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Posts Tagged ‘Botswana’

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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I wrote this story many years ago while living in Botswana. The events described here actually happened and very little dramatic license is employed. Enjoy.

RG

There’s no such thing as a free lunch

On Friday the week past, a friend of mine invited me to attend the official Microsoft Channel-Partner launch for Windows Vista, Office and Exchange 2007 here in Gaborone.

Having been to many of these shindigs, I prepared myself for a day of schmoozing by Bill’s boys and the promise of a good lunch. The lunch was always key in these things as it usually ensured fanatic attendance.

The day began quite expectedly with the usual gathering of people outside the conference facility exchanging pleasantries. The ICT community in Gaborone is so small that we’d all gotten to know each other and were even beginning to form seating alliances for the midday meal. No longer was the seating random, but preset according to the number of these things you’ve gone for and where in the feeding order (pun regretted) you were perceived to be.

After a few cursory nods to the gathering at the door I hastened into the centre and secured seating for myself and a friend, whom I knew was not far behind. The ubiquitous conference pen in my pocket, I sat and waited for everyone to enter.

It was at this point that I noticed that this might not be your typical presentation. The first deviations from the norm were the colorful spotlights/laser thingies crisscrossing the room at random; similar to the sort of thing you’d see in a night club. This was the background to which a video clip asked if we were ready for the next revolution in office automation in a continuous loop and in many subtitled languages.

The smoke machines on stage slowly oozed steam, lending more drama to an as yet unoccupied podium.

It was to this backdrop that the opening speaker bounded onto stage and asked “ARE YOU READY!!??.”  (pause) “ARE YOU REEAAADYYY!!??.” , he asked again pacing from one end of the dais to the other in step to “The Power” by Snap.

The well presented and bespectacled fellow that was screaming this had been standing with the Microsoft team welcoming people at the entrance. He was the meekest looking of the lot and this introductory roar from him had me worried about what else was to come.

I imagine most people in the crowd were caught as flat-footed and slack-jawed as I was because the Product Evangelist (a title which he later denied) kept shouting out this question until he got a few confused answers confirming a reluctant readiness. Like the Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, this fellow was oozing with enthusiasm and had already started sweating. In all fairness, however, this was Botswana. It was difficult to do anything enthusiastically without incurring the wrath of the Kalahari summer.

“I’m going to help you feel what we at Microsoft are feeling about all our new products!” he shouted on.

Some murmurings in the crowd.

“We need you to feel as great and as energized as we do if you’re going to sell these wonderful products successfully!” he added.

More mutterings.

“To help you get to the place where we are at, we’re offering an Xbox 360 to the single most enthusiastic person today!”

Rising cheers start to be heard from some corners.

“We’ve obtained permission from the management of this facility for you to stand on your chairs and show us just how excited you are!” he bellowed at us.

A girl at the front stood up on her seat and cheered even louder than everyone else, no doubt already making plans for the gaming console.

“ARE YOU READY!” he shouted again, and this time everyone including myself screamed a resounding yes. I hadn’t been that ready in a while.

The next speaker dramatically appeared on stage introduced by Mandoza’s prolific “Nkalakatha” and dancing for all he was worth while demanding that everyone rise to their feet and dance with him to this tune in true hip hop style. The deep baseline of this kwaito song reverberated across the Gaborone Sun Conference Centre and to someone passing outside it might have sounded like the sound-check session for a concert that evening. I do not remember exactly what this guy was presenting. But I do remember being very surprised at the delivery while also dancing my heart out in defiance to the stifling heat.

The morning went on with increasingly dramatic presentations with even a stern-faced no-nonsense and probably ex-military guy lecturing on the evils of non-licensed Microsoft products and offering a lifeline to those who’d crossed over to the dark side through yet another one of those cleverly acronymed migration programs.

I was incredulous. What had happened to the calm, traditional PowerPoint led offerings that I was so used to? Had I made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up at some parody of a Microsoft launch? Was there a hidden camera somewhere watching us as we jumped up and down on our seats hoping for an Xbox for Christmas? When was this madness going to end and the slide show beginning?

I only realized that they were serious when the concert ended and the promised lunch actually happened. No one forked out one hundred five-star meals on a whim, and they had certainly made sure that we earned it by sitting through that morning.

Microsoft had successfully merged a product launch with a circus and gotten us to play the clowns.

Gaborone – 2006-12-04

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