December 5, Day 492
It sure is cold this morning! I’m warm and comfortable in my sleeping bag when the alarm goes off at 5 am. What a fantastic night’s sleep I had!
Walk out of the tent and it’s a gloomy, gray, cold day that is spitting rain. As I walk to the bathroom I learn that Mabe had to leave last night to drive back to my village to help our office with a few things.
Um, okay, I guess I’m not leaving today since he was my ride back to my village.
I find the little puppy running around where the men are sitting near the fire drinking coffee and eating their breakfast. She throws up and I see little meat chunks in her puke.
“Good morning, Mpho. Why is the dog throwing up?” the owner asks me.
“I think she is not eating solids yet. I think she is still nursing and needs milk. Do you have milk?” I ask.
Thankfully, he has a giant bucket full of it that he brought from one of the cows yesterday. We put it in a little container and the puppy aggressively gulps it down.
On the way back to my tent I decide to take my things and put them in the classroom for today in case goats rob me again. It starts to rain harder.
I grab all the water jugs, my heavy hiking backpack, and a few other heavy bags. As soon as I stand up I feel something snap in my lower back.
That really hurt. My back was already sore from bending over the bathtub scrubbing laundry the other day and then sleeping on the ground the last few days. This might have really thrown me out of commission.
“Just breathe, Abbie,” I tell myself.
Dump all my crap in the classroom. Get dressed for the day. Get hot water for coffee and eat my usual PB&J sandwich for breakfast.
As soon as I climb into the truck to head out to the farms, I realize they have placed a gigantic bowl of meat from last night’s dinner next to where I’m sitting. There are legs and hooves and things all in a pile. I assume this is what we are bringing for lunch today for everyone.
No. No, no, no, no, no.
I don’t ask much, but I think we all know how I feel about the smell of goat. Holding a giant bowl filled with a pile of goat parts might cause me to vomit everything I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.
“Um, who decided the vegan will hold the bowl of meat?” I ask the driver. He bursts out laughing. I think maybe it’s a prank.
I carry the meat parts over to the other truck and everyone has a good laugh. I agree to take the big bowl of porridge and gravy/soup instead of the meat.
We all head out and I hang onto the bowls to make sure they don’t spill everywhere. It’s raining again and our windows are fogging up. I notice the driver keeps wiping the window and opening windows to control the fog, so I show him the defrost function on the air conditioner.
We stop at a farm we’ve never been to on the way and find the usual big house with the green lawn. The owner agrees that we can transport his employees to the farm with us to join the health talks. So, we drive to his barn and wait for what seems like a really long time. All the guys stand, talking with one another in Setswana while I sit silently in the car.
Finally, we drive to the first farm appointment of the day. When we arrive, the owner’s two cute big dogs greet us joyfully and follow us to the farm owner’s house.
“Welcome! Please come and have a seat. We are waiting for the farm workers to arrive. Why don’t we have some coffee and talk while we wait?” He says. We all sit down at a glass table under a covered patio in behind his house. I notice one of the female farm workers is a housekeeper for him and is finishing washing dishes.
The men start talking, and the farm owner interrupts them.
“Gentlemen, while I speak Setswana, not everyone here does. Why don’t we all speak English so everyone can be included in the conversation?” he says.
Everyone stops talking. The farm owner gets up to go to the kitchen to prepare the coffee.
“Would you like some help with the coffee, sir?” I ask, just trying to be polite.
“Yes, please come to the kitchen,” he replies.
I go inside into a small kitchen where he has a gas burner and a pitcher of water heating up. It doesn’t seem that he needs help; he just wants the company and conversation.
I feel slightly awkward about this because the men were goading me in the car saying that they think this farm owner fancies me. I insisted he does not, as he is significantly older and was merely friendly, that’s all. Now I find myself alone in a kitchen with him, and stand close to the door leading to outside so that everyone can hear my conversation.
A few minutes later, he picks up the tray to bring the coffee cups to bring to everyone outside.
“I made you a special coffee, it is the one with the spoon in it. I know Americans like good coffee, so I gave you the expensive real coffee. Just remember to take the cup with the spoon in it because that is special for you,” he says.
Okay, yes, there is something going on here and it feels weird. I can’t tell if it’s white privilege or if he really is trying to hit on me, but my alarm bells are going off to keep my distance. He’s not being this friendly to everyone else, so this is specific to me. I thank him and sit down. Darn it this coffee is good, but I feel bad.
Finally, the farm workers arrive about 40 minutes later. The dogs chase me to the barn and jump all over me, looking for love that I am happy to give. It is freezing cold and now pouring harder than I have ever seen it rain in Botswana. The rain is good for the farm, since we are in a drought.
