Last weekend I traveled to Molepolole (mo-lay-po-low-lay, say that 10 times fast...) to celebrate Thanksgiving with some local volunteers. My friend Mia and I shared a room at Lemepe Lodge, the evacuation destination for peace corps volunteers in this area, and a reason for us to consider this a research project. The lodge is lovely: complete with restaurant, bar and pool.
Mia is living in the bush, without electricity, running water, or refrigeration. When we arrived she disappeared into the bathroom and must have taken 4 showers in the 24 hours we were there. After a drink at the bar, a swim in the pool, and a trip to the local grocery, our group arrived at John and Carol's house on the grounds of Kwena Serowe Jr. Secondary school. Peace Corps Botswana is fortunate that the government provides housing for its volunteers. This means some people (John and Carol) have houses with extra bedrooms, full baths, complete kitchens, and large yards. Others are housed in family compounds, which can range from 2-room boxes (such as mine) to lovely 3-bedroom homes or one-room roundelas (think cover of "Ladies Number One Detective Agency").
I have celebrated Thanksgiving in a number of different countries, including Canada and Italy, and always, I am happy to think that this is THE American holiday. I struggle to explain this to people in other countries. When I say "everyone goes home for dinner" it doesn't quite translate. When we decided to make Thanksgiving the theme of our thank-you dinner for our host families, we came up against the fact that we were celebrating the arrival of the 'oppressors'. We decided to concentrate on the turkey and the idea of communion at the dinner table.
In Italy my brother-in-law and I made a trek to the local macelleria and managed to convince them to butterfly a breast of turkey for us to cook on the grill (there was no oven in the apartment we were renting). In Canada Thanksgiving is celebrated in October, before the rough winter settles in. Here, John and Carol managed to find a turkey and roast it before we arrived. Mary (a true Irish woman) made amazing mashed potatoes and Rose did her magic with onions, zucchini and patty pan squash.
Dining with friends and hearing how all of us are dealing with the same things in different situations was invaluable. True communion. The 2-hour bus ride (with door that didn't close and flapped all the way from Gabs to Molepolole) was amusing. On the ride back the bus slowed down, the driver yelling (Setswana often sounds like people are yelling) and gesticulating until a bus coming from the other direction slowed down and both buses stopped. They opened their doors (this bus had a door that closed) and a young boy got out and ran across the highway to the other bus while both drivers called to each other and waved their arms. My Setswana is dismal, but there was no mistaking the fact that this young boy had gotten on the wrong bus and everyone was taking care of him, making sure he got where he was supposed to go. This is Botswana.
Since I am still trying to figure out how things work, I took the bus from Kopong to Gaborone, then Gaborone to Molepolole, and back. This means I was actually going in the opposite direction and turning around to go back. This is strong impetus for me to learn more of the language and figure out how these combis and buses work. In the meantime I am dependent on the good will of Batswana, which is immense. Every time I leave this village there is someone who steps up and helps me find my way.
I traveled back to Gaborone with another John and Carol (we have two married couples named John and Carol in this group) and felt my heart skip a beat when I said goodbye at the Gabs bus rank. As good as it was to see people again, it was hard to say goodbye to them. I rode the bus back to Kopong with a heavy heart, got off at the dirt path and trudged along with my load of groceries and memories. As I bent down to avoid the thorn tree I saw two girls come running towards me. It was Pearl, the girl who came to my office the day before school closed, to tell me she is a writer. I did not recognize her without her school uniform, but when she told me who she was, there was no mistaking the smile. She is my next door neighbor! My heart is no longer so heavy...
Before I sat down to write this blog I opened the flyer I picked up at Lemepe Lodge. This is their 10th annivesary [sic] and their mission is to "provide divine, warm African Hostility."
I think there is work for me here . . .