Self- Realization in The Motherland by Isaiah Brickus

My trip to Botswana was a journey of self-realization; understanding my identity in a global and cultural context. When I went to Botswana I was leaving one of the most blatant racially tense conditions Black America has faced in a number of years. I felt guilty at times, but I ultimately felt a great relief from what I felt was a productive and insightful brand of escapism. I have grown to believe an escape is necessary at times. In Botswana the time moved slower and people were more at ease working their jobs, so much so that lunch breaks at all jobs are two hours instead of one. An understanding that one’s work is not one’s life seemed to be the prevalent ideology. However, this ideology was embodied in a way that did not negate professionalism or efficiency but rather eased the workplace.

"Family is an extremely important part of Setswana culture." 

Family is a notion Westerners would imply to mean “immediate family.” Such terms do not exist in Botswana. Family could be anyone. I remember at my homestay a different member of my host Mom’s family would stay at our house every other week and likewise my host mother would take us to the outskirt village and stay with her own mother. Another aspect of Setswana culture that was extremely different from Western practices were weddings, funerals and birthday parties. These were not mere family events, but community spectacles! Everyone is invited and fed at such gatherings. In Botswana I had witnessed a level of social inclusion and a general openness in our shared humanity that I had never witnessed before. I felt great ease in Botswana.

I have never lived in a country where I was the majority demographic. It is powerful for one to see oneself everywhere! Black people were on all of the currency, billboards, commercials, and held reputable positions. I remember seeing the 200 pula bill and noticing a mother teaching her children to read. One of the children had cornrows. The beauty of that single bill was unimaginable having come from the assumption that currency was reserved for the faces of slavers. Seeing this made me understand emphatically that representation matters and that the so-called “African-American” is cast aside as “other” in nearly every aspect of the American social reality.

“To a Batswana (citizen of Botswana) I was an American first and African second, if at all. In America I am assuredly African first and American second, if at all.”

The change in dynamic troubled me for quite some time as I sought to find an identity outside of the one I have known my whole life. Interestingly enough the social issues in Botswana, and the majority of the South African region, are shockingly similar to that of African Americans. Poverty, unemployment, healthcare relying primarily on private interventions and single parent homes are all issues which plague both communities, and both communities in many regards are left without answers. Witnessing this made me examine more closely the global long-term consequences that colonization, racism, and white supremacy have had on African people throughout the world.

More black youth should be given opportunities to travel abroad, moreover, travelling to some cultural root that resonates with the individual. This will aid our youth in gaining a worldview other than that of Western imperialism and to realize one’s self in a global context. In terms of stem fields and business ventures, each region of Africa has potential that a Black American community could invest in rather than exploit. The connection between the continent and the diaspora is a crucial connection. Study abroad is a vehicle much like the Black Star Line, insofar as the diaspora maintaining business relations and socio-political transparency. Malcolm X once loved to say “Putting a cat in a oven does not make it biscuits.”

“I believe such opportunities abroad help to highlight who we are not and from there we can fit easily into an identity of our own.”

Photo Credit: PinInterest

Isaiah Brickus is a junior African American Studies Major at the University of Maryland College Park. Brickus studied abroad in Botswana for his Fall 2015 semester.

Maya Rodriguez