by Tshepo Jamillah Moyo (she/her) | Edited by Janine Samuels (she/her)
Image by Tasha Jolley
When the pandemic came around I had never given thought to the circumstances that surrounded what I had come to refer as my self-care. It was really mostly a selection of rituals that simply brought me joy. Suddenly it dawned on me, as the world slowed down, so much of what I enjoyed, loved, and brought me pleasure existed in spaces I could no longer access. Forced to evolve, I confronted the ways in which I had considered myself to be loving myself, and realised the majority of these rituals, while bringing me joy and peace, were not making a permanent impact in my life. Rather than creating a peaceful life filled with joy they were helping me escape or disassociate from a chaotic life filled more often than not with anxiety and uncertainty. While a lot of this was due to the pandemic, a lot of it was simply because I had never prioritised myself in ways that put my long term needs first, or helped create a life I did not need a break from.
The pandemic forced me to slow down. Although at first this scared me, once I got into the rhythm of it I realised I had been avoiding the hard work of becoming the kind of person I know I want to be.
I began to think about how the pandemic had changed the lives of women in Botswana and on whether it had forced other women to think about the kind of support, space and resources they would need to create a life that fit them best. So I spoke to three Batswana women about prioritising pleasure through the COVID-19 Pandemic in Botswana.
The first woman I spoke to was an 18-year-old second year student living at home. Through my conversation with Thuto* I learnt many things about my own journey with pleasure and joy. She shares some of my challenges despite the decade between us. We are both students living at home, this comes with its own challenges. Like me, the first thing Thuto realises when the pandemic hits is that the majority of her pleasure, or joy is found outside her own home with friends.
Thuto believes the pandemic brought her rest and forced her to confront a lot of depression she had been carrying since her last year of high school. For the first time in a long time, she feels like she has caught up with her own feelings and emotional labour. Although she has had to confront the grief of her mother’s death during a global pandemic, Thuto now feels more centred. Through journaling suggested by Thuto’s grief counsellor, she has begun to confront her feelings that, “despite the fact that we are all going to die and most things don’t matter much; it’s important to do the things we want to”, and so she has finally gotten a tattoo she wanted for years.
Thuto says this new found realisation has brought a sense of urgency to prioritise her own health so she has begun building routines dedicated to her pleasure and joy. She shares that one such joy has been reading and buying books; something she had begun to dismiss as a waste of money and time. The realisation for Thuto was that money is a complicated relationship hinging on balance and discipline. On one end, it is an important resource in allowing her to access things but she still needs to consider long term goals such as her desire to travel. While the pandemic has encouraged her to prioritise herself more, Thuto says something she never expected is how sometimes these expectations on her can be burdening. Her newest challenge is giving herself grace on the days when she’s not able to meet herself at her best.
Nadia* is a 31 year old trans woman living with her family through the pandemic. She describes her family as non-accepting and religious, forcing her to “tone down” her identity to subscribe to their beliefs. Before the pandemic Nadia spent very little time at home but with lockdowns and curfew restrictions she spends her time between her work in the LGBTQI+ community and her unaccepting family. For Nadia the pandemic has heightened her anxiety and depression. She admits this has been a terrible time for her, so much so, that the idea of pleasure feels foreign to her.
Nadia shares that for her the pandemic has changed the way she finds joy but also brought her closer to herself. Through journaling she’s discovered harmful patterns with friendships in her life and has begun to set boundaries with friends. She has also tapped into marijuana; although it began because of the alcohol restrictions in the pandemic, Nadia says the use of marijuana has helped with her anxiety. She regrets that it has not been legalized as this limits the way she can take it only to smoking. She worries smoking marijuana impacts the way her colleagues view her.
Nadia’s concerns are valid. Besides the legal consequences for marijuana use in Botswana, marijuana use is frowned upon despite how easily accessible it is here. Like most women, Nadia admits she has struggled with prioritizing her own pleasure, especially in a world that has restricted it in so many ways. We speak not only about the constraints that her identity as a transwoman puts on her relationship with her family, or her community but also on how truly difficult it can be to prioritize yourself when you have little to no resources.
Nadia’s experience of the pandemic may have been different had she had the financial resources to allow her to feel safe, joyful in her own home, for example. I ask her to imagine what a fulfilled, safe, joyful Nadia needs to feel supported in that, “A family with no judgement or expectations of my identity, genuine friendships were I am loved, and the opportunity to make money that allows me to take care of myself and those I love”, she answers.
Bame is a mindfulness and yoga instructor pursuing a PHD. When we speak for the first time I find out that she is not a mother of one like I thought, but of two. Her eldest is four, while her second is one. Bame describes how pleasure looks the same for her before the pandemic versus through the pandemic. She continues to enjoy spending time with herself in stillness, journaling, drinking tea and teaching yoga; however this has all been disrupted. As a new mom, during a pandemic Bame is finding that there is hardly enough time for the solitude she requires to feel herself.
