My business journey

I want to do it with a soul…

My relationship with entrepreneurship is maiden. I had travelled to Tanzania in October – and I was not looking, but would, during free time, allow myself to experience Dar es Salaam. It was during those interactions that it came lurking, the lure of capital wrapped in entrepreneurship.

I remember though, that as my body texture and heart feelings kept adjusting in response to the years of life, I would, occasionally, rebuke myself for allowing the capitalist market gulp all my salary while I got nothing worthwhile, from it. I would argue that if education had any impact on me, it should be the ability to create business outside formal employment, then and only then would I proudly declare that I indeed spent time in school.

My argument is, if I cannot create a small enterprise that can at least pay for utilities and maybe for my children’s school lunch, then either education or me, failed.  It is only wise that while the market sucks life from my wages, I should also make some money from it.

The lingering desire was to start a business that resonates with me; something that would allow me to make money while also pursuing passion. I wanted an extension of my personality, what I would do with a smile, even when woken up in the middle of a cold winter night.

But who do I know myself to be?

I am artistic. I work, effortlessly with and in my surroundings. My beautiful garden bares testimony. The desire to garden happened at the sight of a naked patch of land. I bought tools and went to work. I am now convinced that keeping a garden is a visible expression of gratitude for the piece of bare ground, rented or owned.

I am also a minimalist.  My curtain free-living and negligible interior decorations are my witnesses. I enjoy the feeling and look of an empty room. I want to come back home, after a long and often routine day and not feel like the furniture wants me out; occupying every breathing space, giving me a ‘we don’t want you here’ look.

I love light. I am certain that is why we have windows, to allow light into our homes. And until now, my family and I have embraced the letter and spirit behind the creation of windows and have lived, for years now, in a house without curtains, except for bedrooms.

Tanzania introduced me to beautiful jewellery and tough Masai sandals; colourful beads armoured in leather to create beautiful and hardy sandals. It is the work of the great Masai of Arusha. I fell in love with colour ahead of everything else. The Masai jewellery and sandals, the Tanzanian Chitenge fabric, and others on the way to joining my collection, is what selling from my personality means. Pictures of beautifully adorned women warm my heart. I am especially drawn to those in love with bright and colourful apparel.

I’ll be going to other African cities in pursuit of passion. I am coming to Addis Ababa for her beautiful leather bags, to Ghana for the richness of kente and Gonja cloths.  The Egyptian linen is another big pull, the luring combed softness of your bed sheets. Your linen cloths that demand to stay worn forever. This is how I want to relate with the capitalist market, visiting open markets around Africa, interacting with and submerging into their stories – and bringing home memories, in ink and fabric.

It has been a month now. I am happy I started and am on the way to answering my part of “what do you have in your hand?”, refusing to bury my passion, multiplying what I have, while shaving off bits and pieces from the greedy and ever hoarding capitalist market. I will however, do it with caution, lest I get trapped into its indifferent brutality.

I want to still have a soul…

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 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 have a loving Father

I told lies. I broke tea cups and dinner plates and denied it. I played beyond the stipulated time and would arrive home late from school, then cook up a story of my delay.

I was a normal child.

I had my moments of sugar eating and condensed milk sucking. But I was never lost to being Rra Ewetse’s child. Often considering myself his favourite child. Why not? Probably my siblings also did. In fact I still believe I am his favourite.

The point is, although I was probably a naughty child, I never for once thought I didn’t deserve my father’s love. I never imagined him thinking differently of me because of my lying and breaking tea cups. Even when he would have scolded me hard. I never had reason to think he loved me any less.

I have a father, a doting father who had a firm hand on us. A hand that ensured we all turned out right.

My song of the week “He knows my name” got me thinking. If I have such confidence in my natural father; If I never lived with the guilt and condemnation from my faults and naughtiness, where did I learn to feel guilty in relation to God? If I had confidence that Rra Ewetse forgave and moved on, never to remind me again of my bad past, where did I learn to dwell on my sins, leading to guilt and self condemnation?

My natural father’s readily forgiving nature and abundant love, challenged my relationship with a God in heaven, this week. The God who formed my father.

And I asked God to forgive me for this error. The error of unconsciously trusting that the natural can be more capable than Him, a supernatural being. Maybe not in that overt kind of way. But this often feeling of guilt, I was, in a way saying to myself, I was not worthy because of what I would done or not done.

I refuse that. I will always refuse it. I dealt with guilt and condemnation this week.

Lessons from Rra Ewetse, fallible as all of us, pointed me to a God who forgives unconditionally. The God who forgets my faults, the God who deals with me on a clean plate each day.

The liberation came in the form of my natural father.

I confessed to never again carry the guilt and never again condemn myself. Not that I have arrived home, but because for those who have believed in God, there should be no condemnation. It’s a done deal.

