WARNING! The following is pretty rambly and interlocks several different things. It all makes since in my head so here’s hoping you can follow my train of thought.
So this is the second idea for a blog post I had on Sunday. The first was about riding combos (taking 3 of them in one day really inspired me). This one came to me when I was sitting in the back of a truck on the way home from Letlhakeng. I was coming home from celebrating our 1 year in Gabs with my fellow Bots 11s when I realized exactly how tired I was. I mean I had noticed it for a while, but that was when it really hit me. And not tired in my normal way. Sure, I was up later than normal the last two nights, but this tiredness was not physical.
It took me awhile, but I finally figured it out. All of my interacting with people was just leaving me utterly drained. I can honestly say that I am currently more drained than I have ever been in my life. And it wasn’t even the people themselves, it is just that I am not used to it to this degree. I have always been used to being tired. There was one point in college that I was working 40 hours a week on-campus, an extra 20-25 off-campus, interning at the YMCA and still taking a full course load. So I am used to being busy and tired, but this is different.
When I was growing up I was never that outgoing. I mean I only talk to 2 people from my high school anymore. And I don’t think anyone from my grade school. So when I went to college I really made a conscious effort to try and be more approachable and outgoing. And I think I did an ok job at it. But here, relationships are much more difficult for me. And I am going to break this down into two reasons why I think so.
First is just based on how much of my time relationships/relationship building dominates. In the US you can go through most of your day without having to probe too deeply into another person’s life. At work you can get by with pleasantries and small talk. Maybe more than that if you are friends with people from your work. Here, I cannot get through a work related conversation without at least 10 minutes of home/personal life problems. A short meeting yesterday for example to talk about a workshop I am planning ended up leading into talks about a relative who may or may not have murdered their boyfriend in South Africa. And while I have no problem lending a sympathetic ear, the sheer volume of these instances is just exhausting. And since work is based on relationships, every time I talk to one teacher I get to hear them go on a rant about whatever other teacher they are accusing for the day of being lazy/not doing their job.
Later in the day, when all I really want is some alone time, it is seen as culturally abnormal to not socialize, go have tea and so on. Most days I still just go home, but for a while it led to people asking if I was feeling alright. Luckily, at least my work mates, all figured out that I like to read a lot and that I need alone time to do that.
Even when I am away from home (or simply in transit one way or the other) you cannot avoid people. Even if I am reading on the combi people will still talk to me. Walking down the street you greet everyone (and some of them get really chatty building up the nerve to ask for money). It is hard to write all of this without sounding like I hate people. Really, I don’t. But the culture here is just so different from America in regards to interpersonal communication. I miss the luxury of being anonymous. It is tiring having to be “on” 24/7.
You would think it would be better with other Americans (aka my fellow PCVs), but actually it isn’t. Seeing them every weekend (while very nice) is still exhausting. Usually because of the large group numbers. I never did well with large groups of people to begin with, so when I am seeing 27 others at once it is a bit much. Also, having my weekends planned so far out (as in till mid-November) also means that I am sacrificing valuable alone/recharge time. I really do enjoy seeing my friends here, and haven’t cancelled on any plans, but always at the end I am inevitably tired. I cannot even image how those who live in bigger areas and always seem to have people running in and out of their houses manage it.
My second problem is that while relationships and talking to people seem to be very important, it almost always seems highly superficial to me. Part of the blame for that I lay at the feet of others, and part at my own. The superficial conversations on the part of other people generally fall into 2 categories: people who are fishing for answers or people who are hypocritical.
The people fishing for answers always want to hear exactly what is already in their heads. Two big fishing questions are “How do you like/find Botswana?” and “What is America like?” In response to the first question they never, ever want to hear anything bad about Botswana. So while I may be having a bad day and thinking things like “the people are always asking for handouts” (that usually happens to me in Moleps, not really ever at home) or “everyone is just trying to marry an American” I never say these. Or rather I shouldn’t say these (I think I might have once or twice). Even on good days I still want to say things like “Well, Botswana could do with a little less protocol.” But the thing is, no matter what I think negatively about Botswana, most people don’t care. They just want to hear “oh Botswana is very nice, the people are very friendly” and so on. All they are looking for is an affirmation of their culture. Or in regards to American culture, they never believe me when I say there are homeless people. They want to hear about how all Americans are rich. And ask which celebrities I know. And when I know that going into the conversation then I immediately lose interest in talking to them and it becomes a chore.
