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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Behind the looking glass of culture

“You are stubborn!” I heard this sentence during the last weeks from two of my male friends. I was like: “Stubborn?! Me? I am not!”, knowing by saying that it could be interpreted right away as a sign of stubbornness.
As the first friend of mine said it to me I just thought to myself: “Ok, maybe he has a certain type of personality and that’s the reason why he is saying that.” But as this other friend said that I might could be considered as stubborn in Batswana culture it made me think about it more. So the message I got from him was that, traditionally spoken, a Mosadi (a Motswana woman) would never behave like that. Stubbornness is a bad habit which women shouldn’t have. Why not?
So I asked this first friend why he says I am stubborn. And he said to me that I am not able to take orders.
Yah….why would I? Should I?
He didn’t tell me to do specific things for him. This topic came up in a discussion about being a Motswana. He said to me:

“A Mosadi is to be expected not to ask when her boyfriend comes home late at night. So, if he said he comes at nine but comes at ten she should not ask where he was.”

This is a very traditional view, but I guess it still exists in some people’s minds. In fact, this kind of behaviour has been told – and is still told – to the bride on her wedding day. For that, older women go together with the bride in a separate room and tell her about her duties as a good mosadi. Besides cooking for the husband, doing his laundry and preparing the bathwater, not asking too much questions belong to that good qualities of a mosadi. That’s what other people told me. And this is a traditional view, of course. But they told me that this kind of ritual is still practiced but nobody would give much about the content. It’s more like a remains of some important cultural value.

So, I asked this friend why a woman should not ask when the boyfriend comes home late, and this is where the stubornness talk about me started.
Actually, I felt like I had to defend women in general. But he said, that this is not a case of oppressing women. I would scream: What else? But cultures are different, aren’t they? And this means at least try to understand where the difference is coming from and that maybe it’s just too easy to scream out lout: of course, it’s a way of opressing women!
So, I tried to shift away from my own point of view which was not easy because when it comes to gender inequality it gets to the core of my own identity. But I tried thinking about other situations which are comparable. I found some of them in my memory but one is very good to illuminate my thoughts further:
In Botswana, it is quite common to call girls or women “babe”, even if they are not the girlfriend. Even that friend I am acutally talking about called me in the beginning like that. I told him that in my culture it’s not common to call a girl, which is not the girlfriend, like that. And personally, I feel very indifferent of being called “babe”. It feels like I am subordinated to men, being something like a “little one” who has to be taken care about. On the other side it has something flattering…however: with all the men I talked about this topic I had discussions about why it is a problem to call a nice girl “babe”. Everyone was just surprised where there could be a problem! They would say: It’s normal!
And this is the link to the stubbornness-topic: for them it is normal. But what is normal? Normal is what is in general accepted, but though it hasn’t to be right. Normal is not universal, but cultural. We easily forget that in everyday life.
For my examples that means that it is normal for men not being asked by their women: “Where do you come from late at night?” And for women it is normal to be called “babe”.
There’s no problem as long as nobody complains. And for me it is important to emphasize that men are not just perpetrators. If there are no women to tell the men that they might feel accused of being stubborn or feeling offended being called “babe” who could blame only the men? If the women don’t tell their guys what they’re up to, those women play their role in the game as well. And I am convinced that women in Botswana can tell to a great deal if they like something or not. It’s rather a problem of not being used to it, or maybe don’t even recognize something as problematic. What’s wrong in being called “babe”? Maybe the ladies go crazy about that? And maybe the girls also don’t scrutinize if their guys come home late? Who knows?
Does that automatically mean that it’s a case of oppression even if there’s no perception about it?
But if there’s somebody who complains all of a sudden, then people are forced to look upon their own perception of that cultural meanings (by the way: this opens the space for change in that particular perception…).
This is valid for both directions, so not only I say: “Listen guys, call any girl a ‘babe’ is disrespectful”, but also listen to what they say. So they would say: “I call a girl a babe when I think she’s beautiful”. So from their point of view it’s an act of honouring.
Now: Who is right and who is wrong?
I think it has to begin and end with respect.
I explained this friend about my indifferent feeling being called “babe” by him. So he just stopped calling me like that. So easy. That’s how I felt honoured.
But concerning our conversation about me being stubborn, I have to say that we didn’t get along with that. Actually, we almost had a fight about it. And it is an ongoing topic in our discussions: He keep’s on saying that I am stubborn and that it drives him crazy and I am saying that I am not, but that I just have my own clear opinion.
Culture works!

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.

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.