Monday, January 30, 2012

Birthday Brownie Phantom

"Birthday's are good for you---Statistics show that people who have the most live the longest." L. Lorenzoni

Birthdays are pretty special! They should be celebrated, it's your day, it's the day you came out into the world and said hey, this is pretty cool, I can't wait to walk, talk, lose money in the stock market, and see what life has in store for me. Hopefully, the family you chose to come into loves you enough to celebrate who you are everyday, but especially on your birthday. This year, I'm spending my birthday a world away from those that really mean something to me, and in a world where birthdays aren't on top of everyones list of celebrations. Nevertheless, I chose to have a small celebration, a few days early, with some of my PCV buddies, but it just didn't seem right in many ways to make a big deal of it---first off, I'm in Africa where people don't have much, secondly, I'm a winter baby and it's hotter than hot here—I should be waking up to making snow angels outside, and drinking hot cocoa---and lastly, 55 is a little scary---it means your going towards 60. dog years, I'm dead! 

But this birthday is not about me, it's about a family that I call my own now. I recall a conversation with them, telling me that not one of them have ever celebrated a birthday. NEVER! Not even young Kesego---mom didn't even know when her birthday was! How can that be? How can you never have had a Birthday? Do you even know how old you are? Have you ever even wanted just one birthday wish? The questions are burning inside me, so I start taking a little survey around, and sure enough, I got similar answers, though some recall having small celebrations as a child, or for their own kids when they were young, but definitely, after a certain age, forget it! Granted, this was no huge sampling, but I do notice at school that no one ever talks of birthdays either. In fact, I told several people it was my birthday, and only one person faintly smiled about it. Gee thanks! Since I'm not gonna let go of this non-birthday thing, I emailed home for someone to send something I could easily bake and doesn't have bleeping bleep in it! Several weeks later, I received a wholesome brownie mix, and all I needed was an egg, water, and olive oil. I can handle this—what a relief! So with my egg in my side pocket, I hop on the kombie to Kanye, telling my family we're having a birthday party for everyone. This went over really well...they just stared at me and my egg! But they're troopers---I know they'll love it!

The Brownie cake was easy to make, I put the candles on, and with not too much emotion, except from moi, we all sing happy birthday in English, then in Setswana, and we blow out the candles---well, I blew out the candles---and we made a wish—well, I made a wish. They didn't quite get it even though everything was explained before hand. Sadly, they really didn't even know how to make a wish in this context, and Kesego didn't have any concept of what a wish even was, though her eyes were as big as saucers looking at the candles. So I made the wish for them---the wish of more of life's celebrations for the family and the people of Africa!

This family, who never eats sweets, devoured the delicious natural brownies, and then we all played UNO, and laughed the night away---there's nothing like a sugar rush to pump a family up! Morning came, and thinking there were some brownies left over, Dad, who rarely is emotional, said “Tshepo, where's the food?” “What food papa?” “You know, the good stuff from America.” “Ah, the brownies.” “Yeah those.” I looked around, and he was looking frantically---”Papa, I think we had a Brownie Phantom in the middle of the night.” OMG, you should have seen the look on his poor little face! You would've thought his wife died—but uh oh, I think she is going to die—I think she's the Phantom! Watch out mom---your a dead duck! Then this ever so endearing, sweet, calm man whom I've grown to love, was taken over by American Brownie Evil---he grabbed me on both arms, shaking me, “Tshepo—she couldn't have eaten those brownies, we have got to find them.” Sorry papa, they're gone,” and still holding me, he said, “What are we going to do?” “Kill her papa!” I seriously thought he was gonna cry! But instead of crying or killing, Mr. Brownie Evil starts pacing, and was in deep thought like a trial lawyer— finally, he has the million dollar solution, and intently he says, ”I know, you can get your friend to send you more---Yeah, that's what you'll do, right Tshep!” Sure enough papa! Case closed!

