I hope you can easily forgive my absence of posts this last month, it’s been busy! I’ve been at my permanent site for over a month now, and it’s starting to feel like home. I’ve cleaned, bought furniture, and decorated my hut. I’ve walked many miles to and from different parts of my community and met a lot of people! For the next few months I’ll continue to integrate into my new Swazi life.
With a valiant effort to flow into a new culture there are bound to be some flops. I’ve had a fair amount and love to share laughs with family, friends, and Swazis alike regarding these silly screw ups. This blog post is going to share three short stories meant for both learning and laughter.
In the land of snakes, spiders, and scorpions natives and visitors are bound to react differently to the presence of these critters. I realized that my debilitating fear of spiders was going to gain me no sympathy at my first day in site when I spotted probably the biggest spider I’ve ever seen casually hanging out on my wall. Naturally I called my 9 year old sisi over to hand me a shoe and instead she gave me a surprised look, walked over to the wall, killed it with her hand, wiped it on her skirt, and continued sweeping without speaking a word. Like a boss. Since then I’ve only been able to draw inspiration from her when facing terrifying creatures on my own. Many weeks after my my move in date is where this story begins. It had been over 100 degrees and the power had been out for over 8 hours. It was a full moon that night so we all brought chairs outside while Make cooked dinner over the fire. After our bellies were full and we were enjoying each other’s company in the moonlight one of the adults came over to me and as if she were saying nothing more important than, “what time is it” she told me in siSwati there was a snake behind me. I initially didn’t react because of course I must have understood the language wrong. But nonetheless I knew I couldn’t have mistaken the word for snake or “inyoga”. So, of course I turn and look behind me when sure enough there was a small snake chillin’ right behind me. Obviously, I jumped, screamed, and ran very far away. When I turned around Make had a stick and with one swift swipe WHAM the snake was dead. I slowly and sweatily walked back to the gathering where I was trying to pull myself back together. When I got to the fire Make gave me one look, one laugh, and continued conversation as usual. I don’t think I’ll ever get use to that.
A couple of days after my arrival things started to settle down and I began to have some free time. My Make (mother) oddly has TLC channel, the only U.S. station, on her TV. Normally we watch Swazi soap operas, the news, or cartoons. Today, however, I was free and my auntie decided to watch the TLC channel so I could listen to a program in English. Randomly, we were watching My 600 Pound Life. Approximately 0.002 seconds into the show one of the children excitedly tapped me on the arm and smiling she whispers, “Sisi! She is just like you!” Trying to ignore the obviously rude statement I continued to watch the show. Only minutes later another grandchild turns and says to me, “Sisi! She is just like you!” At this point my confusion skyrockets and my self esteem has taken a blow. Then about 20 minutes later the loudest and most outgoing host brother comes into the room, greets us, looks at the TV, looks at me and bellows, “SISI, SHE IS JUST LIKE YOU!” The entire room breaks out into laughter and excited chatter in siSwati. Internally I’m questioning every slice of pizza or ice cream cone I’ve ever eaten when finally I’m relieved of the show with a commercial break. Not even truly watching the TV at this point, the child who first got my attention points and announces, “Look, Sisi, she is just like you too!” Bracing myself to see a promo for next week’s episode of My 600 Pound Life I look up and instead see an ad for Say Yes to the Dress where a tall blonde is parading around in her dress that she will presumably say yes to. With a furrowed brow I look around the room and those paying attention are nodding in agreement. It took me roughly 45 minutes to figure out that they were saying she is like me because I’m white, not because I have a 600 pound life.
My last blunder happened only a few days ago when I went to shadow a first grade teacher at the local primary school. As we all know, first graders are inherently curious so when I stepped foot into the room all eyes were on me and they were hanging on every word that came out of my mouth. The entire class period goes by with nothing more notable than children’s darting eyes and waving hands being directed towards me. In the last 10 minutes of class the teacher asks me to come up to the front of the classroom to talk about myself. We get only as far as my name and occupation when she asks me where I’m from. Now, to me this is always a loaded question because, let’s face it, even some Americans think Idaho is in the Midwest conveniently crammed somewhere between Indiana and Iowa. I’ve learned to just reply with a simple, “America”. But unfortunately for me this answer did not suffice today and the teacher asks me to share which state. Of course I replied, “Idaho”. Not hearing me properly she asks me to repeat. Again, I say Idaho. She (and the class) look extremely confused so I say, “Do you know Idaho?” This back and forth continues for many minutes. Idaho, Idaho, Idaho. What, what, what? I try to explain geographically where I’m from, which also doesn’t go over well. Finally, the teacher has had enough and exhaustedly says, “How could you not know where you’re from?” At this point I realize that she, and the entire class, thought that instead of saying ‘Idaho’ I’d been saying ‘I don’t know’ over and over and over again. I turn to grab a piece of chalk so I can write the name and even possibly draw out my state as a feeble attempt to redeem myself from the damaged I’ve caused it. Unfortunately, to this day there are still about 50 students and one teacher who think I don’t know where I live because before my chalk could even finish the “I” the bell rang and the classroom was immediately empty.
Sadly (ha), I don’t have photos of any of these stories. So instead I’ll share a beautiful sunset taken from the front porch of my Make’s house. Love hearing from you all, and as always I’m missing everyone from home!