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…

After being “in between”

Now that some more time passed by I have sorted out some thoughts about that incidence that happened in my backyard.
Beyond that fact that his incidence was an example of being far, far away from talking about gender equality I am asking myself on what kind of purpose or common understanding are relationships build on. Or: what do people expect from loving relationships? What meaning or function do they have? As I am working on relationships as networks I see a relationship between two persons as the smallest possible network. In this case this guy had at least two relationships. I know nothing about his incentive to do so. Maybe he needed it to survive (having a place to stay) or just to feel good (being a real man).
And I think it was also a problem of expressing feelings. I am not a psychologist, but the moment he was beaten the chicken to death looked like a metaphor for not getting along with that situation. One male friend of me put it like that: “You know people here they are never alone. They never sit down and think. They just fuck. Not taking care. Don’t condomize. They can’t tell you what sex means. It’s just fucking.” Even though this conversation was about the meaning of sex I think it can be adapted because also other persons would say: “Heish… people don’t think”.

What ever it is really all about this showed that networks of loving/sexual relationships are a complex matter. So many different features play a role: sex itself, money, status, gender, understanding of love, self-perception, role of family, even religious beliefs and probably some more other things as, well.
The more I stay here the more I feel like an archaeologist who is digging deeper and deeper in that culture. I am still far away from understanding how everything works together, but…I get closer.

In between

This post is a tough one because it shows how thin the line is between being a social anthropologist and just a an “ordinary” person who is raised in her own specific culture.

Yesterday, I was witness and participant of an incidence of something I feel difficult to put into the right words. It just happened in my backyard.

There live lovely people. A young woman, her little baby of less then one year of age and her younger brother, a smart teenage boy of fourteen years.
The father of the baby, who never took care of the baby, was threatening her several times during the day. All of a sudden he wants to take his baby away. Take what – so he says – belongs to him. As far as I know, if one couple is not married, the baby belongs to the mother.
So he came during the evening again – drunk. She chased him away and locked the gate. A little later he came back. He just jumped over the fence, just to claim that he will take the baby with him.
The teenage boy knocked at the door and asked for help. We went over. I told this guy to leave this yard, because it is also mine. He refused, of course. I told him that I will call the police. And he said: “Yes, do it: they will tell you that the law is on my side”. So I did, but the number was not working. How crazy. So I went to our neighbour asking for help as well. She kept on trying to call the police, but no reception (Later, we found out, that they changed the number). So I called my hostfather, the only person I could think about in this situation, as he is a person of respect. He rushed to our place and tried to mediate in that case. It didn’t help. This guy was just insulting the mother of that baby and me as well. I think, he didn’t like that this white woman told him to go.
So he got more furious and said he will take then at least what else belongs to him: his chicken. He went to the cage to get them. They made incredible noise. He was holding them on their legs. In the meantime another neighbour came to mediate and he wants to talk to him to let the chicken there. All of them were trying to calm him down. But his person was full of anger because he didn’t get what he wants. A fights start between him and the neighbour. I can’t tell exactly how one step leads to the other, but all of a suddne the drunken guy beat the chicken to death by smashing them on the ground, again and again ( I can’t find other words for that). Long before, I stepped aside because I think I couldn’t handle it. Even if I tried to show civil courage to a certain point. There were happening some things which go beyond my understanding. This I had to realise because of being a social anthropologist. In my head was just one question: “What is going on here?”.
Finally the guy went away. Disapered into the darkness carrying his dead chicken and a stone with him. We decided to go alltogether in our house, so that our neighbours are save.
Ten minutes later, the guy came back to take more chicken. We called my hostfather again and he rushed straight to the police. After ten minutes they were here at our place. They were three policemen. I felt like they were rather suspicious then they wanted to help. Maybe they also didn’t like that there where white people involved. One of them was in my eyes very unprofessional because he scanned me from the top to the toe. Later, when he passed by me to go the house of our neighbours he was kind of whispering: “How are you?”, still watching at me. The only answer I could give was: “I’ve seen better days”. But I thought: “Really? What is that guy up to in that situation?”
The police went away without doing anything. They said, that they can’t do anything. And my hostfather said as well. “We can’t do anything. This is a family issue.”
“Is it?” I am asking myself.

Now, that this incident happened one day ago I still ask myself what exactly is bothering me about that.

Foremost it is because this woman is treated from this guy like she’s not worth anything. He – because he is a man – has all the right to claim what he wants, even to the extend to get abusive. This is not meant to blame men, but someone who would deny this is an issue of gender didn’t get the point. How can a man just claim something? With all that social-anthropological background I know how a man can claim, but that doesn’t mean that it has just to be accepted. What is gender equality? This situation is not about me, but even me I felt insulted on the one hand of the drunken guy and on the other hand of  the policemen who was scanning me. So, I know that I can leave this country if I don’t like how I am treated, but what’s with that women who live there? Where does gender equality start? Who is responsible for that?

