It is Monday evening in Gaborone, Botswana and I am exhausted. So much has happened since I last wrote, most of which involved me reminiscing about my time in Ghana and how it will be to return home. I had a feeling of being ready to leave, but also nowhere near ready to go back to my life and its relatively fast pace. I am used to the food, customs, people, weather, and challenges of Ghana, and it will take some time to get reacquainted with my homeland.
Coming to Botswana didn’t help these sentiments. I arrived early in the morning on the 1st of April to cold weather and open flat terrain. From the air the land looked beautiful, and it was even more profound on foot. Becky picked me up from the airport and we made our way to the University of Botswana (UB) to put down my things and rest for a bit. The first difference I noticed was that the taxi was in great condition. There was no rust, no bits of metal falling off, the speedometer worked, and…they drive on the left! How disorienting! This on top of being tired was way too much for me.
That evening I went to a mall close to the university to get dinner. It has been pouring and cold every afternoon since I came and that day was no exception. By the time we got to the mall (Becky thought it was a great idea to walk and save the cab money) I was drenched and muddy. We ended up eating at a restaurant with pitas and hamburgers (the pitas were amazing! One thing Botswana has on Ghana is food) and were enjoying the meal when a boy came up to us and told us to give him food in Setswana. I only knew that this was what he said because he repeated it in English. We told him no, so he just sat there staring at us. Eventually I lost my patience with him and asked him who he was with. He told me he was with his grandmother but that she was at a funeral. I told him to go and get her and bring her to us, then I would give him food (he didn’t look like he was starving or else I wouldn’t have been so hard on him) but he kept saying she’s at a funeral and that he was hungry. After I wouldn’t budge he got the hint and left, but Becky felt bad and wondered if he actually was hungry. After the restaurant we browsed the mall and I got a few groceries so that I wouldn’t have to eat out every day. When we were leaving the store we found the boy buying a gumball from a machine! It made Becky feel better and me feel even angrier.
On Friday morning we woke up early to get to the bus rank (a trotro station in Ghana). Since it was Easter the university was closing from Friday through Monday so we wanted to travel during this time. The plan was to go with another international student, Hannah (from Netherlands), and her boyfriend Kago (‘g’s are pronounced like ‘h’s, except a bit more guttural like German in Botswana) to a small village named Pikwe where there was an old mine and community charm to be seen. At the bus rank, however, things were nothing like Ghana. First, it was all paved. Second, everyone was in line waiting patiently for buses to come. We joined the Pikwe line, which wrapped around two other lines and prepared for a long wait. Apparently buses (their coach buses, not vans) come every hour, so it seemed as though we’d be there for at least three hours. Four hours later we were only halfway up the line, so Kago and Hannah decided they wanted to go to South Africa instead (there was no line). I didn’t feel comfortable crossing the border into South Africa since I didn’t know what I needed to do so and since I wanted to see Botswana, not SA. Along with this it was a way for us to not spend the weekend with Kago- he had just quit smoking the day before and was being the most miserable person ever. Becky and I decided to go to Serowe instead, a town with a rhino sanctuary. A bunch of international students had gone there so we thought we might meet up with them. Since it was late in the day I decided to reserve a hotel room and found one for only 300 Pula (appx. $50USD, 1USD= appx. 6.5 Pula; pula means rain in setswana). We joined the Serowe line and left within the hour. The bus ride took four hours so I got to see a lot of landscape. I saw hundreds of cows and sheep and goats, burnt brush, and blue skies. We arrived just before dusk. At the bus rank we asked a taxi driver where the hotel was and he had no idea. Two women milling around did, though, and pointed to a nearby hill telling us it was a five minute walk. And it was. The hotel was situated on the side of a mountain and was amazing considering the price. Breakfast was included the next morning, there was a restaurant and bar, and most importantly, there was a comfortable bed. I slept well and the next morning was ready to see the town- which had nothing in it. Neither of us wanted to spend the money to go to the rhino sanctuary and there was nothing else open since it was Easter weekend. So we moved on to Francistown, the country’s second largest city. This was more challenging than you’d think. We sat at the bus rank in Serowe for three and a half hours waiting for a bus (the people also waiting assured us that it would come eventually) until eventually we decided to backtrack to a larger town, Palapye, and get a bus to Francistown from there. This plan worked and all of the people waiting at Serowe joined us.
We got into Francistown on Saturday evening. We once again lucked out with a hotel, staying at a four-star hotel for only 400 Pula due to an ‘Easter Special’ which I think really meant that they had no patrons that weekend. I had braai for the first time there which was so good. Braai is a distinctly Motswana dish, similar to barbecue but even better. That evening I watched TV for the first time in a very long time and drifted into a sleep that only comes from a full belly, a hot shower, and a comfy bed.
We got up at 6AM this morning hoping to have enough time to explore Francistown before starting our 6 hour bus ride back to Gaborone. We had breakfast and went into town looking for adventure. We found nothing! We walked around for an hour or so and the most interesting thing we saw was a view of the Tati river (it was a stream) from an overpass. So we joined the long line for Gabs and prepared for a long ride. Amazingly they were organized with police making sure no one cut the line or blocked traffic, and buses came in regular intervals so that the line moved steadily. It only took us an hour to move through the line and board the bus. We were off by 11AM and began making plans to see a movie with a friend in the evening. Halfway there, however, we were pulled over at a disease control road block and told to walk through the barrier. We had to show ID and they checked my passport to make sure I am legally here (and I am!) before we got to get back on the bus. I have no idea what the point of it was.
Anyhow, that evening we got dinner at a Portuguese restaurant that had great food as well and met up with several of Becky’s international friends to go see the movie Nine. All I can say about it is don’t pay money to see it if you haven’t already. With a good quality TV you can get just as much of it as I did…lots of attractive people showing skin and not really having to act. And here we reach the end. I am slowly getting used to a new culture and I hope that this is a good middle point between Ghanaian and American culture. Botswana is a strange mixture of the West and African tradition. It’s hard to get a sense for the people since they keep to themselves and strive for the same things we want in the U.S. For example, Becky’s roommate shops for clothes at Woolworths and is saving for an Audi. So bizarre.
Botswana Practical Travel Tip #1: Botswana is the country, Motswana refers to someone from Botswana, and Batswana refers to all Motswana as a people.
Botswana Practical Travel Tip #2: Transportation is something of a hassle. Always plan for a decent wait to get anywhere, and take the number of good taxi drivers you meet so that you can make an appointment for a pick up time.