11-20-2010 A Botswana Baby Shower
Today was my friend and neighbor’s baby shower. I bought her a gift and the requested “gate fee” (a Johnson’s baby product) and showed up at the indicated time (4:30 PM). It was the friendly neighborly thing to do. As usual, there wasn’t much for me to do there since half of the guests hadn’t arrived yet and preparations were only a third of the way in. I lounged around before I got sent home to fetch someone’s phone I was charging. Then I got sent home for ice. Then I got sent home for my camera. Then I got scolded for not having battery life in my camera. Then I got sent home to charge someone else’s phone. Then I got sent home to retrieve meat I was storing in my fridge for them. After a while I got sick of getting sent home and just stayed home. I mulled over the day’s events includingthe Annual General Meeting for our Orphan Support Group for which I lent the group P410 of my own cash since our coordinator didn’t have any money to buy petrol and snacks for the AGM.
He had called me in Ghanzi, saying he had a big mathata (problem) and that without food, no one would come to this vital meeting. I had given him letters requesting donations last week as per his request, with the understanding that he would travel to Ghanzi and ask stores for donations. But he hadn’t done so. He said he was planning on using his own money to donate some snacks, but his wife’s payment check hadn’t been deposited in the account yet. A big mathata, he said.
I was stuck between a rock and hard place. I had just taken out the rest of my pula to cover the costs of my upcoming trip to Maun/Francistown and the big wad of cash was burning a hole in my conscience. In the end, I took out what excess I might need for things like food and saved a small amount for the bus fare. I lent it to the coordinator under the impression that it was essential for our little CBO to move forward and he, his wife, and I went shopping for snacks. I was relieved to find that snacks actually cost less than what I had anticipated, but instead of returning my money, the coordinator insisted on adding more food, candy, and drinks to the shopping cart. Later, he would tell me, he was planning on using P200 of the Support Group’s money, money that he had taken to deposit in the bank but never did. He promised he would return to me P200 since it was technically the CBO’s money.
In the end, he spent all that I had given him, bought petrol, and I waited in the car while he ran errands, thinking about what had just happened. I fueled his car with my money... Apparently he did have his own money on hand and I felt like a first class fool for feeling that I had to put my personal finances on the line for the sake of our organization.
I was mulling these things while I raked my yard, getting pricked with makgunda and getting rained on when a troupe of women who don’t speak a word of anything-to-do-with-lekoa came and basically stole water from my rain water tank without asking. I was slightly livid. Then one of the teenagers who I knew told me, “when are you going to give me your shoes?” I’m sure she was referring back to a past conversation in which I may have been misunderstood as saying “I will give you my shoes.” But this put me in a sorely bad mood. I resumed raking in the rain and simultaneously put in a call for help from another PCV about what to do regarding the financial situation I was in.As I was beginning to explain to her the situation (i.e. vent), the phone cut out, the network died. I somehow wasn’t surprised. A few minutes later, I was summoned to the baby shower to help braai.
I showed up and one of the women said, “Do we put the foil on now?” I said, “You don’t know how to braai?” She said, “No.” Then I said, “Oh… and you think I know how to braai…” She said, “Yes.” Then I said, quite loudly and with a slight guffaw, ”Oh… God help you…“ and was called into the house where the rest of the women had gathered.
Inside was muggy and hot and filled to the brim with women forced to wear skirts and shed their shoes by tradition. We waited for another 30 minutes inhaling the scent of each other’s’ feet until the guest of honor came out wearing nothing but an embarrassed look, a black bra, a pair of red boxer shorts, and condoms tied to both her earrings. “Here comes the charlot!” they yelled. After opening prayers, welcoming remarks, and introduction of guests—essential to all Botswana ceremonies, workshops, presentations, and apparently, baby showers-- we thus proceeded to play a game of introduction, in which everyone was given a piece of yarn and for every time we were able to wrap the yarn around our finger, we had to say something about ourselves, until the yarn ran out. Then we played a game where everyone had to cut a piece of yarn and then compare the length of their yarn with the size of Seboku’s pregnant belly. Those whose yarn failed to wrap around her circumference were punished by getting attacked with baby powder. (I, of course, didn’t understand any of this game until after the punch line was given, and I wasn’t handed the yarn so I didn’t participate).
