A visit to Serowe

Mid-morning on Saturday Banks Lesetedi, one of our students, and I head out for Serowe, some 180 miles north of Gaborone. It is another clear, sunny day, bound to be hot. I really need to get the air conditioner fixed.

As we load up Banks suggests that he drive. ‘I am younger,’ he says; ‘my elder should not be driving me around.’ I decline, saying simply that I like to drive. Maybe, I say to myself, if I get tired he can drive later.

After Phakalane the speed limit goes up to 120 km/h, a bit over seventy. The conversation has lagged when he says, ‘You certainly are a law-abiding citizen.’ Normally that would seem to me to be a compliment, but it quickly becomes clear that it is a criticism: I am driving too slow. I now picture him driving along at 80 mph or more, and I am determined to drive all the way at a modest 65-70.

Serowe is an historic town, and a sprawling one. Several of Botswana’s presidents have come from here, including the first, Sir Seretse Khama.

We drive to Banks’ sister’s home, where we will be staying, and drop off our luggage. Then we are off to Ford Gagoane’s home; he’s the second of our Serowe students. His home is up a rutted dirt track, and I drive carefully, not sure how much clearance I have.

We are taken into the living room to await Ford’s return. It is a large room, with a variety of things – photos, certificates and so on – hanging on the wall. I notice a calendar theme. There is a bamboo calendar from 1993, advertising a Chinese restaurant in Hamburg. There’s a large one providing the veterinary inoculation schedule for 2011. The year is cut out of another, but it has a large number of wild animals on it, promoting tourism in Botswana.

Banks and I have eaten at Nandos, a periperi chicken place in Palapye, on the way up, but soon the family brings out more chicken and mealie meal for us to eat. Ford digs in. Banks and I pick at ours, finally explaining we have just had a meal. It’s three in the afternoon.

When I awake on Sunday morning, I find Banks’ brother-in-law washing my car. ‘We cannot have a priest going to church in a dirty car,’ he explains, as he finishes up the exterior and heads inside. No wonder my ministry as a parish priest never really took off. It’s the car’s fault. Then he looks at my shoes and says much the same thing, spraying them with something and beginning to polish them. I watch the shine appear. ‘My,’ I say, ‘this really works. What is it?’ He shows me the can. It’s tire blackener.

We arrive at St. Augustine’s Church in clean car and shined shoes. It is a pretty old church, off the beaten road a bit; no one drives by and says, ‘Oh, I think I would like to visit there.’ Reminds me a bit of St. Paul’s in Cary. You have to intend to be going there.

I walk through the service with Ford and Banks. This is to be my first time as celebrant, saying the Eucharist in both Setswana and English, and I am a bit nervous. Complicating the picture is the use of incense. I have never been good at managing the thurible, with its hot coals and smells that make me cough. But the young man who serves as thurifer is good, and patient, and he hands me the chain back and forth several times for me to get the feel of it. And ultimately I manage fairly well.

It’s a good congregation. I reach that conclusion because I don’t see any smirks when I say the liturgy in Setswana, and they seem tolerant of a sermon that – I realize as I am going along – has too many different ideas in it. Just last week I was saying to our students how important it is in preaching to focus and simplify, and here I am….

Oh well. I’ll do better at the cathedral next week.