A long week; A new Chief and another wake – October 8, 2011 – by Carol
Sorry we have not written in a week. We had a first language proficiency test, safety test and Peace Corp Development tests this week and we just couldn’t get time to write a post, let alone get to the internet cafe to actually post even if we would have had time to write. (We are still banned from using the internet available at the school until October 15th).
Despite, or maybe because, of the time crunch we are still loving the Peace Corps, our host family, our class mates and the Motswana people.
The Host Family: Lillian and Morgan, our Botswana mom and dad – are truly great Peace Corp parents. They give John and I the space we need while always being inviting and finding little and sometimes big ways to help us integrate into their family and community. They are both salt of the earth type of people and constantly look for the bright side and accept things as they come. The also work very hard for people their age. They are always up when I get up at6:00 AM and they are usually working in the garden, the yard or doing some other manual cleaning.
When we get home at night the house is always scrubbed clean and the yard raked in perfect lines. All the pretty purple flowers from the huge flower trees are swept up each day and the yard is perfect.
Sometimes when we get home from school the very last thing I want to do is cook a meal for five people from scratch – but I don’t see how I can tell these seventy-something year old people I can’t cook their dinner (especially since John cooks with me). The other night when we got home they were still working in the garden, which is the size of a basketball court. It contains about 20 garden beds that are partitioned by big bolder rocks that have been terraced on a hill. Lillian and Morgan dug all the boulders out by hand and terraced this rock garden over the last 20 years. The dirt is fairly decent for growing if enough rocks are removed and the ground is leveled. Lillian and Morgan are living on a very limited income and the garden is a necessity. When we got home Monday night they asked us to help in the garden, which meant pick ax the ground to break up the rocks and move the rocks to the wall barriers. So we spent an hour doing that, and then cooked dinner, and then the dishes in the outdoor kitchen with the water drawn from the bathroom. We didn’t get started on our homework until10:00that night and finished aftermidnight. It still gets pretty darn cold at night so we did our homework in the freezing cold.
I know it sounds like I am complaining – but I’m really not. Truly there are very few things more gratifying than helping good hardworking people plant a garden to feed themselves. We have been invited to return for the harvest and if possible we will come.
The Coronation: The village of Kayne has been planning the coronation of a new Paramount Chief for the last year – and the ceremony was this Friday. Again, we are lucky to be Peace Corp trainees because we got front row seats to this incredible event.
A new paramount chief only gets coroneted about once every 20 or 30 years and there are only 9 Chiefs inBotswana. It is big deal, where literately thousands of people attend. The entire village chips in to provide for the coronation, the feast after and all the presents for the new Chief.
The village bought him an Arabic Luxury SUV, many horses, 100 cattle, several special chief chairs and a bunch of other things I didn’t see. I guess it must be really good to be chief! We saw the really great dancers from the previously discussed culture night, several choirs singing awesome African traditional music and unbelievable amounts of speeches and prayers in Setswana language. Apparently speeches and prayers are as necessary at coronations as inaugurations. However, Motswana people seem much more accepting about these very long, drawn out activities than Americans.
Lillian was very excited about this event and she convinced me to commission a traditional dress for the coronation.
We went to the seamstress and there were no pictures or patterns. Instead I was to verbalize the design I wanted it would be done two days later. We also decided John should get a traditional shirt. I had to go back twice the next night (while studying for the language exam) and the next night too. I had low expectations because my capacity for clothes design is untested. But, I LOVE MY DRESS!!!! I got a shirt, top and headdress. John’s shirt didn’t get done on time, but the basic design looks quite promising. Everyone was very impressed with my Motswana clothes.
The dress fits pretty well, except for a clump in the lower back that we asked the women to fix. She informed us that it was not fixable on her end – it didn’t fit right because of my body. I’m trying to decide if this is an issue I need to take up with God or maybe just take Lillian and ask her to ask the women to fix it. (We will post pictures of the dress when John gets his shirt too).
When the new Chief finds out he is to be coroneted, his mophato (group of friends from childhood that now get to hang out/advise/hunt with the Chief as a job) are to find and kill a leopard, and cure the skin for him to wear at the ceremony. (See pictures).
The mophato present the skin, a spear, and a shield and the new Chief has to wear this leopard skin though at least two hours of the ceremony.
Funny thing about the mophato group. They carry high old, high power hunting rifles on their shoulders (mostly just for ceremony) and one of their functions is security so they stand around the chief and watch for any potential problems. The funny thing is they won’t let anyone sit or stand in a potentially harmful-to-the-chief place, and they are constantly moving people around and out of the way, however, if you have a camera in your hand, they will let you through to take a close up picture of the chief.
Our culture advisors told us they trust that no one wants to harm the Chief. Their idea of security is certainly different than American ideas.
Women from the village line the walkway with their legs stretched in front of them, waving tree branches and making very loud banshee noises with their tongues at all happy points of the ceremony.
