Recently, the CIEE Public Health students spent the week in the nearby village of Serowe, which is about 300km (180mi) North of Gaborone. We took the public bus from Gaborone to get there, which took around 4 hours. We arrived in the evening, and were greeted by the families, which would be housing our group for the entire week. The host-parents were preparing a welcome meal for our group at the host-home of one of the CIEE girls. At this dinner, I met Sebeo, Zwabo, and Tjango (prounced Chango). Sebeo is a 96-year old grandfather to Zwabo, who is 30 (ish?); and Tjango is Zwabo’s 4 year old son. After a short period of visiting, the food was ready, and we ate our fill of traditional Setswana food, very similar to what has been described previously. It consisted of porridge, papa, chicken, beef, Mopani worms, and a couple other traditional dishes (the names of which have escaped me). After dinner, we were welcomed with a ceremony put on by the families. During this ceremony, the local pastor said a prayer for our well-being, several of the Moms, as well as my grandfather stood up and welcomed us in different ways. Everything that was said was spoken in Setswana with another person translating to English or vice versa. Between each speaker they would sing a song, the only word of which I could make out was ‘Modimo,’ which in Setswana means ‘God.’ Finally, we all split up to go home and be introduced to the rest of our families.
The house where I was staying is only a short walk from where our dinner took place, so Zwabo guided me through the dark dirt roads of the village to our destination. At the house, I met Morwadi, Korraba, and Thaboga. Morwadi is the wife to Zwabo, Korraba is their 6 year old daughter, and Thaboga is their two month old newborn. I also met Oduetse (OD), a cousin to Zwabo who is staying in their home. I was also given the Kalanga name ‘Zwango,’ which means ‘mine.’ Kalanga is the tribe, which Zwabo and his family come from. It is one of the biggest tribes in Botswana. At first, I wasn’t exactly sure of my place in the family. Was I the son of Sebeo, making me the uncle to Zwabo? Or the son of Zwabo, making me the great-grandson to Sebeo? Everyone else in the group would talk about their host-Mom and brothers and sisters, while I was left somewhat confused as to what to call my family. Fortunately, this gave me all the more reason to learn their names quickly. Even though Zwabo assumed more of a fatherly position, in showing me around the house and village, Morwadi eventually called me her brother giving me certainty of my place in the family.
On our first morning together, OD showed me how to do some of the daily chores, including wood splitting, chopping down tree branches, cooking porridge, and hand-washing clothes. That night, everyone gathered around the TV to watch Ghana and Mali play in the consolation match of the Africa Cup of Nations. Mali upset Ghana in a 2-0 victory. The next night, Zambia would win the Cup on penalty kicks in a 0-0 game. Unfortunately, I fell asleep during half-time of this game, which is basically the Super Bowl of Africa, and as far as the quality of game goes, it was as good if not better than our own Super Bowl. Side note: I stayed up until 7 in the morning to watch the American Super Bowl, which didn’t start until 2am in Botswana…
Throughout the week, OD would continue to show me various chores around the house, and Zwabo showed me some interesting things in the village. On one of the days, he wanted to show me how a destitute Motswana lives. He took me to see his friend who has several kids, and is sustaining his family by selling Chubuku beer. This is a local beer that is very popular. Unfortunately, however the government has now issued a law saying that it will no longer be legal to sell alcohol from a residential home. People who sell this beer, will now have to rent a business plot to continue their sales. For the person we talked to, this was simply impossible. We talked for a long time about how he had ended up in this business and what his future looks like. He is very concerned, because when the law takes effect, he will no longer be able to sustain his business. He is living day-to-day trying to figure out what to do next. We also went into the main mall in town, where we saw a bustling local market. This one was much more authentic to Africa as compared to what we have seen in Gaborone. Small tents were set up on either side of a long alley, between the larger stores. The merchants were selling everything from dried Mopani worms, to various nuts, fruits, and vegetables. One of the girls I was with, who for some bizarre reason actually enjoys Mopani worms tried these dried worms and was not satisfied. Aside from that, we did not buy anything else as we have been warned against consuming food sold from street vendors especially when it is uncooked.
One night, one of the host-mothers took us to her brother’s local farm, which took about an hour to drive to on very rough dirt roads. When we got there, her brother showed us around his farm, where he has cattle, goats, sheep, and chickens. When we arrived, they had just milked one of the cows, and we were able to taste some fresh milk, straight from the utter! As the sun was setting, we had the privilege of experiencing one of the most colorful sunsets I have ever seen. I watched the sky as the clouds shifted from blue to yellow to pink to orange and faded back to blue as the day turned into night. I will post a picture at the end of this post, because no words could do it justice. The picture is not my own, but taken by another student.
The homestay in Serowe was without doubt one of the highlights of my experience so far. In the next post I will talk about our experiences in the health field of the village, however learning about the culture through my family, as well as that of other students, and simply talking to local people gave me a multitude of knowledge in itself. There is no doubt in my mind that while the village of Serowe is one of the largest in the country, and would be more accurately described as a town, it seemed to be more authentically ‘African’ than Gaborone. It was easy to see here that much of the lifestyle remains unaffected by the modernization of the country.
I am currently running behind on my posts, with school and travels it has been hard to find the necessary time to put together the right words to help you to share in my experience. Next, I will be talking about the healthcare in Serowe, and perhaps dig a little deeper into some of the problems and advantages of the current system in Botswana. Last week I traveled to the country of Namibia for our vacation, which was an amazing experience. I will do a post about that when I have time as well. I also hope to post more pictures, however uploading them to blogger takes a lot of time, for more pictures you can see my facebook profile here:
Until our next digital rendezvous..
(photo by Shilin Zhou)