Back in Botswana

Trip Start Oct 19, 2005
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Thursday, February 2, 2006

Hi there folks...

Well I know it's been awhile since I last made contact, and hopefully it's only my mother that is concerned about my welfare and the rest are just assuming (correctly) that I am having too much fun to blog!!

So what's been going on, my Setswana is improving, albeit slowly and compounded by an appalling accent, but I can at least understand and make some conversation, much to the amusement of the Batswana. I am back working with Botswana Harvard for another 4 weeks before I finish off the rest of my African adventure - I have still so much to see and thus am postponing my visit to Australia until the end of March/ beginning of April...a difficult decision as I am really looking forward to catching up with the Melbourne crew, but I have still Kili to conquer and a mission to feed the starving kids of Malawi from the back of a scooter, before I leave this beautiful continent.

So what's been going on... this blog will be a composite of short stories:

The Mugging

Cape Town, New Year's day, myself and a Japanese/ American medical student, Meg were walking along a busy street in Cape Town back to our hostel, talking about Africa, hope, future, AIDS and kids, whilst following two street urchins. One of these kids, who couldn't have been more than 8 years old, was carrying an empty beer bottle, which he proceeded to try and smash on the pavement. Whilst doing this I'm thinking "Why does he want to smash the bottle? Is he turning it into a...WEAPON?" Just as the kid manages on the fourth attempt to do exactly that. He then proceeds to threaten us with the broken bottle - to which Meg's first thoughts were "Oh my God, he's going to hurt himself.." He thought slightly differently by threatening us "Give me money or I'll kill you." A momentary fear gripped me, before I looked at his mate, who had the most bemused and confused expression on his face, shrugging his shoulders as to say "I thought we were just out for an afternoon walk and didn't think we'd be mugging white foreigners." The one with the bottle made an attempt for Meg's bag, but she counter attacked with a plastic water bottle.

On this and the fact someone started shouting from the other side of the street I told them in Afrikaans to F off and they scampered. Leaving Meg and I to reflect at how sad the whole incident was - we weren't sure what was worse, their incompetence to mug us or our pathetic handling of the situation.

The Garden Route

Having managed to persuade my cousin's house guest a mad gay Iranian yoga teacher, Grosharon to join me in a three day jaunt up the coast. Therefore the two of us set off on a hot Kaap Stan day and drove through the wine region south of Paarl, through farmland and fruit orchard growing areas like the picturesque Montagu before heading into the arid and dry Little Karoo, a sparsely populated and low lying shrub-land surrounded by mountains. We stopped for a late lunch at a small cafe in Ladismith (not the famous one, from which Ladysmith Black Mambazo hail from). We were entertained by a very talkative owner who obviously doesn't get many customers but did amazing food. Fed and watered we headed onto to Oudtshoorn where there are loads of ostrich farms over a magnificent mountain pass into George the main urban area of the garden route before proceeding to Wilderness our final destination. We stayed there for two nights. The first morning we awoke and strolled out of the backpackers straight onto the beach to do a bit of yoga, before heading into town, well a two shop, one restaurant town, for breakfast. Later that day we went on a massive hike up to a waterfall where we could swim in the bath like brown waters at the bottom of the fall. That evening we went to the sole restaurant and it felt like I was having dinner with a minor celeb as a number of people came up to Grosharon and asked whether he had been on Big Brother - oh and yes he had. The pinnacle of his reality TV career centered on him playing rugby on Big Brother in a pink tutu dress and tiara, which he kept going back to pick up every time it fell from his head.

The next day we headed back to Cape Town via some more stunning scenery and farmlands, dropping in on Jim at Hermanus. Jim is a great 22 year old New Yorker who is a Watson fellow, with a grant of $25,000 to bum around southern Africa, running kids camps for HIV+ kids or kids that have been affected by AIDS.