I stand in a circle with the men and I hear them laugh and look at me.
“I just said I want to kick this dog, but I know you will not like it,” Mosala says, laughing.
“Yes, you are right! There’s never a reason to kick a dog; they’re innocent. Just don’t give it attention and it will go away,” I say.
“Well you know, I have a Boerboel puppy at home. I love it very much. I keep it chained up in my backyard now,” he says with pride beaming from his chest.
“That’s wonderful! Aren’t dogs lovely? Why is the dog chained up, do you walk it?” I ask.
“Oh yes! I walk it about twice a month.”
“Twice a MONTH? Dogs should be walked twice a day. That poor dog needs to walk,” I say.
“Oh, well I am busy working and if I let it off the chain it will want to bite other dogs and f&* other b#tches,” he replies. I don’t think he means these curse words in a bad way, I think that was a language barrier.
“Well if you can’t hand the responsibility of a dog, you shouldn’t have one! That poor dog is chained up all day and night. Imagine if you were chained up day and night?”
“I didn’t realize it! Can you teach me how to handle dogs?” he asks.
We agree that I will come to his house and visit his dog and show him how to care for dogs once this trip is over and he seems extremely thankful for the help.
Meanwhile, people have collected in a semi-circle in the barn and we begin our day. Today we brought a social worker and someone from the Child Protection Committee along with us.
Mmatoto and I do our health talk and condom demonstrations while Leboh translates for me. Everything goes well and they are grateful for the information and condoms we distribute.
Soon, the conversation changes to labor, and the mood changes. I can tell the workers are complaining now that the farm owner has stepped out of the room.
I go outside to avoid being a part of the conflict and let them resolve it. Our guy from Labor is now in a heated dispute with the farm owner, who is storming into his office and pulling out labor regulation books.
I am frozen to the bone. This little orange sweater is doing nothing for me. I wish I had brought a thicker sweater! I climb in the car to warm up and eat my secret bread stash and an orange for lunch.
About an hour later, the rest of the men pile into the trucks and we are on our way to the next farm. Mr. Labor catches me up on what happened at the farm: first, we discovered a measles outbreak among the workers that needs to be addressed.
Second, the workers complained that they have one day off a week, typically on Sundays to travel to the nearest shopping village to buy food and do all of their errands. However, the nearest village is 120 kilometers away and they travel by donkey cart, which takes a few days.
So, the workers proposed that they work every day of the month, and then on the last week of the month they be allowed to take 3-4 days off to travel to buy supplies. Mr. Labor tells me he finds the current situation unreasonable, and managed to convince the farm owner to give them the days off they need.
We keep driving on the bumpy roads and turn into the long road to the farm of the scary farm owner from yesterday.
Suddenly, our truck pulls over, as do the others. The men get out and crowd around the back of one of the trucks. I wait for a bit but then take the hint that something is going on so, I get out and join them.
“Mpho, aren’t you going to join us and have madombe?” one of the guys asks.
I didn’t realize we didn’t each lunch yet. I thought when everyone was eating oranges and porridge back at the last farm that was lunch. Heck, I wouldn’t have stuffed myself with bread had I known.
Madombe is like a big dumpling. It’s sort of like bread dough that has been boiled. Typically you eat it with your hands and put soup (or what we call stew) on top with meat on the side. I take some madombe and soup and eat it. It’s delicious!
As we are standing there in the road, the scary farm owner passes us with a truck full of people. He stops the truck and stares at us, and then glares at me.
I give him the thumbs up. “Hi! We are on our way!” I call to him. He nods and drives away.
We pack up and drive to the farm. A few zebras and a wildebeest run by as we drive. Something about that lunch situation didn’t sit well with me. I’m starting to feel really left out socially since I cannot participate in any conversation, no one is telling me what’s going on and my brain is tired from piecing information together all day. I know I signed up for this, and I know this is part of the package with being a volunteer, but I’m hitting a wall.
It’s raining very hard and very cold again. I’m shivering.
We get out of the car and the scary farm owner tells us we can meet his workers in the grain barn nearby.
“This is working farm here, though, so if business comes up I will have no choice but to interrupt your meeting and pull some of my guys out of it,” he says.
“Yes, sir, no problem. We understand,” Mr. Labor says.
The wind is blowing hard now, so we select a corner with stacks of grain bags piled up high to block the wind. The only place to sit, aside from the floor, is a big bale of hay. I join a few other people and sit on the edge of hay. I notice that the workers get up and move when I sit near them. People seem afraid to sit next to me, so the man from the Child Protection Committee comes to sit next to me to fill the gap.
