I never had much to say when we had to write those compositions at school about an exciting journey made in the holidays. Now 12 years on I finally have something to write about. My trip to London to see the greatest show on earth – The Olympic Games!
Friday 3 August
The adventure begins. I have been given my dream ticket to London 2012 courtesy of the Botswana National Olympic Committee, for which I shall be eternally grateful.
But the sponsorship only includes airfare and accommodation, so my employers at The Voice have given me 320 British Pounds – around P4000.
Around 12 I leave for Sir Seretse Khama Airport. At the checkpoint before boarding the perfume and body lotion that is found in my handbag is taken off me. I had no idea that such everyday items could pose a security threat.
At OR Tambo airport I wait by the check in point, not even daring to explore the shops in case I miss the flight. We board and there is a nice young man seated beside me. We chat most of the way to London
Saturday 4 August
We land at Heathrow Airport – it’s 6:25 in the morning and it’s raining, misty and cold. I ask the guy beside me if it is the rainy season in England. He laughs and says it is always the rainy season in England, then adds, “Welcome to London.”
I thought I would find someone from BNOC waiting for me, but to my surprise there was no one. At the Immigration desk the lady officer asks for my passport and asks where I am staying.
I do not know.
“Madam, I need that information or else you are not going anywhere.”
My head is aching and I’m feeling vulnerable, worried that I smell bad. I have not had a bath since Gaborone and my perfume has been confiscated.
I decide to join the queue again and try my luck with a different immigration officer. This time it is a man and he is welcoming and friendly. He asks me if I have a contact number of anyone from Team Botswana and I give him BNOC PRO Boniface Mabeo’s number. He phones him and gets the address of the hotel.
We are both smiling now as the officer stamps my passport. He writes down the name of the hotel and shows me the way out. He wishes me all the best and even adds, “I hope Botswana wins a medal.”
I manage to get a taxi and show the driver the paper with the name of the hotel. He tells me the distance determines the charge, and the amount is counted on a meter displayed in the taxi.
The journey takes almost an hour and I am transfixed as I watch the numbers on the meter increase alarmingly even when we stop in a traffic jam. By the time we reach the hotel the taxi fare is recorded as 100 pounds, which converts to P1200. I feel like crying since it is one third of my allowance. But at least I am here.
Later I meet up with the PRO and in the evening I am given my ticket to watch athletics at the Olympic stadium. I am not sure where I am going, but I have been told to get to Stratford via the underground train system.
The stadium is spectacular, bigger than anything I have seen before. There are so many people, most waving Union Jack flags, unfortunately by the time I find my seat Amantle has finished her semi final race.
Sunday 5 August
Today I am off to the Olympic Park where the athletes are staying. It is a restricted area. Security officers stop me several times to check my identity, but fortunately I have been given accreditation for the day.
I find my friend Isaac Makwala waiting for me at the gate and he escorts me to the Team Botswana’s flat in the Olympic Village. I meet the team. We take pictures and I do a short interview with Amantle before the finals. She looks tired but she says she is fine.
From the village, I go to the stadium to watch the 400 metres women’s final. Amantle takes position four. The finish line is across the other side of the stadium, and from my position high up in the stands I can’t see much but can sense the disappointment.
Soon after I get a call from home asking me what went wrong. I have no idea.
The feeling of sadness is replaced with excitement as next up it is the 100 metres final and the phenomenon known as Usain Bolt. He sets a new Olympic 100 metre record. I have to pinch myself to test for reality having just watched live, the world’s fastest human. Everyone in the stadium stands up, we are cheering and screaming in an eruption of noise, celebrating the most exciting 9.63 seconds of our lives.
Monday 6 August
Spend the day sightseeing and buying presents. Just about everyone who knew I was coming has asked me to bring something back for them. Manchester United football shirts were the most popular demand. But with the funds remaining I have to restrict my options to my immediate family. My son gets the Man U shirt.
Tuesday 7 August
At 18:45 I go to the Olympic Park Stadium to watch the athletics. Categories pass, but I am just counting down the time to the 800 metres race.
When Amos gets into the field, it starts raining. I unfold my umbrella, but have barely got it up before a very British voice announces: “Excuse me madam – I have paid 400 pounds for my ticket to watch athletics and you are obstructing my view.”
I apologise and abandon myself to the rain as it bounces off my head, ignoring the cold and damp. But I am not bothered. Amos has come second and has qualified. I am frantically waving my small Botswana flag and clapping my hands in excitement. I tell everyone who cares to listen that I am from Botswana and that is my homeboy who has just qualified. Even the guy who complained about my umbrella smiles and asks if I have brought any diamonds with me.
Outside the stadium I ask two heavily armed British police officers to pose for a picture – surprisingly they agree.
Wednesday 8 August
I have an appointment with the Botswana team, but don’t have accreditation to go into the village. The team head of mission eventually phones and tells me Amantle is tired and cannot come out of the village for an interview.
I suspect that she has been asked not to talk as I later learn that she had done a telephone interview with Gabz FM the day before, which the CEO was not happy about. He was now getting loads of calls asking about Amantle’s coach and how it had affected her performance. Funny, because when I had talked to her before the race she said that everything was fine.
I phone Nijel and plead with him to do an interview because I am on deadline and leaving London in the next few hours, and don’t have a story.
He tells me ‘no problem’ and comes out to meet me. The young boy is calm and confident and is grinning from ear to ear as we chat. It is the first time we have met, but he is open and friendly, and happy to talk.
He says he is delighted to have made the final since this was his ambition before coming, and anything that happens after that is a bonus. He then tells me that the Olympics have ‘opened doors’ for him and that he has just been offered the chance to study at university in Florida, USA.
We chat for a few minutes more then he casually tells me that he has to train as he is running in the final the next day. He gives me an official Botswana Olympic water bottle as a souvenir. I wish him luck and say goodbye.
I let out a huge sigh of relief. I have my scoop!
I file my story and then it’s time to leave for the airport.
When I get there and look at the board it says the SA Express flight to Johannesburg is boarding. I increased my pace, running and sweating and reach the boarding place where the South African Airways hostess asks me to take a deep breath and gives me water to drink.
She smiles and asks, “Have you been competing in the Olympics?”
“Yeah – I won gold in the shot putt,” I tell her, and we both laugh.1 comment