Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Disrupting the Single Story

Learning and understanding the danger of a single story has been a part of our orientation for YAGM. We addressed it again specifically in our in-country orientation. Single stories are dangerous because they only paint a piece of the whole picture of a person, people, culture, or place. And usually that single story does not even apply to all that it generally addresses. More commonly we think of single stories when we use stereotypes. We use these to categorize, but these generalizations do not apply to all, and are only a fraction of the whole story that someone walks with.

No one is immune from being single storied. I am sure everyone has had a time when someone has taken a piece of their being and single storied them. But when we live in relationships with people, we get to know them more fully, we get to disrupt those single stories and see people for who they are and create new, specific stories of people who we love and care for. And even then, we are still only telling the story from our perspective, for a person is too deep for another to fully know them and understand exactly the life that they live and experience.

But as we live and grow with others we can have stories explode and open out eyes to differences that we did not expect.

I was sitting at home knitting one morning and a visitor came by. I have met him before and we have talked, but he did not know that I could knit. When he saw me sitting on the couch, he sat adjacent to me and watched intently. He then looked up from my knitting and said “you know how to crochet?” I told him that crocheting was with one needle and knitting was with two, and I knew how to knit. He then asked if I knew how to sew too. I told him that my mom taught me when I was little and just recently my friend taught me how to knit. He looked at me and said “Oh. I didn’t think whites knew how to sew. I thought only blacks knew how to do that.”

Another time I was talking with a friend and he was laughing at me because we were talking about how technology and I are not the best of friends and how I don’t understand a lot of it. He told me that when they said someone from America was coming, he assumed that I would be attached to my phone and all up to date and whatnot with technology, and then they got me. J

In our packing list they told us to bring nice clothes, there may be weddings or funerals that we would be attending in our year. How nice is not something I have a good gauge for, and what my single story was did not assist in proper packing. In my first week at my placement site I attended a funeral, a church service (where Sunday best has been re-defined), and a Gala dinner. Each of these required nice clothes. The attendants for each of these wore very nice clothes, clothes fit for weddings or banquets. Men wore suits. Women wear dresses or skirts and a blouse and jacket.

Disrupting the single story. I am humbled and blessed when each experience comes that disrupts the single stories that we inaccurately have created to create in us a more full picture of the world in which we live. 

Here is the link to the TED talk about the danger of a single story

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ndi ngani thusa

As I began learning, people took different methods to teach me Venda. One of those approaches that some took was to ask me “what do you want to know? Tell me in English and I will tell you it in Venda.” Helpful, but I usually could not think of anything. What would help me the most? What phrases would be useful in my daily life? How many phrases are short enough for me to actually learn and remember them?

Ndi ngani thusa?

This phrase has been the most helpful to me. I realized I wanted to learn it a few days in when I wanted to help out around the house but did not know how. Ndi ngani thusa means “can I help?” This phrase has opened things up. I follow people around, watch what they do, and then say “Ndi ngani thusa?” They look at me and smile, and usually give me a try (which means I do it ten times slower than they would-but I’m learning J). Because of this phrase I have cut green beans, stirred pop (the staple grain food that is eaten with everything), picked leaves off stalks, cooked meat, swept, put away groceries, done dishes, and carried in many different things.

This simple phrase has given me language to offer help and by doing so it has also given me a hands-on way to experience some of the culture that is in Venda.

Now, just because I ask to help does not mean I always get to. There are limits because we don’t know each other all that well yet and they care for my safety. At home we used all the split firewood we had, so the woman I stay with was cutting more. Splitting wood with an axe looks like a very dangerous task-especially if you misjudge and follow through into yourself (which is what my mind kept envisioning happening to the woman I care for because I was scared and concerned the axe would miss the wood and skip back). The wood was tough and she had to use a lot of strength, and yet the wood was still not splitting at the speed I thought it would be. So I ran inside to get my boots on and came back out and asked “Ndi ngani thusa?” She kindly looked and me and sternly said “no.” As much as I did not trust that she could do it alone and would stay safe, I had to. And she did not trust me that I would be safe, regardless of the fact that I put on boots. J So with asking to help I have learned that there are many more layers to the answers of this question.    

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bag Lady

They call me the bag lady. I have a colorful bag that I use to carry things with me. Being a camp counselor for four summers means there are some pieces of you that will never change. I always have a bag of tricks with me because you never know what life is going to throw at you. Every time we leave the house they ask if I am ready and if I am not I go to get my bag and shoes. Then when we arrive to where we are going, I get out with my bag and they joke here comes the bag lady.

My bag is bigger than usual because I never know where we are going next or how late we will be out. Since it is usually hot in Venda, many buildings do not have heating, which means at night it can get chilly (and this time of month we are in transition from winter to spring, so the chilliness can vary). So I carry a zip-up and a scarf. Being involved with the church, we will go to church events. Each person has their own Bible and hymnal, and there have been times where we just pull out the hymnal and sing (most people know the songs by heart—I like being able to read the Venda words that I am saying). So I also have my Venda hymnal, Venda Bible, and English Bible (to understand what verse we are talking about). Now, since I am a visual learner, I need to write things down (specifically words) so I have in my bag pocket a small notebook and pen. I also like to write down events or random thoughts to journal about later so I do not forget, so I also have a larger notepad. Oh, and I need a mode of communication, so I have the cell phone that was given to us by the YAGM program. I also have a snack and a water bottle because I never know how long things will last and when you may feel like your blood sugar is low. J

I am the bag lady.  

The Little Things

My first week has been an interesting one. Being the first YAGM in this site means many different things. One of which is that they may not know what to do with me yet, and the South African culture is great at allowing time for people to get to know the community and culture and for the community to get to know the person. But that also means that I do a lot of sitting.

One day I found myself sitting at home with a woman whom I call Titi. Her English is not the best but I follow her around and learn from her actions and we have small verbal exchanges. There was a lull in the days work and she invited me to sit and watch T.V. Instead, I asked her if she could teach/show me the Lord’s Prayer in the Bible (Matthew 6:9-13). I had my Venda Bible and English Bible in my hand ready. We sat down on the couch together and she read the Venda version and then motioned for me to read the English version. She then quickly went to get something from her room and told me “I’m coming” (I have learned through many mistakes, when they say that they mean I am coming back and NOT for me to follow J ). She returned with a book and on the back pages was written different Bible verses. She does prayer every night at 7 and uses this book. So, she would choose a Bible verse, we would both open to it, she would read, and then I would read.  It was a beautiful exchange that we had back and forth for quite some time. I thank God for the beautiful time that I got to spend with her reading the Word.