Day 1 of the road trip to Zanzibar, I was given the name on the bus of Miss Cheryl and it has stuck throughout the trip. There have been moments when I have felt like I was part of a Sesame Street scene…..”one of these things is not like the others”. Whenever we stopped on route to our destination the one white chick along with twenty Africans sort of stood out.
Since arriving at the Oasis it wasn’t so apparent until other white guests showed up mid-week. It seems that they are more curious as to why there is one white person amidst the Batswana. I have no desire to appease their curiosity. I am simply happy to hang out with my group and participate in conversations to the extent possible. During the district plan review process the group is very good at speaking English the majority of the time. However during meal time conversations more often take place is Setswana with English words liberally thrown in.
Four months in Botswana and still no language lessons under my belt, except for some during the orientation process, I continue to be baffled by this language. Especially since I went to Tanzania and ending up being able to understand conversations there and learned to speak a smattering of Swahili within a week. My spirits were lifted when mid-week during dinner conversation it was remarked on that Miss Cheryl was able to follow along with conversations in Setswana and comment in English. Personally, I think that they are giving me way too much credit but maybe I am not as hopeless with the language as I think. We will find out once I truly start language classes.
In the mean time, Miss Cheryl has become the group mascot and although visibly I may look very different, my colleagues back in Gaborone were absolutely correct, I have not only been accepted but everyone is watching out for me. When I had breakfast in my room one morning, they were ready to send out a search party to find me; the hotel staff were given instructions to use “doom” in the rooms to protect Miss Cheryl from malaria carrying mosquitoes and no one wants me to be out walking by myself.
So it seems that yet again here in Botswana I have been welcomed with open arms by strangers and made to feel at home. Instead of feeling like a minority in a foreign land, I feel accepted and capable of integrating into environments that are so far from what I am use to. In fact, Mr. Busang, my Ministry contact remarked half way through the week that I gave the appearance that I felt completely at home both within the conference room and outside. I have to admit that I feel lucky that I am working with the group that I am. The review of the plans could be incredibly gruelling work but instead we tackle it as a team, each taking a turn leading the discussions, providing input, feedback and always achieving a consensus. The team work is fantastic and it is liberally sprinkled with laughter and storytelling that provides me with a wealth of education on HIV/AIDS, Botswana culture, life styles and sense of humour. All in all, I think that Miss Cheryl lucked out again!