I am beginning the eighth month of my stay in Botswana. I have had a good experience so far. Arriving in southern Africa has given me a feeling of being part of something bigger than me, although I really cannot give concrete form to that concept. I have seen things that are both familiar and foreign. I have experienced a myriad of emotions, some of which conflict with each other. I have felt great joy in actually being here and sorrow as I witness the disparity between a people in their own country and foreigners – non-Batswana.
Just how old was this woman whom I had thought to be my age or older?
When I re-examined her face I could see that she bore not the wrinkles of age, in fact her face was lineless. What she bore was the experience of a life being fully lived. She is the mother of nine. Each of her nine children’s birth and rearing was the overlay of her facial ruggedness. She is a solemn woman who is not given to much laughter or many smiles.
She spoke of a son who himself had become a father. Although she lamented his immaturity and inability to care for himself, much less another human being, she spoke almost defensively about his need to not take responsibility for the child he had assisted in conceiving. I was surprised by her utterances. She was not one to speak much. I got the impression she spoke on her own terms as though it is the one thing in her life she controls fully.
Earlier I had tried to broach a conversation with her. She stopped me mid-way and said, “We will talk later. I must get back to work now.” At that point I felt as though she needed to tell me what should be done. It happened again at the end of the first day. She told me that she needed some cleaning supplies. When I asked what it was she needed, she gave me a list that duplicated the items I already had. The difference was in the name of the brands. There are certain brands that she not only prefers but, expects. I think she may be very disappointed once she sees that I also have a preference for cleaning supplies which are neither the ones currently in my home nor the brands she named. I am going to teach her to say, “Amway.”
At the end of the day she handed me a photo album of her family. This is the point where my assumptions gave me pause. It was here that I saw the faces of people I now know as her children looking back at me. She is a mother, and I know that she is also daughter, wife, and confidant. Now she is my housekeeper. She shares her life with me in bits and pieces. She has become warmer to our relationship and I suppose my American ways. We are finding our rhythm together. Perhaps one day she will tell me her story. And perhaps I will share more of my own. For now, I am content that she is happy married to the man she loves in accordance with the law and the traditions of her heritage.