Dumela! (That means hello in Setswana, one of the official languages; the other official language being English, which many of the Batswana are fluent in. This makes it a great travel destination, since it's easy to get around. Hint, hint )
Recently I had a school trip to Botswana- and here, you're probably wondering, where on earth is that?
Located in the southern part of Africa- just above South Africa, actually- Botswana is a landlocked, arid country. But because it's in the south, this is an amazing factor in its favor: they experience winter! (Yes, yes, Africa can experience winter. For a child of the tropical city, this was wonderful: I visited it during July, and temperatures hovered around 6-14 degrees in the morning and about 20-30 degrees in the afternoon. Perhaps I'm too used to Singapore, but even the 30 degrees didn't feel like 30 degrees. Sure, their sun is much stronger- even the South Asian students on our trip had to apply sunblock- but there was no humidity. at. all. I marveled at my own sweat-free armpits even after walking in the bush for two hours straight.)
Because we're literally on the other side of the world, the plane ride was 10 hours long, but I was greeted by this lovely, lovely tri-coloured sunrise. Suddenly, the cramped window seat where I had to annoy two other people in my row everytime I needed the loo didn't seem so bad after all.
Once you're in South Africa though, it takes only an hour by plane. I didn't even have the time to doze off properly.
When you first exit the airport, you'll see a beautiful garden of the cacti variety right out front. Of course, sleep-dazed as we were and overexcited as I was, I immediately rushed to gawk (and then later document it all). What struck me were the skies. Endless blue. You can't ever get that in Singapore, since it's so humid and there are always clouds. So perhaps my enthusiasm was warranted. (Though in the picture below, you can literally still see the cars, since, well, that was a carpark. Odd how as foreigners to any country, you're ready to glamorize it all.)
To keep it short, particularly since this was a 2-week trip and we visited 3 states, this post will be the first of a # aisyinafrica series (I use the same hashtag for Instagram and Twitter, so feel free to check them out!) revolving around our first day in Gabarone. Gabarone is Botswana's capital city, and the most industrialized, as far as I could tell. So for those who require the comforts of city living, this is a great place to begin with, though of course, you'll miss out on what its countryside has to offer.
On the plane there though, I had a brief conversation with the man beside me. He was from Korea, and on business- it was his second trip there. I asked him what he liked most about Botswana. "Try the beef," he told me. "The meat here is the best in the world."
Knowing Korean barbeque and how they too have really great meat selections, that impressed me. If a Korean was going to be impressed by Botswana cuisine, then that said a lot, in my opinion.
Above is a picture of our breakfast, served by the (highly recommended!) Aquarian Tide hotel. Now here's a disclaimer: I'm vegetarian. Cue the horrified looks.
Let me explain- I'm vegetarian by choice. I would go vegan, if I didn't face low-blood cholesterol on occasion, and if it were more accessible/affordable. I detest the mass farming industry, and how it treats its animals so cruelly. What I realized about Botswana very early on was that its meat & poultry industry, on the other hand, was humane. We would encounter goats and cows everywhere: in front of malls and by the river bank and on the roads (which we had to give the right of passage to). Though in Gabarone this wasn't as common a sight, everywhere else in Botswana, the cattle were free-roaming.
So of course, I ate meat while in Botswana.
And let me tell you, it was wonderful. It tasted fresher, and had a different quality to it. Setswaa (which I will later post a photo of) was this sumptuous local dish that could be cooked simply by stewing the beef, no other spices needed. As a brown person, I was both in awe and confused. I needed my spices. I refuse to be served bland food- I know better than my colonials. And yet, setswaa was my favourite thing to dine on.
Even the yoghurt and the milk they had was so much better. (I'm aware this is a very long, self-serving tangent, but allow me a few more sentences.) I adored visiting the supermarket if only to stare at the abundance of brands I've never heard of. Sadly, I was recommended their custard only on the last day I was there- prior I had taken to squinting at its packaging and attempting to figure out what exactly it was.
(Alright, I'm done talking about their food- for now. There are so many things to celebrate about Botswana and one of them is their food, so I can't not talk about it at length.)
We didn't do much our first day there, since we were still settling in, and of course, trying to adjust our body clocks. Though, to be fair, we were all university students who stayed up way too late everyday anyway, so there wasn't much of a problem there. We also visited some schools to witness their education system in action, and a Singapore-based company to learn about trade relations, but I won't bore you further.
The University of Botswana
You have to understand- Singapore is a tiny country. But that doesn't really paint a clear picture, so I'll try again. Singapore is a fucking tiny country. We're 719 kilometres squared, which makes it 277 miles squared. It's 50 kilometres long from east to west.
Yeah, that fucking tiny.
In comparison, Botswana is a whopping 600,370 kilometres squared. The Singaporeans on the trip were befuddled. We were gobsmacked. We were every adjective in the thesaurus that describes incomprehension and shock and confusion, because for once we weren't fighting for space. Of course, it also took some time to get through our thick skulls that we couldn't get anywhere instantly. It was perplexing, but also kind of fun (at first). Botswana was where I discovered my love of jeep rides. Nothing will beat belting Lana del Rey into the open African landscape on jeeps. I do recommend, however, that if your jeep is open-air, to not ride it in the morning or at night, because then everyone suffers under too-thin blankets/jackets and can't actually take in the sights.
A group of us squeezed onto- for most of us- our first jeep ride.
I'll stop here, as it's getting too long, but let me know if you're looking forward to Gabarone pt 2, or if you'd prefer I skip to the countryside! Any upvotes, resteems or follows are much appreciated ☀