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Piet conferred with his wife and other staff members, and decided this was a brilliant idea. He used money wired by the donor to download a cheap Nokia cell phone, a sim card, and some airtime for Agnes to use.
Her delight at the gift was evident.
With Agnes, an inexorable precedent was set: The phones were just the starting point: The article encouraged him only to mold the program around material presents rather than cash donations, instead of abandoning the project entirely. St Comp Int Dev rooms; I had to work hard to persuade them to do so before downloading items.
But upon discovering that they could dress themselves up in any outfit they wanted, two of the older girls began to try on progressively more revealing items, and it was only by commenting that Piet would disapprove that I was able to convince one of them not to download a midriff-baring halter top and mini skirt.
That was one of the first times I realized how mature the girls actually were, so accustomed was I to seeing them in their modest school uniforms. It certainly was not, however, the last time I had reason to reflect upon their growing interest in self-fashioning.
And, of course, though the staff and volunteers tended to speak of sponsorship in terms of its benefits to girls, boys also basked in the reward structure and were implicated in critiques about orphans that began to circulate among village adults. With the new objects came new ways of communicating. Both the lack of linguistic forms of appreciation and the different normative codes about asking caused no end of confusion—and grum- bling—among overseas volunteers. Many of them coached the kids to use polite turns of phrase in written correspondence with their donors: In view of the joy expressed by orphans at their gifts and their gradual acquisition of new forms of politeness, Piet hailed his own program a success.
Older teenaged girls were regularly asked to come speak to journalists about their lives, and a recurrent theme emerged in these interviews as girls spoke about their self-empowerment against such risks as HIV contraction, premarital childbearing, and victimization by older men. That is not to say that I think the girls were being disingenuous or engaging in artifice: But even if they did not want to contract the virus, the girls were undoubtedly keenly aware of the value of their abstinence rhetoric in the perspective of journalists and donors.
On a couple of occasions after the teenagers had spoken with visitors to the NGO, I found myself laughing along with them as they teased each other about how earnest they had sounded with the foreigners.
The subjectivities revealed in these interactions were a complex and at times contradictory manifestation of many partially overlapping moral messages.
To reduce their interview discourse to either calculated performance or unreflexive groupthink would misread their multilayered motivations and perspectives.
In their perspective, because the organization had assumed so much of the responsibility for providing materially for the children, their kinship allegiance was owed more to the NGO than to their legal guardians Dahl An encounter with one grandmother implied the reason why. Mma Lesetedi was a sweet-tempered woman whom I enjoyed visiting; she was the primary caregiver for two teenaged grandsons.
One afternoon in , I passed by their home to chat with the elderly woman and found her alone. In a lowered voice, the grandmother told me she had uncovered a secret. BThey knew I would look at it and say that the sponsor wanted them to help me out. No more would that be happening, she proudly insisted, given that she now had the moral backing of their own sponsor. And she proved correct: What struck me most at the time was the power held within that letter, and the authority that was transferred onto absent sponsors by both the children and their relatives.
The incentive to perform a demure projection of empowerment came through a combination of material enticement by Bathusi aid-workers—rewarding the girls and boys too who were particularly convincing in voicing discourses of self- empowerment—and outright disciplining.
She had disap- peared from her family home for a period of several days and had been seen in the company of an older man across the village. His lessons about good morality seemed to brook no failures or indiscretions.
In a moment of candor, Piet admitted to me that he was afraid Amantle was on a path toward HIV infection, and he did not want her to ruin his perfect record of no orphans getting pregnant or contracting HIV, preferring instead to preemptively eject her from the organization. Bathusi, like a quintessential sugar daddy, also demanded a certain kind of fidelity from its beneficiaries.
She was wearing bright red lipstick, dressed in tight white jeans,9 and giggling into a bottle of alcoholic cider as she chatted with two men who looked to be well into their thirties. The girl appeared momentarily horrified at being caught in the act of such flirtation, but after I complemented her on her outfit and gave her a somewhat bemused smile, she relaxed and later was the first of the girls to talk to me about her boyfriend troubles.
