Tag Archives: Setswana

It’s a Village Life for Me

Well, I’ve officially been at site for nearly two weeks (probably two by the time you read this). It’s been an interesting beginning. With a village this small and underdeveloped, they’ve never really encountered a white person or an American before. So I’ve kind of become the village show pony. This week we had two major events: a Kgotla meeting with the Vice President of the country and a torch lighting ceremony for the 50th anniversary of Botswana’s Independence. Both of these events were opportunities for the village to dress me up, make me sing and dance, talk to me in lots of Setswana that I couldn’t understand, touch my tattoos, and make me sit right in the front of everything. Both events made me very uncomfortable, but I’m glad my village is trying to accept me as one of their own and hopefully my newness will wear off a bit and they won’t all be touching and grabbing me. Setswana is probably my biggest challenge though. I managed to test as intermediate high at the end of training, but that really didn’t prepare me for speaking it here. Everyone talks very quickly mixing all their words together making it impossible to differentiate them and when I ask them (in Setswana) to repeat what they said slowly, they just change what they’re asking to fit their limited English. So I don’t feel like I’m learning any and I don’t know how to respond to something I don’t understand. Since my village has an extremely low percentage of people who speak English, even the kids who are supposed to be learning it in school for up to 7 years already, I’m definitely going to need to keep working on my Setswana. They say it’s the easiest language to learn and I’ll be fluent in the next two months! We’ll see about that.

Otherwise I’m just in my community assessment, so my days aren’t very busy. Once my Setswana is better, I plan to visit every family’s home and interview every member of the village! I think that would be a great way to get the whole community involved and hear what everyone thinks of the village. Currently, I just go to the school every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. I stay long enough to charge all of my electronics and chat with the teachers. When everyone else is busy, I study my Setswana, read, or work on my community assessment. On Wednesdays I go to the clinic to help with anything they need and chat with the nurses. They disperse their HIV medications on one of the last Wednesday’s of the month. In the evenings and weekends, I do my chores like washing the laundry, cooking, sweeping, bathing, etc… and I do lots of reading (I’ve read 4 books since getting here). Sometimes I’ll write some letters (I’m trying to make that a daily thing) or watch a movie, but I mostly read.

I also hosted my first visitors this past weekend. Mike and Marcy who are volunteers I shadowed with in a nearby village called Thamaga. They came over to help me hang my bug net, some picture, fix a couple door locks, move my gas cylinder outside, and help with some other household mends. My house feels so much more like home now! I was very happy to have some friends over who are so amazing and kind to help me! The next step for the house is to have my landlord and a roof guy come fix the roof so that when the wind comes, it doesn’t blow off (right now it lifts about 4 inches with big gusts of wind).

Overall, I’m settling in very well and I’m extremely excited to start my projects! I really feel like this is the perfect village for me and I can’t wait to see how these two years go! What an adventure I’m on!

Pieces of me are slipping away

This is one of a few posts written while I could not sleep one night during my site visit a few weeks ago.

Everyday, I lose a little more of my American identity. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can also be kind of shocking and sad. Here everything is changing, now I just need to own these changes and decide how to handle them. Here are a few of the changes:

My name: In America, I’m known as Joiwyn or variations of that depending how close we are. I take great pride in having a beautiful and unique name and always having to explain it (it essentially means pure joy). And I love my name and would never change it. Here, my name is Kesaobaka or Kesa for short. It’s important to have a Setswana name to integrate better and also because a name like Joiwyn is hard for Batswana (the people of Botswana) to pronounce. Kesaobaka means I praise Him. I haven’t met anyone else with the name, so that better than being one of the 20 Mpho’s or many Neo’s of our training group. And I understand the message behind it, although not being Christian myself made me a little put off by it at first. I do love this Setswana name, but I often miss being called Joiwyn and feel like it’s a part of my identity that I’ve lost.

My language: In my village very few people speak English. So I’m pretty much forced to learn as much Setswana as possible. I really enjoy learning the language and being able to communicate with people here, but it also feels like I’m losing a piece of myself. I can’t communicate as fully in Setswana and went from having a rather large vocabulary to a very small one. You don’t realize how much comfort comes from speaking your mother tongue until you’re forced to use it very little and in very different ways to promote understanding.

