Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Language Barrier

So, the majority of Batswana understand and can speak English very well.  I have to say that this has contributed to my overall success within the country because even though I am learning the local language (Setswana), it’s assuring to be able to express myself in my native tongue when Setswana just isn’t working for me that day.

Teaching sexual reproductive health to a group of junior secondary students
That being said, the English that is spoken here is very much a conglomeration from around the world: from England to South Africa.  Many of the “isms” are infinitely disparate from the English I am familiar with and on days where I feel that I need to make my speech ingenuous, I am taken back when a youth in my PACT club utilizes a word like, “ameliorate” or “discordant”.  Often it seems that the smallest words are the ones that cause the most confusion; such as “bathroom” literally means the room in which you bathe, and not where the toilet is located.
Livingstone, Zambia. One of the nicer toilets and bathrooms I've seen in a while.
One day as I walked with a male friend of mine, I stated my discomfort at my “pants” being bunched at my knees.  He immediately turned his head away from me, and with eyes bulging asked me, “Do you need to go somewhere where you can find privacy?”  I said, “no, silly, I can just fix it right here”.  His protuberant eyes began scanning our surroundings frantically as he said, “No, Kitso, please not here, people will stare.”  I crunched my nose in confusion, trying to understand why I would need privacy to unroll the bottoms of my pants and why that would be a cause for public attention.  I did it anyway, and told him that we could continue on our way.  It wasn’t until later that evening, when I was explaining to my friend Lorato what had happened, that I learned that “pants” here means “underwear” and, essentially, my friend thought that I wanted to unbunch my underwear from my knees in the middle of square in my shopping village. This was the day I began to say “trousers” instead of “pants” and “pants” instead of “underwear”.

Though I see them and teach them things every day,
I feel as if the children in Gobojango are my best, most patient teachers!

When I first arrived to Botswana, I was having a couple drinks with people from South Africa.  I remember sitting there, listening to their stories and laughing on cue but really not understanding a single word that was being said.  A couple months ago, I met up with the same South Africans and found myself understanding and contributing to the conversation.  The stories consisted of “braai’s” (bar-be-ques) and “the boot and the bonnet of the bakkies” (the trunk and hood of a pickup truck).

When I speak to my friends and family, I find myself epitomizing the “Botswana-isms”: everything from the reactionary expressions to the hand gestures to the diction I choose.  For example, “Now now” implies a different time reference to “now” and “just that side” (followed by an ambiguous hand gesture similar to waving) could mean anywhere from a few kilometers away to the other side of the country.  Whenever I reference anything that’s small in size, I have to remind myself not to add “in-yana” to the end and something that’s “big” is a very different size than something that’s “big big”.  The running joke between my fellow PCVs and me is how weird all of us are going to be when we return Stateside. 
What is "normal" anyway?
Sometimes when the electricity is out, I amuse my neighbor children with light shows....

What’s unfortunate is that I’m now studying for the GRE.  Although I would love to utilize the new vocabulary I’m learning in an every-day setting, it’s proving to be increasingly difficult. I’ve managed to find a couple friends of mine within the country who are also studying for the GRE and willing to assist me in studying.  We text one another our neologisms… (Hah! You like how I did that?)

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Working Like a Motswana"

The other day, as I raked my large yard of dirt, a woman walking by paused, shifted her weight to one hip, and smiled from ear to ear.  I felt her presence on the other side of the gate, wiped the sweat from my brow, and looked up with a friendly greeting “Dumela Mma!” (At this point, I’m used to being a splendorous attraction). She shook her head and smiled even bigger.  “Kitso!” She exclaimed, her voice gaining an octave with each word, “You are working like a Motswana!”  I couldn’t help but chuckle and nod it off.  I affirmed her statement by saying, “Eeh Mma!” She continued on her journey, her face still creased into a smile. 

Watering the garden (that has since died due to no water in the village)

A couple days later, as I rode my newly-bought bicycle to the junior secondary school, children ran alongside me screaming with excitement.  Talk began circulating around the village that I knew how to ride a bicycle and people came to my house simply to ask me to ride it so that they may watch. 

Every day, I’m humored by the simple-natured things that I do that people find to be most fascinating.  The most entertaining of these, I think, (not including the raking or bicycle riding) is the fact that I know how to whistle.  Apparently, whistling is a very “masculine” characteristic here.  For those of you who know me well, I whistle to myself a good deal, usually without even noticing.  It seems like every time someone who has never heard me whistle before hears me for the first time, they offer their aghast reaction (two short exhales with their mouth and eyes wide open), followed by a prodigious cackle. 

A man in my shopping village was shocked to hear me whistle

I think it’s going to be difficult for me to go back to the U.S. simply because I often enjoy being a source of inquiry for everyone around me!

That being said, as much as I try to “capacity build” my peers in Gobojango about the axiomatic nature of the diversity of Americans (that yes, we are able to do mundane tasks), I still find it difficult to verbally express our commonalities as a human race.  Rather, things that I simply assume are common-knowledge (like riding a bicycle or raking a yard) are shocking to my host country national peers.  People still get a kick out of watching me hang my laundry to dry outside, and to this day (16 months later) I am often pleasantly taken by surprise when an individual sheds light on the subject.
I love when young girls want to touch my hair. 
I've heard everything from "it feels like doll hair" to "it feels like donkey hair"!