A persistent story…

This is not right. I left the city centre about 15 minutes ago, and 15+- kilometres later, I’m still on the monologue. Arguing with myself and the story. And by extension arguing with media in general.

Ke gore there is the family budget, the weight issues and the tummy that sometimes just pops, but this story wants me to spend my life figuring it out, thinking of other possibilities related to it.

But Oesi, this story has been on for months now.  You should have moved on.

Nnyaa mathata ke gore I have become a passive and all consuming customer of these media representations. And the creators are happy that I parked my life and engaged in nothing else but this.  Screenshots, posts to WhatsApp and thrash it out there. Shuu. But I’m fatigued now.

I’m claiming back my agency, aah. It is from now on,  out of my agenda and my side of the public.

And my husband has just arrived from Francistown and he calls from home. ‘Please buy the paper’

We start the discussion, yes I’m driving to the shop, to buy the very newspaper, but still we are discussing the content.

“Was it the last one”, inquires the till lady

“No just a few copies left”

“E thotse e re kwa hee? ”

“Ea ba bata go bona …..”

Ijoo these guys just talk.

But eish I’m out.

Then I forget I also needed to fuel,  a U-turn. The petrol attendants are arguing about #tlatsalebala.

“Go na le e nnngwe gape?”, I investigate

“Ga o ba itse mmmangwane. Nna re lapile”

😂😂😂Re lapile re le mmmalwa goo ha.

■ Inflation e tsamaya ha kae hoo. Aaa

■ Nna re lapile ke kgaaa e one🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃🏃

A friendly stranger saves the day.

Thursday morning 4th May 2017, I’m almost running late for a conference at Avani Hotel, about 15km away.

Just after the traffic circle, towards Mowana Park, my car wouldn’t go past 20km/hour. Oops! My presentations are third and fourth in the agenda.

Panic.

What did I press? Mind block.

Why on earth do cars need all these 1001 buttons for? Of course for sucking out as much money as they can from the buyer.

Eish

I press the hazards, look for the nearest stop and switch off the engine.

I need a miracle.

My heart is in Avani. How I’m I going to explain missing the slot.

I drive a few meters. It still won’t move any further. Yes I sure pressed or moved one of these useless buttons and levers. But which one? Huuu!

Petrol attendants deal with all kind of cars. I console myself as I make a U-turn to the nearest station. Parked just by the entrance, is a similar car, the owner is sitting inside, windows up.

I wave to attracts his attention? He doesn’t look interested at all. But there is no time. Eish, I’m really sorry. You could see the reluctance in the way he wound down the window.

“Good morning sir, I’m really sorry for disturbing you. But I’m in desperate need of your help. My car doesn’t drive beyond 20km/hr. Would you please help”.

A reassuring smile. Tension eases a bit.

But my mind locks immediately he tries to explain what the problem or solution could be.

I won”t remember a thing. In my mind I’m begging, ‘please come and demonstrate’.

Desperation. I am sure they are calling my name at Avani, how am I going to face the patrons.

The kind man gets into my car and I wait behind his.

“Can I take a drive around, just to check”
“Please”

I see my car flying past, towards Mowana Park.

“Hmm. What did I just do?”

Only now do I call my husband. And as we conclude our conversation, my car arrives. And my helper explains what I needed to have done, just as my husband just did.

And he has a strong Afrikaans accent. A tall and strong built Afrikaaner man.

Good people do exist. We exchanged waves and smiles as I drive past, my mind at Avani.

My journey to ‘I do’: Part 1

I remember love sneaking into my heart; perhaps in my second year at University. He was in his final year. Yes, I am a laggard in that area. It was only at the university that I became aware that a man could be loved that deep, so indescribable; you want him to sit with you forever, talking and laughing about nothing.

My prayers started, punctuated with “if it is your will Lord” to silence the nagging guilt of ‘praying with one eye open’.

Prayer, it seemed, didn’t do the magic.

He graduated and left for the faraway village, leaving me, secretly in love with him. We were good friends, at least when he was still at the university. But the distance added a difficult twist. Do I call him? And say what? I tried a few times but my heart would skip a bit and would decide ‘girl… restraint’.

Years passed with no activity. Once in a while I would get a call, or he’ll pass by when in town. Our conversations got shorter with time; we hardly had much to talk about. Our once in a while calls continued, although it meant me now rehearsing my lines prior.

“Dumelang. Lekang?” Uummm, does he know it’s me? What do I say next?

