Wednesday, 6 July 2011

We Are Ghetto Fabulous!

Francistown is fondly called “the Ghetto” by most Batswana that we meet. In fact, on the side of a building in the middle of the bus rank a banner proudly proclaims "We Are Ghetto Fabulous"! And I am starting to love the Ghetto! It is definitely not a huge, bustling metropolis (we can walk from one side of the city to the other in about 30 minutes), but at the same time it is far from a quaint rural village. As the second biggest city in Botswana at 115,000 people it is WAY smaller than Kingston. But it is starting to feel like home.
                Fruit, shoe, music, and clothing stalls line the sidewalks and the sides of roads, but the sellers never hassle or call out at you as you pass by. The most popular wares are bananas, oranges, phone credit top-offs and bowls of tiny candies. It seems like everyone is trying to sell the exact same thing at the exact same price, something that our resident Commerce student Thomas finds a little ridiculous.
                The sidewalks are also filled with people. At any point in the day the streets of Francistown seem full of people. Amazing are the women who casually walk by balancing HUGE parcels on their heads; boxes, shopping bags, blankets, bowls of food (!)...we’ve pretty much seen it all. This is a skill I am determined to master before leaving!
                But you have to be careful about being pushed off the sidewalks by the other people, the roads can be treacherous! A lot of people seem to own cars here and the roads are usually full with traffic. Add in taxis and combis (mini-buses) and there are a lot of obstacles to dodge. It’s especially important to stay alert because it seems like the only place where pedestrians have the right of way here are the marked crosswalks. If a taxi or car hits a person crossing at the crosswalk they can be charged. Anywhere else, pedestrians are fair game. Even after being here for almost a month my heart still jumps into my throat when my taxi driver is zooming towards a jaywalker, no signs of slowing down, leaning on the horn to let the person know that unless they move out of the way FAST they are going to be roadkill!
                All of this just adds to the charm of the Ghetto. I’m so used to them now that it just feels like a normal part of life. But the best thing about Francistown is that since it is so small, we have started to create our own “places”. Finding hole-in-the-wall shops and restaurants that we can call our own. We have Milky Lane for Thursday after work milkshakes (fruit juice for me!), where servers Kabo and George know us and are hopefully starting to learn our orders. Then there is The Thorn Tree restaurant, where we go to treat ourselves for lunch, and loads of ex-pats eat. Just yesterday we claimed a barbershop called African Style when Thomas got a haircut there. It was a real barbershop, with music pumping and guys hanging out outside waiting for customers. And we also now have a car wash; a place near where Fais and I live where we went to wash the car after our trip this past weekend. It feels great to go places where people actually know us, instead of always having to explain who we are and why we’re here.
                Francistown might not be as modern as Gabarone (we don’t even have a movie theatre!), or as picturesque as Kasane, but it has definitely become a home away from home. I am proud to be able to call myself a resident of this Ghetto Fabulous city!

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