Wednesday, November 7, 2012

a bunch of random things about Botswana - Cras es Noster

I love where I am from. Though I sometimes wake up from some nightmare where we have all forgotten how privileged we are to call this country home. I have thought to myself often, that Batswana should travel, in and outside their physical borders as often as they possibly can. It has helped me to broaden my internal borders to no end. Not to lord it over anyone, just to ... see. and understand how far we've come, to acknowledge that a good thing has been done to, for and by us and to think about the best way forward. In Africa things can change so quickly. One day you are the biggest regional exporter of sugar and a few years later your people are illegal immigrants desperate to work as cheap labour just so they can feed themselves. Its so easy to shift from utopia to dystopia. All you need is one charismatic nutter turning peoples head, a bunch of newspapers propagating unverified hearsay and personal opinion as fact, a few unemployed self entitled twenty something year olds all wanting to be Jay Z, to effectively f everything up. Not on our watch please. Please? Lets all do our part, remain respectful of our differences (just because they are in opinion and not race does not make them less dangerous to ignore or poke at - contra principia negantem non est dispuntandum). Lets talk the way we always have - just perhaps a little faster and little more specifically. It has taken the places we look at and say 'Why can't we have that and that?!' hundreds of years to get to where they are, and sometimes gallons and gallons of blood has been spent-spilt. If one more meeting saves us from a path we'd all regret eventually, lets check our schedules. What else is so important that we can't spend an extra 5 minutes negotiating and navigating our tomorrow. 

I am no Abraham Lincoln, but I think of him today - yes because of the movie, but also because I am in Washington DC today where America has just re-elected Barack Obama for a second term in office and I have spent the day taking in this city and its many monuments and memorials. One of which was that Daniel Chester French sculpture ( - you know the one you see in the movies, of Abe seated majestically, chimeric countenance in check, loose jointed and taut all in one, a lot on his mind. But I wanted to say that Botswana 'Two score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on our continent a new nation conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal'. And so we find ourselves here today sometimes not knowing where we come from, and how can we possibly know the sum total of our parts and rise above it, our future and move towards it, if we do not know what or who those parts are...

 Abandoned semi-traditional structure 40 minutes outside the city
 A sunset over the Chobe river in Kasane
One of the local hotels

1. We had no capital/ no city within our borders until 1965/66, as a British protectorate our administrative centre was actually in South Africa (Mafikeng if I'm not mistaken)

2. Botswana gained independence in 1966, celebrates it September 30th. We were one of the poorest countries on the continent at that time.

3.The country's eight major tribes all speak Setswana - so actually does (almost?) everyone else, I am Kalanga (not one of the eight) and speak iKalanga as well as Setswana

4. English and Setswana are the official languages of Botswana. Tswana is also 1 of the 11 official languages of South Africa

5. Our former political guests - those British colonists - used to misspell and mispronounce Tswana as Chuana this is why the country was previously called Bechuanaland an attempt at Land of the Batswana.

6. We have more ethnic Tswana people outside than inside our borders. Botswana has a population of 2 million but the largest number of ethnic Tswana live in South Africa. (Just as a note they are South African, born and bred not Batswana who have immigrated - please refer to that 19th century arbitrary carving up/ partitioning of the continent

7.  The same party has been in power since independence. We have been a multi-party democracy since 66.

8. We are home to the Kgalagadi desert, 1/5th of the global elephant population and the Okavango Delta

9. Storytelling (mainly by women) and poetry (mainly by men) has always been a part of Setswana culture. Things have changed up a bit, all forms are fair game for the brave

10. We aren't actually a big drum culture, we mainly play home made string instruments - such as segaba and the thumb piano (setinkane)

11. Choral music is a big part of the country's musical expression

12. Our current president is the son of Botswana's first president Sir Seretse Khama who was married to Lady Ruth Khama a British citizen (We have had 4 presidents to date, two of whom opted for early retirement during their second term in office)

13.  Our diet is quite similar across country (sorghum, maize /as cob and cooking flour/, rape or spinach, lots of beef) with variations here and there (the Kalanga are renowned for our millet and phane). Of course now in the cities you can find almost everything you are looking for, from Greek to Chinese cuisine, KFC to Rodizio - not all good granted but what can you do right

14. I personally think we drink too much hot tea and wear clothes much more suitable for British weather than our 35 degree celsuis summers. Indian kurtas or breathable cotton pants would do me nicely but hey maybe thats just me

15. In my humble opinion our city architecture leaves a lot to be desired - structurally and aesthetically.  I do like that because the British presence was a kind of remote controllled political statement than a heavy duty physical presence we inherited a blank slate unlike other cities where you can see the colonial structures still standing. The capital city of Gaborone (if you are Arabic read the g as kh, if you are British or American read it as a soft h), is less than half a century old and to date we have mainly built functional, utilitarian units rather than think on the environmental fit or the aesthetic possibilities. I think the traditional mud huts, which regulate heat and cold quite fantastically make geo-sense for where we are, of course we can not build that way in the city (you have to replenish the thatch roof every decade or so, the number of composite structures you could put up as a singular unit is limited and I don't think the city council authorities would let you even if you tried) but we can learn a little bit about how high our roofs should probably be and what kind of air circulation, since air cons are not standard in Botswana, we should have as a permanent part of the structures

16. Christmas is in summer

17. For a country the size of Texas/France we have way more shopping malls in the capital than we need

18. The cheapest steak you can get anywhere within our borders is amazing, maybe not sexy fancy plate stuff but in the mouth? its mmmmh.

19. Batswana writers or writers using Botswana as a backdrop that you can look out for are - Wame Molefhe, Lauri Kubuitsile, Norman Rush, Alexander McCall Smith, Barolong Seboni, Unity Dow... we are working hard at growing that list but we do need a publisher with an interest in churning out local works

20. You should come visit whenever you can. Obviously I'm an honourable sort, I speak with no bias whatsoever.

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