I love how routine lazing about can turn into something extraordinary. About a month ago, my friend Salewa visited Francistown from her village 20 minutes south. She came in for some usual grocery shopping, and met up with me and our friend Heather for an afternoon ice cream cone. Halfway through our dessert we ran into Pete, our Australian geologist friend, and invited him to join us for a sundowner at the beautiful and serene Cresta Marang Hotel.
The Marang always feels like a luxurious place totally disconnected from the city. Sitting by the pool on the hotel’s heavy, black metal chairs and sipping the first Castle lager draft of the day, we talked and enjoyed the sun coming through the tall trees and hitting the bungalos and the large, mowed lawn. Five dapper men in starched collared shirts sat at another table across the pool, seemingly doing the same with their afternoon. Shortly after we got there. a group of teenage girls also came to the pool. Nothing weird, right? A peaceful Saturday afternoon. Then, without warning, the girls stripped down to their underwear bottoms and started loudly splashing each other in the shallow end of the pool.
Pete immediately and understandably became uncomfortable. He tried to play it cool but kept awkwardly looking into his beer not knowing what to do. These girls were underage, but they certainly weren’t children. Breasts aren’t as sexualized in Botswana as they are in our respective countries, and the group of dapper men (it was unclear where they were from) didn’t seem to care. It even made me feel a bit strange to see the girls there, topless and splashing away. The whole thing just became pretty freaking awkward.
So we sat, trying not to pay attention to this party of pubescent ladies enjoying their giggle-splash-fest (admittedly this was pretty difficult). It was clear they weren’t patrons of the hotel, and we found out later they came from a nearby birthday party down the road. We had passed this party on the way over – it had a bouncy castle. I made a comment about how strange it was that these girls wanted to swim since so many Batswana don’t know how. Foreshadowing!
After about 20 minutes, one girl accidentally waded out into the deep end, not knowing she couldn’t stand up. There were no markings specifying the depth of the pool at different points, and with the pool floor being the same shade of white throughout it wasn’t necessarily intuitive to someone unfamiliar with swimming pools that it would be too deep to stand at the other end.
The bigger issue was that the girl couldn’t swim, and had inhaled too much water trying to keep up. All of her splashing for air blended right in with the giggle splashing coming from her friends.
I was especially oblivious to what was going on because by then I had finally succeeded in manipulating my mind to situate the girls as background scenery. Salewa, however, noticed that the girl in the deep end was now floating at the surface with her head face-down and her arms and legs dangling in the water beneath her. The girl’s friends began to panic, and without hesitation Salewa placed her large Blackberry on the table and expertly dove into the pool to rescue her.
It’s good to have friends who know basic rescue. It’s also good to know that some learn how to do things in Girl Scouts other than sell cookies (who knew?!)
Meanwhile, as Salewa was determining if she had to perform CPR, the dapper men were now standing at the edge of the pool yelling at the girls for intruding on their space. I went over to the men and asked them just what the deal was that they couldn’t do anything to help the girl. They had nothing to say, and I concluded that they, too, probably didn’t know how to swim. To make matters worse we discovered later that the men were all doctors. It made me furious.
Salewa got the girl to cough up the water, talked to her a bit, and luckily the girl walked away shaken up but alright. The girls sheepishly put on their tube tops and shorts and quickly left. The manager, a stocky South African man wearing a white polo shirt, khaki shorts and carrying a large walkie-talkie, marched over to thank us. It was obvious from the beads of sweat running down his temples that he knew Salewa didn’t just save the girl from drowning, but also potentially saved him from a lawsuit. In addition to not having any pool depth indicators, the area had no warning or risk signs. He made a lame joke about hiring Salewa as the lifeguard and offered us drinks on the house. Salewa replied with, “Sounds great, but actually we’re all pretty hungry!” The manager winced at the thought of giving away four expensive dinners, but with an affected smile still agreed. I nudged Salewa that she should also get the hotel staff to wash and dry her clothes. We were not about to let the hotel off the hook that easily.
Turns out we all got free drinks, free dinner, and Salewa’s clothes cleaned and dried. In our collective opinion it was a small price for the hotel to pay to avoid becoming “that hotel where some girl died in the pool.” Plus, we were feeling pretty lucky and elated that we were in the right place at the right time and actually saved a girl’s life.
While basking in Salewa’s recent feat and waiting for our drinks to arrive, two large men carried out a heavy brass and marble sign post that explained the risks and rules of swimming in the pool. I guess it had been sitting somewhere in the hotel storage shed. The men placed it out by the pool, however naturally it was obscured by a large tree.
It was on this day I ate my first impala steak, and though it was a bit tough I still loved it. The freeness of the steak and the richness of the story made it even more delicious than it would have been had I actually been able to afford it.
Rounding the night off, we took our leftovers to my house and later ended up at the seedy, crowded bars at Area L, where we got sweaty and danced with all the hipster Batswana kids. It was a perfect way to celebrate.
By the way – today is Salewa’s Birthday! Happy Birthday, lady.