Friday, November 30, 2007

Passport in Two Days

Next Thabiso takes me over to his Mum’s house. He’s cut a deal with her. I can stay, as long as I buy her a pizza on the way over – she’s hungry . Dr Nasha is a government minister, currently holding the Local Government portfolio. Her house is out of town, past Phakalane and along a dusty road. It’s surrounded by high walls, and has on-site security. Inside I meet Suko, the house-maid, who has a friendly smile. Thabiso tells me she’ll look after me, and shows me to a room with a large double bed and en-suite bathroom. An upgrade from his couch, it has to be said. I have a shower in the dark (light bulb needs replacing, which we do afterwards). Also the water is cold until I finish the shower, when the solar-heated water finally makes its way through. The shower is one of those exciting ones with lots of jets pointing in all directions and multiple heads, but the water pressure isn’t really high enough to drive it. Still, it’s a shower. Thabiso just has a bath. Suko feeds me an enormous portion of some tasty traditional food, beans, meat and some vegetables, before we head out to dinner (!).

Of course, dinner is not required, instead we pop over to Jack’s house. He’s a rich Indian business man who has an entire bar club area with Jacuzzi in an outhouse in the garden. Quite impressive, though it’s strange how the plot of land is not that big, but the house completely fills it in two stories. I think what he needs to do is buy all the adjacent properties and knock them all down to make a nice garden! We walk round the house after confirming that the 7, yes *seven* attack dogs have been called off! Inside the “club”, he shows off his sound system, and to my displeasure (for the noise is awful) all of the sycophantic (mostly) expats inside pretend to be happy that he’s splitting our ear-drums. I suppose lots of money does that to people. I end up chatting to a pilot chap from New Zealand, running charter flights around the region from here, primarily to Johannesburg. How awful, I exclaim! Oh no, he says, it’s nice to go out and chat up white girls there. But Botswanan women are beautiful, I point out, surely if you’re living here for a couple of years you will have found yourself a nice local girl? He raises his eyebrows at me. I realise we’re never going to get on.

We pick up Janet at Gaborone Hotel on the way to Lizard Lounge. This evening (Thursday) it’s a different place, packed full of people, initially all black, but a fair few white people by later on. There are a couple of the Miss Botswana contestants floating about. The music has its ups and downs, depending on who is DJing – they seem to be cutting over approximately hourly. Starting with common R&B, it moves on to some funky jazz stuff, before house and back to R&B. The crowd is fun, happy, dressed up and dancing away. Why do black people just inherently have dance moves built into them? I think part of it is that there’s no embarrassment when dancing in African cultures – people have garden parties and it doesn’t take vast amounts of beer to get people shaking their stuff, just good music and some friends. In the same way that the Swedes are not shy at bursting into song at a moment’s notice (especially Sofia and her gang in Jo’berg), so most African black people will dance anywhere, any time, even if it’s just a gentle little shake on the spot. I’m deeply envious!

It’s late by the time I drop Janet off, and head back to Thabiso’s. Now, any hopes that Chotki and I had made our peace were dashed as she and Legetla sprang at me from behind the fence. I’m scared to put my hand near the buzzer to wake up Herbert to let me in, which he finally does, steering me across the forecourt and holding off the snarling canines. This night I know the drill, make sure that door is bolted! I don’t have any sheets though, so make do with sleeping in my pants and using my shirt as a sheet. For the next several days Thabiso goes around telling everyone I slept naked. I do half wake up to see Herbert coming into the house with a girl. Go Herbert!, I think, until I later discover that this was Mumsa, the housemaid. Still, she’s a nice girl!

Later Herbert takes me back, picking up Ona on the way, to Thabiso’s Mum’s place, where I get to meet Madoda, Thabiso’s younger brother, who lives here too. He invites us to join him for lunch, which we’ll do once we’ve finished a few errands. I notice that Suko has tidied up my room, including carefully organising everything I’d left strewn about the room into cupboards, shelves and drawers. I shall have to be very careful not to leave anything later! She’s also taken all of my dirty clothes and washed them, so kind!

