To my father, on his 83rd birthday…

When I got married in 2002, my father sent a message, to my in-laws. I heard it for the first time, at my husband’s home village, Makuta, when my grandmother, MmaThata presented it to a packed marque. We had gathered for the last part of our two-part wedding celebration.

“Oesi’s father, Etshabile Tiro Sebusang sent me here. He had preferred to have been the one addressing you, on this issue, very close to his heart. But as you are probably aware, our culture prevented him from attending”.

Where I come from, part of central Botswana, the bride’s parents do not attend their daughter’s wedding, at the groom’s home. I do not know what happens with sons.

“Oesi’s father says I should tell you that she is still a child. That although she is getting married today, to her mother and father, she is a young girl and his father requests that you treat her as such, a child still needing parental guidance. Please protect her; love her as your own. She has indeed become your child too. Please take care of Oesi because if you don’t, she will come back home. And because her marriage doesn’t make her any less my child, he says, we will indeed be happy to welcome her back home.  Please take care of my daughter”.

I cried at the tenderness of those words. Memories of my father taking my side when I refused to play in just my panty, ‘like other children’ came flooding back. He always insisted that I be left to be. “She does not want to undress. Just leave her’, he would say.

I love you, father.

A week earlier, he had walked me to the altar, breaking the marriage ground, setting the foundation. I would catch my father shed a tear as the pastor declared me married. I had seen him, years earlier, drop a tear, when my older siblings got married.

I have a good father.

God bless your kind generosity. You are my hero.

I don’t remember my father whipping any of us, his children. But he was a strict disciplinarian. He talked once and we would know not to commit the same sin again. But like all normal children, we erred many times but he decided, in his wisdom, to spare the rod.

I grew up sheltered maybe overly protected.

My father did not allow us to play with kids from families fond of insulting words. The tricky part though was, all the neighbourhood children gathered at the same playground and there was no way we could ask those children to stay away. We thus resorted to dashing back into the yard at the first sound of an approaching ‘Datsun’. Our ears were trained to hear it while there was still time to reach home.

My father, in many ways, became my lifeline, my measure, he became the barometer with which I gauged life.

One of the most vivid and his most regular encouragement, especially after reading our school reports was, “I educate you so you will have a life when I am gone. Your mother and I are not doing this for you to support us when you start working, no! We educate you for yourselves so that you do not struggle when we are no more. Getting an education is for you, for your future. We will not be here forever to provide, so please work hard”.

I celebrate this man, who loves me unconditionally. A man who still worries when I don’t look as lively as he knows. I celebrate a father who can pick minor changes on me “Oesi you look darker than usual. What is wrong?”

I celebrate a contented man. A man without the benefit of high education but confidently engages with intellectuals. The man who used to say, “I hear of children committing and attempting suicide because their parents reprimanded them for bad behaviour. I’ll rather remain childless”.

He talked tough and loved even harder.

I celebrate a man who ensured I never lacked. He ensured we had decent clothes and proper shelter over my head. My parents bought us new clothes every independence and Christmas days. The latter, until I finished university.

I am celebrating a village hero. My father serves everybody.

My father and mother would visit us at boarding school, on their way from the farm, bringing fresh cow milk, wild berries, watermelons and many other farm produce. They checked us often to be sure we were coping.

I learnt to love from my father. I learnt early, that love protects and provides. I knew during my formative years that men love their daughters and groom their sons. I was shown that husbands play with their wives. My father did.

My father refused to segregate chores across genders. We all did everything

My father is neat, he is picky.

I cannot finish my father’s story in one sitting. This is to celebrate my baseline. My start. I am grateful you lived to see my children. To meet my husband. I know you worried I was young. You said you had wanted me to stay home with you and not marry. You wanted to protect me forever.

But I am well, father. I cry as I write this. Because I am truly well. I am safe. I know you know. Your smile, when you visit, assures me that you can see, your baby is happy and well.

I love you Ntate. Happy birthday.

A conversation about cheating couples

I allow myself to be fascinated by the things that I have never met or experienced. So once in a while I ask friends and colleagues about their lived experiences, because, you know, avoiding issues doesn’t make them disappear neither does it make me any wiser.

One such days we talked about cheating;

Me: Have you ever met a man or woman who has settled for a life of cheating with another’s spouse?

Colleague: Yes. A respectable woman I must say. They have an arrangement with this married man on meeting days and times. They respect that the man is married and loves his wife – they do not intend on disrespecting the wife and kids.

Isn’t cheating in itself disrespecting the wife?
Not really. Let me say they do not see it as such. They see it as meeting each other’s needs in a home set up. But still keeping the man’s family intact.

