Service Learning in South Africa

It Never Rains in Botswana…

...or so they say--until Belmont students arrive. Yesterday morning, after nothing but sunshine and heat waves for a few days, it decided to start raining on us. Our first stop of the day was the Three Kings monument, which briefly covered some of the very first settlers and history here in Botswana. Upon our arrival, there was another group of local Botswana students who out of nowhere came up to us and wanted to slap high fives and then take pictures with us. I think we were all a little confused and overwhelmed by the sudden “attack,” so we just went with the flow and embraced the whole situation. All in all, it was fun and strange all at the same time.
Our next stop was Oodi Weavers, where there were lots of beautiful handcrafted rugs, wall designs, draperies, and bedspreads made from merino wool on traditional looms. Some of the pictures and themes within these rugs were extraordinary, especially considering the fact that each element of these works has to be handcrafted by sections using the right colors in the right place, all while weaving from the backside of the work--it is definitely an art that takes some patience, practice and natural skill. Our tour guide informed us that most pieces that had pictures or themes on them took about a month total to create, so clearly with such a large time investment involved, the artists depend on patrons who appreciate their hard work to help support them and their families.
As the day continued and we headed on to our next destination: the Phudthadikobo Tribal Museum--but we stumbled upon a real life tribal meeting taking place. The tribe was the Mochudi Tribe and many were dressed in their ritual/tribal gear consisting of animals that the tribesmen had killed themselves, including lamb skins, leopard skins, lion skins, etc. It was pretty incredible to see an actual tribal meeting. The turnout of people was pretty amazing in itself, and it was fascinating to see that this way of life still works for many people. We were informed by our guide that a member of the Chief's regiment was allowing us a safe passage to the museum, but that we would have to be quiet and go on an alternate route because in their culture you must first be welcomed and accepted by the tribe before you are allowed to sit in on one of their meetings. Thus, we walked around the perimeter to ensure that we could not hear or interrupt anything that was taking place in their meetings. Our guide explained to us that we would have to listen to what the regiment member said because if we were to interrupt or disobey any tribal laws, we could potentially be flogged or beaten for our defiance. So once making it through the alternate route, we were on our way to the museum which sat on the top of the hill and was filled with many ancient artifacts and historical memorabilia donated by several locals and surrounding townspeople. The museum was not only very informative, but fascinating with all of the wonderful pieces of artwork, culture, pictures and early equipment that it held.
From what I have observed so far, it appears that Botswana is still in a struggle to improve the lives of its citizens and figure out where they want to be as a society. I have to admit though that I’m still not quite sure what I think of Botswana or the people and culture, so I don’t think I can finish this blog with a final thought as to where I stand yet. As a Westerner I think it’s easy for me to point my finger and say a particular custom is wrong or crazy, but in reality, who am I to say that our way is the right way just because it’s what we’re used to? I guess I will have to give it some more time to sink in before I decide what to think of our journey here in Botswana.

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