Monday, August 23, 2010

What's a Typical Day for Sunny Like? Botswana: 3rd in the Happy Cup.

How can a day be typical if I feel like I'm still just figuring things out? Everyday is different so far. The only thing that has finally become routine is my eating habits (a huge victory for me). I'm trying to work out more. I clean and do my laundry once in a while. I get visited by people every now and then. I visit other people every now and then. I shut myself up in my house every now and... again.

Yesterday, I came back from Ghanzi after waiting 4 hours outside at the hitching post for a ride. At the hitching post, adjacent to about 4 different shabeens (tin structures that sell alcohol), I got
harassed by a drunk guy who just didn't understand that I could possibly not want to marry him. He insisted, he loved me and that he didn't want to just fuck me, he wanted to marry me (or any other white woman) and take care of me so he can move out of Africa. After I humored a long conversation with him, all the while he was drawing circles on my thigh with his finger (the American in me wanted to kick his ass), he said, "don't talk to me like I'm stupid" and I responded with, "hey, I'm not. I'm talking to you." I guess normally I would act a little cold and stupid in front of strange drunk men who talk to me, but I was feeling a little carefree and bold. I had just asked for a ride and accepted a coke from another guy who was sort of a new stranger/friend; I was introduced to him by his cousin. Unfortunately, the cousin later called me and said he "loves me so much" and wants to know "what I think about that?" I told him flat out "Ha, no, not ever going to happen." I understand that even in America I'm exceptionally... prude, but I've never been asked so doggedly to explain myself before...

In any case, a pick-up truck pulls up after 4 hours of waiting at the hitching post and the driver says, "Yes we're going to New Xade, but we don't know the way." I couldn't believe we'd finally gotten a ride. The kids I'm with and I jump in, Nancy jumps in the front to give directions, and we're finally on our way. Half way through, we pull over and the driver and his male friend come out, open the window of the bed of the truck and start rummaging through a cooler and flirting
with me, drawing circles on my back where my "Life is Good" logo is

"You live in New Xade? You live with your husband? Alone, huh? You drink? Wanna drink? You don't want a drink? Come on, relax and have a drink, enjoy yourself..." I'm pretty sure their wives were in the cab with them. We finally get a move on again and as we take off, the kids
and I, who are in the back of the pick up truck, realize that this is quite a sticky situation. The 4' x 4' pick up truck contains nothing but a huge cooler full of alcoholic beverages, the drivers don't know the way to New Xade, and we're slipping and sliding sideways on this dirt road at a speed that is far too fast for the full 108 km. The kids and I brace ourselves and try to fall asleep for the remainder of the trip. As we pull into familiar surroundings, I breathe a sigh of relief, and then am horrified at the idea that perhaps these guys were so drunk that they decided to give us a ride no matter where we were going and may in fact ask us for accomodation or other favors in
return, especially given the fact that all they had with them was a cooler of beer, no food, no clothes, no tent.

In the end, nothing at all happened, I got dropped off and even helped out, and my friend Andre, who had my key, met me at my front gate. I'm a little humored and a little guilty that I had been so quick to judge and imagine the worst possible scenario with these men. Maybe I'll get better soon at being able to have conversations with African men and still be friendly and open without having them believe that I would ever marry them. "Why don't you like Botswana men?" the drunk man had asked me. "It's not that I don't like Botswana men," I said, "I just don't want to get married." I bristled at the insinuation that he would accuse me of being somewhat racist, and then I had to rethink that-- am I being racist?

I'm reading C.S. Lewis's "4 Loves" right now, and in the chapter on friendship, he explains that men can not be friends with women if they are not of the same or similar "educational level." Without a sharing of common interest or a quest for a common truth, there can not be
anything other than erotic love or affection between the two. Initially, after reading this chapter, I felt a little bristled that he would be so sexist, even though he wrote this in another time when
perhaps this was somewhat true. Then on second thought, I thought he might be on to something. When I was in Turkey, there was no talking with the uneducated men on the street, unless they were very very old, but the educated men became my friends. Here, I'm starting to realize it's the same. Maybe he's right.

