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Ubuntu: siyabonga 2012

I celebrated Thanksgiving Western-style with Americans and Brits last week, but also got a taste of what “Thanksgiving” means in my village.  When I heard my mom talk about the “Thanksgiving” event that was going to happen at church, I had to pick-and-pry to find out what it really meant. “But that’s an American holiday that’s about American history,” I told her. Alas, I attended church to participate in the celebration — one step closer to understanding religion and culture in my village.

At the end of every year, all the community members in my village gather at the church for a “Thanksgiving” mass — to thank God for the past year. Zulu: siyabonga. English: we thank you.

Each family then contributes a sum of money that is counted all together and announced at the end of the church service. The donated money will be used for next year’s church budget and activities. The church raised ~R70,000! Thanksgiving mass is hosted at church either at the end of November or December. This year the celebration was coincidentally the weekend after American Thanksgiving; perfect timing!

Just like every church service, there was a lot of dancing, singing — especially the song that features “siyabonga” (listen to the video to see if you can hear it). I’m planning on writing a longer post on the importance of religion in my community, but I’m taking my sweet, sweet time — there’s much to discuss.

Enjoy your first glimpse at this beautifully rhythmic Zulu culture! Happy South African Thanksgiving!

Ubuntu: Thanksgiving 2012 cultural exchange

One of the Peace Corps goals that Volunteers are supposed to complete is to share American culture abroad. This Thanksgiving, I and the rest of the Battlefields PCVs were given the perfect opportunity to share our holiday with British friends.

Nicky Rattray, David Rattray’s widow of the David Rattray Foundation, invited us to the British tourist lodge in our area — Fugitive’s Drift — to cook a Thanksgiving meal for her family, the lodge staff members and Ben Henderson, the current main man of DRF. This was the first time the foundation hosted PCVs for Thanksgiving, so it was pretty much everyone’s first Thanksgiving.

Great! One problem: none of us can cook. We scowered recipes on our BlackBerries before coming to the lodge and asked family members to e-mail us easy recipes, especially those that would be easy to cook for 10+ people. We didn’t tell anybody at the lodge that we didn’t really have any cooking skills until it became apparent. The lodge staff couldn’t help but give us a hard time and watch us run around like chickens with our heads cut off yelling, “Where’s the sugar? Where’s the flour?!”

I couldn’t stop laughing the whole day because it was such a disaster in the kitchen. Thankfully, we had recipes, unlimited ingredients and Monica, the 35-year-old in my group, who knew what to do because “she’s been around longer”, even though she claims she can’t cook. It got to a point where I would sarcastically say, “Hey Mon, since you’ve been on this earth longer, wanna come and see how the potatoes are doing?”

I have a hard time following recipes and my impatient-self just throws all the ingredients into a bowl to mix up (I mean, c’mon, all the ingredients are supposed to be mixed together anyways). As I was assigned to make the desserts, I had to re-do the batter twice because I mixed in the dry and wet ingredients at the same time. Oops! I was really proud of my brownies, but my sauce was another story. I tried to thicken my chocolate sauce by adding flour, which clearly isn’t what you are supposed to do because there were flour chunks in my final sauce. Another re-do — but this time a lodge staff member made the sauce. The rest of the night people would just say, “Hey Liz, can you add some flour to this?”

In the end, we got compliments on our meal, even though the Brits admitted they were scared for dinner. As a joke, we told everyone at the dinner table that they have to kiss their neighbor on the lips then say what they’re thankful for because “it’s what Americans do.” They figured out we were kidding, but still — that’s part of American culture: sarcasm, jokes and dysfunctional holidays.

One thing I miss so much about America is sarcasm — South Africans aren’t very sarcastic and don’t understand it much. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all the people I have met through my service work because I just click with them. I’m especially thankful for my Peace Corps geographic group because we get along, there’s always constant laughter when we’re together and we’re all pretty sarcastic. I’m comfortable in a group when I don’t have to tailor my personality and don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not. Thanks for already being a solid — and hilarious — support system ya’ll! We’re all thankful for the work the DRF does in our service schools because by working together we are creating sustainable change.

Ironically, this was probably one of my best Thanksgivings yet although it was abroad — last year is a close tie. I doubt I’ll ever cook a Thanksgiving meal for my host family as it really would be a disaster alone, but next year I will definitely celebrate Thanksgiving with my students!