Intact?
Yes. They don’t, for example, exchange messages or talk on the phone after hours, when the man is at home with his family. There have set boundaries.

You don’t seem to find anything wrong with this arrangement 
I don’t. She is a reasonable woman. She doesn’t demand much from this man. Just attention and a few hours a week on agreed days. No financial support or any of the things young women would demand.

Why doesn’t she look for a bachelor?
She says those are a headache. They are unstable and never seem settled. They are always either pursuing another woman or thinking about it. They often think they have too much liberty. They have no restraint. She prefers a solid and established married man.

Was she ever married?
No
Is it something she is considering?
I don’t know. But her life seems to revolve around her career, business and time with this man. At least that’s what we talk about.

How long have you been friends?
About 3 years now

How old is their relationship?
Going to 5 years.

And the wife never complained about it? Never suspected?
If she has, she kept it to herself. The woman said they ensure life at home remains as normal as possible.

How does that happen? Doesn’t he come home late on the days he meets the woman?
Not later than normal.

This seems so structured and regimental. Is there any fun, emotional high and all the other excitement of a romantic relationship?

She is very happy. She talks about him with a twinkle. Kana these are mature people. Ga se bana ba ba itumedisiwang ke dilonyana (they are not young lovers that get excited over small things).

I see…

A letter to my daughter, Sesi.

Sesi,

I hope you enjoyed the photo shoot at school today and not worried about your hair like you were, when you called last night. I love you.

On this day of the girl child, remember baby girl that the world is a better place because of you. Your tender heart and calm spirit, your soft and bold character, make us a better people. Your calmness reminds us to slow down.

Thank you nana.

Papa and I are obsessed with making our home peaceful, a place we long to come back to, after school and work. We desire to see you and your brothers yearning for the calmness of home. For its ability to allow you the freedom to be yourselves, an oasis to calm the noise and pressures of the world outside world.

We love you.

You were born here, Gaborone, Botswana. A country with a long history of peace. You were born in a country where your parents, grandparents and their parents before them, do not have living memories of war.

But I want you to always remember that, while we never knew war, or serious civil unrest, we, like all people everywhere, have differed many times, sometimes radically and strongly. Our views don’t always follow a linear and homogeneous pattern.  We differ, we argue, we allow ourselves the freedom to hold diverse views But never to the point of feeling the need to go to war over them. This has only enriched our relationship as a nation.

We inherited a culture that subscribes to unity, that while we may hold strong opposing views, it should not create animosity between us. Our forebears, passed to us a tradition, that embraces all contributions as worthy and permissible. Everybody is allowed to share their views so we can, in the end, choose the most agreeable.

This practise kept us away from wars and guns.

You live with people who don’t often agree with you, girlfriends you sometimes disagree with, it is normal. People disagree because they are different. We have different taste and likes. We were formed from different moulds, shaped through unique DNAs.

Never beat yourself too hard over a relationship gone sour. Some will rebound, others never. It’s life.

Also learn Sesi, that to differ with your friends shouldn’t mean the end of it. In life, friends, even family, disagree.

You inherited peace, guard it. You are an heir of great grand mothers and fathers, who protected this nation jealously. The baton is in your hand. You owe it to your mates to spread the peace. One is never too young to. Talk with your friends, help fighting friends reconcile, for example. Assist to ease tensions around you. Make this, a more peaceful world.

Seek peace all your days. Start where you are, with your heart. Continue embracing a peaceful and calm spirit. You can only give from what you have. Cultivate gratitude my baby. Be thankful even for the mundane, the air you breathe, for what God gave us freely, life.

Many girls in many countries did not live to your age. They died too early. Many who live, suffer unimaginable atrocities. Many are less fortunate and do not enjoy the luxuries you do.

Pause each day and silently thank God. In that moment also plead for the safety of girls around the world. Pray for the war to end and for violence on girls to stop.

Make peace with your surroundings, your siblings and when you can, talk about the importance of a peaceful world. Share your dreams on what a peaceful world would mean to girls your age.

Lastly baby girl, the world can be rough, for girls. You need to know these truths. We talk about them sometimes. You’ve asked questions about the violence on girls and women. Unfortunately, the world can be violent on girls. But we can change this if we all pull together, if we encourage and cultivate a non-violent culture. Because it takes those with an unwavering commitment, those who can go an extra mile. And when you can, where you are, choose to spread happiness. Choose love. The world needs it.

