Saturday, May 8, 2021

Botswana through the eyes of a black American (One man’s pilgrimage to Africa)

If you have watched the movie, ‘Coming to America’ you would probably realise how patronising it was. But then again, which African wants to admit that we are in fact, a bit backward? We don’t even have 4G yet in Botswana. That aside, I recently met a fella who made me want to script a movie and coin it, ‘Coming to Botswana ÔÇô the great pilgrimage to Africa.’
Thousands of Americans make their way to Botswana annually; however, Sean Gottlieb is not cut from the same cloth as the rest.
He doesn’t come across as a tourist; instead he appears at home.
He also has an opened minded perception of Africa, and sees Africa as equal to the US and Europe.
At first sight, there’s something striking about Giblet. He walks with a high step, chest puffed out and confidence reeking from his every pore. When he speaks, his tone is smooth, crisp with a solid American twang. With his all white outfit, accessorised by a ‘bling’ neckpiece, watch and ring, one would be forgiven that this gentleman just stepped out of an American video or the set of Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
“It’s interesting how I found myself here. I used to live in New York, and in my neighbourhood there was a gentleman who sold newspapers from Africa. He would cover the origin country of the newspaper and ask us to guess where it was from. I initially thought these were papers from Atlantla or Europe. I became fascinated to know that these were African newspapers, which pretty much appeared like those we read here,” he explains.
This curiosity resulted in him reading more about Africa.
“The ignorance that is associated with Americans is true. In America some people actually do believe that Africa is like a jungle and people run around half naked hunting for their own food. Do you blame them? No. They were shipped from the continent ages ago, and what they know is America and in their eyes, America is the dream,” he says.
It appears this ‘ignorant state’ didn’t trickle down to him.
“I have always been curious to learn more about Africa. For a long time I would go onto the Internet and read about the continent. I found that African media was a better reflection of life here, and so I would read online African newspapers and I was hooked.”
His anecdote of how he fell in love with Botswana is just as intriguing.
“I used to go onto the Internet and watch videos and links from Botswana. On one occasion I came across clips of the show ‘Property 4 U’. I was fascinated to learn that these houses were actually in Botswana! I was like: ‘Is this for real?!’ These were the kind of houses we have back in the States,” he exclaims with the rap-like Madea sounding tone.
Gottlieb then contacted the show’s producer, Michael Mpeo, and the two got off like a house on fire forging a good friendship that stands to date.
On his trip here, Mpeo picked him up from the airport, helped him settle in, was his escort around Gaborone and when schedule allows, the two have been dining and partying together with Giblet’s wife, Melanie, who also tagged along. Melanie is originally from Canada but later settled in Hawaii where the couple now lives. Sean was raised in New York, a part of his life he describes as challenging, as he came from an impoverished area.
Melanie works as a psychologist offering support to the wives and children of men enlisted in the US army based in Iraq, while Sean is also a counsellor.
The two have been touring south of Botswana for the past week, partying at SKY and Absolut lounge, dining at Liban, having braais at Mokolodi and so forth.
“Life here is amazing! I think I want an Omang document now! I was fascinated by all the open spaces, the relaxed pace of life here and how kind and friendly the people are. Back in the US everything is fast, and for the first time I thought that I could relax and enjoy myself,” he adds excitedly.
The couple considers their trip here more of a ‘pilgrimage to the Motherland’.
“We both always wanted to come to Africa, and since we were financially sound we thought that this is the time.
What struck Sean is the manner in which the police relate well with locals.
“I saw Mike refer to a cop as his friend, and even introduced us.
I was like, ‘Wow!’ Back in the US, cops are seen as enemies. It’s also hard when you are black like me because police violation and racial profiling is real,” he says.
His face narrows as he recalls the tough times he has dealt with as a victim of racial profiling.
“Cops in the US are killing blacks left, right and centre. It’s really bad. Some people think that we are blowing things out of proportion but the situation is heartbreaking. It occurs everyday across the country. Some law enforcement and private security personnel target blacks and the victims are often subjected to humiliating interrogations, scary detentions and searches, without evidence of criminal activity,” he says.
Racial profiling is when someone is targeted or suspected of criminal activity, on the basis of their race, ethnicity or religion. This practice dates back to the slavery era when largely blacks and Latins were harassed.
At the time, the police were given authority to ‘stop and detain any Negro’ seen wandering the streets. Racial profiling has been challenged following widespread condemnation. This practice has over the years increased tension between police and black communities, leading to many reported deaths at the hands of officers. Last year, the End Racial Profiling Act 2015 was enacted. Many people across the world rightfully argued that racial profiling is a 60s practice with no place in modern America.
The Gottlieb’ were in Botswana for two weeks, and wrapped up their visit with a fun-filled dinner at the Sky Lounge in the Gaborone CBD, where they “turned it up”, with new friends and members of Internations, a local society of foreigners living in Botswana, and their new friends.

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