"I am certainly not one of those who need to be prodded…"

07.17.09 mogobane

Posted in personal by stuart sia on July 17, 2009

Today marks my 2nd week living in my house, and my 4th week here in Mogobane. At the moment there are two men painting my bathroom door. It’s 10:09 on a Friday morning, which means, I ought to be in school, but they wanted me here to supervise, I suppose. Like many day laborers here in Botswana, they are from Zimbabwe and speak Shona, which I’m sure my Swahili teacher, Mwalimu Zuhura, would be stoked about, having studied Shona herself.

My fridge came a couple days ago, and I couldn’t be happier! It’s been great cooking without worrying if I’d be able to finish everything, or if this meat would go bad, etc. My kitchen is now complete, with a stove, refrigerator, and water filter. I just need curtains for the window.

I have two bedrooms, one of which I use mostly for laundry. My bedroom has a desk, a bed, hot pink curtains graciously donated by my counterpart, Thuli, and a bamboo mat (the one I got with Laura at the Game City mall in Gaborone) where I do my exercises every morning and evening [cue gasps and disbelieving shaking of heads from friends who cannot imagine I would have such self-discipline; I’m trying to keep in mind the New Year’s resolutions I made half a year ago.]. I was thinking of putting the mat in the living room, it certainly is large enough, but then I thought, my room ought to be a refuge and a sanctuary—somewhere I feel safe and comfortable. Call me Asian, but I love the feel of bamboo pressing up against my bare feet.

My bathroom has a new door as of yesterday, which is getting a fresh coat of paint as we speak…or as I type, rather. As I reported in a Twitter update earlier, I do indeed have hot, running water, which is a commodity here of which I am very much appreciative. The broken light has not yet been replaced, though I haven’t exactly been pushing for it; I bought a candle last weekend and have been bathing by candlelight every night since. No complaints here.

My living room has a couple chairs, a love seat, a coffee table, an ugly old desk I use as an ironing board when necessary and a corner table for my books in all other instances, another set of hot pink curtains (ke a leboga thata, Thuli) and beautiful pictures of all my beautiful friends all over the walls…the ugly pictures of my ugly friends are in the laundry room…just playing ;) But forreals, I love my living room. It was with careful thought that I put my pictures up in the living room instead of my bedroom. Inasmuch as I wanted my room to be a refuge and a sanctuary, I did not want it to be a hermitage or a hole I would seal myself in. My friends, you are with me in Botswana, in the photographs scotch-taped to my living room walls. Now, if only I could figure out how to bewitch them to move like they do at Hogwarts and the rest of the wizarding world…

Speaking of which, I’m totally bummed to be missing out on Harry Potter fever. But, I think they may be showing HP6 in Gaborone. I know a few Harry Potter fans here who would be keen to check it out. Maybe I should come dressed like Harry Potter…or not…what kind of nerd do you take me for? Jesse Carrasco (a big nerd who works for UCLA Orientation)?

I taught a couple lessons this week. One was on peer pressure (for the Form 1’s; equivalent to 7th grade) and the other was on date rape (for the Form 3’s; equivalent to 9th grade). I love teaching. I love the classroom environment. I feel at ease. And I love talking about this sort of stuff. Walking up and down those aisles, chalk on my hands and my coat, I could have very well been back in Los Angeles with Planned Parenthood’s Middle School Program talking about sexuality with middle school students…except every now and then it would be Setswana that I would have to translate something into instead of Spanish.

The date/acquaintance rape lesson was a particularly important one for me personally and one that I wanted to make sure was taken to heart (see my post entitled “take the high road, and just walk away”). We had a great discussion going, and I tried to illuminate (almost used the word “illustrate,” before I realized that might send the wrong picture…) for them the difference between sex and sexuality, (i.e. sex isn’t the only way to express sexuality) a concept, I think, they were able to appreciate after the discussion. Having decided that dating was certainly one way to express sexuality, and one that did not always lead to sex, I asked, but do some people think it leads to sex? To which they responded, yes. To which, I explained, well that is how date/acquaintance rape happens, when one person thinks sex is going to happen and forces it to happen regardless of what the other person wants.

