Monthly Archives: May 2016

F.L.Y. (First Love Yourself)

Since finally writing openly and honestly about my struggles with weight, I’ve opened the flood gates to my emotion and vulnerability and I really hope that there is no going back. I never really realized the wall I had up until I got to the Peace Corps and finally discovered that I had built this giant barrier to keep myself from becoming vulnerable. Maybe this seems like a surprise to people because I’ve often been told that I seem very open and honest, but I haven’t been. I’ve thought about emotional issues until they’ve turned into unrecognizable mush that no longer contains the emotional vulnerability which allowed me to talk about them impassively. I went through the skeletons in my closet and sucked the emotional marrow out of the bones so that I didn’t feel like I needed to hide them anymore. I didn’t need a closet, I could just leave the skeletons laying out for all to see because I could no longer be affected by them. And on the outside they still look like these crazy situations, but all the vulnerability was gone. I wrongfully thought that I was empowering myself by being emotionally disconnected. I was repressing who I was to fit the bill of what others wanted me to be. The opposite of empowerment. I did this because I was taught that vulnerability was weakness. Emotion was weakness. Sensitivity was weakness.

It wasn’t just the people around me telling me this, although, that often hurt the worst. It was society. To be a girl is weak because we’re emotional. “Oh, it must be that time of the month because you’re being an emotional bitch.” “You’re taking everything so personally.” “You’ll never be taken seriously if you’re so emotional.” We’re taught that emotions are to be kept private. I kept them private and I stuck them behind a wall to fester and grow until I realized that I was hurting myself trying to tuck them all away. I hid the hurt and insecurities that stemmed from years of being told that I was selfish, needy, attention-seeking, fat, emotional, sensitive, a bitch, controlling, loud, and annoying. I hid the hurt and insecurities of constantly feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I thought that there must be something terribly wrong with me to have this many faults. There couldn’t be anyone to love me because I was so flawed and also so fat (because only skinny women are attractive, of course). I was so caught up in all of these negative ideas about myself that I let them shape who I was. I let them seep into my very core and change how I perceived myself and the world. I stopped trusting myself because I didn’t think I was selfish, needy, attention-seeking, fat, emotional, sensitive, a bitch, controlling, loud, or annoying, but the people around me did, so I must not be able to see it in myself. I have trouble making the smallest decisions because I’m so worried about what other people would think of those decisions. Sometimes, I’ll even reach out to get input about a decision and then feel like I must be annoying someone with such a trivial concern and then I’m riddled with guilt for being such a selfish pest. It didn’t matter that most of these things were told to me by the same 2 or 3 people. What mattered is how much influence those people had and how often they would say negative things with very rare positives.

I didn’t want to share how I felt about it because it would confirm that I was selfish, needy, attention-seeking, emotional, sensitive, and annoying. I also never wanted to put anyone else in an openly bad light. I didn’t want the people that hurt me to know that they had hurt me because that vulnerability would be a weakness with them and they would poke and prod that soft spot in my armor until I bled out. They wouldn’t reevaluate themselves and see where they hurt me or were insensitive, they would just react defensively and I would be in an even worse place. I have tried to just learn how to roll with it when I get a fat shaming comment on Facebook or a message that picks at those old scabs. I try to just ignore the new hurt that they inflict because I honestly don’t think that they see what they’re doing. I don’t think they see that what they’ve said and how they’ve acted has affected me and I don’t think that they would be open to reevaluating themselves. Change can only happen if you accept it and want it.

So I’ll keep trying to ignore the comments. I’ll keep reminding myself that their actions reflect them and not me. They often come from a place of insecurity in themselves when they make these insensitive and judgmental remarks and I am sure that I have also been guilty of doing that on occasion. It’s hard to not lash out at others when we’re not feeling safe in ourselves. I’ll keep ignoring the comments and I’ll keep working on breaking apart my wall and not letting myself retreat back into a shell when I feel vulnerable. That’s only hurting me.

