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Updates from Africa 12

Updates from Africa 12

So we’ve been consistently on the road for the last couple days and we’re now settled in Cape Town.  I’ll give a brief account of what happened in the past two days.

On the morning of the second we caught our shuttle with Michael to Windhoek. It was the typical 5-hour drive, nothing very eventful.  We stopped at the same rest stop for biltong (basically jerky) on the way.  We rode back with the Second Girls.  We arrived early enough to do some shopping, especially for luggage, and Codrin wanted to look at some masks at a mall we had been to.  The shopping mall, where our favorite Mugg & Bean is, turned out to be where we saw the strangest sight we’ve seen so far: A group of native Namiba women, bare breasted, lathered in orange makeup, replete with traditional jewelry and with their babies wrapped around the nape of their backs, walking through the shopping mall with plastic shopping bags.  We ate at Mugg & Bean, and then Ioana went off back to the hostel and Codrin and I went to the casino to play some more blackjack.

That night the plan was to go to dinner at a Cameroon restaurant but we ended up lounging around the hostel until everything was closed so we just drank a bit and went to bed.  In the morning Michael picked us up to go to the airport.  The Windhoek airport is a charming airport in the middle of the shrublands.  There is nothing in sight of the airport, and it takes 30 minutes to get there from Windhoek.  We had some trouble with our bags; we were 30kg overweight between the three of us and had to pay a lot to get our bags onboard.  The bureaucracy was terrible, which was surprising considering we haven’t really had any problems yet in that department.  We had to check our bags first, then go to a separate office and pay, get a receipt and go back to make sure our bags got on the plane, but the receipt printing took forever because the woman didn’t know the computer, and long story short we went through security 10 minutes before boarding.  But as it turns out, we ended up being the first people through the gate because we were rushing so much we didn’t realize we were slightly ahead of schedule.  As we were taking off, it occurred to me that I had never given Namibia a second thought, and Windhoek (let alone Swakopmund) was a place I had never heard about until we started planning this trip.  It makes me wonder how many other unknown, untapped jewels there are in the world for the interested traveller.

The flight to Joburg was uneventful.  We got back to Doris Street around 4 and the VIP Guesthouse was closed.  We called the number, and the cell phone, and no one picked up.  So we had a cab, three suitcases, three backpacks, three smaller backpacks and various other bags and we really couldn’t afford to wait there.  For whatever reason, even though we told Sarah we were coming that day, no one was there.  So we were again homeless in Johannesburg with our bags; more than we had the first time we knocked on the gate of the VIP Guesthouse three weeks ago.  We remembered there was another guesthouse down the street, so Codrin and Ioana watched the bags and I took the cab to Diamond Diggers Backpackers, where we found a room. One cab ride (and an extra 100 rand) later we got our bags into our new guesthouse, which was an enormous compound with a swimming pool, bar, jacuzzi and internet cafe.  They didn’t have a three-person room, but they had an empty suite for 8 which they gave for just the three of us.  Codrin went off to play poker at the casino, which is the only one we had found that had poker, and he had been itching to play all week.  Ioana and I called Renata, our waitress at Rodizzo’s three weeks ago, who had offered to take us out for drinks when we were back in town.  While we were waiting to be picked up, a woman approached us on the street and told us to be careful because there were black people in the neighborhood.  We thanked her politely and told her our ride was just coming.  Renata is apparently part of a very typical set of 18-24 year olds who live at home and still depend on their parents for rides, despite taking classes at the university.  So Renata’s father picked us up and dropped us off on the other side of town at a bar called Cool Runnings where we met up with Renata’s friends–about 20 of them–some of which go to University of Cape Town and whom we’ll be hanging out with when they go back to school in February.  The scene reminded me of how high schoolers get together; everyone has to go home by the end of the night, and no one lives on their own.  It really disorients social life, but it also prevents the sort of partying-til-you-pass-out mentality that accompanies any college campus in the United States.  We met some interesting kids at the bar; at the end of the night Ioana and I ended up paying for a bulk of our tab, which we were completely willing to do.  I have a copy of the receipt in my pocket; it is 71 items long.  But it was a fun, fun night.  We have some friends to call up and meet when we’re back in Johannesburg.

