I AM GRATEFUL FOR THE CULTURAL EXCHANGE
I am grateful that I got to stay in a multilingual country (South Africa). I am also grateful that I got to learn a bit about different cultures and travel to different provinces.
I valued conversations that incorporated inquiries like, “how do you do this in Botswana Seleb?” in both the professional and social arenas. They gave a deeper appreciation for the uniqueness of my culture. Moreover, they gave me an understanding of cultural practices different from mine. I am grateful for my curiosity because I always asked questions. My questions ranged from meanings of different names, food, to why cultural practices are done a certain way. For example, I attended a funeral at a place near East London (Isixhosa community), I was shocked that the burial of the deceased took place around 4 pm. The morning and afternoon were spent reminiscing about time spent with the person when they were still alive. I thought that was lovely. However, in Botswana, that is a different case, as burial is usually done early like around 10 am. The reason for this is to respect the deceased and take them to their resting place as soon as possible. I think it’s a decent reason.
I also loved it when conversations had phrases like, “we also do that in my culture!” This shows that we are the same even with our unique differences.
How can I forget the time I was in Taung in the North West province? I was thrilled that I got the chance to facilitate workshops in Setswana because most of the people speak Tswana there. However, my Sengwato-Setswana dialect was comical to the workshop attendees. They laughed out loud at how I said ‘thogo’ instead of ‘tlhogo’ (head) like them. Haha our differences should make us happy like that and not divide us, isn’t it? Diversity is beautiful. It adds colour to our worlds and gives us opportunities to learn from each other.
Anyway, it doesn’t mean that it is always rosy! Unfortunately, I cannot have conversations in Xhosa that are beyond normal greetings even after staying in the Eastern Cape since 2015. I have come to believe that as much as learning different languages comes with passion, it’s also a gift. I don’t think I have that gift. Many people especially taxi drivers and cashiers always assume I can speak Xhosa. My lack of fluency often leads to questions like, ‘where are you from? how long have you been here? Why are you not learning to speak IsiXhosa?’ No one wants to give their background history to strangers so that is always awkward to navigate around.
I am sure it was a sad thing to watch in 2018 when my white colleague and I were running a Self-regulation programme in the location among Grade R learners who could understand and speak IsiXhosa only. I also made a ‘good mistake’ of telling my white professor that I was learning Isixhosa. Wow, he is very good in IsiXhosa, it’s astounding. So each time I went to his office, he would speak to me in IsiXhosa! The puzzled look on my face and to a certain degree-frustration! We are made for connection, therefore when there is a blockage, frustration is inevitable. Additionally, I still can’t sing well the Afrikaans version of the song ‘God is good’ at church even when looking at the words on the screen. I always hum it, I believe that counts for something.I hope.
‘Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other. ‘-Tom Robbins