(names have been changed in this entry to protect the identity of those mentioned, per Peace Corps request)
I have just eaten a piece of bread for dinner, washed my face in a bucket of cold water, swatted 3 ants off my toiletries and peed in a basin in the corner of my bedroom.
I am going to bed for the first time in my Bostwana homestay.
Ikitip Elopmar lives on the outskirts of Molepolole, one hour walk from the building where my two months of training will be held. Ikitip is the mother of six children: four girls and two boys. Her sons are away for most of the month taking care of the family’s cattle and her eldest daughter, works at a grocery store and only comes home on weekends.
Ikitip’s husband has been working for 27 years at the gold mines in South Africa. I am told that my father (ntate) will come home next Wednesday for just four nights. He will leave for another month of work on Sunday.
What’s left of the family when I arrive are Mma Elopmar, three daughters and one grand daughter. I’ll description my four new sisters to paint you a picture of life in my Batswana household. (I’m convinced that these daughters will also distract you from the bucket and ants, as they have me…)
Idnil is the oldest daughter at 20. She prances into the house wearing capri jeans, a spaghetti strap tank-top and no bra (mind you, I am pouring sweat beneath a long skirt and modest T-shirt, struggling to attain Culturally Appropriate Dress). Idnil looks through my photos and corrects a few of my Setwana words before sauntering back to the porch for a smoke and a chat with neighborhood friends. When she returns she asks me to unlock a cell phone she has “found”. Both Idnil and her mother seem slightly flustered when I explain that the phone cannot be unlocked without first having its battery charged. Idnil dances back to the porch (Idnil is nearly always dancing or swaying and, to accompany her, the Elopmar household is nearly always playing music).
Naillil is the next oldest girl at 15. She is the Worker Bee of the house and is constantly chasing babies, sweeping crumbs, heating water and granting her mother’s persistent requests. When she has a small break Naillil sits beside me on the couch and runs her fingers through my hair while teaching me Setswana. (She is very patient and I take copious notes). At tea time Naillil shows me how to start a fire in the back yard. I take pictures of her kindling the flames and she giggles excitedly at the images. Naillil tells me there will be gas for the stove on Sunday and, until then, she will be heating my morning bathwater over the outdoor fire at 6 a.m. This makes me apologize and thank her profusely to which she retorts a blank stare of neutrality.
Pel is, without doubt, my favorite. At 3 years old she is shy but curious about this new host sister who insists on hugging and photographing her. She spends time touching my skin and staring at my strange complexion with her enormous black eyes. When I lean over family photos Pel reaches for a wisp of my bangs and if I become distracted for too long she presses my legs for more affection (this technique, she’s learned, is incredibly effective). Her mother sees my attraction to Pel and decides that the best possible way for us to bond is for me to shave her head. This I do poorly under a knobby tree in the back yard. Ikitip cleans up my mess with a sharp blade to her daughter’s scalp. All Ikitip’s children are bald.
Baby Ara is just one year old and screams hysterically at the first sight of me. She is Idnil’s daughter. After hours of smiles and gentle touches to her skin, Ara finally warms up enough to giggle through a peek-a-boo game but will still have nothing to do with me attempting to hold her. Ara wears a poufy red dress and no underwear. Sometimes I feel as though she speaks better Setswana than me and so sweet Ara has become the source of great embarrassment and motivation, all at once.
There’s lots more to tell you of the homestay-matching ceremony, Pitiki’s backyard latrine (ant farm?) and the plethora of neighbors who visited to see me today
I am la pi le (exhausted) and have heaps of Setswana to study before turning off my light. Plus my fingers are ice cold from typing! (winter nights in Botswana’s cement houses are freezing!)
Cherish your toilets, your dinners, your families.
Robala sentle – Good night