Saturday, April 2, 2011

One Cow, Two Cow, Red Cow, Blue Cow here I am in Athens, Greece - loving it dearly and anxious to share with you all my current adventures.  Since I'm behind on my blog I'm just forewarning you (all 15 of numbers have gone up!) that I'm going to skip some things so I can get you up to speed.  And expect fewer pictures because they take too long to upload (blame Blogger - they need to work on that feature).  

Plus, my friend sweetly told me maybe I should keep some of the best stories secret in case I want to write a book.  What's that saying - if you give the milk away for free nobody will want to buy the cow?  And there are plenty of cow stories to come....

(Written on 3/25/2011 from Isandlwana, South Africa)

As Beyonce blares in the background from Katie’s host family’s house, I sit here staring out the window at goats, cows, chickens and roosters. I’ve realized that an alarm clock isn’t necessary since the “landing pad” tin roof has doves flopping down at a schedule that would rival air traffic control precision.  So far the last few mornings have been: 5:45 AM, 5:41 AM and 5:46 AM.  Obviously I’m not a true Zulu yet because Katie sleeps through the “dove WWF Smackdown” as we call it. 
The other day at school, one of the teachers diplomatically stated that he had a personal question for me.  With eyes wide and curious I told him to proceed.  He told me that he always thinks all Abelungus (white people)look the same and he can't tell one white person from another.  Ironic?
I started laughing since Katie told me that she and Angie (the other white Peace Corps volunteer in the village - but with blonde hair) were confused as the same person.  Nobody actually realized there were two white people in the village until they showed up to the same event. 
Anyway, Mr. Zulu said I looked a bit different than Khethiwe.  He was proud when Katie and I confirmed his theory.  We explained that my dad is Chinese and my mom is American – interracial marriage is a foreign concept here. Katie was confused because she told the teachers before I arrived that I was half Chinese – but obviously they didn't understand.  We later found out they say, “Her dad is a China.” Right.
I showed him a picture of my family.  He said that my dad "was dominating” and we were definitely lost in translation again since my first reaction was, “Yeah, that’s what my mom wants him to think.”  He continued to explain that my older brother and I look more like my dad, and my little brother looks more like my mom.  He confirmed my own doubts – where did Alex really come from anyway? J
My "Dawg" Family - courtesy of Mike Nakamura Photography this summer
Now that I am 1 of 3 Abelungus in the village, it actually got me in trouble the other day.  I was walking alone to meet Katie at school and, proud of my few Zulu words, I was greeting people left and right.  One lady started rattling off Zulu but I didn’t even know how to speak it…the best I could do was shrug.  Since she probably thought I was Katie I tainted her name by looking like I was ignoring the lady.  Oops.
Image is an interesting thing in Zulu land.  They take an indirect approach.  Katie explained to me that nobody will compliment you to your face, or tell you something negative to your face.  Instead they will tell somebody else, who will tell somebody else, and eventually once you are either praised or your name is drug through the mud, you might hear about it. Awesome. 
On the contrary, marriage and courting is a very direct and forward interaction. When a man wants to marry a woman, he will offer her cows.  First off, I’ve always said that I’m confident my dad would be willing to “sell” me for a goat.  This brings it to a new reality. 
Once Katie was offered 33 cows.  Her Peace Corps friends told her to consider the offer...they’re about $1,000 USD each and for a Peace Corps budget that’s a lot of money! She said the offer is kind of like the equivalent to a ring – a promise to wed.  Pretty sure my dream diamond is more than her “lot” of cows – but just sayin’ friend in the jewelry business has definitely upped my standards for fine jewelry. J
I thought it was interesting when a Zulu told Katie that the first thing to consider when leaving a wife is the cows.  Shocked that it wasn’t the children, the house, the love, etc., she prodded a bit.  He said that you work your whole life for the cows, and when you give them to a woman or her family, they are theirs.  And if you leave, you are also leaving the cows that you’ve worked for your whole life.  Maybe we should implement the cow system in the U.S. to decrease the divorce rate?
Surprisingly there is a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in this village.  I could contribute it to the fact that there is one TINY market which is really a market/liquor store/post office.  When I say “market” think more along the lines of gas station convenient store – with way fewer items.  Give or take 350 square feet.  All the items are “caged” in like a barrier in a bank.  So you have to point and wave to the items you want as the clerk fetches them for you.  This has proved to be an interesting exercise for me every time with my broken Zulu.
When we do go shopping we catch a taxi (which is really like a big 16 passenger van) 45 minutes to the nearby town Nqutu (fun fact – q is actually pronounced as a clicking sound). This is not to be confused with nnqutu.  (I was promptly warned that dragging out the “n” means a different word – the surface of a woman’s nether regions.  I was stumped for a while – anatomically speaking, what exactly is the “surface?”)  Right right….back to Nqutu and shopping…
Taxi to Nqutu with some locals
Excited about the groceries from Nqutu...and apparently the toilet paper too
I’m fairly certain the guy who checks out the produce at the store is in love with Katie.  He asked me if I knew Khethiwe (assuming that all white people here know each other…which is a valid and correct assumption).  When I told her this, Katie’s eyes lit up – standards have changed after living here for 8 months.  Since he speaks English, we consider this “a lot in common.”  Maybe he’s cow worthy…
Although life is different in Isandlwana, I’m quickly adjusting.  I’ve realized that life here is totally livable.  It’s just that everything takes a little longer and isn’t as convenient. 
When I arrived Katie was quick to point out the critical items I needed to know.  Buckets – they are a useful and necessary part of life without running water.  There are 2 buckets for fetching water, a bucket for scooping water, a bucket for bathing, a bucket for washing dishes, a bucket to cover other buckets, and most importantly a pee bucket (only to be used during dark hours when the outhouse is not accessible).  My mom pointed out it’s a good thing Katie and I are so close.  Our friendship has been taken to a whole new level.

And the second critical item – towels.  There is a hand towel, a dish towel, a bathing towel, and a “clean towel.”  I never really was told what the clean towel was for, but I’m pretty sure since I was told not to touch it it’s really just for the satisfaction of having a clean towel.
I laugh at how impressed Katie is with everything I do (probably because she has zero expectations). She marvels at my water fetching abilities, my Zulu skills, my 6th sense for bucket bathing, and my acceptance of outhouses (and the pee bucket).  Other things that are doable but inconvenient – drinking water (first boiled, then filtered), washing dishes and clothes, and burning trash.

I ask you today...what conveniences do you have in your life?  If I told you I was going to take away your dishwasher, internet, washer & dryer, refrigerator, toilet, running water, electricity, or (God forbid) cell phone, what would you say?  Would you appreciate those things more?  How would you live your life differently?  Would you be able to manage without?


  1. Although the cow offer is generous, I appreciate your higher expectation of an engagement ring :)


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