So there it is, a 60 something year old man, possessed by a birthday brownie. How charming, how real! See what a little dose of Americana does to people around here---it makes them crazy for more, crazy for things they don't know about or have, it makes them crazy, crazy, crazy! Now I just hope mom runs for her life when she wakes up!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Teen Club

Before school break began, I started a teen club with about 20 kids.  Initially I knew it would be ok, but only one or two kids actually spoke, the others just stared at me, and I wondered how long it would take to break the ice for things to evolve.  Come on kids, it's been 2 weeks already, what's up!  Nothing!  But to my delight, school is back, and after the first few days, some kids come up to me asking about Teen Club.  Ok, next Tuesday, 3pm, meet me in the computer lab, spread the word.  Lo and behold, all of them show, except those who have been transferred, so we decide to invite some new students in.  With my counterpart, Seo, at my side, we start planning our schedule of things we want to accomplish in the next 6 months—planting a garden, doing a talent show, a spelling bee, and of course, they want to learn Tai Chi.  Not that I had any influence over that one! 

Seo sees that things are under control, so she excuses herself, leaving me to continue on with 17 teenagers.  Sure, no problem, I'm a seasoned Psychologist, I can handle anything---but the minute she left, things dramatically changed.  I felt like I was in the scene of the Sound of Music, ok I'm dating myself, but does anyone remember the scene in the beginning of the movie when Julie Andrews is meeting the kids, then after telling her all the rules, the Captain leaves, and all the children come right up to her face, saying things, and ultimately leaving a frog in her pocket.  Well, this is the same exact scene here when Seo leaves---17 darling teens are immediately in my face, they couldn't get close enough, and I hear voices, lots of voices.......”Do you know my name...I saw you on a Kombie...I saw you in Kanye...I saw you taking photos at the clinic...Why aren't you taking photos of me...I saw you talking to someone...I saw you walking....Why were you in Kanye...Do you remember I came to your house...did you like the choirs, I saw you there...what's your real name?”  It went on and on and on, and my ears and my eyes are trying to follow who's asking what, but I can't breath because it's stifling hot, and I'm smothered by teens, smothered by their voices, smothered by their sweet curiosity, and smothered with the thought that if they put a snake in my pocket I'm going to faint!  Hey kids, why didn't you say hi if you saw me?  Blank!  Yet once I get them to sit down and after I check my pockets, they wanted answers to each and every question.  So with huge glued eyes, all questions are answered, and now, because of the explanation about the picture taking, they want to do a project for my correspondence class in NY!  They really are great kids!  Oh, they were so thrilled with my real name, that they demanded that I write it on each and everyone of their hands. This is too much!

With such command, I try ending the group, but one person asks nicely if she can touch my hair.  American hair is a big deal here!  Naively, I thought I heard ONE girl ask, and in a split second, 17 kids are in my hair, and then in a matter of minutes, I come out looking like one of the Little Rascals, with braids sticking up and flying all over the place.  They are thrilled with their work of art!  Finally, we call it quits for the day---they leave happy, but one girl stays behind.  When all are safely gone, the girl gives me the sweetest look, though her eyes tell a story---and she simply says-- “I'm an orphan.”  I put my arm around her shoulders, and the girl, and me and my hair walk out together.  No words were needed---she knew I understood there was pain, and if needed, I would be there for her to talk to. 

As life here evolves, there's going to be fun times, story times, and sad realistic times to come to terms with. The fun and games, the projects, won't take away some of these kids pain, but maybe for just a few moments, some of them can feel respected and empowered!  And from there, who knows---but for the time being, that's all I can hope for!  

Bad doggie

What on earth did I get myself into now!  Keoki somehow thought I needed him to protect me, and maybe he's right, but he's a nut case.  Granted, he's still considered a puppy, but he doesn't understand English, and I don't understand Setswana, so we have a real problem here.  Even when I imitate others telling Keoki to stop his shennegans, he still doesn't listen...I think it's my accent, because he just looks at me and laughs, and the villagers are also laughing at me, or just shaking their heads watching me try to deal with this dog.  Keoki doesn't stop jumping on me to play, biting me, scratching me, following me to school, and screaming when I leave.  He's hyper, destructive, untrainable, completely crazy, and becoming more popular than I am around here.  This is not fair Keoki!  Trying to calm him in the evening, he follows me for a long walk, then when we get home, I take a pair of pants he found, he takes one leg, I take the other, and we run around the yard, and he gets to pull as hard as his little heart wants while I swing him all around.  He has boundless energy, and this dogggie bonding is causing quite the talk of the neighborhood.  Because he's had a taste of being Americanized, he is completely ruined!  I hate this dog!  I mean it—I really hate him!  Even when he pops his long face on my lap and looks at me with his big puppy eyes, I laugh, but I still hate him!  Oh, did I mention when I hung my laundry out the other day, my neighbor woke me from a sound nap, telling me that Keoki has struck again.  Whaaat---I go out to see my laundry all over the nice red African dirt.  Did I mention that I HATE this dog!

