What will the kids be learning?

We struggled with the decision to take the kids out of school: for Emily, this is a serious problem with her AP classes.  Our timing choices for Stephanie were September or March, and September is far more preferable from an academic standpoint.  From a political perspective, I think it is a shame that this sort of field trip is lumped in with simple truancy, but that’s the law.  Their teachers are incredibly supportive, and we are hoping to have each family member be able to blog and share impressions from this platform.  Below is what I wrote the schools regarding their absence:

Educational Mission of Africa TripTo the teachers of Emily, Kate, and Ted Fairchild,We have an opportunity to go to Africa to visit Kate’s aunt, who lives in Botswana.  Our choices for the trip were September and March, and it seemed clear that September was academically preferable.  While on the trip, Kate will have a chance to learn about some of the history of South Africa and stay in a home of expat friends who live in Johannesburg, and participate in donating baseball equipment to a team our friend sponsors in the ghetto of Alexandra.

From there we fly to Kasane, on the north end of Botswana, close to the point where Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe meet.  We will board a boat to tour the Chobe and possibly Zambezi rivers, watching the animals who come to drink at the river.  From there we head to Maun, where the kids will attend a day of school and begin our exploration of the Okavango Delta.

The Okavango Delta is produced by seasonal flooding. The Okavango river drains the summer (January–February) rainfall from the Angola highlands and the surge flows 1,200 kilometres in approximately one month. The waters then spread over the 250 km by 150 km area of the delta over the next four months (March–June). The high temperature of the delta causes rapid transpiration and evaporation, resulting in a cycle of rising and falling water level that was not fully understood until the early 20th century. The flood peaks between June and August, during Botswana’s dry winter months, when the delta swells to three times its permanent size, attracting animals from kilometres around and creating one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife. (wikipedia)

In the Delta, we will embark on a five day mobile tenting safari, camping at different locations.  The children will learn about ecology of a vastly different “lowcountry” ecosystem, and be able to make comparisons between that system and theirs.  They will learn about the relationships between predator and prey, and flora and fauna.  They will hone field skills for identification of birds and other animals.  They will learn about an economy that is much different from ours, and a political system in a relatively stable African country.  They were in Africa five years ago at a different season, so they should be able to come to some conclusions about change over time and season.

Kitso means “experience” in Setswana, the local language. Kitso Safaris has been outfitting camping safaris in the northern regions of Botswana since 1979. Based in Maun, we are equipped to outfit private and exclusive camping safaris in and around the Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve, either by boat or vehicle, providing for specific interests. Sun drenched days, clean air, herds of elephants crossing open plains, lion prides resting in the shade of thorn trees after a nights hunting, cool evenings spent around the camp fire, swapping stories under clear night skies, sleeping under canvas waking only to hear the sounds of distant lions calling in the dark night. Vehicles are equipped with a host of reference books for identifying mammals, birds and trees. Kitso Safaris is owned and run by Colin Dandridge, who has been conducting safaris since 1975, and has been involved in outdoor activities in Southern Africa all his life – especially fishing, diving and wildlife photography.

We will also explore the Khwai area:

Here at Khwai, a long bridge constructed entirely out of mopane poles, forms a picturesque entrance to the reserve for visitors arriving from the north. This bridge, which rattles and shakes as vehicles pass over it, must be one of the most photographed structures in the northern areas of Botswana and is so much a part of the character of Moremi.

The reserve enjoys a wide diversity of habitat and is well known for the height of the trees in the mopane tongue, which covers the central area. However, the mainland part forms only about thirty percent of the reserve and is, in many ways untypical – the remaining area being part of the Okavango Delta. Birdlife is prolific and varied, ranging from water birds to shy forest dwellers. Elephants are numerous, particularly during the dry season, as well as a range of other wildlife species from buffalo, giraffe, lion, leopard, cheetah, wild dog, hyaena, jackal and the full range of antelope, large and small, including the red lechwe. Wild dog, whose numbers are so rapidly dwindling elsewhere, are regularly sighted in the Moremi and have been subject to a project being run in the area since 1989 so these animals are often seen wearing collars placed on them by the researchers. It is claimed that the Moremi area contains about thirty percent of all living wild dog.

And the geographically mysterious Savuti:

Often described as one of, if not the best, wildlife-viewing area in Africa today. Savuti boasts one of the highest concentrations of wildlife left on the African continent. Animals are present during all seasons, and at certain times of the year their numbers can be staggering. All the major species: giraffe, elephant, zebra, impala, tsessebe, roan, sable, wildebeest, kudu, buffalo, waterbuck, warthog, eland and accompanying predators including lion, hyaena, jackal, bat-eared fox and possibly even cheetah and wild dog.

Savuti is famous for its predators, particularly its resident lions and spotted hyaena populations. Sometimes you will have them uncomfortably close, as both they and marauding hyaenas do wander through the campsite. Do NOT feed them. Almost certainly you will hear lion at night.

Geographically, Savuti is an area of many unknowns. One of the greatest mysteries is the Savuti Channel itself, which has over the past 100 years inexplicably dried up and recommenced its flow several times. The most recent dry period started in 1982, and then in the last two years the water has returned.

We will be reading selections (or whole works) from Alexander McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Isak Dineson’s Out of Africa, and local history and natural history guides.  They will be expected to keep notes along the way and record impressions, poems, and field notes. They will plan and pack their own baggage, manage their own money between South African Rand, Botswana Pula, possibly Zambian Kwacha, and American Dollars.  They will keep a pen and paper journal and participate in a family blog.  They will take basic art supplies and a camera.

They will have kindles with them for reading.  We are limited to 18lbs of luggage each, so large textbooks are not an option.  Or, I can buy an additional or damaged copy of the larger textbooks and Emily can remove and bring the most relevant pages.

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