While I spent the majority of my study abroad experience living in the dormitories at University of Botswana, which is located in the capital city of Gaborone (pronounced Chhaw-bo-ro-nee, or “Gabs” affectionately) I did a stint living with a host family in a small village called Mochudi. Mochudi is a dusty little village about an hour and half outside of Gabs. It is full of small square shaped homes, miscellaneous dogs, children running higgledy-piggledy, and red dust. The community seems fairly tight, which little neighborhood factions like you would find anywhere else. Amenities vary greatly as some of my fellow American students were placed with families who had only an outhouse for their restroom facilities, while my own host family had a whole separate building that housed not only a working toilet, but a sink and a jacuzzi tub that featured HOT running water. It was lit by a candle after the sun went down, so inevitably any bath was very atmospheric.
My family boasted a main house, a small house out back where “Mom” and I slept, and the bathroom building. The whole area, yard included, was fenced in. Also, treasure upon treasure, they had several dogs and PUPPIES. Needless to say, I spent most of my stay with the dogs. My family was a little unusual in that they not only named at least one of the dogs, but they fed them all table scraps. It’s not that people on Bots don’t care about animals, it’s just that there is not the cultural phenomenon of having pets dogs like there is in the US or other Western countries.
All in all my family was pretty fantastic. My “sister” quickly figured out what my favorite foods were and made a point of preparing them. She also included me in the preparation and clean up, which meant I was really a part of the family. I remember the football sized dumplings she prepared and soaked in gravy and vegetables. My “mom” made a trifle of epic proportions. This was a dessert I loved so much that she prepared it specially for me a few months later when I brought my real mom to visit.
Our house was in a quiet part of town. One weekend my family took me to a funeral for some prominent member of the community. It was a hot and sunny affair and since everyone was speaking Setswana I was mostly left out of the happenings. What I do remember is trying to help the other unmarried women prepare “phapata”, which is a delicious type of bread that is dense and rich. They snickered a little at my attempts to mold the dough, but ultimately let me participate. Another thing that sticks out in my mind is the butchering of the cow. Understand that I was before- and am now- a vegetarian. Being a vegetarian in Bots is nigh on impossible. I saw the cow (already deceased) being separated from the skin, which was hosed and rolled up and left out. Portions of the cow where hauled over to the largest tree and hung to…dry? Season? I am not sure. Cattle are extremely important to the folks in Bots. Your wealth is in your cattle. Your worth too. Cattle are treated well and with respect. This was an important mark of respect for the deceased person the funeral was being held for (still not sure who it was).
All in all, after comparing notes with other students in my program, I think I lucked out. My family was kind, generous, and extremely welcoming. I had my own bed and jacuzzi bath to boot. The commute to school was long, but doable. I am left with a jumble of memories regarding puppies, trifle, and new “siblings”. I liked them so much I visited twice and brought people with me.
That folks, is a summary of small town life in Mochdudi, Botswana, Africa.