The Booktrekker: Botswana

READ

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First off, let me just say that I loved the protagonist in Unity Dow’s book, The Heavens May Fall. She’s a young, smart, fierce lawyer working for a nonprofit organization that helps women and children in Mochudi, Botswana. It’s hard for me to not love a character whose inner musings on the first page of the book go like this:

“Why can’t I watch the news of rapes by military men in the DRC, babies with distended bellies and flies eating at their eyes in the Sudan, and go back to my coffee? Why does an old woman waiting in a queue for service by a rude and incompetent clerk make me feel personally responsible? Why must I enter the fray, always, even if it just means dashing off a letter of complaint? Is there a busybody gene, and if so, why do have to have it?”

If you are one of those people with a busybody gene, someone who feels the need to try to right every wrong, you’ll love Naledi Chaba too. As the attorney for the Bana-Bantle Children’s Agency, she handles cases for battered women, young rape victims, and those facing other heartbreaking situations. She fights against a system that lets a rapist go free because his young victim is mute and therefore unable to testify against him. She displays tact and sensitivity in dealing with a client who blames her marital problems on witchcraft. And she is relentless on behalf of a young girl who was raped by her grandparents’ tenant, even though her fight for justice puts her on a collision course with the judge hearing the case.

In between cases, the author shows the reader other sides of Naledi. She and her cousin and best friend Mmidi, a doctor, fret about standards of beauty and fashion, as well as society’s expectation that women will marry and have children. Naledi tries to balance the time spent on her professional responsibilities with her desire to build a relationship with the new man in her life, a rugby player on the Botswana national team. She laments the indignity of having to beg for funding all the time when working for a nonprofit organization. And she makes time every week to go see her widowed father, whom she adores.

The Heavens May Fall seems very authentic, possibly because the author herself began her career as a lawyer who championed women’s rights. She went on to become Botswana’s first female High Court judge, and she currently serves her country as the Minister of Education and Skill Development. I’m glad she found time to write this wonderful book in the midst of all her other work!

COOK

Early in the book, Naledi’s cousin Mmidi is talking with envy about a widow named Lesika, who seems to have everything. She has a pretty face and a full figure, speaks multiple languages, and never lets things get her down. Naledi knows Lesika. “She sold homemade bread door-to-door in the evenings and at weekends and was rather good at persuading me to buy yet another batch of diphaphatha, even before I had run out of the last.”

I looked up diphaphatha and found that it’s similar to a biscuit, although somewhat flatter and harder. I found a recipe on a blog called “Sapodilla Brown,” and gave it a try. I thought the bread was pretty tasty, especially with a little margarine and jam. Apparently, diphaphatha is usually cooked on a cast iron skillet over an open flame, so I was happy to find a recipe that used an oven instead. Also, some recipes use yeast as the leavening agent instead of baking powder, which would probably make for a lighter roll.

GIVE

I looked online without success for the equivalent of Naledi’s Bana-Bantle Children’s Agency. I would have loved to donate to such an organization. Since I couldn’t find anything like that, I went back to GlobalGiving and found a project in Botswana that offers science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to vulnerable girls, ages 12 to 25. According to Stepping Stones International, many vulnerable young girls “become caregivers which increases the likelihood that they obtain inadequate health care, are not protected from sexual exploitation and lose focus on education.”

The “Girls Getting Geeky” program provides after-school education that helps girls develop design process skill, which they apply to different engineering challenges. It is hoped that this program will lead to an increase in the number of girls who complete secondary school and then either go on to college or find employment.

More information about the “Girls Getting Geeky” program is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/stem-education-in-botswana-girls-getting-geeky/.

NEXT STOP: BRAZIL

(Originally published on April 28, 2017.)

Pam Giarrizzo is a retired attorney who loves traveling, reading, and giving. She isn’t particularly fond of cooking, but she nevertheless reads, cooks, and gives for her armchair travel blog, The Booktrekker. Pam and her husband Phil live in Northern California, but they travel to Colombia often to visit their California-born son, their Argentine daughter-in-law, and their Colombian grandson. You can explore the world with Pam by following her blog at The Booktrekker or on Facebook at The Booktrekker | Facebook

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