Host Family Matching Ceremony

The last day at The Big Five Lodge came on the one-week anniversary of our leaving Atlanta.  We were to eat breakfast and board the big bus for the 60 mile drive to Kanye where we would be part of the Host Family Matching ceremony.

Everyone was very nervous about living with a host family.  There was concern about the living conditions: would we have water inside the house, would we have a bathroom inside or would it be a pit latrine.  There were concerns about security: should we take our laptop or electronic gadgets and would they be safe, should we lock the door while we were gone.  Also we all wondered what we would do if we did not get along with the family.

The bus was very comfortable and we sat around talking and sometimes studying our notes on how to greet our new host family.  I felt a little under the weather.  I wasn’t sure if it was car sickness or the effects of the malaria pills or just nerves.  I went over what I would say and hoped it would go something like this if I were greeting my host family mother…

 

Me Dumela mma Hello madam
Host mother Dumela rra Hello sir
Me O tsogli jang? How are you
Host mother Ke tsogli sentle, wena? I am fine, you?
Me Ke tsogli sentle I am fine
Host mother Ke a laboga Thank you
Me Ke a Laboga Thank you
Host mother O bidiwa mang? What is your name?
Me Ke bidiwa Marion, wena? I am called Marion, you?
Host mother (name) (name)
Me Ke itumelela go go itse I am glad to meet you

We got to Kanye and were let out in front of a very modern Kanye Education Centre.  The room had a stage with a dais set up for several speakers.  Seats were set up with an aisle down the middle.  There were a few people in the seats to the right.  Someone tried to sit on the right side and we were informed that the trainees were to be on the left side and the host families on the right.  It was 9:30 and the ceremony was to begin at 11:00, so we milled around talking and eyeing the people on other side of the room, as they eyed us.  I felt like we should go over and meet a few of them, but did not.  Shy I guess.

When 11:00 rolled around we all took our seats.  The right side of the room was filled out with Batswana of all ages.  The two final guests arrived.  When the chief (kgotsi) of the village of Kanye arrived and finally when the Minister arrived they were both announced and the audience rose to their feet as they entered the room.

Before the meeting began someone said a prayer (standard for all Botswana meetings) and the Botswana national anthem was played, followed by the US National Anthem.  When the Botswana anthem was finished everyone shouted out “Pula” which is Setswana for “rain”.  This is kind of a neat tradition, Botswana is a dry country and rain is very important, at the conclusion of almost every speech, the speaker ends by shouting this word and receiving the same response from the audience.  At the conclusion of our anthem, I turned to a friend next to me and at the same time we both whispered what is normally followed by our anthem,  “play ball”.

All speeches were given and then translated into Setswana which took a little time.  Ms. Robinson gave a very nice speech thanking Kanye for hosting the Peace Corps for the first time in many years.  The main speech was made by the Minister who took time out from Parliament (which was in session in Gaborone) to attend the meeting.  He gave a great speech as well, even telling about his own culture shock when he visited the United States for college in 1994.  There were a few more speeches and finally we were about to start the matching.

The master of ceremonies announced that he would call out a host family name followed by a trainee’s name and they would meet at the front of the room and proceed together down the aisle to the rear of the room where they would sit together.  He began the matching and called out the name of a host family.  A middle aged Motswana (lady) arose from the right side, as people began clapping and yelling things in Setswana, and she began excitedly moving to the front of the room.  The name of the trainee was announced, it was a young lady, and we started clapping.  The young American girl got up from her seat and moved to the front to meet her host mother.  The grinning host mother ran the last few steps to her, opened her arms, and wrapped them around her new daughter, physically picking her up from the ground as she hugged her.  The young trainee hugged her right back and the room was full of the sound of applause and shouts.  It was touching and wonderful.  The room stayed full of noise as trainee after trainee went forward to meet their host family mother or father with the same enthusiasm, embraces and then, holding hands, they would proceed down the aisle.  Finally our turn came and a pleasant older woman came forward and hugged first Tish and then me, and then she took my hand and led us down the aisle to our seats in the rear of the room.  Our host mother is named Tebogo which means “thanksgiving”.

In our excitement, neither Tish nor I spoke Setswana but just introduced ourselves in English and fortunately she spoke perfect English and we began to get to know each other a little during the short reception that followed.  We then put our suitcases in her pickup truck, climbed in and then we drove away leaving behind everyone we knew.

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