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Friday, August 31, 2012

4 Botswana Cultural Practices I Admire and Embrace

1.) Greet people ALWAYS- Greetings are huge in Botswana. They mean the world to people and are a significant part of any relationship. I also like how it is expected to greet people before you ask for help or ask them to do something for you. This does not always happen but it is considered impolite to not first recognize the individual as a person (and not a means to an end). On days when I am not super busy at work, I love to go and “check” all my coworkers and friends in the community just to let them know I care about them and recognize their importance in my life. Every time I travel to the capitol city where such extended greetings are not common, I always experience a bit of culture shock.

2.) Sing or dance whenever you want and wherever you want- Tswana culture is full of the celebration of life with its continual expression and rhythm. People are not afraid to randomly break into song or dance and love it when you do, too! Songs are used to open school assemblies, work meetings, casual community meetings and about everything else in between. And when you ask people what they enjoy doing they will often say dancing and singing. They will then proceed to break into song and dance for you.

3.)  Share your food- Food is also a huge part of building relationships with people. At first I found it difficult to openly share my food especially with the limited volunteer allowance we are given and the expense of food in our village of Tsabong where a bag of apples costs 29 pula and only costs 9 pula in villages closer to the capitol. However, once you see how it brings people together your heart is opened and it is a nice experience. There are times where you are offered food you don’t really want like gemsbok liver or cow intestine and there are times where it’s a delightful experience like honey sucked straight out of a freshly gathered honey comb. Recently on the bus home from the capitol, I witnessed my seatmate (a 25 year old woman) share her bag of chips with a snotty-nosed little girl standing next to us in the aisle. The girl was obviously starving and very sick with some sort of bad chest cold. The little girl couldn’t have been more than 4 and was traveling with her mother and two younger siblings. I can’t imagine trying to take three small children on a crowded 7 hour bus ride but the mother was helped by the women around her who took turns holding them.

4.) Hold or Clap someone’s hand when you talk-  Even grown men will be seen walking down the road holding hands and chatting it up. When I first arrived here, I found it awkward and weird but now I even do it to others and find it to be quite pleasant. When you are really excited to see people, you usually give them a hug and then hold their hand for a few seconds while you chat. It’s also very common for people to do what I would equate to a fist bump in the states during the middle of a conversation. You do it after you or they say something funny or after something you agree on. The hand slap is just a clap of the hands with a little thumb touch at the end. It’s hard to put into words but it’s like doing a secret handshake with your best friend growing up except you regularly do it in mid-conversation with everyone from your closest friends to complete strangers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Marital Rape Still Legal in Botswana

One of the hardest things for me to face as a woman working on gender issues here in Botswana is the issue of marital rape. It is technically still legal for men to rape their spouses. Thanks to the Domestic Violence Act of 2008, women can now prosecute the husband’s rape as a civil lawsuit. However, the rape cannot be tried as a criminal lawsuit and is not recognized as a criminal offense.

Recently, I gave a sexual abuse training to doctors, nurses and administration at the primary hospital where I work. Afterwards, one of the doctors asked how one of his patients who is married and a mother of four with her husband can claim to have been “raped” by him. The doctor was dead serious when he asked, too. As politely as I could…I explained that women can be raped no matter what their relationship status and that it’s not his job to decide whether she was raped or not. I told him that based on my presentation, he now knows what he should do in this case which would be to examine the woman for signs of rape, do a rape kit, treat her, note her chart and then take her to social work for counseling. I further explained that it’s up to him to take those first steps and then it’s out of his hands. It is not his place to decide whether she was actually raped or not. That is for the social workers and police to decide after extensive counseling and investigation.  His response was simply shaking his head as if doing what he is required by law to do is too burdensome in this case. The Chief Medical Officer did have my back, though, and encouraged the other doctors to always follow through with a rape case even if it’s a married woman reporting rape.

I am not sure what else to say except that I hope this demonstrates what we are up against here with challenging such viewpoints on women’s rights when even doctors do not acknowledge or take the time to report cases of rape for married women. I hope to write another blog soon addressing marriage dynamics and why women are likely to experience marital rape.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Photo Gallery Update

We have been posting pictures of our time here in Botswana on our Facebook pages.

In case you have missed the new photos that we have posted, or are interested in checking out the older ones, we have posted links to all of our Facebook photo galleries in the sidebar on the right side of the screen our blog ( You are not required to have a Facebook account in order to view them, they are open to anyone to view.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August 2012 Update!

