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Archive for July, 2012

Here’s another story that I wrote many years ago while living in Botswana.  After reading it again after so many years, I feel that I’ve come a long way and that my style has evolved a bit. I’ll, however, let you be the judge.

RG

A parking at the Red Dot

The Red Dot is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a quandary. I have long thought that description to be the sort of mouthful that belongs only in the realms of poetry and other such dark arts that are not much encumbered by reality. I, therefore, would never have thought that I would ever stumble across a real place of such description. The chance of this for me was less than that of me walking through my closet and emerging in Narnia or some other such fanciful place of fantasy and yet, somehow, the Red Dot managed to achieve such transport in depositing one in a place you would not have thought possible.

The Red Dot is a bar in Gaborone that has had many other whimsical adjectives attributed to it as it continues to grow and change in ways that require quite the accepting imagination to appreciate. It is, in my opinion, such an unusual place that I feel the need to take the time to record its presence in history and spare the archeologists and the anthropologists of the future from having to explain why so many empty bottles and cans were buried there.

Having lived next to it for a year now, I’ve watched it evolve into what can only be described as a phenomenon that simply should not be, but quite doggedly persists in being.

Allow me the podium for a moment as I attempt to explain this place.

If you’ve never been to Botswana before, you’ll not be surprised to learn that it shares many cultural characteristics with its other southern African neighbours. There are differences, however, and the one difference that I base this piece on is certainly unique to the country. Everything runs normally as is typical for the region save for the activities surrounding one glorious weekend at the end of the month when a mass euphoria grabs the country and joy is expressed in a very unusual way. This carnival-like weekend is the weekend during which the Red Dot has grown into what it is today.

Once a month, parking lots across the land fill up with cars of all style and craft. They spill in from chains of traffic connecting homes and workplaces to what are expectedly full shopping centres and lending an unusual energy to the normally slow and laid-back capital. Everyone and everybody, as if to the report of a starter pistol, goes out to the shops at the same time. Curiously, the numbers of shoppers in some of these malls are often quite out of proportion with what the rows upon rows of freshly cleaned vehicles parked in the dust would have you believe.

The Red Dot is in one such shopping centre in the Gaborone suburb known only as Block 6. It is a small centre that houses a supermarket and a few other businesses but most importantly, it is home to the elemental pub properly known as The BEE pub. At first glance, this pub looks like quite the ordinary place and one might even be lulled into thinking that it is not a very popular place because of the many empty tables in it. This thought, however, is soon completely put aside when you eventually link the place with the very full parking lot outside that is teeming with life. Only then do you notice the steady stream of people to and from the very busy bar counter.

For some reason that I’m unable to explain, the City’s dwellers tend to prefer sitting outside in their cars outside a place of festivity like the BEE pub, rather being inside it. It may have something to do with the stifling heat of the seven month long summer, or even perhaps with the fact that many people drive cars that are often far fancier than the establishments outside of which they are parked. Whatever the reason, it is established behaviour that can be observed across the country and now a cultural norm.

This pub and its parking lot have, in the past year, grown so much in stature that the surrounding businesses have literally ceased to exist in the public’s eye. When you mention the Red Dot to the average month-ender, there are no thoughts of the supermarket, butchery or hair salon that are also in the complex, but only of the pub and its surrounding parking-lot. The pub, in its popularity has become the only known destination in this mall and thus has become one and the same with the centre. A very unusual anchor business for a mall I would think.

You see, once or twice a month, the city of Gaborone gathers in this very parking-lot to celebrate the fulfillment of the contract that binds employees to employers when most wages are paid out. The mighty paycheck is heard bellowing from the within the pockets of the Batswana as they congregate on the asphalt and dust to spend their hard-earned money in this rather unusual ritual.

It is a thing of mysterious beauty and indeed a sight to behold. There are people everywhere, sitting in and out of their cars. Loud music is heard from cars that are sometimes worth less than the stereos they blare and the fancy wheels with which they are shod. Beer-filled ice boxes sitting on the dust or in the back seats; the spaces in the boots filled by fearsome speakers that scream out the current kwaito hit. “Taku-taku! Taku-taku! Taku-taku! …” sings the hip-hop pantszula.

When I first moved there, the pub was a nondescript little place not even worth the pixels on this page. It was the sort of place that had little more than a handful of regulars who were all clearly within spitting distance of their homes and only there because there was nowhere else to go. But then someone – no doubt, a visionary – noticed the vast unexploited parking area around the shopping centre and its fortunes changed forever.

The first sign of things to come was the setting up of a car wash in one corner of the lot which was soon followed by the braai (barbecue) area that the pub previously could not have supported. The clearing of the surrounding bushland sealed its fate and it progressed on to become the number one parking-lot in the country.

Someone from the local brewery tells me that it consistently records the highest beer sales by volume in the country and this is evidenced by the growing size of the delivery trucks that I see regularly drive by my gate.

They’ve have now even built a stage upon which a fellow with an impossibly girlish voice eerily sings Hotel California in an endless loop. To be fair, he does sing other songs, but for some reason or the other, the only one that ever carries over the noise is Hotel California. This could be Heaven, or this could indeed be Hell.

Often on a Sunday morning after yet another month has ended, I watch as they sweep up the debris from the previous nights jaunt into a giant pile of aluminium and glass. It looks like a great and inexplicable war was fought and lost there. A future archeologist’s nightmare.

The scattering of people lying passed-out in their cars have morphed back from the supermen that they were the night before, back to mere mortals again. The hip-hop pantszula also mellowed and the great boot speaker hissing its relief.

Why people continue to spend their hard-earned money in this parking lot continues to baffle me and remains the enigma wrapped in the quandary. Perhaps this is the actual location of that fabled hotel in California, because as the Eagles put it in the tune that haunts the place, “You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!”

2006-10-20

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