The large heart of Botswana and reaching South Africa
I sometimes fear that if I slack off on discipline then I'll never complete
The bus stopped at the Namibia/Botswana border and we all had to walk across. Welcome to country number 104.
Leaving Namibia was sweet sorrow. I feel like I could had stayed for years but I only gave myself minutes. One must wonder about how many have set out to visit every country in the world only to find themselves happy and stationary halfway though. If it was truly easy then more would surely do it.
It was early morning when the taxi brought me to the bus, which would bring me to Botswana. The air was fresh and cool and I had in recent days been feeling the joy of freezing for the first time in over a year. Yes, this is Africa. But Africa is BIG! I have now moved so far south of the equator that it has gotten cold. Like really cold! But daytime is still warm and pleasant. People around me were yawning and so was I. We boarded the bus on time (that's new) and left for the border.
There is a theory about people here in Africa. Keep in mind that this continent is a giant and stretches 8,000km from north to south and over 7,000km fra west to east. Take a boat around the continent and you will cover the same distance as if you went around the entire planet! So people cannot possibly be the same all over. Geography and climate alone would make sure that people formed separate cultures and created various traditions. For those who have visited the continent I believe there is a common theme of friendliness and openness through African countries. But exactly how friendly? I would remind you that people have been friendly wherever I have gone. And that they especially in the Caribbean have this magic which will make you feel at home.
365 days in Africa - 30 countries. Slower than anticipated.
I have observed that I was much more likely to be invited into people's homes or share a meal with strangers on the streets in Western Africa than in Central Africa. Friendliness prevailed everywhere but to different degrees. So why less social in Central Africa? Well the theory, which I think is good, is that in West- and North Africa, where it is dryer, people have been accustomed to working together. Nobody digs a well alone.
I've seen more cows, goats and sheep in Africa than Lions, Elephants and Giraffes- but I saw 3 Ostriches in Botswana.
Then in Central Africa where it is far more lush and green people have been able to pluck a fruit from a tree whenever they were hungry. If you asked if you could have some they would simply point to the tree and say "Why don't you get it yourself?" And that is perhaps a good way of understanding why many eat alone in Central Africa while no one eats alone further north.
Sunset over the Kalahari desert.
Now I have come so far south that it has become dry again. So in theory people should be far more social towards strangers again. I wasn't disappointed. And here is a funny story:
We had cleared the border, which was super easy, and the bus had traversed the magnificent Kalahari desert all the way to Botswana's capital Gaborone. Over 1,000km in only one day!! From past experience I was dead sure that I would be sleeping on the bus and that we would arrive the next day. But with the good roads, a bus that didn't break down, no traffic, no checkpoints, efficient immigration and no corruption or unnecessary bureaucracy - we did it in a single day! And I arrived to a foreign capital after dark. And I really dislike when that happens!! I had already marked the local Red Cross office on google maps (you have no idea how much time I spend on the Red Cross within this project) so that was my best reference point in the situation. I figured that I could walk the 2 kilometers to the office and hope that someone was working late on that Friday evening. I wasn't much for asking the locals for a guesthouse. But I know I can trust the Red Cross anywhere. And even if no one was working late then I might find a security guard and ask him. Plus if I was lucky then I might find a courtyard there and put up my hammock for the night. It was a scary walk, because capitals are scary at night when you don't know them.
It's late and you are alone. Would you walk through this?
I found the office around 10pm but didn't see a security guard. However the door was open and light was pouring out. So I ventured inside. It was dark on the ground floor, but a staircase led upstairs and that was also where the light was. So up I went. Upstairs I found myself starring down a long hallway with many closed doors. But halfway down a door was open and I listened for a while until I heard sounds from there. So I walked to the door and said: "Hello!"
A young man appeared and we spoke for a while. I explained who I was and he invited me in. He told me he wasn't Red Cross and that he was working with IT. So I assumed that the Red Cross had hired him to do a job over the weekend. I asked if there was wifi in the building and if I could use the Internet to send a message back home and confirm that I had arrived safely? No problem and he gave me the password. Kennedy, which is his name, calls himself Kenny and we spoke for a little while longer. Then he suggested that I might as well sleep on the office floor and sort something out with a guesthouse the next day. "Okay, why not? Thank you". So my first night in Botswana was spent sleeping on an office floor.
Later that night I realized that the Red Cross had moved to another building!! In order to generate some income they were renting out the offices in the building I was now standing in. And if you think about that for a moment then this is was really happened: Tall and heavily loaded, I walked my bearded face into an unknown office building and disturbed an unknown and random employee late at night. Then I asked to use his wifi and slept on the floor. Has anyone ever done that at your workplace?
Kenny turned out to be an amazing guy. The next day we laughed about it while he showed me around town and made sure I found everything I needed. Gaborone is a brilliant capital with modern infrastructure which is battling the harsh dry elements which surrounds it. It got late that day so Kenny said: "You know, you can just stay another night on the floor if you want? I don't mind. I'm working all weekend anyway". We went out to see "Race" in the cinema that night, which is the best film I've seen for a while. And later on I slept on the floor for my second night. It was a hard floor and I would wake during the night and turn because of pain in my bones. But it was great anyway!
