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Living abroad, changing lives locally

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For many people, festive is a time to enjoy with family and friends, however, when one is far from home, it can be a miserable time. Throw in assignments and the wet and freezing weather compounded by pictures of people enjoying the glorious sunny days in Botswana and you could be headed for depression.

Luckily, I can safely say, this does not quite describe how I wrapped up the year and ushered in a brand new one.

Credit goes to my hosts, Tebogo and Boston Basupang whom I first met in October at a Brand Botswana engagement in London.

Their good friend, Evert Smith, an orthopedic surgeon I had just met introduced them to me.

We joked about how the introduction should have been the other way around and parted ways with the promise to keep in touch and indeed our newfound friendship flourished and the hospitable couple assured me that I had family while in the UK.

Their invitation to spend New Year’s Eve at their home in Swindon was perfectly timed. My birthday falls on New Year’s Day and what a ball we had with other Batswana families.

This year my hosts will celebrate their 10 – year wedding anniversary and mark 19 years of living in the UK.

Another milestone to be celebrated is of their son Poko – a Brighton Film School student who turns 21 this month.

A pharmacist by trade, Tebogo studied in the UK in 1993 and headed back to Botswana for a few years.

“I worked in a private hospital and the pharmaceutical industry then decided to pursue work opportunities in the UK. I guess it was made easier by having studied here,” she explains.

Following the career that had her working in various places in England.

She went on to meet Boston through a mutual friend while they were both working in Bristol.

“We were friends for a long time before tying the knot in 2010,” Tebogo explains.

As a self- employed surgical nurse, Boston enjoys the flexibility of managing his own working hours.

In addition to his day-to-day responsibilities, he is an academic and has also had a stint as a lecturer at the University of West London.

The couple explains that Boston’s fluid schedule allows them to pursue their other interests including a tourism project in Botswana.

Their shared passion for travel has resulted in them travelling the world together.

“We have travelled extensively and enjoyed the most amazing experiences including visiting the Caribbean Islands, touring the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, which, as one of the seven wonders of the world, are a sight to behold. Our ultimate indulgence however is, following the Formula One circuit from Europe to as far afield as Montreal, Canada,“shares Tebogo.

The couple’s experiences in the UK compounded by extensive travel have cemented their plans to invest in the Botswana’ s tourism industry and have others enjoy the unique beauty and experiences that the offers.

“The process of setting up a business is extremely demanding but we are determined to see the plan to fruition. It really is our big plan for 2020. We are looking to provide a place in the Delta that will not only serve an international patronage but most importantly, be accessible to the ordinary Motswana,” reveals Boston.

Over the years, the couple has hosted some of their UK friends in Botswana and are delighted at the feedback.

INTERNATIONAL: Tebogo and Boston Basupang

“Every one of them has been thrilled and enchanted by the experience. It has attracted the interest of many more and we look forward to more of these trips,” adds Tebogo.

Reminiscing on one of the trips, the couple shares memories of hosting a friend and her daughter to a wedding in Tonota.

“They were fascinated and fully participated in the ceremony from wearing mateise to helping serve the food, “Recalls Tebogo.

A renowned author, Jane Shemilt who fell in love with Botswana has teamed up with the Basupang Batswana International Foundation – a foundation formed by the Basupangs with other families from Botswana living in the UK to give back to the marginalized communities in Botswana.

In addition, they participate in hosting an annual event in the UK to showcase Botswana cuisine, arts, crafts and music.

“We have so much to share of the Setswana culture and our way of life,” says Tebogo.

One of the projects particularly close to Boston’s heart is the adoption of Kubung Primary School in the Kweneng district.

The school has benefitted from their generosity and for three consecutive years wherein they managed to host prize giving ceremonies for pupils.

Their efforts were aided by numerous entities including. Schemilt who through her publisher donated books to the school and attended the event.

In 2014, the community was grateful for the rare opportunity to engage with the Bristol City Football Club.

Donations of soccer kits and a chance to play with members of the Bristol City Community Trust during the soccer clinics is still remarked on by the residents of Kubung and their guests.