It took a while before the girls were willing to discuss their own relationships with me a legacy, no doubt, of my inevitable association with the attitudes held by adults in general and foreign volunteers in particular. Their responses ranged from uncomfortable laughter to poignant reflections.
Another girl, year-old Sarah, told me with a slightly affected use of the Setswana- English mixed argot typical of urban-educated Tswana youth: BNow that I have fashions from my sponsors, guys are interested in me. The clothing set them apart both for their good taste and for their access to expensive items, an index of a certain class achievement that also carries a local semiotic value: Sarah admitted that even one of the teachers at her school had begun sending her text messages after he had seen her at a village football match wearing a new outfit that emphasized her admirably propor- tioned backside.
When I asked how she felt about this, she shrugged and said it was a nuisance. While I suspect she felt a little uncomfortable with the riskiness of a flirtatious relationship with a teacher who are 8 Though especially at that time, many of the boyfriends were schoolmates.
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Similarly, year-old Masego delighted in surreptitiously text-messaging several guys who had been pursuing her while she was ostensibly tutoring younger orphans at Bathusi. She allowed me to see some of the texts, I suspect because she derived pleasure from showing off both her popularity and her little acts of resistance. Although several of the girls described their romantic relationships in calculated terms, it was also evident to me that having boyfriends whether or not they qualified as proper sugar daddies, a term that connotes an older man who offers girlfriends luxury gifts was more than just a mode of public self-fashioning or a way of projecting their sex appeal.
The ability to attract boyfriends willing to dress them well also linked to a sense of being cared for emotionally. Sixteen-year-old Gaone told me, BRra go Tau thinks we would only have a boyfriend because we want a cell phone. But I have my boyfriend because he loves me.
Part of what this suggests is that boyfriends can be status symbols, not unlike the cell phones that their sponsors were downloading. Rather than feeling that the resources received from Bathusi were a substitute for older boyfriends, the girls clearly saw them as a complement, and even a means to attract lovers.
By cleaning and dressing well— behaviors that Deborah Durham tells us are perceived in Botswana as signifying that a person has received social and emotional investment from someone who cares for them —girls thereby displayed their desirable character traits. Another young woman drove this point home to me forcefully. Sixteen-year-old Kagiso was the eldest of three siblings. Upon the death of their mother, they continued to inhabit a one-room building on a property that their mother had long shared with her sister, who had built a two-room house in the same compound.
Their peace agreement meant that the aunt took about half of the monthly rations, but Kagiso insisted on cooking separate meals for her and her siblings using the remaining rations. Kagiso was also hailed as one of the prettiest orphans at the center, and she took pains to dress well and maintain her skin and hair in stylish ways. Not only did her lover treat her kindly and evince no interest in depriving her of the resources that supported her small family, but he even brought them toiletries, candles, and blankets without being asked to do so.
For Kagiso, who had been angered by what she described as self-centered opportunism among her relatives, this boyfriend offered a striking contrast to all these other adults who seemed not to take seriously their legal mandate to care for the family. I did eventually meet the young man. Rumor in the village had it that he was not entirely faithful to Kagiso, but it was evident to me from his gentle deference to her self-asserted status as head of her household that he cared for her, and they continued to remain in a relationship for many years.
She had taken seriously the repeated lessons from the program that orphans must learn to be self-reliant from their kin. On one occasion, I heard Kagiso arguing with her aunt in Setswana about some matter of family politics, and in mid-rant she broke out with the English phrase, BI have the right to say no! This trend has continued long after the eventual closure of Bathusi in Yet in spite of the censure conveyed in that description, I have also seen relatives discourage girls from breaking up with boyfriends who provided much-needed toiletries and food for the whole family, regardless of their otherwise unsuitability.
On Loving, Giving, and Getting Much anthropology on sexuality in Africa has emphasized that romantic love is expressed through material resource provision in relationships Leclerc-Madlala ; Parikh ; Hunter ; Cole ; Smith While many young women undoubtedly feel pressured to find a wealthy boyfriend whose generosity will enable their survival, this cannot be reduced to an assumption that all girls are bartering their bodies in the raw sense of prostitution, with its incumbent negative moral valence.