It’s no longer about the comments that other people make, now it’s about the comments I make. As they say, you’re your own worst enemy. There is nothing that anyone else can say to me that will be worse than what I’ve told myself. I have beaten myself down countless times and I’m done. I’ve grown, learned, and worked fucking hard. I now can look at all of those negative comments and see the amazing positives in them. I’m selfish because I recognize that the only person who will be with me my entire life is me and I have to be happy with the decisions I make. I’m needy because I recognize that I have needs and I go out to try to fulfill them. I’m not sitting around waiting for a shining white knight to save me, I’m taking care of myself. I seek attention when I need companionship. I’m fat, so what? When did the size of my pants become anyone’s business? All it measures is the vessel I’m living in, not who I am or my self worth. It’s a fucking number for god’s sake. I’m emotional and sensitive because I’m human and I have empathy and I care. I think that is a beautiful thing and I wish everyone could say that. I’m a bitch, controlling, and annoying because I’m a strong, opinionated female who isn’t willing to crumble to societal norms. I think that being motivated, driven, and knowledgeable of what’s needed in a situation should be praised, not belittled. I’m loud because I know that my voice deserves to be heard as much as any other. I also know that I am not alone in this. I’m not the only human trying to figure this whole life thing out and I take comfort in that. I never wish bad experiences on people, but if you’re trying to work through negative experiences, remember you aren’t alone. There are people all around you trying to find themselves as well and we can and should all support each other.

I’m angry that I have had to fight for this. I’m angry that we still have such discrimination and negative judgments towards others. I’m angry that we haven’t figured out how to live in a world of authenticity and acceptance of all. But more than that, I’m happy and proud. Despite all of the negative things life has thrown at me I can finally say that I love myself. I love my body for all the beautiful things it can do even if it’s not a size 2. I love my mind because I have been able to learn and grow in such amazing ways and I know that that will never stop. I love my personality because it makes me someone that I want to interact with and it attracts some of the most beautiful people in this world. I love me because I am a person deserving and worthy of love. I am enough.

Clouds and trees

What I Wish I Had Known (Part 3): Weather

Coming from Washington, I’m really used to one type of weather: rainy. When I lived in Montana, I got to experience a hotter Summer and a much colder Winter, but I was fully prepared for that and I had access and money to make apparel edits when needed. Unfortunately, I was not as prepared for weather here.

When we arrived in Molepolole, Botswana, it was pretty warm for most of the day, but colder at night. That was OK because I was coming from Washington Summer which was rather hot last year, but still not as hot as it gets here. I was also 280 pounds and had clothes that fit me well. I wore a zip-up hoodie almost every day and long pants or skirts. When I arrived in Ralekgetho in mid September for site visit, it was rather cold and windy for the whole two weeks. Ralekgetho is more desert than Molepolole though, so there was less of a wind shield and fewer things to retain heat. When I arrived at site officially in October, it was full Summer. Very hot and dry. We had many rain and lightening storms, but mostly just very hot days. I didn’t have electricity, so I didn’t have a fan. I spent most of my days in as little clothing as possible or in wet clothing. By November, I was also down to 240 pounds. My record high for Ralekgetho was 110°F.

I got evicted from my house in late December and I stayed with my best friend in Otse for 3 weeks. She lives in what we call Narnia. Her house is surrounded by orange and mango trees and grape vines, so she has a lot of shade. Her house was much cooler for those three weeks which were also in the high 90s/low 100s. In the beginning of January, it became apparent I couldn’t stay in Ralekgetho and I was put up in a hotel in Gabs until our In Service Training (IST). So I got to stay in an air conditioned hotel for two weeks before IST and the four weeks of IST. I really lucked out on not having to endure those six weeks of crazy heat.

