Monday, February 15, 2010

Being Lost and Found

This past Saturday Amanda, Joey, and I decided to visit a village called Oodi. Oodi is a small village famous for its weavers. As Amanda loves to knit and is in constant search for yarn, she thought it would be worth checking out. I, having nothing else to do on this particular Saturday, tagged along.
We left UB around nine in morning taking a combi to Station and then from Station to Oodi. At the sign that said "Oodi Weavers" with an arrow pointing to the left we asked the driver to drop us off. We start out along a small dirt path next to the sign. Right away we see a man working on a shed/building and we ask which direction the Weavers are. The man points us off to the left, we thank him, and we keep walking. About five or ten minutes later we come to a construction site. Amongst the usual greetings Joey asks where we can find the Weavers. One man, with a very confused look on his face, tells us that they are out and points to a building next to the one they are constructing. The building didn't quite look like what we had imagined, but it very well could have been the Weavers. We were then told to keep walking in the direction that we had been.
A few minutes after leaving the construction workers we ran into some boys. They explain to us that Oodi is in the opposite direction! So we head toward Oodi. We eventually come to some houses. Amanda makes the smart decision to walk towards the paved road. Shortly thereafter, a kind Motswana man, who had driven past us twice now in different directions, stops and asks us where we are going. We explain that we are trying to find the Weavers. The man laughs jovially and proceeds to give us detailed instructions. Amanda was right, we needed to follow the paved road.
Fifteen to twenty minutes later as we were walking on the paved road we saw yet another Oodi Weavers sign. this one, exactly like the first one. However, this one led us down another paved road. This was a good sign. Amanda realized that the previous sign probably meant, 'turn left on the next paved road." However, the sign did not explain that, it's just one of those things you have to know.
Finally, we make it to the Weavers. The looms were pretty cool and rather majestic looking. We also got to see where the women spin and dye their own yarn. Then we wandered across the yard to the shop and looked at the tapestries. I am continually amazed at what individuals can do with their hands alone. They were quite lovely; there were so many different colors and designs. Amanda bought some items and we started thinking about lunch.
We asked the women who showed us around where we could find some food. She vaguely waived her hand in a direction and said, "In town." We wandered in the direction she pointed. Joey speculated that if we followed the paved road we would find town. Amanda and I agreed that this made perfect sense, and we started off. For quite some time we followed the road slowly becoming more and more hot and thirsty (it was 95 degrees that day). Eventually we see fewer and fewer signs for random businesses among the houses. We stop to ask a young girl where town is. She gives us a confused look and points us back in the direction we came from. Slightly disheartened, confused, and a little bit amused, we turn around and head back towards "town." We turn right near a sign for a hardware business, which we had previously assumed was nothing but a small business in the middle of the houses we had just been visiting. Shortly along that dirt path, we find a very small convenience store. At this point we realize that we have been in "town" the entire time! The poor villagers must have thought we were crazy, no wonder they all looked so confused. Our preconceived ideas about what constitutes a town completely threw us through a loop. So far, we had been visiting larger villages with more retail shops and restaurants. Oodi only has the one little convenience store, a couple bars, and the Weavers. So, we bought ourselves some much needed beverages and caught a combi back to Gaborone.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Time to Catch My Breath

