Changing Planet

Arrival in Botswana: Elections, Friends, and a Used Car

Dumêlang borra le bomma! That’s greetings in Setswana, the national language of Botswana.

After a 7-hour flight across the Atlantic, an 11-hour layover in England, and an 11-hour flight to South Africa, I boarded a small twin-engine prop plane for my final flight to Botswana. My equipment backpack was too large for the overhead bin, so I strapped it into the seat beside me. I buckled my own seatbelt and closed my eyes for a nap. A little less than an hour later, the plane touched down in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana, and the real journey began.

Ed Pettitt, a friend who has been advising me over the past couple of months, met me at the airport. Ed spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in New Xade (pronounced Ka Day, with a click sound preceding the K), one of the San resettlements, and has played a key role in bringing my project to life. I’ll be staying with him for the next nine months when based in Gaborone.

A member of parliament waves to his supporters.

A couple of days before I arrived in Botswana, the country had held elections. The ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) won decisively, but it was still the closest election since independence in 1966, with 17 seats taken by the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), the major opposition party. Ed and I mused about the outcome on the way back to his house and he informed me that members of parliament were being sworn into office later that day. After dropping off my bags, I went to parliament to watch some of them take their oaths. The officials walked by my spot in the crowd, many of them holding their hands above their heads in the shape of an umbrella, the symbol of UDC. Perhaps because of the many changes I’m sure to face in these upcoming months, I wondered then whether the election will bring significant change to Botswana.

After watching some of the parliamentary proceedings, I met Ketelelo and Philesco, both of whom are San and come from New Xade. Ketelelo goes to school at Maru-a-Pula in Gaborone on a government scholarship, and Philesco was in town visiting for a couple of days. The three of us walked around the central part of the city. They showed me some of the main attractions like Rail Park Mall and the newly built Masa Centre, where we stopped for sodas.


While we sipped Coca-Cola, Ketelelo chatted about life in Gaborone. We talked about his studies at Maru-a-Pula, the election, and eventually found ourselves on the topic of resettlement. Ketelelo has a unique perspective. Resettlement brought formal education to New Xade. Ketelelo excelled at his schoolwork there and later graduated at the top of his class in Ghanzi – the first San to do so. As a result, he received a government scholarship that brought him to study for his A-levels at Maru-a-Pula, a premier institution in the capital. Ketelelo is currently applying for colleges in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and his future seems full of possibilities.

“If resettlement hadn’t happened,” Ketelelo says, “I wouldn’t be here now.” He has an interesting story, and I’ll be following him with the camera for the next couple of weeks to learn more about his life and hopefully share some of that with you.

I look forward to getting to know Philesco better, too. I’ve hired him to help me out over the next nine months: to teach me Setswana and G//ana, one of the San click languages; to serve as translator and cultural mediator; and to help navigate the long road to New Xade.

Given that long road – New Xade is a 10-hour car trip from Gaborone – I also bought a used car. It’s a Nissan X-Trail and has four-wheel drive to help with the sandy roads to the settlement. Having relied on public transportation in New York for a couple years, I never needed a car, so this is my first one – which is exciting! It’ll certainly be a unique first car experience as I adjust to driving on the left side of the road here in Botswana.

Posing with my new car.
Daniel Koehler, of New York City, is one of five grantees selected from among 864 applicants for a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, which is the first of its kind. He will film a documentary on the San living near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, focusing on the loss and change of their culture.
  • John Oyambi

    Dan Praise Jesus, your Dad sent me this great initiatives and the family updates, am happy about you. stick to your vision, always be positive in your endeavors. Put God First every second of your Life. “Ebenezer” Thus far the Lord has brought us.

    John Oyambi
    Office of The Prime Minister

  • Mike Kotecki

    Great intro, Dan. Great photos. Your dad, Ron, and I are friends.
    Love to follow your journey. We lived in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in West Africa for many years. Mike

  • Sarah Ziegenfus

    Dan, We’re friends from Calvary Baptist & watched you grow up here & in Uganda..Would love to hear of your journey in So. Africa.

  • Bill and Char Kromer

    Hi Dan, it has been a long time since we have seen you but your parents keep us informed a couple times a year about you and your siblings. Glad you are in Botswana doing what you are called to do (and excited about the possibilities
    In the late 70’s we lived in Swaziland and had opportunity to travel/visit Botswana. Our whole family camped in the Okavango Delta by canoe. What a grand experience. Is New Xade in that direction? We understood your reference to the “click” in the language. I easily mastered it on first try.
    I also had several days in various Botswana communities on an educational consultancy. Fly by small plane to those communities and enjoyed it very much.
    Best wishes for success as you continue the journey God has placed before you.

  • Barb Kaper

    I feel like Africa has a part of my heart, Dan, and so I was happy to read your opportunity using your skills as a photographer and with National Geographic! Your Mom has been in my bundle to love since she was single in Austria!
    Rejoicing with you and your car and will pray for safe travels and discernment as you work in another culture.

  • Uncle Jeff/ Denver,Colorado

    Dan- Thanks for the report. Will be praying for your work and your safety. Sounds exciting! I can only speak english and some spanish I picked up on Sesame Street years ago. Some of us are called to live in the states. That’s me.-Jeff.

  • Steve Agriss

    Very exciting, Dan. Love your attitude and perspective. Your dad and I have been friends since the late 1960’s and roomed together at Penn State. I lived in Zimbabwe for 8 years 30 years ago, becoming pretty fluent in Shona and driving on the left side of the road, like you are, Spent a couple days in Botswana, because I had to buy tires for my truck and couldn’t find them in Zimbabwe.

  • Barbara Moyer

    Ditto here for being friends with your Dad…. and Mom. I linked to your website from the Koehler Connection. I, too, would like to follow your journey and be a prayer partner as you have need. God’s best, Barb 4 Larry 2

  • Miriam Namutebi

    Hey Dan

    Glad to hear you finally touched down, Hellen Kizito,one of the Nav people in Uganda then is there. She lives in Gabarone. I will pass on her email to you asap. Are you ready to learn car mechanics too? Better do so. All the best


  • Munoz

    And so it begins! I look forward to seeing where your adventure takes you.

  • Mike Slone

    Great to hear you arrived safely. Keeping you in our prayers!


  • Hilda Naisiko

    Dear Dan, thanks for you update on what’s going on in you life.
    Writing is one of my weaknesses and is one area God is helping me grow.Because I have discovered that it is inevitable for me to do without it especially in this era.

    Will be praying for your time in the strange land.

    But take courage GENESIS15:1

    Am a family friend from UGANDA that sent for the family SCARFS during Ron’s last visit to UGANDA


  • Edward Sekabanja

    Hey Dan, great to know this worked out Praise the Lord Have you yet made contact with Luke Edwards, Hellen Nakiyingi who came down to Makerere for bible studies with Dad, myself and Miriam? Or Harold ? I may come down just to see you.
    i hope it works out

  • Edward Sekabanja

    Dear Dan,
    Greetings from Uganda. Great to know this came through. It reminds me of God`s favor and faithfulness. We will continue to pray with you. I pray a door opens for me to visit you.
    Greetings from Rosette, Chipo, Tatenda, Tinashe and family.

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