Ioana and I got back to the hostel around 2; Codrin came in at 4 in the morning announcing that he had one 10,000 rand playing poker. Apparently his 10-hour stint at the casino had been quite profitable. In the morning, we checked out and Codrin and I went back to the casino to play poker (I ended up playing blackjack for most of the time).  Ioana wanted to do some writing so she went to Nelson Mandela Square, which apparently is lovely and it’s something we’ll have to do when we go back.  Around 6 we took a shuttle to the airport, flew to Cape Town, and I’m here now in the dorm room with Codrin and we are officially “Settled in.”  We’ve met some people on the program but not all; everyone is quite tired from their 20-hour commutes and it makes me, for one, feel very relaxed that I’m already acclimated and “Africanized.”  Go figure.

This trip has been quite expectation-shattering and interesting.  I don’t really have a “conclusion” for this pseudo-journal I’ve been writing, because this really isn’t the end of anything.  The Cape Town program starts tomorrow, and I really don’t know what to expect, aside from the fact that it will be scholarly.  Hopefully the past couple weeks will give me a heightened perspective on the issues we will be studying, but only time will tell.

January 5, 2009Comments are DisabledRead More
Updates from Africa 10

Updates from Africa 10

When I had finished writing the last update Ioana and I left the internet cafe and Codrin was gone.  He said he was going to the shop next door but he wasn’t there, so we wandered around a bit looking for him and then went off to the cafe for another drink.  It turns out Codrin had found a barber and was getting his hair cut, and when he came back looking for us we weren’t there either.  Ioana and I had a quick coffee and coke and then went off to the Woermann Tower, which we were told provides an excellent panaroma of the city.  The tower, built in 1905, is off of a charming courtyard and hotel where Prince Albrecht of Prussia stayed in 1907, and is the most famous building in Swakopmund.  We climbed to the top and got a great 360 degree view of the city.  You can look out over the ocean, then as you turn you see the ocean turn into desert, and with the ocean to your back it looks like the city is in the middle of the desert.  It is a large town, too, about the size of Westport.

When we walked around the city we realized that we were essentially in Germany.  Everyone spoke german, the architecture was European and colonial and on every corner there is a cafe, a beer house, or a public park.  The city is perfectly manicured, and if it were not for the cars driving on the left side and the desert backdrop you would think you were in a German city.  It is interesting, though; the entire downtown area was built at the turn of the century–the last century–so you see cornerstones from 1900, 1905, 1907.  It occurred to me that nowhere in Germany can you find a city center built before World War I, and that adds a sort of German cultural authenticity to Swakopmund.  This was the center of German colonial Africa, and remains a German city to this day.  Yet at the same time, the people are unquestionably Namibian.  They go to Namibian schools and participate in Namibian politics, and most importnantly, as we found out from Herman the day before, they do not regard themselves as expatriates in colonial Namibia.  This is particularly surprising for us considering the whites in South Africa who we talked to who couldn’t get out of South Africa fast enough because of stagnant opportunity.

Ioana and I explored the downtown area a bit more, and found a hippie next to the tower who branded her cafe a “Soulful” place and stapled a feather to Ioana’s purchase of herbal salts and bathing oil.  She asked us to come back tomorrow for a healthy smoothie with no additives.  We walked to the waterfront and found another craft market where traders laid their wares on tarps and bargained with uninterested passerbys.  Then we caught a cab back to the guest house.

