Identity crisis

Recently I have had experiences that have made me not only laugh, but to seriously consider who “Cheryl” really is.

When you take a journey like mine, you do so because you not only love the sense of adventure that moving to a new country and cultures brings; but also how you will grow and evolve in response to it.

August marks my 11th month of my  migration from Canada to living in Botswana and the Southern Africa region. It is amazing how time has flown by. I like to think that it has because I have adapted to my new life rather easily yet every day brings some new adventure, either large or small. And I rush head long into each and every one of them with far more enthusiasm than most people who I know. While I am always a willing participant in my adventures, I sometimes feel very sorry for those who have chosen to befriend me or sometimes are just unfortunate enough to be within my vicinity.

I am truly blessed because I have made such amazing friends here. In fact, not to gloat but I seem to have as my best friend Noelle puts it ” a horseshoe up my arse” at times. Throughout my life and nomadic tendencies to move frequently, I have always been able to establish wonderful friendships and support systems no matter where I end up. Here in Botswana has been no different. I have the most amazing network of friends that a person could possible want. What I give them in return seems to be a constant source of amusement. 

Sheila & I
Sheila & I during a dance date

A couple of weeks ago one of my dearest friends here, Sheila actually had the misfortune of riding in a combi with me. It might seem funny that we haven’t crossed this friendship mile stone before but with the amazing services of Buche and Tshepo who fearlessly deliver us to almost all of our social engagements we have never traveled any where together via combi. While a combi is ideal mode of transportation during the day time and when you are taking a fairly direct route, it is far safer and easier for us to travel by taxi when going out in the evenings.

Yet a couple of weeks ago we were unexpectedly together late afternoon and needing to get the bus rank…my favorite insane place in Gabs. So into a combi we got. Luckily it wasn’t jammed packed as yet and we were able to sit together on the very rear seat. For me it was nice for a change to have the company of someone I like sitting next to so I was happy to sit and chat during the journey. Not experiencing anything unusual I proceeded as normal…..forgetting that what is my normal is not necessarily Sheila’s.

As a bubbly friendly white woman living in a country where she is definitely a minority, I simply am so use to being stared at, laughed at or with & occasionally (okay not so occasionally) harassed that I no longer notice. While Sheila has experienced some of the unsolicited attention that I receive it has usually been in an evening setting where male attention to females is expected. What she had never really experienced is how I interact with the populous of Botswana on a daily level. It seems that it was an eye opening experience for her. Having people stare and listen to every word you speak was a new experience for her.

Upon exiting the combi at the bus rank we moved through the swirling throng of movement that is the bus rank in pursuit of our destination. While we were walking side by side, I was the continual object of considerable attention…some pleasant, some not. I simply did what I always do, take it in stride literally with mostly a smile on my face. But a defining moment came when a guy kept calling out “English” to me and once he had my attention asked me where I was going? I just smiled and kept walking.

Sheila, on the other hand, put her hand on my arm, stopped me and said (I quote) “I forget that you are white!” However the experience of riding in a combi with me and then walking through the crowd finally brought home the fact that yes, we are very different. I am happy to say that this experience didn’t jeopardize our friendship but in fact made it stronger. She now understands that being in my shoes takes lots of patience and good humor at times to navigate in the real life world of Gabs and Africa in general. A fact that I rarely think about.

To be honest with you, I am surprised that she is willing to continue to accompany me places! That is true friendship. But it was a good reminder for me that although I feel like I fit in very well here, I am truly different from just about everyone that I encounter. While you can learn new cultures and perspectives, race you can never change and because of that you will always be perceived by most according to your visible race which you wear on your skin. Only when you are truly lucky will you find people who see not your skin color but who you truly are.

As I explained to Sheila during our discussion later on that day about our experience, I came to Africa partly so that I was in the social position of being a minority in a race and culture completely different from my own. Living in Canada where multiculturalism is synonymous with saying you are a Canadian, it is important for me to never forget that there are many people throughout the world who have limited access to resources, livelihood and many other things based simply on their race. I never want to take that for granted, nor practice a prejudicial attitude that inflicts it on anyone else.