“Hello Oesi, how are you?”

I don’t remember much of what went on in those conversations. I however recall that while I often longed to talk to him, I would, at the same time, be anxious, wanting the call to end.

My first job was in an exciting environment of young creators, most of them fresh graduates like me –and most of them single with no children. I immersed myself into it, learning everything I could. When work was done, I would occasionally host colleagues for dinner – after work – during the week. Mine was a tripartite lifestyle; home- work-church. I would arrive home on Friday evening and only emerge on Sunday morning for church. The secret love had left my heart by then, or maybe just hibernated.

But I couldn’t run forever. It sneaked back, unnoticed and different. I was sure I was losing him. During the first installment I had vowed to wait for him; to remain single as long as he was a bachelor- and only throw in the towel the day he walked to the alter with another woman. My ‘one eye open’ prayers resumed but with a lot of doubt – and also emotionally draining. I was not growing young, you know. Neither was I living in an island. Suitors crossed my path, a number of them. But my heart lived in a faraway village.

My biggest fear was agreeing to marry another man only for ‘him’ to appear the next day, ready …

What does a woman do? Society has it etched on stone. She waits.

I started to interrogate my conviction. Doubt crept in, ‘Could it be that I am wasting my time with what might never be?’

Something needed to happen.

I picked the phone… dialed …it rang…I dropped….picked it again…it rang…I dropped…hmm

“Hello, do you have a moment?”

“Hi, how are you? Yes I do.” I was sure I heard some enthusiasm.

“I want us to talk”

Silence…

A gentleman in every way; he took the early Saturday morning bus just so he could hear out this woman – and was at my rented flat that afternoon, straight from the bus rank.

Where do we start? Now I wished I had not called.

“This is difficult, but I really think we should talk”

“What is it Oesi?”

My eyes went all over as if looking for an escape route. I was trying hard to look as calm as was possible, at the same time trying to remember the speech I had stored in my head. Soon after we agreed to meet, I had practiced what I was going to say and how. But his knock erased all my hard work. Beautifully constructed, well thought out sentences flew through the window. I went blank. Should I really go on with this?

The stubborn Oesi was pro-quitting. ‘Don’t embarrass yourself girl. Just let this go. Clear your mind and start afresh. If there was ever going to be anything, it could have been a long time ago’.

‘But we are here’. The kinder, more considerate side, rebutted. ‘This man travelled more than 400 kilometers for this talk. It is too late for some baseless fear. Besides I had wanted to do this for a long time. And for him to come all the way, he sure doesn’t treat this light”. A flicker of hope accompanied this thinking.

“Our friendship, can we talk about it”.

Our conversation was peppered with long moments of silence; of intense emotions and tensions. We struggled to answer many of our questions.

Where was this leading to?

“Oesi, I think we are just very good friends”.

My heart missed a bit. I couldn’t breathe.

Three to four hours later, we hugged and said our good byes. Goodbye sounded more like, that’s it, done. He held my hand a little longer, looked me in the eyes – and was gone.

I joined my colleagues for a braai that evening. My heart was at my rented flat, hanging helplessly to the last moments; the look in the eyes that I thought contradicted his last words “we are just good friends”.

7

Just as I was trying to thaw to the event, my phone beeped.

“Hello Oesi, I wanted to check how you are doing – and to also say goodbye”.

The next morning I was flying to Pasadena, California, just outside Los Angeles. I spent my five weeks holiday visiting gardens, relaxing and thinking about what just happened. I watched open theatre movies in Hollywood; visited age old homes in San Diego; walked on the replica ‘Via Dorolosa’ (way of sorrows) at the Trinity Broadcasting Network Headquarters Studios in Costa Mesa.

8

For a time, I immersed myself into America; bought memorabilia from their dollar shops; visited restaurants and all that could be visited – I walked on the wall of fame. I enjoyed time with my elder sister and her family. I don’t remember whether or not I shared the sad news. But I was slowly getting back to myself.

Five weeks later, end of August, the American Airlines Flight took me back to Africa. A week later September 11 happened, killing 2,996 people and injuring over 6,000 others. American Airlines Flight 11 was one of the flights used in the terrorist attack.

The call came the same week.

“How was America?”

“Do you have a moment?”

An encounter with elephants at Mashatu Game Reserve

Once upon a time in the Mashatu Game Reserve, I was the only women in a crew of 4; Nluu* (not his real name), a photo journalist, Sloo, the driver and Godi our tour guide. Godi occupied the furthest and elevated seat at the back, for obvious reasons.

