Can you believe just three short weeks ago your student was boarding their plane to Zimbabwe? Traveling School shirt on, eyes wide with excitement and just a touch of nerves? It feels equally like a lifetime ago and just yesterday.

So much has happened and we’re starting to really get into the groove – connecting dots, engaging in experiences, deepening conversation and zipping around in Big Blue. 

For one science class, we visited the Vic Falls Wildlife Trust to learn more about animal conservation and human-wildlife interactions. Students listened as Melusi taught us all about local human wildlife conflict management. He shared tactics such as creating community bomas (aka corrals) for cattle with physical barriers such as PVC sheets instead of the smaller traditional stick enclosures to mitigate lions preying on their livestock. Lions won’t hunt what they can’t see, so a sheet of plastic blocks their view and they won’t jump into the boma. He then shared about how they work with local farmers to fire chili oil filled ping pong balls out of a potato gun (this is real I promise) towards elephants to scare them off crops. Elephants have a photographic memory and hate chilis, so this method implants a warning signal for the elephant, and it won’t return to that location. Melusi also showed us their forensics lab and we learned how the Trust uses DNA to help catch poachers. Right now, the process is tedious and involves sending samples to a lab in Germany for testing. However, the Wildlife Trust is getting new equipment which will allow for onsite testing. 

After our orientation week, we walked across the border into Zambia and visited the mighty Zambezi. Perhaps you heard about this expedition on your most recent phone call. The waves were big, the smiles were bigger, and this first true outing lent itself well to helping our group bond. For some students, it was their first night ever camping. Every single student was brave enough to sleep out under the stars, huddled together, giggles abundant. 

On the river, we set aside some time to make observations for science and began making field journal entries. I personally can’t wait to see these journals develop – students collecting little glimpses of various ecosystems, a semester-long snapshot of their moments of quiet observation emerging.

Maybe you’ve even seen some photos (they haven’t downloaded for us here yet!) of your child joining the Zambezi River swim team. Everyone did plenty of voluntary swimming, and some took unexpected swims! When one raft flipped at “The Mother” rapid, Piper immediately got swooped up by a safety kayak, giving it a perfect koala hug, and we practically had to beg Maddie to get back into the boat as she was having such a good time moving through the rapid. The river certainly pushed some individual limits, but everyone responded bravely. Most importantly we all worked as a team to learn paddle techniques, cheer each other on, make good decisions and move downstream together. By the end, most of us opted for an optional swim through a smaller rapid, and laughter echoed from the troughs to the canyon walls. 

Our second night on the Zambezi, we gathered around a campfire with our Zambian guides Melvin, Choongo, Baby face and Emmanuel to exchange stories and ideas, discuss various cultural norms, and share about growing up in different areas. The guides all grew up in villages near the Zambezi, and they treasure this unique area in different ways. From the spirit of the Nyami-Nyami to the ways in which tourism has impacted the area to conversations about the proposed dam, these four have wisdom and passion to share and we loved learning about similarities and differences. Using curiosity and respect, we came away with a sense of how different and how similar we can be as humans. 

The Zambezi was special. It was hard. It was powerful. But hey, don’t take my word for it! Here’s a paragraph Ashelynn wrote about her time on the river. 

“Our rafting trip on the Zambezi River was one of the most exhilarating adventures I’ve ever experienced. Rafting down rapids class 1 through 4, we got drenched in whitewater, and some of us even went for an accidental swim mid-rapid. We floated down to our campsite and passed by some crocodiles on the sides of the river. Later in the evening, we sat around the fire and listened to stories from our river guides. They also taught us songs to sing which was a blast. We then went to sleep on the beach under the night sky that was filled with bright stars. Rafting the Zambezi was an opportunity of a lifetime.” 

And FYI – under intense pressure to find a song all 15 of us knew, we ended up shamefully choosing the “Macarena” as a song to share from our culture. We’re working on finding another song soon! (Suggestions welcome!)

Click on an image to see it full size:

Since the Zambezi and parent phone calls, we’ve left Zimbabwe and ventured into Botswana, landing first in Kasane, a town bordering Chobe National Park. In addition to classes, our team enthusiastically embarked on two safaris! On our morning game drive, we saw impala, kudu, hippos, warthogs, baboons (though students are no longer very interested in them), vervet monkeys, hornbills, African fish eagles, Cape buffalo and a LIONESS! On our afternoon boat safari, students watched a lot of elephants interacting – many breeding herds with moms and babies were playing in the water. We also saw red lechwe and waterbuck antelope that are adapted to the riparian zone, spending more of their lives near the water than in the savanna or grasslands like some other antelopes. Other animals that thrive by the river were observed as well – crocodiles, water monitors and so, so many kinds of birds. A little TTS39 secret: most of the teachers are really stoked on birds, and many students leaned into birding!

After a few days we packed up our tents and loaded Big Blue to head to one of our more unique campsites. As Claire handed me her piece of paper describing our spot, she said, “It sounds like I wrote an advertisement, but it is just how I would summarize this place.”

“Elephant Sands is unlike any place I’ve set up a tent. The two words that come to mind to describe it are elephants, and sand. Elephants roam around freely and I’m finding it hard not to be distracted by them during class. There is a patio with tables that has a clear view to a watering hole just 20 feet away, and elephants crowd there to drink all day. It is one thing to see an elephant in a zoo or on tv, but to experience them up close is a whole other thing. I am moved by the giant, slow grace of the elephants, and studying their behavior reveals how complex their relationships, functions, and secret languages are. Even without the main attraction, Elephant Sands is an exciting place to stay. All of us were shocked by the heat and sun during the day, and the contrasting deep chill of the night. The sky spans out in every direction, featuring cloudless blue, the Milky Way, or a beautiful orange sunset depending on the time of day (all accessible while you’re using the bathroom by the way – it has no roof!) Although we are only here for another night, this place makes me excited for all the other places we will visit this semester.” 

It’s heartwarming to see these wonderful young people begin to come into themselves, to find their rhythms, to ask the hard questions. I speak for all the teachers when I say I am so excited about the progress we will see in the next series of weeks! There’s still so much for us to experience together. 

– Morgan, Statistics Teacher and adventure lover