Health Talks & Condom Demonstrations On Remote Farms

December 4, Day 491

I. DID. NOT. SLEEP. A. WINK.

 

This is not a drill.

 

I did not sleep. Not a freakin’ wink all night long.

 

Two of the women in our classroom snored all night long, taking turns roaring like a lion when the other one wasn’t. My fears of being kept up all night came to fruition. I hear one of the women get up and pee into a bucket next to her bed. It is at this moment that I decide to put on my headphones and try to fall asleep to Enya blasting loudly enough to drown out the noise.

 

Someone’s phone alarm goes off at 4:45 am. I get up because I was told that we were leaving for the farms at 6 am this morning.

 

Get dressed and boil water for coffee. The only thing that survived from the ravage of the goats was a bag of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that my lovely friend Julia gave to me in the US and one apple.

 

Walk to the bathroom to brush my teeth and put on some makeup, and Masala is in the bathroom. She stands right behind me and watches in fascination as I put on my makeup.

 

“You are going to the farms?” she asks.

 

“Yes, I am,” I reply.

 

“Well you should hurry, they are leaving now now.”

 

“What? It’s only 5:20 am. They said they were leaving at 6 am,” I say.

 

“No, they decided to leave at 5:30 instead. You should hurry up and join them,” she replies.

 

“Oh! No one told me because the meeting was in Setswana last night and I didn’t get that message. Okay, thank you, I’ll rush now,” I say.

 

Quickly throw my purse together with my usual apple and bottle of water. Run over to the trucks and the guys are still gathering themselves. Eat some bread for breakfast.

 

We all pile into the trucks and leave at 6 am on the dot. This time we brought a bunch of oranges and a bunch of meat from last night’s dinner with us for lunch. I secretly put some bread behind the seat where I’m sitting so I can eat something for lunch.

 

Drive back to the first farm that we visited yesterday to see if the owner will speak to us. The workers tell us they are going to go find the owner. After about 30 minutes, it becomes clear that they are pulling our chain, so we decide to leave.

 

Drive back into the bush on the bumpy roads and arrive at the first farm of the day.

 

I have gathered by now that our work has nothing to do with football tournaments, as I was told we would be doing when we came here. It seems that we are doing outreach on these farms, which is of course fine. I just wasn’t told or prepared we would do this. I imagine this is what they were talking about in setswana at all of the meetings preparing for this trip.

 

I also have a feeling that the men will ask me to contribute to the teaching at all of the farms. So, while we are sitting in the car I come up with a plan to team up with Mmatoto from the DHMT to give HIV health talks and do condom demonstrations. I know he brought a penis model and condoms to distribute, so we can make this work. I tell him my plan and he agrees to team up.

 

Sure enough, just as we arrive at the farm, our guy from the Labor department asks me how I will contribute, and I tell him Mmatoto and I will give health talks and do condom demonstrations.

 

It’s become a running joke between everyone that the milk they drank directly from the cows yesterday made everyone sick all night. Apparently they all had diarrhea from the milk.

 

“Guys, no drinking the magic mashi today!” I yell. We all have a good laugh. Mashi is the word in Setswana for milk.

 

The farm looks just like a farm would look. Most people are living in small tin houses; there are chickens, dogs and donkeys running around everywhere and many large cows inside the fences. The dogs seem to be well fed and happy, but are afraid of people.

 

The cows have apparently been segregated by where they are going to because each country has regulations of what the cows eat and how they are treated.

 

“You see that group of fenced in large cows? Those are going to England,” one of the farmers tells me, pointing to big white cows.

 

Everyone gathers around on the farm and Baitshepi sets up her tent to do HIV testing. Each person on our team steps forward to offer a talk on their specialty; our labor person talks about child labor and labor laws, our person from the Police talks about the Child Protection Act and responsibilities that parents have to take care of their children, our gender affairs person talks about gender based violence.

 

Soon it begins to rain very hard and we are all sitting in the rain. So, we decide to move under the cover of the porch of a nearby house.

 

Mmatoto gives his health talk on how to prevent HIV, and I teach everyone how to open and use a condom. We call a volunteer to the front to demonstrate for everyone what I just taught them and a woman with a small baby comes to the front and does a great job demonstrating for everyone.

 

We hand out boxes of condoms. One woman is tearing up she is so happy to receive the condoms and men are kissing the boxes and cheering for joy. It is extremely difficult for these workers to get off of the farms and go to the clinic to get condoms. We are about 120 kilometers away from the clinic, and they don’t have cars, only donkey carts, so it takes a few days to get to the village.

 

Afterward, we all stand around talking with the community while they take turns going into the tent to be tested for HIV. We eat oranges and share them with the children.

 

Our guy from Labor is interested in who I am and has been very friendly helping to translate and tell me what is going on.

 

“Mpho, a o na le bana?” he says to me as we sit and eat our oranges (Abbie, do you have children?).

 

“Nyaa Rra, ga ke na bana,” I reply (I do not have children).

 

“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asks.

 

“Yes, I have a boyfriend, he lives in the US,” I say.

 

He continues to ask questions about what the Peace Corps does and why we are in Botswana, and explain to him about it being a cultural exchange. I share the culture of the US with Botswana, and also the culture of Botswana with the people of the US, while training the men and women in Botswana to have employable skills.

 

We are waiting for one of our drivers to return from dropping off the farm workers at a nearby farm, so we kill time by taking a few pictures with the cows. Once again, the men all drink the milk. They say they want to get their stomachs used to it and don’t mind that it makes them sick.

 

As we are with the cows, Mr. Fancypants Lawyer arrives. He had important work to do back in my village, apparently, and drove himself to the farm to join us when he was done.  He is wearing a fleece vest with his company logo on it, a shirt with the logo, his truck has his logo, and even his camp chair has his company logo.

 

As we leave the farm, there are a series of wooden fences with gates that we have to open and close. One fence is particularly difficult, so I get out of the car to help a few of the guys figure out how it works.

 

I keep hearing a little puppy crying and barking in pain. Where is that coming from?

 

I close the gate, and as I walk back to our truck, I notice that the barking and crying is coming from the back of one of our trucks. I look into the truck and see a little puppy, crying and scared in the open flatbed, trying to get out.

 

I ask the driver to roll down his window.

 

“Did you know there is a puppy in the back of your truck?”

 

“Oh yes! One of the farmers gave us a puppy. It is a good breed,” one of the guys says.

 

“You must put the dog inside of the truck or it will die! It cannot survive these bumpy roads and will fly out of the truck and die. It is scared and needs protection,” I say.

 

They look at me, staring. In the Botswana culture, dogs are typically not allowed inside of homes and cars. They are considered dirty.

 

“Would you like me to hold the dog while we drive?” I ask.

 

They nod and say thank you.

 

The poor puppy is so scared and shaken. I hold on to her while we navigate the bumpy roads and pet her head. She’s a good puppy, but has never been inside of a car before and throws up onto my leg. Poor thing. I notice it’s all milk in her vomit, which tells me she is still young and nursing.

 

We drive to the next farm and gather all of the farm workers into the nearby barn. As we wait for the workers to finish gathering, some of the guys get sick from the milk and start running inside to the farm owner’s house to use the bathroom.

 

It has finally stopped raining. The guys all get a kick out of the fact that I am taking care of the dog and watch as we play together.

 

The puppy falls asleep under my feet and we start our talks with the farm workers.

 

As I climb out of the truck, the man from labor walks behind me and whispers into my ear.

 

“I want to marry a woman from America. Don’t you have a sister or something in America for me to marry?”

 

“No, I’m sorry. American women are no different from women here. We are all just people! There are good and bad in every country in the world,” I say.

 

It is at this point that he stops speaking to me and translating what is going on. Apparently I failed to give him what he wanted, so there is no purpose in speaking to me. Everyone speaks around me in Setswana, and I cannot keep up.

 

So, I stop speaking all together and just do my work. Leboh is the only other woman here on the farms and she agrees to translate my condom demonstration in Setswana as I speak. That is very helpful.

 

You can always tell which house on a farm belongs to the farm owner because of the grass. Here in the desert, grass is a commodity. Not only is it clear which house belongs to the farm owner because it’s the largest, but also there is a bright green well manicured lawn around the house. On each farm, the green grass makes the house shine bright and stand out from the rest of the farm.

 

The farm workers are proud of the lawn and ask to take a group picture in front of the grass.

 

A few hours later, we are finished testing everyone and giving our talks, and climb back into the trucks. It is early evening, so I assume we are headed back to the school.

 

Instead, we suddenly make a turn into another farm we have never been to. Mr. Labor suddenly speaks in English, which tells me he wants me to be included in the conversation for the first time today.

 

“Eish, you know, this farm owner is so difficult. We had a labor dispute with him in the past and it took an entire year of fighting in court to get him to pay. He paid, but it was difficult,” he says.

 

“Oh wow, I’m sorry to hear that,” I reply.

 

A few minutes later, as we pull into the driveway of the farm owner’s house, he turns around from the front seat in the car to speak to me.

