Chained to Your History

Tonight I invited some friends in the village over for pizza.  This is my fourth time making pizza in Botswana.  Before pizza was never my thing, but it actually isn’t that difficult and it is a HIT with Batswana.  That only difficult ingredient is cheese, which I can only get in town.  I make the pizza sauce and dough all from scratch.  My culinary skills haven’t improved drastically since I’ve been here, it’s only the couple of dishes I make, I make good.  I make a lot of pasta with homemade pasta sauce and soya chunks.  Another popular dish for me is butternut squash, lentils and rice.  These dishes are not native to Botswana and you will be hard pressed to find a Motswana that is making them.  The local cuisine consists of (but is not limited to) phaleche (grounded maize meal sometimes none as pap or sadza), sorghum (grounded grain), beef stew, coleslaw, mayonaise and other forms of ‘relish.’  I have been hesitant to incorporate the local foods into my personal diet, I claim that it’s not healthy what what, but I think its my own ethnocentrism that is keeping me from cooking phaleche in my home.  So I’m  going to let go of these cultural barriers.  (I actually crave phaleche now, which is a little weird because it’s basically nothing, it is corn grounded to nothing.)  And so far I’ve learned and mastered fresh morogo (a spinach like green that is boiled then stir fryed with onion, tomatoes and spices), beef stew (beef cooked for a long time until it’s nice and tender then added to tomatoes and onions with spices, a soup like consistency but not soup) and dipapatha (a flat, simple pancake-like bread that is served with tea).  Next stop: phaleche.

In the recipe book that Peace Corps gave us when we went to site, there are a grand total of three recipes for setswana dishes.  There are a lot of great recipes of dishes that are familiar and can be made with ingredients that are available in towns.  So maybe they didn’t include because they wanted us to go out and learn how to make these dishes from the locals, which is a great integration tool, I’ve found.  But I find the omission silly.

There is this great song that I grabbed onto as my theme song for my time in Botswana.  Patrick Park’s Life is a Song:

“It’s time to let go of everything we used to know, ideas that strengthened who we’ve been.  It’s time to cut ties, it won’t ever free our minds from the chains and shackles that they’re in.”

There is no better time then now, to shed those ideas and beliefs that are stopping me from progressing, from integrating and from becoming better.  It’s a very anthropological line of thinking.  Let me quote the celebrated anthropologist Malinowksi:

“We cannot possibly reach the final Socratic wisdom of knowing ourselves if we never leave the narrow confinement of the customs beliefs, and prejudices into which every man is born” Bronislaw Malinowski Argonauts of the Western Pacific.

Despite the fact that I majored in Anthropology in college, I was never meant to be an Anthropologist.  (I’m too practical and not diligent enough for anthropology field work) But I like the idea of shedding all those unnecessary, trite, arbitrary cultural rituals that weigh us down and keep us from understanding one another.  Shed our cultural baggage and then what are we really made of?  What am I really made of? In terms of my service in Botswana, I don’t want to finish my two years in Botswana and have missed the opportunity.  By missed the opportunity I mean, not understand what the problem was and my role in the solution, however minute that role might be. And I can’t spend anymore of my time thinking about how these people are lazy or aren’t serious or any number of stereotypes that are easily thrown around by the domineering outsiders.   So while I know this is more of a ‘cultural exchange’ rather then and an ethnographic study, I think it’s time to get down to business and start accepting my surroundings… starting with phaleche.

‘You always forget how strange it is just to be alive at all.’