Sunday, March 18, 2012

Home Sweet Home

You need a village, if only for the pleasure of leaving it. A village
means that you are not alone, knowing that in the people, the trees,
the earth, there is something that belongs to you, waiting for you
when you are not there. ~Casare Pavese

There is a phrase here that many of us Peace Corps Volunteers in
Botswana cringe when we hear, we cringe because of the absurdity of
the word and all the cultural connections and frustrations associated
with it. That word is "now now." Now now, two nows. Now now means now.
Just now means anywhere in the next few hours, and now means anytime
today or tomorrow. So, by instinct most of us have also developed a
new phrase, "Home home." Home refers to our homes in Botswana, the
villages we have come to grow in, and (for some) to love. By
extension, home home means the good old U.S. of A. Home home, the spot
of earth supremely blest, a dearer, sweeter spot than all the rest.
(Robert Montgomery)

So today, when I talk about home, I am talking about New Xade. The
place I have grown to love (and not love) at the same time. New Xade,
the place of acacia thorns, cows that moo, goats that poo, and sun as
hot as you'd imagine it to be on Mars. This post is about my journey
home.

After climbing (or attempting to climb) Mt. Kilimanjaro, my friends
and I were tired of the drama of airlines and tour guides. We arrived
2 hours early for our 1PM flight determined to make it home in one
piece, drama-less, content with our adventures so far but aching for
some normality and a good bed and shower. At the airport, we went to
lunch at a cafe after being told that we couldn't check in for another
hour. No worries. We sat, we ordered delicious homemade burgers and
chips and cokes and drank and ate happy that our journey was over.
Half way through the burger, I heard a message over the intercom,
"Last boarding call to Flight 1497 to Dar Es Salaam, last boarding
call." I looked at our tickets, I looked at my clock. Shit, that's us!
But how can that be? they wouldn't let us board for another 30
minutes!

One of us got up, dashed to the check in counter and asked them what
we should do given that our flight was leaving now. The guy handed him
our boarding passes and we abandoned our cokes and fries and ran to
the plane. We were ushered into the plane and immediately i knew
something was wrong. There were 3 of us and three empty seats for
sure, but the seats we were assigned to was full. The plane was teenie
tiny and I had a pack the size of madagascar on my back so I shuffled
up and down the aisle backwards and forwards looking for a flight
attendant, an empty seat, a place to put my bag down. We finally sat
in some empty seats and waited while the passengers stared at us.
Finally we heard our names being called. We were told that we were not
on this flight and that we would have to leave.

"Sorry, sorry... sorry... excuse me," I mumbled to passengers with
apologetic and sympathetic looks on their faces as I tumbled down the
aisle with my bag. "Good luck," they mouthed to me. We got out of the
plane and made a beeline straight for the first lady who looked like a
flight attendant. All three of us threw our mouths open at once, where
do I even start! How could this have happened? What flight were we
actually on? How could you do this to us again! Fingers started
flying, pointing, accusations, deflections, finally a stubborn
defiance on behalf of the flight crew. "Come back in an hour, we will
call the office in Dar Es Salaam and figure this out." Camilo was
determined not to let this newest development get the best of him and
made his way determinedly towards the cafe. "I'm going to get our
fries back."

I was livid. In SA, a nice big fluffy bed waited for me, a clean
bathtub NOT a shower/toilet combo, water that I can drink and not get
the runs, rands that I can make sense of instead of shillings I'd have
to divide by ten thousand to make any meaning out of, and best of all,
a flight home to Botswana where I can see my friends again. There was
no way I was going to miss out on the first day of our Close of
Service Conference at a 5 star hotel in Gaborone just because this
airline decided to screw us over for the 3rd time in a row!!

I made my way back to the flight desk not sure what I was intending to
do, but determined none the less. The man we had been dealing with saw
me coming and I saw his eyes glaze over as he slid out of his chair
and pretended to help someone next to me. "Excuse me!" I announced,
"Can I ask you something?" "Go talk to her" he deflected, not looking
at me in the eyes. He pointed to a lady wearing a visitors tag. What
the --?

The lady introduced herself as Ester, customer service relations
agent. I looked at Ester in her casual clothing and visitors tag and
wondered if they purposefully post a clown at the airports in order to
listen to disgruntled passengers like a therapist and pat us on the
back. How could she help me? "I dont want to cause any trouble," I
started, "I just want to know if I can call my hotel in South Africa
in case we arrive.... late..." I mumbled. "You see, on our way here,
you deferred us for 2 nights, once in Johannesburg and once in Dar es
Salaam. We already missed a day of our travel... and got charged an
extra $150 for it... I dont think I can handle it again!" I had
started crying by this point and Ester sushed me towards a corner.
"Don't worry. Just sit over there and I will see what I can do."

