Being in touch!

This is going to be kind of a funny story not just because it’s about boobs but also it’s about my own participant observation! I am posting this story because it fits perfect to the previous post about different cultural perceptions…and can there be a blog about sexuality without a story about boobs? Then I have to say, that there must be a story about dicks at some point, too. Gender! Hahaha! Science should be funny from time to time. But now, let’s go!

Once, I was in a supermarket with a friend (a man*). I carried a bag and the belt went diagonal from my shoulder to my hips (ok that’s sounds maybe weird…). The belt went over my breast and it looked like it put pressure on it (hahaa…even more weird, but it won’t get worse! :-)). And this friend just took the belt straight over my breast in his hand, put it away and said:

“Doesn’t it hurt you?”

In this few seconds that action happened I was looking down to his hand there and my mind was like:

“What the hell is he doing?”

I was just about to say something about that. I looked into his eyes. I couldn’t recognize any reaction of seeing that as a sexual action or that he was somehow excited about it. He just put the belt away and turned over to the woman at the counter and made his order as it would have been the most normal thing ever!
So, what was that?
I was quite unsure if I should see that as an offense. Though, maybe all the feminists would cry out loud…what can I say? Boobs are not so much of a big thing in Botswana. At least that’s what I figuered out through (participant) observation (ok, now it’s getting funny, too!). And once, somebody told me that among the Batswana the breasts of a woman are a less attractive sexual attribute then the thighs of a woman! Is it?
I asked a male interview partner what he think is more attractive: Boobs or thighs? His answer: “Ass!”
As a matter of fact this is a very subjective topic, but the breasts of a women seem really not so much at the heart of interest. I rather her something like: “Yah, breasts are nice, but….”.

But back to my case! The question is: Was that an offense from a feminist perspective? Was it a sign of seeing women as mere sexual objects? That a man can touch the breasts of a woman? Or can such an occasion be explained with cultural differences? And more: can it be accepted as something like that? Or does it have to be an offense in any way?
Well, I can’t speak for other women. In my case two things influenced my reasoning about not seeing it as an offense: The one thing was, I know him. If I wouldn’t have known him I would have freaked out! And the other thing was, that he didn’t grab at my breasts. So the reason for that were not my breasts (yah…it’s really funny to write something like that…), but rather thinking about I could feel uncomfortable. If the men who read that start laughing: Well, do so, but men have to care here. Not just about breasts…

I will try to put this in a broader picture because this post is not supposed to be about (my) breasts. Maybe “this touching” goes all back to that, that in Botswana, it’s much more common to virtually be in touch with each other: After I greet somebody it is kind of normal that this person holds my hand a little longer, or people stand sometimes very close next to me which I would consider as too close, or somebody may put her hand on my shoulder while we are talking.
To have that sensual touch seems therefore very important in this culture. After the outbreak of Ebola in Westafrica there was an article in a newspaper which complained that the Ministry of Health tried to halt this close physical contact between the Batswana. The article says that this would tackle the heart of the culture, too much.
So, while I would go mad about too much touching, Batswana people don’t even think about it. And probably if this friend would read this post, he would think: “Why is she writing about this? This is nothing worth talking about.”

I could start thinking about if this says something about the understanding of community? If this maybe says something about the perception of belonging? And the other way: Does this say something about individuality? And what does it say about the importance of the body? What is the body? I understand, that this has to be continued at some other point. For now, to end this: I don’t want to say that holding hands is equal to touching breasts. Obviously, it’s not the same. But for me, it explains to a certain extent why touching each others body is perceived as normal. Plus, if breasts are a less important sexual attribute, it is for me a great example of the different cultural meaning – even of the perception of different body parts!

*Actually, it looks like I would have a LOT of male friends. But in reality they’re just a few. I just want to keep their anonymity that’s why it sounds like they would be many….Am I justifying here myself? Looks like, isn’t it? This is all because of me as a woman doing research about sex.

