The settlement at Mabotsa soon became a flourishing place. The natives regarded Livingstone as a great chief and doctor who was able to cure their ills and protect them against their enemies. One of the principal chiefs named Sechele was an intelligent fellow and quickly perceived how superior the white man was to his people. He sought to imitate Livingstone as nearly as possible. He was easily converted to Christianity and became a very active disciple who for a time seemed to bear excellent fruit. He converted many of his people and had them attend a school which Livingstone had established, that they might learn to read the Bible. Everything was going very well until a drought set in; vegetation parched up, the streams ran dry, and even the birds and insects perished.
The rainmaker practiced his magic in vain. The rain would get close but never came a drop where they were. Patience with the situation came to a halt, and the people openly declared that the drought was a curse sent upon them for becoming Christians. This belief was readily received by them all because rain fell in abundance among all the neighboring tribes.
They continued to treat Livingstone with great kindness but they begged him to quit praying because they were afraid that his prayers would bring other calamities upon them. The drought had destroyed all corn and other vegetables upon which they were dependent, so Livingstone proposed a hunt, though some of them were doubtful that they would kill anything because the “drought-maker” was among them.
The hunt was organized anyway. Some miles from Mabotsa there was a small creek that was not quite dried up. Livingstone knew that there must be numbers of wild animals that would be attracted to it. He had the natives construct what they called a “hopo”. Basically this was a huge pit they dug out that was eight feet deep and 15 feet in breadth and length. It was covered with trees and bushes so that it was not noticeable at all until the animals fell into it. The way it was made, a large amount of game could be drawn into it and trapped inside so they could kill it. There were so many animals drawn inside that many of them escaped by walking on top of the other animals.
They trapped and killed enough meat to have enough food to eat until the rains came and they could grow crops again.
After Livingstone had been at Mabotsa for eight years, he had thoroughly established the Christian doctrine and had educated many of the natives enough that they could continue in further education.
Two English sportsmen named Murray and Oswell heard that Livingstone was close to them and asked him to go with them across the great Kalahari desert to Lake Ngami. Kalahari is not a real desert, but is called that because it contains no running water, and very little water can even be found when digging a well. Even with no water it is still covered with a great variety of creeping plants and game, especially antelope, abound in great numbers over it. It is very special because a vast amount of tubers vine-fruits are found all over its surface. The vines seem to grow on top and underneath is a root that is very good to eat. One of the tubers is as large as a man’s head and contains cool water instead of food. The natives know how to find these tubers by the sound of their spear when it hits the ground.
The most surprising plant of this desert is a peculiar sort of watermelon. The elephants truly love this melon and other animals feed on them, too. Some are bitter and some are sweet. The natives gash them open and taste to see which is which. The sweet ones are very nourishing and delicious.
The Bushmen mostly choose their residences far from water because they don’t want to get attacked by strange tribes. Water is such a luxurious commodity that they usually hide their liquid supplies in pits and build fires over them so no other tribe could steal the water. When they need water the women bring 20 or 30 vessels in a bag or net on their backs. They use ostrich eggs for water vessels. The eggs have a small hole in the top of them and the women fill them with water and then take them home and bury them.
They started the march on the 1st of June, 1849, and found that the whole 350 miles from Mabotsa to Lake Ngami was not all grassy. There were places where water was not available except at Bushman settlements which were few and far between. The party often went 40 hours or more without any water. They were riding on oxen and sometimes only made 6 miles in a day.
About half way the party came upon a great number of salt basins covered with an efflorescence of lime. It was 20 miles in circumference, but was obscured by a thick belt of mopane trees. When they first saw it, they thought it was a large lake of water with waves dancing along the shore. They all started to run towards the deceitful lake and were sorely distressed when they found out it was a salt basin and not a lake of water.
On August 1, 1849, two months after they left, they finally came to the lake. They were the first white people to ever gaze upon its beauty. It is not very large, being only 50 miles in circumference, but it is the basin for many rivers which pour their waters into it at the same time. During the flood season this inundates a huge area.
The natives of this area live chiefly on fish which they spear or catch in woven nets. They are good fishermen and catch great quantities of fish – more than they can consume.
The two sportsmen decided that they wanted to continue their sport further, but not before they gave Mrs. Livingstone and her three children some clothes in which they were in great need of. They were also suffering from severe fever which resisted all the home remedies and Mr. Livingstone decided to send them back to Cape Town and from there they could go back to England. He would return to pursue his work alone. His family got better from the fever and he was much encouraged as he continued his work.