A PR exercise

It is Friday, my last day in Botswana, and I am going to make the most of it. I am still recovering from what I suspect was a bad meat pie, but I’ve almost got my strength back and I let Colleen know I’m strong enough to take the drive with her to campus at 8h30. I can feel it is going to be a hot day.

Today I must tie up loose ends. I would like to check for one last book in the library and get the professors I’ve spoken to a little something to say thank you. But first, I check my mail to see whether the last professor, profesoor B.O., has replied to my email. She has not. Oh, and I so wanted to speak to her specifically. She knows about civil society.

I decide it is worth the walk. I pack up my laptop and walk, umbrella in hand, from where I have internet access to the Social Science building. It is still nice and cool and I enjoy the walk. I like the Social Science building. On the one side it is shaded by a small orchard of lemon trees, which I think is super clever and pretty. On the other side, students sit around on benches in the shady square of the building. I climb the two flights of stairs to find out that Professor B.O. is not yet in. She will probably be in by 11am. Strike 1. Okay. Will the receptionist please ask her to reply to my email? I walk back to the place with internet access, where I lose myself in blogs a bit, and the professor does not reply.

I only leave again at 1pm. Pack up laptop. Umbrella open – but quite useless in the midday sun. It is probably 35 degrees. It feels like more heat is reflecting up from the pavement than down from the sun. I notice how many buildings on UB campus – like elsewhere in Gaborone – are being built. Everywhere, there is construction. I find my way to the social science building and with my body still a bit weak and the mercury rising, I am particularly grateful to take a break on a bench before I climb the two flights of stairs. Two flights of stairs. Pant. Nope, now everybody, including the receptionist, seem to be out to lunch. I should have known. I will have to come back after lunch. Strike 2.

To while away the time, I take my trip to the Library – unsuccessful – and take another long rest on the library’s couches. My body lets me know that this couch is very nice and it would like to lie down and sleep here for a bit. No, no. Come on, body. I sit staring ahead in front of me and wonder whether to just give up and walk to the mall now for gifts. Then I just sit staring for a while.

At 2:30pm, I finally intercept Professor B. O. just before she goes into a meeting with Professor S, with whom I had a very pleasant discussion earlier in the week. I explain that I am leaving tomorrow and would love to speak to her. She explains that she doesn’t have time today. I say oh, okay. That’s a pity. I turn around to leave, but then Professor S says, why don’t you speak after our meeting, at 4pm? I guess I could make some time at 4pm, says Professor B. O, if we can finish this meeting by then.

Third time lucky! And suddenly I’ve got a date with one last professor.

And I still want to buy them all something to say thank you! So I have to be quick. I walk the three kilometers to the mall. It is so hot, and I am so tired. But I have to do this. And I have to be back in 90 minutes. At the entrance I find a taxi driver willing to drive me back to campus for P25 – no, too much – P20 – no, too much – how about P15? Okay.

I buy four pretty pot plants and my driver delivers me back at UB just in time to deliver three pot plants and present the last one to Professor B.O.

Professor B.O. is delightful, even better than I hoped. She jokes about her colleagues. I hazard a joke about the current president of Botswana and she laughs. I ask her all my questions and she generally agrees with the answers in my chapter. And then I remember one final question.

I explain that my supervisor and I have had a disagreement about the term “Batswana”. I am now, throughout my thesis, using the phrase “citizens of Botswana” or otherwise working around the term, because my supervisor does not agree with Wikipedia, the Botswana government, or any of the authoritative academics who write about the country that “Batswana” is an acceptable term for all citizens of Botswana, regardless of their ethnicity. Professor B. O. chuckles at my exasperation. And then she says: “I think you are right. The term is completely acceptable. But I don’t think you will be penalized for avoiding it… and it’s a PR exercise, so…” What does she mean? “I mean, writing a thesis is as much an exercise in maintaining a good relationship with your professor as anything else!” She gives me a conspirational grin. “If you can spare yourself one disagreement with your supervisor, I say, do it.” So that’s the conclusion of the Batswana debate.

I leave energised.

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