Tomorrow I’m going to a “Thanksgiving” at my church where the church members thank God for the past year. It’ll be interesting to see what that’s all about — an Ubuntu post about that to come in due time.

Happy Holidays America! Back in the village, which is only 20 or so km from the lodge — this first world-third world thing in South African is so drastic.

SmallTransparentLogoLiz

Ubuntu: the sticky subject of race

With Barack Obama as president in America, academics have discussed if we live in a “post-racial society” — are people still classified by the color of their skin? Can people, regardless of who they are, rise to the top?

As an avid dreamer who stands behind the philosophy that “you can do what you set your mind to”, I would argue that anyone can be who they want to be in America. However, that doesn’t come without a lot of hard work, obstacles and determination.

Why? Segregation and discrimination still exist in America. Everywhere I have lived — from a small coastal town to a large city — people of different races generally live in different neighborhoods or areas of the cities. Not all, of course, but most. From talking to African-American friends of mine, they say they are aware that they are black everyday and still feel that they are treated differently.

Interestingly enough, South Africa and America have similar racial histories, just during different time eras. For those of you who don’t know South African history, “Apartheid” was racial segregation enforced by the Afrikaner National Party rule from 1948-1994. During Apartheid, white supremacy was played out by placing people into racial categories — natives, whites, Asians and Coloureds (people of Indian decent or mixed race). The non-white groups had few rights, no voting power, were dislocated from urban areas and forced into townships outside of cities, received inadequate education, and so the list goes on.

Apartheid was abolished in 1990; however, the first democratic election in South Africa and Nelson Mandela assuming presidency in 1994 really kicked out the old tricks. I still can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that I was alive during Apartheid. Even if I was a baby, I was still here on this earth. Clearly, this dark time of South African history really wasn’t long ago because I still consider myself a youngin’.

Thus, South Africa is still pretty segregated. There is no doubt that I am the only white person that many in my village come in contact with in on a daily or weekly basis. Those of a different race don’t come to rural villages. Similarly, I found that people who have lived in Los Angeles their whole lives have never been to Watts or anywhere in that vicinity.

In my village, people know I am American, so nobody speaks Afrikaans to me. I can’t even begin to count how many times people tried to speak Afrikaans to me during my pre-service training stay in the Mpumalanga province. Every time someone spoke Afrikaans to me it made my skin crawl. I wanted to firmly say, “NO. I am American. I speak English.” I did not want to be associated with the history of South Africa just because of the color of my skin.

Just last Sunday, an Afrikaans man asked me if I was “coloured” because I have darker features and people never really know what I am. I was taken aback because why does it matter if I am or am not coloured? To me, a person is a person. I see straight beyond race back in America and never even think about it because I grew up around so many different kinds of people. I’ve never questioned the color of my skin or my “racial category” back in the states — I only brag that I get tan during summer or joke with my friends about my Native American heritage. The short conversation about my racial identity was an eye-opener for me because now I’m really experiencing a very racially aware country.

Likewise, about a month ago, a drunk Gogo screamed at my PCV friends and I at my host family’s house because she thought we were Afrikaners and that we were forcing the isiNdebele people to speak our language (which was a policy during Apartheid, all “natives” learned Afrikaans as a second language and not English). My Gogo explained otherwise to the lady, but I’ll always remember what was said. These two moments combined made me think about how racial resentment still exists among South Africans — and a little more openly than it does in the states (at least from my observations).

Besides that instance, I’ve never been treated poorly here because of the color of my skin and I doubt I will be. Everyone is so loving, caring and friendly because of the Ubuntu mentality among Africans in South Africa. However, this is the first time in my life I’ve really ever been completely aware of what perceptions people have of me when I may greet them on the street or in any casual encounter; people will always have preconceived notions about others based on race because it’s such a huge part of history.

Last year at Markham Middle School, I made a point to know where all of my student’s families immigrated from — Mexico or a specific country in Central America — because Central Americans get so offended when they are called Mexican and vice versa. I don’t know why and if there are any bad connotations with either of the geographic groups, but I do know one thing: Classifying people based on skin color can be an act of racism seen by those being classified. My 6th grade students were smart enough to point that out, too.

First impressions based on skin color are a vicious cycle the human race will never be able to pull itself out of. When people have classified me as an “Afrikaner” or “coloured” here, I finally felt like how my students did when people would classify them only as Mexican or whatever. This realization for me is a step toward understanding the racial communities I’ve been working in the past two years and will continue to work in.

