So the pictures in this post show my pre-Africa self and world … just to remind myself of the spirited girl I still am trying to preserve on the inside.
Finding myself all my life between worlds, the Christian and the Communist, the Socialist and the Materialist, the European and the African, the Intellectual and the Practical, the Adventurer and the Mom (the list could go on forever) I had to learn that we can not expect to be accepted.
Learning people’s different languages is one thing. Learning the different body languages totally another!
Really, gestures can be so different and you can be in so much trouble if you don’t appreciate that fact. Let’s just look at the way we count. In Germany we start with the thumb, 1, thumb and index finger being 2, thumb, index and middle finger indicating 3, until the whole hand shows 5.
In South Africa it’s way more complicated. One would be shown with your index finger – a very intimidating gesture in Germany used only to scold or show a very strong point. Two would be index and middle finger (bunny ears or “peace” in Germany), three index, middle and ring finger (I just can not do that), 4 the four fingers like a hand of cards, and five would eventually use the thumb.
There are many funny hand signs in South Africa that I found confusing at first. Somebody disappearing, making a run for it etc would be indicated with two thumbs chasing each other, really funny. When people try to make a point, they might snip their thumbs really nervous, which distracts and irritates me a lot! Since I am the minority, I had to swallow all my natural reactions and just get used to it.
Or young ladies talking about loving the fat of the meat – as if it’s something that makes them somehow more sexy? Gee, never seen that overseas. Eating too much meat is seen as unhealthy, and the fat is not seen as lady’s food. My Southafrican sisters in law on the other hand brag about chicken being a vegetable to say they are big time meat lovers. No if that sounds confusing to me out of a girl’s mouth, I have to be very careful in my reaction here whereas overseas everyone else would be just as amused about that!
What I might never get used to are the walls going up when people do not know how to deal with a new situation. Picture this: Ordering eggs “over easy” in a B&B and the lady has no idea what you are talking about. A German would either pretend to understand and secretly think really hard what it could be, or totally straight out ask: I haven’t heard that before, what is that”. Here, you find a lot of people will somehow let you feel that YOU are strange and be cross with you for being different. I get that every time I open my mouth, many Afrikaans people from the country do not know where to place my accent and get cross with me for it. I have learned to stay calm, have some jokes ready, expect them to react upset because I have a name they have never heard before in their life. Christiane. How difficult can that be, seeing that Afrikaans people invent a new name every day which are usually mom and dad’s named combined: Elzandre, Sanet, Telandre, the strangest bible names like Hephzibah, or mere initials without a name behind them etc etc … I do not have the luxury to not “get” it. African names were just as strange to me, having not grown up with Tshilidzis and Mphos around me. But from africans I never got any strange reactions about my name the way Afrikaans or English people react. Deal with it, Christiane with an e at the end.
With that much difference on a daily basis and no fellow expat German on your side, you might after a while start doubting yourself. Get a little bit insecure because you are not being understood, or misinterpreted. Feel like you have Aspergers big time (being really okay, smart and all but not getting all the social stuff going on, or getting so much other impression that you are at loss how to react within an acceptable frame). So eventually I find myself in this uncomfortable insecure space, and need to tell myself: That is not you! There are others who believe the dog goes “Wau Wau” in German, whilst in English it goes Woof, and in Chines Bao bao” and the rooster goes “Kikeriki” whilst his english friend answers “cock-a-doodle-doo” and the spanish rooster would agree with the German going “kikiriki”.
So when you feel all alone with your convictions in how to count with your fingers and you feel people look at you as if you’re a shoe short of a pair, it’s time to put on your dancing shoes. Yeeha. I love Zumba. Salsa and Cha cha, modern pop songs and a cool lady showing us how to properly swing our hips, and voila. Immersed in a group of ladies line-dancing the same steps to the same drummer I feel connected with the world around me and magically part of a whole again.
Besides, dancing restores confidence in one’s own soul, and the mind flows freely while the legs are trying to copy the fast succession of steps happening in the front.
I learned so much about life in a Zumba class. German correctness is out – do not try to mentally understand the extra difficult moves and turns. Do not be embarrassed, forget perfection. During those turns the rest of the class is just as busy with themselves as you are, so you can wing it, they wont even notice. Just arrive at the right foot. Keep your poise, display a confident attitude. Done. Smiles.
Nice self therapy for my insecure heart.
Whatever life’s role is demanding of us, exercise gives a beautiful little tunnel to the depth of your soul that lays buried under your day job. In the end, our inside world is a foreign land to most of the people around us anyways.
the older we get the more we usually adapt to what the people around us need most from us. My children need a confident, think on her feet mom who’s accepted in their community. So no luxury of being “too different”, learning to fit in because of them. Many women have to do that, on different levels. But do not give up on your inner girl, do not hide her under layers of sad fat or stress wrinkles. Dance, for goodness sake. For a man who would chain that inner tiger to fit into his responsible role, it’s a blessing if he manages to channel it’s forces into jogging up that mountain top with the teenage boy looking for a role model. The woman who used to dream of being a movie star one day, at least while exercising she can convince herself that she’s keeping in step with whoever is hot and happening out there and that she’s ready for life’s adventures no matter what hour her life is in.
I think we all should exercise more, and try Zumba, it really does something for your heart.