Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Setswana Thinking vs American Thinking

I've lived in Botswana for 20 years now and still I come across the odd thought or insight that makes me understand my chosen home a little bit better. The other day my husband was talking about his trip to the dump. We have now in Botswana people called Green Scorpions. In our ward the Green Scorpions are a group of about eight middle aged and elderly women who move around our ward in fluorescent yellow vests to check that we are keeping our compounds and the land around our compounds tidy. They check that we are not burning rubbish, which is now against the law, and that we are clearing the grass and other unsightly things.

Last week we ran foul of the Green Scorpions. My husband had hired someone to cut the hedge that had grown tree like while we were living in Lecheng. The person had piled all of the hedge cuttings outside of our gate and the plan was it would be taken to the dump but my busy headmaster husband was unable to find the time to get to it. The Green Scorpions were not interested in hearing excuses and decreed that it must be gone before they returned.

So my husband piled it in the 4 x 4 and headed to the dump. At the dump he found one of those ubiquitous people- a man with small power. He declared that- no- the bush could not be left at the dump without a permit. Apparently these permits are needed to ensure that people don't dump hazardous things. Fair enough, but it was the weekend and the bush was obviously not hazardous.

In the end, my husband managed to convince the dump man that he would not be returning home with the bush as the Green Scorpions were waiting for him with red eyes. He left the dump bush-less, but not happy with himself because he had let the man get him angry.

It got me to thinking about the very different way that an American would approach this situation as compared to a Motswana. Batswana see a person who loses their temper as immature. They are unable to control their emotions, they have no self control. A respected person maintains their dignity by controlling their emotions. If he fails to accomplish what he set out to do, well that is unfortunate, but at least he did not lose his temper and behave childishly.

An American on the other hand would look at a calm Motswana facing this situation and think - What the hell!! They would wonder why he wouldn't sort out the dump man by explaining how the whole situation was ridiculous. If the American had to lose his temper to accomplish this, that's fine as long as in the end the bush was left at the dump where any sensible person could see it belonged.

I truly do not want to judge. Even after 20 years of living here I still stand with a foot in the home of my birth, a country with many wonderful attributes; I know now that's how it will always be. But I do think there is something to be said for the Setswana way. Perhaps Batswana don't always get what they want but then the handy African fatalism steps in to rectify any regrets. It may slow down life a bit, but I'm finding too, that's not such a bad thing either.


Selma said...

I definitely think there is something to be said for the Setswana way. I am tired of the number of people who go off at the drop of a hat. It can't be good for them long term. Self control is not something to be sniffed at.

I am enjoying the snippets of your life in Botswana very much!

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Selma glad you enjoy the blog. I try to mix things up- some about life here, some about writing in general and some of my own writing.

SueG said...

Fascinating, Lauri. These cultural differences crop up so often, and when you least expect them. But they're so important. It's great the way you can keep hold of the good in both cultures. A lot of people couldn't, I bet.

Helen Ginger said...

What a great story to illustrate the differences in two cultures. Somehow, just hearing about the Botswana way makes me feel calmer, and I'm not even the kind that gets angry (usually).


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groovyoldlady said...

When that American anger burns hot because of "me" not getting "my" way, then it is an embarassment and is definitely an indication of immaturity and loathsome self-focus. Sometimes anger can be powerful and can help is one is standing up for the helpless, but most of the time it is a waste of time and energy!

More power to the Setswana - better to use persuasiveness than anger! And if it doesn't work out, life goes on.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Groovy you are very right. There are times when I feel like shaking my fellow Batswana to get them to fight back a bit. People will talk and talk when sometimes the time for talk has passed. Serious issues which you'll find most people in the country do not agree with will be talked about and talked about and then the disappear and nothing changes and no one gets angry. THAT is frustrating. Like most things there are good aspects and there are bad aspects to it.