Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Only Girl

(Written on 3/10/2011 from Isandlwana, South Africa)
I ate my words this morning.  Almost literally.  After last night’s festivities with a few of Katie’s Zulu friends eating cow stomach and intestines, the first thing I said to Katie when we got up was “I’m so glad we don’t have to eat any insides of cows today.”  Well, to my surprise (and horror), one of the teachers from Katie’s school (Zed Dee) brought us some traditional Zulu food – more boiled intestines and stomach. 

Zed Dee and me with her traditional Zulu food
Don’t get me wrong – I am a fan of intestines and sweetbreads and such, but when they’re grilled or fried.  In Zulu culture they just boil the intestines in a pot of water and if you’re lucky there is some salt and cabbage added in. 
Now, I will try (almost) anything at least once…but I’m not a glutton for punishment.  But after Zed Dee slaved away for hours this morning to clean (hopefully), and boil their traditional food I couldn’t turn it down.  I took a giant bite of what I thought was overcooked broccoli since we’d had a discussion about broccoli the other day.  Wrong.  Stomach lining – black and bumpy.  My gag reflexes were alive and kickin’ by 9:45 AM. 

Katie under her breath, "Annie, don't talk to me right now.  Don't even look at me."

Although I don’t have the palate for Zulu food, I do appreciate the gesture.  And the tradition behind it…Zed Dee explained that during celebrations only the women will eat the stomach.  Men will eat the head and ox tail (llluuuuckky….ugh) which signifies dignity.  In Zulu culture the men are dignified, honored and respected.  Fathers have their own cups, bowls, and plates in the house and children know not to touch anything that’s “daddy’s.” 

We never got confirmation about why women eat (or in my opinion…are subjected to eat) the stomach.  Zed Dee thinks it’s because they bear the children and that sounded reasonable to me.
This morning was a great example of Ubuntu – a Zulu belief that we are all like family.  That there is a little of you that lives in me and there is a little of me that lives in you.  So we all share.  If I bring chips to school I expect to offer them to everybody.  And it is rude to turn down an offer – so you end up sharing a lot with others.  Sometimes I love this – like the candy bar I got this morning!  And sometimes I could live without it – like the stomach lining I got this morning.
I’m sure that some of the foods I have made for others have received an equally disgusted reaction, but nobody here would ever say that.  The other night I made – or attempted – Chinese noodles for Khethiwe’s family.  Even though I didn’t have any soy sauce or “proper seasonings” (insert Russell Peters – “the proper Chinese version”) it turned out surprisingly okay.  I also brought some SA (South America) to SA (South Africa) when I recreated Teresita’s empanadas for Katie’s friends and her host sisters.
Chinese noodles I made for Katie's family

Rolling empanada dough in Katie's kitchen
Katie's sisters - ready for some empanadas!

Teaching Katie's sisters how to fold the empanadas

They didn't end up too badly!
Of course everybody said they were delicious – but you can be the judge when I make it back to Seattle if you’re among the lucky to share an empanada day with me!  (Yay for unemployment and time to cook for friends and family?)
Back to Zululand – I love that people here are so warm and welcoming.  Everybody laughs and talks and enjoys each other’s company.  For instance, last night one of the teachers invited us over for some traditional Zulu food (yes, the cow stomach incident #1).  And while it cooked for 3 hours we danced and talked and all chattered in his room.

She looks about how I felt 4 hours later....

Sipho wanted to make sure he was in the middle of the ladies

Most adorable girl ever - dancing to the beat of...

...Busta Rhymes

It was one of my favorite nights in Isandlwana and I got a kick out of the music that they played – some Zulu, some Busta Rhymes (woah…throw back), and some house music.  I laughed for hours…so much so that it hurt when they walked us home in the dark by cell phone/flashlight.  We also talked about what I was really longing for – and what I will have to return for someday. 
Sometimes when a goat is slaughtered they have a ceremony with the family.  During the ceremony they offer bracelets of the goat skin to participants.  They actually cut a circle out of the flesh and with hair, fat, and all they stretch it out over your hand and then it sits on your wrist.  Since I’m collecting bracelets in each country, I thought this would be the perfect bracelet for South Africa.  Sipho (Katie’s friend) told me they don’t usually do the ceremony during this time of year because of the heat and that the goat skin can stink for weeks before it hardens.  If it weren’t for that comment and the thought of Katie and I being trapped in a rental car with that stench (not to mention the poor souls next to me on my next flight), I might have bought an imbuzi (goat) today.
Despite not having a bracelet, they’ve still made me feel like one of their own even though I stick out like a sore thumb.  They’ve taught me Zulu, invited me into their homes, and have given me lasting memories.

Mama and me (Zodwa)
The other night I was even given a Zulu name by Katie's mother – Zodwa, meaning “the only girl.”  I felt a Rihanna type connection for a second and was thinking I was “the ish” until I was brought back down to planet earth and told my name was in reference to my two brothers and that I am the only girl in my family.  Oh. Still cool though.  For those of you that have seen The Italian Job, I’m like “The Napster” and now refuse to go by Annie.
Katie and I have talked a lot about cultural differences and all the nuances that become common practice that you don’t even think about when you’re at home.  When you’re dropped into a new culture you have to constantly question your actions – what’s appropriate and accepted?  What do you need to avoid?  What could offend others?  What are your unmentioned customs? 
We tried to answer these questions about our own homes and it was difficult.  My question for you today - if somebody came to your home from another country and asked you what is a common practice for your culture, what would you say?

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