I sat and waited in front of Camilo, Kelly, and a steaming hot plate
of fresh french fries. Moments lady, Ester arrived and pulled me over
to the side to the confusion of my friends. "Ms Lin," she started, "it
looks like you have 2 options. We can put you up here for the night or
in Dar Es Salaam." Unacceptable! I thought. "I have to get to Botswana
tomorrow... that's not really an option..." I started. Ester went on
to explain that we could try something else. If we caught the next
flight to Dar, we would land at 10 past 7, there's a flight to
johannesburg that leaves at 7 (the one we were supposed to be on!).
She could call customs and ask them to rush us through. "Yes please.
do that..." I said, and handed her our passports.

Long story short, after much back and forth, Ester, my hero, my saint,
got us on a flight to Nairobi and a connecting flight via Kenya
Airways to Johannesburg. We would arrive at midnight, but we would
arrive. I hugged her and nearly kissed her. She gave me her cell phone
number and email in case anything happened and we were on our way.

Close of Service Conference was at the fanciest hotel I've ever stayed
at (except that my particular room didn't have a working TV, or
internet, and only a passable hot shower, but we didn't complain, too
much). The Phakalane Golf Estate cost me P90 to get to because it was
set so far away from the main city. There, we met our Bots 9 group
again, all 50 something of us left. Gave lots of hugs, ate buffet, had
sushi and expensive drinks, and said our goodbyes to one another.
Peace Corps paid for us to do a game drive, but due to a transport
issue, I didn't make it in time and missed that little treat. After
that, we were put in another hotel to do our medical exams (pooing in
a cup, yay!) and dental exams (mild gingivitis???). and sent on our
way home.

Home, so close and yet so far. I arrived in Ghanzi thinking that I had
a lift home with my good friend Kago, the policeman here. But when I
arrived, I learned that they are keeping him in Ghanzi for the week
and he wouldn't be going back. I went to the hiking spot and found 2
folks who were on their way somewhere else. No lifts today. You can
try so and so though? I tried so and so, called more so and so's and
finally decided that the day was a lost cause, I'd check into a hotel
and wait for tomorrow.

The next day, I checked out of the hotel, but after many unsuccessful
phone calls I decided to wait till Sunday. No one leaves for Xade on a
Saturday anyway. I checked back in. In the hotel room I watched TV,
made more phone calls, had coffee, and lo and behold, got a lift. He
said he'd be ready at 3:30 to leave. The time was 2:30. I quickly
gathered my stuff and checked out with the hopes that the hotel would
penalize me only with a late check out charge. The manager demanded
that I pay the full night's fare, P550. The friend I was with thought
that was ridiculous and demanded to see her. She refused. My friend
insisted. Afterall that was her job. After making us wait a good 5
minutes awkwardly with the desk clerk who just smiled at us with a
look of, "sorry I can't help" on his face, she appeared. She made her
point and I made mine, I'd just checked in and there would be minimal
clean up to do, literally, just empty the garbage. "Fine" she said
with a wave of her hand
and walked away. "Fine?" I asked my friend. She shrugged. I looked at
the clerk, "Fine?" I asked. He shrugged. "What does that mean?" We all
shrugged. I left my number with the poor guy behind the counter and
left. Ok.

I waited at my friend's place pacing the floor and playing with dogs,
puppies, and a cat that I'm severely allergic to till 7:30 when my
lift showed up and asked if I had made him dinner. "no." "oh no... ok.
how about just meat?" "no..." I said. "oh... ok, can i borrow P200?"
ummm... "no." I said. "i only have P20 which i was going to give you
for gas." "Oh ok, give that to me then." So i gave him P20 and he ran
off, yelling behind him, "I'l be right back, I'm just going to drop my
sister off at home." His sister gave me a weird luck, beer in hand,
and the men in the back of the truck, each holding a glass of
something hard and alcoholic, waved at me. I spent the next hour
sitting in front of the window watching the sun set, the mosquitos
come out, and the cars pass. No lift. At 8:30 I gave up, popped a
benadryl, sent a semi-threatening text demanding that he repay me, and
passed out in my clothes and contacts next to an adorable and
freaking-non-hypo-allergenic cat.