Recently, Keoki has developed a shoe fetish.  No joke!  I've come home on 4 consecutive days to all sorts of shoes in my yard---black shoes, sandles, women's heels, kids school uniform shoes, big men's shoes---have I left anything out?  He then digs holes in the yard to bury some of them, and the rest he likes to ferociously play with.  The embarressment it's causing when someone walks by, looking, and says, “I think that's my shoe.”  Oh God help me!  Maybe I should just start a shoe store and sell them for flee market prices. Whatta ya think?  I am completely beside myself here!  So with the fact that I'll be going to a training for 10 days soon, I asked my neighbor if he would build Keoki a dog house.  Well, my good intentions has made Keoki completely ticked off!  He is so not happy with this house, and now he won't even set foot on the little area that he had been sleeping on.  I just don't know how to handle this situation, so guilt ridden me, goes and spends even more of my measly salary on buying him some cow with lots of bones---this should surely lure him back to sanity.  But no, he isn't going near the bones if they're near the house, and he starts glaring at me, “Why on earth have you ruined my perfect world?”  Ok baby, I hate you, but here's your bones, and where on earth are you going to sleep tonight, or when it's storming, or freezing outside in our winter time you crazy dog.  The Peace Corps then interrupts my day, asking me to come to Gaborone to pick up rent money because there's been some confusion with that---”Sorry, I have no money to get there, I've had some urgent things to deal with.”  “Ok Lynn, is everything alright?”  “Sure, I can work it out myself---see you next week at training.”  They should only know why I have to postpone the rent money!

Anyway, back to Keoki---His sleeping patterns, the scratches and bites all over me are only half my problem---now he has a hussy girlfriend who comes to call on him daily around 6pm.  The nerve of her!  I sit him down---well--he doesn't really sit---but I have a long talk with him about him being to young to date, and getting girls pregnant.  He listens to my schpeel, and off he goes on his hot date!  The girlfriend is so ugly, that if they have puppies, I'll be the grandma of the ugliest dogs in Africa---I'm thrilled!

Keoki is just a dog, but maybe I should learn some lessons from him---he is African after all, and we do have our cultural differences to deal with!  Maybe the lesson is to let him just be African, to not  impose my values on him---let him have all the kids he wants out of wedlock like everyone else around here does--let him sleep in the rain and cold---let him run around barefoot, even though he has more shoes than anyone else around here---let him be unruly, because nobody has physical boundaries, or follows rules around here anyway!  Maybe the lesson is for me to be free too, to give up rules and any scrupples---this sounds good to me—Ok Keoki, you win---and off I go throwing my shoes to the wind!

P.S.  Marilyn, can you please send me my black shoes in my closet as soon as possible!

The Humans should be crazy

Recently, I re-watched “The Gods must be Crazy,” which was filmed in Botswana.  I'd forgotten what a a great and enlightening movie this was, where the bush people's lives are intertwined in a revelation into being impacted with new evils, which what we would refer to as mere trash.  A coke bottle leads this movie away into which we learn concepts about a utopian society.  The Bushman live in an area where any normal person would die from malnutrition, they live in complete isolation from the world, and do not have to deal with others.  They don't punish children because children are well behaved, they use arrows to help hunt animals, and in general, they live in a peaceful world.  This sounds so ideal that it makes me want to be transported there.  Oh, in a way I am there—or near there anyway, maybe I'll hop the next Kombie and see for myself what utopia is really about!

