Gaborone, [Botswana].

Gaborone is the capital city of Botswana. It resides to the South-East of this small, landlocked country in Southern Africa. Looking at a political map of Botswana might convince you that there does, in fact, exist more than one city or town or village within it. This is not the case. In scientific data sets, we tend to ignore outlier points that don’t align with our line or curve of best fit, and, in a country where almost half of its citizens live within a hundred kilometres of its capital, it is also easy to ignore anything else outside that radius, so we do.

A zebra burns to ashes by the Marina traffic circle.

The University of Botswana was built by cows.

Chickens sang songs in the nighttime.

A goat glittered in the sky.

In the middle of Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, an elephant stands.

Do you like worms?

A zebra burns to ashes by the Marina traffic circle. The circle isn’t too far from Main Mall, and its name stems from its closeness to the biggest public hospital, Princess Marina, where one can spend the whole day waiting to see a doctor. This doesn’t matter to most of us anyway, since the citizen visit to government institutions is the habitual holiday all Batswana are obliged to take. Of course, we all complain about bureaucracy, but the ones who genuinely and seriously complain about it are mostly the wealthy, who say things like how the mediocrity of our civil service is why our labour force is so unproductive, that this is the reason why we’re a third world country. The Marina traffic circle was adorned with ornaments of blue, black and white, the colours of the national flag, in commemoration of our 40th year of independence from the British. One prominent decoration was a steel wire zebra statue, now affectionately called ‘Zebbie’, in memory of its public cremation. Protesters from the University of Botswana set the zebra ablaze because the government once again failed to pay living allowances to its students. Botswana has the second highest level of income inequality in the world. Tertiary education in Botswana is free for those who qualify. Youth unemployment remains above thirty percent. We are considered the ‘success’ story of Africa. Botswana was once one of the poorest countries in the world. Sixty percent of our gross domestic product is reliant on diamond mining. We’re running out of diamonds. Our economic diversification policies include rapidly expanding our tourism sector. Tourists like zebras. A few more  zebra-related thoughts: The Zebras are the national football team of Botswana; the zebra is the nation’s flagship animal, most likely chosen because of the co-existence of its black and white stripes, which represent the vastly different racial history we have from neighbouring South Africa (our first president married a white British woman); a zebra was burnt to ashes in the heart of the city that is the heart of the country in a manner reminiscent of the ongoing students protests in South Africa, in which faeces in plastic bags were thrown at the statue of the god of all colonialists, Cecil John Rhodes, which used to stand at the centre of the University of Cape Town. I don’t like South Africa. I feel blacker there than I do in America.

The University of Botswana was built by cows. The story goes like this: in my grandparent’s generation, to fund the local university, families brought a cow with them to where it would be built. At least that’s how I remember the story being told to me. It sounds both beautiful and absurd. I’ve always underestimated the importance of cows. I vaguely remember my mother telling me that my grandfather gave me a cow for my eighteenth birthday. Of course, I didn’t know what to do with it- the cow and my grandfather live past that hundred-kilometre radius outside Gaborone. It’s likely that I’m creating this next vague memory, but I think that the cow was slaughtered and eaten for Christmas or New Year’s or something like that. In high school, the girls I tended to like weren’t Batswana, so I didn’t worry much about the one inevitable day when an uncle or aunt from the village would eventually find me and ask, ‘How many cows will you give us for her?’ With the one Motswana girl that I did like, I used to make jokes about lobola, bride price: ‘Do you think your family will let me pay them in poetry instead of cows?’

Chickens sang songs in the nighttime. During the school holidays, my sister and I were sent to live with our grandparents outside Gaborone and for weeks we would cease to exist. Many of us were often sent off to our respective home villages so that we could spend time with extended family, which is to say to help out on their farms. Luckily, we didn’t have to do much. My grandparents lived in a city, and, even though it was not Gaborone, it still wasn’t a farm. My grandmother still managed to run a small chicken selling business, and every so often two truck-fulls of chickens would arrive with my grandfather to be neck-snapped, plucked, boiled and frozen. There were always a few nights before the big day where tens of my grandmother’s friends would come over to help her, a little community factory of feather-tearing, family-talk chuckling, and wiping off various chicken remains off their gumboots. In their cages the chickens clucked and clucked before the dawn. It did not make for good lullabies. I did not feel particularly sorry for them. They would soon become tasty. Years later, after the last of those holidays, back in Gaborone, where I was once again a being that existed, I would dream my last dream of leaving Botswana. I heard that Americans would ask me if I rode lions to school. They don’t. But I don’t really think to tell them, when they ask what it’s like actually, that even Gaborone, where the first skyscrapers have finally appeared, has chickens occasionally crossing its busiest roads. I did not register them clucking past the traffic lights with my little cheek pressed slimily against the backseat window, my mother reprimanding me for not waking up on time for school. Nor am I sure if I saw the twisting acacia trees with small leaves and pin-prick thorns. I maybe saw grandaunts wearing blue headwraps at the side of the road selling airtime for cell phones. I perhaps saw minibus --no, combi-- drivers wearing bucket hats and chewing toothpicks.  I might have been wearing that khaki school uniform. But I do see the chickens now, clucking by the traffic lights.