When I got moved to Kanye in mid February it was already cooling down and I also have electricity, so I was able to immediately invest in a fan. I only used the fan for about a month before I no longer felt like I needed it. I also was down to 220 pounds at that point and my body had far less insulation than previously. It has been a nice couple months of being in the 70s and 80s, but these past two weeks have chilled considerably. Kanye is also a much different terrain than Ralekgetho. We’re in and on many hills here and it gets much colder apparently. The mornings have been in the mid 40s and the afternoons have barely gotten to the low 70s.

I am not handling the cold as well as I thought I would. I’m at around 210 pounds now and still losing, so I have lost 70 pounds of fat insulation and will be losing more. I also didn’t have a fan for most of the summer, so I had to endure the heat a little differently and I think I acclimated a little more. I also no longer have any clothes that fit me well. All my warm clothes are far too big, and I also didn’t bring a lot of clothes because I knew I was going to lose weight. Our houses are also made of cement and have no insulation, so they are often times colder than it is outside. Luckily, Peace Corps provided us with large and warm blankets, so I stay warm at night, but have the worst time getting out of bed in the morning. And this isn’t even fully winter yet. July is supposed to be the worst. My brother will most likely be visiting in July and my plan is to do awesome things with him, but otherwise spend the rest of July in bed or working out since the school takes all of July off.

Clouds and trees
Storm in Ralekgetho, Botswana

Weight Loss Is A Mindf***

***Please excuse the profanity in this post.***

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

I planned on waiting to write a post about my weight loss until I had a more exciting mile stone accomplished. I thought I would write when I was below 200 pounds, 100 pounds down, or had accomplished my goals. Something that was more impressive and would make me feel better about myself. This is just one reason why weight loss is a mindfuck. Why should I have to wait to share my journey until I reach some unwritten number that will all of a sudden have everyone be proud of me? Why does it matter what other people think of my weight loss anyway?

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

I have always been overweight. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t self-conscious about my weight. I have also always been an emotional eater. When I was upset, I turned to food and that created a vicious cycle of hating myself for being overweight and eating those feelings. I was always comparing myself to my skinny step-sisters and feeling down on myself for not looking like them. My dad told me he’d give me $100 if I could get to 100 pounds when I was 11 (I already weighed at least 150 pounds). I started getting pregnant jokes when I was 13. That same year I had someone put their hand against my stomach and make a sucking sound; when I asked what she was doing, she told me she was giving me liposuction. I lost about 30 pounds right around when I turned 14. I dropped down to 190 and was so proud of myself. At the time, I had been doing weekly weigh-ins with my doctor. I went in one week and they told me that it turned out their scale was broken and they weren’t positive that my last few weigh-ins had been accurate. I gained all the weight back and then some. I was at 260 pounds when I was 15. I felt huge, was constantly self conscious, and felt so abject. I didn’t know how to lose the weight, everything I had tried had failed.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

When I was 16, my dad suggested I do the HCG diet. I lost 30 pounds and got down to 230. Of course, I gained all of that weight back because that diet involves you injecting your stomach with pregnancy hormones and only eating 500 calories a day. You’re only allowed to do the diet for 30 days at a time and you’re not supposed to workout at all. It definitely wasn’t about healthy lifestyle change. Throughout my time at community college, I fluctuated between 240 and 260 pounds. I was so busy taking 20 credits and working 4 jobs, it really wasn’t possible for me to live a healthy lifestyle. When I moved to Olympia, when I was 18, I was able to start losing again. I was making positive health changes, but I was also living with a hyper critical roommate who I hid food from. In the Summer of 2013, I had my tonsils removed. The combination of the weight loss I had already achieved and not being able to eat for two weeks put me down to 211 pounds. I was extremely proud of myself, but shortly after that, I became a manager at the movie theater, a teacher’s assistant at the local elementary school and was taking 20 credits. I was working 65 hours a week and going to school full-time. Again, I didn’t have the time or energy to make a healthy lifestyle and my previous weight loss hadn’t been because of making healthy habits, it had been because I felt watched by my roommate. I gained all the weight back. By the time I moved to Montana, I was up to 270 pounds.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