Mummy loves you a lot. I love mothering you. It’s such a pleasure. Thank you for your tender and soft spirit, it helps all of to slow down and be at peace. You are an amazing child.

Love,

Mum.

I met death, once upon a time

Thobo was born on the 16th September 2010 at Bokamoso Hospital. The cesarean section was some by Dr. Eishler, the German Gaenacologists, who later, together with his doctor wife, skipped the country under the cover of the night. They remain the best doctors I’ve ever met. All rounded best.

The story started when the anesthetic procedure knocked me out. We had agreed to a bottom half of the body ‘paralysis’. I wanted to participate in the birthing process. I had done that with the previous two.

That was not to be. This time I was out. Dead. Unaware of life.

When I came to, I had moved from the theatre to the hospital room. Thobo was in ICU, under strict observation. I learnt later that he had not cried immediately after birth – and all the usual tactics doctors often engage failed to produce a cry.

They were worried for his health, especially his lungs.

I think I was discharged two days later, pushed in a wheelchair. I had a throbbing headache that wouldn’t allow me to stand on my own. And when we got home I had to be supported from the car to the house.

My health deteriorated so fast the next morning I couldn’t see clearly. The world was blurry.

One of my sisters is a medical doctor – and we normally check things with her before seeking medical attention. She was in the US. They called her. She explained what could be the problem.

To ‘paralyse’ me the anesthetist had injected me on the spine, they call it epidural.

So my sister explained, from the US, that the small opening from the injection is supposed to close immediately after. But it would seem, in my case, it had not and as such I was losing pressure needed to keep me intact.

The thumping headache and the near blindness were a result of this pressure loss.

I was losing Cerebral Spinal Fluid and if not attended to, this structure called Oesi would collapse.

So when we rushed back to Bokamoso after the call, we had all the medical jargon and explanations; to the shock of the medical team.

I was quickly wheel-chaired in and drips inserted on every visible vein.

The headache had gone violent.

I was not sure whether I was crying or it was my head’s spontaneous response to this brutality. But tears poured uninhibited.

I was to spend the next 4 days in Bokamoso. The headache, the anesthetic doctor explained, needed to be treated with caffeine containing medication. But the ministry of health had not allowed that kind of medication into the country yet.

My near addiction to caffeine started here, I think.

In the four days I was at Bokamoso, the anesthetic doctor instructed that I get a glass of coke with each meal – and he was always by my bedside, ‘for control’, I guess.

What growth means to me

Lets allow growth to be different things to different beings. To me, growth is allowing your heart to be attracted to what has a semblance of you; to the things that accentuate you. It is the ability to find yourself in this crowded world.

Growth is the boldness to live within the ‘found self’ in a society that prefers an assimilated being; who thinks, behaves, walks and dresses like the next person. It is being yourself in a culture that often ridicules God’s given distinctiveness; that has normalized conformity; shunning uniqueness.

Growth is being happy, it is sharing happiness.

It is the strength to block the hammer that longs for and delights in knocking you into line.

Growth is respecting your community, celebrating it. It is the ability to navigate, with reverence, the contours and crevices that formed your people, those things that broke and re-constructed them; it is to embrace how your community imagines itself; to locate yourself in this maze of thought – but live.

Growth is living.

It is the rejection of self-hate. It can be violent. It may even mean an aggressive reclaiming of the self; a passionate salvaging of the remnants of your being, lost in years of self-doubt and cynicism.

Growth THEN, is a pilgrimage. It is being and becoming, it is I am home and yet going home.

Growth is preferring the toned over the slim body
It is losing the sweetness of sugar for the authenticity of honey
Growth is ditching trends,
It is when your questions change.
It is the wisdom to choose your battles
It is happy children playing in an un-kept house
It is a happy husband
It is peace

A push towards my memoir

I found out its true. When you are open about what you want to do, people, consciously and not, just somehow propel you to excel in that area. Through words, actions, allowing you time, critiquing and even trashing your point of direction. Others, somehow, fear for you, that you reveal too much, you are muddling the waters. The latter often encourage the old fearful and timid you to rise from the comatose, and cower in the old dark corner. I need them in my life, still. ‘For control’.

I was not a hyper active child, I think, and neither was I among the talkative clan. When I came to, l was not who I have become. I do not plan to return.

I can still vividly hear Nkuku Mma Isake as I write this, probably while I was still at lower primary school;

“Ngwanyana ke wena the o taa nna maaka”, and only then would I remember I had been asking her a lot of questions. On other days it was “o botsa dipotso tsa sekae tsone tseo”.

