Tag Archives: prejudice

Homophobic Policies in Botswana

29 Oct

When I was living in Botswana, every citizen and expatriate knew the laws on homosexuality: it is illegal to have homosexual sex. This law was rarely enforced. 

Now, the government is calling for a campaign against gay men and sex workers in the country, in an attempt to curb the HIV infection rate. Suspected gay men and sex workers will now be arrested and detained, while foreigners of these groups can be detained and/or deported. Read the full story here

I am infuriated by this so-called “HIV prevention strategy.” I truly loved living in Botswana and was aware of many injustices and discriminatory policies, but this is the worst. Not only does this violate the Constitution of Botswana, but it is simply not a legitimate strategy for reducing the infection rates of HIV. While the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among sex workers is high, arresting them in certainly not the answer. Prostitution in Botswana is highest in the refugee camp and amongst the most vulnerable groups, and the government should be addressing the underlying issues that lead to prostitution – as well as the severe gender inequality that leads to women (especially sex workers) to be disempowered to insist on condom use. Furthermore, the prevalence rate among men who have sex with men is significantly lower than the national average (9% vs. 17.6%). 

I am absolutely disgusted by the government of Botswana right now. I urge everyone to oppose Member of Parliament John Toto who made an anti-gay speech last week, and to encourage human rights groups like Ditshwanelo and BONELA to stand against this campaign. 

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Ethiopian New Years

23 Sep

First things first: for those of you that don’t know, Ethiopia has its own calendar. The Ethiopian calendar has 13 months (12 of 30 days each, and 1 with either 5 or 6 days, depending on if it is a leap year or not). The calender is seven to eight years behind the Gregorian calendar, because of different calculations of the date of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus. So, this year on September 11 we celebrated the coming of year 2006.

Since New Years Day fell on a Wednesday, and Wednesday is a fasting day for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians (they eat entirely vegan on fasting days), the real celebration for many was on Thursday. My neighbours invited me to their home to eat with them on this day. For any of you that have ever been in a foreign country or alone for a holiday, you understand how special it is when a family opens their home to you on special holidays.

As a thanks (and with the knowledge to never show up empty-handed) for hosting, I brought a card, a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses for the family. They were very excited to have me, and as soon as I came in they sat me down and served me popcorn and tella (sort of like a home-made sweet beer). Then they brought me a Fanta.  Then a glass of wine. Then came the food – so much food!!

The typical New Years dish is called doro wot (doro meaning chicken and wot meaning sauce) and it is so delicious – especially when it is homemade by an amazing Ethiopian woman. Then there was the lamb. Then two different goat dishes. All served with a huge amount of injera. The doro wot was fantastic, but by the end I had had wayyyy too much meat. Ethiopians are very hospitable and want you to be full and satisfied, so my hosts kept piling the food on me. By the end, I thought that if I had even one more bite of goat then I would be sick – thankfully that didn’t happen.

And just when I thought I had consumed all I could possibly consume, they brought out cake and started a coffee ceremony! So, after three cups of coffee (the proper amount for a coffee ceremony), I got to really talking to my hosts. Honey, a nine-year old girl, was the one who first took a liking to me and invited me over. Honey has two older sisters (17 and 20) and an older brother, although I did not get his age. Her father works as a taxi driver and her mother works at home. Her 17 year-old sister, Madina, spoke the best English and her and I get along very well. After a while we got onto the topic of football (it is very exciting that Ethiopia has made it to the next round of the world cup qualifiers). We were talking about the players, and I asked Honey who her favourite was, and this is where the conversation got interesting.

Honey said, or rather yelled, “All the Ethiopian players! Just not the Africans, I hate Africans!” (Side note: many Ethiopians do not identify as African, and are proud to be Habesha as a separate identity.) Madina looked shocked and embarrassed, and I don’t think her parents understood. So I asked Honey why she said that, and she said because she only liked Ethiopians. So obviously my next question was “But I’m not Ethiopian and we’re friends.”

And she said, “Yes, because you are nice.”

I said, “So what if you meet an African and she is nice?”

“Then I would love her, but if she is bad then I will hate her.”

“So Honey, why don’t you do the same with everyone you meet? When you know them then you can know if they are nice or not.”

We ended up talking in circles for a while, with Madina trying to explain in Amharic what I was saying. In the end, we got her to agree that the heart is more important than skin, so hopefully we got through to her. I don’t think I entirely convinced her though. Madina seems like a really great role model for her, so hopefully she continues to learn from her big sister. I hope that I can find another way to talk to her about this, although it is already a difficult topic for a 9-year old, even without language barriers.

After all this it was getting quite late, so I said my thanks and goodbyes.

It was a memorable evening and I am so thankful to have amazing neighbours that welcome me into their homes.

Happy 2006 everyone!

More Than Just a White Girl

28 Aug

I had a really hurtful incident happen to me Saturday. I process things and organize my thoughts best when I write them down, so I decided to write about it. I was unsure about whether or not I wanted to publish this, but a friend of mine told me that I write about hard things well and it is an important topic, so I have decided to share it.

One of my closest Ethiopian friends sent me this text message Saturday evening:

“Sorry Kyla, I can’t see you anymore because I don’t want to hang out with white girls for next eight months.”

My heart jumped to my throat and I immediately started to cry. For those of you that know me personally, you know that I do not cry often or easily, but I just couldn’t even process those words when I read them.

When living abroad it can be hard to find new friends, especially friends with whom you can be completely comfortable. This is especially true since sometimes there is the opposite of this text message – there are some who befriend foreigners because of perceived status. But I truly thought that I had found a good, genuine friend who liked me for me. We would spend lots of time together, he understood my sense of humour and he would even call me for support when he was having troubles in his personal life.

I am flawed, but I do think that I am a good person and a good friend – and I am DEFINITELY more than my skin colour or my gender. I am more than just a “white girl” and like everyone else, I have a dynamic and unique personality. There are definitely reasons why some people won’t like me. Don’t like me because I’m super sarcastic, or because you hate my politics, or because I tend to talk a lot and sometimes overshare; I’m a big girl  woman and I can handle (and even expect) that.

But I try very hard to educate myself about issues of gender, race, and other types of discrimination, and try even harder to only judge people on their ideas, their actions and the way they treat others. To have someone I care about tell me they don’t want to hang out with me anymore because I am a “white girl” was one of the most hurtful things anyone has ever said.

I am hesitant to call it racism, but I don’t know what else to call it. I am a firm believer in not blaming the oppressed for their oppression (e.g. not blaming women for a system of patriarchy), but the truth is that I personally experience prejudice every day here for being a “white girl.” Sometimes it works in my favour (such as security not being suspicious of me in the supermarket) and sometimes it makes my life more difficult (such as being yelled at on the streets and being given unfair prices). But these are all things I take in stride from strangers that only know me as a “white girl.” My friend knew my personality, my goals, my humour and my secrets, yet still chose to exclude me from his life because I am a “white girl.” It hurts my heart.

There is a chance that the man that said this to me will read this and I hope he does. After I received that message I asked him to explain but he did not reply. He wouldn’t take any of my calls. But he should know how he made me feel.

I am confident in myself and I know that I am more than what he sees. If he can’t see that then I feel sorry for him because he is missing out on some really great people by excluding all “white girls” from his life.

Forgiveness has been the hardest lesson that my faith has taught me, and I am struggling with it now. The wounds are little too raw for me to forgive right now, but I will forgive him. I will forgive him and I hope he finds the strength to apologize to me and to overcome his prejudice.