By Jahncie Cook and Fiona Noonan
Catlin Gabel and Maru-a-Pula School are mirror images of each other. Though they are on different continents, they are inexplicably linked by the fact that they are each in their own bubble.
At Catlin we go to the same events, see the same people, and generally isolate ourselves from the greater Portland area while we’re in school. At Maru-a-Pula the case remains the same, with everyone in a cushy bubble that is completely unrepresentative of the rest of Botswana, or even of Gaborone.
The similarities don’t stop there, though. Maru-a-Pula is largely a school for privileged children, often whose biggest complaints are that YouTube won’t load fast enough on their iPhones. Part of the privileged population is children of ex-patriots, but 50% of the students at MAP are Batswana, and even they roll into the parking lot in their parents’ Mercedes and Maseratis. We may be in Africa, but we’re definitely still at Catlin.
The microcosm of MAP reflects the macrocosm of the greater ex-patriot community of Botswana. Some tension exists between natives and these ex-pats, largely because the ex-pats are exponentially richer and generally more privileged. The greatest reason for this disparity in privilege is the disparity in wealth caused by the fact that the ex-pats are just that—ex-pats. They are lured here by better jobs than the average citizen of Botswana has, along with a myriad of other incentives provided in the form of money, cars, and homes. All of this combines to cause a huge division between citizens and these foreigners, and this division causes undeniable tension.
This tension would definitely make a citizen wonder, Why are these people here? Why are they taking jobs that could be ours? Why do they think they can help us better than we can help ourselves?
Obviously we don’t know all of the answers, but some potential responses have become available to us in our short time here. To address the first question, many foreigners come to provide aid in the health or education sectors, and others come for the aforementioned incentives provided to them. That is to say, most come with the best of intentions, but the fact that they’re ex-pats may suggest possible ulterior motives to many Batswana. The answer to the second question is that the ex-pats are largely more qualified or better skilled due to better educational opportunities they’ve received elsewhere (also probably why they send their children to a school that is widely regarded as one of the best academic institutions in the country).
We don’t know the answer to the last question, but it’s definitely where much of the tension lies. Ex-pats are trying to help people help themselves, but perhaps the intrusion (even with the best of intentions) actually diminishes the empowerment of the people.
Maybe our good intentions are adding to this tension. Today we visited the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone, which is badly understaffed and obviously in need of resources and aid. As foreigners ourselves, we came in believing we were going to really help the people at the hospital. In fact, we did help, but our presence may have come across more as an imposition than as a relief. Consider this: How would you feel if your child was lying sick in your arms and you had to weave your way through people who knew nothing about you, your life, or your country?
A balance between giving a helpful hand and imposing upon lives is what our group and the whole of Botswana are trying to achieve.