Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Out of Africa


I’m back.

Marginally worse for the wear: a bad cold/flu plus pink-eye do not a fun 18-hour flight make.

Though, is there really anything that could make such a long flight fun?

Actually, on the way there, 18 hours was hardly long enough, because every minute brought me closer to an unfamiliar continent where I would be on my own without really knowing where I was going or what I was doing. And while none of my worst case scenarios were called into action (unlike for poor UK Helen, whose story I may get to eventually) there were plenty of occasions for me to question my calm acceptance of the vague and disorganized nature of this trip.

For instance, when the customs officer in Botswana asked me where I was staying that night, and I had no answer.

Or when my bus arrived in Gaborone an hour early, and I had no way to contact the man picking me up, and so sat at the gas station in the dark for 45 minutes with my gigantic backpack, hoping someone might show up eventually.

And a little bit hoping that no one would show up, so I could go to a hotel and just bag this crazy plan once and for all.

But the coordinator finally did appear, and as I followed him to the little Honda blaring hip hop with throbbing bass with a dread-locked stranger behind the wheel, and as we made the hour-long trip to Mochudi, picking up and dropping off hitch-hikers along the way, I realized that I was well and truly committed.

You already know how it turned out: fabulously. Now I’m home, and I’m jealous of the two Italians and UK Helen who are still there. I miss my new Batswana** friends and am sad to think I may never see them again.

And I may well decide to become one of those horrible people who says things like, “well, in Africa, things are completely different.” And, “everything is so commercial in America.” And, “you wouldn’t understand. It’s an African thing.”


Of course, there are some things that thrill me about being back. The hot shower was going to be one of them, but then I stayed in a hotel in Gaborone and got an early taste. Such a glorious thing.

I’m pleased to have my clothing. It is true that you can wear the same few pairs of pants every day for a month. But it is less true that you will still like those pants. Especially when you’re staying with a bunch of pretty boys wearing flashy Sean John and 50 Cent jerseys and immaculately-kept Addidas and Air Jordans and you feel like the dirty, dowdy white girl.

Today, I’m wearing a dress and jewelry and pretty sandals and none of them are covered in dust, nor do I have dirt under my fingernails, and for this reason, I say, it’s good to be home.

Also good news: the food.

I ate things in Africa that I never thought I would touch, and don’t really plan to eat again.

If I were talking about mopani worms or odd cuts of meat or other interestingly exotic foods, that might be okay.

But I’m talking about canned meat, of the Spam variety, but without pork.

And canned fish that you eat whole with bones and eggs.

And mayonnaise on pasta.

And more red meat (on average, two meals a day) in one month than I’ve eaten in the last five years.

And more white starches (potatoes, rice, pasta, pap (=maize polenta)) than I thought I could stand.

It’s not that the food wasn’t good. It’s just that the overall composition of the diet was very much not what I’m used to or like.

On a typical day we’d have bread for breakfast (homemade, cooked on the fire, and totally delicious, especially when eaten the night before, still hot from the fire). Sometimes we’d have cornflakes with warmed milk (surprisingly tasty). And once or twice, we each got an apple.

Lunch and dinner were interchangeable. Usually a full plate of the starch, topped with some sort of red meat concoction. Maybe some stewed carrots and tomatoes and beef (canned or, on a good day, fresh). Or maybe without the carrots. Occasionally there would be salad (grated cabbage with mayonnaise and occasionally carrots), and often we’d have as side dishes canned baked beans or chakalaka (a pretty tasty vegetable thing, tomato based with some carrots and other stuff).

It wasn’t untasty and it was certainly filling, but definitely not the nutrient-dense, practically vegetarian diet I’d been enjoying until then. And let’s just say that Immodium AD was the wrong gastro-intestinal medication to have on hand. Of course, nutrition wasn’t driving the dietary choices, cost was. Botswana is a desert country that imports almost all fresh produce, expensively, from South Africa. They grow maize, sorghum, and cows, and our food, with plenty of jarred sauces, canned side dishes, tomatoes, onions, and carrots, and frequently fresh meat, was on the richer side of things.

Still, this morning, as I ate my oatmeal with frozen berries, bought a banana on the way to work, and had an unbelievably decadent Indian lunch (it’s restaurant week in DC), I had to admit that there are some good things about home.

Anyway, no turning back now. I’m home, back at work, and soon I will regale you with fantastical tales of terrible tour guides (way over-hyped at this point), mischievous baboons, and a few pictures of elephants.

Didya miss me?

** Linguistic note: Botswana = the country; Motswana= person from the country; Batswana = people (plural) from the country; and Setswana = language of the country. All clear?


Blogger Anna said...

I've been waiting all day for this entry! (Me? A stalker?)

I'm jealous of your travels but most definitely not of your diet. Can't wait to hear more about it, perhaps in person? (I'll be in DC this weekend)

5:04 PM  
Blogger jeanne said...

Thank god you're back. I've been holding down the fort all by myself, and let me tell you, it's been no picnic.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous BD said...

Wahoo! I'm silly happy that you are back. I dunno why. Just am. *does a giddy dance*

12:20 AM  
Blogger Flatman said...

Welcome back...and yes we missed you and your "fantastical" writings. Now get back to business and entertain us!


8:54 AM  
Blogger Meg said...

You're BACK! ::tacklehug::

I am in awe of your adventures. Must hear more. MOOOORE!

12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like you had an awesome, it crazy time. So wait, some guy just came and claimed you at the gas station and was like "yes I am the one you are waiting for, come in the car with me" and off you went?

You know, in New Zealand, that would never have happened (heh heh)


8:26 PM  
Blogger a.maria said...

!!!!!! you're back!!! i so totally randomly decided to check in on you to see if there'd been updates, and lookie.... you're back!!!!!!!

fun little surprise! glad you arrived home safely, and i look forward to your hilarity!

10:29 PM  
Blogger David said...

I am amazed at your reckless abandonment of typical American fear. Good for you. This will be entertaining story reading from one very good writer.

8:18 PM  

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