It is Former President Lt. Gen Ian Khama’s humour, nobility and how he is welcoming to individuals from all walks of life that will forever be entrenched in Lame Llebako’s memory of the day he came over for lunch.
“None of us are perfect, we all have shortfalls but anyone who can see and recognise the humanity in another person, has my utmost respect. It is all that matters to me,” stated Llebako. The 39-year-old food vendor got a pleasant surprise last week Thursday when the former president and his security detail visited her spot along Independence Avenue for a meal. “I usually see him because he uses this route a lot when he goes to his house. He always smiles and waves, but even-though I have seen over the years that he is a person who likes to interact with Batswana, him eating my food, under a tree was a really special moment for me,” she said with a reflective smile.
Infact, Llebako says because of who he is and the security around him, she expected him to take the food and probably throw them in a bin when he got to his house to eat “a fancy chef prepped and inspected meal.”On that day, she woke up at 5am as she usually does to get ready for another busy day at the ‘office.’ She says she was busy prepping and cooking food for the day when she got a call from one of the gentlemen who works for Khama to find out if she (personally) will be at the spot and what would be on the menu.
“He said he had a surprise for me. I didn’t think much of it because the guys buy lunch from me sometimes. I told him yes, I will be serving today,” she revealed. “Later on as we were setting up, the guy who called me came over but didn’t sit down to eat as he would, instead he was on his phone a lot and pacing up and down. “Two black cars were also parked a short distance from us and the two men just seemed a little strange to me. Still I couldn’t figure out nor was I prepared for what would come next.” As she was busy serving her customers, Llebako says she lifted her head and came face to face with a smiling Khama. It was so abrupt and Llebako says she didn’t even hear his car pull up.
“Everyone was taken by surprise. We exchanged pleasantries and he stood in the line waiting his turn, even as people in the front offered to let him go in first, he declined. Khama ordered a P20 plate of rice, asked for a combination of both chicken and beef with butternut and coleslaw. “He specially asked me to not put too much because he doesn’t eat a lot,” Llebako chuckles. He then sat down on the chairs and table provided to eat.
He had brought his own fork and knife and a bottle of water. “It was such a great experience, not just for me but my customers as well. He was gracious and kind, made time for everyone who wanted to chat or take a selfie with him. It didn’t feel forced and was really genuine,” she said. Since the visit, Llebako says business has boomed. “We are definitely seeing more people, new faces, many of them hoping to get a glimpse of him passing through and some outrightly ask if he will be coming again,” said the catering business owner.
“All we are doing now is working hard to carry the momentum going forward. We strive to cook delicious food everyday because food sells itself and retains customers. That and talking to people nicely, taking in any negative feedback and turning it into positive improvement.” It is a formula that has seen the former Pension Benefit Consultant at Alexander Forbes’ catering business register amazing growth since October 2016 when she started. She had been doing it on the side while she was working full time. “I would wake up at 4 every morning to cook before the girl I had hired to help me serve arrived.
“At lunch time, we would set up near my office and lunch was served!” Two and a half years later, she owns Lopkel restaurant in the Main Mall and employs five people. However, she continued with Food Street vending to cater to individuals who can’t afford or have access to her restaurant.
“Working for someone, (who doesn’t even know me) just wasn’t enough for me. I could also see that being in that space, I would never be able to live the kind of life I want for my family and I. It is also about building a legacy for my children,” she stated. During school breaks, her 13-year-old son works with her in the business. “It’s a family affair and I love every minute of what I do.”