Monday, February 25, 2008

The big move

We'll be moving soon into our “own place”. By “own place”, I mean a house owned by LBT here in Francistown that is about to be vacated by a family when they move to South Africa. We'll squat there until we get a permanent assignment outside of Francistown, whether that be in Namibia or somewhere else in Botswana, closer to a language group that needs an exegete.

It's not fully furnished and so we'll need to figure out what will be there when they leave and how little we can get away with buying to make the place liveable. The Knights return on March 3 so we need to be out of here by then. Depending on when the family vacates the LBT house completely, we may have some days to spend at the Megahans while we wait for them to finish their move.

Also, they're leaving a car. Yay! So we'll be mobile again, able to travel long distances for work.

LBT Botswana on YouTube?

Check out this "blast from the past" that I found on YouTube, via the Esalas mission website:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Girl in a Dutch cloth dress

I had been wanting one of the local “Dutch cloth” dresses that the traditional Batswana women wear around here since I noticed the last fall. When I discovered that Mma. Mnzava did dressmaking, I got her to make me one. We were a few months getting our schedules in sync to get measurements and fittings done but I got my dress on Friday. As I had been mostly wearing either the dress I got for my birthday this year or a Tanzanian/pan-African designed dress since I got here, I was excited to have something new. It's a lovely blue and white number. Totally not a colour that I'd normally wear but Rob and I are both really pleased with how it looks. I was reading a stupid romance novel that was lying around the house recently that described someone's dress as “conservative yet figure-flattering” and openly scoffed at the idea that such a garment might exist. Well, eating my words now. This dress is the stuff!

So, I wore it Sunday morning. Got several comments from church-goers on how nice I looked. The best, though, was when I went to the ATM after church. There's a security guard at the ATM that I have recently begun to greet when I see her, since I see her just about every time I go to Galo Mall. Anyhow, we greeted each other but, this day, she started to talk. She said I looked very nice in my dress. I thanked her, told her how much I liked it, that it was comfortable but also sharp-looking. She said that it suited me. I proceeded to the ATM and, much to my surprise, she asked where I was from and we started chatting. I was pleased that we'd made it to this level of chattiness; it's always nice to feel socially acceptable for chitchat in a new country. When we had been quiet for a moment, she said, “You know, I have never seen a white woman wearing the traditional dress.” I paused a moment before replying, “You know... I don't think I have either. Huh.” Then we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

It made me think about how something as small as wearing a traditional dress can open up conversations. It also made me realize that I had really been unobservant about what types of people I had seen wearing the “Dutch cloth” dresses. It hadn't occurred to me that there might be anything radical about my doing so. Not that I think now that it is a radical thing. But I have occasionally contemplated what impact my adoption of local styles might have on locals, whether it would be a flattery or if they'd think “Who does she think she is, dressing like a Motswana?” I try to interpret what people's facial expressions mean when they see me dressed traditionally.

Now, I'm also thinking that I probably shouldn't worry about it too much. Frankly, people probably think what they are inclined to think before they even see me. Like the ATM guard - she and I had a a bit of a rapport before I even showed up in the dress. She liked me beforehand and reacted positively accordingly. I suppose if there were folk who resented the presence of a foreigner in their country, they'd also negatively to anything I wore.

Wow. I am probably way overthinking this. Ah well... such is the bumpy (mental) road of navigating other cultures.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Money matters

One aspect of any culture that has noticeable poverty in it that I have always struggled with is begging. Today seemed to be the day that I would struggle with it most noticeably. I felt like I was in a walking object lesson.

Rob and I walked to the post office, as we try to do at least once a week. On the way back, we were about to stop at the local bakery when we passed what looked like a father and his two young sons. The youngest walked behind the “father” and looked rather scruffy, though that is not unusual here, even for children in my own neighbourhood who are just playing in front of their own houses. We noticed, for example, in the Christmas morning service that we attended that children played quite freely in the sandy dirt that formed the floor of the church. They were not discouraged from doing so in any way and would go so far as to pour the dirt on themselves, clothes, bare skin, hair - the works. Returning to their parents, they would be brushed off but a layer of dirt really didn't seem to be a big parental concern. My point is that when I see “dirty” on a child, I don't automatically think “orphan” or “neglected” or “poor”. This child was an example of that. However, I am developing a sort of begging sense and can often tell when a financial request is coming on. I usually have just a few seconds to decide how I'm going to respond or, even, how I'm going to preemptively discourage such a request. My gut on this one was to walk purposefully past the “family”. No sooner had I done so than I heard the little voice beginning to come after me, saying, “Please, lady, give me money. I want to buy bread. Please, lady. I want to buy bread.” I kept walking as if I had not heard him, though I totally had. I can't help but feel bad when I do that. I just didn't feel comfortable stopping and getting involved with this child. He didn't follow us. We went into the bakery to buy bread ourselves but, ironically, the baking hadn't been done yet for the day and we didn't get any bread either.

