Finetastic Adventures

Friday, March 02, 2007

More Observations of South Africa

More Observations of South Africa

I promised I'd write more about what we experience here in South Africa.‭ ‬You've read about transportation,‭ ‬our living situation,‭ ‬the animals on our plot,‭ ‬banks,‭ ‬bicycling and pedestrian rights‭; ‬here are a couple more topics for now.‭ ‬Otherwise,‭ ‬things continue to move ahead ever so slowly with our job and life in general‭; ‬we use our patience-training daily‭; ‬it's no wonder that Peace Corps stresses patience and flexibility so strongly.‭ ‬Soon we'll be writing more about what we have actually been up to this last month or so.‭ ‬But for now,‭ ‬here are my thoughts on funerals and language.


Sad to say,‭ ‬but we could be at a funeral every Saturday if we wanted to.‭ ‬Early on in our time here,‭ ‬we opted to attend only those of whom we have had direct contact,‭ ‬either with the deceased or the family.‭ ‬I think it's been a wise decision.‭ ‬Our supervisors,‭ ‬like most other South Africans,‭ ‬do attend a funeral almost every Saturday‭; ‬it's physically tiring as well as mentally wearing.‭ ‬We did attend one in January‭; ‬Peter's first cousin died after a lengthy hospital stay.‭ ‬He was an older man who lived in the little house next to us on the plot.‭ ‬We didn't have long conversations,‭ ‬but he always had a nice greeting for us when we came home.‭ ‬He would typically be sitting in his straight-back chair on his small porch,‭ ‬out of the sun,‭ ‬just watching the animals.‭ ‬We miss seeing him there,‭ ‬and right now we are really missing his taking care of the goats,‭ ‬geese,‭ ‬turkeys and chickens.‭ ‬They always seem hungry and thirsty now and the goats aren't locked up like he kept them.‭ ‬Which means much more sweeping of the dirt for us‭! (‬Goats do poop a lot.‭)

So,‭ ‬like I said,‭ ‬funerals are typically on a Saturday.‭ ‬At some point during the week soon after the death,‭ ‬the family will rent a tent for their yard.‭ (‬It's usually easy to spot a home where there has been a death:‭ ‬the big tent in the yard.‭) ‬Family and friends gather daily,‭ ‬usually in the early evening,‭ ‬during the week for prayer and comfort.‭ ‬Then the funeral takes place early on Saturday morning,‭ ‬around‭ ‬6-7‭ ‬AM,‭ ‬in the tent.‭ ‬The service may last for about an hour or two,‭ ‬then everyone goes to the cemetery‭; ‬everyone that is,‭ ‬except for the women friends who must stay behind and cook.‭ ‬And they aren't just beginning to cook‭; ‬they've been at it all Friday night.‭ ‬When Peter's cousin died there was a fire built next to the son's house on our plot and a couple of big cauldrons were set for cooking the chicken and pap.‭ ‬There were also several gas burners rented,‭ ‬along with the tent and chairs,‭ ‬to cook the rest of the food.‭ ‬More about the food later.

The service at the cemetery is fairly brief‭; ‬what takes a long time is the filling of the grave with dirt.‭ ‬As in Jewish funerals,‭ ‬family and friends toss shovelfuls of dirt into the grave.‭ ‬Except for the women‭; ‬here they only toss in handfuls.‭ ‬I don’t know if it’s a custom,‭ ‬or just the thought that the woman shouldn’t lift the heavy shovel.

Then everyone goes back to the house,‭ ‬where the women have put out the food.‭ ‬And there is lots of it‭; ‬this is one time when nothing is spared.‭ ‬There is a buffet set up outside for the guests‭; ‬as I was joining the line for the buffet I was called inside to eat with the family.‭ ‬The food is the same,‭ ‬but the family gets to sit indoors.‭ ‬And when I say the food is the same,‭ ‬I mean exactly that.‭ ‬There is no change in the menu for any meal at any occasion.‭ ‬There’s the ever present pap,‭ ‬chicken,‭ ‬beef,‭ ‬rice,‭ ‬beets,‭ ‬cabbage.‭ ‬It was funny when Dave and I were in the kitchen helping to clean up after the meal.‭ ‬There were several women‭ (‬of course,‭ ‬no men‭) ‬in the kitchen,‭ ‬most of whom we knew.‭ ‬At one point while we were washing dishes,‭ ‬we overheard them speaking in Sepedi and caught the words for‭ ‘‬white person‭’ (‬makhua‭) ‬and‭ '‬washing dishes‭'‬.‭ ‬They were all shocked when we turned and laughed‭; ‬now they know we understand some of what they are saying and have to be careful‭! ‬They laughed in turn.

