Share with any Motswana facing any of these issues. I do not write stories often but from time to time something grabs my attention and I have to write an essay or a story about it. For free, enjoy!
1. Sending Rice
Introduction: This story looks at the lives of two realistic Batswana sisters. The wealthy one wonders whether she is doing enough to help her struggling sister. The story is relevant to Batswana struggling to balance the pursuit of success with sharing with family. Traditionally we helped our extended family members, how do we do this in the midst of the nuclear family centered way of living in modern day Botswana?
I just sent my little sister a big bag of rice. It was really an attempt to ease my guilty conscience. It is hard to enjoy my newly purchased BMW while knowing that my little sister and her brood of five children-and counting, judging by how moody she has been lately, I just know she is pregnant, again! - are going to bed on near empty stomachs.
When people who do not know anything about me see me in my avocado green BMW, they see a successful young Motswana woman who has her life together. However, people who know that Gogontle is my little sister, see a greedy woman who would rather build mansions and buy expensive cars than help her struggling sister.
I know Gogontle’s first born, Letshego, despises me. She thinks I do not do enough to help her mother. At fifteen, Letshego has a great deal on her plate. Her little brothers Morwalo, Keeme, Nkemisang and Kefeditse (the names of the last three all mean I am done having children) are a nightmare to take care of since they are very unruly. The fact that Gogontle is always in debt and struggles to buy food at the end of every month hardly does much to help Letshego sleep better at night. Letshego’s report cards show that her tough life is not conducive to learning. In a year or so she will sit for her junior certificate exams and it will be nothing short of a miracle if she passes. She needs to pass in order to advance to senior secondary school and beyond if she is to make something of herself. I fear that if she fails she will discover boys and have many children just like her mother. Gogontle was about Letshego’s age when she discovered boys and started having children.
At this point I know you have started to hate me too. Why don’t I take Letshego from her mother and put her in an environment where she can study well? Why don’t I help Gogontle or Mma Letshego, as she likes to be called, get out of debt so that she can give her children a decent life?
What I am going to say next is predictable. I have tried to help my sister. Before I got married I had few responsibilities of my own and I tried to take Letshego from Mma Letshego. Mma Letshego lives in a part of Gaborone which she can afford. It is not a decent part of Gaborone. If you are imagining a part of Gaborone with shebeens on every street and ruthless tsotsis or criminals lurking behind ill constructed one room houses, you are right. I wanted to stay with Letshego in Block 5, which is much nicer. I did manage to get Mma Letshego to give me Letshego when Letshego was in standard five. At that point Mma Letshego had three children already and Letshego was a seasoned babysitter. Her mother was reluctant to let her go because it meant Mma Letshego would have to take care of Letshego’s younger brothers by herself. Eventually she let me have Letshego. I took great care of Letshego, I paid enormous attention to her school work and I got really attached to her. Her school work improved exponentially at the better primary school in Block 5 and I realised that my little sister’s daughter is actually intelligent. I was so proud.
***Woolworths vs Pep***
One day Mma Letshego visited her daughter at my house. She brought Letshego school shoes bought from Pep stores. I was touched that she had thought to bring her daughter something because usually she did not bring anything when she came over. She usually came over to ask for money for one thing or another so I knew this was a big deal. In her innocence, Letshego remarked that no one wears school shoes from Pep at her new school. She thanked her mom for the shoes but said she preferred wearing the Woolworths shoes that her aunty Metsi bought for her. It was like witnessing a train wreck and being powerless to stop it. I saw the moment Letshego’s words registered in her mother’s mind. The words pierced MmaLetshego’s ego like a sword and the hurt on her face was beyond concealing. My sister immediately told her daughter to leave the sitting room of my three bedroomed BHC rented house so that she could have a talk with me. She said she thought it would be best if she had her daughter back. I tried to explain that Letshego was just eleven and eleven year old children can sometimes say things they do not mean. My sister looked me in the eye and asked me why I was so dead set on making her daughter look down upon her. I said she was being ridiculous; all I have ever tried to do was to help her daughter. Within thirty minutes Mma Letshego had packed all of her daughter’s clothes and was on a taxi headed to the taxi rank to get another taxi to take her and her daughter to her home on the opposite side of Gaborone. She left the Woolworths shoes on the bed where Letshego used to sleep with a note inside the left shoe that said ‘we don’t need you and your Woolworths shoes’. Letshego was transferred back to the less than ideal primary school in her mother’s neighbourhood and her grades have been on a downward spiral ever since.
My sister and I did not talk for months after the Pep vs Woolworths incident. I started to wonder if I had really been unintentionally making Letshego look down upon her mother. Maybe I should have left the clothes buying to Mma Letshego but wouldn’t it have looked bad if I had taken Letshego and never bought her clothes I could afford? After some months I heard through my cousins that Mma Letshego was pregnant with her fourth child, the father had bailed like all the other fathers and my only sister was on the brink of dying from hunger because she had been fired from the Chinese store where she worked for missing work a lot to go to pre-natal appointments at her local clinic. Suddenly our falling out seemed trivial. I visited her with groceries and begged her to take them. I ended up feeding her and her family until the new baby was four months old and she could leave it with a baby sitter to find work as a storekeeper in another Chinese owned store. She is qualified to do little else.
***Nothing small about making a small business succeed in Botswana***
It then occurred to me that if Mma Letshego furthered her education past junior secondary school she might get a better job and improve her circumstances. She had dropped out of form two to have Letshego and she had never gone back. I was ready to pay for her to go to night school during the week but she felt that a single mother of four has no time for school. The thought of working, taking care of her children and schooling just mentally exhausted her. She did however request a loan to start her own business. No one was more pleased than me that my sister was going to start a business. I started to imagine her becoming successful in her chosen business and having enough money to do fun things with me. I imagined us having lunch at a place like Gaborone Sun or going on holiday to a beach in South Africa without her feeling like we were wasting money. The truth is my sister was fun and spontaneous before she started having children and sometimes I miss the person she was before the children came. The problem with Gogontle is that she is a hopeless romantic. When she meets a man she always falls head over hills too fast. The men always promise her the world and before she knows it, she is pregnant and they have vanished.
The first business she tried was selling sweets and fat cakes in front of her local primary school. As soon as she started making a profit, three other ladies put up stalls next to her to sell exactly the same things she was selling. The students did not have enough buying power to sustain all the stalls so all the stalls went out of business in a matter of months. My sister found work in another Chinese store. Her business spirit was not extinguished yet, however. In a few months she started travelling to Johannesburg, South Africa to buy clothes in shops that were not available in Botswana yet to sell to people in Botswana for a profit. It was really hard to make a profit in this business. The people she sold clothes to often took them on credit and then refused to pay her for months. She also was involved in a few horrific accidents on her trips to Johannesburg where she narrowly escaped with her life. It was obvious to the both of us that the business was not working out for her. I bought her a taxi and hired a driver. Between the driver buying his girlfriends take away dinners every night and the frequent accidents needing costly repairs, the taxi ran at a great loss. In the end I did not blame her for selling it off. Other attempts at starting a small business met a similar fate for Mma Letshego. I was able to keep her hope alive for a little while but after some time she lost hope and resigned herself to working in Chinese shops again. Her eyes used to shine when I proposed a new business she could try but once she decided small businesses were not for her she just promised to give the business a thought without a spark in her eye.
Now I am married with my own children. My husband has siblings who could use our help just like Mma Letshego. I can’t do much for her anymore because if I help her, I have to accord the same kind of help to my husband’s siblings. By the same token he can’t do much for his siblings either. My husband and I are doing well. We just finished building a house in a plot we bought in the city and I recently bought myself a new BMW. Our success fills me with guilt because we can’t really share it with Gogontle or his siblings. If we help them we can’t have the life of our dreams and we are likely to be miserable yet having the life that we worked so hard to attain makes us feel guilty all the same. There is just no winning! When the guilt gets to me I have a bag of rice delivered to Gogontle’s house. Just rice, no tomato sauce, no mayonnaise and no meat. I send bags of rice to my husband’s struggling siblings too. The bags buy me a few guilt free moments in my nice house or my BMW, before I start to wonder if rice is all I can really do to help.
1. Are there any parts of the story that you relate to?
2. Should successful siblings help their struggling siblings?
3. To what an extent should they help?
4. If you help your siblings, should your husband help his siblings too?
5. Letshego has potential but her environment is not well for studying, do you think there should be government interventions to help children like Letshego in addition to free education.
6. Mma Letshego struggled to find a good small business. Do you think she could be successful if she tried harder or is it almost impossible for most small businesses to survive for long?
2. Men are not dogs
Introduction: When a man hits or abuses a woman in Botswana, women like to say ‘men are dogs’. Are men really like dogs? In this story a psychiatrist helps a couple heal after the man beats the wife. The story argues that men can be helped to treat their partners better through psychotherapy. Unlike dogs, men can change with medical help therefore men are not dogs. The story hopes to give Batswana women and men hope that some violence in relationships can be effectively dealt with by professionals. Violence is bad but people should not give up on love before attempting to attain expert help. It is told from the woman’s perspective and then switches to the man’s perspective.
