Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Quick Rundown on Homestay in Kanye

If I were to write a blog post about staging and orientation, it would go something like this: “I woke up early on March 31st to go to Philly, was given a lot of information, got some shots, and met my group of fellow trainees. We didn’t sleep much during the two days of staging and we slept even less during the nearly 30 hours it took us to get to Botswana, and possibly even less during orientation in Gaborone. It was an exciting time for each of us and I can hardly describe the emotions of it all. We all cheered nervously when we landed in Africa and immediately leaned on each other for support. (And, yes, everyone’s baggage was delayed for a few days!)” Because that is somewhat dry, a bit vague, and (frankly) not as interesting as the life I’m leading right now during pre-service training (PST), I have decided to forego talking about those things and get down to the nitty gritty about my life in Kanye, Botswana.

Our classes consist primarily of Setswana language training, cultural awareness programs, safety and security sessions, and HIV/AIDS education. I’m learning a lot! But, honestly, the real training and adjustment is coming outside of the classroom and in the reality of living in Botswana. This is most prominent in my homestay.

What is homestay? Well, homestay is the period of time during PST where you live with a local family and become completely immersed in the language, culture, and life of a Motswana. For many of us, it is a fairly trying time because we are still getting our bearings and figuring out our place here, which complicates things. It's different than traveling or studying abroad or any other experience I have had because we are living here. The biggest, and probably the most immediately trying, difference is in the actual physical structures of our homes.

My home is located in the Mafikana ward of Kanye (wards are kind of like districts or areas within the village - in Kanye there are four). It is nice but very modest. I live in the main house on a compound with three houses. The two other houses are occupied by renters, one is a student in Kanye and the other is a man from Zimbabwe. The houses are made of concrete and, at least in my case, does not have individual ceilings on the rooms (which is fine but it also means that when someone in the house wakes up then everyone in the house is waking up because sounds and light take over the whole house). We also have an outdoor pit latrine, which is reminiscent of an outhouse that goes into a hole in the ground. Our pit latrine is very clean and I haven't minded it much. We have electricity but we do not have running water in our house. Instead, we have a water pump in the back of the property where we get water (unless the water turns off, which seems to happen during storms, as does the electricity). To warm the water, we make an outdoor fire, kind of like a camp fire, and boil the water over that. (If someone wants to send me smores stuff then I would love it because my family has never heard of such a thing and we're basically sitting around a camp fire every night!) We use this water for washing clothes by hand, for cooking, and to bathe. Since we don't have running water, we take bucket baths (which they call "bathing", like "bath"-"ing"). The Batswana bath twice a day, which I initially thought was odd (and something I would never do because I don't bath that often at home) but now I understand because it's hard to get clean bathing like that and you may as well bath again if you're fetching water to brush your teeth and wash your face anyway. Like I said, it's very modest living. We do not have television or radio in my home but I have heard from fellow trainees that those who have them always have them turned on and very very very loud! Although sometimes it would be nice to have a break and just veg out in front of the television, I am very grateful not to have it be a constant thing in my life and to have time to sit and talk with my family. (I'm learning so much from conversations with my host family so I consider myself lucky. More on this later.)

My homestay family consists of a mom, a dad, and four siblings (three brothers and one sister). My brothers are 24, 20, and 15 and my host sister is 11. My host dad works in the kgotla, where our ward's chief is. My eldest host brother lives in a nearby city where he's going to university for accounting. I have gotten very close with my 20-year-old host brother and have a blast with my other siblings. I am really lucky to have such a wonderful family. Of course it is hard learning to live with a new family, with its own ways of doing things (especially since these ways are completely different culturally), but we get along really well and are getting a lot from one another. (Including dance parties!)

Animals are EVERYWHERE and they are not penned up or confined. Literally it's donkeys and cows and chickens and goats and baboons and monkeys roaming all over the place. They say that donkeys crossing the road are one of the main causes of accidents in Botswana and I really wouldn't doubt it. Like I said, they just go where they want. I kind of like it to be honest. It's different and took some getting used to because, hey, it's weird to have to wait for donkeys to cross the street but I think it's really great. The dogs just bark and the roosters wake you up at 4:30 every morning. Kind of primitive, but mostly just amazing to see the freedom of it all.
I am constantly amazed by how much I am learning and seeing. My homestay, although it is not without challenges, is really wonderful. The people and the country of Botswana is beyond beautiful. I am so so happy to be here and, at the end of the day, feel very blessed.


  1. Love seeing that picture of you, you look so happy. Your house looks nice on the outside. I'd love to see pictures of the inside and of your host family.

    I love you...

  2. I just saw your bedroom...que cute!!! Figuring those must be your flashcards for learning the language(lower left corner of the picture)

    Love you Tij...so much!! Thanks for posting these pictures.