Building with the San People by Tamanna Islam Urmi

San Children - D'Kar, Botswana

After a 9 hour journey in the bus of University of Botswana, we landed to the training center of D’Kar and got welcomed by a group of local participants, IDDS organizers and wood fire in a circular fenced area. Little did I know that this circular area around is going to a defining feature of my experiences in the next two weeks.

The only light around us were the light inside the bus, a few dimming lights afar in the wood-houses where we will reside for the summit and the dark orange fire. I quickly shook hand with the welcoming group and glanced upwards. The huge sky with no interruptions but a few thorny twigs is holding up covering as much as the eyes can see. The pitch black sky is filled with millions of sparkling stars and a cloudy white band has spanned across the middle of the sky! It took me a few seconds to process that it’s the Milky Way, so clearly drawn out, and what we can see is one hand of the spiral we live in. The band goes from one side to the horizon, or as far down we can see, to the other side touching horizon. I quickly put my luggage in my triple room and ran outside to look at the sky while feeling the warmth of the fire.

The Morning FIre
Mornings started with a gathering around the fire again. The next two weeks we will immerse in the community, learn to design with people, roll on the Kalahari sand in the light of setting sun for treating our backs and end the day sitting by the fire with an amazing and amazingly diverse group of people. The place we are in is a small village beside the Kalahari Desert. The sand here has a reddish tint to it, water is scarce but in the training center we get 24 hours supply of water from a pump somewhere around. It’s winter here at this time with very cold nights and mildly cold days. Plants around has low-hanging thorny branches with green leaves that looked grayish green from a distance.


The top of the land has a loose layer of sand about ten to fifteen centimeter deep with a harder and denser layer below it. Lying down on the sand therefore leads the loose layer on top to form the shape around the back. That at the back along with the warm winter sunlight from the top is beyond soothing. The first time I saw the moon was the first night. It was quite strange to see the moon in a shape never seen before. The moon phases of Southern and Northern hemisphere is flipped and near the equator moon is more tilted from the vertical. Check this link to get visual clarification.

Along with the nature there were people and ideas that replenished my treasure of experiences. In the first week we learned and accustomed ourselves with all the tools to build our project, such as, design cycle, information gathering techniques, process of bouncing off ideas of teammates to improve designs, working with tools in workshop, designing constraints, brainstorming ideas and so on. There were multiple hands on sessions to get our hands dirty in designing. The second week we stepped into the community with all the tools we need to dive deeper into the problems our respective groups are assigned with to gather necessary information, brainstorm ideas for designing a device as a solution, sketch modeling and then eventually building a functional prototype.

In one of the build-it sessions of the first week, the international participants learned to build things from the locals. Some craftsmanship locals are good at and need to do at a regular basis are building bow and arrows and starting fire in the woods. I with five other people hammered wire-end and shaped it into an arrowhead and attached it to a thin stick to make an arrow. We then practiced hitting a target with the arrow. A group went into the woods to learn to start a fire. An exclusive form of art in D’kar is to make jewelry out of the eggshells of ostriches. The shells are broken into small pieces, drilled through, sanded to smooth out the sharp edges to give a circular finish and used to make jewelry. A lot of us who spend most of our times in cities with little connection to building things for day-to-day living enjoyed learning the local craftsmanship. Besides that the mutual teaching and learning helped us become better friends with the locals. Locals of D’Kar speak the language Naro that has phonetic features that I hadn’t heard earlier. There are many types of clicking sounds, including dental, alveolar and palatal clicks. (Not that I understand what is what). The San people struck me as very very creative and expressive people who never ran out of energy to communicate thoughts in the most beautiful manner. As a participant accurately mentioned in a presentation, “Each person in the community is a magnificent artist”.

Then there was food. Food consisted of a lot of meat and maize preparations. We were served with food that is a fusion of Botswana local culinary practices with others making the food taste different from what people ate but quite good nevertheless. The landscape around is not the most agriculture friendly so a huge portion of the nutrition came from meat. For the starch pap, samp (base of a meal made with maize) and rice were common. It was at times difficult for the vegetarians but the cooks tried to accommodate the different dietary needs with vegetarian options in every meal and Halal chicken for Muslims who practiced Halal eating. And there were sodas and juices, a wide variety of them. We got to know that with the scarcity of water and a liking towards sweet drinks, people in this region has grew a great fondness for sweet beverages that come in Aluminum cans.

People of D’Kar, their language, food and art blew my mind but there were more. There were people from twelve other countries. It was like a buffet of experiences and knowledge.
Two weeks were too short to get into depth with the different cultural and intellectual exposures I could get.  But I learned about the puberty rituals of Botswana, the Zambian dance and the Brazilian dance, the Bharatnatyam poses for male and female in storytelling dances, facts about stars and universe, stories of traveling alone in mountains, stories of being the first one to go to college, stories of struggles and stories of failed attempts, art forms of dark room imaging, deceptively realistic water color portrait from live models, ideologies around religions beliefs, political standpoints, and lastly, the knowledge of so many doors I was unaware about that I can now go on to explore.



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