A House Without Snakes by Daniel Koehler

In Botswana, two young Bushmen try to build a future after their people are forced to leave their homeland.

For tens of thousands of years, Bushmen have lived in an area of Botswana called the “Central Kalahari Game Reserve,” or CKGR. But since the 1990s, under government pressure, most of them relocated to settlements outside the reserve.

Kitsiso hitches the branches to mules to haul it home. His lifestyle is the same one his forefathers lived. They milk goats and farm the land. The soil is everything to them. So they protect it to pass down to their children.

His dad wants him to live and grow old in the bush. But it’s place has with no toilets, no sinks — nothing. At night, he sits beside the grass, brushing his teeth.

125 miles away, Ketelelo walks through New Xade. He passes a lot of hopeless faces — people are undergoing change and losing their way of life. The Bushmen used to be hunters and gatherers, grazing from the land where they were born. Women would bake wild potatoes, grind fruit and sing — and men would roast antelope and dance. Now, they’ve lost their land and their identity.

Ketelelo lost his parents at a young age, so he became responsible for himself — and education is his future. He tells his grandfather he’s leaving for school and heads to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana.

His dream is to study engineering in the U.S., Canada or the U.K. and prove that Bushmen aren’t primitive, hunters and gatherers incapable of understanding complex issues.

Back in the bush, Kitsiso and his dad gather melons. His dad worries he’ll die soon and he wants Kitsiso to learn the things he was taught. But Kitsiso wants to go to the city and live the way other people do.

He hasn’t told his dad and he isn’t sure what he’ll do.

Night falls. As they build a fire, Kitsiso asks his dad what he loved most about living in the bush. He misses the simple things — playing games and running around.

Ketelelo, meanwhile, begins to apply for colleges online. His mom died shortly after his birth and he wasn’t certain to survive either. Sometimes, he wonders what it feels like to have parents — a person to talk to that understands what you’re trying to say. Someone who cares about your dreams.

He looks at photos of his daughter and feels a sense of responsibility. He wants to give her a decent life — full of food and clothing and love.

Ketelelo visits a college counselor. He’s been accepted to the University of York, but he needs to figure out pay for tuition — he makes only $347 a year.

Feeling overwhelmed, he studies hard and heads to his exams. He does his best and waits for the results.

Back in the bush, Kitsiso and his dad hunt for antelope. Kitsiso asks if he should stay in the bush while his peers all work in offices. He wants to build a modern house — one where snakes can’t get into. His dad sits, silent.

Meanwhile, Ketelelo goes online to check his application — MasterCard has accepted him into their scholarship program at Michigan State University.

He calls his aunt and one of the men asks, “Is this the guy that people wanted to bury alive in the CKGR?” Life is a miracle.

Ketelelo says goodbye to his daughter and leaves for America to give her a better future. Back in the bush, Kitsiso tells his dad it’s time for him to leave.

Both embark on their new journey.

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