night is day, literally and figuratively. Maun is 11 hours ahead of Alaska.

The initial plunge into a foreign place and culture is overwhelming. Every little sight and detail registers as different and noteworthy. Trying to record and share that is impossible. Heck, I can’t wrap my own head around it. Hence the difficulty in getting started with a journal.

So I’m just going to start, believing I can come back and re-do the beginning in the end. This is a blog, so that’s not really true, but I won’t tell if you won’t.


So . . . dumela (say “doo-MAY-la”). That’s Setswana for “hello.” English and Setswana are the languages of Botswana. We are so lucky everyone speaks English, even if it seems heavily accented to us. I was expecting more of a British English, but my ear insists the English here sounds more Australian, German, and Jamaican. Go figure. Still, it’s English, and speaking a common language, even imperfectly, is a huge comfort and help.

Africa Wildlife

Naturally, one of the big attractions of Africa is the wildlife. It’s what put Africa on my mental map as a kid. I don’t know about you, but when I think of African wildlife, I think of elephants, giraffes, lions, hippos, all sorts of antelope, leopards, cheetahs, gorillas, etc. Those animals aren’t in Maun proper, but we’ve been entertained with wildlife nonetheless: birds.

Beautiful, colorful birds. There are some drab brown ones, too, but we ignore them.

Red-billed spurfowl

Red-billed spurfowl sitting on a fence.

Here’s the list so far (of course I’m keeping a list):

  • Red-billed spurfowl
  • Crested barbet
  • Blue waxbill
  • Red-billed fire finch
  • African openbill
  • Dark-capped bulbul
  • African golden weaver
  • Swamp boubou
  • Barn owl
  • African pygmy goose (Which looks like a duck, if you ask me. Which begs the question: What’s the difference between geese and ducks? Hmm, Scott Thomas?)
  • Meve's starling

    Meve’s starling. Look at that blue/purple color!

  • African jacana
  • Gray heron
  • African green pigeon
  • Southern red-billed hornbill
  • African paradise flycatcher
  • White-faced whistling duck
  • Golden-tailed woodpecker
  • Pied kingfisher
  • Cape turtledove
  • Laughing dove
  • White-browed robin-chat
  • Cape glossy starling
  • Meve’s starling
  • African hoopoe
  • Squacco heron
  • Namaqua dove
  • Blacksmith lapwing
  • Purple heron
  • Arrow-marked babbler
  • Hartlaub’s babbler
  • Black-faced babbler
  • Yellow-billed egret
  • Red-eyed dove
  • White-backed duck
  • Woodland kingfisher
Blue waxbill

Blue waxbill

My favorites, so far, have been the Woodland kingfisher (bright turquoise), the African hoopoe (orange, stripey, way-cool crest), and the paradise flycatcher (you’ll see). We don’t (yet) have pictures of the first two, but we see the paradise flycatchers regularly and have some pics of them.

Male African Paradise Flycatcher

Male African Paradise Flycatcher

The male has an orange back, a ridiculously long orange tail, and a turquoise bill.

Female African Paradise Flycatcher

Female African Paradise Flycatcher

The drab female is a beautiful orange on her back and tail.

Paradise flycatcher exiting a swimming pool.

Paradise flycatcher after a dip in the pool.

Every day, the flycatchers visit the pool for a quick dip. They dive into and out of the water lickety-split, shake off on a branch, take another dip, shake, and maybe, if it’s one of those days, they’ll have a third dunk.

Other birds bathe in a water feature under shady trees near the feeders. So far, the flycatchers are the only ones to use the pool. I figure it’s because his tail won’t fit in the smaller bird bath. They also couldn’t fly in and out so quickly and easily. I’m a little surprised we haven’t seen more animals in the pool.

And that’s that. The Africa Journal is started. Nope, I’m not re-writing the beginning.

Categories: Africa, Africa, Travel

8 replies »

  1. I am so happy to hear you are in Botswana! I spent six months there in 1996 volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. I made it to Maun and the Okavanga for only 4 or 5 days, but it was amazing. Most of my time was in Gabarone, though we did a 3 week bike ride/house building trip from Gabarone to Chobe. I sincerely look forward to hearing about your adventures. Do they still sell Paloney (a hot pink version of baloney) and have you tried the Chibuku (Shake shake) yet? Dumela and sala sentle.

  2. I’m so happy to see this! I was just stalking around your Facebook the other day wondering if I’d missed posts from Africa! It looks and sounds amazing so far, can’t wait to read more!

  3. It’s difficult to summarize the differences between ducks and geese briefly (which are members of the same family). To me, the most interesting differences are the facts that geese tend to be longer lived and the sexes look the same. If geese survive their first year, their life expectancy is at least 4 years (in the wild, many species have lived more than 20 years). Ducks have it pretty tough, with up to 80% not making it through the first year, and surviving for only 2-3 years if they survive the first year. Ducks are a subfamily that are dominated by species with sexual dichromatism that varies seasonally.

    You have a nice list of birds going & nice photos. I’m jealous!

  4. Thanks, Scott. That’s more than I knew three minutes ago.

    Get this: The African pygmy goose is actually Africa’s smallest duck. It’s not a goose at all. Just like killer whales (orcas) aren’t really whales (they’re dolphins), and koala bears aren’t really bears.

    What other animals have similarly misleading names?

  5. You forgot to mention the hoopoe’s awesome scientific name among its way-cool attributes. Say it, Jen, say it.

  6. Well, Barb, it seems to depend on who you talk to. Some authorities put all hoopoes in a single species, in which case it would be Upupa epops. Other scientists separate the African Hoopoe into its own species, and then it’s Upupa africana, which isn’t quite so fun to say.