The patrons of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan Bar in Nata know well that women and drink can be the cause of great consternation in the lives of man. Add the moon, and the results are bound to be spectacular. It is equally well known that one cannot trust a person who does not drink – properly, that is.
So we were somewhat sceptical when Buqbolls told us of some unlikely goings-on once near Mopipi, because Buqbolls is now an imparter of religious instruction, and has sermonised on drink, loose women and those who blame the moon on bad behaviour. Buqbolls has now forsaken such good things as brandy, beer and champagne, and now drinks only rooibos, and sometimes tea. But unusual things happen, and when Wonsok said he had been there, and that it was all true, we saw a different Buqbolls.
Buqbolls was a Frenchman who was not only adorned with a rather strange name, but spoke funny, as if he was snoring. He had been christened Renaud, and came from Ste Marie Eglise in Normandy; a place that figured prominently during the invasion of France in June 1944. He was a geophysicist, and worked at Orapa in Botswana in the early stages of its development; that is, in 1969 or 70. He loved calvados, the national drink of Normandy, and had crates of the stuff shipped to Orapa.
In those days, before De Beers dug up the place and built a town and supermarket and golf course and all that jazz, there was little there but pans and dust and thorny acacia scrub and spiky yellow grass and the sort of cattle one could expect in such a place, and the Mopipi River shaded in places by big trees, draining Lake Xau into the great Makgadikgadi Pans to the north. It was then a sort of semi-desert paradise.
It was Buqbolls’ birthday at the end of September, and he thought it would be right and proper to celebrate the event by drinking calvados with his friends and exploring the Makgadikgadi Pans which lay a little north of Orapa; or some of their vastness, anyway. The day of his birthday was auspicious, for the President had declared a holiday that day to make a long-weekend of celebration; not so much because of Buqbolls’ birthday, you understand, but to celebrate Botswana’s joy at being independent of Britain.