“A relationship is an understanding between two people”

I had this conversation about relationships with an interview partner. It made me thinking about that acutally every relationship is nothing which just happens like: “Oops, it happened that I fell in love with this guy/girl!” I cannot elaborate that very well, but for now I just want to put that piece of conversation on my blog.

I asked him what the meaning of a relationship is for him personally:

 “A relationship is an understanding. I would call it an understanding between two people. An understanding of boundaries, rules, untold rules, of what you can and cannot do. Relationship, yeah, I think it is essentially a bond. A bond that me and you are together and we choose to be together. It is definately a choice. So, yeah, that’s what I think a relationship is..essentially.

Further I asked him what kind of values are important within a relationship:

Honesty, communication.
Look, I can say all these things that would need to exsit in a healthy relationship but it doesn’t mean I practice them. I have a big weakness for like….sometimes I don’t communicate very well because of my chilled, non-challant way of living and that has been a problem within my relationships. But it is honesty…and communication is very vital. I think people always need to have an understanding of where they are in a relationship and yes, maybe actually, you can call me a coward because when you have sex with someone three times that is somewhat a relationship, you need to communicate. So, yeah, going back to that I agree with you. You need to tell someone…yes, honesty and communication. That’s what an relationship needs.
And happiness. You got to make each other happy. And what’s the use of being with someone if you once you been in a relationship it doesn’t make you happy? I’ve seen it so many times. A relationship should enhance you, make you feel good about living and if it doesn’t, then why the hell are you there? Relationship is like a job, actually. I wanna compare it to a job, so many people work. They don’t really enjoy their work. Why are you there? Yes, it pays for your bills. But you go home feeling sad every day. It’s the way of life. Life is a relationship. People go through day to day lifes and they are happy. I would life call a relationship. I would call life a job. I call rleationship a job. Unhappy relationships are jobs because people going to jobs and they are just in there just because, you know…It has to make you happy. You need to smile. And you need to be able to…you need to have…not a plan, but a way of doing things. I would say a relationship have to have a way of functioning like a car uses petrol to move.
So, yes, function. Relationships should have a way that it functions. If it’s not functioning then it doesn’t have a great perspective of moving on. A relationship shouldn’t take to many hits. I think there’s a certain extent of how much of a red zone a relationship can take. If we were in a relationship and you know me for…for…for sleeping with other girls: how much of that can you take? Relationships should have boundaries and that’s why I say a relationship is an understanding of two people that have agreed to be in this bubble of boundaries and, and, and love and interconnection and whether it’s not love or like whatever it is, it should have a way of functioning. It should have a way of working. A Future. A past. Both healthy for it to work. Just a relationship.

“Hm…what is love?”

Yesterday, I had a short conversation with a friend of mine who lives in Germany about what love could be. He said he’s not good in telling about that anymore. So I thought about it, too. And it just crossed my mind that I am asking people all the time what love is for them but I also can’t tell clearly. I mean, love is that BIG word which comes with a lot of expectations, so that it seems impossible to break it down.

But recently, I had an interview and I asked my interview partner about love. His definition was just so elaborate and heart-warming that I want to share it, especially after my critical post about lorato in Botswana.

I like this definition because it is simple but not trivial and it explains the different emotions and different states of mind which come along with love. And I like that he combined the thinking and the feeling, the body and the mind:

Charlie: Love has to do with feeling for starters. Feelings you have that…when you see the significant other…you can’t explain. It somewhere gives you that rush of blood, you know,  that kind of  goosebump-issue, a jet on the spine, that, when you see that person, every time you see her, you see something different; something unique; something that you missed the other time. It is that feeling, when you need to eat food, but you are not hungry because you think of that person…you think of her and it satisfies you!

Love means when we are with somebody, even if she doesn’t say anything to you… or you don’t say anything to her…you feel like, you are actually talking to her heart! You didn’t have to say anything. Just being with you, without saying anything, it’s like: “You understand me. And I understand you!”

