We have this expression in Setswana, ‘go tsamaya ke go bona’; which loosely translated means ‘to travel is to see’. It is in actual fact, a lot more than that; because what the expression means to convey is that a person who goes out to see the world becomes more enlightened; they think and behave differently to how they did before they went travelling. That is because they have been influenced by their interactions with other people other than their own, as well as their experiences on their travels.
Well, I’ve been there, and here are the observations I continue to make as a Motswana who returned home after years of life abroad.
1. Reverse culture shock
Things that you may have noticed, that may have annoyed you before will become a lot more heightened. It almost feels like it’s all familiar, but the way you see things is alien to you. It’s the strangest, most surreal feeling.
You’ll almost certainly still be wearing your rose-tinted glasses and romanticising the Botswana you remember. The fact that you can’t reconcile the romantic picture you hold dear to your new reality may lead to many tear-filled days, where you may even feel you don’t quite fit in. Any attempts to confide in friends and family may be met with derision and questions such as, “what’s there to acclimatise to, you’re home?!” But I assure you; the struggle of coming to terms with reverse culture shock is very real and not at all pleasant.
For instance, the fact that there’s no hurry in Botswana and friends, family and maybe even business associates don’t appear to value time will frustrate you no end.
The fact that people will often make promises that they see no reason to honour.
The fact that in spite of the alarming drunk driving road accident statistics and the related fatalities, you’re one of the few people who are concerned about the situation will wind you up no end.
You’re excited to be home after having lived abroad for years and just want to get on with enjoying being back. For the most part, everyone is happy to see you back in your motherland. However, there are some who will constantly ask you, “why did you come back? There’s nothing here but poverty?” It’ll sound all doom and gloom and may even put the fear of God in you, asking yourself if you did the right thing coming back.
Don’t let it get to you too much; instead focus on whatever plans you have in place and try to keep your eye on the big picture.
3. Finding work
Like the rest of the world, Botswana has a very high level of unemployment. The recession that everyone is still recovering from naturally didn’t help the situation.
Where it was once easy to find a job, it’s not unusual to apply for jobs over a few years, before you get a look in. Jobs are advertised, but getting an interview is like trying to find the Holy Grail. Naturally, this is enough to give even the most resilient of people a complex, but you can’t afford to curl up and have a pity party. You just have to soldier on and keep hoping that someone somewhere will value merit over all else and give you a break.
You’ll find that friends will keep in touch while you’re abroad and be eager to stay connected. You’ll feel secure in the knowledge that you have friends back home. But then the minute you make the decision to return for good, you may find you are Billy-no-mates.
Well ok, maybe not that bad, but suddenly you’ll find people have moved on, made new friends and are not quite who they were when you left. In all fairness, you’ll have changed too, so perhaps it’s only fair to say you shouldn’t expect all your friendships to pick up where you left them. You’ll be frustrated to observe you’re different people and the dynamics and priorities have changed.
A friend once conveyed their theory of the perception that Batswana living overseas have some sort of social value. People can say, “I have a friend in the United Kingdom” which sounds more impressive than “I have a friend in Gaborone” because a lot of other people have a friend in Gaborone too. It doesn’t matter what your quality of life is in that country, the perception is you are living a good life and people want to be associated with such finery. The bitter truth for many Batswana overseas is they struggle both professionally and financially and battle with severe homesickness, but most of their friends back home will never know.
Whatever the reasons, the sooner you make peace with it, move on with the friends who are still around and maybe even make new ones, the better for all concerned.
5. Converting the currency and comparing services
When you’re settling into your new life back home, it’s inevitable you’ll start comparing the price of goods and services. Almost everything in Botswana is imported, mainly from South Africa; so you get hit in the pocket hard. You will constantly calculate conversion rates, compare processes and finding out Botswana is extortionately priced will frustrate and even irk you.
This will become even more obvious as the foreign currency you brought along dwindles at an alarming rate and there’s no job in sight. The best thing to do is to snap out of it sharpish and remember you’re not just on holiday, you now live here; making comparisons will not serve you well at all.
6. People’s perceptions of you
You’ll find that people seem to have a dangerously lofty impression of who you are, just because you’ve been living abroad. Some of the things will annoy you and leave you baffled. For instance, some people may think you’re Ms./Mr. Moneybags and are ready to invest in a business. The fact that you have no car or can’t afford one, having to go on the combi will seem preposterous to some.
There’s also the assumption that you’ll somehow have forgotten how to speak your own language. Although that’s probably because some people apparently do insist they are struggling to speak their mother tongue. This in spite of going abroad at a mature age, and maybe even being abroad for a few short years. I find that interesting because I lived in England for 13 years and never once lost my knowledge of Setswana. Likewise, I have countless family members as well as family friends of European descent who have been in Botswana for decades, who still speak their respective languages without any problem whatsoever. This curious case of amnesia seems to be unique to Batswana.
7. Everything will seem much, much slower!
Being back in Botswana, you may find yourself constantly fighting the urge to desperately want to wind up everyone and everything like you may have used to with those wind up dolls some of us had as kids. The way people do things will seem laboured, like there’s no sense of urgency, even when there is. You’ll remember there’s no hurry in Botswana and loathe that expression more than ever.
But to avoid ulcers, you’ll need to breathe and through gritted teeth, count to 10 and back a few times just to hang onto your sanity and not blow up. Your turn will eventually arrive.
8. If you don’t drive, you’ll curse yourself
If you don’t drive, now might be the time to learn to drive and get yourself that license. When you get back to Botswana, you’ll realise a car is an absolute necessity because combis are no way to travel around. Don’t get me wrong, they do serve a purpose, but they are not fantastic.
We all know there are many drivers who forget what it was like to not have a car and/or not drive. This becomes apparent when you’re invited to parties or outings that are far away and/or awkward to get to. Of course you could get a taxi, but it would cost you an arm and leg to get there and back… assuming you are able to find a taxi for the return journey.
And when your friends and family offer to lend you their cars and you can’t accept their kind gesture, you’ll kick yourself. Get that license before you come back, and if you can, bring a car along!
9. Some of the things you took for granted are hard to find!
For instance, if like me, you wear non-regular sizes like petite or tall, you’ll seriously struggle to find clothes that fit. Sadly, we still haven’t caught up with the rest of the world, and as such, going clothes shopping can be a nightmare. Ladies, this also applies to bras –if you wear extra large size bras or if like me, you’re small but need a large cup size, you won’t find them here. So while you’re preparing to make your move back home, be sure to stock up!
10. Gaborone has grown
I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but there was a time when Gaborone was one of the fastest grown cities in the world. Well, I came back three years ago and even now I’m still trying to find my bearings because Gaborone really has changed. Prepare to not know where everything is. If you drive, you may want to drive around and explore the different areas of the new Gaborone to familiarise yourself with it. The interesting thing is that Gaborone is not all that big, but because of the layout; it’s easy to get lost and not know where you are.
Have you ever lived abroad for a considerable amount of time? How did it feel when you first returned to Botswana? Please share some of the struggles you faced with YourBotswana.