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last post Friday, October 1, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 40
Our fourth week in Africa, off to Tzaneen in SA then to Botswana
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Our fourth week in Africa, off to Tzaneen in SA then to Botswana

by Barry Thorsness - SGN African Correspondent

It's a good feeling to know that you 'have to go to work' when you are traveling. For all the readers of the SGN, every Friday I must find a computer, usually at an internet café, to put the SGN online.

On Tuesday, I found myself off to work with Sharon (at whose home we are staying in Joburg) to meet the owner of the company and some of the employees to help them build a website. To me, this was really traveling! I not only got to meet the people in the country in which I was traveling, but worked with them to understand their business and their jobs, so I could build a website which accurately represents them and their business.

We are off to Tzaneen
On Wednesday, we had the opportunity to travel northeast of Joburg, through Polokwane, and to Tzaneen. Much of the ride from Polokwane through to Tzaneen is quite scenic. When you get to the mountainous region just before Tzaneen, the views are quite spectacular. Twisting, almost switchback roads run up and down the mountains, and look green and tropical. There are banana plantations, lots of abandoned tea estates, and some beautiful dammed lakes, some with signs posted to beware of the hippos and crocodiles.

The town of Tzaneen is built over a hilltop and has a small town feel to it, with its shops and businesses more like those you might find in Kennewick.

On our way to Botswana
On Saturday, we took the bus from Joburg to Gaberone, Botswana. It was very interesting to watch the landscape change quite rapidly from the dry scrub near Joburg to flat, very prairie-like grain farms (mostly corn) with some of the largest grain elevators I have ever seen. The closer we got to Botswana, the greener it became. We passed shantytowns as well as some very modern and aesthetically pleasing gated communities.

Just as the bus was rolling out of the station, a woman stood up in the aisle and started talking about Jesus, and how we could be saved. About two hours into the trip, I thought that a movie had come on. It was actually an ad for the bus company, but with a "Christian message," followed by about 45 minutes of Christian music. How I appreciated American laws regarding religion.

The border from South Africa to Botswana
We arrived at the border at about 7:30 p.m. in the dark. As with most border crossings, it was everyone off the bus, and then meet the bus after you walk over and cross through the Botswana immigration. It ran through my mind "when do we collect our luggage to go through customs?" We went through the South African emigration and they stamped our passport and then we found our way to the Botswana immigration. After waiting in a short lineup, our passports were stamped (the visa for Botswana is free) we walked down the road to our bus and got on. Never in my life have I ever traveled by bus across any border and not had to carry my baggage through customs for possible inspection.

After about 30 minutes, we find ourselves pulling into Gaberone and see Stella waiting for us.

Gaborone, like many other African towns and cities, blows away the myth I had about what living in Africa is like. We drive by large, modern and very artistically designed shopping centers and office towers. We see mega grocery stores, large chain electronics stores, and like huge automobile dealerships. Lots of Chinese and Indian cars and trucks are for sale, and top-of-the-line Mercedes SL models are prominently shown in the windows.

On Monday, Louis and I got to spend about 90 minutes chatting with Pilot Mathambo, who is the coordinator of LEGABIDO, the LGBT organization here in Botswana. LEGABIDO is partially funded and helped by Bonela (Botswana Network on Law, Ethics and HIV/AIDS).

It is important to know, although "Gay sexual acts" are illegal in Botswana (like when we were in Texas about six years ago), being Gay isn't. In the last five years, the government has never imprisoned or fined somebody because they were Gay. It seemed to me that the biggest problem by far that LGBT people have is that of the reaction and response they receive from their families when they find out that they are Gay. Around 80% of families will disown their children, and very few over the next couple of years will come around to taking them back. Coming out in Botswana is almost impossible to do.

LEGABIDO and Bonela offer workshops for the LGBT community, help with legal problems, education, and support for HIV/AIDS. They are also working with two members on taking the government to court to challenge the sexual laws and start the decriminalization process. They are also building an activist LGBT organization.

In Botswana, treatment and meds for HIV/AIDS are free. It is not a good idea to divulge your sexuality and those receiving meds must have a CD4 count less than 200. The exception is if you have an HIV/AIDS-related disease. It seems the Gates Foundation was most helpful to get antiretroviral medicines to people in Botswana. Many other organizations and drug companies have contributed funding.

Going out in Gaborone
Louis and I are looking forward to our return to Gaborone in about two weeks. We hope to be able to go out to The Grand West, a mixed nightclub that is Gay-friendly. This means no cover charge (because we are Gay) and that we can actually dance together.

What's coming up
We are on our way in the morning to the Okavango Delta and Victoria Falls, some of the most spectacular places in the world.

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Aquaduct near Tzaneen
around Tzaneen
Downtown Tzaneen
Looking down on the valley near Tzaneen
At the tribal farm in Botswana
New construction downtown Gaberone, Botswana

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