When I was out for a bike ride a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday morning I passed by the cemetery where Peter’s cousin had been buried.‭ ‬There were so many taxis‭ (‬public ones like we ride‭) ‬lining the drive into the cemetery and filling the median‭; ‬I couldn’t begin to count them.‭ ‬But this was not a Saturday,‭ ‬so I was confused.‭ ‬Funerals are not held on Sunday so that everyone,‭ ‬especially the pastors,‭ ‬can be in church.‭ (‬If funerals could be on Sundays then pastors would never be available for church.‭) ‬The following day at work I asked about it:‭ ‬Sunday is the day when taxi drivers are buried.‭ ‬Taxis are busy Monday through Saturday‭; ‬the drivers all come to another driver’s funeral on Sunday.‭ ‬No pastor is there to memorialize the deceased.‭ ‬Their union collects money to help with funerals.‭ ‬The following Sunday on my bike ride I found the cemetery empty and quiet.‭

We know we will unfortunately be attending several more funerals while here in Africa‭; ‬it’s sad when riding around the city,‭ ‬or village,‭ ‬and seeing so many tents in the yards,‭ ‬and knowing that the following week will be the same,‭ ‬only the tents will have moved.‭ ‬Sadder yet is knowing that so many of the deceased are being buried well before their time,‭ ‬and that Aids is the cause of so many of them.‭ ‬TIA.


Though we have been here for more than‭ ‬7‭ ‬months now,‭ ‬I am still amazed when listening to Black South Africans speak.‭ ‬There are‭ ‬11‭ ‬national languages,‭ ‬including English,‭ ‬Afrikaans,‭ ‬and nine native ones.‭ ‬It’s almost impossible to find someone who speaks only one language.‭ ‬It makes me feel so inadequate as an American.‭ ‬Though there are many Americans who have learned a second or third language,‭ ‬it’s not common,‭ ‬as it is here.‭ ‬A South African’s first language will depend on the part of the country where one has grown up.‭ ‬Most Blacks,‭ ‬especially those old enough to have been in school during Apartheid,‭ ‬also speak fluent Afrikaans and English.‭ ‬Those in school recently or now also speak English.‭ ‬And many of the elderly speak one or both of those if they happened to work for a white person or family,‭ ‬as our village Gogo did as a housekeeper for many years.‭ ‬But it doesn’t stop there.‭ ‬Most speak several native languages as well.‭ ‬Betty,‭ ‬our host sister in the village,‭ ‬speaks‭ ‬9‭ ‬of the‭ ‬11‭ ‬languages.‭ ‬Victor,‭ ‬our Peace Corps training director,‭ ‬speaks all eleven,‭ ‬not only fluently,‭ ‬but including all the idioms and nuances of English.‭ ‬This is not rare.‭ ‬I don’t know what the average number of languages spoken by Blacks here is,‭ ‬but I venture to guess it’s four or five.‭

What is also interesting is the way English is interspersed into the sentences and conversations.‭ ‬Blacks will go so flawlessly and smoothly from their local language right into English.‭ ‬But what is funny are the English words and phrases that appear in mid-sentence.‭ ‬It’s great for us‭; ‬it’s often the only way we get the gist of the conversation.‭ ‬But we are determined to learn as much Sepedi as possible before our close of service.‭ ‬In fact,‭ ‬we are meeting someone next week who will hopefully be able to serve as a tutor.

Afrikaners too,‭ ‬will typically speak English as well as Afrikaans,‭ ‬but very few know any of the native languages.‭ ‬Those who do have usually owned a farm and learned the native tongue in order to communicate with their hired help.‭ ‬But most don’t even know how to greet in the local language,‭ ‬which,‭ ‬as we have learned,‭ ‬is so important.‭ ‬Locals appreciate it so much,‭ ‬and get a big kick out of our attempts.‭ ‬Greeting street vendors and taxi and bus drivers is one way of assuring they remember us‭; ‬one never knows when being recognized might come in handy.‭ (‬Think here of being mugged‭; ‬hey,‭ ‬it’s almost a given.‭) ‬Trying to speak the local language sets us apart from the other whites on the street‭; ‬we are recognized as foreigners and not Afrikaners,‭ ‬which might be a benefit.‭ ‬I also recall being told that learning a language is a great way to keep our aging brains from deteriorating so quickly,‭ ‬so here’s to learning Sepedi‭!


  • Sorry to hear about all the funerals, but it's very interesting, so thanx for sharing.

    Happy Birthday Marti - a day late. You'll have to tell us how you celebrated.

    Miss you guys. Love, Suzi

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:42 PM  

  • Hi Marti and Dave!!
    Missed sending you shalach manot!! Hope your fall is pleasant there - hard to imagine the seasons reversed. So looking forward to spring here - supposed to be a bit warmer by the end of this week. Hope Marti had a nice BD. Keep well, love you,chris

    By Anonymous chris gilbert, at 9:05 AM  

  • What a fascinating though sad account of how funerals are arranged there....

    Amaziing how multilingual everyone is.

    Your writing is great....tell us more!!

    Take care! We all miss you so!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:07 PM  

  • Good post.

    By Anonymous Dianne, at 4:29 AM  

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