We are staying in the Sea Breeze guesthouse, not to be confused with the Sea Wind guesthouse, right across the street.  A problem we encountered in Walvis Bay, that seems to apply here as well, is the extraordinary lack of attention the owners of these guesthouses pay to their guests, to the point where you can’t find them when you need them, even when you’re checking in, and where they don’t know how to get a taxi for us to get downtown.  Codrin got back to the guesthouse an hour later, and around 8 we went out again but since we couldn’t get a taxi we hitched a ride with a Batswana couple, visiting from Francistown, who were going out to dinner.  They had driven to Swakopmund from Botswana, a 18-hour drive.  The woman went to college at the University of Cape Town (as did Herman, actually), so we talked about Cape Town for a bit.  While the man drove, he took occasional drinks from a beer he kept in his lap.

We got downtown, it was dark, and rather deserted.  Codrin went to sleep early so it was just Ioana and I walking around.  There isn’t much of a night life, but there are plenty of restaurants open.  The problem, as The Girls told us yesterday, was that you have to get a reservation.  We walked through darkened streets until we found a pizzaria next to a “Western Saloon.”  We went into the saloon, complete with a door split into two halves at waist level.  It was adorned with license plates from Texas, Florida, Arizona, and pretty much every state in between, with saloon-style decorations like turn-of-the-century newspaper stories about wanted outlaws and a collection of Native Americana.  The place was also replete with Confederate Flags and bumper stickers.  They had a collection of foreign currency, and we asked them if they had Zimbabwean and they said their Zimbabwe bills were stolen.  So I gave them some of my $50,000,000 bills and the waiter brought out a sign from the men’s bathroom which read:  “Zimbabwe:  The only country where a roll of toilet paper, which has 72 sheets, costs $1000.  It’s cheaper to change the $1000 into $100 bills, wipe your ass with 72 of them, and keep the $280 in change.”  After donating our hard-earned $200 million to this Western Saloon, we were told the kitchen was closed so we could only drink.  Fine with us, we figured we’d eat at the pizzaria next door after we had a beer.  However, when we got to the pizzaria, it was 10 minutes after their kitchen was closed, too.  Then we went to the beer house, and their kitchen had just closed as well. Luckily, there was a movie theatre across the street, so we sat down on the pedestrian street and ate dinner of concessions:  Biltong, popcorn, candy, chips and iced tea.  The whole meal was US$8, for two people, and filled us up really well.  Even concession food:  amazing.

We managed to find a cab back to the guesthouse and crashed.  We slept in until 10:30, and then hightailed it downtown to have a lunch at our favorite Swakopmund cafe.  I got my haircut, Codrin went to the market and Ioana is writing in her journal at the Soulful cafe next to the Woermann Tower.

New Year’s tonight!  Apparently there’s a leap second being added at the end of 2008 so New Years is going to come a tick later.  Have a good one!

December 31, 2008Comments are DisabledRead More
Updates from Africa 9

Updates from Africa 9

Our second night in Walvis Bay we ate at Raft, the same restaurant on the bay we had eaten at the night before.  We were served by the same waitress, Claire, and petted the same Norwegian Ridgeback, Motley, who moseys around the restaurant with a card on his neck telling patrons not to feed him.  He loved our table because he enjoyed our kudu meat and french fries as much as we did.

In the morning we woke up early again and walked to the waterfront where we had planned our second day trip, this time on a bay cruise and 4×4 drive through the desert.  Our boat, the Gambit, departed late because of a slow-loading catamaran that left before us.  The boat seated twenty and our guide gave the tour in english and german. There was also a French family on the “cruise.”  As we departed from the dock, the guide started calling out to the pelicans and throwing fish in the water.  Out of nowhere, our boat was swarmed with pelicans–giant birds with long beaks and an impressive wingspan.  The guide, who was also driving the boat, threw fish as we drove and the pelicans would speed up to the boat, often going as fast as we were or faster, to catch up to the fish.  He would also hold a fish out so a pelican would come right up to the side of the boat to snatch the fish.  The coolest part was when a seal hopped onto the back of the boat, prompted by an enticing offer of fish.  The seal slapped its fins to slide into the main deck with us, and we all took turns petting it.  These are not trained or domestic seals–they are wild, living in the harbor, and clearly profiting from regularly scheduled tour boats which they probably compete over with vigor.

