“Kgotla” is the meeting place for a community. Women who arrive to the kgotla wearing pants are considered disrespectful and may be sent home by the “kosana” (community chief). Important matters are discussed here with the community and people take the kgotla meetings quite seriously.
Today I and the three other volunteers in my neighborhood were asked to introduce ourselves to our community at the kgotla. In the morning our teacher Amos worked diligently to help us prepare a speech for the community. We have a minimum of 4 hours of language training each day and sessions are held in the shady spots of Amos’ back yard. Setswana is a tonal language with strange “clicks” and most words have a minimum of 5 syllables. These features make Setwana exceptionally difficulty to speak and even more of a challenge when faced with the eager eyes of 100 neighbors.
Even so, at sunset today we found ourselves sitting under an enormous tree listening to the welcome speeches from the village kosana, kounsillara, and our morutibana (teacher). The ceremony was incredibly moving and, as you may have expected, we made it through our Setswana speeches with enthusiastic cheers from the audience (in particular, our proud host mothers).
I would like to paraphrase a section of the kosana’s speech for you which I will forever remember. After living a year in urban China I was convinced that poverty breeds corruption, competition and isolation. After living a week in rural Africa I have found the exact opposite to be true. Here is what the Kosana spoke to four, pasty, American girls on the night of their community entrance…
“I am so pleased to welcome you to Lekgwapheng. During your 2 months in our community I expect you to work hard, help your host mothers and prepare well for your years of service. Although you will not be living with us after 2 months we want you to know you will always have a family and a sanctuary in Lekgwapheng. If, at any time, you have concerns or needs, please do not hesitate to speak with me. I know your families will show you my house. This house and community will be your family throughout your stay in Botswana.”