Their visit culminated with friendly games with the national team Zebras and Rollers in the following year.

Despite the enormous logistical challenges, the Basupangs are committed to revitalizing their community drive project.

“Our roots are deeply set in Botswana, and we strive to merge our two worlds,after all, 19 years is a long time, we have started developing some small roots in the UK,” says Tebogo as she concludes the interview.

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An Eye for What?

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Sunday. Almost noon in Gaborone. From the pulpit, Pastor Godwill’s beady eyes follow his most-trusted foot soldiers lug bags of tithes behind a curtain where the money counting takes place.

With such a generous flock, he will move the church out of the tent into a proper building before Easter.

He will buy a house, then a jet. He raises his hands and sways to the rhythm of the closing hymn.

The church goers dissect the homily and sing the pastor’s praises as they file into the sunlight: “Oh, God! Daddy was on point today.” “May he stay blessed.” “Halleluja, Pastor.” “Amen, Pastor.”

No one notices a young man who has been skulking around the parking lot. He sidles up to a gleaming, new, black SUV.

Big lettering on the side proclaims ‘The Church of New Life’.

It belongs to the pastor—a Christmas gift from a recently-born again member.

He peers inside. Bibles, prayer books. More Bibles. The big money briefcase is not there.

He continues to pad, cat-like, around the bumper-to-bonnet filled parking lot. In another car he spies a woman’s handbag lodged under the driver’s seat. A purse peeps out.

The young man steals a quick look around him but sees someone approaching, so he moves on to another car.

He tests the driver’s door. It is locked, but the cellphone in the storage compartment tempts him, and his time is running out.

He picks up a brick and hurls it at window, shattering the glass.

As the alarm rings, he slides his arm inside and pulls out the cellphone.

Weaving between the cars, he makes for the main gate. Someone shouts. “Legodu!” Again. “Legoooodu!” Louder the second time.
It’s like a siren screaming. The able-bodied give chase. Men, women and children emerge from their makeshift shops, from houses to join in.

“Legodu!”Dogs bark the word. Cats meow the word. Cows moo it. Goats bleat it.

The whole neighbourhood emerges to bear witness.

The young man flies towards the main road. If he can cross the highway, he will melt into the bush and then he will be out of reach, but cars and trucks speed up and down the road. He cannot get across, so he off-loads his loot.

But it is too late for him. A man with biceps the size of the thief’s calves grabs him by his waistband and slams him to pavement. The swelling crowd, cheers.

A slap, a kick, a pinch. Another man fetches a sjambok from his boot.

It whistles as it slices the air, cracks as it lands on the thieves back. Once. Twice. Again. Once more.

A woman who was walking to the Kombi stop cannot resist.

She tucks her Bible into her bag and tugs off her stilettoes. She whacks the thief. Punctuates her words with blow: “You.” Rap. “Little.” Rap. “Bastard.” Rap! Rap! Rap! “That’s for the one who stole my purse.” She stands back and gives way for a man to land his punch.

The cheers grow louder.

A woman driving past slows down to see what is happening. She cannot bear to watch.

She pulls off the road to speak into her phone. “They are going to beat him to death,” she reports.

“Please hurry.” Tears roll down her face.

By the time the police arrive, the young man is soaked in a red sea.

The men in blue-grey uniforms leap from their vehicle.

One of them charges through the crowd that refuses to part.

When he finally reaches the young man, it is to confirm that his life has been stolen.

And still, the crowd cheers.

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Deaf beauty queen calls for Setswana sign language

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The reigning Miss Deaf International Queen has called for the introduction of Setswana Sign Language in schools.

The 31-year-old Serowe-born beauty, Kemmonye Keraetswe brought the crown home last July after emerging victorious in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Keraetswe is adamant that introducing Setswana will help improve the academic performance of deaf students, which at the moment she admits is ‘dismal’.

“There is a need for Setswana Sign Language in schools. Right now we are only taught in American Sign Language and this hinders the communication between us and our parents,” she notes, communicating with Okavango Voice via Whatsapp.

