Friday, April 15, 2011

City Fever

I've been in Gaborone for almost a week now doing various activities from medical appointments, kids camps, and grant writing workshops. Whenever I think of the city, I get excited, like my trips in will be like vacation. Well, the truth is, it is and it isn't. It's so great coming in and getting things done, like getting my teeth taken care of and applying for a mobile internet modem (they couldn't find one in time for me, so they are shipping one to Ghanzi). But on the other hand, coming from a very small rural settlement to the big city with a giant list of things to do is immensely tiring. The list usually looks something like this:

  • order something from the internet
  • call someone
  • meet up with someone
  • pick up a form
  • ask someone about something
  • buy asian food
  • buy white food
  • buy food
  • drink lots of coffee
  • have a cocktail
  • get salad
  • buy cookies

I can always think of one more task I have to complete, or item that would be really awesome to get. I get sent by other people to do stuff to like, get this picture printed, find a book, pick up specialty food items. Of course it's my pleasure to do these things, but at the end of the day, I collapse white-faced and drained in whatever bed or couch I'm crashing in and think-- wow, when can I go home?

Scenes from Gaborone (Pronounced Phlegm-ah-bore-own-nee):
1. In the morning, I walk down the street to my dental appointment and a security guard yells out "CHINA!" when he fails to get my attention, he yells out louder, "HEY! LADY! CHINESE LADY!!!" I keep walking, pretending he's not there and later send the following text to my friend, "'Hey Chinese Lady!"' Rawr. Fucker."

At lunchtime, some men approach me at the bus rank, "hey china!" I don't respond. "China!!" Silence. "Korea?" More silence. "Japan? ... South Korea?" I keep walking, "Hey lady, where are you from?" I have to smile, but I keep walking. I hear them calling after me. "Where you from? ...Botswana??"

At dinnertime in a busy mall, I walk past a big black man carrying a briefcase and looking very important. As we cross paths, he whispers low and soft in my ear without looking back at me, "China."

2. I woke up this morning feeling quite lonely. It's a big city and for the most part, I am alone. Some volunteers chose to make close circles of friends here. I can see how this can be done. The missionary couple I met this weekend, their church friends, local volunteers, members of my friends' circles from ghanzi, hip hop clubs, ethnic groups... but for some reason I choose to remain anonymous. Maybe I'm a masochist and I like being lonely.

I walked to my appointments feeling a little down and out, tired and limping cause I sprained my knee again. When I stopped in a china shop to pick up a power adapter, I struck up conversation with the chinese lady behind the counter. For me, this is a regular occurrence. For these ladies though, I think it makes their day. When I walk in the stores, I can see the shop owners looking at me, examining my face, my clothes, my tan, my girth, seeing if they know me, where I'm from. The conversations usually go something like this:
"Can I have 2 adapters please?" (in English)
"Yes, here. 20 pula." (in English) Eyes scan my full body, searching for something. What?
"Thank you." Pause. A little hesitation. I'm wondering if I really want to start this... "Are you from China?" I ask (in English)
Eyes look up, a little curious. "Yes... you?" (in English)
"I'm from America, but my parents are from Taiwan." (In English)
Her voice quickens a bit "do you speak Chinese?" (In English)
"Yes, a little. I can hear but not speak" I say (in Chinese)
Woman is excited now. "OH! something something something something economics, something something politics, something something food!" (in Chinese I don't understand completely)
Polite nodding. "yes yes yes! OH yes! Yes I will visit your part of China soon. Yes, where is that again? Blah blah district? OH yes I know that district!" Blatant lie. "What is your name? Oh Fung! Yes I'm Ling. Oh yes. I will come next time I am here. I live..." (switch to English) "far away... about 10 hours... driving.... driv--- driv---" (switch to Chinese) "Far, I live far. I work... ah...." (in English) "Nevermind."

Exit Sunny with new adapters, big smile and new friend who I will likely never see again because I'm too embarrassed that I can't remember her name or understand anything she just told me.

3. There's a pedestrian overpass at the main bus rank in Gabs that I have to pass periodically for various reasons. Each time I've passed this overpass, there is a lady sitting on it with a young child begging for money. She doesn't make eye-contact with any passerbyers. She chooses to sit with her hands held out and her eyes cast downwards. I'm so used to these guys in Chicago and New York that I pass by without thinking. Today, I realized that she's the only beggar I've ever seen in Botswana and I wondered... what's her story? I thought of stopping to talk to her, in whatever Setswana I could manage, but by then I was already through the overpass. Pandhandlers in America are so common, but here, it's a rare thing to see. I think it's cause the government has such an extensive welfare system and generally speaking, the people take responsibility for their less fortunate family members. Still... I wonder. What's her story?

4. I'm walking through an arts and crafts fair where for once people are not heckling me at all. As I'm passing a sweets booth I hear a call, "Wena! Tla Kwano! Come here!" I hear this a lot, sometimes I answer, sometimes I don't. I generally know how the conversations usually go, this one was no different. I turn around, "Nna?" (Meeeeee?)
The women squeal with delight. "Ee!! Wena!! Tla Kwano!" (Yes you, come here!)
I walk over. "Dumella Bomma." (Hello Ladies)
Cacophany of noise from the 3 women talking over each other. "Ke batla..." (I want) "...o montle!" (you are beautiful)...."ditsala wagago" (your friends)
From this and previous experience I gather they think I'm pretty, they want to be friends. Now, I used to be creeeeped out whenever women approach me and say "I want to be your friend." but I'm finding it's a rather harmless common occurrence that usually involves an exchange of phone numbers, a brief explanation of who I am, where I got my setswana name, and where I'm from, and then lots of laughing, "ee!!" (yes) "wa itse!!!" (you know) and "aoo! weno, o mostswana!" (you are motswana). I normally never hear from these women again, or if I do, I don't know who they are and I usually just say "eee" in agreement over the phone until they hang up.

This time, was no different. I told them in my simple setswana where I was from, what I'm doing, and where I live. And amidst laughter, explanations of what my setswana name means, introductions, and exclamations of amusement, we exchanged phone numbers and I was on my way.

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