“Botswana. That’s where you want to go. There is a country going places. It’s not all ladies and their detective agencies you know.” (4 stars)
Source- personal copy
Published by Abacus, June 2005
Paperback edition- 274 pages
Let’s face it, with a gorgeous cover reminiscent of a No.1 Ladies Detective Agency book, and with a glowing endorsement by Alexander McCall Smith on it as well, it’s fair to say my expectations of this piece of travel writing were high.
Botswana has been on my list of places to visit for a while. It’s at the very top of that list now, actually. I fell utterly in love with it after reading the aforementioned No.1. Ladies Detective Agency books, with their vivid descriptions of the surroundings and people- and since then have watched countless TV programmes about Africa that has lured me well and truly under its spell. I want to go on a safari there. So, like any manipulative person, in order to talk my other half into it but make him think that it was his idea, I bought a copy of this book, not only to learn more about Botswana generally, but also in order to ‘surreptitiously’ leave it lying on our sofa, along with several safari brochures, pages folded over to the “right” sections in the hope that my boyfriend too, would see what a perfect idea visiting the country is.
So, we’re planning on booking a trip to Botswana in the next couple of years; maybe next year if we can afford it. Not only is this book a bloody good read, its pretty cover also makes excellent propaganda for inciting boyfriends to go on holiday there. That is what I call a win-win situation.
You probably want to know a bit about the book itself then, aside from its prettiness and persuasiveness, right?
Botswana Time is an endearing account of one man’s time on that most majestic of continents. During a break in his London teaching career and whilst visiting Africa for a friends wedding, Will Randall visits Botswana and fortuitously ends up teaching once more- only this time it’s in a tiny ramshackle school off the beaten track where elephants roam by freely and venomous snakes seek sanctuary in its piano. In a few very memorable months, Randall affectionately earns the moniker ‘Mr Mango’ from his students and even becomes the coach of the Kasane Kudu’s – Botswana’s finest international Under 7’s football team.
The book is most certainly an entertaining, informative read without being too dry. The comprehensive information about the history, politics and bureaucracy of Botswana is nicely balanced by the subtle humour imparted throughout and the very affable writing style, peppered with anecdotes about Randall’s friends and colleagues in Kasane. The author manages to get across the descriptions of his surroundings and people around him in a very skilful way, almost as if you are sat chatting with him in person. This is the first Will Randall book I have read and it is safe to say that it has impressed me; I will be picking up more of his travel writing in the near future. He brought Kasane and its people to life and I am keen to see if that ability extends to his other work.
Particular highlights of this book for me (aside from the humour and vivid descriptions) were that it doesn’t shy away from confronting particular prejudices about the country and its people, some of which are sadly still in existence today. From an outsider’s point of view (which Randall is), Botswana Time explores the various struggles that Botswana has faced in gaining not only its independence and the re-growth of its fractured economy, but also its battles in overcoming racism from white Africans as well as the horrors inflicted by AIDS. Botswana is a country of complete contradictions and Randall’s love and respect for it shines through in his writing, he clearly feels passionate about so many people and some of the situations he encountered really made an impression on him. I felt envious of the time he spent there and it only reinforces my longing to go even more deeply.
I suppose the only low point in the book was that for me personally, the ending felt a bit fast. Not abrupt necessarily, just a bit quick for my tastes. I wanted to know more- about what ultimately reinforced the author’s decision to leave a place that he had come to adore and what he would be returning home to that could be better than the small village school and its students that he had come to love deeply. Those aspects felt a bit glossed over. Still, I suppose that is something I can find out in a future book!
If you enjoy well-written travel memoirs or have an interest in Botswana then you should definitely consider adding Botswana Time to your bookshelf. I have a couple of other books about Africa on my to be read pile and my appetite to read them has certainly been whetted by reading Randall’s informative account of his own time there.