At Gunpoint

Back to Botswana, I arrived on the Friday and after a quiet night dancing at a club called L'Afrique (we were later featured in the local newspaper), you can just about make out my back as I'm jiving to the beat. We decided to live it up on the Saturday night. There was supposedly a concert at the University of Bots (UB) for local artists, it soon became clear that it was more like a talent competition and this combined with incredibly 'pissed up' Batswana leering at us, we decided to make a hasty exit and go to another club on the outskirts of Gaborone, in Mogoditshande. As there were 7 of us, 6 girls and one guy and one car the logistics of making a speedy get away were rather thwarted, so after much contemplation we all climbed into Melissa's car. She is a very beautiful Afro-American medical student from Penn (mentioned in the Cape Town installment). Her car to be fair to it, is on the small side and with 7 adults in it, was dragging along the ground. But we left UB and hit the highway, well the first roundabout only to pull up alongside a BDF (Botswana Defense Force) truck, with several soldiers on board, 3 civilian women and what looked like a police officer driving - he later tried to prove he was a police officer, by producing ID only to find he hadn't any on him. The truck pulls past us and indicates to the left pulling into a combi stop. Mass discussion enthuses in our car and the decision is not to pull over but to keep going - probably not the best decision given the agility of Melissa's car. So at the next roundabout we slow down only to be surrounded by the BDF soldiers with AK47 guns pointing at us... I think Botswana is the only African country that when this happens you just laugh. So we get hauled over and told that there are too many..."ische too many" after much theatrical counting and that we will have to pay a fine. They then depart having informed a traffic cop that they have a car full of white people that is overloaded. The traffic cop then asks Melissa how much has she drunk, to which she replies "I don't drink."
"Now Madam, be honest with me!" Was his prompt reply. After an hour and half of wrangling... He wanted us to pay BWP200 and on payment then Melissa could drive off with a car full and he would take a couple of us to our homes. We protested saying we had no money couldn't he let us off with a warning. He told us that we had avoided being stopped, then applauded our logic in not stopping for anyone other than a police officer. He then had a change of heart and decided that he needed to take Melissa in for a breath test - if they had a breathalyser working I'd be shocked... As her eyes were somewhat red and he had to be responsible to make sure drivers were fit to drive. To which I reasoned that he had just told her she could drive.... Logic didn't kind of work!

Eventually one of the girls, a Canadian called Jen, called her Motswana boyfriend who came out and after 5 minutes of Engswana (mixture of English and Setswana) we were let off. Loosing half our party, Melissa, her sister, Ange and I went on to the club and got home at some hour in the morning.

State House intervention

My housing situation has changed and I am now happily ensconced in a US embassy house near State House. It is a palatial mansion with just me and a lovely woman, Daphne staying there. She and I hit it off when we first met, having loads and loads in common and I'm loving living there. The day before I moved in, Daphne threw a huge party with a DJ and potent punch, food etc for some friends that were leaving Botswana to go to Malawi. The party was fantastic and everyone was really enjoying themselves when the police arrived claiming that the State House and President Mogae was complaining about the noise. On promises of turning the music down, the police departed. However 2 hours later when the BDF guards from State House turned up, we really did comply and moved the music inside and continued to party till the wee hours of the morning.

Therefore I can honestly say I was at a party that disturbed the Head of State....

Botswana is now looking verdant and beautiful, the rains have been reasonable this year and there is great hope they will continue. It is amazing to see this once arid, dry and dusty country transformed into a lush green landscape. Having said that the river beds are still dry, but the cows and donkeys are now looking healthy and fat, having plenty to eat and a few dams are filling up. In the north of the country there are even cases of dams overflowing - amazing for such a dry country, unfortunately down south there has not been as much rain. This is leading people to speculate that the capital will move from Gaborone to Serowe, the original seat of the first president of Botswana, Sir Sereste Khama and the home of the next president - Ian Khama, who is currently the Vice-president and due to succeed Mogae in 2007/ 2008.

Until the next time

Lorato (love)and Peace

Hess x
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