Joburg Expat: Apparently Botswana is not in Africa

May 1, 2012

Apparently Botswana is not in Africa

If our arrival in Maun is anything to go by, our stay in Botswana is going to be out-of-this-world extraordinary.

Although I should mention that we’re travelling without kids for an entire week. I’ve often said that I’d go ANYWHERE without kids. Just imagine – no last minute screaming at the house because Sunshine can’t find Billy. No ghastly realization halfway to the airport that we’ve forgotten the Drammamine. No confiscated scissors at security, or being whisked off to be checked for explosives because we brought a suspicious looking light-up bouncy ball. No having to pretend mid-air that these are someone else’s children when two of them start throwing up because we’ve forgotten the Drammamine. No squabbles over the window seat. No spilled apple juice on your lap. No “I HAVE to go to the bathroom" while we’re waiting at security. No “when do we get there’s” whatsoever.


Even so, our arrival at Maun International Airport – a big word – is exceptionally smooth as African arrivals go. We step into the crowded entrance hall, bracing for the inevitable wait. Except then the impossible happens: Several employees are awaiting us and hand out small forms. There are long counters at which these forms can be filled out. The forms ask simple questions, all of which we can answer. We take these to the booth labeled “visitors.” We wait in line for thirty seconds. We have our passports examined and stamped in another thirty seconds. We step a bit further and there are our two bags already being handed through a window. We take our bags and walk through “nothing to declare.” 

We are so utterly flustered by this highly unusual unfolding of events that we are at a loss of what to do next.

"Did you pass our flight details on to Wilderness Safaris?" Noisette wants to know.

Uh oh. You see, I am the one who did the booking. Meaning, in Noisette's imagination, I surely must have forgotten to book all our transfers. I should mention here that we've had to purchase new plane tickets at the airport because Noisette forgot to bring the correct credit card. Twice. Nevertheless, in our family I'm the one who has a reputation for insufficient planning. In fact, even I myself have no recollection of making any transfer plans to our lodge. That's not unusual as I can never remember anything, but having neglected this vital step seems very possible, even to me.

Cafe Bon Arrivee outside Maun Airport, aptly named because your arrival is indeed perfect

From Maun your journey continues in a little plane like this one

We almost engage in a heated debate over the virtues of planning versus improvising when we are beckoned by a friendly lady, who seems to have sensed looming disaster, to the Wilderness Safari Counter, which we haven't noticed before. We are greeted warmly, there is a lists with our names on it that SOMEBODY must have passed on to them, our bags are checked through, and we are instructed to wait for 45 minutes at the café outside. All in all, from  landing to sitting at Café Bon Arrivee sipping our cappuccinos, less than twenty minutes have passed. Did I mention no extortionary visa fees whatsoever?

Not possible, you will say. This is the Botswana in Africa you’re talking about, right? How can you find such a model of friendly and efficient service right here in Africa? And a clean and picturesque town you step into right outside the airport, with a convenient Standard Bank ATM where you can withdraw some Pula before going next door for food and drink while waiting for your connecting flight?

I hereby formally apologize to those readers who’ve been telling me that you can’t throw all of Africa in one basket. You are absolutely right. Botswana, it appears, has nothing in common with the likes of Mozambique and Tanzania.

Aerial view of Okavango Delta

If you dig a bit deeper into Botswana’s history, this actually does not come as a complete surprise. Botswana's ascent from world's poorest country in the 1960s to the extraordinary success story it is today makes for fascinating reading, what with featuring a chief's son who went to England and married a white woman, for which he got subsequently banned from his country but then came back to win the first democratic elections after independence and led the country to prosperity and high growth, aided by a stroke of extremely good luck and coupled with his wise leadership. 

But I won't get into any of this now. I have decided, you see, to try myself at an e-book to tell our Botswana story rather than publishing a bazillion blog posts about it. There, I said it, and now I'm utterly terrified, because now there is no going back. I really didn't plan it this way but found myself scribbling furiously from the day we arrived and happened to mention to Noisette that I could write an entire book about Botswana considering all that I had to say. "Why don't you?" was his answer. 

So there you are. I'll keep you posted on my progress.Tsamaya sentle.

This is what awaits you when you get into the heart of Botswana. Let the safari begin! 

7 comments :

cat said...

Sounds fantastic. Hope tou have a really great safari

www.margaretgriffin.wordpress.com said...

Having recently watched the television series, The No 1 Ladies' Dectective Agency, which is set in Botswana, I found this post very interesting. I am sure Precious and Grace would have been delighted with your Botswana welcome.

- Suzie - said...

Ha ha, Noisette, twice?!
I know how you could surprise him. make a copy of that credit card, and next time, when he forgot it, take out the paper copy. I travel with copy of CCs cc when I am traveling without him and secretary has booked my trip with his cc.

Sine said...

@cat - thanks, it was absolutely gorgeous.

@margaret - we LOVE Mma Ramotswe! Just saw the movie (I could only find one, but I do think it's the same as the series, maybe it is several shows combined into a movie?) and I also read one of the books. Having seen Botswana first hand now, I do think the movie was done very well to convey its essence.

@suzie - brilliant idea, must do that, thanks! As I already often move around with his passport copy in my purse for various financial transactions, I might as well add those credit card copies for just in case:-)

2Summers said...

I love Mma Ramotswe too. I've read every one of her books I think. Looking forward to YOUR book!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I think Botswana is such a blessing to Africa because it serves as a role model for other countries on the continent. Their success is partly due to some features unique to Botswana, but to be as considerate as possible to all the other countries in Africa, I would guess that having almost 50 years of uninterrupted peace with regular elections since independence is a big factor. If the other countries in Africa had a smooth record like that then Botswana would be the rule rather than the exception. This is one reason I remain hopeful for Africa in the long term. The longer a country can maintain peaceful elections and civil order the more economic growth and rising living standards they experience. Over time as each generation passes on into the next you have a growing percentage of the population for whom peace and stability are the norm.

Sine said...

Yes, definitely. It's like being shown that and how it can work, and so the citizens trust that it will continue to work. Getting lucky with diamonds and such also helped Botswana. But Zimbabwe has those and makes nothing of it for their citizens, so natural riches aren't everything.