The next day our friendship continued to grow and I met several of Kenny's friends/colleagues. Everyone was amazing. And as that Sunday progressed we had found a reasonably priced guesthouse for me to move into. Kenny's friend Rex knew a journalist and asked if he wanted the story. I definitely wanted it so Kenny, Rex and I drove out to this spectacular house to meet with him. He was introduced to me as Sonny, but his full name is Sonny Serite. Yeah, I didn't know either, but he is a well known star reporter who is very well known in Botswana. He was recently imprisoned for 6 days for preparing an article and speaking out agains government. The article hadn't even been printed? This shocked many people in Botswana, because that really isn't the kind of country Botswana is. Botswana is the kind of country where a man once showed up at the fountain in front of parliament, took off all his clothes and went swimming. Pictures of THAT went viral in Botswana and nobody got arrested. It was just fun. So what was Sonny writing about? It's a mystery ;) It got late again and Kenny told me to forget about the guesthouse and sleep on the floor again. So I did. For those of you counting that was the 3rd night in a row.
Kenny and all his colleagues :)
Monday I met with the Red Cross, or most of them, because the Secretary General couldn't find time to open her door, shake my hand and welcome me to Botswana? That's quite offensive where I come from. But if you think about it she might have taken offense to the fact that a foreigner had arrived to write a story about her offices achievements? Or who knows? Every I did get a chance to meet were great, open and amazing. They really make a difference.
Leif Bekker is the Danish Consul I Botswana. Through a mutual friend we arranged to meet. He's a very interesting man who will most likely end his days in Botswana. He's been there for more than 30 years and has family. He also runs a transport company and he paid for breakfast. My type of guy! :)
When I came back to Kenny's office I spotted a federation car part outside. Okay, I'll remind you what that is ;) The Red Cross consist of 2 overall structures: ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and IFRC (International Federation of the Red Cross). A simplified distinction is that the ICRC handles stuff like International Humanitairy Law(IHL), prison visits and situations involving war and conflict. The federation or IFRC is kind of the "mother" for the 190 National Societies around the world. If your country has a Red Cross or Red Crescent office then that's your countries National Society (NS). The NS of USA is American Red Cross, for Botswana it's Botswana Red Cross society and I am directly associated with the Danish Red Cross. Which is funny when you think about it because I'm out here writing a story about all NS's EXCEPT the Danish one. Weird isn't it? :) Anyway, in the end we are all one big happy family changing minds and saving lives. Please give us your time, your money and your blood ;)
The currency in Botswana is called Pula which means rain. It used to be a very lush country. Today less so.
Back to the federation car: Why was it there? The Red Cross had left the building - right? Well it turns out that Botswana Red Cross Society had been occupying the upper level while the federation had been on the grown floor. Now the upper floor had been rented out to various businesses like Kenny's, and the federation had moved to South Africa. Except for 2 employees who where left behind to close up the operation. I knocked on the door downstairs and met Ha. He's one of the two. He welcomed me and was baffled about who I was. He immediately sought out to help me in any way he could. And that was great because I'm struggling with some things. For one no one believes what I'm doing when they receive an email from me so the NS's generally regard my mails as spam. This has been a problem already since the Americas and it makes it near impossible for me to prepare the NS's for my arrival. Anyway, Ha was great and told me that I could spend my last night on the floor in one of the empty offices. There were also showers downstairs so I got my first shower in 4 days. Good stuff. I worked until 03:00am that night...slept for 2.5 hours and left with a bus to South Africa.
My bed for my 4th night. Slept like a baby ;)
I could have stayed so much longer in Botswana. But I'm not a tourist. I need to keep reminding myself that I'm not a tourist. Spending 2 days extra in every country would amount to 400 days extra away from home. Most countries deserve several months - at least.
Botswana is really special. They've had independence for more than 50 years and all of that has been in peace. Not just peace but progress. It's in my opinion not quite as modern as Namibia but it's pretty close. And as they say in Botswana: "We did everything ourselves!" Namibia was under foreign rule until the early 90s so much of their infrastructure was handed to them.
Extraordinary as it may seem Botswana actually had 3 chieftains travel to Britain and request Queen Victoria to "colonize" Botswana. In effect it was a protectorate which Botswana wanted as they foresaw that neighboring countries would move in and overtake their land. Those were different times. Extraordinary times and growing up today we can sit and shake our heads about how foreign powers would draw lines and divide cultures, tribes, kingdoms and land like you would cut out a birthday cake. But in reality not many people knew what went on. We had no areal photos at the time, no quick means of communication and generally much was in the dark for most people. And under such circumstances 3 chieftains dressed in modern suits, traveled over land and sea to Britain to plea for a Queen to protect their lands. Can you imagine the adventure?!? Can you imagine the bravery?!? Can you imagine the momentous achievement within that?!? Unbelievable!
There is an enormous amout of malls in Gaborone.
That's is the kind of people modern Botswana's population has descended from. One poor in has risen from the fortunate find of seemingly endless diamond mines. An impressively large portion of the country is protected as national parks. You will find more elephants in Botswana than in any African country. It's even Africa's longest surviving democracy. And I think with Kenny, Rex, Sonny and everyone else...the theory holds up about people and dry landscapes. Nobody digs a well by themselves ;)
The National Museum is free to visit and it's very good. I ended up visiting twice!
I've reached South Africa (SA) now and would love to tell you about that! Because SA is another wonder in its own right. But so far I've only seen a small part of the north and its capital Pretoria (which is glorious). Let's dive into that next Friday ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - promoting one country at the time ;)
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga