The past week, I’ve been living in a nearby village called Kanye. The purpose of the trip was to expose us to a more rural area of Botswana. Overall, Kanye wasn’t all that different from Gabs. There were fewer restaurants and shops and the houses were definitely smaller and more run-down, but at first glance, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. I didn’t stay in a mud hut or use an outdoor pit for a toilet like you may have imagined, yet this past week has been more challenging than my entire time in Gabs. We arrived by bus on Sunday around 12 and were assigned to our host families. This time we chose randomly out of a hat. I had a host mom named Goitseone who was 64. Her job is operating a stand at the nearby market, similar to all the stands I see in Gabs. I thought that was pretty cool. Her youngest daughter, Precious, lives with her. She is 26 and has two kids, ages 6 and 1. They live in a modest house in the “downstairs” part of Kanye. Kanye is a HUGE village with an upper and lower part divided by a hill.
I actually spent quite a bit of time at home, since we didn’t have much to do at night. I tried my best to get to know my host family, but it proved difficult. They watched a ton of TV and mostly spoke to me in Setswana. I tried my best to follow along and participate in the conversation, but it just got so frustrating. The little boy, Kaho, knew English, but he refused to use it. Michelle was barely speaking Setswana so I mostly just communicated with her by smiles. I tried to explain to the family that I barely know Setswana, but they just kept barking orders that I couldn’t understand. Eventually, I just retreated to my room, where I spent a lot of time reading and finished the book A Thousand Splendid Suns (so good!). I realized this week just how much I rely on the Internet. Without it, I felt lost and extremely bored. I took walks with my sister and her kids around the neighborhood, but other than that, could not find anything to do. It seemed to me like all they did was sit in front of the television, and I just can’t do that without feeling like my brain is melting. However, one day while watching btvnews, there was a program about the bojale I attended last weekend and I was on it! How cool! My host family also really enjoyed my camera. I guess they aren’t very common here because I noticed there were no pictures around their house at all. We spent a lot of time taking pictures. I somehow want to find a way to get them back to the family. I also met many of the extended family members including aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. They would just randomly show up at the house, probably to meet the lekgowa (foreigner). This week definitely reemphasized to me the heavy importance of family in Botswana.
The house situation wasn’t what I was used to from the past month in Gabs, but it provided me with a change of perspective that was much needed. There is a large water shortage in Kanye, so many families, including mine, do not have running water. My family stored huge bins of water in an outside shed. Therefore, every time I wanted to use the bathroom or take a bath, I had to go outside to fetch some water in a bucket. The toilet obviously didn’t flush, so you just had to pour water down it after you finished. The room with the toilet smelled like sewage, so I had to hold my breath. I essentially had to plan when I wanted to go to the bathroom to minimize my trips outside and water usage. Bathing wasn’t easy either. My host sister would boil some water for me and I would just crouch in the tub and use a cup to pour water from the bucket. The water was always extremely hot and I couldn’t waste cold water to cool it down, so I always ended up burning my scalp and body. It honestly felt like I was bathing in my own filth and I never felt clean. Let’s just say the bath I took when I got back to Gabs was absolutely amazing. Brushing my teeth proved challenging too. I ended up buying a large water bottle from the market and pouring that on my toothbrush to clean it off. Dishes were also challenging, but I’m sure you don’t want to hear that disgusting description. As the week went on, I began to feel so terrible for my family in that for me it was only a week, but it’s their permanent lifestyle. There was no mirror in the whole house. Also, no soap. That is so completely unsanitary. Thank god for my hand sanitizer. The house was also freezing. Kanye is colder than Gaborone because of the winds, so the nights were pretty freezing. I had a good amount of blankets, but still woke up in the middle of the night shivering. On top of that, my phone broke and started sending all of my contacts hundreds of blank messages. I tried to contact the carrier and they refused to accept the blame. The language barrier made it hard to communicate and I got so frustrated, I was near tears.
