Bushmen Come for Tea & Chase the Tide: Visiting & Togetherness
April 12, 2018 Written by Athena Gam
Last fall, we were very excited to welcome several Bushmen artists visiting our town for an art exhibition and auction of their paintings and prints at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. Cgoma Simon, Jan Tcega John and Ndodonyane Ditsheko (Ndo for short) are artists working with the Kuru Art Project in the primarily Nharo and Dcui Bushmen settlement of D’Kar, Botswana. We learned of their visit after connecting with the organizer of the event, the vibrant Peggy Flynn, who spent several years living and working with the Bushmen in Botswana as a Peace Corps volunteer. In the community spirit, we offered to help in whatever way we could, to ensure these artists’ first visit to the U.S. was comfortable and enjoyable.
Heavy rains and chilly temperatures (compared to the early summer heat the Bushmen had come from) thwarted an initial plan to walk through the local coastal redwoods of Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Instead we headed with the Bushmen to my house in the redwood forest for afternoon tea and got a chance to talk about art and some of the differences between Bushmen and American culture. We only scratched the surface, but were able to revisit a topic that had been brought up at a potluck dinner hosted by a local ladies group I had attended with them a few nights before. They were having a difficult time wrapping their heads around the homeless people they had seen downtown. After talking about poverty and touching on mental illness, the core concern from their perspective on the homeless people became clear, “Don’t they have families?” Ndo asked. The question spoke directly to a wounding at the heart of our broken Western culture. Despite the poverty thrust upon the Bushmen and their own exposure to detrimental factors like alcoholism, the idea that people would abandon their relatives to hunger on the streets still makes no sense them.
The Bushmen village we are working with in the Kalahari live close together in multi-generational family groups. Elderly grandmothers care for their grandbabies, often taking turns carrying them on their backs. Uncles and grandfathers take time to include young nephews and grandsons in their activities. On our first visit, we spent almost half a day on introductions, learning about all the family relationships within the group. It was striking to see how powerfully the experience of the close knit inter-generational relationships of the Bushmen village impacted other western visitors that were there, especially grandmother age women who had traveled solo to make their trip. We learned from one of the guides that the Bushmen rarely travel alone, and that when Bushmen were employed by the local lodge, it was understood that their families would be coming along too.
I was concerned that our Bushmen artist friends might not be getting a complete picture of life in the U.S., having mostly interacted with adults and art museum goers as opposed to families with children. They had shared with us that they had felt reluctant to travel so far away from home, and that though they were happy, the visit was overwhelming compared to what they were used to.
A few days later we took a trip to the beach, meeting up with a friend of mine and her two young daughters. We talked with the Bushmen about ocean tides and answered geography questions (North Korea had recently announced a missile test, and the men wanted to know where North Korea was in relationship to the California Coast). In this context of spending carefree time with a family, I saw something click. Grandma Cgoma’s face lit up as my friend’s three-year-old excitedly brought over seaweed and sticks, which she examined attentively. I saw a joyful ease and a vitality in the Bushmen Grandma as she and the little ones playfully chased the tide.