It's funny how a coke bottle that got sent from the sky led them to think it was from the heavens itself, and suddenly an unfamiliar emotion came involved.  Anger, jealousy, violence, all came from this new bottle, and the unbreakable bottle was ultimately referred to as an evil thing.  The gods were crazy because they only sent rain and sunlight, and now the bottle was something different.  The bottle, which they thought was a gift from the God's, turned into evil when the village was fighting over it's usage. There's a whole realm without knowledge of outer evils, and a realm in which we take for granted the precious things that we have.  To other people, that bottle is mere trash, but this trash becomes someone elses treasure, and gives them a vision of the realm outside their comfort zone.  Everything was peaceful until something of the unknown came into existence.

I write about this movie because in some ways I feel like that coke bottle.  An unknown, a crazy human, having been dropped into this small village. Being the lone white person who talks different, acts different, eats different, and moves different from them, is causing this village some upheaval.  Not to mean that it's a bad upheaval, but it's making the villagers look beyond the confines of what they know, to test reactions of feeling emotionally threatened or perceived envy, and testing their levels and layers of curiosity to a world outside of their own.  Even though this wasn't part of the movie, the words to a very popular Paul Simon song comes flooding into my mind because it captures my feelings:

“A man walks down the street
It's a street in a strange world
Maybe it's the Third World
Maybe it's his first time around
He doesn't speak the language
He holds no currency
He's a foreign man
He is surrounded by the soOoOound,
Cattle in the Marketplace
Scatterlings and orphanages
He looks around, around
He sees angels in the architecture
Spinning in infinity
He says Amen!  And Hallelujah!

 I, too, vascillate between wanting to preserve old ways and moving forward, but no matter, in my mind, it's good in any society to have different feelings---it's good that human's are a little crazy, we can't just feel the same way about everything all the time.  Botswana is a society that is based on high ideals, and it may still strive for the utopian what if everything was fine, no crime, and everyone lives peaceful lives.  Yet, whether they want it or not, Botswana is also very much a developing country, but this small village has a strange coke bottle in it.  Having now lived here for several months, I feel the strangeness from them, I feel it from me to them too, but I embrace those feelings, learn from them, grow from them, and laugh from them.  Because of all the differences and feelings, I now have an empathy for the Batswana people, but most of all, I'm gonna try not to litter as best I can, with the knowledge that throwing something vertically in the air won't solve our problems. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

African Skies

"Last night I lay in bed looking up at the stars in the sky, and I thought to myself, where the heck in the ceiling!" 

The incurable romantic in me can't stop being in awe of the African skies, so I decided that they deserve an entire blog post, even though it's hard to capture this in words. There have been many times in my life where I've looked up to a brilliant sky filled with stars---in the Rocky Mountains, North Carolina, and in Peru where I first saw the Southern Cross. The sun setting off the coast of California and west Florida, or behind the amazing Himalayas is equally as amazing as the stars, yet nothing seems to compare with the skies of Africa.  Being on safari in Zambia over a year ago, I asked someone if it was my imagination, or if the skies here seem vastly different than anywhere else. The man instantly agreed with my perception, trying to explain it away with how the unspoiled endless plains are giving it that feel. No matter, it really doesn't need an explanation, it's simply magnificant, magical, mystical!  

Each night as I clean up in the kitchen, through the window,  I watch the sun go down amidst the trees, with one lone tall tree that somehow makes it's own statement of pure beauty. Night after night, I am amazed of the colors that light up the sky—night after night, it never looks the same, even though that one tree remains the same---night after night, it never ceases to stop me dead in my tracks. The sky then darkens, giving way to the Southern Cross and a million of it's brothers and sister stars. Some nights I look out to see a part of the sky looking as white as a glass of milk, hence the milky way I guess, and other nights, each star in this huge galaxy is clearly visible and radiates in a glow that seems to brighten the entire village, leaving distant reminders of the tech world that seems so irrelevant when you contemplate the universe.  The stars seem close enough to touch them at times, and when the moon takes it's many shapes throughout the month, it seems to have it's own relationship with the stars. When the moon is full, the stars disappear, and it's the one night that it's the moons turn to shine and stand alone.