Before I even started school in Montana, I was called a fatty by a guy driving an old beat up RV when I was biking home from the farmer’s market. I was so scared that people in Montana were going to judge me based off of my weight. It was my first time moving to a place where I knew no one. I didn’t think I was going to make friends easily, or be taken as seriously by my peers. For me, my weight has always been tied to this idea that I’m lazy and I don’t take care of myself. It’s what was drilled into me by society, the people around me, and even parts of my family. I have always thought that people’s first impressions of me would be negative because I am and always have been overweight. I’ve always thought that if I could just get below 200 pounds, everyone would like me more and think more highly of me. I’d be able to prove to my old dance instructors, the costumers at my theater productions, my family, and everyone around me that I am not lazy and that I do care what I look like. But that shouldn’t be the motivation for weight loss.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

When I left for Peace Corps, I was at 280 pounds. The summer before I left was one of my happiest because I finally stopped caring about weight loss and just ate all my favorite foods because I knew I was going to miss them when I got here. But the moment I arrived in Newark for our staging, I was filled with anger at myself, disappointment, and fear. I, yet again, had to make new first impressions with people I was going to be interacting with for 2 years and yet again, I hadn’t reached my goal of weight loss. I was going to be judged and isolated because I was fat and now I was also fat and surrounded by fit, active people.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

When I arrived in country, I was dead set on not eating gluten, dairy, or eggs. My host mom didn’t really know how to cook for that, so she made me the same meal over and over. I wasn’t a big fan of Setswana food, so food was no longer a comfort for me. I really was only eating about one meal a day during PST. It definitely wasn’t the healthiest option for weight loss, but it is what started my weight loss here. But I also didn’t feel as stressed as I had in the States. I felt more secure because I knew Peace Corps was paying me what I needed and taking care of any medical issues that might arise. I didn’t feel like I needed to be as in control of everything as I needed to to survive and live the life I wanted in the States. I finally felt safe, secure, and nearly anxiety free. By not being stressed and not stressing about weight loss, I was actually able to start losing.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

In our first week, before we even got to our host family houses, I had lost 7 pounds, two weeks later I was down 17 pounds and by the end of PST in October, I was down 33 pounds. When I moved to my site in mid October, I started cooking for myself, was eating much better, walking much more, and drinking much more water. I kept losing weight. By the time I was evicted, I was at 225 pounds, 55 pounds down. Then I was evicted and no longer felt secure. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was stressed, and I was in Gabs, so I had access to comfort foods. I didn’t gain weight, but I stopped my steady loss. I plateaued and didn’t know how to get out of the plateau. Since I had so many other things to worry about, I tried to just stay happy that I wasn’t gaining, but deep down, I was mad at myself again. Why couldn’t I keep it going? Was I going to plateau here because this was about the smallest I was able to achieve in my adult life? What was I doing different that was making it so that I wasn’t losing anymore?

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

At that point, I started posting progress pics. I felt like I needed to motivate myself to keep losing weight and I needed that reassurance from other people that I had accomplished something already. I talked about my weight loss more, but only by saying I had lost weight and showing how I was physically getting smaller. I didn’t want to post about what I was doing to lose the weight or anything like that because weight loss is one of those things that everyone thinks they’re an expert on. They’ve read these articles that say you should do this. Or are you sure you’re being healthy? That one is my least favorite. You can’t win because you’re either unhealthy because you’re fat, or you’re unhealthy because you’re losing weight too fast. For some reason, weight loss is an area where everyone feels it’s OK to comment and to tell you how to do it or that you’re doing it wrong. I did open myself up to that by posting progress pics and luckily most people I know are very supportive, but it’s still hard to hear the comments about how I was beautiful before or I didn’t need to lose weight. When you start losing weight, these comments come out, but when you’re overweight, no one says you’re beautiful and you don’t need to lose weight.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

I did occasionally have people tell me that I was a good role model for young girls because I was confident despite the fact that I was overweight. I wanted to be that role model, but in all honesty, that confidence was a facade. It did make me think twice about trying to lose weight though. Isn’t trying to lose weight buckling to the societal pressure to be a skinny size 2? Aren’t I working against body positivity by trying to lose weight?

