I got an e-mail last week that reminded me of many of the things I miss about living in Botswana.
Bureaucracy and miserable government officials, by the way, aren’t on the list.
My friend talked about having free time, doing things outdoors and being in touch with nature, and as I read about her adventures I really missed my old life.
Then, the next day, something happened that helped me appreciate life in the UK.
Basically, I screwed up and got away with it.
If the same thing had happened in Botswana I think I would have just been screwed.
For about half a year now my daughter has been booked on a flight that leaves this weekend to visit a friend from Francistown who now lives in Laos in Southeast Asia.
Maggie has a British passport but it needs to be valid for at least six months beyond her arrival date.
Yep, that’s right, I forgot to check the expiry date until last Monday, and when I did I discovered the thing was set to run out while Mags was away.
My immediate response was not ‘woops’ and it will not be repeated here, but once I’d calmed down I started searching the internet and making phone calls to see if there was any way I could get her passport renewed in less time then the two to four weeks quoted on the application document.
As it turned out there was and everything got sorted.
It was a bit more expensive and it involved five hours of driving, but less than four hours after discovering the problem I had a renewal interview set for two days later.
I was also told if we had all the required bits we would be able to collect the passport a few hours after the interview.
The efficiency of the system was mind boggling. The thing that really got me, though, was the attitude of the passport officials.
It was a pleasure to deal with them. They were smiling, they were polite and they seemed to take pride in being helpful.
It was kind of weird. I mean this is not what life is normally like in England.
People over here don’t waste a lot of energy on smiling and they certainly don’t come across as being particularly happy.
I think the atmosphere in the passport office must be the result of some imposed management initiative.
But here’s the thing; I think the people working in there were genuinely happy, and the people being served appreciated being helped by happy people and they were happy themselves… and that made it easy for the officials to keep on being happy.
The situation sort of fed on itself.
If something like this can work in England where people aren’t used to being happy, why shouldn’t it work a wonder in Botswana where most people already are?
Hum, a government initiative to make employees be more helpful? That does sound pretty ridiculous.
But here’s the thing, those passport officials really did seem to be enjoying their work, so if being friendly and helpful makes you happy it just makes good sense – from a very selfish point of view – to be like that.