Then came a game in which we had to go around and guess the baby’s name. More people in the process were baby-powder-punished for speaking out of line or making crude jokes. In the end, the losers (I don’t know how they were determined) were further punished by being forced to dance in the center of the room. After that was over, we were all forced to stand up and dance in our spots, or risk further “punishment.” A conga linewas formed in the small space to the sounds of “I will not say Ching Chang, I want to say Ching Chong,” leaving a spot in the middle where everyone, except me, took turns jumping into the circle and “getting down!” (they yelled) or else risk getting baby-powdered. I refused and, instead, thought seriously about the implications of a group of women dancing and yelling “get down!!” at each other from a feminist point of view. I realized at this point I was taking myself way too seriously, but lacked the energy to force myself to “get down” with them despite everything. Boy, those women know how to dance!
Then came a drinking game! Seboku got to choose 3 victims who raced to chug a glass of grape juice. The winner was punished. More dancing ensued.
Then, more people were chosen by Seboku. The chosen ones had to bring a coin to the center of the room while holding the coins between their knees. Then they had to drop the coin onto a paper plate. Those who failed were punished by being forced to dance while getting baby-powedered. The dancer was SO good that she got to choose more people who were punished and had to dance. Baby powder flew, more dancing ensued. Then everyone had to get up and dance, and people who didn’t get up fast enough or who were eyeballed by the M.C. got baby-powdered (i.e. Me.)
Afterwards, we played my favorite game. Guess the gender of the baby and guess the date that the baby will be born. I thought there would be no winners or losers in this game. But alas, I was incorrect, the pregnant woman lost and got punished. Afterwards, I was hoping we would guess the size and weight of the placenta as well, but instead, we danced.
Then everyone except me played a game in which Seboku was asked how on earth she wound up dressed in nothing but red boxers, a black bra, and condom earrings with a big belly. First she said she ate a lot of beans. Then she ran out of ideas, so other people took turns making up stories. As the game went on, someone would call out a “dipotso,” or question, and challenge the story line. An addendum to the story would be made. Then another question was called, another addendum. This continued for what felt like hours and I began to despair and realize just how cranky I was and how much I was beginning to hate Setswana. The game would’ve been hella fun had I understood anything or sat next to some friends, but as it was, I just stood by the door and tried to get some relief from the hot muggy air without drawing attention to myself. After what seemed like forever, it was 10PM and Seboku was finally asked to string all the story pieces together. There were loud claps, a closing prayer, and heaping plates of paleche, coleslaw, pork, Boer worst, and chakalaka were served. A few women instantly got up from their seats, put on their shoes, and drank in the cool thick air outside. I ate Botswana style with my bare hands and felt very cultured while we all sat (or stood) and chewed in silence. Then the music came back on and people began dancing. I went home.
Oh and by the way, during the orphan support group meeting, we had way too much food because only 20 people showed up, he told me to expect 150. In the end, the agenda wasn’t complete because there weren’t enough people there. We postponed the meeting to January. Then there was a scramble as everyone grabbed the leftover food and drink. I watched my hard earned money walk away in the form of biscuits and cheese curls clutched in the fists of toddler, teenagers, dogs, and elderly alike.
I woke up at a 7:20 AM to the sounds of rushing water a few feet away from my head. As I gained consciousness, I realized that, despite my locked gate, someone had come into my compound and was getting water from the rain water tank that stood right outside my bedroom window. I weighed my options: be a creeper and scare him from my window, spy on him as he leaves to see who it is, go outside guns blaring to shame him into asking permission, or let it go and lock the tap after he’s gone. It’s not that I don’t want to give people water, it’s just that it’s not drought season and if they use the water for things like laundry now, they won’t have any water later for things like drinking or bathing. The fact is, the reason we don’t have water is because the pump at the borehole malfunctioned. This usually doesn’t last more than a day, but if a hoard of people come and take the water from the rain-water-tank (I will refer to this thing as a “jo jo” tank or a “metsi ya pula”- metsi is water, pula means rain) every time the tap goes out to do their laundry or whatever, we’ll all be fucked when we actually need water. This is a concept that is truly a non-african ideal; saving for a rainy day. No one here does it, it’s simply not in the culture.What really gets me is that I haven’t even used my own metsi ya pula yet. I haven’t needed to, I store some extra water in a 1 liter bottle for these occasions and wait till the borehole pump begins working again.
