Struggles of a Different Botswana at a Different Time

November 25, Day 482

I couldn’t sleep last night, I’m too nervous!

My night was filled with night terrors and I kept waking up in a state of terror. My latest night terrors are that I see cockroaches crawling through the window by my bed and I see them crawl into my room.

It’s actually very plausible that this could be happening and I’m seeing real things because I’ve seen cockroaches all over my house at night, but you never know.

I also was in a state of panic when I saw shadows on the wall moving. To really top things off, the past few nights I wake up with anxiety in the middle of the night with the thought that there was a village ritual that I forgot to do before bed that I was supposed to. It seems real at the time, however, I recognize how strange this sounds.

It’s as if I was supposed to chant something or perform a series of things and I forgot and went to bed. Then I wake up like “oh no! I forgot!”, realize it’s not real, and go back to bed.

This happens every night without fail lately.

I’m guessing this is the stress of service finding a way to show itself.

After all, I have had to take over as the District AIDS Coordinator of the southern region of Botswana, and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. It’s stressful.

Today’s stress is because I will be traveling with a few men from the Men’s Sector to a go to a very far away village and conduct a meeting with the village chief and members of the village to plan World AIDS Day and a football tournament.

It’s not that I don’t know how to conduct a meeting or plan a large event — I do. It’s that I’m handicapped when it comes to language. I’ve noticed that the men’s sector intentionally holds meetings in Setswana as a way to exclude me from what’s happening. I of course do not expect an entire room full of men to only speak English just because I’m there. However, it would be nice if someone could translate for me a few words or make an effort to include me, seeming as how my office is running the entire event. It’s clear that no one will be looping me in, I’m on my own.

Yet, then they expect me to be up to speed on everything and look to me on leadership for issues discussed that I wasn’t looped in on.

This is a lot of fun, as you can see. Also very stressful.

So, I’m in charge of planning an event that is being planned in a language I don’t speak very well and there is no compassion afforded to include me. Yet, it’s on me if this isn’t done right.

My plan so far has been to use our driver Mabe as my communication tool. I tell him all the things that I am worried about and ask him to make sure they are addressed, and then he speaks up on my behalf to address them in the meetings. I simply have to trust him that he’s speaking to represent the interest of our office. And I do trust Mabe with my life; he’s family here.

So, I’m up at 6 am and feeling stressed. I text Mabe and ask him if he can pick me up at my house this morning and then take me to Catherine’s house so I can feed Dawgie on the way out of town. He agrees.

Make the eggs. Have the iced coffee.

Take the bucket bath.

Get dressed. Usually, any time I hear the word “Kgosi” involved with a meeting, I know there’s a special dress code. If women enter the Kgotla (special village meeting place) we are required to wear a long skirt and cover our hair. Today’s meeting isn’t at the kgotla, but I know it could go there and I need to be prepared.

So, I decide to wear a long skirt and scarf as a headband in my hair just in case I need to cover my head.

Mabe picks me up at 7:30 and we drive to Catherine’s. Dawgie is sleepy and gets up just to say hello. The floor is covered with water from her melting freezer since she doesn’t have electricity right now, so I mop the floor and feed the dog.

Hop back in the car. We are meeting the guys from the Men’s Sector at the police station, so we drive over there.

Just as we enter the parking lot, there is a herd of camels walking around.

My village is the only village in Botswana that has camels walking around. Our police station also keeps camels, I’m assuming because they can go places deep in the desert to settlement areas that cars can’t reach.

We drive slowly through the camels who look at us like “huh? Oh, just more cars. They’re in our way. It’s feeding time, they should move.”

Arrive in the parking lot and there is another car waiting for us. We are all apparently waiting for Leboh, who is a female police officer and going with us.

The chairman of the Men’s Sector, Mr. Kole, yells something over to me in Setswana through his car window. I pretend I understand and smile and laugh, though I have no idea what he said. I think he knows I don’t know what he said and did that on purpose to make me feel stupid. It’s fine.

Finally, we all leave. It’s me and Mabe in his truck, and then four others in another truck. Mabe is flying down the road.

“Mabe, you are driving really fast! Please do not kill me,” I say.

“Don’t worry, I know this car very well. I will not kill you,” Mabe days.

We drive, I relax and we make conversation.

Just as we pass through the village of Omawaneno, Mabe begins to open up to me about his childhood in the ‘70s.

Keep in mind that Botswana claimed independence from England in 1966, so the country was very young back then and did not have the infrastructure that it has now.

Mabe tells me about a childhood that was very difficult and with no food. His mother could not find work and lived at a cattle post 30 kilometers outside of Omawaneno.

Mabe and his brothers were sent to go to school in Omawaneno after his father passed away when he was 10. With no adult supervision, Mabe lived in Omawaneno in a room with his two younger brothers and was in charge of feeding and clothing them at the age of 10 in Omawaneno while his mother was at the cattle post.

He said sometimes he would lay awake terrified to go to school the next day because he couldn’t afford to wear shoes or have the school uniform and he knew he would get beaten. He was terrified to go to school, and the only meal they got was during tea time at school when bread was given.

As a result, his brothers lost interest in school work, but he still tried to keep up. But after all, when you are 8 years old trying to survive and eat, who has time to worry about school?

On Fridays after school they would walk barefoot 30 kilometers to the cattle post to see their mother.

The only reprieve that they had was during Christmas when his father’s brother would feel bad for them and come visit from Maun, where he worked in the mines. When his uncle came to visit he brought food and would buy the boys’ school uniforms and treats.

That uncle unfortunately passed away at a fairly young age. I could see Mabe tearing up as he told me about him, how he wishes he could introduce his kids to him and see how he’s doing now.

“Botswana was a very different place back then. We didn’t have the government taking care of us like they do now,” Mabe says.

“Mabe you are so inspiring. I’m sure your uncle is in heaven looking down on you with your good job, house, wife and children doing so well and is smiling down on you. You’ve done so well for yourself!” I say.

“It’s a lot of pressure to take that all on as a young boy. I had no father and had to take care of my brothers at 10 years old and we lived by ourselves. It was a lot, I could not go to university because who worries about schooling when you’re trying to survive?” He says.

“Mabe, you found a way to survive and I’m so inspired by you. You were just a young boy trying to navigate adult problems at a very young age and that’s not fair,” I reply.

“This is why I do not like Omawaneno. I think about it every time I drive through it. My uncle saved me,” he says.

Just then, a group of ostriches distract us and we watch them on the side of the road. All of the wildlife is out today!

Mabe pulls over to buy peanuts and shortbread cookies at the local gas station because he didn’t eat breakfast this morning. He gets me a little bag of raisins and peanuts, too.

Get back on the road and drive for two more hours until we hit Werda, where there is a special fueling point for government vehicles. We fuel up and I use the bathroom while it’s there.

Next is the road to Hereford, the village we are going to. This road is no joke. It is a bad gravel road and deep sand for 50 kilometers. You have to be mentally prepared to take on this road. Along the roadside are big farms, all named after English towns, in alphabetical order.

Sometimes you can even see a giraffe or a rhino running around in the farms.

We take on the road with the car swerving all over the place because there’s no weight in the back of the truck to weigh us down and the road is a mess.

Arrive in Hereford, and it’s a cute little village. We walk to the Kgosi’s office and are asked to wait in the hallway. Sit down and wait.

Just then, a nurse arrives from the clinic and asks us if we can use one of our cars to drive a patient to Werda to the clinic in an emergency.

“Abbie, you are the highest ranking officer here. This is up to you. Can they use your car?” Mr. Fancypants Lawyer Men’s Sector guy says to me.

Ummmmmm okay? I mean, I NEED Mabe here to communicate for my office and without him I’m here alone with no way to talk to people.

“Yes, I can have Mabe drive the patient, but I need you to communicate a few things for me with the Kgosi in the meeting,” I say to fancy pants lawyer.

“Sorry, I can’t help, I am just new here, too” fancy pants says.

It’s not like I’m asking him to cure cancer. I’m asking him to communicate a few talking points in Setswana for me. But it’s clear that he won’t help me out.

So, I go speak to Mabe, who is still standing by the truck. He thinks for a moment, and then we agree to let the driver of the other truck take Mabe’s car to drive the patient so this way Mabe can stay and be a communication person in the meeting.

The next thing I know, the Kgosi is calling us all to meet at the kgotla. Thank goodness I wore my skirt and head scarf.

I see the chairman and fancypants lawyer talking on the side.

“Abbie, we thought this was a meeting just with the Kgosi. Now he is calling a kgotla meeting with the entire community! We are confused,” the chairman says.

“Oh it’s okay, I was a part of world AIDS day planning last year and they did the same thing then. This is normal,”

I assure them.

We hold the meeting with the community and from what I can tell all goes well. Everyone steps in and does what they need to do.

It is at this moment that I realize I’m going to be okay. As the DAC, I am the district aids coordinator; it is not my job to do the actual work, I just have to coordinate it. That means I need to pat people on the back and tell them they’re doing a good job to encourage them, but not do the actual work myself. What a relief!

The meeting finishes and the other truck isn’t back from Werda yet, so we all pile into one truck. I’m next to Leboh and Mr. Fancypants Lawyer in the backseat.

We drive to the local general dealer to look inside the store. It’s absolutely fabulous! This village is a borderpost to South Africa, and it’s clear that these goods are brought in from SA to be sold in this store. This is the one store to shop at in Botswana, aside from my village which is more than 200 kilometers away.

We all look around and while I am in the bathroom, the guys decide to buy some cookies and soda for everyone. We all crowd around the back of the pickup truck and eat delicious oatmeal and frosting cookies and sip on Coca Cola. Totally hits the spot on a hot day!

I have no idea what they are all talking about as we crowd around the back of the truck because it’s all in Setswana. But I pick up enough to figure it out.

“My Grandfather always taught me never to date a woman who doesn’t have a totem (a mascot, most villages have them),” Mr. Fancypants says. “If you get into an argument you don’t know what she stands for. Is she an elephant? A crocodile? With no totem, you don’t know who she is.”

I keep my mouth shut and opt to watch the goats digging through the garbage instead. I feel left out.

We all pile into the back of the truck once again to begin the long journey back to my village.

Everyone continues to speak only in Setswana and I doze off as we drive down the bumpy gravel road.

I wake up just as we arrive in Werda, where it begins as a tarred road.

“Abigail, I think that you are sleeping. Are you awake?” Mr. Kole asks.

“Ehhh Rra, I am awake,” I respond.

We keep driving for another two hours. The entire time, Mr. Fancypants talks about all of his fancy legal cases and how he won them because he’s smarter than everyone else. It’s one example after another. I pretend not to speak Setswana so I don’t get involved and sit quietly in the car.

We drop everyone off, and now it’s just me and Mabe. He drops me off at Catherine’s house to check on Dawgie.

See Dawgie, give him belly rubs u til he falls asleep.

Walk home.

Eat a late lunch.

Relax.

Decide to ride my bicycle to the grocery store to finally pick up a few groceries. I walk into Sefalana and it smells like a dead body in there. They really need to clean the meat section! The whole store smells and it turns my stomach.

Walk to the ATM and discover that now we have TWO ATMs!! This is a big day! But… they’re both out of order. Dang, I wanted the cash to buy electricity for Catherine and that requires cash.

Instead, I walk to Choppies where I get the food I need and they let me use my debit card for electricity. Win!

Strap all the bags to the back of my bicycle and bike home. Unpack. Sit for a moment.

Eat a chicken peri peri pie.

Walk to Catherine’s to enter the electricity code into her electric box and make sure the power comes back on. I also turn the lights on on her porch to make it look like someone’s home.

Of course, when Dawgie sees me he goes bonkers and wants to play.

The neighbors are next door sleeping on the front porch, I’m assuming because it’s cooler outside than in the house.

“Dumela!” The grandmother says to me.

“Dumela, Mme,” I say (hello, ma’am. Also, if you’re speaking to an elder you are not supposed to ask how they are. You must let them ask how you are and then wait for them to share how they are. Hence why I didn’t ask how she is today).

“The dog has been crying at night when no one is here. He cries all night! He is lonely,” she says.

Awwww, Dawgie! I see him about three times a day so he’s not lonely, but he probably misses Catherine and her daughter. What a dramatic dog! So cute.

Play and feed the dog.

Walk home, and I still feel stressed out. I feel like I have a million pounds on my shoulders. Can I pull off planning all of these events when I’m not an accepted insider? I know Mabe and Bontle and I will work together, but I feel like everything rests on me.

Today is Colden’s first day of work at his new job in Seattle. When I get home I call him and wish him good luck.

Write for a while and listen to jazz.

Go tlaa siame, it will be fine.

Boroko 🌙

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