Ihave never journeyed to the second city of Botswana, Francistown in all my years as a scribe and outside working hours. It still beats me why I had never made a trip to Francistown, not that I have anything against the city.
This is despite that I have travelled to almost all major towns and villages of Botswana, including Kasane, Maun, Ghanzi, Charles Hill, Tsabong, Orapa, Serowe, Bobobong, to mention a few and the length and breadth of the Southern part of the country. Over the years, I have heard a lot of stories about Blue Jacket Street, Manaka, and most recently the hilarious stories about the famous Spaghetti development now referred to as Macaroni.
Growing up, I remember how we used to hear stories about how employers in Francistown took advertising to a whole new meaning. If there was an opening in their company, the employer would allegedly write that there is no vacancy in Setswana, and then write underneath in Kalanga that there was an opening. I am yet to find proof to this allegation.
Anyway, this past week, I finally had the opportunity to travel beyond Serule, and see the other side of Botswana. My husband and I were attending a wedding in Tutume, and this was the perfect opportunity to finally see or pass through Francistown. The closest that I came to seeing Francistown was back in 2008, when we were passing through from Kasane to Tuli on a small aircraft, and we stopped to refuel at the Francistown Airport.
Our initial plan was that we would use Botswana Railways passenger train, which would have been ideal as we both would finally experience BR Express. But the plan changed and we were convinced to use a bus. But by mid-afternoon on Friday, it was crystal clear that we would not be able to take a bus. We then went back to our initial plan, and hurriedly bought our tickets at 1900HRS that evening.
We had wanted to get a good night rest in First Class, but since we bought our tickets that late, we had to settle for Business Class that costs P146 from Gaborone to Francistown. By 2045, we were at the Station ready to board the train. The train departed right on schedule at 21:25HRS and was scheduled to arrive in Francistown at 06:11HRS on Saturday.
Minutes after we settled onto our seats, different aromas of food whiffed through our coach, ranging from fried chickens, pizzas, and everything that you can think of. Having spent my tertiary years travelling between Gaborone and Port Elizabeth, the aroma took me back to those years when one would have packed an entire week’s supply of food as if we were going to the moon.
The first couple of hours on the train were not so pleasing for ours truly, and it took some getting used to before I could settle in and forget the irritating sounds that the train was making on the rail tracks.
But it soon emerged that our fellow travellers, two young men, seated behind us, had had one too many and were going to be a nuisance throughout the journey. The duo was holding on to a 2litre bottle of Tropika juice for dear life, and it became crystal clear halfway through the journey that this bottle was what was keeping them all hyper.
Singing and calling friends at odd hours, and not minding the volume of their voices, it took a lot of guts not to strangle one of them especially as I was having a difficult time sleeping. Oh, and I almost forgot my biggest fear, travelling from one section to the next of the train and having to look at the part where the coaches connect was a terrifying experience.
Terrified I almost resolved that I would not use the bathroom until we arrived in Francistown, but luckily, I had not seen a toilet at the end of our coach saving me the terror of crossing over to the next section. After passing Palapye, the crew changed. We were now continuing the rest of the journey with the crew from the Francistown train, while the ones who came with us were now heading back to Gaborone on the Francistown train.
Promptly at 06:00HRS we arrived in the city nicknamed Turopo ya Muka, and were soon on our way to Tutume. Based on my first experience of BR Express, I think in future, I would use them again and this time around, I plan to see the city and familiarise myself with its landmarks. What I loved most was the fact that BR Express is convenient and that the prices are friendly to one’s pocket.
My one gripe that I have with the staff who were selling us the tickets was that we were promised that the seats in Business Class were reclining seats, only to learn once we were seated that there is nothing like that, which made sleeping impossible.