These last few weeks have been so busy! A couple of weeks ago, I went to Mochudi. Mochudi is a very famous little village in Botswana where Isaac Shapera did his work. It was very exciting for me to be there. We went to the local museum, which, according to Nyugen's guide book is "the best museum in Botswana." It was lovely. Very small, but run by a very sweet couple who showed us around. The man who showed us around also showed us his studio where he prints designs for museum souvenirs. Every one in the town was especially helpful. Whether they were showing us where the museum was or hanging out with us at the bus stop.
Last weekend a few of us ended up in Lobatse. We intended to climb some of Otse (a large hill/mountain), but instead ended up just hanging out around town and at the hotel. It was really interesting to talk to people that we met in town. A lot of people had no idea why we would even go as he put it, "There are only really old people and rich people in Lobatse." We also visited the new psychiatric hospital for An, as she needed information for her independent study project.
This week has been full of proposal's and research. Our preliminary research proposal was due on Wednesday. I think mine's not too bad. I plan to research whether or not there's been a significant cultural change in regards to women's attitudes about child custody. I am focusing on the current debate of whether or not to place the child's name on the birth certificate. I think that a lot more women intend to place the child's name on the birth certificate due to laws that don't necessarily take into account previous cultural practices. However, some of these laws are necessary in light of a cash economy and changing views about relationships, etc. My goal is to do a series of interviews of young, pregnant women around campus. There are a lot of them here. I plan to ask them whether or not they put the father's name on the birth certificate and why. I am running into difficulties on how to approach the women though. I want to put out pamphlets around campus explaining my research and seeing if I get any volunteers. However, a sample based purely on volunteers might give me skewed results so I have to find other ways of contacting women. There are definite ethical concerns with me hanging out in the clinics, since they are supposed to be a safe space for the women to go and get medical care. I might have to, in addition to the pamphlets, just walk up to pregnant women around campus and ask if they would mind having a conversation with me. Although, I'm not sure if this is okay either. Perhaps, the stigmas associated with pregnancy in the U.S. are influencing my choices. Pregnancy for young women is not as big a deal here.
Overall, these past few weeks have been fun and full of thought. I don't think I will ever stop enjoying meeting new people or visiting new places. Each village is a new experience filled with different attitudes, new people, and interesting scenery. I'm sure I'll get my research figured out. If you have any suggestions about approaching potential interviewees, don't hesitate to let me know.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cultural Excursion

A special thanks to Charity Buzwani for setting up the cultural excursion.

The weekend before last, the University of Botswana’s Office of International Education and Partnerships’ office sent us on a cultural excursion. We were bused around Botswana to the National Food Technology Research Centre, the Kanye Kgotla, Mmakgodumo Dam, Manyana rock paintings, the Livingstone Tree, the Bahurutshe Cultural Village, and Lions Park. Each place opened up my eyes to the beauty and history of Botswana.

The National Food Technology Research Centre (NAFTEC) was an encouraging experience. Since I have been here, I have noticed that most of the consumer goods are imported from South Africa. Even at the local grocery stores, the produce comes mostly from South Africa. NAFTEC’s job is to help Batswana entrepreneurs develop and market their products locally. Essentially, NAFTEC helps find out the nutritional value of locally grown food products and the best way to store them. Overall, this program gives me hope for the future, local economy of Botswana.

After visiting NAFTEC we were all bused to Kanye. We were introduced to the headman and another leader in the Kanye village at the Kgotla. By village, I mean a settlement of 50,000 people. I was very surprised, as my idea of a village was much smaller. They explained the purpose of the kgotla to us. The Kgotla is where village rules are enforced. It is very much like court. The headman makes decisions about criminal cases and other misdemeanors within the village. Interestingly enough, the village is allowed to govern itself. Most people prefer to be punished by their village than have a criminal record, and in most cases the village law works smoothly with government law. They also perform other important ceremonies at the Kgotla, such as marriage. The two men were very happy to inform the young women that marriage ceremonies are performed on Tuesdays and Thursdays and that we would be welcome to come back.

The Headman was very kind and incredibly entertaining. He was 77 years old and still spritely. I greatly enjoyed his charisma and he greatly enjoyed our attention. He even showed us the way to the gorge later that day after lunch at the dam. All of us were very impressed by his energy and the way that he climbed up the hill. The gorge was beautiful! It was almost unbelievable. Our tour guide, the other village man, explained to us that before water was piped to Kanye the whole village would climb to the gorge for water.

After the hike up to the gorge, we all clambered tiredly onto the bus. After, a period of time we arrived at the Bahurutshe Cultural Village. All of us were quite surprised by the old woman coming to meet our bus, in traditional clothing, making a shrill noise out of her throat. I am daily, surprised by the amount of energy people have here. She then led us up to our campsite and told us to relax until dinner. We all settled in, played games, a sat around the campfire.

