Hey everyone!! Had enough of my same old blogging voice? Well we’ve got a great guest blog from Zach Thal, fellow Grinnellian and ACM Botswana student. Check it out!
Dear Dedicated ACM Followers,
Salutations from Gaborone. As some of you may have noticed, I am not Hannah Lundberg. I am a different Grinnellian who so happens to be called Zach. I hope to give all you interested (and in my case perpetually worried) parents and friends a different perspective on our journey abroad (love you mom).
I have never blogged before. You are my guinea pigs in what I’m sure will be an illustrious yet short blogging career. I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to be doing or why Hannah handed the reigns to such an unqualified and peevish person. I just figure the best thing to do is be honest.
The many little differences here can make people go stir crazy. For example, I never thought it was possible to miss shower curtains this much. Jeez, it’s hot. What’s for lunch today? Let me guess – rice, chicken, and saccharine neon colored concentrated juice. No, sir, I will not give you ten pula. Being white is not the same as being an ATM machine. I’m pretty sure securing a UB identification card was a tactic used in Guantanamo. TIRE IS SPELLED WITH AN “I” NOT A “Y” YOU SCHMUCKS. Okay it’s now apparent I have overdone it with the kvetching (and the Yiddish). Allow me to reach my point.
Little differences are also what makes this place great. Last week I was restless. The shpilkes bug had hit big time (last Yiddish word, I promise). I had no competitive outlet. I found myself sneaking peeks at others’ Setswana tests to see if I had bested them (the answer being a resounding no). And then, basketball. Cue the singing angels and imagine a halo floating over the basketball’s plump and indulgent silhouette. Keep in mind, I am not particularly good at basketball. Let me put it this way, when you can remember exactly how many points you scored in your entire high school basketball tenure, you’re not very good. When the entire varsity team knows you not by your name but by your off-kilter shooting form, you’re not very good. Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox. You’re not here to hear me lament over my shooting woes. Stick to Botswana, got it.
Point is, last week when I headed down with some friends the UB basketball courts, we were met with wide open arms. Not only did they ask us to play with them, they encouraged us to keep shooting despite the consistent misses. They passed us the ball, laughed at our stupid jokes, and invited us back – an invitation we gladly accepted. Keep in mind that when I say “they,” I don’t mean just some dudes playing pickup basketball. These are guys who play for the UB team and some of the best club teams in the country. I know what you’re all thinking, and yes, I did get dunked on.
What I’m trying to say is that when a couple diminutive white kids stepped onto their court, the Batswana didn’t think twice before accepting us. This type of cordiality and kindness is not uncommon. When I first got here, fresh in my transition from Grinnell’s two block campus to UB’s sprawling grounds, I became hopelessly lost on my way to my first class. Disgruntled, sweaty, bearing a map and a look of pure chagrin, I was rescued by a Motswana girl. I didn’t even ask for help. She simply saw me, assumed I was lost, asked me where I was going, and led me all there way there. Complete and unrequited assistance to a complete stranger: that is the Botswana way.
And the list goes on. I stayed at my host mother’s house for three days and was immediately received as one of the family. I was expected to pitch in and do my chores just like everyone else. I was messed around with just like everybody else. I complained about Manchester United just like everybody else. Dorcas, my host mom, still texts me to say hello or to remind me to take my Malaria medication. We have been invited and treated as respected guests at not one but two Batswana weddings. My roommate once invited me to his church. Upon arrival, the entire congregation welcomed me, an outsider who had never before stepped foot in a church, like an old friend. One day at my internship a woman I had just met offered me a mopane worm, simply because I had never tried one. The worm itself was predictably disgusting, but hey, it’s the thought that counts.
In essence forget the temperature, forget the glitchy wifi, forget occasional smell of sewage. What am I going to remember in 20 years, the openness and warmth of my host mother, or the lack of shower curtains? The friendly and welcoming nature of basketball players and church goers alike, or a forgettable lunch menu? Once you find the chutzpah to engage people here, they will reciprocate (who are we kidding, Yiddish is simply the supperior language, so sue me). Spend time actively creating new and amazing memories instead of bemoaning past bad ones. Complaining is easy but hollow. Finding value where it’s not obvious can be hard, but will sustain a lifetime of beautiful memories. I rest my case.
All the best,