 

“Mpho, we need you for this one. I need you to take the lead and make an appointment with this farm owner for tomorrow for us,” he says.

 

“Why do you need me?” I ask.

 

Suddenly, I realize what he is really telling me in his words. He is telling me that the farm owner is white, and won’t allow them onto the farm. He needs me to help them make an appointment because I am white and the farm owner will only want to speak with a white person.

 

I feel uncomfortable with this white privilege and feel bad that we are in this position. But, white privilege exists everywhere around the globe, and I decide I would rather use it to help others and get these farm workers the help they need from our team than to have this farm owner turn us away because he doesn’t want to deal with a Batswana.

 

“Okay, I will do it. But can you come with me? It won’t make sense for me to be a woman representing the Men’s Sector without a man with me,” I say.

 

He agrees. We get out of the car and three large dogs run up to us barking their heads off. Everyone is afraid of the dogs and doesn’t want to get out of the car. It appears to be a large black great dane, a greyhound and another large mutt mix.

 

I’m not afraid of the dogs, and walk up to them and soon they are licking the palms of my hand with their tail wagging. Everyone else gets out of the car.

 

“You are not afraid of any dogs!” one of the men says.

 

“No, I love animals! Dogs are all pure and innocent. If you don’t hurt them they won’t hurt you,” I say.

 

We stand in the green lawn of the owner’s house yelling Ko Ko for a few minutes. No one comes out.

 

Just as we decide to leave, the farm owner comes from his house. He walks straight to me and shakes my hand, greeting me.

 

He has brown hair and stands about 6 feet tall, with the most piercing blue eyes I have ever seen. I have a sense from his eyes that he will no doubt go to great lengths if you ever cross him. I understand why people can find him scary. Heck, he intimidates me, too!

 

I confidently introduce myself as representing the Men’s Sector and explain that we would like to come to his farm tomorrow to conduct HIV testing and give health talks on the farm.

 

“Why do you have an entire cavalry with you here? Does it take that many people to speak about HIV?” he asks.

 

“That is a great question!” I say. “HIV does not happen in a vacuum. There are many factors that contribute to it, so it requires a multi-sectoral approach. Hence, we have people from Labor, Police, Legal Aid, BOCAIP and myself from the DAC office to help,” I say.

 

He stares at me for a minute, and I think we are about to be rejected. He calls over his main farm hand, a tall, strapping white man, maybe about 20 years old. They speak in Afrikaans for a minute. He then tells me yes, we may come to the farm tomorrow.

 

Phew!

 

We all pile back into the trucks and head back to the school.

 

“I think you made that farm owner happy, Mpho,” Mr. Labor says.

 

“He was intimidating! I thought for sure he would say no,” I reply.

 

We sit quietly in the car, and I hold the puppy. She has calmed down quite a bit now.

 

An hour later, we arrive back at the school, around 7 pm. Everyone is once again sitting around the fire eating dinner. One of the women hands me a plate of rice and cabbage, and I thank her. The cabbage is absolutely delicious! She tells me she seasoned it with knorrox and steak n’ chops.

 

I have noticed that here, most people cook with premixed spices and bullion cubes. So, she’s telling me she seasoned the cabbage with chicken broth and seasoning for steaks. I make a mental note to give it a try some time.

 

Everyone has a good laugh that I brought a dog with me. Around my village, many people refer to me as “Mma Dintsha” which means “Mother of Dogs” because usually there are dogs that follow me everywhere. Apparently this has no exception even out on remote farms.

 

It begins pouring rain, hard.

 

I run to the classroom and get my umbrella. When I return, I see everyone has gathered for a mandatory meeting in the kitchen. The meeting lasts for hours and is all in Setswana. I do not know what they are talking about. After about an hour and a half I sneak away to rejuvenate my brain. It doesn’t make sense for me to spend hours in a meeting if I do not know what is going on and I’m feeling very socially isolated already.

 

I decide that I will sleep in my tent with the broken zipper tonight. After all, I am supposed to leave tomorrow with Mabe, so it’s just one more night, and I really need to get a good night’s sleep. In my opinion, the anxiety of a snake or scorpion killing me will keep me up less than listening to snoring and urination.

 

I move my things back into my tent. Walk to the bathroom and take a cold shower. It’s pouring really, really hard.

 

I guess rainy season is here! It’s also very cold. I almost didn’t bring a sweater, but as I walked out of the door of my house, I ran back inside and grabbed one at the last minute. Thank goodness I did!

 

This tent is lovely. I am content, sleeping here on the ground, listening to the rainfall all around me.

 

In approximately 3 nanoseconds, I am fast asleep.

 

Boroko 🌙

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