December 25, Day 512
Merry Christmas! I peel myself out of bed because it’s time to make breakfast and hit the road. I am spending Christmas at Masimo today with Goaba’s family and need to be there on time.
Most Batswana families have three plots of land: the first is the village with the house that they live in, the second is called Moraka, or the cattle post, where cattle and goats are kept and the third is called masimo, where they plough. If you are born in Botswana the government gives you a plot of land for free.
Get up and get dressed into my new dress that Goaba and I picked out at the china shop in my village the other day. It’s HOT HOT HOT today.
Boil water for coffee and make breakfast of magwinya (it sort of tastes like fried dough), mango and grapes.
Clean up the sweet lil airbnb and start walking towards the mall around 10 am and then Goaba texts and says the family is running behind in cooking and I should come later. Go back and watch Christmas movies for an hour.
Start walking back towards the mall. I’m walking there because I know there are always taxis in front of the mall that will drive me to the bus rank. Yes, it’s Christmas, but I see plenty of businesses open and the buses are still running so there will be taxis there.
Arrive at the mall annnndddddd… there are no taxis.
Oh no! I walk all around and this place is ghost town. I start calling every taxi driver I know and no one is answering me.
What to do?!
I call Goaba and she tells me where to walk to catch the combi that goes to the bus rank and I see a combi drive by and flag it down. It pulls over and waits while I make a run for it.
Climb in the combi and greet everyone and confirm it’s going to the bus rank. Some people are staring at me, but what else is new?
A few minutes later, we turn the corner and everyone unloads from the combi. Are we at the bus rank? We are literally parked next to a concrete wall and this is not the bus rank.
“Ma’am, we are at the bus rank,” the driver tells me.
“Oh! I’m sorry, okay I’ll get off,” I say, handing him 4 pula for the ride.
A man about 25 years old stands by the door of the combi and yells to me.
“This is a different entrance to the bus rank. Come! We can walk together. I’ll show you the way,” he says.
So, I get out and walk with the guy. I realize we are all the way on the other side of the train tracks. We walk and he asks me the standard curious questions about where I’m from, how long I’ll be in Botswana, what is the Peace Corps, etc.
He’s super nice and I’m very grateful for the company.
Eventually the conversation turns and he asks how old I am and if I am single. I tell him I’m 37 and have a boyfriend.
“Wow, will you be having kids when you return to the US?” he asks.
“No, I have decided not to have children. I think I can live a long and happy life and serve others without needing to have children and I can still be a whole woman that’s not missing out in life,” I say.
He cannot contain the shock on his face.
“REALLY? Wow. I’m very worried about having children. I want to settle down and have kids soon but I haven’t found a good woman. They all want me to have a fancy car and give them money here,” he says.
We laugh, and I say it’s often no different in the US, but it just depends on the type of woman you meet.
He walks me all the way across the bus rank and I ask where the buses are for Kopong, the village I’m going to. He points to the right one, and we wish one another Merry Christmas and head different ways.
I climb on the bus and wait while the bus fills up. Sweat drips down my back and my hair is wet with sweat sticking to the back of my neck. A man gets on the bus who is selling cool time (guava flavored popsicles in a bag) for 2 pula and I buy one.
DARN this Cool Time is a lifesaver! I feel much better.
Families get onto the bus carrying cakes and big bowls of food, obviously headed to their home villages to celebrate Christmas with loved ones.
Soon, the bus takes off. I listen to music and glance out the window, watching the houses and lodges whiz by the window.
The bus arrives in Kopong and I see Goaba waiting by her car for me. I get off and we hug. MAN, do I have to pee!
She drives us to the nearest gas station and we ask for a bathroom. It’s out of service, so we walk behind the building to do our business on the ground.
Go back inside and try to buy coca cola, but it’s extremely expensive.
We drive to the bar across the street and buy Coke there much cheaper.
Goaba and I catch up on how our week has been and I tell her about my visit with the host family in Molepolole on the way to her family’s house. She warns me that many family members are at their farm today, so I should expect a big crowd.
We arrive at the farm and I load on sunblock in the car before getting out.
There is a big tent pitched with many chairs set up underneath and the elders sitting in the shade under the tent. Everyone greets me warmly and they pull up a chair for us under the tent.