“Before the pandemic, my husband would take the kids away and leave me alone, but now there’s nowhere to take the kids”, she says.
Besides the fact that outside is closed, Bame sees the difference in raising her one year old during the pandemic without the constant presence of community. In her first pregnancy she had the help of her mother through the Setswana tradition of Botsetsi**, while her second she could only have her mother with her for a few weeks. Although the autonomy that comes with being the adult in charge of yourself and your child is pleasurable Bame admits she misses the small village of people that were constantly available to help.
The pandemic has made her realise that she, along with all the women involved in her botsetsi, had given her husband an out of helping her where she needed it most. This time allowed them both to realise not just that she needed to ask for help more, but he needed to help more. For her, becoming more joyful requires learning to lean on her community to support her with her children, forcing her to confront the guilt that comes with being away from them or asking for help. Her first year of motherhood had already taught her that caring for herself allows her to better care for her children so she has been working hard on letting someone else care for them. I asked Bame what she needed for her to feel fulfilled, joyful and safe, she responded,
"I imagine I wouldn’t have to ask for help and that the people around me would recognize that I need support and offer to support me rather than romanticize the strong mom rhetoric”.
We tend to look at pleasure as a one person project, occasionally a two person project. Often people say “you are responsible for your own joy”, and while I do hear them these conversations have made me wonder: what then is the place of community in this? Where do we then begin to demand, and hold space for the people around us? Perhaps even support them through their own pleasure journeys... How do we begin to advocate for policy changes that could change the lives of women like Nadia, making it easier for them to access marijuana’s medicinal properties with no shame? Or how does Bame’s community support her in her motherhood journey without her fears of burdening them with her children? How can parents ensure that their children like me and Thuto have safe spaces in their homes?
Where can we all access the resources to change our lives?
Reflecting on my conversations with Nadia, Thuto, and Bame I realise that my own journey with my pleasure and joy has changed incredibly. Although at the beginning of the pandemic I turned inward: caring for myself through rekindling hobbies such as cooking, reading, painting, dance and yoga, my life changed so much it became clear to me I needed some autonomy in my life. The kind that was only available through independence. This realisation is of course incredibly jarring because of how independence in our reality is rooted in participating in capitalism. This new season for me required more than just things that felt good in the moment but things that contributed to getting me closer to my independence. While my motto to self-care has always been to say yes to myself more, to treat myself more, in this year it has been to say no to myself now and yes to my future. Like, Thuto I am learning the balance of being in the moment and planning for my future. Despite how daunting it is, I am also learning that although discipline and consistency are at the core of this change, kindness is as well.
The truth is consistency is hard; discipline is hard, choosing to show up is hard, choosing to make my dreams and desires come true is hard, it’s uncomfortable and requires vulnerability. Often I am left disappointed when even my discipline and consistency are not enough to carry me through certain challenges. Like Nadia, my needs to be able to live a pleasurable life hinge on many things outside myself. Funds that can only be found in a world that pays people their worth, during a time in the world where work is far and in between. like Bame, I have had to confront my own role in not getting what I need and simply accepting it. I have had to hold not just myself, but those around me to a higher standard and confront my fears of having them show up for me.
Perhaps the most important thing I am learning in my pleasure journey is kindness and grace, but more especially for myself. While my pleasure goals do include practical tangible goals such as saving for my own place, getting my driver’s license, or getting a well-paying job, they also include ones that can be a lot harder to quantify such as treating myself with kindness, setting up better boundaries with my family, playing and laughing more. One thing is certain, the most important ingredient in my journey has been kindly respecting the boundaries I set for myself.
* Names have been changed.
** Botsetsi is a traditional Setswana tradition of keeping mother and child segregated from the public till the child is three months. Traditions vary across tribes but during this time elder women teach the mother how to care for child, help with caretaking for them both, and give the mom time to recover physically.
Tshepo Jamillah Moyo (she/her), is an unapologetic black Pan African Intersectional Feminist Woman Human Rights Defender and writer. She was first published in an online anthology with the University of Nebraska via their Prairie Schooner platform. In 2016, she was published in Emergence, an artistic Journal of Women and Gender Non-Conforming People, and Walking the Tight Rope: Poetry and Prose by LGBTQ Writers from Africa. She was also profiled in WAVE WOMEN’s 50 Formidable Women coffee table book along with 50 women in Botswana in honor of Botswana’s 50 years of independence. Through performing arts, public speaking engagements and her expansive writing works on digital and traditional media, Tshepo has, put a lens on critical issues around equal rights and autonomy for women and girls. Tshepo Jamillah Moyo has a strong background in development, human rights and communications spanning a decade. She has, throughout her career, gained extensive experience in consultancies for human rights and advocacy on Sexual Reproductive Health Rights for women and adolescent girls and youth across the world and particularly the most marginalised in Africa. The 27 year old motswana born activist self published her debut chapbook Becoming in 2020. You can interact with Tshepo via her social media platforms, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.