Country Focus: Botswana
Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood
By Robyn Scott
Originally published: Penguin, 2008.
My edition: Penguin, 2008.
Time period: 1980s-1990s
Want to read about unconventional white families making a go of it in the African bush? Scott’s highly entertaining memoir is on par with Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight (Zimbabwe). Scott’s father is a physician and her mother is an alternative medicine junkie, so Twenty Chickens also provides insight on local healthcare and the devastating toll that HIV/AIDS has wreaked on the country.
“My own philosophy is that if something’s working and isn’t toxic and people are dying while you wait, you shouldn’t hang around for indisputable proof,” [said Dad].
“Obviously,” I said hotly.
Dad smiled. “Robbie, you’re a seventeen-year-old vegetarian who hypnotizes people to augment dental anesthesia. Born during an acupuncture session. And raised on Bach flower remedies, soya beans, and enough dietary fiber to meet the annual needs of a small city. The obvious is subjective.”
Author-ized tidbits about Botswana from Twenty Chickens for a Saddle:
Local lingo: Ga ke itse = “I don’t know.” Scott describes it as the “conversational brick wall of Botswana” and “frequently used to mean ‘I do know, but I don’t want to answer anymore questions,’ which happens often when Europeans ask more questions than are welcome.”
Amusing sign that Scott saw posted in the waiting room at the Botswana Department of Labor:
“So-called White People:
They are red when they are born,
They go yellow when they are sick,
They go brown in the the sun,
They go blue in the cold,
They go gray when they die,
And they have the cheek to call US colored!!!”
The author’s relationship to Botswana:
When the Scotts moved to Botswana in 1987, they were welcomed by family on both sides. Scott’s grandfather on her father’s side was a Botswana citizen and had moved to the country in the 1940s when it was still the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland. Scott’s grandparents on her mother’s side arrived in Botswana in 1974, several years after the country’s independence.
Although Scott lives in London and is a British citizen, she pays frequent visits to southern Africa and founded the nonprofit Mothers for All. Mothers for All supports Batswana and South African mothers of HIV-positive children and women who are caring for orphans.