A goat glittered in the sky. No, this didn’t happen, at least not like that. Every one of us looked at the stars when we were younger. Many too checked their horoscopes. But not many could point up at the night and say that a particular constellation was theirs. I’m a Capricorn. I couldn’t tell which stars were which and I still can’t. Specifically, I couldn’t tell you which stars were which in Francistown, where my grandparents lived; though this is where I remember them, because they came out after we untied the dogs’ leashes from their small houses. It was the same time when friends had to return home, soccer balls put away, last errands to the little shop to buy bread for dinner were made, outside lights switched on. And a little look up before they locked the doors. None of this happened though, because Francistown is not Gaborone, and therefore does not exist, especially on my Facebook timeline, where a zebra burns to ashes by the Marina traffic circle. There was no little look upwards before my grandparents locked the doors. I did not see any goats glittering up there, which are important to us Batswana too. They’re just not as important as cows or chickens.

In the middle of the Gaborone International Airport, an elephant stands. It is a sculpture constructed of many elephant tusks. I don’t remember if the tusks were recovered from poachers, or were taken from the remains of elephants that died of natural causes. It’s pretty big. It helps me resent the airport a bit less, which has been swallowing up my loved ones for a while now: my father (a commercial airline pilot), my sister (a scholarship student), an old lover (there will be no receipt of any cows or poems from me), an almost lover (another scholarship student), my best friend (yet another scholarship student) and now me (just another scholarship student). For most of the year, my mother lives at home by herself in a large double story that was meant to house my whole family. My parents worked hard for it. My sister lived in it for less than a year. I don’t how my mother feels about the elephant statue.

Do you like worms? Mophane worms have stripes, of blue, yellow and orange that seem to vary with each wriggle. When dehydrated, they turn a dark, moody green of sorts and taste like potato chips made out of cashew nuts. I don’t like them in stews, because their yellow insides become mushy instead of powdery, and because the spikes on their skin prick sharper when warm. I mostly ate them when I was with my grandparents; very rarely in Gaborone. My older sister used to watch this show called Fear Factor and my parents watched documentaries of people in Southeast Asian countries. In Fear Factor,young and gleaming Americans face frightening challenges (to win tens of thousands of dollars, always), including a section where participants consume a bowl of cockroaches, earthworms and other critters. In some documentary of some Southeast Asian country, another young, gleaming American tries out deep-fried grasshoppers at a local food stand. With each juicy crunch, we asked ourselves, why would anyone eat something like that? Brian Wilson, the frontman of the Californian surf-rock band The Beach Boys, wrote a song in the sixties during his period of mental instability called ‘Do You Like Worms?’ I’ve been thinking about how weird and whimsical that song title is for a few years now, what a strange dude, but yes, yes, I do like worms, I like them quite a lot actually.  

Tsamaya sentle.

Sala sentle.

Ke tla go bona.

Go siame.

“Mooooorrrwaaaa.”

“Mmmmmmooooorrrrrrwaaaaaaaa.”

“MMMOOOOORRRWAAA...”

“MMMMOOOOOOOORRRRRRRWWWWWAAAAAAAAAA.”

Muted lights. A man saunters past a stage-door.  His walk is chastened by his work suit. It is tight. He steps up to a coat-rack. Briefly glares at it. Closes his eyes. Breathes. He places his hands to the knot of his tie, breathes. Unties it slowly, lifts the length of it against his neck like a noose, coughs, strangles, breathes. He places it on the coat rack and slowly undresses the rest of himself, breathing still. It takes him an unbearable forever to strip down to his underwear. His breaths sounds like sex, or like a struggle of birth. He then saunters to a wide circle of clothing and fabrics on the stage floor, a brown-plastic washbucket at its centre. The circle cocoons him like a womb. He stares inside the bucket, then grabs a shirt and begins to scrub for a while. After another while, he begins to tell us about himself as the spotlight softens. Morwa. Son. He grew up just on the edge of that hundred-kilometre radius. Sometimes, a particular piece of laundry leads to a monologue memory: He ties a towel to his neck and flies across the circle, screeching with childish glee, ‘I AM SUPERMAN! PFFFFEWWWW! SHHHFFFWWWOOOSSSHHH!’. Or he puts on a flat-cap and swaggers with his hands to his balls while telling us about the girls he hit on when he was in high school, “u no wat im sayin u no wat im saying dawg ya feel me?”. Or he picks up a collared shirt and talks about his father, the perfect archetype of a strong Motswana man. His father takes care of his family. His father caught him watching porn and beat him with a belt. His father’s joy when he was accepted to university in South Africa. His father advice--warnings really-- about leaving home. Pain and suffering comes to those who forget the lessons that their parents taught them. Only fools try to run away from where they are from. Focus on your studies and nothing else. Don’t you dare disappoint our family. The play reaches its climax as Morwa recounts his troubled experience coming to manhood in the South African city of Johannesburg, a much different creature from Gaborone entirely. In Jozi, women eat men alive, guns are legal, drugs easy like candy, money everything. “WHO THE FUCK AM I?” he cries as he splatters his fists into his dirty laundry-water reflection. Morwa. Son. At the end of it all, the actor playing Morwa steps up again to the coat-rack, puts on his suit, nooses his neck into the tie, and walks towards to a free seat in the audience. He sits down, the lights go off, and we applaud. A year later, when I come back home for the summer, the sun is setting and my body slumps on the passenger seat of the actor’s car.  The actor used to be my drama teacher in high school.  I called him when it hit me that I wouldn’t be giving any cows or poems to that girl’s family. So we drove towards the edge of the hundred-kilometre radius, because it’s nice to not exist sometimes. He talked to me about becoming a man in Botswana; I talked to him about the play. I left home again not too soon afterwards. I did not leave home a man. I don’t remember how the actor said goodbye. There are many ways of saying goodbye in Setswana. Go well. Tsamaya sentle.

