Best blog entry title of The Odyssey?
Up at 6am and down to the nearby service station where one goes to cadge a lift to the border. Was waiting until 9am before (finally) a minibus came and picked me up. The border with Botswana was a surprisingly long way away, but after some mucking about in a local village, the bus got to the frontier, I got my entry stamps and crossed the border.
Botswana is Sub-Saharan Africa’s one and only success story. I say this because (unlike every other country in SSA), it has had both free and fair elections and a stable economy since independence. While every other country in SSA has been steeped in bloodshed, corruption, greed and stupidity, Botswana shines out like a beacon of hope across the Kalahari and beyond.
I recently read The Bottom Billion, a book that I can’t help but recommend. In it, the author Paul Collier talks about meeting with the government of the Central African Republic. He asked them where they saw themselves in twenty years time. “Burkina Faso!” they replied.
We asked 100 people where they wanted their basket-case of a country to be in twenty years time, you said Burkina Faso, our survey said…
The top answer, C.A.R., is Botswana. Get with the programme. Incidentally, Botswana is the only Southern African country with the balls to slag off that monster Robert Mugabe and it therefore gets my vote.
It cracks me up that anyone who has a pop at Mugabe is slurred as a racist. Given the huge numbers of blacks his government has murdered or sent into exile (one third of the entire population of Zimbabwe, pop pickers!), it’s a bit like someone calling you anti-Semetic for slagging off Hitler.
My original plan was to take the bus from Windhoek in Namibia via Gaborone in Botswana to Pretoria in South Africa, crossing the Kalahari in the process, but the bus schedules did not tally with my schedule. So I had ended up going to SA first and Botswana (unfortunately) became just a border hop. As I needed to hurry back to Jo’burg, I didn’t have the time to go and check out the capital (and in any case, it started to rain), so I clocked my GPS and headed back the way I came.
The road back to Zeerust was a lot quicker (I think the rain put the driver off mucking about in villages) and I found myself chatting with a couple of – yes – nuns from Gaborone. Carmel, the older nun, was originally from Ireland and still hadn’t given up her Irish lilt, even after nearly forty years of living in Southern Africa. Talk about falling on your feet – out of all the missionary postings she could have been lumbered with, she gets the one country out of the SSA’s forty-four that doesn’t go completely cock-a-loop after the colonists left.
Finding myself back in Zeerust, I picked up my bag from the Good Hope Guest House, said my fond farewells and then worried about how the hell I was going to back to Jo’burg. After enquiring at the local Shoprite Supermarket, I found out that there were no coaches until the following morning.
Humph. What now?
I headed over to the nearest petrol station. There were loads of minibuses there and I asked if they were going to Jo’burg or Pretoria. Yep, they were, but they were full. I’m a little desperate. No worries mate, just walk up the road and there’s a bunch of minibuses, just take the next one that fills up. They all go to Jo’burg.
Why didn’t somebody tell me?
Now I understood – the minibuses that buzz around South Africa are not recommended for tourists. Too dangerous, they say! Too dangerous? Bah! I’ve done the Lagos-Calabar ThunderRoad Minibus Rally without a safety belt, travelled down El Camino de la Muerte in a bus held together with sticky tape and crossed 300 miles of open ocean in a wooden fishing boat! Ygads, what are you on about, man?
I laugh danger in the face and kick peril between the legs.
I wish somebody had told me about the minibuses before today – to quote the great Indian philosopher Tony The Tiger, they’re GREAT! Not only did it cost a fraction of the price of the big coaches, they’re twice as fast and you don’t have to put up with bizarre Evangelical programming on the television, because there are no televisions!
As an added bonus, they only take as many people as there are seats. Which makes a change…AFRICA I’M LOOKING AT YOU!
We got to Jo’burg so fast, it made my head spin. My driver was a Zulu dude (headdress and earrings, oh yes) who seemed to know what he was doing. That is until I reached central Jo’burg and EVERYBODY GOT OUT, leaving muggins here the only one in a minibus in a traffic jam in the middle of murder central with my bags on my lap and a door that wouldn’t lock. I put on my jumper, covered my hands and dipped my hatted head as my buttocks became one, although not with the universe if you know what I mean.
After a full forty minutes of WHITE-HOT TERROR, we escaped the central Jo’burg traffic jam and I had hopped a taxi towards David’s house. David is a mate of mine from Liverpool who’s been living in Johannesburg for three years. He came to meet me at what was once the Sundeck Bar in the Norwood area of town. While I was waiting, I found myself chatting with a guy from Zimbabwe (I’ve met more people from Zimbabwe here than South Africans I swear) who, like most of his fellow countrymen, are waiting for Mugabe to drop dead so they can go home again. Imagine being exiled from your home and having to wait for a man – one man – to die or be killed or (here’s a good idea) RETIRE just so you can return to your life, your family, your friends and everything you know.
It’s not fair. It really isn’t.
Once I got to David’s house, I saw why he had decided to stay in this massive Arkham Asylum for the last 3 years – my word, to get yourself a pad like this in London, you’d have to be on half a million a year. So few people want to work in Jo’burg any more, the ones that do live the life of Riley.
David’s dad had come over to visit, and by jingo it was nice to hear a good old-fashioned Scouse accent again. Made me miss The Jacaranda and the Docks and Sefton Park and Dale Street.
One of David’s mates was celebrating his birthday that night, so we picked up David’s lovely girlfriend and headed over to the bar on the top floor of the swankiest hotel in town. After five months of slumming it in grotsville, I felt somewhat out of place with my dirty t-shirt and ripped jeans (not a fashion statement, believe me!) but the beer and pizza went down a treat. David’s mates were cool, although the stress of living in a city where you could lose everything (including your life) had obviously taken a toll on these guys. Most spoke about getting out, others worried about the fact that the ANC have over 75% of the vote – what’s to stop them pulling a Zimbabwe? They spoke like people living at the foot of the volcano. Okay, the soil is rich and fertile, but what if…
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Wow, he’s making decent time through the Indian Ocean islands. He might just make it to Bahrain by Christmas after all. I’ll up the bonus to $1200 for that. That’s only about 300 pounds, right?
Ethiopia is a lush, beautiful country. Well, parts of it are dreary, but most of it is nice. It would be a shame to hurtle past the brilliant rock-hewn Church of St. George in Lalibela and not stop to see it. Also, the Zebra Grill in Addis Ababa, owned by an exceedingly polite African-American chap, has outstanding grilled chickens.
Oh, and the open-air Rock Garden Bar next to the Speke Hotel in Kampala, Uganda is a lot of fun. There are a lot of, uh, friendly women there, but not in a desperate and depressing way.
Lastly, beware that the Hooters restaurant in Nairobi is NOT a real Hooters. You have no idea how disappointed I was.
OK, that’s the extent of my East Africa knowledge. Good luck.