And I know I’m not the victim here — nor is anyone because stereotyping can be an issue for all regardless of what race. I admit I would get angry and associate being called an Afrikaner off-the-bat with Apartheid history. Not all Afrikaners believe in segregation or supported Apartheid, so I’m guilty of racial stereotyping too.

I wish so much baggage didn’t tag along with people based on the color of their skin, spoken language, or geography, but it’s a part of human nature that all of us can fall under even when we don’t want to.

Some may never be at peace with understanding that we as humans actually share more similarities than differences — especially in countries like America and South Africa that have past segregation history. Too bad history will never be forgotten.

Signs of segregation during the Apartheid era in South Africa at the Apartheid museum

Month two: around the village

When I walk outside my door, I no longer see palm trees, busy streets and freeways, smog, murals and graffiti. I no longer hear the tamale lady selling tamales early in the morning, the annoying ice cream trucks that cruise through South Los Angeles every day or Spanish being spoken on the streets.

Now when I walk outside my door, I hear people speaking isiZulu. I hear roosters crowing at every hour during the day and night (even at 3 a.m…) and cows mooing. I see vast grassland with clusters of houses scattered around. I see bright blue and clear skies.

Needless to say, I went from living in a hustling and bustling city to a remote rural African village. Two completely different worlds.

In my village, everyone knows everyone. Most people are related in blood or marriage. Teachers live close to learners (my host brother is a student at my school). Teachers attend all the same community events that learners attend. This is one apparent difference I keep noticing between America and here.
In America, there are very strict boundaries between teachers and students. Teachers can’t even give students rides home or to school because of liability. Teachers can’t get too personal with students due to sexual harassment accusations.

Here, boundaries are thin. I even walk to school with students, whereas in America a student probably wouldn’t wait for you at your gate before school. Most learners and teachers at school know where I live and can show up at my door whenever. In America, work can be so separated from your personal life, but in South Africa it’s all intertwined.

My village is very small and only has a tuck shop (small, small convenience store you can buy bread, eggs, but no produce) at, a church (that is practically everyone’s second home), a primary school, a secondary school, a liquor shop and a clinic.

The village has running water — there are hand pumps in various locations. Other households, like mine, have water taps in the yard, so you use a bucket to fetch water and bring it into the house.

Unfortunately, the village runs dry every so often — sometimes even for a month at a time. The water actually ran out for two days last week and I haven’t had time to buy extra buckets for water storage, so I am very thankful it came back on. I’ve never had to worry about water in my life and the possibility of water shortage is something that doesn’t cross many American minds. At least I’m prepared in some ways — my newly shaved head has become even more practical for my new lifestyle!

All of these amenities are definitely enough to survive, but I’m beginning to understand why South Africans place so much importance on relationships. With not much else entertainment, it’s everyone’s job to keep everyone else entertained and happy.

We have so much in America to keep us entertained — movies, malls, technology, bars, restaurants, sports arenas, you name it. We, Americans, can usually something different to do every so often.

Those in my village can’t and don’t. They do the same thing every day. Many are unemployed and live off government grants. For instance, my host mother sells airtime (the South African equivalent of pay-as-you-go cell phone minutes and SMS), sells electricity, sews torn clothes, sells baked goods, etc. Thus, on a daily basis people visit with each other, cook, clean, do chores, attend church and every funeral, wedding or birthday, or take a taxi to town to buy groceries.

And ya know what? From what I’ve observed, it seems like everyone’s pretty darn happy. These Zulu and Sotho people are proof that you can live with the bare essentials to survive and still lead a happy and fulfilling life. Now who woulda thought that back in Los Angeles?

It’s amazing how drastically life has changed for me in the past two months. This village is my new home now and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My hardest Peace Corps challenge in the village so far is facing the harsh reality that I can’t buy ground coffee at my closest grocery store. Hey, everyone needs something to look forward to and I look forward to drinking a good cup of coffee every morning — it’s a healthy addiction!

Want to send me a care package? (Hint: with lots and lots of coffee), here’s my new address.

And finally, here are pictures of my village, the main tar road and the vast grasslands:

Yours in Service,

SmallTransparentLogoLiz

Ripples of hope: serving in the Peace Corps with another City Year Los Angeles alum

It’s a Small World has always been my favorite ride at Disneyland. Not because of the obnoxious music, but because of the message it gave young children: People are connected around the world. Sure, we speak different languages and have different cultures, but we have the same emotions, breathe the same air and well duh, are all humans. We’re all not that different.