“It is like when a dog has discovered the taste of chickens. There is nothing you can do to make it stop eating your chickens or chickens from the neighbourhood again and again. When my dog Phatshwa started eating the neighbourhood chickens in my home village I had no option but to call the veterinary people to come and put him down with a lethal injection. I really loved Phatshwa but the neighbours were ready to kill him if I didn’t because their chickens are their livelihood and all my attempts to get Phatshwa to stop eating their chickens were futile,” said the chatty young nurse as she applied antiseptic to the cuts and bruises on my left cheek.
“Please leave him Mma Mokgosi before he does this again because next time the person cleaning your wounds might be a morgue assistant and not a talkative nurse like myself. Once a man starts beating his wife it is highly likely that he will do it again and again,’ she continued.
She was sweet and I could feel the genuine care in her voice. However, it was hard to take her seriously with her short skin tight white uniform. The last time I was in Princess Marina, which was in 1994 to give birth to my second child, nurses wore long loose dresses. Today Marina corridors are like modelling runaways. Young local male doctors who are just returning from overseas are mostly to blame for this new dress code among the young female nurses. I know some of these young nurses are competing for the attention of the male doctors. They would do anything to become the wife of a doctor. A part of me wants to tell this naïve chatty nurse to go and get a less revealing uniform and stop trying to get the attention of any man, doctor or no doctor. The attention of a man leads to you being rushed to the Princess Marina emergency room wearing panty hose on your head (they protect hair better than a scarf during the night) and a wrap-around cloth with African print also known as a chitenge at 1 am.
The antiseptic stings but the sting is nothing compared to the pain in my burning left cheek where Mogobe’s fist landed. It was our wedding band on his finger that cut my cheek. The irony of this does not escape me.
Mogobe hit me. My Mogobe hit me. I can keep repeating this fact but I doubt it will totally register any time soon. Fifteen years of being happily married and out of nowhere he hits me.
“Will I hit her again Dr. Keagakwa?” I asked feeling uncomfortable to be in a psychiatrist’s office. All my life I have thought that only crazy people need to see psychiatrists but my general practitioner Dr. Peolwane said a psychiatrist could help me make sure I never hit my wife again. I am sceptical but I have no choice. Mma Mokgosi called my aunts and uncles along with her own and she swore in front of all of them that if I hit her again she will divorce me.
“She says people say that once a man has started hitting his wife it is highly likely that he will do it again and again. She wants reassurance that I won’t do it again. I promised her I would try my best not to hit her again but I don’t know if I can trust the promise myself. In fifteen years, I have never even thought of hitting her but a few weeks ago a tiny argument set off a burning rage in me that I could not control and I did the unthinkable. I lost control doctor. How do I know I will not lose control again?” I continued hoping one of Botswana’s most experienced psychiatrists would help me save my marriage.
“Mr. Mogobe Mokgosi I can sense that you do not feel comfortable being here with me. I know that seeing a psychiatrist is not something well embraced by us Batswana. I would like to thank you for being brave enough to come and I would like to urge you to relax,” said Dr. Keagakwa. She gave me a warm reassuring smile that made me feel a bit more comfortable. I was nervous that a female psychiatrist would be very judgemental about the terrible thing that I have done to her fellow woman, my wife, but she seemed ready to help me regardless of what I have done.
“Very often when domestic violence or abuse occurs, the main focus is on helping the victim, mostly women, heal from the ordeal. Very little help is given to the perpetrators, mostly men, because many people think the perpetrators are monsters who need to be punished not helped. I am happy that you realise that you need help. If many men asked for help in time they could stand a better chance of avoiding the suffering caused by repeated acts of domestic violence,” continued Dr. Keagakwa.
“Is it possible that I am going crazy doctor? I have never lost control the way I did before. By hitting her, I risked everything, my marriage and my relationship with my children. It was a totally crazy thing to do and two weeks on, I am still wondering why a usually rational man like me did such an irrational thing,” I asked deeply nervous about what the woman with degree certificates from the top universities in the U.K fighting for wall space in her office would say.
“Judging from the extensive history that I took from you and your medical records, I can assure you that it is highly unlikely that you are losing your mind. However, you are right that what you did was a very irrational thing. Doing an irrational thing does not always mean someone is going crazy. It is true that crazy people often do irrational things but normal people can also do irrational things under some special circumstances. I am going to ask you a few questions to further elucidate my point. Would you agree with me that the brain is an organ just like a leg?” said Dr. Keagakwa.
“Yes,” I agreed.
“Sometimes a person can break a leg that was normal before, right?” said Dr. Keagakwa.
