Here is another: lekgoa–a complicated word in Satswana, the language spoken in Botswana. Uttered by a child when seeing a white adult make for example, it may seem innocent enough. “Lekgoa!” or “White man!” (I remember similar comments from smiling, inquisitive children in China when I was there a year ago on a teaching exchange.) Spoken by an adult, it may not be welcome.
The term literally means “vomit from the sea,” and comes from a time when differently colored strangers (European) arrived in Africa in ships in the 18th century. What did the native people know of “other?”
Today, as we interacted with Peace Corps volunteers and the staff and children at the Hope Worldwide Botswana after-school program, I watched the faces of the children as they played. What did they know of the import of skin color? The were running, playing games, laughing, reveling in the moment. Their faces were warm and bright and our hearts were full!
Here we are in a country where white-skinned people are in the minority. My thoughts turn to our community at home and recent events. I am also reading a great book (thanks to a recommendation from a dear friend): Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nahesi Coates. You can see where my head is currently.
We have learned so much about Botswana in just a few days, and we’re not done learning and experiencing. But WE are not done at home either, with the work of living together in a diverse community where mutual respect, integrity of word and action, and an overriding humanity inform our work and interaction. We’ve scratched the surface, but there is so much more to work through.