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All alone in Azerbaijan

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Zebra’s star ‘lonely but safe’

As the country nears the end of its first week in lockdown, Botswana’s European footballing export, Mpho Rudolph Kgaswane is already halfway through his own confinement.

The 25-year-old attacking midfielder, who plies his trade for Azerbaijani Premier League side Zira FC, is holed up all alone in his small flat in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

The Eastern European nation went into a 28-day lockdown on Wednesday 25 March as part of the country’s efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

As of Tuesday the former Soviet republic, which boasts a population of just under ten million, had recorded 717 confirmed Covid-19 cases, including eight known fatalities.

For Kgaswane, the pain and loneliness of isolation thousands of miles from home has at least been eased by the comforts of modern technology.

In an exclusive interview with Voice Sport, the Mankgodi native, who joined Zira FC at the start of 2019 after four years with South African outfit Baroka FC, stressed he was ‘bored but safe’.

“I spend the whole day indoors playing games on my laptop, watching movies, listening to music and chatting with friends and family on social media. Thanks to the new technology, I am able to video chat with my relatives back home and it gives them hope that I am safe!” revealed the former Gaborone United starlet, who sounded in good spirits despite his predicament.

The Zebras regular admitted that the language barrier adds another layer to an already difficult situation.

Unable to speak the country’s official language, Azerbaijani, Kgaswane relies on a translator to explain all the Covid-19 messages from relevant authorities.

“I am still learning Arabic and it is not easy. I’m stuck here, far from home. My business is football and when there are no football activities I get bored to death. Mid last month we stopped playing football and now there is movement restriction, 28-days lockdown. I can’t risk going out to do roadwork, imagine if I meet soldiers on the street and they beat me! It’s so scary because we do not know how long this will last,” continued Kgaswane, his upbeat mood dipping as noticeably as one of his trademark freekicks.

The only time he leaves the four walls of his flat is to go shopping.

“Fortunately there is a shop right under my flat. If I need groceries I put on my protective clothing and go and buy.”

Agonizingly for Kgaswane, when it was first announced that Azerbaijan would go into lockdown, he considered coming home but quickly realised this was too dangerous.

“I could not risk it because there are no direct flights. For me to get back to Bots I would have had to travel through high-risk countries. Instead I decided to lock myself in and stay safe!”

Azerbaijan has since introduced stricter restrictions, with those wishing to leave their homes for essential trips having to get special permission via an SMS from a helpline.

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