Today, while eating dikgobe in the kitchen with the NGO's cooks, one of them asked me if I was happy. I responded in the affirmative, citing the fact that I was among charming people, eating one of my favorite dishes, and that great things have abound as of late. I then inquired as to why she asked. She responded that I have lost some weight and it has caused her to worry that it might mean I am no longer happy in Gabane. (Insert a confused look then a chuckle from me.) I explained to her that my happiness and my weight are not connected (thank goodness) and that I am exceedingly happy and, at the same time, trying to get myself back in shape. (Insert a bemused look from her.)
Now let me explain: In Botswana, they believe that the heavier you are, the happier you are. They expect people to gain significant weight when great things happen in their lives, like a marriage or a promotion. It is a good thing. Batswana have often commented on my rise to pudginess as a positive thing and would clamor about how beautiful I had become while living here. (Oh Kamogelo, you are getting fat! You are so happy and beautiful! You love Botswana! and then they would smile and cheer.)
Being raised in America, however, I have thought the opposite (that is, when I think about weight at all - Having only one mirror in my house and having that mirror be only big enough to see my face has really eliminated my concern over appearance.) I was raised in a culture where slim and slendor is desirable. I have turned up my nose at this sentiment throughout my life because I feel like you only live once so you should have that mac and cheese if it makes you smile. I think there's probably a better compromise between the American view, my own, and that of the Batswana.
All of this being said, I recently started a physical fitness routine (because that is what it is for - fitness). I hadn't personally noticed much change in my physique but apparently the cooks at the NGO have! This was something that I had to explain to them - the separation of weight and happiness. They seemed to understand, but with trepidation, and only after I hugged them and danced around with the kids and showed them how genuinely happy I am. I have a feeling that there will be another teaching moment in this when I get back to America...