The trip was supposed to be in June 2020. We had planned it for two years, a long-awaited return to the country my family loved. Everything was booked — flights, hotels, camping arrangements. But as the months ticked by from March to April to May, the idea of a big international trip in 2020 went from iffy to absurd to impossible.
We confidently rebooked for June of 2021. Surely, surely, everything would be over by then. This pandemic thing would have run its course, and we would finally be back in Botswana.
My parents and brother and I lived in the capital city of Gaborone for several years in the mid-1980s, and the country had imprinted upon each of us. We’d been aching to return, and to bring our spouses and children, to show them this magical place that had meant so much to us.
Early in 2021, however, it wasn’t looking good. It wasn’t clear that we’d be able to be vaccinated in time, and it was hard to stomach the risk of unnecessary travel. We wavered. Should we put it off another year? The reality was, my parents were getting older, and each year we waited carried its own risk. Would they still be able to do something like this in another year?
We decided to go for it. We’d double-mask if we had to. We were feeling optimistic about the vaccine roll-out, and borders were open. We’d navigate the testing requirements and carry buckets of hand sanitizer. We’d make it work. Plus, the covid rate in Botswana was miniscule.
By June 20, 2021, the day we boarded our flight for Botswana, all of us were vaccinated, even the kids (our youngest traveler was 13). Back home, we’d stopped wearing masks to the grocery store and started dining indoors again. Community transmission rates where I live in Maryland were almost nil. The world was reopening. There was no hybrid option for school in the fall. Everything was going back to normal.
And then we landed in Gaborone and saw firsthand that we’d been living in a bubble of privilege.