Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm a millionaire prude and still struggling with "indirect communication"

But first, seem my new roommates? A baby nasturtium plant, two baby marigolds, and a baby herb that I belive may be a sage, but am not sure.
I bought a package of mixed herb seeds and nasturtiums when I moved in. The marigold seeds were a gift from a fellow volunteer: Judy. Thanks Judy!
Originally, I hoped to plant the seeds in a potting mix. Then, I discovered that the smallest bag of potting soil I could find weighted about 40 pounds. I spent weeks and weeks trying to figure out how I could haul such a heavy bag home on the minibus (and haul it to the college campus)when it finally dawned on me that hey, most African nationals can't afford potting soil, so what would they use? (If they could even afford to buy seeds?) African "soil."
When I complained to my mom that African "soil" seemed to be red clay, she suggested mixing it with egg shells, used tea leaves, etc., which I have done. Deanna had tolerated a lot of my indoor gardening practices, but I don't think she would go for indoor composting. Anyway, I'm trying this small bit of composting and now have baby plants in a somewhat arable soil. Yay!
I've also posted a pic of my "spiritual inspiration wall" that is growing daily. Here, I tape up inspirational quotes or comments I come across. I have several of these inspirational "spots" in my apt.
So, I have been busy with end-of-school-year celebrations. Many have involved parents and children, and I have greatly, greatly enjoyed these get togethers. Two such occasions, however, included parties specifically for the educators (no parents or children). In South Africa, they use the words "educator" and "learner" instead of "teacher" and "student." I didn't think I would ever get used to the switch, but apparently I have.
Both schools chose the same venue to celebrate but on different days; I went to the college party first.
The venue was "Boerplaas." Boerplaas is an Afrikaaner word meaning "farmer's farm." The grounds were lovely: planted flower beds, a swimming pool, children's play area, many grills for braaing, putt-putt, etc. (Braai is the Afrikaaner word for grilling, or barbecuing. Braaing is big, big, big in SA.) Boerplaas lies a just north of Vryburg, so is about 50 minutes to an hour away.
Both schools hired minibuses for the trips, but the minibus drivers were invited to the party.
Before the happy day, the party coordinator went about asking what everyone wanted to drink. I replied, "Apple juice?" (They have a nice sparkling apple juice here that I've become quite fond of.)
Now, I'm not a drinker and I'm normally not around people drinking. I don't mind being with people who are drinking a glass of wine or two with dinner, or having a couple of beers. When friends of mine ask if their drinking will bother me, I ususally reply, "No, your drinking will not bother me. It only bothers me if I'm drinking."
Well, I'd been warned that South Africans that I live and work with "drink to get drunk." But didn't think much about it. I don't mind people drinking to get drunk, or morally judge people who are drinking to get drunk, I'm just grateful it is not me and don't want to be around them while they are doing it.
So, we arrive at the party around 10:00 am. In the morning. I'm immediately struck when I go to collect my beverage that I'm the only one who will be drinking Appletizers. And I was also struck by the fact that those around me weren't collecting beers, they were collecting fifths of Jack Daniels whiskey, bottles of scotch, etc. I thought, "Oh, oh and Oh, no." Sure enough. At 10:00 in the morning.
Luckily for me, a woman that I had sat with on the ride up mentioned that she would be "scooting out of the party pretty early." I asked, "May I scoot out of the party early with you?"
So, blessedly, I spent the day chatting with friends, amused in the behaviors of those around me, (and very grateful it wasn't me) and "scooted out of there" by early-afternoon.
I took my good fortune for granted.
The following week, when I learned I was invited to a similar party with the other school, I specifically asked whether there would be drinking and whether or not I would be home before dark. I asked these questions so I could decide whether or not I should attend the party. The South African practice of "indirect communication" got me into trouble. Here's how the conversation played out:
me: I would love to come to the party. Will there be drinking?
her: Oh no, the women in our school don't drink and if there is drinking at all, it will be very little and you won't even see it.
literal translation: Everyone will be blasted.
me again: Will I be home before dark?
her: Oh yes, you will be home well before dark.
literal translation: Oh no, you won't be home until well after dark.
me: What time should I arrive at the school in time to depart for the party?
her: 8:00 am.
here's what happened: I arrived at 8:00 am and we left the school at 10:30 am. We arrived in Vryburg at 11:00 am and stopped at a grocery store for cold drinks. We left the grocery store at 12:30 and finally arrived at the party at 1:00.
The rest of the party played out very similarly to the first, except I didn't have the opportunity to "scoot out early." I finally arrived home about 9:00 pm and very, very grateful to have arrived home safely.
I had never realized what a prude I was, but I certainly am. I had a very unpleasant time and felt very anxious for all of the day.
On my arrival to school the next day, I took my own shot at "indirect communication":
her: Did you have a nice time at the party?
me: Oh yes, I had a lovely, lovely time.
literal translation: I'll know where not to go when invited next year.
When I was staying with my host family, I engaged with an interesting, if exhausting, conversation with my host family father about my motivation for serving Peace Corps and why I was "serving" in South Africa.
I tried to explain that I was a volunteer, had left my life and family at a great personal sacrifice, all because it was a great honor to serve my country and a wonderful opportunity for a life experience.
He seemed to think that I was doing it because the governement would make me very rich.
After I picked myself up off the floor from laughing so hard, I attempted to convince him otherwise. And here was my mistake: there is no convincing a South African national (who is of this mindset) of anything else other than all Americans are rich and Peace Corps volunteers come only for financial gain.
Phew! I can't tell you how many times I've tried to engage in this futile conversation.
Well, it was more difficult still at these parties, because the alcohol consumption only made things worse, and there were about 350 area educators who seemed to want to engage me in the very same conversation. It seems that all the educators of the district like to go to the same party at the end of the school year, but I was the only PC volunteer there and quite an attraction.
In the future, to spare myself this exhausting, frustrating experience, I'll just practice this practice of "indirect communication":
anyone: Your government will provide you with wealth and riches when you return.
me: Yes, my government will provide me with wealth and riches when I return, I am very rich and will be even richer.
And perhaps in this way of conveying information, they will understand.
My learning curve is steep, but I am learning!
Soon, Karen
PS. I'm happy to report that I'm holding the key to my college's library and gleefully anticipate having regular internet access for the next 4 weeks! And am hope, hope, hoping that will be the case! Woo hoo!


  1. Goody! I hope you will be able to have internet. Have you looked into Skype and the availability of a microphone or camera hook-up? I hear they are cheap here but don't know if you will even have access to such things. Will send letter.

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