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

I was in a weight loss plateau for 4 months. Those 4 months were some of the hardest because I felt like I failed… again. Yet again, I started to lose weight, but didn’t manage to lose it all. Why can’t I ever finish this battle? The answer is that I will never finish. Weight loss, healthy living, and body positivity will always be a part of my life. I may get to a healthy weight and stop thinking about the next pound I need to lose, but I will always have to be working toward a healthy lifestyle. It’s not something I’ll ever be able to turn off because I will likely just add weight back on. And it is OK that this battle will never end as long as it isn’t obsessive.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

Lately, I’ve felt obsessive. I’ve started exercising more, reducing my food again (not in a healthy way), and freaking out about every pound. I bought a scale when I moved to Kanye, whereas I had been using the clinic scale once a week in Ralekgetho. I started weighing myself everyday to track my progress and if the scale went up the tiniest bit, I would be down on myself. I know rationally that there are so many factors that make your weight fluctuate from day to day, but I stopped being kind to myself for that. I got obsessive and started thinking about what I did the day before that made that number go up. I’ve started to lose weight again, but am so worried about hitting another plateau that I stew and stress over it every day. I’ve started to look to when I can post the next progress pic so that I can get recognition from others that I’m doing good instead of posting them to show how proud I am of myself. I’ve been obsessing over the next mile stone that I can share with people instead of being present and happy with how far I’ve come.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

I’ve decided to make some changes. The first is to constantly remind myself that I am enough no matter what the scale reads. I am an amazing human being and I don’t need to let a number bleed into every opinion of myself. I am more than my insecurities. I’ve stashed my scale away in the closet and won’t be using it again until the beginning of June. It’s time to stop looking at the number on the scale and letting it dictate my life. I’m also going to stop thinking about the amount I eat, and instead look at what I am eating. I’ll eat if I’m hungry, but I’ll eat foods that will nourish my body, not my taste buds. I’m going to keep working out because I love that I’m getting stronger. I can do 25 full pushups in a row now, when it was hard to do just 5 two months ago. I won’t be posting progress pics to reach a certain number of likes, but instead because there’s something I’m really proud of that I’d like to share. I love to hear that I am inspiring people, but I want to make sure that they know that I’m human like everyone else and weight loss affects me psychologically as well as physically. It’s time I take a little step back, but also a little more control and stop letting weight loss be such a mindfuck. Instead of focusing on weight loss, it’s time to focus on healthy living.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

What I’ve Gained So Far

Seven months ago, I wrote a blog post in a sleepy stupor of the things I felt I was losing being here. I talked about how I felt like I was losing valuable parts of my identity and I wasn’t sure at the time what I was gaining, or how to cope with that. That was very valid at the time and having only been here two months, I understand where my head was at, but I’ve been here nine months now and I feel very differently. So I wanted to write a post about the things that I feel like I have gained.

The biggest thing is knowledge of myself. I would have never known how resilient I am if it weren’t for this experience. I have had many very bad days with the death of my friend, being evicted, family drama, and other crazy experiences, but I have barely wavered in my conviction to stay here. I knew I could handle a lot, but I didn’t know the full extent of that. Not that I actually know the full extent of it now, but I definitely have a broader picture of it. This also is not saying that I handle all situations perfectly and without throwing my version of a hissy fit, but I still handle the situations in some way and that’s resilience.

I also never realized how introverted I really am. I think that introversion has acquired this negative connotation that it is equal to being asocial and a loner. I was always so busy in the states that I could equate my moods to being stressed, anxious, and overworked, but here I’ve discovered that there are just times that I need to be alone and have control of my own space. It refuels me and re-balances me. Of course, you all know that I am a very social person and that hasn’t changed. I just need to take more time for myself than I’ve ever allowed before. I always thought I would hate living alone, but I love it. Not sure how I am going to go back to co-habitating.

