Day 1 (Part 2). Sunday 7/12/2015. 11AM.
I stepped into the Gaborone Airport arrivals hall, straight into the faces of Jane and her family.
I felt like royalty. And overjoyed to finally see familiar faces.
We took a bunch of photos at Sir Seretse Khama airport, where statues of the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino) guard the entrance, and began our drive into downtown Gaborone.
Gaborone is only a 10 minute drive from the South African border. The capital of Botswana was moved here from Francistown after independence from the Commonwealth in 1966.
The streets are wide and easy to drive on. Small, blue metal shacks form scattered bus stops. Public transit by bus is really by white minivans. Transportation of choice/ by necessity is car, otherwise you have to walk everywhere. Most people drive SUVs so it’s easier to drive into the bush. There are lots of international schools; we passed at least 4 or 5 in one day. The “sidewalks” consist of dusty paths patched with dry winter grasses. You see the occasional goat and chicken running about residential neighborhoods. Malls such as Airport Junction are very modern, selling trendy clothes and filled with Nandos/Wimpy/Mugg and Bean fast food chains. Clothes and shoes on average cost 20-30USD.
Outside the city center, lots of hitchhikers give us thumb-ups for rides. Further out, bushmen and their kids drive donkey carts to move cargo and water between villages. It’s not easy living out there. It hasn’t rained in this country for three years (!!!). It has a very chill pace and I can see how the bush becomes a familiar notion of home for immigrants who have settled here for a long time.
I dropped off my luggage at Jane’s house in plot 6, a fairly new community inhabited mostly by Asian families. Many run retail stores and wholesale businesses. The 200-person headcount of early Chinese immigrants in the ’90s has burgeoned to a smashing 30,000+ population today. Astounding.
Diamonds and mining form almost half of GDP in Botswana. In fact, the world’s largest diamond production company De Beers (not to be confused with pizza chain Debenairs) chose Gaborone as its operating headquarters. More specifically, De Beers’ mining arm in Botswana, a company named Debswana, operates through a 50:50 joint venture with the Botswana government. Of De Beer’s 20,000 employees across 5 continents, almost 90% are in Africa, and half of that in Botswana. As of 2011, 85% of De Beers is owned by Anglo American. So last year may have been rougher than usual on fiscal revenues…
Mining aside, I indulged in an afternoon getting to know Gaborone through food. Stomach, battle stations.
Four tastes of Gaborone:
- Bush and Bear
- Sanitas Tea House
- Mugg and Bean
It was a meticulous plan. Jane (or rather, her strategic dad), got us started off with Nandos. Oh, my first Nandos. Love at first bite. I wanted more but we needed to take a short break before heading (almost immediately) to Bush and Bull for the Best Steak in Botswana. I coined that superlative because I grant it every right to claim the title.
Having been around for a couple decades, Bush and Bull is a local favorite and the only real nightclub in town. We got there around 3pm, in time to crash some 70 year old’s birthday party. Jane ordered a Malawi shanty for each of us straightaway, a sweet fizzy drink with a special red flavoring on ice. The steaks themselves were gut-blowing. Imagine 750g of T-bone grilled to tender perfection.
Next, we sampled some lemonade at Sanitas Tea House, an arts-and-craft slash open-air café complete with playground for the kids. Jane ran into her high school teacher here. Small world.
We also took a trip down memory lane to Jane’s International Baccalaureate (IB) school, Westwood international. To think we took the same curriculum (and got the same grades) in 2 utterly different worlds years before we met!
Finally, we had dinner at Mugg and Bean, a South African café chain. The original plan was a Brazilian restaurant but workers are keen to go home so the operation closed its doors on us at 7:50pm even though its official close was later. I held no grudge as I felt replenished for the next 3 days running.
11:05 PM Grand Palm Hotel
This marks the end of my first day in Gaborone (Ha-bor-ro-nee), Botswana. My first day on earth’s Southern hemisphere. From striking up conversation with the Chinese miner returning to Zambia on my HKG-JNB flight, to my first sighting of the Mozambique coastline, to sinking my teeth into my first legendary Nando’s chicken, followed more steak into the night, the land I have experienced so far is a breathtaking yet gritty place which kindles a strong mix of feelings and questions.
So far, the trip has been anything but lonely. My first new friend of the day, at departure from Hong Kong, was Mr Zhang, my seatmate at 49B. His only son had just completed the strenuous high school 高考 process in China and is looking to apply for college abroad. However, he hopes to enroll his son into one of the 2-1-1 universities in Mainland China to study medicine or pharmacy. Mr Zhang had lived in Zambia for the past 3 years on his own. His family live in Gansu Province in Central/Northwest China, and he goes home twice a year to see them. It’s rough. He advised me vehemently to stay safe in Jo’burg and not meet “strange men” in Cape Town bars. He shared hours of stories of life in Johannesburg and a mining town in Zambia whose name I cannot remember…
[My diary stops here as I fell asleep from jetlag]
Later, I recall this glimpse into his life with profound amazement as I zoom out from the individual to the statistics capturing the mass migration of Chinese miners into the African continent. If this interests you, I highly recommend Howard French’s “China’s Second Continent” as a starter on the topic.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s road trip halfway across Botswana to the Khama Rhino Reserve.