“I am a Motswana but I can’t read or write in Setswana. My parents can only try to give me signs but sometimes they don’t understand when I use the sign language that I learnt in school because it is a bit complex,” continues the brainy beauty queen, who is currently employed at Maun Senior Secondary School as a Teaching Assistant for deaf students.

Keraetswe’s dream is to go to university but she keeps failing the entrance exam as American Sign Language has proved too complicated.

“It is rare for deaf students to pass Form Five. I am even lucky to be working,” adds the trail-blazing queen, who is no stranger to international success having been crowned 2nd Princess Miss Deaf Africa in 2016.

HONOR: Miss Deaf International award

As for her journey as Miss Deaf International, Keraetswe claims that locally she has not been given the same recognition or received as much support as other beauty queens.

“There are so many events happening in Maun but I have never been invited to any of them! I feel like they are discriminating against me but I am just like any of them, the only challenge is that I am hearing impaired,” she blasts.

Additionally, Keraetswe says organisers often refuse to let her take part in pageantries on account of her disability.

“Sometimes they don’t accept me but I am capable just like any other woman!”

To compound her feelings of isolation, she is also having problems with the Botswana Deaf Organisation.

As is the norm with beauty queens, part of Keraetswe’s reign includes overseeing a project.

She wants this to be an independent project as she strives to inspire the death community.

However, the Deaf Organisation insist they should be involved.

“We don’t have any independence. They want us to do everything collectively even business,” she laments.

In conclusion, Keraetswe urged the government to promote equality and work with the deaf community to improve their rights.

She further called for the creation of Non-Government Organisations that will advocate for the rights of the deaf.

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Bouncing back from disability to thrive

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WHEELCHAIR-BOUND WOMAN LAUNCHES FASHION LINE

At the age of 33, Mavis Mtonga is fast making a mark in the fashion world despite a car accident that left her paralysed in her lower body in 2013.

Re-living the traumatic moment, which nearly cut her life short, Mtonga, who hails from Zambia but has been living in Botswana for the past 18 years said she was on her way to Zambia when her family got involved in a car accident that drastically altered her life forever.

“I was with my father and aunt, taking my grandmother to Zambia when the accident occured 10 kilometres away from Nata. It all happened so fast yet it seemed like it was in slow motion. Our car had a tyre burst and overturned three times.”

she said as her voice trailed off, giving way to a deep breath followed by a long pause.

“And then I realized I could not feel the other part of my body just below the waist. I saw people surrounding us but I could not make up their faces, people were asking questions but at the time I could not understand what was really happening,” she said.

She was flown to Princess Marina Hospital and later with the assistance of Motor Vehicle Accident (MVA) Fund they were transferred to Bokamoso Private Hospital where they underwent surgeries.

HARDWORKING: Mtonga

Her aunt died from heavy loss of blood. “I was devastated.” She said.

However, the hardest thing for Mtonga was to accept that she was not going to be able to walk again.

“It was really difficult to accept that I was going to live the rest of my life on a wheelchair. I was trained on how to be independent on a wheel chair and miraculously I learned the skill in two weeks while others took more than that,” she said with a teary voice.

Before the accident Mtonga had already applied to study Fashion and Design at Arthur Portland School and her application was approved in 2016 so she started school in 2017.

“When I first came to class, the lecturers were apprehensive about my ability to cope in an environment full of sewing machines of different sizes but with their help I had to figure out a way to use those machines. I opted to use the small ones, which had a footer but I had to find a way to improvise by using my hands instead because my feet don’t work,” she explained.

To date, Mtonga has not only survived the car accident but she has also gone on to thrive in the fashion industry pushing her own brand in her own backyard.

“I have a year now in this industry and things are looking up for me. I have a few loyal clients who usually rock my designs and keep on coming back, which suggests that I am doing something right. I hope to grow and my vision is take my work overseas one day and live my dream of being a high flying fashion designer,” quipped the determined young woman.

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