Botho!

This post has nothing to do with sex but it gives me some new thoughts of thinking about being a lekgowa (a white person).
I wrote about it in the past.
I made different experiences of being seen as a white woman and as being seen as a white person in general. The former was very much related to questions of sex and gender, the latter one rather seems to be the question of some “post-colonial” influence. This refers also to the general issue of being black and being white. The post: “I don’t want to be a lekgowa, but damn I am” strechted this out quite well. Everywhere, I hear that everybody thinks white people are rich and superior. If I see some white people in Botswana I can understand this image of the makgowa. They drive big cars and stay in places like Phakalane. Additionally, media feeds this image as well. But the truth is always more complex.
Sure, I made it to travel all the way from Germany to Botswana, but who knows that I am funded by my university? Otherwise I would not be able to do my research. Beyond that, I have two side jobs to sustain for myself and my son. I wouldn’t call this rich at all. So, what I tried to practice the last six years since I travel to Botswana was to give another impression of a lekgowa. I feel bad about the fact that I obviously failed. I love this place, the culture and the people so much, but what happened to me within the last month challenges me.
I was robbed out twice!
The first time it happend in Gabs at a place where I shouldn’t have been but the second time it happend in my house, my home. When I discovered that I was like: What the hell is going on here? Why me, again?
Always, I felt like people knowing me gives me protection but obviously, it didn’t work out. At some point, I also got sarcastic and thought about if I should put a plate on my fence:

Lekgowa Tuck Shop

I am really upset about that! But besides this sarcasm there are other feelings who bothers me a lot and which I try to sort out:
I am scared.
I am angry.
I am pissed of.
I am shocked.
I am clueless.
Maybe I shouldn’t feel in any way like that because some people at the police station said about me being robbed out: “What is so special about this case?”.
Actually, this sentence gave me a lot to think. What is so special about this case? There is only one answer for me:

Ke lekgowa.

I am a white person.
And this thought brought me to another thought: the concept of botho.
Botho, is one of the cornerstones of Batswana culture and there is this saying:

Motho ke motho ka batho

Which means something like: I am because you are.
Botho is also included in the Vision 2016, an agenda build up by the government of Botswana to envision a bright socio-economical and political future for Botswana. There it is said:

“Botho defines a process for earning respect by first giving it, and to gain empowerment by empowering others. It encourages people to applaud rather than resent those who succeed. It disapproves of anti-social, disgraceful, inhuman and criminal behaviour, and encourages social justice for all. It means above all things to base your thoughts, actions and expectations for human interaction on the principles of love, respect and empathy”.

I perceive botho as a code of conduct.
Actually, it’s a wonderful principle. But how is it implemented in Batswana culture? Everywhere, there is the rumor of loss of culture. (See for example, the outcry of that Modipane sex tape).
Obviously, what happened to me is no botho at all. But, this is what happens all around the world: young people yearning for a better life. That doesn’t mean that I justify such violent acts but, to some extent, I think this is the wrong place to start the blame.
But, I also didn’t feel botho in how some of the police officer treated me and this case. This is shown by the above mentioned sentence: “What is so special about this case?” but went on, when I had to go to the house of a suspect to search for my missing items. They wanted me to search for it. As the items couldn’t be found at this place we went to the girlfriends place. This girl seemed like hit by surprise to find us at her place and the police men forced me to search for my things in her bedroom. I tried to speak to this police men and tell them that I think it isn’t right that I should do that. One of them said: “Since this is a lady’s bedroom and you are a lady, too, you should touch her things, not us.”
What?
I felt really akward to sift through her clothes and belongings to hunt for my missing items.
Is this botho?
In the end I felt like this will strike back: perpetuating the picture of makgowa! It sketches out a picture of myself which I am not at all: Mourning about material things. Of course, it is painful to loose things who are my own. Things, I worked for to afford them. But this is not the point.
The point is how people treat people.
I don’t want to be treated in a different way. I only want to be treated with respect because that is how I interact with people I meet. And after all, I am just a human being as everybody else on this planet. Not worse. Not better.
I don’t want to be a lekgowa, but sadly: I am!

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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.