Then yesterday Andre said something interesting to me. I had given him an extra flashlight to give to Thato and he said it would make her immensely happy. I said, I couldn't believe how she wakes up at 4 am to make fat cakes by candlelight for her tuck shop and works her more-than full time job each day and takes care of her child and oversees the construction at her house. I gestured to my house which seemed massive in the face of her 1 room concrete building and said I feel weird living here when she works so damn hard. The speed at which Andre replied made me believe he wasn't just being poetic or cliché, he said, "And yet, most of the day, she's happier than you are." I brushed off the selfish inclination to believe (incorrectly) that he was being snarky about my melancholy and took it as a lesson, if not a time-old one, about happiness and satisfaction. People look to us, America, as a success story, and yet there is still unhappiness there as there is everywhere. I hear all the time here, Education and Income are the key to successful living, and yet... Botswana is ranked the 3rd most happy nation in the world.

I wonder... if consumerism could breed such dissatisfaction in people, could my being here be creating more discontent than happiness? And if so, should I even be here, or is happiness well enough left alone? Thinking on the past 2 weeks and my slow assimilation into this quiet
life, could it be that I am happier here than I was in the states?

Signing Off,

P.S. So friends, i have to admit, I've been pretty guilty about this one thing. After being visited every night by new aquaintances and old friends in New Xade the past week or so, I've been hiding the past 2 nights. I turn off the lights and cook and eat dinner in front of my computer screen in the dark watching movies with the volume down and pretending I'm not home. I'm not sure if it works, and in fact, I've been foiled by one or two visits, but I feel guilty for my suddenly
evasive behavior. It's not that I don't like the people who visit, and in fact, if they didn't visit my day would be a lot less enjoyable. It's just that I've grown accustomed to having time alone, and without time alone, I get tired very easily. I understand that there's not much for people to do at night in new xade, and if you're not an alcoholic (or maybe if you are one), you are always in search of someone with a tv who'll let you in at night-- I just dont want to be that someone, especially since I... don't... have a TV... I realized tonight, I like New Xade, but I don't love it yet.

I still have to grow used to the sounds and the people here, I still have to learn not to be scared of drunk people and dark nights. The truth is, I still wake up every night because it's either cold or I have a dream that something is happening in my house but my body is too tired to respond to my brain's signal to "move move move!" This morning, it happened again, so I slept in, late.

It's been 3 months, our In-Service Training is in 10 days, when we'll be able to meet up with all our training buddies again, compare notes, see who's left and wish them well, and get a chance to live in a city-motel with cell service, clean sheets, internet access, electricity, and privacy for 2 whole weeks. It's not that I don't like it here... but I can't wait. Afterall, they say "absence makes the heart grow fonder"


Oscar the Grouch Rears His Ugly Green Head

Somewhere out there in Peace Corps land, there is a graph that is supposed to show one's morale over the course of our 2 years abroad. It begins pretty low, then it moves up as we get used to our surroundings, then it starts to dip again... I'm not sure exactly where I am on said scale, but today I am starting to feel myself dip a little. I crawled out of bed this morning not feeling like superman anymore. I found myself circling the empty village (the schools are on summer vacation) with little purpose. I met our local Japanese Anthropologist who is trying to learn about the changes in Kua culture as a result of the relocation. It was a fascinating subject to me, one that seemed vital to my work here, but she seemed tiresome, perhaps, or maybe I was projecting my own exhaustion onto her. (too much Freud?)

In any case, as she was Japanese, everyone who didn't mistake me for her or vice versa assumed that when we met, we would automatically be great friends. They had told me there was asian lady visitng that I needed to check. They were telling her that there was a "mo-China" in
the village. When we finally met, we shook hands, and that... was just about it. I could have sworn the whole village was watching us, though. She was fluent in the San languages spoken here, she spoke it like it was her native tongue. I got jealous because all I have is a stumbling setswana. This would explain why all week random elderly San men and women have been approaching me and trying to speak to me. I thought about this and my jealousy as we parted, and soon we were both on our respective ways. She to her San host family, me to my Tswana
government colleagues.

By the time the afternoon rolled around, all i wanted was to go home. But I couldn't. Instead, I was asked to stay and wait so I could walk with my colleages, which all around is a really sweet idea, but I wasn't feeling so sweet. I felt like the guy in the trash can on Sesame Street. So I stayed, but pouted. A drunken man came by to talk to my counterpart regarding the size of his pants. He said his pants were too big (I think this is what he said) and showed us his waist to
prove his point. As he exposed his belly, I realized that this man was a hunchback. His stomach was up by where his chest would be, his shoulders, relaxed, lay next to his ears. The friends I sat with with burst into explosive laughter. I looked from person to person and wondered why they were laughing so hard. Then one of my colleagues slapped me (playfully).

