Month: September 2016

The Patlo

A patlo, we know you are intensely curious, is one of the elements in the traditional wedding ceremony. There are several ways to “get married” in Botswana and traditions vary greatly by region so this post describes what is done here in Gabane. Patlo means ‘to ask for a woman’s hand in marriage’.

Marriage Method 1 is to have two patlos- one for the groom with the men and one for the bride with the women. Holding those two events plus paying the lebola (bride price- usually about 8 cows and often involving gifts of clothing to the bride, aunts, uncles, and anyone else who can get in on the deal) makes you married. You then register with the government but there is no civil ceremony.

Alternatively you can just go to the registrar and fill out the paperwork and be married. Or, you can have a church ceremony. Some pastors are sanctioned to make the marriage official. If your pastor is not so honored, you also have to go to the registrar to make it official.  No matter which method is followed, many families will not consider the woman married unless/until she goes through the patlo. You must have participated in your own patlo  to fully participate in the patlo and to be involved with future marriage negotiations. This is particularly important if you are the oldest sister and therefore will be the oldest aunt some day. Marriage negotiations are typically handled by the oldest aunt of the bride and uncle of the groom. I was honored they allowed me to attend, given I am married but did not have a patlo. If I hadn’t been married, I would not have been allowed.

Or, you can have any combination of the above described methods of getting married.

But, I digress again (did that last post too).  So, back to the patlo. This post will talk about the bride’s patlo as only Teresa got to go. Gary has not been to one yet. It takes place usually the day before the wedding (this one was a week before because that pesky independence week is really messing up people’s plans).  Kerri Rodkey, Bots 17 PC Trainee, was shadowing me so she got to go too since she is also married.

It usually takes place early in the morning. For us it was 8 am which was fortunate because it has turned bloody hot here and you can see from the picture that we were not dressed lightly. My supervisor, Mma Leburu, obtained a traditional wool blanket for Kerri (I have my own and as of today I even have the pin to close it up) and skirt and apron for each of us. The white blouse and kerchief (dukwe) are mine. I feel I bear a strong resemblance to a nun but Kerri’s husband Paul, was thinking Amish. Then again, possibly my Russian roots- think babushka.

We proceeded to a location near the bride’s house where we could see a group of about 50 women gathered.They were sitting on the ground on plastic tarps with their legs stretched out in front of them. When the groom’s women arrived, we formed a line and snaked our way into the courtyard where we sat down facing the bride’s women with our legs stretched straight out. When I tried to bend my legs to get more comfortable I was told I couldn’t do that. Kerri and I were given people’s handbags to put under our knees which made a huge difference. (right about now you are all getting out of your comfortable chairs and sitting on the floor trying this- now hold that pose for about an hour with no back suppport). I am in total amazement how these women can hold this position for hours on end.  In total, there were about 100 of us.

They placed a tarp in the center and brought the bride out. The bride is covered by a heavy blanket (it is a miracle she didn’t faint from the heat) and she is placed sitting down facing the groom’s people. (This is all being done “to” her since she can’t see). She is never uncovered during the roughly 1 hour ceremony. There was a prayer (as there always is to open events) and then one of the groom’s women says, “Ke kopa metsi” which literally means, “I want water”. In this case, it is referring to the bride. Then, one by one, various women from the bride’s side get up and sit by the bride (stretching their legs in front of them) and give her advice about marriage. Unfortunately, we couldn’t understand it as it was all in Setswana. I did keep hearing the word “lorato” which means love so that’s good. At the end, they get the bride up and lead her back into the house. She will not appear uncovered  before the groom’s family before her wedding day which is usually the next day, so not sure what will happen this time since it is a week away. Seems similar to our custom of the groom not being allowed to see the bride on her wedding day.

The bride’s women then got up and danced while we thankfully got to move to chairs and shade (still keeping the blankets on). We were then served tea and magwinya (fat cakes)- think fry bread but a big ball.

