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

12.02.09 october – november

Posted in personal by stuart sia on December 3, 2009

It’s 6:42, late afternoon, the 2nd of December, and I’m in the middle of cooking dinner. I’m not quite sure how long ago my last correspondence was…early October maybe? Surely not as long ago as late September…oh, well according to the archives, indeed it was…forgive me; ke ne ke pitlagane…thata.

OCTOBER:

Visited my counterpart, Thuli, ’s hometown, Gathwane. It was small, quaint, and charming and her mom’s a sweetheart.

Climbed a mountain in Otse with Karen, Phoebe, and the Pappajohns. Wore the same shirt for three days in a row.

Gave recognition to a Form 3 student, the first recipient of the Mogobane Community Junior Secondary School’s Botho Award, an award designed to honor students exemplifying “botho.” Botho is a Setswana word that embodies all the good things one finds in a good person.

Celebrated Annie Rose’s birthday at the Grand Palm hotel in Gaborone. Had a couple bloody mary’s for breakfast. Got sunburned poolside.

Turned my pink bed sheet into a toga for the Halloween party at the Pappajohns in Otse. It was a surprisingly close match with my pink boxer briefs from H&M Chicago.

NOVEMBER:

Traveled up to Maun for a Camp GLOW facilitators meeting. It was beautiful. I came back with a little scar on my forehead from scraping the bottom of the pool. It’s really kind of cool actually.

Celebrated my birthday at the Cumberland in Lobatse with some great friends. Great chocolate cake.

Spent a week at Megan and Jonathan’s in Mochudi for language week. Second birthday celebration with ice cream and brownies. So much good food and so much euchre.

Put on an end-of-the-year program from the Form 1 and 2 students. Had them reflect on the past year and assess their changing roles at the school. Insightful.

Attended a life skills infusion workshop at the Oasis in Gaborone for a few days. For some reason, there were kittens all over the place and they were sinfully adorable.

Participated in a Secret Santa sort of thing with the school staff. I got a wall mirror.

Celebrated Thanksgiving in Mochudi. Helped make the turkey. Brined it overnight in a salt water solution with sugar, bay leaves, and black peppercorns. Smeared garlic butter, rosemary, basil, and thyme underneath the skin. Smeared harissa on the skin. Wrapped it in bacon, and stuffed it with an apple, an onion, garlic, a grapefruit and an assortment of other aromatics. It was savory, succulent, and simply divine.

DECEMBER:

Leaving for Camp GLOW on Saturday.

09.29.09 gaborone, mogobane

Posted in personal by stuart sia on September 29, 2009

Dumelang ditsala! Ke mo ofising ya administration ya sekolo as has become my habit 7 o’clock, every morning, Monday through Friday. I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while. I think its been well over a month now since my last correspondence.

PEACE CORPS WORKSHOP:
To recap where I last left off, ke ne ke le kwa workshopong ya Peace Corps kwa Gaborone. It was a great chance to see ditsala tsotlhe tsa me di di tswa kwa all over Botswana. I got to see the volunteers down south in Verda/Middlepits, far west in Ghanzi/D’kar, northwest in Shakawe/Etsha, up north in Maun, up way north in Kasane, northeast around Francistown, and of course everyone down here in Kweneng and the Southeast District. Don’t these places sound amazing? And what with the all the rain we’ve been experiencing, I know its only going to get more beautiful.

I saw the worst movie ever with Shelly, Mike, John, Jeff, and Luke. It was G.I. Joe, and man was it terrible. But it definitely fell in the “so bad that it’s funny” genre, and it was definitely a good time. I think Jeff liked it more than he cares to admit, but he’s a nice guy so I forgive him for his poor taste in cinema.