I’m also learning to cut myself more slack and stop being so self-critical. I’m learning to trust myself and not dwell on and over think everything. Notice that I use the present tense here. I’m still learning things. It’s not in my nature to let myself off easy.

I’m learning more about my passions and what I really want to spend my time doing. Yes, sometimes that is binge watching Veronica Mars in a week and then wallowing because I finished it and there isn’t more to watch. But sometimes it’s working on an idea for a novel, helping students who are oppressed for a part of their identity, learning to play the harmonica, challenging myself with crazy puzzle challenges, exercising, teaching myself French, or cooking awesome meals. I was always so busy in the states that I never took time to do many things that were for me; everything was about school, work, or the people around me. There are also things that I’ve realized I want to start doing with my time, but don’t have the resources for yet. I have the green light to use the schools ceramics wheel and kiln, I just have to figure out a time I can go in to do that. I am also trying to see if I can use the school sewing machines to alter my clothes and get more creative with that. I have all these clothes that are too big now and I need to find a way to keep them useful.

Budgeting has never been a strong suit of mine, but I’ve been kind of forced to get better with that since I make so little. So that’s a great skill to acquire.

I’ve also acquired a lot more confidence. A big part of that is because I have lost 65 pounds. I hate that my confidence and self-worth has been tied to that, but when you are bullied and ridiculed you’re entire life for something and then you start to find a way to get rid of that offending part of yourself, it’s a big confidence booster. I honestly can look at a picture of myself from before I got here and see that I was beautiful the way I was, but also be really glad that I’m no longer there. I could go on about my weight loss for a whole blog post, and honestly probably will in the near future, but that isn’t what this one is about.

In America, I was a total night owl and usually didn’t even get into bed until 10 or 11 pm. Here, I have to force myself to stay up. It’s 5:30 here and all I’ve wanted to do for the last hour and half was to get into bed. Honestly, as soon I am finished writing this, that’s where I’m headed. Most of the time I just lay there for four or five hours because I have intense insomnia, but hey, there’s still something nice about getting into bed before it’s even dark out.

I’ve also always been terrible about keeping a routine. Even something as simple as brushing my teeth was a challenge. I was the type to just wake up and leave, no need to spend time getting ready. I’ve always wanted to be better about routines though and luckily, I’ve been managing those very well here. My dentist will be proud. πŸ˜‰

I never thought that I would enjoy teaching. I’ve always been told that I would be a good teacher, but have revolted against that because I’ve felt like I could do many great things and teaching isn’t my passion. I fully respect teachers and have many friends who are teachers or going into teaching, but I also feel like teaching is one of the professions that women are often pushed into. Anyway, I’m not interested in teaching grade school, but I have been considering becoming a professor (not until I’m like 50 or 60 and have traveled the world and worked for amazing organizations like the U.N.). I also wasn’t sure that I would enjoy teaching since I have massive stage fright. I’ve discovered that I really do enjoy it, though. My classes are going really well and I’m happy to have this experience.

Honestly, I think I’ve gained a lot more than this, but it just got dark outside and my bed is calling my name. So that’s all I’ll say for now. Thanks for reading!

P.S. I’m super proud of the fact that this is three weeks in a row of actual blogging. I think I can keep this up πŸ™‚

What I Wish I Had Known (Part 2): Cultural and Societal Differences

Alright, here is the next installment of my info for new volunteers blog posts! (if you missed the last installment you can read it here.) I stabbed my thumb with a skewer stick when I was cooking tonight, so this is a painfully typed post, but I’m determined to get it out no later than a week after my last blog post! I’m going to start this one off by giving you the same disclaimer: these are my experiences and perspectives and don’t represent the views of the U.S. Peace Corps, U.S. government, or the bots government. They also may be different from many other volunteers viewpoints and could be very different from what you may experience here. I am in no way an expert on Botswana, this is just how I have experienced my 9 months here so far.