Then I came to City Year last year and learned about a Zulu proverb called Ubuntu: I am because you are / my humanity is tied to your humanity. In other words, we’re all connected in some way, somehow.

As known, I joined the Peace Corps quickly after my City Year and found a fellow City Year Los Angeles alum — Katie (corps year 2008-2009) — among my group of Volunteers who served in the same South Los Angeles neighborhood I served in. When I arrived at the Johannesburg airport, boarded the bus and got my Pre-Service Training (PST) schedule, I called Katie’s name across the bus and said, “Katie! We have a training about Ubuntu! Ohhh City Year…” We both shook our heads and laughed.

I didn’t realize the similarities of Ubuntu between my City Year and Peace Corps service until now, but the concept of Ubuntu originated in South Africa. Katie and I are ironically learning Zulu in the same language group with only one other American.

Before Katie, myself and the rest of my Peace Corps Volunteer group were about to listen to a presentation on Ubuntu in South African culture from our Zulu language trainers, Katie and I were sharing City Year pictures and memories. I showed her some pictures from the end of the year. We had already gone through lists of student names to see if I had tutored any of her former elementary students, but today we finally saw how our paths crossed after she saw a picture of one infamous Markham student my team adored. Let me stress again that this is right before the Ubuntu session is about to start (for those non-City Year people, this is City Year’s favorite word).

One of our Markham kids, Sarah*, was one of Katie’s elementary school team’s former students. At the end of a City Year, whether or not some of these students are in a team member’s actual class, there are always a group of kids that every City Year knows and has helped in some way. Sarah was one of those kids for my team AND Katie’s team.

Bursting out in laughter as we flipped through the pictures I had of her, we started to share Sarah stories: Funny things she had said (she has no sensor and doesn’t care what people think, which makes her all the more fun to be around). I was so happy about this discovery that my eyes were tearing up — Katie and I can come from two completely different places in the US (Kentucky and California) and still somehow impacted a student’s life (or in my case, know the people who really did — my teammates Angie, Melanie and Becky — because I didn’t work much with her). This is clear proof that we are all connected through humanity and Ubuntu isn’t just some inspirational saying — it’s actually true.

I’ve written plenty of times throughout my first service year that changing the world isn’t as easy as it sounds and one might not always see results. I joined the Peace Corps expecting this, but can finally say that in rare circumstances change can be seen. Maybe Sarah still struggles in school a lot, but she was one of the first students who befriended my team at Markham, which I know had something to do with working with Katie’s team when she was a third grader. Now as a sixth grader, she’s confident, out-spoken, humorous and brave. I can’t completely credit City Year with all this, but the organization must have had some role in shaping who she is today if she decided to look up to the Markham team this year.

In South Africa, Ubuntu is practiced in all households. Batho pele, which means people first, stresses that one must take care of others — including guests and family members — before taking care of oneself when referring to eating meals or anything else. Food must be prepared in large portions in case guests show up to a family’s home. Family members must feed guests — regardless of who they are — before they eat. If one needs food or ingredients, one visits the neighbor’s house to get it. Food is for everyone and is shared. There is no such thing as individual food and it is disrespectful to deny someone food.

Likewise, people come before work. In America, we care so much about our jobs that they often comes before relationships. Here in South Africa, it is not uncommon for people to miss work (which is one major reason why teachers are absent a lot at the schools we’ll be serving at) because their culture emphasizes that they should go to a community gathering — like a wedding or funeral — instead of work.

Now, the South African government is trying to enforce Ubuntu throughout the country — blacks, whites, coloureds —  especially after Apartheid was dismantled.

I wouldn’t call Katie and I crossing paths a coincidence, but fate. I think things are supposed to happen for a reason and today happened to show me that people do impact each other and can make a difference in each other’s lives. In City Year, when one person’s thoughtful actions reach another person, it’s a called “ripple” of hope, which originiated from a speech Robert F. Kennedy gave in none other but South Africa — Katie and I together are the ultimate ripple!

Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu — a person is a person because of people. Any interaction that my City Year team had or my new PCV team will have with students will somehow direct and develop who the student becomes as a person today and in the future. And this is exactly why all of those I have met last year and this year chose to do the work we will do or have completed.

