Thursday, August 18, 2022

The awkward 365 days and nights spent in the Queen’s land: Part 1

Imagine this: travelling a distance of approximately 200 kms to attend an important reception. When you finally reach your destination, everything is confusing and your usually sharp brain goes blank. Then you have no choice but to talk to one of those people hurrying past you with unfriendly faces. The information they give you is too long and you know you should write it down, but they don’t look like they have time for that.

You already know you appear dishevelled and clueless so you do your best to act like you understand. It takes hours but eventually you reach the place you booked for accommodation that night and, lo and behold, it is simply not what you expected. Such was one of my memorable but unpleasant experiences of travelling to the great big city of London.

I had to attend a two-hour farewell ceremony hosted by my main sponsor, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Ministry. Therefore, I decided to book a night at one of the cheap youth hostels in London; after all, I could not afford a decent hotel on a student budget. The youth hostel appeared wholesome on paper, in reality it was a different story.

Still reeling from the shock of how appalling the conditions in the hotel were, I relaxed a bit when I met my three roommates for the night. One seeming nice guy from Russia and two Chinese students.

I was afraid to leave my things in the room because we all had to share one closet and it had no key. After making a decision to go shopping for new formal clothes, I set out to look for the nearest shopping mall. You take two trains to reach Shepherd’s Mall, they said, and off I went. I will not even go into how expensive the shops are; sometimes I felt like I could faint on the spot. A pound buys you between 11-12 pulas, depending on the current exchange rates, therefore, spending money in the UK was a nightmare because, naturally, I convert prices for everything I buy without even realising it.

Needless to say, the UK is very expensive and living on a student budget is no funny business. It can get tough to an extremely frustrating point.

After finding a shop where I bought all I needed, I had to rush because I was left with about two hours before the ceremony. This time I knew how to get back to the hostel. As I reached my not-so-fancy accommodations, I realised that I had lost my bag. The one with all the new clothes. I allowed myself 5 minutes of panic and then decided to wear my old rags because life moves on: bad day or not.

I did not want to be late for the ceremony because I know from experience how punctual they are and a small part of me was excited about the buckets of free wine I would take advantage of when I got to the ceremony. After calling a cab recommended by my “classy hosts” who spent most of time on the phone, laughing out loud and chewing gum vigorously as we waited in line for service, I left the hostel. Even in old rags I knew that I clean up nicely. I am, after all, a Motswana woman.

As if my day couldn’t get any worse, the cab driver did not speak English but pretended to understand what I was saying, which eventually resulted in us driving around the city for four hours because we were lost. When we finally got to the parliament buildings, I was at breaking point. Cabs are not supposed to drop you off by the parliamentary building, so I ran towards the building with heels in hand, to no avail. Everyone was gone.

Walking back to the transport area, I broke down because it was all for nothing and I was not going to waste any more money on cabs. I actually I did not even have credit in my phone. Until by a random act of kindness three teenage boys felt sorry for the barefooted black girl sitting by the bus stop crying. God bless their souls!

My next plan was to get to my shared room and wail even more before falling asleep. This was not to be, as soon as we turned off the lights, the buff Russian gentleman comes into the room and makes his way to his bed. As soon as his head hits the pillow, he starts snoring so loudly we thought the ceiling would fall upon us…to be continued.

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