March 7, 2008

The People of South Africa

I’m currently procrastinating. I need to finish packing as I fly out to Cape Town early in the morning, but I’ve reached that point in the night where sleep is fairly pointless.

One of the many things I’ve done tonight (besides not sleep) is to take a quick look back at my blog entries thus far. And I’ve noticed that I’ve spent a lot of time writing about South African culture and society, but I don’t think in doing so I’ve done justice to this country’s people.

Hands down, without question, the people I have met in South Africa have been some of the nicest, most caring and helpful people I’ve ever met (going above and beyond even the kindest of Southern hospitality, I must say).

I came to this country literally knowing no one. So I spent the four months prior telling everyone I knew that if they happened to know anyone in SA to let me know. Through that process, I’ve created a network of friends in Johannesburg and Cape Town who are in reality actually friends of friends of friends of friends (no exaggeration). Yet everyone has welcomed me with immensely open arms. They invite me out whenever they’re going anywhere. They constantly give me advice about places to go and things to do. They drove me all around town before I got my car. And they continue to check on me to make sure I’m doing ok, even one’s I haven’t had the opportunity to meet yet.

Through everyone’s kindness, I’ve been learning an interesting lesson about asking for help. Coming from New York, where fierce independence is a cultural norm, I expected to have to figure things out on my own in SA. But here, not asking for help is practically offensive. For example, I didn’t ask anyone to take me to the airport, as I assumed I should just take a taxi. But when I mentioned this to a friend, he looked at me like I was insane and said, “Why didn’t you just ask me to take you?” I honestly didn’t have a response; it just didn’t occur to me. He then said, “When you don’t ask, it makes me think we’re not friends.” I’ve never explicitly thought of asking for help as a sign of friendship, but I suppose that makes perfect sense.

Maybe I’ve just been living in New York too long. :)

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