One thing I was afraid of in approaching this topic was challenging traditional beliefs and values, because in a relationship, traditionally, the man makes all the decisions, even simply whether or not to have sex, let alone the decision whether or not to use a condom. This belief is engrained even in the ceremony of matrimony, where the groom is required to pay a lebola, or bride price, to the bride’s family in exchange for the bride. Of course, I am in no way suggesting that Setswana culture is any more or less chauvinistic than our own American culture (we certainly have remnants from our patriarchal past, some of which are benignly vestigial, but others of which continue to hamper the progress of women today). But, while I feel liberated to openly criticize my own culture, I feel understandably less so here in Botswana.

So, to lead them to the conclusions I hoped they would arrive at, I gave them a brief, annotated history lesson: A long, long time ago, in America, there were some white people who thought they owned black people. Just as I own this book in my hand, and can take good care of it, if I wish, dust it off, if I wish, read it, if I wish, or can step on it, rip out its pages, or burn it, if I wish, so too did those white people feel it was their right to control, command, neglect, and punish the black people they “owned.” [Was that fair?] Now, not all people felt this way. Some white people, despite having the power, despite having the “right,” forfeited that power and that right, claiming (righteously so) that it was never theirs to give up—some notion of “all men being equal.” [Would it have been easy for you to give up such power?] It took a long time for America to learn that all men are equal, that a white man is American, a black man is American, and even someone who looks like me is American. [Did you think I was an American when you first saw me?] And it may take a longer time, still, for us all to learn that all people are equal, because, just as those white people had thought they owned black people, do some men believe they own women? [And as important as it is to embolden and empower women, in the same way people of color have been emboldened and empowered in America, is there a role for men to play?] Speaking to the men in the room: Just as there were brave and righteous white people who forfeited the power the law had unfairly given them over black people, so too can we, as men, forfeit the power society has given us in our relationships.

I rather enjoyed that lesson.

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ghanzi

Posted in Uncategorized by stuart sia on May 13, 2009

I went to Ghanzi last week.

We left early Wednesday morning. I’ve been having trouble sleeping since I got here, not that I slept much better in the States. I’m on some malaria meds called Mefloquine, of which “nightmares and vivid dreams” are side effects. Last Thursday night was certainly no exception, and I was not surprised to find myself waking up around 2 am. That was a couple hours early than I was planning on waking up (I was getting picked up at 5 am), so I went back to sleep. About two minutes later, I woke up to a car horn. Groggy and blurry eyed, I checked the time…4:54!!!

Certainly, not a great way to start my trip, but fortunately, not any indication of how things would go.

We had fairly cushy travel arrangements on the way there. A government combi (an Afrikaans word for van, I think) took 10 of us up to the western part of the country, through the Kalahari Desert. We dropped of Kip and Steve in Charleshill and continued on to Ghanzi, where Laura, Heidi, Glen and I were dropped off. The combi continued on to D’kar with Cay, Cherry, and the Pappajohns on board. Laura and Heidi had an hour and a half of travel ahead of them to New Xade (yes, that “x” is a click). But Glenn and I had arrived at our destination, and those 8 hours of travel were certainly enough for us.

We stayed with Brian, who is working with the DAC (District AIDS Coordinator) for the Ghanzi district. We couldn’t have asked for a better host. We ate and drank like kings.

Menu for those four days:

Wednesday – chicken gumbo

Thursday – steak

Friday – chicken adobo (by yours truly)

Saturday – IMPALA!!!

Yes, I had impala for the first time, and I must say, it was the most delicious meat I’ve ever ripped my canines through.

