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?

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