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Motswana – American travel star lockdown diary

Tshepo Maphanyane

“Things could be worse”, says 43-year-old Kenaope Kenzo Rutang, referring to the unfortunate circumstances presented by covid-19.

Furloughed from work, Rutang is thankful for the stimulus cheque the Trump administration has offered to U.S. citizens.

“For now, we are okay and glad to have my mother around as we make the most of lockdown days.”

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Rutang’s mother had gone to visit her daughter in the States as she has done over the years, but this time around she was caught in the debacle of travel restrictions due to covid-19, making her trip back to Botswana impossible for now.

Motswana – American travel star lockdown diary
Kenzo & her dear mother, Masego Rutang

Luckily before the lockdown, the mother and daughter duo had done a bit of sight seeing, traveling to Savanna Georgia, St Augustine Florida, and Key West Florida.

“Although mom wishes she were back in Botswana, her extended stay has been a blessing in disguise as she has provided me with the much-needed company and a sense of comfort during this tough time. We play cards, other games and enjoy going for walks to keep strong and mentally fit,” says Rutang.

Besides, Rutang is using her time spent at home to work on her travel agency business project, which will include African Safaris, a natural progression for her judging by the number of years she has dedicated to travel and tourism.

Rutang, affectionately known as Kenzo both professionally and personally, left Botswana in 2004 for an International Cultural Programme with the Walt Disney World Company.

This opportunity had been at the insistence and mentorship of Dr. John D Chidzomba, CEO & founder of DMC Hotel Training Centre in Harare, Zimbabwe where she attended college &trained.

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She also expresses her gratitude to the late Modisagape Mothoagae who was the CEO of the Hotel & Tourism Association of Botswana by then.

Rutang met Mothoagae whilst working as a Front Office Manager at Maun Lodge, which was her first job after completing hotel school in 1999.

The encouragement and complete believe in her capabilities compounded by her drive and passion for customer service saw her being nominated for the cultural exchange programme.

Her strong background in the Hospitality & International Tourism from City & Guilds of London Institute & through the unmatched training and mentorship of both the highly respected Chidzomba and Mothoagae, she spent seven years working with Disney World and subsequently gaining further experience with various tourism and hospitality outfits in the States.

This led to 16 years of her living and working in America where she continues to break boundaries within the Hospitality industry.

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She has also been recognized as an employee of the month at the numerous hotel properties she has worked at, among them renowned brands like Hilton, Starwood, Thomas Cook (UKbased Travel agency), and others that provided her with the unique opportunity to hone her skills.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic found Rutang working at a Marriott property in the fast-paced tourist area of Florida Orlando Sea World, which also happens to be her neighbourhood.

Her global clientele experience had her initially worried about possible exposure to corona so she decided to get tested right away.

“Luckily, I tested negative for COVID-19. At the moment I am home and not sure when it would be safe to resume work,” she says.

Always the one to be concerned for others, Rutang confesses that although confinement has caused unexpected challenges and inconveniences, it is other people’s problems that have weighed heavily on her mind so far.

“So many people have been affected and displaced by this situation. It is heart breaking how this pandemic has swept through America and the rest of the world. If there was ever a time to be strong this is it,” says the woman who is no stranger to challenges, as she has suffered a great deal health-wise, leading to her being unable to travel between Botswana and the states as much as expected.

In fact, for years, Rutang and her family had to endure gossip mongers who had assumed her not coming home was due to immigration issues.

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“People can be judgemental of things they don’t know,” she says with a tinge of sadness in her voice.

However, in 2017 following close to 10 years of being away from home, she and her fiancé Ben, visited Botswana much to her family and friends’ delight.

“We had kept the visit a surprise and planned it with the help of my sister, Millie. To this day I cannot find the words to describe how precious it was. Thank goodness we did not cause any heart attacks,” she says.

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To ensure her valiant fight through her health challenges were not in vain, Rutang is now an advocate for interstitial cystitis, a chronic condition causing bladder pressure, bladder pain and sometimes-pelvic pain too.

“This affects one’s quality of life and can be debilitating, which is why I have decided to raise awareness around this condition,” she says. For her efforts, Rutang got a letter from The White House on November 1st, 2018, spurring her on.

It is no surprise therefore that, she is adamant about spreading positivity and giving others hope.

Upon discovering through a Facebook post that a group of students from Ledumang secondary school, was visiting Florida through Blindfolded International Student cultural exchange program (BISCEP), Rutang was reminded of her first time in the States and wanted to share her story with these students and their teachers.

She drove three and a half hours from her base, with t-shirts she had specifically printed for the group to meet the organizer, teachers, and the students.

“It was a no brainer forme as I believe in showing kindness and finding out that fellow Batswana were not too far from me, I knew I had to make the trip,” she gushes.

Rutang has made it her mission to share her experiences with others.

Upon arrival in the US, she realised that most local people were not well versed in the African continent and especially Botswana.

“People would ask me condescending questions and although I was initially taken aback, I saw this as an opportunity to create awareness and educate Americans about my beloved country,” she explains.

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This also fuelled Rutang to seek speaking opportunities in schools to impart knowledge about the rich African culture and experiences from her travels.

As an independent travel agent,Rutang is hoping to give others exceptional experiences like the ones she hashad.

With nine cruise ships to the Caribbean Islands under her belt, incredible knowledge of theme parks, hospitality, and tourism in Florida and around the U.S. , Rutang is a gem to the tourism industry.

Furthermore, she hasinteracted with countless celebrities during her time at Disney as well as inthe fitness industry.

She shares her passion for travel and a healthy lifestyle with her actor and producer fiancé from Jacksonville Florida, who also introduced her to the world of film.

Despite the disruption of their upcoming Europe tour holiday, they are upbeat about resuming their plans once the lockdown is over.

“At the moment I am embracing some rest time,” she says. When not consumed by work demands, travel, or cooking up a storm, Rutang keeps to a schedule that includes her volunteering at a local homeless shelter to give others hope.

Of all she her accomplishments, she prides herself in her work with the U.S. Department of Defence as a Guest Services Agent (Front desk agent) at a local military hotel operated by the U.S. Army.

“It truly was one of the best & humbling experiences,” she says.

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