Editor’s note: Amy has been in Botswana over a year, where she is serving as an HIV and health-capacity building specialist with the U.S. Peace Corps. She lives in a village near Gaborone (which she can’t name for security reasons) and works with two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help them better serve a country where one of five people are HIV-positive. She writes a monthly column for the Montrose Daily Press and also maintains a blog, www.amyinbotswana.com. You can email her at email@example.com with your questions or comments (or to get her address).
I am writing this on the first day of Ngwanaatsele. The Setswana months have wonderful meanings behind their names. November’s, it is believed, is an aberration of ngwana a itseele, referring to a child picking moretlwa, or brandy bush fruit, which are ripening now.
Ngwanaatsele also marks the start of summer, though Mother Nature didn’t get the memo and it was in the mid-30s (90s) for much of October. Maybe I’m getting used to the heat, but it doesn’t seem to bother me as much as last year. Also, my new house has ceiling fans, and I thank Modimo (God) every day for them.
I hosted a housewarming braai (barbeque) last month for friends and coworkers. This required my first trip to the butchery, where one goes for large quantities of beef. This butchery also is a braai, with several grills on which you can cook meat that you purchase at the counter. There are tables in the shade of morula trees, and a bottle store next door to buy beer. I decided I would need to come back sometime and partake.
I asked a coworker how much beef to buy, and he said I should spend 300 pula (about $28). I dropped by the butchery on a Friday after work, placed the order, and was told to arrive at 10:30 the next morning, which I did. Someone went to rouse the butcher, and he finally arrived and spent 10 minutes telling me why I should marry him. Then he carried a huge slab of beef from a cooler and sliced T-bone after T-bone from it. I wound up with 8 kilograms (17.637 pounds at $1.60/pound) of steaks, which he tied up in a clear plastic bag. And now, picture me walking down the street with a big bag of meat slung over my shoulder and then crawling into the combi (minibus) and sitting with the bag on my lap. I got dozens of requests for invitations to the braai. The steaks were delicious, by the way.
I’ve written before about the importance of cows in Botswana. There are more cows than people, and they’re everywhere … in the streets, in your yard (if you leave your gate unlatched), at the kgotla (tribal meeting place). Cows are a currency of sorts (they are used for lobola, or the payment a groom’s family makes to the bride’s family before a marriage) and a sign of wealth. All big events call for the slaughter of one or more cows and the preparation of seswaa (delicious pounded meat). Many families have a cattle post or moraka, where they keep their cows (when they’re not wandering the streets), and I’ve had to reschedule quite a few meetings due to “an emergency at the cattle post.”
This month’s photo was taken at the Gaborone branch of Bible Life Ministries, where my churchmates and I traveled a few weeks ago to join more than 1,000 other parishioners for a sermon from the church’s founder, a man named Dr. Enoch Sitima from Malawi. Botswana is a Christian-majority nation, and although just 6 percent of the population identifies as followers of “Badimo” or indigenous religion, most Batswana believe in aspects of it, such as traditional healing. In fact, Botswana’s largest medical aid company covers traditional healing, but only for ngope, mototwane and thobega (the healing of nosebleeds, epilepsy and broken bones).
I made it to another football match between my beloved village’s team and the powerful Township Rollers, this time at the University of Botswana stadium, and I was thrilled that we played to a 1-1 draw. My team is still in the basement of the BTC Premiership League, but we’re not at the very bottom anymore. There’s another match this weekend, but I’ll need to see if it’s on, because my team’s players refused to play last weekend because they hadn’t been paid.
In last month’s column, I mentioned the government’s forthcoming ban on plastic bags, which was supposed to go into effect today (Nov. 1). Alas, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism announced last week that the ban is postponed indefinitely to “allow further engagement on the implementation of the prohibition.” This news was a blow to one of my NGOs which had invested in 200 fabric bags (complete with their new logo, website address and phone number) to sell to folks who got stuck at the checkout lane with an armful of groceries and no plastic bag. Hopefully the ban’s delay will be brief, and Botswana will continue to provide leadership in environmental protection.
My Setswana continues to improve, thanks to barutabana ba bantsi (teachers everywhere). Once people find out that I’m trying to learn, they are eager to add to my vocabulary. And now when I hear people talking about me in the combi, I say, “Ke a le utlwa, gape ke a le tlhaloganya.” (I hear you and I understand you.) I recently finished Trevor Noah’s brilliant book, “Born a Crime,” and he wrote about how the architects of apartheid used language to divide people. Bantu children were only taught in Bantu, Zulu kids in Zulu, and so on, and because of this, Noah says that “we’d fall into the trap the government had set for us and fight among ourselves, believing that we were different.” But he goes on to say, “[T]he great thing about language is that you can just as easily use it to do the opposite: convince people that they are the same.”
Thank you for reading, and for your letters and email. BotswanaPost continues to provide unreliable service, so please don’t send packages. However, if you have something to send, my sister will be in Montrose for two days this week and will be coming to Botswana next month. If you want to seize this opportunity, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll put you in touch with her.