In the last year I have gone from feeling completely confident and independent to quite dependent and clueless. Then after a while I began feeling confident again, and now I’m afraid I’ll be back to being clueless in two short months.
One year ago I had just graduated college, had a plan for the following year, and was feeling in charge and self-assured. During my college career in Madison I took care of myself, knew my way around and rarely second guessed decisions I made. I was lively, confident and rarely without friends around me. Then I moved to South Africa and my lifestyle…changed.
When I first arrived in South Africa I was very concerned with how I represented myself. I smiled a lot, giggled a lot, was overall way too happy, and not at all like myself. My host mother walked me around the first two weeks introducing me as her American daughter who has never been away from home and can’t cook (?). I always wanted to interject and correct that by saying I have actually lived away from home for four years and during that time fed myself. I didn’t, however, and just smiled.
During these first few months I was given warning after warning about safety and where I can and cannot go. I began to fear walking alone, although nothing ever happened to cause that tension. I was without a doubt dependent on so many who instructed me on how to get places alone, which kombis to take to town and which ways to walk to work. I listened and learned a lot but never felt like I was ever in control of my days, but rather was a follower of what I can and should do because I was a new comer. At work I observed these street children, most of whom are over 18, and wondered how I will ever be able to relate to them in a way that they would want to be my friend or allow me to teach and learn with them. To be honest, they intimidated me.
Overall, I was a baby in this new town and felt like my confidence and personality hadn’t developed.
It has been 9 month since I arrived in Kimberley and pretty much all of that has now changed, except I’m still pretty dependent on my community and I still haven’t had the chance to prove I can indeed cook beyond rice and instant oatmeal. My confidence is back and I’d like to think my friends in Kimberley would describe me in a way similar to what my friends in Madison would say. I stopped smiling ALL THE TIME and let myself have bad days. I have conversations that go deeper and through them I have been able to show what is interesting and important to me. I no longer rely on my host mother to do the introductions. People shout hello to me through windows as I walk down streets that were once unfamiliar and my phone rings at least once a day with someone wondering what I’m doing. The other week someone actually asked me for directions and I knew exactly where to tell them to go, which I’m sort of surprised that I was even asked because I couldn’t really look more out of place. Kombi drivers know my stops before I shout them out. Sometimes while walking up to the taxi someone will shout, “white girl to Beech Road”. At work, those who once intimidated me are now my friends, my sweet, caring, hilarious, and naughty but lovely friends. We take care of each other. I help them with their homework and engage in meaningful conversation and they will walk me half way to the taxis making sure I cross the “questionable bridge” with no problems. Not only the kids who consistently stay at the home, by the children who have chosen a life on the streets rather than at the home are my friends. Children that have most people crossing streets to avoid run up to me not to ask for money but for a hug or to say what’s up.
It’s amazing how much happens in 9 months.
Last September 2 months seemed like a long time. Now, not so much. Now that my confidence is back I’m nervous, afraid, timid to go back to a lifestyle so different from what I’ve become accustom to here in South Africa. I fear I may be, yet again, clueless when faced with North American culture, expectations, and the fast paced lifestyle. I’ll be going back to a college campus and will be walking around in a sea of people with headphones in and eyes straight ahead. Walking around my neighborhood in Kimberley, every single person says hello to me. I’m beginning to think, strategize in a way, how I can use what I’ve adapted to and learned in South Africa to engage with the people I’m with back at home and to modify the way I move around and speak.
…Because people probably won’t expect me to sit for two hours, over multiple cups of tea, when just dropping off a borrowed book. There probably will not be anyone willing to walk me to the door, only to end up walking me the entire kilometer home because conversation was good. Probably no one will give me all of their just bought avocados because I saw them in the car and mentioned I like them.
If I’ve learned anything in Kimberley, and South Africa as a whole, I have learned what a good neighbor is. I’ve learned what hospitality really is. I’ve been taught that every person is worth your concern, and in my case, those who rarely receive it have become my most trusted friends.
I’m confident in Kimberley and I’m confident that what it has taught me will mold my future forever.