During the day, especially on safari, the unspoiled plains show the rays of sun all day long. It's incredible! Ok, is everyone reading this ready to come check it out, or at least put it on your bucket list?  This evening, as Keoki and I were walking about the village, to my left, the sun was setting through some clouds showing bright shades of fire red and yellows, to my right the full moon was showing it's face, and in the not to far distance, there were huge, dramatic bolts of lightning.  My eyes didn't know which way to look first, and it made me feel so far away from the life I once led.  It just seems that no matter what's happening on the nature side, it's bigger, brighter, and more dramatic here than anywhere else on earth. One night during training, my mom asked me why I go outside. I told her that in my wildest dreams, I never thought I'd see anything like what's her backyard on a nightly basis—something so unique—so African.  So like a good mom, she comes to check out what it was I was seeing. She agreed it was beautiful, how you can feel the presence in the skies, yet sadly, she said it was too bad that it's just taken for granted here, that most people can't even point out the Southern Cross, or even know what it is for that matter. What a shame that we all take for granted what's in our own backyards!  With all this beauty around me, I feel incredibly fortunate to be experiencing this continent, and incurable romantic or not, for the next two years, I for one, will never stop looking towards the African skies.  

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Let's Pray

Let's Pray!

Ok here—it's hard to stop laughing, or at least to be bemused by what happens on a daily basis in my new school and town. On my first day of school, we have, supposedly, a one hour orientation for the new form 1 students. This meeting started around 9, or whenever someone shows, but one hour lasted til 3pm, no lunch, no english! Why is it so long you ask? I think they're praying, that's something that happens a lot around these parts.

Day 2—with not much to do but wander around, I ask my friend Nani in the kitchen why there isn't lunch for the kids today—no water in the village, no lunch. Poor babies---I see some goats over yonder, let's get a couple and fry 'em up! Chuckle! But still, no food! Let's Pray!

Day 3—I go up to the day guard, who is a sweet old man, and I ask him if he could intercept the donkey cart to come and collect my overflowing garbage that hasn't been picked up in three weeks. No donkey carts come to the house, but I come home to many donkeys in my yard, eating my weeds. Hey donkeys—either get out or take my garbage. They do neither! My new friend, Keoki the dog, sees that his master is distressed, so he turns into a farm boy, and lo and behold, he barks them away—but I still have my garbage. So next morning, I tell the guard that on Friday, I'll wait at the house for them. Ok, it's Friday, one cart comes to pick up the garbage: “Tsepho, can you make us breakfast since we got your garbage?” “Uh, not a chance today, besides, I paid for this service, and breakfast isn't in the contract” “Well, we'll get breakfast next time.” Yeah right---whenever next time may be! Five minutes later, another donkey cart pulls up. Boy, it's really my day for garbage pick up! I try to explain to them that one other cart just came to pick the garbage up, and they are totally baffled. Fun! At least they didn't ask for breakfast! When I get to school, I'm asked why I don't have my own donkey cart, and then asked by another why I have garbage. Well, because I really don't like donkeys, and secondly, I like to eat! Tsep—you should eat different then. Sure, I'll eat porridge and cabbage everyday of my life here like you do, and once in awhile I'll slaughter a cow for protein---this will make everyone happy! Seriously, it will!

Back to day 3—walking around campus with nothing to do, I see that only some classes have teachers in them. “What's up?” “Well, we really don't know what we're doing yet”--”Oh, why's that?” “I don't know.” “Why don't you pick up where you left off last term?” “Uh, I don't know, maybe next week we'll know more.” Great, at least the kids aren't destroying the classrooms—oops--there's nothing to destroy! So then my gun ho counterpart, who is always busy with kid problems, shows me our schedule so I can shadow her doing our Life Skills classes. This is getting me really excited—so I wait for our first class---uh, no counterpart. I find her later, and she politely states someone needs to be adopted, and she has to deal with it. Hmm, in our country, the guidance counselor doesn't do adoptions. Next class, no counterpart—sorry Tsep, a student didn't have a uniform and we had to deal with this crisis. OK! Finally on Day 4 I get to observe a 20 minute Life Skills class, where the kids won't speak. Excellent! They probably didn't talk because they were in shock of actually seeing a teacher. Day 4 continues with some kids fighting. Why doesn't someone stop this? Why doesn't anyone teach so they don't fight? “We're tired!” TIRED, you just had 7 weeks off--”we're tired from last year still.” The police come for a visit to the school, but the fight has long ended, and they're just there to check on something else. I see my police friends--”Hey Tsepho, howzit.” “Great, how come you guys don't come to my house when I call you scared half to death?” “We're tired!” “Tsepho, I haven't had a day off in forever.” My oh my, if everyone's so tired, why don't they get some sleep, or go for a donkey cart ride to liven things up! OY! Let's Pray!

