Thursday, March 11, 2010

Proof I am still alive

Riding home from Oshakati in the bed of a pickup with 5 kids and 4 grown men, I saw a small herd of red hardabeest and an oryx. I have yet to see a giraffe there, but I am told it is possible. That is my new goal in life……spotting a giraffe outside of Ogongo.

Something is perplexing me….too strong of a word….I have had a few short contemplations about something. So my learners have a pretty good sense of humor and I am able to joke and even be sarcastic with them. Thank god they have finally caught on to my sarcasm….most of the time. Anyways, so a few weeks ago I was packing up my things to leave grade 7 as I caught Tangi trying to jump through the window. I quickly stopped him and jokingly asked him, “Are you a monkey?” (No) “Then walk through the door like a human being please.” He looked at me like I had just slapped him across the face. He said something under his breath in Oshiwambo and stormed out the door leaving me a bit confused. Then last Friday I was hanging out with some of the little ones in the library. They were hanging on my arms and legs and just being silly. I started tickling one of them and said “You are such a little monkey!” The older kids that were around scoffed at me and she immediately dropped from my arm, slapped me on the calf and started laughing. Do these kids have a thing against monkeys? Perplexed.

After living here over a year, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on Ovambo culture and what was or wasn’t culturally acceptable. I learned quickly, mainly through trial and error, that the meme at the cuca shop will be highly offended if I give her money with my left hand, my colleagues will seek me out and scold me if I do not greet them first thing in the morning, andthere are certain words in oshiwambo that you never say in front of a kuku (grandmother). It is acceptable for me to flaunt my chest, but the second my skirt creeps above my knee I am scandalous. I offer my guests something to drink immediately after entering my home (even if it someone I don’t know or don’t like) and I have found myself curtsying and placing my left hand on my right arm when I hand anything. I thought I knew it all. I was wrong. Two days ago one of my closest learners, Lukas, was in the library with me after school. I can’t remember the exact context, but I made reference to someone acting like a monkey. “Miss, you are very much insulting. You cannot call someone a monkey.” He was unable to explain why. Later, over a few 40s of Windhoek Lager, I asked a friend to explain. To my horror, I learned that “monkey” is what the white colonists called blacks during apartheid. What I thought was a playful pet name was really a derogatory racial slur……coming from a white girl. Shit. I quickly realized that there is a lot about this culture that I don’t know and have yet to learn about. A learner at Jen’s school made another girl cry by telling her that her mother smiled like a black mamba. I think I will steer clear of using animal names for awhile.

1 comment:

Katie said...

isn't it amazing how different cultures are?! i acutally just wrote a paper for my religion class about how different we all are, but are connected in more ways then we even know...i bet you are finding this out too :) love reading your updates! Katie