The next morning I woke up with half my face swollen and my eyelid
half shut. Popped a benadryl, made lots of phone calls, picked up food
with money I don't have, and waited and waited in a puppy-poo infested
yard for the fates to shine on me. As ride after ride fell through, my
friend commented, "looks like the gods don't want you to go home
today..." I couldn't help but agree. At some point, one of my friends
told me just to go to the hiking spot, she'd be there too. Hiking
spot.

Pause for a moment. The hiking spot I usually go to on the weekdays is
in town, across from a grocery store. The weekday traffic (government
vehicles) usually stop there to pick people up on their way home.
Though recently they've been avoiding this stop because there are too
many people there and they can't control the masses trying to squeeze
themselves into the back of their trucks (nearly 20 people at times!)
So if you want a ride with these cars now, you need a hook up. The
WEEKEND hiking spot, which is the spot my friend is referring to in
the paragraph above, is a spot about 2km from town next to a bar under
a tree which I despise going to because it means that you're stuck out
there next to drunken guys for who knows how long.

Resume my pathetic story. I call a taxi to go to the hiking spot. He
spends 20 minutes trying to find my house. Picks me up, charges me the
same amount I usually pay to get the 108km to xade, and drops me at
the hiking spot where I meet 10 or so of my fellow New Xadians for the
first time in months, shake hands, account for my whereabouts, and
pick a spot on the ground among broken beer bottles to settle for the
next few hours. I sit. I smile. I make more phone calls.

40 minutes later, I have a lead, the clinic vehicle by some miracle
(or because of some poor patient) is in town and can pick me up. BUT
they dont want to stop at the hiking spot for fear of having to fight
off the 10 or so New Xadians sitting there. Would I be willing to go
to another spot and wait? (Aha, this explains why earlier 3 people had
gotten up and driven off, I was wondering where they were going!). I
said sure. Why not. I gathered my things and tried to sneak off, but
no can do in the middle of nowhere in front of 10+ people who are
staring at you. "Where are you going?" they asked. "To get water." I
lied. "with all your bags?" umm. "I left my water bottle at my friends
place (true story), besides, I dont think that there will be any rides
today, right?" people shook their heads. no, no rides. "right, sharpo.
see you tomorrow." I would have gone off scotch free except that i had
5 bags each weighing no less than 35 lbs. Some nice guy offered to
drive me into town... how.. .nice. I said.

I got in his car and as we were driving, whispered to him that in fact
i'm not going to town but just to the other spot down the road, could
he drop me off there. I told him someone told me to try my luck here
and asked if he thought that was a good idea. "yeah," he said, "good
idea' a smile growing on his face. Maybe it was my paranoia or maybe
it was my guilty conscience, but I like to think i was just happy for
the lift, but I offered to buy him a drink. "no thanks," he said.
Instead, I gave him my lunch, a cheese and onion roll (yum.). I waved
goodbye and he turned right around back to his friends at the hiking
post. A few minutes later, the clinic vehicle rollled up, i gave my
nurse friend a hug, threw my things in the back, and huddled in the
corner trying to hide myself from the view of the windows in case
anyone looked inside. And indeed, they did. We stopped at the hiking
spot where the drivers made nice with the hitch hikers and the hitch
hikers peered in the windows to see who was in there, I hid and wished
myself invisible while the nurse next to me laughed at me.

Arriving home after nearly a month away, i'm surprised how foreign the
faces here look, and how familiar as well. The dark skin tones which
ones seemed so normal had a new curious color to them. My house has
turned into a cattle crawl, the cows broke down my fence and have made
themselves at home. It stinks. My gutters have been re-done, by whom,
I don't know, my leak is still there, and most surprising of all, my
hot water is now cold and my cold water is now hot. Other than that,
my house is just as I left it, the village almost exactly the same. At
COS people were asking me, knowing what i know now, would I change my
site if I could? I dont think so. As much as the transportation
situation here moves me to tears each time I try to come in and out, I
wouldn't trade this experience. I can say that now that it's almost
over. After all, when someone joins the Peace Corps, their dream is to
live in a small rural village. This world needs villages. If not just
for the pleasure of leaving it... As much development is happening
here, New Xade is timeless. I have a feeling, it will always be
waiting for me.

1 comment:

  1. Wow.
    I enjoyed reading your blog. Somehow I got to it after googling magwinya. Your experience made me nostalgic. Being a Motswana who grew up in Shoshong (not so small anymore) I used to love being home, but resented coming and going because there was no transport. The hiking spot was the place to go. Never thought it would make me nostalgic though. Makes me appreciate the DC metro more though.

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