My beliefs: In America, I held pride in owning who I was and freely admitting things like my age and my religion. Here, I’ve started to hide those things. This culture puts a lot of emphasis on being older, so my age loses me respect already even though I don’t tell people how old I am. Many people ask me how old I am and guess around 20 or 21. Which is strange for me since I’m America everyone guessed I was older than I am. I’ve started to say that it’s rude to ask your age in America and I refuse to answer. Religion is a similar issue. Nearly everyone is Christian and today I was told that they try to promote everyone to be Christian so that they can find their salvation. I get asked a lot what prayer group or church I go to at home. I answer honestly that I didn’t go to church and that I was raised with a different religion, but if they probe further, I say that in America religion isn’t usually an open topic. A lot of people keep their religion very private.

Food: I used food for comfort in America. I know it wasn’t healthy, but it was how I coped with things. Here I don’t do that because my comfort foods aren’t here. I’ve found that I eat far less here than I did in America, which is not a bad thing and have found other coping mechanisms for my anxiety or homesickness. I miss my favorite foods, but have also managed to lose 25 pounds because the food I eat here is actually a lot healthier than what I ate at home as well as the reduced portion sizes.

My family: I’ve found that I talk to my brother a ton more and my father quite a bit more since getting here because they both have strong Facebook messaging skills. Unfortunately, I’ve been talking to my mom far less and that has been a little hard. We used to talk on the phone everyday in America. I’ve barely talked to my other brother or sisters. And my friends have been a mixed bag. It’s been hard losing some communication, but what’s even worse is the way people here try to fill the hole. I’ve loved having host moms, but I don’t want to replace my mom. I didn’t come here to get new families, so it’s just felt a little overwhelming having new people to answer to and having these expectations wrapped around me. That is why I was a little worried about my forever home being another home stay, but after talking to my supervisor, it sounds like that is less of a concern.

And lastly my assurance: I’ve been a student for the last 5 years and I’ve known how to do that. I’ve been good at that. I don’t feel as sure that I’ll be good at this. As the first volunteer in my village, I feel like the village is expecting me to make all of these great changes and solve all of these problems and I’m just worried that I’m not actually going to be able to help at all. I’m more worried about failing than I’ve ever been before, but on the flip side, I’m not even sure if I can fail here. Isn’t my just being here making an impact? I’ve always been a worried person raddled with anxiety, but this is a whole new level. Every activity has a new level of anxiety attached to it.

However, I know that with everything I lose, I gain something else. I think my biggest worry is that I will change so much here that I won’t fit into how people see me back home. Change is not inherently bad, as long as I make sure to keep hold of the things that are most important to me.

They Call Me Kesa

Dumelang borra le bomma. O thlotse jang? Leina lame ke Kesaobaka. Sefane same ke Gosalamang mo Botswana. Kwa Amerika leina lame ke Joiwyn. Sefane same ke Lewis. Ke tswa kwa Washington State kwa Amerika. Ke gorogile mo Botswana ka di 3 tsa Phatwe. Ke moitaupi wa Peace Corps ke dira le tsa banana mo Botswana. Mo Molepolole ke ithuta Setswana le ngwao. Kwa Amerika ke ne ke le moithuti gape ke bereka ke le morutabana. Ke rata go bala le go robala. Ke a leboga!

Did you figure all of that out? Don’t worry, I won’t test you yet. Let me translate for you:
Hello gentlemen and ladies (don’t be surprised, men always come first). How did you spend your day? (the mid – late day version of how are you?) My name is Kesaobaka Gosalamang in Setswana (Kesaobaka means I praise him [for giving me another daughter]). In America, my name is Joiwyn Lewis. I am from Washington State in America. I arrived in Botswana on the 3rd of August. I’m a Peace Corps volunteer working with youth (banana) in Botswana. In Molepolole, I am learning Setswana and culture. In America, I was a student and a teacher. I like to read and sleep. Thank you!

Can you tell we’ve been working primarily on introductions? On the one hand, I can’t believe it’s been over two weeks since I left home already and on the other hand, it feels like I’ve been here for so long. I absolutely love it here. The people are so welcoming, the other volunteers are amazing people that I am so happy to have in my life, I’ve changed so many bad habits already (I have been really good about my dietary restrictions, have had better hygiene, haven’t watched any movies or TV besides the religious TV and news my host mom watches, haven’t been spending countless hours on the internet, and have been sleeping better and actually waking up in the morning like a normal person), I’ve learned how to do laundry by hand (sort of), have been doing much better with Setswana than I expected, and have been the least anxious I’ve ever been in my life. I can’t believe how much stress I’ve let push me around in life. I’ve had this amazing sense of calm and contentedness this past week. I know I am in the honeymoon phase of Peace Corps and there will be more ups and downs to come, but I honestly am just so ready to take this journey. But enough about my crazy Peace Corps high, let me tell you a little about my life as a Peace Corps Trainee.

