Thursday, February 21, 2013

House & Home

There are tons of things about this country and this culture that drive me crazy. But there are also those that I really admire. The concepts of family and where you live are a couple of them.

This afternoon I struggled and scrambled to try and come up with a lesson plan for an informal remedial English class that I'm going to start having on Friday afternoons in the hour that is taken to sweep and scrub classrooms instead of teaching. I wanted the lesson to be useful, but not too hard or too easy. Do I start with basic phonics? Do we read a story? Do I jump right into sentences that begin with "I like…"? I finally settled on a Little Bear book, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The English vocabulary of some of these kids is so low, that I ended up making a list of probably half the words in the section that we're going to read, with its Zulu translation. I got to the word house and was momentarily stuck. While house and home aren't all that different, people don't use "house" here. It's all about "home." Maybe that's to account for all the different structures that people live in (rondavals with thatched roofs, cinder block houses like mine, or those that are made of reeds and mud) or maybe it's more of a feeling thing. In the United States, we refer to where we live as a house. It's a structure that provides shelter. We use home to decorate our walls with little ornaments that say "home is where the heart is" and welcome mats to wipe our feet that say "welcome to our home," but generally, I think that's about it.

Going back to translation issues, the same thing comes up when discussing family members. Very few people use the words uncle, aunt, or cousin here. Family is extended beyond the nuclear. Your parents' siblings are your mom or dad, even if they didn't give birth to you. Your siblings' kids are your own kids. A teacher that I wait for a ride with in the morning introduced me to her "daughters" the other morning. In the past, she told me about her daughter who is my age, who is attending university. So who are these two school age girls? "They are my sister's children." Gotcha. The same goes for siblings. Kids don't talk about their cousins. You ask them how many brothers and sisters they have, and you get a double-digit response. Even greeting people on the street, in the taxi, or at the grocery store: everybody is everybody's bhuti (brother) or sisi (sister).

I arrived home from gallivanting around KZN at the beginning of January to find a new structure built next to my house. It was for my brothers, and now I had three of them living at home instead of the two that I had left on 30 November. I returned home to meet Siyanda, 21 years old, in Grade 11. In talking with my baba, I learned that Siyanda is one of baba's nephews. Both of Siyanda's parents passed away a few years back. What he did up until now, I'm not sure, but he lives here, has school fees paid for, and is the best with little kids. He knocks on my door every so often to check in, say hello, ask me how my day was. I watch Generations every night with the boys in their house and we chat about school and life. I said house when I should have said home.

I was talking with my brother Derek lately about our different views on money and its importance to us. "I want to have a nice house and a nice car when I'm older. Is that bad?" Derek asked. "I feel like money isn't a big deal to you. It doesn't hold as much importance." I told him that living on a ~$320 monthly budget does that to a person. "No, I'm not just talking about now; you were like that when you were home here too." Maybe I was. I think this journey is making that more apparent to me. I do want a house someday. But more than just a protective roof over my head, I want to have a home.

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