Gaborone, Botswana: Lost Luggage, Developmental Success and Idle Travel

I landed in Gaborone sans luggage for the second time this trip. Such short layovers in Johannesburg will do that to a traveler, I guess. With no scheduled down-time, only three days in the city and required presence at customs to pick up my bag, I was pressed for time. Fortunately, I made the retrieval the afternoon before I left for Namibia. While my luggage has seen better days, this particular trip pushed it over the edge. One wheel had fallen off, the zipper had been ripped open and all of the trinkets I had bought in Zimbabwe had been stolen.

Oh, Africa.

Developmental Success

In the realm of international development, Botswana is one of the world’s great success stories. Botswana is a small, landlocked country, and after independence from England in 1966 it was one of the poorest countries in Africa. In the 40+ years following its independence, Botswana has made remarkable improvements. It’s now one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Seretse Khama, Botswana’s first president, has a lot to do with the positive turnaround. In the 70s, he instituted strong measures against corruption and helped turn the country into an export-based economy, built around diamonds, beef and copper. Unlike other newly independent countries in Africa, Botswana was governed well, under market-friendly policies like low, stable taxes, liberalized trade and non-racialism. All of the money generated from increased economic activity was reinvested into countrywide infrastructure, health and education costs. Currently, the country’s standard of living is compared with that of Turkey and Mexico. It’s an amazing case study in successful developmental practices.

photo credit to kirakar

That being said, Botswana still has a long way to go. Income equality is incredibly high. It’s a middle-class country but maintains a large, poor population. Approximately one out of every six Batswana has HIV, giving the country the second highest infection rate in the world, behind Swaziland.  There are still many improvements to be made.

Idle Travel

I enjoyed my short-lived experience in Botswana. Rather than bounce around town, looking for any and all tourist opportunities available (the Kalahari Desert occupies 70% of the country!), I decided to keep my travels within Gaborone. Lazy and idle, a special kind of travel, slow, the kind that lends itself to reading, long and engaging conversations, cups of coffee, thinking, appreciating, catching up. I’m reminded of a quote from celebrated writer, Alduos Huxley.

Your true traveler finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty-his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure.

He’s absolutely right, you know.

10 thoughts on “Gaborone, Botswana: Lost Luggage, Developmental Success and Idle Travel”

  1. Very cool. I really love that quote at the end. I know I’ve read it before (perhaps in Vagabonding?) and it’s such a great way to approach travel.

    Speaking of Vagabonding, maybe you should adopt the travel-with-no-luggage experiment like Rolf Potts. That way your luggage can’t be lost again. Ha!

    The HIV rate there is incredibly high. I had no idea. Is it a hot topic of conversation there or is it kind of swept under the rug? I wonder what specific measures are being taken to ensure that it does not get worse…

  2. To be more specific: Did you notice any government propaganda or public service announcement type things in regards to the HIV problem during your time there?

  3. It seems so strange that Botswana has done quite well for itself in many aspects but not so much with the HIV issue. With such a focus on health and education, something clearly was missed along the way.

    I agree with Nate about the quote. Good choice for this post!

  4. @Nate: I’ve thought about it, traveling with a carry-on my next survey. I’m going to plan it out that way and try to make it work. Regarding HIV, I didn’t see any kind of literature or media attention, but keep in mind I was only there for a few days.

    @Earl: I knew HIV was a problem in Africa, but I had no idea to what extent. In all the countries I’ve been to this trip (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola), I’ve been surprised. 1/5 people in most of these countries? That’s a remarkable statistic.

  5. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana for a few months (cut my service short for various reasons). Currently, all volunteers are working on HIV prevention in some capacity, so I became very familiar with the current programs, and also, the issues surrounding HIV.

    @Nate: The government has a lot of programs in place to step-up prevention measures, the biggest probably being in the schools. People can also get tested at almost any clinic (which are everywhere), and HIV positive individuals have access to ARVs for free. There are billboards throughout the country with messages about HIV, as well as signs at schools and posters at clinics. Most people know about HIV, though, because they know someone who has died from AIDS. Whether they openly admit that AIDS is what that friend or family member died from is a whole other story, as most attribute the death to something else or simply say it was “the flu”. Despite the fact that so many people have been affected, there is still a stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, although I’d say it is decreasing, especially in villages where close to the majority is infected.

    Unfortunately, the high rate of HIV is mostly due to the culture surrounding sex and relationships. The population is very mobile and thus it is not uncommon for individuals to have relationships in more than one village/city, and thus, more sexual partners. As Alan pointed out, the income gap in Botswana is very wide and unemployment is high due to a lack of jobs. Because of this and the culture surrounding multiple concurrent partners, it is not uncommon for a man or woman to seek a relationship with someone “richer” than themselves, which essentially means they will get presents, food, money, etc. in exchange for a relationship (and sex) with their partner.

    Obviously there are many other factors surrounding the high HIV rate in Botswana, but I hope this gives you a little more information on the situation.

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    1. @Lauren: Wow, thanks for chiming in! I usually keep an eye out for Peace Corps volunteers, but because my stay was so short I didn’t run into any. Your information is more than appreciated–very interesting.

      @George: Thanks for the opportunity, George.

  7. love the quote and perspective on boredom in the end! from one of my favorite authors too.. i prefer the slower travel myself. more time to soak thinks in.

    ps: i love how considerate you are to a generic comment.. i got the same thing from george 😉

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