March 27th, 2013 / posted by paularath

Titi of the Kalahari and Gabarone

I am not fond of reality shows and seldom watch any, with the notable exception of “Project Runway.”

However, Sunday night I was cooking dinner between “60 Minutes” and “Masterpiece” and happened upon “The Amazing Race.” Lo and behold, it took place in Botswana! Not only Botswana, but the Kalahari Desert, home of the Bushmen of Botswana.

I lived in Botswana in 1972-73. I loved the country and felt so privileged to be there. My former husband, Dick Graham, and I were Baha’i pioneers and we ran a little newspaper called Puisano which was mimeographed and printed in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. (We lived in a rondavel about 250 miles away, in Mahalapye. I used to hitchhike on the train to take it to be printed. It was the ultimate low budget newspaper but it also allowed a tiny voice for anti-apartheid.)

When we first arrived in Botswana, we lived with our Baha’i friends, Maureen Page and Jeff Gruber. Maureen is one of the most organized and capable people I have ever known and she was the secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Botswana for many years. Jeff was a brilliant linguist, studying a particular Bushman language. Jeff was actually writing the alphabet for a Bushman language that had never been categorized and alphabetized before. He was creating symbols to identify the various clicks and clacks that make up Titi’s Bushman language. Jeff spoke Tswana but was not fluent in the Bushman language, so he worked with Titi, A Kalahari Bushman who spoke Tswana fluently.

Maureen Page and Jeff Gruber with their dog, Tladi.

Jeff and Titi were very close as colleagues and friends. I found Titi to be an amazingly kind, thoughtful and loyal friend. Although he didn’t speak any English, he communicated in so many other ways. If Dick was working on a car, for example, Titi’s hands would become like two extra limbs. Titi once awoke in the middle of the night – in a little one-room bush school house where we were sleeping on the floor – and slapped and killed a scorpion before it could sting me. He simply awoke to a sense of danger and literally flew to the rescue. (Yes, there are lots of scorpions in Botswana, as was demonstrated in “The Amazing Race.” However I never saw Titi eat one!

I learned a lot from Titi. Sadly, he died in 2011 so I never got to see him again. But he enriched my life and I’ll never forget him. I feel the same way about Maureen and Jeff, two courageous, bright, kind, generous people.

– Paula Rath

Botswana Kalahari tribal people. All photos courtesy of Maureen Page.

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March 28th, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Wonderful recall of a life changing experience.


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