As we walked on, I had to go over what I was feeling with Rob. Rob, by the way, hadn't heard a thing. Sometimes, he doesn't pick out the English when it's heavily accented, I've noticed. Anyway, he said that he had seen the child and had also assumed that he was with his father. He pointed out that, had I been in the US and had been approached by a child for money with the father standing right there, that I would absolutely not give them money. It would be undermining the authority of the parent, who was with them. Really, we couldn't be sure what was really going on. It seems like some children in places with poverty issues have a little mantra that they've learned in English that gets triggered when a white face enters their line of vision. It's almost like they can't control it. That's what this child's request felt like, anyway. And should we give in to that, particularly when there's a responsible adult with them who should be caring for the child's needs, not encouraging them in demeaning behaviour? Had I given the child money, wouldn't that be insulting to the father? Like, who do I think I am, just giving someone's child money, right in front of them, like he couldn't get his own child bread. Rob pointed out that the father was walking briskly and the child didn't actually pursue us to the bakery around the corner from where we passed him. I imagine the father was going wherever he was going despite the child's request, which he lust have also heard, and that the child decided that it was more important to keep up with his father than to acquire the 4 pula (62 cents) that a loaf of bread would cost. So, the father's position on the importance of his child's acquisition of the money seems clear. Rob said that to give this particular child money would likely be to undermine the father's authority. Like a cranky kid at the mall who wants to eat now and the parent says, “Not yet, we need to finish what I'm doing first.” If that kid managed to wheedle food out of a passerby, can you imagine how ticked off that parent would be?

We talked about all these things, going on to talk about how there doesn't seem to be a cohesive plan of action for money requests from a foreigner. Even for ourselves, our response varies greatly, on a case by case basis. We go on our gut, most of the time. Sometimes, I give just because it's an awkward situation and I just want out quickly, before they cause a scene. Recently, we were sitting near the door at a Nando's restaurant, sort of a KFC-level restaurant, and a man came to our table from outside. We were the only white people in the Nando's, incidentally. He came up to us and greeted us politely. He said that he had just gotten a job in Gaborone but that he could not make it there until the next day. So, he asked if we could give him 20 pula (about $3) to buy some chips. Rob looked at me. I knew I had a 20 pula note in my purse. On top of that, I could feel the eyes of everyone at the tables around us boring a hole in our situation. I just wanted it to end. I rooted it out quickly and gave it to him. He said thank you and headed through the crowd toward the order counter. I wasn't watching as he walked behind me but Rob says that he headed toward the counter but went past it and on out the door, without ordering chips. Ah well. Was he really needing food money? If so, chips probably wasn't the best food value anyway. Hopefully he went and bought food somewhere, something healthier. Who knows? Frankly, I didn't care a whole lot. I mean, it was $3. I've been known to give a lot more than that to causes and charities I don't even believe in, just because I was asked for a donation by a person that I really care about.

But why the hesitancy about one request and not about another? Rob disliked the Nando's situation because he said he felt like we were singled out because of our skin colour. But, later that same day, he was approached for 100 pula by a man in the parking lot and felt like giving it to him. And we can't clarify our reasons when we make these decisions to give or not much of the time. And we don't want to get all spiritual-sounding about it and say that it “just didn't feel right”, implying that it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit that causes us to tun someone away. But we do go with our gut, rather than clarifying policy. There's the direct command of Jesus in Luke 6:30 - Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away. Do I obey that? No. Not only that, I don't know of a single person that I've ever met who gives to everyone who asks them. And this command is not qualified with “but only if you believe that you are not being scammed.” In fact, this context of this passage is instruction on how to treat people who are using and abusing you. So, while giving to someone who I sense to be a scam artist may violate my personal sense of justice (rewarding a liar), is it more important to satisfy my own sense of morality or the flat-out, clear-cut commands of Jesus?

