Archive for the 'culture' Category

Becoming a man

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

I thought I had come of age before I left the States, if not the first time, at least the second time. But here in Namibia, manhood is judged differently. First: How old are you? If I’m older, I can tell you what to do. Second: Are you married? And that goes right along with the third factor: How many people are you reponsible for? (got kids?).

During my Peace Corps service, I thought I was super high in the respect category. I went to work every day, I always had my lesson plans ready, and best of all, I was never drunk in class. I thought that by being a good role model, I deserved respect.

Respect for a person in this culture is often shown in greetings by simple things. One, people will insert the word Tate (father) or Meme (mother) into greetings. Two, people can shake hands, and to add extra respect, people will put their left hand under their right elbow while shaking. Women can further the show of respect by bending their knees slightly at the beginning of the shake, and men can nod their head.

I often found myself during greetings without receiving these forms of respect, and I would mumble under my breath in the local language to ti Tate! (you say Tate!). Because I was such a good role model (of course, in my foreign opinion), I subconsciously desired/demanded this repect.

[Here’s a small tangent about non-platonic relationships in village life in Namibia.] It is very frowned upon to show affection, or even signs that a relationship might exist, in public. There’s no hugging, kissing, touching, or even blowing kisses. This causes people to repress their feelings, or at least become more creative in the courting process. If you want to see relationships in village life, you’ve got to look for fleeting signs: someone giving someone a special look, a brief seemingly accidental brush of the hand, or other things (get creative yourselves…). In this slightly repressed culture, rumors absolutely flourish. Since you’re in the village, and there’s not much else to do, gossiping is all the rage! And if it’s true according to gossip, it’s absolutely certain in most people’s minds.

Upon my second return to village life in Namibia, my involvement with a local girl, indeed my girlfriend, has become part of the town gossip. Sometimes we walk together in town, but the give away is when villagers see me walking the 3 hours to her house. “White man, where are you going?” they ask. “I’m going to visit my friend.” “How far is it?” “I’m going to Onakankuzi.” “Oh, you’re going to visit Helena?!” “Yes, indeed.” “That’s good that you have that with her.” [Note: since relationshis are slightly repressed, using direct words to describe them are also frowned upon. A question like “Did you have sex?” could typically be asked as “Did you do something?” or by the more modern, “Did you use a condom?”]

Being part of swirling town gossip doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Before I had a girlfriend, just being white was enough to be constantly stared at. My friend Cicy describes it as being a T.V. – everybody’s just watching you. Helena, my girlfriend, hasn’t taken too kindly to being a T.V., and even complains about people looking at her when she’s alone. But the good part of this whole thing is that as soon at our relationship was in the gossip wind, I became Tate, and she became Meme! Suddenly, greetings show more respect – respect which I thought I deserved a long time ago, but which has come now for (according to my opinion) frivolous reasons. I can finally say I’ve come of age in Namibia!