The cruise was about an hour and a half, and we went around Pelican Point, the sandbar that creates Walvis Bay, and were in the open Atlantic for the first time.  The point of this cruise was to see the dolphins, which we did see–scores of them, running in front of the boat, on its flanks, and behind.  They would only come up so you could see a dorsel fin, but the fins came up enough that you had an idea of how populated this bay is with marine wildlife.  The sandbar that culminates in Pelican Point has seals lounging in packs of hundreds. In December, they give birth, so we could see lots of seal cubs, no bigger than beagles, soaking in the sun.  The wind pattern that created this sandbar by carrying sand from the desert is the same pattern that diverted the flow of the river and made the sand dunes.

The dolphins were not as interesting as the seals.  As we were coming back around the point another, much larger seal hopped up onto the boat for its morning meal.  This one, which the tour guides had named Cassanova, was injured around the eye and our guide explained that the injury was a lot worse a week ago.  The entire boat delighted in the friendliness Cassanova showed toward people, especially considering that he was a wild seal.

On our cruise, we passed some seemingly deserted Russian fishing ships, two of them, which were moored together and anchored.  Our guide explained to us that the ships belonged to the Russian-Namibian fishing company Namsov, which had been fishing in Walvis Bay and off the coast of Namibia since the Soviet Union (hence “Sov” in the name). They were only authorized by the Namibian government to catch certain types of fish in season, and when they were caught breaking this law the captains of the ships and the officers were put under house arrest–on their ships.  So we passed by these abandoned ships, 200-foot steel fishing ships, rusting from non-use and contemplated the two captains and their officers living in exile until Namibia decided their fate.  I guess the lesson of this story is, do not break maritime fishing laws in Namibia.  Codrin estimates that $1 billion is lost every year from illegal fishing off Namibia’s coast, and it seems that there are very harsh laws in place to combat this problem.

There were many more Russian ships in the harbor, and some actually abandoned ships as well.  We also passed oyster farms in the bay and learned about Namibia’s oyster export industry.  As we would learn, Namibians love oysters.  Speaking of oysters, we were dropped off at the sandbar to begin the second half of our trip, and were served a beachside lunch consisting of oysters, pasta salad, egg rolls and tofu.  And beer.  Windhoek Lager has been brewed since 1519–that’s a nearly 500-year-old beer!

The three of us strapped into a 4×4 Jeep and our driver started to drive south along the beach toward Sandwich Bay.  Our driver’s name was Herman, but although “Herman the German” would have been a perfect nickname, he was actually only half German and half Afrikaans.  Herman was really good at driving on sand, and we drove on lots of sand.  And it was bumpy.  There were no seatbelts in the backseat, so Ioana and I were jostled around the back of that car like dice in a Yahtzee shaker.  We had just eaten–oysters no less–so I was more than a little sick from the drive.

The sandbar was wide, but as we drove along the water the beach narrowed and the dunes closed in from the left.  Apparently, you can drive all the way along the beach and the desert until you reach South Africa, and the first place we stopped was the old colonial border between British South Africa and German Southwest Africa.  After World War I, much of Namibia was absorbed into British South Africa, and Namibia stayed a colony of South Africa until 1988.  As a result, Namibia was the most recent country in Africa to gain its independence.  Walvis Bay–the commercial center of Namibia–stayed a South African colony until 1994 when Mandela became president.  Herman explained to us that he was born in Swakopmund, and when he was a kid he needed a visa to go to Walvis Bay, 30 minutes away.

