Say What?!

Anyone who has joined the Peace Corps understands what it means to be out of one’s comfort zone. It is not easy to feel vulnerable in a place that is supposed to be your home for two years. One of the contributors to fear and feeling out of place is the language barrier. Since coming to Botswana, I learned that overcoming my fears and doubts of speaking Setswana is easier than I thought. I have been in Botswana for one year and I can have a basic conversation with people, but I still can't fully understand what people say because they speak so quickly. Most meetings in my government office are in Setswana and I often am not able to follow what my coworkers are saying. Recently at a community event, I made an announcement about our District's upcoming World AIDS Day event in Setswana at the “kgotla” (community center) to a crowd of over 50 people. I was so nervous because it was my first time speaking in front of a group of people and I was afraid of looking like a fool and saying the wrong words in Setswana. As I was standing in front of the crowd, I took a deep breath and spoke in a tongue that was once foreign to me. After I made my announcement, the “kgosi” (village chief) came up to me and shook my hand saying that I spoke Setswana beautifully. I felt so proud of myself for overcoming my fear. I proved to myself that although I am new to all of this, I am still capable of fitting in and learning the language is the best way to integrate into a community. I was a white woman speaking the language of the locals and I think that meant a lot to the villagers. This was probably one of my biggest accomplishments as a Peace Corps Volunteer even though it was such a “little” thing.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.