"Laugh!" he commanded me.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because of his body structure," he said.
Then, another laughing colleague slapped me, too. "Ouch..." I said, still not laughing. "Wame, Laugh!" They told me. I couldn't laugh. It just wasn't funny to me. Then the men who had hit me started laughing at me. "She said Ouch!" they exclaimed.

Later on, as I walked home, not understanding the Setswana conversation of those walking with me, I pouted and fussed with a broken nail and wondered what on earth I was doing here. A PCV who was here a few years ago told me that the people will view me with suspicion when I first arrive. My job is to get them to accept me and trust me. I didn't know how I was ever going to get there and I secretly resented the anthropologist who could speak so fluently the San languages without needing to know a word of Setswana. I resented the Peace Corps for putting me in a Tswana host family while this lady got to live with the San. I resented myself for not trying hard enough, for not hiring a D/gui or D//gana tutor, for choosing to focus on Setswana and still feeling like I've gotten nowhere in the past 3 months, for being so hard on myself and others in this village. I resented my friends for laughing at me and laughing at the man. I
resented my colleagues for trying to speak chinese by saying "ching chong" and trying to speak sesarwa by emitting random clicks. I resented the San for not accepting me right away, for not
understanding that my inability to speak their language was just a sign of stupidity and ignorance, nothing more nothing less. I wanted to tell them, see, see, people make assumptions about me and my language too, accept me!

When I finally got home, I resented my friends Andre and Thato for being so cool that I offered, stupidly, to make them pizza tonight and forcing me to break out of my bad mood. Then resented the hot men and women in P90X who made me feel like John Goodman during the Ab work out; they sweated (swat?) and panted and moved and bent when I couldn't even do a single sit up without cheating. But then, after Thato and Andre came over, and the pizza came out of the oven and I put the first burning piece in my mouth, my resentment melted and I
even watched without a care as, later in the night, the rest of the pizza dissapeared into the mouths of random people who stopped by.

Just now, I've realized that my "generosity" (nothing compared to the generosity of my neighbors and friends) combined with the social norms of this culture has put me in a very odd position. As most people I work with on a daily basis has tried a slice of my pizza at one point
or another, either directly with me or through someone else, news has spread that I "Can cook." And now people are just stopping by to see what I'm eating, or telling me that they're coming over for lunch, or trying to get me to invite them over. I'm flattered that people think I'm "sweet" as Thato put it kindly... but having people ask me to cook for them is doing nothing for my weight-loss/stay-fit diet, or my budget.


Weight Loss?

This morning, I woke up feeling strong, powerful, and awake. That's a lie. I actually couldn't sleep at all last night and woke up this morning feeling like I had stayed up late (like those nights studying at Core) but was also sore from head to toe from working out. I stayed in all morning reading, working, writing letters, trying not to snack. a few hours before lunch, I headed off to my favorite tuckshop for conversation and friendship. I was met by the same friend who insisted
earlier that I was so fat that I couldn't fit through the door. Someone told her I was on a diet and she began to insist that it wasn't working. This time, though, not only did I say something to
refute her, but my other friends did too: one even counter-insisted that I AM losing weight. In fact, he said, I've lost at least 500 grams.

Thanks, M.

I came home and had cookies and later, ice cream.


The Elderly San: the last people on earth to see electricity.

The past 2 days, Kago, the volunteer who was here in 2006-2008 came to visit. He showed me around the village, introduced me to his friends. It was a welcome break in the middle of a rut-ful time. We walked everywhere, anywhere, and I suddenly felt this little place open up
into something much larger. If I hadn't been feeling homesick this past week, it would have been an exciting and invigorating time, but as I haven't been feeling my best, mostly I just stored all the new information in a data trunk in my head and tried not to feel overwhelmed. I'm excited to go away for training, and I'll be even more excited to pursue all those new discoveries that Kago showed me when I return. It was as if we were playing a game of Peace Corps Connect the Dots, and as we walked around he he pointed and talked, lines were drawn from one person to another, one project to a person, one person to a committee or group or event I had read about in the files I've been studying. I realized, that you really really can't judge yours or any one else's peace corps service-- (for those of you reading because you may be curious about what it's like to be a PCV) everyone's experience is different. Those who I've identified as potential partners and friends Kago didn't even know. Some of those who he worked extensively with, just shrugged their shoulders at me. Which reminds me...****If anyone out there in Blog-Reading Land knows anything about alcohol abuse among indigenous populations, please hooka brother up.****

