Jumpy Castle Watch: Day 14.

What can you do to spice up the holidays on a hot, quiet December day before Christmas? Rent a jumpy castle: Gaborone’s answer to all your child-related entertainment needs.

I suppose the term is actually “jumping castle” (or jumping house) but in the quick casual Motswana way of speaking, what I always hear is “jumpy castle,” so that’s what I’m going with. In America of course we would call it a “bouncy house.”

Two days before Christmas I decided to get my daughter and her five friends who are visiting from Zimbabwe a jumpy castle for the day so they could squirt each other with water, play around on the slide, and work out some good sugar-induced energy in the inevitable sweets-laden week before the holiday. The delivery guy was about four hours late dropping it off, so I negotiated with him to pick it up the following day rather than in the evening since it wasn’t fair to cut our time so short. He agreed and went on his way. He’d be back “after lunch tomorrow” he said.

jumpy castle

Long story short that was almost two weeks ago. Christmas Eve Day blew by, Christmas itself, and then 2015 ran out, with me exhorting the kids each and every day to “Go use the jumpy castle!” since “It will probably be gone by tonight!” I have lost all credibility with them, but they have enjoyed many hours of wet jumping fun at least.

This brings me to a wonderful thing about Botswana. Yes, the delivery of your original order may be four hours late, and when the guy finally arrives he won’t have much of an excuse other than “I was that side” (meaning he was on the other side of town). But when you roll with it, thanking him for arriving rather than berating the man for not showing up earlier, the vendor’s lack of rigid standards or hard-nosed efficiency can work in your favor. There’s no way the jumpy castle man in America is leaving that piece of property at your house for two weeks when you’ve only paid for one day.

A jumpy castle costs 600 pula per day to rent, less than $60. They are a staple at kids’ birthday parties, restaurant openings, hotels, outdoor markets and shopping malls all over town. In the summer sun the inflated vinyl becomes lightning hot to the touch, which doesn’t stop any kid from using it even while emitting mild yelps from their burning bare feet. The houses bobble and weave as the kids fling themselves around: towers, palm trees, and gentle bulbous architecture swaying dangerously close to the electric fence that we usually remember to turn off before the kids start jumping.

Cy in jumpy house

Given the current rate of vendor neglect, we’re down to a cost of $3.50 per day for this particular castle. And the price per kid is much, much lower–especially after a bunch of random neighborhood children saw the castle puffed up over the fence a few days ago and rang the doorbell to ask if they could partake. In the holiday spirit of the more the merrier, we invited them in to fill the jumpy house to maximum capacity.

In Botswana over the holidays, most of the restaurants are closed, many businesses are shut down for the month, and repair services of any kind seem non-existent (this is not the month for your generator to call it quits or your car to break down, although both of those things have also happened to us this season). But this IS the time for simple pleasures, to be grateful for unexpected good fortune, for the little treats that fall into your lap when you are open to making your own fun and relaxing your expectations.

After more than three years in Botswana, we’re still here too. What was originally a two-year contract set to expire in September 2014 has stretched on, extended bit by bit even as we have prepared mentally to leave over and over as the months go by. We don’t know exactly when our Botswana experience will end, and we have been living on borrowed time for quite a while already. In the meantime we will relish swimming every day during December, barbecuing huge tenderloins of juicy, cheap Botswana beef on our grill outside, and jumping in with both feet as long as we can.