Merry Christmas to our friends and all our family. We will be celebrating with some friends later today. They asked us to come cook the dinner together. They are Indians so, if we are lucky, it will be a big Indian Christmas dinner. We have our trees (sent by family) up and we plan to wrap little tiny presents under them!
What else………….from Carol
The Dogs: Rati seems to have fully recovered from her horrible experience with the home spaying. However, I’m not over it. I think I will forever be traumatized by the event. Any female dog ever spayed again will be over my objection. We should put all our efforts on getting the boy dog snipped instead!
To help make it up to Rati, we talked the owner of Rati’s sister into giving us Phoenix for the next year. Little 3 pound cute Phoenix lived in a cage with two other mean dogs and had to stay under a chair so she would not get bitten. We changed her name to FiFi (when she goes back I think she will still respond to Phoenix) and now Rati has a full time play mate. We also found excellent babysitters. They have a four year old daughter who comes to visit the dogs and she asks to keep them overnight sometimes – so we feel very comfortable when we have to leave them. Finally – we are hoping the dogs will learn to bite all the people we don’t have the nerve to bite ourselves! And we will say “Sorry. Sorry. Sorry” – but not really mean it.
Food Fun – One of the most fun foods here is “fat cakes”. Deep fried dough, sold in the many Tuck Shops for about $0.15 (A tuck shop is usually a tiny shack or perhaps a table with netting over it that sells candies or other treats along the road). The local people eat these fatcakes pretty much every day during Tea Break and if they can afford it, they buy two or three at a time. (The picture below portrays exactly how the women at my school cooks the fat cakes).
The other day some of my colleges got fat cakes for tea, and a few others bought French fries or chips. I was shocked to see them pull out the insides of the fat cake (and eat them) and then re-stuff them with the French fries! I cannot imagine how this concept has not reached downstate county and state fairs in Illinois!!!!
Tea: Tea break is a sacred thing. If you want people to attend meetings you must serve tea at 10:30. Tea consists of tea or coffee and biscuits (cookies) at a minimum and more usually has spam sandwiches cut in fourths as well. Tea is observed at every school, workplace, and social function.
To be fair, it is sort of a breakfast and considered the first meal of the day. I recently looked up the how, why and history of tea breaks. Botswana seems to follow the tradition of simply supplying food for the hungry, much more than the American/British version found in the closest Four Seasons with Miss Manners for ladies of leisure.
The other day I saw how serious tea is here. I was with the Deputy District Commissioner (like a Lt. Governor) and we went to a meeting several villages away that started at 9:00am. Miraculously, it really started at 9 and was done by 10! We had brought tea in the trunk of the car to serve in the anticipated middle of the meeting, but the meeting ended before the tea time. We started home, but at 10:30 we pulled over in the middle of nowhere, along the road, with a bunch of cows, and pulled out the hot carafe and pre-prepared bowls of tea, coffee and biscuits. Five of us spent 30 minutes standing around the back of the car having tea, instead of going home and eating like civilized people or going to work and doing our jobs. Everything will stop for a tea break.
Language Test: Our language skills are tested four times in the Peace Corps. Twice before swearing in, once at mid service and once before we leave. There are 12 levels of proficiency John and I both scored at level 2 (with 12 being high) when we swore in. Of course, I have been relieved that my school is required to teach in English and teaching children English is very important here. I get the adults to speak English by promising to take minutes at all the school meetings if the teachers and staff promise to speak in English. I am usually chastised for not learning the native language. My response is that I agree that is a significant fault, and then I tell them to go ahead and use Setswana, but I will have to decline my position as secretary. So they all grudgingly agree to speak in English. I live in an urban village and most everyone can speak English here. Soooo I have never learned a word of Setswana since I left training. John said he didn’t either and he said he didn’t care if he failed our mid-service test. I took this as a cue (or excuse) that I didn’t need to care if I failed either. I did learn how to say, “I have a dog named Rati and I love her. Everyone loves her.” – but that was it. (Ke nna ntsa e bidiwa Rati. Ke rata Rati. Botha rata Rati).
After our recent grueling Mid Service Exam, we got our scores and I was still at level 2, but John, who insisted he was going to fail scored at level 5. He swears he didn’t purposely learn without me – that it slowly snuck up on him and he had no idea he knew how to speak Setswana. He swears he would have helped me learn more if he only knew that he actually could speak the language at the Intermediate Middle level. Only one person scored lower than me and it was a person who refused to speak Setswana for the test, but I know she speaks much better than me in the community. I have the lowest grade of everyone in my class.
While I hate that I failed this test, I am grateful to have been sent to a country that’s official language is English. I am so lucky or blessed that all my life failures are muted and the way to go forward is always laid out in front of me. I still have one more year to get up to level 3 (Novice High), which is the minimum expected although not required. But I am making due at level 2.
(I put a bunch of fun pictures from Mid Service Training on Facebook – if anyone is interested.)
Gender Committee: I was asked to join the District (like a state) Gender Committee. Modern Botswana is only 45 years old and when the constitution was written men and women were given equal rights for education, voting, and other various things. The constitution was far advanced of the culture. It is interesting to be in a place where the rights were guaranteed before being demanded. Most all the work towards equality is changing the culture instead of the law.
