Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Deep Soweto

It’s Monday morning and (fortunately? Unfortunately?) I don’t have any crazy stories from Soweto for you.

It turned out to be a lovely family evening in which my German friend and I were the guests of honour, even though it was a girl’s 14th birthday.  We tried to make it up to her, though, by providing entertainment, taking lots of photos, and each giving her R20 ($2.20 CDN).  I would have given her more, but her mother only gave her R50 and I didn’t want to upstage her family.

The evening began with lots and lots of introductions to the other female relatives.  The men, however, hung out in a small group and would periodically disappear together.  Soon after we arrived, all the women squished into the tiny house to sing a prayer – which I assume was for the birthday girl since she stood in the middle of the room.

Afterwards, we escaped back outside where there was room to breathe and people began dishing out the food.  Oh my word, there was tons!  It was only 4:30pm in the afternoon so I wasn’t that hungry, but the women filled up my plate nevertheless.  Half my plate was pap (corn porridge with a consistency similar to mashed potatoes, but about 1000 times heavier) and the other half was various salads: normal green salad, beetroot salad (cooked beets and mayonnaise), potato salad, and curry spiced veggies.  It was delicious!  They also served fried chicken, but – as a vegetarian – I didn’t try that.

Women dishing out the food

Women dishing out the food

Then we sat around and stared at each other for awhile.  My colleague tried to convince them to speak English, but they complained, “We speak English all day at work!  We’re tired of English!  They must learn Zulu.”

My colleague explained that neither I nor my German friend had Zulu back in our home countries and the women were surprisingly astonished.

“You don’t have any Zulu speakers in Canada?” one woman asked me.

“She doesn’t even have Afrikaans in her country,” my colleague laughed.

“WHAT?” everyone exclaimed.

“So English is our only common language,” she concluded.  Not that it made a difference – they didn’t start speaking English until they were sufficiently drunk.

Once dusk fell, the kids and teenagers set up two large speakers and started blasting the music.

Kids and teenagers breaking it down

Kids and teenagers breaking it down

I know it’s a stereotype, but I’m going to say it anyway: black people are amazing dancers.  The kids tried to teach the German girl and me their moves, but our bodies simply don’t move that way.  The kids loved the attention, though, while the teenagers and adults laughed at our awkward movements.

Embarrassing myself

Embarrassing myself

We danced until we were sweating in the chilly night and even the children asked, “Don’t you want to take a break?”

The women brought out more plates of food (chips and candies and chocolate this time) while people started to drink seriously.  We listened to some drunken English from the other women, such as the following conversation:

Woman: Taurus, Pisces, and Virgos are all BASTARDS.
Me: I’ll keep that in mind.
Woman: Taurus, Pisces, and Virgos.  Bastards.  All of them.  What are you?
Me: Um… Taurus.
Woman: Ah.  I only mean the men.  Pisces and Taurus men like men, but Virgos are the worst.  Liars.  Cheats.  Virgos are BASTARDS.  I know all the horoscopes and Virgos are bastards.  My husband in a Virgo.

All in all, I learned a lot!

As I said earlier, it was a lovely evening.  My young German friend and I both had tons of fun.  Moreover, it let me finally get some photos of myself with black kids.  I’m pretty much the worst westerner to ever volunteer in Africa since I haven’t filled my Facebook profile with photos of myself surrounded by black children.  That’s the #1 reason people come here, right?

Close enough.  Now I’m a “real” overseas development volunteer.

Close enough. Now I’m a “real” overseas development volunteer.

In all seriousness, though, it was one of my best Saturdays in this country so far.  It reminded me of being back home with family and I’m truly thankful for the opportunity to partake in that girl’s birthday party.


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