Here is a much delayed update!
The one-year mark of our service is coming up. There is a trend among
Peace Corps volunteers where around the one-year mark, your service
work really starts to pick up speed. This trend has proven to be true
with us as well. It really has taken about a year to integrate
ourselves into Botswana's culture and systems of business. Over the
last year our service has been comprised mostly of building
relationships and learning the do's and don't's of life here. But now
that we have reached this point, a lot of our initiatives and projects
are coming to fruition much quicker than we anticipated. This is
probably because the people that we work with have gotten to know us
to a degree that they are more comfortable trying new projects with us
and allow us to support them in leading their our projects as well.
When I first arrived at the school, most teachers were not quite sure
what I was there to do. When I sat in on classes to observe the
standard approach to teaching most teachers were initially defensive
because they assumed I was there to audit them and file reports about
their weaknesses to the Ministry of Education. But After building
deeper relationships with my fellow teachers, they started to see that
my primary focus was on setting up programs and initiatives for the
students' benefit. And after a year of small projects, teachers are
now starting to buy into my work here and show an interest in
bettering the school themselves. This is a really important step
because my school has a very very poor pass-rate (meaning barely 50%
of the students received passing grades at the end of the school last
Novemebr). The Ministry of Education has been putting a lot of
pressure on the schools of Botswana that had such low pass-rates, and
have especially been placing a lot of blame on the teachers for doing
a poor job of engaging their students. The teachers subsequently focus
the blame on the students who "don't want to learn". It is a difficult
issues to overcome, but I do believe the handful of teachers at my
school that are showing a real interest in helping the students
perform better will pave the way to higher scores this November
(although, change happens slowly and I don't expect a large
improvement this time around..maybe next year!).
Aside from work in our villages, Hayley and I have been traveling
between our home village and Gaborone (the Botswana capitol) to work
on various projects and committees. Hayley is part of a very active
Gender Committee for the Peace Corps which works on researching gender
issues in Botswana and providing information and training to Peace
Corps Volunteers in the hope that we will all be more educated and
qualified in ways to help address the gender issues here. Some of our
older volunteers liken Botswana current social structure to the US
life and culture of the 60's. Women's rights were still (and still
are) needing improvement, and the society was patriarchal in that most
positions of power were filled by men and minority opinions lacked
strong representation.
Hayley will also be traveling to Gaborone in order to help lead some
sessions at the Bots12 In-Service Training which is a training given
to recently arrived volunteers after they have spent 2-months at their
sites. And, the newest batch of volunteers (Bots13) will be arriving
next month so she and the rest of the gender committee will likely be
preparing some sessions for their arrival training as well.
As for me, my latest project outside of the village has been helping
to create a set of introductory Setswana language training videos. Two
other volunteers and I collaborated with the Peace Corps Botswana
administration to put together a series of language videos that could
better prepare incoming volunteers for learning the Setswana language.
Because Setswana is a Bantu language it is complete foreign to more
English speakers due to the fact that we come from a heritage of
Romantic languages that are derived from their Latin/Roman language
heritage. Along with the challenge of learning a Bantu based language
like Setswana, the English language is widely spoken in Botswana which
makes learning Setswana even harder because you are never forced to
learn it. It is very easy to speak English with people at school,
work, and even the grocery store. So, many volunteers, such as myself,
don't progress very far beyond basic sentences and greetings. These
reasons help to explain why Peace Corps Botswana has such low scores
when it comes to language uptake by its volunteers. Our language
trainings pale in comparison to the language trainings of other
countries in which learning the local language is ESSENTIAL for
survival and success. But, it is the hope of the Peace Corps Botswana
administration that these language videos will give incoming
volunteers a leg up on Setswana before moving here so that further
language learning will be much easier for them in the future! You can
check out our finished product at this address:
I am currently working with a group of dedicated students on a
twice-daily study group. We meet every morning before school and every
afternoon after school in order to study various subjects in
preparation for their exit exams this November. Students graduate from
Junior Secondary Schools like mine, and move on to Senior Secondary
Schools before going on to college. Basically, my school is the
equivalent of 8th-10th grade and in order to go on to 11th and 12th
grade students must receive a passing grade when all of their final
exam scores have been averaged together. Keep in mind that the
Botswana grade scale is shifted about 10 points down from the standard
scale used in American schools. So, 80-100 is an A. 70-80 is a B. etc.
Unfortunately, for students in the Kgalgadi region of Botswana there
is only one Senior Secondary School in the region for them to go to
and this school is usually described as more of a refugee camp than an
actual school! The living and learning conditions at the school are
very poor and the Peace Corps Volunteers that work at the school and
in its surrounding village are planning some monumental camps and
projects that just might be able to help students and teachers at the
school improve things a little bit. Most of the volunteers in our
region are planning to go to the school early next year for a GLOW
camp (Girls Leading Our World) in which we will provide a number of
girls with further education about their rights, health, and education
in the hope that they will acquire the tools and confidence necessary
to help Botswana move towards a less patriarchal society and into a
more egalitarian one.
I am also working on starting a school newsletter. My hope is to have
the letter at least be a monthly production at the school written and
edited by teachers and students. It will mostly likely only be a one
page, two-sided publication but I think that it will be a great way to
increase people's awareness of the goings-on at the school. Currently,
I hope to have each newsletter include: A message from the School
Head, an article by a student, an article by a teacher or other
professional, and also some bits of life skills/health tips, and
lastly a section that promotes any events at the school or community
that would have a positive influence on the students and teachers at
the school. This project is currently in the 'buy-in' phrase in which
I am working with the head of the school's language department to get
one English teacher interested in the project so that I can work with
her/him to put together a team of students to create the newsletter.
Over all, we are loving our experience here in Botswana. The
relationships that we are building with co-workers, community members,
and students make it very easy to move through frustrating
circumstances and remain inspired to help our new friends. Even with
frustrating systems of protocol that impede our efforts to change
things, we are able to see that we are having a positive influence on
the lives of the people we befriend and work with here in Botswana.
But more importantly, we are seeing myriad ways in which the people we
befriend and work with have a positive influence on us as well.