FOR THE NEXT TWO MONTHS I shall be living in Botswana, Africa, enjoying its summer and leaving the French autumn behind. I have been here before and had been pleasantly surprised at how quickly I took to a very different culture than I was used too.
It is a long way away needing three planes from France or Scotland to get here and there is the rub, I am, as many air hostesses over the years have phrased, a nervous flyer. By the time I make it on the plane the ordeal of taking half your clothes off, now classed as lethal weapons, for scanning by officious airline officials again and again is truly exhausting. Belts, shoes, scarfs, hats, jewellery all put into trays alongside the silly plastic bag that contains your make-up and perfume; how that makes your toiletries safe is beyond me.
My perfume gets regularly tested, what for I am never told, and my laptop, mobile phone have to be put in separate trays so you end up juggling nearly six trays whilst trying to get through the body scanner without setting it off and hopefully avoiding the rub down by the bored, Ive done this thousands of times, official who just wants to find something, anything, to break the monotony.
You first have to get to London to then fly an eleven hour flight to Johannesburg where by the time you get there you've lost the will to live, whiling the time away watching feature film after feature film. On this trip I spotted a British Airways documentary aimed at the nervous flier and avidly took in the facts that turbulence will never make your plane drop from the sky; planes are built to withstand most of what the elements throw at it, the plane may drop a few feet (yikes ) but it will not drop to earth. Pilots are re-trained every six months, given medicals and tested in flight simulators, all very reassuring. The presenter of this documentary was a captain who had been flying for over twenty years and the fact he was still alive made me think I would probably survive the flights ahead.
I absolutely hate pilots that feel they have to share everything with the passengers; you know the ones that tell you its going to be a bumpy flight, with high winds etc. I dont want to know all this before I have even taken off. Am I the only one that superciliously scans the other passengers for anyone dodgy, that hates complete strangers who feel that as they are sitting next to you, we have to talk?
Why do passengers clap their hands when the pilot lands, is that not what you would expect? After all, there is no hand clapping when the pilot of your ferry safely makes it into harbour or the bus and train driver makes it to your chosen destination.
After a sleepless night I arrived at Jo'burg, a lovely airport with shops, restaurants and lo and behold a smoking lounge. Completely air conditioned with comfortable seating and a well-stocked bar you are served the required medication to enable you to continue your journey.
To be able to sit and have a smoke and a drink was just bliss, and more airports should cater for its smoking passengers not just the non-smoking ones. Why would anyone want a massage in the silly massage therapy booths that have sprung up in every airport in the land, the shoe shine booths and the now defunct Duty Free shop where mostly everything you can buy can be bought cheaper in Tesco?
Naturally, in the course of three flights one was bound to be delayed, and it was the small meccano plane from Jo'burg to Gaborone in Botswana. On boarding this flight I had the misfortune to be piloted by a guy who liked the sound of his own voice and who went to great lengths to explain the flight had been delayed as they had to take an aircraft out of the schedule due to mechanical failure - Yikes again !
Arriving in Gaborone the heat hit me as I staggered to customs – tired, grumpy and stressed – only to be told I had practically used up my 90 days visitors' allowance on my last stay and had no days left. The thought of re-flying what I had just done to get there nearly sent me into meltdown when a kindly customs officer, yes I found the one and only one here in Botswana, informed me she would give me three days to go and arrange an extension to allow me to stay. Now in the western world this is probably enough time but here in Botswana its a challenge to say the least.
The next day an 8am visit to the British High Commission was necessary to get a photocopy of my passport certified, new passport photos done, a letter from my hubby to vouch for me (?), a copy of my marriage certificate and a pleading letter from myself giving the reasons for the extension were all prepared before the visit to the immigration office where my fate lay in their hands.
Waiting in this stuffy non air-conditioned government office in a line for two hours did nothing to alleviate my stress, only for the customs official to suddenly close her window so I then had to negotiate into another line taking another hour. The amount of people crowded into this room was at the very least a health hazard and could have made an entry into the Guinness book of records for how many people you could fit into a small room.
Just before they closed for lunch I was taken and informed I would be allowed an extension but had to go and pay an exorbitant amount of money to do so, but by this time I was so worn out by the whole thing I would have happily remortgaged my house.
So I am now in Gaborone, where the plan is to chill and do some writing and, after my journey here, the sun, the people and the way of life is just what the doctor ordered.