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.

Once you go black you never go back

Recently, I read this above mentioned sentence in a paper of the anthropologist Christian Groes-Green. There, he describes that white men who date Mosambican women say, that they don’t want to go back to date White women because the Mosambican women were way better in bed then the Whites.

“Compared to white women, they claimed, Mozambican women or African women in general have a sexual aura and skills in bed that make white men go crazy. Time and again they reiterated the common saying “Once you go black you never go back” to explain why they could never again have sex with a European woman” (Groes-Green 2013: 112).

This just reminds me of the many conversations I had with Batswana men who actually said the opposite. They say, that the Botswana or African women were too boring and that they don’t want to try out new things in bed. So, in the Batswana case, it sems like the sexual aura and skills do not exist at all. The routine, so they say, is missionary style and not much more. The men say, they wished to have a European woman because she would do those crazy things in bed like giving a blowjob or so.

Now, I wonder what’s going on! Who’s right and who’s wrong?

Sure, sure, sure: Botswana is not Mozambique.

And obviously, there cannot be a right or wrong because who could say that African or European women are per se better or worse lovers in bed?

What’s interesting here is where the generalization about African or European women is coming from?

Is that all real experience?

And which role do media images play?

From my perspective, the sentence “once you go black you never go back” seems rather to be a romantic picture of the exotic „Other” than a once for all truth.

Source: Groes-Green, Christian (2013). “To put men in a bottle”: Eroticism, kinship, female power, and transactional sex in Maputo, Mozambique. American Ethnologist 40(1): 102-117.

Not just like dogs

It was a Monday and I was in Gabs at the University of Botswana to clear different things and met some people who could help me with my research plans. One of the places I wanted to go to was the Office of Research and Development. As there was no sign written on the building whether I could find out if I was right or wrong I asked two men who were standing in front of it, chatting with each other. I could see that one of them was very curious to find out what a white woman is doing here. Immediatley after I gret them in Setswana, he was walking towards me asking me how long I will be in Bots (a slang word for Botswana). I told them that I want to stay for six months. Then, he said, you should learn Setswana and right away he started teaching me. He was asking me what I am doing in Bots and I said that I am a researcher from Germany and that I would like to conduct resarch on sexuality, relationships and especially the Multiple and Concurrent Partnerships. I don’t even finished saying Multiple and Concurrent Partnerships, he and his colleague saying “Heysh, the Multiple and Concurrent Partnerships are very common in Botswana”. Both where laughing, not that they thought it was funny, but like I mentioned something which lays at the heart of the culture. Something which is deeply true. I was curious what those two men thought about the MCP, so I told them that I really want to find out what’s going on with the sex here in Botswana and that I just haven’t found out why people are so often get engaged in that kind of relationship. One of them asked me how that is in Germany and they didn’t want to believe me that in Germany or Europe it’s a different story. They believe it has to be the same.
That was how we started a discussion about why MCP are common in Botswana. The other men also started to involve himself in this discussion. They named some reason. For them, the most important reason is a lack of communication. Indeed a very interesting point because during my previous visits in Botswana some people were saying that Batswana rather break up with their girl- and boyfriends than sit down and solve problems which arise out of the relationship.
But back to those guys. From their point of view it is just logical to go and meet another girl, when the ones they’re together with don’t want to listen or don’t want to talk what’s bothering them.
“You know”, both of them said to me, “then it’s better to see the small house”
(small house refers to a relationship which is minor to the official relationship which is itself called “big house”).
Another reason, they said, has to do with the women. They said that women these days are well educated. They get support from everyone and everywhere. And the boys are left behind. They mentioned that there are girls days and that everyone is talking about girl empowerment, but nobody is talking about the boys. A consequence of that is that the boys get frustrated and that they try to get rid of their frustrations by getting engaged in relationships with several girls.
One of them was very serious about to tell me that it’s not just Batswana men “are like that”.
“We are body, mind, and soul”, he repeatedly said. He explained that this means for him that it’s normal to have physical and non-physical needs. For example the need of being loved and understood. “And if you don’t feel loved”, he said “you’re lacking something. Then you got frustrated and you behave in a certain way…”.
They complained that the girls in Botswana are like “bla, bla, bla, bla. They don’t listen.” They asked themselves why they should  waste their time with them if they don’t want to listen to their problems. And beyond all, there’s a big pressure on men, since they are the ones who have to pay for the whole wedding. And the pressure goes on if they didn’t get married in their thirtys (at least). It seems like both of them told me that because their families were asking them why they’re not married, yet.  
We talked for about maybe thirty minutes and I recognized that I got late and had to rush to my appointment.
On my way to the appointment I thought about this conversation and it seemed that those two men were happy that someone just listened and not judging them with sentences like “men are just like dogs”.

Being white, being a woman: a white woman!

