“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.

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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.

“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.

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.