I still recall warning signs scattered all over the Reserve, ”Mashatu animals are wild”.

I was a television producer of a magazine programme and we were taking pictures, for the ‘sights and sounds’ segment of the programme.

A magazine programme, is a collection of articles, stories, pictures and features. It is a mixed bag.

Our two day visit consisted of early morning game drives in an open Safari van. We would leave the hotel at 6 in the morning and at 9, Sloo would set a full English breakfast table, complete with steaming hot tea. This would also mark the end of our morning drive.

We occupied the rest of the morning working in and around the vicinity of our hotel, conducting interviews, and taking more pictures. The intention was to leave the reserve with as many programme segments as possible.

At 3, in the afternoon, we would be back in the truck, heading for water holes, afternoon favourites for most animals. Everything worked as scripted, even to the amazement of our tour guides. We encounted troupes upon troupes of the all types of animals.

On day two, almost halfway through our morning drive, Godi announced seeing elephants ahead.

You don’t visit the land of giants and come back without their story.

We found them, waiting. The entire clan; nursing mothers and their babies, possibly also uncles, aunts and the grandparents. Huge in numbers and build. Intimidating.

The sight of wild animals doesn’t often excite me. It is good to see them so as not to only rely on book knowledge. But it is not something I’ll move mountains for; probably because I grew up in a village, at the foot of a hill. There were seasons we would come home from school to find our yard packed with baboons, feeding on our melons. Snakes and scorpions were our regular visitors. Kudus used to appear from the hill behind.

At the lands/farm/masimo, whatever you call it, we feasted on porcupines, ostriches and kudus. I grew up with animals. I am a child of the wild. So I cannot, now all grown up, pretend to like animals so much so as to travel distances just to admire them.

But for family and relatives who fancy wildlife tourism, I am good company.

The elephants were on our left, facing us. I was sitting to the right of Nluu. The weather was good; blotches of thick clouds, left gaps of blue sky for beautiful picture quality. The only sound, was when Nluu, our photojournalist, changed positions, for good view. We needed to capture aesthetics, the ambiences, the unadulterated silences of the wild.

Things changed when the mama elephant turned around, giving us her back–and slowly, they all turned and walked away. The mother following closely behind them, driving them pack from behind.

“That is not a good sign. I think it is preparing to attack”. I don’t remember who, between Sloo and Godi, said it.

Elephants are matriarchal. Mothers and grandmothers see to the welfare of the family. They guard and protect their own. And true to tradition, she came back, flapping her ears; coming for us. Her screeching cries stayed with me for, I-don’t-know-how-long. Sloo revved the car engine. Mama elephant, stopped, turned around, towards the rest of her family. They were now a distance away.

We had continued with our video shooting. The car had not moved.

“Sloo tlou e eta. A re tsamaeng”, (Sloo, let us go, the elephant is coming), warned Godi.

To our shock, the mama elephant was approaching much faster and more furious than the first time, leaving a cloud of dust on her trail. No amount of revving could slow her down. She had made her mind.

The road ahead was rocky and bumpy, making it impossible for Sloo to drive as fast as we wanted. The elephant followed closely behind, atleast from its cries.

I was too scared to look back.

“Sloo kana tou e gorogile”, you could smell fear in Godi’s voice.
“Monna Godi o tshosa di-guests”, Sloo tried to adhere to protocol.
“Wa re ke tshosa di-guests. Ka re tou ke e”.

Although the frequency of updates on the lurking danger was unwelcome then, in retrospect, I understand his situation. He was the closest to the angry elephant.

I couldn’t bring myself to look back to check our proximity to the attacking elephant. I could only muster a silent prayer “Lord please save our lives”.

I then waited for the inevitable; her to wrap her trunk around my neck and pull me out of the truck. And she was not going to do it, while I looked.

The answer to my prayer came in the form of a river. Either from laziness or too much anger, Mama elephant chose not to descend the deep river. We watched, from middle of the river, as she angrily pulled out fully grown trees. Her voice, too angry and loud.

But we still had a journey back to the hotel. We took long to leave the river; too scared to retrace our way back. Our attacker was still somewhere, in the bush, probably still as enraged.

I wanted to spend the night in the middle of the river. It never felt that safe.

What’s been happening: my time with vets and their fury friends

adorable-animal-blur-406014It was a long break. A lot happened. I went on tummy shrinking ‘boot camp’. Not in a strict sense. I committed to a lifestyle of healthy eating and fitness.