I guess I should also kind of explain what I mean by culture. In this post, I’m looking at culture as how identity is perceived and reacted to. The societal norms that affect the way a person lives. Many aspects of my identity are not the norm here or very accepted. I’m using my identity as a reference point, so this post does get more personal. I honestly believe that I live a better life by being open about my identity. I’m not willing to oppress myself by hiding who I am to make someone else more comfortable. That being said, my intent in this post is to be informative of Botswana culture, not make you uncomfortable.

So, what should we tackle first?

Religion:
Religion here is very prominent. Most people are Christian and every meeting and assembly starts with a prayer. I am not a religious person. If anything, I consider myself pagan, but I don’t typically share that with a lot of people. I do have a tattoo on my back that says pagan, and people have read that here and not known what it meant. I am constantly asked by my students and other batswana (people of Botswana) whether I’m a religious person. That pretty much means, ‘are you a Christian?’ here. I say that religion is a more private and personal thing in the States and I don’t like to talk about it much, but I’m not a religious person. This usually leads to exclamations or more questions that I basically just brush off. I also get a lot of questions about my tattoos. There have been people who have said that tattoos are linked to satanism and witch craft here. Since my tattoos are pretty mellow, I am less connected with witch craft than some, but I have been asked if I believe in it.

Age:
Youth here is defined as people between the ages of 19 and 35. What does that tell you? You’re not an adult until you’re 35. So, as a 22 year old, I receive far less respect here than I did as a 20 year old grad student in the States. I was proud of my age and would boast about it in the US, but here, I can count the number of people I’ve told my age to on one hand. I do often get asked how old I am, and just simply reply that it’s rude to ask someone how old they are in the States. That’s what my grandma always taught me! “Never ask a woman how old she is.” As the feminist that I am, I take that to mean never ask anyone how old they are. I do tell my students that I began college when I was 16 when I talk about what my high school experience was like in the States. So there is a lot of gossip going around the school about how old I must be, but I just let the gossip run free without confirming theories.

Language:
The national language here is English and most jobs require that you speak English. Students and teachers in senior secondary schools are supposed to use only English (except for their Setswana courses) and primary and junior secondary are also supposed to be taught only in English besides the Setswana courses. All exams are given in English, which is part of why pass rates here are quite low. The amount of English spoken can also depend on how big the village is. In my old village, very few people spoke English and I attribute a lot of that to the level of education in the village. Not many people who stay in the smaller villages are extremely educated. So, now that I am in a large bustling village, there is a lot more English spoken. One of the reasons we are in schools is to help with pass rates and a huge part of that is helping with English. In my school, there are teachers from other countries working here as well, so Setswana is not supposed to be widely used. Of course, since it is the mother tongue of so many, that really doesn’t stop it’s use. We have an English only rule in my classes, but the students still constantly whisper in Setswana. I’ll be sitting in my office and my counterparts will be talking across me in Setswana and then not understand why I didn’t know what they were talking about. I don’t have anything against the language and I do see how being fluent could help me, but Setswana is not an easy language to learn. To top that off, I’m a visual learner and there are no workbooks or tools for me to use. Their dictionaries don’t even work for conversational Setswana. So for me to learn Setswana as well as I would need to to understand what I currently don’t would be quite an endeavor and I probably wouldn’t even see the fruits of my labor until I was nearly done with my service. Don’t get me wrong, I can greet people, start a conversation, and even understand quite a bit, I just don’t see a lot of reason to learn more. I’m here to help people with English and it will benefit my students more to hear me speak English than to fumble with Setswana.