Love is, when you make me happy. I think about you and I smile and I just laugh about it and everybody thinks “This guy is crazy”, you know!?

Love is like…when I see another woman…I’m like: “My girlfriend is better than her. My girlfriend is like the best woman ever. She is the most beautiful woman ever!”

Love is like…when she’s not here…I’m like: “I know she’s not cheating and not even thinking of those lines.” I am satisfied!

Love it’s a…it’s just knowing that, when I am with you, I am save. I am just save. And I am just happy.

That’s what I think is love.

Behind the looking glass of culture

“You are stubborn!” I heard this sentence during the last weeks from two of my male friends. I was like: “Stubborn?! Me? I am not!”, knowing by saying that it could be interpreted right away as a sign of stubbornness.
As the first friend of mine said it to me I just thought to myself: “Ok, maybe he has a certain type of personality and that’s the reason why he is saying that.” But as this other friend said that I might could be considered as stubborn in Batswana culture it made me think about it more. So the message I got from him was that, traditionally spoken, a Mosadi (a Motswana woman) would never behave like that. Stubbornness is a bad habit which women shouldn’t have. Why not?
So I asked this first friend why he says I am stubborn. And he said to me that I am not able to take orders.
Yah….why would I? Should I?
He didn’t tell me to do specific things for him. This topic came up in a discussion about being a Motswana. He said to me:

“A Mosadi is to be expected not to ask when her boyfriend comes home late at night. So, if he said he comes at nine but comes at ten she should not ask where he was.”

This is a very traditional view, but I guess it still exists in some people’s minds. In fact, this kind of behaviour has been told – and is still told – to the bride on her wedding day. For that, older women go together with the bride in a separate room and tell her about her duties as a good mosadi. Besides cooking for the husband, doing his laundry and preparing the bathwater, not asking too much questions belong to that good qualities of a mosadi. That’s what other people told me. And this is a traditional view, of course. But they told me that this kind of ritual is still practiced but nobody would give much about the content. It’s more like a remains of some important cultural value.

So, I asked this friend why a woman should not ask when the boyfriend comes home late, and this is where the stubornness talk about me started.
Actually, I felt like I had to defend women in general. But he said, that this is not a case of oppressing women. I would scream: What else? But cultures are different, aren’t they? And this means at least try to understand where the difference is coming from and that maybe it’s just too easy to scream out lout: of course, it’s a way of opressing women!
So, I tried to shift away from my own point of view which was not easy because when it comes to gender inequality it gets to the core of my own identity. But I tried thinking about other situations which are comparable. I found some of them in my memory but one is very good to illuminate my thoughts further:
In Botswana, it is quite common to call girls or women “babe”, even if they are not the girlfriend. Even that friend I am acutally talking about called me in the beginning like that. I told him that in my culture it’s not common to call a girl, which is not the girlfriend, like that. And personally, I feel very indifferent of being called “babe”. It feels like I am subordinated to men, being something like a “little one” who has to be taken care about. On the other side it has something flattering…however: with all the men I talked about this topic I had discussions about why it is a problem to call a nice girl “babe”. Everyone was just surprised where there could be a problem! They would say: It’s normal!
And this is the link to the stubbornness-topic: for them it is normal. But what is normal? Normal is what is in general accepted, but though it hasn’t to be right. Normal is not universal, but cultural. We easily forget that in everyday life.
For my examples that means that it is normal for men not being asked by their women: “Where do you come from late at night?” And for women it is normal to be called “babe”.
There’s no problem as long as nobody complains. And for me it is important to emphasize that men are not just perpetrators. If there are no women to tell the men that they might feel accused of being stubborn or feeling offended being called “babe” who could blame only the men? If the women don’t tell their guys what they’re up to, those women play their role in the game as well. And I am convinced that women in Botswana can tell to a great deal if they like something or not. It’s rather a problem of not being used to it, or maybe don’t even recognize something as problematic. What’s wrong in being called “babe”? Maybe the ladies go crazy about that? And maybe the girls also don’t scrutinize if their guys come home late? Who knows?
Does that automatically mean that it’s a case of oppression even if there’s no perception about it?
But if there’s somebody who complains all of a sudden, then people are forced to look upon their own perception of that cultural meanings (by the way: this opens the space for change in that particular perception…).
This is valid for both directions, so not only I say: “Listen guys, call any girl a ‘babe’ is disrespectful”, but also listen to what they say. So they would say: “I call a girl a babe when I think she’s beautiful”. So from their point of view it’s an act of honouring.
Now: Who is right and who is wrong?
I think it has to begin and end with respect.
I explained this friend about my indifferent feeling being called “babe” by him. So he just stopped calling me like that. So easy. That’s how I felt honoured.
But concerning our conversation about me being stubborn, I have to say that we didn’t get along with that. Actually, we almost had a fight about it. And it is an ongoing topic in our discussions: He keep’s on saying that I am stubborn and that it drives him crazy and I am saying that I am not, but that I just have my own clear opinion.
Culture works!

“Is there another boyfriend inside? I will kill you!”

Again, I found myself with the police in my backyard…
The ex-boyfriend of my neighbour girl came back last night.
Almost everyone of us, were fast asleep, so I felt like somebody dumped a bucket of cold water onto me when I was woken up. I was like: “What? Where? Who?”
I tried to sort out my thoughts and think about what to do. First thing, of course: Calling the police! I called them, while I was standing behind the curtain and there I saw this guy with a big brick in his hand, shouting something I didn’t understand and smashing the brick again and again against the door until the lock was damaged and the door opened. I thought my neighbour girl was not at home because I didn’t see a light the whole evening, but when the door went open I saw her with her baby on the arm crying. And this guy just throws the brick at her……fortunately it just hit the fridge. I was screeming to my boyfriend: Get out to her! He is attacking her! The same moment somebody was saying something in my ear: the police on the phone. I totally forgot about that. I tried to explain what’s going on there. The policeman was just like: “Ok, Give me your number, someboday will call you back!” And I thought: “What the hell? Somebeody is calling me back? Somebody has to get to this place!”
Of course, nobody called back.
In the meantime our teenage neighbour boy ran out as well. In that moment the ex-boyfriend ran away, but throwed another brick at this boy so that he got hurt on the hip. After that, everyone of us got in the house and for a moment we were just sitting there. Thinking about if this happened for real, again?! We called our neighbour which came immediately. He called the police and they said that they can’t come right now because they are short on vehicles. What??? They said, they have just one vehicle for the night! No, no, no…is this a police station or a charade? Eventually they came. Five police officers. They were more interested in that case than the last time, but I thought they were standing there for ever while they should go and hunt this guy. Interestingly, after a few minutes came another car – a pick up – with two other policemen. They wore a different dress. They took a look at a picture of this guy and went off. Later, we found out that this was the armed combat unit – the hunting guys!
For safety reason the police took our neighbour girl and her baby to the police station to give her shelter during the night.

This was the night and now it’s the morning.
It’s just one sentence who’s in my mind. It’s the sentence this guy shouted at his ex-girlfriend: “Is there another boyfriend inside? I will kill you!” So, again I think about gender! Of course, the majority of men don’t act in this violent way, but this guy did and I am sure this is not the only one.
Unfortunately, Botswana is also famous for the so called “passion killings” were jealous boyfriends kill the lovers of their girlfriend or/and the girlfriend and then commit suicide. Sure, to catch the girlfriend with another guy is bad, really, really bad. But is this a reason to kill them and commit suicide? Certainly, not! The problem of that whole scenario starts way before!
For example, there was this case in Mochudi were a guy killed his girlfriend. He removed her heart and put it on top of her chest. After that the guy commited suicide. Since then this place is called “Ko pelong”. The place where the heart is.