I hear a buzzing noise approaching the barn, and I realize it’s a four-wheeler bike that is coming towards us. It rides up to where we are sitting, and I see there is a 4-year-old boy driving it. He must be the son of the farm owner. He revs the engine of the bike, stares at us, and then drives away.
What planet am I on?!
Everyone does their presentations. There’s always one goofball guy who openly asks questions about condoms, and I love it because they end up being a great conversation starter and warm up the room. Our goofball is asking great questions. Every once in a while the boy on the four-wheeler drives past us to give us as much of an intimidating glare that a 4-year old can give while driving a vehicle made for adults.
We take our picture and then get back into the car. I’m frozen to the bone and feeling left out. I’m told to get into the car with Leboh and Mr. Labor.
As soon as I get into the car, they converse in Setswana. So, I start asking Leboh questions about herself in English to get to know her better and redirect the conversation. She politely answers me, but then goes back to talking with Mr. Labor. I’m feeling invisible.
After a few minutes, I feel my eyes tearing up in frustration. I can’t sit here in this car crying by myself, I should tell them I’m frustrated.
“You know, when there are three people in the car and two speak a language the other person cannot all of the time, it makes me feel unwelcome. It’s as if no one wanted me to participate in any conversation for the past three days, and I’m having a difficult time. I know it’s not on purpose and that you’re more comfortable speaking Setswana, so I understand. But I’m feeling left out right now from not being able to communicate for three days. I’m working hard to learn the language, but my brain can only learn so fast. I would really like to know important information sometimes and it’s stressful that I’m feeling invisible,” I say.
“Oh no! I’m so sorry, Mpho,” Leboh says, genuinely.
They then continue to converse in Setswana.
Well, I tried.
I am missing Catherine and Mabe more than ever, and realize how much they really help me out. They always make efforts to include me, like counterparts should, and they are my family here. They’ve done so well this last year making me feel at home. I wish they were here. Spending the week with 55 men and one woman in a remote area with no food and a tent that has been robbed by goats can do that, I suppose.
About an hour and a half later, we arrive back at the school. It’s dark and raining. There is no dinner tonight, so I go pull a pack of instant ramen noodles out from my bag and boil some water.
Wait, where is the puppy?
I ask around, and no one has seen it all day. I search and discover that someone has locked it in an out of order bathroom with cleaning liquids and supplies everywhere. What a cutie, it runs right up to me and says hello.
I find some milk and feed her and play with her while my water boils. The dog’s owner asks if I can please help take care of her tonight. Sure! I happily agree.
We walk around and I really need some alone time to recharge my batteries and not worry about a language difference.
I’m told there is a group meeting in a few minutes, but I can’t do it. I have hit a wall. I cannot sit in a two-hour meeting when I don’t know what’s going on after three days of not ever knowing what’s going on. I know my breaking point and this is it.
I decide not to attend the meeting and instead play with the puppy in my tent. On my way, I see a few of the guys coming from the bar and sitting in a car nearby. One of them offered to fix the zipper on my tent earlier today. I knock on the window and the driver agrees to come and help fix the zipper.
Voila! He fixes it and I’m so grateful. The puppy and I stay inside and play.
About an hour later, I walk towards where the men are sitting, and Mosala stops me.
“Mpho! We had to give a report to the chairman about our work on the farms, and I want to let you know I covered for you. I told him that you weren’t feeling well, and then told him about all of the great work you did on the farms this week. How you could answer all of the questions and were so good at public speaking. I really appreciate everything you’ve done, so don’t worry, I covered for you,” he says.
Wow! That is so sweet!
“Thank you SO much, Mosala! That is very generous and thoughtful of you! To be honest, I’m feeling fine. I did not attend the meeting because I’ve hit a wall with the language right now, you can tell the Chairman if he asks. I’m okay with being honest,” I say.
“No, no, don’t worry. It’s all taken care of,” he replies.
I hear someone whispering my name behind me.
“Abigail! Abigail!” a man’s voice says in a low tone.
I turn around and I see Mabe sitting in his truck with Bontle. OH MY GOSH, I have never been happier to see a familiar face! I run to the truck and give them both a big hug, holding back tears. It’s like seeing long, lost family.
They are trying to hide out because they don’t want to be pulled into the meeting, too.
So, I help carry Bontle’s things to the classroom and then we walk to my tent. We sit inside and I tell her everything about this week and she catches me up on what’s going on in the office. She gives me a big hug and I feel 1,000 times better to have someone in my corner.
She goes to bed; I stay in the tent with the puppy. It’s raining hard again, but I have a fixed tent, a cute puppy and a warm sleeping bag. Who could ask for more? I crawl up with the pup and go to sleep, very happy.