Herman also told us that Sandwich Harbor, where we were going, was inaccessible twice a day because of the tides.  Only during specific times was the beach wide enough between the desert and the ocean for a 4×4 to get through.  When we drove in, the beach was about as wide as a 8-lane highway.  The reason the ride was so bumpy, Herman explained, was the tracks from other jeeps that had not been blown away due to an unusual lack of wind.  We would try to stay in other tracks but that didn’t lessen the bumpiness of the ride.  We stopped at one point, and Herman drove the Jeep up an incline onto a sand shelf that overlooked the ocean, with a steep dune behind us.  Then, suddenly, he threw the jeep into reverse and we shot backwards up the slope of the dune.  He braked and somehow the jeep stayed in place, with its nose pointed straight downhill.  We got out of the jeep on the surface of the dune and admired the stretch of beach ahead of us, which we saw, from pictures Herman showed us, had changed drastically in 20 years from global warming.  There used to be a large natural harbor of fresh water formed by the sand as a filtration system, but since the sea levels are rising this harbor is all but gone.  The fresh water system which used to be a complete river is now restricted to the aquifers which we had drunk out of the day before, and this system is dependent on a specific sea level and weather pattern.  The life of the desert, in this way, depends on how this fresh water system survives.

We drove about five more kilometers into Sandwhich Harbor, another fresh water lake adjoining the ocean and a monstrous 200-meter dune on the other side.  The car parked, and we started to climb the dune.  At first, it didn’t look that difficult, because the incline wasn’t steep.  It also wasn’t that hot; although the Namib desert is a desert, it is breezy and receives copious amounts of cool ocean air. What made the climb difficult was the sand.  Climbing on a hill of sand is like climbing uphill on a stairmaster.  You do a lot of stepping but you don’t move very far upwards.  Every two feet you climb up, you sink one foot down.  The side of the dune is packed down naturally, but if you break the surface there is soft sand underneath. Also, the wind is constantly blowing a loose layer of sand off the top, which is actually how the dunes form and move over time.  As we climbed higher and higher, you could look back and see more and more of the bay stretched out before us.  It hugged the fine line between the desert and the sea, and was really a sight to behold.  At the top of the dune, the wind was so powerful it could knock you over, which we had to be careful about because the leeward side of the dune, as we found out yesterday, is a much sharper dropoff.  We took some amazing pictures though.

On the drive back, Herman took us into the desert instead of just on the beach, and we drove on the dunes.  Unlike the quad bike, the 4×4 is much bigger, and since we weren’t controlling it it was a little scarier as well.  We had long known that Herman was an expert driver on sand, but we were not prepared when we reached the top of one of these monstrous dunes, the jeep tipped precariously forward and we looked straight down one of these slip sides into the sandy valley below.  Herman gunned the car and we shot downward, then he pulled up the side of the dune in front of us, then shot down the other side of that dune.  It was like we were on a roller coaster with no safety rails and no chain lift.  We essentially–if I may use this term–halfpiped the dunes.  There was a cadre of 4 or 5 jeeps in our group, and the jeep ahead of us at one point got stuck going up one of the dunes, and idled in the sand with its nose straight up in the air for a minute, then somehow turned around, and billowed down the slope to get momentum and tried again.  Herman cracked that the other driver was new at this.

When we were done driving the dunes, we drove back to town through the desert, this time going through a field of sand mounds planted with !nara bushes.  The !nara fruit is the only one in the desert and it is the food on which the animals and humans who live in the desert survive (the ! in the name is a click in the Topnaar language).  As we drove back, I talked to Herman about Namibian politics and learned a lot.  He explained that Namibia didn’t really have the racial undercurrent of South Africa, which we had noticed as well.  The government has been stable since independence.  I asked if there were any whites in government and he said there was one Israeli minister who people had voted for because his name sounded native – but he didn’t express any discontent with this lack of race-based representation.  This impressed us, because in South Africa we had seen everywhere a constant expectation of racial division and political fragmentation based on race.  There are plenty of whites in Namibia, but they don’t feel a need to be represented as white.  I asked the question expecting a rant, like we had heard in South Africa, that the whites don’t get any representation and their jobs get taken away.  But Herman explained that he loved Namibia, that it was safe and everyone had jobs and although it was briefly a part of apartheid South Africa no one held any grudges or seemed to care about racial divisions.  I realized at this point that I hadn’t noticed race in Namibia since we’ve been here–that the whites and blacks who live here are Namibians, and identify as such.  Furthermore, Namibians are happy.  Herman says the economy in Namibia is better than in South Africa (I haven’t verified if this is true yet), and there isn’t nearly as much crime.  He says he doesn’t lock his door at night and when there is a murder in Namibia it is front page news.  As a matter of fact, in Swakopmund I picked up a paper and the front page story was a car accident.  Can you imagine if the New York times carried a story about a car accident on I-95 as its front page story?

