This is a short essay originally written for and published in the Peace Corps Botswana Newsletter. My experiences are my own and do not represent the governments of The United States or Botswana. If you want to learn more about the Peace Corps, visit http://www.peacecorps.gov
Lost in Translation: How to Cook Eggs in Setswana
Four days a week, I would meet at the clinic with a couple of women in my village of Molapowabojang to workout to Zumba videos. We did these videos so often, I was positive I could have followed along on with out any video at all. Before I got sick, this was more or less how to conversation went. After I got sick, I had to stop working out because I lacked the energy to complete a 20 minute Zumba dance my body and mind knew inside out.
One day, just like so many days, I was walking home with the group of women I workout with in the evenings. Just like any other day, the conversation swam around me in Setswana, and I tried to grasp onto any word I could translate into English. But as the short walk continued on, I found my attention wandering to the dog with a wounded foot whom then proceeded to do his business on the side of the road. The talk continued on around, until finally I said, “Ee, I agree.”
Mma K stopped and looked at me queerly. “What are you saying?”
“No, what are you saying? I replied.
“Neo! You must learn Setswana!” Anna cried. “We will speak Setswana around you and you will eventually learn.”
“How am I supposed to learn what you are saying, when I don’t know what you are saying!” I insisted.
“Well what did you think we are saying?” asked Basi.
“As far as I’m concerned, you all are talking about twelve different ways to make eggs.” I replied, not at all regretting my haughty tone.
“There is boiled and fried. There are two.” said Mma K. “What are the other ways?”
I laughed to myself. Instead of including me in their conversation which was all I wanted, we now found ourselves talking about eggs.
“Well, there is scrambled and frittatas, and quiche.” Talking about frittatas made me hungry for more than the rice with tomato sauce I had waiting at home for me.
“Okay, that is four.” Said Anna.
“And there are poached eggs.” I added.
“Ah! Neo! What is poached! How do you make?” Basi asked, her face contorted as though I said I eat eggs raw with a spoon.
While I tried to explain a way to make eggs in a way I had never actually tried myself, I considered Peace Corps Goal 2, and wondered if this is what they meant.
We were closing in on my house and somehow the conversation switched back into Setswana. Nobody was listening to me anymore. I could hardly blame them for drowning out the very poor directions for making eggs I didn’t know how to make. I saw a gesture, which implied putting something into an oven and knew my gymming friends were still talking about how to cook eggs in Setswana. And somehow, right up until we said our goodbye’s just moments later, I still did not understand what they were saying.