Since deciding to leave the cocoon and share my lived experiences, I have also met another interesting group. Those who ask me uncomfortable personal questions.

My interactions on social media are often quite personal, even publicly intimate, if you would, but a lot of me is still to leave the cocoon. Thus, I still, for example, find personal questions about sex and sexuality uncomfortable. I’m however indebted to those who dared me; pushing me further towards my destination, if there is any.

“If your plan is to write a memoir, go all the way or don’t go at all”. That’s me.

“Oesi you say you married at 29 and your husband is your first boyfriend – and you only dated for a year. What happened before that?”

“Nothing happened? I had said

“You didn’t have boyfriends, no sex, nothing?”

“Yes, no boyfriends, sex and all its accompaniments. Sex was to happen after marriage”.

“How is that possible?”

“Um, that was the only available choice. I guess that’s why”.

One down.

But I never could have anticipated this one,

“Since you got married, have you had sex with somebody else besides your husband?”

Ha! Who asks that.

Adorning the bulges and bends of my body in skirts and dresses.

The society that grew me celebrated the ‘English’ figure. The reference has probably changed. But in our day this referred to a body with an almost flat behind.
This body could be adorned with almost  anything, anyhow. The owners had the luxury to move from a maxi dress, for example, to a skinny jean and the onlookers would cheer in approval. No lumps or curves showed on the dresses; no hips and behinds on the jeans. They didn’t need to cover up. They tucked in and belted up with their heads high; enjoying their freedom of expression.

You see, society is often founded on binary oppositions; approving of one usually means marginalising of the other. Thus an approval doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It a result of comparing and contrasting, of deliberately deciding which one should be adopted as proper and which shouldn’t. Thus in approving the ‘English’ figure, society was in a way disapproving the ‘non-English’.

Mine is a ‘non- English’ figure.

I am a self declared pear shaped. Whether it be the avocado pear or the normal pear fruit. That is how I describe the structure I walk in. Like the fruit, small upper body and broader bottom.

I don’t know when the awareness set in, but I grew up alert that people with my kind of body hide it. That the curves and corners should not be seen in public. So I grew up covering everything that fell outside what could be seen. Hear me right, I am all for decent dressing, but I have a problem when decent means ladies with pronounced behinds and hips should cover every part of their structure. When they are expected to pile layers of cloth over their bodies to conceal their curves and creases, hiding their make-up. But this was one of the commandment when I was growing.

I was discussing this with my elder sister last week. Her shock surprised me. I was telling her that I lived my life hiding under clothes, conscious of the bend and bulge society preferred invisible. I told her that I am alert to my ‘non-Englishness’ so much I’m uncomfortable when people walk behind me –  so I often slow down to let them pass – especially when the clothes are closer to my body.

 “I never could have imagined that. You have such a beautiful body” She said ” and you are so assertive I am surprised you are struggling with that”.

I must confess that I’m grateful for the blessing of assertiveness. I can handle a lot.

My sister was surprised that my affinity to A-line designs was not only a chosen fashion taste but was also a response to a disapproving culture. That it was an effort to blend in among the ‘English’ figured.

Because of my awareness of the expectations or maybe my genuflecting to them,  I am almost an expert on what prints, threads, textures of cloth hide the corners better. I don’t, wear, for example, skirts with horizontal stripes; my skirts are hardly light in colour and I do not wear skirts and dresses with big flower prints . What all these have in common is make the bottom part of the pear look broader, exaggerating its size.

But I got my Mojo back.

I will remember 2017  as the year when I stepped out of the societal shell. When I showed appreciation for my God given structure. I will celebrate my ‘non-Englishness’. My  A-line designs will probably still dominate but I will celebrate my new found freedom by daring other designs. The ones I have admired from a distance. I will, through clothes, challenge the view that the pear is too curvy to be allowed the freedom of dress.

I will still be decent, nevertheless.

Yes, I am aware of the influence of popular culture on what we deem the ideal body. Aware of the kind of body that dominates our media. But my chat is with the society that I often hear talk about and to this body. It is the society and not the media that is more immediate to me. Its voice whispers in my ears at every clothes shop, directing me to its approved  patterns; unwavering in its explanation on the inappropriateness of straight skirts and dresses on the curved and creased.

I am free at last.  This year I will ignore ‘banyana ba ga Mmangwato’ songs. I am not going to ask anybody to explain their “a o tswa kwa ga Mmangwato” questions. No. It is my year of celebrating this body. Of being fully aware of its deliberate shape and being grateful.

2017 I am daring the straight. I am lifting my head adorned in the straight and narrow. Come with me all yee pear shaped.