Ag in Africa

13 August, 2007

Stuff I’m taking home

Filed under: Development worker, south africa — Ag @ 10:07 pm

I’m going home soon. Back to Bristol, UK. I’ve learned more in eleven months than I can process. Also, I can only see the facade of what I’ve learned. I guess my head will wander through the experiences I’ve had when I’m back on my sofa in my little house on forthcoming long Autumn nights. But these are some of the things I’ve learned in just the last three weeks:

– the value of having respectful, informal ways of addressing people. There are scores of respectful terms that people use when they address each other, like Ma, Aussi, Sissi, Aunty, Chief, Baba, Bra, Ma’am, Sir, etc. You use these words in front of someone’s name or instead of their name. The purpose of using these words is to show respect to a person, whether they are strangers or family-familiar. I really like the fact that I can lean over the counter in a café and call ‘Sorry, Sissi’ when I want to get the waitress’ attention. (Because I’ve been waiting 20 minutes for coffee and when it finally came it was tea – surprisingly regular occurrence!). By speaking in that way I show respect for that waitress. In the UK, I would just call ‘Excuse me’ with no simple way of addressing that particular person. The lack of an appropriate word to address that person seems to enforce the sense that we are strangers, that there is no connection between us.
– dancing and singing is not only for the talented, attention-seeking, eccentric, drunk or shameless. Here it happens everywhere. This suits me fine as I dance when I hear music I love. Here, when I jig around in my car while waiting at traffic lights, the guy in the car next to me will smile and maybe jig a bit too. At home, the guy in the car next to me would pretend it just wasn’t happening.
– jazz does not have to be a class issue, as I had always previously suspected.
– living under almost non-stop sunshine is a liberation – temperate climates are overrated.
– living in a house with lots of other people can be a wonderful and loving experience, instead of a source of annoyance.
– English people are ace fun.
– cockney accents are very sexy.
– Quakers are incredible people. The list of “active witness” activities they are involved in, in Southern Africa, greatly outnumbers their headcount. This year has made me feel privileged to feel like a Beginner Quaker, with all its radicalism, love and active commitment.
– I have more in common with European people than I ever dreamed.
– kids do not have to have hundreds of toys. Two or three is plenty. In fact, kids are not a species apart. They don’t need special-over-educational-attention. They don’t need loads of paraphenalia. Amazingly, I’ve found out that kids can be quite nice things, when they’re not over-indulged, when they’ve not learned that whining can be productive.
– chihuahuas are also ace. Can’t wait til I get old and I can attach one to my arm.



  1. Sussie -I’ve enjoyed sharing your adventures in eGoli & beyond through yer blog, and have really appreciated your commentry on the complex and beautiful land that I will always miss and love.

    It will feel like time has stood still in ILRT – so come home soon and give us a good shake up! (And give me a hand switching the blerrie lights off!)

    Ja, Tannie. Dankie, hoor?

    Comment by Annie — 14 August, 2007 @ 11:10 am

  2. I am so glad you enjoyed my country and most of all, glad we could teach you a few things. Tell them at home all about this country … help the rest of the world understand that we are a civilized nation!!!

    Safe trip home – don’t forget about us

    Comment by Addie — 14 August, 2007 @ 11:33 am

  3. There are some things in there I never thought I’d hear you say,
    looking forward to seeing you…. but don’t expect me to cuddle a chihuahua!

    Comment by lucy p — 15 August, 2007 @ 11:03 am

  4. Hope you will continue blogging from that wild country otherwise known as Bristol. (Love it.) Agree about the chihuahua…try a pug.

    Comment by grannyp — 16 August, 2007 @ 3:46 pm

  5. Dear Ag as a Brit who’s been living in Cape Town since 1976 ( I came here when I was a young teacher from the east end of London and have been involved in all kinds of development work around language and music and theatr) reading your blog has been like reliving the expeeince of coming to South Africa with an English cultural perspective and the horror at white racism and the amazing sun and so many of the things you mentioned were exactly what i went through 30 years ago and funnily enough I never entirely stop feeling those English things and would enjoy talking to you more as none of my English friends have ever visited me here and so Its always the case of me explaining..

    There are some things about the racialising effect of coming here I’d like to write more about: you have to be careful not to make assumptions about privileged whites, as many of them have suffered things that aren’t obvious on the surface and many have contributed to the best of what’s survived here. If you want we could pursue this conversation here

    Comment by Chris Wildman — 16 August, 2007 @ 5:50 pm

  6. Hi Sarah,

    I came and heard you speak a while back at Horfield Meeting House and was really inspired. We didn’t get a chance to speak afterwards and I asked if I could mail you. well, sorry I haven’t before now – one reason/excuse is that fell off my bike a month or so ago and broke my hip!

    Anyway, would it be possible either to meet up or have an email conversation so that I could pick your brains about how you got out to South Africa? I know that I could just get on with trying to apply for stuff but I lack confidence and am not sure where to start. I would really appreciate it.


    Comment by tessa — 19 November, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

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