Day 5—Forget this school stuff, I wander to the Post Office to play on the internet, on the way daydreaming of having a cappuccino and reading the NY times in my old beloved Wildberries. Later on, I put daydreams aside, and go to a late afternoon teacher meeting. Boy, I can't wait to see how this goes! The meeting is held in a computer room with none that work, and we're all sitting behind these big archaic machines, so you can barely even see who's across from you. At least the speaker stands---this is smart! Meeting starts with praying—then we're asked to review and correct last meetings minutes. Teacher speaks wanting to correct typos in minutes on page one—VP speaks—maybe we'll be here all day if we correct typos—let's pray. Going on with the meeting agenda, someone starts to expand on a topic—VP says, we'll be here all day if we keep talking—let's pray! VP asks for help on a different topic—no response! Let's Pray! Ah, we have a new subject this term, French, yay, maybe I'll sit in on this class—whaaat---no French teacher, and the students haven't been briefed about this, but maybe they'll find us one soon---yeah right, just like they'll find me a refrig soon! “How many students should we put into the class?”—no response! Let's Pray!

As the meeting adjourns ,with a prayer of course, my counterpart tells me to have a great weekend and says we'll do lot's of work next week—yeah sure! Don't get me wrong here, the teachers are great, one is teaching me Setswana for free, one comes over my house to learn chi gong and meditation, and a few want me to try the traditional brew made around these parts. I'm not a big drinker, but sure, I'll try anything, the other day I tried a mobane worm! Disgusting! What I found out this first real week of school is that there are rules--but who knows what they are, classes are taught or not, meetings happen but nobody tells you til the last minute, or you're just magically supposed to know, and Africans know no time. Things just happen when they happen, and you just have to deal with it! No wonder the Peace Corps stresses that patience is virtue. But yay, it's Friday, and in the comfort of my new bug ridden home, with my new crazy dog, my friend Leah stopping by to tell me how happy she is that our friendship has time to get broad, and with the loudest crackling thunder in the background, I sit in gratitude for the humor around me--but I wonder if anyone knows a French teacher to import to us! Let's Pray!

P.S. I'll be in a Peace Corps training from Jan 22-31, (then I turn 55 years young on Feb. 1), so if you don't see any new posts during that time, it's because I may not have internet! Thanks to everyone who has sent me stuff from the states---but hey—it's causing a big garbage problem! Let's Pray!   

Sisterly love!

Family takes on different meanings at different times in ones life.  We have our natural family,  friend families, work families, and animal families.  So here in Botswana, I am not surprised to have another family, actually two families, my host family, and my Peace Corps's just par for the course.  I grew up having just one brother who is tall, handsome, successful, quiet, and let's see what other good stuff I can say about him.  Me, I was opposite...short, active, curious, and always in trouble...but successful too!  Brothers do funny things to show their love and affection like hiding in your closet and pretending he's a ghost, or telling me that my bed is from Africa with snakes in it, or tickling me under the chin til I was tortured.  Nice guy, ya gotta watch out for those nice quiet ones.  He even taught my 3 nieces how to torture me under the chin.  Even though those were childhood experiences, it's no wonder I check my bed here every night for snakes, well, it's not really a bed, but I am sleeping in Africa.  Wouldn't it have been nice to have sisters, especially older ones who would show you the way.  Not that I want to get rid of my brother, but hey!  It was so much fun hanging out with my older girl cousins growing up in the old days, as well as watching my grandmother and her 3 sisters go at it all the time.  There just didn't seem anything that could break that bond.  Now in Africa, I seemed to have gotten my wish with 3 sisters I can call my own.  Kesego is 6 and we have an established relationship...she rules the roost, and I turn into a 6 year old, pouting when I don't win a game.  Peo, 23, is sometimes in her own internet world, but we've had some really good, long chats about life.  She has even snapped at me a few times---makes me feel right at home.  Joy, 36, the outgoing one, is living in the UK getting her Ph.D.  She comes homes every so often, but most recently she was in China for several months doing an internship.  Joy hated China, hated it's food, hated it's people, hated it's street life, hated everything.  I'm here drooling over her descriptions of the food, the people who shove you all around, and it's vibrant street life.  Gee Joy, ya couldn't have even brought me an egg roll for the new year!  Joy is great though, and the minute she landed in Botswana, she called me to say hi!  Now that's a nice sister--eggroll or not!

