Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stillness

Traveling to a campsite in central Botswana we find ourselves muscling the masses on elections weekend. President Khama has given everyone the day off so they have time to make it to their home villages and wait in the 7 hour lines to cast their votes.

People groan about the travel, but softly. There is An Awareness here. Zimbabwe and South Africa bulging at the seams and straining the borders. Election days go differently there.

On Monday morning the Deputy School Head stands before our student body and nearly shouts the words

“Not one drop of blood was shed!”

I stare at her poised there with pride and passion. I feel the significance. The students are encouraged to be proud of their nation’s stability during these elections. They are also persuaded to work towards lives that sustain and promote Botswana’s unique and profound state of peace.

Several times each month I engage in the Getting-To-Know-You banter with Batswana. Americans have their own set of traditional inquiries on employment, the weather, family, etc. The Batswana nearly always ask me the same string of questions:

Which country do you come from?
How long have you been here?
What are you doing here?
What do you think of our country?

In response to the last I typically comment on Botswana’s natural beauty or the warmth of the people. And they nod and reply:

“Ah, and we are peaceful here. A very peaceful nation.”

Botswana was not a colony of Britain, it was a protectorate. It earned peaceful independence in 1966. It has never had a civil war. Its 8 major tribes reside in harmony and tolerance of one another.

At some point in my service I began to take advantage of these facts. I got bored of people telling me how peaceful Botswana is. I numbed to this predictable praise.

And then Election Day came and went as every other day has in quiet, sunny, serene Botswana. And then I looked at my map again: Zambia pouring frightened refugees. South Africa still on the mend from apartheid. And all the horrors that sit and stir in the wake of Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya

and
so
on.

“Can you believe this?” Hael says out of nowhere.
I look up from my book.
She’s bright from the light pouring through the bus window. And from Something else.
“I just can’t believe we’re sitting here, Living in an African country—and with these elections… right now there are elections going on. And nothing, nothing at all. Just another day.”

We sit there like that. Half comprehending the novelty. Attempting to sense the weight of These Things.

The bus window flashes light and dust and green. We watch it. We feel grateful. Or as grateful as we can - two privileged, sheltered, curious American girls, learning perspective. And the importance of an absence. And the value of a Stillness.

4 comments:

Kagiso said...

I enjoy reading your posts. I like seeing my country through the eyes of somebody from another country, a first world country for that matter - that is America.

Yea people always get this wrong, but I am glad you got it right, Botswana was never colonised, Botswana was only a British protectorate from Boer invasion from the Transvaal and German expansion from present day Namibia. At the time Botswana was largely considered a “barren desert too poor to be colonized”.

The Germans and the British ended up amicably negotiating a trade off
that resulted in the British annexing an island called Zanzibar off the Tanzanian coast and the Germans seizing a strip of land in northern Botswana, now part of Namibia, presently called the Caprivi Strip.

Jessica said...

Thanks for this, Kagiso. It's nice to hear the full history. Apparently "the barren desert" would have been worth the colonization after all... I think the Brits must have kicked themselves when the diamonds turned up just a few years after they granted independence.

Eunice said...

The election was covered on the BBC, and I thought of you listening to reports on it. Nothing on US media, that I heard.
Eunice

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