Friday, July 23, 2010

7/14: I tried to will the Internet to work for the better part of four hours at the library today, to no avail. But all was right again in the world when I stumbled into one of the home based carers with her two month old baby. I proceeded to invite myself into her home and pretended not to notice her scrambling to straighten it up as I lunged for the newborn. Eventually she began to hint at the need for her confiscated baby to eat, I ignored her. I grudgingly gave her up only when Fikile started to look alarmed and not a moment before. I then walked to my org to the daily cheers and fist pumps from a myriad of children, the novelty of which has yet to wear off. There I created yet another cultural snafu when I heard one of the few men employed at Zamimpilo yelling from our one office. Busi and I both went in to find him sprawled in one of the chairs, seemingly flaunting his protruding belly, with his arm outstretched with an empty plate demanding a refill. This scene is one that occurs almost daily but for whatever reason in choosing my battles, today I chose to fight. So when he said (all of which is translated), "Get me more food, oh and I want some tea too," I said, "Get up, why are you so lazy, you are closer to the tea and food than I am." While he looks at me with disdain, Busi scurries over to fill his demands. I tell her, "Busi, stop. Don't help him. He can do it himself." He then calls Sonto. I'm now creating a scene that all members of my org are watching with baited breath. I say, "Sonto, no, no, just stop. He can do it, really." You could here a pin drop, nobody's moving. Busi starts to grab the plate from me and knowing that I've more than made my cultural point, I went ahead and did what he asked. Only because I didn't want anyone else to feel as demeaned by someone barking orders through a door while propping his legs up to watch a poorly dubbed kung fu movie then I felt in that moment. I then sat down to eat after all of the men had finished and just got my first spoonful of pap near my mouth when another man, who just walked in, asked for some tea. I ignored him and he so generously reassured me that he could wait until I finished. I truly forgot when Busi came into the kitchen to ask why I didn't give him his tea, saying "Did you forget?! I'll hit you." I know she really wouldn't hit me but I realized then how hard I rocked the boat. None of the men talked to me for the rest of the day in some sort of silent protest to mark their scorn for my outspokenness. Point taken.

7/15: So I've been doing all Internet research for my org and Peace Corps business after work hours. Even though (and perhaps because) I don't do anything productive at work I still come home exhausted. This could be attributed to a myriad of things including but not limited to: my constant balancing act between respecting cultural habits and wanting to get something/anything done, the mental drain of being surrounded by a language I barely know and the absurd amount of MSG I'm forced to ingest daily. Regardless, it's dawned on me just today to work at home when I have PC reports or research for funding sources etc. so my time at home after work hours can be spent doing something other than working. Yes, that was truly a light bulb moment for me today.

7/16: I had a revelation a few weeks back that I can only control myself. It's fruitless to get frustrated by other people's definition of work especially when that time could be far better spent doing something productive myself. So today I took that to heart and cranked out all sorts of monitoring and evaluation forms for my organization and I even had tons of time left over for the afternoon round of gossip.

7/17: So today what should have been a four hour taxi ride to Pietermaritzburg turned into a better than fiction eleven hour epic journey. Waiting almost five hours for a taxi to fill up could legitimately cause someone to do unspeakable things. While in other circumstances a straight jacket would have been rightly called for, today I was so entertained by the enigma I sat next to I almost forgot that after this eleven hour jaunt I would have to turn back early the next morning to do it all over again. This fascinating man of only 21 spoke perfect English and knew more about American pop culture than any American I know. This was evidenced by questions like, "Do you know Rhianna? What about Chris Brown? Beyonce? Lady GaGa? Naz? Is he dead, I think he's dead. Do you know Madonna?" I swear this poor guy breathed four times in eleven hours, it was mind-boggling. Lucky for me, he would rattle off so many questions but never give me time to respond, which was fine with me because even though he was a fascinating specimen to watch I didn't necessarily want to play 20 questions all day. What was also clearly evident was the fact that he became proficient in English by watching television. Examples include, "I would never want to go to America." Now this I didn't believe. "Why not," I ask. "Okay I really really really want to go there but I wouldn't if I was an enemy of the State." "Why not?" "Because then I would have to fight the FBI and CIA by running through the streets with guns and doing covert ops." "Yes, it's best to avoid things like that." Another example: he asked me, "What do you think of the war in Iraq and Afganistan?" In typical Zangu fashion he answers his own question, "I think it was a matter of national security." "What?" "You know, it's like the Russian spies. Obama had to kick'em out, it was a matter of national security." So in the end we take an unprecedented lunch break during the taxi extravaganza, which was fine with me because I ate breakfast at 5:00 and it was 3:00. By the time I got there it was almost dark and I missed my Zulu teacher's family's tombstone unveiling ceremony (the reason why I came). I was, however, treated to a wonderful meal and good company. Amongst half a dozen hanging cow carcasses, I sat in a hut lined with men drinking a thick grey liquid out of white buckets which apparently is what 'Zulu beer' is. I then ate for the third time in three hours though this last one topped the rest as I went to an amazing- for-American-standards Italian restaurant with three other Americans. So fun.

