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Botswana: Memories

The car purred to life and lurched unsteadily forward, unseating my entire family, all four of us unnerved by this usual occurrence--our '97 Honda was not in good condition. I rolled down my back seat window, placed my upper arm on the outside door, and quickly drew back my scorched arm. The metal was hot, and I was stupidly surprised. A gust of wind blew, swirling dust across my face reminding me that I, indeed, was in Botswana, a country located in the Kalahari Desert. How hot was it, I wondered silently--90 degrees Fahrenheit, 95, 100, higher? The sun lived in the Kalahari. It burned, seared, baked here. Memories of 2-hour basketball practices lingered, and parched skin lingered longer. The Batswana--people of Botswana--were well-suited for the glowing sunrays. They were a very dark-skinned people who had a habit of smiling. It was difficult to find an unhappy Batswana--even when facing dire situations. Yet the Batswana who did frown were those who stuck in my memory as my mind blanked and a face appeared. Ruddy, short-cut hair topped the boy's head, black skin encrusted with dirt, making his dark skin seem a sickly brown. Fragile bones jutted from his cheeks, stretching raw skin while his lips were left dry, desiccated, and shriveled as a late autumn leaf. His eyes were deep and hollow, dark and empty. Whatever life that had inhabited those eyes was long gone, leaving them sorrowful--two bottomless wells of desperation. Rags were clothing this boy, his frame ill--covered, his flesh inadequately hiding the brittle bones underneath. His arm was outstretched, tiny fingers imploring for help. My mind jerked back to reality but the boy would not leave me. He reminded me of so many others I had seen. I wondered where his parents were as we drove by an HIV warning advertisement. The information in my mind clicked. AIDS had taken its toll on Botswana and most likely this boy.

There were acres of farm land to my right and tall, modern buildings to my left. This was an odd world, I mused--a country pushing to become a developed nation yet so dependent on outdated and unsafe ideas. This culture was happy on the outside but one heard tales of elderly men telling soon-to-be married boys that one must take the belt to his wife to "make sure she knows who's boss" and of elderly women telling soon- to-be married women that when, not if, she comes home to her husband in bed with another woman she should go to the home of a relative or friend. From there she should proceed to call him and inform him that she was coming home so he could finish his "business."  Unprotected sex was not considered a danger here. STDs and AIDS flowed causing this already village-like 1.5 million-person population to actually begin to decrease. Life here was simple, impulses given in to, and smiles aplenty. But along with these basic ideals came a modern country, its peoples flustered by the ideas of the Western world. Societies, corporations, and businesses had adopted these ideas, but individuals had not modernized. Botswana was warm. Botswana was kind and gentle. Botswana was the home that had turned into a village, and a village that grew into city, all the time wondering what had happened.


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