Herman drove us back to the hotel, and on the way we talked a bit about Namibian tourism as well.  He said the most high-profile thing that had happened to Namibia was when Angelina Jolie decided to have her baby here.  She and Brad Pitt rented a couple houses in a lodge and had family and friends stay with them for two months–in Walvis Bay.  Then, the funniest thing, he told us that he was their guide and they had become friends when the couple was here.  He said that “Brad” was very smart, and “Angelina” was shorter than she appears in the films, and the fact that our driver was referring to two of the biggest American movie stars on a first-name basis was quite bizarre. Herman then told us that one time, when they were out for drinks (“We were quite inebriated at this point”) a woman came up to Brad Pitt and told him that he looked like George Clooney, obviously not knowing who he was or that he was in Walvis Bay.  Our driver got drunk with Brad Pitt!  And then we found out that he’s not even a full-time driver. He owns five companies in Namibia, in mining, tourism and trade, and only drives part-time for the fun of it.  His wife just started a real estate company.  He says Namibia is the best place to start a business in Africa and I intend to take midVentures into this country while it’s hot.

That night, we went back to Raft.  Although we got a good recommendation from Herman for a restaurant, we couldn’t find a cab or anyone who would take us downtown.  Instead of walking 2 kilometers we walked back to Raft and saw Claire and Motley again.  The food in Namibia, if you have not yet figured this out from my updates, is delicious.  We ran into the owner of our hotel at the bar and told him we’ll see him back at the hotel in the morning for checkout.  He was picking up this gorgeous woman who is just one more reminder why Namibia is the place to return to, and why this will be a very happy new year.

We checked out at 10 am the next day and slowly got our bags together for our trip to Swakopmund, or “Swakop” as the locals call it. Swakopmund is essentially a German city on the Atlantic coast of Namibia, and it has palm trees.  It has charming shopping streets and a vibrant city center lined with cafes.  We haven’t had time to go to the beach yet, but we spent 2 hours at a cafe taking in the street life.  We ran into The Girls, which is our name for two nice young women who we met in Livingstone, and took the bus with us to Windhoek. The Girls, from New York, are on mission in Livingstone and have this month off to travel.  So we caught up with them a bit.  It’s amazing how we keep running into our Livingstone companions–Aaron in Windhoek, The Girls here, and as I’m writing another woman we met in Livingstone just walked into the internet cafe.

We have really one day to explore the town before it closes for New Years.  The New Years party tomorrow night is going to be the biggest in Namibia, and probably southern Africa.  The entire beachfront will be converted into a bar, and there we will party in german revelrie until the sun comes up.  At least that’s the plan.

December 30, 2008Comments are DisabledRead More
Updates from Africa 3

Updates from Africa 3

Sitting in a cafe in Gaborone, Botswana.

The bus here was delayed but only by an hour; the border crossing was fast and we were in Gaborone by 9.  Driving in we passed by a brightly lit shopping center with an LCD billboard and I thought for a second we were back in the suburbs of Chicago going to Target.