I learned Yooker! a card game from the Midwest played in teams. I doubt the name of the game is supposed to be capitalized, and am certain that it isn’t followed by an exclamation point, but its kind of fun that way don’t you think? It’s like Yahoo! though I must admit, I am a Googlehead. My old friends from Ntloolongwae, Mpho le Thabang were eager to teach me, and I finally caved, sat in on a game, and became quickly addicted. Because losing can be demoralizing, some teams will give themselves a name to boost morale when things are going badly. Jonathan and I, unfortunately, found ourselves in this situation. We dubbed ourselves the Liquor Jacket (no plural “s”), or LJ for short, and sure enough, we ended up winning throughout the day. On the other hand, the winning team may, in the mean spirit of competition and spite, celebrate their anticipated win when they’re “in the barnhouse” (one point away from a win) by “milking the cow,” rudely directing the milk into the other team’s faces. For those of you who are familiar with the “awkward cow” method of diffusing awkwardness, it’s exactly that. Jonathan and I tried to do a variation thereof incorporating the LJ symbol we had given ourselves (yes, we had not only a name, but a gesture), but it was unforgivably awkward and I cringe inwardly at the mere memory of it…

I just got a text from Megan correcting my spelling of Yooker! Apparently, its Euchre, which is actually even cooler than Yooker! It almost looks Greek or something.

MOGOBANE:
The Dorans and the Pappajohns visited me a couple weeks ago! They were my first visitors ever, and it was a good time. I made them brunch, which turned out alright, though they insist it was more than alright and, in fact, excellent. I think they’re just being nice. I just found out Colin, who’s working with people with disabilities, is learning American Sign Language! The ironic thing is that the very night before, I temporarily lost my hearing (I was frying rice, and when the crackling subsided, I realized I could no longer hear out of my right ear!), and upon contemplating how great a loss hearing would be for someone like myself for whom music and language are undying passions, concluded that this momentary loss of hearing (I was sure it would come back) was an opportunity to experience, even in small part, what being deaf was like. While a far cry from actually experiencing Deaf culture, the experience did provoke me to learn more about ASL and Deaf culture at large. ASL is a fascinatingly expressive language and has made me acutely aware of the incredible eloquence of nonverbal language.

A man came to Mogobane CJSS on behalf of the Ministry to discuss our opinions on inclusive learning for students with disabilities, and he said one thing that has rung in my head ever since: disability is a social construct. While I have long accepted the idea that race, gender, and even sex are social constructs, I never thought much about disability. But, here in Mogobane, whose roads are not paved but dirt, it hit me how very inaccessible this village must be for anyone with a physical disability. In America, where schools are expected to have wheelchair ramps outside every building and Braille signs labeling every room, physical disability does not imply inaccessibility to and inequality in education as much as it is implied here. It was a good discussion that we had, and I know that through impassioned people like the gentleman from Gaborone and my counterpart, Thuli, equal and accessible education for students with all forms of disabilities will be a possibility here in Botswana.

Since getting back to Mogobane, I’ve been teaching a lot. Nothing new to report. It has been up and down to be honest, but such is the ebb and flow of teaching the youth. Some days, they’re with you 100%. Other days, you wonder where their mind has run off to, and whether they like you or not.

I finally started a choir! We’ve dubbed ourselves the Mogobane Gospel Choir, though we haven’t given ourselves a symbol or gesture of some sort…the Liquor Jacket has kind of ruined that for me…

Like teaching, starting this choir has been no crystal staircase. For starters, the students are great kids, but I don’t think they’re used to approaching singing with the focus and discipline that I expected. Furthermore, for some of the songs, I have distinct parts (soprano, alto, and tenor) I want covered, but they are so accustomed to making their own harmonies, that such direction is, for them, wholly unexpected and is probably something akin to micromanagement. But, I’m accepting that my conception of my role as director of this choir must change, because the reality is that their approach to singing is a beautiful one that I celebrated when I first got here—I cannot forget that.

I had the students select the first part of our repertoire, which now includes six of their favorite songs in Setswana. I am including three American Gospel pieces I learned from Professor James Roberson at UCLA. They’re fun pieces, and I’m excited to hear what my students can do with them.

P.S. I got a cat I never told you about. She was kind of a rebound cat, after my dog died. Her name is Fiona and she ran away. But I’m okay with that, because she was mean. She hissed at me and tried to scratch me. She wasn’t very nice. She’s still my cat though. I just haven’t seen her in over a month…

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.