“Would you say that someone with a broken leg that can be healed is the same as a cripple with a leg that permanently cannot function unless the cripple uses some prosthetics?” asked Dr. Keagakwa. Being a lawyer, I realised she was using the socratic method to help me understand her point so I played along.
“Well, doctor the person with a broken leg that can heal is temporarily like the cripple in the sense that they cannot use their legs properly without prosthetics but having a broken leg that can heal does not make someone a cripple. Down the line the person with the broken leg will heal if they get help to heal the leg and they will no longer be like a cripple”, I said.
“Good. Do you see where I am going with this analogy?”she asked.
“Yes, I do. You are saying that something affected my brain to make me act irrationally just like something breaks a leg to temporarily cripple someone. However, my acting irrationally does not mean I am crazy, it just means I need some help to find out what caused my irrationality so that I do not act irrationally again,” I replied.
“Great. I truly appreciate that you are really paying attention. I can tell you love your wife and really want to never hurt her again. I also want to add that when people see symptoms that their leg is broken, they run to the hospital to get help yet when they act irrationally which is often a big sign that the brain is “temporarily broken”, very few run to a psychiatrist for help. As psychiatrists we are not just here for what you call crazy people, we are here for all kinds of psychological problems. With that said do you have any questions so far?” said Dr. Keagakwa.
“I understand the analogy but I still want to know if you think you can fix me. My mind was definitely temporarily malfunctioning when I hit Mrs. Mokgosi. It is just that one of the partners at our law firm , Mogobe, Seeletso and Dintwa, has been cheating clients out of their money in the name of the firm and it looks like the law suits against the firm are going to bankrupt us. I have been awfully stressed attempting to salvage the firm I worked my entire adult life to build. While my career is taking a huge hit, Mrs Mokgosi is slated to become the next CEO of Kgalagadi Breweries in a matter of weeks. I am elated for her but I keep thinking the power dynamics in our relationship are going to shift drastically when I lose the firm and she becomes a high powered CEO. Each time we argue, I keep thinking she is starting to undermine me because her career is going better than mine,” I explained. It was hard to admit that my wife’s huge success was somehow threatening to my ego but if I truly wanted help I needed to be honest.
“I will do my best to help you Mr. Mokgosi but it will take weeks of medication and psychotherapy to help you with what you are going through. Just from what you are saying I can tell you are depressed, I will start you on an eight week course of anti-depressants today. Depression can cloud judgement and lead to impulsive acts like hitting someone as in your case. It also appears that you are deeply anxious about the future. The anti-depressants will help with the anxiety but resolving your law firm issues could greatly reduce the anxiety too. Anxiety and depression are very common but many people do not know that medications exist that can reduce the severity of these conditions. You do not have to fight them on your own if they are interfering with your life. I know it seems unmanly for many African men to take pills to cope with some of life’s stressful situations but trying to handle some issues on your own leads to things like taking out the stress on those we love, which you would agree is not ideal. In our next session we can start to talk through how your work related depression and anxiety translated into domestic violence at home. We will also attempt to find ways to help you view your wife’s success in a positive light and not as an assault to your ego,” explained Dr. Keagakwa.
“Thank you for your help doctor. It sounds like I am in good hands. Will Mrs. Mokgosi be joining me for any of the psychotherapy sessions,” I asked.
“I would like to see you each separately in the beginning and then together towards the end of the talk therapy sessions,” she said.
I thought she made a lot of sense. I have been going to the sessions and taking the medication she prescribed. My firm went bankrupt and we had to close it. I am now working for someone else’s firm. I am no longer my own boss. Mrs. Mokgosi got the job as the CEO of Kgalagadi Breweries a week after my law firm folded. I bought her a huge bouquet of flowers and a bottle of expensive wine to celebrate. Thanks to Dr.Keagakwa I did not see this as a blow to my ego. Dr. Keagakwa likes to joke that men are not dogs because men can attend psychotherapy sessions and change their behaviour while dogs can’t. She says she gets an image of a dog sitting in the patient’s couch in her office when she hears people say men are dogs, which always makes her laugh. The improbability of having a talk therapy session with a dog is particularly funny to her. Her sense of humour is quirky but I don’t mind it because she probably helped me save my marriage to the woman I love with all of my heart.
1. Once a man hits a woman is the relationship doomed?
2. Do you believe that violence can be a symptom of a mental disorder that can be cured or do you think this is just an excuse?
3. Should Mma Mokgosi throw away fifteen years of marriage or work on it.
4. Can our society do more to get our men to seek psychological services before they get violent?
5. Do you think encouraging young men to get professional help for relationship problems could reduce the so called passion killings?