Living as Lorato

July 21, 2015 | Tess, POL, WUSC, Botswana, Stepping Stones International

We now have less than a month to go of our internship, and nothing is as I expected it would be. When doing my research last year, I noticed that many of the past interns had said that they felt that they were falling into a steady routine by the two-thirds mark. But at this point, I feel like I am falling out of the rhythms of work and life I’ve established over the past two months. The other interns and I have been so entrenched in our work life that we have neglected our traveling. So, with work as busy as ever, we have crammed an internship’s worth of travel plans into our last month.

Next week, we will be going on a rhino expedition in South Africa, then, in our second last week, we will be visiting the great Victoria Falls – the quintessential tourist destination in the area. This leaves us with less than two weeks left of work, which is just as well because it seems as though we are slowly getting burnt out: we’ve been pushing ourselves 110% at our internship and it is catching up to us. I am very happy with my workload, but it will be nice to take a break from early mornings and late nights traveling to and from schools across South Botswana teaching students about child sexual abuse.

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Life in Botswana has been great so far. I am extremely lucky to live, work, and spend my time with my roommates – or, as a Motswana corrected me, my brothers. It is challenging to be a foreign woman here; the locals here in the village are not used to seeing someone like me, and they assume that I am Chinese. I take it in good humour, but it is hard not to correct them, or be unoffended when they try to ‘speak Chinese’ (think chingchonghaiiii! to get an idea) to me as I walk past alone. This, coupled with unwanted male attention, is very uncomfortable, and so (thank you, my brothers!) I hardly travel unaccompanied. As someone who is stubbornly independent, this has been quite the learning curve. Mochudi is teaching me a lesson in racial diversity, that’s for sure!

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Despite the lack of consistent power, the constant crowing of roosters, the discomfort of traveling alone, and the quiet death of my hair dryer, Botswana manages to surprise me in small beautiful moments. The sunsets here are breathtaking, and the friendliness of Batswana reminds me that I have been adopted into their large familial network. The open night sky welcomes us home every night, and the simple pleasure of curling up in a cozy – and safe! – house with a book in hand is something I look forward to.

Before we departed, I know a common concern amongst interns was the “authentic experience” – how can I truly experience my destination country? Now though, I realise that every experience I have is legitimate, every experience is valid. I lived some experiences due to my status as a foreigner, but that does not make my time here less valid, it does not make my experience any less authentic. As someone who is not a Motswana, as someone who does not know or truly understand the nuances of being a local, I have to accept my identity as an outsider and try my best to experience all that Botswana has to offer.

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After discovering that a fellow intern had been given a Setswana name – Tau, meaning lion! – I was eager to receive my own. My Motswana co-worker christened me Lorato, love. I was also given another name, Tandi, which is Lorato’s Zulu translation. While the earning of our names is a lighthearted workplace joke, it also speaks to the building and shaping of a new identity here. Lorato Tandi is a verbal marker of my own rebuilding and reshaping, a sign of how I have changed over the course of my mandate.

We have come to the point in our journey where we can almost taste home, and it is strangely relieving but also unsettling. In less than a month, I will be back to the comfortable life that I had been so eager to leave a few months ago. I can only wonder what it will be like to shed Lorato Tandi. Or maybe I will never truly leave her behind.

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