Twenty years ago, I was living in Gaborone, Botswana. Whilst tidying things up the other day, I found a bundle of letters in a drawer. These were the letters and postcards we regularly sent home to Scotland, which my Mum kept, and now I’m about to file them in a trunk.
Reading these old airmail letters and postcards really brings back the memories. On the ones written on my computer, beside my address in the top right corner, I used a graphic of Africa and an arrow pointing to Botswana, with the text ‘Up the Limpopo’.
One thing which becomes obvious from reading the letters is how little sleep Lindsey and myself managed to get in those days, due to our two small boys, Jamie and Shaun, waking up every night, and other things that happened. On a trip to Cathedral Peak, I wrote, “Absolutely magnificent views of the Ampitheatre, then it rained all night. The tent only just stood up to it all, and at 1 am I had to go outside and push an enormous bubble of water from the roof. This would, of course, be the first night for 3 years that no-one woke up asking for juice.”
In another letter, “Last night a mosquito woke me at 2 am, then something was troubling Shaun at 3 am and then at 4 am Jamie started shouting that his juice was too watery. About the only time I was fully asleep was when the alarm went off at 5.40 am. The other night I woke up thinking I could hear something outside moving about. I looked out the window and there was a cow in our front garden, eating a bush. So there I am at 2 am in my pajamas with a flashlight chasing the cow out of the gate.”
In a postcard, “Last night Jamie woke up at 3.30 am and started shouting “3 blind mice” at the top of his loud voice.”
When you don’t get much sleep, it becomes a bit all-consuming.
Jamie, who was three/four at the time, was particularly active and outgoing. He soon got to know all the many staff at the hotel where we boarded for five months. In one letter, I wrote, “People I don’t know come up to me and say “Where is Jamie?” One of the hotel guards came up and said to me, “Jamie is my best friend.” Then, at the sports club five women said to Lindsey “So you’re Jamie’s mother!” This is because jamie is always making his presence known in one way or another, usually another! He goes up to all sorts of people and says hello, and then he says that his name is Jamie Cowda, which is how he pronounces MacLeod.” Jamie’s younger brother, Shaun, who was a baby when we arrived in Gaborone, seemed to eat all of the time. In another letter I wrote that Lindsey had taken him to a local clinic where he was weighed, and they said he was well above the top of the chart for children in Botswana of his age. Then, “Shaun thinks Jamie is the bees knees, and giggles at his antics.”
“Jamie is very good at getting served at the bar of our hotel. He goes trotting off by himself, gets someone to lift him up onto a stool, and then shouts “Some water and ice, please”. Sometimes he gets it wrong and shouts “Some money, please.”"
In another letter, “In the evenings we’ve stopped going to the dining room for the eat-as-much-as-you-like buffets, because Jamie disrupted the place so much, so now we use room service.”
In a postcard, “Jamie continues to terrorise the hotel and its staff.”
In a letter, “Jamie was given a pair of child’s scissors for his birthday, and promptly gave Shaun a severe haircut while Lindsey wasn’t looking. Shaun’s new nickname, as a result, is ‘Toothbrush.’”
In a letter, “Jamie talks about going back to Edinburgh quite a lot. He realises that this is the general direction from which presents seem to appear, and he also thinks that as it is so far north, Santa Claus must be somewhere nearby.” And then, “Shaun is a right battler. He’s always getting scratches, thorns, and black fingernails.”
“One woman at the campsite said that Jamie looked absolutely angelic.”
In a postcard, “In a shop I pointed to a large poster of a hippopotamus and asked Jamie what animal it was. “A cockroach!” he replied!”
When I was able to get time off, we enjoyed several fantastic trips – to Francistown, the Hibberdene coast, Lesotho, the Okavango Delta, Orkney in the Klerksdorp district of the North West Province of South Africa, to Bop, and twice to Zim.
In a letter, “Everyone we see on TV here, from Britain, seems to be grim faced, stressed and worried looking.”
Another thing which becomes obvious from the letters is how much I enjoyed working in the University of Botswana Library. “My new boss, Kay Raseroka, is wonderful. She’s been Librarian for 8 years although she is not old. She is a particularly good leader and communicator, and is very nice to everyone.” Almost two years later, I wrote, “I must start thinking about getting a new job when we get back. Working here makes me realise how awful my previous job was. Here we are encouraged, praised, listened to, and have enough time to plan and develop services and even do research.”