Okay, enough complaining. I’m not trying to say that I was miserable. Just that it was a huge readjustment for me. My perspective shifted so much throughout the week and I couldn’t wait to get back to what I have in Gabs. One positive about the week was the food. My family certainly made sure I did not go hungry. For breakfast, I had scrambled eggs and a banana and then my host mom brought home a different baked-good each day. When I got home, dinner was waiting for me. My host sister was a great cook! She would usually cook chicken or goat, a starch, and 2 or 3 veggies. She piled my plate with food that I could never finish. She introduced me to samp, porridge, and cooked cabbage. There wasn’t enough water for drinking, so I had to have a fizzy drink with all my meals. Surprisingly enough, I started to actually crave water. I had way more food this week than in Gabs. Maybe they were just spoiling me J Though my family situation wasn’t exactly ideal, I’m thankful to them for letting me in and trying their best to make me feel welcome.
In Kanye, we spent the first part of each day at a clinic. We had a personal combi driver named Bonolo who picked us up and took us home each day. She took a personal liking to me (I apparently reminded her of her quiet daughter), and called me “my little girl.” Such a sweet lady. On Monday, my group went to the BOFWA clinic. It’s a national NGO that focuses on sexual and reproductive health. There were only two patients the whole time we were there, so we just spent most of the time asking questions. There was a peace core volunteer named Nate working at BOFWA and we spent a lot of time talking to him about the organization, the difference between Botswana and U.S. healthcare, and even just about where we should travel. His 28 (?) years have taken him all over the world from Buffalo, NY to Kanye, Botswana, with several stops in between. He had such an interesting perspective and was just a really cool guy! We ended up doing house visits with Nate and another worker. They were mostly informational visits about BOFWA and its services. Though we couldn’t understand the conversations, it was fun to walk around the village and meet some of the local people. The rest of the week, my group went to Main Clinic. There were several buildings including HIV/AIDS health, the maternity ward, the outpatient clinic, and the Safe Male Circumcision center. We rotated from place to place, observing and learning. We weren’t actually able to help out much other than counting pills and filling out paperwork. I got to ride in an ambulance (for the first time) with a pregnant lady to the Kanye hospital. She was extremely large and needed a C-section. When we got there, the doctors and nurses had trouble finding the baby’s heartbeat and we got extremely nervous the baby would be stillborn. After an ultrasound that took way longer than it should have, they finally found the heartbeat. It turned out the baby wasn’t even that big (only 7 pounds), but the mother had too much surrounding fat. I really enjoyed seeing the hospital and being able to compare it to the clinics. I also got to weigh myself, which was exciting since scales aren’t anywhere to be found in Gabs. The clinics overall weren’t too different from those in Gabs and we saw the same types of issues with sanitation and the clinic being very understaffed. Four days in the same clinic was way too many- eventually there was nothing else to see and we felt unwanted and in the way.
Other than the clinics, we had two Setswana lessons. We have our midterm next week, so everyone is getting extremely nervous! We spent a little bit of time at the library and mall and checked out a bar one night. It was a little shack with a pool table and jukebox. The men in Kanye actually scared me a little bit more, so I felt extremely uncomfortable and ended up walking home early. One night we hung out at Nate’s house. Friday was the best day of all. After the clinics, our driver took us on a tour of Kanye. We were able to see the kgotla (high court), a famous statue, and the view from the top of the hill. We then went to the dam, where our CIEE group played a few intense games of mafia and went on a hike. That night, we decided to cook out at Bonolo’s house. We worked together to cook chicken and beef over an outside fire, as well as several veggies, fruit salad, and pap. It was a delicious meal and a great night of bonding. The village sky was full of more stars than I’ve ever seen. It was one of those sights that is so beautiful, it makes you want to cry. When we left to go home, the combi wouldn’t start, so we had to push it. It was pretty hilarious. It was a great end to our trip to Kanye. I can’t necessarily say I’m in a huge rush to go back, but it was an eye-opening experience and I am so thankful. I don’t think you can truly understand the essence of Africa without experiencing something like this past week. I’m happy to be back in Gabs and ready to start back to school tomorrow. I’m way behind on schoolwork from missing the week and have a test Tuesday, so I could definitely use some positive vibes.