Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cribs: Botswana Edition

So I've realized that even after 17 months of living in this splendorous country, many people back home are unable to wrap their minds around where it is that I'm living or even what my village looks like. I understand, as the majority of the pictures I take are when I'm on vacation or doing a project outside of my for this, friends, I apologize!

I have had numerous requests to post more pictures of my village from many close friends so now that I have fast internet, I will now take this opportunity to rectify the wrongs and show you, with in-depth pictures, what Gobojango looks like and the walk I take every morning to the clinic. Please bear with me (and for those of you who are not familiar with the tv show "Cribs" feel free to click here for more information).

Hello and welcome to Kitso's rendition of Cribs! On this episode I'll take you through the crispy, dry wonderland that is known as Gobojango, Botswana!

Life in Gobojango is quite relaxed, with nothing to fulfill a day but a trip to the clinic or meandering over to your neighbor's house to catch up on the most up-to-date gossip over lunch preparations. 
Ladies preparing a meal and sharing in one another's lives.

Throughout the day and night one might find themselves entranced by the sounds of roosters crowing, donkeys baying their breathless "hee-haw", and dogs barking.  Oftentimes, the clanging of a cowbell and the whimpering of a baby goat who has lost her way will creep into the crevices of your mind while the smell of smoke from nearby burning trash will infest your nose. If you're lucky, you will overhear the morning prayer songs from the primary school children or the laughter of the older women and men at the "kgotla" (community courthouse).

A community's kgotla is a place for people to gather and share ideas. It is common knowledge that women are not allowed to enter any kgotla unless they are wearing a dress or a skirt that is longer than their knees.

While some of you may think that my houses look like one of the following...

The beginnings of a mud hut.  Sticks are placed around the base to assist in the formation of the structure then "moo" (water, mud, and cow dung) are added around it to form a solid-standing structure.

or like this....
Some basadi bogolo (old ladies) conversing around their traditional hut.  When it's cold outside, a fire will be started inside the hut to prepare afternoon tea or supper.
I am in fact one of the more lucky volunteers in Botswana.  My house is endowed with electricity, running water (when there is water in the village), an inside flush toilet, AND bathtub.  I also have tile floor, a front and a back door, and I live alone on a compound. This means that I don't have anyone next door to me constantly knocking on my door for sugar or on those days when I simply want to go home and collapse I have no one whom I have to greet on my compound before arriving to my front door. Of course, there is always two sides of a coin.  Because there is no one else on my compound, I am also more susceptible to loneliness, and must keep constant tabs on who comes to "check me".  (One of the reasons having a dog is such a plus, she barks strangers away).
Anyway, back to Cribs. Above is the picture of my humble abode. While there is an apparent satellite dish on the front of my house, I have no television so it does not behoove me in any way. The piles of dirt and rock have since been made into concrete cinderblocks that will be placed around my compound to form a tall fence.  For now, the chicken wire will do.  To the right of my house is the larger house on the compound, also one of the nicer ones in Gobojango, it is a three-bedroom vacation home meaning that my landlord and his family only come to visit during holidays.
To the left, you will see my neighbors' pit latrine, as well as the homes of the families that live nearby.  If you follow that direction, it will eventually lead you to the primary school and the one tar road that runs through Gobojango.
Unfortunately, I don't have a direct picture of the primary school, but here is the completed shade (yayy!) found on the premises as well as the "school bus" that takes the choir children to competitions.
Our tar road! =D (with Cleo strutting about the bus stop/hitching post)
Once on the tar road, one may head due east a few meters and look out into the vast expanse of the village. Gobojango is one of three villages in the northeastern catchment of Bobonong. Though it is about 42 kilometers from the larger village, it is only about 15 kilometers from Zimbabwe, and 30 kilometers from South Africa.  While it is said to be home to 2,100 people, the majority of its inhabitants live at their respective "cattle posts" (plots of land far from the village)  and the village center sees the same 100-200 people daily.
Looking out on Gobojango from the tar road.
The village has no stores, only "tuck shops" (small huts reserved for selling small necessities like cooking oil and phone credit/airtime).
There is a single bar that sits on the side of the road, as if aimlessly waiting for a hitch to Bobonong. 

Its music can sometimes be heard echoing throughout the village near the end of the month, and you just know that men doubled over with age are reaping their profits from their welfare checks by throwing back one or two beers and boisterously placing their coins in the jukebox to listen to music such as "kwasa kwasa" or "stonkana".
If you continue walking east, you will come across the proud post office, which stands on the opposite side of the road from the bar.  It's bowing fence fell years ago and has yet to be repaired. 

