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.’

The Land of Cattle

I don’t have a lot of needs here in Botswana.  Mostly everything I need is here (except of course ‘Be Curly’ Curling Hair Cream from Aveda- which I’ve been using since I was 17).  But I’ve been getting some comments about what people can send me.  Please don’t spend too much money, but if you can, sometimes a package comes at the perfect time:

  • Letters!  I love receiving letters.  And considering all the time I have here, I’m good at responding.
  • Books!  If you have any used books you don’t mind shipping over to Botswana, I promise to continue giving it away once I’ve read it.  Seriously, books are the gift that keeps on giving
  • Chocolate– maybe even chocolate chips.  That’s my speciality here to make for people to win them over.  I don’t mind using the chocolate bars I can buy in town, but sometimes I would love some chocolate chips.  Also, I can never say no to M&Ms (dark chocolate peanut)
  • Music!  I need church music and just really good awesome music.  In my previous life I considered myself to be up with the current trends and happenings in music, but this past six months has put me far behind.  Help me get up to date.  Sufjan Stevens has a new CD! I need.  Also, what is all this I hear about Mumford and Sons?
  • Dried Fruits.  I love cranberries and dried apples.
  • Your Love, of course.  Can you send that in a box?

And my address is still PO BOX 144  Nata, Botswana

This last couple of weeks I have been involved in the preparations for a community event called ‘Pitso Ya Borre’.  Essentially, it is a gathering of men from the village at the Kgotla (the village center).  They come in the evening and sit in a circle and have discussions around a fire, while a cow is slaughtered and served to all the attendants.  I guess you could call it a male fireside. But this ‘Pitso Ya Borre’ was being sponsored by NACA (national aids coordinating agency) so it was centered around HIV and social issues that are related to HIV.  The night itself was a huge success.  We had something around 200+ men from Nata and surrounding villages sitting in the circle around the fire. After the introduction and a bit of a motivataional speech, they broke up into age groups (‘young ones here, old ones here’) and had facilitated discussion about these health issues.  Technically, as a woman I wasn’t supposed to be present, but i was the one in the background cleaning and cooking and welcoming guest- so they let me, but I did have to wear a head scarf. Some community members were designated to record what was being said, so that we can use it as qualitative research to analyze and find the next step for men in Nata. While I didn’t design the project, I really appreciate the design and wish I had come up with it. In the future, now that the CBO I was working with is familar with this community conversation research we can continue to incorporate this into our projects.

Cows are such a thing here.  There are 3.5 million cows to the 1.8 million people that live in Botswana.  You aren’t a man if you don’t own cattle and go to your cattle post.  Often times people are shocked when i tell them that most individuals don’t own cattle in the USA.  Then they will often say, ‘what do you eat?’  Eish!  I don’t know. What is my staple food? For this ‘Pitso Ya Borre’ we bought and slaughtered a cow.  And then they proceeded to put every piece of the cow inside a couple of huge cauldrons.  Every piece, save the head and the hooves and the skin.  All of it- even the bones.  Then they cook it over the fire in this cauldron for a good four hours and then pound it to death.  And there you have it.  It’s tasty stuff.  Batswana are serious about their meat and this is not something to be missed.  But they don’t add the liver, intestines and kidney.  Along with the head, these are delicacies that are to be enjoyed separately.  While i’m still not a huge fan of intestines (it has this very gritty texture to it), I totally like the liver and in fact, crave it.  And the head isn’t bad. I tried tongue the other week and once i got over the image of a cow’s tongue on my tongue, I actually enjoyed it.  But i don’t recommend the eye.  It’s like ‘why?’ you know?

Chakalaka Saga

Ke rata thata chakalaka

One of my favorite snacks here is chakalaka.  Essentially, it’s a spicy vegetable mix that comes in a can, like unto salsa.  It’s ingredients are carrots, tomatoes, green pepper, onion, chilies and other modifiers that make it so darn tasty!  I typically enjoy it with some multigrain crackers that I purchased from town.  Fortunately, you can get a can of chakalaka at just about any general dealer.  I hear it tastes nice poured over pasta or pap… it’s up to you.

Let me give you a small snapshot of what a Monday here in Nata looks like for me:

I wake at 6:20 and got ready for the day.  I should have woken up at 5:50 to take a bath, but I didn’t.  I usually will make some oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon and honey, but today I just eat some left over banana bread.   Seven o’clock I am walking to the clinic with my neighbor, who works somewhere along the way.  At 7:30 we have our morning meeting with the nurses, doctor, nurse orderlies, cleaners and health education workers.  Luckily, they conduct the meeting in english on account of our foreign doctor and nurses (DRC, Zimbabwe, Zambia).  At around eight we go and have song and prayer with the patients that are already waiting.  I go through this routine Monday through Friday and then I’m off to whatever the day holds for me.  On this Monday I sat around the clinic waiting for transport to Tutume (the sub-district headquarters) so I could harass the District Health Team and demand for my rent to be paid, seeing as how it’s a couple of months overdue.  Also, so I was going talk to the District Aids Coordinator about some ideas for a project on gender-based violence and then the District Youth Office about starting a club for out-of-school youth.  But it turns out the driver hit a cow with the ambulance so that means maybe Tuesday.  By this time it was 10:30 and I was helping some nurses with labeling pill packets or filing some medical paperwork.  In addition, I was assisting a nurse (my counterpart)  put together a program for a workshop on Wednesday, the subject being ‘male involvement in female reproductive health.’  So I was capacity building.  And then, as I was nominated the secretary for the Nata Adult Choir, I was attempting to design a poster for choir recruitment, which is not capacity building, because I was doing by myself.

By twelve, it was blazing hot (a solid 99 degrees F today) and I am off to check the post office,  I try not to check everyday, maybe like twice a week.  But I have been expecting something from my dad and chaela for about five weeks and that is how long it has been since I last got a piece of mail (also, my address is PO Box 144 Nata, Botswana). Trying to maintain high spirits,  I make my way home for lunch.  For lunch I had leftover beans, which I will devour for the next four days.  And then at 1:15, it’s off to the clinic again.

As I make my way back to the clinic, I stop at the social worker’s office.  She gives me the low down (she also happens to be one of my very close friends) and I take back a life skills manual I had let her borrow.  At the clinic, I finish preparing a small lesson for the junior secondary school kids for later in the afternoon as well as making a few finishing touches on the program with my counterpart.  Then, magically, one of the school teachers from the Junior secondary school drops someone off at the clinic and I beg for a ride to the school.  Not only is it bloody hot, but the JSS is about 3km or more away.  I get the ride and this teacher tells me how in his culture you are supposed to put your knees to the ground everytime a woman greets a man- a story he tells me daily, but one I have yet to hear from another person that is Bakilaka.  He tells me about  how his uncles has 13 wives and he asks me about my uncles and I tell him that it’s illegal in America- a fact he goes on telling every school teacher when we arrive at school and each of them also find it entertaining.  Illegal!  I am a good hour early for my meeting so I sit in the teacher’s lounge with the other teachers.  We have a heated discussion about corporal punishment vs. positive reinforcement.  And then it’s time for the PACT club meeting.

PACT stands for Peer Approach to Counseling Teens.  It is a peer education club for these junior schoolers (aged 13-16).  It was our first time meeting since the school year began (back in january) and the kids were very very shy.  But I had them do an activity called ‘human knot’ (or human pretzel).  It was better after that, but I can tell this will take some practice.

And then I came home, melted as I ate a whole can of chakalaka (I don’t regret it).  Later, I will heat up some more beans, wash the dishes and then read until about 9:30, trying my darndest to get a full eight hours before I start the cycle again.