Today, I bid farewell to Kago and resumed my daily living, except I'm so zapped that I just sat at home all morning wondering if I really had the energy to get back out there. I did, for a few hours, finding out the details of the Kuru Dance Festival which I'll be attending tomorrow to Sunday morning, and catching up with some people here and there. I was chatting with some women at the clinic, when I saw an elderly, wrinkled, and tiny san woman ambling slowly up the driveway with a cane. She walked painfully painfully slow and the driveway was painfully painfully long. In Batswana culture, the visitor (or the person walking) is the one
responsible for saying Hi, if you don't say Hi, it is considered rude. In a place like New Xade where one can see another person coming from a mile away, this can lead to some painfully awkward situations for an American who is accustomed to saying Hi to everyone she meets.
Usually, I just sit (or stand) and watch quietly and wait until the person arrives. Which is what I did for this elderly woman. When she finally got close enough and I couldn't take it anymore, I
bust out of my social bubble and began helping her to walk to the door. I don't think she could even see me well, and she kept trying to jump the curb and walk on the sand in front of the clinic; the women who were outside kept shouting out instructions to me and her in //Gana-- no no, turn! Turn! Don't go there, go AROUND! That door, not this one! Help her, take her arm, no not that one, the one with the cane. Get the cane. GET THE CANE!... etc. etc. I finally got her to
the door. I thought about what I've learned this week with Kago, that the elderly here have no experience whatsover with things like paved roads, electricity, motors. The woman must have felt more comfortable walking in the sand, that's why she kept trying to jump the curb. But
she was frail, her arms and legs were the circumference of... maybe 3 of my fingers. Standing up, she reached somewhere between my elbow and my shoulder-- if you know me, you know that's SHORT. She stood wrapped in layers of colorful strips of cloth. As we got to the tile
surrounding the clinic, her cane would slip every time she set it down, she grabbed my hand tighter. I grabbed her torso. We finally got to the door and she heaved herself over the doorframe which stood maybe... 1cm off the ground. She must have though there was a step
there. Then she gestured to sit on a bench and other people began helping her with her medical papers.

"Where did you get this old woman, Wame?" One of my nurse-friends asked me, emerging from an exam room. "She should be dead. How old is she? 150 years?" he asked. I didn't know where this conversation was going.

"I really hope you're kidding," I said with a smile hoping not to sound judgemental or offensive. At some point, I had told someone that we treat our elderly pretty badly, we locked them up in a retirement home/mental institution and rotate vists on the weekends and treat them like children. I thought about that as I watched the old woman, making sure she didn't require any more help that I could offer.

"She should be dead" my friend repeated. I smiled, taking it as a dramatic joke, backed away and left, still feeling the woman's wrinkled and slightly dirty skin in my hand. I felt like I always felt
whenever I volunteered at a nursing home, I felt dirty. I supressed the urge to rush to the bathroom to wash my hands or wipe my hand on my skirt. In a way, I thought that this would somehow honor her... as if keeping her on my body would somehow give her back her dignity. She wouldn't even notice, or care for that matter. No one did.

I pushed my way through the door, said goodbye to the crew outside and headed for home, feeling homesick. Unexpected tears came to my eyes. As I reached the gate at the end of the driveway, a woman stopped to greet me. "Dumela" she said, then she hestitated, smiled, and
complimented me. "Wena, o mokima," she said--"You, you are fat." She smiled. I smiled.

"Thank you," I said.

8/19/2010 Integration

I walked home today in the sand under the hot hot sun next to a crew of goats to the sound of goatbells... and I thought, wow what could be more Peace Corps? The answer: if someone was walking with me. Integration is impossible here. I've decided.


I can't believe it's only been a few days. I have some stories to tell of the Kuru dance festival but I havent the time to write them up. I will soon and post. I'm spending 2 weeks in the capit-ol city for training!! You know what that means? Latte's, restaurants, cell service, clean sheets, and internet.

1 comment:

  1. I sent out a package last week, so I'm not sure when you'll receive it, but keep an eye open for it. :)
    PS - I like this little video. Maybe with your time in the Capitol city you can take 4 minutes to view it. I miss you!