Stepping off the plane at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Gaborone, the wave of intense heat created by the unforgiving African sun welcomed me to Botswana. Punctuated by a stop at OR Tambo International Airport (Africans clearly have a penchant for naming their airports after their great and good), the trip had been relatively uneventful with periodic visits to the Moving Map interrupting the tedium of long haul flight.
Immigration cleared and cases collected, I was greeted in Arrivals by Geoff Outerbridge, the Director of Clinical Development at World Spine Care, who himself had not long arrived from WSC’s other project in Tanzania. Geoff has been instrumental in setting up the project in Botswana and his familiarity with the country was reassuring.
The familiarity was clearly demonstrated when he placed my overpacked suitcase into the back of the WSC’s resident vehicle, a chunky Toyota Prado, and proceeded to wrap a heavy duty chain around it before securing it to the inside of the truck with an enormous padlock. Advice to keep anything of value with me in the front footwell completed the pre-flight security briefing before we roared off into the centre of the city.
With the Toyota’s air conditioning manfully, but unsuccessfully, trying to keep up with the stifling heat of the 37 degree African summer, our first stop was to the Botswana Ministry of Health. Armed with my bundle of certified copies of certificates, letters and photographs, we headed up a darkened flight of stairs to the office of the Registrar. Minutes later, my registration with the Health Professions Council was confirmed and I was officially the holder of an all-important Blue Card. I was officially in.
Back in the Prado, we headed west to the town of Mahalapye. The two hour trip took us out of Gaborone and through the flat Botswanan countryside. Passing small villages of primitive huts, the roadside was littered with vendors, sheltering under multicoloured umbrellas and selling Coca-Cola, fruit, vegetables and whatever else could generate a living.
Making our way westwards, occasionally passing trucks crawling and groaning under the weight of their bizarrely overloaded cargo, the conversation turned to road safety. A large crack in the windscreen of the truck bore witness to an impact with either an animate or inanimate object – nothing to worry about, assured Geoff, who then proceeded to tell me of the dark night when an ancestor of the Prado had demonstrated its full collection of airbags courtesy of a direct impact with a cow that had suddenly appeared on the highway. The obituary of Prado mark one did not make for a happy story.
As we passed a sign announcing that we had just crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, another told us that Mahalapye was close by. Minutes later, we were in this bustling town and sweeping into what is to be my home for the next four weeks. Passing an area of shrubland, Geoff casually mentioned that I should not really think about taking short cuts across it when walking because of mambas, spitting cobras and adders.
Just as I was coming to terms with the thought of deadly snakes, for good measure Geoff also threw in a couple of other warnings. “We’ve seen a few tarantulas and there are some scorpions around, so do shake your shoes before you put them on.” Yikes!
My home for the next month is Plot 79. Apparent postcodes don’t exist and unless you happen to know where you’re going, you’ll never find anywhere in Botswana. Anyway this comfortable WSC residence is a real home from home. Contrary to my expectations, it’s spacious, the shower is fabulous and there’s WiFi! Who could ask for anything more.
As we sat outside and talked until the sun went down, it struck me where I was and how lucky I was to be here. Five and a half thousand miles from home and embarking on the experience of a lifetime.
The real work starts today. Mahalapye District Hospital is 5 minutes drive away. With a mix of excitement and some trepidation, we’re ready to go!