Tuesday, October 27, 2009

this morning, yet more on language, and cash cows

These are the things that greeted me from outside my window this morning: the African Hoopoe (Upapa Africana) and an African (domestic) pig. The Tswana word for “pig” is kolobe (kuh lobe ay). There is a Tswana word for the Hoopoe as well, but can't recall it at the moment...

The really nice shot of the bird isn’t mine and I hate using photos that aren’t mine, but I want you to get a good look at this bird. I LOVE THIS BIRD! Isn’t he gorgeous? He is so striking. I love how he looks like two different birds halved and then swapped their tops! (Or bottoms!) My favorite thing about this bird is that while foraging (on the ground), they stick around for quite some time. I was highly entertained one day when one foraged close by for almost an hour!

In my study of human communications, I’ve learned that slight and subtle phrasing can make all of the difference when trying to communicate. This is best evidenced, I think, when using “I statements” versus “you statements.”

For example, “YOU need to do the dishes” isn’t as well received as “It would be helpful if you could help me with the dishes.” This very subtle shift from “you need to” to “I need” is very powerful and the results are nothing short of amazing. I’ve come to rely on it at home, in the workplace, with friends, etc.

It’s probably not surprising then, that I’m very sensitive to someone speaking to me from “you statements.” What I’m finding, when dealing with Tswana speakers, that “you statements” are the norm. For example:

“Why are you here?” translates, I hope, to “How nice to see you! Are you here for the meeting?”

“You are always so busy.” Perhaps: “Do you have a few minutes that we can talk?”

“Where have you been?” “Oh, I’m happy to see you!”

“When are you coming to visit?” “Let’s get together for coffee!”

“Are you working the other side?” “I miss you and wish you were here. (or vice versa, if I’m hearing it at the primary school)

For these kinds of comments, I’m hoping my interpretation is more in line with how it is offered rather than how icky it feels to recieve. As for the following, well:

“Will you take me to America with you?” Which translates as, well, you’re a rich American and of course you have so much money you can fly me to America for a visit. With this one, a nice lady went on to elaborate that we would simply fly to America and stay a few days, and then I could fly her back. With very few exceptions, this is always the question I'm asked when I meet someone.

You can’t blame people for perceiving me as the rich American.

We are warned, over and over again from Peace Corps that “first impressions are important.” (That is why the blasted skirt is so important.) Although we were granted a “shopping day” in Pretoria to buy things we need to set up our households, we're also encouraged to “try to buy your large items in the nearest shopping town of your village” (because transport of all of that stuff to outlying provinces would be quite a chore).

So, the college kids’ first impression of me was that of an American, making repeated trips to town (it isn’t cheap to go to town and making multiple trips made it worse) bringing home parcels and packages for three days straight.

Of course they think I’m a cash cow.

Well, my coffers are emptied and while I have plenty of money to eat, it's pretty much about it. And because the kids initially met me while I was buying all this stuff, I’m met repeatedly with: “Can you give me money to get to town?”; “Will you buy us cold drinks?”; “Are you having lunch in your room? May we come have lunch in your room with you?”

To make matters worse, when you’re packing your bags to come to a continent to spend two years of your life, the tendancy is to pack brand new things that you hope will last for two years. In other words, we look sharp in our new duds. (Except me, who is hard pressed to wear the blasted skirt.)
So I'm ever worried, as I'm trying to fit in, with all of my "I'm sorry, I can't." Or "I'm sorry, I don't have it." It feels really icky to say "no" but I really don't have anything over the small amount I'm contributing at the community churches.
I hated being "pan handled" in America, but here it's even worse. I hope after a zillion "no s" that it will get better. But surely I'm close to a zillion by now?
Am caught complaining again! Eish! Karen/Molebogeng

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