Thursday, July 14, 2011

10 More things I've learned in South Africa:

1. People use English words for random things. One of my favorites is when in a taxi with 15 other people all going different places a person will say “After robot” to communicate to the driver that they want to get out after the next traffic signal. The very first time I heard that I had no idea “robot” meant traffic signal, so when I heard the word robot I snapped my head up hoping to see one, or at least a person dressed as one. Unfortunately there were none to be seen.
2. Two other English phases on the taxi are “sharp right,” or “sharp left.” These are typically used while driving through the villages, as there are no “robots” to stop after. So when a person says “sharp right” that means they want the driver to stop at the next road that appears on the right side.
3. While we’re on the topic of taxis I might as well tell you what it’s like to ride one. As I’ve mentioned before, they squish as many people as possible into them, and then close all the windows. For some reason South Africans would rather be hot and forced to smell the nasty BO of their fellow passengers instead of opening a window because “it’s dusty outside.” I don’t notice dust coming in when we’re on the dirt roads when I get a window seat and crack it open just a bit, and there definitely isn’t any coming in on the tar road which we are on for the majority of the journey to town. But still, people will often demand you to close the window, or they’ll close it two seconds after I’ve opened it. Sometimes they’ll even do a sneak attack by pushing it closed from behind. It’s quite annoying because it gets HOT in those vans, or kombis as they’re called here.
4. I’m pretty sure black people think all white people look the same. In my village there was a previous volunteer, Leah, and in the beginning people asked me if I was her. We look nothing alike, and she was gone for 4 months before I got here. They would also ask if I am her sister. Negative as well, we’re not all related and/or know each other... Luckily most people have gotten the picture by now, but some people still call me Leah once in a while, especially the grade R (kindergarten) teacher at Bokgobelo. I just go with it now, Leah has become another one of my African names, along with Kamogelo (Ka-mo-hey-lo, which means “Welcome”) and Pheladi (Pee-la-di, which apparently doesn’t mean anything). Oh and every time I pass the crèche (pre school) the kids scream “Leah! Leah!” over and over again. I think they think all white people are called “Leah.” They also throw in a few “Legowas” as well, you know, just to make sure everyone is aware there’s a white person near.
5. It’s not considered rude here for someone to answer their cell phone during a meeting, in fact, it’s rare for one to go by without this happening. I’m sure this custom has something to do with the fact that it’s free for a person to answer an incoming call, while it would cost them their own money to wait until after the meeting and call the person back, but it still seems really rude to me, but I think I’m the only one.
6. South Africa is a very weird place, mostly because of the Afrikaaner and black South African dynamic. After the last post it became apparent to me that not everyone knows exactly what an Afrikaaner is, so I’ll break it down before I get to my main point. Afrikaaners are descendants from Dutch, German, and French settlers who came to South Africa back in the day (late 1600s and 1700s) and took over. The Afrikaaners ran the apartheid government which ended in 1994, which wasn’t that long ago, so there is still a lot of racism between black and white people here. (Side note to the side note, one time an Afrikaaner gave me a ride to the main road, 5 minutes away, and he asked me what I was doing here and all that, and after I told him I was living in a village he asked me if I felt safe living with “those people.”) But anyway, Afrikaaners are very similar to Americans or Europeans, and they often make the main cities feel like a mini America, while the village is Africa. There’s a new mall in Polokwane which definitely fits this. There are white people everywhere, a gnarly 3D movie theater, and tons of expensive stuff to buy. So once again, it’s crazy how there are places with everything so close to villages with almost nothing.
7. Tombstones and funeral services are a big industry here. There are store fronts for tombstones in every township and city in the rural areas, with different models on display. There are also tons of TV commercials for tombstones as well. I guess with South Africa having the highest prevalence rate of HIV/Aids in the world, and TB being a big issue as well, death is such a big part of everyone’s life that it’s normal to see tombstone stores everywhere. But when someone dies they rarely say what the cause was, which means it was probably Aids.
8. On a lighter note, people here like to say “I’m coming now now,” or “I’m coming just now.” And “now now” and “just now” mean two very different things. Now now means right now, while just now could be a while.
9. When someone asks where you’re from, they could mean two different things. Most of the time “Where are you from?” is asking where you just came from. People are nosy here, and it’s common to be asked “Are you from school?” Which means, did you just come from school. If I’m just meeting someone though and they ask where I’m from I always say America, and even then sometimes they wanted to know where I was coming from instead.
10. The most popular way to say that everything’s good, or cool, is the word “sharp,” often accompanied with a thumbs up. But with the African accent, “sharp” sounds more like the word “shop.” So if someone is asking if you need anything and you don’t, just say “I’m shop” and throw them a thumbs up, well, if you’re ever in South Africa, otherwise no one will know what you’re doing.