Sunday, December 4, 2011


I am a child of the '60s. When I hear the word 'integration' I see firehoses and attack dogs, bombs in churches, and Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial declaring "I have a dream." Integration was something that had to be forced on our country by legislation and enforced by military troops. Integration in Peace Corps terms means 'get to know your village and your community as well as you can in the next two months.' It means interview people and do research to fill out a community assessment form, then create a report that highlights the history of the village, the main concerns in terms of safety and security, water and sanitation, food, employment, schools, health care, environment and of course, HIV/AIDS, the reason the Peace Corps was asked to return to Botswana.

At present, I am the only Lekgoa in Kopong. Lekgoa means white person--literally 'vomit from the sea' which may sound unfriendly, but consider that the first time people in this part of the world saw a white person, he was coming off a boat and probably, given the rigors of travel a century or so ago, looked like he had been vomited from the sea...

When I arrived at the school three weeks ago, I was introduced to more people than I could possibly remember. I took the advice of a previous volunteer and always carry around a small notebook in which I ask people to write their name, and I make a note of where and when I met them. Now that school is closed and I am in the position of introducing myself to people, this little notebook has become invaluable. Particularly when I see someone look at me with a bit of surprise or hurt in their eyes. Then I know I have already met them and I apologize and say 'ke lebetse' (I forgot) and they open my notebook and point out their name. Still, I know there are times people have been offended that I do not remember them. Everyone knows who I am--the lekgoa--I am easily recognizable, particularly with the two dogs following me around, my backpack, and apparently--my camera.

I walk around the village at least once a day, trying to figure out the lay of the land, and also to meet people. The other day as I walked back from the post office, I was stopped by children who wanted me to take their photo, and then was called over to the fence of a neighbor who asked me to take her photo. I explained to one young man that he was wearing the sweater of 'the greatest university in America.' Those are the words of a Boston Globe columnist, and although Alex Beam definitely uses the term with tongue in cheek, I was happy to see this fellow stand up proudly at that news.

The other advice I have followed is to "accept all invitations." Thus, yesterday I headed out in 100 degree heat to attend the bridal shower of a woman who works at the local tuck shop. (A tuck shop is usually a shipping container turned on its side in someone's yard with a hole cut out for customers to ask for sodas or bread or minutes for their phone.) "Come at four" she said. "It's just beside the clinic."  I got to the clinic about four. All the houses were quiet and I was stymied. I showed my piece of paper to two women who were walking by, and they said they knew Boteke and would take me there. We began walking--far, far from the clinic. I kept looking back wishing I had breadcrumbs to drop to find my way home. After a number of twists and turns we came to the "cul-de-sac" tuck shop, where the women ran into two young girls they said were sisters of the bride. They waited patiently while the girls bought popsicles, and did not leave me until I was under the guidance of Tracey and Carol. We arrived at the bridal shower and I was invited into the home. No bride in sight, no shower in evidence. People were kind and friendly and as I talked with them I noticed a very pretty young woman with blue eyeshadow and a blue scarf sitting silently in the room. "She's blind," one of the cousins of the bride said. I began speaking with her, and her mother told me "she's very smart," and brought out a braille book for her to read to me. Hope ran her fingers across the bumpy page and began reading to me from the book of Genesis.

I now have over 150 names in my little notebook, and a project I plan to work on with Hope: finding books in Braille for the local library* (she told me she is not the only blind person in the village). Everyone I have met has both a Setswana name and an English name. Some have told me their parents gave them their English name, others say they chose their own 'Tracey suits me, don't you think?' Setswana names are very descriptive and I sometimes keep myself amused by deciding on Setswana names for my friends and family at home.

I left the shower before the bride arrived, and before any shower activities began. African time is mutable and 4pm can mean 8 pm, or whenever. But volunteers have to be home by dark, so I took my leave with Felix in tow and somehow we managed to find our way back home before the sun set.

Today I set out once again with Felix and Spike and once again, I was called over to someone's fence to say hello. This time it was the cleaner from the school, someone I had met before, but who simply laughed and pointed to my book when I began to introduce myself.

*If you can help with this project, please let me know. Ke a leboga!

koloi ya ditonki

A Harvard Man in Kopong


Hope reading to me from her Braille book

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