14 April 2011

Setswana is the Opposite of a Thesaurus

Today for my English club I decided to make a version of the Memory game using pairs of words translated from English to Setswana.  So, the students would put all the cards face down and take turns turning over pairs, trying to make a match of an English word and its Setswana counterpart.

To prepare, I made a list of English words and my fellow YES Club teacher, Charity, translated them into Setswana.  I tried to fill the list with somewhat challenging, but still relatively common words.  Examples: bored, love, to explain, to believe, to laugh, important, possible, dangerous.

Charity brought the list back to me and we started to write words on the cards.  She stopped me, rhetorically asking, “How do you say I’m sad?  Hmm.  You just have to say that you are not happy.”  Rolling my eyes at a language that doesn’t have a word for “sad,” I continued to work.

She stopped me again.  “Sad and depressed, are they the same thing?”  I saw that in her translation she had written down the same Setswana word for both.

Two minutes later: “Focused and determined, they are the same.”

Two minutes later: “Annoyed and embarrassed and upset, are they all the same?”

My answer every time: “In English they aren’t.”  Her response every time: “Ah, but in Setswana…”

Examples of other words that are exactly the same:
  • To like and to love
  • To stand and to wait
  • To stay and to sit
  • To demonstrate and to point
  • To rescue and to help
  • Work and responsibility
  • To remember and memory
  • Custom and culture
  • To like, to want, to prefer, and to need

Lesson learned?  The Setswana language is exactly the opposite of a thesaurus.

12 April 2011

One Year

A deliriously blue Botswana sky through the limbs of a baobab tree

Today marks my first year of living in Botswana.  It’s hard to believe how much has changed since my first jet-lagged steps at Gaborone Airport.  I’ve learned a new culture, a new language, a new way of life, and most importantly, a whole new side of myself.

I’ve learned how much I have to be thankful for.  I’ve learned that there is more than one way to give thanks, to love, and to mourn.  I’ve learned that happiness can be found in a compliment, a golden sunset, or the laugh of a child.  I’ve learned I can survive more homesick nights than I could have ever imagined.  I’ve learned that eating nothing but grapes for dinner is not only totally acceptable but also delicious.  I’ve learned that spending time alone, rather than bringing loneliness, brings peace within and clarifies my thoughts.  I’ve learned that it is possible to eat for three days off of one cabbage and two onions.  I’ve relearned that reading is my favorite pastime.  I’ve learned that for all my complaints about globalization, the internet is really f-ing awesome.  I’ve learned that without my parents being a phone call away to consult, I can still handle problems in my life with (relative) grace and tact. 

I’ve learned what it feels like to be an outsider – but I have also learned what it feels like to be welcomed wholeheartedly into a family that is not your own.

Today at work, the vice-principal asked how long I would be with them.  I replied, “Until June of next year.  You are stuck with me until then!”

He thoughtfully answered, “If you say you are ‘stuck’ that means you are not happy.  That is not true.  We always like when you are around.  When you are not here, we do not feel good.”

An hour later, walking home with the cleaning lady Tswelelo, she gave me two ears of corn, or midi.  I protested that I didn’t want to take her food, but she insisted, saying, “Take.  I want you to know traditional foods.”

I’ve learned that nothing brings me greater pleasure than when someone from my village calls me tsala ya me, my friend.

Happy one year to all my fellow volunteers.

08 April 2011

I realize more each day how lucky I am to be an American, and to have grown up so comfortable, surrounded by family and friends who love and care about me.

I miss that life that I loved.

[Thank you to Rusty, Sarah, and the Dristles for the recent care packages.  Each one brightened my day, and your generosity is more appreciated than I could ever say in words.]