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Published: March 12th 2007
Creators of a nation
These three prominent men has all had a finger or more in the creation of Botswana. Now they stand tall as the national monument outside of Gaborone.
As we rushed down from Gaborone
to celebrate New Years Eve in Cape Town
, we had been arrested by Karma police a mere hours drive before the big city in the small town of Worcester
- and sentenced to a 10-day meditation course. Therefore I sat in silence on my small meditation cushion, contemplating, focusing.
Around me were 35 other meditators, all doing their best trying not to move, not to look, not to plan for the future, and not to drift into the past but to follow the teacher’s instructions and be in the present moment.
Often I would catch my mind wandering far away from the meditation technique and I would then patiently try to bring my mind back on track - observing - not reacting - realising.
At times I would allow my mind to roam freely among thought patterns of memories and anticipation.
Quite often I would drift back to the recent past - our quick encounter with Botswana
- the least corrupt country on the African continent.
Of the less than ten nights we spent in the country - almost a week was spent in the dispersed and uninspiring malls
"Pula" - A beautiful name for a currency. The name in Tetswana language means raindrop. Making it quite obvious what this arid nation holds as most valuable.
of Gaborone. The rest of the time we travelled on the drab main highway alongside Botswana’s main environmental misfortune - 3000 km of "Buffalo fence" (Almost the distance from Paris
). Once built in paranoia for foot-and-mouth-disease it now poses a great threat to the seasonal migration of wildlife.
I would allow my mind to revisit all the towns and villages we visited along the route (Ramokgwebana, Francistown, Palapye, Mahalapye, Gabane
) in search of something unique, something worth memorising. But the towns along the main highway were far from attractive. With their shopping malls, "Veterinary cordon fences" (as the Buffalo fence officially is called), check points, gas stations and chicken-dominated-fast-food-outlets they wouldn’t win any beauty contests, and this is where the small but heavily urbanised population of Botswana actually live, in bland clusters of consumer-driven households with traditional Tetswana culture in heavy decline.
It seems that the wealthier an African nation is, the more perceptible is the Coca-Colonisation, and Botswana is wealthy.
With the help of both the worlds biggest and the worlds richest diamond mines, the governmental buildings rise high in the small capital Gaborone - as public declarations of affluence.
On the meadow outside in the meditation centre there was a mikro kosmos of organisms. I could easily get stuck for long stretches of time watching insects work, mate, prey, rest or die.
Clearly had our impression of Botswana might have been different if we had visited its three celebrities: The Okavango Delta
, the Kalahari Desert
and the Chobe National Park
, but time and money (rather the temporary lack of both) had a strong impact on our itinerary and wanted different.
Instead of experiencing and enjoying unique natural beauty, the highlight of our visit to the country was once more the people.
Again my mind had been wandering.
I tried to bring my attention back to the present moment by focusing on my breath.
Somewhere in the meditation hall I could hear someone stretch their legs or adjust their position.
No one would talk.
Not for nine days.
Outside the meditation hall the African sun with its uncompromising strength would heat the mountainside where the meditation centre was perched.
A peacock would waddle with its last unbroken tail feather across the meadow, small herds of buffaloes and wildebeest would graze the grassland at the neighbouring game reserve and I could for the first time in one and a half year enjoy late sunsets.
I took another deep breath and patiently brought my attention back
In the nearby Game reserve they had Zebras, Giraffes, Crocs, Buffaloes, Elephants, Klippspringers aso. Not that we saw all that from the centre, but I could see some buffaloes grazing from the paddock fence. Worcester S.A.
to the meditation.
Calmly I would continue to observe the different sensations I experienced within the framework of my body and how my mind tried to label them as pleasant or not pleasant, wanted or not wanted. I would observe my body and its inter-relationship with my mind how my physical structure effected my mental state - my mindset - and vice versa, and I would observe the mind itself and its content.
But as my attention would - time after time - wax and wane, my mind would soon drift again..
Unlike all the other countries in Africa where black American
rap-artists would stand as role models for youth culture, the Botswanan youth would instead peer at their bigger brother South Africa
(S.A.) for cultural influence. Which, with S.A’s apparent segregation between its different communities, made the influence more complex, especially since the Tetswanas wouldn’t seek out influence from S.A’s black community (that’s convinced devotees of American Hip-hop culture), they would share more cultural affinities with the white S.A’n community. With little doubt this was one of the main reasons to why we felt so culturally connected, so at ease as we dragged our
Our good friend Noel popping that X-mas Champaigne. We celebrated Christmas with Noel and his family in a suburb to Gaborone. A most memorable experience, much more relaxed than christmas back home, which adds more tension and stress than actual relaxation - the Botswanan christmas is all about relaxing. We sat outside the house on the windy, hot day eating a really good christmas meal prepared by Noels mom. I wouldn't mind coming back for Easter dinner or for the next Christmas..
souls through Gaborone’s water-holes, to a never ending house-beat.