I often aligned with the men on the committee and one of the men tells me he knows God sent me to them. Yes – I swear it is true! The more progressive men in the community seem to want there to be equality, but don’t know how that is supposed to work with the strong culture of men being the leaders and commanders in home and community. When we go to community meetings the men regularly ask, “What do you want to take from us, so that you can be equal” – and it is a genuine question. While I often want to reassure their fear and say, “We only want you to castrate yourself. You can keep your testes in a jar – it worked for the Eunuchs and the royal court in China and it will work for us here too” – but I don’t.
It wouldn’t be appropriate and they don’t really get sarcasm here. These men are sincere and change takes a long time – I am happy to be a part of a real discussion on gender equality, with men willing to truly engage in a dialogue.
I have been asked to make several presentations and design media for many of the local events. I recently worked on an international campaign called 16 Days of Activism. We sponsored two events that were well attended and got good writes-ups in the paper. I love how many men participate in these events along with the women!
Parenting: I often struggle to understand how or why people parent their children here. In the USA there is rarely anything more precious than ones child. If a parent doesn’t care about their own kids, society is supposed to intervene – and if another family member does not step in, government usually does. Everything is …..”for the kids”. Here, nothing is for the children. (Oddly while there is little respect for children, children are expected to and do totally take care of their parents when they grow up. I mean entirely take care of them – pay all their bills, give them transport and build them a home).
There is one special place I like to walk to about 2K from my home that I call The Rocks. It is beautiful and you can see all of Molepolole from the little cliff which is easy to climb. The dogs love climbing the rocks and it is a breath taking scenel at sunset. I took a few kids, along with the dogs one day. The next day 10 kids wanted to come and the next day every single kid in the neighborhood wanted to come.
I told each kid to ask their parents. Many parents came to talk to me about this. The parents couldn’t believe I would take the kids on a walk. They wanted to know how I thought of it and why I would want to do that. They also wanted me to know they thought I was being kind when I took these kids. They speculated about how much I must miss my own children back home. They would gush about how much their kids liked me and liked hanging out at our house. They were being gracious and also curious about how we get the kids so excited and interested. I could see these parents were happy that their children were engaged and that people liked their children.
I am flummoxed! What I can’t see and I don’t think I ever will – is why can’t they take their own child for a walk? What prevents this thought process? I simply cannot grasp this part of the culture. It is very very hard not to judge this and to try and believe it is simply something cultural beyond my grasp. I try to stay focused on the seeds of love that are visible.
Culture: Some things are the same in every culture. When I worked at the probation office (28 years ago) I remember several girls said they got pregnant because their religion would not allow them to use birth control. They didn’t seem to mind blowing off their religion when it came to pre-marital sex. It’s the same thing here. Everyone says they can’t get married because their culture requires that they pay 7 cows (or equivalent) before they can marry. So they are forced to have children outside of marriage since they cannot afford the cows. Of course, if you strictly follow cultural rules – there should be no sex outside of marriage as well.
A special dinner: If PCV’s come to our house for a weekend we usually make them a special dinner. It is easy for us with all the goodies we get from home. We pretend it is a dinner party and occasionally even light a candle and ignore the chipped plastic plates, and pots instead of serving dishes.
Now that the holidays are here most people have left the neighborhood and we are basically alone. However, two of the six boys that live next door had to stay here (by themselves) an extra two weeks because there was not enough transport money to take them to their grand parents home village. John and I felt sorry for them and invited them over for their own special dinner. They are in the cooking club, so they sort of know how to bake, but we planned and served a big and formal dinner, trying to teach them about social graces, and planning as well as cooking.
We had Mexican night with burritos (thanks to many people back home for sending Mexican fixings).
Most of the food in Botswana is on the bland side. But these boys have learned to appreciate some of the spices and often ask to borrow some of my hot spices and recipes to make more textured and tasty food. They were very excited about all the hot sauces, hot peppers and hot spices.
I warned them to be careful – they were creating something I would not be able to eat – but they are 11 and 12- the invincible ages. They told me they could handle it. After Jay drank about 10 glasses of water and sucked on 10 ice cubes he admitted his throat was burning pretty bad. A few minutes later he said he was getting scared about how much it hurt and acquiesced to the yogurt I suggested he substitute for the rest of his meal.
I asked him if he knew what was happening. When he said he didn’t, I told him, he was learning a lesson right now. I was glad he laughed and agreed.
After dinner John showed them some card tricks, we all played Concentration and then watched movies. John won at Concentration and he told them he was the biggest winner because he was spending every second of the game and every atom of his brain Concentrating. He said he concentrated his butt off – and they would have to learn to do that too if they wanted to win at anything. He taught them many good memory tricks. Their mother told me they said it was one of the best nights of their lives! I think it was a darn good night in our life too!
Friends Celebrations: We have met some wonderful friends here and have been invited to celebrate some milestones with them. Kelone and Jez run the NGO, Non Governmental Organization, we both do secondary project work at. I tutor girls from minority tribes in Commerce and John takes care of their computer needs. If you want to learn more about the NGO you can do it here: http://springboard-humanism.org. They had a very nice 25th wedding anniversary that we were both invited too and greatly enjoyed.
Variety Show: My school had a variety show on the last day of school. The boys all sang and danced and the girls dressed like little tramps and “modeled”. My school is so strict about everyone being in school uniform and so conservative about the students behavior and dress – I was a little shocked by how easily the staff allowed the girls to dress this way. It was one of those transcendental moments when I realized there are as many similarities as differences in people. Girls love having an opportunity to show off what they have –