Recently, it was about 4 in the afternoon, when Joy and Mom came knocking on my door in Mmathethe, with a food basket, and telling me to get dressed we're going out a night on the town.  Uh, what town?  There's nothing around for at least 30 miles or so.  What the hey---I ate my late lunch, packed an overnight bag just in case, fed crazy Keoki, and hopped in the car.  "Where we going mom."  "I don't know, we're just going like the birds do."  Great, I love being a free spirit, going to nowhere in 500 degree heat.  She was right, we wound up in the middle of nowhere to watch traditional dancers and singers bringing in the New Year.  It was so beautiful out in the middle of nowheresville.  Mom immediately noticed that so many were greeting me, so she said, "Tshepo, since you are the Mayor around here, can you get us some food."  They only cook for the dancers, but I was served immediately!  It feels good to have Mayor status in these parts!  As soon as I got my plate, Joy shoved her hands in and ate everything.  "Tshep, you better get something for mom."  I get another plate, and Joy shoves her hands in and eats everything.  I slap her vulture hands, embarrassed, I ask humbly for another plate.  "Tshepo, you sure are hungry tonight."  "Yes, I haven't eaten in days, I'm as starved as a vulture." "Well then, you can have anything you want sweetie."  Joy is behind me laughing, and mom is just proud to have a daughter with clout around the food table!  Joy is satiated now, sitting back on the chair, as I sit on the dirt, leaning up against her legs.  She leans over and tells me that as much as misses African food, she misses the smell of the dirt more.  I tilt my head back to watch her proudly sniffing and watching her native land.  I guess no matter where you are, home never leaves you, and I sat wondering how many plates I'll stick my hands into whenever I get home.

That night, the 4 of us sisters sat huddled together, laughing about Joy being a pig, and talking about mom, family, our differences, and wondering why nobody in this town has a pool we can cool off in.  Since it's so hot, we all fall asleep in the only semi-cool room in the house.  I awoke before all with Joy's feet in my face, Kesego's head on my stomach, Peo dreaming of Facebook, and mom at the doorway just looking at this sight.  She motioned for me to get up, and when I did, she gave me a heartfelt look, one of those right through your soul looks, and said to me, "Tshepo, you were meant to come here."  Anxiously waiting for her to tell my why on earth I'm not in Asia where my heart is, she says, "We have been your family for many moons, now go wash your mouth and make us breakfast."  Frankly, I didn't think she had it in her to talk like a far out Californian, but something in her knows that we were meant to find each other.

sister Joy enjoying birthday brownies from the USA
I don't know how my time here will play out, or what's in store, but maybe she's right---maybe this family and I are cosmically tied to one another in some way.  What I do know is that I feel very loved by each and every one of them, especially my sisters, and I feel a sense of peace brewing in me---something I haven't felt in a very long time.  It's funny though, last night when we got home, out of the blue, mom said, "wouldn't it nice if we were in Thailand."  I popped up and started packing my bags!  But no matter, whether in Thailand or Africa, I have 3 sisters and great family ties here in Africa that I have come to love----now only if I had that egg roll--life would be perfect!

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Hitch Hiker!

