For one, fidelity is rare. I know Westerners can’t claim to always be faithful, but the prevalence and acceptance of adultery here is just so customary it is unnerving at times. If you haven’t read about my education surrounding big and little houses here in Botswana I recommend you start there so you have the vocabulary down. But men and women talk about little houses openly and as a necessity; men need a little house as a means of escaping the demands of a marriage; women want to be a little house because of the monetary and social benefits it bestows upon them.Part of the problem with infidelity here is the HIV/AIDs issue. I had a friend tell me both her parents died from HIV/AIDs. She said her father contracted it from sleeping around. Apparently he knew he was sick, but never told her mother. When her father died her mother was told by the doctor about him having had HIV/AIDs and encouraged her to be tested. By that point her mom had already contracted it and died about a year later as a result.
The infidelity, coupled with the frequency of HIV/AIDs, has resulted in what I like to call a “Condom Culture.” I have never seen so many condoms in so many places in my life. And when in doubt, the answer is always, “here, have a condom.” I mentioned during a shopping trip a couple months back that I was looking for a sink stopper. When the store clerk couldn’t figure out what I wanted he gave me a box of condoms. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that is the answer to everything here. The other day I was in a store and mistakenly asked for pants instead of trousers. What did the store manager give me? That’s right, condoms.And the “here, have a condom” slogan isn’t evident just in my apparent inability to communicate when shopping. In the women’s restroom in my building on campus there is a box of condoms with a sign, “Help yourself. Practice Safe Sex.”
When I first arrived in Gaborone I stayed at a hotel for a couple of nights before I was given the keys to my house. It was a nice hotel; the front desk clerk even took me up to my room to show me the amenities. I’m not sure whether it was part of her rehearsed script or not, but she opened the drawer to the nightstand, pointed to a handful of condoms and said, “If you need more, don’t be afraid to ask.”But I think my favorite “Condom Culture” experience was when I drove across the Botswana-Zimbabwe border. A group of journalist friends and I were on a visit to Chobe National Park. As we were shuffling through the small border check point on the Botswana side I turned around after getting my entry stamp only to notice a condom dispenser. I was so shocked I looked at it for a minute. There was a sign on the dispenser which read, “Have a good time. Be safe. Help yourself.”