I am happy the tummy listened. The  upper bulge which had different sized protruding ball shaped domes, is gone.  I’m now working hard on my lower abdomen. I had expected it to be easier. Thankfully this was its last Christmas.

2017 I am building muscle.

I also started a feature article on the relationship between Veterinary Doctors and the animals they treat. I approached it from the assumption that Vets elevate animals to the levels of human being or they downgrade humans to where animals are. I am not yet sure of what I mean or where I’ll end with it or even the direction it will adopt.

At the moment I’m reading prohibitively thick scientific books. I have observed  a Vet at work and have had a rare, almost sacred opportunity to watch the doctor remove a cancerous lump from a dog’s breast.

I  was a participant observer; an  emotional participant at that. The dog was under  heavy anesthetics, so it was almost motionless. Sad sight, sad for the dog on the table, sad because of all the memories that overwhelmed me, sad that breast cancer doesn’t differentiate between human and dog.

When did I last do my mammogram? I caught myself thinking

The ‘veterinary doctor and their animals’ is a project I take seriously,  a commissioned project, in a way. I am only sad it is not moving as fast as I had hoped. But it will be a good story.

My fitness journey is an interesting one. The observers remind me in many ways that I should shift focus to other parts of my body. Some are bold enough to tell me why they think so. I must admit though that I am never as  concerned about anything else as I am about the tummy. Not strange, right?

I have met people, for example,  who obsess about shoes and careless about clothes. The first thing they see when you meet is your shoes. Some spent too much time on their hair styles and everything hair and ignore the face – and would probably check your hair before they greet. I tend to see the tummy first.

But I have taken note. I cannot swallow the tummy and allow other members of the body to stay in the old. Fortunately, when done well,  exercises should be able to address my concern and everything else in between. For now I am a happy African woman.

What am I on about?  That I have not written as often as I had hoped.

The body is an obedient structure.  I can testify. It responds to what we do. The journey is on. The benefits are innumerable.

 

 

A reunion 25 years later at the Falcon Crest.

Casually attired in a military green T-shirt, blues jean with brown leather sandals, Seitebaleng walked into our conversation – and I just knew it would be a memorable evening. We had waited the whole afternoon. Here she was, just as she looked in the picture, aside from being smaller than I had expected. Otherwise everything else was a perfect fit; full lips that reveal a gap between her upper teeth- when she smiled – and she did it  often. The pony tail styled extension emphasizing her peaceful countenance. She became our assurance; she grounded us, at least that day.

Seitebaleng is not physically domineering; she is a small woman with a commanding unexplained aura that can force even the strongest to pause. When she talks you listen and you laugh when she laughs. She is the kind of person you would have  a short time with but would leave a lasting impression. Her genuineness was a breath of fresh air, a therapy. She had a distinctly hoarse voice like she had just  woken up or was recovering from a bad cough. Her conversation revolved around nature, the everyday people she works with. Seity, as we fondly called her, works with disadvantaged children in some of the remotest villages of Botswana. She helps the most poor – but before we shared our stories, we could not have guessed.

The 230pm meeting at the Falcon Crest Hotel that Saturday, was a culmination of weeks of planning, nights of communication on all types of platforms available. The idea of pulling together our high school classmates started early in the year while chatting with an old friend. But it was only in September that we got to work. In less than a month we had 60 ‘Class of 91’ members on our closed Facebook page. Twenty five years later, we were planning to meet, most of us, for the first time. I had expected it to be an exciting time of reminiscing about the past; of laughing at our naivety then; of celebrating life. Thus the crippling anxiety was a shocker. The friendly ambience, freshly cut, lush green grass; the soothing sound of water from the nearby fountain ceased to matter. The very things that attracted me to this place were now inconsequential.

nam-hoang-698565-unsplash

My head had other concerns: “How is it going to be? Who will come? I’m I dressed appropriately?” On and on my head spilled some silly questions? “Will I be comfortable?”

Seitebaleng was the most engaging in the weeks leading to the Falcon Crest meeting, encouraging, almost coercing us to attend. Her excitement was palpable. Surprisingly she also remembered more people than anybody else, so we naturally warmed up to her. I could not remember her from our high school days, but she was the one person I was waiting here for, the person whose coming could have calmed me. Five ladies arrived ahead of her, but it was when she arrived that the tension dissipated.