Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thank you

So some of you are praying for my physical comfort, some for heightened self awareness and some of you are praying more for the people I’ll work with. One running theme, however, has been that you are praying for Safety.

It is a strange sensation to Feel other peoples prayers but I want you to know that this has been the case for me in recent weeks. There are break-ins and rapes I hear about daily and in May a volunteer passed away in a car accident. These things happen in the States but feel magnified here by my solitude and vulnerability as well as the inescapable language/cultural barriers.

Still. I feel safe. Protected even.

Two stories:

Kumakwane is a squiggly line intersected by a long tar road that runs from Gabs to Moleps. Off the squiggly line are dirt paths and tuck shops and a clinic and the kgotla and two schools. At the far reaches of this line are “The Lands” where people keep cattle and grow melons and live in tiny roundeval huts. I adore The Lands for a number of reasons: The Lands feel like Real Africa. In the right light Gaborone and Francistown can look a bit like suburban Florida with a bunch of strip malls and potted palm trees and restaurant balconies. But The Lands. The Lands are wide stretches of desert and livestock and tangled trees and tall grass. If you walk through the Lands for an hour you might pass four donkey carts and 2 roundeval huts. If you walk for an hour you also might come to an expanse of deep sand dunes and if the sun begins to set over those enormous dunes you will catch your breath in such a away and you will feel Africa and you will know that you are happy.

This walk through the Lands was fast becoming my ritual when the builder came to talk with my landlady. At first I was miffed. Its daylight. I’m running. I carry a blow horn. I pass people all the time. It’s the only place where I don’t have to dole out a thousand greetings. But the builder was adamant and came back the day after to see me in person and told me it was very unsafe. Yes, even in pairs. I sighed like a teenager who has just been grounded and went inside to jump rope.

Still, this was my first reassuring sign that the Safety Prayers are being answered. So thank you.

Story Two:

I lied about the burglar bars. I know. I’m sorry but I was afraid The Boyfriend or The Parents might go and do something crazy like complain to the Peace Corps office or fain illness to lure me home. I lived in my Kumakwane hut for exactly 31 days without burglar bars. And I felt their absence every night. It started to intensify with Telocs visit (see “Make Shift Alarm System” entry) and then became really frightening when one of my friends had his house broken into. He was home. He lives a quarter mile from me.

The other facts are that everyone, Everyone in Botswana has burglar bars. If you ask about local theft people shrug and say “Well, you know, this is a good country but it is still Africa.”

Last term thieves broke into the school and stole all of the kid’s food for breakfast and lunch (they go to school from 7:00 – 5:00 daily). The Headmaster couldn’t secure funds to replace the food and so was forced to end the school day at 1:00 and send the kids home for food.

Some people blame the Zimbabwean refugees but I think local poverty and alcoholism are equally responsible. When Peace Corps sent us crime statistics for Africa, Botswana was significantly lower than other countries for rape and assault but we were off the map for theft.

So I knew that a phone call would fix it. I’d call Peace Corps or the Ministry of Education and just say “I feel unsafe, the landlady needs more rent money so we can get burglar bars.” The problem is that I had already spoken with the landlady about the bars and she had told me she’d “get a quote” and asked me NOT to call the Ministry for funding. Sigh. In Botswana respecting the hierarchy is incredibly important and one slip up can ruin a relationship. Going over the landlady’s head would have been social suicide and even if the burglar bars did come, this maneuver might compromise the landlady’s willingness to help me with the rest of my housing needs (mainly furniture, wall paint, floors, bedroom electricity).

You see the pickle.

Even so, it was last Thursday and I was sitting in my office feeling tired after another sleepless night. My friends kept saying “Call Thuso” and I considered it since Thuso is the Amazingly-Attractive-Professional-And-Powerful-Peace-Corps-Safey-And-Security-Officer. (sorry Kris) Still, I worried about his approach and if he’d out me to the landlady.

But I was t i r e d and it was the end of the month when people get desperate for money and the crime rate goes up (most Batswana get paid the last Friday of the month. It is almost a sure bet that all ATMs in the country are cleaned out by Saturday morning and most people have to wait until Monday for them to be filled again. Those who do have money go straight to the bars and spend the weekend celebrating. Alcohol and poverty: excellent combo for crime)

So I start to text message Thuso: “Hi Thuso, I was wondering if you could call…”

No. No. It’s going to create problems. I’ve heard of other people botching village relations and it’s just too much of a risk. She’ll get the quote. The bars will be installed in a couple of weeks.

I’m rationalizing my way out of the text message when the door to my office opens

And Thuso Walks In.

I am flabbergasted. I am elated. I jump up and hug him and I’m talking in very fast and excited English that he can’t understand and I eventually realize this and apologize and take a deep breath. It’s just that being able to tell him In Person will allow me to be thorough about my safety concerns and fully express the urgency of addressing the issue discretely.

Thuso hands me a few pieces of mail and sits down and takes out a pencil and a pad of paper: “Okay, Bontle, start from the beginning. What’s on your mind?”

That was Thursday. The burglar bars were in the windows by Saturday morning.

So this entry is just to say thank you for your prayers. They are working.


four_toed_armenian said...

Kind of miffed that you lied but I guess it was the smart move. The real question is why was Thuso visiting you and what exactly were you praying for? He's going to need some safety when I visit... :)

Blanche said...

Jess, you bring tears to my eyes everytime I read your posts for updates ...
yes, we continue to pray for you. stay safe girl !