I love a man who is not my husband. Please help!

silloutte girl

“Look at me and tell me I am insane. I love another man. Did you hear that? Another man. But I am married. Married to the man I Love, to the man I still madly love”.

Suddenly she looked like the words left her mouth involuntary. Like her mouth just opened and spat them out without consent. What do I do?

This still count among the most difficult conversations I ever had or I ever ATTEMPTED. I doubt I made sense. But she was a kind woman. She thanked me for talking. I think what she really meant was that I allowed her to talk without inhibitions. She had no clue, but my mind was racing against time, thinking of the most intelligent thing to say at the end of her confession.

I must confess I don’t find relationship conflicts easy to deal with. In the rare instances where grieving partners confide in me, I hardly know what to say or do. For the most part I panic because I fear I might cause further damage to a bleeding heart. These people would have shared so much of their lives they probably would not remember life before that. Their hearts so intertwined you would struggle to know whose is which. They perhaps have fears of what would remain after the severing, even scared for their lifespan were they to remain joined. Myriads uncertainties!

It was a tough conversation for both us.  For starters we hardly knew each other. We had met a few years back through a mutual friend and hardly ever met after that. As such this came as a shock in the middle of a busy mall. I think I stopped checking my time and worrying about onlookers after about two hours; so please don’t ask how long we sat on that bench. Just know my plans went flying through the window.

I thought of two possibilities. Either she had struggled with this for a long time to almost a breakdown; you know those kinds of things you want to talk about so much you ache all over. The types that have to happen or you go insane. I also thought maybe she believed it would be embarrassing to confide in people she met often, the people who knew her. In her mind secrets were safer with near strangers. I know what you are thinking. Traitor! No. I have her consent.

Thank you for allowing a near-stranger to tell your story. You are one of the bravest women I know. Thank you for trusting me to listen to you. I am not a counsellor as you realized. Given a choice I would have hidden from you. I often feel too inadequate, too wanting to offer any advice on love matters. I still do not remember much of what I said. I was panicky; my hands were sweaty.  I was afraid I could not help; even too scared you would hurt yourself. You said I helped. Thank you. You really looked confused and afraid. You were panicky and weepy. I am sorry you went through that phase. But I salute you for saving your heart and your marriage. I respect you for calling your heart back home. I admire you for going against your head and sticking with your spirit. Staying with what you knew was right. It did not feel like it then, or as you put it, the love for your husband was crowded out by the feelings for a strange man. I was amazed by your maturity and objectivity in the middle of such confusion of feelings

“I do not want to talk about this man and my husband at the same. It would be an insult. My husband is a good man”

You shared your confusion, how your head space was, to your surprise, crowded out by a man, who a few years earlier, was just a good friend. You never could have imagined this with him. You talked about the disturbing dreams about him.  You were nervous you would say his name in your dreams.  Now here I thought you were stretching it.

Your contradictory feelings distressed you. You were sad because you were not sure the feelings were mutual, at the same wishing the feelings could just evaporate. You were also embarrassed that he had probably observed this change. That he had seen your sheepish look whenever you met.

When we talked you were still trying to figure out the origins of these feelings, thinking that the cause could help solve the puzzle. I was not sure. Did I say it or was it in my head? “Run away, run too far away, block his numbers, emails, Facebook and anything that could be blocked”. Block! block! block!  I mean you said you prayed and fasted to have this stranger leave your feelings, but when we met, it was still raw. Your eyes twinkled when you mentioned his name. You were not sure it was wise to tell your husband or it was your singular battle. I wasn’t sure either. I haven’t met your husband – and I hardly knew you.

The story I am reluctant to tell: I was afraid of boys.

humber1

Picture taken by author

For most of my growing up years I was afraid of boys. I don’t know why. It could have been from stories about pregnancy. It is possible that I overheard, a conversation between my older sisters and cousins saying boys could impregnate girls. And either I missed it or they omitted the ‘how’. So I probably got the impression that walking around with a boy could make one pregnant.  Or maybe my fear was informed by village gossip. Perhaps one of the popular girls in the village, got pregnant – and I heard the under-the-breath talks at the clinic when I had gone to collect malutu.

It is not possible that I had an inherent fear of boys. It was either I heard or seen something. I can’t rule out parental influence but I don’t remember my parents warning us about of boys. I recall though that child-bearing was for big people. And we were to keep away from anything out-of-bounds.

The only boy I remember often walking around with was Nako, my brother and cousin in one. In fact it was my sister, Atlasaone, Nako and I.  On most days we walked to and from school together, I think up to standard 3. And we were often the first to arrive at Pilikwe Primary School. The gate would be closed, not locked, just closed to keep out the goats and donkeys. I would refuse for us to open the gate, scared it was not allowed. Some days I prevailed and we would wait for MmaKefhilwe, a standard 2 teacher. She lived nearby –and was often the second to come after us. But on most days my mates had none of it. I didn’t know where they got the guts.  I mean, the gate could have been closed by the principal – and it only made sense to have it opened by some kind of authority.

The fear of boys was a tough kind of fear. These people were everywhere. It was easy when we were in a group, but alone, it was distressful. I used to change routes. That meant getting off the road and giving the boy the freedom to have the entire road to himself. Ridiculous! You think.

I think it is also possible that I had on more than one occasion, seen a boy twisting a girl’s hand and was told it was because the girl was ‘refusing’ him. I am probably mixing up stories now. Have I actually seen this or is something I heard later in life. But if boys indeed twisted girls’ hands, then my fear was justified. I have always had low tolerance for pain. Yes I had my share of beatings in the hands of primary school teachers especially from standard five. My parents had graduated us to big boys and girls around that age. We had to bathe ourselves in the morning and find our way around with minimal help. Late coming visited often.

