February 18, 2009

Discussions with Brian Konkol – 9

Posted in Economics, Education, Friendship, Guyana, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, South Africa tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 2:40 am by randallbutisingh

“f-words….” by Kristen F. Konkol

Report from South Africa : February 2009

(To read with pictures go to: http://briankristenkonkol.blogspot.com)

Super Bowl fever has now begun to subside as the days pass following all the publicity and fanfare. It is a strange phenomenon, really, when living overseas. You do see the international news showing bits and pieces of the multitude of stories leading up to the game, but you certainly don’t feel the same excitement surrounding questions of how sports fans will spend the day in the US. When I think about such an event, a lot of f-words” come into mind (not the ones where people are yelling at the TV!). Typically the football game is associated with food, fun, family, friends and funny commercials. In fact, I saw a statistic that said that Americans spend approximately $40 million dollars on food alone for Super Bowl parties….that is a whole lot of chips & salsa!!!

Outside of the US football means something very different as it translates to soccer to the rest of the world. Here in South Africa the preparations for very different football events on the world stage are underway as the nation prepares to host the Confederations Cup (champion national team of each continent) in June 2009 and the main act being the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Stadiums, roads, communication and many other facets are being prepared for the first ever hosting of a World Cup on the African continent. Both in Guyana and now here in South Africa I have been fortunate to be a part of football (soccer) both with children and young adults. To see the passion and the skills that are displayed are amazing where proper shoes, fields, goals, balls or equipment are not pertinent to get a game going. One simply plays with what you have where you are… whether it is out on the dirt lot with no shoes and a make-shift ball or on a nice thick lined grass field with all the nice uniforms, cleats and balls. I have thoroughly enjoyed these diverse opportunities and all the wonderful children and young adults I have worked with and played alongside.

When one also thinks of foods that would be typical for an occasion or event, I have enjoyed the variety of staples that countries around the world have in their diet. For example, it was typical for one to say in Guyana that you haven’t ‘eaten for the day’ if you haven’t had rice as it was synonymous with food in many areas. In South Africa the staple product would be corn, or mealies. There are seemingly endless varieties of mealie dishes that have been at the center of African family life for centuries. Mealie pap is the most widely eaten food in South Africa and it is thinner (porridge) or stiffer (like thick mashed potatoes) depending on where or when you eat it. It can be made sweet (thinner breakfast porridge), salty or rich. Thicker pap may be mixed with a variety of other vegetables or tubers and used with sauce or stew. Mealie meal is finely ground maize. Phutu (in Zulu) is a dish of crumbly maize porridge, often eaten with soured milk. Umngqusho (Xhosa word) would be samp (dried and crushed maize kernels), boiled, then mixed with beans, onion, potatoes, chilies, lemon and salt and simmered. Although these are just a few to name, I can not glaze over the mealie itself, which is simply a cob of corn that is popular grilled or boiled as a snack (although unlike in Wisconsin , most grill it without the husk). There is also a traditional beer (umqombothi) made from water, malt, maize and sorghum which is served at many celebrations from big beer pots. That is certainly an acquired taste!!

(See more at: http://www.zulu-culture-history.com/zulu_traditional_beer.htm)

Family is also something thought of very differently than we would think of as typical in the US . For many, when you say mother, father, siblings…this would constitute your immediate family. However, in some South African cultures, especially Zulu culture, your family is much broader. For instance, the same word in Zulu for mother and father are used for aunt (if it is your mother’s sister) and uncle (if it is your father’s brother) such that they act just as your parents. The word for cousin would be the same as brother or sister for the children of your mother’s sisters and your father’s brothers. It basically follows immediate lineage. The ties become much more communal and the family unit constitutes a larger circle.

The one f-word” that people here express very freely is that of expression of faith. For faith is not something that is taboo to talk about from Mon-Sat and is in so many threads of individuals everyday life. Personal faith life as well as congregational faith life stems into many aspects of ones existence, not just the time spent sitting in church. It is a topic talked about and discussed as frequently as politics and sports. It is a lesson that we can all learn in thinking about our comfort level and commitment to our faith and how we express it. In my experience here in South Africa church is not something to just “get over with” and get on with the rest of your day, but rather the main focus of the day for which the day revolves around. Attending worship here can take many, many hours…for instance, yesterday’s consecration of the South Eastern Diocese bishop was a 7 hour long service and program with approximately 9,000 in attendance. When the singing and dancing of songs takes place in that kind of setting, you are hard pressed to not be moved and feel blessed by the experience.

There are many differences in how various cultures express “f-words” such as family, football, fun, food and faith. What I am continually challenged with is how much I am able to appreciate the differences, embrace them and allow myself to be enhanced and learn from another culture. There are many preferences we have in how we express these f-words”, but the real question is how open are we to doing, experiencing, and seeing things in a new and different light as opposed to fitting it into that nice little box of the familiar.

With peace & blessings,

Kristen Konkol

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