Later on that same walk home, we were walking away from the Rodewalds house, where we had gone to drop off their mail. I saw a road-side stand that had some nice-looking oranges and bananas and we stopped to buy a few. While I was selecting some, the lady selling them asked what church we go to and I told her. She said, “I knew you were a Christian. I saw you walking by earlier and could. We can recognize each other, you know, in our spirit.” I said that I thought that was very true and commented that she was not the first Motswana to make that observation to me. A lady in Gaborone at a stall selling traditional shirts had also identified us as Christians from a distance. I also thanked her for her observation, said that it was an encouragement to me to think that I might be recognizable as a Christian, no matter what is going on in my life. We said pleasant goodbyes and Rob and I continued on our journey home. At that point, I mused that perhaps this might be another reason people were targeting us for money. Perhaps they could see what this lady saw and they were approaching us not simply as whites who have too much but as visibly followers of Christ who have a mandate to give. If I think of it this way, it makes it a bit easier. Less racial, more encouraging.

Just before we arrived home, we greeted 2 fellow walkers on the road. One of them said that they were from Zimbabwe and that they were looking for work. I said that we had no work. He said then that they had been traveling for days and had not eaten anything, asked for 20 pula. I knew that we were out of 20 pula notes and told him that, alas, we had just spent our small change. He said that even a few pula would help. I offered him the bananas that we had just bought. He took them and thanked us. I didn't feel awful as I walked away but I didn't feel great either. I just don't walk away from these types of interactions feeling anything but guilty for never having to ask for money from strangers on the street and sorry for them that they feel they have to demean themselves in that way.

Then, it occurs to me... I do know how it feels to do that! I've been doing it since the fall of 2005! Not on the street, of course. Rob and I do it in shiny church buildings, in nice outfits and with the glossy, venerable title of Missionary. Still, there are days when I feel like we cross the line. On an easy day of raising support, we are people who are called to do God's work and giving people the opportunity to get involved in something they can't do themselves. But on a rough day, we are begging for our lives, pleading for money to keep us doing this work so that the personal sacrifices we've made to be here (seeing our nieces and nephews grow up, being there for our parents as they grow older, enjoying the friendship of people that we love, advancing ourselves in careers that would provide financial security) aren't converted into one great, big, pointless waste.

So, do I wish that Christians would give to me just because I ask them and without them having to have any special positive feelings about us and our ministry? Absolutely. Do I treat others as I want to be treated? Not always. And therein lies the conundrum.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Food stuffs

I had some chips at a braai over Christmas that, I could tell by looking at them, were not good to eat. But they were tasty. I bought a bag myself last week, partially so I could check out the ingredients at home. Also because they were tasty. Here's what a bag of Champ Hot Puffs contains, as per its ingredient listing:

Sugar, Salt, Acidifying Agents (E330), Permitted flavourants, MSG E621, Herbs & Spices, Vegetable oil with antioxidants, Permitted Colourants (E122, E110, E160c), Free flowing Agent, Extracts of Herbs and Spices, Flavour Enhancer (Nucleotides), Non Nutritive Sweetener

Wow. A more non-informative ingredient listing I have never seen. Given how I felt Friday morning, after having 1/3 of a bag Thursday night, I'm wondering what some of the more obscure ingredients actually are. The “Non Nutritive Sweetener” could be cyclamates or saccharin, given that they are still in use here in southern Africa. I've never even heard of “Nucleotides”. Makes me feel like I should be glowing in the dark. MSG is a no-brainer, I know I react to large quantities of that. Thankfully, I have a Widget that converts E-numbers to plain English names. Here's what the other chemicals are:

E330 - Citric acid: occurs naturally in citrus fruits
E122 - Carmoisine: red colour, a.k.a. D&C Red #10
E110 - Sunset colour FCF: yellow colour, may increase hyperactivity in sensitive children, take care if you are sensitive to aspirin, a.k.a. FD&C Yellow #6
E160c - Capsanthin: not permitted in Australia, paprika extract

So, I'll finish the bag but not buy them again. Probably had not more effect on my liver than a few beers or a couple of ibuprofen. Still, not really into needless liver-buffeting, me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Crime perspectives

I finally got around to doing a crime comparison of Botswana with some similarly populous area in the U.S. - Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix has a population of 1.5 million, Botswana of 1.8 million. Here's how they compare in a similar time period, the month of January (2007 for Phoenix, this year for Botswana):

Phoenix - 17
Botswana - 20

Phoenix - 46
Botswana - 151

Armed robbery:
Phoenix - 386
Botswana - 204

Not a fair comparison, given that Phoenix is a city and Botswana is a country. Let's compare with 3 provinces, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick & Prince Edward Island, total 1.8 million. Got these figures from 2006 annual stats, divided by 12.

