Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Dedicated but not Limited to - "All the Single Ladies"
If you so choose, please take a moment and play this song in the background: Beyonce - Single Ladies.
Yet another cultural phenomenon to which I have to get used to here in Bots is the utter shamelessness of the men here. In all honesty, I don't think I'll ever get used to it. We were briefed on this aspect of Botswana culture prior to leaving Canada and again, in a bit more detail, upon arriving in Gabs. We were basically told that it would be common to receive marriage proposals daily, that personal space did not really exist in Botswana, that the men here cast a very wide 'net' in terms of picking up women, and that MCPs (Multiple Concurrent Partners) are the norm. Now I have not personally been proposed to per say. I was told by a man that if he was Canadian he would definitely marry me so perhaps that counts. One of my roommates has, however, already been asked if she wants a Motswana (person from Botswana) husband. Tempting...but NO!
We walk down the streets here and get stared at. Mercilessly. The men holler, whistle, walk up to us and engage in conversation, greet us with lines like, "Hi Gorgeous" or "Good Afternoon, Beautiful". In fact, in the grocery store yesterday, I had a Motswana man say "Hello, How's it?" (the same as saying 'how are you') and after I said "Hello" and "Fine" back in my usual cheerful demeanor, I continued on my way only to hear, "You look very nice. Maybe I can help you with your shopping?" At that point, I just ignored him (I was already at the other end of the aisle), shook my head, and purchased my lunch. Things like that happen everyday, everywhere, pretty much every single time we go anywhere in public. It's harmless, but gets quite annoying.
You see, one of the major issues in many parts of Africa is the fact that white people are often stigmatised as being 'stuck up' or even worse, 'racist'. With that said, we hardly ever completely ignore people who try to talk to us. That would just be rude and we'd be playing right into the stigma. There is a very fine line, however, between acknowledging and being nice to the men when situations such as the ones above arise, and being too nice and therefore encouraging them (not that they need any encouragement to persist).
On that note, enter into this blog, our first party at the WUSC House. We met a load of people, but one person in particular will stand out in my mind for at least a short while. Sadly, I don't have a photo, but let the story of China (a typical Motswana man) begin. I really have no clue whether that is really his name or not, but that's what he told everyone. My experience with China began with a normal introduction (I'll show you the typical handshake when greeting young people some time) and then a secret. He proceeds to whisper in my ear, "You're very beautiful." My response, because I'm me, "That's not a secret!" And we laugh - he he ha ha. The night goes on and I agree to dance with China at which point the conversation goes pretty much as I expected.
C: You seem insecure.
B: No, I just have a serious boyfriend at home in Canada.
C: Well, let me tell you something. I have a girlfriend in South Africa. They are both so far away so what does it matter?
B: (at this point, I think to myself, 'typical') It does matter to me.
C: Ok, then I don't want to kiss you or make love to you, I just want to dance and maybe show you around the city.
B: Ok, we can dance.
C: Do you know why I really like you?
C: Because you smell good.
B: (again, I think to myself, 'uh huh - nice line') Well, thanks.
C: You know what else?
C: I really like girls with glasses. I think they are smarter.
B: Well, I am pretty smart.
C: Smarter than me?
Of course, that isn't word-for-word, but you get the jist. I managed to avoid China for almost the rest of the evening. At one point I was talking to another guy, Soldier (likely another made up name) and China got a little jealous. He walked away mid-conversation and so I continued talking to Soldier. A little while later, I decided to get jiggy wit' it yet again and started bustin' a move with Soldier. It didn't take long and there was China, jealous as could be. I managed to use the good ol' bathroom break excuse (I did actually have to go though) and, in turn, avoid all men for the rest of the night. Success!
The best part about this whole situation is that China gave pretty much the same spiel to one of my roommates. He mentioned to her how he had never kissed a white girl before to which she responded something along the lines of, "That's nice, but your first isn't going to be with me." I guess it's alright for him to schmooze numerous girls throughout the evening, but it's an entirely different story if the girls he has his eye on talk to numerous guys. Apparently the double standard exists here in Bots too.
Another roomy of mine had an even more interesting night than I did. First she was asked to be in a lesbian relationship which was actually kind of heart-wrenching because homosexual acts are illegal in Botswana and punishable with jail sentences. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for that woman here. But let's keep this blog cheerful and continue with the night's festivities. She was also deemed to be a young man's soul mate throughout the night. He really would not give up and every time he managed to find her, he just kept at it. Talk about persistence. In his defense, she does look like an angel with her flowing blonde hair.
With all of that said, "ladies, ladies, ladies" (imagine that in kind of a sing-songy sleezy male voice), you could have a lot, and I mean A LOT, of 'fun' here if you really wanted to. On the other hand if you are naive and think these men are only whispering in your ear, you'd be setting yourself up for some serious heartbreak. If you're lucky, he'll be like China and divulge the fact that he has a girlfriend, but chances are that information will be the real secret he should be telling you. Relationships just aren't the same here in Bots...not the same at all!