Mmegi Online :: Welcome to the Big Apple
Last Updated
Thursday 22 February 2018, 17:30 pm.
Welcome to the Big Apple

How does one even begin to write about America’s Big Apple, New York City? Great authors, artists and chancers have reimagined and profiled this city for centuries.
By Thalefang Charles Fri 08 Dec 2017, 17:32 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Welcome to the Big Apple

So what can be new? Well, I am new here and I am right in the heart of it so this is what is going through my mind.

I am at Time Square – ‘the Centre of the Universe’ as the New Yorkers brag sometimes.  On the corner of Broadway and 45th Street, watching the huge billboards, Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ portrait of the city, that 2009 orchestral rap ballad titled, Empire State of Mind, cues in head.

I hear Jay Z quip, “Welcome to bright lights baby”. Alicia Keys is singing out loud touching high notes declaring, “These streets will make you feel brand new. Big lights will inspire you.” I feel it in my veins.

There are crowds of people in Time Square’s pedestrian plaza. The buzz is just like in the movies - footsteps, hooters, and cars moving. There are costumed characters that my guide warned that if I take pictures of they would demand some money.

We had arrived in the evening on a train from Washington DC and I already want to stay all night long. I am with Steve Spence from National Geographic as a guide and Water Setlabosha whom I am following with a camera in the US.

I finally understand Simone de Beauvoir’s words when she said, “But there’s something in the New York air that makes sleep useless, perhaps it’s because your heart beats more quickly here than elsewhere”.

I feel my heartbeat. Beauvoir was spot on. We do not have much time here so we go for more sightseeing. We visit the iconic buildings: Empire State, Rockefeller Plaza, St. Patrick’s Cathedral – they got billboards saying “In a city that never sleeps, everyone needs a place to pray”, and the Trump Tower where there is heavily armed secret service outside.

It is getting late, enough with the buildings we decide we will see them during daylight. It is time to do the bars, I propose to Spence and Water. Water votes to retire to the hotel, he is a devoted ZCC member, so he has no business in bar-hopping, let alone in New York bars.

Back on the New York streets we are joined by Luke Manson – a New Yorker and friend we met in the National Geographic expeditions in Angola and Okavango Delta. Manson is excited to meet us. He is a beer specialist and claims that he knows all the nice hangouts in New York. A perfect guy for a bar-hopping in the Big Apple.

First bar.  Low lit nice décor inside but quite small. But beers are expensive, $7 (whoa!) average price for a single beer. “It’s New York prices,” Manson explains it to me. I am calculating it in Botswana pula and the fact that I am drinking a P70 beer occupies my mind throughout the night.  Spence retires too and heads back to the hotel leaving Manson and I to tame NYC streets.

Second bar. Manson takes me to his boyhood pub. He says


the bartenders have been there for the last 18 years. We are greeted like made-men, right from the security to the bartenders. I am identified as a friend from “Batswana. In Africa”. Everyone gets excited when they learn that I have just arrived in the US. To most Americans, Africa is like some special place that if one could survive it and actually arrive in the US, then they are very special. But to most Black Americans, Africans arriving in the US are like special cousins – they say, “Brothers”. And they really do get uncomfortably excited about meeting “African brothers”.

The following day we continued the sightseeing. We tour Central Park in the morning with its lovers holding hands and shooting selfies, elders walking slowly stretching their old bones and joggers in gym clothes running through the park’s walkways.

From Central Park we are on 47th Street, which is an iconic diamond district. Spence tells us since we are from the biggest diamond producing country our diamonds should be here.  Just like most Batswana, I am never really interested in the actual diamond itself, but the proceeds of it so walking from 47th Street and seeing all these big jewellers with all sorts of diamonds possibly mostly coming from my country is special.

We stop at the Grand Central Station – the most famous train station in the world, before taking a Yellow Cab to Brooklyn.

From the Brooklyn Bridge Park across the East River is the imposing larger than life medley of architectural masterpieces that defines both the humans’ idea of development and destruction – the Lower Manhattan Skyline.

Lower Manhattan is one of the largest business districts in the world. It is the home to the New York Stock Exchange, on Wall Street, and the corporate headquarters of NASDAQ at 165 Broadway, representing the world’s largest and second largest stock exchanges, respectively.

Walking through Manhattan seeing all these immaculately suited men and women I remembered Neil Gaiman’s words about the place if it were a human. He wrote, “Manhattan is fast-talking, untrusting, well dressed but unshaven.” (I disagree though, because I think it is a “She”.)

New York’s Concrete Jungle status is evident from a view of the city from the One World Trade Center - the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere. The grand view of the city from the One World Observatory’s 102nd floor of the building is incredible. Watching the five boroughs that make the city from this view brings meaning to most of its monikers including, ‘The Capital of the World’, ‘The Empire City’, ‘The Big Apple’, ‘The City’ or ‘The Big City’.

Empire State of Mind is still playing in my head and I finally agree with Alicia Keys about New York when she sings, “Street lights, big dreams, all looking pretty. No place in the world that can compare”.


Charles and Water were in America courtesy of the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project (NGOWP) with support of Botswana Tourism.


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