Friday, February 27, 2009

unwritten codes

We were very excited when Isaac's class announced that they would be holding a 'Bring and Braai' on Wednesday night. There would be braai (barbeque) fires all over the grounds and people could come and bring their blankets and dinners and meat and sit around together. We approached with some trepidation as middle-class Mthatha culture is almost an unknown to us and we do not understand the unwritten codes here. We have found ourselves at events that seemed to have been understood to be blacks only. Even the university track, which we have been so grateful to find was open to the public and on which we run almost every evening, seems to be 'not what the white people do.' We are glad for our ignorance and blunder on.

So we knew going to the 'Bring and Braai' that even this term could connote whites only or blacks only and we wouldn't know. We showed up just as a rain storm was starting. Everyone huddled on the verandah and the braais were set up under the covered sandbox. The first thing we saw on the verandah was a large group of white people with their own chairs sitting in a very closed circle. We positioned ourselves on the far side among a few Xhosa families. We exchanged greetings and made small talk. At one point they encouraged us to move as we were on the side where the water was gathering. We wondered whether they were trying to get us to join 'our own.' At this time one of the white people arrived at a pre-primary braai with a bunch of beer and cigarettes. We knew that we did not belong there. We insisted on staying where we were.

The people around us continued including us in some of their conversation and talking to each other in Xhosa otherwise. We understood much of what they were saying but they didn't know that we understood and weren't addressing us so we weren't exactly included. But we knew that we felt a lot more comfortable there than in the closed circle in the other half of the room. In the end we all left with well wishes all around and announcements of what a nice evening it had been.

After three years we continue to blunder on in this world, sure of ourselves in some settings but very ignorant in others. Ignorance is so much easier to come by than courage and we thank God for it.

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