In their recent volume Love in Africa, Cole and Thomas remind us that it would be a mistake to overdraw the distinction between material and emotional economies—love and care are equally expressed through giving things. Men were interested in girls who looked like others had already invested in them. Those concerns were partly about financial management and partly about the overall well-being of the children.
It has not reopened. St Comp Int Dev obey them. The goal of this program has been to ensure that families do not abrogate their moral duty to raise orphans.
But so generous are those rations that whole families can subsist however meagerly on one or two sets of them. So generous, indeed, that relatives will allow orphans to behave in ways that might otherwise have earned kids a harsh beating, solely because their residence there brings resources to the family. Refusing to do chores and dangling the threat that they might find a better option for themselves and leave the familial home for their boyfriends taking with them the needed food rations were ways in which many orphans harnessed the support of aid interventions to play with moral conventions.
These tensions did not necessarily result in massive fights inside the home; rather, most of the familial criticisms of orphans and by orphans took place in the form of muttered griping. While some of these tensions are associated with generational differences Cole ; Durham , the moral economy in which orphaned girls flirted literally and figuratively with sugar daddies and boyfriends was far more complex than that in which non-orphaned peers conducted their romantic liaisons. Harnessing monetary or material gifts from boyfriends was often perceived by the girls and by their relatives to be assertion of independence for orphans in ways it rarely seemed to be for non-orphaned girls.
When I asked one of the girls about people using this new nickname, she gave me a knowing smirk and said, simply, BThey are jealous.
Conclusions I have aimed here to provide an ethnographic analysis of how interventions in the name of humanitarian urgency can lead to the production of seemingly unruly subjects and contested moral choices. But I would not suggest that girls simply manipulated the generosity of the aid organization in order to further their selfish interests as their relatives regularly complained.
While the entire notion of sugar daddies reflects a widespread sense of modern sexuality run amok Parikh ; Leclerc-Madlala ; Cole , orphaned girls were not just asserting their modern identities nor the primacy of their selfish wishes against the moral codes of familial obligation that their relatives leveraged.
Obviously, the girls were interested in having fun, finding romance, and enjoying their youth. However, their refusal to be bound firmly by the moral codes of the NGO, or by those of their relatives, only makes sense in the full context of the moral and material value they brought to their families as recipients of both govern- mental and NGO aid. Their behavior relied upon multiple local understandings of morality in order for them to justify it—and, crucially, in order for their family members to have to tolerate it as they begrudgingly did.
Such positioning leads to incentive structures for orphans that are more oriented toward fulfilling the expectations and stereotypes of foreign donors than they are nuanced toward the local context.
Morality here emerges not only as a means of justifying various ethical positions but also as a thing to be negotiated in its own right. Instead, the well-dressed bodies of sexualized orphans serve as a reminder that such slippages are at times produced by the messy disparities of power that are constitutive of international development—and constantly negotiated in changing local moral codes—in the first place.
St Comp Int Dev Acknowledgments For their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper, I would like to thank participants in the Workshop on Anthropology and Population convened through the Population Association of America in , and participants in the Workshop on International Intervention at McMaster University in , funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation.
References Agamben G.
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Bornstein E, Redfield P, editors. Forces of compassion: Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press.
Cole J. Sex and salvation: University of Chicago Press. Cole J, Thomas L, editors. Love in Africa. Dahl B. Cult Anth. Famine crimes: Indiana University Press. Durham D. Youth and the social imagination in Africa: Anth Quart. Soliciting gifts and negotiating agency: J Royal Anth Inst. Fassin D.
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Ferguson J. Global shadows: Africa in the neoliberal world order. Heady P. What can anthropological methods contribute to demography—and how? Demog Res.Global shadows: These linkages between AIDS, vulnerability, and orphans are mutually defining.
Miriam Ticktin compel- lingly illustrated the effects of French asylum policy that granted amnesty to individuals deemed in special need due to debilitating illness or gender-based violence, while such laws simultaneously exclude those who do not meet these criteria. Related Papers. The incentive to perform a demure projection of empowerment came through a combination of material enticement by Bathusi aid-workers—rewarding the girls and boys too who were particularly convincing in voicing discourses of self- empowerment—and outright disciplining.