Sunday, April 29, 2012

Life in Botswana: Time to Leave

The final installment of my parent's memoirs: Life in Botswana

As we prepare to leave Botswana we thought it fitting to sum up our experiences. Ed's work has continued well, and he is pleased that the advice and assistance he has provided has contributed to the development of TIPA's staff, which now is clearly stronger and more capable than before.

Other work high points have been:
  • The creation and production by Bob Pearlman of Darien, a consultant, with Ed’s assistance, of a promotional brochure which won an award from the Advertising Council of New York.  This effort took almost two years from writing terms of reference for the consultancy to clearing customs at the Gaborone Airport for the 20,000 copies (of 70,000) which were air freighted from Mt. Vernon, NY. 
  • Participation on the committee which drafted a new Tourism Policy Act and an Industrial Policy Act.
  • Contributing to Botswana's seventh National Development Plan, which has just begun.
  • Coordinating the approval, selection and funding process for a new publicity and investment promotion program for Botswana in the U.S.  

Both our social life and our activities have been limited by our trips and our preparations for them. Having all three children here this year was a tremendous treat and made up a bit for not getting home this year. We really feel we got to know our grandchildren even in such a short time because we were together constantly. The drawback is that we now know what we've been missing!

The amount of time and effort required of the position of commodore of the yacht club surprised Ed. Meetings, problems and activities took much time. A major happening was that because of no rain the water level of the dam dropped so low that our ferryboat was stuck in the mud. For a period of six weeks no one could get to our island. Then, as the water level kept dropping, the old road slowly reappeared and intrepid sailors first waded, then managed to get to their boats with 4-wheel vehicles (with many getting stuck). Eventually the road was high and dry, and we were able to drive to the club at all times, evenings too. This carried on for six months, then the floods came and in one 36-hour period the water rose two meters! Some boats floated away and had to be rescued. We were an island once again.

Ed organized the Guy Fawkes party and the Rugby Club/Yacht Club Raft Race. Both were well attended and lots of fun. Father Santa showed up by boat at our Christmas party at the clubhouse on the island and delivered gifts to all the kids. Santa gave Ed a small compass and a chart to help us find our way home the next time our car breaks down.

Nancy's time is still spent much the same way as before: shopping, paying bills, banking (mostly un-banking), reading, gardening and painting. More goods are now imported into Botswana so our food situation has improved. The down side is that we have to spend more time searching and standing in line to get them. The population of Gaborone is mushrooming, lines are longer everywhere. Automobile traffic has to be seen to be believed; most roads are one lane, even in the center of town, and though improvements are being made they can't keep up with the growth. Gaborone looks like one huge construction site.

Gardening continues to take much of Nancy's time and for most of the past year the yard has looked full of bloom. Unable to discard any living thing, Nancy planted outside our fence and the blossoms in spring and early summer this year brought many compliments from friends and passersby. We were surprised at the number of Batswana who stopped to admire.

In April of 1991 we lost our 24-hour guard service for a less expensive electronic alarm system. We appreciate the increased privacy (we never completely adjusted to having someone circle the house every half hour) but Nancy lost her gardening assistant. Ernest, the day guard, was paid extra to keep the garden watered and to rake and burn (yes!) the brush and clippings. He never assisted in the garden itself; in fact, Nancy often was mourning over his inadvertent destruction of a loved plant since Ernest was not what you would call light on his feet. The loss of Ernest plus our frequent travels have wreaked havoc on the yard.

Watering is essential here, almost every day, because of the sandy soil, heat, and lack of rain. To top it all the drought appears to have returned. A full year has passed with virtually no rain. Crops and animals have died (prices are going higher daily) and no one can predict an end to it. From mid-December until the first of March the temperature on our shady porch was over 95º and many days were hotter than that. We are still allowed to water because water evaporates so fast from the dam that it is better used to keep vegetation alive. Sadly, many of our plants died while we were away but the trees and bushes that Nancy planted will remain when we leave so all is not lost. 

Nancy is still taking painting lessons at least once a week and has recently completed a three day painting workshop. In addition she took a six session course in drawing. She still finds painting fun but challenging. The companionship of her fellow students and teacher plays a large part in the enjoyment and forms a solid support group. These new friends are very dissimilar, varying widely in nationality, age and background as well as talent and previous painting experience. The group has produced two exhibitions in the past year, elegant afternoon affairs complete with wine, fruit, cheese and a chamber music group and held at one of the American Embassy residences. Nancy sold several paintings at each of these which has helped defray a small portion of her investment.

The Gulf War ironically brought an improvement in our lives - CNN. We now are able to see the news twice each day for varying amounts of time. We find the views of the U.S., and the news, give us a feeling of keeping in touch with home. We can't imagine what the Batswana and, we suppose, peoples of many other foreign countries, find of interest in 90% of what is shown but we are grateful for it. Another welcome source of information is the International Herald Tribune which Ed brings home from the office each day.

Much of our past two years has been spent saying goodbye to the people we had gotten to know well. Most contracts are for two years and when you extend you don't realize how different your lives will all be when old friends leave and you must begin making new friends. The expatriate group has shrunk, partly because Botswana is in good financial shape (at least for Africa) and partly because aid from international donors is now being directed to new areas such as eastern Europe and the former USSR. We have hosted and attended a great many farewell parties.

Among the entertainment highlights in Gaborone this year were two terrific concerts, Paul Simon and Hugh Masekela. Big Doings in a small town like Gaborone! Simon's Born at the Right Time concert was the next-to-last one of his two year tour. It was held in a small exhibition hall with the same light and sound systems he used in New York. We were seated dead center in the fourth row, about 20 feet from him, and by the end of the 3+ hours we felt we were personal friends. Hugh Masekela held his concert outdoors behind our new Sheraton Hotel. The crowd was small because of a lack of publicity but we enjoyed seeing him - he is very famous here, having lived in Botswana for eight years as an exile from South Africa.

We have been fortunate to have met several times in the past years Derek and Beverly Joubert, who have made several films for National Geographic: The Stolen River, The Forgotten River, and their latest, Eternal Enemies. If you haven't seen them please watch them the next chance you get. They are beautiful and very informative, and they are filmed entirely in Botswana.

We feel very lucky to have had such wonderful experiences but look forward eagerly to coming home. We expect to be in Connecticut and Boston the last week in July.

My parents landed at Logan Airport the day my nephew, Whitney, was born, on July 17, 1992. I was lucky to be the one to tell them they had a new grandchild! It was a memorable day for all of us.

It was the end of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and the beginning of a life.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad I got to experience their whole trip as well. An amazing journey.