Tuesday, March 17

Village Life

The fam

When I got dropped off at my home in Mochudi on Saturday morning, I met my grandparents, mom and aunt. In general, everyone looks older than they actually are here, so an age estimate would be way off. The family refers to the grandparents as “the old man” and “the old lady.” The old lady went to Johannesburg on Saturday and has not returned. It’s unclear why she’s there. The old man sits and watches TV all day long. The aunt brings him regular meals. And then he goes to bed. The rest of the family does not talk to him much. I later met my two sisters, Teboga and Keraba.

After meeting the old man, the old lady, mom and aunt, my mom and aunt brought me to what I thought was my room. It has a double bed, lots of clothes and luggage piled up along the walls, two huge armoires and two vanities. I later found out that, besides being filled with the mom’s clothes, the armoires are filled with products that the mom sells. To get a little extra money, she sells perfumes, cosmetics, and purses like an Avon lady. She is the sole provider for the family. [I mentioned in the previous post that she is a secretary for the BDF in Gabs. She has had this job for 21 years.] Her husband died in 2006 because of medical reasons that I’m not entirely clear on. The aunt, old man, and - I’m assuming - the old lady stay at home all day.

The mom and aunt do not speak English very well at all. I know very little Setswana. Whenever I do, they laugh at me. I’m not sure why – if it’s because they think I sound awful or if it’s silly for me to be speaking their language or what.

The old man and the old lady share a bedroom. Tabego and Keraba share a bedroom with two single beds, but Teboga is only at home in Mochudi on the weekends because she lives on campus at UB. The aunt has her own bedroom. The mom has her own bedroom, which I am sharing with her. This means I am sharing a bed with her. A double bed. She steals the covers. And even though I definitely brought my own pajamas, my mom gave me one of her nightgowns to wear. And slippers.

'Til Death

After I dropped my stuff off and was home for all of five minutes, my mom, Josephine, and I were off to a wedding. Not a big white wedding. Not even a traditional Botswana wedding, but close. It wasn’t like usual wedding in Botswana because it was the groom’s 2nd marriage. For ceremonies like weddings and funerals in Botswana, everyone in the village is invited. An invitation is unnecessary. If you know the cousin of the friend of the brother of the bride’s neighbor’s friend, you can go. Everyone is welcome. My mom and I arrived at about 11:30 a.m. and immediately went to work. There were about 30 women in various locations of the reception site preparing food for the meal everyone would enjoy upon the bride and groom’s arrival. [The actual wedding ceremony did not happen where the reception happened.] I helped at the braai pit where they were cooking rice, sorghum (porridge), and beef, and in both kitchens where I mixed about 10 gallons of juice, mixed a green salad for 100, and chopped and cleaned vegetables upon vegetables.

While all the women were working, all the men were sitting outside drinking and talking. It’s just how it works here. Actually… that’s how it works at home a lot too. Huh.

I was the only CIEE student there for about an hour, and then JJ came and helped in the kitchen(s) too. Then more CIEE students came - Alex, A.C., Krystal and Michael - but got to relax at the tables under the tent while JJ and I continued to prepare food.

Noteworthy: JJ and I did not drink any water or any other type of drink the entire time we were working. It was only after we plated out hundreds of plates of food and then sat down to eat ourselves that my mom brought us drinks. We were just a little dehydrated.

The procession of the bridal party into the reception was a sight to see. I wish I had brought my camera there. Everyone standing by and watching sang as the bridal party and wedding attendees danced in. Many of the women were wearing custom-made traditional dresses all made of fabric with the same print. This particular print meant they were from Francistown. They danced themselves into a circle with the bride and groom in the center. They literally danced all the way to their seats. Just like at weddings at home, the bridal party was seated separate from everyone else. After this happened, JJ and I and all the other working women brought food out to a table by the bridal party and returned to the kitchen. We were still working while everyone was giving speeches; they were in Setswana, so we wouldn’t have picked up much any way.

After the wedding, people were coming and going for hours. JJ and I cleaned. People sat around and drank and danced. There was supposed to be a braai at 10:00 p.m., but it started raining the braai didn’t really happen. We just continued to drink and dance. My mom and I went home at about midnight, which is when I found out I would be wearing her nightgown, sleeping in a bed with her, and bathing with water boiled on the stovetop.

Home Sweet Home

Because hot water does not come out of their tap, whenever you need to take a bath – they only have a bathtub and no shower capabilities – you have to boil a pot of water on the stove, pour it in the bathtub, then run the cold water and mix it with the boiling water to get that nice warm temperature. Needless to say, when I come back to UB every day for classes, I shower in my apartment.

The kitchen does not have a sink. It has a faucet with a huge bowl underneath it. The same technique of mixing boiling hot water with cold tap water is used to wash dishes. Then after you wash the dishes, you take the bowl outside and dump it down a drain on the side of the house.

The tap water is safe, but gross. They do not drink water. Ever. The whole weekend I was pretty dehydrated. When I got to school on Monday morning, I pounded a few water bottles back and kept drinking water all day until I had to take go back to Mochudi. I did the same today.


On Sunday, Josephine and I went to church. She goes to a Dutch reform church across from the kgotla. There were four sections to sit in: youth, men, women, and coed adults (I don’t know what else to call this section and I tried to ask my mom why we were sitting with men but she just didn’t understand me). The service actually ran kind of similar to that of a Catholic mass: two readings, a gospel, a sermon, a collection and singing.
- They sang and clapped and danced their way up to the alter for the collection. When the collection was done, they announced how much each section contributed. Ex. “Youth: P42.50!!!!” (Applause)
- The service was three hours long. This is probably because we sang the same songs over and over again. We probably sang half the time we were there.
- There was no choir or piano. Two people in our little coed section had small leather pillows with straps/handles which they clapped in the other hand to keep the beat. A man in our section was ringing an instrument similar to a bell.
- A woman led the service.

Recipe for a heart attack

CIEE gave all our host families P800 each to cover food and any other costs involving hosting us for a week. After church, Josephine and I walked to Spar, one of Botswana’s major super markets to get “food for me.” That’s how she described it. When we got there, she asked me what I eat. If you know me, and I hope you do if you’re reading my blog, you know that I am open with trying new food and I eat a variety of things at home. I told her that I’ll eat whatever she eats. I don’t think she really understood me. Sometimes when I say things, she just blankly stares at me. Then she said, “Ok, what you eat?” I really just want to be able to eat as much traditional food as possible; I’ll never be able to eat it again in my life. So of course she buys the most American food possible: frozen chips (British English for French fries), frozen fish sticks, frozen burgers, ice cream, processed cheese slices. And then some normal items: corn flakes, yogurt, juice, “brown” bread, lettuce, milk, apples, bananas and custard, canned fruit and dairy cream to make this rich, sugary parfait that was also served at the wedding reception.

Next post: commuting back and forth between Mochudi and Gaborone, my host family's fat complex, and more!


  1. Hi Lisa:

    I am Michael's mom and have enjoyed reading your blog. I am picturing this whole thing as I read it and needless to say do not like the role of the women. I am sure Michael enjoyed the role the men have. Take Care and look forward to more reading

  2. Hey. I'm Alik; we've never met, but I used to work with your aunt Mary and she dropped me a link to your blog. I'm spending three months in a village in India doing public health work, and it's scarily funny how much about your experience is similar -- the same feeling of constant awkwardness/laughter/staring, trying to convince people that you do NOT want Americanized food, and continual wondering about water.

    Good luck and keep up the positive attitude!