In January I went to South Africa was some peace corps friends. The vacation itself was amazing. South Africa is nothing like what I thought, i didn’t think that it would be so incredible. I was really just afraid for my life, but I never really felt threatened… expect for that one time with the baboons. Baboons are no joke. At the end of our seven day vacation, I missed Nata and I missed Batswana. Upon arrival into Botswana I learned that one of my closest friends in Nata and a counterpart had passed away in a car accident four days previous. He was on duty and heading to francistown, to avoid oncoming traffic the driver swerved lost control and the vehicle flipped three times. Kedisitse died instantly. This news shook me hard and I felt his loss deeply. He was actually the last person I saw in Nata before I left for South Africa. At this point I was sure I did not want to return to Nata. I didn’t want to deal with this loss and see all the people that had been affected by this tragedy. But I had to, I had to talk about it. So I returned to Nata with a heavy heart and swollen eyes. The week following his death was one that was full of emotions. I felt more in that week then I have in the past year. I found myself openly crying in the street, in meetings, on my walk home. I realize that my way of grieving varies slightly from Batswana. I was much too open with my sorrow for the comfort of my community members. I had no frame of reference for the common phrases some Batswana used to console me, ‘this is life, there is no how we can do anything, it already happened. It was God’s will.’ I had never lost anyone close to me like this before. It seems as if death is much more a part of reality for the people I know in Botswana then for me. I can literally count on one hand how many funerals I have been to: my grandpa, my uncle, a neighbor, my friend’s sister, and my brother’s friend.. Of course, AIDS related illnesses contributes to the average life span of a motswana, but actually road accidents are a significant killer in Botswana. I don’t remember that discussion in PST. Actually, it isn’t the Peace Corps job to prepare you for all of life’s challenges, not even out parents can do that. I just didn’t expect to grow so close to people and learn to rely on them as my family and then lose them. I knew it would be hard to leave my community after completing my two years of service but I didn’t expect to be separated this way.
While deeply sad, the funeral was one of the most beautiful events I have participated in Botswana. I attended the service in his home village some hundred kilometers from Nata with some close friends, colleagues and lots of community members I didn’t know well. I remember when we had just arrived in Botswana and we spent a week cooped up in our ‘Big Five Lodge’ and we were at our matching ceremony for homestay… while we were sitting in the audience, waiting eagerly to meet our new families, the families next to us started singing in harmony beautiful setswana spirituals, and that is when I knew I was going to love Botswana. These spirituals were sung all throughout the night and up until the burial of the casket. And I was filled with the spirit as I joined the congregation in praising the Lord. It was one of the first times I felt at home. And by that I mean I was engaged in a ceremony that wasn’t my own and I didn’t understand the rules or customs of that ceremony and normally that would make me very uncomfortable, but I wasn’t. I felt like I needed to be there and I needed to share this moment with his family and loved ones. Unexpectedly, I was asked to say a few words about kedisitse during the program. I had printed and framed a picture (it was actually Jonathan who did it, thank you so much) of him and when I was giving it to his uncle the night before, he asked me to do it during the program so that everybody could see. I was flattered and I wanted to do all that I could to honor him, but there were a number of people there who knew Kedisitse better and for longer then me. I was thankful to be surrounded by people who I had grown to love and learned to rely on. This week, I have felt a deeper connection to my community through this death.
When I heard about Kedisitse’s death, I was surrounded by peace corps friends but all I wanted to do was talk with the people in Nata, with my friends. I turned to them for support and comfort. Together we shared the grief we felt in losing one of the finest men in Botswana. This experience has taught me that I am building a life here in Botswana, here in Nata. I am not on vacation for two years. I am creating a network of people who will support me and sustain me. I need people. Kedisitse was one of those persons; I needed him.