Seven-three thousand people live here, more than in any other village or town by far. They call it home. It must be doing something right! I believe that the overriding importance in a place that one calls home is what it means to you at a deep personal level, what irreplaceable intimacy you have with it, and more importantly, what it offers you that you would otherwise not find, or even necessarily seek, outside that place.
My home is a village. It is not contiguous to the city, but is close to it. It has a proud historical pedigree; over the ages, a few of its sons (regrettably, no daughters yet) have held high political offices although strangely they have never attained the two highest positions in the country. Amazingly, two of its sons (no daughters yet, again) now control influential weekly newspapers, which has made this village’s pair the reluctant pantheon of the nation’s print media. It is a melting pot of tribes, races and nationalities, all united by their embrace of its totem. It does not offer much and expects nothing from others and it can be difficult and at times seem impossible to aspire to greatness while in it. On the periphery of the city, and with the scale, life and flavour of a large village, if you spend sufficient time in it and observe, you will see the best and worst of people every day and perversely feel alive because of, or despite, that.
The village is built on an elevation slightly higher than the median altitude of Botswana, with its centre close to the top. At most points of the village, one has perspective stretching further, as far as the eye can see. And even when you walk its flatter areas, you discern where you are – the stretch or slope of the road behind you, and the modest cement buildings dotted everywhere. Here, in this bustling village, you are in the administrative centre of a place inhabited intermittently for the past four centuries, which on its opposite exits, is a gateway to the city, and a gateway to the Kalahari Desert, respectively. Its topography has helped to reinforce its attitude. Because it appears to be at peace with its circumstances, its needs are minimal, and it is never in any worse position than where it was previously.
Something personal: after living there all our lives, as did our elder brothers and sisters before us, we had to leave the village for the town – to attend the only university then. We were in our late teens, then became graduates and reasonably-paid city professionals. But the village was always home: for although we had swapped places, places had not swapped us. Its DNA still courses through our veins, its voice resonates in our accent, its limitations of modesty and lack of confidence inform how we interpret our society, its bluntness that rejects adopted niceties animates our speech, and its memory – of childhood innocence and dreams held but not attained – haunts us like a shadow that whispers. Similar to a second-best lover, the city to which we have relocated temporarily, is convenient and tolerable, but it is not home. Out of a conscious choice, it will never be home.
Redolent of shifting political futures, politicians from both the ruling party and the official opposition have alternately represented us in Parliament. Were our forbearers still alive, they would regard this with disbelief – reckoning that, we millennium voters had either lost our minds or our home has lost its way. Nonetheless, my home has its own truly iconic traits: it is a village with a sense of ordinariness, not wishing to be anything other than being itself; a place comfortable with the underestimation of the political elite; an erstwhile supplier of blue-collar workers to the town on its south-eastern side, now a commuter village to the city; a belief that nowhere else, other than it, exists that has a stranglehold over us, or even matters; and affected by ill-planned sprawl and design, it now has wards in search of a real village. If the index by which a place is promoted to city-status – a sizeable population, a complex local administration, the presence of a Catholic cathedral, and other considerations – are applied, my home will not and should not be a city, at least during our lifetime. Which villager honestly wants to live in a city, again and again?
In my home, now there are probably as many ‘outsiders’ as there are us, making the place as cosmopolitan as an aspirant town may be. To their credit, in a short time, these ‘outsiders’ made the effort to know and even like the place; to leave behind any pretence of our village being like whence they came from and to discard the impulse to import into the village the ways of life of their previous homes, all things considered. Anecdotally, they have done fairly well in our village and we have accepted them as our own. Life, age, and extended foreign habitation appear to have taught many of us to be more tolerant and accepting of others, and to ditch the youthful propensity to seek reflected glory or recognition from the places we live in. In any case, these are just places to be what we ourselves intend them to be, and we have intended them not to be our home. Our homely intentions are elsewhere. Like a favoured child named after an idolized grandparent who is no more, our home is named for its south-western historical landmark – the eponymous Molepolole River – itself now a river bed that is mostly dry. Yet, no matter how far or long we have gone, we (will) return to it, like homing pigeons, just as we are. It is Molepolole, our home!
*Radipati is a Mmegi contributor