My life now makes a little more sense…

 

“Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” –Robert F. Kennedy

Yours in South African service,

SmallTransparentLogoLiz

Ubuntu: my first South African host-family stay!

Living with this family has been truly incredible. I’ve never met such open and caring people in my life. My Gogo took me into her home like I was her own and treats me as if I were. My host sister is 23-years-old like me and also an only child, so it was really neat to see how someone with a somewhat similar background lived like in another culture.

My host siblings gave me my first exposure to little kids. I still am working out the kinks, but I think I understand how to at least play with kids now (when in doubt, tickle and chase them!)

I still can’t fathom this experience I’ve had here in South Africa happening in America. If a South African were to come and stay at an American home in America, would it be the same? I know if someone were to stay at my home they would be more like roommates than family members because that’s just how my family operates (meaning you can get away without talking to anyone/being in your own world for a day). I know it would be different in every situation, but most of my fellow PCTs have had a similar experience to me — that they have been integrated into their host families, feel at home and don’t think it’s just a house to sleep at.

I’ll really miss this family, but I want to try to come back and visit because I would absolutely love to see the little ones grow up. In two years, my 6-year-old host brother will be speaking more English, my little 4-year-old host brother will be in primary school, my 1-year-old host sister will be talking and my 23-year-old host sister could be closer to getting married to her boyfriend! It’s amazing how much has changed since I moved here in mid-July; just within a month my 1-year-old host sister went from walking and falling to being able to run around and keep her balance. Kids really grow up fast!

My family practices Ubuntu because to them, I am just another person that they can talk to and befriend. I am different because I am an American, but when it really comes down to it, I’m just another person. Maybe I wasn’t able to have that many conversations with my Gogo because of the language barrier, but only a couple of sentences and many laughs is what shows you that no matter what culture a person comes from, we are all people and share a common humanity. Just being in the presence of another human is what makes us all who we are.

Last Sunday, Peace Corps South Africa hosted an event to thank our host families for hosting us. My whole host family showed up — including my Gogo’s sisters and their children. The room was packed at the event, so unfortunately I couldn’t get many pictures and videos of PCTs performing traditional isiNdebele dances and reciting a speech in isiNdebele to thank our families. There were also various traditional dances done by young male and females of the surrounding isiNdebele community, which was so cool to watch! (even if I was sitting on a railing outside the room)

The whole family (cousin and aunts included) and neighbors!

Here are some photos from the day of the event with my Gogo, Thandi, Letho, JuJu and Emihle and Emihle’s 1st birthday!

Month one: What IS American culture?

Now that I can blog again, there’s a few things I’ve been dying to write about. The first being — what IS American culture? I’m stumped.

South Africa is a very cultural nation — there are 11 official languages, all which stem from a different African or European geographic area. Black South Africans, depending on their home tribe, differ in language, clothes, but share many similarities when it comes to cultural traditions. For example, if a man wants to marry a woman, men must pay “labola”, which means the bride’s parents set a number of cows the man must give the family before marrying their daughter (nowadays families can discuss money instead of cows). Now that I’ve been living with an isiNdebele host family for a month, I’m able to see cultural norms practiced — even right now my host sister’s boyfriend and father of her child has to be in a separate room from Gogo (Grandma) and is not supposed to talk with her as a sign of respect and to show that he’s serious about my host sister.

When I’m put on the spot to talk about American culture in my host community, I’m at a serious loss for words. I find myself stumbling on my words and muttering to myself, “no, that’s not right” or “ugh, I really don’t know.” I question in my head — what IS American culture? Who are we? What are our traditions?

I went to an initiation event for 16-year-old girls of the isiNdebele culture a couple of weeks ago. The young women wear a huge beaded necklace, beaded glass tubes/cuffs all the way to their thighs (that are extremely heavy — I picked up one of my Gogo’s!) The girls dance to a traditional song topless and once they are all done they receive a full-size comforter and bedroom supplies that symbolizes their growth into becoming a woman. The family prepares enough food for the community and slaughters a cow (and might I add that freshly slaughtered and cooked beef is the best beef I’ve ever had — no sarcasm intended).

My host sister asked me if Americans do anything similar. The first response that popped into my head was, “well, some women have Quinceaneras when they turn 15.” But then I quickly confused her by saying, “Well, that’s not my culture. It’s Latino culture. I grew up around many Latinos — people who speak Spanish and came to America from Central and South America.”