I’m free from guilt and shame. I have fallen many times, and many times I have risen. Still I refuse guilt and condemnation. I choose to rise as many times as I fall. I choose peace over a heavy heart.

I’m loved beyond words. I therefore choose to be found immersed in this sea of love. Surrounded by, filled with and drunk in this love.

Come with me.

An encounter with elephants at Mashatu Game Reserve

Once upon a time in the Mashatu Game Reserve, I was the only women in a crew of 4; Nluu* (not his real name), a photo journalist, Sloo, the driver and Godi our tour guide. Godi occupied the furthest and elevated seat at the back, for obvious reasons.

I still recall warning signs scattered all over the Reserve, ”Mashatu animals are wild”.

I was a television producer of a magazine programme and we were taking pictures, for the ‘sights and sounds’ segment of the programme.

A magazine programme, is a collection of articles, stories, pictures and features. It is a mixed bag.

Our two day visit consisted of early morning game drives in an open Safari van. We would leave the hotel at 6 in the morning and at 9, Sloo would set a full English breakfast table, complete with steaming hot tea. This would also mark the end of our morning drive.

We occupied the rest of the morning working in and around the vicinity of our hotel, conducting interviews, and taking more pictures. The intention was to leave the reserve with as many programme segments as possible.

At 3, in the afternoon, we would be back in the truck, heading for water holes, afternoon favourites for most animals. Everything worked as scripted, even to the amazement of our tour guides. We encounted troupes upon troupes of the all types of animals.

On day two, almost halfway through our morning drive, Godi announced seeing elephants ahead.

You don’t visit the land of giants and come back without their story.

We found them, waiting. The entire clan; nursing mothers and their babies, possibly also uncles, aunts and the grandparents. Huge in numbers and build. Intimidating.

The sight of wild animals doesn’t often excite me. It is good to see them so as not to only rely on book knowledge. But it is not something I’ll move mountains for; probably because I grew up in a village, at the foot of a hill. There were seasons we would come home from school to find our yard packed with baboons, feeding on our melons. Snakes and scorpions were our regular visitors. Kudus used to appear from the hill behind.

At the lands/farm/masimo, whatever you call it, we feasted on porcupines, ostriches and kudus. I grew up with animals. I am a child of the wild. So I cannot, now all grown up, pretend to like animals so much so as to travel distances just to admire them.

But for family and relatives who fancy wildlife tourism, I am good company.

The elephants were on our left, facing us. I was sitting to the right of Nluu. The weather was good; blotches of thick clouds, left gaps of blue sky for beautiful picture quality. The only sound, was when Nluu, our photojournalist, changed positions, for good view. We needed to capture aesthetics, the ambiences, the unadulterated silences of the wild.

Things changed when the mama elephant turned around, giving us her back–and slowly, they all turned and walked away. The mother following closely behind them, driving them pack from behind.

“That is not a good sign. I think it is preparing to attack”. I don’t remember who, between Sloo and Godi, said it.

Elephants are matriarchal. Mothers and grandmothers see to the welfare of the family. They guard and protect their own. And true to tradition, she came back, flapping her ears; coming for us. Her screeching cries stayed with me for, I-don’t-know-how-long. Sloo revved the car engine. Mama elephant, stopped, turned around, towards the rest of her family. They were now a distance away.

We had continued with our video shooting. The car had not moved.

“Sloo tlou e eta. A re tsamaeng”, (Sloo, let us go, the elephant is coming), warned Godi.

To our shock, the mama elephant was approaching much faster and more furious than the first time, leaving a cloud of dust on her trail. No amount of revving could slow her down. She had made her mind.

The road ahead was rocky and bumpy, making it impossible for Sloo to drive as fast as we wanted. The elephant followed closely behind, atleast from its cries.

I was too scared to look back.

“Sloo kana tou e gorogile”, you could smell fear in Godi’s voice.
“Monna Godi o tshosa di-guests”, Sloo tried to adhere to protocol.
“Wa re ke tshosa di-guests. Ka re tou ke e”.

Although the frequency of updates on the lurking danger was unwelcome then, in retrospect, I understand his situation. He was the closest to the angry elephant.

I couldn’t bring myself to look back to check our proximity to the attacking elephant. I could only muster a silent prayer “Lord please save our lives”.

I then waited for the inevitable; her to wrap her trunk around my neck and pull me out of the truck. And she was not going to do it, while I looked.

The answer to my prayer came in the form of a river. Either from laziness or too much anger, Mama elephant chose not to descend the deep river. We watched, from middle of the river, as she angrily pulled out fully grown trees. Her voice, too angry and loud.

But we still had a journey back to the hotel. We took long to leave the river; too scared to retrace our way back. Our attacker was still somewhere, in the bush, probably still as enraged.

I wanted to spend the night in the middle of the river. It never felt that safe.

Botswana Media and Exclusion: My experience 

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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 practices, 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 traveling 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….