July 29, Day 363: The Secret Suitcase Debacle

Today is the day to hit the road and begin my long journey to the USA.

I wake up around 7 am and Colden makes me one last breakfast. I pack up all of my things and manage to get it into two small suitcases, which I think is pretty good for three and a half weeks of travel.

We both walk to the bus stop and say our goodbyes. A man in a BMW says he’ll drive me to Palapye to get the bus to Gabs, so I hop in and hope for the best.

He’s quite friendly, and I learn his name is Nelson and he’s in the Botswana Defense Force (Army). He drives me to the bus rank in Palapye. When I go to pay him, he says no payment is necessary, he just wanted the company on a long drive. How nice of him!

There’s a massive line at the bus rank. This worries me because I have to be to Gabs before 5 to pay for my bus ticket in cash to go to the airport tomorrow. Colden lives exactly 4 hours from Gabs and it’s already noon, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for any unexpected events that usually happen.

I get in the massive line and learn that it’s a combination of people going to both Gabs and Francistown.

The bus pulls up and I join the crowd to get on. First, all the women selling fried chicken, pies and bananas go on and make their rounds selling to people on the bus. I have my two suitcases, and the woman running the bus takes one look at them and flat out tells me not to bother getting on the bus because they don’t have room in the boot for my suitcases.

Um, okay.

Another bus pulls up behind this one and I walk over to it. They tell me it’s full and they aren’t taking any other customers.

Crap.

About 20 mins later, a third bus pulls up and I’m determined to dig through the crowd and get on that bus. If I don’t, I won’t be able to get to Gabs and I’ll miss my flight to England.

Kind of a big deal.

The bus pulls up and I make my way to the front of the crowd and signal to the woman on the bus I need to put my suitcases into the boot under the bus.

She sees me, pulls me out of the crowd and shows me to the back of the bus to store my suitcases.

Phew!

I stand next to the women selling goods on trays balanced on their head and wait for people to get off the bus. Finally, I climb on.

It’s a very old bus and the driver doesn’t seem to want to go above 20 mph. Crap. Nothing I can do but hope we make it on time.

A man selling ma fresh gets on the bus and I buy a bag for 10 pula and he has vinegar and chips spice for me to put on them. Delish.

The bus makes a million stops, but chugs along.

Around 4:30 I am having a meltdown internally. We’re an hour away. I won’t make it!!

Suddenly, the bus driver realizes we are running late and decides to speed up and start skipping stops. Hallelujah!!

We make it to the Gabs bus rank by 5 pm magically. But there’s traffic backed up trying to get into the bus rank. I ask the driver to stop and let me off and he does. But I have to run next to the bus as it’s moving to get my suitcases out from the boot. I manage, it’s fine.

I run over to the taxi stop and ask the driver to take me to Riverwalk mall to the bus office.

Of course, since I’m a foreigner, he tries to rip me off and overcharge me. After haggling for a few minutes and showing him I speak Setswana, he agrees to take me for the correct price of 30 pula.

We load up my suitcases and I climb in the car and tell him I’m in a rush. He asks what my Setswana name is, and I tell him it’s Mpho.

I ask what his Setswana name is and he tells me something complicated that I can’t remember.

“It means ‘man who helps people have sex’” he says, and gestures with his hands two people on top of one another. “But you can call me Sam.”

“Okay, nice to meet you Sam!” I reply.

I call the bus ticket office and ask them to please wait for me. They say they will wait until 5:30 pm.

I get out of the taxi just in time, at 5:20 pm. As soon as I step out, several taxi drivers approach me asking if I need a ride.

“Dude, I JUST got out of a taxi. Why would I do that if I needed a taxi???” I tell them.

My suitcases and I run upstairs and I make it into the Flight Connect office just before it closes and I pay for my ticket in cash. It’s 350 pula.

“Oh by the way, we only allow one suitcase and there’s a charge of 300 pula for every extra suitcase, and it can be only 23 kg or we charge 15 pula for every kg beyond that,” the woman says.

EXCUSE ME????

I do not have 300 pula for my second suitcase. That’s a whole new bus ticket practically!

Nowhere on their website did it say they’d charge me. When the website was down and wouldn’t process my ticket and I called, no one on the phone told me this policy. I’ve now packed two suitcases to go to the USA for two weeks and there’s no way I’m paying 300 pula after traveling five hours to this office today to pay the ticket. Nope, no way.

“I’m sorry Ma’am but that is unacceptable. Your website does not state your luggage policy, your ticket does not state the luggage policy, I received no receipt with this policy and you are only informing me of this AFTER I purchased my ticket. I will not be paying 300 pula. I’m just a volunteer here and I have traveled very far to pay for this ticket and packed my bags already,” I say, gesturing to my two suitcases.

“I will need you to make an exception,” I say.

The woman’s eyes widen and I see stress on her face. From what I can tell, the Batswana do not like confrontation.

In fact, they avoid it at all costs. I just confronted her. Things get awkward fast.

She goes into her manager’s office and they discuss it for a very long time.

She returns and says “my manager says we can give you a refund for your ticket and cancel.”

“No,” I reply. “I am flying very far away and have no other way to the airport tomorrow. I need you to make an exception for my suitcase. This policy is unreasonable and the way it is communicated is unreasonable. I am just a volunteer and have no other way to the airport and cannot pay 300 pula. If an exception can not be made it will be very disappointing and I will tell all the other volunteers not to use your service again.”

She gets that I’m serious. The manager comes out and says she’s afraid to make an exception for me because it wouldn’t be fair to the other people who will have to pay for their extra suitcase tomorrow morning.

“The other people don’t know my payment arrangement. The other people were also informed of your baggage policy before they bought their ticket,” I say.

Finally, after much debate, the manager agrees to waive the policy and tells the bus driver to secretly sneak my suitcase on to the bus tonight so that it’s there for me in the morning already and no one sees me putting a second suitcase on the bus.

“What about the time someone stole things from the bus overnight?” I hear the bus driver ask the manager in Setswana.

“Wait, what? Will my things be stolen?” I ask the manager.

She assures me it’s very safe. So, with no other choice, I hand my suitcase to a man I’ve never met and trust that he will put it on the bus tomorrow.

After the suitcase debacle, I call my friend Maria who lives across the street from the mall. I’m staying at her house tonight so I can get up early and catch the bus.

Maria says she’s still working at the hospital but will meet me in an hour.

I take my remaining suitcase and set up shop at Mugg & Bean downstairs and order a small plate of onion rings and some fruity soda drink and wait.

Maria arrives and we hug. She’s the best. We decide to have dinner nearby at an Ethiopian restaurant. Her friend joins us and we chat for a while and eat until it becomes clear that the restaurant is closing.

I hop in Maria’s car, which is ironically filled with Christmas decorations from having a Christmas party this weekend, too. We arrive at her beautiful house.

She’s got regular running water! A hot shower! A dishwasher! Washing machine!

Maria makes us tea in the kitchen and we chat for a while. I take a nice, long, hot shower in her shower and make a bed on her living room couch.

Set the alarm for 4:30 am, lay out my clothes for the morning and pass out immediately. Hopefully my suitcase I gave to a perfect stranger will be there tomorrow.

Boroko 🌝

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