Since you formally heard from me last, I got matched with my host family and started official training. In the matching ceremony, they called out the trainees one by one and then called out their families. When I stood up in front of everyone waiting to hear who my host mom was, I really had no idea what to expect. When they called out her name, Solofaleng Gosalamang, she jumped up and started yelling in Setswana. She came running to me, grabbed me in a big hug, tried to pick me up a few times and continued yelling in Setswana. Then she presented me in front of everyone with a few more yells. Since then, she has done this in other groups, and I believe her shouts are mostly “this is my daughter, my daughter, my daughter, my baby”, but that is a very rough translation. After we sat down, she told me my new name, Kesaobaka, told me I had three older siblings and started asking me questions. I was quite overwhelmed because I am really used to being the loudest most affectionate person I know, and she trumped me, by a lot. When she took me home, I was a little worried at first because I felt like a complete outsider being treated as an insider, which essentially, I was. She took me in as one of her children and immediately started worrying that I wasn’t eating enough and I wasn’t liking it at her home. At first this was a little hard for me to handle because I pride myself on being pretty independent, but then I started to realize how much she cared and how to navigate the situation and now I really do feel at home. She’s an extremely sweet women. She is very religious, but also very liberal. We have had amazing talks about diversity, labeling, race, and how we are all just humans and should love each other both because and despite of our differences. She says her English is improving already from talking to me and my Setswana is perfect (which, thanks to her, the few phrases I know are, but there is still so much I don’t know). Our house is great in love, but small in space. It has two nice size bedrooms, a very small kitchen (It has a refrigerator, freezer, and stove!), a small bathroom (but it has a working bathtub and toilet! No hot running water, though), and a decent size living room. Her son, my brother, Laone, lives in a house about the same size 10 feet in front of us on our compound. There are about 10 neighborhood children who love to watch me and talk to me. They will yell at me through the kitchen window when I am helping to cook, swarm around me when I am walking home from training, and watch me when I am walking around our compound. I am working on remembering their names and love to talk to them. They love to greet me and then they will occasionally yell to me that they love me when I am around.

Everyone is so friendly here. I have a small walk home after my daily training sessions (we have language classes from 7:30-9:30 Mon-Fri and then other classes until 5 on those days and then more language classes from 8-12 on Saturdays). During my walk, I am always greeted by at least 5 people, honked at by passing cars, waved and yelled to by young children and usually stopped by at least 2 people to have actual conversations where they ask me how I am in Setswana and when I respond correctly they reply with an emphatic “You people know Setswana!” It is also common for people in the neighborhood (known as the ward or Kgotleng here) to know my name. My mother is very well known and is often parading me around. We went to meet the chief of our ward, known as the Kgosi, on Friday. We had to do a small introduction of ourselves. After I did mine, my mother got up and ran over to me saying how well I did and hugged me. All the other mothers stayed in their seats. After the meeting was over, she was yelling to everyone about “her Kesa” and having me speak Setswana to them all. There was even one woman who came up to me and said, “Kesa, do you want it?” holding out her baby girl. At first I was very confused, but she kept pushing her infant toward me. One of the current volunteers here told me that that happened occasionally, but was usually a joke. It didn’t really seem like a joke though.

Otherwise our days aren’t too eventful. We just go to training and then I come home and have dinner. Every three days or so, I take a bucket bath (it’s common here for people to take a bucket bath twice a day, but I used the drought as an excuse with my host mom to get away with twice a week instead of twice a day.) I typically go to bed around 7 and read until I fall asleep around 8. The only things that hinder my sleep are the loud bar about 50 feet away, the pack of dogs that wait to bark until it’s about 9 and then all bark in tandem, and the man who walks around with a megaphone giving the village information about meetings and other events occurring in Setswana. That doesn’t stop me from reading though. I’ve already finished 5 books and am almost finished with my 6th. I’ve also been working on a long letter to my mom (it’s at 13 pages right now). I promise I’ll start writing to everyone else soon (and by soon, it will probably be more around my lock down, I mean community integration period, when I get to my site in 9 weeks). I of course miss you all, and there are things happening that I wish I could be there to support everyone with, but I really am extremely happy here and so proud of myself for doing this. I want to thank you all for your unending support and love. It makes this adventure so much more rewarding, knowing that you all support me. Sala Sentle (Stay Well).