That said, I spent the next 30 minutes sleepily rummaging through the odds and ends in my house to find a small padlock, which I found, and quietly fetched some water for myself and locked the tap. (I decided to do my own laundry since everyone else in the village is benefiting from my tank now except me). As I was scrubbing away at a skirt in my bathroom sink with the tiniest bit of water I could use, I heard a commotion outside followed by a knock on my door. I held my breath. Another knock. I stopped scrubbing and started to knead silently. “Wame!” I heard a small girl’s voice. “Wame!” I thought about a drunk looking man who stopped by my house last night asking for water. Thato, my neighbor was just then carrying a liter of water out of my house to give to the water-maintenance people who were preparing to go to the borehole and fix the problem. I was whining to her about all of the people coming to get water from the tank when it’s not even drought season, so at the time, I looked at the man and his empty bottle and said no. Then Thato gave the man some of the water in the liter bottle I gave her and said she’d refill it from whatever was left in her pipes. I felt like a miser.
“Wame!” A sharp rasp on my window. “Wame! I am asking for water!” the voices subsided for a few seconds and then I heard another sharp rasp on the window in my bedroom. “Wame!” This time there were two voices, one sounded like an adolescent boy. “Wame!!” I could feel their eyes burning a hole through my walls, searching for signs of “Wame.” “Wame!!!” I could hear footsteps around the side of the house, the back of my house, then to the front again. “Wame! I am asking for water!” the voices suddenly got shriller, more desperate. I stopped kneading my skirt and stared straight ahead at the bathroom wall. I knew I was safe in this room, that no one could see me. I could essentially hide here forever and people would think I wasn’t home. But… the bible verse about Jesus asking for food and drink came into my head. I argued with myself, this wasn’t the same situation. These people aren’t thirsty—or are they? How cruel am I for denying people water! Please come back another time, I thought to myself. Come back later, when I’m in a better mood. Besides, it’s too late now to come to the front door. What would I say? I was sleeping? I was bathing? I was listening to music? I was paralyzed. “Wame!! I AM ASKING FOR WATER! WAME!!” I stood there staring straight ahead, my hands still soaked in soapy water. For what seemed like forever, I was in an imaginary standoff with the invisible voices outside. Then the noises started to fade and I realized that the girl was still yelling my name as she left the compound. “Wame! I am asking for water! Wameeee…” Then silence. I waited. I sat on the bathtub and waited some more. I padded softly to my spare bedroom in the back of my house and lay down. I waited some more. Finally, I emerged and peeked through my window.
There was no one in my yard, they had been polite enough to close the gate after them. Then I saw them, a group of girls ranging from very small to my age having a conference of sorts on the street outside my house. They stood around with empty water bottles. They were probably trying to figure out what to do.I felt horrible. There had to be another option. Other people with jojo tanks, the public jojo tanks, the ones at the clinic, the rac, the school, the hostel, I could name them all. I still felt horrible. What did they do before I came? When the house was empty for a few months and the jojo was locked? There had to be another option. I’m not turning them out on the street dying of thirst. I had already given P410 people to a cause I thought was desperate, P410 is 20% of my monthly allowance! I followed the ridiculous social guidelines and gave P100 to my counterpart’s farewell party. I bought a gift and a “gate pass” for the babyshower yesterday that cost me nearly P80. That’s nearly P600 of gifts in just one month! On top of that I had already given out all of my own water bottles. I had lost kitchenware, Tupperware, hardware to random strangers. I charge a minimum of 10 phones a week. Hell, I’ve devoted 2 years of my life to this place. Now they’re asking mefor water?
I remember back when I first arrived and kids started showing up at my place with big empty jugs asking for water from my tap. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were doing this because they were too lazy to walk to the public taps and I was a closer, more ignorant option. Later that month, I went away for a couple of days and Thato said that the tap outside my house was left open and was spewing water onto my lawn.
Thato. Thato, the saint. What would Thato do?
An hour later, the water came back.