I am sure there are those of you out there with inquiring minds who now have all kinds of questions- why is she covered? why do our legs need to be stretched out? why do they equate the bride with water?  Answers to all of the above- I don’t know. I should ask I suppose but my guess is the answer is, in the voice of Zero Mostel- TRADITION. Why do we have something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue? Why do we throw the bouquet and the garter?

It was not appropriate to take pictures during the ceremony so these before and after will have to do.


However, turn about was fair play. Several women insisted on taking OUR picture 🙂





Customary Court and The “Toss”

Thursday was a fascinating cultural day. I couldn’t help comparing what would have happened in the United States under similar circumstances. Basically, my Centre is owed about P30,000 ($3,000 US) which may not sound like a lot in US dollars but to put it in perspective- P30,000 is a little less than we spend on food for the kids during the year. Petrol runs us about P40,000 for the combi that picks up and drops off the kids.

I got all the accounts computerized so it is easier for us to know how much is owed and to show folks how much they owe. For the past year my supervisor has been saying we were going to take people to the kgotla (customary tribal court) to get them to pay. Well this week we started the process.

To digress a tad- there are two parallel court systems in Botswana. Small local disputes are brought to the kgotla, including minor criminal offenses for which the punishment is usually beating but that is a post for another time. Then, there is the governmental civil (and criminal) court system. There is also a small claims court on the government side. The kgotla handles civil cases up to P8,000 and small claims takes over from there but not sure how high it goes before it is a civil suit.  In actuality, disputes are supposed to first be settled by the extended family then on to the Kgosi (tribal chief) or one of the lesser chiefs (Kgosana or Headman) if a resolution can’t be found. Each village has a Kgosi and depending on size, a number of Kgosanas who each preside over a ward within the village.

We have been sending notices regularly telling people what they owe us but with little success.  Two  weeks ago we called the “offenders” and told them we were going to the kgotla the next week. About half the individuals on “the list” came and either paid in part or in full or promised to pay by the end of September. On Monday we met with the Chief Kgosi, his clerk and one of the Kgosanas. They gave us letters to give each of the 12 people. The letter requested their appearance at the kgotla at 8 am on Thursday. Of those 12, three came to see us between Monday and Thursday and either paid full, in part or promised to pay by the end of September.

On Thursday, Botswana time was in full play. The court appearance was scheduled for 8 am. Two people came around 8:15 (we didn’t get there ourselves until 8:10). Then one came a little after 9 and the other 3 were there about 9:45.  Just imagine a US court appearance and being almost 2 hours late for it.The Kgosana was the hearing officer and he said this stage was arbitration. He is 96 years old but you would never believe it. He let them tell their story and then basically told them to pay up. Overall, of the 9 who we expected to come, 6 did and either paid or promised to pay.

So, the three that didn’t show up will now have cases opened against them and the kgotla will work on finding them and making them pay. There are no court fees. We pay nothing but we do work with the kgotla on reaching the people. No collection agencies, skip tracing, process servers, etc. And they get credit just for showing up. It was not at all confrontational and didn’t feel litigious like it would have in the US. For those who made promises, they know that if they don’t keep their promise, they will be brought to the kgotla again.

What I found amazing was one person who is the sister of one of the “offenders”. The mother of the child at the school has disappeared and left the 4 year old and a younger sibling presuming family will take care of them. The family got together and came up with half the amount owed and paid it. The traditional extended family is something that is unfortunately changing in Botswana culture.  While not perfect, kids with less than stellar parents still stand a chance with aunts/uncles/grandparents to be a steady influence. There is virtually no homelessness either. Some houses may not be great but you don’t have people living in culverts and under bridges.

The other unique experience today was observing a “toss”. While waiting for our “offenders” to show up, I got to witness something new. Every 3 months or so, people, who are looking for work, line up . Today there were about 35 people in line. They draw either a yes or a no. If yes, they get to work as part of the ipelegeng program for the next few months. This is like the WPA- picking up litter and other community type projects (right now everything is getting painted blue/white/black for the Botswana 50th Independence Anniversary that is just 2 weeks away. (those are the colors of the Botswana flag). For some people, this is their only source of income and if they draw a no for several drawings, they can be truly hurting with no money to buy food. I don’t know how many “yeses” there were.