While the six windows along either side suggest a welcoming house of well-functioning government post, the reality is that the woman who runs the building is rarely present and the open-mouthed gates are usually empty throughout the month.
Just past the post office, the road will curve and at the spout of the curve, you will encounter the Gobojango kgotla.  My first month in Gobojango, I assisted in the painting and "refurbishing" if you will of this meeting area.  It stands effortlessly as one of the nicer kgotlas in the area and is shaded by a large mophane tree.  "Pula", as written on the side wall, not only means 'rain' but is also the name for Botswana's currency and is an exclamation of excitement and pride.
During village meetings, VIPs will sit in chairs in the cemented/stage-looking part while the villagers will bring blankets and sit upon the ground beneath the tree.
If you follow the curve, you will be taken the village corral (kraal) on the right and the clinic.  Further down the tar road (about 1.5 kilometers), you will run into the Gobojango Junior Secondary School and then meet up with the larger tar road that takes to the nearby villages Semolale and Mabolwe.

If you are a lekgoa (white person) like me, and are daring enough to do this walk on a daily basis, you will not be surprised to hear small children screaming "LEKGOA!!! LEKGOOOOAAA!!" from different compounds on your way to work. The funniest part, however, is when you try to near these small children to tell them your real name is not lekgoa and you actually have a name they can pronounce, the reactions are similar to these....



...You'd think from their mortified faces that I'd be sitting there offering them a snake or making faces or something...not that that's something I would do, of course...

...what's even worse is that their mothers usually encourage them to go and touch us or get closer. When the child screams even louder, this is usually the expression on the faces of the parents....

Anyway, although it is rare, you always will have the opportunity to run into this smiling face, Samantha, my daily dose of happiness.  No matter how blue I am, all I have to do is go to my neighbor's house and encounter this cheeky 5 year old and my day will improve.

So let me finish telling you a bit more about where I live. The individuals who inhabit Gobojango are all a part of (or married into) the Sebirwa tribe.  A rich and vibrant culture whose dialect is a mixture of Ndebele from Zimbabwe and the Bangwato Setswana, the Babirwa are a welcoming people who practice the culture of herding livestock and keeping farms. The traditional dance in this area is similar to that of the dancing found throughout Botswana with drums and vocals to accompany the rattling of the seeds wrapped around the ankles, though the colors of the dancers are much more effervescent and each dancer is clad with a staff.

As I said before, most Batswana practice the life of owning land. I've learned that it's very important to have livestock (usually cattle), land, and to build a house on said land.   
A house that may be found on a cattle post
An example of a house found in a home village
Usually, on this land (the aforementioned "cattle post"), they will have one small hut where the men stay while caring for the livestock and then have another house in their home village where the women will stay with the children.

Since families here encompass not only the nuclear but the extended family as well, a lot of the cooking has to be done in mass amounts.  Therefore, the process of boiling water and cooking with "three-legged pots" over an open fire is customary.  This proved to be difficult for me when I wanted to cook for my neighbors (since in the United States we are so used to having smaller portions of more varieties of foods) and here in Botswana, the portions are usually just meat and starch doused in insurmountable amounts of oil and salt.

With all of these things to consider and mull over, I hope I have given you a better glimpse at what my life here in Gobojango and in Botswana is like.  My village, although seemingly bare and flora-free, has hidden beauty in each of its corners and faces. 

I am always taken by surprise by some of the things I encounter on a daily basis in Gobojango.  The sunsets, for example, always leave me breathless. On most days, when I'm sitting in my living room watching meaningless media on my computer, and my room turns orange from the setting sun outside, I only grab my camera and place myself on my back stoop to see what entertainment the sky has in hold for me that night.

The humor lies in the fact that when people are scrolling through my camera, they are perplexed at why I love the sunsets so much.

Another aspect of why my village has been so astronomically blissful is because of the family that has adopted me.  Some of my favorite nights have been spent simply sitting around an open fire, sharing conversation with people around the world. In fact, the other day as the doctor from my village gave me a ride, I was overcome with an epiphany that I was sitting in a car with a man from the DRC Congo, a woman from Zimbabwe, a young man from South Africa, and I was an American.  What an opportunity this entire experience has been thus far! What amazing individuals I have encountered on this adventure!
Here is a braai (bbq) that I had for a Swedish scientist, Pier, and his son who came to visit Gobojango for a couple months.
 I hope you have enjoyed reading this rendition of Cribs.  Hopefully now, you're more able to visualize what my home looks like, what my village looks like, and perhaps maybe you are more able to understand what my service has been throughout these past 17 months. Join us next time....when I update my blog with another fun-filled post ;)

Finally, and I'll leave you with this thought from a book that I finished a few weeks ago...
 (Just so you know, I've been encouraging everyone I know to read the book "The Alchemist".  It's filled with wisdom beyond compare and I feel like it's a great representation of what my service has done for me so far so if you haven't read it yet...DO!)

" Making a decision is only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision. "

If you had asked me two years ago if I ever thought I'd catch myself sitting in the middle of a group of children in Africa listening to a man play the guitar on a sporadic Tuesday afternoon. I would have laughed in your face.  But thank God and thank all graces that I am able to experience this firsthand and understand what life means for people who are so different, yet so similar to me.