Goaba’s brother stands in front of the crowd and greets everyone, and me, which I am grateful for. Then her sister-in-law’s father stands up and greets everyone and we all do introductions.
We get up and sing and dance for a bit while the women finish preparing the food. Everyone invites me to sing and dance with them and we dance in a conga line around the yard. How fun!
The meal is cooked on traditional pots that look like witches cauldrons over a fire.
I notice there is no water or electricity out here, and that doesn’t matter one single bit. We are having so much fun and it isn’t needed!
Soon, the meal is finished and they are ready to serve. We put bowls lined up on the table under a tree in a buffet serving style that are filled with butternut squash, cabbage, rice, goat, chicken, samp and beetroot salad.
There are about 80 people here it seems, and that is a lot of plates of food. So, Goaba and I help dish food onto plates as fast as possible. My job is to scoop some butternut squash at each plate that is handed my direction. There is a major fly problem and they are swarming all over the food, so Goaba stands with a towel fanning them away while we serve the food.
Plates are coming from everywhere! You’ve gotta move fast to keep up with this crowd.
Finally, everyone is served, and I give myself a nice heaping pile of cabbage, butternut, beets and rice and then drizzle some of the soup on the rice. Goaba and I pull camp chairs out of her car and set them up in the shade and eat our lunch.
Afterward, we all sing and dance around the yard together.
In the tradition here, there is no Santa Claus. Some families don’t give gifts at all, they simply get together for a big meal and party. Some families do.
In Goaba’s family, you may bring a gift for someone and put it on the table or wrap cash in paper and write the person’s name of who to give it to. Then there is a ceremony where you read the name of who each gift is for, and who it’s from in front of everyone.
Goaba and I are elected to stand at the table and read the messages and names of each gift. Oh man, this is really putting my Setswana to the test! After reading just one package, I decide to take the easy names with the easy messages on them to save myself embarrassment of my Setswana.
We call the person who received the gift to the front, and then the DJ plays music and they are required to dance in order to receive their gift.
There is one box that they give to Goaba’s uncle to read, and he calls MY name!
I open it and see that Goaba has given me a gorgeous traditional African necklace. Oh my goodness, I was not expecting that! She is the most generous person I have ever met. I hug her and say thank you.
Once the gifts are finished, we take out a tube of cheese curls from Goaba’s car that is about 10 feet long. It’s a skinny, long, plastic bag filled to the brim. All of the children line up and hold out their hands while she gives them each a handful of cheese curls.
Afterward, we sip the ginger drink and eat paphata bread (almost like an English muffin).
“I recommend you don’t drink the ginger drink today,” Goaba warns. “We ran out of ground ginger and put a lot of yeast in it. It could curdle your stomach and the water isn’t filtered.”
I take two sips and put it down.
Everyone is up and dancing again. They are all doing the electric slide, so I jump in and join.
“Wow, you are such a good dancer! You can learn very quickly!” the uncle tells me.
“Oh no, I’m a terrible dancer! I just know this dance, it’s an American dance called the Electric Slide,” I say.
I have to get up very early to catch my flight to Cape Town tomorrow, so Goaba and I decide to leave. The plan is to drive me back to the bus stop back to Gabs or see if someone else can drive me back.
So, we say goodbye to everyone and take a few pictures and I thank them for sharing their Christmas tradition with me. I really am so thankful to be welcomed so warmly by this family! This is a perfect way to end the year.
We drive to the corner where buses and cars going to Gabs are, but no one is stopping and it’s getting dark. We worry that it’s not safe for me to travel back alone at night. So, Goaba decides to drive me all the way back to my sweet lil Airbnb and I agree to give her a few pula to put fuel in the car to make it.
About 30 minutes later, we arrive back at the Airbnb. She is concerned that I am planning to walk to the mall at 5 am tomorrow morning alone.
“Girl, it’s not safe to walk in the dark alone in Gabs! Please tell me you’ll call a taxi,
“I’m just going down the street! I’ll be fine, I promise,” I reply.
“Oh no, you can’t be walking around at that hour. You should ask the landlady of your Airbnb to give you a ride,” she says.
I thank her for her warning and go back into my little house and Goaba goes back to Masimo.
What a fun day!
Get into my pajamas and Facetime with Colden to wish him a Merry Christmas. We cook together and I sip wine and watch “White Christmas” on my laptop.
Pack my bags, shower, and head to bed.