Saturday, June 6, 2020

De- caffeinated Victor Baatweng’s soliloquy

I am writing this piece from my isolation room. It is an auberge at a government monitored coronavirus quarantine center in Gaborone. I am one of the lepers government is trying to protect you from.  Well, maybe that is pushing it too far, but Botswana Police and Botswana Defence Force officers would kill just to keep me away from you.I am a single digit lost in the whooping 2,081 jillion placed under institutional quarantine. But I am more than just a statistic.

In my other life I am the Business Editor of the Sunday Standard newspaper and a coffee connoisseur with a love for dark roasts.Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment officials got their lines crossed and failed to give us much of a heads up before the quarantine. The result was that I didn’t have time to stock up on my java. So, in my new incarnation, I was reduced to an unworldly coffee drinker who had to make do with Ricoffy like the other 2,080 coffee gauches.My new normal, which is means a decaffeinated torment begins and ends in this gilded cage. The only window to the outside world is my cellular phone and the television set that keeps repeating programmes like a broken record. This modest Statesville I call home is my office, lockup and playground following official trepidation over my exposure to Covid 19.

Since January 2020 this epidemic has dominated global news headlines. Now it is in our shores. At the time of writing this piece – (16 April 2020, 1700hrs) Botswana had recorded 15 positive cases with one fatality.Thursday last week I, a number of media colleagues and a handful of parliamentarians were sent for mandatory Covid 19 quarantine. This followed unease by COVID-19 police that we could have come into contact with an infectious agent – a coronavirus positive nurse on duty at Parliament last week Wednesday.For now, the fateful day and COVID-19 are the least of my worries. Top of my mind is how I am going to make it through today. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I have to survive without my mortal crutch – a drink that has kept my ticker thumping and my veins pumping for most of my adult life – COFFEE.

The only other time I have had to go “for long” without a sip of this magical liquid beans is when I made the annual visit to my dentist. And for long, I mean three hours. My tooth fairy’s advice has always been, “do not take hot liquids for the next three hours”.  I always felt this was more than flesh and blood could stand. Coffee is my get up and go. It gets me started in the morning and keeps me going all day. Even when I have one cup in my hand, I always look forward to that next one. At my peak, I chain-drink coffee all day, usually 4-6 cups of “long black” curtain-raised by Café Americano and later in the day a shot of Espresso.

In short, this drink has given life to my mornings and has been a life saver throughout the day more especially on work deadline days. But here I am, stuck in a hotel room and with no access to the glue that keeps me together, at least access to the variety that I am used to. I am not taking as many cups as I am used to, and I am not taking the many varieties I am used to – Espresso, Americano, Filter, Long black—–all the kinds I would take if I was either at my rented house, our office in Commerce park or at my favorite coffee shop – Mugg n Bean.

This is how it all started. On arrival at this hotel on Thursday night, the earliest discovery I made I was that it does not serve “proper” coffee. By proper I mean coffee made from beans. For the whole of Thursday night it felt like the end of me. On Friday morning as I reflected on the regulations given by health officials the previous night, I could not help but think about the coffee cabinet at my rented house and even at the office. I could not resist thinking about a variety of tastes, scents, and strengths that those coffees always offered me. But here I was, stuck in a hotel room with strict rules – “1. Do not leave your room. 2. No visitors allowed”, which in a way suggested that I cannot “import” any of my collection or get any “complicated” coffee except for instant one. 

Luckily as I was wondering on how I was going to handle anxiety and stress in the next 14 days I received what I could call a “call of hope”. On the other end of the line was my boss – Outsa Mokone. Apart from snack, Mokone enquired which coffee he should drop-off for me at my temporary home. The health authorities had given a thumbs up for delivery of such, as long as it was sealed. So, fast forward to mid-morning of Friday. I had a member of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) delivering JACOBS coffee at my hotel room doorstep. JACOBS belongs to the “instant coffee” family of this brown colored water. Some caffeine snobs, including yours-truly usually turn their nose up at Instant coffee but if you are hiking or confined to a hotel room like I am now instant coffee like JACOBS is an answer. Those with coffee culture will tell you that Instant coffee, like JACOBS is coffee that had all the water removed, leaving behind just the soluble coffee flavour. But having come to terms with the reality that where I am only, instant coffee is the easiest to prepare, my answer to Mokone was, “Bring me JACOBS”.

He did exactly that and I was happy again. I was happy not because I had gotten the best Coffee out there, but because my boss was kind enough to serve me at the moment, I was possibly low – this is a rare gesture in Botswana working culture. The boss is served, not the other way round. So that mid-morning on Friday, soon after Mokone called me to say, “Vic, I have dropped the stuff at the reception, they said they will drop them off at your room”, I peeped through the only window my hotel room has, which luckily is on the parking-lot side. I saw Mokone’s vehicle leaving and all that brought gratitude to my inner being. As Mokone’s car made the last dash towards Western Bypass road I could relate to the grace that his holiness The Dalai Lama of the Tibet nation had — to be grateful of the opportunities that existed even when in exile.

Like the Dalai Lama who went for exile, being in Covid 19 quarantine has helped make a profound shift in life perspective. It helped me to not just accept the reality of the circumstances I am in now but also see the opportunities in every experience I am going to gain here for the next seven days. Acceptance means not fighting reality. My reality at the moment is that I will not be sipping the drink that keeps my veins pumping as often as I wish, at least in the next seven days. But the good outcome is that while here, I will be following what the speaker of the national assembly – Phandu Skelemani ordered Members of Parliament to do, “Keep the Eyes on the ball”. The ball in this case is the fight against Covid 19. I know once Covid 19 is gone, I shall HAVE and SIP my favorite drink at home, coffee shop and at the office.

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