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Posts tagged ‘zulu’

Month 13: patience truly is a virtue

I get inquiries every now and then from people who read this blog and ask about my Peace Corps service. One of the things I tell everyone is that it really does take a year for everything to settle – this two year timeline is completely logical. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to volunteer in a foreign country for less than a year. 

My whole life people have told me to “chill out” and “be patient”. My personality is one that is all over the place – oh, and just a tad high strung. I’m a person that’s gotta be on the move. Then I came to the Peace Corps and calmed down a bit – cliché as it is, patience truly is a virtue.   

My village really felt like home-home after about eight months living there. I think that’s commonplace for many PCVs because we take a huge step out of our comfort zone. We leave everything we know in the States and trade it all for some obscure place and culture we’ve never been before or experienced. As welcoming as everyone is, it’s still overwhelming and takes some time. In the back of mind, I knew everything would feel normal eventually – and it did (really, this is the best advice I can give to any PCV or soon-to-be PCV).

As the months go on, my relationship with my host family only gets stronger. My sister and I have bonded a lot more and my mama is really my mom. My family also understands my American individualism now – just because I’m alone sometimes, it doesn’t mean I’m lonely or sad. It’s just my culture.

My counterpart told me this month that when I first arrived to my school, the staff all talked about how young I looked and how I wouldn’t last here. I’m 24, but am often mistaken for a lot younger. My co-workers gossiped, “Oh! But she is so young. How can she be away from her family so long? How will she adapt to this way of living?” South Africans find it puzzling that a young woman like me can leave her home for two years because in this culture, that would never happen. Women my age are supposed to be with their families – or close enough at least to see them every now and then. Family and home is very important.

Then I told my counterpart it just takes some time to get used to, but I expected that – I knew this experience would unfold with great patience. 

Something I've learned that gets my class's attention -- pronouncing any Zulu word with a Q click; qedile = finished

Something I’ve learned that gets my class’s attention — pronouncing any Zulu word with a Q click; qedile = finished

It’s term three at school now and my first year of teaching will soon come to a wrap. The past school terms have definitely some of the most challenging times in my life. I have the largest class at my school – 40 kids – and inherited all the kids who are consistently held back; I believe grade 5 is the year kids get stuck in (if only I had known this… because those kids just talk and talk and talk). My class ranges from some extremely clever kids to kids who can’t read in their home language. 

I have no idea how to address the kids who struggle in all the subjects. I adopted the attitude that I would impact the kids who are at a middle level and try to bump them up (thanks for that City Year!) So, I tried just about everything to give these kids stories – and even wrote my own – and vocabulary and grammar that are lower than a grade 5 level. I do notice that the kids are speaking more and more – but I’m not sure if my approach to giving these kids easier things worked. The middle kids are still struggling, but the top of the class is killin’ it.

It took eight long months at school to really understand these kids – to know their names and perfect that Q click as best as I can, their culture, their strengths and weaknesses. Now I know what works and what doesn’t through countless hours of trial and error. I’ve even been able to finally implement a luck of the draw system in my class – I pick names out of a hat now to make kids participate (but took the names out of the hat of kids who I know cannot read). However, it’s a shame because term three is jam-packed with district assignments and the annual national standardized assessment. I have to rush through this term, hit all the assignments as well as try to prepare grade 5 for ANA. And I’ve attempted to follow the national curriculum, but it’s frustrating when three quarters of the kids aren’t at the level to do the work and I only have an hour a day. 

If I had my grade 5s as grade 6s next year, we would be a dream team together. Unfortunately, I will be leaving early August 2014, which is only half way into their school term. It would be unfair to take my own class again.

Well, everything’s finally making sense on this end after a year – a little too late in the South African school system timeline, but right on track with the Peace Corps timeline!  

It’s true my peoples – patience really is a virtue. Everything takes time and it’ll all eventually come together.

On an unrelated note, I have been having nightmares about the GRE lately – high anxiety levels in my hut. I am busy getting my graduate school applications movin’. It’s actually been quite fun revisiting my service stories and finding the best for my statements of purposes. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

A best friend from my hometown booked her ticket to visit me in November and one of my City Year teammates also booked a ticket for December. I’m so thrilled I get to share this incredible experience with two people who are very important to me. I am patiently counting down the weeks!

Yours patiently in service,

Small heartLiz

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Ubuntu: indlamu

Watch my little Zulu warriors kick some butt in a district-wide cultural competition! This is a traditional Zulu dance called Indlamu. My learners won 1st place for Indlamu and 2nd place for another traditional danced called Amahubo.

Ubuntu: Zulu weddings and lobola

Whenever a guy proposes to me here I respond with, “30 cows”. Then they laugh and tell me that’s far too much, because the average price for a bride here is 12 cows. (How many cows do you think you’re worth?)

Traditionally in South Africa, after a man proposes to a woman, he must negotiate “lobola” with the bride’s family. Lobola is a practice where the bride and groom’s fathers, or other men in their families, meet to discuss how much the man will have to pay to marry the woman.

The average arranged payment is 12 cows and each cow costs around 1,500R (~$200USD). The price is lowered by one cow per each child the bride has given birth to before marriage. Nowadays the negotiation process is a little more modern, and the groom can pay in cash or split it between cash and cows. The negotiations must be done by men from both families, or else it is a disgrace to the ancestors. Once the negotiations are settled, the plans for the actual wedding plans start forming.

Zulu weddings last three days. On the first day of ceremonies, the groom’s family travels to the bride’s family’s household to partake in a traditional ceremony. All men and women are dressed in Zulu traditional dress. Women wear an isidwaba (wrap around beaded and pleaded skirt), beads, and an isicholo – a straw hat that is beaded. Men wear amabheshu – a cow skin cover-up and carry a Zulu shield, also made out of cow skin.

The groom -- Baba Mhkwanazi -- in amabheshu

The groom — Baba Mhkwanazi — in amabheshu

The two separate families gather together and watch each one march and sing around the household property. This is the beginning of a friendly “competition” between the families. The families then will march to wherever the groom or bride is and sing for them to come out of the house and join them. Once both families have gathered either the groom or bride, they sing and march out to a larger grass field.

The bride’s family, with the bride in the middle of the group, then sings and dances traditional songs – songs about marriage and love, many of which do not have direct translations to English.

After about 30 minutes of dancing and singing, the bride’s family stops and the groom’s family begins. Once both sides have completed, they will do the gita – a traditional Zulu dance when one kicks his or her leg to the beat of a drum or song as high as they can in the air and maintain balance. The families spend anywhere from a couple of weeks to a week to prepare and practice the choreographed dancing and singing before the big day.

About an hour or so later, they gather and march together back to the family compound to eat a traditional meal. The area is set up as it is at any American wedding reception – tables gathered around a long table for the groom, bride, bridesmaids and groomsmen amongst a backdrop of decorative cheetah fabric. The day ends in lots of socializing and drinking umqombothi (Zulu beer).

Traditional decorations

Traditional decorations

The next day is the Westernized wedding ceremony in a church. The ceremony is pretty much the same as an American wedding, sans the extra loud African music, yelling and cheering and dancing. The wedding has a colored theme – for example, purple and silver. All the guests are expected to wear that color combination (although many don’t) and the bridesmaids and groomsmen are dressed in those colors. The dresses are handmade and ruffled as if came from a time machine straight from the 1980s. The bride wears a white dress and the groom wears a tux.

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Bride and groom stand united

After the Western wedding ceremony, the guests and families head back to the groom’s house – where the bride will be staying from then on. As soon as both families arrive on the property they sing and march outside the property. They compete with the same songs and dances that sang the day before, but they are dressed in the wedding garb from the church. This time the dancing and singing lasts a little longer because a few other rituals take place.

The men of the community ask the ancestors for peace that the couple unites by first kneeling in silence and then traditional dancing. This ritual lasts about 10-15 minutes and once the union of families is approved they jump around and celebrate with both sides of the families. After, the mama’s of the community – who wear the same dress (which, may I add, my mama sewed and wore), stand in a line in front of both families. The women sweep the air with an “umshanelo wotshani” – a broom made out of grass to cleanse the bride’s new home for her. This signifies that they are welcoming the new mama into the community. To show their respect and welcome, they later serve food and clean up after the reception.

Mamas serving

Mamas serving ukudla (f00d)

Once the dancing and singing is over, the families unite and march into the property together for food and drinks. The groom’s family takes the bride and her family on a small tour of the property to show her where she will be staying (this is just traditional, because many brides have already started living at the groom’s before the marriage). The bride and groom receive presents – mostly household items – and cut a cake. There is usually a DJ and a dancing tent for the night so guests can dance and drink the night away.

On the last day of ceremonies, the bride gives the groom’s family gifts, which are mostly blankets for their houses and ironically usually bought with lobola money. The families gather around, open each individual blanket, and invite a family member from the groom’s side to lay under it for 30 seconds or so. This is another welcoming gesture that groom’s family into the mother’s care and new household.

Blanket ritual

Blanket ritual

Anybody in the village is invited to all the ceremonies because of the Ubuntu mentality here, so the families have to estimate how much food they’ll need to prepare. Two cows are usually slaughtered, which is a good amount of food. However, preparation of food and decorations are another story, and it literally does take a village to help cook and prepare for any wedding. I find it absolutely awesome that although there is a little Western influence on Zulu weddings (they literally call part of it a “white wedding”), they still haven’t lost their heritage and go about weddings “the right way” to please the ancestors. And you bet they are proud of it!

To get a glimpse all the rituals discussed in this post, watch the video below:

Ubuntu: ngihawukele thonga lami

From an early age, children in my village learn to sing and dance — music is at the heart of Zulu culture. I seriously haven’t seen or heard one kid who doesn’t have rhythm or a pretty voice.

The children pick up traditional songs and dance from their families and the community and then practice them in their arts and culture class at school.

This traditional dance, ngihawukele thonga lami, is about the ancestors (thonga lami; our ancestors). This song and dance is specific to an isangoma,  which is the Zulu equivalent of a fortune teller.

Each isangoma in Zulu culture has a different song and dance, specific to his or her practice. When the isangomas gather together, they individually sing their songs. This song is an isangoma song from my community that the children know by association.

Isangomas place sea shells into a bag, shake it, throw the shells out, then use a stick to move the shells and talk about the positions. Then they repeat to confirm. The position of the shells tells a person about their life/future.

Watch grade 3s perform the dance and song with instruments they made themselves out of old cans and bottle caps! I couldn’t stop smiling when they performed it for me: