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Glimpses of life before COVID-19 in Jao

THALEFANG CHARLES
Glimpses of life before COVID-19 in Jao
In the middle of a river and roaming deadly wild animals, the people of Jedibe in Jao Flats are still leading the old normal life free from facemasks and infrared thermometers. Mmegi Staff Writer THALEFANG CHARLES recently visited the island

Imagine a place where people do not wear facemasks. Not at Donald Trump rallies - right here in Botswana. A place where there are no gun thermometers aimed at your body. No sanitisers constantly sprayed onto your hands to kill the near-invincible virus.

Just like in the good old normal days when people did not frown at you when they see your mouth and nose [at time before the deadly novel coronavirus (COVID-19)]. That is how life still is at Jedibe village in Jao Flats inside the Okavango Delta.

Jedibe is a small island located on the NG24 with less than 300 people. It has a clinic – the people say it was built by ‘Iyene’ (former president Ian Khama) but there are no nurses working at the health facility rather one health assistant (Rraboitekanelo), who is not even qualified to prescribe paracetamol to patients. The only other government officer is the ambulance boat rider and it too is credited to the former president because the army apparently donated it after the community pleaded with Khama for assistance.

Jedibe has always been on a form of natural social distancing protocol because it is an island. Even though the first nationwide lockdown included the island residents, they never really had to comply because their location cuts them from the rest of the country, let alone the world.

To access Jedibe, one has to use either mokoro, which is a whole day of poling from either Etsha or Seronga. Other faster transport modes are a speedboat, which is about two hours from Etsha when the water levels are good or by air. Jedibe has a well-maintained airstrip on the south of the island.

Currently the village is vaguely headed by a Village Development Committee (VDC) chairperson, Gabaitsewe Tshwenyego following the passing on of the village chief, Johane Xologwe last year.

The government has finally started building a school, which is expected to be complete in 2021. There are two classrooms built with river reeds (letlhaka), an administration block and two teachers’ quarters made from modified caravans.

The school is powered by solar energy, which has brought electricity

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onto the island after many years.

The VDC chairperson, Tshwenyego, says the school construction is only awaiting the sewage system for the teachers’ quarters before completion.

They are hoping that by the beginning of 2021 they will finally have their young children attending school at home. Tshwenyego is delighted about the school saying that it will help to grow their village.

When the deadly wave of the virus hit Botswana, Jedibe felt like the safest place in the country. Although Tshwenyego was the only one who remembered to bring a facemask when meeting us, the man believes they are safe from COVID-19 in Jedibe. His worries are only with the visitors.

“Re ka kopana le yone kae corona tota, ha ese lona le tlang ka yone?” said Tshwenyego when asked about their fears for the virus.

Their other worries are elephants that keep destroying their property, (and those are part of their life, they have learnt to live with wild animals) not the invincible enemy that has changed life as known before and gotten everyone covered up.

A couple of days staying in Jedibe is enough to make one feel they are back to the good old life before COVID-19. The people of Jao just go about their lives as if nothing has happened.

There are no facemasks there. They still wake up to go into the river to fish with their small dugout canoes (mekoro). They still chill under the shades of the big acacia trees to lazily chat their day away. The elbow-benders still meet at the local traditional brewer for some social drinking of motseme (traditional beer made from palm oil).

During our second night at the village, the local traditional music group called Mamore came to our campsite behind the clinic and gave us a free show around the fire. The women of the group, with their long skirts made from reeds, shook and gyrated their hips seductively to swing the letlhaka in a beautiful Diware dance.

The campfire show turned out to be a refreshing party scene that we previously witnessed many months ago, before COVID-19 engulfed the old normal.



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