Maybe my specific upbringing doesn’t have similar events, but I’m so culturally aware of those that live in California that by living there for 22 years of my life, those other cultures have become a part of me. I’ve taken a part of some cultural exchange during my lifetime — whether it was escorting my friend as a Queen in the Portuguese Holy Ghost Festival (Chamarita), making enchiladas for Christmas, eating traditional food in Los Angeles or San Francisco, interacting with those of a different ethnicity and race by working and living in Los Angeles, or even interviewing someone from a different culture during my student journalist days.

A while back, my host grandmother’s sister asked me where different types of people live in America, but only asked about people of European decent. “Where do the Germans, the Scottish, the British and the Irish live?” she wondered.

I was taken aback because to me America is SO diverse, but in the eyes of someone from another country, we’re all white Europeans. I acknowledge the confusion because let’s face it — people internationally think Americans are white because it’s mostly what they see in the media and our politics.

I tried to explain that there aren’t really places for all those people (but also discussed that some cities attract ethnic groups. For example, Boston has many Irish, San Francisco has many Chinese, and so on). I told her that America is such a melting pot of immigrants that many of us, like me, are mixed with so many origins of European decent. I, for one, know my father’s family is from Hungary, my mother’s family has some Native American origins and my middle name, Jeffredo, has a French origin. However, that doesn’t tell me much of exactly what I’m made up of. All I know is I believe I’m more Hungarian than other ethnicities, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. Really, I’m just an American who — like many Americans — doesn’t really know who she is.

What this experience has given me so far is realizing that Americans might not know who we really are. With little knowledge of our ancestry, we can chose how to identify. I can identify as Hungarian or Native American, or both, upon my choosing.

Now that I have to share American culture and identity, I have no idea how to summarize this complex concept of who we are and where we come from. I want to disprove the notion that we’re all white Europeans.

The first way of attacking this subject for me is to define American culture and identity geographically and through family structure. American culture isn’t universal across the country — I do not share the same beliefs, values and experiences of every American. However, those of geographic regions generally have similar beliefs and values like: Religion, family structure, holiday traditions, jobs, history, sports, political beliefs, lifestyle, urban, rural, suburbia, etc.)

So, I’m an American, but more specifically, I’m a Californian and a Warden.

I’m a Californian because:
1) I have a liberal mindset because I grew up in a diverse area and a liberal geographic area.
2) I have an urge to learn about other people, which most people who were raised outside of major cities I would argue do too.
3) I try to dress as fashionable as possible (well maybe not so much here…) because everyone did in Los Angeles.
4) If I marry, I won’t until I have an independent life set out for myself. Many women are like this in areas of America, but some do marry young. Where I’m from, few do.
5) I cook enchiladas on Christmas and live off of Mexican food because I grew up in a Latino-Caucasian area.

I’m Liz Warden because:
1) I fight for what I believe in, which is what I was taught to do growing up.
2) I can’t cook (and apparently will never find a husband here in South Africa because I can’t) because my father cooked when I was growing up; it wasn’t taught to me as a “woman’s job”.
3) I have a dry sense of humor because that’s how I was raised by my parents.
4) I care about helping others because that’s what my parents taught me.

Hand-in-hand, it looks like an individual American’s identity and culture is different for everyone depending on where they live geographically and what their family structure is like (although I do wish I could think of more examples!)

But still, this doesn’t really answer my question of what IS American culture? How can I define it simply? What traditions, values and beliefs do we all share? Democracy? Freedom? Equal rights? (I beg to differ, however). Those are way too broad of answers though. Or do we not have a distinct culture and only have distinct identities based on where we’re from and how we were raised? Am I searching for an answer that doesn’t exist?

When I have to teach American culture to my students, I have a few ideas: Freedom of the press, ideas and opinions, Hollywood, Disney (and of course Disneyland!), Fourth of July, Baseball, New Years Eve and how we celebrate many cultural holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo. Anyone have any other ideas? I’d love to know!

My job here is to serve as a public diplomat and exchange American cultural values with South Africans and share South African cultural values with those back home. I’m failing a little bit, considering this is all still just a ramble speculating who we are and why we are the way we are. People in South Africa are so culturally aware of who they are that this is the first time I’ve ever sat down and pondered about our culture and how we identify.

As time goes on, I hope to self-answer this search for what it means to be an American. Any help from the audience would be appreciated.

Yours confused,
SmallTransparentLogoLiz