Herbert and Ona

We head back to town, first to the British Embassy. For, believe it or not, yesterday evening I received a phone call from them – my passport is ready, after the grand sum of two, yes 2 single working days! Who would have thought! After being quoted 8-10 weeks by the lazy jobsworths in Pretoria, here it’s almost next day. And why not – all they need to do is type in my name into their computer, tick a couple of boxes, click “submit” and it’s all sent to London, which approves then returns an ok for the local embassy to print the passport off. So where does 10 weeks get lost? British FCO – sack the South African pen-pushers and centralise operations for Southern Africa in Botswana!

The embassy closes at 1pm on a Friday, and we cut it very fine – Herbert swerves into a “no entry” parking area and I leap out and run round. All is calm inside of course, though sadly my very well-spoken girl is not there today, no asking her for dinner then. Next we take Ona over to process her provisional driving licence, exposing me to Botswanan civil servants. The office is supposed to open after their lunch break at 1:45pm. This time comes and goes. A rather large lady waddles across the corridor with a cup of tea and some food. Eventually things get going. Ona has a ticket saying she’s number 2088, which worries Herbert and I when we hear number 67 being called. Turns out they have different numbering systems for different kinds of applications. Of course.

Next, the hair dressers for an appointment. I can sense the “ooh I’d love to do something to that” stares at my mop all round, but it’s not too be – Ona and her friend are coming here the following day, we’re just in to book the time. And then back to Madoda, who by this stage had given up on us and eaten alone. He rouses himself, and we head out to Spa and Woolworths (which in SA and here is like Marks and Spencer, i.e. good food), before back where he expertly roasts a chicken for us, with potatoes and a salad. Herbert reckons Madoda’s cooking is the best, and it seems he’s right as we tuck in outside, looking over the garden and pool.

Madoda brings the finished product out

That finished, Khumo turns up off her bus down from Francistown, so Madoda and I pick her up, before coming back and feeding her too.

We then have a swim whilst Madoda picks up more of his friends, in what ends up being a nice evening drinks session on the wrought iron garden table and chairs. Wine, Hansa Marzen Gold (my beer of choice) and cider flow in copious quantities. Whilst we’re here, the others, Thabiso and Herbert, are at Linga Longa with friends, Herbert with my camera which presumably isn’t going to last much longer. Here are some shots from Linga Longa, not mine but as it seems to the bar of choice, I’ll publish them anyway:

Later we head out to a party at Jack’s, but a phone call to Thabiso on the way tells us that the venue has switched to the Bull and Bush. This is the main expat pub joint. It’s a strange place – trying to be everything – pub, restaurant, nightclub, pool joint, outdoor terrace drinking spot, and yet somehow not being especially successful at any of them. It also seems to be the venue that lets all of the underage kids in, some looking about 12! This has implications which the idiotic door-men may not always consider though, as someone (presumably a kid trying his first cider) throws up on the dance floor, leaving it with a very nasty smell.

Aside: They have an interesting feature with mobile phones here. Almost everyone uses pay-as-you-go, and are always running out of credit. If you want someone to call, but have no credit, you use “Callback”, where you tap in a code and the number you want to speak to, and it sends a message to the other person, without charge, saying “please call this number”. Nothing else. So if you recognise the number, you call back. Clever, eh?

At Bull and Bush, the usual suspects are about, and I meet the lovely Lebu, a mixed or “coloured” girl who is heading down to Pretoria this weekend. We’re getting tired, but somehow Thabiso is going on to a club. Not for us after drinking all day, and luckily Madoda is driving his friends home so we get a lift, albeit at about 200km/hr. Is it even worth wearing seatbelts at that speed? Anyway, in the early hours of the morning on a “going out” night, one sees the worst driving in the world. No exaggeration! As we wait at some traffic lights, a 4x4 zooms through, swerving around the waiting cars, then appears to be going straight for the traffic lights in the central reservation. We all cry out, but at the absolute last second he veers away, almost tipping the vehicle, but avoiding the post. Driving along at speeds not to be shy of ourselves, other cars do “James Bond Pursuit Driving” – weaving back and forth between lanes and zooming past us. Madness.

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