A friend of mine once posted on his Timeline, “Botswana is a big Facebook group. Not a country.” This is true. For about two weeks the most important news in the entire nation was whether or not Miss Botswana deserved to have won her crown. Detailed arguments were made in the comments section of her Facebook: her (modest) tattoo should have immediately disqualified her; she publicly said that her favourite food is Japanese instead of traditional Setswana cuisine (the obvious right answer); her suspect answer to the question of how to address youth unemployment, “ESP” (referring to the ‘Economic Stimulus Program’ which nearly the entire population acknowledges as another government failure). Just recently, widely shared sex tapes of underage girls have become the foundations of memes and hashtags. I hope it is obvious that this is not what I mean when I tell Americans that Botswana is far more community-orientated than America. Nevertheless, Botswana follows me even here. Not that I ever wanted to, but I will never be able to say goodbye to it truly and fully. I can only do so half-heartedly, by liking all my Batswana friends’ pictures and statuses while not replying their messages. There are many ways of saying goodbye in Setswana. Remain well. Sala sentle.

The centre of Gaborone is known simply as ‘station’. Every form of public transportation on wheels, from no matter what part of the city or the country, always ends up there. If you climb up to one of the two bridges, preferably the newer one connecting to a freshly opened shopping mall, you can watch the entirety of Gaborone walk and talk in ways that make New York look boring. We all squeeze together into the same combis, tiny minibuses which carry the weight of the city all around it like a frustrating, inefficient circulation system; we always get to where we needed to go later than we needed to get there. The private school kids avoid station because they think it’s shady. It is. But it is also beautiful. Full disclosure: I was a private school kid. My Setswana is so thoroughly mangled by years of neglect that I try to avoid talking aloud at station as much as possible. There’s another bridge a bit further off which some of my competitive debater friends call ‘Sunset Boulevard’. The first time I went there was with them and we argued, we joked, we tried to fix my Setswana (...we had chicken for lunch). This was also the first time I had been to station for more than half an hour without my older sister and after five p.m.  It shouldn’t have surprised me that the sunset felt more orange, more purple than through my bedroom window. It shouldn’t have surprised me that it doesn’t do one any good watching sunsets alone in one’s room, that mouths crying open together and teeth gleaming is what really makes a sunset a sunset. Nor should it have surprised me that at the end of this, when the orange and purple of the sky stiffened to a deep blackness, that this memory would stick to me after I long left Gaborone with the word ‘maybe’ in my mouth. Maybe I’ll come back years from now. Maybe. There are many ways of saying goodbye in Setswana. I will see you. Ke tla go bona.

I don’t like diaspora poets. I saw an annoying Twitter post while stalking the girl-who-will-no-longer-receive-cows-or-poems’ profile back when things were good between us. It reads, ‘diaspora poet starter pack buzzwords: tongues, womb, mother, homeland, broken.’ I laughed when I first saw it. How true! So relatable! It becomes increasingly less funny the more that I look over my old poems: ‘I helped them cut off my tongue’; ‘I graduated fresh and bloody from my mother’s womb’; ‘Home is where the heart is but the heart is a broken place’; ‘Diaspora children know not what to do with their dark, dark skin.’ Diaspora poets annoy me because they are always saying goodbye to things. Goodbye to a self that exists only in the homeland. Goodbye to a homeland that will always be more than the self that tries to hold it in its tongue.  I am tired of saying goodbye to things. I am tired of saying it to people, to girls, to memories that never existed in the first place because they were not in Gaborone, to various versions of myself that each ask themselves who the fuck they are, and most especially to cows and chickens. And there are so many ways of saying it. At some point the flights become blurs. I’m lying on my bed one night, staring at my bedroom wall from the side of it with my head on a pillow, and then maybe I imagine my face facing some film camera; then the scene shifts, an obvious edit, but my face faces the camera still with the exact same blank expression, just a different background, another country; the bedroom wall a different colour with my same head on another pillow. The memories all the same, not sleeping, still thinking:

A zebra burns to ashes by the Marina traffic circle.

The University of Botswana was built by cows.

Chickens sang songs in the nighttime.

A goat glittered in the sky.

In the middle of Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, an elephant stands.

Do you like worms?

Sala sentle.

Tsamaya sentle.

Ke tla go bona.

There are many ways of saying goodbye in Setswana. It is okay. Go siame.