Thursday we shadowed Brian at the DAC office, learning a little bit about its organizational structure. We went to a conference where he was presenting some statistics, which turned out to be a most interesting and informative experience. The conference was conducted by a faith-based NGO known as TLW (True Love Waits) and attended by several leaders of the community. They were discussing the incidence of MCP (multiple concurrent partnerships) and its contribution to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The discussion took place in Setswana for the most part, so, Glen and I didn’t understand a lot of what was said, but we were able to figure out the gist. There was some fairly heated debate, especially with regard to gender roles and the various cultural customs of different tribes. If there wasn’t an impetus to learn Setswana before, wanting to understand what was being said in this debate certainly became that impetus for me that day. From what I could gather, there was disagreement over the acceptance of older men having multiple partners, some asserting that it was not an accepted part of their culture and some asserting the contrary. Regardless of whether it is or isn’t, was or wasn’t once accepted, they all agreed that MCP is indeed a major contributor to the proliferation of HIV/AIDS and that modernity has made such relationships at least permitted if not accepted. While I do not entirely agree with the abstinence-only approach promoted by TLW, I learned quite a bit about MCP.

For those of you who know me well, you know my disagreement with the abstinence-only approach has more to do with my frank disbelief in its effectiveness (because it frankly is not) than with any disbelief in the practice of abstinence itself. Indeed, it must be noted that abstinence is the ONLY 100% effective way of preventing pregnancy and STI’s like HIV, and this is something we reiterate in Planned Parenthood Los Angeles’s Middle School Program. In fact, we devote an entire lesson (of six) to discussing the several reasons a person might decide to abstain and brainstorming other ways people express their sexuality. While it is my sincere hope that each student is able to identify with at least one of these several reasons (because it is my personal belief that middle school students are much too immature for sexual relationships), the pragmatic and realistic part of me knows that such reasons may not ring true for all students, and that students who do choose to engage in sexual activity should be equipped with the skills to minimize the risks.

The next day, we went to D’kar, a small “village” of sorts about half an hour north of Ghanzi. The land is actually privately owned by a faith-based umbrella organization named Kuru, I believe, who is doing a lot of work with the Naro people. The Naro people (who number about 10,000) are one of the several tribes of “Bushmen” or “the San people” well-known for their phonologically unique “click” languages.

[To briefly explicate on the terms “Bushmen” and “San,” there is disagreement as to which term is acceptable and which is pejorative. Linguists and anthropologists believe the term “Bushmen” to be pejorative in the sense that it connotes a primitive lifestyle and that it is gender biased. That being the case, they prefer the term “San” in reference to the Khoisan language family, of which their languages are a part. But, of course, the term “San” originates from a phrase meaning “one who eats off the ground,” which clearly has perhaps even more negative contexts than “one who lives in the bush.” The debate continues.]

We were able to meet a team of Naro scholars (they themselves are Naro) working on translating the entire Bible into Naro by 2020. They have been essentially working from scratch, creating an orthography to represent the 28 different click sounds and using both Greek and English texts to translate from. One thing they have been doing, which I am so excited about, is teaching the Naro people how to read and write in Naro, which is hopefully instilling in themselves a pride for their language and their people. I have come to learn that there are people marginalized in every society, and for Botswana, it seems to be the Bushmen who experience such treatment. But, I do have hope, and it is inspiring to see much of these efforts coming from within the Naro people themselves.

For our last day in Ghanzi, Glen and I were set to take a swim in a water-filled quarry owned by Brian’s friend, Julian. Julian is a British South African who has lived in Botswana for several years and owns a number of quarries in the Ghanzi region. Being the hospitable man that he is, he invited us to his home for some leg of impala before our adventure to his quarry. We had been planning on eating around 1 in the afternoon, but as it were, the leg of impala took longer than expected to roast, and we ended up eating around 4 instead. The time was well spent in conversation and drinking cider, but we were, unfortunately, unable to visit the quarry. Nonetheless, the meal was certainly worth the wait. What we had was nearly a Thanksgiving feast with, of course, a leg of impala instead of a turkey. The cook was a friend of his, also a South African, whose name escapes me, but whose company I cannot forget. We shared a love for witticism and exchanged wits throughout dinner. Mike, another volunteer, was sharing his experiences in the CKGR (Central Kalahari Game Reserve), to which she quipped, I’m not too keen on acronyms. I chimed in, FYI, neither am I. Cider, impala, and witticism: it was a charming affair.