The only thing that made the commute tolerable was that I spent a lot of time listening to Howard Stern. I know some of you are offended, but I find him funny and unequivocally the greatest interviewer of all time. As an interviewer Howard finds a way to get people to open up about their lives. He asks the questions that we all want answered. What does a fashion model really eat in a given day? What life experiences cause a person to become a porn star? Howard used to wrap up a lot of interviews by asking Robin, "what have we learned?"
Here are a few things that I have learned in the 15 months that we've lived South Africa.
1) It's all temporary. Intellectually we all understand that everything in our lives is temporary. Jobs, homes, belongings, relationships, people, and of course being alive. Nothing lasts forever. We know this but we really don't know it and so when we lose a job, a relationship ends or we can't find a favorite shirt we mourn the loss. We get angry. We fear change.
Living in a place that I have understood from the outset to be temporary sometimes feels like listening to a record album on the fastest speed (yes, I just dated myself.) I am acutely aware of the passage of time and there are constant reminders that our life here is not going to last indefinitely. Such as my home here is only my home for a little while and my car will not come with me when I leave. Living here I've tried harder than I've ever tried in my life to build relationships and form friendships which isn't saying all that much because in the past I never tried at all. I just let friendships come about naturally. But moving to a place where you don't know anyone forces you to make a big effort. And the effort seems to easily pay off especially with other expats who are also making a concerted effort to make new friends. We have formed some close friendships and it's hard to imagine that these friends that will not always be in our lives in such an extensive way. Sure, we will keep in touch when they move away (or when we do) but it will not be the same.
Some of our friends have already left South Africa and moved on to other countries and continents. Other friends will be leaving soon. And we don't know how long we will be here or where we will go next. So I have to live in a manner that allows me to maximize the experience while simultaneously embracing the uncertainty. I have thrown myself, with all of the energy I have, into my life here. I have tried to make it fun, full, memorable and meaningful and all that effort will make it more difficult when it ends. But I think it's worth it.
2) Poor people like nice things. Obviously I can't (and don't) speak on behalf of all poor people. But, just like people who aren't poor, the poor people I've gotten to know personally like nice things. Will a poor person accept and be grateful for a half a loaf of bread that is stale and may have a little mold on it? Yes. And that person will eat the bread and will be glad to have something to eat. Would a poor person also be thrilled to receive a piece of steak or a brand new cool New York Yankees hat? Yes. Just because someone is extraordinarily poor, lives in a shack or struggles to earn enough money to buy food doesn't mean that person doesn't appreciate things that are hip, cool and stylish. I think when you give someone something nice that he or she will use but doesn't necessarily need to survive, that you are giving an even greater gift, the gift of treating them like a non-poor person who has good taste and likes nice things. People are people.
And speaking of people...
3) People notice personalized license plates. Oh how I wish this was not the case but countless times in the past month I have been asked by strangers and friends alike what Schmool means. Seriously, I want to have my car wrapped with text that says, "I'm not a pretentious A-hole with nothing better to do then personalize my license plate. My plates were cloned and this was the only answer. End plate-cloning now!" But that is not practical so instead I launch into a whole long story each time I'm asked. Exhausting.
4) I'm brave. Maybe you have seen the phrase "do one thing a day that scares you?" Scaring yourself daily may be a bit excessive but living here I am scared a lot. Not scared like full on panic can't breathe scared but rather forced to try new things and to push my limits. I have to drive alone to places I've never been before. I have to go to events where I don't know anyone and I have to mingle. I have to talk to people knowing the minute I open my mouth to speak they will know I am a foreigner. Let's also not forget that I slept in a tent while lions roamed nearby, which is either very brave or very stupid, I'm still not quite sure which.
Today, I ate offals or more specifically cow intestines. I didn't wake up this morning knowing this was going to occur it just kind of happened. I went to see Gift and his sister Beatrice. Beatrice was cooking and she asked me if I wanted to try some cow intestine. For some reason that I really can't explain I said yes. I guess it's because of what I said before, that I am trying to experience all that I can while I am living here. Beatrice gave me a bowl - like a fairly large bowl - of food even though I said I only wanted a little bit. When she gave me the bowl I got nervous and sweaty and my heart was racing. I was scared that I might gag or choke. But I ate the whole thing because I didn't want to be rude or wasteful. Nothing bad happened. I didn't choke, gag or die (and it's been seven hours so I think I'm out of the woods on dying.) I will say though that I am not in a huge rush to eat intestines again. Meanwhile, as I was eating the most exotic and strange thing that I can imagine ingesting while simultaneously patting myself on the back for being so open-minded and frankly awesome, Gift was busy eating a simple sandwich of scrambled egg on white bread. He did not seem impressed with (or even to notice) my exceptional bravery. Of course to him the intestines are not a strange dish at all but rather something he's probably eaten his whole life. Beatrice did notice though and after I finished eating she said, "I was worried that you might vomit because you had never eaten this before." "Don't worry," I told her. "I moved to Africa. I'm tougher than you think."
|This is a picture of what I ate while it was still in the pot before Beatrice scooped out a bowlful for me. It's a stew of samp with tomato, chilies and onions. The black (broccoli looking) and grey chunks are the intestines. Yeah, I'm brave.|