No means no! Maybe!

The no means no just became not to a simple statement of truth but a question to me when I went to a club two weeks ago.

There, I have been harassed not only once, nor twice, but thrice. Also, I would call it a sexual harassment. I haven’t been touched improper or been „pushed in a corner“. But the way those guys approached me was definitely sexually motivated. Well, they can try! For sure! But if a no comes over the lips, it is a no. I thought so. But it wasn’t. Instead, they were trying to get closer or laughing (about me). One of those guys said: „Don’t be so selfish“. Huh! Selfish?! Maybe it was meant to be a joke but I didn’t get it. A no means a no. To the other one I said: „I am not interested at all. And I don’t want that you are coming over and standing next to me. Go away!“ His answer: „Why? Come on! Come on!“ And I said: „Why? Because I don’t want to.“ He didn’t go. So I did. But just a little later, there he was again. And I said to him again: „What didn’t you get of my ‚I don’t want to?‘ I am not interested at all! A no is a no. So: back off! He again: „Yah, but I am interested!“

Others, I was telling about it, said to me: „You have been to polite.“ Maybe I was. First of all, I was annoyed. I was annoyed that those guys think they can act on me like I would be an object which can be used for their amusement.

The third guy didn’t say anything. He was only following me around the dancefloor. Just, when he was next to me I changed the place and at some moment I thought maybe I am just imagining that he was following me. But all of a sudden, there was another guy in front of me and said to me: „Hey, I saw that this guy follows you around since twenty minutes. If he gives you any trouble and you need help, I am just right over there!“ That was nice, and honestly spoken, it gave me some of my security back which I lost. But my second thoughts of this scenery just made me mad because is it still like, that a woman needs a man to get rid of another man? Or in other words spoken: Is the no of a woman not the same as the no of a man?

What I haven’t mentioned yet but what is of some importance is, that those guys had a different cultural background than I have. At this point, my anthropological thinking got activated. I memorized some scenes I experienced in Botswana and stories Batswana girls have told me. There indeed, a no is not always a no. It can be part of a game and it can be a necessity to find out about the aspirations of a man: is he really into it or just trying to make the best deal out of it?! But what does this mean for my life in Germany? Do I have to accept that these kinds of cultural differences are there and that a no is not a no? Is this part of a tolerance I have to live with? Do I have to understand this?

The thing is, I can understand where the attitude of those men is coming from but I don’t want to understand it. And I don’t want to tolerate it.

I don’t know if I am overemphasizing this whole story but it sticks to my mind since two weeks because those men were trying to interfere in my integrity as a person. If they would have tried once and than accepted my refusal it would have been a totally different story, but they acted like they would be superior, like they have the right to force their interest onto me. Of course, they didn’t thought that far. This is not the point. The point is: a no has to be a fucking no. Otherwise, I could have said: maybe.

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 equality..ee! 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.

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.

A lesson about lorato

Lorato (love) plays an important part in those networks I am conducting research about. Ever since I came back to Botswana I was thinking about this thing called lorato. And the more I think about it due to my research and my experiences here I think it is key to understand those networks.

I am using the Setswana word because for now, I am not sure if lorato is the same as love, though people use love as the right translation for it.
I started conversations about love because everyone talks about it. It’s like a rumour around the streets. Lorato is everywhere.
But what does it mean if someone talks about go rata (being in love with someone)?

I thought too much of love as that strong feeling of attachment to one person, but something has to be different here. I got confused about it, but a conversation I had with one of my male interview partners cleared things up:

Karin: It seems like love is everywhere and people talk easily about being in love with somebody. What does it mean if men talking about being in love with a girl?
Kegs: It just means that they want to have sex or had sex with that girl.

But, of course it is never that easy. To reduce the feelings of men to a mere physical desire would be a shame. I haven’t found out yet, why men have to talk about love if they want to have sex. I could see three reasons:
1.    It is just the way how love is understood
2.    It is because women want to hear to be special and therefore are more likely to agree in having sex.
3.    It refers to the saying: “making love”, but as far as I know there’s no Setswana word which can be translated in that sense. Having sex means: go tlhakanela dikobo (literally meaning: sharing the blankets).

A friend of mine disagreed with the explanation that love is equal to sex:

Anthony: No, this person lied to you. It’s not like that.
Karin: Ok. What does it mean if you say Ke a go rata to a lady?
Anothny: I approach her. It means that I am atttracted by her.
Karin: With which aim?
Anothny: To go out with her.
Karin: Is there another word in Setswana which you can use to explain stronger feelings you have for her except of go rata?
Anothny: What do you mean?
Karin: Let me give you an example. In Germany, if a guy would say to me “Ich liebe Dich” the time we just had met I would rather run away because it is impossible to talk about that strong feelings in my culture from the very beginning. To say “I love you” to a person means wanting to have a commited relationship*.
Anothny: So, what would I say if I want to date you and show you that I am attracted by you, for example if I would have invited you for a cup of coffee. What would I say?
Karin: You would say that you like me.
Anothny: For how long?
Karin: There’s no certain time, but maybe a few weeks or even months?
Anothny: Weeks???
Karin: Yes
Anothny: That’s too long.

* Of course, if I think about the meaning of love there would be other possibilites, too. Some people talk about love from the very first moment. My statement about commited relationship does not mean that I judge speaking about love at first sight. There’s always the possibility that there happen things someone cannot explain…

I tried to figure out for what it’s been too long. I couldn’t.
I also asked Anothny again if there’s another word in Setswana to describe a strong attachment to a person. He said that there’s not a word. And I asked him how then a next step towards a commited relationship could look like if there are no words to describe it. The answer was that the ultimate goal is a “lifelong contract” e.g. marriage as a sign for commitment.

This question of love triggers my mind. I asked some girls about what they feel and think if a guy says Ke a go rata to them. They say it means that this guy wants to get closer to them and wants to be with them.

Is lorato the catalyser which pushs relationships forward? In the sense Anothny talks about it, it is an intial step to establish a relationship and even those girls see it as an expression of (sexual) interest.
If I look at the german culture I would rather say love is what follows. The initial step is beeing attracted to each other, but this is something different then love.

Though Anothny declined that Ke a go rata also means to want to have sex with somebody I think there’s a connection between that.
Another friend of me said it so:

Thabo: Love nd sex differ but they go hand in hand
Karin: They do. The problem is people talk of love but think of desire. This is where the problem starts. Love is wanted but sex is what happens…
Thabo: Love is wanted not on desire but sex is what is desired
Karin: I think people talk 2 easily of love…they call it at least love but mean desire.
Thabo: True dat…but its only deceiving 2 fuck or bein fuckd in the name of love.
Karin: Why does it have to be in the name of love? Is sth wrong with sex? I don’t get it. I’d rather want to be fucked in the name of desire…If I can talk openly!
Thabo: Yah, better dat way instead of bein deceivd

Yahhhh, this love thing…Sometimes I think that guys and girls play a game around this. Lucky are those who can get along with this game, but I met a lot of persons who cannot…