-[iWe relate to you!
Our friend Alice
told us outside her friend’s house in Francistown as she skinned up a spliff, and truly she as well as our other friends in Botswana did relate to us.
We could discuss movies and music, art and architecture, and it wouldn’t be in a lecturing way, but on the same level.
Once more I was lost. My consciousness had wandered away from the present, and as sudden as I had drifted into reveries, I would suddenly be back on my small meditation cushion in the front of the dimly lit meditation hall.
The assistant teacher would sit less than two metres in front of me, facing my direction.
He would make minimum movement of his body as he meditated, but sometimes I would hear the little podium on which he sat mounted, creak, and I would subsequently expect him to switch on the P.A-system for the last chanting, that marked the end of every meditation hour.
So was not the case this time.
“False alarm” my judgmental subconscious mind noted, revealing my craving for the
Since we entered Zambia, caterpillars have been a part of our friends diets. Supposedly a soft texture unless you frie them really hard. Often enjoyed with MAize-meal-stodge and some onion-tomato-relish. Yummy! Palapye, Botswana
meditation hour to be done.
I struggled to keep my mind balanced, not reacting, not give in to the part of me that wanted to change my posture. Wanted to release my body from what my conditioned mind had labelled as pain from sitting still without moving for too long time.
I knew that by remaining balanced and observing this “pain” and not labelling it as such, it would inevitable dissolve.
I knew that it was all in my head.
All in my mind.
But to implement that in practise was a whole different issue.
Same thing goes for every ism, philosophy, teaching or concept of thought that shall be put into practise.
Especially when two or more different aspects on how to deal with a specific task must correlate.
All the NGO’s, private donors, religious organisations, international organs, foreign governments and the government of Botswana itself, have their own approach on how to deal with Botswana’s greatest challenge, the spread of HIV/AIDS
(Human Immunodeficiency Virus/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
With the shocking rate of 40%!o(MISSING)f the country’s population between 15 and 49 years infected (that’s the second highest in the world),
Ok, I'll back off!
Eager as I was I got way too close to this warthog mama, which she made very clear to me by charging. After this shot I ran..
it seems to me that in spite of remarkable economic success, they clearly don’t know how to correlate and curb the spreading of the epidemic.
The handing out of Antiretroviral (ARV’s
) to infected people is a step in the right direction but has also spurred a new fear to get infected since the ARV’s allegedly camouflage the virus on the basic screenings that’s conducted to trace it.
The presence of free ARVs has also made people more relaxed about catching the virus, since many people now believe that they easily can live another 20 years on ARVs, which is far from true in Africa.
In educating the people I found the different organisations and the government doing a good job. I mean it’s not that complicated - protect yourselves.
But a much more difficult task seems to be how to deal with gender inequality, which evidently spur the spread of the epidemic and its disproportionate impact on women.
In Africa, 60%!o(MISSING)f people infected with the virus are women.
There are few social sanctions on extra marital sex, on the contrary unfaithfulness among men are stimulated by an obsolete male belief that being prolific with
Adam, a man with a contagious smile
On the last day we were all allowed to communicate again, which was something I guess everyone was excited about. If it wasn't for the loss of Karma-points, I would gladly steal his trippy t-shirt.
women is an indicator of manhood and success, such foolish beliefs only endorse and increase the spread of the epidemic.
Frequently women also have less involvement in deciding with whom, when, and on what conditions to have sex.
To induce people to actually understand the impact of HIV/AIDS, one needs to deal with social and cultural traditions which are deeply rooted in the Botswanan society. However, to deal with the issue of gender inequality always is complicated and uncomfortable.
But of course that’s just my opinion, which puts me among all the other know-all’s which once again brings me back to how easy everything is in theory than in practise.
A few electric sparks followed then the chanting began. A surge of relaxation went through my body, and the whole meditation hall seemed to recuperate.
Five minutes later the session was over, only seven more hours of meditation to go for the day.
What had I accomplished with this session?
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