Botswana is Africa.
If Namibia is, as described "Africa Light," it didn't take long after getting here to realize that this place was different.
It's gritty and worn.
The Capitol city of Gaborone (Gabo-row-nee) is built out of the desert bush, and by build out of it, literally everything that isn't building or pavement still is desert bush. There is no grass. Drinking the water isn't an option - not even to brush your teeth, rolling blackouts occur, and walking around at night is strongly discouraged. The 3* hotel might pass for 2* in the US, though thanks to being in a hotel, at least we aren't subject to the severe water rationing in the rest of town. This isn't Kansas.
That being said, the more of this work I do, the more hopeful I am for humanity. People here define friendly. The town, in spite of its rough appearance, is clean and welcoming.
On Thursday, we did the usual spate of meetings, toured the House of Chiefs, an interesting body which convenes the tribal chiefs a few times a year to consult on key issues. More than just a sign of respect, I suspect in the early days of the nation, the Chiefs were needed to convey legitimacy on the government.
But on these trips, there are always those unique experiences that define the journey, and on Thursday, we found one at the end of a dirt road, some 70km west of town.
We drove out to a village to visit a public secondary school (high school). We arrived about 2 hours after school ended, but in the 'library' we're about 50 kids, representing multiple schools - all in their uniforms.
Now to put this in some context, rural Botswana is poor. Very poor. The metrics which measure income inequality in a nation ranks Botswana in the top 5 worst. And you can't miss it. You could forgive a rural Matswana girl for lacking hope.
Yet in that classroom we found kids just like kids everywhere, full of energy and hope. Students stood up and talked about their dreams of growing up to be accountants, lawyers, doctors and one girl, of being the first woman President of Botswana.
That girl actually rose to thank us for showing the courage to come to her village. I challenged her. It doesn't take courage for a guy like me to come up Africa, it just took someone giving me a plane ticket and understanding clients. No I responded, courage is being a girl from a poor village strong enough to dream of leading her country - a place that is sadly quite tough on women seeking public office.
In a lot of ways, this place is far worse off than Namibia. Even though per capita GDP is much higher here, it's due to that inequality. And you can see it everywhere. Parks are just dirt fields, traffic is much more third-worldish, and public and private buildings are worn down. For example, in spite of having similar populations, the budget of Gaborone, Botswana is roughly 1/8th the size of the budget of Windhoek, Namibia.
But there seems to be a stronger sense of national pride. Granted the country is 30 years older, but even during its years as a British protectorate, it managed to avoid the same racial discrimination policies that places like South Africa & Namibia will be dealing with for generations, thus you don't sense the same huge fault lines here that you see Namibia.
Or maybe it's just harder to see those same challenge after spending an hour with the kids of Thamaga Secondary School.