Murder: 2
Rape: 114
All robbery: 86 (sorry, couldn't find stats for armed alone)

Friday, February 08, 2008

Back at it

We're not sick now, either of us. Rob fought something for a bit but won. Yesterday, I was fully functioning all day. Today is internet day.

I got to watch some of the coverage of the primaries here. They were getting a live feed on BTV (local television) Tuesday night from 11PM through to 10AM the next morning. I woke up and watched the morning bit. My first primaries as an American. Sigh.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Sick day 2

I'm not sure what the deal is but I'm not functioning well today at all. I woke up with chest pains that worsen when I breathe. I'm a bit better now but it still catches me from time to time. I'm pretty sure is postural but having a hard time fixing it. Rob has done all he knows to do, as have I. Plus, there was a mosquito in the room that bit me before I fell asleep. I felt the itch and had to get up, get some repellant oils diffusing next to the bed and turn on the A/C. A/C is supposed to slow mosquito activity, I've read. I also completely got under my sheet, no skin exposed. I could hear it buzzing but it couldn't get me. I woke up a few times during the night, probably because it's hard to breathe under a sheet. But I was too tired to get up and find the mosquito net to use that and didn't want to wake Rob. I may go ahead and set that up today, even though we really don't have much of a mosquito problem in this neck of the woods (or lack thereof, I suppose). Malaria is usually only an issue in the northwest, up by the Okavango Delta. Still, on nights like last night, when the buzzing goes on and on and one of the buggers does get you, a net would be worth it, if only for the good night's sleep. At least my head isn't driving me nuts today, even if I'm achy and groggy as all get out.

Ah well, a sick day isn't too big a deal. It's not like I have any pressing business today. There's no real deadline on the data entry. I'm working on inventorying documents but have only gotten feedback from 2 of my colleagues on their sorting preferences so can't really go any further on that. The preferences were for only the most general of sorts, which I've already done. I'm waiting for some emails to be returned so I know how to continue on Shiyeyi data entry. I just got our December list of donors just over a week ago so I'm writing people personal thank yous. However, after my rough night last night, I can barely think so writing legibly and easily won't be possible until I get rested again.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sick day 1

I don't know if it really counts as a sick day, given that it's happening on the weekend. I've just gotten in the habit of thinking of Sunday as a working day, given our recent 2 years of speaking in churches. I woke up with a headache, weakness and crampiness. So, we didn't go to church. Instead, we listened to and discussed a sermon we had downloaded from a church in Redding, CA, recommended to us by Johanna (longtime friend, since the days of my earliest studies of linguistics). It was a great sermon, one we had needed.

I think the headache was a sinus thing. I inhaled peppermint and flushed with saline. Eventually, as other symptoms got worse, I got tired of being miserable and took an ibuprofen. By dinner, I didn't feel so bad and the saline had cleared up my breathing. I spent the whole day sitting in the chair by the window, too weak to move very far. Plus, I got dizzy when I stood up. Maybe low blood pressure, who knows. Ah, the mundaneness of illness. I'm not worried, though. None of my symptoms are anything I can't identify or that I can cross-reference with anything dangerous and local

Friday, February 01, 2008

Yogurt success

Making another batch of yogurt today, just like I did yesterday. The temperature finally peaked above 30 and so I'm “making yogurt while the sun shines”, to adapt on old saying. This time, though, I'm making it in the front yard as we'll be at “the office”, unable to adjust the tub's location throughout the day as the sunlight moves. Hoping the ants don't get into the tub, even if it doesn't mean that they can get into the bottles themselves anyway.

We were able to Skype Rob's father and wish him a “happy birthday”. I even got to talk to my folks and my sister Hope for a bit before the internet connection got “dirty”. Got all the news from home.

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