30 April 2009

And there were bishops from Zimbabwe and other phantasmagorical things . .

While I still need to write a post about my stay in Cape Town, I thought I would continue first with my religious thread. This last Saturday, the 25th, I was invited and accompanied by my "cousins", who live here in Gaborone, to attend the ordination of the new Bishop of Gaborone. These are the cousins of my host family in Mochudi. My female cousin, Lapo, has been a big fan and great friend of mine here in the city. She is currently on the job hunt, whereas her brother, Tshepo, is studying graphic design at Limkokwing University. The best part about visiting my cousins is that they live on the railroad tracks, and I get to walk along and over rails frequented by aging, blue-and-white passenger cars and, occasionally, trains heaping with coal.

My uncle, their father, is a foreman for the railroad and he showed me the massive, outdated panels used. They looked like the command center in Apollo 11. As for the rest of the family, I don't exactly know their names, occupations, or even their relation to me. My aunt (pictured with me, left) is a reserved, but cheerful woman. Every time I visit my cousins' house in Gaborone, all the neighbors (whom I've never met) yell from their respective "backyards" (read: hardened red dirt with the occasional weed, which is merely a plant out of place, as my boss always told me), "Michael is here!"

On more than one occasion I have been asked in Setswana if I am Lapo's boyfriend/husband/soul mate . . . to which, I answer dutifully in Setswana, "Nyaya, rra. O ntsalake." No, I am her cousin. Very believable I'm sure. In any case, the issue was raised at the grocery store "Choppies" in my home village of Mochudi, where I was explaining myself to half the customers and workers. They laughed and cried when I tried my darnedest to talk my way out of being the best marriage prospect my cousin could have.

Anyway, back to the subject of this blog: the ordination of Bishop Valentine Tsamma Seane. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and I took a cab to the bus station and after getting completely lost for twenty minutes, found my way to home base. In true Botswana fashion, I was told to be there promptly at 8 am and we left around 9:30 am. Thankfully, there was two small breakfasts scheduled in that time.

Shortly before the start time of 10 am we arrived at what appeared to be an airport hangar-cum-cathedral. Rough estimates put the audience at 7,000 to 8,000, a healthy number for any Catholic event these days. The crowd, as I discovered, came from all over southern Africa: Botswana, a very large contingent from Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. Representing every parish and diocese south of the Congo, the mass commenced with a parade of priests and prelates.

The singing was lively, although in perfect Catholic form, dancing was kept to a simple step-slide-step-slide back. A great boon to my religious Setswana vocab was the thirty-page guidebook to the ordination, which contained all the hymns. Morena, Lord; Modimo, God. For four and a half hours, we stood, sang, sat, sang, stood, sang (207x).

I tasted my first African host, although my cousin refrained, admitting she needed to confess her sins first. As most "firsts" in foreign countries require a "monkey see, monkey do" method of observation and instruction, I lost my cultural crutch. Thankfully, Catholic mass is catholic, i.e. universal, just like KFC and McDonalds. After a few platonic kisses amongst the holy men, we sang a bit louder in competition with the pouring rain. A newspaper account had this to say:

"During the proceedings, it started to rain and the masses went wild at the 'coincidence'."

Personally, I think the only 'coincidence' was that sun umbrellas suddenly had a function. A better coincidence was that of the mass's denouement and the return of clear skies. It was, nonetheless, a wonderful exhibition of Botswana's ability to put on a show replete with spontaneous singing for hours on end. Although I didn't buy any of the souvenirs (or as they say here, curios) imprinted with the new Bishop's face, I agree with the Sunday Standard's belief that "Catholics in Botswana are not likely to ever forget Saturday, April 25, 2009."

Somewhat sobering after such a ceremony was news that Bishop Seane released a statement blasting the use of condoms, saying that Batswana* should stick to the "traditional" ways. It is a large point of contention among all of the faiths here, perhaps more so for the Catholic community, but HIV/AIDS is plaguing Batswana much more than a crisis of faith or tradition.

Even more sobering is the fact I am leaving on May 14th, in the morning. Until then I only have two finals, one this Friday and one next Tuesday. This weekend four of us will go camping in the Kalahari desert, hoping to spot a lion or a cheetah, and catch a great African sunset one last time. Otherwise, this week is just a lazy week to hang out with friends and buy those last-minute trinkets.

Til my next post, cheers mates!

*Before I typed "that Batswana should stick", I wrote "that we should stick", signifying either I now self-identify as Motswana or that Catholic indoctrination really works.

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