Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Conversations with my host brother - cultural exchange and so much more

Like I have mentioned before, my family doesn't have television or radio, which seems to be a rarity for the Bots 10 homestays. Some days I wish I could sit down and watch "Generations" (a South African soap opera) or "My Star" (Botswana's version of American Idol) and just zone out and escape for a while. But then I remember why I'm here and why we do homestays for PST - to learn about Botswana, its culture and its people, before we head out to our permanent sites. In thinking about this, I feel fortunate not to have these things because it means that I have no distractions and can just sit and talk with my host family.

My host family and I have gotten very close in the past few weeks. We talk about a lot, from the cultural differences (and similarities) between America and Botswana to what our interests are. We are constantly learning things and my family has been amazing at teaching me about the culture and traditions of Botswana, so much so that I usually already have talked to my family about topics discussed in our cross-culture sessions beforehand. This dialogue has happened most often with one of my host brothers.

This host brother and I have gotten really close because we spend so much time together. He hangs out with me and my fellow trainees on weekends and we often make dinner together during the week. Because of this, we have had the opportunity to talk about a lot of things, including a lot of things that seem to be somewhat unusual topics in Botswana.

One such conversation centered around relationships - what it's like to come of age in a very traditional Botswana, what dating is like, broken hearts, and the ominous HIV/AIDS discussion. By the end of our multi-hour conversation, we had both learned a lot about the other person's perspective. We were open, honest, and surprisingly comfortable having this discussion. What really struck me by the whole conversation, though, was that my host brother thanked me at the end of it. He clarified his "thanks" by letting me know that he has wanted to talk to someone about all these things for a very long time but that he never felt he could because societal and cultural norms say it's "taboo" to openly discuss such things. He said he was relieved to have someone in his life that he could talk to and trust and who could understand what he was talking about without having to say everything or feel awkward.

This conversation is why I came to Africa. I came to create relationships with people and have conversations like this one. I want to show people that there are other ways of doing things and that it is okay to talk to people about things like this. It is normal and acceptable and not something to be feared. It is important to face these conversations and issues in order to create change, especially when dealing with HIV/AIDS. Maybe this one conversation can change a statistic or save a life. Maybe it just changes a perspective or spurs another conversation and causes a ripple effect. I know it inspired me to remain open, honest, and willing to keep sharing.


  1. Thanks for sharing your insights! Please keep posting! :-)

  2. This is amazing Tija...for both of you. You're already changing the lives of people in Botswana, and it's just the beginning. I'm so proud of you, and so anxious to hear these stories for the next 27 months. I hope when we come to visit, we'll be able to go visit your host family, so I have the opportunity to meet these wonderful people. I love you Tija, so much. Mom....oh, so you know, I'm pulling an I love you card everyday. You're amazing.