My Baba is unstoppable. He’s over 70, has a bad knee, and chugs onward as if nothing was wrong. He went to the primary school where I’ll be teaching and grew up in our village so he knows it like the back of his hand. He is a well-respected, traditional, loyal and wise community member who I already look up to very much. In my measly two weeks at site thus far, we’ve been on a couple key walks that have given me much insight into both how life works in the village and how life just…works.
The first was last Sunday. Baba, Zweli, and I walked around the hillsides for six hours meeting my neighbors and family members. Well, I’ll be fair – we didn’t walk for six hours, but we were gone for that long. Much time was spent visiting with unbelievably hospitable new friends. In this land, more emphasis is put on people and relationships than a clock or a calendar. I came home with gifts (they say that they always give gifts to ‘newborns’) and feeling incredibly welcomed. Upon arriving home, Baba turned to me and said, “Thandeka, you are rich now.” It took me a second to adjust to the new truth I was hearing. I was floored by the simplicity and beauty of his sentiment – and how right he was!
The other walk was one that was initially trying on my nerves before I was able to see the purposeful core of it. Baba and I had to go to town to take care of some Peace Corps forms; we needed stamps from the school, the bank, and the police station (in no particular order) as well as needing to send a fax of a different, already completed form. The establishments were in two clusters on different sides of town and instead of doing one side and then the other, Baba wanted to do them in a specific order, meaning walking back and forth. Being raised in America and always focused on time and efficiency, I had a slight mental block of frustration to start with. The day went on and as we walked (quite a bit, from side to side to side…), we were able to greet many friends in passing. We even ran into the induna (chief) that I had met the previous week while being accepted by the traditional leaders. Who knows if that would have happened if we had done our errands my way? I began to realize, just like in the community walk, perhaps we shouldn’t always be slaves to the clock. Why not walk with a slow gait through town several times or have another cup of tea at a new relative’s house? At the end of the day, it’s going to be okay. Once I got this through my head and accepted it, everything about the day looked up.
It’s inevitable that I’m going to encounter cultural differences, like this one, throughout my service and I think it really is all about attitude and having an open mind. I’d say that rolls into every facet of life too, not just in living abroad. Being positive and patient is easier said than done, yes, but it looks like I’ve signed up for lots of opportunities for practice over the next couple years!
P.S. My new name is Thandeka (“lovable”) Ndlovu (“elephant”). About a month ago, the students’ parents called a meeting so that they could name me. It was an elderly gogo who came that was adamant about ‘Thandeka’ (pronounced tahn-deka or tahn-dega) and I think that I’ll get to meet her later this week!