Our family used to go our village once a year in my childhood. During one of those trips, we came across a lady who was taught English by my father in his free time. While watching TV at their place, I asked where she stayed. She replied, ‘Botswana’. The first thing I did was to open an atlas gifted to me by my uncle and find the country she mentioned. There was nothing more to it.
Never in my wildest dreams in the 23 years in the interim did I think about Botswana. It didn’t strike me when I boarded the flight to Gaborone via Mumbai and Johannesburg. It didn’t strike me during the entire stay in town for close to fifteen days. Probably my bladder wasn’t happy with the journey as my first memories of Johannesburg airport and Gaborone airport were the toilets.
First thing to impress you about Gaborone airport is the next to nothing scrutiny at the airport. They probably trust people, a forgotten art in these days. The difference between the modern airports and Gaborone airport becomes more clear once you step out of the immigration area- you pick the luggage and get to the exit area from the airport. There was no duty free area in the airport at that time. It was my first sighting of an airport without a duty free area.
While riding into Gaborone, I saw something that was unusual – young kids practicing Pole Vault. I didn’t just see it at one place, but saw it at a couple of places. I asked Ravi if Pole Vault was famous. He said wait till you see something in the city. I probably didn’t see anything on the ride to the hotel as I didn’t ask him any more questions.
After checking in at the hotel, named Gaborone Sun, we made a trip to the nearest ‘mall’. There was this restaurant called ‘Asoka’ specialising in Indian food. By the time we went there, it was well past their closing time. So, I had to have food at the cricket club. The cricket club seemed a place out of realms of dreams. Everything that a visitor would ever want to have would be available at the club. If there are more than two patrons there, the stories would just flow.
In the evening we found our way through residential areas of Gaborone. The scenes of kids pole vaulting came to mind as I was told that the reason could be found in the evening. When one notices the houses, there seems to be a common theme- high walls and electric fences. Put them together, you will deduce that pole vault was a way to avoid the obstacles. I was told that the place is relatively safe as long as you were not screaming for attention. If you try to be loud or flashy, you could easily be the target.
There is no way one can escape Indian presence in Gaborone. Be it the Indian restaurants, the Indian people, Indian brands or Indian banks. They are all over. The fact that I found a person from the same city that I studied in was surprising to me. I find it tough to encounter a person from Visakhapatnam in Bangalore, whereas the first person I speak to, out of the airport, in Gaborone is from Visakhapatnam. If not for me reading that Durban is the city with most Indians in a city other than Indian city, I would’ve safely assumed that Gaborone was the city with the largest number of Indian diaspora.
My working days involved a journey to a place called Lobatse. The journey was kind of a first for me as it was the first time that I had a police escort along with me so as to navigate through the traffic easily. Every single day as we weaved our way through the traffic and reach the suburbs, we would find a huge mall at the foot of a hill called ‘Kgale hill’. I found it very difficult to pronounce and the locals put me at ease by telling me that the ‘g’ in the word could be pronounced as ‘h’. That same logic applied to pronouncing the g in Gaborone as well!
The sights on the way to Lobatse were many- a game park, a hill bearing close resemblance, so said the locals, to the human posterior and stories of an old woman taming a snake are popular. The sight that I liked the most was the sunset. With the terrain being flat, the route offered some of the best views of a sunset.
One drive on the route and you would find the problems plaguing Botswana- teenage pregnancy and alcoholism among young kids. There are multiple boards trying to drive sense into the youth, but that doesn’t seem to be working because Botswana is a country with one of the highest rates of AIDS prevalence. It’s said that one among four people in Botswana has AIDS.
Both Gaborone and Lobatse have wonderful looking football stadiums from the outside. It doesn’t take a Sherlock to guess that Football is the most popular game in Botswana.
The game reserve just outside Gaborone is a must visit and the guided tour inside the reserve is an enjoyable experience. There was a funny incident in the game reserve. I wanted to click a lot of pictures, but try as I might, I couldn’t get the beings to turn towards me. All I could photograph was their bums.
At Lobatse there was a first for me- experiencing a sandstorm. It came out of nowhere and left destruction in its trail. A person who was dear to all of us, just about managed to escape grave injuries.
Another memory from the trip would be the way my birthday was celebrated by the people around me. While the pranks were naughty, they were the exact reason why the day would be remembered for years to come by me. All I can say is that I will let it remain a secret between the people involved.
It was Ugadi (Telugu new year day) the same day. So I went to temple. I met a person who hailed from the same village as me and knew my grandfather. How many places can I go to claim that this happened to me. I didn’t expect it to happen to me in Gaborone