During a typical day at the Gaborone station bus rank, festive music blares from speakers and pickup trucks overflowing with oranges and clementines pull up in the parking lots to sell throughout the day. Men and schoolboys passing through play billiards as people cue up for combis. Buses pull in from Ramotswa and Johannesburg. Women (and a couple men) sell all sorts of produce: potatoes, heaps of leafy greens, bags of tomatoes, onions, massive heads of cabbage, peppers, corn— you name it. Loners take their chances and buy the pre-packaged chicken dinners displayed at the numerous brick food stalls. At nightfall, some of the stall workers will light tall white candles around the display of pre-packaged meals like a calm, but eerie altar.
During my short time in Botswana, I’ve come to think of the station as the heart of Gaborone. If you travel via combi (public van), taxi, cab, or bus, chances are you have passed or will pass through the station. I do nearly every day, usually to catch a taxi to campus and to get a combi home. On one side, you have the taxis and some combis while on the bus rank side over the bridge, you’ll find all the buses and the lion’s share of combis. And right in the middle is Rail Park Mall. But the station is more than just a transportation hub. Everywhere you’ll see women with foldout tables selling fruit, candy and mints, biscuits, chips and junk food, water bottles and Coca Cola. Some sell hot food like sausages, fish, and fat cakes after cooking them over grills, cook fires, and portable stoves. I’ve seen a couple women boil oil over said portable stoves to make fries. Nearly all of these women also sell phone airtime in addition to their food. Men set up cell phone repair stands while other sell footwear and clothing. Do you want to buy new sneakers, shirts, scarves, or jewelry? You can find them at the station. You can even find second-hand shoes, if that tickles your fancy.
The taxi side is smaller and faster-paced than the bus rank. Taxi drivers will play billiards, gamble, and joke around while they wait for passengers to fill up their cars. The taxis crowd together in one parking lot and at first it looked like pure pandemonium to me, but it functions so smoothly that I know there’s a system in place I’m just not aware of. The taxi side of the station also boasts an outwardly modest shopping center, but inside I found a maze of cheap restaurants and stores including the most well-stocked supermarket I’ve seen since arriving in Botswana.
Now onto Rail Park Mall. It’s smack dab in the middle of the station, and while you can take a narrow bridge directly from one side to the other, I prefer going through the mall. It may not be as expansive as other malls in Gaborone like Game City, but it offers clothing stores, ATMS, a post office, restaurants, beauty salons, a pharmacy, a liquor store, and two supermarkets. The supermarket Food Lovers is essentially the love child of Whole Foods and Cotsco. It also has a restaurant in the back where you can get a good cheeseburger for about 30 pula.
Plenty of people just pass through the station, but it’s so much fun to take your time, maybe buy some oranges and a drink and meander through the stands looking at the market goods. There’s a man I met who comes to the station on weekends to sell preserved fruit jewelry that he made himself. Orange slice earrings for friends back home? Only at the Gaborone station.