Unfortunately I did not take any pictures.It just didn’t seem right. but I pulled these off the Internet to give you a sense of what a kgotla and iplegeng workers look like.They are from Botswana, just not Gabane. Kgotlas can look very different but this one bears a very strong resemblance to ours.

Image result for customary court botswana imagesImage result for ipelegeng images botswana



Ostrich Migration


Title got you didn’t it? We didn’t actually see an ostrich migration (not sure there really is one) but get to that later.

It’s been a month since we last posted. Guess that’s because life has become pretty routine. Working on our community projects  and at this point looking at funding. So, get ready, we will soon be putting the word out about how you can support what we are trying to do. the two projects we are working on are a Kids Club for 7-12 year old orphans and vulnerable children to make them more resilient against the drivers of HIV/AIDS. The second is a Community Parenting Skills Initiative and we have developed a basic parenting skills workshop that we want to pilot then train the trainers. The biggest expense on these endeavors is food- people won’t come if you don’t feed them and the concept of brown bag or pot luck is just non-existent. Peace Corps has a web based grant program whereby we post our need and you all (friends and families) support our project(s). Tax deductible for you and a big help to us. We are still working on details but we promise to let you know when it’s time to give 🙂

So, back to the Ostrich Migration. A few months ago we joined a group- it’s actually international- called Hash House Harriers (google it). We meet every Sunday and go for a 6-8k run/walk (you figure out which WE do) and then we have a braii (BBQ to Americans). It is mostly ex-pats from all over the place- mostly British but not exclusively. Lucky for us, a wonderfully generous couple who live in Gabane, is willing to be our chauffeur and they pick us up every Sunday since most of the places are hard to get to without a car.

Every year the group goes away for a weekend and has what is essentially a 50-60k relay race. This year we went to Groot Marico not far over the border in South Africa. We stayed at what was once a farm and we stayed in what had been the stables with the stalls converted to rooms. We cooked our own food and got to spend time near running water- a RIVER!   Yes, we digressed from the Ostrich Migration.

So, this is how it works. There are 5 teams of about 9 people each including children. Each team is responsible for one leg of 8-9k along a dirt road (very dusty- looked like Sedona red dirt). There are two cars that each hold half the team. One person runs (holding a stuffed ostrich- after all the ostrich IS migrating and we are helping) about 75-100 metres (more for the young and fit, less for the very very young and the not so fit). They get picked up by one of the cars and someone from that car gets out and runs the next 75-100  metres. The first car leapfrogs over the second car so they can pick up the previous runner and drop off the next runner. All told, each leg took about an hour. Weird- yes, Pointless- yes, Fun- most definitely.  We then got back to the lodge, relaxed and had a delicious dinner. All in all a very relaxing weekend with a bit of exercise thrown in. A very nice way to spend our 37th wedding anniversary- certainly memorable.


An added treat was that two of the group members got a puppy from their daughter who lives in South Africa- a 7 week old Jack Russell Terrier. They plan to breed it with their English bulldog. Apparently it is a recognized breed- Bully Jack. Got our doggy fix.


Next up is a trip to the Tuli Block with a group of 10 people. This is during Independence Week. This year marks 30 years of independence for Botswana and the official date is September 30/October 1. We feel a little bit guilty to not be in our village for this but we will celebrate out in the bush which is also appropriate. There is a torch moving through the country and that will come through Gabane on September 21 so we will be here for that. Everyone is painting everything black/white/blue for the Botswana flag. Kind of crazy but also a very special time to be here.

This is also the time that is famous for volunteers to get depressed- called mid-service crisis. In another week we hit the halfway mark. While there are some very frustrating aspects to what we are doing, we are holding up pretty well. Having each other really helps.