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Tshepo Maphanyane
Laura Thato Bafeletse 2

COVID-19 returnee happy to be back

On June 3rd Ethiopian flight ET829 737-800 touched down at Sir Seretse Khama (SSKI) airport with 94 returning citizens from various countries.

This followed frustrations of being stuck abroad for weeks under lockdown because of COVID -19 travel restrictions.

Three of those passengers were Chevening scholars returning home mid their master’s studies in the UK.

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For Laura Thato Bafaletse, landing in Gaborone was surreal.

“I had spent the last few hours in a daze as I frantically packed my bags to make my way to London to catch a flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where we were to catch the government-chartered flight back to Botswana,” said Bafaletse, an Environmental and Business Management scholar at Bangor University, North Wales.

Creative: Laura Thato Bafeletse

Bafaletse had been elated at being a Chevening scholar and looked forward to spending a year in the UK.

However, as fate would have it, all her plans crushed long before the challenges posed by the outbreak of Covid-19.

“The first three months were incredibly difficult. I was teary and emotional. However, I put it off to being in a new environment and away from home,” she said.

As a young wife and mother to three girls, Bafaletse juggled her schoolwork with keeping in touch with family as much as she could via the affordances of technology.

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In addition, she was determined to make the best of her time in the UK and therefore participated in numerous school organised excursions.

Reminiscing about her time in the UK, she said, “My first trip outside Bangor to Manchester was by train. It was a day trip that ended in missed trains, a memorable experience that reflects adjusting to a new place. This forged many friendships, which in turn made the gloomy days bearable. I got to engage with other students from all walks of life from across the world doing stuff I never imagined I would.”

Bafaletse counts securing a slot on campus radio as one of her highlights as well as volunteering in park cleanups. “It was exhilarating to challenge myself not just academically but socially as well,” she said

Rediscovering her creative streak, Bafaletse set up Facebook and Instagram pages (@withLauraB) where she shared her creativity in cooking and DIY projects.

She was seemingly coping, even thriving and enjoying herself until what was supposed to be another great experience turned into a downward spiral for Bafaletse.

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“My family came to visit for the December holidays, and I couldn’t have asked for a better festive season. My mother who was on her very first overseas trip accompanied my husband and the girls. We took in the dizzying sights of Christmas abroad much to everyone’s delight,” she remembered fondly.

Bafaletse with her family

However soon after saying goodbye to her family, Bafaletse’s mental state took a nosedive.

Suddenly she felt overwhelmed and struggled to cope and started feeling low.

She also started struggling with sleep and though she managed to be rational, telling herself that the bad mood would pass, she found it difficult to get back to the routine she had maintained prior to her family’s visit.

Forced to seek medical intervention following severe migraines, Bafaletse was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and put on a course of antidepressants.

“It was tough and disorienting for me. So, I did not tell anyone except for close family and friends,” she revealed.

From then on she knew she had to go back home and started living for the day she would return.

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During lockdown, Bafaletse was hit by panic attacks when she woke up to her flat mates packing and leaving for their respective home countries whilst she was uncertain of when she would go home.

“The day that was unbelievably terrifying was when we were made aware that the gym in our residence was to be renovated into a temporary hospital for covid-19 patients and some of the empty rooms in our flats would house NHS staff.

This heightened her urge to return home.

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Bafaletse described planning the trip back to Botswana as strenuous, nerve wrecking and an extremely slow process that triggered so many different emotions.

“Towards the final week before leaving, I hardly got any sleep because I didn’t want to miss any information, I couldn’t afford to have another setback, considering my initial trip was canceled two weeks before the departure date. I prayed hard and could not even share my travel plans in case it did not happen,” she said.

Eventually she boarded that flight but even as the plane touched down at SSKI, Bafaletse found it difficult to be at ease.

“I wasn’t going home to my people but to a quarantine facility. It felt so close, yet so far.”

In conclusion she applauded the government for the assistance in bringing them back home including the provision of counseling services.

“This quarantine facility is not home but it will do for now until I reunite with my family.” she quipped.

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