A woman named Maduo, a Batswana who rode the bus with us from Johannesburg, directed us around the corner from the bus station and through the main square, the Mall, to where she knew of a guest house. Maduo works in the human resources department of the University of Botswana, which actually has an exchange program with the University of Chicago and other Midwest colleges.  She walked us (Codrin and I carried her bags) to the lodge, which was a bit beyond our price range.  So she called a cab for us, waited around for ten minutes, then took the cab with us to another lodge on the outskirts of town, in extension 10.  This lodge had a double room, but he was asking 350 pule ($50) for it.  The single was comparable.  We asked him if we could put three people in one room, and he rrefused.  So we did what any savvy traveller would do, we left our bags with Maduo and Ioana and Codrin and I walked 50 meters to another lodge next door, walked right in and asked if they had a room for three.  They didn’t, but they could put three in a double for 250 pule.  Sold.  This room had a double bed and a twin, and the lodge serves breakfast included and has a pool.  We went back to the first lodge and told the man we had found a plae next door for half the price.  At that point, you would think he would offer a room for the same price, but he didn’t so we went on our way.  The man who had driven us had been waiting so he took us to the lodge next door. We bid farewell to Maduo, who had spent an hour and a half of her night helping us find a place, and settled in.

Gaborone is a small city, about the size of Westport, but has a vibrant business district, shopping malls and the Mall is like downtown DC.  Botswana has the fastest growing economy in Africa, at a constant rate of 5% a year since 1970, and it shows.  Every store here is a recognizable franchise, including a KFC, PEP (a South African superstore) and Woolworth’s.  Despite the economy, this country is still very conservative.  Homosexuality still carries a 7-year sentence, and AIDS here is the second highest prevalence in Africa, largely because of lax standards concerning rape and sexual assault. However, unlike South Africa, Botswana seems to be taking an active role in tackling the problem; there are HIV-awareness billboards all over the place, and most Batswana wear red ribbons.  In fact, in South Africa I didn’t see one public service announcement, condom giveaway, or person on the street giving out flyers.

We plan to spend the day doing the 5 or 6 tourist sites in Gaborone (there are more in Westport!) and buying a ticket to Maun, the tourist capital of Botswana.  We might meet up with Maduo later for drinks. Apparently there’s an expat bar, although with the number of bars available I don’t know if we’ll go to that one.

