(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

Staff Sgt. Michael Porter kneads dough for cinnamon rolls to treat members of the Medflag mission.

Staff Sgt. Michael Porter kneads dough for cinnamon rolls to treat members of the Medflag mission. (Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

A Batswana patient is checked out by an American military dentist.

A Batswana patient is checked out by an American military dentist. (Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

Sgt. Larry Rolle tries his hand at grinding sorghum.

Sgt. Larry Rolle tries his hand at grinding sorghum. (Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

(Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

Sfc. Philip Horan dances with Batswana children who gathered behind the medical team's camp.

Sfc. Philip Horan dances with Batswana children who gathered behind the medical team's camp. (Janet D'Agostino/Stars and Stripes)

IT'S NOT EVERY DAY that a young man gets a marriage proposal. Sgt. Larry Rolle, a U.S. Army dental technician from Landstuhl, West Germany, was surprised indeed when not only one — but five — women offered to be his bride.

Rolle was a member of the American military's recent Medflag mission to the African nation of Botswana. The women "wanted to marry a black American and go to the States," he said.

Rolle, 26, did — or said — nothing to elicit the proposals. Some of the women, too shy to approach him directly, had their requests delivered through Botswana soldiers, he said.

When the first woman proposed to him, Rolle "thought she was joking." But when the proposals kept coming, he realized that the women were "half serious" about their offers.

Only three women in Botswana asked Sfc. Philip Horan if he would marry them. Horan has a wife at home, however, and he was interested in bringing her back a souvenir from the country.

Weaving is a traditional craft in Botswana, and Horan asked two village women to produce some of the beautiful cloth for him.

For three days, G.K. Obuseng and her daughter sat at the small wooden frames set up in front of their mud hut weaving the brightly colored threads. When Horan came to get his souvenir, they proudly displayed their work to him and his friends. He paid for his purchase and, in appreciation for the fine work, gave Obuseng's 14-year-old son Joseph his pocketknife.

"I felt very privileged to have the opportunity to get that close to those people and find out how friendly they were," Horan said. "They were some of the warmest people I've met in my life; very gentle and not a mean streak in them."

The Americans came to know the Batswana best in villages where life seemed to move in slow motion. Women sitting outside their huts would lift their heads to stare as the team rambled down the roads in Botswana military vehicles. Men and children walking through the brush or along the road would turn their heads and wave.

In the villages, the Batswana live in round huts made of red mud and covered with thatched roofs. The villages are built on dry, parched land that stretches mile after mile covered primarily with brush, spindly trees with dull-green leaves, and rocks ranging in size from pebbles to large boulders.

Donkey carts are the chief form of transportation in the villages, and herds of goats raised for food roam the roadsides as freely as pedestrians.

In the rural areas, the Batswana spent most of their time outdoors, even cooking their meals of beans, maize, porridge, corn or meat in black pots on open fires.

If the country seems poor by the standards of an industrialized Western nation, it is rich compared with other countries on the continent. The people are well-fed and well-clothed. Clean water is available to most villages from central taps. And education is considered a valuable asset.

Kago Mogotsi, 33, a teacher in the town of Seruli, said there are no troubles between the blacks and whites who live in the country.

"We like foreigners; that's why the children are running after you," she said.

The Batswana proved as curious about the U.S. Army soldiers as the Americans were about them. Soft-spoken and proud, they showed little expression when engaged in a conversation, but they often asked questions. They wanted to know about life in America, why Americans came to their country, what the Americans thought about Botswana. They often asked to exchange addresses and said they would like to visit America.

The Americans were constantly asking the Botswana soldiers to teach them words and phrases in Setswana, the native language. Sgt. Jim French, a video specialist documenting the trip, learned words such as dumelang (hello), no mathata, (no problem) and salang sentle (goodbye) to talk to people as he filmed them.

With no women in their own army, the Botswana soldiers gazed almost in disbelief when they first saw the American women wearing uniforms. Throughout the trip, the soldiers watched, fascinated as the women worked alongside the men as equals.

Lt. Col. Lesego Alfred Motlhatlhedi, an adjutant for the Botswana army, admitted that when he worked beside women while training in the United States, "I found it difficult to relate to them. But after awhile, I got used to it. According to our tradition, women are not supposed to do tough jobs."

