The opinions expressed in this blog are mine, and mine alone. They do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas in Botswana

The post office in Shoshong has a mini tree and other Christmas decorations. Otherwise, the village is pretty devoid of Christmas preparations as we think of them in the states. Christmas is celebrated much differently here.

I grew up in an alcohol-free household, so we never had parties focused on drinking. Every Christmas Eve, mom, dad and I hosted an open house/potluck for friends and community members. We cooked turkey, mashed potatoes, etc. I made deviled eggs. We made hot chocolate, sat around the fireplace and sang Christmas carols. Perhaps other families celebrated Christmas with alcohol, but we didn't.

Regardless of your choice of beverage, Christmas in the states is usually about remembering to spend time with family and showing loved ones that you care. And obviously some people attend church to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. However, in Botswana, people do one of two things: get drunk or go to church. People in Shoshong have been getting drunk since last weekend. They celebrate the "festive season" as they call it by drinking with friends. Christmas isn't centered on family like it is for us. Families don't give gifts, for the most part. No one has a Christmas tree or decorations of any kind. I spent Christmas in Hawaii last year so the hot weather doesn't make Christmas feel different. It doesn't feel like Christmas as I know it because that outpouring of family love and support isn't there.

I was thinking about this the other day and came to the conclusion that Batswana don't really need a "Christmas season" to remind them to be giving and call their family members. If someone comes over your house while you are eating, you feed him/her. It is a society based on sharing and looking out for each other. Also, most Batswana live with their family members in villages. They don't need one day to call someone across the country like we do in the states. And in many ways, the fact that they don't need these reminders to be loving human beings is the most beautiful aspect of their culture.

But I am an American. I want my tree. I want my lights. And my AWESOME mom sent me a mini tree in the mail, as well as Christmas lights. Unfortunately they burned out because of voltage problems so I am going to have to go into the nearest larger town to get some lights to hang up tomorrow. I think I may carry on a Plant family tradition and keep the lights on year round...

(Note the New England Patriots santa hat)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sadi's Wedding

I have been very lucky to find three very close Batswana girlfriends since I have been here. I can talk with them about anything I would confide in friends at home about. And since friends at home aren't always accessible, it is amazing to have found such good friends while in Botswana. Their names are Zola, Shosho and Sadi. Zola is the daughter of a local restaurant/bar owner. Shosho came over my house when I first got here to help Mma Mosinyi put up my curtains. And Sadi picked me up when I was hitchhiking to Mahalapye one day. Lasting friendships, for sure.

Nothing replaces missing my best friend from childhood's wedding and the birth of her first child. But watching my close friends here celebrating those milestones almost makes me feel like I am celebrating everything I missed. Zola is supposed to give birth in February. And Sadi just got married this past Saturday.

In Botswana, there are two wedding ceremonies. The first is the traditional wedding. Sadi and TJ (her husband) don't have a marriage certificate yet, but in the eyes of the community, they have been married. They will get the marriage certificate when they do their white wedding in March. Luckily, their white wedding will be catered which means I can just enjoy it and won't have to cook! Very much looking forward to it.

Me and Sadi

I was at the wedding site (Sadi's paternal grandmother's house) until late Friday night helping them prepare. Then Sadi's brother picked me up at my house and brought me back 5 am Saturday morning. We did things like cutting cabbage and carrots to make cole slaw, peeling squash, and carrying large plates of traditional dishes like semp, bogobe, and phaletsche. Other victims of early morning cooking:

The women who were participating in the ceremony arrived around 6:30 am

Meanwhile, we (the single women and some of the married women) were cooking and hanging out. Any event--wedding or funeral--the women do all of the work. The men simply sit and "discuss" or drink tea, or something. And after a while, it gets pretty tiresome for me. That being said, I had a really good time meeting Sadi's family, especially her cousins.

Sadi then arrived around 8 am. But she couldn't come until the families had summoned her. Then the older women dressed Sadi in her traditional Botswana bride outfit. They brought her over to the house where all the women were sitting and paraded her around while singing. After that, she was made to sit down (shown left).

