Diana Newton
Neighbors, 1982
Watercolor on paper
(12.2 x 12.2 inches)
(31x 31 cm)

The huts I rented in Gabane looked very much like this one. Building regulations prohibited the use of thatch in new construction in Gaborone. But in villages thatch was ubiquitous and flying low over one of the larger villages like Serowe (with 40,000 inhabitants in late 1970s), on the way to a remote construction site, was a memorable experience. Red earth and thatched huts nested inside circular or elliptical enclosures, as far as the eye could see. What a people-friendly scale! I don't mean to romanticize village life. The absence of electricity and indoor plumbing, the daily trek and queuing up for water at the village standpipe, and (for my neighbors) the constant search for firewood to cook meals and heat water ate up hours and energy, taking a toll on all, especially (so it seemed) on mothers. As a new mother myself, I felt a bond with my female neighbors. Motherhood seemed like an international language, and one we shared with animals, too. Tikety, my sweet Siamese cat, was a devoted mother to her kittens. She was a lovely pet and only caused one mishap. To come into the house from her night wanderings, she climbed through the (rather generous) gap between the top of the mud wall and the underside of the thatch. That gap prevents termites living in the mud from getting at the thatch (resting itself on naturally terminte-resistant or treated wood). This system worked well for all of us, except one night when she crash-landed on top of the gingerbread house I had baked and decorated for the holidays, before placing it on top of the (paraffin) fridge. That was the last time I used the top of the fridge for storage!