 

11 months into my experience I can happily say that I truly have experienced acceptance for who I am almost everywhere that I have ventured. Yet, I have learned incredibly valuable lessons about social, cultural and race issues that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Oddly enough my worst experiences here in Gabs have been with fellow Canadians.

And oh, by the way, my friend Sheila can’t wait to travel an even greater distance on public transportation with me….it seems she enjoys the challenges and hilarity that travelling with me always seems to bring.

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Lawrence’s Birthday Party!

Let the celebrations begin!
Let the celebrations begin!

Once the majority of the invited guests had arrived, Chenai called Richard to get him to bring the birthday boy home. Let’s just say that he was utterly speechless when they drove up! Loved it!

I had the pleasure of dragging him out of the car…I didn’t even give him a chance to put his sandals on. The first order of the day was blowing the candles out on his birthday cake and then the festivities were in full swing with plenty of food, music, a wicked birthday punch that turned everyone’s tongue red and lots of dancing.

Is is not hard to tell who has been drinking the punch?
Is is not hard to tell who has been drinking the punch?

One thing that I can say is that boys from Zimbabwe certainly get silly when it is party time…..

All in all it was a memorable afternoon and evening and a birthday that Lawrence will never forget

Ready to dance....
Ready to dance….
it was tough keeping the secret
time to relax after keeping the secret
a very happy birthday boy & me
a very happy birthday boy & me
How many men does it take to light a braai??????
How many men does it take to light a braai??????
let the dancing begin....
let the dancing begin….
who is the dancing queen??? Sheila of course
who is the dancing queen??? Sheila of course
don't worry, I did my share of dancing too....
don’t worry, I did my share of dancing too….

But the dance off got really serious….

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even the birthday boy had to strut his stuff
even the birthday boy had to strut his stuff

But not everyone was dancing all of the time

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Good night from Mochudi!!!
Good night from Mochudi!!!

 

Can you keep a secret?

The last two weeks have definitely been a challenge for me but even more so for my friend Chenai. The reason why? Secret preparations for a certain Zimbabwean boy’s 32nd birthday.

Saturday was Lawrence’s birthday and for the past couple of weeks, Chenai, Richard and I have been scheming, plotting, running around and organizing a surprise birthday party. Keeping it all a secret from the guest of honor, who is notorious for being suspicious. Keeping his nose out of his car’s trunk when it was full of groceries and supplies for his surprise party was no easy task. Explaining why Chenai and I needed to spend time together with out him even more

Talk about difficult! At least I didn’t have to live with him like Chenai does. Unfortunately, Mr. Cranky Pants did give her a hard time during the past week which caused me to have to give him a serious lecture on his birthday once we had surprised him. But in the end it was all worth while to organize a very special birthday celebration for someone who deserved it and has never even had a birthday cake before, let alone a party.

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Lawrence and Chenai cutting the birthday cake
Lawrence and Chenai cutting the birthday cake

The secret was almost out several times during the week leading up to the big event. But somehow he didn’t clue in until Saturday morning that something was afoot. And the fault for that lies with no one else but me!

It turns out that a white chick getting off of a bus in Mochudi and walking along the main road stands out just a little…who would have figured?

Mochudi
Mochudi

And it was just my luck that as I was walking along the road after exiting the bus from Gaborone that a certain someone drove right by me! Talk about small communities! I really need to learn how to disguise myself better. Even when I wear African clothing, I still am like the Sesame Street song “One of things just doesn’t belong here”. I should have realized that it would be more difficult to sneak into Mochudi than I thought.

Richard had been given the difficult task of whisking the birthday boy away from his house so that Chenai, Sheila and I could prepare the salads, decorate and prepare for the surprise party. I still don’t know the full story that he and Chenai spun about why I was seen walking down the Mochudi road. And Lawrence confessed later in the day that he knew then that we are doing something for his birthday, he just didn’t know that it was a whole big party with as many of his friends there that we could round up. 

So while Richard kept the birthday boy away from the house, we started with the preparations and decorating.

Women's work is never done!
Women’s work is never done!

I was in charge of the decorating so once the salads were prepared it was to time to blow up balloons and make sure the house looked festive.

Dressed and ready for the party!
Dressed and ready for the party!

Now all we needed were for the guests to arrive so Richard could finally bring the birthday boy home…….