Gender:
I feel almost as if I went back in time to the 50’s when I moved here. Women are expected to keep house, do all the chores, raise the children, wear dresses and skirts to work, respect men, and be submissive. People are extremely surprised that I don’t have children already and that I am not married (although, that’s less shocking than the lack of procreation on my part). Bride price is still the custom here, so children often come before marriage since many people cannot afford the bride price. My experience as a woman here is relatively different than most local women because I am white. I get a lot more street harassment than my site mate who has a darker skin tone than me. It seems that being curvier also warrants me more harassment here. When I first arrived, I was more often called fat than anything else, but since losing 65 pounds, I’ve acquired a lot more sexual harassment. I’m still not at a weight that would likely lead to catcalling in the States, but I definitely get it here. I also get a lot of shock from people when they find out that I live alone, that I came here alone, that I drink any hard alcohol, that I am not looking to get married, that I don’t think I want kids, etc… Women have a very small box here that they are supposed to fit into. It brings me a lot of happiness to break some of those norms though.

Race and socioeconomic status:
I wouldn’t normally tie these together, but here it’s expected that I’m rich because I’m white. As a white person, people constantly ask me to set them up with white people, ask me for money, and ask me to take them back to the States with me. I even have students who will ask me for money as I am walking by them on the way to a class. I’ve had people follow me asking me for money for blocks. There is also a stereotype here that white people are inherently smarter than black people. Apparently this started because the white people came to colonize Africa and those white people were educated and started to educate the Africans. So therefore white people must just naturally be smarter. It gives me a lot of joy to work on breaking that stereotype as well.
There are many different socioeconomic statuses here. Botswana is considered a middle income country. I don’t have a lot of information on this though because money and socioeconomic status is not as apparent here as it is in the States. I pretty much have just seen people asking me for money and people not, but that also doesn’t say much because I have seen people who are more well off than most ask me for money because it’s just assumed that I have more than everyone else.

Sexual Orientation:
Heterosexuality is really the only thing legal here. Even then any sex that is not penile vaginal sex is illegal. It is just assumed that people are heterosexual and if you aren’t, you don’t publicize that. I consider myself pansexual because I think that love is love and sex is sex. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re a woman, man, female, male, transgendered. If I love you and you love me or we mutually find each other sexually attractive, that’s all that matters. Would I share that with host country nationals? Absolutely not. If you were to ask me in the States, I would be completely open about it, but people here are almost hostile toward it. My students are bullied relentlessly by peers and even some teachers if they give off the smallest hint that they’re gay. Homosexuality and Bisexuality have been brought up in my classes and at least half the class acts disgusted by the idea that it is more accepted in the States. It kills me when a student comes to me to talk about being bullied for seeming gay. I hate that people have to fight for who they love.
This next bit of info veers from sexual orientation to more general info about sexual practices. Multiple concurrent partnerships are very common here. The government has a system of transferring people from one village to another quite often and with both partners working, that often means that families are separated, sometimes as far as a 20 hour travel from each other. Of course the women are caring for the children generally and quite busy, but they will sometimes still find time for affairs on the side and it is extremely common for men to have what are called little houses or side dishes. In other words, many men have mistresses. There are still some people who follow polygamist customs as well.

Diversity:
Diversity isn’t really widely respected here. Part of the reason the transferring system began was to mix up the different tribes to have the country united as one. Part of that was that they wanted conformity. I don’t think that you can ever truly have conformity in a large population of people, but they have managed to make their norms quite widely received. When issues of gender based violence, women’s rights, and even rape come up, it has been very commonly excused by culture. “Oh, it’s our culture and that isn’t going to change, so we just need to accept it.”

To conclude, there are many differing societal and cultural practices that can be challenging to adjust to. I have found that I have to be a little more private with my identity here. There are some things that I can’t hide and set me apart from people here, but there are some things that I don’t need to share. It’s OK to keep some things for myself because I just don’t need to add to the list of things I get far too much attention for. Of course, I’m looking at norms, so I’m making many generalizations and what I’ve said cannot be said to apply to every human living in Botswana. We have to recognize that there are outliers and people who believe differently. I am just trying to illustrate what I typically face as culture clashes and differences here. I know this was a long one, so as always, thanks for reading!