A recollection of memories of walking to school in Botswana

Your school, Tawana Primary is five kilometers away from your house. Commuting to school comes with the guarantee of late coming, and punishment includes litter picking or a throbbing palm. Like a logical kid, you pack waste from home and on entering the school grounds, display egg crates, cola cans and sweet wrappers; objects of your fantasy breakfast.

Onwards to inspection! Uniform, shoes, hair and teeth had to spotless to ensure a pain-free bottom. Except, this isn’t always the case: you play so much after school that your sky-blue tunic now appears as if you had skidded in mud. Once home, you shove the uniform into a backpack that serves as your closet. You forget about it until the next morning. You would run a hot coal iron over the chewed-up like creases, but that would probably make you tardier – if not burn your hands.  

You understand the implications of walking on sandy soil everyday. Older students have perfected the art of gliding over it at the perfect speed such that their soles float, and do not produce ‘exhaust’ sand that would land in their socks. For you, the inexperienced walker, the alternative is to walk on thmotswanakidse gravel. The downside is the cream-colored cloud of dust that envelopes your newly polished shoes. It is worse that it should be because you are always running late. After a year, you know better to save extra toffee wrappers to wipe some dust off your shoes. You would use a cloth, but that’s too valuable a possession. In fact, leaves are better because they have a little moisture.

You despise the winter; the wrath of the wind’s icy fingers on your face, the cold sand numbing your toes and the painful hunger pangs. You regret taking a bath that morning because half the classroom would not have even bothered to do so. Your grandmother has caked your face with a layer of Vaseline, effectively giving you a gleaming appearance when beheld afar. As the temperature rises, you sweat so much that by recess, you are as oily as fried fish. Heck, your t-shirt could even mop the classroom floor.

As a girl, you cannot wear pants; therefore the thick, itchy black tights are your best friends. Officially, the acceptable colors are black or navy blue. But of course… Your aunt suggests that you wear the lime green ones you got from Samaritan’s Purse. Fleetingly, you revel in their softness and non-itch warmth before you are kindly asked to take them off after assembly. Before long you are always seen reaching under your skirt to scratch your outrageously itchy tights.

But winter does come with its perks. Every morning, you get to sit around the fire and drink tea. If you’re lucky, it will have a little milk in it. Besides smelling like a walking roast-stand afterwards, you keep very warm. You would have been heating a small smooth stone by the fire, which you later wrap with layers of newspapers. On the way to school with your friends, the stone would take turns warming all your hands. You would peel the layers off the stone and save the newspaper for wiping shoes, or to present as the litter picked. Nobody wears gloves. Besides, a twelve-year-old snatched yours and made them into the fingerless kind worn by wrestlers on WWE.

You have better things to worry about; like how you will make your pencil last longer, or eat from a cracked lunch box at recess. What a happy child you are.