The President of the county attended the ceremony, but he did not talk and was not the center of attention. The President also gave permission to hunt and kill a leopard for the event as they are not allowed to be hunted. The President seemed to give very high homage to the naming of the new Paramount Chief.
Overall it was quite impressive (minus the sunburn from 6 strait hours in the blazing sun and the extended speeches and prayers).
This is a life moment when I think “I can’t believe I am inAfrica, at a Paramount Chief’s coronation, in the second row seat because I am serving my county”. I still have so many moments here that I can’t believe I get to have this life and experience these things!
In Botswanathe legal system is very similar to the legal system in Europewith an elected parliament and President and court system. However, the government has also allowed local governments to keep a local Chief. The Paramount Chief is sort of like a governor that does not have to deal with a general assembly, but instead consults with local Chiefs or advisors.
The people of the village can choose to allow the police/court system to deal with civil or some basic criminal problems or the local Chief (called Kgosi’s). The Chief’s decisions can be appealed to the administrative courts if the outcome is not satisfactory – but most people I have talked to state they would rather work through the Chief system. It seems to be a unique way that this society
has maintained some of its culture while also moving into a more modern government system.
The wake: After the ceremony we went back to class and then home. Morgan’s aunt had died and we went with the family to another wake service. I am happy to inform you that during the prayers, songs, and support, the really old women were not forced to sit on the floor so men could have seats, just us middle aged and young women. After the service the men left to go grieve in their own way. John told me this included jelly sandwiches, hot tea and lots of talking and conversation around a small camp fire a short distance from the grieving families home in the local Kgotla. Interestingly the women did the exact same thing in the living room. Wonder how long until everybody agrees these things can be done in mixed company.
We were honored that Lillian and Morgan asked us to come as we are part of the family. Lillian has asked us to attend the funeral on Sunday too. The funeral starts at5:30 AM, but we don’t have to leave until6:00 AM. We were told the funeral starts so early because it is too hot in the afternoon. However, the night before we had to take our weekly dose of Malaria medication and along with a full day of sun, John seemed to be feeling a bit sick, so when6:00 AMrolled around we just couldn’t get out of bed. We were VERY grateful that Lillian let us catch up on our sleep, although we felt very bad that we could not attend the ceremony. As it turned out we were very glad for the much needed sleep and the Sunday to get things done preparing for our week long departure to visit our sample work sites.
Language Test: Ok- what everyone has been waiting for. I didn’t get my test results back – but as soon as it was done Oteng (our language tester) asked how I thought I did. I said I thought I did pretty poorly. He affirmed and asked why I made it so bad. I told him I didn’t mean too, it just happened. He said I need to try harder, learn tenses, vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar, and then I would be fine. I feel much better now that I know what part to focus on!!!! I will get the final grade next week. John thinks he did better, but he didn’t ace the test either. Many of the people here were feeling bad about the test and their abilities. They are smart people use to success and they have very high standards and expectations for themselves and it is hard to just fail. We will all be allowed to hire language tutors if we have not mastered language by the end of training.
This is a darn hard language to learn. Nouns and verbs are conjugated, there are different words for affirmative and negative concepts and all kinds of other non intuitive, non rule based construction! Also, half the words in the dictionary (latest edition published in 1993) are no longer used and our language teachers tell us we should ask them about any words we want to use in the dictionary – since a great many of the words don’t exist any more and even they don’t know what the words mean!!!!!
This language is fully under development still and we see continual differences in pronunciation and meaning of words and sentences used by different generations. There is no set standard or set of rules like there is for so many other languages.
We did pretty well on the rest of our tests (culture, Peace Corps Mission, Security and community integration) though.
More Peace Corps: We will be doing “shadowing” next week. This is where we individually all go to spend a week with another senior volunteer and they show us the ropes of what we might be doing and how we might be living. We are going together to Mochuti, and we will be with Marion and Tish Mobley. Mochuti is only 45 minutes (driving directly – 2 hours by local buss), but many of the other trainees are being sent 10 -14 hours across the country. Some of them will have to take several busses and spend a night alone in a village somewhere along the way. That is quite intimidating and I feel a bit sorry for those that may have to do this, however, those that are going a long distance will also get to see some other parts of the country which are VERY cool. Up north is the Safari area and even when you are not on a safari, you will see many wild animals. I know we will get a chance to travel up there in the future.
Anyway, Marion is another IT guy and John is very excited to be working with him. Tish is an NGO (non government organization) person – so I won’t get direct Life Skill training, which is what I will be doing on my permanent job, but her work seems like it will translate to several Like Skills programs. It seems that the Peace Corps has a lot of flexibility and variety in assigned jobs – and I don’t think it will be a problem. We are really looking forward to seeing what PC volunteers actually do.
Anyway – life is good and getting better everyday.