Hitch hiking is a part of being in Botswana. Everyone does it, it's easy, it's fast, it's safe! Back in the 60's in the good old USA, hitching used to be cool with long haired hippies sticking their thumbs out, but nowadays it's sadly a dying form of transport.  Late today, the hippie spirit in me, hitched a ride to Kanye, and was picked up by a really nice lady coming home from a days work. Of course everyone you meet wants to know what a white woman is doing here, how we like Botswana, and how many kids do you have.  Women are respected for having children, and because of the low population in Botswana, even the President encourages women to have lots of babies, whether they are in or out of wedlock. Knowing this, (and being a little sick of women putting me down with their eyes when I tell them I have no children), I tell her I have a respectable 3 kids, Nikko, Simon, and Alex, who are currently living with their Aunt Marilyn. I had 4 children, one of them, Sasha, died a year ago from a bum kidney at the tender age of 14. The woman driving is pleased that I have children, sympathetic about my Sashi, yet doesn't think twice about them living with an aunt. Most children at a certain age here live with a relative due to schooling or other purposes. I am ever so pleased, if not amused, with my fabricated story to save face on this given day. It's actually an innocuous fabrication, she doesn't need to know that my children all have 4 legs and fir!

Inevitably, when talking with an African for any length of time, the American is always questioned about Obama. Some ask questions with confidence---”Do you know Obama?” “Yeah, he lives down the street from me, and Michelle is in my bookclub.” “Oh, isn't she just wonderful?” “Sure is, and don't you just love her hair!” Quizzically, others ask, as this woman did, “How do you think he's doing as President?” “Well, our economy is down the drain, our country is falling apart, and Obama has practiced for 3 years saying to foreign dignitaries “Hi, I'm not George Bush!” Yet others with more puzzled looks in their eyes, almost afraid of an answer, ask, “Do you like him?” “Sure I do, astrologically he's a Leo, and an Ox in Chinese Astrology, I should be a perfect match for him—but did you know he hates mayonaise.” “Huh!” “What sign are you?” “Huh!”

Africans have always had divergent views on Americans, and since Obama has Kenyan heritage, he has changed some of their views on America.  Obama holds a special place in their hearts.  In fact, this woman says that Obama has a King's status here in Africa, well, even more, he is revered like a God. Whew, that's big! When Obama came to Africa he said, “You can conquer disease, end conflicts, and make changes from the bottom up.” These are words they hold onto—this is also, in part, of why Peace Corps is here. When Michelle came to Botswana last April, this woman said she never saw someone so beautiful in her whole life—she is also our role model, our hero as women! Notably, the PCV's got to meet her—I wish I had been there then--what a thrill it was for them!  Anyway, we went onto talk about people in Africa idolizing America even more because of the Obama's---she called the USA the land of opportunity with unimaginable wealth—a place where Africans, like herself, can only hope one day to see with their own eyes.

How does one really respond to something like this? Yeah, America is great in many ways, but lady, I left because our abundance is making me crazy, and ruining our children to an extent. Obama did break racial barriers in our country, which is a good thing, but I always thought there would be a woman President before a black President, and he's certainly not held in King or Godly status. You, as Africans, should be happy with your simplicity, embrace it, you are living where humankind began—nothing can strip that away! The Dali Lama would be proud of the simplicity here in Africa---Ok Tshepo, get a grip! As this woman went into a dream-like state and started swirving off the road, I call her back, “hey lady, he isn't that good looking.” Coming back onto the road, she replied, “Oh yes he is—in our eyes, not only is he good looking, he's everything!” I realized then, that Obama, is somehow their string of hope!

As we were approaching the gentle rolling hills of Kanye, she asks my name, asks me if I miss my kids, and thanks me for the conversation. Smiling, she said, “Tshepo, since you know Obama, I won't charge you for the ride.” Wow, this was a great hitch, ke a laboga! Thanks lady! I'll tell Michelle you said hi!

When I got home to my ever level headed mom in Kanye, I told her all about my hitch hiking experience with the nice lady swirving off the road. Agreeing that Obama was/is so popular, she too, couldn't help but jump on the Obama bandwagon, but she's to even keeled to revere him like a God. And so, for the next 2 hours, mom and I cooked my ever so favorite African foods, had a wonderful and heartfelt chat about politics, children, life---and as the bright stars came out over the African sky, mom said the family nightly prayer, asking God to forgive me for my sin today, but with humor, blessed my children anyway!