What is it that people get furious like that? Why can’t they deal with their feelings?
And in our case: Why does this guy care? He already made another girl pregnant. If our neighbour girl should have another boyfriend now, wouldn’t it be her right? They broke up!
When is a relationship over? Only, when the guy says so? Or is there never really an end, while people want to keep up the possiblitiy in coming back? And is this maybe part of the reason why one could speak about sexual NETWORKS, because they can be activated at any time?

I don’t want to be a lekgowa, but damn: I am!

Earlier on that blog I wrote about being a white woman in Botswana. For quite a while I didn’t think about it, but the last days I was confronted with that topic again. This time it was much about less being a white woman, but just about being a white person – a lekgowa.This is how Batswana call a white person in setswana.
Of course, I cannot change the colour of my skin and I neither want to. And of course, too, it’s just normal to arouse interest. People ask themselves what is that lekgowa doing here in Mochudi. She lives here. She drives just a small car. She does not have a maid. Her kid is going to a local nursery school. What’s up with her?
Normally, white people don’t live in Mochudi (expect of a little hand full of volunteers who work in different non-governmental organizations). White people (makgowa) live in the high end parts of Gabs like Phakalane. With fancy houses. And big cars. Even myself recognized that if there’s a big car the chance is big that a white person drives it. I don’t like that kind of lifestyle. But this kind of “white people’s lifestyle” leads to that specific impression of a lekgowa. And I have to get along with it.

I had some various experiences around being a lekgowa with my friend Tumelo.
I met him again at the University. When we got some lunch for ourselves the young guys behind the counter started talking to my friend, looking once in a while at me. When we sat down around a table to eat our lunch he told me, that they asked him: “So, you are with a white girl?!” And how that goes along. He tried to explain to them that it’s not a fancy thing a all and that I am a person like everyone else. Tumelo said that they don’t really believe that. There is this “superior-inferior complex” in some people’s mind.
This goes down to relationships, sex and love again:
Girls want to be fancy (fancy clothes, fancy jewelery, fancy gadgets, etc.) because they think white people are like that. And who can blame that. There are a lot of makgowa who are like that. But not all are like that. Everyone should consider that.
Tumelo asked me if girls in Germany are fancy (e.g. materialistic), too. Of course, there are, but not everyone. One thing I love about Germany is that variety in lifestyles is key. So I told him that and said: “Look at me am I fancy? Certainly not!”
Concerning that “superior-inferior complex” I recognized for example that a lot of – I mean really a lot of – girls and women wear perukes. Once I recognized, it’s like perukes are all over the place. And of course, this perukes are all with straight hair.
Tumelo laughed when I said that, but he agreed that this goes along with admiring makgowa.

If there's any single Motswana girl out there who 
reads this post and wears a peruke: "Please,
tell me why? I would love to have curly hair, 
but damn I haven't!"

When I talked to a female interview partner she confirmed that, especially, in Botswana girls wants to have light and flawless skin. This is the ultimate sign of beauty!
And guys go after white women because it comes with a kind of prestige and status. Tumelo told me that if he would introduce me to his guys no one would really speak to me because they wouldn’t know about what to talk with a white girl.

White people are considered as special. This is something a lekgowa has to live it, though I try to introduce another perspective. My family and I were invited to a graduation party from a young women who just had made her Bachelor Degree at University of Botswana. To some extent we were invited because we are white. I recognized that when we were told to sit under the white tend right next to the elder Motswana men and we were served with food amongst the first people. I really felt honoured about that because I believe that it’s not just showing the community that this woman who graduated knows makgowa but also that this hospitality comes from the heart. I tried to honour this hospitality in that way to answer in setswana as best as I could (which is reall not much for now :-)) and show my respect for being provided with delicious food and also some traditional beer by talking to the old ladies who cooked since the early morning and brew the beer over the course of five days. Later, when the party went on, we exchanged our place under the tent with the space behind the house, were the real party was going on. This was, where the young people hang out and all of a sudden my family and I were in the spotlight of everyone. I felt like a celebrity because the girls and some guys came with their cellphones to take pictures. And they said “Lekgowa, lekgowa. We like you!” After the first euphoria was over I tried to intervene. Everytime someone called me lekgowa, I said:”Stop it I’m not!”. “But you are a white!”. I said: “Yes, I am, but I am far away from that image of a lekgowa!” They looked at me, like: “What the hell is she talking about?”.
So…I don’t want to be a lekgowa. But damn: I am!

A little afterword: I know that this is a very sensitive topic due to colonial past, so this is not meant to blame the people here! I just wanted to show my own personal experiences.

“Show me how much you love me: give me P500!”

Last week, I met Tumelo, a friend of mine, at the University of Botswana (UB) to chat a bit. We had a general conversation about materiality and love as we were sitting in one of the cafeterias.
He said to me that it’s not unsual that girls just say to their boyfriends or guys they go out with “Show me how much you love me: give me P500”, which are roughly 40€.
I knew already that providing girls with material things plays a significant part within a relationship, but I didn’t know the whole extent of it.
Eish…if I may allowed to give an emotional statement about that: this is quite shocking how materialistic relationships are.
It also makes me think about if the concept of romantic or passionate love is really a “western phenomenon” as some literature in the past pictured it?
On the other side it is maybe just a cultural expression of love. It reminds me of a paper I read long ago. Teenage girls from Uganda have been asked why they ask for money and other goods and if they do it because of their own weak financial situation. 51 percent said that they also want to have money even if they had enough of it. They said, that it’s not just about a poor economic background but also that it represents a value: „nothing is free”, „he would not take me seriously if I just gave in” or „I can never have enough money” (Nyanzi et al. 2001: 88). I got a similar impression when I was in Botswana for the first time in 2009. Different persons I talked to told me that those young girls would name their partners after the function he fulfills. So there might be a minister of transport who drives the girl around or the minister of finance who provides the girl with money.
Of course, one has to ask for the question if this happens because of a poor economical background and I, personally, don’t want to say, that girls don’t have a need, but it was quite interesting that different interview partner told me that it’s not just about this weak financial situation but more about lazyness. Very often I heard that “women and girls are lazy”. I am not sure if I would call it lazyness. I tend to say that it is a certain attitude. For example, I asked Tumelo what it means to him to be a Motswana. And he responded that – besides a lot of other things – it means to provide goods for his girlfriend and that he does it with joy. He rather buys his girlfriend airtime, sweets, treats, earrings or whatever instead of buying himself things. So from that point of view the title of this post looses his shocking materialistic connotation…a little bit…because it looks like that it is indeed a way of showing love.
Men are clear about that they are expected to provide a girl if they want to have a relationship – and sex. This is at least valid for a certain type of girls which we called fancy girls within our conversation. On the other side, I heard very often the statement that allmost all girls are materialistic. So it’s maybe not only for that fancy girls, but instead the foundation of a relationship.
My friend explained it to me like that:

Tumelo: If I want to have sex with a fancy girl I have to make sure that I can afford her. I can have maybe sex with her one time without spending too much money, but if I want to have sex again I need money because this type of girl can demand out of nothing P400 for a new hairstyle or somehting else.

I asked him if there’s something like true love:

Tumelo: True love does not exist because there’s always materialistic thinking involved. If you say to a girl that you love her with all of your heart she will ask you what else you can offer her. What does that tell about love?

I asked him directly if it is a open secret that girls want to be provided with goods and services and guys want to have sex in return…and that both sexes are aware of that kind of deal. He agreed that it’s easy like that.
This shows clearly that there’s a correlation between love, sex and goods. I got the feeling that it’s almost unimaginable to uncouple it. Like I wrote in the previous post love looks like a game between men and women. Everyone is aware of that. Most people complain about that game. But everyone plays the game very well.
Literature mentioned in this post:
Nyanzi, S.; Pool, Robert; Kinsman, J. (2001):The negotiation of sexual relationships among school pupils in South-western Uganda. In: AIDS Care 13 (1). S. 83–98.