Later, the groom and the uncles greeted all of the women. I didn't take photos because I video taped that part. The women express excitement by "ululating," making a very loud whopping noise that I will NEVER be able to do. This couldn't be captured in a photo.

Then Sadi and the women went to the tent where they men were sitting. Like TJ did, Sadi went around and greeted each of the men. But the men don't make any celebratory noises unfortunately. They all then waited for us to finish cooking the food and serve them.

After everyone ate, the two families negotiated when the white wedding would be. They wanted it to be in July or August, much later than Sadi and TJ want. This hasn't been officially agreed upon yet, but this is one of those situations in which the wishes of the elders and the wishes of the bride and groom are at odds. The elders also wanted the wedding to be in Shoshong, but as I mentioned, TJ and Sadi want it to be in Gabs so that all of their friends can be present and do not have to cook the entire time (like I did for this one).

The happy couple at the end of the wedding. TJ and his family specifically made the dress for Sadi to wear on Saturday. Her shoes and undergarments are also picked out only for that day.

While I was cooking, many women told me that I should get married in Botswana so that they can throw me a party like this one. I politely declined and then explained to them what we do in the states. I told them that I don't mind cooking and I think it is a beautiful tradition, but that I want all of my family and friends to be able to relax, have a good time and be served their food by others.

Another interesting thing: TJ told me that he was not allowed to kiss their wedding! That may happen at the white wedding, but it didn't happen at this one.

All in all, it was beautiful to be able to share this day with my close friend and I am so happy for her. Celebrating another culture is wonderful for many reasons. But sometimes the most important reason is that it reaffirms your own identity. Through living in Botswana, I have begun to reclaim my American identity and view it in a more positive light than I have in a long time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Volunteer Cycle

Some PCVs from Senegal wrote "Critical Periods in the Life of a Peace Corps Volunteer." In it they included a 27-month cycle of the challenges of service. I have had a difficult time at site the past couple of weeks. A volunteer friend of mine in Botswana said that, characteristically, November is a really tough month for us. I decided to look up the Senegalese cycle and see if my feelings are typical. This is what I found for the period of 7-10 months of service:

-slow work progress
-language plateaus
-cross cultural frustration/shock

-comparison to others
-over zealousness
-uncertainties about adaptation abilities
-intolerance with host culture

-cards/letters home to forgotten relationships
-talk with friends about slow starts and failures
-simple projects: cooking, personal crafts, meetings, garden for self
-consolidate friendships

I am currently experiencing all three of the issues listed above. When I was first at site, I spent so much time out in the community meeting people because I didn't really have much else to do. But now that I am finding myself researching and actually writing some proposals, I feel less connected with the community. It is also difficult because so many people know me but I cannot tell if I have met people already and just don't know their names, or if I should be introducing myself. I also used to do a lot of work in the schools but because they are closed, that joy that came from working with students has faded. I was so energized about my work. I miss that feeling.

I used to be very confident in Setswana, but even that is beginning to wane as I am not keeping up with practicing as much as I should. I am becoming complacent. And I am unsure if not being as productive (or not feeling as productive) is natural and perhaps even NECESSARY at this point in my life, or if I am just being lazy.

Cross-cultural frustrations (issue) cause moments of intolerance (reaction), I think. I used to laugh when people asked me if I would get married in Botswana. I didn't mind when 5 men a day tried to convince me to marry them. And a couple months ago, I decided that people weren't being rude when asking me for money, but rather simply thought I had money to give. My perceptions of all of those things have now changed. As I become more comfortable in my community, I feel like people should realize that I am not a sex object nor an ATM. I am a person. But perhaps I am taking all of this more personally because of the other frustrations I am going through.

I am more homesick than ever before, save the first few days I arrived in Shoshong. I am uncertain about my abilities--not just adaptation, but also my ability to actually help people here and be of some use.

I have written more letters home this week and have been spending some quality time with good friends I have here. I am also cooking more for myself. I have joined a gym in Shoshong which I know is helping. Otherwise I don't really know what to do to get out of this slump. A couple months ago, a friend of mine wrote in his blog that PC service is hard because we are left alone with ourselves and must confront all of the issues/questions about ourselves that we were never confronted with before. He is right. I just hope I can get back into the swing of things soon.