One of the cultural adaptations that I have found to be most difficult is letting go of my Canadian social graces and graciously accepting African hospitality.
The weekend with the Dingwas was a case in point…one that Jetske & Peter and Buche are also constantly battling.
It is my nature to not only be infernally independent but also extremely uncomfortable with what I perceive to be inconveniencing anyone. While I have many faults, these two are the most problematic for me here in African. But now they are causing me to change and adapt in ways that I did not know were possible. There are moments when I think that even Buche is proud of the progress that I am making!
Part of my problem is that I do not want to be perceived as a white princess expecting special treatment due to my skin color and gender. So unfortunately I take my resistance to an extreme level, i.e. beating up Lawrence in public when he wants carry my groceries for me as one case in point. However, what Buche, Jetske & Peter, Lawrence and many others are teaching me is that my resistance is an even worse offence and not culturally acceptable.
So I am endeavoring to take deep breaths and learn how to be gracious. The weekend in the Dingwa house was a real challenge and accomplishment for me on this level. As I noted in a previous post, the three bedroom house was jammed packed with visitors the weekend that I was there. My initial instincts were to book a hotel room for myself so that I would not be a burden or inconvenience. Mrs Dingwa would not hear of that notion so I knew that I needed to be gracious and accept the hospitality being shown to me.
There was a lot riding on this visit:
- my very important, if sometimes exasperating, friendship with Lawrence
- cultural respect
- being the first ever “white” and “female” friend that Lawrence has ever brought home to meet and visit with his family and neighbors
to name a few.
Even arriving at the house at 3:00 am on Friday morning pushed my limits. I felt incredibly bad that not only were we arriving in the middle of the night but that the Dingwa housekeeper and Lawrence’s brother-in-law were waiting up to greet us. There was no quietly sneaking in but an official welcoming party when both Yolanda and Tafadzwa needed to be up in a few short hours for a long day. Her to prepare the house and food (without electricity and ready access to water) for the return of the family and his to write a crucial exam. I am sure you can see how distressing I found this. However, I sucked it up and behaved myself. Unbelievable I know!
The next challenge came when I found out that while I would have a bed and bedroom to myself, others would be sleeping on cushions and blankets on the floor including Lawrence’s mother. I can not begin to tell you what knots this tied me up into. The African tradition is that all are welcome and room is made for all visitors regardless of house size and population. It is also tradition that guests are given beds to themselves while family members sleep where necessary. Accepting this fact and tradition was beyond a shadow of doubt one of my most difficult challenges since moving to Africa. But accept it I did as I had absolutely no choice or I would be unacceptable rude.
However, Saturday morning I was able to assert my Canadian sensibilities by declining Yolanda’s offer of heating water outside on the open fire for me to use to wash in. She had more than enough to do and many other people to heat water for. The look of shock on all members of the household’s face when I actually completed my freshening up in a cold bucket of water was worth it! I simply had to prove that Canadians are tougher than they look.