Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Friday, April 03, 2009; Gaborone and beyond

At 9:30am, I am picked and go through all the production to get back to Kasane in Botswana. I go through some hassle paying the balance of my prepaid hotel bill. I have a bottle of water on it that costs 3,500 kwachas or 65 cents. I offer to pay in some pula coins, but that is rejected as in Zambia there are no coins. They want me to pay with a paper bill and then give me 4,000 kwacha change in a wad of bills that I don’t want. I put forward my credit card and that too is rejected. In the end, they give me the water! The ride to the river crossing point is pleasant enough in a modern mini-bus with 15 other tourists. As we approach the crossing point we slow down for passport control for leaving Zambia, we are swarmed by about ten men selling carved hippos of assorted sizes. Someone groans, “Not again”, and most of us dodge into the office. When we come out again, one good sales man says that his family depends on our purchases.

We move to the river and unload the luggage on to a boat and a few of us get on it to go across the swirling Zambezi. The others follow in another small boat. Another passport check and declaration card is needed to get into Botswana is gone through. I wonder if anyone ever looks at all the recorded entrances and departures. The way to the Kasane airport is clear and quick

There, I am picked up by a bush pilot and returned to Maun for my 4:30 pm flight to Gaborone. There are 7 of us and we are put into two six seat planes. It is fun as we fly within view of each other a great deal of the trip. The views over the Delta are astounding with the water much higher than just a few days ago. Apparently the water comes into the Delta as much through underground channels as it does through the surface river beds. Water stretches for miles as far as one can see and it is obvious even to my inexperienced eyes that the areas covered by water have very recently been flooded.

I hook up with my next flight, a commercial one on Air Bostwana and arrive in Gaborone on time. There, Fortune from WUSC and L4C meets me. I go out for dinner with his boss, Kathy, who is the WUSC director for Botswana, Malawi and Ghana. And three people from the first GLBT group in the country- LeGaBiBo [Lesbians, Gays, & Bisexuals of Botswana] join us. We have a good discussion and a delicious Indian meal chosen in honour of my vegetarianism although the Batswana make quick work of the few chicken appetizers that are ordered for them!. LeGaBiBo has already done a lot including a study of the use of the public health services by the LGBT community. They results show that LGTB folk largely go to private doctors because they fear being outed and fear the difficulties they believe the stigma and discrimination would bring into their lives in their small communities. Gaborone, the Botswana capital is less than 300,000 people.

The law is that homosexual acts are illegal, but not being gay. Moot point, I think, as that distinction always somewhat eludes me. Two men were charged a few years ago for sexual acts against nature. They got off because their lawyer proved discrimination because there was no equivalent prohibition for women. The up-shot is that the law was changed to include all non vaginal penetrative sex as illegal. No one has ever been charged under it, but the danger is in its selective application should it suit someone’s purpose.

LeGaBiBo operates under the wing of BONELA [Botswana network on Ethics and HIV/AIDS] the most respected and largest NGO in Botswana and it also funds a staff person to head up the work.. The representatives are neither cowed nor retiring, in fact they are a bit in your face with one woman wearing a tee-shirt with “feminism” on it and the guy a tee-shirt with “fag power”. They say no one really wants to talk about sexuality and most simply ignore it. An interesting story is about traditional shaman who immediately told them he could heal their homosexuality with some incantations and herbs and then asked what they were really talking about. I am promised materials that will be sent to me before my morning flight. They are brochures and a booklet covering the health services study. Impressive and mature work for a relatively young organization in a gay negative country.

I have an hour long meeting with Fortune in the morning and I confirm things about WAR that he had suspected. We talk about my report which he commends. The recommendations which I have discussed with Mpho, are largely management related. I bring up the Board problems and its insularity and the need for clients to sit on it. I sense that he is looking for better ways to help and will use some of the confirmation he has received. I agree to work with him further and on the way to the airport, we talk AIDS strategies for Botswana. He is very forward thinking and I would enjoy working with him again.

Just before check in, he encourages me to shrink wrap my luggage against being opened and stolen from in Johannesburg especially since there is a long layover of 7 hours. How naïve I am! When I had seen shrink wrapping before, I always thought it was because the bag had torn or burst. I do it for about $3 per bag. I feel safer and that alone is worth it. The bags arrive intact in Vancouver.

In the waiting area, by happenstance, I sit next to the woman from the University of Botswana who I met waiting for my 4 hour delayed flight over a month ago. She remembered and said that she would be in touch.

At about 15 minutes after the assigned boarding time, I check the board and my flight to Johannesburg is not even on it. I ask some official looking person [ I don’t know who it is - everyone wears a crisp and natty uniform] and he gets me a South African Express agent. Just then someone behind says, “I was looking for you.” The pilot had come off the plane to see where the passengers for his flight were and found that someone had forgotten to start the boarding process. When I raise my eyebrows in some surprise, he grins and says:”Welcome to Africa.” We departed only 22 minutes late, I think in part, because the plane was not very full.

So here I am in the Johannesburg airport, in a dark noisy area because, like every other airport in the world, this one is undergoing renovations. This is for the World Cup Soccer Championship in 2010. Botswana is expecting teams to come and train there to acclimatize and is taking the opportunity to build a whole new airport, needed to get beyond the current “…walk across the tarmac facility and get your luggage as it is dropped off by the door…. “ status.

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