Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Barber Shop- Taxi Stop

Barber Shop-Taxi Stop

Each morning on the corner of Boom street and Van Der Walt Street, on my way to the Lerato House, there’s a old man with a beautifully creased face who pulls some stunt to try and get Maren, Carlota, or I to get into his taxi going to “MABOPANE, MABOPANE”! It’s usually something like an empty water bottle set in the middle of the sidewalk and if we step around it to one side or the other he’s there to greet us with a big missing-some-teeth-smile and a directive arm into his mini-taxi. We say good morning, laugh a little bit and go on our way, past the final fruit stands and impromptu barbershops that are set up with just a piece of carpet, a chair, a mirror, and some display poster with pictures of handsome men with jerry curls or radical designs shaved into their heads.

The people I pass each day are becoming some of the bright spots in it. From Museum’s Park where I stay, to the TLF office there are people who have found “their place” in the city. It’s nice to have friends to greet along the way. Brenda and her boyfriend have claimed one of the light-post benches as their seats for watching the city. Most days they are doing some washing and have laid clothes out to dry on the hedges of the city hall park. Their little boy, Branwell who is about a year and a half old is often playing with some bottle cap or charming the passersby (myself most definitely included) with his curly brown hair and hopeful smile. He’s one of the kids that it will be hard to part with at the end of the year. Chris occupies the bench next door to these three. He’s an older white man who is now blind. Chris has come up with the nickname for Siri, Miss Seattle. The other day, he asked her when she will become, Miss Universe!? Jenny used to join Chris on the bench but has recently found a new location for awhile. Frankie runs the corner candy and necklace table and somehow makes a living on the profits. I’ve never really seen him with any customers…but he’s a great guy and is always happy to chat. His buddy’s are usually chilling in the park behind him playing cards or smoking. So, although we white ladies here in Central, do stick out like….well like, white ladies in central, it’s been really fun to get to sit down with people and chat…hopefully breaking down some of the stereotypes that are present on both sides of the conversations.

Most of you have seen the comic, Family Circus. You know the ones where they follow the little boy around during his whole day. By the end of the day there are lines in and out of the house, every door, tree branch, fence post, and animal has been run around twice. This is how many days here feel like. Last week, I was talking with my mom and step-dad on Skype at the internet café. It’ closed at 5, so at 5:20 I had to leave (African time does work to my advantage sometimes too). But I had set a time to talk with a friend at 5:30. The owner directed me to another café “just down the street.” I hustled over there…3 blocks away, to find that this café was open for 2 more minutes. They kindly directed me to another place that is “just the same as ours.” Silly me, assumed that meant they had Skype too. So, back to Church street (another 3 blocks), past the Jet store and CNA, past the ABSA bank, down the hallway, through this massive building I had never seen before, down the escalator…I found the place. It was open for 15 more minutes, they did not have Skype and cost 3x as much as anywhere else. Finished. Ready to give up, I slowly started to wander home. Taking a different route, just for the sake of variety I passed another internet café in some little shopping center and popped my head in just to check. It was a decent place so I hopped online there to admit defeat to my friend that I had hoped to talk with, 30 minutes after the fact. When I get home to the states…I will be the best scavenger hunter in the WHOLE WORLD! To find places here, you must look for clues, take hints from the people around you, always always ask a second opinion, and assume you will make 3 extra stops to get where you’re actually going! Turn it into a game and this way of living is actually entertaining! I’m learning why people don’t (or can’t) rush here.

Since were talking culture…some of my favorite new phrases that are quickly becoming a part of my vocabulary:
Now now- it means later, or much later, or maybe later tomorrow…..to clarify that something will truly happen soon, you say “just now” or now now now now now!
That side- to say something is “over there.” Ex: Stephens went that side just now
Jump the robot- cross the street. Traffic lights are called robots… Ex: Let’s jump the robot to catch that taxi.
Salty cracks-crackers. They’re salty and they’re cracky.
Make a plan- This one may seem self explanatory but the way it’s used is amazing. It’s said for everything…you need lunch, you make a plan. Forgot your pen and need another one, make a plan. The best comparison is “figure it out,” in American English.
Organize ________: To pull things together, or “make a plan.” But I never knew that so many things can be organized! Ex: I need to organize some money for transport. Or, I’ll organize us some food for lunch. It’s also a little ironic sometimes due to the fact that things are usually so un-“organized”.

Something fun that’s begun to happen in the past month is that I can recognized different accents from areas in South Africa and from the other South African countries. The Zimbabwean accent sounds distinctly different to me than the South African. Sometimes the difference between northern and southern Zimbabwe is noticeable but I’m still learning. Though, in South Africa there are many different accents too; the coloured people have a very strong accent as do the people from Durban/Kwa Zulu-Natal. British and Afrikaans are also very different sounding (not all white people sound the same here). I can also hear the difference between a few of the languages; Zulu, Tswana and Sutu. The Nigerians in Pretoria also have a noticeably different way of speaking. Though, sometimes I’m wrong about who’s from where…it’s fun to try and start guessing. My accent is hard to mask so the game doesn’t really go two ways but many times people have spoken to me in Afrikaans and been surprised or offended when I can only respond in English. Sorry ne!?

What do people think about America? Oh, we’ve gotten some incredible questions and comments about the US. It’s is so funny to be from a country that is completely egocentric. When you travel outside our borders you learn quickly how skewed the world’s view of our nation is. Both Siri and I have been asked so many times, which celebrities we know….and if we live near them. Do I know Brittany Spears? Nope. “What!? You don’t! But she’s American!” Will Smith? No. Beyonce? No, sorry. I don’t know any celebrities….I have seen one…but people are not impressed with Ryan Stiles. Sorry Ryan.
Some other favorite questions… “Where is America…is it in Europe? Wait, where is Europe!?” “Who’s the governor of Washington DC?” “What state is Florida in?”

It’s fun to explain our little country to people….or at least to try.
Today, walking home from Salvokop (a community literally on the other side of the train tracks), there was a little girl about 4 or 5 years with a bright pink backpack on, that had written on it in black sharpee, “Beyonce.” I think the little girl had been named after her mom’s favorite singer!

In many ways, South Africa and America have some common ground in the diversity of their landscape, geography, and people and it has been so interesting to see in small ways how we can be learning from each other in adapting to and honoring these differences. One of the visions that TLF works towards is the idea of an “inclusive city.” This is a place where all people feel represented, safe, and valued. It’s a difficult reality even to completely comprehend but I believe that it is not only the desire of God for His creation but also something that He empowers us to help create in our daily interactions with people and in how we live and work in the places we are present in.

It’s almost Thanksgiving and there will be a lot of events here to keep my mind and heart busy as people are back home feasting and enjoying each other. Tuesday, I’ll be leading a Bible study for the girls in prison. Thursday is our monthly celebration to recognize the good things that have been happening in the community and that following weekend is the organization’s yearly retreat which I’ve heard is a really great time! So, family….don’t worry about me too much. I’ll miss you all dearly but there will be lots of food and fun here to fill me up! I love you guys!

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