Let me descibe the seating arrangement at this point in time. The TV was sitting in the front of the classroom and someone had placed 4 rows of benches behind it. Personal space is a distinctly American idea by the way. Every-time you get comfortable, another person walks in and sits next to you on the already over-occupied bench. Luckily for me, one of the kids went and found an actual chair for me. "No thanks, I am fine" is another foreign concept for Zimbabweans, by the way. As people kept showing up, students kept bringing in more and more benches. Soon, 6 rows of benches surrounded the tv and 5 rows of kids surrounded me.
I really don't think they noticed that a game was on.
While African Survival Tip #1 is pay attention while you explore, Africa Survival Tip #2 is just as important. Do not be the only white kid in a rural Zimbabwean primary school. Thanks to this experience, I have the phone numbers and addresses of a large portion of the primary school (If you want a pen pal, let me know!). Every kid wanted to say hello to me personally. In Zimbabwe, there is no such thing as a group hello. No "Hey, how are you guys doing". If you meet five people in a group, you owe 5 greets. If you meet 30 kids, you owe 30 greetings.
Kimberly, this is why a bunch of kids now say "Whats up" and pound the rock.
After a several long minutes of aggravation, I realized that I was not going to be able to watch any of the game and turned my total attention to the curious primary students. Kids are truly an awesome insight into culture. They lack a fundamental understanding of anything outside of Zimbabwe and have no problems asking whatever questions come to their curious minds. I got some really humorous questions.
Kid: "What is America's stable food?"
Me: "French Fries"
Me: "Sorry, Chips"
Most Zimbabweans do not distinguish the differences between England and America. At least not a cultural difference, that is. The Chiimbas nicely served me a 'taste of back home' after my first week....fish and chips. And vinegar for my chips. I laughed as I told them I have never had fish and chips. And ketchup goes on chips, not vinegar.
For the kids, the question made perfect sense. Most meals in Zimbabwe include Sadza (kind of a corn porridge), so why wouldn't I have a stable food back food?
I laughed and then explained to them that America does not have a staple food. We may find ourselves eating too many burgers and fries, but they are not really a staple food. However, America is unique in the fact that we are so diverse. How many of us when asked "What do you want to eat tonight" answer "Chinese food", "Italian food" or "Indian". As weird as it is, our exposure to such a diversity of food is American cuisine. I have a fascination with Greek food, my sister loves Chinese food, my brother is addicted to Indian food and my mother would gladly go to Aladdins anytime. This diversity when it comes to food is truly America. Without being somewhere that totally contrasts life back home its hard to see, but America has a definite distinct culture.
I have often heard people say that there is no real America culture, however they are wrong. America has its own, unique culture. It is the little things you take for granted that defines our culture. American culture is baseball games, cookouts, picnics, tossing a baseball with your son. Culture is cartoons on a saturday morning, Andy Warhol, pickup football, and more than anything, our diversity. Only after going oversees to somewhere that I think we can agree is nothing like the US, do I see that America has a vivid and living culture. While we may not be perfect, we are pretty accepting of other people and add their experiences, values and beliefs to our big mixing pot.
Go to New York City, New Orleans, San Francisco, or even to John Melloncamps small town and you will find a whole new mix of people and a whole new 'America'. This diversity of culture as you travel around the US is something that is hard to find anywhere else on the globe and something we should be proud of this.
Take a minute and think about the little experiences that you treasure.
That is America.
We, as Americans, have only been around a little over 200 years, yet we have accomplished so much. If there were not 'real' America culture, I would have gladly eaten the fish and chips and thought nothing of it. But it rung a dissonance. Since our British past, we have evolved and formed our own identity. That is why we put ketchup on our fries and not vinegar. We have expressed ourselves through our art, songs and actions. So often we get caught up with evils in our pasts. We think back and remember 9/11, Columbine, or JFKs assignation. What about the good? How about remembering how we came together after 9/11? Or maybe think back and remember the musical explosion in the 60s (Thats the empty spot between 1959 and 1970 for all you old hippies). I mean we landed on the moon a couple decades ago, how about we remember that instead? Think about how we fought for democracy 200 years ago only 70 odd years ago we defended the world from on onslaught of totalitarianism. Let us for one day remember what makes America beautiful.
Lets embrace what it means to be American, for it is beautiful and something to be proud of.
Happy Fourth of July everyone,