7/18: I had a lovely, relaxing brunch on the porch of two former PCVs. Everyone was having such a good time that my insistence to get an early start after my marathon journey the day before went unanswered. I finally resorted to as close to begging as you can get with people you barely know. Eventually we get to the taxi rank but I knew, even in the best case scenario, how unlikely it was that I was making it to Nondweni tonight. So I got to Dundee when it was pitch black, which almost always signifies the end of the work day for taxi drivers, and still had two taxis to go to get back home. I opened the taxi when it was still moving to try to catch the last taxi to Nqutu. I soon realized this dramatic stunt, much to the cheers of my fellow passengers, was completely unnecessary when I found the taxi empty. I could have any seat in the house. I called my go go to tell her I was on my way home but I was going to come home after dark (after her bed time). I could tell when she picked up the phone that she'd been crying. I asked her what was wrong and she was so worried about me. When I called her back when I got to Nqutu to say that everything's fine but I'm going to stay with my American friend tonight because there aren't any taxis, she was hysterical. I tried my best to say that I will see her tomorrow morning, I promise, and she doesn't need to worry. 'I'm staying with another American and she's very good and nice.' She eventually calmed down but it just broke my heart that I caused her so much anxiety. Unfortunately, I wasn't so lucky in Nqutu. When I got to the taxi rank it was completely deserted. So I called the PCV who stays in Nqutu begging to stay at her place. She, of course, complies but explained that I needed to take a taxi to get there. I was under the impression that she lived in town so I started to panic. Okay, I'd been panicking about this exact scenario all day but now it was really happening. She actually just lived five minutes out of town so I swallowed all semblance of pride I had left after I offered the taxi driver a substantial sum to drive me to Nondweni which he proceeded to scoff at, to drive me just a ways down the street. Please. Please. Plllleeeeaaaasssseee. I think he just got fed up with me making a fool out of myself so he eventually agreed though just for suspense we sat in the taxi for literally ten minutes while he thought about it. Anyway, it worked out and even though it was quite traumatic it was nice to see a PCV I hadn't seen in a while.

7/19: I had quite the prodigal son homecoming today with people coming out of the wood work, running down the path to greet me. There were hugs all around from every lovely lady at my org. Our weekly meeting in the closet (office) was so full of women today that I literally couldn't fit another chair in so I happily sat on another grown woman's lap. It's so good to be home.

7/20: Today my supervisor seemed very excited about starting several projects, unfortunately the timing was horrible because I'll be in Pretoria for two weeks for training but i was excited that she was excited.

7/21: Several of the neighborhood children followed me home today so we all got out every People magazine I've hoarded since stepping on African soil six months ago. This meant a handful of five year olds and one older sister of about ten reading Hollywood trash in a foreign language for hours on end. But all hell broke loose when the older girl, Zanele, saw a picture of Justin Bieber. There was so much screaming in my tiny hut I was counting limbs. Never in a million years did I think anyone in my village would be aware of the tween pop tart. Ever so ironically, I searched under my bed and brushed the dust and bugs off of the Justin Bieber poster given to me by fourth graders at the American elementary school I'm corresponding with. She just about died. Lots more screaming. Now, of course, her younger sister and her are blowing kisses to the heart throb. I'm dumbfounded. Seriously speechless. When they turn to leave she regretfully hands me back the poster. I thought she was going to faint when I said she could keep it. Who would have thought?

7/22: So I was booty shakin' to 'put your a** into it' when a woman from my org stopped by. Luckily I saw her through the window before she saw me flailing my arms with my ipod blasting. She's taking an adult education class to study for the metric exam to pass 12th grade. It wasn't easy to explain 2nd grade level math problems to someone in a second language but I think we made it work. So two men with mental health issues tried to visit me at work today. This was very exciting to everyone but me. Apparently, if you have a 'crazy' man in love with you it's good luck and I have two that are ready to marry me! Everyone was congratulating me. Here's a little fun fact for you, so I spent the better part of this afternoon taking out my supervisor's weave, which by the way is not for the faint of heart. Because of the sheer expense of such a luxury, women here leave their weaves in until the edge starts halfway down their scalp. Another unfortunate casuality of the weave expense is the absurd amount of build up and stench associated with not washing your hair for months on end. All ten of my fingernails were filled with gunk about thirty seconds in. Also of note today was how I was washing my dishes in the bucket system I now have down pat with Zindle tied to my back jamming to a local radio station. I then stepped back and wondered how I will ever fit back into American society.

7/23: So one of the women I work with, Sindi, asked me to bring shampoo and a towel to work today, she was going to make me pretty. This prospect was very exciting. When the time was right she put about two inches of boiling water into a bucket and said she was ready. I tried to pantomine that the length and thickness of my hair is really not very condusive to such a small amount of water. She begged to differ. She then started to put shampoo on my dry hair which I tried, in vain, to tell her is skipping a step. Again, she politely disagreed. After she poured a good quarter of the bottle on my head she realized, a bit too late, that there wasn't, in fact, enough water. She then tried to just comb out the soap, which was only partly effective. At this point, several other ladies got involved toward their mutual goal of the perfect coif. They then used the pee bucket to pour gallons more almost boiling water on my head. This was a little overboard but got the job done. She surprised me with a blow dryer and started to dry one patch of my scalp until I thought all the hair was singed off. (I checked and all my hair is accounted for). She then gets out the baby oil. At this point, I've definitely learned my lesson in trying to voice my opinion about our beauty parlor play-date, so I just let this one go. She was shocked that the baby oil just did not seem to be working. I told her that no matter how much oil you put on my hair, it will never feel like yours. This again, was met with objections. Half the bottle was gone and my hair was wet with oil, dripping in fact. Everyone saw this as a really good sign. She then slicked it back into such a tight ponytail it almost hurt. I step out of the office to cheers from everybody. One of the men is breathless. Sindi then says, "I'm so tired from trying to make you pretty." Everybody was so relieved that I was going to look nice for my Peace Corps training in three days. I might even get a boyfriend, they said, if I was really really lucky. After that ordeal, which lasted the better part of the afternoon, I tutored the woman I helped yesterday with her homework. She seemed excited to learn and we stayed hours after everyone else left to finish. She was just starting to get it at the end, which was pretty awesome too.

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