As with any organization, Peace Corps has stereotypes about certain regions and countries.
is not an exception, and has been dubbed by some as the “Posh Corps.” I can imagine some of you back home agreeing with this (though you’d never speak it aloud), thinking, well, she does have electricity, not to mention internet. Also, a large majority of the population speaks English, so she can communicate more easily. Didn’t one of her entries mention that she can buy western clothes and high heels? I thought Peace Corps was supposed to put her in a mud hut where she would sit under a mango tree and teach kids English! Botswana
- Elegant; fashionable.
- Typical of or intended for the upper classes; highfalutin.
First use: 1918.
When I think of “elegant,” I think Grace Kelly. I think little black dresses and pearls. I think Baryshnikov and the Louvre and Carnegie Hall. Gatsby, red wine and pasta, cruise liners, Steinway grand pianos.
I don’t tend to think about bucket bathing. Or squeezing four people into three seats on the combi. Or summers without deodorant, squatting to wash dishes in a tub on the floor, or a permanent coating of red dust on my skin. Also not entering my thoughts: scrubbing my clothes by hand until my knuckles bleed (and subsequently hanging my “personals” on a clothesline for all to see), sitting on the floor to eat dinner since I don’t have a real table, considering hitch-hiking the most reliable method of transportation, or going anywhere from two hours to two weeks at a time without any water available (I’ve since learned to always keep huge containers full of water, just in case).
This isn’t a list of complaints – these are by far the most minor challenges I’ve encountered thus far, and if it’s not an absolute joy to do my laundry, it’s not terrible either. The actual lifestyle here is very manageable, but it’s certainly not “elegant.”
The situation in
concerning HIV is not what I might call “fashionable.” Beside the fact that action is being taken to attempt to remedy the epidemic, there’s nothing concerning HIV that any person or country would want to imitate. Mothers who are fully aware of their HIV positive status continue to have unprotected sex and have further pregnancies, putting their unborn babies at risk. Teenage girls fall into this category, and they are expelled from school if they become pregnant, even if it is due to rape or incest. People are not taught how to use condoms, so the widespread condom use is ineffectual and the disease continues to be spread. Alcoholism and unemployment are running as rampant as HIV itself, compounding upon the problem. Furthermore, now that the government and other organizations have taken such a public campaign for prevention, Batswana (the younger generation in particular) are completely burnt out on the topic. I don’t wish to speak poorly of the Batswana, I merely want to give an outline of the challenges they are facing. Peace Corps volunteers’ overarching goal in Botswana is to find a new way to inspire behavior change. And if there was a formula for that, well, we’d have world peace. Botswana
If we’re going to say that
is Posh Corps, and thus upper class, let’s take a look at the economy. At first glance, the national average income of 12,860 (Purchasing Power Parity, international dollars) ranks Botswana as a middle-income country. However, according to a UNDP report, the richest 10% of Botswana owns 57% of the country’s wealth. Looking closer at Botswana ’s main resource, cattle, shows that the wealthiest 2.5% of farmers owns 40% of all cattle (Source). Thus, it is obvious that there is a disparity between classes. While this difference may be greater in other nations in the world, the realities in Botswana should not be downplayed. Being statistically classified as a middle-income country should not lead to assumptions that the wealth is equally distributed. Social classes must be examined in order to get an accurate depiction of the situation. And frankly, I can’t imagine anyone coming to Lentsweletau and declaring it “upper class.” Botswana
Neither “pretentious” nor “pompous” (synonyms for “highfalutin”) describe the Batswana. Now, getting to know and understand
’s social norms is what I have struggled with the most. This is not an easy culture to understand. All cultures are like icebergs, but I feel Botswana is even more so than most. It’s like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic: the tip above water could barely be seen, but underneath lurked an unimaginably large mass. There is so much that goes unseen and unspoken about here – topics ranging from HIV and sex to mourning and familial relations. I’ve lived here for four and a half months now, and I’m still discovering nuances and learning new aspects of the culture on a daily basis. As Americans, we live in a low-context culture, and it’s hard to imagine what it would be like to live in a place where things aren’t so obvious. It’s impossible to explain; it’s something you just have to experience. So please take my word for it: the Batswana may be difficult to read at times or may seem unexpressive (to Americans), but they are far from pompous or pretentious. Botswana
Alright, yes, I have internet. I have a cell phone. The majority of Batswana I see on a daily basis know at least some English. I have electricity and when I turn on my faucet, water comes out (…usually). When I needed a sweater, I hopped on a bus to the capital and bought a plain black V-neck. But in the end, it doesn’t matter which amenities I have. I’m still completely alone in a foreign country with only a basic understanding of the language and culture. Some nights I’m so homesick I stare at the ceiling wondering how I’ll make it through the week. When I feel lost, I don’t even always know how to ask for help, and I certainly don’t have the vocabulary to express how I’m feeling, or what I’m experiencing.
So go ahead, call it Posh Corps. Call
“the Country Club of Botswana Africa.” But just as calling me Lorato doesn’t change me from actually being Tess, calling a country club doesn’t change any of the real, pressing issues it faces each day. Regardless of what others may think, I’m determined to find a way to truly become a part of my community, fully grasp the culture, and maybe even try to make a difference at some point. And I may hit a few bogeys on the way, but hey, that’s life on the green. Botswana
These people are amazing. It’s so emotional I was thinking about wearing waterproof mascara. –
“Posh Spice” Beckham Victoria