I don’t really have bad memories of beatings at school, except one. The day my standard 6 teacher beat me so hard, I grieved for days. I was crying in class. I don’t know for what. I used to just cry. On this day, Mr. Molodi* just snapped. He had had enough, I guess. I wonder whether it was a result of the beating or I just out grew it. But I don’t remember crying as often after that. Even my relationship with Molodi changed. He became overly protective; often convincing other teachers to forgive me. I hope he felt guilty.

Oesi o tshaba thupa mo e leng gore gaa kake a lofa hela go sena lebaka….” He would say.

That would be my passport out of a packed classroom of wrong doers. You won’t believe the sins we were often punished for; missing choir practise, not showing up at the fields for clean-up – mundane things like, and of course late coming and may be on rare occasions just crying.

He was a good man. I have nothing but fond memories of him. But for years I could not talk about this particular beating. It was cruel. It was the first and last time I had experienced such horror. And it is the first time I talk about it.

I don’t intend to make conclusions about my fear of boys. It would probably be a lie.

In our family, girls outnumbered boys. Chores were seldom divided along gender lines, so we just grew up as a bunch of children with little care about our gender differences. We did similar chores, often together –and I think because of this, the boys at home were kinder and friendlier than regular guys.  So maybe they did not prepare me enough for the world outside home, where boys were boys and girls were girls.

Some boys in the village had Humber bicycles, and they would be whistling behind you, because they had something important to say tell you. Important?  Imagine. It didn’t matter whether you tripled or quadrupled the pace, you could not out run the Humber. I experienced Humber moments. Frightening and embarrassing…

Botswana Media and Exclusion: My experience 

My immediate past job was in the media environment. This job afforded me the rare opportunity to traverse the length and breadth of Botswana, a vast and beautiful country with flora and fauna as diverse across regions as the people who inhabit them. Batswana vary in cultural practises, language, cuisine and many other attributes.

Our lunch in Kavimba was fresh bream fish and pap, both cooked in an open fire, in three legged pots, while we waited. For the fish, our host put water in a three legged pot, arranged cut river reed just above the water. The fish was then placed on the reed; pot covered and placed on fire. The result was a pleasantly steamed fish. The flour for the pap was pounded out of the maize using the mortar and pestle. In Tutume we had delele, roasted chicken and thopi.

I don’t recall much of our lunch in Rapplespan. But still vaulted in my memory is the zero communication between the people we were to interview and us. I was travelling with two gentlemen, a photo journalist and another producer. Our interviewees were only conversant in Afrikaans and none of us could decode it. A social worker from the village came to our rescue.

Back in Gaborone, the Rapplespan story was edited, aired and forgotten. I settled into my normal life – and hopefully so did the old man and his grandchildren. The selfishness of media work. You rattle and unsettle the peaceful lives of other people to feed your gluttonous desire for content, then full and fulfilled, you move on like nothing happened. My apologies to those who follow their stories with some philanthropy work.

My marriage to Bakani exposed me to a similar experience; communication barrier.

The second part of my wedding was on the 23rd November of 2002 in Makuta, my husband’s home village. A group of elderly women and I carried small bundles of wood on our heads. A traditional dance group led the procession as these bundles were delivered to the home of my husband’s grandmother, nkuku, Mma-Oketsang (MHSRIP). This was part of my initiation into my husband’s culture. I could relate to the beat and melody of the African songs, but could not make sense of the lyrics. This was not a problem, until I was introduced to nkuku, who spoke Ikalanga only, a language I did not understand. A translator was engaged to enable some intelligible conversation between the two of us – and this was to be the beginning of our life of ‘mediated’ communication.

Nkuku lived in her community in Makuta, a rural village in the northern side of the country while my husband and I live in the capital city Gaborone, 470 kilometres away. There is no mutual intelligibility between our two languages; Setswana and Ikalanga. Over time I got acquainted with the everyday lives of my extended family. I observed that, although nkuku was only conversant in Ikalanga, she enjoyed listening to the state radio, RB 1. I found nkuku’s relationship with RB1 intriguing in many ways. Firstly, as with other forms of media in Botswana, radio predominantly uses Setswana and English. What meaning did she derive from listening to the radio? What did the absence of her language on radio mean to her? I never asked nkuku these questions. Secondly, I wondered how nkuku interacted with the world outside her immediate environment. Isn’t it through the media that we see, hear and read about other worlds?

Before my initiation into Bakani’s family, it never occurred to me that other people might be affected by the dominant use of Setswana in the public domain in general and in the media in particular.

Years later, while studying at Rhodes, I was exposed to multiple media theories. My attention was grabbed by theories on media and society, especially those that position the media at the centre of identity and culture. Scholars who hold this view argue that in the past people referred to more ‘traditional’ aspects of their lives to produce a shared understanding of their social worlds and their own location within this, while in the modern world the media have become central to such processes. They insist that the media play a key role within such cultural processes. National culture is, for example, at least partly sustained through the media. Language and culture cannot be separated.

I remembered nkuku and Rapplespan. Their access to the media influenced the focus of my research. Or maybe it is best to say their inability to access the media or their experience of media exclusion formed the basis of my research. I took a physical and emotional journey, listened to real life stories. My life was changed. Since then I interact with language debates cautiously.

This story, which influenced my MA thesis, will one day become a book….