Dinner was amazing! It was papa, chicken, and squash as usual, but it tasted so much better than what we eat at the refectory. After eating, a carton of traditional sorghum beer was passed around. Personally, I thought the stuff tasted hideous. It was milky, slightly lumpy in texture, and tasted like sour goat’s milk. I was very impressed by the other students who could stand to drink it.

Soon the host appeared with her grandchildren and two other women. She led us to back to the campsite and proceeded to tell us her story. She and her colleagues created the Bahurutshe Cultural Village after they had became widowed. All of them are now grandmothers and they take care of their children, and grandchildren, some of whom do not have parents. The grandmother explained that their husbands were miners and that as such, they did not live very long. I was greatly awed by the gumption of these women.

The next morning it was back to the bus. We proceeded to visit the Manyana rock paintings and the Livingstone Tree. Most of the rock paintings were faded and according to our guide over 80% of the paintings have been lost. I would have to say that I loved the “six giraffes” the best. They were done in a bright yellow that stood out clearly from the rocks. Our guide then took us to the Livingstone Tree. The Livingstone Tree is the place where a missionary and his wife set up camp. They taught reading and writing, farming methods, and offered medical help to the Batswana beneath the tree. The tree still stands large, beautiful, and proud.

The Mokolodi Game Reserve was exciting to say the least. When isn’t it excited to have large animals stand right next to your vehicle and stare at you as you stare at them? We saw giraffes, elephants, warthogs, ostriches, wildebeests, and antelope, among other things. Then we were given a lovely lunch by the reserve. I took a great many pictures and am now completely pumped for our trip to the Okavango Delta during spring break.

Lion’s Park was the most surreal experience of the Cultural Excursion. It was just like a water park in the United States. When I mean just like the United States I’m not kidding. Although it was smaller scale, there were very few Batswana there. It was filled with tourists (us included)! A man singing songs such as Sweet Home Alabama and Jack and Diane made the whole experience complete. During which, a few drunken men danced badly. I felt totally displaced. I wonder why our excursion was planned the way it was and what our organizer, Charity Buzwani, was trying to impart to us by taking us to all of these different places? Lion’s Park was definitely a different side of Botswana. I have to wonder, if what I perceive as American is really American or am I just making ethnocentric assumptions?

Overall, it was a very long weekend and I was grateful to finally come home on Sunday afternoon. I had a blast and I am very appreciative of Mma Buzwani for putting the whole weekend together for us. Kanye was an amazing village that will always hold a place in my heart. Who knows, maybe I’ll come visit on a Tuesday or Thursday?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Week 1

Whew! What a busy ten days this has been. The flight out was long, but I made it! So far we have not had much to do. Everyone is settling in. All of the international students have made several shopping trips for things we have forgotten or for food. I feel as if I never want to see another mall again.

Classes started on Monday. Finding your way around this campus is a bit confusing, but everyone here is very helpful. Methodologies and Setswana are going to be interesting. Professor Cain is an enthusiastic teacher and I am very excited for his incite this semester as I am developing my own research project. As far as Setswana goes, I'm not quite up to speed when it comes to some of the more interesting noises that accompany specific words. However, I imagine I'll get it eventually. I think that my Families and Households class will be interesting, but the professor hasn't shown up to class yet so we shall see.

I have had a couple of cultural adventures this week. On Wednesday, a few of us climbed Kgale hill. It was so much fun! We also got to see baboons for the first time. I did not realize how vicious they were. There must have been some territorial dispute going on. I also saw baboons on the way to the local grocery store. The whole experience was a bit surreal.

Also, on Friday, all the international students went to a cultural dinner. There was dancing, singing, and game playing. I also got to eat the infamous mopane worms. They actually tasted good. Our host soaked them up in some sort of tastey, spiced liquid. There was also pop (ground sorgum), rice, soup (a sauce that goes on pop and rice), something like spinach, chicken, and goat intestines. Overall, it was a good experience and I'm glad that I had the chance to participate.

Go siame, Michaela