Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Settling in

It’s now been a month and a week since I arrived in country. I spent a week in Gaborone with the other Fulbright scholars, and I’ve been bouncing around ever since. I am pleased to say that I’ve identified my assistant, a 28 year old woman with two kids who grew up in one of the cattleposts I’ll be working in, and who moved recently to the village I’m living in. Together with the Village Development Committee I was shown a two-room cement house, painted in bright blue and with tall, open ceilings. I accepted immediately, knowing that finding a rentable house is a challenge in a small village. My rent is a whopping 250 pula a month (25 USD) and as I agreed to rent, I noticed that an entire window pane was missing, covered instead with a flapping canvas sheet that a large human could easily fit through. I asked about fixing the window and was told that “there is no theft in Mokgacha”, and nodded my head in amazement that they were able to keep a gas bottle in a house where the front door doesn’t close. I insisted that I’d feel better with a window, and my landlady agreed that I should bring a pane from Shakawe, the nearest town across the river where you can buy things like windows, and that she would deduct the cost from my rent. Little did I know that the cost of the pane would be more than my monthly rent.

I have since spent a half a day making my house “liveable”, which included fitting a pane (which was a struggle because the pane isn’t straight) and making the front door closeable and lockable. I realized that the bright blue paint distracted me from shoddy village construction. Half of the windows are glued shut with putty and the bedroom door is rotting through. I inquired about a bathroom, and was told that I should just bathe in my house. When I further elaborated how I would go to the bathroom, my assistant just told me that there aren’t any in the village. I’ve since identified three latrines in the village, all on private compounds, but I decided that I would build a sand pit on the corner of my compound. After consulting with Wilamien, an incredible woman who works in development in Shakawe, I decided that the sand pit would be a good option, such that I would use the latrine and cover things up with sand, and by the time I leave, I could plant a tree in it’s place.

So, I hired some young men in the village to dig a hole about a meter deep. They brought over poles, cut from the trees nearby, and helped construct the frame of what I would later enclose with reeds. They discussed how to build me a seat, and I had to convince them that I would only take a squat position, so they laid some more logs across the ground, giving me a place to put my feet. The next day, my assistant, IP, and I bought reeds from my neighbor and tire threads from the local tuck shop and she taught me how to stitch the reeds together. First, you have to dig a narrow trench that helps hold the reeds in place on the bottom. Then, you grab a handful of tall reeds and attach them using a string of tire thread. I couldn’t start the stitch, but once IP got the stitch going, I took over and we worked side by side. The stitch involves wrapping the string around the reeds, under and up and over the cross branch, through the previous stitch, and secured with a fresh stitch on the new bundle of reeds. It took a few hours to finish the walls, but I was very happy to baptize my new latrine once it was completed.

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