A few days ago it happened that I was walking alone along the main road towards the center of Mochudi, the so called Main Mall. Actually this is just a junction where different shops and petrol stations are located.
I didn’t take long as I walked down the road that two young boys (definetly a lot younger than me) passing by on the other side of the street and calling me “Hey Babyyyy!” and looking me over from top to bottom. I decided to ignore them but it brought me to think about why I can’t walk along the road and got chat up just after a few minutes? And if I thought about this it happened again. This time the guys were older than me. I didn’t feel that it was this rude like the situation a few minutes ago, but this way of “being called” by men made me feel like I am an sexual object.
Of course, I know, I am a white woman in a an african country. So, I expected to attract attention. But does it have to be in that way? And do I have to accept it?
These situations remind me very well of similar occasions they had happened during my previous stays in Botswana. Back then it happened also that men have called me like that. One guy really upset me because he was driving next to me in his BMW playing loud music and just saying to me: “Get in, I’ll give you a lift”. One could maybe mean that this was a friendly offer, but actually he just wanted to be that cool guy with that cool ride. I didn’t remember what I exactly said to him but I almost crawled into his window shouting at him that I didn’t like the way he talked to me and then passed around his car just following my way. From the corner of my eyes I saw some other men laughing at this guy which – to be honest – gave me a satisfied feeling: I didn’t lost my pride.
But that’s how some of the interactions between men and women happen here in Botswana. Girls and women get called. Once I saw that a guy stopped with his car next to a young women. He called her to come to his car. She walked over. The guy gave her money and pointed to a tuck shop to buy him some treats which she brought him.
But it’s not just like men are calling women. The women allow to be called. I haven’t found out if they’re fine with that. Maybe they just don’t think about it, but maybe they do and if so I ask myself how they feel about that? And does this kind of interaction simply show a hierarchy between the sexes? Do the men behave in this certain manner because they feel superior to the women? Or is it rather a product of existing gender roles? As I said: the women allow being called! And what would happen if they refuse it? Maybe I’ll find out more about that, soon!

In and out of the field

A question that has been asked many many times in anthropology is, if there is a state where a cultural anthropologist is either in or out of the field during the field research. I doubt that there’s a total dissolution, but I believe that the transition is not clearly defined.
Even if I am back in Botswana the third time I ask myself this same old question: when does the field research start? And while I am asking myself this question I am already in the middle of it.
One example: while I am sitting on my veranda enjoying a cup of tea, thinking about being in Mochudi again a neigbour is shouting from his yard over to mine: “Hey sister, can I visit you?” Of course, he could. That’s how it happened that I met Ontlametse. A guy, younger than me, but looking much more older. Don’t know how he spent his life. He told me that he’s a bus driver, loves drinking beer and wants to sell me his plot. As I told him that I can neither offer him beer, nor buy his plot he’s asking me what I am doing in Botswana. I told him that I am a cultural anthropologist conducting fieldwork about love, sexuality and that I am interested in the so called MCP, which means having more than one sexual partner at the same time.The typical “Ishhhh, Eem!” was his answer. People often use this phrase to say that they totally understand. In german we would say something like “Ach ja…klar”.
Ontlametse continued: “You know….my sister…..the girls…..the girls in Botsuana like money.”
“So what? Is that why they use to have several boyfriends at the same time?”, was what I asked him.
“Ishhh….yes and if you don’t have money they go…”
Of course, I was interested to find out why men use to have several girlfriends at the same time, too. At this point he didn’t want to answer clearly.
He just said: “Ishhhh…..” and laughed.
So this question has to remain a secret a little longer.

And this is exactly what happens in the field. At one moment you’re in and at some other moment you’re out. But the knowledge of this transitional state seems not to be recognizable in the very moment it happens. I would argue that being in or out of the field is a self-reflexive state. And that it’s only possible to decide afterwards. This is why I like the term “participant observation”. It describes on a very good way what happens “in” the field.

Aufbruch einer Ethnologin…

… erinnert mich an Bronislaw Malinowskis “Tagebuch im strikten Sinne des Wortes”. Dort schreibt er zu Beginn seiner Reise, wo er sich noch in Brisbane aufhielt und auf das Ablegen der Fähre nach Neuguinea wartete:

Am ersten September begann ein neuer Lebensabschnitt in meinem Leben: eine Expedition ganz allein in die Tropen. […] Ich erinnere mich an vormittägliche Besuche mit Pringsheim im Museum. Besuch  bei Burns Phelp; ein Besuch beim Goldschmied; eine Begegnung mit [A.R. Radcliffe-]Brown … Donnerstagabend ging ich zu Dr. Douglas um den Goldings Lebewohl zu sagen und Frau Golding einen Brief an Stas mitzgeben. Ich gab ihr Bücher zurück. Es war eine kalte, mondhelle Nacht. Während die Straßenbahn bergauf fuhr, sah ich die Vorstadt unten am Fuß des Hügels. Fürchtete mich zu erkälten. Ich machte einen Spaziergang mit der Schwester des Doktors, einer molligen Blonden. […] Starke Angst vor den Tropen; Grauen vor Hitze und Schwüle – so etwas wie panische Furcht, eine Hitze zu erleben, so schrecklich wie letzten Juni und Julis. Ich machte mir eine Arsen-Injektion, nachdem ich die Spritzen in der Küche sterilisiert hatte.

(aus: Malinowski, Bronislaw (2003): Ein Tagebuch im strikten Sinne des Wortes – Neuguinea 1914-1915. Frankfurt a. M.: Verlag Dietmar Klotz. S. 14-15.)

Ich warte auch auf den morgigen Abflug. Die Zeit bis dahin war gefüllt mit den letzten Erledigungen. Bücher abgeben. Leute treffen. Immer wieder noch ein “nochmal” erleben.

Nochmal abends ausgehen.

Nochmal tanzen gehen.

Nochmal durch die Gassen Tübingens schlendern.

Nochmal am Neckar sitzen. Musik auf die Ohren. Die Sonne ins Gesicht scheinen lassen.