Then there are the hypocrites. And boy do these people piss me off. Generally this breaks down into three different categories: religious, dating and work. People start and end every meeting with prayer. They talk about how important religion is. Most of them go to church every Sunday. But then these are the same people who are having multiple partners at once or talk about how sex is a way to prove love. Say what now? There are some people who I have never seen go to church. And since my house is on the only church compound in the village I should know if they go. Yet these same people (and even on Sunday when I am walking by their house) ask why I don’t go to church since I “should be there.” But when I ask them why they don’t go, they get offended. This is the only one of the three hypocrisies that has gotten better with time. Very few people ever ask me about it anymore, and respect that I do not attend church.
There is one that has not gotten better; in fact it happens every day. This would be work related grievances. Right now I probably know enough information to destroy 80% of the working relationships at my school. Everyone here loves to talk about everyone else behind their backs. “Ah, Ms…… is never in her class. Mr…… is a very lazy person. He never does any work.” And so on and so forth. From nearly every one. And the best part is, while they are complaining to me about these things is almost always during class time when they are leaving their own classes unattended. The problem is that in Botswana confrontation does not happen usually. So instead people talk about each other secretively and nothing changes. I swear that a little confrontation in this culture would go a long way. And I can honestly say I am not the only one who realizes this work behavior is a problem. One of the other teachers (one of my favorites and the only one I have not seen engage in this behavior) talked to me about this problem the other day.
Dating. First of all, did you know that white people and black people can’t pace a relationship in the same way? That is what one of the male teachers at my school told me. Several of us were having a conversation one night at the police chief’s house (we walked her home after a funeral) when the topic of dating came up. The male nurse and male teacher talked about how you need to have sex to prove you are in a relationship with that person and love them. If you are waiting it must mean you have another guy on the side. The two female teachers were countering that it may just mean that the woman is not that experienced and wants to take things slow. I sided with the female teachers and put in my two cents. Well that was when I was told that yes that works for white men but it isn’t the same for black men. He said it was a cultural difference between Botswana and America. This is ridiculous since I took the side of two Batswana women in this discussion. The other issue I have with dating is people trying to hook me up all the time. So many Batswana tell me I need to find a Batswana woman to marry. Often times this is also right after they talk about how much they want to find an American woman to marry. So I ask them, “If the Batswana women are so amazing that I must marry one, why are you trying to find an American instead?” Usually I don’t get an answer to this. The truth is they think all Americans are rich, and want to marry one to get money. Sorry to sound cynical and jaded, but this has happened to me so many times. Seriously, these conversations happen about once a week at least.
I wanted to end with dating because it is a nice lead in to how I have also been a culprit in these exhausting, superficial conversations. My problem has been that I am constantly holding back, and am always afraid to get close to people. And that is because I am always on my guard. And a lot of that has to do with people’s curiosity about dating. It is funny, you never really tell your parents if you are dating in this country, but it is such a popular topic otherwise. And that means that I always am worrying about how the conversation will turn. I am always making sure that I am ready to lie at a moment’s notice (and that my lies are consistent). And when I have a conversation where I am constantly thinking about holding back some things, it leads to me closing myself off more, losing interest in the conversation/relationship and finally just more exhaustion.
The thing is if this was the biggest factor to my mood in Botswana, I could always just leave. But, despite how exhausted I am I am still enjoying the work I am doing. This is an amazing experience to begin with, and I love my job on top of it. Sure there any tons of stressors, but working with kids at the school has just been amazing. The PACT club is going well. We actually finally just started the garden. And I have a few teachers that are actively joining in to do sport and game activities with the kids. Then there are still the kids I am teaching to type as well. So all in all I am still glad I am here, just some moments are a lot more trying than others.
Now I don’t know if I needed to go into all of that long winded explanation on everything, but I wanted to at least let people understand why I say I am exhausted by people. It is really a large culmination of factors, and in no way represents that I hate people. I do like seeing you all, but just know that if I seem a bit short tempered (which did happen a couple times during and leading up to our one year party) it isn’t anything against you and I just need some time alone for a few. Sorry about the snapping at some of you. Also, it helped me to write it all down to understand it better since this kind of tiredness is new to me.