Botswana, baobabs and clicks

I had only a vague sense about Botswana. Till Chicka Ngala transfered temporarily to our department from Field Services. His wife was expecting and when the big moment came, he didn’t want to be stuck in some airline hanger half-way around the world.

Chicka is the only full blooded African I get to spend time with everyday. The ‘N’ is not silent, it’s pronounced ‘en-gala’. But I’m sure you knew that. Chicka is also known as Baobab Ngala to some of us close colleagues. A reference to baobabs, luscious nutrient-rich fruits that grow wild in Botswana. Baobabs look astonishingly like their cousins who live in pairs and jiggle. “Where do you think the word ‘boob’ came from, huh?” Chicka claims proudly. Botswana is the only place where, if your hands strayed, you could get away with “I beg your pardon, Ma’am, I thought they were baobabs”.   For your ready reference, here’s a sketch of, not one, but four baobabs-

Botswana, baobabs and clicks

Black as polished ebony, Chicka is married to a white French Canadian, Simone. Ebony and ivory, livin’ in perfect harmony. And they have an absolutely adorable 10yr old daughter, Aisha, who’s neither white nor black. She’s a fantastic creamy beige. She has her mother’s sharp nose and father’s black eyes and thick lips.

When he calls his parents in Gaborone, Chicka speaks to them in Xhosa which has 48 different clicks called ‘click-consonants’. The clicks are made with the tongue, teeth and the nasal passages and the sounds are sharp and metallic. Like horseshoes hitting cobble stones. The speaker hardly moves his lips, everything happening well within.

I was once at a party where there was a bunch of Chicka’s African pals hanging out. There were clicks galore. Someone switched on the TV, a rerun of the 1990 WC quarter finals was on, Cameroon vs England. When Roger Milla scored his 4th goal, clicks flew around like crazy. Clicks are to the living room as vuvuzelas are to the stadium.

“How’s yore drink, Andar? want a refill?”

“Clickety”. That’s a slightly tipsy ‘yes, thank you’. I get that from the shake of his head. That’s an interesting thing about Botswanians. They shake their heads to say ‘yes’ and nod to say ‘no’. Takes a little getting used to at first. If you’re dating a Botswanian and she shakes her head when you get fresh, go right on ahead. Trust me on this, ok?

Meanwhile, the lights are dimmed and I cannot see a thing. There’s a heart thumping afro beat on Chicka’s home theatre system. “The music is just some afro-fusion remix I got here at Archambault”, says Chicka,”Tswana, our Botswanian music, doesn’t have a lot of percussion, mainly strings.”

By now, everyone is sort of swaying in the darkened living room. 10 pairs of pearly white teeth and eyeballs. The Botswanians blend completely into the dark. That’s another thing about them. They could be making out right there and you wouldn’t know it. Lord almighty, make me a Botsy the next time around, paleeease.

“Clicky coo”. Someone siddles up and sits next to me. My years in the trenches tell me it’s a girl. She has a pout. I know. I can see only her front two incisors. She’s close, her baobabs have almost knocked me off the sofa.

“Clacko wacko”, That was not Xhosa. It was my pacemaker, about to pack up.


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