It was always the plan to visit Botswana. Well, since 2003, when I met my first ever Botswanese person – Fingile, who studied with me on the Public Relations course at Bournemouth University. Most of my friends on that actual course ended up being the non-English ones. Such as Francesca – a Welsh girl who was the only fellow student who i posed for a photo with on graduation day. From Day One I was intrigued by Botswana however.
And I am always one to make and keep friends from all over the world. It will pay its dividends someday, and you can exchange cultural differences with varying nationalities. From meeting Fingile I was intrigued about Botswana.
In the first few weeks of University, Fingile and I shared something in common. We both presented to mindless English wannabe PR girls an intelligent and interesting presentation on our own cultures. I compiled a conflict resolution presentation about Belfast, Northern Ireland. Fingile gave a thrilling presentation on PR by Debswana, a Botswanese Diamond Company. Even if mindless English wannabe PR girls were too lazy or glamorous to listen, I was intrigued.
The following year, 2004, I met 3 more Botswanese at the same university. This was total chance and due to breaking my arm. Which at the time, felt like a horrible event (and was pretty hard to live with), but changed fate and ways. This led me to dropping back a year of my studies to repeat, where I met the other 3 Botswanese. I often ponder on what would have happened had I not broken my arm.
Actually the truth is I wouldn’t have visited Botswana this year. Isn’t that intriguing, or as eternal optimists would say “breaking your arm was a blessing in disguise” (some disguise). Life is all about experience anyway, and breaking my arm made me realise how much I needed it, and whether they dropped me back a year or not I still graduated.
So in 2004 on my repeat year I had the pleasure to meet Louis Baseki from Botswana. He was in my Seminar Group on the course and a keen football fan. Actually on seeing him again in 2011, I perhaps hold a regret that I never actually took Louis to watch AFC Bournemouth with me. I went to every home match back in them days. And I mean EVERY home match.
Then while still on the course at Bournemouth University, I met “Bee” while DJ-ing on Nerve Radio. “Bee”, an easily pronounced alternative to Boikhutsu Ncube was a lively and pretty Botswanese lady.
And last but definitely not least was Allan Molefhe, the link that kept the whole Botswana dream alive somehow…at University I was closest to Louis out of those four, by now Fingile was in a different year of study, and Bee and Allan were in different groups.
Fingile left Bournemouth in 2006 after graduating. I hung around the town for a further 3 years, my graduation finally took place though in 2008. By that stage all the Botswanese friends had returned to Botswana, graduated and had jobs to go back to and a life to lead there. One of the last conversations I had with Louis was discussing the forthcoming World Cup in South Africa, a border country of Botswana. Louis knew I was a big Northern Ireland fan and I told him if we qualify I’ll be there. Which I would have been, but we didn’t qualify.
So my barmy life took me to the land down under where I had plotted an idea to see the world while I was stationed in the southern hemisphere. That’s me in work with Yvette there in Parramatta, Australia.
By the age of 30 I wanted to be married with kids and have a house and car. For some reason my wife of choice (Noemi) wouldn’t take me, and I had no option than to change my dream. Now by the age of 30 I wanted to visit every continent. I had a hat-trick left by 2010 to do that and I was due to turn 31 in March 2011, so I needed to get the hat-trick in.
Cheaper flight options were always going to take me to South Africa first, as Botswana’s main airport (on the edge of Gaborone) does not serve an abundance of overseas flights, in fact, if any. So I was all booked to make Africa my final continent of the “7”. A quick check of e-mails and e-mail addresses revealed that I no longer had any of my four Botswanese friends e-mail addresses, and perhaps the only place I had was on one of my old university notebooks where Louis had written his e-mail.
But all was hardly lost – I knew all their names and also believed that they all worked in Gaborone, and possibly all for Debswana, the diamond company. But actually I had Bee and Allan as friends on facebook. So I messaged both. Perhaps Bee doesn’t actually use facebook, but is simply on there. Allan however replied very quickly and admitted that e-mail is the best way and soon we were connected again on e-mail. At first I e-mailed Allan in June/July 2010 saying my desires to visit Africa in early 2011 as my final stop on route back to Australia.
I moved back to Parramatta around the same time and plotted my route round the world, incorporating a few sights I saw as essentials. Botswana was my reason for coming to Africa – South Africa was just the cheaper way to do it.
So once booked, I sat back, kept touch with the Botswanese, trekked my ways through valleys in Peru, sailed through unknown unfriendly Venezuelan towns, dived into Antarctic snow, and e-mailed on arrival in Johannesberg to say “here I am in Africa.”
Nothing happens if you don’t get up off your arse and make it happen. The wisdom of Noel Gallagher will tell you that (see the final line of 1994’s “Cigarettes and Alcohol” single). So while in Pretoria in my first week in Africa, suddenly I was only 250 kilometres from the Botswana border. I could hardly resist the chance to possibly be reunited with the friendly fun loving Botswanese Bournemouth contingent.
On a dark, dusty Friday night in January 2011, I walked casually across the border into Botswana. There I was. I crossed the border at Tlokweng border post where a sky blue bin sign of “Keep Botswana Tidy” served as my introduction to this diamond (excuse the pun) of a country. Hoisted high on a mast was the Botswanese flag, blue, black and white and with its own nice design. I got back on the bus from Tlokweng direct to Gaborone and that was it. From Bournemouth in 2003, to Botswana in 2011. I had kept my promise and I had done it. More will follow on Botswana and its cheerfully proud capital city of Gaborone. Which, by the way, if you’re slightly too British, or un-travelled is pronounced “Habba Ronny.”
It cost a lot more money than I thought in the end to make it to Africa and Botswana (I overspent on this trip, but perhaps had my only chance in life to experience some of these things).
Debts don’t linger as long as regrets. I’m glad I have the former and not the latter.
First Botswanese I Met – Fingile Makgalamele
In – Bournemouth, England
My Botswanese Friends From Bournemouth – Fingile Makgalamele, Louis Baseki, Boikhutsu Ncube, Allan Molefhe
Botswana’s Population – 1.64 million (not dissimilar to that of Northern Ireland)
Area – 582,000 square kilometres
Car Drives – On the left hand side of the road (same side as Suriname and Northern Ireland)
Capital City – Gaborone
Borders – Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa
Famous For – Diamonds, Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, the Kalahari, Zebras
Main Languages – Setswana, English
Hello How Are You?/Bout Ye? – Dumela
My arrival – Friday 21st January 2011
Key Song – In 5 Years Time (OK it was 8 years, but it almost fits…):
MY RADIO SHOW AT BOURNEMOUTH UNIVERSITY:
ARRIVAL INTO BOTSWANA: