The Train to Botswana

Many journeys are difficult. I made numerous journeys round Malawi where I was stuffed into the back of a tiny truck surrounded by chickens and sacks of maize. The epic bus journey from Lilongwe, Malawi to Harare, Zimbabwe included having to wait for four hours in Lusaka bus station in Zambia in the middle of the night. These however, make good travellers tales and had elements to them to balance out the difficulties.
Then there are journeys that are plain bad. There was nothing wrong with the train that was to take us from Harare to Francistown in Botswana. The problem was I was ill, suffering from fever and stomach cramps, made worse by every motion of the train and by the heat of the compartment. I couldn't even enjoy the views from the train, as most of the journey took place overnight and I had to lie in a narrow sleeper berth trying not to either fall out or throw up.
It was light when we got to Botswana. I had hardly slept and my stomach felt worse than ever. The train lurched to a stop. We waited for ages, the train compartment getting hotter and hotter. My stomach getting more and more painful. As this was the border, we guessed we were waiting for the border guards so we didn't bother complaining. The border guard came into our compartment and asked for our passports then asked us where we were staying in Botswana. My lack of sleep and illness meant that I wasn't thinking properly and had forgotten (or maybe I really didn't know) that you need to give an exact address in reply to this question if you were to be allowed into the country.
I blurted out “we're travelling round!”.
My travelling companion groaned. “We're staying at The Okavango Guest House” she said loudly, digging me in the ribs.
“Well, which is it?” asked the guard.
“We are travelling round!” I said, still not understanding that we wouldn't be allowed in the country if we couldn't name a specific place we were staying. I'd never heard of anywhere called The Okavango Guest House either, we certainly hadn't made a reservation there.
“But we will be staying at the Okavango Guest House” said my companion, with a forced smile.
The guard took our passports off us and walked out of the carriage.
“Look what you've done now!” said my companion. “You're so stupid. We'll not be allowed into the country and they'll throw us off the train! We'll be stuck here!”
“Sorry” I said “I wasn't thinking straight. I'm really not feeling well!”
She gave me a dirty look and turned to look out of the window.
A few minutes later (though it seemed like much longer) the border guard came back. He looked at us for a long while, then returned our passports.
“Okay you can go through, but you must leave the country in two weeks”.
We nodded. We only planned on being in Botswana for ten days.
My companion stared out of the window as the guard left us and continued on down the train. I noticed that several people had left the train and were wandering round in the fields. I joined them and took deep breaths of the fresh air. My stomach began to feel marginally better.
Someone called out to say the train was about to leave so I got back on went back to our compartment. We travelled onto Francistown in silence.
My travelling companion and I did eventually start talking to each other again. The journey across Botswana to Okavango on a truck I could barely clamber into was nothing compared to the train journey. We thoroughly enjoyed travelling slowly round the magical Okavango in dug out canoes. We never found The Okavango Guest House, though.

J Wilson

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