Team members lived in tents set up first in the capital city of Gaborone and then in the village of Mmadinare in eastern Botswana. They worked from sunup to sundown, returning to camp in the evenings to wash up, eat a meal of MREs or tray rations by the campfire, and relax. One evening Staff Sgt. Michael Porter, the field cook, treated the team to homemade cinnamon doughnuts.

Munching on a doughnut, team chief Dr. (Col.) Gerald Trammel from Landstuhl, asked, "How do you like having a cook on this trip?" With mouths full, team members gave a unanimous thumbs up in support of Porter.

There were electric lights in the camp but no running water. An outdoor shower was erected of canvas, and makeshift sinks were made with metal basins and plywood. Hot water heated in metal barrels was available most of the time for washing. Best of all, there were clean port-a-potties.

It was winter in Botswana and night temperatures plummeted to degrees that rivaled a New England fall. But the days were warmer, painted with brilliant sunshine and a robin-egg blue sky.

Village children gathered behind the camp in the evening to dance and sing native songs, making music only with their voices and handclapping. Some soldiers stepped over the concertina wire surrounding the entire camp to take dance lessons from the children.

Specialists John S. Kennedy, Gary Charbonneau and Ed Schafer; Staff Sgt. Peter Scuccimarra; Capt. Steve Jones; and Dr. (Maj.) Douglas Scharre sang American songs, such as Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, for the children. But the Batswana did not seem as impressed by the talents of the Americans as the Americans were with the Batswana.

At night, the sky was peppered thick with stars and the air was filled with the sounds of animals, but none of them from wild beasts. Dogs barked incessantly and roosters started crowing long before dawn, awaking campers before wake-up call.

On most days team members traveled to the villages where they worked in the local clinics. Not long after their arrival, a crowd would gather outside. Old men sat in groups on the ground to talk, mothers lined up with their children or women clustered together, sometimes weaving baskets to pass the time. Most were there to be examined by the Americans, but some came to satisfy their curiosity about the foreigners dressed in funny green clothing.

A 63-year-old grandmother holding her granddaughter said she was pleased to get a thorough examination from an American doctor after suffering with a cough and sore throat for some time.

Many patients complained to Scharre, a neurologist, and Dr. (Col.) Jules Seletz, a surgeon, of musculoskeletal aches and pains in their shoulders, necks and backs.

Some of these aches and pains may have been caused by the lifestyle of the Batswana, the doctors said. For example, women and young girls grind grains with large pestle-like posts that they must heave up and down into wooden containers, straining their arms and shoulders.

The medical team questioned its own ability to provide any lasting medical assistance in one day. Many of the ailments they treated were chronic problems that needed ongoing care.

"The laying-on of hands is a misguided perception of how Third World countries can best be helped," said Dr. (Maj.) Douglas Phillip, a specialist in preventive medicine. "I want that thinking to be changed."

Trammel, the mission's chief, said he would recommend that future trips to Africa include more training of local doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

"We can provide more training of a more sophisticated nature," he said. "What we do now doesn't give them what they really need."

The night before the team traveled back to the capital city to prepare for the flight to West Germany, Botswana Defense Force soldiers slaughtered and roasted a goat in camp. Soldiers from both countries ate the highly seasoned meat and washed it down with Botswana beer while trading jokes and stories around the campfire.

It was almost a perfect ending to a trip that had gone without any major setbacks until the end. On what was to be the team's last day in Botswana, the Air Force C-141 sent to fetch the soldiers developed mechanical problems that could not be repaired. The team was forced to spend an extra week in the country while waiting for another C141.

Although tired, grimy and short of money, the team remembered Trammel's frequent advice to ''be flexible" and made the most of the bonus days by shopping and sightseeing in the capital city of Gaborone.

They visited a diamond sorting center and a small game park and bought handicraft products, such as weavings, pottery and baskets. Unfortunately there was not enough time to visit the Chobe National Game Park in the northern part of the country.

Looking back on the trip, 1st Lt. Patricia Warner, an operating-room nurse, said, "This is what we get into Army nursing for." The field experience provided "just a glimpse of what it must be like in war," she said.

Warner believed her nursing care in the villages "made a little bit of difference" to the Batswana and that at the minimum, it was a gesture of good will.

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