Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.
As we talked to locals in Gaborone, Botswana Capital City, people were so proud to talk about the things they love about their country.
“We are free here, our country is so peaceful, you don’t have to be afraid,” said one.
“You can criticize the government, you have free speech, free elections,” said another.
Botswana is indeed an incredible country.
Home to not only the most beautiful wildlife we’ve seen yet, including elephants, giraffes, impala, kudu, and warthogs, but also to the friendliest people. It was one of the most vibrant political democracies we’ve seen so far, a nation proud of its peace and stability.
More than diamonds, people in Botswana consider water their most precious resource. This landlocked country’s national flag is blue to symbolize water and it even named it currency pula or “rain.” Nearly everywhere you go in the country — including public toilets, sinks and showers–you see signs asking you to curb your consumption of water. These signs are tied to a massive national education and advertising campaign geared at creating constant reminders about our obligation as individuals to conserve water.
Efforts to converse water have led Botswana to become leaders in environmental conversation in the continent.
In fact we can learn a lot from Botswana on the importance of conservation and techniques to reduce our consumption of energy and resources.
Here are two simple techniques they are using:
1. All electrical outlets — from the cities to the countryside — come with an on/off switch (pictured). While this switch might sound simple, how many times have you seen these in the United States (instead of just having to unplug everything)? Most importantly — people really use them — when they are done watching TV or using an electric kettle, they turn the switch off. Televisions, alarm clocks, air conditioners, and other appliances are programmed to withstand these power shifts and they don’t have to be reset when the power is turned back on.
2. We’ve all seen plastic bags on the side of the road or in trash bins — taking lifetimes to biodegrade — and doing irrevocable damage to the environment. While a few U.S. cities are trying to implement a small fee or even ban plastic bags such as Seattle (it passed but now goes to referendum in August), San Francisco, and Washington DC, we were impressed that Botswana has already implemented a surprisingly high (by local stands) national fee of their use or purchase. As a result, people bring their own bags to the grocery or use no bag at all for their groceries. Why can’t the United States implement a national law? Check out this interesting page on plastic bags by the Worldwatch Institute.
We also visited a project helping to conserve another of Botswana’s precious resources–wildlife. The Mokolodi Wildlife Reserve teaches the community about conserving and protecting wildlife and the environment, while also educating students about permaculture. By growing indigenous vegetables, recycling water for irrigation, and using organic fertilizers-including elephant dung-the Reserve’s Education Center is demonstrating how to grow nutritious food with very little water or chemical inputs. We met with Tuelo Lekgowe and his wife, Moho Sehtomo, who are managing the permaculture garden at Mokolodi. Tuelo explained that the organically grown spinach, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, green peppers, garlic, basil, parsley, coriander and other crops raised at the garden are used to feed the school groups who come regularly to learn about not only animals, but also sustainable agriculture. Tuelo and Moho use the garden as a classroom, teaching students about composting, intercropping, water harvesting, and organic agriculture practices.
Another plus to our travels here is that everything seems affordable here compared to its more expensive neighbor, South Africa (especially since we weren’t shelling out hundreds to go to Chobe national park for a safari). The pula is roughly valued at six to one against the US dollar. To put prices in perspective: a beer costs roughly $1 USD, a taxi anywhere in the city costs $3, a nice dinner for two costs around $15, a birdwatching walking tour with a private guide for two, around $25 per hour, and the bus ride from Johannesburg to Gabarone via Intercape costs around $25. The countryside might be a little off the beaten track, but it’s well worth the trek and you can still find a nice, clean, and comfy private double room with bath, hotwater, and air-conditioning for around $30 dollars a night.