This post is not supposed to be neither analytical nor really self-reflexive. It is a drama what happened to this neigbour woman. And I am compassionate about it, not just because she is my neighbour or I am a woman, too. I am compassionate because I am already part of the network I am searching about. So the life of social anthropoligists is far away from being like a satellite who flies around the earth. This incidence stroke me personally and professionally. It raises different questions of how and why things happened the way they happened. Especially it challenges my understanding of gender roles and how to get along with such different understandings between the sexes?
And I ask myself what kind of responsibility I do have to get along with that thin line of being a social anthropologist and a woman born and raised in Europe.

All about networking (Part 2)

Just after I finisehd the last post I went to a so called “Star Ralley” in Mochudi. It was held by the leading party BDP (Botswana Democratic Party). This party rules the country since the independence in 1966. My hostfathler is a member of this party. In Botswana there will be elections on October 24th so it was an important event for the party. Especially because the president himself, Ian Khama, took part.
My hostfather invited us to join the meeting and said that we should come to the front so that he can see us and if there will be some free chairs he will show us.
So we went there but were a little bit late. The Ralley had already started. We stood opposite of the tent where the important members of BDP and the president were sitting. I recognised my hostfather sitting at the left side of the president. Until this occasion I didn’t realize that he was such an important member of the BDP. After a while he saw us and waved his arm and smiled at us. (Would anyone who would stand next to the german chancellor wave his arm like that…?)
He called another member of the party, telling him something I couldn’t understand and pointing towards our direction. After five minutes another guy came to us to tell that he reserved some seats for us. We followed him and he showed us a place in the tent where the V.I.P. of the BDP sit, including the president. It was a very special feeling to pass by the audience (maybe around 100 people) who all admire the BDP and the president, but we as strangers, were honoured to sit under the V.I.P. tent. So: we found ourselves self sitting three rows behind the president of the Republic of Botswana. A few minutes later, my hostfather had left his chair next to the president to come to us and greet us. I think he felt honoured as well, that we had followed his invitation, because after the official part, when the president had left, my hostfather introduced us to his network consisting of several more or less important persons introducing me as his daugther. For example, he introduced us to Unity Dow which is the candidate of the parliamanent for the electional district “Mochudi West”. Beyond that she is a laywer and a very good known person in Botswana and abroad.

Maybe it is a little bit difficult to explain it properly but during this event I got a sense for the meaning of this community and how important networks are. Like I wrote in the last post about networking, it is very important to belong to somebody or a family. It could also be said that everybody has to have his place or position within the community.
So this means in the end it all goes back to be on the right time at the right place and know the right persons to benefit from the network. The access to networks is the family. This will open the door for all social interactions.

All about networking (Part 1)

More and more I get a feeling for what that networking means. It’s just a little insight I have yet, but it is like I get more and more pieces of a puzzle together.
It crosses my mind when we were driving along the road. A bus was driving in front of us. All of a sudden he stopped to put a way pieces of an old tyre. The driver took a look back at us, node is head and waved with his arm. When we overtook him he hoot. A little while later it happens that he overtook us again and he hoot again, we too. And again, after a while we overtook the bus again, so we hoot and he was waving with his arm and hit the hooter again. I thought about if something like that would happen in Germany as well. I came to reason to say, no. I don’t think so.
But this is just one little example of how people interact here with each other. You can’t get out of your yard without getting in touch with the people. Maybe a little bit similar to rual life in Germany, but though a little bit more interaction. Because in Germany one would greet people he or she knows. Here, eveyone is greeted. When I sit on my veranda and strangers pass by they greet. They wave and will say:

“Dumela, Mma. O kae?” (Hello Miss, how are you?)

And I will be supposed to greet back, of course, saying:

“Ee…Rra. Keteng”  (Yes, Mister. I am fine.)

This is  the formal greeting phrase. If you are not greeting it will be seen as a sign of disrespect. And on the other hand. Behaving in a respectful way is very important. I think it creates ties.
What is also interesting is that “O kae?” litterlay means “where are you?” And the answer “Keteng” means “I am here”. Maybe this contributes to the fact that is very important to which family one belongs. I’ve been asked almost from everyone of my neighbours where I belong to. Then I say that I belong to Mma and Rra Shimashima and then they would node their head saying “I see”. And if somebody introduces me to somebody else he would also tell him that I belong to this specific family. I got the feeling it is just impossible not to belong to somebody.  Even I would be asked by my Batswana family, “To whom is he or she belonging to!”, if a friend visits me.
This could be even stretched further as it also influences marriages. Though couples decide on their own who they want to marry it is still a matter of the families. So without knowing who one belongs to it gets difficult.

Sometimes I get the feeling everybody knows everybody. This is very helpful in everyday life. For example, recently our fridge broke. So we just could go to our neighbour asking for help and of course, he knows somebody could check our fridge. And if he wouldn’t know this person he would have known a person who knows someone. Of course, this may also be like life in rural german villages. But unless there, where I get the feeling it is a closed community, here, in Botswana everyone can be part of the community as long as one knows some few rules to behave respectful. From the very first moment, when I came to Botswana in 2009, my host family welcomed me as being like their own daugther. And this care continues through all the years until my return this year. I can go to my hostfather if there should be any problem and he will take care of it. Or sometimes it happens that he passes by our house just saying “Hi” and to let us know that he’s checking us to see if everything is allright.
Besides the practical side of always knowing someone who could help out with something it is a good feeling to know that others care.

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!