Saturday, April 20, 2013

WHERE IN THE WORLD IS BOTSWANA - lat 24S & lon 25E

"Botswana has a literacy rate of over 80%, with women literacy rate at 83%, higher than that of men. In 2002, the gross Primary enrollment rate was 100%, while the net enrollment rate was 81%. In fact, Botswana has a high percentage of women holding highest positions in the civil society and corporate sector, compared to some industrialized countries such as Japan. Currently, we have a Motswana woman as one of the Governors at the World Bank; another Motswana woman (a lawyer by profession) has been recently appointed to the International Court of Justice, the Hague; the Bank of Botswana Governor is a woman; we have at least two women as High Court Judges; several of them as magistrates; one of the two Deputy Vice Chancellors of the only University in the country is also a woman; we have several women as Professors and lecturers, others occupying the positions of Deanship/Head of Departments at the University of Botswana; and recently, women have been given the opportunity to join the army. Notably, in Botswana, more girls graduate from the University than boys, and the enrollment rate of girls in Primary schools is 49% compared to 51% of boys. Since education is relatively free, what is needed is dedication and commitment. Currently, the government of Botswana is sponsoring nearly 40,000 students in tertiary schools both in the country and overseas..," Dr Bora Thuga Manatsha, 2009 excerpt from here.

Forty-seven years later, this is the place I call home. A landlocked country in Southern Africa about the size of France or Texas (I don't do well with square kilometres), located just above South Africa with Namibia and Mozambique to the west and east respectively. 

Poetry is a big part of the culture here, as is traditional dance but of course you can take Zumba classes if you prefer or study capoeira, join a heavy metal band or become a rap/motswako star. Yes, this too is Africa.

Our traditional cuisine is simple organic fare - sorghum, beef lots of beef, phaletshe (pounded corn not unlike palenta but way better tasting :), morogo (dried bean leaves, greens etc) but with 5 or 6 major shopping complexes just within the city you can eat Japanese, Greek, Chinese, Indian or whatever cuisine you are after, for the right price. No, we do not have a Macdonalds but we do have Nandos (ask Mila Kunis or any Brit what that is). Ok, I'll stop with the free advertising, the point is since gaining independence from the UK in 66, Botswana was previously the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland, a lot has happened. We did not inherit much infrastructurally from the British - a few kilometers of road, inexplicable tea drinking in 40 degree centigrade weather, conservative clothing totally unsuited to the summers here, as well as the English language and perhaps that is how it should be a clean/erasable slate. Our very own tabula rasa, to do with what we wish.

Do I have a pet elephant? No, go read a book strange little man. I know its confusing, the storybooks and movies have us Tarzaning across some homogenous jungle in loincloths and the truth is we do have lots of wildlife and conservation parks. I heard somewhere that we are home to one third of the world's elephant population but, and this is important, we do not have a mahout culture - as a rule we don't train them and ride them etc. We stay away from the wildlife and our defense force handles the national anti-poaching programs. Locals respect nature from a friendly distance. Visitors here want to stroke the animals, get upclose to You Tube lions, sleep in tents out in the ope etc. To each his own. If I lived in New York in a small bedsit I suppose I might yearn for that kind of nearness. Maybe.

We practice high value-low volume tourism. Fewer guests, lots of money - an admirable attempt at environmental impact control. This means it can get quite pricey and is generally booked out months in advance for the really swanky luxury camps. The camps are out in the North where its green and gorgeous which means very little contact with local people, they understandably much prefer arable land that they can feed off or eek out a living from. In the past I've had friends fly into the capital city in the south-East spend a couple of days to get a sense of the people, drive to Maun via a number of small towns/drive into one of the neighbouring villages and back to the city and then fly into the Okavango/Chobe region. I said it wasn't cheap, but its worth it if natures your kind of girl.

I speak iKalanga, Setswana and English which is an official language here, I dabbled in KiSwahili and recently sat for my first exam in Portuguese, I have been known to read poetry out loud in Spanish even though what I know of the language amounts to 10 words, I carry a pocket book of basic German but thats not going anywhere fast. I travel a little bit more each year and just like to understand and be understood, only in the most literal sense. Most people here speak 2 languages but more and more people are learning French or Chinese etc at least in the city. There aren't many courses on African languages that I know of but the logic here is simple, the Chinese set up their Confucius Centre, the French Alliance Francaise, the Portuguese their Instituto Camoes basically if you want your cultural presence to be felt here you finance it.

Which brings me to a little known but important fact. No, we do not have an arts council so the next time you receive a legitimate request for funding from Botswana don't think diamonds - the artists,writers don't see that cash, not much of it any way. To be clear its a matter of priorities, I'm no art historian but I assume this a not unusual phase in the development of nations - there is a point where building schools, financing healthcare, strengthening defense, economically developing the local space is seen as entirely separate from any role art could play and therefore no funds for the 'afro-hippies' who want to host cultural festivals or writers residencies or start a children's read-a-thon or give the National Writers Association a place to work from. As political anniversaries go Botswana is 47years old, a pre-teen by country standards and she is unfortunately exhibiting some of those stubborn traits in this area. She knows whats good for her but she's not ready to dig deep and make it happen.

The city is home to 250 000 or so people, the country 2 million, each with their own story to tell about what its like to be a Motswana right now but if you have a question whose answer isn't on wikipedia just comment below and I'll try and get word back to you. 
Go with rain, my friends. Thanks for stopping by.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing this TJ. I am working on my Creative Writing thesis right now all about my time in Botswana and I am trying to grasp the "real" Botswana. I am happy to say that I think I'm getting there after reading this post of yours. I hope all is well, or better yet, impeccable!

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  2. Hi Brandy, I'm doing good as I hope are you. Good luck with the thesis, I'm sure you don't need it.

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