Today we wandered from the Main Mall to the main government park, which is a lovely green park with a statue in the middle square. Facing the park is the parliament building, a broad, white building with columnades and modern sculpture.  It is open to the public and has an inner courtyard with a fish pond.  We took pictures of the building, and then went into the courtyard and took some more.  There was an information center, but parliament was not in session so we didn’t want to stay for long.  We were taking our last pictures of this serene and picturesque complex when a guard started yelling at Codrin in incomprehensible english.  Then he started yelling at me. So I went up to him and he asked “Who authorized you to take pictures? Where did you get authorization?”  I responded that we were just taking pictures, there were no signs to say not to.  He said “You cannot take picture here, this is government building.  I am going to take you to jail.” “What?” I said. “I am going to take you to jail.  Directly to jail, not later, not tomorrow, now.” “Sir, I’m sorry, but we will delete the pictures we took, we didn’t know.” “You cannot take pictures!  You cannot take pictures here!” Codrin, Ioana, the guard and I kept going back and forth in the columnade of the parliament building, but he wasn’t doing anything. He was just talking to us, not withdrawing a weapon, not physically engaging in any sort of arrest.  Codrin started to argue more aggressively with the guard, and then started walking away.  The guard followed Codrin yelling at him, and then came back to me and Ioana telling us to come with him, and motioned elsewhere.  Of course, we’re telling him we will delete the pictures, we’re sorry we took them, and so on, and when we asked if he wanted us to delete them, he said “No! Do not delete.  Come with me!”  So we immediately took out our cameras and deleted the pictures, as quickly as possible (we don’t want any proof that we actually took any).  By this time, Codrin is completely ignoring the guard and walking off, and Ioana and I are on the fence between listening to the guard and starting to go.  If he was going to arrest us, he would have done so already, right?  Finally, the guard started following us out of the complex and then started motioning toward another government building, which actually looked like a jail. It was painted white and all the windows were barred.  He said “Let me assist you” and started leading us around this new building.  He kept repeating “Let me assist, let me assist!” and we started to follow him, but after about 5 seconds we decided it would be better if we insisted where we were going first before we went any further.  It turns out, he was now trying to help us by leading us to the public relations office to get permission to take photos.  He went from arresting us to being our best friend within five minutes.  This is Africa.  We thanked him and left.  On the way onward to the bus station, we surmised that after spending five days in Africa, the first crime we experienced was our own.Codrin and Ioana stopped for a smoke on the other side of the highway, as we walked to the bus station.  We needed to get to Maun as soon as possible.  Gaborone is lovely but there’s not much to do in the way of sightseeing, one day would be plenty.  The bus station was not so much a station as a parking lot the size of three football fields, filled with pay-on-the-bus busses that go everywhere in  Southern Africa.  We had a hard time figuring out the system, but we found a bus that was leaving at 6 the next morning for Francistown, and from there we could get a ride to Maun.  We figured this out after we had walked past the bus “Station” completely to a shopping center, where there was a Bata shoe store and a Pie City where we bought a couple beef and kidney, and spinach, pies.  I bought ice cream on the street.  The temperature at this point was over 90.  When we were eating our pies, Christina Aguelera was playing on the speaker system.  We couldn’t finish all of our pies, so we were left with 2 of them (they’re small).  Ioana made a quite ironical comment:  “You know how your parents tell you when you’re a kid to eat all your food because the children in Africa don’t have it?  Well now we’re in Africa and we’re not finishing either.” Really makes you think.  Codrin suggested we could give the extra food to someone who was starving.  But, actually, there were no such people.  We haven’t seen a single beggar, malnourished or otherwise poor person in Botswana so far.

From the bus station, we got an combi to a village called Gabane, on the outskirts of Gaborone.  We paid 3 pule a person, about 50 cents, for the 25 minute ride.  We got to Gabane and walked about a kilometer down a dusty road to a pottery and wares manufacturer, where we shopped for about an hour.  When we got back to Gaborone, we decided to take a cab to the train station and see if we could take a train to Francistown.  As it turns out, there’s a night train with first class sleepers for $25/person–not bad for an 8 hour trip.  So we’re leaving on the night train tonight, and will be in Francistown by morning and Maun by tomorrow night.

One more anecdote.  When we were reserving the tickets at the train station, the woman asked me for my name.  She was writing our names on a sheet that was numbered with letters A, B, C, etc next to each of which there were 5 or 6 lines.  I surmised that these were cabins on the train, and by putting our names in one of the letters she was putting us all in the same cabin.  So I noticed that one of the letters–D–had only 4 lines, as opposed to the others which had more. So I asked if we could put our names in letter D, so we could have our own cabin.  She was writing my name in G, and every time I said “D, can we put in in D?” all she heard was “D, D, D, D!”  So she started writing my name:  “Mr. D…” and then I said “M, A…Wait, D! Put us in D!”  So she erased part of my name and continued to write “D, D”.  By the time she had finished writing my name it was “Mr. D DMayder.”  As it turns out, the cabin in D only fit two people and the others fit 4.  So after we had reserved tickets for the three of us, we decided to buy the fourth ticket and get a private cabin.  So I asked if we could get another ticket.  “What’s the name?” she asked. I said “Mr. D, D, D, D, D…”

When we got off the combi back to the Mall Ioana asked, as we were getting out, how much it was for three people.  Instantly the driver said “10 pule”.  Yea, right.  That was after a 2 minute trip, when the combi we took earlier was 25 minutes.  Plus, 10 isn’t even a multiple of 3.  But it was still $1/person, and we couldn’t complain.  We paid him and left.

I have to go, we’re off to the museum.  Update from Maun soon.

December 16, 2008Comments are DisabledRead More