Thursday, October 22, 2020

Travelling to Maun

Traveling cheap can be pretty expensive and often in conflict with Botswana’s aspirations for a productive nation driven by the global developments in information technology.

It takes two 11 hour working days to travel by bus to and from Gaborone to Maun in the Ngamiland District of northwestern Botswana for P208 and middle range hotel accommodation of P540.

So, if one travels on a Monday he will have practically two days in total to do any proper work taking into account the bus lag that will take its toll for the better part of Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday remain as the only genuine working days.

This account of events will not recognize the wear and tear to the body that will carry over to Saturday after the traveler returns to Gaborone.

That is horrible use of time for a poor working journalist though it might be a most exhilarating experience for the rich tourist.

The tourist will have seen the capital city of Gaborone and experienced the scenery along the railway line on the more urbanized eastern border of the country for about 350 kilometers up to Palapye.

The bus would take a turn off to the capital village of GammaNgwato. There he would see the fossil remains of the brigades that were pioneered by Patrick Van Rensburg who, for forty years, persevered to make education with production a reality, particularly for the least developed countryside of the newly independent rural Botswana.

There is a curious clash of traditional and modern architecture alongside the main tarred road that snakes its way through the belly of the village from Palapye turning off towards Moijabana to the east from the center of Serowe.

The bus stops where it has stopped since God created earth whisking past the Blackbeard’s garage and B Wells Woodford to settle at the rather rustic bus stop at the foot of the bar that has overlooked the bus stop for as long as it existed.

That was all of sentimental value for the journalist who had traveled those roads before when Peace Corps work took him to the hinterlands of GammaNgwato to Thabala, Moijabana and other unknown settlements.

The bus left Serowe around 11 o’clock for the real journey in the direction of Topisi, Motopi and Rakops.

It stopped at Motopi where the bus conductor swallowed two solid dishes of rice with beef and beetroot salad. At the end of an adult male’s emptying of the bladder, he was done and the driver was hooting his horn.

The general dealer depends on the bus for about P500 of its daily takings by conservative estimates.

White inspectors and African labourers worked the dirt road, seemingly in preparation to tar the track.

The soil turned grey and then white on the edges. Strangely the cattle appeared, at least from the shape of their hip lines, to be in relatively good health, though some were obviously giving in to the effects of sparse rainfall.

Going by the browning of the grass, it was somewhat surprising to the untrained eye of the urban journalist that the calves also looked well groomed and a pleasurable sight as they cantered around the semi-desert bushveld.

The stocky man giggled and exclaimed, “O ba utlwa Matlamma Rampholo”. Ao! About five women were ambling towards the back of the bus speaking in tongues.

They had neat doeks that grew into horns wrapped around their heads, their dresses covering their bodies wholly so that even their shoes were not visible.

Behind them followed a clan of gentlemen who looked like they were setting out for a hunting trip. The knobkerrie suggested that they meant real mean business whatever they were up to.

One of the old women attempted to bully the three children who had long paid out of their seat. The friendly man in the back refused.

The one in the seat ahead must have taken close to five minutes to take two out of the three seats that she should have shared with the trouble-maker of an old lady who wanted to rob the children of their seat.

The texture of the air changed from the aroma of cheap deodorants that gripped the air from Gaborone to the thicker, darker complexion of sands of the torrid countryside.

The woman who occupied two seats tucked her ticket into the right horn of her hood. So, the horns on the hood are actually wallets! Absolutely ingenious.

The bus turned into the FrancistownÔÇôMaun highway at about 3 o’clock and the friendly gentleman commented that ‘we are now on our way to Maun’.

It felt like the bus had long strayed into the Namibian side of the border.

At the Makalamabedi border the police woman amused herself at the thought that the Herero women had actually weaved ‘human hair’ into their natural hairdo. The police checked the OMang books and every body passed without incident.

One would have thought that the police could have simply climbed on the bus and done a quicker job than they did, if only for the convenience of the passengers. Presumably, the police do have more important business than searching buses, especially in the tourism area that is so vulnerable to mischief in the hunting areas.

There was nothing on the TV screens for the duration of the trip. In retrospect, perhaps the noise-free trip ÔÇô save for the boisterous Damara ladies – was kinder to the ears than the stuff that came over the screens on the bus on an earlier trip to Mahalapye on the week of Dr Kenneth Koma’s funeral.

Disappointingly, there was little space to dig further into that book that wants to explain the origins of the Bible and the monotheistic explanation of the God concept among the Jews and later generations of Christians.

Neither could one settle into the laptop to record events about the past two week’s travel between Gaborone, Francistown and Maun.

It was no different on Botswana Railways on the aborted trip to Maun through Francistown.
There were ashtrays on the walls of the train despite the anti-smoking campaigns of the health workers, but the IT (information technology) policies of government have not helped to get the electrical ports on the modern built railway coaches to work.

That, despite the comforting cleanliness of the second and first class compartments, makes information work impossible.

It did not help that one could not get proper attention from the Air Botswana desk on Tuesday afternoon. “If you know the direct line to the person you want to contact, do so now. Otherwise dial 1 for customer service, 2 for…”

After a wasted working day devoted to travel between Gaborone and Maun, it was time to settle into the search for the people who could help to do a journalistic survey of Maun, and possibly, some parts of Ngamiland.

Journalism, after all, does not happen in IT compatible offices in Gaborone. It must also happen in the neglected rural districts that form the largest mass of the country.

Perhaps the country’s traveling and tourist services should strive a little harder to harmonise their services with the IT aspirations of the passenger community.

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