These are a few questions I’ve received that I’d like to share with all of you. Please remember that my answers are based solely on my own experience; I know from talking with the other volunteers that we are all seeing and doing very different things. Please think of them as the Christine version of Africa!
What is the most unusual thing to happen to you so far?
Not so much one thing stands out as being unusual, but rather a combination of things that together just makes things different than what I’m used to. For example:
- Time is kept by a 24, not a 12 hour, clock. I still have to use my fingers to convert time (17:00 to 5:00).
- Date format is DD-MM-YEAR, not MM-DD-YEAR. This has been the most confusing when trying to file documents away in the church office. Is 02-06-2009 February 6 or June 2?
- Driving directions are reversed, which still throws me for a loop. Thank goodness I can’t drive, or I would always be on the wrong side of the street!
- Pedestrians do not have the right of way, in any situation. I have to consciously remind myself to get out of the way as vehicles absolutely will not stop for you.
- Forget strollers or baby carriers. Small children are usually tied onto their mother’s lower backs with towels or blankets. I don’t know how they are able to keep their knots tied (and babies fully secured!) but I am always impressed when I see it.
- Personal space does not exist in public areas. It’s not unusual to be standing in line for something and be in full contact with the person both in front of and the person behind you.
- Hitchhiking is an integral part of the public transportation system. I have “hiked” twice by myself and have had no problems.
My own follow-up question: What is usual- what things are similar to the US?
As surprised as I was by the unusual things, the usual things are even more surprising.
- Celine Dion really is an international phenomenon.
- KFC is by far the most popular American fast food chain. I have eaten more fried chicken this year than in my entire life. I don’t know if this better or worse than McDonald’s, which is the only other chain I’ve seen here.
- Oprah is on TV, as are numerous other American TV shows (Fear Factor, As the World Turns). They even broadcast the reality celebrity choir show that aired over Christmas time. Nothing like hearing an American choir sing, I’ve Got Friends in Low Places while living in South Africa.
- Music is where the most cross-over happens. Especially in the R&B and Hip Hop Worlds, American musicians are intensely popular here.
- Unfortunately, the 80s fashion craze has also hit Africa. So much for missing out on all that neon, geometric, shoulder-pad fun.
Are there big spiders or weird insects? Actually, yes, there are some very big spiders! One day I was working in the garden with the Circuit Clerk, Lindiwe, when a huge spider scurried out from a hole beneath my fingertips. I said something like “Blech! That is a big spider!” to which she replied, “Ah, yes. That one will kill you.” I laughed, thinking she was making a joke, but then I looked at her face and realized she was serious. She explained that indeed, that big spider is extremely deadly, and would most certainly kill you if bitten. I decided to start wearing gloves while working in the garden after that!
I’ve also eaten roasted bugs, a surprisingly tasty delicacy. After a few days of hard rain, my host sisters called me outside as night fell to help them collect insects. I have no idea what they’re called, but the bugs are fairly big, with large, lacey wings. We were able to gather them as they flew near an outside light, then dropped them in a large bucket of water to drown them. Once we had enough, we went inside, pulled off their wings, then dropped their bug bodies into a skillet. Add a little salt and high heat, and we had ourselves bugs for a snack! They tasted kind of like popcorn, actually; not bad! Unfortunately it took much more time to catch them than to eat them!